A Grand Summer of Running: Mammoth

IMG_0975

Life has been interesting of late. A dog named Charlie joined our family. We got married. My back healed quickly after surgery. And I was lucky enough to run in some superb places. This is a chronological series of impressions from the trails I explored in the summer of 2015. One installment every Friday, for a while.

IMG_0374

On the last day Deena Kastor spoke the words that, looking back, perfectly capture the spirit of her running camp, and of herself. “Catch me if you can”, she called out casually over her shoulder in that kind, singsongy voice. Then she took off, like a deer, running lightly — practically sprinting — up the mountain. Leaving us behind, gasping and battling our way up, looking a little bit less like light-footed deer.

It was a hazy Sunday morning. The group had started at the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, to run the Ezakimak course; that’s ‘kamikaze’ spelled backward. A quick 5K, yes, but also a brutally steep 2153-foot ascent to end at Mammoth peak: over 11,000 feet high.

IMG_0198Deena set the pace, of course, a skinny pink blur moving alongside us. Breathing hard in the thin air, finding any sort of rhythm was tough. Still, the group moved well. Then those words from the Olympic marathon medalist / American Masters record holder on many distances: “Catch me if you can!”

None of us could, naturally, but competition was not the point of Deena’s first Running Escape, held last September in this wild and lovely part of California. Instead, the goals as I saw them:

  • Focused training on a variety of surfaces and courses, under the kind direction of Deena and her husband and coach, Andrew Kastor.
  • Building confidence and a positive attitude toward self and running.
  • Making new friends.
  • Eating really well.
  • Laughing.
  • Enjoying time off the grid in the mountains I had ever visited before.

The quiet trails and the excellent oval track the Kastor’s helped build, provided the perfect terrain as my training for couple of fall ultras was just taking off. The hotel served tasty and wholesome food, and it opened the kitchen for Deena to teach a cooking class as well.

It makes you wonder why some people seem to have all the talent: speed, strength, confidence, health, joie de vivre, and cooking as well. The answer may be that it’s only partly talent. Being around Deena for a few joyful days made it clear that she works hard and happily at all she does as a champion runner, mother, wife, thinker, cook, coach, and Generally Good Person. Her success in running and life is a choice, it seems. That message came shining through during our group runs, Sound Mind workshops, dinners, bus rides, movie nights, chats, and walks.

I found it hard to believe this was her first running camp. Deena knows how to organize. With the help from Andrew and her sponsors, she created a perfect getaway for runners of all ages and backgrounds. I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in trail running. But you will not catch her.

Advertisements

A Grand Summer of Running: Boulder

IMG_0620

Life has been interesting of late. A dog named Charlie joined our family. We got married. My back healed quickly after surgery. And I was lucky enough to run in some superb places. This is a chronological series of impressions from the trails I explored in the summer of 2015. One installment every Friday, for a while.

IMG_1348

Covering stories everywhere, I am lucky to have traveled all over the country for the past twenty years. Where ever I go, I don’t tend to get nervous. Now I’m in Boulder. A friendlier, more laid back town is hard to imagine. Still, I feel some butterflies.

It may be that I will soon meet and run with a terrific ultra champion, Timothy Olson. Or that I don’t know what to expect from the other participants of this running retreat. Will they all be semi pros nonchalantly ticking off 30 miles a day at altitude while I struggle?

The vibe at the Adventure Lodge is utterly mellow. After we settle in, the group meets on the grassy field near the stream, where will basically live, eat, talk, laugh and try impossible (for me anyway) yoga poses over the next few days. Runners of every age and size gather, shyly chatting or quietly stretching. Tim welcomes us, as we also meet his wife Krista, and her parents, Bob and Debbie. Later, the rambunctious toddler Tristan will bounce around in the group, too.

Then we take off for a first, quick 5 miler. Up and up, to a spot with lovely views and space to meditate. Mindfulness is the key, the goal, the central tenet of this camp. For a few minutes we sit mindfully, before heading back down. Dinner is fresh and healthy, prepared by a wonderful couple running RAD (Read Athlete Diets), a company worth checking out for anyone interested in delicious wholesome food to sustain a mountain runner or anyone, really, who likes to think about what she puts in her body.

IMG_1268The next day we eat early, then hit the trails for 18 miles. Some real climbing, some tricky technical stuff. My new and improved back holds up well. Food and water going down fine. Worries about work and my aging body vanish as I myself seem to vanish in this vast open landscape.

On the run I connect with a hyper fit father and runner named David (we share a great taste in hair style); a fast and strong young marathon runner, Annie; a deceptively laid-back southern trail guy on destroyed old Brooks, Keith; Derick, a tattooed LA dude laughing his way up the trails; the young and speedy Argentinian Mauri; and Billy, who’s filming Tim and us as he bounces up and down the trails as if it’s a short track workout.

We share quiet hours and intimate stories. Connections are forged as we struggle up Bear Peek. David hands me his head band to cover my bloody hand after a quick fall and perfect roll. A rattle snake rattles us. Wide open vistas takes our breath away, as if the brutal climbs weren’t enough.

As the different sub groups reconvene at night, on yoga mats on the grass and later by the fire, I learn about broken lives being healed through running. About battles with age, in which the run is a key weapon. About old addictions, rotten relationships, seemingly insurmountable challenges that we — many of us — overcame by doing what humans have been doing since the very beginning: one foot in front of the other. We run.

After the outings around Boulder Tim talks about his running, his life, his family, his struggles. It’s inspiring to peek into the mind of a two-time Western States champion. The usually shirtless retreat leader, soft-spoken en clear-headed, is of course more than a runner. He has a fascinating past. He, too, used to lead a life of depression and self-destruction. He also found salvation, perhaps redemption — though that’s my word, not his — in the solitude of these long mindful hours in nature.

In Dutch there’s a nice phrase for that melancholic feeling after an intense, intimate experience with strangers. It’s called a kamp-kater: a “camp hangover”. When I hug some of my sinewy new friends at the airport, after a near-miss with a tornado about to touch down on our car, I sense  that “hangover”.

We say good bye. Actually, it’s “see you later”, for we say we’ll run together again. And I’m convinced that’s true, thanks to this magical time in the mountains with a few dozen mindful folks on worn-out trail runners, who seem to think it’s great fun to nearly kill oneself running up a 9000-foot peak.

IMG_1329 IMG_1302