Running

Castle Peak, 2017

I moved to Truckee for the running. Well, not for the running specifically (there were many different catalysts for my whole ‘drop everything and hide in the mountains’ exodus), but that was a part of it. Running was how I ultimately found my place, albeit for a few short months, in San Francisco, and despite my lifelong dislike of joining organized groups and being confined to time schedules and social activity, I relished the like-minded company and structure. I knew that, if I wasn’t in the Bay, being somewhere with a similar ‘vibe’ would be how I could find my footing in a new place. And, lo and behold, Truckee delivered on that promise and presented me with a group of trail fiends who had also landed in this little magical mountain town from all walks of life and had been there for all durations.
We hike 570lbs of water up to Devil’s Oven on Friday morning… on our backs.

…And then I ran all winter, and ran too much, and spent the spring and summer ready to never run again and missed out on all of the things I wanted to do with all of these new running people, and so when it came time to actually start working on helping out Sean and the rest of the organization committee with putting on the CastlePeak 100K, I was nervous. Organizing large events is something I can do; I know logistics, I know how to plan, I know how to execute… but I wasn’t really running, I didn’t know the trails, a 100K seemed sort of impossible after I backed out of Canyons in April, and all of that was just a little intimidating. That’s silly in hindsight, because while this group is filled with interested, talented, driven and unique people that are collectively very intimidating, they are also some of the most welcoming, easy-to-be-with humans I have ever encountered, and I am continually left with this overwhelming feeling that yes, yes I did make the right choice by dropping myself in these mountains last year.

Post-race Tahoe Rim Trail views, casual morning run.
If you’ve ever run one of these ultra marathons, you’re used to the responses when people find out what you’re doing, which range from either a brethren-like understanding of ‘Me too!’ to a somewhat understanding of ‘I run, wow?!’ to a total lack of any comprehension of ‘you’re crazy, please stop running alone on mountains’ and, almost always, ‘Why?’. I’ve answered my why numerous times. Sean (my Aid Station Director Magi) recently wrote a beautiful piece about his why after putting himself through 100 miles in mid-July. We all have our unique private and public responses, and most of them far surpass using running as a form of exercise into more ethereal reasons, because really, there’s no ‘good’ justification for any of us to dedicate hours upon hours of our lives to putting our bodies through excessive pounding and grueling conditions.
A small fraction of supplies.

What’s funny is that when I told people I was going to be spending the past week carting 60lbs bricks of water up to remote locations, playing a game of ‘how much can fit in my tiny little Subaru in one go’ while hauling large bins around Truckee, waking up at ungodly early hours to ferry around drop bags, ice upon ice upon ice, or running down Old 40 as the sun set pulling course markers and ‘Runners on Road’ signs, I was met with similar questions of ‘why’? Why give up all of that time for free? Why hike up with those water bricks? Why lose sleep for your full weekend? Or, my other favorite, from my current manager at my actual day job – ‘why are you doing this job, go focus on that!’

Van Norden Aid Station, in action.
In response, I’d explain that, in addition to really enjoying this sort of stuff, these trail races work because of the volunteers, and it’s a fluid quid pro quo dance we all do. We know intimately what running one of these things is like, and while we don’t necessarily know exactly what goes into putting the full event on (at least I certainly didn’t before last week…), we understand that feeling of relief that comes from finally reaching an aid station and being welcomed in and supplied with M&Ms or salt tabs or encouraging words (or consolation when things aren’t going so well) enough to know how we can adequately reciprocate that when we’re not racing ourselves. There’s no question of why at that point – even though we don’t know each other’s specific reasons, we understand why they’re there, and there’s a silent, instantaneous bond of support, because on some level, we can relate.
Dan, early-ish in his sweep adventure, with Castle Peak (…and course markings).

So while it was exhausting, my shoulders hurt, my back was bruised from those damn water bricks, my dirt tan is awesome, my car is a mess… even in all the moments of ever-so-slight discomfort, I loved every second of doing this. If you’re a runner and haven’t volunteered at one of these races – do it, and do it now (if nothing else, so you understand what went into getting you that water on the top of that mountain). If you’re not a runner and still have no idea what this is or why anyone would do it – do it, and do it now (if nothing else, so you can see those beautiful mountains). The support and acceptance and true ‘community’ of this ultra-world, for something that is such a personal, individual sport, is an attitude that we could (and should) extend into all aspects of our lives.

Van Norden sunset (…while waiting for the sweeps).

Sean turned to me in the middle of the Van Norden dirt parking lot, our cars filled with the remaining supplies, as we sat in the dark under the stars with our teenage aid station helper, a dropped runner, much-needed beers from the Soda Springs gas station waiting for our sweeps to finally reach us with the last four runners who wouldn’t make the station cutoff.

“I’ll give you one chance – and one chance only – to back out of taking this over next year.”

I moved to Truckee for the running, and I found my people. Of course I’m in.

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One comment

  1. As a trail race director myself, I found myself nodding through this entire post. It’s so much fun, on both sides of the bib number. My trail race only needs about 20 volunteers to run smoothly and it’s the same faces year after year. 🙂 They realize how much fun it is to be part of a trail run even though they’re overheated, the mosquitoes are eating them alive, or they end up covered in dirt and poison oak. My most seasoned helper is 75 and drives his beater pickup (he says it “can climb trees”) up the steep road to the aid station and says I’m never allowed to give his volunteer job away to anyone else!

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