Funny thing, this running life. Addictive in nature, yet the desire to get out there and put in work is fleeting if not outright evasive at times… much of the time. Even those who have been at it for years, have confided in me that deep down, they really don’t want to do it. But the more that they do get out there and put in mileage, the more they are compelled to do it… they NEED to do it. For the running devotee, this regimental practice of dressing out, lacing up the exorbitantly priced shoes with their color coordinated laces and running, whether three times per week, five times week, or whatever frequency is psychologically gratifying, usually involves getting up really early in the morning, eating a small portion of something that you would not ordinarily consume for breakfast—high carbs, grains, rocks and sticks, what have you—at an hour far earlier than the body is accustomed, or for some, race day means eating nothing at all. Foregoing ones regular intake of coffee and its associated diuretic properties is also advisable—a learned practice, one that is tussled with tooth-and-nail by newbies, but one every runner adopts eventually if they value their beloved running time and its accompanying, and equally cherished pace.
I’ve only been at this running thing for two and a half years. In fact, this month it will be exactly two and a half years since I ran my first race; a 5K dubbed “No Excuses,” held in Sacramento. It was a blast! The camaraderie, the people cheering on the sidelines, the free food at the end of the race, the announcer calling your name as you crossed the finish line; official race time posted on-line… what a rush! I was officially hooked on this new and exciting approach to staying healthy and active, and on my way to becoming part of a huge community of like-minded people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Last Sunday, I ran my third half marathon. It was the San Francisco Giants race. The course left from in front of AT&T Park, ran down the Embarcadero and beneath the San Francisco Bay Bridge to the Presidio before turning around and returning and finishing inside of AT&T Park to the roar of spectators (family and friends of other runners… none of them mine, unfortunately). Rounding the corner and heading to the finish line inside the park was quite an experience. I wore my GoPro Camera during the race, but unbeknownst to me, the battery died an hour into the race, so I didn’t get footage of the finish, or the last eight miles, for that matter.
Last night I went for a run on the Sacramento River—an eight mile out and back from the River Promenade near Tower Bridge to the Weston Hotel, the one with Scott’s Seafood imbedded in its left hip (or its right, depending on whether you’re facing the river or I-5). This out and pack route of mine is on a relatively flat paved bike path with only one hill as the trail dips into the boat launch area of Miller Park before climbing back up onto the levy parallel to the railroad tracks and I-5 just beyond a barrier of evergreen trees. I have run this route before—one of several out and backs and loops that I run with varying mileage and degrees of difficulty associated to them—and I typically do my running during the late afternoon or dusk.
I don’t mind running in hot weather. It’s not the heat that gets to me, it’s the slathering on of sunblock before a run, just to sweat if off and have it run into my eyes while running… that I’m not to thrilled about. I also find fewer people on the trails later in the day and fewer cars on the road when my running loop takes me occasionally onto residential streets, or traffic metered intersections.
About two miles into this run, I encountered a small cloud of insects that just happened to be hovering at head level directly in my path. I should mention that during one of my early running training courses that I had taken in preparation of my new running life, we were taught, contrary to previously learned behavior, to breathe through our mouths, and not through our nose. As my breathing had not quite leveled out yet, I ran directly into this cloud of insects, or bugnado, as I have christened this phenomenon, mouth open and promptly sucked in a mouth full of the tiny black bugs. With my mouth rapidly filling with natures crunchy protein supplement, I snapped my eyes closed and frantically blinked the tiny black monsters out of my vision and kept running… I was on a mission. I was not going to let being force-fed a few thousand bugs stop me from reaching my mileage and pace goals of my first post-half marathon run. No sir.
No sooner did my vision clear and I thought I had the last of the tiny creatures spat from my now hacking throat, I ran into another one of these bugnado’s… then another. My process of eliminating these heinous flying monsters from my system was repeated two more times before I was able to regain my composure and take a breath of fresh air. Thankfully, the remainder of my run was relatively bug free.
I continued my run, mindful of my GPS running apps declaration of my time and pace yammering from my cell phone each half mile to ensure that I was maintaining an active pursuit of my goals for the evening. Passing a few meandering walkers near the Westin Hotel who decided to stop and take a selfie right in front of me, I approached the turn-around point. They will likely be none too pleased to find that I had inadvertently photo-bombed their shot as I approached from the rear just before passing them on the left. My turnaround point came at mile number four just beyond the Weston Hotel adjacent two large fire pits with lounge chairs encircling them with a wonderful view of the river. I made my turn, and headed back from whence I came, passing the fire pits and the two women still fussing with their now increasing number of selfies, which, from the direction that they were taking them, had nothing in the background but a parking lot full of varying eras of automobiles and the occasional maintenance worker cruising by in his golf cart, smoking a filterless Pall Mall cigarette while attempting to conduct an intelligible conversation on his walkie-talkie between uncontrollable phlegm-rattling coughing spells.
The back-side of any out and back run invariably carries with it a level of fear and discomfort for me. The fear is that I will abandon my goals altogether and walk. The discomfort comes with I invariably make the conscious decision to stay the course and keep running, only to find that in doing so the pain in whichever muscle group is hindering me the most that week has been amplified ten fold with the psychological awareness that I am still only half way into my run, and that the hard part of this passionate endeavor is just beginning. This usually passes, as by this time my breathing has leveled out, hitting the proverbial wall, as it is termed in the running community and its time to suck it up and cruise.
On my return trip as I made my way back toward downtown Sacramento, the sun had all but set, leaving an orange hue of reflective light on the river to my left, and with the diminishing light, came a different populous of travelers on the bike trail on which I was running. Typically, if I know that I will be out past dark during a run, I will wear a head lamp to light my way and to also let others know that I am there so that and can avoid running head on into me on the trail, or to enable cars to see me when I find the need to cross a residential street after I drop off the levy back into the neighborhood. This was not one of those times. I left my head lamp at home and had to rely on my store-bought vision (Lasik circa 2009) and the sporadic courtesy of oncoming runners and cyclists to either have a headlight of their own turned on or at least make an effort to move over once I enter their field of view. I did most of the moving over, though, and I was grateful that I did not encounter any snakes on the trail as I had on previous runs along that same stretch of the river trail.
Intermingled with this new post-sunset populous of river trail walkers, runners and cyclists, at times can be found those who use the cover of darkness and relative isolation of this area to participate in activities that they would not ordinarily bring into the light… not in public, anyway. About five miles into this run, as I approached the gap in the fence that accesses the Sutterville Road exit off of I-5; I spied far up in the distance, a walker in front of me. Ordinarily, I would not have been aware of this walker so far ahead of me, especially as dark as it was, had it not been for the aroma that was trailing several yards behind him, a pungent wake within which I was hopelessly trapped with no real means of escape. This individual, after running behind him for several minutes I learned was a little paunch of a man with a thick black mustache and a ball cap mashed so far down upon his fat head that it was a wonder he had any ears at all. He was strolling down the pathway practicing his no doubt newly attained card-carrying California—yet still against federal law—right, puffing away on some extraordinarily pungent and apparently high quality marijuana. At first, I thought that someone had encountered and inadvertently startled a skunk on the trail, which in some parts, especially Miller Park, there are dozens. But as I advanced on this pudgy little pot-head it became clear that it was not a skunk, but some quality pot, the smoke from which had trailed behind him in a translucent blue veil for several yards.
This development was of no help to my diminishing energy level as I approached the last quarter of my run. I must have taken in enough of his toxic haze that for a moment I briefly envisioned this new chemical element that had involuntarily been introduced into my drug-free system would somehow give me the boost that I needed for the last part of my run. You know, like when you hit the nitrous button in one of those computer racing games, sending you blasting along the raceway, barely maintaining control as you negotiate the next turn, knowing full well that you’ll never make it and you are destined to hit the wall, but you don’t care ‘cause you gots you some nitrous. Yeah, you know… like that. Alas, this was not the case. Alternately, it seemed to have the opposite effect on me, slowing my pace and leaving me longing for… something. Perhaps another tasty encounter with the bugnado insect cloud that I passed through on the first leg of this run for no other reason than because now… I had the munchies.
I would be remiss if I did not lend a little advice related to the nose-rocket practice that is popular with seasoned runners, and unsuccessfully attempted by many newbies. It is the practice of clearing the nasal passages during a run to get more oxygen to your euphoria fueled brain. Seasoned runners, you know what I am talking about, but for those who don’t, it is exactly as it sounds… the practice of effectively launching that which is inhibiting the flow of oxygen to the brain, out… (a nose rocket) so the runner can breathe better. There is a technique, one that should be adhered to if one is to ensure at least a relatively accurate aim. It goes something like this: The idea is to cover one nostril with a finger and launch your projectile beneath the opposing arm and onto the pathway, street, or trail below without too much lateral velocity as to avoid nailing a neighboring runner in the process. Never try to send your projectile over the top of your arm. Nine out of ten times, you will fail miserably, lacquering your own shoulder in the process. This technique (the former, not the latter) has been thoroughly tested over an unknown period of trial and error, and if done properly, should render the runner with a new-found boost of oxygen infused energy. If done improperly… well, let the chips fall where they may (pun intended) and with any luck you won’t be followed back to your car at the end of your race by some red-faced, runner wielding his newly acquired finishing medal like a weapon demanding that you wipe down his calf.
With this in mind I must add, as I learned last night during my run, this time-tested sinus clearing procedure should never be attempted two days into recovery from a bad head cold… If you do, you will find yourself frantically batting away at your own DNA as it stubbornly dangles to waist level before gently wrapping itself around your forearm, like some alien creature latching onto its long-lost mother.
All kidding aside, running, if practiced properly utilizing time-tested proper form and wearing appropriate gear (supportive running shoes, moisture wicking socks and other gear) is a great way for one to stay active and attain a level of fitness that for some (myself included) was thought to be unattainable.
Running is also very therapeutic and is a proven natural antidepressant. I have benefited from these latter properties on many occasions in the early days of my aspiration to become a runner. When I embarked on this journey of fitness, solitary bonding with my thoughts and my environment, and entered into a lifestyle of physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being, I was at a turning point in my personal life. Through the medicinal properties of running I was able to get through those emotionally trying times relatively unscathed.
Ultimately, I run because, by the grace of God, I can… there was a time in my life when, for many years, I could not.
Keep the forward momentum, my friends… The alternative is unacceptable.