Every good thing can be taken to extremes, to the point where they go from life-giving to ridiculous or even destructive. Food, for example, is essential to our bodies, and well-prepared food is a deep pleasure. Eat too much, though, and your health will suffer. Rest recharges, but a surfeit will leave you bleary and blobbish. Even chocolate has its limits. Or so I’m told.
Now, of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with trail running. Trail running is my healing respite from a hard summer of training and racing. Soft ground eases asphalt-shock. Trees make a happy trade, CO2 for oxygen, as I pass by them. And if some trail is good, lots of steep, rocky, wet, and/or muddy trail is better. I delight in crashing through stinking black
puddles swamps, skidding down banks into floodwaters, and romping over fire roads whose loose rocks are hidden in a nice thick layer of fallen maple leaves. The whole experience is physical and emotional therapy for me, essential to sanity during a dark wet winter. And if some is good, more is even better.
Some readers may already know about the Gunner Shaw fall classic, a race of (about) 10k through some of Thetis Lake Park’s stupidest terrain. I’ve run it every year for years, looking forward to the race beforehand, weeping throughout, and cackling with adrenaline-fuelled glee afterward. Thanks to my race schedule this fall, though, I had to pass on the (koff) pleasure and was very sad. Instead, I’ve been so disciplined, running short and easy during the week and spending no more than an hour or so on Thetis’ tamer trails on the weekends.
Anyway, I imagine the night, some nine or so years ago, that the Gunner Shaw race committee spent a little too much time in the bar. I can see them in my mind’s eye, playing “top this.” And one idiot or another must have said, “OK, ok, ok, ok. Get this. What if we do this race… we take the Gunner Shaw course, stretch it from 10k to 10 miles, and just for fun (wheezes, cackling), we put them over (pokes Bob Reid in the ribs) STEWART MOUNTAIN, too!!! BWA hahahahahaha!!!” And Bob, bless his little CoolMax socks, must have said, “Good idea!” Because it’s been an annual event capping the Thetis Lake XC series ever since.
I could blame peer pressure (Rob F) for my decision to enter. I could blame more peer pressure (Simon P) for my decision not to take my bib off and go back at the turnaround that shortens the race to just 8k instead of 16. But actually? I’m just an idiot. And I love this race. It goes like this:
- Start thundering down pavement road, onto
- Sudden singletrack, muddy and rooted, to
- Trails that disintegrate from positively sylvan to outrageous, thinly-disguised streambeds, to
- Fetid, hip-deep shoe-sucking swamp with a giant fallen tree in the middle, to
- Aforementioned flooded, unbelievably cold raging creek, to
- The Wall. Straight Freaking Up, all the way to a false flat, the saddle between Stewart and Scafe. But you’re not done yet. Oh, no you’re not.
- Bob himself stands at a junction, grinning, pointing you into the prettiest bit of wooded trail anywhere, saying, “Only a little push from here!” and giggling to his dog. And you run to the base of a little pitch of trail I fondly think of as,
- “You Have Got to be F______ Kidding Me.” Straight up, switchbacks, crampons, belaying lines, the whole bit. Honest. Really. Well, no. But it feels like it. But then you claw your way over the last moss-covered boulder and find yourself on the summit! And all is well. Once the black spots fade away, that is. And on to,
- The Romp – a green, ever-so-runnable delight down the south side of Scafe, to
- The Rest of the Way… the trip back is mostly downhill until you hit Thetis’ Three [female dogs] in the last kilometre.
I finished so incredibly tired and filthy. It was Totally. Awesome.
Except on Sunday, I kind of had this pain in my foot when I walked around… and here on Wednesday evening, I’m sorry to say that it is not one whit better… if anything, worse. I’m on crutches awaiting a raft of professional opinions to coalesce into something more clear than, “Well, yes. Your foot does indeed hurt.”
I’m beating back deep sadness. I have probably just taken myself off the road for the next month or two (at best) and feel kind of betrayed both by my body (how dare it break when I overload it against coaching advice and with no notice?) and by the park (I bleed and bleed and bleed on you and this is the thanks I get?) To make matters worse, my advisors have helpfully noted that I can get my aerobic fix, no problem. I can get it in carefully controlled indoor conditions in the pool (whee.) and on my bike trainer (aaaaugh!).
December is grim around here, but for years, I’ve beaten it back by embracing the terrible weather and dancing with the gales and the mud and laughing through it all. I hardly know how I’ll survive all this darkness if I have to act like an adult for a while.