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Make Your Own Adventure
Some summertime inspiration, more fun than hard core
It seems as if nearly every day I read about ultrarunners pushing new limits and setting new records. Yesterday, it was French runner Claire Bannwarth setting a self-supported FKT record on the nearly 500-mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. She did this days after winning the Tahoe 200 overall and placing 5th at Hardrock—all unsupported by crews or pacers, relying on her own endurance and organizational skills. (Read about it here.)
Earlier in the week, I marveled at runners who attempted the High Five 100, an extreme and lesser-known 100-miler now in its fifth year. It’s way harder than Hardrock. Runners have to tag five 14ers and five 13ers in a certain order, totaling more than 40,000 feet of elevation gain, in 48 hours—and there’s no set route, no course markers, no aid stations, just checkpoints with drop bags. Runners choose their own line, so the route could be anywhere from 90ish to 105ish miles. Of the 23 who started it, only nine finished. Those who dropped described freezing white-out conditions caused by sleet and hailstorms atop the peaks.
With so many in the sport one-upping themselves with ever more extreme and epic outings, my training for another 100-miler feels pretty pedestrian. I’m falling into the comparison trap, which sabotages the satisfaction I should feel while making progress toward my goal.
Because I’m feeling relatively ordinary in comparison to these amazing endurance athletes (even though objectively I know that any well-executed 100-miler is and always will be a huge, impressive achievement), this new film by Brendan Leonard resonated, inspired, and made me laugh and think. In The Seven Summits of My Neighborhood, he films himself spoofing the famed Seven Summits expeditions by hiking, biking, or running the seven mountain peaks he sees when he walks his dog, just because it feels good and because, why not?
His point basically is: Make your own adventure—whatever it may be that you feel like doing—because it feels good and fun, but isn’t necessarily extreme, risky, or attention-getting. He says toward the end:
“The older I get, the more I think there’s something to be said for contrived fun, making up something you want to do and going for it, having good weather, no injuries, maybe a nice sunset and some laughs. Nobody dies, nobody thought they were gonna die, we get home safe, and we can do it again next week if we want to.”
I love that message. It describes the impetus behind the challenging but more-fun-and-scenic-and-safe-than-extreme Grand Canyon run I did last May with four friends. It also triggers my imagination to come up with other “adventures” that aren’t exactly hard core and won’t set any records.
I could, for example, spend every day of a week running to every lake in our county and having a picnic at each one. Or re-create my best ski day in summer by hiking up every slope I like to ski down. Or, perhaps, I could join some local guys this Saturday who plan to do a “Beerdola,” which is a beer mile (chugging four beers, one each lap, while running as fast as possible) on our local “Rundola” hill-climb route under the town gondola. Actually, that sounds awful, but I might show up to cheer them on.
I encourage you to watch Brendan’s 18-minute film and then consider what your backyard DIY adventure might be. Share your idea in the comments below!
Last week, I spent eight days traveling on back-to-back trips to visit my two kids. After visiting my son at a ranch up north and moving his apartment in Boulder, I splurged on a spa getaway to Ojai (my original hometown, in Southern California) with my daughter. I shoehorned in some runs but didn’t push myself. In spite of the reduced volume, I felt sluggish during each run, probably due to a combination of travel fatigue and residual fatigue from the prior week’s high-volume, high-vert training.
I felt some fleeting anxiety about taking an off week when I should be peak training for the September 15 RRR100. Seeking to reassure myself, I researched detraining on coach Jason Koop’s blog. In this post and elsewhere, he explains that losing fitness by stopping or reducing training takes time, and an experienced athlete will bounce back quickly. “Detraining to any significant extent is harder to achieve than you might expect. It takes complete training cessation for several weeks to make a meaningful impact,” he says. That was the message I needed to relax and enjoy some rest.
I only did one multi-hour trail outing last week. My daughter Colly and I woke up early Sunday to do a “hike/run”—hike 6 miles uphill, run back down—on one of my favorite trails overlooking the Ojai Valley. This is the trail up to the ridge where, in 2016, I heat-trained for the Western States 100 in triple-digit temps. This summer, after heavy rainfall in winter and spring, water still flows from the mountain’s springs and creeks, and the heat only reached the mid-80s. I relished seeing the valley this way—an anomaly in the summer’s extreme heat wave—with an ocean marine layer hovering on the horizon and cooling the valley.
As always when in Ojai—where I lived from age 3 to 18, and where my kids went to a local boarding school because my husband and I went there too, and I grew up there as a faculty kid—I compared and contrasted California with Colorado and wondered if I am more Coloradan now. I think I am. I always straddled both states, having the good fortune as a kid to spend the school year in Ojai and summers in Telluride. My adulthood took shape in Northern California, as a college student in Santa Cruz, newlywed in Sacramento, and grad student in Berkeley. I spent a great deal of my forties back in Ojai while serving on the board of the kids’ school.
This time, Ojai felt a lot less like my hometown than Telluride does, and I felt more like a tourist than a local. Every street corner in Ojai still triggers a childhood memory, and being there makes me miss my parents acutely, but I no longer feel the tug of nostalgia for living there. It’s just lovely to visit, that’s all.
My daughter, 25, is now the age I was when I took up running as a graduate student. She dabbles in running but mostly likes to hike and do other things for fitness, such as climbing and hot yoga. I thought about what kind of role model I want to be to her. Healthy and athletic, yes, but not extreme (even though she’s seen me push the limits of my endurance—she paced me in the final segment of last summer’s High Lonesome 100). For that reason, I always let her set the pace, and I felt no desire to push my effort during our outing.
It felt so good to slow down last weekend, on the trail and off. It felt like a true summer vacation, if only for three days. I’m playing catch-up this week and feel behind on everything (including this newsletter, which comes out a day late), but overall, I’m less stressed. That’s largely because I’ve spent time with my kids and see they’re doing well. There’s a saying that you can’t be happy unless your kids are happy. It holds true even after kids hit adulthood.
It’s tempting to think my kids are all grown up, but I need only reflect on how much I’ve changed since I was a rookie runner in my mid-20s to know they still have a lot of growing to do. As do I.
In case you missed it, check out this profile of Becky Bates—an exceptional late-blooming ultrarunner, age 61—that I wrote for Trail Runner. I now consider her a role model!
Also, yesterday I sent a bonus post to paid subscribers with an invitation to our monthly Zoom. If you’d like to receive bonus posts and participate in the online get-together, please consider upgrading your subscription to the supporter level.