Run, (the) forest! Run!
Try finding the Ghost Trail, he said, it won’t disappoint ya.
My muddy shoes dig into the trail, propelling me up the steep incline, over a trunk worn smooth, between trees and under vines, my right ankle sore, my breath fire in my lungs, squeezing tight, my thighs chords of jerky as my spider monkey body slices through the woods, down a small decline and back up in one long stride, dirt-black shins pumping as stinging nettles swipe at my knees, their biting spines embedding in my skin, my head pounding, my feet aching, a cramp coming on, scuttling up my stomach into my chest, blood pounding in my ears, cotton filling my mouth, sand clogging my throat, sweat soaking my hair, errant drops running into my eyes, salt stinging, wondering when the hill will end, when will I be off the trail.
That was my first time on the Ghost.
It didn’t disappoint.
In fact, I now run it at least three days a week.
Running has evolved beyond a way to compete and into a way of expressing yourself. There are running clubs, groups, cults (one of which I’m a proud member). There are 5ks, 10ks, 12ks, half marathons, full marathons, 30ks, 50ks, 100ks, ultras, and countless others I’m forgetting or just can’t comprehend how someone can run more than that. There are runs for charities, runs for tough muddy people, runs for zombies, Vikings, and colors.
With all of these runners, all these races, comes a profit. Running shoes, shirts, shorts, hats, pants, balaclavas, to name but a few of the ridiculously expensive gear at your local outfitters. There are energy supplements for before, during, and after the race, all of them the flavor of expired Gushers. There are apps to track your progress, your health, and generally humiliate you when you decide to watch The Office reruns instead. Watches and wrist trackers to follow your steps, your miles, your calories, to make you look like you’re under house arrest.
To be honest, I used to look on all of this a bit disdainfully. I hated running as a kid. Running track in grade school should have been outlawed under the Geneva Conventions. Playing lacrosse in high school and college was the track team but with pads. It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I began to slowly appreciate running. Slowly being the key word there. It started with runs around Catholic University, by punishing myself with a brutal hill that went up the north side of campus. According to some of my neighbors, I was “The Runner” (a story for another time). Moving south towards The Hill a few months later opened up the city, let me explore while I ran. I started small. A 3 mile here, maybe bump it up to 4, maybe 5, but not much beyond that. I ran to The Capital Building and back, dodging tourists on The Mall like a game of Frogger. I pushed it a little bit more, running down to the Washington Monument and back, to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson, the White House. It wasn’t long before I realized just how far I was running, and at that point I was in. But I didn’t want to admit it, not at first. I didn’t want to be one of “those runners”, the person shouting “LEFT!” as they barreled past me and vaulted over the nearby stroller, water bottles adhered to their hands and what looked like gloves stuck to their feet.
I kept this up, though. I kept running, just kept running, and somehow, I ran my first marathon, the Marine Corps. It was awful. But would I do it again? Probably.
It was shortly after that I found November Project. And by “found” I mean finally gave in to Collin’s insistent, three-month long badgering for me to “just show up.” A couple laps up the Lincoln Memorial steps with tons of hugs after and I was hooked. M/W/F were dedicated to NP. I can probably go on and on about the grassroots movement, the free workouts, the camaraderie, the close friends, the new friends, the steps, the hills, the goddamn burpees, the tagging, the verbals (and a broken one), the support, everything. But people better than me, more eloquent than me, have described what makes NP unique. If you want to know more, just show up.
Then I moved to The Presidio, the land of pines, hills, and backwoods trails. I can’t get enough of it, getting away from the city sounds, no cars, no yelling, just the crunch of gravel and the swish of branches. I’m still getting used to the fact that this is my backyard, that I actually live here. I got lost the first few times I went for a run, but it was a good lost. I found new trails, new routes that snuck over hills and down small ravines, connected with worn steps that snaked up into eucalyptus groves. By trial and error, I narrowed down the trails to my favorite route, the most grueling but the most rewarding: I run down through the southern woods, up to the Golden Gate and down to the beach, up the steps to Immigrant Point, down the back of the hill and back up to Cemetery Ridge, followed by the Ghost Trail and a nice downhill jog to my house. I come back sweaty, dirty, grimy, but calm, content, and just a bit thirsty.
Then there’s Bay to Breakers, which I ran last weekend. The picture below doesn’t do it justice: the costumes, the drunk people, the parties, the questionable amount of dude butts. The less said about that last one, the better.
So I guess I’m now one of those running people. I have the Camelback, the balaclavas, the energy chews and the wicking shirts. I have another 12k coming up in about a month, after which I run the San Francisco Half. After that maybe a few more small races, maybe a bigger one here or there. Shake it up a bit. M/W/F mornings are dedicated to NP, Tue/Thu the Presidio, Sat/Sun wherever my legs take me.
It’s all to get ready for the North Face 50k at the end of the year, a race that may very well be the end of me, but took to seed in my mind thanks to a very persistent Irishman.
In the end, just show up. It’s (mostly) downhill from there.
Beer I drank - Anchor's Mango Wheat
Song I heard - Soul Fight by The Revivalists
Book I read - Disrupted by Dan Lyons