Monday, July 11, 2011

grandfather mountain marathon.

this was my family sighting at mile 26.15 of grandfather mountain marathon! behind me, the highland games bagpipe and clog, sling blocks of cement or logs, herd sheep, carry broadswords. . . 

my family and i took some time to be family this weekend, driving six hours through severe storms to the blue ridge mountains to plop down with my mom & john (known henceforth as mammie and pa).  pa had prepared homemade meatballs with a meat sauce, ladelled over pasta, and i had my first friday night meal with my wife and son in nine months.  we had tea and stories and a restful evening as the mountains tucked deep in torrential downpours.  heavy cascades continued and the night fell leaden and sleepless as i rolled and twisted before the prescribed 4h55am alarm.  i was a bit wound up because this was to be the morning of my first road marathon, of my first marathon ever.  this was the morning of my grandfather mountain marathon.  and i was more than a little apprehensive about the 3000' of elevation between appalachian state university track and the mcrae fields where the highland games shared the dirt track for the ~450 registrants to complete the work.

the start on the track, fully lit in the predawn green-gray light, wound up one full loop and then spiralled through the gate and out into the boone streets.  runners talked across the leg-warming first two miles until the road clung against the first climb. and the climb was the story for the next five miles. and then down, which was no reprieve as the descent punished quads like a jackhammer and one could feel the femur-bones bending beneath the gravity of the quick descent.  and the run became the work of the run for a while.  clips of music in the mind, brief and truncated; thought-phrases not entirely coherent.  guts lurching inside heaving ribs and the back pushing into the gallop and then the tight-cut roadcurves and the x-slope work awkwardly the musculature of the foot, throbbing IT bands and knees and then a thinning rope of runners bob back up the mountain. shull's mill road.  lucidity would lapse into rambling, then an interesting conversation would start up with another runner, and then the running effort would recommence, quiet and serene, or with silent angst. to transcend.  self-reliance.  to run something that years ago seemed nonsensical and absurd.  mantras reminding us of the goal.  short breaths and short strides.
and the volunteers were top-notch, one group cut think hunks of watermelon as we entered a gravel road.  this steep road would gnaw my guts on the ~3 mile incline to the parkway, and the parkway allowed easy breath with its warm-white mountain laurel and rockstacked creeks and then a small waterfall on the rockface off of 221 into the final five miles of scorched-leg-muscle, staccato bursts of determination, rachmoninoff running, and power-hiking and running onward to grandfather mountain's entrance where the whole thing cut through the songs of bagpipes and ended on the dirt track, my chest heaving against the thinner air and my body unsure of things then the sight of wife and son and my applauding mother standing and elated and proud.  the time clock reads 3h 48m 30sec.

the highland games was the destination, and if shit wasn't strange before you ran 26 miles, try running into the second largest highland games in the world.  i mopped off and changed shirts and walked with the family through the campgrounds while browsing kilts and caps, haggis and shepherd pies, rugby jerseys, rosetta stones.  i then sat, heavy legs and heavy eyes, savoring a freshbaked scone built up with strawberries and whipped cream, lapping hot coffee while watching scottish guys drop bass-thud slams as they wrestled near sheep-herding terriers.  it was a marvel, a strange thing, and the bagpipes played through the fog of midmorning humidity and the final breaths of campfires and we boarded a bus with other runners who were already discussing the next race registration.  madness.

i met some wonderful runners, and i thank them for their time shared on the roads. some very positive spirits embark on these journeys, and i am grateful to get to know them. one was a young man from virginia beach whose father, a diabetic, was experiencing a sugar-drop several miles behind us.  they both finished strong.  another was from charleston, a quiet, lone guy whose bus ticket had decomposed in his running pocket.  i ran early with a guy from cullowhee who ran mostly alone in the trails of western north carolina.  my friend mark sported a deep green kilt. there was the quiet figure on the bus who wore the umstead 600 mile club hat:  he smiled behind his sunglasses, knowing some secret nexus.  and the wiry man talking up the flatlander marathon the next day, starting in downtown boone, and the emphatic nods of agreement as he explained "its really not as hard as you think to do a back-to-back marathon.  just go home and sit in an ice bath and show up tomorrow morning."  sorry i missed it gentlemen, maybe a rain check.

i commend the RD on a fine race and a great course.  the volunteers were admirable and joyful, and they kept me believing in the abstracts that go into something like this. i fully extend my gratitude to their good acts.  a big thank you to the park rangers who kept us safe.  the use of the track at asu was amazing, and the highland games welcoming us onto their dirt track was surreal and dazzling.  thanks to all who brought those logistics into coordinated fluid action.

thanks to my family for hosting my manic ideas and for nurturing them into actionable work.

important to me personally was the start, which was just below the window of my freshman dorm, and the passage of hard miles, the processing of time and choices and life-paths, the meditation of movement, the poetry of distance, erratic, unpredictable, capricious, raging.
near the start, the asu art department, wey hall, just around the bend of asphalt, a longlost thing, but i remember like yesterday smoking in the back door on break from life drawing and drinking a cranberry-apple juice and talking to james and jen and feeling an emphatic promise. an illuminated drive, faith, clean like snow.  the body and soul reeling with the grand architecture of youth and naivitee.  a cathedral of possibility is the young mind.
important to me was the finish:  my family, my pride in accomplishment, my freedom of health, my expansion of self to include new accomplishments.  my stability and the ability to dance within a framework.

the world will rage against your passions, stripping the mind to a clot of stagnant language, thieves and fifteenth-rate ideas, imposing dimensionless servility, but you must rage back.  rage with the joy of the divine.  rage with the passion of survival.  rage with legs and eyes and mouths and hands.  rage with love.


privately, i kept thinking of this as "my little mt mitchell challenge."  that was the run i read about some six years ago that started my fascination with long distance, the mad ascent of mt. mitchell for twenty miles, touching the february summit, then turning back for a twenty mile descent home. a grueling, man-versus-nature-versus-man, raw-ass running, ascetic-gut challenge.  it is a very difficult run to acquire entry into.  but, if not entry into the ultra, there is the junior version, the black mountain marathon, which might just be the thing.  there is also the derby 50, the bull run run 50, and the umstead 50/100. . . . who knows.  for now, back to the daily runs, the scribbles, the coffee stain drawings and the rebuilding of layers of muscle.
a used bicycle at a local shop-- 450 dollars.  worth it? i dunno.  ~2007  allez sport.   the current consideration.
so, above is the newest addition to my considerations:  a road bike.  an interest in cycling has dawned as the summer heat erradicates my energy, draining me empty on 40 mile weeks.  thus far i've ridden a 1997 fuji finest, a 2010 giant defy 3, the above allez, and i am going to try a surly cross-check if i can find a 56" frame.  cycling seems like a great way to cover distance when time doesn't permit the slower pace of running. we shall see.