Monday, April 22, 2013

Leatherwood Mountain Ultra, Take One.



Meditations on leatherwood mountain 50 miler.  Four days until line up.

Seven years ago, I began jogging with my girlfriend.  She was training for a marathon and I was trying to get clean. 
She'd run pre-sun hours on the wooden slats along the cape fear.  I'd follow.  I'd follow and I would foam at the mouth, gasp air into my beet-face, stomping and barking through dawn.  My stride was a heavy, broken cadence, a struggling thud & plod.  My sweat was a gelatinous ooze, a cold murky petroleum of stale drink, drugs.  But, every run, she’d drag me across her miles, talking music, talking poetry, talking water and sky, until I was gasping out a 13 minute pace and feeling the accomplishment of a morning run.  Grab some coffee & a smoke, try to hold out the cravings.

The running escalated and the other shit diminished, albeit slowly and arduously.  Goals evolved, gradually expanded.  I began jogging alone because I wanted to jog.  Sobriety and running wrestled and conspired against each other. Passing the Barbary Coast, panting and ridiculous, I might stop, enter, order a beer and another.  The next run, I might set a goal to get past the bar, to get to Chandler’s Wharf, run repeats on the hill by the governor’s mansion... and I may or may not make it past the bar on the way back.  But I was earning progress. 

I embraced the meditation of movement, the medicine of movement.  My thoughts opened, free-roaming the poetic space of things, sometimes coherently, sometimes wildly hinged like a monkey in branches.  I still had the delirium of evening, cravings, but there may be a pause, a softening.  I might observe something interesting: the quirks of light, an unusual face, a formation of birds, a boat on the river, a handwritten note on the ground.

I noticed the runs easing up, a settling of body, the presence of rhythm.  Miles of nostalgia, mood and memory, self-confrontation.  The run, the act of a run, appeared an organic and ever-evolving thing, akin to a drawing or a language.  I learned that a run could be an artful expression of the mind and soul.

Eventually I bought running shorts, read Dr. Noake's The Lore of Running.  Kupricka, Roes, Koerner… ultra-runners, 100 milers, fifty milers, Western States, Leadville... I learned basics, I worked nutrition, I dropped from 200 to 180 to 175.  My constitution improved, my spirit found grounding.  

Eventually I distilled the ultimate image, the pinnacle, the goal-vision of myself, that I’d run on the power of my own body through the trails of magnificent mountains.  That I would have the freedom, the strength of body, the command of mind, the consistency of effort to endeavor such feats enthralled and intimidated me.  That I could be powerful enough to run up a mountain, healthy enough to enjoy it, spiritually sound enough to be present in the act... I did not need to be a lithe Kupricka bounding through miles and rock faces in bare feet.  I wanted to be a reborn man, running through and with the Land.  The vision was a reclaiming of body, a reclaiming of the mountains I'd always loved, a rebirth of belief.

The journey has been a powerful process, exploring my darkness and my light.  Now, I face a 50 mile trail run in the mountains right beneath my second home, Boone NC in the Appalachian mountains. Boone, where much of my chaos found an opening.

The runner girl is now my wife and crew.  She's seen a few ultra races at this point, and she'll be crewing the Leatherwood Mountain ultra in four days.

I am nervous. My pre-race agitation is as wild as a wolf under a full moon.