Last week, when visiting my family in Vermont, my older son attended a morning soccer camp with his cousins. He did great - playing in the 4 - 6 year old group, without any of his cousins and 56 other kids. He was very proud to demonstrate the "sole reverse" and insisted on wearing his "jersey" (a yellow, cotton t-shirt) everyday, all day - lots of night-time laundry! While the camp was a 35 minute drive from my folks' (about 5 from my sister's), there was one great benefit for me, as a father who runs: Mt. Mansfield State Park was 6 miles away.
On the first day of camp, it was overcast and damp. I still drove up to park, and set out, sans-shirt, up the Sunset Ridge Trail to the roof of Vermont (sadly, having grown up in the state, I don't think I had ever reached the summit of Mansfield). The trail was wet. My X-Talons weren't slipping, but I was slowed by fear - I couldn't afford a fall because I only had about 1 1/2 hours to run and get back to watch Cooper's scrimmage. My "run" quickly turned into a hike. At the intersection of the Sunset Ridge Trail, the summit trail and the Laura Crowles Trail, I decided to bail on the summit. I was anxious to get back to watch soccer, so, logically, decided to take the shorter Laura Cowles Trail back to the parking lot.
And thus, I found a flap of skin hanging from my thumb bleeding on the rocks as I lowered myself down the LCT. Seeing the shorter mileage, I reckoned I would get to the parking lot faster - "I am hard-nosed ultra runner," I thought. I am also a fool. Not knowing the trails, I didn't realize that the LCT is reminiscent of the toughest, most gnarly trails in the Whites, or anywhere for that matter, especially when wet, which it was. I slothed down the trail, spitting blood from my finger (it was a minor wound, but bleed like a beast!). When the trail leveled out, I started running, but tentatively. I started thinking about how I felt in the days after Western States - disappointed in myself for not pushing harder. I hit the dirt road that leads to the parking lot. I pushed hard.
For the better part of the past 10 years, running has been a major part of my life. Yet, since finishing Western States I've been less motivated than I have been in a while. The plica in my knee continues to inhibit any serious training, and the joys of moving large rocks and tons (literally tons) of earth with my bare hands (and a sturdy shovel) in our new back yard are many. I have again started running everyday, but my main focus has been the projects around the house (I worked on the boys' new swing set until well after dark tonight, and, like when on a great run, I didn't want to stop). This Saturday will mark five weeks since Western. I haven't run more than 14 miles at a clip in that time. Yet, there is a bit of a routine. I have been running, at least a mile, everyday. And while I have been running shorter, I have been running harder. I have often been running without my trusty Garmin (either on purpose, because of forgetting to charge it, or, as with my run through the Fells this morning, because of boneheadedness (I forgot to press "Start"!)), but have been pushing myself harder. I don't care what the pace is, as long as I truly feel (mentally, not necessarily physically), that I am putting forth a solid effort.
It was with this new attitude that I was grunting up the hill around the 0.6 mile dirt road loop at my parent's. It was the end of a less than 2 mile run, but I was running hard enough that I was grunting, pumping my arms all the way to the driveway.
It was with this new attitude that I returned to Mt. Mansfield and the Sunset Ridge Trail, and ran the whole way to the top, grunting sections (and walking some, but probably less than a 2 minutes total).
It was with this new attitude that I found myself, pushing hard up Mt. Hunger, one of my favorite places to run (it's close to my parents' and is tough: a bit shy of two miles to the summit with ~2,200 ft of climbing on some rugged terrain - an Garmin from an old run is here). I will remember this run for a long time because at one point, about 3/4 of the way up, I stopped, huffing and puffing, hands on some rocks, and considered bailing - I had a family dinner to get back to. But something wouldn't let me bail. Something wouldn't even let me hike. I just put my head down and ran and grunted. I knew there were a couple of places where I would have to scramble and could break the running cadence there. I did that. Then I ran. I ran the slabs to the summit, grunting. I had the summit to myself (no small bonus as the parking lot had been overflowing as I had never seen it). I hustled down to make it to dinner. I'll never know if it was a PR (it sure felt like it), but on this day, it didn't matter (my dad exclaimed, upon my return, "How can you run up Hunger and not keep track of your time?" Next time . . .).
After a couple of weeks of running like this, I've come to enjoy it. I'm even considering hitting a track! I am finally starting to crave the long runs again, but am imagining those runs through this new attitude. I can feel a shift in my spirit, and it's exciting. But, for now, I've got a swing set to finish, and that's exciting!