One night while getting ready for bed Sunie looked at me while I was inspecting my chest and said, “You know you are going to have to tape your nipples?”
“Umm, what? I not sure my nipples are in your jurisdiction,” or something like that, was my reply.
I’m not a gear person and one of appeals of running was the lack of gear needed to get started related to other pursuits like mountain biking or rock climbing. Then this idea to do a long trail race entered my mind and the more I read about it the more gear was recommended. I already had a hydration pack that Sunie bought me last year, but I am now investigating other, lighter options as my race quickly approaches.
I usually hit the trail in a regular old fashioned t-shirt but now realize that when running distances longer than five miles my sweat builds up and becomes uncomfortable in those old cotton shirts. Apparently someone invented shirts that wick away moisture, and unknown to me I had one in the bottom of my dresser. So with amazement I have been training in this bright orange shirt, I keep telling myself the orange scares the bears, so I don’t mind the rather out of character wardrobe choice. But the thing about this shirt is that on long training runs my nipples get somewhat chafed and seem to be on the verge of bleeding as I push toward the 25K level.
So that was how, on Sunday, June 3rd I became a man that put tape on his nipples. It was actually the sticky ends of a band aid I cut up but I figured that was better than wandering into a sporting goods store and asking someone for the nipple cover section.
It was not until I hopped in the shower and yanked the tape, and some hair, and some skin from my already beaten up body that I remembered I had tape on my nipples in the first place. So with that confession I bring you the Top Five list (most of you already know my affection for lists) of things I have learned while training for my first trail race; which is going down June 16 at the Pittsfield State Forest.
5. The Mountains Win, Again – 20 years ago I relocated to Denver with two friends. And while I gave up on that move far too early there was something about having the mountains as the backdrop to daily life that set up in a far corner of my brain and dug in. Life has taken me to many places and I spent the last 20 years closer to the ocean than the mountains, but I don’t think it is a fluke my Sunie and I ended up settling in the Berkshires. We are New Englanders at heart and not only is the Appalachian Trail within minutes of our home, but there are trails through forests, and trails up mountains within walking distance of where we lay our heads. Trail running to me is different that road running or track running. The trails are meditation for me. The trails are where I solve problems, where new ideas are formed, and where it feels normal to me to smile and cry at the same time. And at the end, or sometimes during my jaunt I take in a view unseen by most and one that stays with me far longer than I stay with it. Those are the gifts that the mountains continue to give.
4. Keep Calm, Plants have Protein – Subsisting on a whole food, vegan diet after my open heart surgery was a decision that came pretty quick and one that I have stuck with for well over a year. I have been amazed at how well my body has adapted to these lifestyle changes, but adding miles on the trails was always a concern despite all the research I have done assuring me that all of my body’s need could be met during this additional exercise.
As the weeks have rolled on I have added to my weekly trail total. From about 10 miles a week back in April to the 30 miles a week I currently log, and every single mile has been fueled by my whole food, vegan diet and I feel great. I have also stopped obsessing over the amount of carbs, fiber or other nutrients I consume because plants provide it all, and I never count calories, ever. Not only does my body feel strong, but it is a major boost to my spirit to realize that my life can thrive without the harming of another life.
3. Crazy for Trying – Pushing the limits of what people expect of you may put you in a new, and possibly awkward place. Say you quit your job to start your own company, or maybe you decide to go back to school, or perhaps run a 15 mile trail race less than a year and half after open heart surgery. There will be people that not only think you are nuts, but they will tell you that you are crazy straight to your determined face. And the reality is you probably are a tad askew. Take solace that most great ideas or accomplishments sound a little crazy when they are conceived, and being told you are crazy should never be a roadblock. Look at those thoughts as a challenge, one of the many on your road.
I realize that attempting this race will be considered crazy to some, but for me it is anything but. It is a necessary stop on the route that is my life as a bypass survivor and example to those out there that think the reality of chronic disease is something they have no control over, because the minute you stop doing the comfortable things and embrace the challenges is when the growth begins. As for where it ends, I have no idea.
2. Pain is Inevitable – Last week, a friend asked me how my health was in light of my additional trail running. “Okay, this plantar fasciitis in my heel sucks and my lower back takes a bit of a beating at times, but overall I feel good,” I replied. This friend stared; blank faced at me and tipped his head slightly before responding. “Yeah, I mean your heart man. How is your heart? They cracked you open and rooted around your chest cavity for half a day. Who cares about your back and your heel?” I grinned and told him from all I could tell that my heart was as strong as ever.
Pain comes in many forms and exists in all of us, but how we deal with the pain guides us and allows us to function in a place of uncertainty and challenge. When I am shuffling along the trails near our home I feel my heel pinch on almost every step and the next morning by lower back aches for a few hours, but my heart is quiet. In a way those small pains are insuring that my heart remains without pain and keeps powering the rest of the pieces that I need to continue my relentless march forward.
Whatever you are working towards, be it an athletic goal, quitting smoking, getting off a medication that has rough side effects or just flat out feeling better, I can tell you from my personal experience that your body is capable of extraordinary things, once your mind stops putting limitations on it.
1. The Beginning of the Beginning of the End of the Beginning – With less than two weeks from race day I have spent just a minute or two wondering about how I will do in this attempt to circle a five plus mile loop in a state forest three times with over a hundred strangers running around me. But just for a minute, then I get back to working, or training, or gardening, or my favorite pastime, laying around with my wife making her laugh. Where I end up on during this race is not the point of any of this. This is not a race against anyone or for anyone. This race is just another step on my road. Another ride in which the ticket was punched a long time ago. What stays with me, and what I will bring to the next day, the next breath, and the next race are the moments that elicit that evil little grin of mine; like the time I registered for the race, the time where I finally went into a full out sprint at Jug End, and the first time I ran the rail trail without stopping to walk. I own those moments now and have them in my pocket for whenever I need them.
A journey of many steps has just as many memories, and each one is vital in our progress as people. Mine just happens to include strapping on some sneakers and running through the woods. Wherever yours takes you, be open to the possibilities, and take along with you an open mind, an open heart, and of course a bottle of water and a snack, it’s a jungle out there.