Lots of sitting at work this week . . . so even though it had been raining off and on the last two days, I knew I needed to force myself to get out and move this afternoon, mud or no mud.
Ha . . . that’s not true . . . I don’t see wet trails as a problem any more, but as a enticing solution to inside-itis: mud-love is exactly why I ran today!
Ponder this: running should never be a punishment (children in physical education classes should only be allowed to run as a privilege for good behavior, not as a payment for behavioral crimes).
And this sort-of-related bit: wet weather and muddy trails (especially in this dry dry dry place), should be a reason to run, not an excuse to stay indoors. And my bare feet barely left record of my passing, unlike deep-tread foot coffins which would have torn up the trails.
Bonus reward for running through intact California native plant habitat after rain: the sensuous smells!
Fruity yerba santa, musky sycamore, spicy laurel sumac, bittersweet sage, green-licious mule fat . . . after rain there is such an olofactorical orgy of sniffing delight . . . which I had all to myself as I trotted quietly through the familiar alleys of shrubs made unfamiliar today by droplets delicately dangling from leaf tips. The local birds seemed to be relishing the wet renewal, and their end-of-day songs only added to the sacred feel of twilight under oaks and sycamore.
Do I love the rain?
Do I really need to answer?
This morning’s run near Irvine Park started out so well . . . a crisp (So Cal crisp: 60 degrees F) fall morning, lovely trails through coastal-sage-scrub-covered hills, so many plants sprouting back into growth in response to the brief rain a couple of weeks ago.
My body was humming along, running smooth and strong (and slow, but still fun). My mind hummed as well, considering all kinds of ways to respond to the latest though-provoking post by fabulous Chris at Barefoot Beginner: list why you run . . . then . . . think about why these reasons matter. (Similar to the “so what” factor we discuss in Creative Nonfiction class all semester.)
Cruising up and down the Barham Ranch ridge trails, I was making all kinds of connections between barefoot running and nature writing and learning to play ukulele late in life . . . the sort of thoughts that seem so profound as they float along next to your smooth-moving bare feet. And then . . .
But first, let’s pause to appreciate the day thus far:
Made it home, using my big toe instead of my forefoot on the gas/brake pedals.
Soaked the sore foot a while, then cleaned it some more (OUCH).
Covered the owie with a sock and shoe (sigh).
And spent three hours in my community garden. Hobbling, but able to dig and rake still.
Now to wait till it heals and I can hit the trails again . . . I hope not too long . . . one thing that continues to amaze me about my barefoot-strong feet is how their excellent circulation helps them heal super fast.
What a journey! My barefoot wandering and writing is now leading back to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where I spent three weeks as Artist-in-Residence during June of 2011. This past summer, the Grand Canyon Field Institute accepted my proposal to present a four-day creative writing workshop on the North Rim; today marks the first day of registration for this and all their other wonderful programs.
Here’s the link for any interested writers out there: https://www.grandcanyon.org/learn/grand-canyon-field-institute/classes-tours/writing-edge
. . . and here’s the blurb from the class info page:
It’s been said that the Grand Canyon defies words. With this workshop we plan to put this theory to the test! Participants will use nature—both around them, in the Grand Canyon’s beautiful environment, and within them, through thoughts, associations, and memories—as a catalyst for creative writing.
The North Rim – our base of operations – is an astonishing place that not only offers the expected “grand” vistas, but also rewards intimate observation. A key aspect of this workshop will include wandering the trails of the North Rim through a series of light hikes with wide-open eyes, ears, and noses.
By combining some very practical techniques of observation with a variety of imaginative writing invitations, participants will have many opportunities to connect with this place and deepen that connection through writing in prose or poetry.
This class is open to participants of all skill levels. Complimentary camping available.
No shoes required! Please consider joining me on this adventure in one of the world’s Grand places!
I want to fill this page with !!!!, I’m so excited about this! TBTG! (Thanks be to God . . . )
Here’s a few North Rim photos from the files:
This morning I was thankful to be able to run the Into the Wild OC Trail Runs’ Limestone Canyon 12k. Here’s a short (and probably a bit too shaky) video I made to remember this fun morning: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=spqcNbDK0J8
With around 900 feet of elevation gain/loss on an unseasonably warm November morning (it was in the 80s by the time the race was over), I was pleased with my 1:33:04 time . . . especially because my knee felt just fine on all the hills. (Thank you Dr. Derrick Sueki of Knight Physical Therapy for Wednesday’s session that sure helped turn my knee around from whatever caused that painful race result two weeks ago!)
A month ago (see previous post) I went backpacking in Havasu Canyon . . . it’s 10 miles to the campground from the trailhead (with about 2,000 feet in elevation loss in the first couple of miles). Here’s a short video tribute to help me remember that adventure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GIztnuXe20
Happy (video) Trails . . .
Northwest of Irvine Park several acres of willow thickets line Santiago Creek; the area is aptly named “The Willows.” Sandy trails wind beneath the trees, which creak in the breeze and smell of musty-good green-ness. I’ve seen deer and coyote here, and once some footprints that I were certain belonged to a cougar. During wet winters, the ground disappears under several feet of water, but since rainfall has been scarce these last few years, the trails remain.
The trails remain. How long the willows will last, I don’t know. During the last dry year they have been splitting and cracking and shearing and reducing themselves to stubby trunks, I imagine in an attempt to reduce the amount of tissue they need to keep hydrated (a quick internet search just now yielded no results to back up this theory).
How else to explain what is going on here?
How else to respond, except with a poem?
In the Ragged Forest, August
Santiago Creek, Irvine Park
No lightning strikes
blasted these willow
branches down to the duff.
The jagged torn stubs
there are strong forces
at work here:
water, always shaping,
even in its absence.
In other news: it DID just rain! Which means: mud!
Yes . . . that is another pair of feet in the background . . . they belong to a running buddy from the late 1990s who now runs in Lunas. We had a good chat as we cruised the trails where we had spent so many hours while our sons ran practice with their high school cross country team. Now we are both grandmas, but still both enjoying running, each with our own non-conventional footwear that allows us to chew up the miles with a smile on our face:
Here’s a shot of what created all these lovely puddles: some hard downpours earlier that morning, even as the sun shone. It reminded me of Harry Nilsson singing in the 60s: “I’m goin’ where the sun keeps shinin’, through the pouring rain” (“Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me”).
Those red berries are a lovely part of our wonderful native toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).
Speaking of seeing red: I found this shot on my camera after I’d already posted last week’s race report; it’s a shot of what happened a few days before the race (stubbing my foot on a submerged rock):
When your feet are strong and healthy, something like this only takes a few days to heal. Another miracle of barefootedness!
Good News: My running had been going well enough that it seemed like a 10k race (the OC Trail Wings Spooky Raptor Run) over my favorite trails between Irvine and Santiago Oaks Regional Parks would be a good idea last weekend.
Bad News: “Seemed like a good idea” is the story of my running life.
Good News: The weather was perfect (high 60s-low 70s) with lovely morning cloud cover. Trail conditions: equally stellar . . . the So-Cal-pre-rainy-season sensuous mix of dust and rocks and dusty rocks that I enjoy moving through several times a week.
Bad News: Three days before the race I was checking out “the course” (on the network of trails I’ve been traversing, shod and un-shod, since 1997), and caught the ball of my left foot on one of those rock-icebergs that barely poke through the dust. The result: not too much dripping blood, but a blood blister later that evening that I performed needle surgery on. Then the bruising began. And throbbing. So I did my best to keep the blood flowing through the area to enhance healing, the old “wiggle-waggle-twist-and-twitch” method of keeping my toes moving whenever I was sitting or standing. A bit painful, but effective.
Good News: By Sunday, my foot was feeling 90% better.
Bad News: By Sunday, my right hip, which has been stiff and sore for months (ever since a particularly intense hilly run one fine summer day) felt . . . pretty stiff and sore, still.
Good News: I got there early and walked and trotted and did some mild hip/torso loosening movements . . . and then the race began and I happily headed down a familiar path across (dry) Santiago Creek and past my favorite grove of cottonwood, sycamore, and very old oaks. By having realistic expectations (let’s just have fun) and seeding myself at the back of the pack, I was able to relax and enjoy the moment/movement.
More Good News: For 8k–which included 1000 feet of elevation gain/loss in the form of two lovely hills–I had the run of my life. I was able to push my 55-year-old cardio-pulmonary engine close to capacity a few times, and even made some passes on the uphills. The downhills were long and luscious with more dust than rocks, and I pushed myself just as hard going down as I had going up. I’m sure to a race observer (but there weren’t any, except a few mountain bikers out for a Sunday ride) all my running and capacity and pushing must have appeared as slow motion . . . but to me: pure shoeless flying.
As I approached the last very steep 30-yard uphill to go up and around the Villa Park Dam, I saw a few people power-hiking up it. “I can catch them. I own this hill,” I said to myself, an uncharacteristic bit of positive self-talk.
And I kept running, even though my legs were starting to feel the effects of 7 kilometers of nothin’ but up-and-down the ridges and hills of Santiago Oaks Regional Park.
And I actually caught one of the stragglers, a sturdy gentleman I’d passed quite a bit earlier in the race, but due to some, uh, interesting course markings (or lack thereof), I found myself staring at his muscle-y calves again.
Very Bad News: Around the 8k mark, after the last short downhill that led us back below the dam and onto the final flat section of the course, my left knee felt a slight twinge that soon became a major stabbing-cramping-inside-the-knee agony. Having recently listened to an hour-long conversation between Michael Sandler and Dr. Tim Noakes–who both emphasized the mental aspect of physical injury, I tried to “out-think” the pain.
Positive self talk!
Hmmm . . . this was an odd experience. On the one hand, I was able to keep a very slow jog going and not succumb to my left knee’s pleas of “Just walk, and I’ll behave. I promise.” Every other time I’ve had this pain (and it first surfaced during the final 10-mile downhill of a 20-mile race back in 2004), walking would indeed make it go away. Oh, the years of frustration and the fistfuls of dollars I’ve thrown at physical therapy to make my left knee reliable. The NSAIDS. Taping. Icing. Quad-strengthening exercises. Active Release Technique (ART) sessions. Rolfing series. Acupuncture. Rooster comb injections. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
And here I was back to square one: knee pain that sucked the enjoyment out of my running.
Good news: My feeble attempt at mind-over-matter sort of worked . . . only once did I give an audible whimper (a Charlie-Brown-like cry of “Aarrggh”) and walked for about five steps. Yes, the pain diminished. But I hadn’t paid $35 to walk along trails I could travel for free any day of the week. This was a race, dang it, and I was here to push myself–if not against the other racers and against the clock, then against my own mysterious psyche.
So I recollected all the inspiring ultra-running blog posts I’d ever read (including the most recent Grand-to-Grand Ultra race report by the amazing Sarah Lavender Smith), and just. Kept. Running.
As I motored slowly along, I tried to inventory how my hips, legs, feet, were feeling. Both my hips had felt oddly stiff as I careened downhill; now my left ankle seemed like it wasn’t flexing like the right one, so I attempted to let it flop a bit more loosely. Big mistake. A crampish pain immediately radiated from my knee up and down my left leg. Yikes. I locked my ankle back into its awkward, less agonizing place, and just. Kept . . . you know . . .
Good news: When I saw my newest friend Brent-the-photographer (he, my husband, and I had had a nice pre-race chat) pointing his camera at me during the final bit of trail-straightaway, I was able to limp a bit less and smile as I crossed the finish line in 1:17:42
Bad news: Dang. I could have shaved at least two minutes off that if I’d been able to keep my kick-butt race-pace (insert Nelson’s “ha ha” here) up the last mile.
Good news: Then I realized my time didn’t matter so much. I’d had a fabulous run on my favorite trails and had had the privilege of meeting some really nice fellow racers–folks who, both pre-and-post-race, had all kinds of interesting questions and comments and insights into running and their own searches for footwear that would keep them enjoying this most excellent activity.
Best news of the day: During the post-race chatting, a couple came up to me and said that when they had been lost on the course (did I mention the markings were a little sketchy?) they had looked for my barefoot footprints (barefootprints?) to help them find their way. That made my day, and my super kind and accomplished Feldenkrais coach will be happy to know she has continued job security as we keep working on sorting out how I move now, and how I can learn to move more effectively.
Here’s a few photos by my hubby, who scooted around the course on his BMX bike (his mid-life-crazy hobby):
I really enjoy following “Ahcuah” . . . the author does a great job sharing research (often from 20th century newspaper archives) showing how being barefoot has been portrayed in earlier times. This latest post from a 1916 column carries a timely message: how important it is for children (and, in this piece, specifically girls), to go barefoot.