Then I am hit by The Waffle. You know in the Lion King when Raffiki hits Simba with the stick, and says, "Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or... learn from it." If you don't ... here you go! (How's that for a good running song at the end, too!)
For me, 'the past' is the extra waffle I ate for breakfast. It hurts. And in that moment - and the next hour to come - I learn from it. I'm normally light on my run breakfasts - two gluten-free toaster waffles with some almond butter. Maybe 400 cals and not a lot of volume. But before this particular run, I added an extra. Because 17 miles in the mountains was enough to warrant a third. So says my running mathematics. I've never excelled at math. The extra one hit me at mile 1. Like a rock in my gut. And climbing another 1000 feet over the next mile and a half would only magnify its punch exponentially.
I hadn't been on this trail since September, and I'd conveniently forgotten what a slag it is to get up to the Parker Mesa Overlook. It isn't hard because it's steep - there were plenty of hikers taking it on. It's that the trail is steep AND since I'm all dressed to the nines like a trail runner, I have this expectation of myself that I have to power hike it. Like a boss. And so I try to do that, and my heart rate rockets up and skin gets cold and I am the slowest human being to ever walk up this mountain...(the waffle turns into a total brain meltdown at mile 2). But I'm sure as hell not calling it a day this early.
The wise say, 'Never judge a run by it's first mile.' And I'd add, 'Or the first 1,000 feet of climbing.' Through sly, used-car-salesman-like negotiations with my body, my brain keeps me going. I head out to the Overlook and get a nice ocean breeze sliding through the mountain passes. The moment of pause helps me find my breath and step. After a minute of settling in, physically and mentally, I continue on to Trippet Ranch. As soon as I take a few steps in that direction, my brain/body/waffle fight ceases. I'm ready for this run.
Up and down and up and down ... I sloth along the wide, rocky fire road. I enjoy the walls of mountain in the distance. I breath in nature and sip my water. I calculate the odds of a forest fire, earthquake or other random catastrophe to befall me during my journey (odds: almost nil). And little by little, I make progress.
I make my way along the wide fire road for a couple of rolling miles, just staring at the spread before me. After a half hour or so, beautiful Topanga State Park appears on my right. Side note: Very grateful for all of the folks (volunteers) who manage the upkeep of these mountains and their trails.
I turn the corner of the road and see, about 2,000 feet below me, the canyon I ran through last weekend. I look at the red walls to my left and recall that last weekend, I was climbing up up up looking left right at these red slats of mountain in the distance. It was an odd "ah-ha" moment as my mental map and true geography clicked together. Once again I patted myself on the back, "Good Job, Explorer! Way to explore!"
A few miles later, I descend into Trippet Ranch to refill my water and wring the sweat out of my shirt. I'd only gone about 8 miles, but was feeling the heat from a mostly-shadeless tour. Once reharnessed my pack, I headed toward the Musch trail, the gateway to a meadow of wildflowers. My original plan of going out and back (ie turning around at the end of the path and retracing my steps) was ditched as my interest in the trail grew. Literally, a field of grass and flower ahead of me. More grass and flowers here than on all of the tiny, West Side manicured lawns combined.
Julie Andrews in the Swiss Alps ... you got nothing on this kid swirling around in happy wonder at the sight and sound of nature before me. I decided to follow the trail as far as it goes and then re-route from there. Lucky for me, it dumped me right back into the Ranch parking lot. Another refill and a climb to start the trip home.
Unlike road running, or even Rocky Raccoon (race-related) training, my time in the mountains recently has been mentally calming (when I'm not fighting waffles in my belly). I hike the hills, run the flats and downs, and enjoy knowing that I'm thousands of feet removed from traffic. There are a few trail running clubs and groups around Los Angeles (SM Mountain Goats, Coyotes, and our own nascent TriTrain Trails team) and I do wish my (mostly triathlon/Ironman) friends enjoyed the exploration as much as I do, but even being out there alone is well worth the effort and soothing of the psyche. In some ways, it makes the journey that much more special - it's my legs and brain that get me there, no excuses.
I scuttle back along the Topanga Fire road and catch a glimpse of the ocean in the distance, a sign that it's time to head down to earth soon. Topanga Canyon Rd winds through the mountain below me, the cars looking like the MicroMachines I used to play with in the 80s.
Though tired, I'm reluctant to leave the dirt and rocks, so at a split in the trail, I delay my return another mile to catch one more glimpse of Malibu from the Overlook on high.
The 2-mile descent has some wicked drops which my quads register as I let gravity do its worst to me. Bam! Bam! Bam! Each step. I can manage a technical descent fairly well, but need much more practice on relaxing during the plummet. My feet and my pack make enough noise to warn hikers that a crazy runner is coming. They slide to the side and offer cheers. I smile and laugh and try not to faceplant. One final mile of single track between me and the cars. I dodge past hikers and walkers and coming spitting out of the canyon exactly 4 hours after I started. Destroyed and happy.
18 miles. 4hrs. 5250ft of climbing. I rarely feel 'proud' of my efforts. You just put your head down and get it done. But this one felt really good, and I'm proud of getting after it. I rose above the lows. I pushed forward and explored. And I coached myself through the solo effort. No medal, no bagel, but a lot of feel-good feelings.
Tacked on another 20 miles on Sunday with my TNT team, and that wraps the weekend. It all adds up to suffering just a little bit better, getting a little bit stronger. I'm good with that equation.