Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Three Years in Portland

Three years into living in the greater DC area and I was thinking about moving. I came thiiiis close to signing a deal with a foreign shoe company that would have changed my life. (To this day that deal is why I believe virtually no one when they say they will do something until it is actually 100% accomplished.)  Three years into living in Salt Lake City and I while I had less of a desire to move from there than I did in DC, I still had some itchy feet.

Three years of living in Portland? Well, I almost bought the place I am living in now just the other day. Well, almost isn't correct. But as almost as I have ever come to thinking about buying a place. Point being, who knows what will come up in the time being but right now I am more than content to live in the City of Roses.

1096 days of living in a place can give you some perspective and knowledge of the area. You also realize how little you know of it, especially when you spend about a week of every month away from it. I still haven't eaten a Voodoo Doughnut. Haven't, and won't, drink a craft beer of any kind. In spite of the plethora of opportunities, haven't even made it into one of our many fine strip clubs (even the vegan one!) Even when it comes to running, when people insist it must be a great running town (it's fair; but I guess it matters what you think makes a city a great place to run) it took me until just last month to finally run from Forest Park end to end.  I assumed I would have done that my first month here back in 2012.

When I moved in, I didn't really know what to expect of this town.  My arm and shoulder were still healing from a bike crash. I was barely two months removed from running the entire coast of Oregon. I assumed I would make constant trips to visit the ocean. In three years I have probably been there five times total. I also have realized that living on West Coast time is really odd. Sporting events start in the afternoon. NFL games start at 10 am. Many of my friends are getting up to go to work when I, the night owl, am still working away.

I have learned how extraordinarily diverse the state of Oregon is. I have been trying to explore as much of it as I can when I am home. It has now gotten to the point that most of the places I have not been to are at least a 3-4 hour drive away. That's a commitment to exploring when you know 6 hours of driving is needed to get to and from just to see something new.

My running has had some ups and downs, mostly downs.  However, it seems to be on the upswing. I have run some routes so many times and named them that my friends and fans on social media often know the routes and when I run them. That is a tad frightening when you think about it but flattering as well.

That said, I wanted to celebrate this 3rd year Portland-aversary with a special run. I had mapped out what I knew would be a little bit of a headache-to-run route a while back. I wasn't sure when or if I would ever run it.  But last night I decided today was the day.  So I loaded up my Camelbak Marathoner pack (it was a warm day today in Portland and I needed some water), started my Timex One GPS+ and off I went.

Most of my runs when I am home have the purpose of being workouts, not exploring or sightseeing.  Today, however was about taking it all in. Learning some new areas, realizing the route actually went over parts I had run over just once or twice previously in the past 3 years and some that I run about 2-3 a week. It was a nice mish-mash.

All told, however, I think the route symbolizes what I think of the Beaver State: I sure do love it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Thoughts on Father's Day

My father passed away three years ago in January. On Father's Day I have well-meaning friends say they know today must be hard for me. However, if not for the fact that it is made very much in my face that today is Father's Day, I don't think about him that much more than I do normally.

My father was not a perfect man. I wish he had been a better father.  By the same token, I am not a perfect man and I know I could be a better son (brother, relative, friend, marathon runner, writer, etc.) I also know that I am happy that he is no longer on this planet in the form he was in when I last knew him. Crippled by a hunting accident before I was born, my father spent his entire life that I knew him in constant pain. Becoming obese by a combination of his accident and his own personal choices, he was far from happy when it comes to his physical state. Near the end of his life, Alzhemier's robbed him of his mind.Whereas I can go for a run when crap is weighing on me, and lose my thoughts and mind for a bit to escape, he had no such physical escape. With his mind gone, there was nothing left of him.

Before Alzheimer's set in the hardest way, his memory began slightly receding. He hated it. With a passion. It made him so angry when he couldn't remember the slightest detail. I can only imagine that he saw that with his mind on its way out that his body would soon follow. He had long since outlived his expiration date given to him by doctors following his accident.  My family had repeatedly said the only way he was still alive was because he was too stubborn to die.  Akin to a quote about Teddy Roosevelt dying in his sleep, it is a good thing Death came for my father when he was not himself because Death would have lost an eye in the battle.

Dads are marginalized. They are made the butt of virtually all sitcoms and commercials. Poor befuddled men don't know how to run a dishwasher or make sure the diaper is on correctly! I saw a Coke advertisement for those personalized cans. Mom was large and in charge. Grad was next. Then, in a smaller freaking can, was Dad. Mothers are told they have the most difficult job on the planet. My thoughts on that are summed up best by comedian Bill Burr (hilarious link that has some foul language in it here.) Fortunately, things are turning around for the dad set. (And believe me, I love my Mom, too.)

Do I have a point? Actually, I don't know. I am in Canada for the day to watch the Women's World Cup. I went for a run on the very cool Bog Forest Trail. I was alone with my thoughts and they turned to the game I was going to be watching. I played soccer for more than few years growing up. While my father was more of a fan of baseball, and made every single game I played, he would watch many of the soccer games as well.

For three years I played soccer and football at the same time. I had a forgiving soccer coach who allow me to show up late to practice because there was no way in hell that the football coach in small, Northwestern Titusville, PA would let me get out a little early to go kick a ball around. After football practice ended, I would jump in the back of my Dad's beat up truck, and in the drive all the way across town (I am pretty sure it is one mile; wait let me check: nope it is 1.8 miles) I would be changing from football clothes to soccer clothes. Some days I would keep the football pants with their legs pads on when I was feeling in a particularly forceful mood for soccer.

My father (and my mother) would shuttle me between these events and allow me to mediocrely play as many sports as I could, with little to no complaints. While both parents were at virtually every sporting event I took part in, for some reason soccer, the sport my Dad was most indifferent about, is the one which makes me think about my Dad the most.

I have no tidy way to sum up my thoughts. There is no overarching cathartic point which will tie this together. I guess this really is not a post for anyone else but rather a place for me to think out loud. As his life was winding down, and mine was changing from interviewing with the CIA and wanting to be a spy (seriously) to making a living running and writing and talking about it, I spoke to him virtually every day.  He didn't remember all of the conversations.  If a few days went by between me mentioning a marathon coming up and me running it, he would need reminded.

However, I think our bond as father and son was closest those last few years. My favorite moments were when my father, not know to lavish praise on either myself or my brother, would tell me how good of a writer I was.  He would end some conversations where I was mentioning writing a new book or trying to get it into a big chain store with "I really hope you do.  Gosh, you are a good writer."  I told him he had told me that repeatedly but I never got sick of it. His voice conveyed just a touch of surprise, a dash of awe and a bunch of pride.  Those phone conversations were really nice.Not great. Not wonderful.  Just I would end the call with an "I love you" and he would say it back.  Nice is the best way to describe it.

Maybe that is my point. Don't just call your Dad today. Call him tomorrow. And often. Someday you won't be able to do so and you will regret it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rachel Dolezal needs to "identify" with being a fraud

So I am watching this Rachel Dolezal zoo and as much as I don't want to give her any more press, I thought: "OK, here is 10 minutes where you get to explain yourself. Go." Matt Lauer interviewed her on Today and I figured I would do my best to watch it with an open mind.

But before two seconds goes by I already can't stand her. From the get go when Lauer says "All the headlines" and she shakes here head with an audible sigh as if to say: "I know! What's up with that?" I want to grab her by her fake nappy hair and say "YOU CAUSED IT ALL."  Then I regroup and try to listen again. (By the way, has any woman ever been accused of faking her fake hair before?)

Lauer asks her in many different ways talking about the lid be blown off and if she is white and Dolezal says she needs to discuss the "complexity of her identity." Rachel, sweetheart, your parents are both white. Unless, they are not your parents (entirely possible and there is some WEIRD story that is going to leak) then there is no complexity. I do not care what you "identify" as. I identified as a superhero growing up. I don't get to BE a superhero. I am not freaking Nightcrawler because we are both German! I calm myself again. Wait. Am I seriously only 42 seconds into this?!

Next there is a segment about what her parents say which is quite complimentary. "She is a very talented woman. Doing work she believes in. Why can't she do that as a Caucasian Woman, which is what she is."  Dolezal then goes on to say: "I don't see why they are in such a rush to whitewash (seriously, she said "whitewash) some of the work I have done and who I am." They aren't in a rush. I am guessing they have been trying to do this for 32 years (your age minus the age 5 when you started using brown crayons to color pictures of yourself which I think is all this court needs to determine you are black. Case closed.)

When asked why she identified a black man as her dad she says "Every man can be a father, not every man can be a dad." Meanwhile she has this shit-eating smirk on her that good god almighty I want to knock right off.

It is here I realize something. The other day I compared Dolezal to Donald Trump in a tweet. I was partially joking but now I realize I was right. She is 100% delusional. No matter what happens, no matter what facts are put in front of her, she will always have an explanation or a reason. On the Daily Show the other day, Jon Stewart mentioned that they finally got Donald Rumsfeld.  He then realizes that is is not only hollow but fruitless as people like him will just always swivel into another answer. This is exactly like this situation. Anyone who can says they "identify" with something and think it is a synonym for "being" is never going to change their mind. Or maybe she is not delusional. Maybe she is just supremely manipulative. You know, making the words mean whatever she wants whenever them to mean what she wants them to mean. Bill Clinton asking what the definition of "is" is, comes to mind. Masters of deception. Slight of tongue, if you will. They might get caught from time to time but rarely.  If they do, more people are willing to take them back into the fold then shun them.

Far more qualified people than me (who get actually paid to express their viewpoints, by the way) can tell you how this ongoing action by Dolezal is mind-numbingly in bad taste at best, shocking horrible at worst. I can simply say I know most of what I need to know about Rachel Dolezal comes from a couple of things.
1. She sued her college, Howard, a historically black university, over discrimination because she was white.
2. Even given the benefit of hindsight, she says her life has been one of "survival" and for the most part, she wouldn't change the things she has done. She reminds me also of Cheryl Strayed, who I gladly skewered in a blog post about her fictional tome "Wild".

What irks me most about this is the plethora of people doing good and doing things the right way who do not get the attention they deserve. This seems like an awful time to plug my book with Lacie Whyte called Running With the Girls but the exact purpose of that book was to show people doing just that. Rising up, surviving, and making the right decisions. Not getting caught, pretending you did nothing wrong, and then acting like somehow we are all the bad ones because you continuously lie, use subterfuge, or don't answer the questions.

It boils down to this: for whatever reason, Rachel Dolezal is a fraud. She tried to milk a system whichever way she felt it would best serve her purposes and maybe 20 years ago before social media etc, she would have skated by. But she didn't. She got caught.

Try as you might, she can't whitewash that.

The Dipsea Race Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 10th Edition 
132.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: The Dipsea Race
Place: Mill Valley, CA
Miles from home: 640
Weather: 50s; overcast

As my continual research for my next book continues, there are some races I know that will be included in it before I even run them. Or more accurately, they will REALLY have to mess up for me to not include them.  Suffice it to say the Dipsea Race did not mess up. In fact, it more than delivered.

I recall once writing a race recap that said something akin to how I did not have the race I was hoping to have. In fact, my experience with the race was hardly an enjoyable one. Nevertheless, I felt the race itself was top notch, did everything right, and is one everyone should run. The same can be said about Dipsea.

That may seem confusing so allow me to clarify.  I do not like to, nor am I any good at, running uphills. In fact, I would venture to guess that for anyone who has run under 2:50 in a marathon, I might be the worst uphill runner alive. The Dipsea Race has some serious uphill. I knew this going into the race. It was not a surprise. I do not fault the race for it. But that is why I did not "enjoy" myself, per se, at least when I was running it.  However, I am 100% glad I ran this race and can see myself returning. It is definitely a course where repeated runnings, or at least repeated specific training on the course, will help you excel.

For those who are unaware of the Dispea Race, let me provide you with a brief background. First held in 1905 with a group of men challenging each other to see who’d be first to Stinson Beach from downtown Mill Valley, California, taking whatever route they chose, the Dipsea race still maintains its one-way course and continues to favor those who know shortcuts (though the course has been greatly restricted over the years.) The race has a unique handicapping system, in which the oldest and youngest runners start first, with each age/gender wave following each minute after. This handicapping system was something I had major reservations about.  I feel "age-grading" or other manufacturings are just not something I usually like to deal with. But for some reason, this didn't bother me at the Dipsea.

The race definitely has a small-town feel even though there were roughly 1500 registered runners for the 100th running. Now, I know runners brought up in the age of monster-races with bands every mile think 1500 participants sounds quaint, but that is a lot of people. Throw in the fact this is one challenging course, and getting that many people to push themselves that hard is no small feat. Kudos to the Dipsea people for getting that done.

Why some races take off, gain a foothold, and never slip is a mystery. Others are flashes in the pan.  Even many others barely make a dent before fading away. Dipsea has that certain feel, however. There are plenty of reason or theories why that is so. But what matters most is that it does.

The course itself is a study in contrast. A quarter of a mile road leads to 688 stairs that runners traverse in three flights with a smidgen of road between each flight. For reference that is like climbing as a fifty-story building. But with uneven slippery steps. From there runners go down the other side of Mount Tamalpais into the Muir Woods. After a brief respite, a monstrous climb of 1200 feet or so takes runners to the top of the trail, but not before a trail of uneven footing, single-track footpaths, through an incredibly steep terrain, not to mention a rainforest. Your reward for getting through this is being allowed to nearly break you neck through the narrowest of trails before finally jumping out onto 1/3 of a mile of downhill road to the finish. Suffice it to say, I liked 1/3 of a mile of this race.

Race Morning:

I mistakenly thought the race started earlier than it did. This mistake however allowed me to find a parking space at the start. Without a doubt the logistics of this race would make it difficult for a single runner to navigate it smoothly, unless they did copious research.  Given I showed up at the wrong time, one can see how copious my research was. I am unsure exactly why I planned so poorly for this race but I just did. Fortunately, it worked out for me. Parking spot in hand, I settled in for a small rest.

There was one section which was forbidden for runners to enter. When I inquired why, one of the codgerly old volunteers said, without fear of reprisal: "So runners don't piss and shit in front of the City Hall." Makes perfect sense to me. Apparently this had been a problem in the past and the city had threatened to close the race down. Well, we can't have that. Stay in the portapotties, people!

The race officials lined people up according to their wave. Then they lined up the next group "in the hole" and the rest of us milled around sorta in the groups where were assigned. As dozens and dozens of people would line up and run up the street, all I could imagine was how bad it was going to be to pass people. That's if I had the strength in my legs to do so.

Finally it was time for the "Y" group to go. A few smatterings of banter was given to us by the announcer and then a 3...2...1... Go!

Up the Stairs

As we ran the short road to the stairs, I tried to assess how serious my fellow runners were. I was in no way not racing but as I was here as part of the "media" I wanted to take in as much of the race as possible from  that perspective. I don't care what anyone says about scenery: if you are racing hard, especially on a trail, you aren't paying attention to it.  Or if you are, you are doing so at great personal risk to your health and well-being. But if you take off the throttle just a bit, you can look around. You can see the sites. You can be part of the course. That was my goal for the day.  Push, but not too hard. and see why Dipsea is Dipsea.

When, not even a minute into the race, we ran through a park and more or less hurdled a swing set and slide in a playground, I knew this was going to be a much different kind of day than I usually encounter.

As we climbed the stairs, the runners almost came to a walking stop. Those going slower (including me) immediately moved to the right. Here there was enough room for two bodies to go abreast. For extremely ambitious there was enough room to the left of the stairs for runners to run on the dirt. I didn't like "walking" here but I knew this was not where I was going to make up any time on people. Huffing and puffing, I conquered one set of stairs.

There were plenty of people on the sides of the stairs cheering on the runners. It appeared from my peripherals that a few houses had backyards which abutted the stairs. Their owners, or trespassing fans, rang cowbells and cheered us on from those backyards. I was mostly focused on the shoes and butt in front of me and tried to say thank you here and there though gasps for breath.

The vast majority of these steps were a blur for me. What stands out most, however, was between the 2nd and 3rd staircases, where we popped out onto Hazel Ave. To my right there was an SUV idling. I hesitated at the top of every hill and staircase to catch a deep breath and then attack. This hesitation must have given this person who just HAD to be somewhere the gumption to gun it. Apparently this person did not know about the race and that it would be crossing this very narrow winding street. That's understandable. It is only the 100th running of the race. *eye roll* Of course, they only went about 15 feet before they had to stop again. The previous group of runners had not yet finished running on the road and were clamoring up the stairs. I and the guy right behind me basically ran into the back of the SUV as it lurched to a stop. We squeezed between it and the wall of the hill before slipping by and taking on the third set of stairs. A spectator said : "That SUV has made the most aggressive move of anyone yet today."  I actually smiled at the comment.

On this set of stairs I felt my achilles and calf aching a bit.  Having had some issues with them both in the past, I am always mindful of their whining. I was glad this was the last set of stairs but also a little worried. I perhaps needed to step off the throttle just a tad more. At the top, a volunteer said; "Straight up the hill and down the trail!" I replied: "I thought we were already running straight up the hill!"

Down Through Shortcuts

One of the idiosyncrasies about this race is how, even though the chances have grown slimmer, runners are allowed to take shortcuts. This is a very European style of racing which can sometimes cause controversy here in the US. As I raced down the hills here I was unsure what I would do when presented with the shortcuts. For the most part, while shorter, they were more difficult to run. The first I saw was marked with two signs. To the left it said "Suicide". To the right it said "Safer". One of my main goals was to get through this race without any injuries.  I am enjoying my most niggle-free year of running in quite sometime and a twisted ankle like I had on Thanksgiving would not make my day. I decided that since absolutely no one seemed to be taking the longer route it might be the better choice. So right I went.

During this longcut, I looked ahead and saw not a single runner. I was surprised that no one else went this way. I used this as a little bit of a breather as I did not have to worry about someone crazily bombarding past me and scaring the bejesus out of me. They didn't frighten me as much as I was feeling all mother hen about watching someone bite it and break a femur. When I popped out of the longcut I looked around at the other runners around me. I did not recognize a shirt or shoe. While I am not 100% sure of the distance, it appears I added a good quarter of a mile to my run. That explains why no one else was taking the route! Oh well.

Skipping across Muir Woods Road and a parking lot we were at 139 feet above sea level. The next 2 miles would take us up to 1,356 feet and the top of the trail. If it was just 600 feet per mile that would be bad enough. But the trail ahead would be filled with roots, rocks and, for those over 5'4'', branches to knock you unconscious.

An Ocean View:

I have long since learned to employ a walking method for uphill running. It usually what seems like 1/10th the effort for 85% of the speed. While I may lose a race to a few runners doing this, I feel I arrive in much better shape and ahead of many more than if I tried to "run" a hill. Suffice it to say there are large sections of this hill that absolutely no one on Earth is running. They may be trying to make the effort but it is comical at best.

Deer Park Fire Road is its official name but for the next 2 miles this road was hell for me.  I did, however, pass more than a few runners with just one or two runners passing me. Also, suddenly, around mile four, I felt like a new man. This is not surprising given it often takes me about 6 miles in a marathon to wake up and time-wise these four miles here took that long. In fact, in spite of the rugged footing and steep climb, I did find myself bounding through a few spots.

One of my biggest trepidations about this race was the supposedly narrow paths and how hard it would be to pass people when necessary. While this was more or a less a truism on the small amount of downhill we had (I will get to that in a bit) for the most part, counter-intuitively, the uphill section were rather wide. If you had the energy and the gumption, it wasn't too hard to pass a runner. That's a big "if" however.

I did not know at the time that the top 450 runners get an automatic invitation to return to the race. If so, perhaps I would have run a few more sections. Then again, because of the wave starts, I had no idea what place I was in. I did know that I was passing not only people I had never seen but one or two here and there who had gone out in my group. I also knew I was dripping with sweat. My hands on my knees to help me push up the hill would just slip off my drenched quads. Bent nearly in half, I would almost facebutt my leg before catching myself when they did.

Running through an area called "Rainforest" did not help this whatsoever as seemingly out of nowhere a light rain fell from the tree. In spite of the slippery nature, it was actually rather neat. I expected a T-Rex to pop its head out of the jungle any moment. Whether it ate my competitors to help me, or ate me to put me out of my misery, either would be fine.

Up ahead I could hear the clanging of cowbells and loud cheers. I could tell we were about to crest the hill and I was excited not only for the ability to run but for what had to be a wonderful view. So I readied myself, got to the top, took a big breath - and fog covered the entire ocean area. Reminiscent of my first trip to the Grand Canyon which I recounted in my Rim2Rim run, it was almost a joke. I couldn't see anything! No matter, really. I had a downhill to run as fast as possible.

To The Finish:

During the first descent earlier in the race, I had on occasion gotten behind someone who was running a bit slower than me. For the most part I let it go without trying to kill myself going around them. I wanted to stay upright and aside from one tiny slip, I had been a balancing act fool. I credit my Karhu Trail shoes for giving me not only some serious traction but also for keep my feet feeling good throughout.

Following a brief section that could be characterized as flat or even back uphill for a minute, I was ready to head downhill. I used this section to pass more than a few runners as, even though I did not know the course, I did know it was virtually downhill barring "Insult"- a small but steep hill right near the end.  Unfortunately, as noted before, the trail became much thinner here. A plethora of roots appeared. High, thick grass barely divulged where the trail was or where it was turning until you already had a foot planted on the ground. Passing here was not only impossible but would have been destructive to runner and foliage if tried. All my legs wanted to do was go and they were locked in prance mode.

Finally, at the Whitegate Ranch trail head we popped out onto a road. I had no concept of time or distance and assumed this might be the final stretch to the finish. Unfortunately, about 100 yards up the road I could see runners heading back onto the trail. I remembered this from the excellent UltraSportsLive course preview and it was not the end. But if I hustled I could pass some runners. So hustle I did.

While I passed roughly 15 runners in this short section it put me smack dab into another group. I was a bit exasperated as I had just spent the previous mile stuck behind a solidly running, yet slower-than-me woman. I was, however, impressed, as she was running the whole race in a pair of Vibrams.  Right on cue, when I noticed that was her footwear of choice, I step on a really sharp rock. How anyone can run in those is beyond me. Unfortunately, given the narrow trail and her just fast enough-I-couldn't-pass speed, I was behind her far longer than I wanted to be. In addition, I almost knocked myself unconscious a tree branch which anyone 5'4'' or under might not have noticed. It was here that I decided with no sun and completely cloud cover with dense trees overhead, I should remove my Julbo sunglasses for just a bit.

Up and over Insult, I had one last group of about 5 people I had to contend with. I knew the road was coming soon so rather than push by them now I waited another 200 yards or so. That would come to bite me in the ass.

Finally, after what was far too long, I erupted onto US 1. I could hear the finish line bells and cheers about 1/3 of a mile away. I turned on the jets and flew passed 5 runners. A group of 10 more or so was ahead. I gave it all I had and quickly had them beside and then behind me. My watch shows I ran, albeit briefly, a nice 4:15 mile pace. It has been a long time since I have wanted, or needed, to kick a race finish this hard.  But with people in front of me to catch, I did just that.

In the final stretch of 100 yards or so I had to make one last decision: was it worth the hard effort to knock out a few other runners? If I knew what I knew now, I would probably say no it was not.  But then I wanted to dig deep and pass everyone I could see. And pass them I did.

I finished in a running time of 1:10:18. My goal had been around 1:05. I was, however, basing that solely on a guess as I had no idea how long it should take me. This finish (with the two minute handicap giving me a 1:08:18) put me in 458th place. Or in other words, 8 places out of a guaranteed spot for next year. Bollocks.

I looked at the results for the race and tried to figure out how many people passed me. It looks like around 90 or so did from the groups in my own group and the two behind me. Now, I may be wrong about that as I don't think there were that many people total behind me but who knows. All I do know is that a mere 16 seconds separated me from my guaranteed entry. Until I found that out, I was fairly certain I would not be repeating this race anytime soon. Now, the competitive runner in me wants to come back, knock 10 minutes off my time and retired having run a sub-60 Dipsea. Time will tell if that happens.

As it stands, I am more than pleased with not only the race, but my effort and the results. I broke nothing, ran a solid time, enjoyed how well-run the race was (I can appreciate a finely-tuned machine even while it is making me suffer) and got plenty of thoughts for a chapter in my next book.

If you can get in, you should run the Dispea Race. Your time may not be great, and you may not fully enjoy the pain while you are doing it, but you will be happy that you have experienced this interesting and wonderful event.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Running Forest Park - All 50 Kilometers Of It

One of my very first runs in Portland back in 2011, even before I lived here, was in Forest Park. It is the go-to, easy response to anyone who wants a recommendation as to where to run in Portland. But it is neither an easy run to do nor the most straightforward of places to find a place to start from.  As it is such a massive park, there isn't just one entrance or exit. Furthermore, because of the multitude of paths and crossings, you definitely need to have either a good sense of direction or pay really close attention to which trail you are supposed to be on. Of course, those who love it are usually those who run on it the most, know the trails like the rest of know our hometown streets, and can't fathom getting lost. But it definitely can be done. I have done it often, much to my chagrin.

Regardless of this, I ran there a few years ago, really enjoyed it and after moving to Portland assumed I would be going there often. But the thing is I live on the east side of the Willamette River. The park is on the west side of the river. Because of my disdain for driving somewhere to run, this greatly lessens my chances of running there. To me, driving is wasted time I could be spending exercising. Traversing bridges and hoping to find parking near one of the trailheads is not my idea of time well-spent. Call me spoiled but I like lacing up my shoes and beginning my run the moment I want to run. That is, without a doubt, why my favorite location for living ever (with regards to running) was across the street from Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.  Three thousand miles run around a 1.5 mile loop in four years attests to that.  In addition, because I spend so much time in the zone of paying attention to my body and how it feels, how pretty the visages are around me when I run mean very little. I can appreciate them, sure, but they are not as important.

Of course, having said all of that, I still very much yearned to run the length of Forest Park on the Wildwood Trail. Last July, after living here for two years, I decided to give the nearly 50km run a go. The forest-traipsing was cut way short when a ridiculously placed seam in my shorts rubbed the sensitive parts on me quite raw. I hadn't even made it halfway when I was forced to quit or reconsider my gender. I vowed I would be back.

On Friday, 48 hours before my birthday, I was out of sorts. I don’t think it had anything to do with turning 39 as much as it just was one of those days.  Perhaps I felt a twinge of guilt from not having completed a Rim2Rim2Rim running of the Grand Canyon two weeks prior.  I had made it Rim2Rim, lost my desire to run anymore, and called it a day. I was then, and am now, fine with that decision. Stopping “early” was the right call for that day. Yet, one can still be disappointed with decisions which are the right ones to make. Nevertheless, standing in the shower, I decided I would be running Forest Park on Sunday, my birthday.

So, I asked my best friend Shannon if she would be so kind to help me out with the running of the trail. As there are no sources of water for the entirety of the 31 miles of the Wildwood Trail, if you are going to run it by yourself you are either going to have to sweat far less than I do, or carry a ton of water. But if you can talk a friend into meeting you twice along the way, to crew you and haul some supplies, you have it made. Luckily, I did the latter.

Fortunately, while it was forecasted to be quite warm and sunny on this celebration of my birth, I knew that the park is virtually impenetrable when it comes to sunshine. The old-growth forest and new growth and every-other-growth create quite the canopy. As long as it was not too humid or too muggy, I should be fine. 

I planned on starting at 8 a.m. Arriving right around that time near the zoo, I remembered there is no bathroom right there to be used. This strikes me as odd every time I run here as it seems a portapotty would be greatly appreciated by many. However, I remembered there was a permanent bathroom nearby at the Arboretum. I took care of business and only slightly late at Bob O’clock (8:08 a.m.) I was underway.

First 9ish miles to 53rd Ave Trailhead

One takes off from the parking lot of the zoo and can almost immediately walk if they want. Well, I guess you can walk anywhere but given how steep the first 50 feet of the trail are, my point is a run won't be much faster. I don’t like running uphill at all and the first four miles of this run are far and away the hardest of the entire run. In addition, here at the start, there are a variety of ways and trails branching off from one another to lead you astray. So paying attention is paramount. Case in point, about 2 miles of running and I somehow completely did a loop and ended up right back to a road near the Arboretum which I had already passed. Bollocks. Not the way I wanted to start the day.

I got myself on track, though, and was able to double back and find where I think I should have gone. Then I remembered, because of my trip to the bathroom earlier, that the Wildwood Trail crosses the road near the Arboretum. I simply ran down the road, eschewing adding another half mile to follow the trail and got back on track.

When I made the trek last summer, I was lucky to have one Facebook friend meet me at the beginning and run an hour or so with me. Because of that I remembered a few wrong turns we had taken and they stuck out like sore thumbs. After shaking off the initial blah of being awake at this hour just to go run far and then making a wrong turn, I was feeling not too shabby.

Arriving at the Pittock Mansion, right around 4 miles in, pretty much signifies that the hardest climbs of the entire run are over.  If one was thinking of running the opposite direction and ending here, they would have to deal with the big uphill on the other side I would soon be running down. Also, that hill would be at mile 26 and not mile 4. As such, most who run the length of the trail, do so in the direction I was going.

I politely nodded to a group of about five or six milling in the parking lot looking like they too were going for a run. I wondered how many, if any, would be doing the whole thing today as well.

Leaving Pittock I quickly plunged down the side of the hill and joined the Macleay Trail.  I forgot for a bit that the Wildwood and Macleay trails were one for a bit and this gave me a bit of pause. Then I came upon the Stone House and remembered their convergence. Supposedly haunted (you know if you believe in ridiculous things with no proof) it is nonetheless quite cool and creepy. In addition, the house reminded me of the second wrong turn I had made previously. So this time I made the climb up the right way.

The forest remained rather dark in spite of the sunshine I knew was beating down from above.  I have always been a little claustrophobic and it felt like the trees were heavy today. While I normally wear my Julbo sunglasses in nearly every condition, I found myself taking them off for a few miles. I needed the extra depth perception to pick out the trail and also feel less encumbered.

I was surprised by the lack of other runners and hikers out and about. There was a small influx near Macleay simply because that is a favorite entrance for many. Being self-employed and doing things on my own schedule, I have become accustomed to being able to run errands or experience museums or whatnot on opposite schedules of others. Grocery shopping when there is no one else around is an absolute joy, for example. So when I am doing something on a day and time when others should or could be, it makes me wonder where in the heck they are. Believe me, I did not want more people out there with their dogs off of leashes but was counting my stars as to how easily I was able to run where I wanted.

My prediction for these first 9ish miles was 90 minutes.  When I came up to the 53rd street trailhead to where Shannon was waiting with drinks and a towel it was 1:36 into the run.  Given the detour at the beginning, that was pleasing.

To mile 24 at Germantown Road:

I spent a little over 12 minutes refueling myself at Shannon’s car as well as toweling off and wringing out my shirt. It truly is a marvel to see me sweat. I am aware it is extremely healthy but it is also extremely detrimental to trying to keep liquids in my body. If I have a superpower, it is sweating. In fact, I think I broke a small sweat just typing the word sweating a few times.

I also took in some calories here in the liquid form as well.  I have learned more than a few things about my body by running ultras and I know it does not digest food very well when I am exercising. Competing in ultras is a special challenge because of the sweat thing and the digestion thing. Unfortunately, I might have taken in a little too much Mountain Dew here.  For the first two miles, I felt fantastic. It fact, it felt good for what seemed so long that I was sure I had been running longer than 16 minutes. However, suddenly my stomach churned and I was brought to a walk. For a bit I simply sauntered along, trying to settle it. It was nice to know that other than my own ticking watch there really wasn't any pressure. No one was going to pass me from behind and knock me out of my age group. It was just me and the trail. Fortunately, after a few minutes, all was right as rain and away I went.

A big milestone on this run would be not making a wrong turn I had made the last time I tried this trail last June. The wrong turn had been helpful then as it put me on a road that took me out of the park to deal with the horrific chafing. Yet it was not one I wanted to repeat today. When I made the correct turn, I shook my fist defiantly at the road like I was an evil character in Scooby-Doo. "Firelane One, I conquered you today. Your clutches will not entice me to go the wrong way down a Black Diamond-esque ski slope of a downhill only to realize it is wrong and have to trek back up it!"

Soon thereafter, I heard voices from behind. I was wondering when or if I would have anyone passing me today. Two young bucks, shirtless with no hydration backs or bottles to speak of, flew by.  I figured this was probably just a small run for them and bid them adieu. Sure enough, at the bottom of this hill, they were coming back at me, presumably to head back for their short 5 miler. The first rule of running is that if anyone is running faster than you, automatically assume they not running nearly as far as you. It helps with the ego.

Before I knew it I was crossing both Firelane Two and Three which put me at 13.5 miles. That makes a man feel good until he remembers he is running 31 miles on that day. What did make me happy was my ability to actually run. I had always been a little anti-Forest Park simply because most of what I had run on it had been on those opening miles where you can’t, well, actually run. I hate hiking when I am supposed to be running.  That is why a few of the most illustrious 100 milers out there will never entice me. But here, this was almost entirely runnable. I changed my outlook immediately as mile after mile flew by. 

I crossed the Saltzman Road intersection and remembered this as a point where I tracked down a runner in the TrailFactor 50k two years prior almost to the day. Firelane Six followed and it seemed like everything was going by so quickly. I passed over Doane Creek (which I think is an extra vowel short of being awesome) but it was barely a trickle. Portland is in a bit of a drought, you know.  Of course, you wouldn’t because if it rains two days out of ten here that is all you hear about.

At Firelane 7 I knew I was 20 miles in. I was making excellent time. My guess was this 15 mile section would take me a hair over 2:10 to complete. Given how well I felt, I thought this might even be a tad slow. But then for some reason, things got weird. Either I took a wrong turn and added some miles or what felt like 8 minutes per mile was actually 11. I know it wasn’t the latter as I was cruising along the trails. But somehow, the last 4 miles took an inexplicably long amount of time. Every minute one runs past the time they think it should take to get somewhere magnifies exhaustion, confusion, and all the things we worry about.

When I finally came careening around a corner and Shannon was there taking a picture I was so damn glad to be done with this section.

To the end:

I spent what I thought was an exorbitant amount of time here refueling and drying myself but it ends up just being about minute longer than the previous stoppage. I drank and ate a little more here than before and had to have my entire Camelbak refilled. I had been leaking sweat like a sieve. It was also nice to be able to enjoy my Shurky Jurky a bit more as I wasn’t trying to chew it between heavy breathing. Of course, when that is the case, I usually just put it between my cheek and teeth and suck all the wonderful goodness out of it.

15 minutes later, I was running again.

This last 6 miles went by very quickly. I walked a little bit more than I would have liked but I knew in less than an hour I would be done. I got to thinking about how this was quite possibly the longest run I had ever done in my life that didn’t have a medal waiting for me at the end or was tied to a bigger event. I had run 50 miles a day for 7 straight days for my Pacific Coast 350.  I had run from Dane, WI to Davenport, IA in 3 days doing even more than that per day. But those had been almost race-like atmospheres. This was just me out running over 50 kilometers for poops and giggles. On trails. Neither are things I do very much without reason. In fact, when I was training for the Graveyard 100, the longest run I did in the 3 months prior to it was a hair over 19 miles. That 100 miler ended up just fine.

There were a few places where the trail was exposed to sunlight for the briefest of time. The sun baked me in those ten or twenty yards. It reminded me how warm it actually was outside and how nice this tree roof I was running under really was.

I passed a few people here and there and told most of them thank you for moving (if they did) and to have a nice day. About half of a mile from the finish, one of them said back to me “You, too!” I turned and said, “It’s my birthday and I just ran 32 miles. It is a damn good day.” And I wasn’t lying.

Thanks to Shannon for “crewing” me once again. It was a great way to spend my birthday. 6500 feet of elevation gain, no wrong turns after mile two, no chafing, no falls (although I came close twice), no sprained ankles (same) in just a hair over 5 hours of running. I definitely did not have to do this. 

I got to. Happy Birthday to me.