Sunday, August 30, 2009

That First Step

It was hard to make my right foot take that first step.

6:25 AM on Saturday morning found me standing up on the old railroad bridge at the Meadowbrook Trail Head of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. It was very gray, almost depressing, and ahead of me was a planned 20-mile run—10 miles up and 10 miles down. The first 5 miles are fairly flat and then its a 1 to 2 percent grade up to Rattlesnake Lake. I've done this run quite a few times so I know what to expect and decided to start running a little earlier so that I could get home in time to pack for an overnight trip out to Ocean Shores.

I stood there, feeling every one of the 16 miles I had run the three days previous and the hard fought 43 miles from last week that forced me to to take two days off. Waking up at 3:30 didn't help either. It was chilly and misty with a forecast for rain (it had been raining in Seattle as I drove out). I just stood there. My right foot didn't want to move and had, evidently, been discussing the matter the left one because it didn't want to move either. I felt rooted like a tree. A tree getting rapidly soaked in the mist.

So I willed my foot to take that first, tenuous step and then willed the left and off I went, very slowly, with my pack sloshing around, my glasses fogging from the chill and the heat trapped under the brim of my hat. I was going so slowly I could read the signs for the Mount Si Golf Course (golf course property for the next 1000 yards, proceed at your own risk) and got a good look at the early morning duffers. 1000 yards. Wow, I finally have a physical representation of what that actually looks like.

Trotting along I see a duffer off to my left. There is high net on either side of the trail and he is mucking with his ball next to the net. He is wearing blue. I keep going and then hear a "whoosh SMACK" as his ball smacks into the net about five feet above me. He seems a talented fellow, much like this guy. :-P A few yards down from the scene of this near-beaning there is a huge hole torn in the net and I wonder what happened. Did someone drive a golf cart through it?  Then I am clear. I've run 1000 yards. Only 34200.32 yards left to go.

There is no one around now and it is getting grayer and mistier. There is Black Bear Scat all over the trail (why is it called "scat") which means that there are bears around. It is early enough for other creatures of the forests to be out and about too. Secretly, I am hoping for the thrill of seeing something but am afraid that I am making too much noise.

At about 50 minutes, just before 5 miles (geez I am going slow), the skies just open up and I am quickly soaked to the bone. It just keeps raining, harder at times. The sound that the rain makes hitting the tree canopy makes a soft background to the crunch, crunch of my shoes. And then I see something as I approach the I-90. A whole family of Elk grazing on the bushes under the road. I slow down even more and get my phone out to take a picture. They are obviously nervous at my approach (wouldn't you be if some guy wearing a Rave Green Sounders jersey and a red and gray backpack came trotting in your direction?). There are at least four young Elk and two older ones (females) and they move away as I stand there photographing them. Eventually, they head under the freeway and off into the woods to the East. I keep going along, looking at all the houses huddled along the river and close-by the freeway. It is still early enough and I haven't seen anyone yet, nor can I smell the usual breakfast smells.

At this point the trail starts a gradual and constant climb that will continue all the way up to Rattlesnake Lake. A couple of years ago I ran down from the lake during the Mt. Si Relay. It was a hot and dry day and that made for the hardest 7.x miles I think I've ever done. My thoughts wandered, thinking about that day and also about watching those runners whose assigned legs were to climb this grade at speed. 1 to 2 percent doesn't sound hard but over time it just thrashes your legs. It started raining again, harder, and soon the rush of the freeway was replaced with the soothing noise of the river below. It is funny how easy it is to confuse the two.

I saw a dog! And another one! They both came to say hello and I greeted their humans too as we passed each other. A brief encounter but a welcome one. Watching dogs play out in the woods is one of my favorite things. They are in their element and there is no dissembling—the joy they exhibit genuinely comes from deep within their doggish essences. Passed a sign in someone's yard, "Invisible Fence + Honorable Dog = No Worries", and I knew that the Rattlesnake trail head, and my turn around, was fairly close. Only a couple more miles. The rain had let up but it was so fogged in that you could never guess that Rattlesnake Ridge was just above.

D was up chalking the course for the rest of the AR runners and I saw him as I reached the toilets. Stopped and chatted with him for a bit and then went off to add a little distance to make 10 miles before heading down. Followed a road that I was not supposed to and ended up in a place I was not supposed to be, at least that much was obvious given the signs that were posted everywhere. Got back to the parking lot and Coach T was there. Running 10 back down the way I had just come was not something I wanted to do so he suggested that I add on the 3-mile Christmas Lake Loop (I call it the Boxley Loop) and then head down to the five and call it 18. Sounded like a good plan and off I went. D caught up with me and we felt the course out. Running single track, even with rubbery legs on slippery rocks and grass, was a welcome change after the long trudge I had just done. The "Tunnel" section was, D remarked, even more tunnel-like because the rain was weighing down the bushes (this section runs down and then up through some sort of berry patch). My clothes were beginning to dry when I started, or at least they were not getting any wetter as the rain had stopped, but I got soaked again on the loop. Had to walk some of the slippery parts too. My legs are impressively scratched up from this escapade.

Reaching the parking lot there are more AR runners coming in and standing with Coach T. Nobody else was going to run Boxely. I trotted down, ran around, and then headed down the Snoqualmie Trail. I didn't recognize many of these folks. PT has a funny story about a conversation she had with one of them but I'll let her relate it if she has a mind to. And then I was alone again. Down 5 miles. I can do that. Sure.

It was hard. My reluctant legs wanted to stop but I forced them to go on (didn't really have a choice) and pretty soon I was under the freeway and to the pick-up point. This time the houses were all awake and dogs made sure that I was aware of their territory as I passed. The sounds of the river faded, replaced by the rush of the freeway. I spotted another couple waiting at the pick-up, one ran 15 and the other biked along, and it took a bit for me to remember how to talk. She is also training for Portland. We compared notes but mostly just got colder and colder as we waited. It wasn't raining. 

A little disappointing not to get 20 in but given the exertions of the past couple of weeks 18 is a significant accomplishment and my next long training run will be all the more easy for this run. Especially if I can make a go of the 10 miles on the beach tomorrow morning.

I seem to be having a lot of these mentally challenging runs lately. The kind where the mind just starts questioning what the body can do and is actually doing. Yep, that first step is often the hardest one . . . probably about as hard as the very last one.




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