On the Way to Grand Raid des Pyrénées

This post signals the beginning of my journey towards the 80km Grand Raid des Pyrénées – Le Tour des Lacs. On the way, I’ll have another 50km and a 50 miler under my belt in preparation for this August as well as many more miles with friends who share similar running goals.

Throughout the year with its ups and downs on the political landscape as well as the ups and downs of trails and dales, I’ve been infuriated, tired and felt like giving up. However, I remain inspired by many. On the political landscape, there was Hillary, an older woman who went against all that was against her, but throughout her journey, she undoubtedly encouraged other women to do the same. On the more down to earth landscape of the trails, there were ultra runners and other travelers who I ran into both literally and literary.

My literary encounters include Marshall Ulrich who tells his story of the magnificent feat of running across America at the grand age of 57 in his inspiring and sometimes moving book, “Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America.” After reading his story, 50kms sounded like a walk in the park!  Ulrich inspired me through his words to get back and chase the Ultra scene again.

The most inspirational of all, came from the ultra runners who were part of the Cretan resistance movement during World War II on the Island of Crete who worked with the British Special Operations Executives (otherwise known as Churchill’s Secret Army among other nicknames), by dodging detection by the Nazis in the occupied Greek Island. They would cover the tough mountainous technical terrain overnight by the light of the moon delivering messages. No aid stations or cheerers along the way. No headlamps required! Christopher McDougall tells their story and explains how runners like George Psychoundakis did it in his amazing book, “Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance.” The work of the SOE and Resistance even led to the abduction of a German General, General Heinrich Kreipe.

British academic Rory Stewart who is currently serving as Minister of State at the Department for International Development, described his adventures on his hike across Afghanistan in his book, “The Places in Between.” While not a book about running, it’s a book about a journey of great fortitude where he humbly describes his encounters and struggles. He also gives a great insight into the region’s history and people which vary greatly from region to region within Afghanistan.

Last, but not least, was Byron Powell’s, “Relentless, Forward, Progress” which I followed religiously in 2014. The title alone is inspirational in and of itself. It got me through my first 50 miler.

For my literal encounters, I’m continually inspired by my friends who have run many cumulative miles with me who have similar and shared goals. We’ve ran many miles and without them, I would not always have got up at the crack of dawn for the weekend long runs. Without them, I just might have boarded a waiting bus at the 15 mile point of a long run when my feet were aching and we still had nine miles to go! Yes, Doug, I remembered that Coastal Fire Road climb and you handed me the car keys as I was planning on taking a short cut. I looked at the keys and handed them back and continued with you!

The most senior is ultra runner, 75 year old Hans Schmidt who I’ve ran into twice now. Hans was a record holder back in his day and still going strong placing in his age group. On my last 50km during the North Face Endurance Challenge in California, I passed him climbing the Miwok trail. We chatted for a bit. I said, “I’m sure I will see you again further along the course!” 16 miles in and I still had not encountered Hans again. Was I really doing that well? And then on mile 18 climbing a single-track out of Muir Woods, I hear a familiar  voice behind me, “I recognize that outfit!” I knew it! He sailed on past me after exchanges of encouragement. The tortoise and the hare met once more!

My other voices of inspiration come from the wonderful fitness center where I work. They include an 80 year old woman who did her first Western States at 50 and who continues to inspire me with her tales of back in the day. As does Megan who is in her prime for ultra running and continues to convince me that I’m not too old for this shit!

I’m hoping my feet hold up as my weekly mileage increases. The strength training on my legs and two Ultras I did in November and December are paying off with faster times. Even the dreaded Marincello relentless climb in the Marin headlands this weekend didn’t feel so relentless and dreadful as I climbed it in my fastest time yet. Granted, that it wasn’t the last climb of a long run. I’m also working a bit more on agility on the tougher downhills. I’ve even started plyobox vertical jumps and did 18 inches which isn’t high. The important part is that I never thought that I could do that! Don’t be afraid. Trust your body is my new mantra. It works.

I’m determined, I have good resources and for better or worse,  I am as stubborn and as crazy as a rabid mule. But I can also be soft. That’s where all of the above comes in. Grand Raid des Pyrenees scares me, but excites me too. It will be by far the most challenging thing, I’ll have taken on. During the event, I will spare a thought for all that have inspired me — especially during the down times where the negative voice raises its ugly loud tone. In particular, I always here Joan’s voice saying, “one foot in front of the other”, I will imagine those Cretan resistance fighters, and those who fled across the Pyrenees to escape occupied France.

I have a lot to look forward to in 2017 including the Gorge Waterfalls that takes place in Oregon in April. Here’s to healthy, happy and strong New Year!

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