The Ten-Milestone

When you take up trail running, there are days when you just go out and run a few miles, maybe in a local park you already know pretty well, and there are days when you go out and push yourself to new limits, be it in terms of distance, time, or terrain. Time here is distinct from speed and only related to distance the same way it is to terrain; trail runners often try to run for longer without emphasizing distance. Yesterday I pushed myself by all three metrics.

I’d done a full loop around Lake Chabot one week before, for a total of about 8.8 miles. This time, I thought I’d go in the other direction, with a detour up to the ridge for a nice view across the Bay. The first two miles were a nice, easy warm up, mostly on a paved path thick with joggers, fishers, and dog-walkers, before I hit the longest steep uphill segment of my running career to date, climbing almost 500 feet in under a mile. I was glad to have recently read a good article on running steep hills, and impressed by how much of a difference a little advice really made.

When I hit the park’s biggest campground, I realized I’d made a wrong turn, so I stopped to study a map and suck down an energy gel (not recommended under most other circumstances). I made another wrong turn only a few yards away, and when I found myself all the way back down at the shoreline I decided, masochistically enough, to turn around and ascend the 300 feet back up to the trail I wanted. This kind of mistake is much harder to avoid than at hiking speed, especially when bounding downhill like a bisected gazelle.

Although this was hard, it wasn’t yet enough to wear me out entirely, and it brought me to my favorite part of the loop around the lake, a narrow trail that winds through a lush, dense eucalyptus grove, far from the roads, parking lots, and marina. By the time I was literally out of the woods and back to easier terrain, but not yet back to the paved track, my legs were halfway done for, hamstrings refusing to lift the lower bits as high as they should when without the advantage of downhill momentum. As rough as they had it, though, the rest of me felt just about fantastic, or at worst pleasantly sore. I could breathe easily and move freely.

Just down the embankment from the trail, fifteen feet away and hip-high, was a tree branch. As I approached, a flurry of motion blossomed into the distinctive plumage of a red tail hawk seeking a safer perch.

It was about there that I came upon a sign telling me I had 3.3 miles to go. By my estimate, I’d covered just about seven. I had no trouble with the rest, even if I was a little more slow and awkward than usual. In my one-man race, there would be no DNFs.

I got back to the car, after more than ten miles of running, under a light sprinkling of rain. I said to myself, out loud: “I am the only person in the world who just did that.” I mean, sure, there were many who could have, but only one who was actually me, and that would be the one who did. Maybe that sounds silly, but after a run like that, goddam, it seemed like something.