2 or 3 millimeters

I hung-up the phone with a client and began scribbling down a note in my calendar when I noticed the date: Friday, January 23, 2015.

I sat back in the chair, in my nice quiet office on the third floor, and looked out the window at the Wet Mountains to the west. I took a deep breath, and in a flash, I was gone.

My vision is foggy. I can only faintly see the wood ceiling high above.
“Muck…Muck…Talk to me…”
My head is cold from laying on the ice. I weeeez a breath out and quickly realize I can’t feel my legs. I panic but can’t move because I’m strapped into the stretcher. Which makes me panic even more. I finally take a deep breath and slowly, after a few seconds, my toes wiggle.

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On Sunday morning, January 23rd, 2000, a very large high school hockey player skated at full speed and slammed into me from behind, launching me headfirst into the boards, crumpling my spine. Darkness.

After the stretcher and ambulance ride and xrays and hospital bed the doctor came in and exclaimed:

“Well, it’s your lucky day. Another 2 or 3 millimeters and you wouldn’t be walking again.”

Two or three millimeters. The fracture in my T4 vertebrae came within…<<calculating>>…1/8th of an inch of cutting my spinal cord.

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People sometimes look at me blankly/shocked/horrified when I answer their question “You’re a runner? What’s the farthest you’ve ran…?” And I don’t always have a decent, stock answer to the inevitable follow-up of “Why?!”

There are a lot of reasons I started running long. The Silence. Clarity. Sweat and effort. The wind at the top of the mountain. The feeling of flying on the way down. Pain. Rest. I love it all. But when I sat back in my chair this morning at work, something bubbled-up from the subconscious. I run because…I can. Because for 7 or 8 seconds, when there was only a void in my legs and feet, an alternate storyline began unfolding.

The story didn’t include hockey anymore.

No more driving.

No college (at least not right away).

No Cookie.

No Honduras.

No AmeriCorps.

No more golf with Andrew, Matt, Dad, Grandpa.

No Colorado. No Alamosa.

No…

No Kelsea.

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Whether we choose to think about it or not, each moment, however insignificant-seeming; each decision or non-decision; each action or reaction—each moment effects the rest of our life and in a broader sense, everyone else’s life too. Each moment is as significant as the last, and the next. But some definitely stick out more than others.

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Each time I recall what happened 15 years ago I get a small but sharp pain in between my shoulder blades. It’s happening right now as I type. It helps me remember.

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It’s natural, right? Wondering what life might have been like had my vertebrae cracked just a bit more. 2 or 3 millimeters…that ain’t much. The positive side of me believes that, regardless of what the storyline might have been, I could and would have been just as happy and satisfied as I am now. The alternate universe would have been just as hilarious/painful/awkward/joyful/fulfilled as this one. I’d still have been supported by an amazing family, and still would have been a part of the most privileged/spoiled demographic in history. Yeah…things would have been fine.

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Remembering events like this feels important. I know that everything can and does change in an instant. Every instant. The story continues to unfold, but never the way you expect. Ever.

Which simply brings me back to the present moment and the only life I’ve known. My god it’s been a great one. I am so damn lucky. If the sun explodes tomorrow, I got nothing to regret or wish I woulda done or said or tried or…

I blink.

The mountains have a thin white covering after yesterday’s snowstorm.

I wonder how long it’ll take (my legs) to summit St. Charles Peak on Sunday.

I am grateful.

.

1,536 miles…give’r take.

2014 was one hell of a year. I (literally) ran my ass off. There were plenty of duels with the Beast, with doubt and frustration. Quad Rock brought me to my (mental) knees, and Hope Pass gave me everything but hope. It’s true what Ken says, that there’s “no feeling like seeing that finish line”, but I have to admit that wasn’t the highlight(s) of my year.

It was the people.

Kelsea willing me to continue and finish the QR50 in May (among a million other shows of support). Jeff’s positivity at mile 84. The Lion’s Roar at May Queen early in the morning, then his keeping me moving after the gun went off. My sister and brother-in-law 🙂 willing to fly/drive/drive/drive some more… from MN to experience the insanity of Leadville. Mom and Dad MacIlroy spending their hard-earned vacation time watching me puke and cry and finish my first 100. Trying to catch Jay-Pop late in the marathon when he experienced a great Flow. The Bacon Strip outings with Sarah and camping/hiking trips with Mackey. Stubbs keeping me alive and rocketing toward Twin Lakes in the dark. Seeing Humphrey and Jack chuggin’ toward 6th St with minutes to spare. My dad waiting for me in the Lory parking lot after 13 hours of hell. Our Grand Canyon adventure with Mick and Morgan in October.

Running was/is a time of quiet solitude, but this year it became just as much (if not more so) an exercise in community, in gratitude for friendships and family and support. As I mentioned back in August, there was no ‘me’ or ‘I’ crossing the finish line(s)–there was only a ‘we’. I am humbled and grateful for the we around me.

Thank you for a great year.

december, week one

30/30/30, version 2.0

dec 1st: 30 minutes of runnin’. got done with orientation a little early so I hustled home, threw on the running gear and headed to Lake Pueblo State Park, an 11 minute drive from the house. I had the whole damn Park to myself. After a quick ½ mile of flat trail I dropped into one of the canyon trails and soon enough was down by the lake. I spotted the high/steep point that Andrew and I had seen the day before, and sprinted toward it, scrambling the last 100 feet or so to the top. Most trails in this area (that I’ve seen so far) contain at least a few quick, steep inclines around 100 to 200 feet long. Definitely different than the FoCo trails. I trudged to the highest point in the park and enjoyed the sun setting behind the Sangres, casting a pink glow on Pikes 50 miles to the north. Good first day.

dec 2nd, 3rd and 4th: 30 minutes of runnin’ each day. Decided to explore what the new neighborhood had to offer. We’re a stones-throw from the mighty (well, I’m sure it’s mightier come spring and summer) Arkansas and the train yards, so I dropped down a steep little hill off our street to the river path below. Each of the three days I tried ascending back up a different route. I discovered that concrete river embankments are killer for hill repeats. Each evening I started with an easy jog, then scampered up the embankments (not sure it’s legal…), jogged back down, then repeated this about five or six times before ending the stroll with a few hill repeats back up into the neighborhood. A quick-and-dirty way to get some climbing in–and within a ¼ mile of the house.

dec 5th: topped-off my first week as a state employee with a 30 minute ride on Maria (the bike!). It’s been a while since I’ve actually pedaled for something other than commuting, but with the river path so close, I’m excited to do some exploring. The path (paved) is rarely busy and follows the river all the way to the Lake/Reservoir, about 9 miles west of town. Definitely looking to do a bike-trail run-bike combo in the near future. Great first week in the ‘Blo.

dec 6th (saturday): ditched town for the day and headed WSW to Pueblo Mtn Park. The drive itself was beautiful, and the park was quite…empty. I realize it’s December, but where is everyone? I drove around a bit to get a lay of the land—are they closed? Do I have to pay someone? Apparently the answer to both questions was ‘no’. The park has about four or five trails ranging in length from 1 to 2 miles long—nothing crazy—so I picked one and headed out. I was surprisingly short on breath and ended-up hiking at least ½ the outing. After reaching the top of the park—maybe 400 or 500’ above the entrance—I noticed that there was access to a trail that left the park heading west, and decided to scope it out. I entered San Isabel National Forest, a behemoth swath of land which includes something like 11 counties, and the Sawatch, Collegiate and Sangre mountain ranges. I bounded off onto the Squirrel Creek trail, and quickly gathered that it had been awhile (a few months at least…maybe more) since another human had tread on it. The trail was a bit…dodgy…and was pretty overgrown with brush and numerous fallen trees. This wasn’t the smooth red carpet trails I was used to up in FoCo, but I kinda liked it. Running was difficult because one had to stop/duck/weave frequently, but man—the silence. I saw a fair amount of animal scat (see pictures), and, mixed with the lack of (human) footprints and heavy silence, I realized I was the only human within 5…6? miles. Definitely a feeling I haven’t had in a while. My first thought after this realization (thanks to evolution) was fear,  but I figured I was well stocked with food/water and was being animal-cautious, so decided to keep moving. I kept an eye on the sun, and turned back well before sundown. In all, about 3 hours and about 8 miles. Not bad. I spent a lot of time stopping, taking in the view, the silence, and enjoying the day. Good recon for future adventures.

dec 7th: It’s been a week since my first Pueblo outing with Andrew, so I thought I’d head back to the Lake to explore a little more. This time I decided to take Maria out for a spell, and rode the River trail up to the dam. Round trip was about an hour and 15, maybe 17 or 18 miles total. It was 65 and sunny and once I got thru some of the walkers in town I was able to punch it a bit and even got to climb for a ½ mile or so. Great to get back on the bike, and in December no less.

in conclusion: In all an enjoyable week of exploring my new surroundings and beginning a consistent groove for the month. Glad I mixed it up with some close-to-the-house running, some dirt, a nice day trip and a couple rides. Feelin’ good.

pueblo mtn park

pueblo mtn park

into no-man's land

into no-man’s land

mtn lion scat

mtn lion scat

wild beast poo

wild beast poo

hiding mushroom

hiding mushroom

LPSP Reservoir dam(n)

LPSP Reservoir dam(n)

elk herd

elk herd

the 30/30/30 reboot

I was completely unmotivated in November. After R2R with Mick, I felt myself return to an apathetic stagnation. I got an idea! Come-up with a challenge to keep yourself moving in November! See: The 30/30/30 November challenge. Problem was, after about 3 days, I fell back into the stupor, and couldn’t motivate. I conjured three or four hundred reasons why, then narrowed it down to three realistic reasons: big life changes (new job, moving, down-sizing, saying goodbye to friends/loved ones), lack of inspiration with the same routes and paths – but really, these were completely eclipse by the simple fact that I was Just. Plain. Tired. For the last bit of October and into November, 8 and 9 hours of sleep every night wasn’t enough. It was tough getting up in the morning. Really tough. Once up, I couldn’t muster the will power to get my ass out the door for more than that first week of November. After that first week, I decided (somewhat subconsciously at first, then oober-consciously shortly thereafter), to pack it in for a bit. Shut’r down. Give-in to the body’s obvious callings for rest.
In early November, I was offered a position as a teacher of individuals with visual impairments. The job was in Pueblo. 3 hours south of our home and in a totally different environment (in many ways). We accepted the position, and spent the better part of Thanksgiving week downsizing and moving. Strange, a little scary, a little sad, but definitely exciting. Enter the Reboot.
Interestingly, as soon as Pueblo became a reality, I began coming out of my November stupor. Pueblo is a bit further from the big hills than FoCo, but there is ample new trail to explore. Having moved at the end of November, I thought it a good idea to try the 30/30/30 thing again, this time in December. Despite the shorter days and colder nights, I’ve spent this first week trying out new routes and getting to know my new residence. Steep, pine/aspen lined footpaths have been replaced by rolling, brush- and juniper bush-filled expanse, with open views of Pikes Peak, the twin Spanish Peaks to the south, and to the west, the Sangres. It feels a touch like Home in Alamosa.
My goal for December is simple: consistency. Run or bike, at least 30 minutes a day, for 30 days. Throw-in a daily silent/meditation practice for 30 minutes, and my hope is that by the start of 2015, I will be ready to hit the gas. During December I will also narrow down a few races for next year, mostly in the marathon-to-50 mile range I think. Because of how much time it’s taken me to recover from the Leadville 100, I’m planning on nixing any thoughts of a 100 miler in 2015. Besides exploring a new land, I’m looking to pick the leg speed-up and hone my ‘shorter’ distant race skills, and maybe throw in a bike race if the wind catches me right come spring. For now, a slow consistent building.

chasing silence: running the grand canyon’s rim-to-rim route with mick

I turned my headlamp on and looked down at my watch. 5:17am. Pitch black and freezing cold. In the darkness, you could feel it in front of you: a deep, silencing abyss. All noise vanished as if it were being sucked into a vacuum.
I felt a quick, stiff breeze from below hit me in the face. My eyes started watering.
“You ready?” I asked.
“Yep…let’s rock,” Mick replied.
I drew in a long breath, smiled, and we dropped into the darkness.
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I had never been to the Grand Canyon. Though I know how erosion works, it was hard to imagine one river making such a deep cut into the Earth. When standing on the North Rim looking down at the vastness, it seemed even more unbelievable. I always thought you could see the mighty Colorado from the rim, but you can’t–the Canyon’s too damn deep! I  still didn’t actually believe in the power of the River until we passed through Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon, took a right hand turn, and were suddenly running along side It. My god what a powerful river.
Ok, ok, I understand now.
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two months ago…

Mick: “You wanna run Rim-to-Rim?”
[lots of dialogue, 67 questions from me, then…]
Muck: “Yep.”
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I’d been recovering from Leadville for about a month when planning began for running R2R. My energy was still a bit low and my feet were only then feeling healed. I needed a new adventure to motivate me back into the swing. R2R was in Mick’s “bucket”.
Many services, the visitor center, and even the road closes sometimes (due to snow) to the North Rim in mid-October. But there was enough of a window to make it work. We booked tickets to Phoenix, picked-up a car when we got there, then Mick and Morgan, crashed with some great in-laws, then headed north. It was 88 degrees when we left Phoenix. When we arrived at the North Rim it was 45 and dropping. Great camping weather (see Airplane Camping post)!
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At some point around 630am we turned our headlamps off as we zig-zagged through switchbacks and descended toward The River. The lighting and color of the walls above us is tough to describe (see mediocre pictures below) and impossible to capture with an iPhone camera. Or any camera. The only noise came from the shuffle of feet over sand and stone, and it quickly was silenced by the Canyon. The first hour was slow going–primarily because I stopped every three minutes to stare, mouth gaped at the layers of Earth that now towered above me. While in many parts the trail was wide and smooth, other portions were sheer wall above, 3 foot wide trail, and 500′ sheer wall down. I kept my eyes ahead during those parts.
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The airport was full of so much NOISE. CNN-Ebola-Election-Celebrity-Blah-Blah-Blah-Angry Passengers-Football Game-noise Noise NOISE. I closed my eyes, held Kelsea’s hand, and remembered the Canyon: all noise, sucked into It’s abyss-vacuum. All noise comes from, and returns to, the Silence. I noticed the miniscule moments of quiet in between the piercing noise (Noise NOISE) of the “news”. More like the “same olds”. Breathe in, notice the silence, Breathe out.
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We descended 5,000 feet toward the River over the course of 14 miles, enjoying the easy flow that comes from a gradual descent. We took some photos, stopped to eat, kept the pace easy, and enjoyed the sunrise. It was during one particular “easy/flow” period while cruising down the trail, when I reached for my water, took my eye off the trail for 1/2 a second, and WHEWHHH I was airborne. I never did find the (probably tiny) rock I tripped on, but I quite unsmoothly found the rocky ground in front of me, rolling a few feet before coming to a stop near the edge of the trail. Luckily it was one of those wide, smooth sections, so I didn’t continue right on down the Canyon to the river 300 feet below. That coulda been messier. Instead, I had blood all over my hands, knees and hips (the cuts were tiny, but gushed more than expected). Quite a jarring episode, really. After coming to, shaking off the dust and dirt, and wiping my bloody hand on my shirt, I sprinted ahead to catch Mick because he had the only clean water between the two of us (the remnants of my water had Skratch mix in it). After shouting for a few moments when he came in sight, one echo caught him and he held up. I won’t soon forget the look on his face when I came running toward him with a nice bloody hand. I rinsed off, then reminded myself of our situation: we were at the bottom of one the world’s biggest ditches, and there was only one way out–Up.** We kept moving.

**you could call for a helicopter, but that’s no fun! And a bit cost-prohibitive.
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As I mentioned above, Kelsea and Morgan (spouses of the year award nominees) joined us in this adventure. The most difficult part of the 24-mile jaunt down, then up the Grand Canyon, was having to experience it without Kelsea. I kept hoping throughout the run that she enjoyed the sunrise as much as I did (judging from her pictures, she did). The K&M train left us on the North Rim, then drove 5 hours around the Big Ditch to meet us on the other side. Sounded like their adventure was as much fun as ours. #BigPinkJeeps #SouthRimInsanity #GuestWriterBlogPostFromDifferentPerspective?
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We crossed the metal suspension bridge over the Mighty Colorado after 4 hours and 14 miles of running downhill. One of the difficulties of this route lay in the fact that after 4 hours of descending, the legs need to change into climbing mode in a hurry. We had about 3 minutes during the flat bridge crossing to recover. Then, we started back up.
When the South Rim wall came into view about a mile after we crossed the River, I stopped in my tracks: “Oh Fuck! Oh…Fuck!” Mick burst into laughter (both because we were already hurting, and, I assume, because my comment was stating the obvious). 4000 feet above was our destination. 4000 feet in about 4 miles. “As the crow flies” it was only about 1/4 mile, but us pedestrian, non-winged folk were going up the side of the Canyon wall.
We refilled our bottles at Indian Gardens and started the long, slow ascent of the South Rim (via the Bright Angel Trail). We were able to ascend the Wall due to something like 45 switchbacks (see photos below). Craziness. Every few minutes we’d stop to catch our breath, say hi to a few foreign tourists (the South Rim is open all year round and is by far the more popular Rim, with hotels, restaurants and a small city), and stare above at the Wall. Despite the increasing noise of people, the Canyon silenced everything.

After three hours…
“I think we only have like three more switchbacks–see up there, where those people are? I think that’s the end.”

One hour later…
“Ok, I swear, I think there’s only like a couple more switchbacks.”
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With a 1/4 mile or so remaining, the crowded trail grew noisier from the sound of fire trucks and an ambulance. Looking back north, then down below, it was easy to understand why it was a familiar noise on the more popular South side (lots of people + steep drop-offs = ambulance noise). A great welcoming siren after 7 hours of silence. Ahhhh society. Even the sirens return to the Silence. Just wait and see. We sprinted the last 100 yards or so and slapped hands. “That was awesome!” “That was exhausting…but yes, awesome!” We looked back at the Canyon and briefly discussed (jokingly?) how it would feel to head back the way we came (R2R2R), then laughed and called it a day.
Well done, sir. Well done.
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I stood in silence facing the Canyon the next morning, and felt grateful. Sometimes, when I try so hard to chase down the Silence, seeking calm and peace, I am often rewarded when I simply stand still and let it find me.
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Thank you, Kelsea. Thank you, Morgan. Thank you, Phoenix Family. Thank you, Mick.
See y’all next time. 🙂

sunset the night before R2Rsun comin' up~70 switchbacks total on R2Rheadin' toward the Riverswitch it back!finishing on the South Rim

airplane camping

There’s (posh) car camping. There’s (hardcore!) backpacking. Then there’s airplane camping, which is a weird beast that fits somewhere in between the previous two. You ain’t bringin’ the big stove or the cooler full of beer because you ain’t got room in your one check-able bag. So it’s not like car camping. but unlike backpacking, you do have room for the big tent, the nice sleeping pads, and a neti pot (a must!). Plus, there’s room for my ‘minimal’ amount of running stuff.
You see, we’re going camping (for one night) and running (for one day) in/around/thru the Grand Canyon, but we don’t have time to drive there. So we’re flying. Then driving. Then camping.     …airplane camping. (trademark!)

We can check a 50 pound bag:

48.5 lb bag...with neti pot

48.5 lb bag…with neti pot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And we don’t have to hike with it on our backs.
#seeyouontheNorthRim    #R2R    #netipot   #airplanecampingTM

I’m excited (see daily planner):

north rim to south rim (~24 miles) in one shot

north to south rim (~24 miles) in one shot; (un)official R2R run report coming soon…

oct 7th thru oct 23rd, 2014

october 7th
arthur’s rock, lory state park
3.5 miles, 1:30, +1400′ vert. arthur’s rock with mackey, sarah and Andrew and another perfect, late afternoon day in colorado. haven’t been up there in a while. enjoyed the view for a while and descended a little before sunset. magic.

october 9th
toward the Perch
3.5 miles, :40, +600′ vert. perch #68. quick, fast jaunt on a cool autumn morning. trees are poppin’. focused on relaxed speed on the descent.

october 13th
Mill Creek trail, Towers Rd, Lory SP and Horsetooth Mtn Park
14 miles, 3:30, +3500′ vert. never felt good or comfortable during the run. probably started a bit fast, legs felt heavy after about an hour. i lost interest on my way back to the car (was going to add a quick 3.5 mile leg up to arthur’s rock but didn’t), then decided to sit down and enjoy the silence and landscape for awhile with about 2 miles to go. it was a bit of a strange outing. realized that, while I love/need time in the hills/woods, i rarely sit still for long–choosing to run through the landscape rather than sit. because my body was tired and knees were shot, I decided to take the last few miles slow and even stop (as mentioned above) for about 15 minutes. I was slightly disappointed by the effort but did enjoy the break toward the end. 14 miles is still a lot, anyway. and I’d rather be well rested with solid knees for the Canyon rather than risking it today.

october 19th
well gulch and timber trails, Lory State Park
8 miles, 2:20, +2000′ vert. started with a hike up well gulch and the timber trail switchbacks with Kels and Maya, then double-backed to the top after hiking most of the way back down with them. was feeling tired and unmotivated today–and most of the week–especially after last monday’s outing. But after a slight kick in the pants from Kels, I headed back up and enjoyed the quick pace on the descent. another fantastic fall day.

october 21st
the perch
6 miles, 1:10, +800′ vert. Perch #69 for 2014. enjoyed a fast ascent and an extended, quiet sit-down on top, enjoying the view while the weather’s still perfect. I wish it was autumn forever.

summary: I kept thinking that the Rim-2-Rim run this month would be motivation enough to get me back into a solid, consistent training rhythm, but that wasn’t the case. It’s actually not about motivation at all. I’m extremely excited and lucky to have the chance to run in the Grand Canyon this week, and am quite motivated to run well. But on the day-to-day level this month, other priorities have meant sporadic outings with little-to-no focus. Perhaps my body is rested enough from Leadville, and ready to get back into things, but I don’t think I’m mentally ready to commit to a new training plan–which requires a focus and…well, committment…that I’m not ready to give. I suppose this is a great time of year to rest–certainly my natural inclination during November and December. I’m hoping to keep my fitness level up though, so come January, if I’m “feelin’ it”, I can get back into a schedule. The Canyon will be amazing, and maybe that will get me rollin’ again. Not sure…
I’ve also had a stronger-than-usual desire to slow down and even stop during runs. It’s incredible how Lory can get so silent when my legs stop moving and I stand still, letting the silence take hold. Perhaps late fall and winter will be more run-and-stop/sits. Happy middle ground hopefully.

snow in the big hills; Longs Peak from top of Towers Rd

snow in the big hills; Longs Peak from top of Towers Rd

photo 3-2

rocky mtn national park from up near the Alpine Visitor Center