Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Do you want to know some things about running?

I interviewed regular commenter Matt who blogs at Letters to the French. He comments about running a lot. I stole a few questions from you guys because you all ask awesome questions and sometimes I think I'm not very good at it. For example, I can't decide if I asked depressing questions or if, ahem, the interviewee provided the depressing. Regardless, make sure you go read something uplifting after one particular part of this interview. Also, another warning: you might feel really motivated to run after reading this. It's only fair to warn you that not all of us experience the awesome side effects that he does.

How old are you?

A quarter-century according to my passport, at least twice that according to my joints most mornings, and maybe half that by maturity.

What was your first experience with email?

My freshman or sophomore year of high school I set up a Hotmail account for easier correspondence with an Australian pen-pal. Forrestgump something or another. He was my hero. I was not a bright teenager.

If you could be 20 again and money and family obligations were not a concern, what are five things you would want to do? If you were 60 and money and family, blah, blah, blah, what are 5 things you would want to do? What accounts for the difference between the two?

I have no desire to ever be twenty again. And if I make it to sixty? Yeah, I have no desire to ever be sixty either. My body already hates me enough. The biggest difference between the two being the amount of animosity my body feels towards me; other than heart rate monitor, I was pretty much invincible at twenty. (One of many stories I'm not going to get into. This is already way too long.)

In terms of running, why do you?

Because I'm the illegitimate lovechild of Quenton Cassidy and Forrest Gump. Because there is something primitive about giving chase, letting the gasps of heaving lungs rip through you, running down the slower prey. Because I have yet to find a better microcosm of life than the agony of giving more than you have to give, hitting empty just before the finish and the world spinning, spinning, black, eyes lolled back and face ashen... then being swallowed up by the miles you just weren't quite enough for, the world in flailing arms and tied-up legs. Because as a lover it'll take the abuse I can offer and just hand more right back. Because it seems I like pain.

Because enough miles will teach you how to estimate the temperature by sight, to the point of twenty consecutive runs within two degrees. Because sometimes it helps me sleep, albeit occasionally a little too well. Because, at various points, I've been as good at it as anything I've ever done. Because it's a (mostly) acceptable way to destroy yourself, and cheaper than booze. Because, well, why not?

Seriously though, I get running, but why SO MUCH?

Strangely, this feels like a much easier question.

Because I can. Or, because I have yet to find a good enough reason to convince me not to.

Because ghosts may not give speedy chase, but still, they never stop.

Because someday I will win a hundred-miler.

Because I like pushing myself past the breaking point, sweeping up the pieces, then trying again.

Because the kind of people who hang out at ultras are unlike any other sort of people, and as a type of competition goes, they're unlike any I've ever been a part of. (Go watch one sometime, please.)

Because part of me wonders if i could run two hundred miles in a week, or six thousand in a year.

Did I mention, because I can?

Pretend I'm hiring you for the best! job! ever! What is the job, and why are you qualified?

I'll be a damn fine mountain man recluse, taking care of a small cabin in the woods, nestled in the mountains, close enough to the nearest village for a a nice little bike or ski, but far enough away to keep my space. I'm qualified because a) I love mountains, b) I don't like most people. Oh, who am I kidding, I have no idea what the hell I want to do with my life.

How long have you been a Collective reader and how did you find The Collective?

I've maybe been reading the collective for a little over a year now – I'd been reading Kat for a long time, and I'd guess she linked to it in some post or another.

Any strong feelings on Daylight Saving Time?

I'm not real happy with it right now, but that's just because I got far too little sleep this past weekend (damn you, devil water), and the later dark mornings just makes it all the more difficult to get up and get some miles in before work. But then as I said when she asked, I've never been able to tell the difference between tired and alive, so maybe it's for the better anyways.

What does loose deuce, as featured in your URL mean?

My collegiate cross-country team always took a week just before the season started and went to Estes Park to train and drink and re-acquaint after a long summer apart, and freshmen that went on the trip were initiated and given nicknames. I earned 'Deuce' my freshman year, and, courtesy my smart-ass mouth, the job of menu bitch. I'd like to think that I kept the job all year because I was good at it, but more likely it was probably just that I never learned how not to be a cocksure smart-ass. On the flip side, I got to pick the next menu bitch, so there is that.

As for the adjective loose – well, you know that little voice that tells when something is a bad idea, and that you probably shouldn't do it? I've apparently never had one, meaning I've built for myself a history of making decisions that in hindsight were obviously poor, but at the time sounded really smart and fun. As those are stories I'd rather not tell, let's just leave it at loose judgment.

Describe three perfect meals.

1) Venison fillets with a cab sauvignon and mushroom sauce, garlic chive mashed potatoes, fresh homemade breadsticks, oven asparagus, chocolate almond biscotti (with Kahlua, of course), frozen peanut butter pie (with Nutella, of course), Irish coffee. She said she loved me and I said I loved her and we swore it was going to be like this forever, and two weeks later she told me it was never going to happen. Minneapolis, February 2008.

2) Vegan blueberry pancakes, veggie omelets, tots, cantaloupe and/or grapefruit, tea, orange juice. We drank and we ran and we pranked and yoga fought and fell on our heads and climbed water towers, and in the mornings, we feasted and laughed about the night previous and talked about all the great unknowns, merrily, as if they were abstractions and we were too big for any of them to swallow us. Decorah, most Sunday mornings, spring 2006.

3) Cajun venison pasta, garlic-stuffed venison brats, spicy potato pancakes, a Surly growler. We played Tarzan and rock spider and skied and bike and ran, always too busy, and laughed about the needlessness of TP and bowled in the hallway and made owl calls at 3 am. Life was simple and beautiful, and above all else, green. Environmental center, spring 2007.

What was your greatest misadventure?

To narrow a lifetime of poorly advised ideas to just one cannot be done, so rather than try and choose a greatest, I'll give you one of them that could have potentially gotten me in a lot of trouble. Plus it's half completely idiotic, half impressive, half did that really happen? And I've never really told this story before, so there's that.

In undergrad, I took a year sabbatical, not really planning on coming back to school, but with no idea what else to do either. Eventually I accepted a position as a preacher at the Grand Canyon (yeah, don't ask... another long story). Anyways, six days after moving to the Grand Canyon, and after several shorter runs below the rim, I decided it was time to run to the river and back. The route I had in mind was a vertical mile each way, seven miles of trail on the way down, seven miles of trail back up, then another seven or eight miles on the rim back to the employee dorm. (I took a shuttle to the trailhead on the way out.)

Even before I left, a friend took a picture of one of the many, many signs by the trailhead warning that hiking to the river and back in one day is strongly inadvisable; people die trying to do it every year (usually young, stupid, white males, recently out of college and no longer in shape). No deterrent, that, because the rules of normal people clearly do not apply to me. So off I went, laughing with the beauty of a gorgeous fall day, the air crisp and cool at the rim's edge. Another adventure, another accomplishment awaited me. I'd been looking forward to this day since I'd first accepted the position, and here I was, only a few hours away from fruition.

As for the run itself: already I'd learned that to run on the trails inside the canyon was to scare the hell out of all the tourists; more reasonable beings than I, they tended to hug the inside wall of the trail. In order to pass, I had to take the outside edge of the trail. So I did. The tourists would gasp, because there I was, running on the edge of the trail, sometimes nearly dancing from stone to stone, often with several hundred foot beneath my outside elbow. Not a defense, but I was twenty and still considered myself invincible, and besides, I was usually running fast. Fast enough, I figured, that if I did fall forward momentum would save me. (A later misadventure taught me otherwise, but again, that's another story.)

I was making pretty good time on the way down, being careful to save fuel for the much more grueling climb back up, when in one of the last few switchbacks before the river I came up on a mule train. I saw them some time before I got to them, as there was a long gentle curve in the trail before the switchback; they, in turn, had seen me some time before as well, or at least I thought they had. And, then, when I was about fifty meters behind the mule train, the mule right in the top half of the switchback itself jumped to the lower half – where it's forward momentum and sliding front hooves carried it right over the edge, along with the mule it was attached to and all the cargo they were both carrying. A second later, there was a sickening thwack where the two mules landed a couple hundred feet below. Even now, I have a hard time remembering the visual is real.

In hindsight, this next part may not have been the wisest series of moves, but one of the park service guys with the mule train motioned me by, so I slid by and scurried on down the trail to the river and across the bridge, the first portion of my run complete. After refilling my water and quick stretching out my quads, I turned around for the climb back up. There was still a bit of a jam in the switchback, but no one motioned for me to stop, so I scurried by once more and powered my way up the trail back to the rim, trying not to think about the damn mules.

Except... when I got back to the rim, there was a group of park service rangers waiting for me. They asked a few questions, which I answered truthfully, and then, as they seemed satisfied with my answers, I left.

When I went into work the next morning, I was still a little freaked out about the mule, but mostly just tired from the run; I chalked the whole thing up as just another story I'd laugh at in a few months, or worst case scenario, in a few years. And then, a few minutes after I opened the rec center for the day, in came another park service ranger with more questions. I again answered them truthfully, and happened to wonder at the end of his questioning where this was going. At which point, he informed me that there was an open investigation and they were considering charging me. "Also," he added, "you should know any crime in a national park is automatically a felony."

To shorten up what's becoming a long story, a friend of a friend happened to be one of the wranglers for one of the concessioner companies, so he and a couple of other cowboys took a look at all the evidence, before deciding there was nothing that would conclusively point to it being my fault. They then talked to a few people on my behalf, after which all the questions disappeared. Turns out there was a bit of a history between park service wranglers and employees of the concessioner, and I got a bit stuck in what was already a bad situation.

So two weeks later I ran to the river and back again – but on the other trail. I didn't start running the Kaibab again until months later. Still not a story I laugh at, but I can tell it now, so there's that.

What's your favorite memory?

Since I've just been thinking about running and being a recluse, I'm going with a run from last spring. It was a gorgeous May night, the stars out and shining brilliant, a dark and dotted sea without a bottom. I couldn't sleep, and my miles were (relatively) low. So I laced up my shoes and headed out – it was deliciously cool, but definitely spring. Shorts and a long sleeve weather, but just as easily shorts and no shirt, the kind of weather that mean the run will determine the outfit, rather than the temperature. I was living in the suburbs then, and was close to a trail that extends for miles and miles – it terminates something like 60 miles from Minneapolis after going by a whole long chain of lakes and through various wooded communities. I decided to jump on the trail and follow the night to wherever she'd take me.

After maybe an hour, having not seen anyone the entire run, and with a little bit of a warm spring breeze picking up, I decided to ditch some clothes. I noted the landmarks, swore I'd remember where I left my things, and continued on the run. Not too much later, it started to rain, gentle soothing drops at first, then small bells plink, plinking on the gravel, then a hard tree-shaking downpour. The sky was white with lightning, alive with static. The hair on the back of my neck was raised and my fingertips were connected to the god I don't believe in as I ran through a deluge of white and wet, struggled to stay on the trail. When I finally turned back so that I'd make it in back for a breakfast and to head into work, the rain had lightened up a little, but the lightning, not a bit. As the air temperature had dropped a bit, I was now getting cold. Thankful I didn't have all those wet clothes – but still, cold. I flew through the miles home, back towards the clothes I'd dropped off... wait, where were my clothes? I had a little bit of extra time, on account of the increased tempo on the way back, but eventually I had to give up the search...

Anyways, I made it home fine, and came back and got the clothes later, when it was light out. Still, the rain and the lightning and the way it all blurred together flying over gravel and through the white and hair on end, heart pumping -- definitely one of my favorite memories.

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