first peak

First peak of the night.

Two weeks ago, I ran the all-night “Kiss the Rock” trail run at Stone Mtn. It was another one of those outlaw, “we might get kicked out before we get started” races, and it was awesome. Even though I had to run in someone else’s shoes.

To call it a “race” is somewhat misleading. While Crystal was the mastermind behind this particular event, it was of the “Derek School of Racing,” which means start times are fluid, rules are made as we go along, and the main competition is with oneself—if one so chooses. It’s a mish-mash of participants (all with his or her own reasons for running). It’s all night long. On trails. With headlamps. And there’s plenty of food back at the campsite. In fact, if you want to hang out at the campsite all night and set a PR in s’mores consumption, that’s OK too. (Can we make that an official category next time, Crystal?)

I have come to love these types of races. And it’s weird because they’re sort of everything I might have hated 10 years ago. Loosey goosey rules, inexact timing, unclear determination of a “winner” at times— it would have made me absolutely crazy. Ten years ago, I was lining up to kick ass and take names. Period.

What do you mean, “You can start whenever you want to?!?”

Yeah, right.

But things have changed—as it has in many areas of my life—and frankly, I’m a lot more chilled out about stuff than I ever used to be (at least, when it comes to running). Maybe chilled out to a fault. Life circumstances, injuries, age, weight gain, and new demands on my time have all contributed to an on-again, off-again motivation when it comes to training and racing. However, I feel a new surge of energy about those two areas of my life, and I credit much of that feeling to Derek’s particular brand of racing.

mountain view

It pretty much captures all the things I love most about running—being in the woods, camaraderie, positive thinking and personal goals. Who couldn’t use more of those things in his or her life?

And besides, these kinds of races always provide the best stories. Like, for instance, when you’re the first one at the camp and you hang out, reading and goofing off, for at least two hours before the race, and then you fiddle-fart around a little bit more until it’s time to line up and you realize, “Hey, I can’t find my shoes.” Yeah, like that.

Most runners have pre-race jitters and worry about forgetting things, but I’ve always said, “As long as I have my shoes, there’s nothing to worry about.” So it’s pretty much my worst race nightmare–well, that and being in a port-a-potty when the gun goes off. Or having an attack of diarrhea in the middle of a race. OK—so I have several nightmare scenarios, but leaving my shoes at home was one of them. Especially for a 12-hour trail race at night.

Now if this had been a more “official” race, I think I would have completely flipped out. I don’t know why, but I would have. Instead, I panicked only briefly and then decided that the worst thing that could happen is that I’d have to run in my Chacos and just not make my goal of 20 miles. A bummer to be sure but not the end of the world.

But then Deanne offered me her extra shoes. A pair of Brooks Cascadia that were a size too big and (no offense, Deanne) old as crap. They fit. I had plenty of room in the toe box and they felt nice and broken in. The troubling part was that I didn’t have my orthotics. And 20 miles, even if I’d trained adequately, is a long way without orthotics. Still, it was better than Chacos. I decided to start and see how far I could get before my feet rebelled.

Despite heavy rains the week before, particularly on Friday evening, Saturday night was perfect. The weather was comfortable enough for a singlet and capris all night—no need for rain gear or even arm warmers. There was little wind, and the moon was full and bright.

At one point during the night, a group of us gathered on the open granite face of Stone Mountain and turned our headlamps off. With the full moon peeking out from fast moving clouds, the light made it seem as if we were standing on the face of the moon itself. The light, almost iridescent quality of the rock pocked with dark craters. We lay on top of the mountain, completely quiet, watching the stars. Finally, someone said, “Think of all the people who will never experience this.” Yes. Think of it.

Those few words sum up what I feel about trail running and doing all the “crazy” things I do, things that make other people shake their heads and laugh. “I could never do that,” they say. And most of them won’t. But what a shame. What a shame to be here on this planet and see so little of it.

That’s why I run. And hike and camp and ride bikes. It’s so I can experience this world. One of the things that bothers me about religious rhetoric that emphasizes the idea that we are not to “focus on the things of this world” is that the world includes so much that we should focus on. God’s creation is here for us to enjoy. But far too few do.

Yes, I went into the woods that night to meet some random goals—to run 20 miles, to summit several peaks, and to push myself—but I also go to be part of this world, the real one. The one made for me. That night, I heard whippoorwills by the dozens. They are my favorite bird. They remind me of Merdie and Pap. Do you know how long it’s been since I heard one at all? Let alone dozens?

By the time the sun had come up over the mountain, I had run 20 miles, summited nine peaks, made some new friends, spent quality time with old ones, heard whippoorwills (and one other scary thing that we never did identify), had an adrenaline rush freak-out with “weird scooter guy” (another post), saw huge snails in their shells all over the trail, sat under the starry night sky surrounded by the silhouette of wind-whipped pine trees, and found time to pray, to think, to be grateful. And I did it in shoes borrowed from a friend who didn’t want me to miss the chance to experience it all.

friends on the mountain

Michelle, me, Deanne (shoes not pictured)