Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Recovery

by Matt Gray


www.UtahRedRocks.com Photography
Believe it or not, it's extremely helpful to your body to go for a short, low-impact run within the first or second day following a long distance effort.  When it hurts just to stand up, even a ten or twenty minute jog seems impossible after a 40 + mile day. But just as we overcame moments of intense pain and even frustration on the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon, we must overcome the apathy of resting.

On the Monday after the Grand Canyon, I woke up in Moab, Utah.  It still took a great deal of effort to walk through my stiff legs... I felt like a pirate with two wooden pegs.  Even hitting the gas and brake pedals in the car took uncomfortable effort. But I pushed myself through the wall, grabbing yogurt, a banana, and a mug of coffee from the hotel breakfast, and then driving into Arches National Park.

Lindsay and I camped in the same red rock desert over three years ago, and enjoyed several walks to see the magnificent arches. Delicate Arch has remained etched in my mind as a favorite vista. So when the park ranger handed me the map at the entrance, I immediately found the trailhead and headed straight there.

The mile and a half trail up to the best vista of Delicate Arch gains a decent amount of elevation, travels across a small stretch of desert, and most significantly, it heads up and over some beautiful red rock. It was the perfect path to stretch my legs, breath in the refreshing desert air, and feel alive.

Having just completed the greatest running adventure of my life, I felt somewhat arrogant striding briskly up this trail and passing several other tourists. Many carried full packs with water and supplies, probably taking most of the morning to complete the hike. I breezed by, wearing only my running shorts and shoes, and questioning the exhiliration I felt from the whole experience. How could I be so fortunate to be here, running free?

Delicate Arch appears quite suddenly after ascending a narrow portion of the path that's carved right out of the rock.  There's a slice of profound solitude at that vista as you catch your breath and become aware of what you are standing in front of: an incredibly subtle geologic movement, representative of the cosmic improbability that has allowed for any such beauty, that has even allowed for our existence. I stop questioning my fortune for being able to run so free, and I instead sit down and soak in the view, thankful for my metamorphoses into a runner, thankful for this most delicate of all moments. I am indeed, recovered.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Because I Am Here

Text by Matt Gray
Photos by Daniel Gray

In 1924, when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George Mallory uttered the three, now infamous words, "because it's there."  Time and time again this response has been quoted by other mountaineers, used as justification and rational for going to the edge, and offered in place of the much longer, much more complicated explanation which any person seeking wildness and wilderness has contemplated over and over again during arduous miles and soul shaking ascents. While Mallory's phrase is profound, it can also be interpreted as too definitive and as an over-simplification of our most incredible experiences on this earth.


During my last two running stories, I've explored the concept of Wind Horse as an attempt to further clarify my own answer to the question, "why do I want to run so far?" As we quite literally descended into the depths of the Grand Canyon at 4 am on November 9th, hoping to complete the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim challenge, I immediately returned to this sense of bliss and personal fulfillment found in these other Wind Horse experiences. 

With only the glow of somewhat bright headlamps to guide our way down the first ten miles of the steep and technical Bright Angel Trail, my world consisted of a microscopic area of earth. If it hadn't been for the changing color of dirt beneath our feet, we would have no other indicator that we were covering any ground whatsoever. And when your horizon becomes that minute, you have little else to do than turn inward and contemplate that all-to-familiar question again and again.                                 






But the pre-dawn silhouettes, the sunrise, and the brilliant illumination of day does not offer any reprieve from the question.  By then, we are deep, deep into the canyon.  The sandstone walls rise a mile above us. The trail creeps and bends around fold after fold of inter-canyon geology. Our horizon is no longer minute, but the incomprehensible expanse of the grandest of canyons makes us feel small, not only in this present moment, but infinitesimally tiny in relation to time and the millions of years that the canyon represents.



Does such thinking about our magnificent insignificance deter us from finding the will to put one foot in front of the other? From waking for another day? From thriving in another moment? No. Nihilism has no place amidst such a beautiful landscape.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  We are not deterred, but determined: our will is strengthened, our resolve to carry on made firmer.





And just as we are nearing the edge of the North Rim and coming to terms with our existence, we are tested again. A dozen other Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim runners pass us already on their way back south, moving faster, lighter, freer of pain. How are they in such better shape?  Where did we go wrong with our own preparations? Several other runners on previous days have also left their mark on our minds and on a chalkboard just a few miles from the trail's end. Even this remote experience that we thought we were having is not unique. So why then would I want to run and suffer and go beyond and travel to the edge and climb mountains and traverse canyons?

Because I am here, and as long as I am here I am going to savor the hot taste of life and thrive in every moment given to me by the unwieldy probability that I even exist to begin with. I will run, simply because I am here and I have the privilege and opportunity to see the grand and miraculous expanse.





Friday, November 8, 2013

A Little Bit Louder

The guys are on the road to their adventure as I type.  They'll hit the trail at 4am tomorrow for their self-supported, 48 mile, run of insanity.  I've been thinking a lot this week about the power just a single voice can have, and I hope that we can combine our voices together to be as loud as we can to raise awareness.

I recently read a blog post on lymphedema and acupuncture.  The author’s purpose was to debunk the idea that acupuncture would be useful in treating lymphedema, but I got the sense that the real driving force was to just debunk acupuncture in general.  True, treating lymphedema with acupuncture could potentially be a very bad idea.  You really want to avoid any break in the skin in a lymphedematous limb, including acupuncture needles, but needles elsewhere in the body aren’t an issue.  I personally am a huge proponent of acupuncture, as I myself have experienced transformative results from acupuncture treatment, but I get that there are folks out there who see the world as black and white, with no areas of gray, and research on acupuncture is kind of a mixed, gray, bag.

Well, lymphedema is basically a whole world of gray.  You frequently hear that lymphedema treatment and management are an art not a science, and my experience holds that to be true.  I think that is why there isn’t a whole lot of research done on lymphedema: it’s not something that some (many?) scientists know how to approach.  I’m being general here, and sorry if I’m offending any of you science minded folk, but I am not one of you, especially when it comes to my daughter.

Being a mom has taught me that following my instincts is almost never wrong.  In fact, I have, in the past 17 months, not once regretted a time I followed my instincts with regard to Juniper.  I have, however, regretted many, many times that I did not go with my gut, and instead went with logic.  Lymphedema treatment is much the same way.  There is no chart you can cross-check symptoms against, because it is so different for each person.  You can go with a basic understanding of what works and what doesn’t, but from there you have to forge your own path. 

This blog about lymphedema and acupuncture really riled me up because the tenor of the article was that lymphedema is a problem that is going away.  The author cites statistics, which state that since fewer patients are having lymph nodes removed, fewer patients experience lymphedema.  Well, hurray!  That means no more lymphedema, right?  If you’re reading this, then you know that’s not the case.  Lymphedema still happens to breast cancer survivors (and survivors of other types of cancer) and lymphedema still happens to kids and adults for no apparent reason.  Blogs like the one I spoke about aren’t helping us spread the word. They’re helping to sweep lymphedema under the carpet as a condition that ‘not that many people experience’ or that ‘just isn’t that big of a problem anymore.’  We need to have a louder voice than theirs.

 Please help us spread the word.  Lymphedema still needs research funding (in my opinion more than ever), and we still need support for the Treatment Act (again, more than ever with how polarizing health care issues are now). 
Then and now, like the race day mohawk?



Saturday, November 2, 2013

SPREAD THE WORD



The Lymphedema Awareness Team is running the Grand Canyon, a one-day trip from Rim to Rim to Rim on a 48-mile trail.  Instead of raising money, we’re focusing on raising awareness.  Those of you who follow us know how lymphedema has impacted our lives, and how it will impact Juniper in the years to come.Lots of people out there are in the dark about this condition.  Primary lymphedema is rare, but lymphedema as a result of cancer treatment is less rare, and, unfortunately, lots of times folks are not told about it as a potential side effect of their cancer treatment.
Heather Ferguson, founder of the Lymphedema Treatment Act, is asking all of us to get involved in the effort to bring Lymphedema out of the shadows.  She’s hoping we can bring lymphedema into the public eye to help people get properly diagnosed and get the treatment they need to manage the condition. 
Like Heather, I feel incredibly fortunate that I have the ability to research and advocate for the best possible treatment for Juniper.  Not everyone is as fortunate, and untreated, lymphedema can be very, very bad.
Help us spread the word about lymphedema.  Share this post, follow this link and request some cards to pass out in your city.  Write your representative.  Act.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Running Wind Horse

English: "The Tibetan LUNG-Horse" (D...
The Tibetan LUNG-Horse

I ended last week's post claiming that I had found my Wind Horse on that cold, rainy half-marathon.  What exactly did that mean? Sakyong Mipham, an esteemed marathoning monk, has applied the five Shambala animal practices of meditation to running, helping the runner achieve full awareness of themselves (tiger), their surroundings (lion), the challenges and adventures they face (garuda), the compassion and altruism their running represents (dragon), and the freedom, peacefulness, and full embodiment possible as these four animals all go to work simultaneously and we let go of attachments, all while remaining fully aware, mindful, and present in the here and now (wind horse). It sounds a little complex, and it might be one of those experiences you need to have on your own.

But the reason I'm so interested in exploring the concept and trying to explain it, is because the experience of Wind Horse is the answer to the questions,"why do you love running so much?" And "how the heck do you enjoy running so many miles?" I've been running for less than a year and half, but this form of movement, these long slow distances, have significantly changed my life and helped me to find a deeper appreciation for places and moments and people. For instance . . .

Sunrise in Kona, Hawaii
Sunrise in Hawaii
During a recent vacation to Hawaii, I benefited from the early morning wake-up leftover from jet lag: I'd rise at 5 am, complete a yoga series on our Lanai listening to the waves, lace-up my running shoes, and then head out into the dawn chorus of birds wearing only my soles and a pair of swim trunks. In his novel, Cannery Row, John Steinbeck coined this time of day as "the hour of the pearl," and it surely shares the qualities of a pearl as a time of magic and beauty, of peacefulness, of being connected to our breath, to the earth beneath our feet, and to the grand cosmos of stars fading as the sun sneaks over volcanic ridges to the east.

Napili Kai Beach
Napili Kai Beach (by dvanvliet)
Usually I'd run for the pearl's full hour on the roads or resort paths that bordered the beaches, staying in sync to the ebb and flow of the tide. Often times I would have the whole sandy expanse to myself, left alone to move my body in its most primal form through the evolving colors of morning. And at the end of the run, all I had to do was toss my shoes and socks in the sand and plunge into that same ebb and flow for a transcendent swim, my solitude accompanied by a few Green Sea Turtles and the wind touching palm trees.


As I'd emerge from the refreshing Pacific waves, the awe and wonder of it all became quite clear.  Sure, there were many other ways to enjoy this dawn, this aquamarine ocean, this sunrise . . . but for me, I find my Wind Horse through the rhythms of running.  And what matters most is that you find yours through your very own stride.


Sea Turtle
Sea Turtle (by dbaist5)
English: Green Sea Turtles, Chelonia mydas bre...
Green Sea Turtle of Hawaii

Sunday, October 20, 2013

To the Edge

English: An aerial view of the Fraser Valley i...
Aerial view of the Fraser Valley
by Matt Gray

Over the past six months I've made the habit of listening to the TED Radio hour while out on long runs . . . I might actually say I'm a bit addicted to the program as they splice together three to six TED speakers, and accompanying interviews, into a 50-minute show about a certain topic or theme.  The result is often mind-bending, reality changing, paradigm shifting, and most importantly, it helps me through some of the more mundane training runs.

Back on the Fall Equinox, I ran a 17-mile course from Fraser to Granby up in Winter Park.  Most of this run captured the high drama vistas and terrain of the Rocky Mountains at 9,000 feet, but a four-mile section ran parallel to the roar of traffic on U.S. 40 (only a two-lane road, but on a Saturday in September, the cars and trucks are consistent, and loud). It seemed like the perfect time for a TED Radio Hour fix.

For irony and fitting distraction, I tuned in "To the Edge," an episode which captured the stories of a solo expedition to the North Pole, an unsupported paddle across the Atlantic, deep cave exploring in Mexico, and a French tight rope walker famous for his stroll between the Twin Towers in the early 70s. Needless to say, my highway run didn't compare to even the first moment of any one of these journeys.  I had to remind myself to make the best of the training miles, and I know that they are in preparation for a much longer run in November: the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Diana: Ford Lake
A foggy lake, Photo credit: M. Callow
But this afternoon I went out for what I thought would be another "mundane training run:" a half-marathon course around three of my neighborhood lakes.  It's not that this run isn't pretty and doesn't have some of its own unique challenges, it's just seemingly a long ways away from any sort of edge. At mile 8, all that changed.  During the second of three laps around the largest of the lakes, the sky darkened, rain started to fall, and the wind picked up. I contemplated cutting the run short and heading home, but I decided to enjoy the challenge of running in dropping temperatures.

By mile 11, the rain turned to sleet, the wind chill dropped the temperature to below freezing, and I found myself still two miles from the car, wet, cold, and running at an eight-minute mile pace (two to four minutes faster than my usual long-run stride).  And I wish I had a picture of the smile on my face as I headed up the hill of mile 12, woofing down some high energy waffles and increasing my pace. 

Mile 13 is a low-grade descent during which I took off into my version of a sprint, and then had to do a series of high-step lunges to keep warm at the really long signal light that curses the last half mile. People in passing cars surely thought I was crazy. I just felt driven.

IMG_1431

And when I reached the car feeling like I could go on, I looked down at my watch to discover I'd run my first sub-two hour half marathon beating my previous time by eight minutes.  Is a 1 hour and 56 minute time competitive?  Absolutely not.  Is a nine-minute mile average something to brag about in the running world? Not in the least. But was I at the same edge of the man and his team who descend 30 kilometers into caves on multi-day spelunking expeditions?  Surely not.

But I had reached the edge for me, for this day, on this run.  I had found my bliss; I had discovered my Wind Horse.
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Monday, September 23, 2013

THIRD TIME CHARMED


 It was four years ago when I first stumbled on the idea of climbing Southern California's three largest mountains - San Antonio, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto - in one continuos effort.  It's known as the SoCal Triple Crown or the 8,000 meter challenge, I dubbed it: Tres Saints.  At the time I didn't own a pair of running shorts, didn't know the definition of an ultra-marathon and hadn't read Born to Run.  I had just finished up an awesome summer in the high sierra that culminated in a traverse of the palisade crest from Temple crag to Thunderbolt peak in one continuos 18 hour push.  To sum up my first two attempts at Tres Saints, I will just say:"Life happens, while you're making plans."

On Friday, September 20th I left Idyllwild around 2pm headed towards the trailhead for Mt. San Antonio.  I started up the trail around 4pm and was back to the car by 7pm.  I used the last light of day to prepare my pack for Mt. San Gorgonio which I headed toward next.  I hit the trail at 930pm, and after a long, cold, dark and sometimes painful run I returned to the car a little after 4am.  That's right, I had the brilliant idea to do the longest, toughest and highest of the three mountains during the middle of the night.  On the drive from Forest Falls to Marion Mountain trailhead I utilized the cruise control, set at 60mph, and I enjoyed a nice slow traffic-less drive, letting my legs rest and refueling my body and mind, which were both starting to feel the fatigue.  At 6am, after not sleeping in over 24hrs and putting 28 miles of mountain trails under my feet, I headed out with the fresh energy of two friends and a lot of caffeine towards the summit of Mt. San Jacinto.  We had a great hike, enjoyed the last beautiful morning of Summer and were back at the car by 1130am.



In the 22 hours between leaving and returning to Idyllwild my thoughts ebbed and flowed, sometimes they took me to strange places, places I haven't been in years.  This morning, while reflecting on the journey over the last four years that brought me through the physical act of accomplishing this ludicrous goal, I am filled with gratitude.  I am grateful for all the support from my family and friends who allow me such self indulgent passions.  You know who you are, and you know there are too many of you to list.  To all of you, I say THANK YOU, I am grateful!



Monday, September 16, 2013

Another Running Metaphor


Text by Matt Gray

Images by Daniel Gray





This is the first pre-dawn start we’ve enjoyed in quite some time.  I’m without a headlamp, (not an intentional mistake, but one that I’ll survive), so I rely on Daniel’s light and the backs of his shoes to guide me up the trail. The cool morning keeps our quick pace manageable, and as usual, the mountain air rejuvenates my body and soul.



Having hiked Deer Springs Trail dozens, maybe hundreds of time throughout my childhood, I am at home, and not just because of the familiarity.  At this point, running long, slow distances feels quite good.  While pain most certainly comes and goes, overall, I feel comfortable and thrilled.



Unfortunately, this theme of home casts a slightly darker shadow on today’s expedition.  I wrote recently about a beautiful run up the North Gully of Tahquitz and through the high country meadows.  Between that trip and this early morning ascent towards San Jacinto Peak, a forest fire consumed a great deal of wild land, potentially including those meadows. We run peacefully for the moment, knowing that in an hour when we’re on the summit we’ll have to face the truth about the fire’s path. How much of our wilderness playground, the site of our first backpacks and alpine birthday celebrations and day-long strolls did the fire transform?




We work our way through the yellow pine forest, up rocky trails, and into Little Round Valley.  A small flock of juncos, with their striped-white tails flashing, leads us upwards. The climb is idyllic; it is good to be home.




Smoke from the fire still smolders in the valley below as we reach the peak.  One flare-up looks precariously close to the Palm Springs Tram, and in the far distance we can see the matchstick trees left on the Desert Divide.  Fingers of the flames rambled through the area known as Laws, towards the Skunk Cabbage meadows, and up the flank of San Jac on Angel’s Glide. I liken this experience to someone walking through the remnants of their house after a fire or flood or tornado; they know each hallway and bedroom and nook quite intimately and it becomes overwhelming to detatch from those beautiful places that mean so much to us.


On the nine-mile descent, Daniel and I philosophize about fires in the wilderness.  We consider the acres and the homes lost, the lives not lost, and the change that the forest will now under go. I can’t say that we found solace, not in that moment, but as the path rolled and rambled beneath our feet, it became a fitting metaphor for the impermanence we experience in this world. 





Monday, September 9, 2013

Chasing the Garuda

by Matt Gray

We planned a morning circuit of our favorite alpine meadows, hoping to check in on the ferns up there now growing shoulder high, and possibly track down an elusive Lemon Lily or two. But as we arrive at the Humber Park trail head, I catch Daniel looking up at Tahquitz Rock. I glance in the back to see if he snuck in the climbing gear . . . there's nothing there that will drastically alter our day, yet I know from his half smile that he suddenly has another idea.

"I've never gone up the North Gully in the summer," he finally confesses/mentions/proposes. The North Gully begins as a climber's trail and then diverts through a series of rock bands, chinqapuin fields, and steep, crumbly shoots until reaching Tahquitz Peak, some 2500 vertical feet above. 

If you haven't figured it out yet, I worry, a lot.  So I begin thinking of all the hazards: rock fall and rock slides, timber rattlers kin to last summer's encounter, running out of air chasing my brother up another unknown adventure.  Fortunately, I will follow Daniel just about anywhere, pending a terribly clairvoyant intuition. And having just finished the section on the Garuda Practice of Shambala Warriors in "Running with the Mind of Meditation," I'm game for the challenge.

"Are we planning on running it?" I ask in agreement of the diverted plans.  He smiles again and takes off at a brisk walk.

The Garuda is a mythic, playful, courageous bird-like animal in Tibetan Buddhist lore.  Its application is all about challenge: being audacious, overcoming tough obstacles, pushing yourself beyond, and testing your limits when your awareness of self (the Tiger) and the world around you (the Lion) are keen, in-shape, and ready for the mediated risks ahead.

While the Garuda dances and flies through another world, applying its natural tendencies to meditation and running practices will surely land you in some outrageous places. High on the North Gully, I'm scrambling over granite features, admiring delicate flowers growing from precarious cracks and gaps, and breathing deep, calming my racing pulse as I look out at the beautiful landscape beneath us, above us, and all around us.

Today, the Garuda will take us through these uncharted cross-crounty territories, to the panoramic vista of Southern California from the summit, and down into the very meadows that had originally motivated this run. But everything will feel more alive, more crisp, more vibrant. The Garuda's power helps us break through to new levels of physical strength and mental understanding, and simultaneously grounds us in the subtle beauty that we often miss on our day-to-day routine.  The Garuda revitalizes and awakens, inspires and uplifts, shows off the strength of Tahquitz and reveals the quiet poetry of the Lemon Lily.






Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Running Free

by Matt Gray

There's nothing better than a sunrise start.  The air is crisp and cool, the roads and trails are quiet, and nature comes to peaceful life. This morning, I'm using running as a way to explore during a New England vacation.  While Lindsay and I have a long list of sites to see and friends to visit, those adventures won't start until after 8 am.  By joining the dawn patrol, I get the opportunity to run in a new place, cut through new territory, and soak-in unfamiliar landscapes.

We're staying north of Boston near some college friends, so I choose Walden Pond as my destination.  And why not? Thoreau went for a walk through these woods, I might as well lace-up my running shoes and follow his footsteps with a steady jog. But as I take the first strides on the trail, I discover that I'm not alone.  A large splash down at the lake brings me to attention.  Beaver?

Not quite.  It seems that some locals find the tranquil woods and lake a great place to train as well.  Three triathletes glide across the pond . . . an early morning swim. That looks like fun, I think to myself, though I stick to the meandering footpath.

On the far side of the lake I get a glimpse at the site of Thoreau's cabin. The woods are quiet, for now, (a railroad track sits just fifty yards away), filled with the quintessential sounds of birds singing and squirrels racing across dry leaves. It's actually not an overly-spectacular place.  I think such simplicity though is exactly what makes Walden Pond special; nuanced beauty invokes transcendental philosophies and deep nature connection.

I return to the car and immediately want more. I felt liberated running through these woods, free of a training schedule, a race goal, or a need for any sense of difficulty.  Fortunately, just around the corner are the Revolutionary War sites of Concord, Lexington, and Battle Road. In school I was never a great student of history, but this period of time in America had a profound impact on me.  The opportunity to literally run on historic paths is too great to ignore and head back to the hotel.

I start at North Bridge, then the Concord Green, then the spot where Paul Revere was captured.  I don't run far at any location, maybe a half mile to two miles at each, but once again, that lovely feeling of running free now takes on even more historical and present-day meaning.  This approach to running is going to define the early morning hours during the remaining days of our trip.

In the week to come, I run the Beehive in Acadia National Park, I run along the Maine coast with Atlantic waves almost reaching my toes, I run through a bird sanctuary in the Berkshires, and I run across local organic farms near the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. For each run, I pick out my route the night before using online recommendations from local runners, and I start at dawn, creeping quietly from the dark hotel into the light of sunrise.  With each mini-expedition, I have little expectation about the miles I will cover or the sites I will see.  I free myself from anticipation and destination.

In the simplest terms, I am running free through the beautiful country.

Friday, June 21, 2013

CELEBRATE SUMMER

Today marks the place in space and time when the northern hemisphere of our twirling sphere is the closest to the sun.  Thus we have the longest day of the year and the first official day of summer.  Compliments of Juniper, the day began with a golden sunrise!



Shortly there after I laced up my running shoes and celebrated the day on one of my favorite trail runs.  It's a high country wilderness tour, that tops out on San Jacinto Peak at 10,834'.


I enjoyed a few minutes quietly breathing the crisp, clean and slightly thinner air before going down.


Whether you surf, sip, run, walk or dance, do something today to salute the sun and celebrate the first day of summer.  And keep these words with you this season: never stop exploring, because "you can sleep enough in your own bed, or at least in your grave."



Photos and Text by Daniel - Quote by John Muir