I never intended to become a runner. As a kid I hated running as a sport…
I never really thought of myself as an athlete. I didn’t do organized sports at school. Fitness and “exercise” were things I associated with that old dude in the sweats on TV. But I grew up skiing, and have been doing it as long as I can remember. When we lived in western Mass in the 1960s, my father had part interest in a small ski area. I had lace-up leather boots, cable bindings and skis longer than I could reach, and I remember being picked up off the ground regularly by the rope tow.
My parents split up in 1968 and Mom moved us to Boulder, Colorado – a good place to develop my love of skiing. Pretty soon I learned about powder, which really changed my view of things. Instead of pounding bumps and flying down cruisers, I became a true powder hound and would stay deep in the trees. Tree skiing wasn’t popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s like it is today, and powder stashes would last for days if you were willing to tear up your clothing on branches. Duct tape became a key component of my equipment. I switched to snowboarding in the early ‘90s because I discovered it was simply a better vehicle for finding powder in the trees, and the style is freer and more creative.
The act of slicing turns through virgin powder, whether on alpine or telemark skis or on a snowboard, resonates with something deep within the human soul. It is, in a sense, the purest physical experience of the “flow” that is talked about so much in discussions of sports performance. You expend an effort, align yourself physically and emotionally with the environment, then you let it go and follow the flow through the great, white, buoyant world. You and the world are one.
Skiing was my first adventure sports activity, but that experience of “flow” influenced everything that came since, which has included rock climbing, mountaineering, expedition canoeing, whitewater kayaking, road and mountain biking, and, of course, running.
In the mid-1970s I discovered great freedom via road bicycling. My friends and I would just get on our bikes and ride, first exploring the roads in all directions from Boulder, then venturing farther afield with overnight tours, and finally a couple of multi-week tours around the western U.S., Canada, and Europe. For me cycling was about exploration, adventure and freedom – freedom from schedules, responsibilities and adult supervision. I found that I would feel a deep sense of connection to things when I was exerting myself physically in nature – connection to the Universe, connection to friends as we spent many hours or days sharing adventures together, and connection with something deep in myself.
I never intended to become a runner. In junior high P.E. class we were required to run for 15 minutes once a week. I found this incredibly tedious, and often ended up with a side stitch after just a few minutes (no one mentioned that it didn’t work well to run right after eating a big breakfast). But by now, I am married to one of the best female ultrarunners in the country. I figured if I was going to spend any weekend time with my sweetie I’d better make the switch from biking to running.
In the fall of 1998 I was barely an ultrarunner, having run just a couple of 50 mile races earlier that year. A group of us decided to run on trails from Boulder to Fraser, about 40 miles over the Continental Divide. Somewhere along the way Buzz Burrell mentioned that he wanted to run the whole Colorado Trail as fast as possible. I noticed that when he said this everyone else seemed to back away in horror at the thought of a 500 mile run, but I was naïve enough to be intrigued. I didn’t know Buzz very well at the time, though we had trained together some for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. After spending the night at a friend’s place in Fraser, Buzz & I decided to try to run back, despite a snow storm, while the others elected to get a ride home. We epic’d trying to get over the Divide in a major snow storm, clad in skimpy running clothes, but that experience made us both realize that we’d be a good team for the Colorado Trail, which we attempted the following summer (1999). To make a long story short, I got injured 300 miles into the run, but Buzz was able to finish it, setting a respectable time of 11d16h13m for the 500 mile route, the record by several days at the time. The next year we upped the ante, and were on track for running the John Muir Trail in under four days, when a huge hail storm pushed us off the trail; while the sub-4 would have to wait two more years, we were so far ahead of the previous record when the storm hit we went easily under that as well. While disappointments were involved, these adventures did cement a friendship between Buzz and me that has been one of the deepest and most rewarding of my life – a far more enduring and valuable result!
Doing these muilti-day runs launched me into ultrarunning in a more determined way. But, though I have done many races at all distances in many different countries, big adventure runs always attracted me the most.. I wanted to explore my limits. I wanted to attempt things I had no idea that I could finish. I wanted to dream up my own adventures and figure out how to make them happen. I spent some years pursuing those adventures, having amazing experiences, traveling widely, and seeing a lot in the process.
These days things have settled down. I no longer compete and no longer aspire to push the adventure envelope. But, I still feel deep satisfaction and enjoyment in a simple run in the hills, a scramble up one of the Flatirons, or linking some powder turns on my snowboard. I’ve recognized that what is important is the personal, inner experience, rather than getting a time or setting a mark.
Fortunately, this is available to all of us, simply by doing what we love every day.