Monday, October 10, 2005

Mountain Du

For those that prefer an active lifestyle, there are certainly lots of events that one can pick from. From running races to casual biking rides to combinations with a little swimming thrown in. As if that were not enough, if you live in the right areas, you can choose between short and flat events, and long hilly events. The choice is really up to you.

Our team catalyst, Patty felt throwing a little mountain action into our event would be a great challenge for us. Providing a nice place for us to relax and enjoy the mountains before and after the race was all it took for us to commit. (OK, some do not commit as fast as others, but we did get registered before the price went up)

For myself, I have a love/hate relationship with hills. They are hard. They are long. They make you question just what the hell you were thinking. But then they reward you. Each time you crest one, you have a small mental victory. Each time you reach the top you get a brief respite from the gravity as it now works in your favor. Powered by the potential energy you supplied by cranking to the top, you can feel it become kinetic energy as you begin to move faster down the hill than any other sport where you are the engine. Sure, you can ski faster. But did you climb to the top of that hill? No, the lift gave you that energy.

It is hard to describe what it feels like to travel 45 mph down a hill. Harder still to describe the feeling of trying to catch the guy just ahead that seems to be going 45.6mph. Trusting two rather thin wheels and some tubing upon which your seat rests to keep you steady and straight, you become one with the bike. It has become an extension of your legs. The wind is whistling in your ears, you can hear the rubber singing on the asphalt.

Those are speeds you will not reach on the bike if you choose flatter rides. So if you avoid the hills, then you are avoiding the thrills. And to look over and see your friends zooming down a hill as you are climbing is a great motivation to keep on cranking(out and back course on this day).

But the best part of it all is being able to share the experience when it is over.

"Man that last hill sucked. Whose idea was this? What was your max speed? Did you ever consider quiting? Damn, I feel good! I sure need to learn how to spit. Someone wearing that outfit better be damn good."

And we all had enough of a similar experience to be able to talk and share and discuss for quite some time.

It sure is better than talking about some similar experience you had sitting in a bar, or watching a movie or a ball game. We all participated, we were all part of the experience. And that is worth every crank of the bike up the hill and every step of the run.

So the next time you have a choice, go ahead. Have yourself a little Mountain Du. You will be glad you did. I know I was.

Picture(L-R) EJ, Mike, Helen, Brian, and Patty
Not pictured: Sandy, who took the picture and still had some Mountain Du herself

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Changing of the Seasons

As one ages, be it slowly or quickly, gracefully or clumsily, it seems to me that the changing of the seasons become evermore incredible, and looked forward to. I think I have looked forward to fall more this year than ever.

This year was the first that I did not spend my summer training for a marathon since 1999. The ability to choose not to run on hot and humid days was quite a blessing for me. I was able to ride the bike, generate my own cooling winds and look at things from new and faster perspectives. But with the Six Gap ride behind me now(10,800 feet of vertical climb and riding some of the same roads that Lance Armstrong rode here the last two years), I felt a desire to return to running.

A different approach has been in store for me for the Fall running season. Mentoring half marathoners for the November Atlanta Half Marathon has breathed fresh air into some very stale runs. I had almost forgotten the enthusiasm of new runners, having surrounded myself with very good, yet never satisfied running friends. When you see the excitement of someone running further than they ever had, and then doing that again the following week, it is a joy.

I have also gone back to the trails. There is always something that you least expect, or at least hope not to expect running on the trails. One of my favorite things is to run along the Chattahoochee River. I am fortunate to have several locations to run that have the river as my companion. The river can be a giver of life, and sometimes a taker of life. Yet it is alway there.

As the seasons change, the trail can take on different looks. Bare in winter, coming to life in the spring before you have really felt warmer temps, a refuge from the heat in the summer, and a place to hear the winds of change and complete the cycle in fall. Never does it appear the same. Week to week it can have a different feel and appearance, meaning it can alway be the same route and yet always a different experience.

It is easy sometimes to forget that we share those areas with other forms of life that certainly regard us differently than we regard them. What do the deer think as they see us run pass, at our slow, plodding pace(relative to their speed at least)? Do they want to watch us? Would they ever want to join us for a sprint down the trail?

And what of the creature we saw today? In a spot I would not have thought to see it, there was a 6 foot black snake stretched across the trail. He was likely trying to work off the morning coolness by lounging on some warmer dirt. Without the ability to go around it, we were able to watch it til he decided to slither on. It crosses my mind on what the snake may think. Can he smell our sweat soaked bodies? Does he have the ability to smell each of us as easily as we can pick out the voices of our friends within a group? Does he feel as scared or threatened as we might, seeing a six foot snake blocking our path? Is he amazed at our ability to fly across the landscape while he must drag his body across everyplace he travels??

I am grateful that our first instincts are no longer to kill things which we may come across in the wild. At least it is no longer my first instinct. Because soon it will be cold and he will become just a memory of the fall, at a spot I will think "Snake" each time I pass it. I hope I will see him again, maybe even 7 feet in length by then. I hope he sees me and thinks "man that dude is flying".

I can hear the fall coming, and in some ways I am happy that it seems to come quicker for me each year. For today, I am able to enjoy the changes more than I have in the past. On the other hand, I prefer not to age too fast just yet...