i had this grand vision that i was going to kayak, run and bike ride in the mountains this long weekend. uma’s cold caught up to me and as i am leaving the bay area, i am sneezing and coughing my way into higher elevation. i get here around 10am, find that most of the sites are taken and drive deeper into the mountain to find something suitable just for tonight. by the time, i am all settle down and ready for a cold beer night cap. Finally, at that moment, when i am looking at the stars and feel the chill and hear the wind, i tell myself it was worth it. this trip pretty much wraps up an incredible summer of the most outdoor i have ever been in in a year. i’ve enjoyed the outdoors in so many contexts and this weekend of doing really nothing was just fine. sure, i did a few hikes to a lake or two and vistas were pretty regular too but the most part i barely sweated. i even sleep twice in the hammock looking up at the trees and smelling the forest around me and laughing as bingo numbers were spoken over a speakerphone. sure i wanted solitude in the forest but the bingo name and kids being loud didn’t bother me a bit. then tonight i sat on the world renown vista point watch the sunset over the mountains. the idea that this was the area where i should get land really just sunk in while i enjoy that moment. for the past couple years, i have been thinking about buying some land outside the bay area and be close to more trees/mountains/trails/lakes. it is precisely at the sierra foothills that all of these elements come together. it’s probably going to be like a 5 year plan but it’s coming together.
in my typical fashion, i didn’t think too much about the implication of signing up for 120 mile race at high elevation when in reality i was wholly unprepared for such a physical feat. As I spoke to other participants on how they prepare for the adventure, my suspicion was confirmed that I was mostly out of my league. Which is not to say that there weren’t other less prepared racers and when compared to them, i would have done fine. of course in hindsight, i did pretty good considering how little i train. pretty good meaning i was able to finish all the stages within a pretty reasonable amount of time without being super injured or wiped out. Also considering how sore I was from the SF Marathon a week prior to the race, i didn’t come into the race believing that i could be ‘successful’ in just a rigoius physical feat. still, i can’t say that i didn’t wholly believe in myself as i view the challenge as mostly a mental grit exercise and i was mostly correct in that assumption. physically, i may not have been as well train but i felt that mentally I ‘should’ be able to complete the challenge. for the most part. the scenario played out naturally and there were many moments that my mental toughness overcame my physical weakness.
i love these types of challenges and as i get older/more successful, they come more rare in my daily experience. previously, life just threw these mental/character challenges at you and nowadays, i have to seek it out. not to suggest that my life is so easy these days but the daily challenges are fairly minor and doesn’t build much character for the most part. intense challenges that consume your mind/body for short periods of time have a much more powerful impression on your character psyche. which is to say, after an experience such as this, my confident level went up considerably. the question becomes how will i apply that new level of confident. it’s been tempting to keep using this confident in the same channel but i am not sure that’s how i want to apply it. I think it’s fairly easy for me to fall into the idea of upping my running game into longer races and etc. Not that it’s a super bad thing as the health benefits are awesome, there’s just so much on my plate that i want to do and all preparing for ultra distances requires more time commitment than i am prepare to give at this point. for now, i suspect i will continue to do a few more races this year to close out a great year of running but not sure what the future holds.
Even though I wasn’t really nervous about the marathon the days leading up to it, it turned out the evening before, it wasn’t the case as I think i fell asleep around 3am. Wake up call was 430am and mentally, I was already setting myself for a ‘bad’ performance. Thinking back to my last marathon where I felt more confident going into it because I had actually done a 20 miler as part of the training. This time around, I never ran past 13 miles in my training. Still, the big difference in my training this time around was that mostly trained in the oakland hills with plenty of hill work. I think the trail training made a huge difference in this marathon because the hills on this marathon were pretty easy for me. It wasn’t all easy as the condition of the road/weather was pretty tough.
Although it wasn’t cold, the wetness/fog still through most of the morning and by the time I ran the golden gate bridge, my feet was soaked as my vibram didn’t provide much protection when it came to wet roads. My fueling routine worked out well as I didn’t quite hit the energy bonk that usually comes at mile 19/20. Blisters/chaffing wasn’t an issue as well so that felt really good because I knew those things of seemingly small things could have really have an impact on the emotion state of the run. Still, my body did not let me off so easily as I tripped twice and almost sprang my ankles in both instances. Again, I am going to swear by my vibrams as the injury sustained from those trips was minimized by the shoes. I know with regular shoes, i would have been out for 5-10 minutes before running again. My last physical challenge was holding in all the fueling products that i had taken every 3-4 miles of the race. Within the last 2 miles of the race, my internals were having a shit storm and my gag reflexes were kicking in. All I have to say was thank god, they didn’t fully make it back up from my stomache!
Performance wise, as i was getting audio cues from my phone on a regular basis, I was more aware of my average pace and heart beat. My mantra was pretty much slow but steady but even with an average pace of 10 min mile, I was constantly passing people for the most part. I guess starting at wave 6, I had plenty of people to pass! With my pace holding steady at the 2nd half of the race, I was beginning to get excited about potentially beating the time from my last marathon. At beginning, I was mostly thinking if i can finish under 5 hours, I would be happy because i didn’t feel like I train that well. In hindsight, the SF course was much easier than Big Sur Marathon. I just reviewed my Big Sur run and it had 2200 feet in elevation change compared to 1000 in SF. In addition, I my hill training in the past year really paid off. At the end of the race, I was mentally checking myself to see if I could potentially run another 5 miles and I think I could have done it. My 50K trail run goal this year seem a lot more doable after completing this marathon. By next week after all the running in the colorado rockies, I should just sign up for the 50K in september to take it off my bucket list!
Although I bought my point and shoot on the run, after the midway part, I was pretty much mentally focused on finishing the race. I wanted to take photos of your non typical people that race a marathon and show the courage that these people had. Least to say, the challenge of running and being present with my pain pretty much took over my creative desire. Still, I always find it inspiring to see all sorts of people take on this challenge.
A friend finally got some decent photos of me doing what i love most when i am out in nature. All the training in the oakland hills pays off on days like this when i am running up decent elevation and snow!
It’s only been about a day since i left the quest in death valley. although not quite as dramatic as the let down of say a 10 day silent meditation retreat, i am still feeling the ‘crash’ of the adventure. I figure i better get to writing this experience down as quickly as possible before i forgot all the rich details from it. Although i thought the format of the quest was long (4 days of prep, 4 of solo part and 2 days of more discussion), in actuality, it did make sense. I’ve been to a lot of workshops/retreats and i have to confess, this format of learning outside the entire time is my favorite. sure, it’s nice to have catered meals, hot showers and etc but something about being constantly surrounded by the raw beauty of nature just leaves a bigger impression to me. anyway, from the physical plane point of view, there isn’t too much exciting to report and it’s all really about the group’s energy as we shared stories of the past and our hopes of transformation. the teachings were pretty simple but still very effective in guiding us frame our vision quest.
one aspect i really like about this vision quest was the level of intimacy that you got to know people. although our group was on the bigger side of 9, by the end of the retreat, i felt like i could call these people my brothers and sisters without any hesitation! I am guessing the average age was closer to 33 or something and i was on the higher end of that! Interestingly enough, everyone’s background is also pretty diverse, which also makes for an interesting dynamic. It’s like many of the buddhist retreats i go to and although everyone is diverse, there is some sort of shared cultural institutional framework that can make it easier to connect for introverts like me. Also, one of the most challenging things for me is to be ‘required’ to verbally participate in the circle of discussions on regular basis. the requirement is only out of a sense of shared participation more than anything and i found myself ‘trying’ to mentally construct my thoughts before speaking but for the most part, i ended up speaking from my heart and it didn’t come across as too contrived (that’s what i think anyway, maybe the others disagree). By the end of the retreat, i was getting more comfortable with speaking from my heart without feeling like a total train wreck. I speak regularly in a group context at work about subject matters that i know about but in this format, matters of the heart and repressed fears are entirely different manner.
one of the post vision request tasks is to share the story with your closest people so that the ‘vision’ from the quest can take hold and can maybe slowly grow into your reality. although i will be getting around to sharing the story in person, this journal will have to do for so that i don’t forget the high level details.
The first 4 days of the retreat was teachings and the sharing of the stories that lead the 9 of us to this retreat. on the first day of the retreat, i surprised myself and asked for a support/hug from everyone in the circle. i am not sure where the hell that came from but it was pretty much a precursor of the journey to take place. Since i didn’t have an obvious WHY the hell i was at the retreat, i explained that i was rather ‘numb’ in my daily life. Numb from the fact that i am been stuck in a routine that for the most part was getting rather tiresome to myself. on the surface, it was fine of course, nothing crazy going on my life that would require myself to rethink my whole existence. But in some regard, i had reach the top of my physical plane existence and naturally, it felt rather empty in my emotional landscape. Sure, i got pretty excited about getting the RV last year and was going off every month to some cool outdoor place but even that was feeling rather routine and i was beginning to feel like i was running away from something. Anyway, by the 2nd day of teachings, i was getting a better sense of my WHY.
The particular teaching was about the 4 ‘shields’/4 seasons/4 stages in one’s life. In short, in each stage, there are lessons and purposes around each stage. In general, as we progress through the stages, we acquire new ‘skills’ such as introspection from the west shield and trust from the south shield. But as we reach adulthood, a balanced human is able to maintain the equilibrium of the energy associated with each stage. Well, as it turns out my south shield was out of whack. which is to say i didn’t learn the lessons of trust and innocence from my childhood. As part of my introduction, i spoke of my parents not really being there for me for most of my teenage and young adulthood. I spoke about never feeling at home because i was living in another culture and living with my aunt/uncle for my teenage years meant that i was not feeling home there either. So, my story became that one I shouldn’t or expect support/love from anyone. If your parents didn’t provide to you, who in the whole would do it for you. That story got me pretty far in life without too many break downs. Fast forward until i am over 40 and i realize that there was a huge hidden cost to that story. The hidden cost is an over size ego that thinks he can do everything by himself. of course the ego also knows that it’s not true but one thing is for sure was that he wasn’t going to ask for support. This outer reality would soon be reflected in the natural world as i partake in the exercise of feeling a place to call basecamp during my solo fasting journey.
On the 4th day, we went into Eureka Valley of Death Valley. We had gone from our base camp in big pine, which was pretty awesome considering we were surrounded by snow cap mountains and the sounds of 2 streams running through our camp. To be honest, i didn’t think much of this exercise where we were suppose to find a place that resonated with our internal emotional landscape. The fact that i hadn’t done my medicine walk in the previous month made me feel pretty unprepared for the exercise. Still, i was being pretty open to a new way of experiencing non rational ‘truth’. So low and behold, as soon as i hike past the first set of hill formations, I am immediately drawn to a set of oddly spaced rocks on a hill top. The picture below is worth at least 20,000 words but it ain’t a pretty place for sure.
I hadn’t intended on finding my ‘home’ on a top of a hill and as i was hiking up to the location, i didn’t think it would actually work. Of course when i get to there, i find a space perfect for my 5’5 foot body to cozily fit. So, it instantly felt like i was at ‘home’. it was like finding the perfect apartment in San Francisco within a day of your search. Compared with my colleagues trying to find their places, my luck made it feel also like an instant love connection! Back in camp, i told everyone that the location instantly felt at home for some reason and it just simply resonated with my soul and the big rock said yes when i ask him if i could stay there! It was not much long later in my journey that i realize the deeper significance of the rock formation. When Sparrow told us to find a place that reflected our ’emotional landscape’, i just just thought it meant emotional connecting your base camp some how. as you can from the image from above, aloof rock seem like an obvious draw for a visual person like me. little did i realize that the inner drawn to that space was more powerful than i could imagine. when this insight struck me, it was one of those distinct times in my life where i came to the truth in a most unpredictable way. i guess some would call it intuition and it never felt so obvious. undoubtedly, it’s something that i want to tap more into. intuition is poetry in a world of verbose novels. at any rate, when my emotional barren and aloof being realize that he saw him as the aloof rock in the scene, it made him so sad for his own being. An over grown man child that get shit done but to what end. although not bothering me on a daily level, the gravity that he may spend the next 20 years like this dawn on him that maybe just maybe, there was something better. With that realization, i subconsciously continue to use the rock symbolism in numerous ways through the journey.
Although I was already on a elevated hill, there was still much elevation for me to explore around my base camp. So, i decided to hike to the highest point of my hill range. After a few hours of slow progress and random watering of the earth, i reached the top of the range. At this point i can’t recall my exact line of reasoning but i decided to let my emotions come out in full force. This was the first time in my life that let the pain and anger of my child come out in it’s full glory. I didn’t linger too long on the anger but there was definitely a deep sense of anguish that roared through my body as i cried out at the top of my lungs. The anger quickly moved towards sadness as my crying became more uncontrollable. I wept out loud, screaming primal sounds against the winds for a good 5-10 mins. At some point, my ego wanted me to cry louder so that just maybe someone would randomly hear me. The reality was far from that considering my location but it didn’t stop the ego from pointing in his two cents. After all the primal howling, i felt quite emotionally spent but spiritually stronger.