Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let Me Count the Ways...

I think I'm in love with Trail Running. Or maybe it's just a jumbo-size crush ...time will tell I guess. A younger man would just let loose and follow his heart, be a romantic. I'm more rational than that; I like to analyze and make lists. Pros and cons, that sort of thing.

Here are the pros:

1. Unlike my last affair, trail running doesn't hurt! Not sure why, but maybe it's all the different positions and geometries. Up, down, bumpy, smooth,... Lots of variety so that nothing ever gets worn out or broken. Which also means you get more of a full-body workout! The sense of blissful fatigue after 90 minutes on trails is much more satisfying than 90 minutes on the road (well, I think it is... can't say I've ever successfully run 90 minutes on pavement without blowing up prematurely).

2. And what a heart-pumping experience it is to run all out up a 30% slope. Few things scream, "I'M ALIVE!!!" like that organ pounding against your rib cage at 170 beats a minute. Such a fine line between pleasure and pain. But for whatever reason, I cannot go that hard on the road--other systems fail way before my heart maxes out.

3. I'm also smitten with the mental side of trail running. Your brain goes on hyperdrive as you hurtle downhill on a twisty single-track covered in rocks and roots. Every footstep is subconsciously calculated to keep you upright and moving forward quickly. So many factors... will your shoe grip that boulder, or will it slide off? can your knee handle the drop? is your ankle strong enough? what's under those leaves? etcetera, etcetera. Of course you're not really aware of all that thinking--it just happens instinctively--and it's a rush, a powerful mix of stress and exhilaration. Much different than plodding through the motions when running on pavement or even pedaling a bike.

4. Trail running is oh so Au Natural. Our ancient relatives did it, though not so much for fun as for survival. Eat or be eaten! What else can you do in the modern world that has such a basic primal connection? Does the forest look or feel any different for us today than it did for a young Chumash boy or girl 5,000 years ago?

5. Once a week I do it with a group. They're smart, fit, genuine people. Men and women, mostly all younger than me. No one person dominates, and we all take turns being in front or behind. It's been five weeks in a row now, and we always rendezvous in a new place or run a different trail. Loving the variety!

So, are there any cons of trail running? What about breaking an ankle, getting bitten by a snake, or eaten by a mountain lion? Those are the obvious things, but the risks actually add to the thrill. The bigger issue, however, is what this fling will do to my 30-year relationship with bike racing! Is there room for another activity? Is there enough passion to share, or will performance suffer? Could the two relationships possibly be complementary?

I'd like to find out. I'm going to do some of these in 2011.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office

Two weeks ago, I was invited onto a "Red Team" to review and critique an important proposal my company is writing. While flattered, I was also a bit hesitant because I wasn't looking for additional work. Ten years ago I successfully extracted myself from all company business other than fun technical subjects. Yet, from some sense of duty, I agreed to participate on the Red Team.

That afternoon they plopped the document on me --all 70 pages of it-- and I settled in to read. I struggled right out of the gate, and eventually DNF'ed despite giving it a good three-hour effort. I know the authors knew their stuff, in fact, they are brilliant people, but it just wasn't coming out crisply in the text. Worse still, in the parts I could understand, they were substantially underselling their capabilities.

Turns out all the other Red Team members felt the same way, so we met with the proposal writers and told them bluntly what we thought. A bit of an awkward situation but handled deftly by the Red Team leader, my company's prez. By the end of the meeting I was feeling good about the prospects; the writers got the messages and seemed to genuinely appreciate our input. OK, back to my hole and my interesting technical work... or so I thought.

My curiosity piqued when I saw the prez go over and whisper into the VP's ear as we were wrapping up. "Mark, can you stick around a little longer?" Not so much a question as an order really. Turns out he unceremoniously threw me over the fence onto the proposal-writing team. Ookaaay... what horrible tasks are the proposal writers going to dump on me now, getting revenge for the comments I had made from the safety of the Red Team just a few moments earlier?

Well, of course they're bigger people than that, and they took me in warmly and gave me some plumb writing assignments. So I tap-tapped away on the keyboard over the next couple of days, writing and rewriting, and rewriting again. Eventually I had some pages I was proud of. Now it was their turn to critique! So yeah, they tweaked a few things and deleted some of my ramblings ...I do tend to ramble... but most of my contributions will be in the final version. That made me happy.

But the thing that really surprised me was this: I truly enjoyed the writing assignment. I mean really writing, with all the complexity and nuance of language. Trying to balance the often conflicting goals of being entertaining --or at least not boring-- while at the same time being informative. I am a cat-5 writer to be sure, but even a cat 5 can appreciate the process.

What occurred to me next was that before this little assignment, I hadn't strung together more than three or four paragraphs in a long time. Probably since abandoning this blog! The only writing I've been doing is the usual smattering of emails, phone texts, and Facebook comments. Hardly a way to stay in writing shape!

And so my final realization was, hey, I don't want my writing brain to get flabby, so maybe I'll start blogging again! Lots of fodder out there to consider. No promises that it will be any good, and no doubt you won't share the same excitement level that I do about some subjects. For example, do you get giddy like me when thinking about rain harvesting, and the two 650-gallon tanks I just bought? I thought not. So it's up to you... if you want to stick around, you can be on the Red Team.