So I wrote a book… and you can read ‘Outsider’ now

In this post, a little bit of news.

I’ve been writing on this site since 2011. That, in itself, is hard for me to believe. Nearly eight years of writing about the outdoors, running, fitness and whatever else strikes me, I suppose. Before that, there were a couple more years on the blogosphere at the new-defunct Out There blog on newsok.com.

In the midst of all of this, I’ve been working on another, longer-term project, one that’s finally ready to be read. It’s a book, titled “Outsider: Tales from the road, the trail and the run.”

I’ll dispense with the more cliché descriptions of what this work means to me. And yeah, I’ve had a hard time coming up with an elevator speech to describe what it is. But I’ll give it a shot here.

When I was young, I loved the outdoors. I can recall many adventures in the mountains, at camp and in a cabin that cultivated a fascination with the mountains and other wild environments. Growing up, I let that stuff slide. But eventually it came back to me, and boy, I needed it.

The book details it pretty well, but I hit a spell when my normally in-control life was anything but. How I pulled out of that nosedive was heading outside, running downtown streets or wooded trails, hiking in the hills, climbing mountains and taking road trips across the West. I learned a lot about myself, about life, and about God in those times. I wrestled with some tough questions. And I met some fantastic people along the way, each one of them making my life that much richer.

Scenes for this happen in my hometown, in the High Plains and in the Rockies, among other spots. All of them hold a special place for me, and there are some specific moments that will be burned into my memory for as long as I live.

I think a lot of you will be able to relate. How many of you use running to battle personal demons? Or head into the wilderness to quiet your mind, sort things out and recharge? If that describes you, we’re birds of a feather, my friend.

I’ll cut to the chase: I hope you buy it, read it and enjoy it. Hopefully we can start a few conversations. You’ll read my stories, as well as those of some folks I know. Maybe you can give me a few tales of your own.

“Outsider” is available in paperback and on Kindle. Pick up a copy, have a read and tell me what you think. And thanks – not only for giving a book a read, but for being here on this site through the years. We’ll see ya out there.

Bob Doucette

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The reality of being an athlete over 40

Most of these shoes are worn out, and these days I’m feeling every one of their miles.

When it comes to being an “athlete” over 40, it really is a tale in two parts. That’s what I’ve discovered, anyway.

Since I’ve turned 40, here are a few things that have happened…

I ran my fastest races.

I pulled my heaviest deadlift.

I ran my longest distance, then topped that a few months later by double.

I climbed tougher mountains and undertook more demanding adventures, including a couple of them solo.

At one point, I can genuinely say that I was in better shape in my 40s than I was at any other time in my life.

Age is just a number, right?

Well, hang on a minute. There’s a flip side to this coin. It’s something people tell you, but you must experience first-hand to appreciate.

When I get up in the morning, I hobble to the bathroom. Lingering plantar fasciitis remains a daily issue. And it’s not just when I first get up in the morning. Any time I get up from a long period of sitting (binging Netflix, being at work or whatever), the effect is the same. It takes me a few strides to smooth out my gait.

I also battle other injuries now more than ever. A shoulder tweak, an angry lower back, twitchy muscles, ankles sprained so many times that they retain permanent stiffness. A janky hip joint. Right now, all of these, plus the foot issues, hit me at once.

It’s a strange and irritating conundrum. When I’m out running, I can break out into a hill sprint or straightaway gallop as good or better than at any time in my 20s or 30s. But give me a couple of hours and I’m walking around the house with a bit of a hitch, gimp or whatnot. I need more sleep to recover, but my body wants me to be awake at all the wrong times.

I guess all this is making me a smarter runner and lifter. I don’t train through pain as much anymore. I train around it. Or just back off. Rehab in the form of postural alignment exercises, foam rolling and more has become more of the norm. But I won’t lie. It’s getting harder. Frustratingly so. It’s making me wonder if the best is behind me, if I’ll race in the fall, and if I need to curb my expectations when it comes to adventure.

It’s been said that life is a marathon and not a sprint. The Apostle Paul even mentioned that in his writings a couple of thousand years ago. The idea behind that is perseverance. Having run a marathon before, it’s easy to feel good about yourself at Mile 3, or Mile 8, or even Mile 13. It’s at Mile 18, or Mile 20, when you’ve already come so far, beat yourself up, and seemingly have too far to go that a race is decided. I’m not sure which mile I’m on, but it sure as hell ain’t Mile 3.

But that’s when I remember those long training miles. I’ve got to pace myself. Be smarter. Not blast my way through every adversity. “Be like water,” as Bruce Lee once said: to be still at times, to flow over when allowed, around when necessary, and crash when appropriate.

I’m learning. Pain is a great teacher. All I know for sure is I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to give in, give up what I love and live a smaller, less pain-inducing life. I know where that leads, and it’s not good.

I guess I need to be better at figuring out how to carry on a bigger life when my arms are a little heavier, my steps a fraction slower, and the aches more persistent. I don’t know any other way.

Bob Doucette

Risks on the trail: Four thoughts on fears, security and exploring your trails solo

If you read too much of the news, you might be under the impression that running by yourself, particularly on trails, is risky.

I’ve been thinking about a few stories over the years that might give weight to this belief. One story mentioned booby traps set up on a popular trail system. Another referred to an assault. And still others mention mountain lion and coyote attacks on unwary runners and cyclists.

This is reflected in conversations I’ve had with some folks about why they haven’t ventured out on their local trails. Most of the time, the answer is that they would, but can’t find people to go with them.

They’re scared of hitting the trail alone.

A recent social media conversation seemed to confirm this more. In this instance, a runner was taking a friend out on their local trails to get in a five-mile loop. The trails in question are close to town and popular. The person in question showed up to meet her friend armed with a handgun and a couple of Tasers.

I’m not sure if this person walks around doing every day tasks with so much weaponry, but my guess is no. Something about running in the woods, even with an experienced partner, illicited enough fear to warrant packing heat.

I’ve written about carrying firearms in the backcountry before, and devoted another post where women adventurers shared their insights about hiking and running solo.

Looking back at the aforementioned stories, the conversations I’ve had with people, and what I’ve seen online, I’ve got mixed views on just how safe — or unsafe — going alone on the trails really is. Some thoughts:

  • Generally speaking, trail running on your own is pretty safe. Criminals are unlikely to commit the effort and time it takes to stage a crime or look for opportunities on trail systems. It’s too risky and too much effort. Places close to town have too many people, and remote trails are too much of a hassle. They’re more likely to break into your car at the trailhead while you’re gone. Hostile wildlife encounters happen, but are extremely rare. Your biggest risk is likely turning an ankle or some other injury that leaves you unable to walk out, and that danger can be mitigated by having a charged cellphone with you (if you have service) and letting people know where you’re going and how long you’ll be out.
  • More and more, we’re conditioned to be afraid, and the answer to our fears is increasingly a gun. Concealed carry and open carry don’t bother me. I don’t because I don’t see the need being so great that it’s worth the trouble. But others do. That said, there is a growing sentiment that the world is filled with bad people lurking around every corner, hoping for a chance to do you harm. I know plenty of people living in sanitized subdivisions, sometimes gated, with gun safes filled with all sorts of weaponry, almost as if they’re expecting an armed incursion into their neighborhood in the ‘burbs is on its way. Those fears tend to manifest themselves in people arming themselves when venturing out into trail systems. Do what you want, but generally speaking, that handgun is going to be nothing more than extra weight. My nightmare scenario: running on a trail, startling someone who isn’t paying attention, and getting blasted in the face.
  • I usually see hikers in pairs or groups, but most often see runners alone, regardless of gender. What does this mean? It means trail running is safe enough that runners are and have been fine with pounding out some miles on their own for some time now. Knowing your trails, being aware of your surroundings and moving confidently go a long way toward being comfortable out there. What’s different about them than my skittish friends? Experience. They’ve been out there enough to know that barring some really bad luck, they’re going to be fine. Tired, cut, bruised or beat up (trail running does that to you), but fine.
  • A bit of security that doesn’t require shooting/Tasing/spraying someone is a dog. A good running dog can be a deterrent to folks who might be on the sketchy side. Bonus: Dogs make great buddies.

When I think of trail running, it’s different from regular running in that it’s a real “outdoors” experience, and it comes with same peculiarities of related activities like hiking, backpacking and climbing. There are objective risks involved that deal with the terrain, wildlife and weather. The trick is recognizing how to mitigate those risks (good preparation is key) while ferreting out irrational fears.

If you feel more comfortable running trails with company, by all means, find a friend. If security is a large enough concern that you feel the need to be armed, do what you have to do (but please be competent with your weaponry before carrying it in a public space). However, I can tell you by experience — as can many women and men I know — that you’ll probably be fine on your own and unarmed.

In short, don’t be scared. Go ahead and explore those trails.

Bob Doucette

Sharing the love of trail running

Just one scene on my local trails.

Summer heat doesn’t excite me. But those daylight hours sure do.

Sunsets that start pushing the nine o’clock hour mean I have that much more time to do things outside. I had my eye on spring and summer when I asked my weekly run group if they’d be interested in doing some trail running.

In case you don’t know, I started leading a Friday evening run group through my local gym. Early on, we kept it close to home, running the streets near downtown Tulsa where the paths were more predictable and there was at least a semblance of street lights. All that is absent on the trails, and I wasn’t about to take people who were new to trail running for a night run. Even with headlamps, that’s a lot to ask of a trail running newbie. So I waited for the days to get longer.

For our first outing, we did a simple 3.5-mile loop. It’s one I’ve done dozens of times before, with a sweet cruise down a wooded ridgeline, then a roller-coaster, technical uphill climb back to the trailhead. My road runners weren’t quite used to the sustained uphill that comes with trails, or the steepness those inclines present. And don’t forget the tripping hazards. I guess I should confess that the only one who bit it that night was me.

Last week, it was the mostly the same crew, but with a few new faces. Most were, again, road runners who hadn’t been on these trails much, if at all.

I took them down that same ridge but chose a different path for our return to the trailhead. It’s one of my favorites, one that meanders down a ravine and across a now-dry creek bed before beginning a steady, switchbacking uphill ascent that doesn’t let up much. It’s technical and difficult, and one small slice of it is too steep to run. That part of the route is everything I love about trail running, cloaked it woodlands and scented with the sweet smells of springtime in the forest.

We’re all in decent shape. Some of the gang is clocking in at 23 minutes or less on their 5Ks (not me, of course). But everyone comes back from these trail runs a little humbled by the challenge. Twice I’ve asked if any of them wanted a little more, and both times they’ve all said they were cool with calling it a night. They enjoyed it but knew when it was time to head for the house.

In the past, I’ve run with groups who’d chill out at the trailhead, drink beer or maybe go for tacos. We’d talk about running, but also everything else about the outdoors: hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, you name it. I’ve found some kindred spirits in those groups and more than once, we’ve hit the road to hike distant trails and climb mountains big and small. Trail running is a gateway drug to all things outdoors that I cherish.

But the basics of it are what’s best. After that first run, one of the fellas talked about how much he enjoyed just being in the woods. No cars, no machines, none of that. Only the sounds of the forest and his footfalls. Being out there calmed his mind, he said.

Man, I can relate. I nodded in agreement, thinking about how a few years ago, in the months after I lost my job due to a layoff and weeks later, lost my oldest brother to cancer, it was running on these very same trails that proved to be the best medicine. I was hurting bad. But the earthen paths through the trees got me through. Years later, the trails opened a whole new chapter in my life.

I know that’s true for a lot of people. My story isn’t unique. But a lot of people could benefit from coming here, even if it’s just for a stroll. Being in wild places is a healthy thing.

And I guess that’s why these runs are special to me. I get to share these paths, these woods, and everything they hold. I get to take people to all my favorite places, “secret” routes that I discovered a long time ago. Maybe they’ll get what I got. Perhaps they’ll gain something different, but equally good.

We’ll keep running our downtown streets. I’m sure as the weeks plow into the summer, those will be some really hot, uncomfortable outings. But the long, sweltering days of summer will also give us enough daylight to take special trips to the trails. One thing is for certain: It’ll be worth the sweat.

The run group after a fun few miles on the trails. It’ll be a new route for them each time we go.

Bob Doucette

Omens abound: A cold snap, an earthquake, and the worst 5K finish ever

I’m not sure earthquakes, snow flurries and running mix all that well.

Call it the convergence of the weird. Maybe an omen. I don’t know. But it ended painfully.

I’ve been on this 5K kick lately, and it continued last weekend in the Tulsa suburb of Jenks. Jenks is home to, of all things, a sizable aquarium, and the venue uses an annual half marathon, 10K and 5K event to raise money and awareness.

That’s all good, you know, but I was attracted to the flat-as-a-board course it offers. Surely a good day here would get another PR.

I woke up and did my usual pre-race ritual: Eat a small breakfast, hydrate a little, foam roll, dress for the race and head out.

But this would be no ordinary day.

For starters, it was cold. As in record-setting cold. April in Oklahoma will more often see high temperatures in the 90s before it sees lows in the mid-20s. But that’s what greeted us, along with a dusting a snow and strong north winds that pushed the wind chill down to 16 degrees. April is supposed to be known more for tornado warnings rather than freeze warnings. But here we were, feeling like it was mid-January.

I can shake that off OK. You can dress for cold, race hard and never overheat. I’m good with that.

But as I munched on breakfast, Weirdo Thing No. 2 occurred: an earthquake.

Sitting on my couch, I heard the window rattle and felt the wave-like shakes that are now familiar to me. Years of wastewater injection drilling associated with oil and natural gas production has made Oklahoma one of the most seismically active states in the country. It wasn’t too long ago we had a quake hit a magnitude of 5.8. Saturday’s quake was a mere 4.5 – big news and a novel experience pre-2011, but in 2018, it registered little more than a shrug. I’ll be more interested when we hit a 6.0 or bigger.

I mentioned the term “omen” earlier. I don’t put much stock in such things, especially when it comes to how weird things can get in the Sooner State. We coined the phrase “quakenado” (that happened on a day when we had tornadoes and a quake), and even the “tigerquakenado” (when we had a tiger escape from an exotic animal shelter the same day there was an earthquake and a tornado). We’ve got a two-week-long teacher strike still going on because, blast them, they don’t like having to work side gigs and take welfare just to get by, and they prefer to have functioning classrooms open more than four days a week with textbooks that don’t predate the second Bush administration. I’m sure I could go on with more oddities of my home state, but you get the drift – unusual things here don’t faze us. We’re used to weird, sad or ominous things. So off I went to my race.

It went well for the first 2K, but I think I went out too fast. I dialed it back a little, hoping for a kick toward the end.

When I passed the last water stop, a gal was holding signs pointing which way for the 5K and 10K runners to go. She told us “just go under the bridge and you’re done!” Sounded good to me, and as soon as I passed that bridge, I sped up. A PR was in sight.

And then about 200 yards from the finish, stinging pain seized my right foot. Not a sprain, not an Achilles tear. Just sharp pain from my heel through my arch. I slowed again, hoping to let it chill out so I could speed back up, but no dice. I was run-hopping the rest of the way, bad wheel and all, just hoping I wouldn’t have to stop dead in my tracks.

The end result was a time 25 seconds off my PR. I ran-limped for 200 yards, and had this blowout happened any earlier in the race – say halfway – I probably wouldn’t have finished at all.

And now I’m hobbling around, wishing I had a set of crutches. As it turns out, this is a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, and it’s not going anywhere. I’ve had a few running nicks and dings through the years, but nothing like this. I doubt I’ll run at all this week. Maybe longer.

And maybe now I’ll give pause to the next pre-race convergence of the strange. Maybe omens are real. Maybe the next time unseasonal weather coincides with the trembling of the earth I’ll just skip the race and sleep in.

Bob Doucette

Five reasons why you should be running 5Ks

Long races are great, but you can really test yourself — and enjoy doing it — by racing 5Ks.

A lot of serious runners – those who take it up as a lifelong activity, or even reach competitive levels – start out as recreational runners. And those recreational runners often start at the bottom, where running a mile without stopping is a major feat.

But from there you grow. Maybe you’re tagging along with friends, or doing a Couch to 5K program. That first step toward achievement usually ends at the finish line of your first 5K.

From there, anything goes. A lot of people use the 5K as a gateway to 10Ks, 15Ks, half marathons and marathons. If you get a bad case of the running bug, you do ultras. When it comes to mileage, the more, the better, right? Those 5K races of yore seem rather quaint as you look for another long-distance race to sign up for.

But before you eschew the 5K into your athletic past, let me give you some reasons why you should still be running these things.

They’re cheaper. Your local 5Ks are going to go anywhere from $20 to $40. If you’re insistent that any race you run comes with a free shirt and a medal, you’ll likely get both. Compare that to half marathons and marathons, and you’re looking at plunking down anywhere from $80 to $200 or more, depending on the race and how close you sign up to race day. If you positively have to race, do your wallet a favor and sprinkle in a few of these rather than depleting your bank account with longer-race signup fees.

The training is simpler. Any experienced runner can run a 5K. But running it well is another matter. Even then, training to run a fast 5K isn’t nearly as complicated as it is for long-distance events. No hydration packs, no mid-run fueling, no multi-hour run workouts or any of that other mess. Instead, you’ll get short- to mid-distance daily runs and speed work. You’ll work hard, but logistically speaking, it’s a whole lot easier than gearing up for those ultras or marathons.

You’ll have a life. Those of you who have run marathons and ultras know that no matter how hard you try, parts of your life are going to suffer while training for these races. There’s only so much time in the day, and run workouts of 8 to 20 miles are going to put a hole in your schedule. For a 5K? Much more manageable.

They’re fun. Hey, we all love races. The big races are a blast. But so are the shorter ones. Just because the mileage isn’t high doesn’t mean the good times are lessened. Run a race with your buds, enjoy some suds at the end and go eat tacos. Also a bonus: You won’t be hobbling nearly as much when it’s over.

If you race right, you’ll be challenged. Hey, I get it. If you’re an experienced runner, pounding out 3.1 miles is basically a warmup. But that’s not what I’m talking about. When you’re toeing the line for a 5K, your goal at this point in your running career isn’t finishing. It’s racing. That means going out there for 3.1 miles and punishing yourself at speeds you’d never contemplate at longer distances. Run like that and you’ll test your conditioning and mental toughness. Some runners call this a “suicide pace,” and if you’ve ever seen what collegiate or Olympic 5,000-meter runners look like after they compete, you’ll get it. Race a 5K like that and you will be tested. Pass that test, and you’ll know what you can do when you’re trying to get a final kick for that longer race you’re eyeing.

So there it is. The longer races are great. But don’t sell the 5K short, even if the distance is.

Bob Doucette

What happens when you’re not feeling the long runs?

A scene from one of my long run routes. Frankly, I haven’t been feeling the long runs lately.

I was out hiking the other day when I noticed, in the distance, a familiar landmark along the river. It reminded me of my turnaround point while training for a half marathon last fall. I stood there, high on a wooded ridge, contemplating what went into training for that race.

One of the strongest thoughts that crossed my mind: I don’t miss those long runs.

That surprised me. I typically need a few weeks to let my mind settle and my body heal after a big race. But now it feels different. The thought of lacing ‘em up and heading out for a 12-mile, or 20-mile, training run makes me reflexively draw back, even though three months have passed.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. For the past seven years, I’ve run a number of 15Ks, half marathons, 25Ks, a marathon, and other odd-distance races going anywhere from five to 25 miles, road and trail. But this year, I’m skipping one of my favorite trail races and bailed on another for the fourth straight year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still running. The weekly Friday run group is a major blessing to me (we had three new runners Friday!), and I do plenty of training runs throughout the week. I’m also getting a kick out of 5Ks again.

And yes, the thought of knocking down another 26.2, or snagging a PR in the half, or even bagging my first ultra has some appeal. But the work it takes to get there, to perform how I want to perform, elicits a big “eh,” and I move on.

One side of me thinks this is wrong, reinforced by the popular notion that you must run more, run farther, run faster, run wilder trails and get more extreme.

When you first started running and met more experienced runners, they probably encouraged you to try something harder. Ran a 5K, you say? Train for the 15K. Got that done? You’re a step away from a half marathon, so sign up! Got a half under your belt? May as well go for the full. You’re a marathoner? Try an ultra. That first 5K must lead you to a hundred-miler and a buckle or you’ve failed as a runner.

So you dive into all things running. Buy the gear. Be the dirtbag. Grow the beard. Do all the things, and be sure to photograph your black toenails, bulging blisters and trail scrapes. And then, of course, share those images on the Trail and Ultra Running Facebook page or on your Instagram, because you have to show everyone how extreme you are, how much you’ve bought in, how much you really belong. Shoot, maybe you can even become a brand ambassador and get free stickers, a trucker’s hat or a T-shirt.

I haven’t done the ultra thing yet (and I won’t rule it out), but I’ve felt the pull of collecting the merit badges that seem to come with identifying as a runner. And believe me, I think the running community is awesome. I’ve met some incredible people through running. And yeah, I’ve worked with a brand or two.

But after a time, chasing all these gold stars seems like just another thing to do. I shouldn’t feel compelled to run every time I’m on a trail. Hiking is sometimes more fun. I should feel OK if I jump on a bike or blow myself out in the weight room instead of tallying the expected weekly mileage count. If I want to hoist barbells instead of piling up more junk miles, that shouldn’t be a big deal. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I’m not “living the life” according to whomever.

And maybe that’s why those long run memories aren’t pulling me toward another race. You’ve got to want to do this stuff. Otherwise, it’s just work. You can do a million different things to stay in shape, after all.

There’s satisfaction in a race well-run. Or even challenging yourself on the trail when no one is around. But in the end, it needs to be profitable. Not just in terms or fitness or accomplishment, but for what it does for you outside the merit badges of running culture.

I’m gonna race a 5K this weekend. I’m also going to do a lot of other things many of my runner friends won’t do. And they’re going to do a lot of things I’m not going to do (or, frankly, can’t do because they’re awesome at this running thing). And that’s fine by me.

Maybe by this summer, I’ll feel the pull or the PR, create another training program, and have another go at a longer race. Shoot, maybe I’ll go all in on the ultra. But if I don’t, I’m not going to sweat it.

Bob Doucette