Seen on the run: Reminders from the past of why I run

We have these, right here in town. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

I remember the first time I saw an eagle in the wild.

No, it wasn’t on some adventure deep in the Rockies, or some other rugged mountain landscape. It was about six miles from home, in the middle of a city, and not far from the river that splits my community two.

Not 30 feet from the paved path I was running on, and overlooking the Arkansas River, there it was: A big, bald eagle, surveying the waters flowing by and likely looking for lunch swimming under the surface. It was one of the coolest and most random things I’d ever seen on a run, and to see it smack in the middle of Tulsa’s southern reaches made it that much more unreal. And yet there it was, in all of its regal glory, presiding over its domain. As it turns out, bald eagles have become a fixture along the river. You just have to know where to look.

More importantly, you have to be out there in the first place. If I hadn’t been on my weekly long run, I’d never have seen it at all.

***

I remember when I first started running more seriously, and how enamored I became with the little details I saw during even the shortest, simplest runs. I made a point to take my phone with me not to provide music or capture my pace, but to snap photos of how the downtown Tulsa skyline looked from a certain angle, or the way the glow of a sunset bathed the buildings in warm, fading light.

I’d come home and write notes about interesting people I saw, weird things I smelled and small epiphanies I had while I ran. I learned a lot about my city. One park I run through commemorates the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, something that for many Tulsans was left out of their history lessons despite being the scene of the single worst outburst of racial violence in American history. Years later, I still run through that park, reminded that we’ve yet to get past racial divides.

Night running scene.

There were other details of the city to be gleaned from these runs, too. On a couple of occasions, I’d run at night. An urban landscape has an entirely different feel at night than it does during the day. Light from street lamps catches broken glass on the pavement and in alleys, making them glisten in a harsh sort of way. It’s harder to see people’s faces, thus more difficult to discern intent. But no one ever bothered me. A smoky bar served up whiskey shots next door to a private workshop where a bearded, tattooed fella in a plain white tank tinkered under the hood of a classic car. Nighttime in the city, away from the “safer” venues, is just as alive as it is in the day. It just feels more mysterious, if not risky.

And many times, I’d notice people. The suits and the slackers mixed at different paces, and transients often barely budged. On one street, I’d spot someone talking to himself while walking briskly, totally focused on whatever conversation was happening via Bluetooth. Around the corner, someone else, slumped against a wall, might be wallowing in his own puke, having drank too much bourbon the hour before. Down the street, a tattooed pizzeria worker sat out by the curb, getting one last smoke in before his break was over.

I see scenes like this every day when I run. It fascinated me for a long time, me being a guy who until that time had spent a lifetime living in suburbs and small towns, far from anything one might define as urban.

As the years have gone by, however, all of this has become normal. I still see cool stuff, but more often any run is more of me and the run itself, battling through fatigue, the elements, injuries and whatever else is motivating me or telling me to stop. And as I age, the chorus of inner voices telling me to bag it seems to get bigger. And louder.

***

Last week was one of the lousiest weeks of training I’ve had in a while. Fall is here, but Oklahoma rarely pays attention to the calendar. It was just another hot, humid week, and if you run much you know that heat and humidity sucks all the fun out of running. If I didn’t have a couple of races to train for, I’m not sure I’d even have bothered.

But we got a break this week. On Monday, cloud cover. Blessed cloud cover. Eighty-eight degrees in direct sun (plus humidity) is one thing. But 88 and cloudy is another. As in better.

I was out on a simple four-mile out-and-back run through a neighborhood that might be generously classified as “working class.” It’s on the upswing, but there is plenty of industrial desperation still waiting to be remedied here. Not that it bothers me – that sort of environment is way more interesting than any suburban scene I’ve ever trodden.

Anyway, I ran by a house where a fella was on the porch, working on some sort of machine, and he had his tunes on full blast: ‘80s funk and R&B. I ran past, reached my turnaround place and headed back. I’d pass his house again, this time from the same side of the street. On deck: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching me,” featuring none other than the King of Pop. I’m not sure why, but when I got in earshot, it gave me an extra bounce, and I made sure to let the dude know that I wish I had his tunes with me the rest of the way. We both got a laugh out of that.

Getting some miles on the trails. I see cool stuff out here. (Clint Green photo)

A day later, on a six-miler, I was on trails close to the Arkansas River again. I didn’t see them, but I heard them: eagles. Somewhere close by, the master raptors were calling out, and would likely be on the hunt for more fish soon. It got me thinking about all the other wildlife I’ve seen, usually when trail running through nearby wooded hills. Squirrels and rabbits, hurrying away from the path. An armadillo ambling along, rooting through the leaves for bugs. And on one blessed run, a massive owl that was silently gliding below the canopy, then extending its wings to make a full stop just a few feet away from where I ran. One of the most majestic things I’ve ever seen.

That’s when I was reminded why I still do this. Races are fun, and great motivation to get in shape. But for me, there’s no finish line or medal worth the weeks and months of training that it takes to finish a long-distance race. Instead, it’s the things I encounter along the way.

The random faces that make a city live and breathe.

The myriad of colors of a cool evening sunset.

The smell of fall from decaying foliage on the forest floor.

And timely reminders from the past, be it the cry of a regal bird of prey, or the music pumping from the speakers owned by someone getting their funk on during a warm autumn afternoon. Any finish line glory is gravy after that.

Bob Doucette

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Race report: ‘Experimenting’ at the 10th annual Snake Run

I’m still a trail runner, dangit! (Clint Green photo)

Leave it to me to play the stupid card.

Sometimes I try things just because I can. You know, that whole “I do what I want” attitude that all the kids playfully throw around when they do something they know is kinda dumb but still get away with it.

I’m no kid, so I don’t get away with it, at least not very often.

I spent the winter focusing on strength and dialing back my running. Gaining strength and keeping up a high volume of miles don’t mix well. Most of us must choose one or the other. So for this winter, strength won out, with decent results. It also made it to where I was running nine or 10 miles a week.

Going back a year ago, my running volume was higher, but still not high. On a lark, I decided to enter the six-hour event at the annual Snake Run in Tulsa. No real goal, just get out there and run some trails for awhile to see how many miles I could log before the gun went off. Keep in mind, I hadn’t trained to run that long on my feet or for any significant distance for months. Even when hiking the last big loop, I still logged 25 miles, just short of a marathon. Not that impressive by that race’s standards, but hey, a little extra effort would be a pretty easy way to snag another 26.2 without having to bother with 18-21 weeks of training. My kinda plan!

It got me to thinking about things. I hiked the last loop of that race, chatting it up with another runner who was also done running but wanted to finish one last lap before calling it a day. When we finished, I managed to have plenty of energy to do a few short loops to get my total mileage to 25. Had I not shown up late and maybe ran at least a part of that last loop, a marathon and change was in the bag, right? So that was my plan for this year.

Or more like my experiment. Knowing the course, the event and a few tricks of slow distance racing, I figured it might be possible to get that distance or more with minimal training. Never mind that I am also about 10 pounds heavier than last year (gotta eat to get those gains!) and was running less.

The event

The Snake Run had been going on in Tulsa for 10 years now. It has two events: The 3-hour race and the 6-hour. The race director designed a course on the easiest trails of Turkey Mountain, meaning that the course is built for speed. Runners try to get as many miles as they can by running on a 3.75-mile loop, and if time is almost up, they can switch to a half-mile loop to finish up.

Course map.

The catch: If you don’t finish a loop before the final gun, that lap doesn’t count, even if you were within sight of the finish line. So there’s a lot of strategy in this one, banking miles and knowing when to peel off the big loop and start doing laps on the short course.

I did my first 25K distance on this race a few years ago in the 3-hour event and improved slightly the next year. Last year was my first shot at the 6-hour event, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. What would happen if I pushed it a little harder?

I knew that no matter what, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the leaders. The top male runner logged 40 miles. The top female, 36.

Uh oh

The starting gun sounded and I took my place in the back of the pack. No sense feigning greatness here. I was experimenting, and my weird goals didn’t need to get in everyone else’s way. The first lap went OK, the temps in the mid-50s and plenty of sun.

But there were some early problems. I found myself tripping a bunch, which is stupid, because I know these trails. “Keep your feet!” I yelled at myself more than once.

Normally, that’s not a big deal because trips and falls happen when you run trails. But a couple of weeks ago, I hurt my back twice in one week: Mid-back doing cleans and a few days later, lower back doing deadlifts. It’s been twitchy ever since. Stumbling forward to catch myself before face-planting got my back angry. Not good when you’re less than four miles into something projected to go much longer.

Also around that time, the familiar burn of a blister started making its presence known on the arch of my left foot. And maybe about 10 miles after that, my right knee was barking at me. I think the two may have been related.

The temps began to climb, my body ached and griped and moaned and pitched a world-class fit after the third lap was done. I popped some ibuprofen and decided to break things up between speedier running and power-hiking.

The fourth lap went like a charm, and I finished it with two hours and 45 minutes left on the clock. I told myself that if I could finish Lap 5 by the 4:10 mark, I’d have a marathon in the bag. Score one for the lazy runners!

Sadly, things started falling apart. My body wasn’t used to going this long and this far. Those pleasant temps raced through the 50s, the 60s and the 70s – pretty hot for a long-distance event. Every muscle around my hips was screaming. And by the time Lap 5 was done, the clock read 4:20. The race director, Ken “TZ” Childress, told me jokingly, “I’ve got bad news: You’re probably not going to win today.”

Best quote of the day, and great humor to take the edge off the facts.

I was trashed and getting slower by the minute. My left foot was barking loudly. So was my right knee. The temps had crossed 80 degrees, and the trees were still too bare to provide any meaningful shade to blunt the sun’s rays. Seven laps weren’t happening. No 26.2 that day.

Yes, even back-of-the-pack, untrained runners get a little bling when it’s over.

I finished my sixth lap, ate some barbecue, and with some time still left on the clock did one last half-mile loop to finish things off at 22.5 miles. Squarely back of the pack. They gave me a medal anyway and didn’t make fun of me, which was awful sporting of them.

Silver linings

That’s not to say the day was a bust. After all, this was an experiment. And the results showed me that no, you can’t run marathon-length races without a passing attempt at training. Your body needs the pounding of miles and time on your feet to perform, something no amount of squats, deadlifts and cleans will give you.

Additionally, I got to see a bunch of running buds. My friends Tyler and Miranda were there, with Tyler cheering on his bride as she gutted out her first-ever half-marathon in the 3-hour event.

Another running couple, Steve and Brooke, were slaying miles together, also on the 3-hour race. Both did well, fighting off the heat and running strong. Runners I don’t know, whether they were fast or slow, would say “good job!” or “great work, keep it up!” when we passed. Lots of high-fives were shared.

Clint took photos of all of us while helping Ken and the gang with the logistics of the race. Bryan and a bunch of local trail runners kept track of people’s loops and times.

And those aid stations. One of the best things about this race is they don’t mess around with the aid stations. They do them right, stocking them with plenty of drinks and food.

I met some new faces, and even got a lift to the parking lot when it was over so I didn’t have to stumble down the hill to my car. Good souls, these trail runner types.

Oh, and I got a sweet dirt tan line.

The dirt tan line. And if you look close, you’ll see the mondo blister I ran with for about 19 miles.

Lessons learned

So what do I make of this?

Well, if you’re going to run long distances, you should prepare accordingly.

Running in the heat sucks.

And as I write this, I’m a hurtin’ unit.

But it’s tough to beat a day running around in the woods. The fact that I can do that is more than a lot of people can say, given health problems, time constraints or something else.

And you can’t top the crowd at a trail race, or a group run, or even just a couple of friends who decide to go pound out some miles in the dirt. I’m gimpy today, but I’m good.

Next year, though, I should actually train.

Bob Doucette

Moving beyond New Year’s resolutions

weights

It’s that time of year.

You’re going to see two types of people in the gym and on the trails: The New Year’s resolutioner and the people who have moved past resolutions. There is nothing right or wrong about being either. But there is merit to moving from the former to the latter.

You’ve got two kinds of resolutioners. The first type are the people who are getting in shape for the first time in their lives. This is a good place to be, because this person is a blank slate, ready to learn, and ready to improve his or her health. The second type includes those who have made more than one resolution to get fit, but come December find themselves where they were a year ago. The silver lining is you can look back on mistakes and learn from them, but it also means there is the possibility of learning and entrenching bad habits.

The folks who have moved past resolutions have a few common traits. They’re consistent. They’re patient. And they’re willing to learn new ways of doing things to achieve their goals. The new year presents new challenges instead of starting over. Most importantly, their health has become a priority in their lives. They make time to do the things needed to be healthy, fit and strong. Their achievements are built over years of putting in the work.

If you’re part of the resolutioner crowd, there are some simple things you can do to evolve past that. Here are a few:

Understand that becoming fit is a long-term process. You’re not going to magically sport a six-pack after a month of hitting the gym. Or two months. And there are no pills, devices or other shortcuts that actually work. Getting in shape, becoming strong, getting lean — all these outcomes take time and discipline. Be prepared to spend a good number of months putting in the work, and don’t get let down if you’re not seeing results after a few weeks. Keep at it. With that in mind…

Go into your fitness journey with a plan. Some exercise is better than none, but playing around with the weights and slogging away aimlessly on an elliptical won’t get you very far. Do you want to run a 5K? Find a training plan for it and stick to it. Are you seeking to get stronger? Talk to a trainer, do some internet research or consult with people in the know and learn how to do this. Create a training schedule, follow it and track your progress. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Figure out what you want, find a plan to achieve it, and then execute. It’s that simple.

Leave the phone in your locker. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I see wasting time farting around on their phones texting, updating social media or otherwise staring at their device and not training. You say you use it for music? Fine. If you’re disciplined enough to press play, slip on the earbuds and not do anything else with your phone until your workout is done, go for it. Otherwise, don’t bring it with you. It’s a distraction that prevents you from getting the work done.

Pay attention to what you put in your body. What you eat matters. What you drink matters. Eat real food, and not the fried, sugared or overly processed variety. Sugary drinks and alcohol pile on tons of mostly useless calories that get stored as fat and play havoc with your metabolism. Eat clean, get the right amount of protein and watch those liquid calories closely. An occasional beer or two on the weekends is not a problem, but much more than that and you’re probably going to undermine your efforts.

Set a tangible goal. Amazing things happen when you say, “I’m going to do this,” and then commit to it. When I ran a marathon, I told people beforehand I was going to do it. The result was transformative, and I learned a lot. My nephew Jordan chose a Spartan race as his goal, and now having done a couple of them, he’s in the best shape of his life. People I know have competed in bodybuilding, power lifting, mixed martial arts and more, while others have run ultramarathons, climbed big mountains or completed ambitious through-hikes. Their fitness was honed in on a goal, giving their efforts purpose. You don’t even have to be that dramatic. Maybe it’s competing in (or finishing) a shorter race, or perhaps being able to deadlift twice your body weight. Whatever it is, having a target helps measure progress during the process and success when it’s done.

When January 1 rolls around, where are you going to be? Are you ready to evolve? Get your mind right first, make a plan and make your health part of your daily lifestyle.

Bob Doucette

A cure for the election flu

election1

I’m not sure how many days this election season has encompassed. Well over a year, I’m sure. I think it officially kicked off when Ted Cruz made his announcement in front of a captive audience at Liberty University’s student chapel service in 2015, and it ended today.

From the lines I’ve seen (and one that I’ve been in), it’s pretty clear that people are engaged. That’s a good thing. But it has come with a lot of baggage.

I’m not sure what your experience has been, but here’s a sampling of mine…

Social media feeds filled with simplistic (and usually false) memes, sketchy links and heated (pointless?) arguments. A bunch of butthurt. A guy telling me my eternal soul was in the balance depending on how I voted.

Fun, huh?

But now it ends. We still have to live with each other, and indeed, with ourselves (got any words you’d like to take back?). Once that ballot is cast, what are you going to do next?

The temptation will be to dance in the end zone (if your candidate wins) or lament the end of the republic (if your side loses).

I voted early last week. Thirty minutes in line and it was done. Not long after, I went here.

electiontrail

It was a short run in the woods before work, maybe 40 minutes. Holy cow, was that the tonic I needed. I mostly had the trails to myself, and the weather was perfect.

So that brings me here: Free elections are wonderful. Way better than dictatorships. And it’s good that people care. But folks get wound up to a fever pitch. I call it the election flu. People get so emotional and self-righteous that they drive themselves sick with anger, worry and despair. It’s like a virus, spreading through mass media on television, radio and the internet. Social media makes it even more contagious. It’s bad enough to where people will actually end friendships over arguments on things like Obamacare and emails.

We all could use a reset, something that will break the fever. Hint: Go outdoors, unplug and move. Science tells us it’s good for us.

So go for a run in a place like this…

electionrun

More of a bike person? Take a long, dirty ride.

electionbike

Maybe  find yourself a view from a high place. Mountain summits can clear your head.

electionmountain

Time in the hills, in the woods or on the saddle can do a lot toward breaking the fever of election flu. So go ahead. Turn off the news, shut down the computer and leave the cellphone behind, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. Get away from the election buzz. I know democracy is important, but so is keeping a balanced and healthy life. Do your part for your country, but then do your part for you.

Bob Doucette

For the love of dawn

dawn1

I’m not a morning person. Definitely not an early riser. I never have been, and having a night shift job only reinforces that.

But I am a big fan of the dawn.

How it looks, how it feels, what it figuratively represents — yes to all of that.

I joke with people that I get up early for only a couple of things — to run a race or to climb a mountain. Necessity dictates early starts for both, as most road and trail races begin in the morning, and the preparations for race day require you to set an alarm, get fed, and be ready to toe the start line.

It’s a similar deal with the mountains. Most mountain treks start with an early morning drive to a trailhead, a long slog up the slopes, and toward the summit, hard steps or tricky climbing that take time — time that is bought by those early starts. You start early to avoid storms that come with the heat of the day, and to avoid heading down a peak in darkness when you’re beat-up and weary.

dawn2

The mountains are where I’ve seen my most memorable sunrises, and the juxtaposition of the beauty of mountain terrain with the danger and wildness that lies therein makes daybreak in the high country resonate that much deeper.

I’ve been told ultramarathoners who run 100-mile races struggle the hardest in the dark (hundred-milers require runners to run through the night), but usually pick up their strength once the glow of dawn peeks over the horizon. I’ve never run a race like that, but I’ve done the zero-dark-thirty alpine start in the mountains. The slog in the blackness of night, with only a headlamp giving you a ghostly view of the next few feet in front of you, can sap your spirit.

But then the blue-purple glow of fading night spreads to the east, giving way to red, orange, and yellow, and finally it appears — the ever-faithful sun, transforming the haunted domain of darkness into something spectacular, glowing with gold light and long shadows as our nearest star reclaims the land. Without fail, I gain strength and encouragement from that.

We can usually predict when the sun rises in a literal sense, but figuratively, times of darkness don’t have preset starts and endings. They just appear in the form of crises — illnesses, job losses, money problems, break-ups — or set in more glacially, those grinding stretches where one day seems as hard as the last, with no end in sight. The saying goes that it’s darkest before the dawn (and often coldest, especially in the alpine), but in metaphor-land, that’s impossible to measure. As is often the case, however, the figurative deep glow of breaking dawn signals the start of a new day, just as the abating of troubles, or slight improvements in your life, or good fortune, signal brighter times. In hindsight, the deepest, coldest gloom of night might be right before daybreak, but you won’t know it until it passes with the coming day. Such revelations make the good times that much sweeter.

As a committed night owl, there is a good chance I’ll miss tomorrow’s sunrise. But I appreciate the dawn just the same.

dawn3

Bob Doucette

Four takes on what Turkey Mountain’s National Recreation Trails designation means

This stretch of trail on Turkey Mountain is now part of the National Recreation Trails system.

This stretch of trail on Turkey Mountain is now part of the National Recreation Trails system.

National Trails Day brought some good news for conservationists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts in northeast Oklahoma. On Friday. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced six sites as being included in the National Recreation Trails System. Three trails on Turkey Mountain are part of that list.

This, on the day before National Trails Day.

The news was spread pretty quickly, and not just a few people were pretty pleased about the designation. Tulsa’s mayor, Dewey Bartlett, joined the chorus — quite a feat, considering how just months before he was talking about putting a restaurant on Turkey Mountain, and in the weeks and months before that, pulling hard for an outlet mall to be built on Turkey Mountain’s west side.

In any case, the news is, indeed, pretty good. But what does it mean? I did a little looking around to see what might happen next, what people’s questions were, and how this might guide future decisions on green space preservation and development along the Arkansas River, which flows past Turkey Mountain’s eastern flank.

Here’s what I came up with…

Turkey Mountain is on quite a winning streak. The National Recreation Trails designation is the latest of many positive developments for Turkey Mountain and its trail system. The outlet mall plan was scrapped after heavy public opposition, and with the passage of a sales tax package in April, the land in question (which was privately held at the time) was purchased and folded into the River Parks Authority system. The land, which had suffered from tree and brush clearing and illegal trash dumping, is slowly being restored to its natural state while most of the garbage dumped there has been removed. There are now more trails permanently protected, and more natural habitat for wildlife preserved for the future. This also bodes well for the Westside YMCA camp, which has a permanent buffer of woodlands to its south.

The Interior Department’s designation has real benefits. Being recognized nationally gives Turkey Mountain specifically and Tulsa generally positive publicity. It further showcases a recreational asset that is uncommon to Midwestern cities. And, by being a part of the national system, Turkey Mountain is now eligible for promotion, technical advice and even potential grant money to make more improvements.

National recognition does not mean a federal takeover. I read through comments on a story about this news, and there were plenty of people bemoaning federal government involvement, takeover, overreach and all the other buzzwords you tend to hear when anything comes down from Washington. However you feel about the federal government, the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area is still locally owned and controlled by Tulsa’s River Parks Authority. It is not part of the National Parks Service, the National Forest System, the Bureau of Land Management or any other arm of the Department of the Interior. Personally, I’m a huge fan of federal public lands. But I also like what we do here locally at Turkey Mountain. That’s not going to change. But opportunities for future improvements and conservation will be enhanced.

The conversation on urban green space is likely to grow and evolve. Turkey Mountain’s journey from an obscure (and sometimes maligned) park to a popular destination was slow, but it accelerated greatly over the past several years. The outlet mall controversy elevated its profile in the city, and usage of its trail system has grown significantly. There is talk about what trail system could be next for improvements — perhaps Chandler Park (great, scenic trails and rock climbing/bouldering awaits), or other places. Development along the Arkansas River will be a hot topic for years to come, with competing interests seeking commercial development vs. more recreational, park-like development. It’s good we’re having these conversations. There will be tension on this front for quite some time, but if park and river corridor development is done right, the city has the potential to be a prime destination for outdoor recreation tourism, and its assets useful tools for overall business recruitment.

I spent part of National Trails Day getting a little dirt under my feet, running a short, hilly loop through the woods. As usual, I saw mountain bikers, other runners, and plenty of families hiking. This is a great thing, and it can be built upon. Already, efforts to do just that are paying off, and we’re getting noticed — not just by fellow Tulsans and Oklahomans, but by people from across the country.

Bob Doucette

Memorial Day on the trails: An agenda-less run

No training goals. No need for speed. Not a care for mileage, pace or whatever. I hit the trails this weekend with no agenda at all.

I worked most of Memorial Day weekend, so there wasn’t going to be any epic outings for me. But I did have enough time to disappear into the woods and hills at Turkey Mountain for a little while.

It’s late spring, and it’s a little like a jungle out there.

So green.

So green.

Surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of people out there, at least not in the areas where I ran. I’m good with that.

Let me see more singletrack like this, please.

Let me see more singletrack like this, please.

While there weren’t many people, it doesn’t mean I was alone. Plenty of wildlife. The squirrels seems to be the noisiest, crashing through underbrush whenever I approached. Lizards and snakes aren’t nearly as careless. And turtles seem to be the quietest.

A trail runner who was slower than me.

A trail runner who was slower than me.

All in all, the forest was ridiculously scenic. That aspect of trail running is one of its biggest allures, and yet can easily be lost when you’re pushing hard. I took my time and savored the scenes, and still got a good sweat out of the deal. I’ll call that a double-win.

This view does not suck.

This view does not suck.

There is a good chance your weekend rocked a little more than mine. But that’s OK. The lesson here is to take what life gives you. If it’s a month, a week, three days or a couple of hours, take it if you can. See where your feet take you. And don’t forget to look around.

Bob Doucette