When Paddy sent me the elite entry instructions for OCC back in November and suggested we sign up I thought he was crazy. Then I did the math, realized I would get guaranteed elite entry and said “fuck it”. I signed up almost 9 months in advance of my European trail debut and have been planning for it ever since. Needless to say I was a little surprised when in April or May my husband, Braden, mentioned he was going to sign up for a sky-running marathon in the Dolomites in July since he would be teaching study abroad there. It’s cool. Just casually sign up for a badass European mountain race as your 3rd trail race and first marathon. No big deal. Also needless to say; he crushed it and had an amazing time doing it.When I asked him to write a guest blog about his race, I was expecting a race report style post with some added Braden flare and killer race photos. What I got was a deeper philosophical musing about why he likes trail running. This makes total sense if you know Braden and realize he had a long time traipsing through the mountains to think about it. Without further ado, I give you: Braden.
If you read this blog you read it for what Amy has to share. You don’t read it for what Amy “The Punisher’s” lame-ass husband has to share. This is my second guest post on her blog; my last came off the adrenaline of my first proper trail race at Lake Folsom, CA. This post comes on the occasion of an amazing sky-running marathon in the Italian Alps, called the Trans d’Havet (made possible only by my teaching abroad in Florence this summer). But we don’t want to make a habit of Braden “The Punished” posting on Amy’s blog too often. So let’s get this over with.
Amy and I living in California would not have happened if it were not for our close friends Mathias and Courtney, who graciously offered their hospitality to us until we found a place to rent. They endured about six weeks of us until we found a place in what is now fondly referred to as the “Kingfish Heights” neighborhood of Oakland. So, upon purchasing our b’dass Honda Insight – which we all know blows the Prius out of the water – the four of us took her out to Yosemite.
You have to imagine yourself as a guy who grew up in North Dakota – the geographical center of the damn continent, for crying in the beer – having lived in England for over four years, and now thrust into the edge of the Pacific and the majesty of the Sierras, simultaneously. At the same time, being from NoDak means you’re no city boy no matter where you came from (at least not by most standards). I love the wilderness. But my experience hiking in the mountains was less than, seasoned.
I’m sure everyone remembers their first visit to Yosemite. I won’t wax on about it. What I’m getting at is a quite lucid stretch of memory from the trip, while hiking with Amy, Mathias, and Courtney. The uphill hiking was seriously up. It was hard. Yet, I remember taking an odd pride in working hard for those ascents, something likely engrained in my legs ever since my hunting days (and maybe even football practices). Yosemite trails presented much more up-and-down than I was used to. For a sad many – the sort of people who write negative reviews of national parks because there are no escalators – this becomes a drag on their visit to the wilderness. You’re reading this blog, so I’m sure we share the exhilaration that comes with the challenges nature presents. If it was pride I found in the ups, it was unbridled joy I unleashed in the downs. This was not so much because the uphill had finally ended; rather, the joy came in the reckless bounding down the trail that excited me in the same way sledding at the speed of sound into a mess of cattails used to excite me as a kid.
The other three snickered at me. “Having fun there Braden?” they teased.
“Yea! It’s more fun to run it” I replied.
“But you don’t like running” Amy challenged.
“Well no, I’m not a runner like you. But I guess I like moving through the woods, where you have to shift your body and change your footing, and use your hands, your arms, to climb over fallen logs and what not. I like that you have to react to stuff our here, ya know?”
Mathias was smiling at me.
Courtney was staring at me like someone whose father had just told them he was not their father.
Amy. She said, “You know they have races for that.”
Leave it to the proto-punisher to turn fun into competition. I would come to learn that it’s the competition that is fun for folks like Amy.
“You mean like that Spartan or Tough Mudder bullshit?” I dismissed, “that’s all staged obstacles.”
(for the record, I’ve since done a Spartan race and it was a blast)
“No,” Amy continued, “There are trail races you can do, where people actually run on stuff like this.”
“Oh wow. Yea, I don’t think I could do that. But I bet it would be fun to mess around on trails on our own.”
Amy hadn’t even run a trail race then. That was exactly five years ago and now not only is she a top trail running athlete, but she’s inspired me to push my running boundaries as well. I am not a top trail running athlete. However, without Amy’s passion, encouragement, and support, I would not enjoy trail running as much as I do today.
It might be easy to look at me and say, “Look at Braden, now he’s running because Amy is.” And to that I’d say, Yup. I don’t do it because I feel forced to. I don’t do it because I feel I need to. I am excited by endurance trail running for similar reasons that I am excited by being in extreme weather or reckless sledding: it makes me feel human. What Amy has taught me is that feeling human is great, but all humans – despite their habitual behavior – can feel human; it’s even more fun to try and experience the essence of being human.
She would never agree with this philosophical language, I realize. But as far as I can see, it is exactly such an endeavor for which Amy repeatedly embarks: the abstracting of humanness. Abstraction is the stripping away, the melting down, the unearthing that attempts to discover the simplest, most essential version of a thing. When in the depths of an endurance trail sufferfest, it ultimately comes down to one’s mind and body, and where these two collide, where they negotiate, is surely a philosophical microcosm, and must be at least one scenario of the human abstracted. And maybe this is why running – trail running in particular – has enjoyed a growing popularity: when most of contemporary life covers us with layers of stuff we don’t want or need, what could be more in want, more in need, than experiencing our own humanity?
But to get more to the point, I want to use this opportunity to publicly thank Amy for her unconditional support. You inspire me, even when you don’t think you do. And sure, this isn’t the place for this sort of praise, right? Well it’s not just me. You inspire many people Amy. I’m just the one closest in orbit.
Because of your support I finished a 26 mile sky-running race with 8,200 feet of climbing at Tahoe level altitude in just over six hours. Not only did I finish it, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the horizontal rain, the crashing thunder, the flashes of lightning, the power hiking, the quad-slamming downhills, the unending uphills, the soup at the aid station, the beer at the aid station, the wildflowers, the “Bravi, bravi!” heard throughout, the upper body required to scramble up technical ascents, the moments where I thought maybe I should walk, the moments where I answered nope I trained for this, the empty tears after the finish, and the exquisite tiredness of my body that dogs seem to enjoy so much. In a weird way, it was reminiscent of my teenage days, just after lifting the last finger from the piano after finishing a long and arduous, but rewarding, piece of music.
Keep punishing. Because if you do, I just might end up writing more of these.