best western?

While in Colorado last August to run TransRockies I, unwittingly, found myself as a cast member in what was affectionately (I think) dubbed the Year of the Beard.  Some guy by the name of Rob Krar was playing a similar role.

Well, sort of.

He was also busy tearing the ass out of the course with his partner, Mike Smith, ultimately winning the 6-day event by, um, a healthy margin.  A really healthy margin.

I, meanwhile, was picking myself up out of the dirt and thanking the heavens for having a teammate, Sean McCoy (love you, man), who didn't seem to take it too hard that we weren't going to be threatening anyone for the win.  He also good-naturedly overlooked the constant distraction that was my beard.

That beard didn't do me a bit of good with regards to the race itself, but it also may well have been the icebreaker that introduced me to Rob (and many others, for that matter).  I only ever actually saw him one time on course and even then only because there was an open, doglegged section of dirt road that let all of us middle-and-back-of-the-packers see he and Mike vanishing off into the distance.  Luckily, in Vail after the end of an exhausting Stage 5, I did get a chance to spend some time chatting with him and his now wife, Christina.

Beard or no beard, he was just good people.  She and he both.

A year later, Rob has made a major splash on the ultra-racing scene and is poised to be in the mix late in the day at his very first 100-mile race, a race that just happens to be the one and only Western States Endurance Run, arguably the most iconic hundred of them all.

It was my pleasure to recently hear in great detail Rob's journey from being an accomplished middle-distance track and field athlete in college to being a burned out and injured road runner and, eventually, reinventing himself as successful trail racer at increasingly longer distances.  Getting to retell that story on iRunFar in the days leading up to Saturday's big race was a joy and an honor that I will cherish.

Another joy, always, is helping the iRF team cover some of the most prestigious ultra races from around the globe, and Western States, of course, is at the top of that list.  With iRF founder Bryon Powell lacing up his kicks to take another crack at the course himself this weekend, those of us who help moderate the online race coverage will be paying that much closer attention to how the day plays out.

I'll do my best to be unbiased, but I must admit that I'll be pulling hard for Rob and Bryon to have the performances I feel they're both capable of having with the work they've put in and the talent they possess.

If you're enough of an ultra-junkie to keep revisiting your monitor screen for the latest updated over the many hours it takes for a 100 mile race to play out, you already know how great it is to have a resource like iRunFar to deliver (nearly) real-time peek ins.  For those of you who haven't checked in before, I encourage you to do so on Saturday.

Here's a link to iRunFar's live coverage of the 2013 Western States 100 which kicks off at 5:00 AM, PDT on Saturday morning:

Between now and then, you still have time to watch and listen to interviews with many of the race favorites, find out who race fans are predicting will vie for the win, and read a number of pre-race articles and historical features on the race.

See for yourself:

There will be an amazing collection of talent assembled at the Squaw Valley starting line and it will include grizzled veterans with 100-mile long resumes of trail success and some relative newbies with speedy credentials yet to be tested at 100 miles (count Rob among the latter).  Weather reports all seem to agree on sky-high temperatures that will surely impact the race, especially as the afternoon drags on and runners drop deeper and deeper into the canyons carved out by the American River.  And, as always, there's the history that is Western States animating every inch of the trail while awaiting the completion of another storied chapter.

I, for one, can't wait to "see" it all unfold.


down with history, up with your head.

There she stood at the end of a corridor of oak, hemlock and fern.  Tears stained her cheeks or perhaps I imagined them, knowing they were sure to fall when she saw that I was already crying, saw me collapse, broken again.

All day long she'd tended to me as she always does, had tended to so many others too, and I was certain she would bear the strain of not being able to nurse me all the way to a finish she knew I coveted, not because she put much stock in such endeavors but because she almost dutifully wanted for me what I wanted for me.

Which is why I cried.

How she weathered such days with a heart like hers, I couldn't fathom.  How she had survived a life so full of mistreatment, disappointment and loss, I couldn't even bear to consider.

That boundless empathy had to be a burden even though it comforted even rescued others when their bodies and spirits were spent.

I thought back to a C. S. Lewis quote discovered on a church bulletin of my youth:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

How Lindsay had avoided the temptation to lock it up safe is infinitely beyond my comprehension, though I suspect there aren't chains enough to bind a heart that big and vulnerability was inescapable.

Blessed am I that it's the case.

She and I had been "we" for so long and through so much that it was nearly impossible for me to imagine life working any other way even though we had taken many (too damn many) years stumbling zigzaggeredly before we straightened our story. We'd mutually crushed as youngsters, spent time together again a few years later, but then wandered off in opposite directions for a decade and more.

Time and circumstance chart chaotic routes, navigating by stars that all too frequently go shooting, and by the time we intersected and merged, we were both bowed, humbled and privy to the perspective provided by years of suffering.  We were wiser (which only meant that we better understood how little we knew of anything) but wounded, diminished and desperate for better days.

I couldn't begin to list all of the incredible times we've shared since then.  The adventures have been many but even the quiet, uneventful moments of domesticity have been better, far better, than the days that came before.

Unfortunately, on days like last Saturday when my body had failed me (because I had failed it) and falling short yet again of an attainable goal threatened despondency, it's all too easy to forget how wondrous life really is.  Some have suggested that running is a metaphor for life and I've heard the same said about various hobbies, activities or vocations.  I happen to believe that it's true, but getting lost in the metaphor, mistaking it for life itself, is vain and foolish.

Bad days define good days and good days, in turn, have an interesting way of making a good many bad days seem, well, far less bad.

And there, right there at the end of that passage through the forest, stood my very best of days, mindful of how little the finishing or not finishing of any footrace matters when weighed against the joys and sorrows of life beyond the metaphor.

Thank you, Lindsay, for all of our better days.