A Run in the Woods

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Photo taken by my good friend Patrick Means, who  was able to join me 4 hours into my journey. This is the trail from Sulphur Springs to the base of Alpha.

On Thursday, Feb 11th, my 2 year sober birthday, I celebrated by going for a run in the woods, in my beloved and cherished McDonald/Dunn Forest.  I woke up at 1:30AM that morning, filled with excitement, to begin preparing for yet another journey into the realm of the unknown.  My goal for the day was simple, run for one hour per month of maintained sobriety over the last year.  What I have to come to enjoy most about these adventures is not so much the physical aspect, but the mental journey.

I started promptly at 4:30AM with my team for the morning, Hannah and Betsy.  It was still dark out, and a bit drizzly, which made for fascinating shadow play with our headlamps.  About 20 minutes in, the girls peeled off, wished me well, and sent me out into the darkness by myself, so that I could begin the process of reflection from the past year.

Running in the dark has become a special and meditative practice for me.  Time seems to fly by, as the next two hours did, as I ran through Chip Ross Park and up Dan’s Trail to the summit of Dimple Hill.  For me, running in the dark brings me face to face with many of my old fears, the fear of the dark and the fear of the scary creatures watching me from a distance from the protection of the thick woods.  Once I arrived to the Oak Creek trailhead and the cloudy sky began to illuminate, the promise of  sunlight for the rest of my journey lifted my spirit.  During my time under the veil of darkness I was able to maintain a sense of calm, despite the swirling perception of fears, respecting what it means to live in the moment, step by step, stride by stride.

As I made my way up Skillings Road, toward McCullough Peak, I began to get in a rhythm, which helped set the tone in my head for some true work to be done.  However, unlike last year, I found myself being at peace for most of the time.

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My coin signifying two year of continuous sobriety.  Hannah was there by my side when I received the chip.

Last year, on my one year sobriety birthday, I also ran for 12 hours in the McDonald/Dunn Forest.  One of the biggest differences from this year to last is that in 2015 I ran angry and resentful.  I remember screaming, crying, and shouting – purging the hate and anger that I had held onto for so long.  This year I was ready to do the same thing, I figured that I would, again, be met with a litany and outpouring of emotions.  I kept waiting for it to happen but it never came.

After climbing Skillings Road I took a left onto the Contour Trail over to Price Peak and the  Dunn Forest.  A couple of hours later, At 9:30 AM, I met up with my good friend, Patrick, who’d agreed to join me to snap a few photos that Betsy and I could use for Novo Veritas. At this point I was 5 hours in and it was nice to have some company for a bit.  We made our way through the “maze,” back up to Dimple Hill, to return to the Lewisburg Saddle via the steep and windy Ridge Trail.

Upon returning to the Saddle I traded companions, Patrick for Hannah, to embark on yet another journey back into the Dunn Forest.  Hannah had not yet run in the Mac/Dunn during the daytime, so I was eager to show her around one of my favorite parts of these woods, Forest Peak.

As we made our way up to Forest Peak I began to feel the impending pain cave come on.  I held it off as best I could, trying to maintain a sense of calm and presence.  While descending off of Forest Peak, via the West Ridge Road, I noticed on my watch that I had hit 40 miles.  Still, to this day, it is remarkable for me to think that I am able to run these types of distances.

Coming down off of Forest Peak the impending pain cave began to manifest itself.  Because of semi-coherent and not-so-effective communication I was able to explain to Hannah my pain.  I was in a rut and she let me work through it, giving subtle encouragement, which was exactly what I needed at the time.

Hannah and I were about 3 and a half hours into our time together when we made the final push back to the Saddle, by way of the relentless climb of the Alpha Trail.  By this point I had worked my way through the rut, with Hannah’s help, and was excited knowing that several friends were just  a few moments away from joining me for the last two hour push of my journey.

Hannah and I arrived back at the Saddle and were met by a group of friendly faces.  At this point I was 50 miles in to the journey, ready to finish strong.  I was joined by #10, Brandon, Jeff, Kristi, Drew, Carlea, Shea, and Mike, my coach who had made the trip from Bend to help me celebrate.  After dipping in to my stash of Coca-Cola we made our way in a clockwise direction on the Davies-Nettleton Loop.  My goal was to finish the day with 2 loops of 6.5 miles on the well-known loop.

The first loop went by quickly and rather effortlessly considering how far in I was at the time.  Catching up with friends can help take your mind off of the fatigue that had been subsiding over the past few hours.  The second loop however, was an entirely different story.  I began to sink into another rut.  Two miles into the loop, as I was running with #10, I had a moment where my emotions completely took over.  A rush of sentiment washed through me and I began to cry uncontrollably.  It was a humbling experience, perhaps it had been building over the last several hours.  It took about two minutes, with the encouragement of #10,  for the emotion to make it’s way through me.  And then, with a snap of a finger, I was back, all cylinders firing.

Mike, as my coach and mentor, has a unique way of pushing me and motivating me through physical pain.  It’s hard to explain, perhaps it’s just his physical presence that is the motivator.  With 3 miles left to go, he and I made our way to the front of the group and began to push the pace.  Along with Drew and Jeff, I ended up running the fastest two miles of the day at the very end, capping off a 64 mile day, my farthest effort yet as a runner.  One of the things Mike has taught me is to always finish strong.  Mission completed.

Thursday was indeed a special day for me for so many reasons: the distance, the people, the scenery, the support, the community, and the reflection. Perhaps the biggest take-away was that now I can use my sober date as a barometer of progress.  Noticing the absence of anger and resentment from the prior year really helped me to gauge how far I’ve come since February 11, 2015.  Hopefully on February 11, 2017, I can, yet again, celebrate another year of sobriety.  Without truly knowing if that day will come I will continue on, one day at a time.

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On top of Forest Peak in Dunn Forest at mile 40 looking over the ground that I had already covered that day in the Mac.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The McDonald/Dunn Forest

When I moved to Corvallis, from Bend, in December 2011, I had several of my endurance friends mention to me that the running in the Benton County area wasn’t that great.  In fact, there was only one runner “name” that I knew of who lived in the area, Meghan Arbogast.  Clearly it was my impression that I’d have to pick back up with cycling again if I was going to enjoy and appreciate any of the new terrain that I had just moved to. Bend, in and of itself, is a mecca for endurance athletes.  Athletes flock to Bend from all over the world to train for most sports having to do with endurance.  Corvallis, to my understanding, did not have any such appeal.  This all changed for me in May of 2012.

Up until the Spring of 2012 I didn’t explore the Corvallis area much in terms of running.  At that point I was training for the Eugene Marathon so my runs were mainly flat and fast(ish). At times, when I actually drew up the courage to run with people, they mentioned the Mac/Dunn forest and asked if I had run there yet.  My answer was no, my understanding was that it was very hilly, which, at the time, did not appeal to me.  I solely wanted to focus on marathon specific training.

After the Eugene Marathon wrapped up in late April, with my eyes now set on The TransRockiesRun in Colorado that coming summer, I decided to shift my attention to this strange sport of running obscenely long distances in the woods.  Therefore, without any real expectations of what I was getting into, I entered my first “ultra”, The McDonald Forest 50k.

Larsen, my coach, and I had thought that I had carried enough running fitness out of Eugene that I should do pretty well at the Mac 50k.  I figured, after running a 3:03 marathon, I was clearly fit enough to crack the top 10.  That idea was about to be hammered down rather quickly.

During the race, while running on trails and fire roads that I had never been on before, I got completely twisted and disoriented as to where I was.  The forest was a total maze, everything looked the same, there were very few vistas, and there was no way for me to get my geographic bearing.  I felt lost, overwhelmed, and totally humbled.  6 and half hours later I found myself walking the last mile back to the finish line having just completed my first 50k.  I had ZERO idea how I’d got back to where I was.  The route that I had just ran, in my mind, made no logical sense.  I thought, “where the hell am I?”  It was during this moment of humility that I began to fall in love with this mysterious forest just north of Corvallis.

As I entrenched myself into the ultra-running scene I started to spend more and more time exploring the lush and technical terrain of the Mac/Dunn.  The common theme for me, something I would say out loud on any given long run in that forest was: “You might think you know where you are, then you find out you don’t have a fucking clue.”  Every corner, hill, turn, and root looked exactly the same.  Running in this forest had stripped my ego down, forcing me to be uncomfortable in my own skin.  As I continued to push the limits of my comfort I slowly became hooked on trying to figure out this wooded puzzle.

2 years into my time in Corvallis, I got sober.  In the winter of 2014, being new to sobriety, I replaced my addiction for alcohol with the addiction of exploring every nook and cranny that the forest had to offer.  During the work week I would be giddy knowing that on the weekend I would be back in the Mac/Dunn looking for more of its hidden gems.  At that time for me running was the only thing in my life that I thought I had control over.

The Mac/Dunn Forest is a significant plot of land dedicated to research for the Oregon State University Forestry Department.  It’s landscape, seen from a far, seems to replicate just another hilly and rolling woodland, similar to what I had been used to growing up as a kid in Western Massachusetts.  It’s appearance, other than the meadow carved into the south face of Dimple Hill, doesn’t necessarily look all that inviting to the typical runner. That being said, looks can certainly be deceiving.  What I found while exploring the hills of the Mac/Dunn was an endless system of new and old, official and rogue, trails that seemed to never end.

Perhaps it was the timing of my new found sobriety, perhaps not.  As I ran more and more in Mac/Dunn it became less of a training area and more of a place where I was able to do some major self-discovery.  During runs I cried, I bled, I screamed, I left some of my emotions and resentments out in the middle of the wilderness.  In fact, there is a huge bag of mental garbage at the top of McCullough Peak that I dropped off last year during a run.  Mac/Dunn had become my place of serenity, my area and comfort zone where presence was king.  It has been during the last couple of years that when shit goes haywire in the outside world for me, all that I need is to re-enter the forest to reacquire peace of mind.  Today, the Mac/Dunn Forest is my sanctuary and place of healing, it is my home.

To this day I still enter Mac/Dunn not knowing what I’m going to find.  The forest is still somewhat of a mystery for me, geographically speaking.   My obsession for wanting to fully understand the layout of the forest is one reason I keep going back.  In fact, just the other day, four years into exploring the area, I found yet another trail that I had never seen before.  When this happens my senses start firing on all cylinders for I’ve found yet another hidden gem in these precious woods.

This coming Thursday, February 11th, marks my two year sobriety birthday.  To honor that day I will head into the Mac/Dunn Forest to run one hour for every month of the last year that I was able to maintain sobriety.   I did the same thing last year on this date and achieved my first 12 hour run, which in the Mac/Dunn got me 13,000 feet of elevation gain in just a little over 62 miles.  However, this year, it’s less about how far I run and more about spending time in a place that is helping me to stay sober and to maintain my sanity, serenity, and peace of mind.

For me, Corvallis has become the ideal place to train as an endurance athlete.  It may not be the sunniest place in the world, or the driest, or the most scenic, or the warmest for that matter;  It is less about the physical attributes and more about what the area means to me in my quest for a new lifestyle.  As an athlete, Corvallis has played witness to my ego being stripped down.  Today, as I continue to pursue a lifestyle of health and wellness, I lean heavily on the comfort that I have built with the Corvallis outdoor community.  Without question the centerpiece to that sense of community is my home, the McDonald Dunn Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why am I public about my struggles with alcoholism?

Recently I was asked the question: Why do you feel the need to be public about your process of recovery from alcoholism and addiction?  These and other questions have come up over the last couple of years.  Why are you doing this?  Are you just trying to sell Novo Veritas?  Are you just filling your need for attention?  All fair questions I suppose.  The day I came out with the fact that I struggle with alcoholism I opened myself up to care and criticism at the same time.

So, what is the reason?  Well, because I know for a fact that me being public about my struggles in an open forum has helped other people come to grips with their own struggles, not just with alcoholism and addiction, but with life.  That is my goal in all of this.

After my Facebook post in July 2014 stating publicly, for the first time, that I struggle with alcoholism and addiction, I had several empathetic friends reach out privately to say that they too struggle with addiction.  My admission opened a door for me so that I could have real and authentic conversation about these, and other struggles, with people in my life that I’d known for a long time.  That was, and still is, extremely meaningful to me in my own process of recovery.

Isn’t that part of what 12 step is for?  Yes, partially.  However, for me, I find that balance in all things is a key to my continued process with maintaining sobriety.  My community, and my support and accountability team, today is filled with people in recovery as well as others who don’t necessarily have the same issues in life that I do.  I find that having both types of people in my court, who have my back, is extremely effective.

Being public in the recovery community isn’t always a popular topic.  I’ve been told as much on several occasions.  Sometimes it’s hard to hear things like that because I want to be liked and supported as a person, it’s in my nature.  Again, it’s my decision to wear my heart on my sleeve and remain public.  As I’ve mentioned before, I find strength in having others know my weaknesses.  It opens up a line of communication that leads to real and authentic dialogue about how life really can be.

Novo Veritas was set up for much the same reason.  Betsy and I both share our struggles because of one simple fact.  We want others, who may be struggling with their own demons, perhaps in isolation, to feel comfortable to speak up and meet their struggles head on.  Again, I know for a fact, that we have helped save a life in doing so.  That is what counts. Period.

And so continues the process.  It may seem at some points that I “shout from the rooftops” that I’m an alcoholic.  Sure I do, it’s what I am, it’s a part of my process.  If I’ve offended anyone in the process, well, that is okay and I can live with that.  As long as I’m able to keep the conversation going and help someone out there in the world who suffers quietly then it’s what I’ll continue to do.

Thanks for listening…time to go hit the trails and keep up working on “letting shit go.”

 

 

 

 

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