Friday, March 17, 2017

Practicing Joy at the 2017 Marin Ultra Challenge 50k

"Practice Joy"

That was my goal at the 2017 Inside Trail Marin Ultra Challenge 50k last Saturday. No time goals, no sprints for podium finishes, not even a watch or headphones to distract me. Instead, focus on being in the moment, appreciate the glorious Marin Headlands with all my senses, and share the experience with my favorite tribe of people. A perfectly chill complement to the fast and furious FOURmidable 50k a few weeks ago.

JOY IS...the stillness of a moonlit morning at Rodeo Beach, listening to the waves crash, my warm coffee mug snuggled close. A snake of cars slither down the dark hillside, filling the parking lot with headlight nods and hugs.

(Starting under the fog, the moon lights our way)
(Varying moods at the start line)
JOY IS...the warmth of the collective passion and courage in the starting corral. First timers meet locals who could run these trails in their sleep (and just might given that yawn), and 50k and 50-mile runners sigh with the anticipation of the final countdown. We stare at a trail that leads right into the heavens.
(Ted Knudsen shares a laugh)
(Well worth the climb!)
JOY IS...a sunrise welcome at the mountain top, illuminating clouds as thick as marshmallow soup. We dip in and out of its tasty goodness as the trail rambles along the ridge.

(A great day above the clouds)
(Surfing the clouds)
JOY IS...the kinship of shared adventure, and appreciating the multitude of paths that brought us together on this day. In one hill climb, I meet a guy from Florida, another from Mozambique, and a woman from San Diego who signed up for the 50-miler the day before. Differing paths, yet similar smiles and wide-opened eyes that embrace the mountain spirit.

(This Floridian was in town for a Google conference and decided to throw in some hills)
(A perfect day!)
JOY IS...realizing all woes can be cured with salt water. Sweat, tears, or the ocean...all have healing powers. We embrace the saline holy trinity as we climb out of a foggy Pirate's Cove, boosted by spurts of cool air from crashing waves a shadow away. I grab not one, but a handful of Nutter Butter cookies at the aid station and cram them into my maw like Cookie Monster.

(Racing clouds that pour into the valley)
(It was nice to dip down into the clouds and cool off)
(Volunteers get a nice view too)
JOY IS...volunteers who get an epic day in the mountains after all those rainy days they have stood there for us. Set up, aid stations, sweepers, and the other elves who make every race flawless deserve a little sunshine. Even the flowers sprout up to greet them, dotting the hills with poppy orange and cornflower blue, and filling noses with rosemary and honey.

(Chicken lady!)

(Jenny Capel and Mark Tanaka take on the 50-miler)
JOY IS...friends I recognize from their signature strides a half mile away, but have rarely seen in everyday clothes. Ted, Chris, Penny, Jenny, Tanaka, Emily, Kevin, and many more...a quick hug, a few words, a smile that speaks volumes...the silent bond built from hundreds of shared miles.

(Getting warm up top!) 
(Heading to the final climb)
JOY IS...long moments of solitude, sprinting the big climb only because it dared me with its punishing incline. I stop at the top, still licking Nutter Butter residue from my hands, and finger trace the route on the horizon as I catch my breath. One, two, three climbs...just one more.

(There's that finish!)
JOY IS...that familiar sound of cowbells, cheering, and clapping at the finish line that relaxes the body instantly. I don't want it to end, but then again, beach/BBQ/beer sounds pretty good too. I cross the finish, and the fulfillment washes over me. We switch to flip-flops, exchange water bottles for beer, and laugh and cheer in the sun as a steady flow of delighted runners race down the hill. It's not even noon yet, but we have claimed the day, victorious. My college classmate Andres Kohn finishes his first trail 25k with a smile as big as the waves. We all knowingly grin...his journey has just begun.

JOY IS EASY, FOLKS. Look around and be present. Invite adventure into your life. Laugh and strive together so you have stories to share. It's a simple recipe.

I drive home, windows rolled down to cool my sun-kissed arms, savoring this early touch of Spring. Mother Nature is awesome in every sense of the word. I am grateful to Tim Stahler and the volunteers of Inside Trail for giving us this glorious excuse to inject some adventure and accomplishment into our lives. With their help, practicing joy is as easy as breathing.


  1. Love your way of writing about running. Thanks for this "energy booster" post.

  2. I love how Amazon suggests a box of Nutter Butters at the bottom of your story. "cram into my maw like Cookie Monster..." is hilarious!

  3. Thank you - an inspiring post! I'll try to remember this when I do my first 50k in July!!

  4. Love your writing, and the photos too. Thank you!!


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