Hi-ho, Hi-ho, Mountain Climbing We Go!

There is nothing like sitting on the couch.

At least, that was my thinking  yesterday, after I finished a 14.5 mile run, until I lay down in bed to go to sleep last night. There is NOTHING like lying down in bed.

It seems that the forces who created us (God, Mother Nature, Flying Spaghetti Monster…take your pick), conspired to make the things most critical to our survival, as individuals, also the most blessedly wonderful experiences. This is why there is no better feeling than eating/pooping/sleeping when you’re really hungry/gottago-gottago-gottago-RIGHT NOW/tired. After yesterday’s run, I was totally diggin’ the divine luxury that is sitting down.

The run was titled Beach to Beach because in past years it started at the Kailua Beach Park right here in our humble little town and ended at the Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu. Unfortunately, a few factors combined to make Kailua Beach not an ideal starting point, so our group met at the Kalapawai Cafe instead. This change in starting line shortened the run by a mile to about 13.5, and also made the title an uncomfortable misrepresentation for those of us who like to split hairs over the literal meaning of things. Since I really wanted to run the Beach to Beach from one beach to another beach, Don humored me and we got up extra early to walk from our house to the closest beach from where we ran to the Kalapawai to meet up with the rest of our group. Thanks Don! A handful of others had the same idea, and, although it didn’t give us a running edge over anyone, it did give us the self-satisfaction of being literally correct and of being in a full sweat before the run officially started. I know what you’re thinking: what a bunch of weirdos!- and you’re without a doubt correct.

Poor Don had a terrible day. Not only did his beloved Chargers admit defeat in the waning minutes of their game yesterday afternoon, but, as he was discussing their chances with a fellow runner, he stepped on a nut, fell down, and twisted his ankle in the process (foreshadowing the football game to come?). We were only 3 miles into our trek, and, luckily, as he began to hobble back to our house, one of the aide cars happened by and was able to give him a lift home. Don was a good sport and met us at the finish, but his ankle was very swollen and painful. Hopefully it is just a small twist and he can still run the marathon in December, but we are awaiting the professional opinion of a Doctor tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll get some good news because even more than Don wants to run the marathon, I want him to run it. Don has missed a couple of our long Sunday runs because he was out of town, and I’ve noticed that my suffering is easier to bear if I know that Don is also suffering. The marathon will be less miserable for me if I know that Don is out there, somewhere, also wishing he would be temporarily kidnapped or inadvertently backed over by a slow-moving car.

Yesterday’s run presented two challenges. The first was the long, steep climb over the mountain to the Pali lookout, and the second was the last two miles running along the highway to the Ala Moana Beach Park. If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit Oahu, you may not know that Kailua is located on what we call the Windward side of the island and Honolulu is on the Leeward side with the Ko’olau Mountains lying, like a sleeping dragon, smack-dab in between them. The mountains are so steep that it is impossible to build on them and to get from one side to the other, the highway tunnels through the mountains. To get from one side to the other by foot requires following a steep, slippery, narrow trail that gets you up and over the mountains while simultaneously making you feel the burn in your quads (and glutes, and lungs, and heart…) and providing you with breathtaking views making you wonder if you’ve accidentally crossed over into Narnia.

At times, the path was so narrow and slippery that walking was the only option and we even once had to crouch under a low overpass and ascend a rickety wooden ladder to reach the trail on the other side. Had I not been with my group, I certainly would have become lost. Once we reached the top of the mountain and the Pali lookout, we were rewarded with snacks and drinks and a singalong led by the father of one of our runners. Jim is a former camp director and the song he chose to sing with us featured a chorus of “happy all the time” with a lot of hand clapping; it is a pretty good mantra for distance running. After the Pali lookout, our route was mostly downhill.

Our route for the Beach to Beach run!
Our route for the Beach to Beach run!

Running downhill can present its own set of problems. Some runners complain about the jarring on their knees or the pressure put on their toes, but I find that as long as I maintain a comfortable pace and remember to Body Glide my feet before I run, the down hills don’t bother me. I was keeping up a pretty good pace until we got through Chinatown and turned left on the highway for the last two miles of the run. There, the route flattened out and the misty coolness that had made our ascent up the mountain so refreshing disappeared. The breeze was blocked by tall buildings and there was no longer any beautiful scenery to look at- just cityscape with the occasional glimpse of industrial boatyard. As I wondered how much farther we had to run, I saw the red tank top of the person I had been running in front of, then alongside, and then slightly behind diminishing as he maintained his pace and mine faltered. I took a few short walking breaks, drained the remaining tepid water from my belt and tried to talk myself out of sitting down on a bus stop bench and having an impromptu nap.

When I get really tired on these long runs, I start to get cold chills and I assume that it is my body’s last line of defense when I have ignored all of its other cease and desist orders. First my lungs light themselves on fire to protest the continued running. When that doesn’t work, my heart threatens to explode. If I fail to respond to either of these threats, my legs turn to cement and refuse to cooperate with my desire to propel forward. Then my brain will take over and remind me that I’m not a runner, I hate running, I have no business being out here with these other people who ARE runners, and oh yeah, my lungs are on fire, my heart is pounding, and my legs are TIRED. As a last resort, I think my body sends these cold chills to warn me that it is going revoke my right to be in charge and shut itself down- like rebooting a computer when it isn’t doing what you want it to. Luckily these warnings have started to occur later in my runs and with less frequency. As I get more fit, my body doesn’t feel the need to protect itself from my crazy whims and even my brain has resigned itself to simply reminding me that I’m pretty slow and I look dorky in my water bottle belt, but I already knew that.

It was with great relief that I finally reached the Ala Moana Beach Park. I drank Gatorade, I ate grapes, one of the members of our group owns a Mexican restaurant and he had breakfast burritos delivered, we jumped into the turquoise waters of the Pacific with our running clothes on, and we were shuttled back to the Kalapawai Cafe where we were greeted with fruit salad and freshly-baked cookies. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again; I could not do this without the support of my running group. I don’t need to chit chat while I run, I don’t even really need to run alongside someone, but being able to squint into the distance and see a cluster of brightly-colored running shirts or look over my shoulder and spot a dorky running hat bobbing along the trail reassures me that I’m not the only one who is crazy enough to give up a morning of sleeping-in in exchange for a few hours of sweaty suffering.

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