Training under a blood red sun

9:45 in the morning as the world burns around us…

EYES CLOSED The eucalyptus trees are finally drippy again. I narrow my field of vision as I walk the dog through the haze and look down at the ground to pretend it’s wet, that water is everywhere, and that it is briefly late fall or winter when the rains may return. Drip-drip drops fall from the canopy above, pulled by gravity to splat onto my head and the pavement around me, and I am briefly somewhen else. Our crucial fog is back. It’s not rain, but it’s something.

I block the far-and-wide destruction with winter’s imagination, those fires that rage across our west, infernos spawning tales of heroism and tragedy. My momentary mental refuge, this is all I get for now. Until that pretend-view of early winter rain is tempered by the next foul breath of air that sneaks around my mask. And yet…it still seems almost fresh compared to yesterday’s choking ash-haze composed of the livelihoods of people and the owls and ferns and a countless millions of trees, all evaporating into the massive cloud that slowly smothers nearly the entire west coast of North America. An AQI of 171 this morning; how refreshing compared to the 229 + of the last few days.

What a year.

The CZU August Lightning Complex fire, a few miles Behind mom’s place in Scotts Valley
Looking back toward Pescadero and the northern edge of the CZU complex one last time after saving Nada’s chickens and her valuables..

SANCTUARY I enter the house behind the dog, and the rhythmic percussion of Rebekah’s foot strike on the treadmill back-stopped by that faint hydraulic whine reverberates from the back room. She is sticking to the script, upholding her commitment to rock Moab, training six days each week since February. Sometimes through the haze of little to no sleep after a night’s work at the hospital, around virtual home-school schedules and the educational well being of the boys always at stake, yet holding fealty to coach Maxx and the day’s training schedule, met no matter the distraction: sleep? Maybe later. After the business of the day. Or the dog.

Rebekah, via text: “Can I kill the dog yet? He is out of control….”

Kayuh, after being wound up and set loose by Cole

Being a good parent and dog whisperer are the over riding concerns. And then training takes a back seat. But only then. This is an athlete-mother’s domain in the age of Covid.

I am the home coach, helping to guide her on that trajectory toward the Moab Valley RV Resort, to stand at the start line on October 9, 2020. She doesn’t really need another coach though: she has her fire. And it is enough. Regardless, I support, and I cajole, and often-times annoy her with common sense and the threat of good advice that conflicts madly with her cowboy sensibilities, the ones that tell her she can just go run any distance, dammit – and when it’s like that, it is sometimes a battle I can’t win. But as her husband and home-coach, I push nonetheless, avail or to no avail. Hearing her churn in repetition as I enter the house and pull the mask from my face whose use should be specific to Covid 19 Only, instead of today’s PM2.5 protection, I am comforted by her dedication. She is the constant. She started an hour before I went out the door; she will still be working away four hours from now. She is rocking her training no matter the circumstance, and I will support her today with water – iced or no, by adjusting the fan and feeding the kids and walking the dog and cleaning the kitchen and feeding everyone again at lunch. It is her year, and we are a team.

THE YEAR SO FAR Rebekah has rocked a pretty good year so far despite nearly every race she registered for being cancelled. Except Moab. After her Montara Mountain 50 miler, she dug into our fund raiser to support a local non-profit helping people suffering from Covid in one way or another. Folding Destination Trail’s virtual Rise and Run hundred miler into a treadmill hundred combined with my silly (in comparison) little neighborhood 100k, to raise $3050.00. Tiny satisfaction in a year when lives have been disrupted way beyond anything in recent times. Focusing mainly on Moab 240 now, there are contingencies in event Covid smothers everything into submission again, or smoke forces a postponement until 2021, perhaps a R8 Grand Canyon – yeah, that’s eight times, or some other insanity. The fuse has been lit, anything is possible. She is her own fortress, and we are nothing without goals.

Rebekah rocks a 23 hour treadmill hundred with 14,000 feet, above, with 2 minutes of timed rest at mile 98, below

THE HERE AND NOW Things are so wrong right now. They swirl like a vortex around the house even as we focus with intention to stay on track for Moab 240. Flames turn entire towns to particles as we all push through the reality of a global pandemic that, according to expert voices in public health – real experts who have studied the medical discipline their entire adult lives, is still only in the first act of it’s three-part opener. There is talk of a second wave. But that has always been the case: there was talk of a second wave during the first months even as the first act had barely begun. Human brains ravaged by the infecting rot of self-reinforcing, instantaneous social media culture mostly have the patience of a three year old these days – worse than our 9 month old husky.

Despite the maelstrom swirl around us, with the natural world evaporating into chaos above and beyond current cultural storms, she, we, move faithfully toward Moab, and a “maybe-Rio Del Lago” for me again, if I’m lucky and it too is not cancelled; my other hundred was cancelled so I’ll take just about anything with an aid table and a finish line right now. So we focus, and we train. For we are nothing without goals.

The weather though. Or, the air. I dialed up the Air Quality Index forecast on Friday to see nearly all of California and Oregon and the state of Washington will suffocate beneath a sickening rainbow haze of yellow to mostly red with a fair chance of purple: nearly the entire western edge of North America is at risk if people venture outside and breathe deeply. Not much safe running to be had in the west right now…

Latest ugliness..

So, where would she go? She was to get up at 3, to drive until 8, to run for 8 at altitude, up and across either Armstrong Pass out of South Lake, or maybe Snow Valley Peak further north on the east section of the TRT, before we discussed the possibility of a lightning-quick journey due east up Hwy 108 to run the PCT. “Start at 9,600 feet and bounce between ten to eleven thousand feet for a days acclimation, babe…” I offered. Eventually I reached out to Maia Detmer in Las Vegas when the forecast showed no chance of a coastal break from the choking haze until early next week as forests and towns continue to disappear beneath steamroller infernos transforming landscapes into spaces no longer viable for the human population. Increasing temperatures, combined with little to no rainfall once again this year, and the spark of lightning or a gender reveal party or the mentally ill sick enough to want to destroy the lives of countless thousands.…we are our own apocalypse.

Maia through Strava responded “skies cleared but all muggy again today. Mt Charley is great training if you can venture this way”, and I fantasize my amazing wife putting her head down and getting it done to drive 7.5 hours for clear skies and eleven thousand feet for two days of acclimation. But the forecast. Rebekah doesn’t want to drive to Vegas simply on a chance of better breathing, despite that I know she would totally benefit only one month out. And then the focus becomes mainly the Hwy 108 corridor up to the PCT, before we look at the forecast there, and then she falls back on the treadmill.

Rebekah, via text: Smoke is actually heading over in the Vegas direction; AQI for tomorrow there is forecast as yellow

IDK it would suck to drive 9 hours to Mt Charleston if the air is in the yellow zone

If I hit the mountains in two weeks when the fires slow and the air clears it’ll give me 1.5 weeks to recover. That might be perfect for acclimation

Being practical, tiger. What is best for training, what is best for the kids. For family. I don’t think driving that far on a hope is the best decision for training right now

I’ll hit the treadmill this weekend 5 hrs Saturday and 3 Sunday. Kill me now

So, it’s the dreadmill. Sea level cowboys sometimes do think clearly.

GRATITUDE We bought the Nordic Track in the Spring when the threat of a real lock-down was real, when parks and trails were closed amidst the nascent ravages of Covid 19; when we heard reports of authorities tracking runners with their Strava to fine them for leaving their houses over in Europe, presumably trying to keep from going insane. We didn’t care about jogging trails then, we would just run the mountain at night, screw the authorities. But if it came down to an actual martial-law type sequestration, we would be ready. Now, with the world burning around us, with horror stories of death and destruction all around, she runs…with the treadmill fan, and the oscillating fan, and the breeze of the air purifier that hums away 24-7 these days, all creating a defensible space of fresh air that allows one more endurance-push of training. For a woman dedicated beyond what any normal person would consider rational; for just one more day.

Get it done. One month out. Get it done.

~ Alan

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