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Helpless to Hopeful: Race for the Trails

I was on a roll with this blog for a couple of years. I enjoyed writing about my triumphs and difficulties, and helping others locate quality races to run and where to run in various cities. I’m not proud of the fact that it’s been 9 months since my last post. As much as I love running and the running community, things went sideways for me late last year.

I suffered a nasty back strain in early December that reduced me to shuffling with trekking poles just to make it from one room of my home to the next. The pain of my spinal column crushing nerves and muscle tissue each time I tried to rise from bed is something I would never wish on another living being. I finally returned to walking, and, in late January, I ran a few miles.

Through work layoffs for my wife and I, a move from Portland to Bend, family bereavement, and enduring illness, maintaining a positive outlook on a day-to-day basis has been difficult. I’ve struggled mentally and emotionally with my physical limits, while trying to return to form after my back injury. I was buoyed by a visit from my parents, who cheered me on to my first race finish of 2017, the Bend Half Marathon. I felt slow, but optimistic as I thought I was progressing at a good clip at the time.

Bend Half Marathon Medal

I struggled to break through the 15 mile barrier on subsequent long training runs. Eventually, I entered the Under Armour Mt. Bachelor 50k on the weekend of my 38th birthday, and suffered my first DNF, dropping out at Mile 22 after my body decided to stop accepting food at mile 10, and stop sweating soon after. On a hot, dusty day on the mountain, I realized for the first time that I might not regain that level of endurance and fitness I prided myself on for the last couple years.

As usual, running and the running community have supported and encouraged me. Throughout the summer, I’ve worked hard on core strength, hip flexibility, and hill workouts. My wife and I started attending Max King’s Tuesday Performance Group runs to improve our speed and meet more locals. I’m a long way off from where I want to be, but I’m getting there. And I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, despite setbacks that include a 3 week period in August where I couldn’t run because of another back strain. Over these last 9 months, I’ve felt distance between myself and the running community. Distance from the like-minded folks who made my last few years so great. I was excited to celebrate in the triumphs of my fellow runners, but to not be able to join in the shared efforts has been a hard pill to swallow.

But just 11 days ago, something happened that pulled me back into the running community entirely. An irresponsible kid with a smoke bomb lit a fire on a popular trail in the Gorge. My home turf. The place where I learned to run trail. The place where I learned to love the green forests of Oregon. The place where so many people have achieved incredible things in their running careers and have learned to love the trails. I was heartbroken; devastated.

My coping mechanism for the wildfires decimating the Gorge was supposed to be running in itself. Alas, the smoke in Central Oregon is so bad from wildfires, that I’ve been reduced to spending time on treadmills, putting in long, boring miles while staring into a parking lot and wishing I could time travel to one year ago.

But some good has come from the treadmill sessions. With so little to distract me, my mind wandered endlessly. I considered the sadness of the Eagle Creek fire in the Gorge and the people who are working hard to prevent the fire from getting worse. I considered the people who worked so hard to save the Gorge from corporate interests in the first place and how their work might just be starting all over again with opportunistic companies looking to profit from the lost beauty of the Gorge.

I came to a conclusion. I have web development skills. I have running skills. I’m going to organize a virtual race as a fundraiser for the original defenders of the Gorge: Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

Putting this race together has been extremely cathartic for me. So many people have joined in to help. From promoting the race, to donating, to registering, I’m thrilled each time I receive a notice that someone else has contributed or wants to be a part of it.

Race for the Trails 2017 Logo

Crafted by Grant Garrett

And so, Race for the Trails is a reality. 100% of the proceeds are going to Friends of the Columbia Gorge. Promotional partners are coming on board. People from the other side of the globe have gotten involved. People I’ve never met are joining the cause and showing what this community is made of. We’re going to make a difference. We’re going to put the Gorge trails back together again. And we’re going to make sure that this never happens again, so future visitors can discover the forest, the trails, and learn to love trailrunning the same way I did. The same way so many people in the PNW have. Thanks to those of you who have already contributed and registered. Thanks to those of you who will in the future.

As of the writing of this post, the Eagle Creek fire is only 13% contained. We have a long road ahead of us, but the collective rolling up of sleeves is something to behold. Let’s get to work.

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