Some Thrill, Some Laguna

16 05 2011

View of desert from PCT

This is purely business as I try to catch y’all up on the last few weeks so please excuse any inappropriate analogies or otherwise unnecessary comments.  I left Australia with a heavy heart, due to a somewhat-disappointing performance at Nationals and the sad, abandoned faces of the all the Aussies I had touched (metaphorically and physically) seared into my memory.  The goodbyes were tough and streaked with tears, but with the knowledge that it was only two weeks till our reunion stateside, we did that awkward high-five/handshake/one-armed hug thing real bros do, and parted ways.  Without over-reflecting and with weeks of the trip already recorded in previous blogs, I’ll wrap things up by saying my time in Australia was near ideal.  I didn’t necessarily achieve the expectations I’d set out for myself on the racing scene, but I banked several very solid weeks of training and maybe most importantly, earned a spot training with a real group of professionals.  I had serious concerns about finding individuals to train with post-collegiately, but at least for now, I’m in with an Olympic-class collection of studs, getting the opportunity to train and travel internationally.  I want to thank the Gregsons and Riseleys once more for their generosity in hosting me during my time in Australia.  Also, thanks to the Melbourne Track Club boys and Bidders for letting me join the entourage for awhile.  Lastly, huge thanks to John Evans and New Balance for hooking me up with the group and helping me make the trip to Australia.

Rode the jet plane back to NC for two weeks of ma’s home-cooking and a much anticipated visit with a Caribbean island-hopper whose professional title is listed as Personal Care Assistant; now I can write-off the fine dining I took her to at the Outback Steakhouse (wanted to give her a taste of that authentic Australian cuisine).  I slid right back into training, trail-blazing the town with my main man, Duncan “Diesel” Hoge.  Let me hit you with some history and try to describe this guy, as he’s my most reliable, and essentially, my only training partner when I’m home.  It started with a brutal rivalry in middle-school when most boys were busy perfecting their jump shot for the JV basketball team.  Instead, we clashed day after day on the local cross country courses sporting the same Mustangs singlets, fighting for pride, glory, fame.  Parents may have found it neat, just happy their boys were out being active.  For us, it was about the win, the popularity that only the skinniest of 12-year old boys could appreciate.  The intensity carried into high school, but with it came a bond, a brotherhood.  The intra-team competition between us faded as we grew into our respective roles, Duncan a supreme lady-killer, irresistible to females of all ages, as well as a national-class triathlete who simultaneously continued to run high school XC and track at the highest level.  Meanwhile, I lived vicariously through this legend and kept to swinging my purple lunchbox through the halls with a level of naivety matched only by my love of calculator games.  Some many years later, Diesel is still running (and still pulling trim) and successfully pursuing the longer distance trail racing side of the sport.  Anytime I’m in town, he unquestioningly accompanies me for any variety of workouts whether it’s repeats on the track or a furious session of King’s Cup.  So, just as with years prior, Duncan joined me during my brief stint in Chapel Hill for some quality mileage and one or two epic man-dates (we pay separately, no big deal).  Ma, meanwhile, babied me like she always does.  Even after growing accustomed to a league of stellar Australian moms, my transition back to America was smooth and effortless due to Debbie being the shit.  She raises the bar as only one’s true mom can do.  It would certainly be easy to dedicate many a blog post to ma, however I’ll leave it at this: most of us have moms, mothers, etc; but it’s like this, she’s the best one, simple.

Two weeks logged in the Thrill, and I headed west to join the Aussie crew at Mt. Laguna, MTC’s Stage II High-Altitude Training Facility, complete with a med-ball, a dart board, and three refrigerators (though I’m constantly reminded, “this is a running camp, not an eating camp”).  We’re sitting at about 6000 ft. elevation in the Cuyamaca Mountains adjacent to the Anza Borrego Desert, an hour or so east of San Diego.  The gang here consists of Grego, Jeff, Collis, Gaz, Bidders (no new faces there), and Benny Saint, the freshly crowned Australian 10k national record holder (27:24), snagging the title from Collis.  I share a beat up motel room with Jeffrey while the rest of the gang is close by, playing exclusive games of tummy-sticks to stay warm in their 3 bedroom cabin.  We’ve got a common room halfway between our places where all of the eating/cooking goes down, though it seems I’m the only one cramming the calories.  My enthusiasm for food earns me sneers and jeers from the gang, making me feel like I’m back in junior high, surrounded by hoards of Cosmo-reading, self conscious teenage girls struggling with image issues.  I guess we all have roles to fill here; I eat everyone’s food and build self-esteem for my peers with every session I get dropped in; Jeff and Grego battle for egotistical domination (though Grego wastes precious energy spitting weak, weak game); Collis aims to turn back the clock to 2008 when life was carefree and he wasn’t helplessly addicted to Fruit Ninja; and Benny Saint, MTC’s only hope for a stand-up comedian, provides the day-to-day humor.  We’re a sensitive people, us runners, so I’m hoping aforementioned comments don’t earn me the silent treatment. (What if I say “no offense”?  Pretty sure that universally negates anything insulting…)

Most of our runs take us on a series of single-track trails including the Big Laguna and Pacific Crest Trails that dive in and out of meadows, along ridges, and through the Cleveland National Forest.  Once a week, we head down the mountain in search of oxygen, winding up at El Capitan High for a track session at sea-level.  Atop the mountains, we share the territory with backpackers hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada, bored couples who make the drive just for the scenic turnouts, and border patrol cops who seem increasingly suspicious of a handful of boys frolicking aimlessly through the woods in short-shorts; joggers or flamboyantly disguised drug-runners?  Every Friday afternoon, we get the pleasure of a sensual trigger-point massage from a middle-aged hippie so full of positivity, passion, and leafy greens that it more then makes up for his Catholic-priest-like body rubs.  Just as at Falls Creek, Gaz greases the chain of his Schwinn and throws his aging body at the mercy of the terrain, struggling along the trails with enough weezing and hissing to distract you from your own nauseating pain.  Bidders also makes the effort to take advantage of the altitude experience, hitting the trails with such a fierce intensity, it nearly conceals his graying hair, peeking muffin top, and a John Cena-esque pounding in each step (please refer to the box office hit, “The Marine”, for comprehensive visuals of said running style).  Jokes aside, Gary and Nic have been absolutely imperative in my transition into the MTC and have provided much-needed support as I strain to establish myself a member of the team.

I’m really enjoying my time training and hanging with the boys here.  With a great set-up and a motivated group, I feel like I’ve been able to continue to build upon the momentum I gained with these very same guys in Australia.  I leave Friday evening with Jeffrey after 3 weeks here to pursue a few PBs in Europe.  We’ll be joining Rowdy in London for a couple weeks before I head back to Madison, WI to prep for the USA championships at the end of June.

Internet here is slower than a ’94 telephone modem so the rest of the photos are going to have to wait til I’ve reached civilization again.