Back to Basics

I would wake up around 5:30 a.m., leaning over to switch off my alarm before it rang so as to not disturb my wife. I would lay in bed, eyes still closed, listening to the rain, until my phone would vibrate with a text from my friend Nick Triolo. It would always read something similar “Be there in 15,” my prompt to get up and make some coffee.

This was 7 or 8 years ago. I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time. Every morning, before work, I would run in Forest Park with Nick, for one or two hours, mostly in the dark and nearly always in the rain. My response to Nick’s text would also mostly be the same “Coffee’s ready. Let’s do this.”

Nick lived just up the street, about a 10-minute jog to my place. That gave him 5 minutes to get out of bed, tape his haggard toes, slip on some wet shoes (nothing ever dries in Portland), and shuffle over to meet me. I would have the coffee ready, which we would sip slowly and in silence in the kitchen. Then, we would slip out into the wood, guided by the beam of our headlamps and run.

The dreary, cold, dark mornings, the accumulated fatigue of training and work all weighed on my mind while lying in bed. Yet, every morning without fail, it would take but a few minutes for all doubt or laziness or excuses as to why we should not be on the trail to evaporate. The hardest part of running was always just getting out the door.

Nick and I both shared similar struggles to get going, but our partnership and mutual accountability kept us steadily on track. For a while, we worked at the same office, had similar demands and complained about the grind. On many occasions, it would have been easy to bail on our morning runs, but both of us knew the intangible worth that dedication to a single task can bring.

Nick was not much of a runner at the time. A naturally gifted athlete, he preferred to hike, climb, and just be outside. I would go on and on about the wonders of running, the simplicity and depth of the activity, how it relates to all aspects of our lives. I told him that only through commitment could you see running’s real transformative benefits. And so, together we took to the process.

I had read on Matt Carpenter’s website that leading up to Leadville 100 in 2005, he had ran 2 hours or more every single day for 7 months prior to the race with only a few exceptions. His focus and determination over that length of time was inspiring to me, even more so than the final result. Nick and I vowed to a similar type of dedication, not necessarily geared towards racing, but for a love of the process.

This year, I got into Western States, quite randomly through a sponsor spot. I had not really thought about running the race, but when the opportunity presented itself, I found myself feeling very fortunate and excited to take on such a mythical event.

I think part of the allure of the race for me, lies in the great memories of crewing and pacing Tony there in 2010 and the amazing race that unfolded on that day. It is a nostalgic feeling not just linked to the actual event, but also a state of mind, the vibe of that time, all the running preceding the race, the road trip out there. The whole process was so fulfilling and rich in discovery.

I often pause to think how running these days has become more complicated for me. I find myself going from one race to the next, with little time to really absorb and appreciate the experience and the all the good running leading up to it. This is not really a critique or something I worry about too much, rather an observation, that it is easy to get lost in the overstimulation of social media and the likes and forget what it is all about. For me, it is about the process, rekindling the feeling I got from those early days running in Portland, the love, the dedication, being in the mountains—it’s about getting back to basics.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What parts of the process of training or racing do you enjoy the most?
  • Do you ever long or aim to return to a relationship you’ve previously had with running?

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Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 10 comments

  1. Runners_Connect

    Sounds like a wonderful friendship, and many very cherished moments. Interesting about the process or the journey. We often focus too much on the end result, on the racing, which often leads to poor performance, but that journey is the part that really makes all the difference. It is great you had someone to enjoy it with. Best of luck with your decision, and hopefully you can find your "Nick" again!

  2. runsnotsofar

    'The hardest part of running was always just getting out the door' Very true! Big aim for this year: enjoy running, run a few races, and – coincidence? – move to Portland, Oregon!

  3. @dbrez12

    Great writing! I ended college completely burnt out on racing and running and ended up needing 5-6 years away from the sport to rekindle my passion. While I have enjoyed the racing side of things in the few ultras I have hopped into over the last year, the commitment to the process–out the door and onto the trails at 6 each morning–has been the most thoroughly rewarding part of my second life as a runner. Thanks for this piece.

  4. bayleafmo

    Nice pics and write up. Having been competitive in another sport before I started running I cherish being anonymous in races. The race simply is what it is.

  5. laurenmuirdpt

    I thoroughly enjoy the aspect in training when you begin to build long miles on the trail. 4-6 mile days for speed work then 20 milers or so on the weekends. Nothing better than pulling out a trail map of the San Juan Mountains in Pagosa Springs, Co and figuring out your route. And while you are out there knowing this is your territory! Running the ups, downs, twists, turns, creek crossings thinking I feel like I am in a video game. especially early season when it is rare to see another human being for 4 hours. Glorious!

  6. northacrosseurope

    I hugely enjoy the training process, the near spiritual quest of it: building up mileage over long months, fine tuning speed (a very relative thing in my case), meticulously learning a race route… but for me nothing compares to ‘just running’. Heading out into some wild and untrammeled place, open space ahead, the twisting trail leading on to who knows what and where… for me it doesn’t get better than that.

    Several of my running friends are always ‘in training’, preparing for or recovering from some key goal race. And good for them… although I don’t often see the glow of running upon them. For sure, if you never race you’re seriously missing out on all that running can be, but by the same token there’s definitely more to running than preparing for a race…

    I still say that kids get it best. Running as lighthearted play…

  7. mathieuvanvyve

    I never really understood how other people do to wake up at 5am to run or swim or whatever. I already feel so sleep-deprived by having to wake up at 7am that I cannot imagine waking up earlier every single day.

    My usual time for running is in the evening. My brain is tired after 6pm, but running still feels great. I usually go running after the kids are asleep, around 8.30pm. The kids are actually the reason why I started running in the first place. I was doing mostly mountaineering (all kinds of) before, but that is now difficult. Running is definitely attractive for its sheer simplicity.

    All in all I never run more than twice a week, and except before long races more than 3 hours a week. So I kind of specialize in long-distance running without much training.

    The conclusion is that I do not have some distant past where running was easier to squeeze in my schedule. I rather long for time when I was not constantly tired and I could spend weeks close to the tops of mountains with crampons or ski's at my feet, and not running shoes…

    As for the part of running that I like most, it is low-intensity training (I hardly do anything else). I also like the first half of actual races (when things are still relatively easy), and the beers *after* the races. The end of races are good only when I can pass people looking even more exhausted than myself.

  8. tomdavies3

    Joe-I used to be the one running across town to tap on my friend's window in the darkness of early morning, long before anyone knew what a text message was. Your article brings back some fond memories. We can all work on getting back to the basics. Thanks.

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