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.