Thursday, December 17, 2015

Light it Up

This morning I awoke to an unpleasant realization.  I overslept.  I had wanted to wake up around 5:15am.  5:15am gives me enough time to go for a morning run before opening the camp at 7am.  It also allows me to watch the sunrise.  I WANTED to see that sunrise.  Last night I even thought about taking my phone along so I could photograph it.  But now, with the clock reading 6:35am, all such ambitions were lost.  And what was worse in my mind was that oversleeping meant that my morning run would now become a night run.  I would wait until work was done for the day before heading out into the cold, dark night to get my miles in. 
When the storms creep in, the mountain can be both beautiful and frightening.
This made me think.  Why does the night seem so much more foreboding than the morning?  5:15am in December is still dark, and with temperatures in the single digits, it is most certainly cold.  Both dark.  Both Cold.  So why does the one seem so much worse?  Perhaps the answer lies not in the moment itself, but in the one that is to come.  Think about it.  The morning can be just as dark and cold as the night, but in the morning we know that change is coming.  We know that a new day is dawning and in a few minutes (or hours), the sun will be cresting upon the horizon.  As the sun rises it brings forth light, warmth, and a sense of hope.  That sun is a difference maker.
One of the greatest sights on the mountain is the warm glow of the
cabin at the end of a cold, dark run,
Like the morning, the night is also a difference maker, but in a different sort of way.  As the sun fades away and the night creeps in, things become darker and colder.  It’s the sort of difference making that most of us would shy away from.  Partly because we don’t like the dark and cold, but also because we tend to shy away from things with a seemingly negative trajectory.  As humans we like to see things improve.  A change for the worse disturbs us.  It makes us want to run away, to flee the impending discomfort, to bury our heads in the sand (or snow) and wait for daylight.
But, there is a problem with this sort of mindset, for as dark and cold as the night may be, there is still good in it.  The good is found in the bright shining stars and the silhouette of the mountains.  It is also found in the glow of the moon that illuminates the trail and the distant city lights.  And so we must understand that in the midst of darkness, there is almost always a glimmer of hope.  It reminds me of a rescue that I helped with on Pikes Peak this year.  It was a cold, wintry night and the sun had long since set when I got the call about two lost hikers out on the mountain.  As I threw on my gear and headed into the night I hoped that I would be able to find them.  The first few miles were easy as I was able to stick to the main trail, but this was short lived.  I soon found myself plunging off trail into a forest littered with tall trees, big boulders, and deep snow.  I blew my whistle and scanned the forest for lights.  After a short while I heard a noise.  I yelled and much to my delight, my call was answered.  I had made audible contact!
I made multiple trips to the creek today to clear the ice from
the water pipe.

While audible contact is great, it can also be a bit misleading as the human brain can sometimes have trouble determining where sound is coming from.  Additionally, sound can be drowned out by other noises.  Light, on the other hand, is much more reliable.  It doesn’t get drowned out or blown around by wind.  Instead it provides a constant point of focus.  Fortunately, shortly after making audible contact, I spotted a bright light.  With the light of the subjects in sight, I had something to guide me.  “Keep that light on!” is what I yelled over, and over, and over as I trudged through snow and scrambled across boulder fields.  At times the undulating terrain caused the light to slip from my sight, but if I kept my eyes focused on where it had last appeared and pushed onward, it would come back into view.  Stride after stride the light grew closer and the voices louder until there I was, standing face-to-face with the lost souls.  The light never failed.  I had found my way.

While the rescue is over and the sun has returned to brighten the day, we are still faced with other kinds of darkness.  In the world of sports this darkness has come in the form of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  Although PEDs have been present in sports such as baseball, cycling, and track and field for quite some time, their most recent impacts on the world of MUT (Mountain-Ultra-Trail) running has caused quite a stir.  All I have to do these days is log onto my facebook page and I will see a plethora of people talking about doping as it relates to the world of MUT running.  Should dopers be banned for life?  Should Lance Armstrong be allowed to run trail/ultra races?  Should race directors have drug testing?  The questions and debates go on and on.  As an ultra runner I am faced with the question of how to respond.  The options are many.  I could write thought provoking letters to race directors, WADA, and various other organizations.  I could boycott races that don’t drug test.  I could refuse to run against known drug cheats.  The list goes on and on as to what I could do.  The real question, however, is not what could I do, but what will I do.  

A lost art, hardly anyone seems to know what a
gas light is.
What I will do is this.  I will continue running.  I will continue training.  I will work hard to be the best that I can be.  And if those drug cheats do step to the line with me, I will race them…hard!  Will I win?  I don’t know, but I will compete as a clean athlete.  I will hold true to my values and I will strive to set a good example for those following along, especially those younger than myself.  For after all, at one point in my life I was the youngster looking up to the pros.  

Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania I loved following the Tour de France.  More specifically, I loved cheering for Floyd Landis who was a native of Lancaster County.  I remember the year he “won”.  I was working at Gene Forry’s woodshop when my Mom called to tell me about Floyd’s “Miracle Day”, a day in which he made up an insane amount of time.  I remember telling my co-worker that Landis had performed a miracle, only to discover that he thought I meant that a different man named Landis had fixed a piece of equipment in the woodshop (like many names, Landis is quite common in Lancaster County).  Nonetheless, I loved rooting for Floyd, and I really wanted to believe that the accusations were unfounded.  But as is too often the case, my hopes were crushed as we all learned that our “hometown hero” was a bonafide cheat. 

This my friends, is what I want to end.  I want young kids to have positive role models to look up to.  I want them to be able to cheer for clean athletes who exemplify what it means to be hard working, dedicated, and persistent.  And if we can’t get rid of all the dirty athletes, then I hope the clean athletes can put their nose to the grindstone and beat them anyways.  That way young children can watch a sporting event and say “Hey, I don’t need drugs to be good!  The clean athletes are winning anyways.”  While this may seem a bit na├»ve and far-fetched, I’m up for the challenge.  We can still try to clean up the sport and if we work hard enough, we just might succeed.  But, let’s commit to doing more than just making noise, noise that can be drowned out.  Let us commit to being the light in the darkness, a beacon of hope in a troubled time.  Because after all, the best way out of this mess might be for us to light the way for those who follow in our tracks.  Let’s LIGHT IT UP! 


  1. Good stuff Zach, no doubt you have the ability and opportunity to be an inspiration and running hero for many years to come. Keep at it.

  2. And a great role model you are! Well said.

  3. Hi! I am a random blogger that stumbled upon yours. Nice writing style! I enjoyed reading your entry. My brother likes running. Have a great new year!

  4. why did you stop blogging??..please get back.... i hope you write more of your adventures..