Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thoughts while watching the first 17 minutes of The Life of Yogananda.

(Love is the opportunity to admit someone else into your energies, to wrap them, to contain them, and for them to contain you.)
I was born an artist with an gifted sense of the sublime in our everyday, the awareness of our constant Divine everydayness.
I was weaned from the spiritual elitism, from a sense of spirtitual entitlement, and found a more refined sense of the diamond mind in all places. Much of the maturity was found in following the footsteps of poets and writers, of philosophers and thinkers, of mathematicians and architects, of the great runners, warriors. I learned from those who already perched in elevated stations and it was easy to see their greatness framed by culture, framed by analysis, framed by a vague sense of idolization and hero-worship. I also matured a spiritual awareness in watching the facets of life in everyday America. In the raw country sides of poor America there is the most eleveated and celebrated of faith. In the dilapidated mountain cabin that belches with hunger and cold. From the detox units of various insitutions I regularly found myself for a decade. I met countless prophets and teachers in the darkest denizens of chemical dependency, of sexual depravity, of the desperate plights of the american impoverished. “each one teach one” was a mantra I learned from the mouth of an ex-con who learned it in meetings.
Faith tends to be strongest in times of struggle and doubt. Faith blooms best from wreckage and massive shift.
I came to realize that the highest awareness of America was the basic worker who performs the daily tasks without need of greater things, without want of greater things. The farmer who works in contentment across his land, feeds animals, watches the seasons manifest and take from the earth, who watches the waters travel across her magnificiently diverse realms, from mountain to ocean to glacier cascade.
The question only remains: does American life a conspire against a higher consciousness? Does it hold hostage the higher spiritual experience of this Life?
Is It possible to be a pure artist, that is a seeker of Light and a sharer of Life’s Light, is it possible to be truly in touch with Divine works? Does the erosion of Will to occupations, the constant bombardment of fashionable wants and fake Newness of material excess, the sexual cravings of advertisting, the wearied barrage of sadness and vacuous need that is our daily experience at the covers of magazines, at the loss of deeper drives and explorations, at the Higher Hopes of Discovery, does America want its artistic aspirations?  
Do we cease seeking the truer things because we must have rents, foods, fuel, travel, medical care, child support?  Enlightenment in Mecca, in shalas, in Himalayan caves, in ganges drapes of water. Know that you contain enlightenment that you are always in its invironment/environment.
To recognize that all spaces are sacred, that all lands contain God and the potential for Higher Light, is a level of enlightenment.
What if I said that, in pursuing our higher callings, all things of the material world would be resolved and satisfied? What if I said that, in pursuing God, God satiates all those Beings that would draw from our Life source? The society is jealous, is envious, for many of us have disdained our own truer aspirations for a new car, a body that holds well a fine cut suit or dress, the number of likes of a picture on Instagram, a short moment of honoring for an earthly accomplishment?
Everything in the worldly realm has been moved into the theater of Lust and vice. To run, we now acquire numerous tools and gear, the right shoes with the right science that alters our bodies into a different functioning.
We can learn, but we can also lose.

Can we participate in the American world and still find a true englightments? Or must we break away into a hermitage of sorts, a removal of Self from the lusts of a capitalist society? Can we balance the needs of a capitalist society with the needs of a Spiritual pursuit?
I was born enlightened and through the hard-mountain path of growth, from the arms of an angry lost mother into the arms of the angry lost world, the small mind of the child still wet with the ocean of consciousness, the small infinite mind of the child, the connectivity and receptivity of the mind of the child. The infinite child. To search, to discover and to integrate.
We do not search for God above and beyond us, but we search for the God light within and around us. The God is Us. We search for the infinite synapse of our own cosmic experience to connect to the sphere that elevates us. To push our clay pots of water into the magnificient river of Being and into her refined states.
As we dirty the Earth and her Oceans, so do we dirty ourselves and our Minds. Our mind is filled with the needs of Oil and profit and we lost essential knowledge and the ability of Prophecy. We are born to share God and instead we take from each other that we might gain the lesser valuable. The valueless.
How to manifest God. Have I lost too much of the wisdom and knowledge, the constant verve of my Youth? Have I lost that innate sense of Divinity? How do I manifest it?
Practice sexual restraint. Be beautiful, be sensual, be sated, be horny, be erotic and charged, be natural and contain one’s sexuality. But know the meaning of it. Know the purpose of it. Understand the results of it. And know that many of us are the Children of God, not of our Earthly parents.
Practice the restraint of material want. The glossy magazine world of America is a madness of Want. We must remove ourselves from the moshpit of Lust. The mind of the consumer is a tiny microcosm that chokes on its own suffering the whims of media heads. Let collapse the need to appear well fashioned, well-heeled. 
Disregard the fears of worldly need. Do not worry about foods, shelters, basic safety and needs. If we perform the work of higher things, basic needs will be provided. This is the most challenging of manifestations of faith, that we not follow the fears of our fathers and mothers.
Drugs and alcohol. To be curious of these experiences is natural. To move our bodies and minds through new shapes and perspectives is beautiful and powerful. To become addicted is a spiritual opportunity if one finds the path of awareness in detoxing and suffering. One must eventually move away from it however, and the experiential wisdom is the most beautiful of gifts from such lives.
Know that the cultural world, the societal world, in its construction and in its deepest dynamics, would have you fail your pursuits of God. The envy and greed of figure heads is too great to idly watch other’s find enlightenment for free. Even the path of enlightenment has been hijacked and exploited for glories and profits. Ignore the false claims of the material spiritualism that dominates the New Age. Move away from the false prophets, the fake Gurus, the ersatz teachers who speak from the lower mind about the Higher Being. They will atrophy and rediscover God upon such failure. It is also a valid path.
Do not judge your or anyone’s path to enlightenment. We will all wrestle our Jacobian angels and we will resist and we will admit. The push-pull of spiritual versus worldly will haunt our entire existence perhaps. But to continually investigate, to continually recognize our our small and powerful belonging to realms beyond the immediately identifiable, to remove one’s self from places that are not healthy or even real, to constantly reclaim the placeof the Divine within and around us, to preserve that place for the shred of God we are and we represent. What part of the ocean are you? Which fish do you feed? Which bird does your fish feed? Which plant is made new by the bird your fish will feed? Which bee will carry the song of your most significant role? Which lick of flame are you across which bark of which tree in which forest?
How to move one’s self back into the realm of God. But, to know we never leave the realm of God for we contain it, we are always in that ocean, like a runner sweating into a rainstorm, we are always a part of the cycle of release and absorption . to be an empty vessel of such life. To move into such life. To be profoundly a part of said life.
Do no tbe surprised by the smallness of people, the feeble mind of people. Many have no idea of the limitlessness of life. Neither should we judge that, or alter that. The path will bring them to higher pursuits in due time. The machine will spit them out across the feet of pilgrims. We will find and preserve the light and share it freely, without malice, without want, without thought of gain and profit and glory. That is the role of the light seeker. To truly hold light, to not tint it into our own ego. But to thrust that light into the spaces where it has been lost, where it is forgotten (even as it pours itself across eyes, mouths, bodies, hands)
Liberate the ego. Be proud, be joyful, be whole. But do not confuse with work of the higher calling with the sense that you are a higher Spirit. On the spirit, all things are equal, all things respond to each other with equanimity. It is a burden and a gift. Great tragedy is equal to small tragedy when one moves into the mind of the Spirit. And then there Is no tragedy, but only a happening. A part of the thing that moves across another thing like a chord of music.
To allow for the passage of light and rivers of awareness thorugh the body without jealousy and without fear, without question or hope of gain. To find oneself in the open fields of discovery. To allow for the chemical needs to sweat from the body, to diminish from the mind, to not press into unnecessary harms of endurance. There will be enough to endure without forcing our own suffering. That said, to practice endurance in things that are hard, that challenge us for long periods of time, be it running marathons, be it yoga, be it gardening, be it working 10 hours, allow for any suffering one feels to be preparations for higher levels of suffering we may yet endure. Learn to be still and quiet in the most vicious of places, learn to not be distracted by a constant shouting of the carnies of the cultural body, the flesh of the lustful senses.

To find the overwhelming Being in one’s own body, in the Light of Mind, in the service of this fleshed existence.
(This essay has little to do with asana and absolutely nothing to do with monthly subscriptions or Jade mats or yogitoes or SUPY or any of the trends associated with Yoga.  I do not profess an advanced understanding of Yoga. However, I believe we contain Yoga, we contain Buddha, we contain the love of Jesus and various Teachers. We are perfect beings wrapped up in imperfect confluences of Being. Numerous rampant devils work among and against us.)
Love is the opportunity to admit someone else into your energies, to wrap them, to contain them, and for them to contain you.
We explore this life, each other, and we pursue expansions of Being through discovery and inspiration. It is a natural process of yearning, cultivating, harvesting, and of burning.
However there are times when our explorations lead to a sclerosis, to the forming of prejudices, to our own self-isolation. Those seasons we must own, we must wholly contain, but we must also deconstruct with creativity, with passion, with an enduring movement. We roam these fields with a grateful, playful sense of simultaneous detachment and inclusion. We look for a still center, resisting yet observing our tendencies of ever-forming prejudice and preference.
We seek to serve as a nexus, an axis, to hear and amplify the purer rhythms among the chaos of identity and desire. We see primal patterns and we recognize something familiar.
To contain and express the Ephemeral in the Contemporary.
We seek to let form the shapes of the shores of Consciousness and know they will be changed in ways that are subtle, ways that are violent, ways that are artistic and metaphysical. We are that transient formlessness yet we hallucinate things as permanent, as shape.
Identity is the poem of how we feel to the music of what we desire in a language of the bodily Now.
Spirituality is the magnificent simple miracle, the prayer, in each breath.
A kiss is the connection, the exchange of that breath.  A kiss can have everything or nothing to do with the mouth and the body. A kiss can touch or not touch.  The body can have everything to do with the spirit, or nothing to do with the spirit. I am not implying erotic intimacy, but a moment between people. Maybe I am speaking towards the erotic, but I also simultaneously move away from it. Culture frequently confuses sexuality with intimacy and this is why we must draw the body from a deeper space.
In a question of bodies, Yoga draws from the innermost.  A posture becomes a suggestion of that deeper undercurrent, the push-pull of bone and muscle against Mind and breath.  So should an artist’s tool perhaps.
Posture is not bound to sanskrit definitions here. Everything becomes a posture when admitted as such.
The saturation of sexuality in our culture should not permeate the sense of the body in Yoga, Yogic philosophies. To become caught up in the shape of a body, to miss the deeper expression of body, is to lose the exchange of the body.  The obsession of the shape of body and the touch of flesh is the a symptom of the very superficiality that I want to rage against in my work and Life.
(While also including that superficiality ... Yoga is perhaps the whole body of contrapostures, balance, including contradictions.)
Meanwhile, to vigilantly maintain a sense of the Empty Vessel in this uncapturable Mind/Body of Self. To offer it back, to proffer it outwardly, freely and without reservation. And to practice always with the notion of Progress not Perfection.

I slipped into the act of writing something very important and now I have no idea what to do with it, where to take it, how to even hold it, let alone manifest it. Few will read it and less will care and even I will forget I wrote it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Races for Profits, questions and concerns in the commercialization of running. A series.

While this post may get blowback, may ruffle feathers, may upset the apple cart, etc, I think runners are aware of the booming business of race proliferation.
More options mean more conveniences, but not necessarily better practices or better races.
(Disclaimer: I've reduced my racing substantially for numerous reasons. Family obligations, financial priorities, rebalancing life, and finally the question of Why Race, leaving less races as a natural thing.)
I enjoy supporting causes through some races, but I did some simple mathematics on a new "ultra" in my home area.
The race is mostly double track, following a five mile loop that is cycled 10X for a 50M relay and 6X for the 50k solo option. The race is held on private land. The event is "capped" at 500 participants. "Capped" at 500.
The 50k is 65 dollars increasing to 80. The 50M relay option is 40 dollars increasing to 50, same price as the 5 mile race held at noon.
Doing some averaging of numbers, (250 entrants in the 50k, 200 entrants in the relay, 50 in the 5 mile) I figured the total income would be around 29,500 dollars. Obviously there are costs, including insurance, trail maintenance, three bands and beers. Camping is included. Grilled foods will be sold and RV sites can be rented.
Concerns would include sustainability, land impact, and trail congestion. Sounds like a ball but 30k is a lot of dough for a race.

Anyone have any thoughts on the race-for-profit model?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Table Rock Ultra, a study in red clay, rock outcroppings and good ol' fashioned downpours.

Picture credit, Lonnie Crotts.

Table rock 50k sept 26 2015. Leg One.

(as yet incomplete and it reads well enough in this state and i may or may not finish it later. pulp aesthetic is the new varnish.)

what we didnt see in 2015, as seen in October of 2014. Photo credit Lonnie Crotts.

Friday morning.

My wife had attached a Disney poncho as a last minute addition to the outside of my pack. It was flimsy and shredded at the seams and I vowed to never use it.
In pursuit of a rain shell, I stopped at a local outfitting company before starting the drive to Morganton NC. Wilmington has a couple of shops and I chose the newer, more expensive spot to begin. They had a beautiful Marmot for 100 dollars that I liked and posted everywhere were signs advertising “25% off storewide” and I was excited, asked the attendant if the jacket was discounted.
“No, I’m sorry. That one’s fresh in the door.”
I left empty handed, hit I-40, and within 20 minutes I hit rain.

Friday evening.

Six hours later I hit Morganton's historic downtown. I pulled into a puddled parking spot alongside Catawba brewery for packet pickup and proceeded  to pickup my packet where peter piper picked a pepper .... never mind.
The drive had been a grueling, rain-blind thing with multiple wrecks and a helluva lot of stop and go traffic. Stressful driving, white knuckle hours.
I was glad to arrive but the rain persisted and the light-fade of evening was not far off. I drove the final 30 minutes to the camp and put on my Disney poncho and walked around the marshy land of Steele’s Creek Campground to find a spot where my tent might find a slight lift of perch above the collecting rain. Found a spot, near my choice from last years much dryer affair, and set up quickly the tent, moved bags and a cooler into the vestibule. Set up the stove, cooked up my wife’s wonderfully rich and filling meatsauce pasta. A bit of a tradition, Kas almost always makes me my pre-race meal and it never fails to warm me up, relax the nerves, and start the mind thinking about the distance ahead.

My fine rain-protective Nemo tent making its stand on the banks of Steele creek.

I sporked the last of the sauce into my mouth, collected and consolidated race things, opened Celine’s Death on the Installment Plan to the continuing thump of rain.
Being absolutely alone on a rainy night with the mountain-dark of night beginning to prey on one’s mind can be unsettling to me. I was alone, I had no service, and the looming depression of previous weeks began its work.
I fucking started to tear, to cry, then to sob. Terrible feelings  and self-doubt and the hauntings of my anxiety began to rip at me deeper.
I drove out for a call to Kas, said hello, heard a quick NPR story which faded to static as I pulled into my campsite. A few pages of the book, a brushing of the teeth, a check of the battery powered alarm clock, and I was as close to sleeping well as I ever have been while camping before a race.
It may have been a perfect catharsis.

Saturday, 2:30am.

Some nearby 50 milers are up chopping wood. It is loud and intrusive and 3 and a half hours before the race. Appalled, I work to reclaim sleep despite the hacks and bass thuds of logs splitting, rain spitting against the rain shell of the tent.

Saturday 5am.

The 50 milers are roaming and calling out to one another. Cars begin pulling in from hotels. Runners sit in cars and stay dry. The rain has picked back up to a decent pace.
5:30am. The lights of the starting area go up and an announcement. Wheres my Disney poncho?
I crawl out of the tent onto a saturated and pooling earth. Bathrooms are always a problem at races the morning of but Table Rock was different. There was no line, just a wait for the current occupants to finish. Ultrarunners and their clock-tight bathroom rituals. And all the homemade pastas of the world converge the nervous pacing hours before the starting horn. Yet everyone sat in their cars listening to radios.
5:44am. Alarm hits and I lay. Repeat three times. Campstove and instant coffee, hot oatmeal, half a banana, Vaseline in all the right spots, race bib, and a relatively calm morning before removing my Disney poncho and heading 125 yards to the start.
6am. Announcements are made and people gather in various layers of speed ambition, the fastest moving forward. I worry that I’m underdressed for the rainy day as everyone wears a rain shell. Im wearing a sleeveless singlet and a neckerchief. Am I fucked? I’m fucked. I’ll never finish this. If I get in trouble im in the middle fo the fucking woods. God help me I’m fucked.
Brett runs up and announces himself literally seconds before he is dq’d for not being present . My spirits lift. He’s wearing a rain shell. I should’ve brought my Disney poncho. Its gonna be cold at the summit some 20 miles away.


Brett and I bid each each good luck and strong legs and off I go with the head pack. Hanging in behind the morning hacks and wheezes and the swishing trample of trail shoes on wet mountain grass that is such a wonderful sound, we cross the bridge over Steele’s Creek and began to move through the darkness towards the mountain that we cannot see.
First wrong turn happens about mile 1.5 and it is the head group that makes it. Brief, but a reminder that these things upset many a race effort.
First miles were easy miles. Passing double track fs road that leads into the first single track and the churned, chewed red clay of Appalachia. Running on it was sketchy, like running across red clay that a potter wets, prepares as slip. Grassy roads then roll and build towards the deeper hollows and higher launches of stone and wood, the mosaics of rock outcroppings and fallen leaves.
It was light by the first creek crossing and it was a knee deep cross that got the shoes good and heavy and the mind reinvigorated. The rain was a patter and one almost anticipated a break in the clouds, a false hope, but a real one.
AS 1 was 4.8 miles in. everyone seems to have looked at a course map and knew when to expect these things. I had not. I was a little lackadaisical about these things.  Fucked.
A mile later would prove the more worthy crossing. One scaled a rock face and across the corner stood Brandon, the co-RD and a helluva mountain runner himself, who had hoisted a rope across the gushing rapids. The roar of the water was punk loud and I stepped in up to my thighs. I was tight, slow, but I held the rope and kept moving across the fairly strong mountain rapids. For a flatlander, it feels way perilous to make blind steps across river stones, and it was not a brave or athletic crossing. Frankly I felt a slight wave of embarrassment as I landed on the other bank.
The course ran across the river banks and had some fun push-pull of body, climbing and walking, a little running, and the everpresent beat of rain on head and shoulders. The temperature was mild, not warm at all, but it was just cool enough to keep my questioning the cold of the summit and how that intense climb would affect my body.
Another few crossings of Steele Creek, a continued downpour, a coupl’a GU gels later, my legs felt good, the quads alive but not struggling, the core churning a bit strange but whatever, the mind in a fine meditative space. The day was shaping up to a nice performance. Not competitive, but an enjoyable push.
We ran up a bit of road and an out-and-back that led eventually to the upper point of a gravel road. AS 2 was maybe mile 9. And there was much rejoicing.  The volunteers looked at me with concern when I asked where to go next … I guess there’s this expectation for a runner to look at a course map before heading into the woods. I turned and started heading back down the mountain road, gravel crunching every step of the way, enjoying the fact that I would soon cross the half marathon point.
I don’t remember many specifics along the way here. I remember stopping alongside the road and relieving my stomach and cleaning myself with a handful of leaves, but that’s for another time.
Halfway mark came just around 3 hours. I was making my goal time and I felt good. The next coupl’a  miles were a brilliantly challenging trudge up gravel road to the next AS at the base of the real profile trail.

Photos by Daren Wilz,Composited, mile 26ish of 2015 Table Rock.
Achieving the summit, but in 2014. Still love the spirit of the picture.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

WC-50 mile trail race, 10.19.13.

WC-50 miler, 10.19.13, US Whitewater center in charlotte nc.

i.                      To Begin the journey is part of the journey.

It was a little after 4am when we arrived at the US Whitewater Center and Kas and Kyote perambulated sleepily through the parking lot while I collected my race packet, oriented myself.  The start/finish gate was built and sturdy beneath the stout full moon (which had finished her penumbral eclipse a few hours before).  Muffled activity stirred:  tents and tables, fire pits, runners milling with headlamps and flashlights. There was the quiet of the gathering, the whispered movement of preparations, the crews and family and the hopes of the day. 
A manmade waterway divided the race area from the parking lot.  Barely a creek’s worth of water leaked by the obstacles of the concrete river.  The river separated the start area and the bathrooms with a high, arching foot bridge.  The darkness offered no clue of what the trails held, not even where they were.
“Man I am so stoked on these trails!  The markings are over the top, the trails are spectacular.  I ran the loop a few hours ago, a midnight run and they were just awesome!” 
Nathan Leehman, one of two race directors for the WC-50, greeted everyone enthusiastically, a light in the void of predawn, a voice launched with excitement.  And when the race director has claimed many podiums in prominent ultras (to include winning the UROC 100k in 2013), you feel a deep push and heightened sense of ambition.  And with that elite athleticism guiding the race, one finds strong competition, like Karl Meltzer who was wandering around in his signature Hoka sleeveless shirt. 

ii.                   Beforehand.
It was early, that much we knew, and id snatched a few hours of sleep from the grips of a baseball game.
Our hotel was on Harris blvd, leaving us to cross an ultra-quiet northern charlotte with the skyline in the rearview in rare glimpses.   We were driving through a landscape that had changed much since I first left in 1992. The juxtaposing of charlotte’s layout had always excited me, the dramatic shifts were a romantic part of driving through her pockets … southern homes built with great pride and magnitude on one block were checkerboarded against a block that economic stability had abandoned, hip condominiums were phoenixed out of the shells of old factories and business centers grew into old factory housing areas… it was the southern urban wilderness of the Queen City, her wild patches of land sewn together by the many railroad tracks, like a once-brilliant southern sundress of azalea colors hastily repaired with material from an aged and sunbleached quilt.  Charlotte held a peculiar aesthetic, a mixture of southern industry rusting alongside glass-sided buildings of post-modern architecture.  Charlotte was a bleak puzzle, a patternless sprawl, a calculus riddle and I-85 explained the koan of space as we pushing through street lighted woods alternating against total darkness.
Chic condominiums with luxury cars, maintained planters and young oaks beneath clean street lights; working class neighborhoods settled during the 70’s, brick and box shrubs and chimneys, the slow drift oaks, the quite meadows where an occasional car garage collected spare parts and old tires, memories of acres of sun-stretched fields of Indian Trail where my grandmother had grown up and left but where, when I was a small boy, we’d visit every other Sunday among the smells of rich creambutter sauces and fresh greenbeans, okra and squash, the smell of cigarettes and heavy perfumes … the slatboard farmhouses leaning into horse whinnies and slow-roaming cattle.  Sweet tea and the percolating fragrances of strong S&D coffee mingled with smells of wild flowers and hay.  Later there were the record stores on central avenue where I bought circle jerks, misfits and the damned albums, met the ramones, saw nitzer ebb, dined at the Indian restaurants by Eastland mall, bought french PHOTO magazines to see the art and learn the language, danced and drugged at the clubs nestled in transitional industrial areas (park elevator, pterodactyl, milestone), read and heard poetry at the new bistros, watched dopesick kent play a vicious acid jazz sax in a coffee shop on north Davidson, the galleries nearby showing interesting paintings (long before the hook NoDa was established), walking the mint museum and her starched apparel of Victorian gloves and the intricate ceramics of tea service and 19th century linseed varnishes, the sounds of a nascar race in cool Sunday afternoons, the fishing ponds of Earnhardt property where my granddaddy would take me with a lunch of Vienna sausages and pork and beans, a thermos of hot coffee, earthworms, blood worms, the cages of noisy crickets whose guts would squeeze out against my hook on long lazy days. 
I loved charlotte and had an interesting journey there, and now I was returning as a trail runner on her scree and hills and red clay and the familiar landscape that I explored as a child in my grandparent’s backyard.
I picked up my packet, pinned the bib, and began scavenging.  I was concerned, having no coffee no breakfast and no real clue as to what we’d find but seeming to find only powerade and water but no hot water for the instant oatmeal and tea.  It was a bummer to find no breakfast options available and I cursed myself for not stopping along the route, for not bringing a camp stove.  Nor was there anything close for a quick errand. 
Having no breakfast would contribute to the difficulties of the long day to come.

iii.                  The Guts of the Race.
4:50am and the day was damp with drizzle and a chilled humidity.  The pre-race meeting, general advice, the “runners ready, set, go” and off we herded, some 60ish runners following a flat straight route, following orange ribbons into a narrow de kooning-like, pthalo-blue opening in the woods.  Reverse womb.  We were contained in a single track train, the runner in front of you pacing against the runner in front of them, the strange shadows of milling legs cast from multiple headlamps behind, the morning chatter, the start of breath, the newness of the trails, and the perils of nighttime running and the terrain became my primary focus as European accents layered into southern accents and male and female voices and the sounds and smells of wet leaves under footfalls. 
the trails were challenging as they sliced like wild dry creekbeds into the woods, pushing across man-made obstacles and rock outcroppings and fallen trees and quick cut turns ascending bursts of hill and just-as-quickly descending with a slight ski effect and wooden platforms crossing steeply sloped ditches and mile one chirped off and the trail continued into the bumpy charlotte landscape, still immersed in total darkness but for the pierce of headlamps.
Every so often, you’d see one of those headlamps shudder, thud into the ground, the light swallowing itself to a grunt.
The line thinned out mile by mile and I found myself, as usual, running alone.  There may be a headlamp in the far distance on either side, but I was running alone.  Running at night on unfamiliar trail translates (for me) to a lot of head-down running and I lost the trail for a half mile or so.  I followed headlamps and backtracked to the point of disconnect to fall back into the train, exhale frustration. 
The first loop was 12.98m in 2h27m and all I really wanted in the last five miles was a bathroom.  I traversed the ¼ mile to the bathrooms, did my business, and moved back down to the trail, downing the coffee kas had brought me, grabbing some gu chomps and a gel and getting back on the trail within 25 minutes or so.  Not a great re-entry.
The lack of breakfast was fully on me as the sun broke grey against trees and the drizzle percussed on leaves and I obeyed the trail through the woods, occasionally hearing another runner somewhere in the early morning.  The one valiant hill, called goats hill, was short but launched a decent grade of red clay and after the crest, you fell back down a hill and twisted through more charlotte woods.  I was unable to see trail on either side, unable to see 15 yards or so beyond or behind my current point. 
My stomach barked for food and my guts churned against the pad thai I’d shoveled down the night before.  It had been a delicious meal but I’d expected repercussions.  And they were upon me for the first few hours of running.  Finishing my second loop (26m) in 5h10, I headed straight to the bathroom.  After a warm reception from my family and a moment of false humor with a volunteer, I had to get out of sight to cry and pee.  I felt devastation and emptiness at a depth not known for quite some time.  I felt failure and self-loathing.  I washed my face and knew the challenges ahead.  My goal had been, privately, an 8 – 9 hour finish; I was reaching the halfway point in very unstellar time.  I grabbed watermelon and dipped a corner into raw salt, finished my coffee, declined the bagel my wife had brought, wished I had a hot chocolate or hot black tea.  I paced a minute, collected my mind, headed back out within 15 minutes.   The 50k mark came and I was still running but I found a tweak building in my right knee.  Downhills became increasingly painful and uphills began to heave with the hands-to-knees push of powerhiking. 
I pushed out to the first aid station and took some flat soda, powerade, cliff blocks, watermelon and moved through it.  I already knew the knee was going to be the biggest challenge and it only got more painful.  I was swiftly reduced to a power march, totally alone in the wilderness, no ipod, no hope of reaching my goal-time, and dredging through an ever-worsening headspace of slow miles.  This was where the current mental and spiritual health turned on me with an ugly cruelty, and the agony of solitary struggle began in earnest. 
With about three miles of trail left to the start of my fourth and final loop, Karl Meltzer passed me, running well, looking fresh, and thriving on the mileage.  It was about 8 hours in, 1pm, and I cheered him as he humbly thanked me and offered an encouraging thumbs up.  I heard the distant jubilation as Karl finished the race, winning the thing and setting the CR to 8h24m (which Nathan would explain was about 1h30m longer than Karl had originally believed it would require).
I finally exited the trail head gate but was unable to run the flat dirt road back to the start/finish point and when I tried, the right knee buckled and screamed, felt like someone was jabbing a flathead screwdriver into the knee joint, twisting and stabbing at the meat.  It was an insurmountable pain.  I finished the third loop with my bib already half-removed to surrender it back to a race director.
My family embraced me and I fought back an emotional release out of embarrassment.  I milled around, took the only advil I had (an advil cold that my wife was taking for her ailment).  Watermelon, a handful of m&ms, two gels in the pocket and about 20 minutes with my wife charging me to continue forward (“I can’t run” I said.  “then walk it,” she replied.).  I was ready to officially drop when Adam, the other race director, handed me a belt buckle.  “You’ll earn this,” he said.  It was a fucking gorgeous piece of hardware, and I felt a slight break somewhere inside.  It was 2pm, and off I marched. I stopped 100’ out, considering a return to get my ipod for the final loop, but didn’t want to risk heading back in and getting comfortable.  I flopped the feet, one in front of the other, and passed the 1/3m of flat dirt road in an agonizing effort at jogging, only to limp back into the trailhead into the final 12.98 miles of my race.

iv.                 Final Loop
There was nothing unique about the final loop except for the fact that it was the last one of four.  I have never been so tired, so spent on a race.  I literally considered napping in the middle of the trail.  I feared i might do damage to my knee.  I caught up with a few folks; a few folks caught up with me.  Four people passed me as i crossed the midpoint of the loop.  They were running, smelling the barn, and I tried to run but was immediately stopped by the knee.  Ironically, the legs felt strong and capable but for that knee joint ... the damage was from 20 years ago: I’d been slide tackled by a leg hooking against my sin from behind and i fell awkwardly into the leg, the patella jumping to the side of the leg right.  the coach punched the knee cap and it leaped back onto the top of the joint.  It gave me few problems it but could be aggravated to wake up the weakened tendons & ligaments.
On an ultra journey, one will find things, collect things, lose things, enter strange spaces of self and ramble the mindbody like a personal inferno narrative.  It is difficult sometimes, but necessary to explore.  The introspect, the solo exploration of Self is the point of these things for me.  And I saw no one for miles at a time. Completely alone in the wilderness in the middle fo a well-attended race.  I did find my humor at the 5.5m aid station, a refreshing thing, but as soon as I moved back to the isolation of the trail, my mind guttered.  I had hoped to finsh the race by 1pm, go to Southpark, go to a cafĂ©, go to a record store, go to NoDa, but those hopes were disappointment now. 
One has a lot of time to think on an ultra— it is a moving meditation, a transcendent experience, an upheaval of the Being not unlike a sundance or a sweat lodge or an acid trip.  Memories wash against the shore of consciousness, bringing things left behind, strange memories, remembrances of friends, some alive and some that died ... tragic birthday accidents, ALS, alcoholic liver failure, fatal brief relapse … i consider relationships, my history of sex, the history of connections lost to any infinite number of things … studios I have known, paintings I have worked, sold, lost, abandoned… language collected on sleeves of paper, prose or poems, music and concert ... i relive sexual experiences with forgotten lovers or i build sexual fantasies or my attention drifts into heart rates and the soreness of my feet or my right shoulder or the llammas of Penland or the dreams that built my life journey … I remember the illness of withdrawal & hangover, pangs of hunger, i recall coughing out the cold of mornings with a smoke as i set up mis en place in various restaurants… any number of things pass through the mind like wild children chasing fanstasy... you pray for yourself, you pray for your fellow runners, you send love to your family and friends, you revoke the prayers, curse the choices that brought you here, you whince and you feel like an asshole.  All of it, over and over again, a loop of jumbled entangled feeling-thought.
And then you roll through the long final 1/4 mile of flat gravel road, you limp and gimp it home, you feel the settling of bodymind as you sprint the final 30 yards, reluctant and angry, but you sprint for photographs and dignity and false triumph.
And so i finished.  And that was that.
I shook Adam's hand, got my buckle, my wife embraced me with great pride and joy, Kyote shouted that I was great, and I collected the few things kas had left (she was the best crew I could ever hope for), changed into something dry and warm and less smelly, and we moved out.

v.                   Moving on.
I saw Nathan on the way out and he gave me a big prop for finishing, for “gutting it out.”  I have to offer big gratitude to his positivity just for keeping me engaged in the goal of finishing.  Sometimes we need another’s light to find our own path.
I plunged into the passenger chair, let my head lull across the shoulders, released the race with a long exhahle (for the time being) and Kas let purr the car, pulse some easy reggae.

vi.                 Aftwerwards. 
There was a cup of hot coffee, a bath with Epsom salts, tiger balm on the knee.  There were strombolis with more hot coffee and cheesecake and there was quiet reflection and the stirrings of confession, there was disappointment and rambling resentment, a sense of failure at not meeting or exceeding my hopes, all that alternating with the joy of being finished and the gratitude of accomplishment.  And I was grateful to be clean and warm and now holding a 50 mile belt buckle, my first ultra-buckle, and I was grateful for easy breath and strong body and quietening mind.  I stretched a few struggling postures, forward folds & triangles, some marching down dogs, two Advil, a big glass of water and I soon fell asleep to some shit on television with my right knee throbbing in certain motions that wrongly twisted the joint. 
It was a good sleep after a rough day.

vii.                Epiloguish type write-up.
The feeling of accomplishment is not full.  The race was tired and bitter and hollow. The ultra was a powerhike, certainly not a run.  That quality (or lack of quality) of experience indicates that it is high time for a revision of my running goals.  It is time to reinvestigate the intentions of signing up for an ultra.

Going back to my original goal, my original vision:  I wanted to run across mountains.  I wanted to mill miles with grace and power (internal and external) across the mountains i have always loved, and I have accomplished that.  I have felt bliss and raw connection to earth and sky and heat of sun and fire of muscle, of mind and trail, life path and trail’s terrain, I have released demons across miles and I have reclaimed joy and ecstasy in Massanutten, the Uwharrie range, the Appalachians of Georgia & Virginia & N. Carolina ... I have run Grandfather mountain, Leatherwood mountains, Black mountains.  To run wild with ecstasy and lucidity, to push into a nexus of body and earth, to inhabit that synapse of heart and footfall cadence and distance covered… to have joyful movement, to have the power and the freedom to run terrain, that was the point and the vision. Likewise, to lose the embarrassment of my body’s shape, to run shirtless on primitive trail and feel a full release, to know “real freedom is now possible” and to express that profound truth with joyful movement, to lose the fat kid self-image, to find hard body and strong breath, the resolve of training, these were also the goals.  
If my times are slowing, if i am running less and less, if the distance is doing damage to my body, if my mindspace lacks gratitude and surrender and exploration, if there is no balance of darkness and light, well then I have lost the intention.  If my mantra becomes  “lets just get this fucker finished,” I am accomplishing no growth, no joyfulness.  I am rutting into ugliness and suffering.  In fact, I am rutting into ugliness for hours at a time. 
And especially with the damage part: Maybe it is time for choice.  I love my daily runs, those anonymous unromantic worker hours that release me to breath and body, that immerse me in tired environment to reinvigorate the mindbody, that build endorphins and accomplishment.  I love my daily runs, whether the distance is 5k or 15k, and I ponder whether I am at a fork in the trail.  I question the health of my body and it's miraculously intricate structure.  I ponder whether ultras are still beneficial to my whole.  Without question or pause, I'd 86 all future ultras to retain those daily runs and sustain the benefits.
My right knee is still sore and swollen. Am I faced with decision, with the choice ...:  Perhaps.

I allow for a bad race, I know I made errors and it is frankly a little embarrassing.  I thought that Leatherwood 50 miler would be a paramount challenge, that the charlotte race would feel so much faster.  I had planned to ‘race’ the WC-50.  I even took an hour at Leatherwood to make coffee and re-settle myself … I lagged very little at WC-50 and still came up 30 minutes later.

Many of us wanted to match Karl, to run his race effort … but chasing Karl Meltzer for two hours before sunrise on unfamiliar trail at his opening pace, then trying to sprint out to reclaim ground after a half-hour and backtracking … I just should’ve paused and grounded and released.  But I felt good, all the way up until I didn’t feel good.  I got locked into running others’ races and not settling into my own cadence and experience but rather getting ego-ridden and angst-fueled and kicking from ego, not from heart and spirit. 
A lot was learned and a little was earned at the WC-50.  I am still resting the knee three days later and re-evaluation on future races continues.  Meanwhile I am sincerely proud to have at least completed the race, no matter how unspectacular, no matter how little grace and light came from the experience.