Monday, January 9, 2017

Run Like A Kid

Running Like A Kid

By Kathy Vaughan

photo by Ras/
     On Christmas day, Ras and I took the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend to spend the day with my sister Julie, her husband Benoit, their two children and my parents. We exchanged gifts and I was soon ushered upstairs by my niece Amelie to play a game away from all of the activity downstairs. I followed her lead. Her twelve-year-old brother Benji was already upstairs. They had been playing together pretty well on their own earlier, but it was time for a little adult guidance in their games. Let’s just say we bonded that afternoon.

     One thing led to another and before I knew it we were making arrangements to spend a day with Amelie the following week, back home. This sounded like a blast. Amelie is seven, the age Angela was when Ras and I took her on that first thru-hike of the 93 mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. We didn’t plan on attempting that with Amelie on this first outing together, but my mind did start to put together a day of trail adventure that would be appropriate for her.

     Amelie was spending the week in nearby Anacortes with my parents. The plan was for Ras and I to meet up with my mom to get Amelie for the day, and then return later in the evening. I had messaged my mom and told her to make sure Amelie wore the warmest clothes she had with her. We planned on spending some time outside. 

     When she hopped in the car with us, she looked bundled up and adorable, Ugg boots on her feet and a fluffy turquoise scarf that matched her coat, clearly borrowed from my mom and smelling of her familiar musk cologne. Amelie was a shy at first with her aunt and uncle, but after about ten minutes, she listed off every layer she was wearing. She had a hint of pride and eagerness in her voice. I could tell she was up for an exciting day with Ras and I. 

     We had to head back to our house to get a few gear decisions finalized. The sweet little girl said “It seems to take longer to get ready than it must take for the adventure itself.” A very astute child, indeed. But soon, we were on our way to Ft. Ebey State Park, just a couple of miles from our home. There, we could spend some time on the beach, the bluff trails overlooking the water, and in the forest. Living near many beaches, I knew she had spent a lot of time playing along shorelines. I wanted to let her explore the singletrack trails in the forest. We parked at the beach. Ras strapped his Nathan Ice Storm waist belt around Amelie’s tiny middle so she could carry her own water and tuck stuff away as needed in the zippered pockets.  We headed up the steep bluff trail that would lead into the forest. 

photo by Ras/

     It was fun right away to feel the pace she was comfortable with and how the order would play out on the trail. I first took the lead with Ras in the back. We were both wearing our Altra Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mids, and had great traction. Amelie hiked fast up the steep climbs and soon wanted to be in the lead. We had everything with us to enjoy a picnic in the woods. Ras had all kinds of gear in his larger backpack; the Jet Boil, coffee and hot chocolate packets, cookies and other snacks, a sleeping bag and pads to sit on, and our tarp tent. We could set this up under the trees and stay warm for the picnic.

     The day was gray and cloudy, cold but not raining. We moved at a brisk pace for almost a mile, before Amelie wondered about some of the little openings in the trees off of the main trail. We looked back into a couple of them, but encouraged her to go just a little further before we stopped. We pushed on a little bit before coming to a closed off campground. There were campground roads that would be easy to follow or wooded spots to set up our picnic. Amelie wanted to be back in the trees and we found a perfect spot to set up a mini-camp.

photo by Ras/

     We heated up water for hot chocolate, coffee and soup, and enjoyed hanging out in the quiet woods. Some trail runners went by and didn’t even see us. They looped around, passed us a second time, and still did not see us, amusing Amelie. We were in a good spot.

    The hot chocolate was ridiculously hot. In an attempt to cool it down, I watered it down too much. I was worried that I had and sure enough, when Amelie took her first sip, she said “That just tastes like hot water.”  And thus the hot chocolate idea was a fail. I mixed it in with my coffee and had a faux mocha, or, as we call it, a Fauxcha, instead. 

     Amelie wondered if we could start a fire accidentally by using our Jet Boil in the woods. I got a piece of cedar and took a lighter out of my trail supplies kit. I showed her how hard it was to light the damp cedar. She loved the fragrance of the smoke as the cedar smoldered. It is a spiritual experience, bringing in the scent of the ancient, most natural incense. She wanted to smell more of it. I taught her about wafting the smoke towards her, and using it in an intentional way. I told her she could send good thoughts to her best friend back home, or to her mom and dad. The teaching opportunity presented itself. Her unselfconscious joy in the cedar seemed to match the intent of the moment. I wanted her to fully experience any elements of nature as they appeared. I told Amelie how I had used the cedar smoke to repel mosquitoes on a backpacking trip once. The insects had been making it hard to even eat at the time.  

     But now that the picnic was out of the way, it was time to use our consumed food as energy to head back out on the trails. We had talked with Amelie a little bit about what we take on our three month thru-hikes. She was interested in what we ate and we talked with her about how much energy we now had from what we had just eaten. 

     On the trail once again, Amelie stopped and turned back to look at me. Her huge blue eyes were trying to express something to me. I wished I knew what she wanted to convey. Was she still having fun? Had she gotten enough to eat?  She hiked on and then again stopped and turned back to look at me with those eyes. 

photo by Ras/

     I said, “What’s up?” 

     She said “I want to run.” 

     I said “Okay, let’s run!” 

     She was shy about leading the pace and wanted to get behind her uncle. We said she could be in the middle of us, but not last in line. This was okay with her. I took off running and could hear her foot falls behind me. I thought of her running in her Uggs and that they might be getting a little muddy. I hoped my sister wouldn’t be too bummed, but I knew a sweet little girl was having a good time. She had on one of my cross -country ski hats with flowers on it. It was falling down over her eyes a bit. Her cheeks were flushed. She was getting warm and wanted to pull off the hat. We stopped and helped her get her jeans off, leaving her with just comfy leggings on for the run. I took off my warm down puffy pants, so I now had on just tights with my lightweight Altra Performance Skirt over the top. We were warmed up and ready to go.

     All three of us had a blast. We had downhill switchbacks to navigate and rooty, flat stretches to cruise. There were gray skies and muddy trails, a combo making it hard to differentiate what the surface was actually like underfoot. Amelie went around me and got out front. She flew down the hill. She hopped over roots and made the quick switchback turns with ease. Her coat flew open. Her cheeks got more flushed. She lifted her feet high and stretched out her legs. She turned around every so often to make sure we were still behind her. We were.

photo by Ras/

     I worked to keep up with her speedy kid energy. I focused on running like a girl. Yeah, I said it. I wanted to run like a girl. I let loose. I opened up. I leaped over roots and took turns fast. I laughed and even squealed. I glanced behind me once or twice to see Ras, just to smile at him. I knew he would know what I meant by my looks. We were both having fun. He had on a huge pack full of our picnic supplies. But he was running with youthful vigor too. His locks were flying and he was full of joy at playing a part in helping Amelie to have a blast in the woods. 

     I felt such love for this guy, going along with the plan for the day. He wasn’t just playing the willing partner, it had been his idea to pack up the tarp tent and all the gear to have our special camp scene. He and I really enjoy sitting down in cool spots when we are out on the trails. It is part of the overall trail life experience for us. We get joy from it and include it on all of our longer trail runs and hikes. Our endorphins are flowing in these times. We can talk about our dreams and goals while in these inspiring environments. All of the home life realities are put to rest.

photo by Ras/

     It is important to me to stay fit and trained enough to run an ultra distance any day of the week. I am not a fast runner or at an elite level. I just enjoy trail running. In order to pull this off, I have to stay somewhat disciplined in my day to day life. I aim to run or hike a minimum of 40 miles a week, unless I am resting from a long adventure or an ultra race. I definitely allow myself rest after a big push, but I do stay focused on getting in the miles each week. I fill out my Nathan Training Log each night. Once I was able to complete my first ultra in 2011, I have never wanted to not be at least at that level of fitness. 

     I think about what I eat, sticking mainly to low fat, plant based foods. I enjoy sweets and coffee and occasionally eating out, but I mostly eat healthy meals that either Ras or I have cooked.  When I’m not out on the trails, or resting from long runs while doing a variety of low-key activities (stretching, hand-sewing trail totems, planning my next thru-hike on the Grand Enchantment Trail for Spring, reading, writing blogs, coloring in my new book, or cooking), then I’m doing hard physical work in yard care. I’ve also added in HIIT several days a week. I’m active and focused on building this life of full time adventuring daily.

     To spend the day with Amelie and Ras, not thinking about the time or the pace or the miles, was a blessing in every way.  We all benefited from the time spent together in nature, breathing in the fresh earthy scents from the forest. The wind was blowing hard, gusting as we all hiked a section of trail that was close to the choppy water. It was thrilling and made us all smile as our cheeks got whipped with the wind. As we ran together, I felt like a kid. It was refreshing to be amongst such youthful joy and honesty. I enjoyed being playful. It was a good reminder to me. On the trails, set all the seriousness aside. Let out that inner kid and put some playfulness into it. Open up your pace and relax on the downhills. Leap around and over stuff with no thought.  I found out I run better when I run like a little girl.

photo by Ras/