Road trip day: Heading south to Brooks HQ in Seattle
On Friday I got to go on a road trip to Seattle with a group of my Running Room co-workers from several of the Vancouver-area stores. Our object: to visit Brooks HQ under the expert guidance of Brooks Guru Lilian Yamasaki.
Aside from the inevitable delays that happen when fifteen people try to assemble and travel together, our trip was a big success. I could write a lot about our time in the Brooks research lab, but that is top secret!
After a delicious lunch, Lilian’s tech presentation, and our tour of the lab, we got to visit the attached Trailhead retail store. I wished I could buy several wild-coloured versions of my favourite shoes, the Glycerin 12 and the Connect 5, but keeping my credit card balance in mind, I restrained myself.
You can probably guess that for me, the most significant part of any trip is about RUNNING. Part of our itinerary included a group run from the Trailhead store; there was a paved path along the river (we were just a little north of Seattle, in Freemont), just across the road from the store. I hadn’t run for six days, since the St. Patrick’s Day 5K, and I was hoping that my knee would be recovered enough to withstand the easy 6K run that Lilian had planned.
I was so immersed in looking at the store’s fantastic array of clothes and shoes that I didn’t notice most people in our group were ready to run. I wasn’t yet in my running clothes. I rushed into a change room and opened my bulging backpack. It was ridiculous how much clothing I had brought for this trip—you would have thought I was on a week-long vacation. It was because the weather was uncertain; it had been cold and rainy in the morning when I walked from Waterfront Station to the Denman Running Room.
I peeled off my regular clothes at lightning speed and then started selecting all my running garments from the contents of my pack. Outside, it was warm and drizzling lightly. Let’s see—I had two running jackets (one waterproof), two extra pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes, two running shirts, capris, shorts…but no running bra! Oh no! I cursed myself. I had packed late the night before. There was no way I wanted to run in my flimsy normal bra, especially after Lilian’s tech talk about running bras, which are meant to prevent the irreversible breakdown of “Cooper’s Ligament”—a structure every female runner should be aware of if she doesn’t want to end up with breasts that point to the ground.
I quickly put some of my regular clothes back on and rushed back into the store. By this time the entire group was waiting for me at store entrance. Mario (my seatmate in the van on the way down) generously offered to wait and run with me, and he urged the rest of the group to go ahead. I grabbed a running bra off the rack (selecting a familiar model), paid for it, ripped off the tags, and rushed back into the change room. About three minutes later I emerged, to see the entire group still patiently waiting. Mario, a veteran leader of Running Room clinics, explained to me that the Running Room philosophy is to run together. (It’s a sad irony that I can’t be an instructor of Running Room clinics, not even Learn to Run, because my arthritic knee severely limits how often I can run, and pavement is terrible for it.)
We head out, and my Garmin finds our location while we wait at the stoplight. As we start running, I feel stabs of pain in my knee. Our group strings out a little bit; Noah is in front, running backwards because the pace is so easy. Then Mario and Noah go ahead, and soon after our “slow” group breaks into two groups; I’m running a little faster now, with Audrey and Emma. At least I’m running with “serious” runners! For them, deep in marathon training, running 6K on a flat stretch of pavement is dead easy. For me, running at just under 5:00/km is easy too, yet it’s still painful. When we get to a place where a gravel path appears, roughly parallel to the paved path, I run on my own for a while, my knee immediately feeling the relief of the softer surface.
I rejoin Audrey and Emma when the gravel path peters out, and we turn around together at 3K. We see Steve still heading out to the 3K mark—he left the slowest runners when they turned back at around 2K. When we see him we joke about him catching us—which he does, very soon. At least I’m pushing the pace a little now, enjoying the run although my knee is still hurting. I wished I could have run faster, tested myself a little with Noah and Mario, but I know I have to be thankful I could take part in the run at all. Any run is a special event for me now, requiring a careful warmup and several rest days (sometimes a week or more) after every run.
There were no washrooms or showers in the store itself where we could wash up—and besides, everyone was in a rush to check out the local pub that our lab tour guide had enthusiastically recommended. I hurriedly switched clothes again in a change room. The Trailhead store thoughtfully provided runners with free bottles of water and several flavours of Nuun tablets.
The pub, Freemont Brewing, was only a block’s walk away. By now it was 5:30 on a Friday evening. The place was absolutely packed. Bleachers overlooking the windows to the outdoor area provided part of the seating.
Most of our group partook of the large selection of craft beers. Carmella gave me a sip of her Sour Weiss beer, which she described as “lime-and-cucumber flavoured.” I liked it—it was very refreshing—but it wasn’t quite as good as the Stiegl’s Radler grapefruit beer that was my favourite drink after hot runs last summer. I was afraid to drink a beer at that point; I was too hungry and feared I might faint if alcohol got into my bloodstream. Mario, our DD for the return trip, wasn’t drinking either. The pub didn’t offer food, except for free pretzels and juicy apples that a few of us gratefully consumed.
It was very noisy inside. I was attracted to the outdoor area, where kids played amongst the benches, tables, and many displays of beautiful bright flowers.
By the time we left the pub I was starving. Our plan had been to stop at Northgate Mall right off the highway to save time on our trip back to Vancouver. We were about 90 minutes behind our planned schedule when we arrived at the mall’s Chipotle Mexican restaurant. Carmella, Mario, and I headed straight for the long lineup, while our less-hungry companions saved some tables for our group.
We all ordered burritos. They were made assembly-line style, like Subway outlets but with Mexican ingredients. My burrito contained strips of steak, brown rice, pinto beans, corn, salsa, and sour cream. It weighed about 3 kilos. I decided to make up for my beer abstention by ordering a large margarita.
Eating that burrito turned out to be a pretty disgusting experience. It was huge. As soon as I tried to take a bite, it split in multiple places. Messy ingredients oozed all over my face and hands. Carmella came to the rescue with a large stack of napkins. I went back to the utensil area and grabbed a knife, fork, and spoon. This was not finger food—I needed all the help I could get. I ended up tearing open the top of the burrito and eating from the sodden wrap with a spoon. It took a while, but I dug out every bean, every grain of rice, and every kernel of corn from that burrito, and washed it all down with big swigs of the overly-sweet but refreshing margarita.
We ate hurriedly while a couple of the guys told drinking stories.
We were back on the road about two hours behind schedule. In the van, everyone except me, Mario (the driver) and Leah (the co-pilot) was soon fast asleep. Leah kept Mario alert with steady conversation. I listened to my iPod, sunk in my post-margarita trance.
Mario got us back to the Denman store about 11:15. Keith was there to pick me up. It had been a fun but long day!
The day after
I felt terrible the next morning.
My knee was hurting and I hadn’t slept much. Keith was in even worse shape than me. A bad hip/upper thigh injury of his had flared up overnight and we crawled towards the local Starbucks like a pair of 80-year-olds.
Coffee revived us somewhat, but a half-hour stretching session in my apartment gym later in the morning helped even more. How do people my age who don’t work out tolerate how their bodies feel? I wondered. I had missed just a few days of my stretching and already I felt rusty.
I didn’t fully recover from my grouchiness until a real workout lifted me up again. Keith and I finally made it to Mundy Park about 1 p.m. to start our bike ride. The sky seemed to be clearing and I decided not to wear my waterproof jacket. We agreed not to ride together; I wanted to exorcise my sluggishness and negative thoughts with a tough workout, and Keith would not be able to stay with me. We agreed to meet back at Keith’s truck in an hour.
As I headed into the trails, I was surprised how wet it was. There were huge puddles everywhere, and the dripping trees made it seem as though it were still raining. The sodden woodchip/gravel trails made riding hard work. I noted with self-contempt that some of my Garmin splits were slower than I used to be able to run on those trails. Everything reminded me how physically pathetic I had become: my knee was hurting (unusual while riding) and my weak quads forced me to use granny gears frequently. My thumb was so weak I couldn’t switch gears with the agility I wanted.
Then, after about 15 minutes of riding, I started enjoying myself. What did I care how slow I was going? What did I care that mud was splattering my face and my butt was getting soaked from my rear tire’s water throwup? What did I care that I was a snail on the uphills? That quad burn was good! As I reached the top of my favourite downhill section on the Owl Trail, I reminded myself, “No brakes! Trust yourself and go for it!” Then—the bliss of flying down, the moments of near-panic, and—SPEED!
I did part of my ride on the park’s paved bike path and small neighbouring streets. Here, I could push myself to speeds I could never attain running. At one point I emerged from the forest on the east side of the park and was met by an unexpected flood of sunlight. Suddenly the day seemed benign instead of hostile. Mud under contact lenses, grit in teeth—it didn’t matter.
The hour was up. As I raced back to the west parking lot, the skies opened up. I was drenched but purged—purged of that massive burrito, the evil margarita, and most importantly, my sense of decrepitude.
Being a middle-aged athlete is bittersweet. The bitter part lies in the limitations, the weaknesses, the inevitability of the sand running through the hourglass. But there is sweetness, too. I have a keener appreciation of all the strength my body still has and all the joy it still feels. With decreasing power has come humility, and maybe I’m a wiser and more patient athlete than I was when I was young.