The Perfect Stride
Photo by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
There are worse places to suffer.
I’m climbing up a steep side of the American River Canyon somewhere below the Foresthill Divide.
It’s sunrise, and the eastern swells of the Sierra are silhouetted against a beautiful cranberry sky. The early October air is chilly. The waxy leaves of manzanita trees rattle from a slight breeze. I am six or so miles into an 18-mile training “run” for the California International Marathon (CIM). The trail before me is so pitched I’m walking at the moment, each stride nearly level with my eyes. My heart’s pounding and my breathing sounds like a monkey trying to work a hacksaw. I can’t wait to reach a flat spot where I can start jogging again and, ironically, catch my breath.
I’ve been training for the marathon, (my third) since mid-July, mostly around the relative flatness of Roseville. This trail training is something new, introduced to me by Roseville ultrarunner Chuck Godfredsen. “Dude, it’ll really help you build endurance,” he told me. Sure, if it doesn’t kill me.
For many, the new year is all about resolutions of fitness. And that’s fine. Have to start someplace, right? So sign up at a gym or Zumba class and maybe part of your motivation can be, hey, it could be worse: You could know Chuck.
Not that he’s a bad guy. On the contrary, he’s a great guy – friendly, positive, unassuming – the kind of guy who can charm you into running up and down (and up again) a rocky canyon until you reach a point that you’d whistle up a mountain lion to end your misery – if you had anything left to wet your whistle with.
A firefighter by trade, he shrugs when asked what compels him and his wife Trish. (I should mention she’s every bit the ultrarunner he is.) Ultrarunners do distances greater than 26.2 miles, most commonly 50 or 100. Chuck and Trish have done several of both. In fact, marathons like last month’s CIM are mere warm-ups for their bigger events, like hiking up really tall hills before scaling a few Mt. Everest’s.
“We started out jogging just for good fitness,” Chuck says. “That turned into marathons, which morphed into ultras. We figured if we can do 26, then we can do 50. And if we can do 50...” He says this with all the passion of a mall walker explaining that if he can make it as far as JC Penney, then he can make it to Nordstrom.
What’s perhaps most amazing about the couple is they still maintain a “normal” lifestyle. Four kids at home, ranging from junior high to junior college; nice house, quiet court; green and trim lawn. “As a firefighter,” he explains, “I have rotating weekends off, which gives me the chance to get out on a quality run and still be home in time to get the kids from school and get things done around the house – plus be around if Trish needs to get in her ‘quality run.’” Although since their kids are older now they can run more together, something Chuck says makes their marriage stronger. “Out on the trails we’re able to spend several hours together, and often we just talk. It’s a time where we can focus, without distractions, and hammer things out.” I want to tell him you can also do that during Happy Hour at McCormick and Schmick’s, but decide to keep that to myself.
At one point deep in our run, the trail breaks out of a thick stand of timber to lace along a grassy hillside above the tumbling American River. The licorice scent of anise mixes with fragrant pine and the sky is an electric, bracing blue. Never breaking stride, Chuck suddenly spreads his arms out and hollers with unrestrained elation, “It doesn’t get more beautiful than this!”
Straggling behind, I have to agree. And, at least until the next hill, I find myself hoping any nearby mountain lions have something better to do.