“It’s simple…If you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.” – Dr. Bramble
Going to Malibu was transformational for me as a runner. Not in the sense that I walked away with a new vantage point on running it was more that I was reminded of all the reasons I love it in the first place. I’d forgotten recently about how the smile that stretches across my face is never forced, it’s always a reaction when I get my feet underneath me. And unfortunately, I am often a person who requires getting hit upside the head with a 2 x 4 to see things right in front of my face. Malibu delivered. Part One of Malibu I talked about getting back to basics, Part Two I talked about the power there is in the rising of the sun, so the only thing left is what has always been there. I’m just finally paying attention.
My company, Spartan Race had a 5k obstacle race in the Malibu November 19th and it was the first time I’d been back to SoCal since my first ever Spartan Race in Temecula the February before. A week before the race, we had opened up a night heat to accommodate so many runners wanting to race. Admittedly, it was an annoyance at first. It required more leg work up front and accommodations on race day, not to mention extending our day on the course which already started early. Tommy Mac, my friend and co-worker and I agreed to sweep the course at the end; meaning we ensured everyone was safely off the course before we shut down and began deconstructing the site.
Having been up since 4 AM and living on very little sleep for the past few days, I chuckled a bit at the start line noting to Tommy that we were the first ones on the course that morning and were now going to be the last ones to find the finish line. Both times the venue would be near empty save our crew and a few runners. The fanfare and pageantry of the day would be long behind us.
Loping casually up the single track into the mountains after the start through the blinding smoke bombs I caught my first glimpse of the vineyard on the foothills just across the highway. The sun was casting long shadows and I turned on the dim headlamp on my head in preparation. The sun’s claim on the sky forfeited quickly and soon we were submerged in a deep navy darkness that left the awe of the vast landscape behind us and dropped us directly into the awe of the details just beneath our feet and mere inches from our faces.
While waiting for two runners who had joined the heat late, I began casually climbing the cargo net, an obstacle I’ve done countless times. After nearly 5,000 participants, the ropes were loose and surprisingly tricky to navigate and it took a very focused effort on every step every hold more carefully than any other time I’d climbed the obstacle. Obstacles were illuminated by tall floodlights leaving a golden halo spanning about 40 yards in all directions. Once successfully through them we would re-enter the trail and leave the comfort of the light behind and head deeper into the darkness.
Underfoot the gravel had been hard-packed by the runners before us and ducking into the deep brambles and bush the green glow sticks alone guided our path. Our runners nearly missed markers a few times leaving their nervous laughter when we called out to them bubbling up ahead of us into the night air. At one point, glancing over the valley, the green glow sticks we’d set on the trail were illuminated in stark contrast against the rich darkness. They dotted the landscape every few feet showing us, even across the vast space, our future path leading up the summit; the headlamps of runners ahead of us bobbing in the distance. It was breathtaking.
Eyes down again I watched my steps breathing in the cool air and feeling the ground light under my feet. As we progressed to obstacles we picked up more runners – volunteers we were relieving who would join our group ascending up and down the mountains. We scrambled up and over boulders, through dry creek beds, and muddy passes winding in and around the Malibu foothills. Our pace wasn’t quick but it wasn’t leisurely either. Urgency only in maintaining momentum on the hills up and down. All of us enjoying the night air and the beautiful trail.
Our radios crackled with updates on what was happening back at the festival site and turning the volume down, I got lost in the sounds that were rich all around me coming from those of us still on the trail. Sounds of our feet, the shuffling, scraping, soft wamp, wamp, wamp, on the trail, the shiver of the gravel moving, the occasional slide of a shoe as a runner scrambled, our breaths heaving white puffs of air into the night sky. We joked easily and running together we found our way back to the festival far too soon.
Leaping over the fire sparks rising savagely towards the full moon, one of our final challenges, we finished our 5K in Malibu. For me, crossing the line nearly 14 hours after arriving that morning. I wasn’t tired nor was I full of energy. I just was. And walking out of the venue I turned back and looked for the any perceptible outlines of the mountains behind me. No trace against the night sky was there to be seen. I didn’t need to see them. They’d been up and around me all day. Silently, I was thankful for it. Those mountains had reminded me the joy that exists in just moving… the love of the run itself. And that as powerful as the sun rising that morning was, equally the setting sun gave me closure. Time to go home.