The Runner Diaries — Gordon Wright

This week, we have 52-year-old Gordon Wright from Marin County, California — a business owner, adventure racer and triathlete whose colossal competitive drive serves as his motivation to train for a 50k trail race.

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Inspired by Refinery29’s Money Diaries and The Cut’s Sex Diaries, welcome to The Runner Diaries, a behind-the-scenes look into a week of training with runners of varying ages and abilities. We’re asking runners of every level, genre and distance (road vs. trail, endurance vs. speedsters, hobby joggers vs. elites) to share their workouts, training runs and nutritional choices during a seven-day period to get a glimpse into the inner struggles and tribulations of what it means to be a runner. Get The Runner Diaries delivered straight to your inbox every week by clicking here.

This week, we have 52-year-old Gordon Wright from Marin County, California — a business owner, adventure racer and triathlete whose colossal competitive drive serves as his motivation to train for a 50k trail race.

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The Run Down:

Name: Gordon Wright

Location: Marin County, California
Age: 52
Training For: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k at Bear Mountain on May 13
Goal? Finish // Stretch goal: 8 hours
Weeks until goal race: 12
Following a training plan? No
How long you’ve been ‘a runner:’ Since 1995 — the last time I ever held a “real” job.
Goal mileage per week/month: 20-25 miles per week in month one; 25-30 in month two; and 35-40 per week at the end of April before tapering a bit

Runner’s Statement:  

I’ve been an avid runner, adventure racer and triathlete forever. So long, in fact, that my career revolves around running (and cycling, and triathlon and the outdoors). I’ve done multi-day adventure races and Ironman triathlons, so distances don’t scare me — but finding the time and motivation for training is a constant challenge.

Thursday // Day One

7:12a.m. Starting this running diary couldn’t have come at a better time. I woke up feeling bloat-y and weak. I’m usually in pretty good shape, and have always been skinny, but I’m definitely noticing some jelly where my four-pack used to be. Weeks — no, months! — of  rain have made for a convenient excuse, but I’m all out of excuses.

4:29pm — Wonder what this winter has been like in Northern California? Just step into the shower, and turn it on. Actually, it’s worse than that. Showers are warm, and fragrant, and naked.

This year’s winter is like taking a rotten polypropylene base layer left soaking in a sewer for four months, draping it over your head, and getting waterboarded with it — which has made it semi-difficult to train outdoors.

But with a 50K ultra marathon looming in May, I need to get some mileage — any mileage — under my belt, so in desperation I go to my Nuclear Option: the Mill Valley Community Center. It’s a screaming deal ($50 per month gets you a decent gym, and even a lap pool), but it feels like an admission of defeat to run on a treadmill surrounded by retirees and latchkey kids. Especially when the environs of Marin County are so world-renowned gorgeous (that is, when they’re not flooded and slumping into giant piles of landslides).

Unfortunately, after paying my annual fee and signing my paperwork, the desk staff informs me that they’re closing early today due to a, “mosquito infestation.”

Not a great start to my membership.

6p.m. — I go home defeated, eat a giant helping of chicken pesto pasta, and finish binge-watching “A Series of Unfortunate Events” in front of a roaring fireplace with my wife Ginny and son, Will.

Total Daily Mileage: 0

Friday // Day Two

9:16a.m. — One thing I’ve learned about myself is that it is impossible to roll out of bed and just…run. I know that other people do it, but those people are alien to me. I feel anxious because I can’t remember my schedule for the day, but I’ve been carrying a backpack full of clean running gear with me for two weeks, so there’s a chance I can swing a run sometime during the day. I race out of the house with no breakfast, but not before having two cups of coffee, which could lead to some curious choices at lunchtime.

3:18p.m. — The back-to-back-to-back meetings and conference calls that begin shortly after I hit the office finally abate. But one of my employees who works offsite drops by the office and she’s raring to go to a local gastropub with the rest of the office crew. I’m starving too, so we all troop to a late lunch. The menu is so limited that I wind up ordering Kielbasa with sauerkraut.

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I don’t think this is on anyone’s list of approved ultra marathon food.

4:38p.m. — After a day spent ignoring email, I have about 60 to plow through before I can even think about running.

6:29p.m. — Scything through emails gives me a glimmer of hope: I can sneak away and save a good portion of my remaining work for the weekend. I look at my newly printed-out gym schedule, only to see that on Fridays, the gym closes at 6:30p.m.

Another day shot.

10:52p.m. — Other than an excellent kielbasa, I have nothing to show for my first two days of serious training for my ultra. I compound the failure by working late and eating at least four slices of left-over pizza for dinner. I feel I am heading in the wrong direction.

Total Daily Mileage: 0

Saturday // Day Three

7:48a.m. — There’s no mucking around on the weekend in my house, no work-related excuses — Saturdays and Sundays are workout days. My son Will, 21, is a constant inspiration. He works in construction all week, hauling tons of drywall and lumber.  He has rugby three days a week, which is exhausting, but he also trail runs, religiously, three days a week. In fact, because I work in the running, cycling and outdoor communities, I’m surrounded by exemplars of dedicated training. All that peer pressure helps.

As I’m make avocado and egg toast, I also hydrate and plan my weekend workouts.

9:52a.m. — The plan today was to do 11 flat road miles. Building a base is kind of important, and I’m late to that dance. My wife, though, asks if I’d run with her today on the trails. Because I’m a well-trained husband (and because she’s a fitter and more disciplined runner than I), I toss my plan and join her.

And what a glorious run it is! The skies have cleared spectacularly and it is startlingly, achingly clear and sunny. It’s a straight shot from our house to the top of a local hill, and after 1,000 feet of climbing, my wife heads back the way we came while I peel off for a stout loop route that gets me some longer road miles after all.

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12:51p.m. — I fall into an unconsciousness masquerading as a nap. A full-blown REM, drooling nap that lasts nearly an hour.

6:48p.m. — I’m exhausted and twitchy all day after the run despite the nap, but rally to attend a friend’s birthday party. It turns out to be a combination birthday party and tequila tasting. It could turn ugly, easily, but I’m so knackered I actually decline much of the evil agave juice and get home by 10pm for another nine hours sleep.

Total Daily Mileage: 10.3

Sunday // Day Four

7:54a.m. — I thought I could handle an easy 4-to-5-mile recovery run, even though I slept poorly due to tequila psychosis. But then I get a text from my best friend and longtime adventure partner, Austin. He’s dying to get out on a road bike ride and I agree to join him, rationalizing that a lazy spin could substitute for a slow run. I manage to eat a bowl of oatmeal and a couple breakfast sausages, and drink enough water to stave off any lingering effects from the night before.

Because I’m an idiot, I hadn’t considered that there would be another 1,800 cyclists out on the road with us due to another sunny day. I also hadn’t thought about the fact that, because Austin and I are pathetically competitive, the whole ride would serve as a series of time trials and agonizing pulls to reel in hapless riders who had no idea that they were in a life or death battle.

11a.m. — In the midst of this testosterone display, we have the good grace to pull over in Pt. Reyes Station, the quaint, tourist-flooded outpost in West Marin sitting about halfway through our loop. We amble up to Toby’s Feed Barn — which is an actual feed barn, but also a coffee shop (welcome to California!) — and we have a coffee each, and share a pastry that was half baklava, half sticky bun, and entirely awesome.

I fade hard the final four miles, even after the caffeine and sugar high, but still had a great time ignoring my need for run miles.

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7:22p.m. — Cycling is easier on the body than running, that much is sure. I need no nap, unlike yesterday, and celebrate another day of sunshine and exercise by barbecuing six pounds of New York steaks — despite the fact that it’s pitch dark by the time I fire up the grill.

Total Daily Mileage: 0 | Total Miles Cycled: 34.2

Monday // Day Five

7:12a.m. My first thought upon awakening is, “Like I’m going to run today.” I’ve not only officially given myself the day off, I decide I’m not even going to think about running. It isn’t that I’m devastatingly sore, it is just the weird truth that a 52-year-old body starts running low on energy — actual, mitochondrial energy. You can build it back up with painstaking training, which is what I’m trying to do … but it takes a while.

4:47p.m. — Watching the shadows lengthen, I feel a tic of regret for not running today. This is unusual for me, so while my body is happy to have the day off, I can tell that my competitive urges are kicking in — which is a good thing.

9:12p.m. — After a dinner of steak salad and garlic bread, my wife and I watch the first episode of the last season of Girls, and laugh out loud the entire time. Then it’s off to bed, which is a fraught subject in the Wright household. I sleep like a dead person and have my entire life.  My wife is a poor sleeper, though after a lot of research and a not-insignificant investment of money, we’re doing OK. She wears an eye mask and ear plugs and we run a white noise machine while bedding down on a pricey Italian mattress, but I can (and have) sleep anywhere, at any time.

Total Daily Mileage: 0 

Tuesday // Day Six

11:05a.m. — If there’s a motif to my training schedule, it’s the need to stay flexible. Today is another glorious day in Marin County, but I don’t have a clear idea of when I’ll actually be able to run. The morning is more hectic than usual, with an added dollop of client-related panic. Luckily, I’m scheduled to have lunch with my old and dear friend Bob in the City and realize that if I ran the six miles there from my office, it’ll only “cost” me 20 minutes (subtracting run time from car time).

I throw on my running clothes but realize I don’t have my running vest at the office, so I pinch an Ultimate Direction sample pack from our big stack of media samples. Sometimes it is just very handy to work in PR, surrounded by running schwag.

Unlike the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit San Francisco every year, I tend to avoid the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s too packed, too noisy and just not really my jam. But today is a mitzvah all around. The road leading from my office to the bridge is closed (due to — surprise! — a landslide), so instead of a howling stream of distracted drivers, I get an empty road to run on all the way to the bridge.

Flexibility sometimes yields these unexpected rewards; the view was great, and despite leaving five minutes later than I wanted, I jogged up to the restaurant in plenty of time.

My pace was a bit better than I expected, too, even though I felt lung-shot most of the way.

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1:24p.m. — Bob graciously drives me back over the bridge, but I secretly feel bad that I didn’t simply run back to the office. Sometimes I play “WWDKD?” (What Would Dean Karnazes Do?) with myself, and Dean most definitely would have run back, even after a giant plate of Kung Pao Chicken.

(I’ve run with Dean a few times, by the way, which is not something you want to do unless you firmly stow your ego. He is a tremendous world-wide ambassador for running … but he’ll break your legs off. At the end of one long trail run that traversed pretty much the entirety of Mount Tamalpais, I had to interrupt a long story he was telling to mention the fact that I was hallucinating, and couldn’t feel my legs, and that it was all I could do to get back to the car…). 

Total Daily Mileage: 6.1

Wednesday // Day Seven

7:31a.m. — I feel surprisingly good getting out of bed. Maybe my body is starting to adapt to the training. I eat some cereal and do some gentle stretching in the shower before work.

5:39p.m. – I wasn’t going to run today because I tend to ruin my body if I do back-to-back days. Plus, as we’ve established, I’m lazy…

…BUT I get a text from my best friend from high school, who remains my dearest friend: Doug. We’ve had a circle of accountability going on, sharing our workouts via Strava — which is appropriate, since it was Doug who talked me into this ultra. Or rather, I talked HIM into it. It’s sort of a mutually assured destruction stemming from The North Face Endurance Challenge trail marathon in New York in 2015. Doug had never run a marathon before, so he dragooned me into accompanying him, which I happily did.

Let’s just say the race didn’t go well for either of us. We limped home in seven hours flat, and only got there thanks to a strategically-applied ounce (or three) of Fire Ball whiskey, a flask of which somehow made it into my race vest.

Doug couldn’t run for six months after that race, so I was surprised late last year when he emailed to taunt me into doing it again. I agreed, on one condition: that we do the 50k instead.  I wasn’t sure why I doubled down like that — something about “epic” and about bragging rights. But I thought it would scare him off.

It did not.

So, THAT’S the whole reason I’m trying to train. And having Doug — who lives in Brooklyn and holds down an enormously challenging job — text me with due pride about his mid-winter six-milers…well, I’d be a fool and a coward not to head out the door.

Not much time before nightfall, though, so I had to puke it up on some stairs and hill sprints.

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7:12p.m. — I feel surprisingly good after the sprint work. Six years of football, eleven years of rugby and SIXTEEN years of baseball (I, uh, still actually play, in the Men’s Senior Baseball League) has conditioned my legs to sprinting. As recently as 2011, I was posting sub-60 second 400 meter times in local track meets.

To be honest, I really have no business doing endurance sports — my body is built for short distances — but I do love the mountains, so I make it work. In the back of my mind, though, I’m still plotting total mastery of Master’s Track — once I’m done with this ultra marathon-ing and triathlon-ing thing

9p.m. — I watch the Warriors embarrass another team while foam rolling and snarfing another pasta dinner, then go to bed early (and happy that I’d managed at least a few minutes of exercise).

Total Daily Mileage: .5

A Look Back — Thoughts On The Week:

Compiling this diary has been a great exercise. It hasn’t totally galvanized my training, but — like the accountability texts with Doug — it has given me a structure and focus. Though I didn’t hit my mileage goals, I definitely overcame some of my habitual inertia and got my ass out to train.

Despite the fact that The North Face Endurance Challenge is no joke — the Bear Mountain course is particularly rocky and demanding — the week also fairly represents a typical week for me.

So, with three months left before the race, I’m still trying to establish a baseline running fitness — so I have my work cut out for me.

About Gordon Wright

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Gordon Wright is the former editor of Competitor NorCal and the president of OutsidePR in Sausalito, California. He has a two-decade-long history of adventure racing, triathlon and trail running, but is really a rugby player at heart.

Photos via OutsidePR.

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