Where Your Dreams Become Reality
I Became A Guide
A metaphor for the passion and joy of serious running, the trend toward abandoning the basics in favor of minor details and shortcuts, the use of drugs in sport, and what it takes to be a true leader
I must have made the journey ten thousand times. There was this mountaintop, you see, from which paragliders once soared in a manner which enraptured their souls and which even seemed to inspire awe and jealously in eagles. It was the meeting place for all the true adventurers and was the accepted hallowed ground among the aficionados. Much has been made over why this spot was like no other. Some said it was the scenery. Others claimed it was the updrafts. Still others maintained there was some mystical concentration of Gaia emanating from the planet at that precise locale which filled gliders with a supernatural euphoria. Whatever the reasons, there surely was a magic about the place which was largely inexplicable, and thrill seekers from far and wide would happily make the seemingly interminable expedition up the pristine, convoluted mountain trail for a chance at touching Heaven.
Heaven it was. I had spent countless lackluster years gliding at other venues, and even at lower takeoff points on this same mountain, but once I experienced the unspeakable joy that I had only heard and dreamed about, I knew I had found paraglider's paradise. But the hike to the top was not at all easy. Its difficulty lay not in any brutal steepness or the like; it simply took an extraordinarily long time! I spent most of my first trip up the mountain wondering if the flight from the top would really be worth all the time and effort spent getting there. I learned later that this is a question every newcomer asks. But it was worth it and then some! And not only did the climb up get easier each time I made it, the glide back down became more awe-inspiring as I became more proficient at working the air currents. I would have climbed ten times as far to get that dose of sailing free, that orgasm of the soul.
As if that wasn't enough, I began to truly enjoy the excursion up the trail. What a breathtaking place this was! Each stratum of the mountain featured its own peculiar ecosystem. And the view of the land below, horizon beyond, and sky above never failed to leave me open-mouthed in amazement. The main route had been established long before as the only accessible path to the top, and it had been worn to a clearly defined trail and subsequently marked, but I spent so much time there that I forged little trails off the main path which possessed their own quirks and provided their own unique experiences. There was not a single square meter of accessible ground on that mountain that I hadn't covered more often than anyone who had ever been there. I knew every turn, every rock, every tree and every squirrel as well as I knew my very spirit.
I wanted to show others every hidden niche I had discovered that made this place special, to show them what could be in store for them if they were willing to make the unconditional commitment to hike that twisting, hilly trail to the top, and to give them the opportunity to find personal joys in the journey itself, to make the mountain their own. I became a guide, a mentor to those whom I sensed could do great things in hiking, climbing and gliding and could come to love those activities as I did.
It was a very popular place then; many adventurers made their way up the established route. There were those before us and among us - I one of them - who had searched everywhere on Earth for a more enjoyable, rewarding, fulfilling experience, but no place had ever rivaled this one. We would often make the trip in tandem - or in groups, for that matter - as the company made the difficult stretches pass by more quickly. Though it helped at times to have others along, for each individual, the journey itself was unique, as was the exhilaration at the top and the euphoria on the glide down. It's strange how there was only that one spot and only the one main route that led there, yet there were ten different experiences for each ten adventurers. Each would try to describe the experience with words, but it was something that could not be expressed. All those who were in the fraternity could do was share the common bond and respect with their brothers who had been to that place that no outsider could know.
The trek to the top, although a tough uphill hike, featured very few steep faces which required rock climbing skills. However, there was one vertical cliff near the very summit. This was difficult climbing and necessitated some practice on similar terrain closer to the bottom. Supplementary exercises were sometimes needed to facilitate the climbing.
Some participants had a natural gift for paragliding, borne of purely physical qualities which were innate and which could never be attained, although each individual's basic abilities could be cultivated through diligent practice. Most of the naturally talented ones worked almost exclusively on improving their rock climbing skills and on "muscling out" longer flights. They had found outcrops well below our summit point to which they could climb using the latest equipment and from which they could launch themselves. Because of their superior gliding talents, some were able to sustain rather long flights, but never quite as long as those of the best of our group, who took off from the true summit. They claimed the experience was the same, that no one needed to go all the way to the top, but we had all tried it many times in our less enlightened days (and even experimented with it still), and we knew better. Furthermore, the objective criterion of "hang time" belied their assertions. As a group, they all fell short of our group in terms of duration in the air. This was something they could never quite explain to anyone's satisfaction, yet they continued a vain attempt to muscle their way upward to catch those updrafts that could only be caught from our starting point.
What we never understood was why these talented individuals would not make the trek to the summit, where they could have used their natural abilities to achieve mind-shattering glides. Maybe they simply hated doing anything other than rock climbing and paragliding, and the prospect of a time-consuming, arduous hike filled them with dread and a sense of pointlessness. Maybe they felt that they would not have the energy or the desire to enjoy the glide down if they had to travel that winding path to the top, that the result would not be worth the effort. Perhaps they thought some crucial aspect of their flight would be compromised. But they were wrong. Those who did decide to make the complete journey were rewarded with stronger updrafts, a more panoramic view of the world around them, and the longest, most fulfilling rides of their careers. Few who made the journey even once regretted having done it, and the more they made the trip, the more they came to embrace it as an unparalleled experience, reveling in the hike up as much as they enjoyed the floating, soaring ecstasy of the flight back down.
Many articles, treatises and books on the entire experience were written by those who had never so much as seen this or any other mountain, let alone climbed one or attempted a flight from any launching point on one. They spoke of many minor nuances of hiking and climbing, the dynamics of paragliding, and of all the ways one could become more proficient without ever having to leave solid ground! Like those before them who had debated why the Earth must be the center of the universe, its surface flat and its moon made of Swiss cheese, they put forth their armchair theories with conviction, supporting their spurious arguments with the scientific vernacular of the day. To our chagrin, they gathered more and more followers as the years rolled by. Something seemed to be rather appealing about clinging to the belief that a long mountain hike was unnecessary as a prelude to a record flight. Finally, nearly all the newcomers to the community had been lured by the siren song of the new theories. Classes were formed in which one could become a "certified instructor" by memorizing material from a book. But, alas, the hang time never lied, and those who followed these "instructors" and put these theories into practice never managed the prolonged, spirit-swelling flights that we had known.
We've seen many, even in our own time, who searched for another launching spot on the mountain, or for another trail which would bring them to our established takeoff point in less time and with less effort. We've also seen those who looked for other mountains. But we all - every one of us - sought out those things ourselves, and they do not exist. There are higher mountains out there, but they have no accessible launching points to match the beauty and majesty of ours, no updrafts to rival those we soared on for what seemed days at a time. There was something special and awesome about that place, yet so many shortcut seekers who came after us consider us arrogant to say that we have exhausted all the possibilities or that our spot is and always will be best. But they are arrogant to think they are the first to seek what we have already found; it is disrespectful of them to overlook the fact that hundreds of thousands before them (who were equally smart and equally determined) had to suffer and struggle and learn from their own predecessors to find this wonderful place. If there was a better place to do what we love to do, we would have found it long before the shortcut seekers were born. And there is always that unbiased measuring stick known as hang time - their best simply cannot achieve what our best did, and no matter how many excuses they put forth, we know why they cannot.
Recently there have been those who have indeed found higher launching points on previously inaccessible mountaintops from which record-setting glides can be achieved, but they have installed mechanical lifts to take the gliders to the top. What a watered-down waste! Those of our group who have tried it say the flight down is truly remarkable in duration, but the scenery and the spontaneity are missing. It is merely a linear glide down, made longer by the sheer height of the takeoff point, but without those heart-thrilling updrafts we used to ride. It is not the same. And where is the love of the journey to the top? Where is the intimacy of knowing the mountain, its side trails, its crisp, clean air, its boulders and shrubs and animals as your personal friends and soulmates? Where is the time to pause for a long look at the land below and the sky around and above? Where is the freedom to explore and savor those out-of-the-way recesses one can call one's own? Where is the commitment and the character-building process of reaching the top through one's own efforts and having that trip become less taxing and more readily appreciated over time? Some things cannot be bought and some experiences should never be cheapened.
There remains only one genuine, virtuous path to the top. Many of this generation cling at all costs to the belief that there is another way, one which satisfies their love of a quick fix. There is not. Those who attempt to make the journey in such a way do not possess the spirit to be called paragliders and those who teach any method other than the one and only way possess neither the passion nor the wisdom to be called guides. I do not endear myself to many of these newcomers with such blunt honesty, but I did not become a guide to help the "wannabe" gliders feel good about themselves and fabricate new excuses while the "need-to-be" gliders soar out of sight far above them.
Few people know their raison d'Ítre with certainty; fewer still pursue their purpose against all odds and in the absence of worldly rewards. Furthermore, it is only life-changing revelation through soul-stirring experience that earns one the authority to teach, lead, guide or advise. That is what elevates wisdom above mere head knowledge and what separates vision and passion from perfunctory duty. I found my own purpose and authority through thousands of journeys which were influenced heavily by the combined wisdom of the masters who forged the trail before me and beside me. I knew even then that someday I would lead others who loved so much to fly that they would set aside all other worldly things to be the best of the best. I still speak for Truth in this, the purest and most fulfilling of all athletic endeavors.
That is who I am and how I came to do what I do. Who are you and what do you do?
John Kellogg is a full-time, professional running coach. It is his passion in life and career of choice. John has logged over 70,000 miles in 28 years of running, with a highest week of 156 miles. He has experimented with as many combinations of training procedures as is possible in the course of a human running career while still devoting enough time to each mixture of techniques to ascertain their effectiveness. While he never reached the elite level himself, he was able to train himself effectively enough to run 14:22 for 5,000 meters while possessing a best time of only 57 seconds for 400 meters. John also has a Cross-Country 10,000 meters best of 30:46, and was nationally-ranked in the marathon as a Junior (under age 20).
He has trained in America and in Europe with runners of all ages, abilities, and nationalities, including world-class athletes, and has coached runners of all ages for 15 years, producing results at the state-class, national-class, and international-class levels.
LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson trained under Mr. Kellogg's guidance in middle and high school and credits his return to Mr. Kellogg's training with his huge post-collegiate improvements. A 30:13 10,000 meter runner in college, Weldon recently has run 28:06 for 10k, has finished 4th at USA Nationals twice at 10k, and plans on making the US Olympic Marathon Team next month in Birmingham, Alabama.
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