May 20, 2018

Our Bio-Rivers of Serotonin



Have you ever been focused on a goal? A specific, measurable, time sensitive goal? One that is aligned with your plans to accomplish something big in life? If you are a runner, my guess is, yes, you have. If you are not a runner, my guess is, yes, you still have. As members of a “can do” American culture, like it or not, I believe, we are nurtured to think we are more worthy if we win, succeed, achieve, perform, or accomplish. From this neurosis, we grow extra hormone reserves, or little bio-rivers of serotonin. These rivers keep the process alive.

Stay with me people, this is you, too!

I started this post with the concept of chromosomes and DNA, thinking that we are somehow born with this neurosis. This need to succeed, for others. Then I quickly corrected myself.

Running ultra’s, like anything difficult in life, is all about motivation. You either have it, or you don’t. You either feel it, or you don’t. You either cross the finish line, or you don’t. And it all comes back to this one simple thing. Motivation.

Which leads me to the next question. Where does it come from? This thing called motivation? Is it really from the bio-rivers of serotonin in our own head? Or is it from somewhere else? Is it in our DNA?

I don’t have the answer. But I do have an insight that lends itself to what might be a way of thinking. It is from Lao Tzu himself, uttered centuries ago. It is simply this:

“Care about what other people think, and you will always be their prisoner.”

May 11, 2018

Just Stillness


When we came around a bend in the trail, I could see them in the distance, frozen in their tracks.  I reached for my camera. Would they move? Run away? I just keep reaching until I grabbed the camera and positioned it for the shot. Still, no movement. Just stillness. Click. 

Running in the mountains. Is there anything better?

I haven't found it.        

April 27, 2018

Like a Sharp Knife Into the Back of My Leg

Running In the Red Zone - Heart Race at Xterra race

Being a runner has its advantages. You can pretty much do it anywhere. City streets, mountain ridges, country roads. You can even do it on a cruise ship.

Then there are the disadvantages. One being the lingering tendency toward obsessive compulsive disorder. Like the need to monitor everything possible under the sun. You know, like distance run, elevation gained, resting heart rate, max heart rate, calories, hydration, cadence, weight, pace and sleep, among other meaningless metrics.

A couple weeks ago I kind of threw all this in the toilet and went out a ran in a 15k (9.3 mile) Xterra race in San Diego. I was supposed to do a 50 mile race on the east coast the same weekend but cancelled on account of a snow storm in the forecast. As I was driving to the race I started to think about how fast I could run it, given I only needed to run 18.6% of the 50 mile distance I was supposed to run. Fast I remember thinking.

I started in the front of the pack and quickly found myself running at a pace I haven’t run since...uhm….high school? But it felt so awesome! I was flying down this single track trail with all these young speedsters. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins like nitro glycerin into a dragster. Sparks were surely flying behind me. Then I glanced at heart rate. 178 bpm!

I don’t think I’ve run over 170 bpm in several years, the last time being when I injured my Achilles tendon and spent months on the road to recovery. But this was different, I thought, as I pounded down the trail. This was a race! So after a couple of miles battling it out with other runners I simply stopped looking at my heart rate.

Around mile 6 and 7 things were going amazing and I started passing other runners. Then it happened. It was like a knife going into the back of my leg. Sharp, sudden and serious. I immediately started walking, preying it was just a simple cramp.

No such luck. Oh, well, I thought as I walked the next two miles. Sometimes things happen for a reason. Especially when being a bonehead.  

April 22, 2018

Running Through the Ups and Downs - Repost



(Original post March 2012. Still 100% relevant) 

The last couple weeks I stumbled upon a certain realization about running, maybe even about life. Whether you are a runner or not, take heart, because you might see some parallels in your own world.

There are days when I feel invincible. The miles, the hours, the hills I put in week after week, make me feel strong. They build me up, encourage me to push the envelope a little further. They give me the confidence to reach a little higher.

And there are days when I feel beaten down. The miles, the hours and hills, they cut right through my strength, they make me feel weak. They break me down, entice me to give up. They take away my passion to persevere through the challenges I face.

It’s not like this is a big epiphany. Maybe the opposite, kind of an unwritten rule that we store in the back of our mind and don’t pay attention to. A rule that says don’t get too comfortable when you feel you’re on top of the world, because it won’t be long until you will feel the world on your shoulders.

I suppose it’s as simple as the yin and yang. Opposing states, like any contrary forces in the natural world, are not only interdependent, they need each other to exist. Hot and cold, fire and water, female and male. Strong and weak. Can I feel strong if I have not felt weak? Can I be strong if I am never weak?

Training is a big part of being a runner. At its core training breaks you down, then it builds you back up, stronger than before. Week after week, month after month. The cycle continues. Some people naturally wonder, why submit yourself to such a rigor? Isn’t there more to life? Sometimes I ask myself that question, usually when I feel broken down.

In writing this I’m reminded of a lecture Master Kan gave his young disciple in the television series Kung Fu. Addressing the young student, the master explains the purpose of the hardship the student must endure to be a Shaolin priest.

Master Kan:

"You must prepare yourself for what lies ahead
in your chosen role as priest.
The nature of wind, and fire, and ice.
The frailty of the human condition in hunger, and thirst and fatigue.
The predatory instincts of living things.
The greed and vanity buried in the hearts of men.
You must be prepared to survive through all of this.
These graceful movements you now perform,
along with all the rigors and disciplines your masters impose upon you,
will help you develop the inner strength, that which we call Chi.
And when you come to meet your greatest test, your highest challenges,
when you call upon your chi, it will not desert you."

The more I learn, the more I’ve come to realize that running through the ups and downs is, in itself, the ultimate test of endurance, the real challenge that stands between me and inner strength.

April 6, 2018

Fair Weather Runner


Ok. I'm putting it out there. For the first time I chose NOT to run a race due to forecasted weather conditions. I admit it. I'm falling on my sword now...and feeling its sharp edge puncture my weakened resolve...yet kind of enjoying it.

I was signed up for the Bull Run Run this weekend in Virginia of all places. Plane tickets were purchased, rental car booked. But as the day fast approached, I wasn't feeling it. Then I looked at the weather forecast. 20 to 30 degrees, rain and snow on race day. Wait, isn't it spring time? There was a time when the thought of flying across the country to run in the rain and snow would have had some appeal. Not anymore. I've done my fair share of races in rain and snow, and I have to say it kind of sucks to run in either. This would be a perspective firmly solidified after last years Bighorn 100, UTMB, or even final assault.

Experience has its benefits. 

March 27, 2018

Overcoming Monotony



Runners, beware, you are about to enter the twilight zone.  This is the dimension that exposes long-held beliefs that cause of chronic burn-out. It is a journey into a wondrous land that defies dogma and disposes of the monotonous. A place where mindless, boring exercise goes to die.

Running can be boring. Especially when you do it a lot, and for a long time. There are days when I can’t bring myself to go for a run. Ever have one of those? You know, when the thought of going for a run makes you want to clean the kitchen, take out the trash or work on a project, like any project? It’s a quandary, especially if you’re trying to prepare for something like a half-marathon, an ultra marathon or whatever.

The solution? Try this out: reading. That’s right. Reading while training. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s really not. Read on.

I’ve been putting a healthy amount of my weekly training in while reading the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times and the New York Times. I’m even adding in a regular dose of the Weekly Standard, Backpacker Magazine and an occasional book (usually non-fiction). I’m in the middle of Getting to US, a profile of some of the greatest coaches in sports by Seth Davis, and What Unites Us, reflections on patriotism by ousted CBS anchor Dan Rather.

The question of course is how is it possible to read and run at the same time. It isn’t. I don’t run while I read. And I don’t have to because I incorporate a lot of cross training into my schedule. The elliptical machine is one of my favorites, as is hiking at a steep grade on the treadmill wearing a 10 lbs weight vest. Another is simply riding a stationary bike. Each of these workouts can get my heart rate to an aerobic level. They also give my body a chance to rebuild after long and/or difficult workouts, all while catching up with what’s happening in DC, Pyongyang or Pennsylvania’s 18th district.

I’ve come to look forward to my reads during training. In fact, I truly believe I would have given up running ultras a long time ago if I hadn’t started incorporating reading into my training regimen several years back. What’s more is I’m usually blasting my thumbprint radio on Pandora while I’m checking the sports page or the latest Op-Ed. Did you note the juxtaposition of the WSJ NY Times? (Trying to stay balanced my friends).

In addition to rewarding my neurons, reading while training forces me to stay in a recovery zone. That is because pushing into the red zone makes it impossible to focus - on text, paragraphs or even titles. Everything becomes a blur.  Staying in my recovery zone allows me to build a solid base of fitness, the foundation for running strong at any distance.

Keep it real runners!

March 11, 2018

Six Cities Run (in the rain)


Six Cities Run
It wasn't until mile 3 or 4 when decided what I was doing. And even then I really didn't know. It was starting to rain and the trails near my house were turning to mud, so I decided to hit the roads for a longer run. As I started to run, I kept thinking, how can I make this interesting? After all, outside of avoiding life threatening vehicular traffic, running on the roads for more than a couple of hours can be quite humdrum, even (sorry road runners) boring. 

So I tried to come up with something to keep things interesting. Nothing came to mind, except running to a particular destination, then catching a Lift back home. I've done this a couple times before with decent luck. Once I did a solo run to Swallows Bar and a couple of group runs to Cooks Corner for birthday celebrations. I started thinking about how many cities I could possibly run through on one run. I started with seven, but soon realized that was more than I could chew. I settled for six.

So there you have it. Starting in Newport Beach, I proceeded to Irvine, Tustin, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and finished up in Huntington Beach. Twenty one miles of pure bliss. LOL.

Ok, not the most glamorous of journeys, but still a good day at the office.

Keep it real runners.


March 5, 2018

It’s All in the Head - A Tribute To Roger Bannister

To achieve a personal record at something you’ve put your heart and soul into is, as any runner will tell you, an incredible feeling. To achieve something that no other human being has ever achieved is, well, monumental. Roger Bannister did this in 1954 when he broke, for the very first time, the 4 minute mile. Roger Bannister died March 3. He was 88 years old.

What makes Bannister’s feat monumental in the running world and the world at large is the wide held belief in those days that it was impossible for a human to run a mile in under 4 minutes. But Bannister did it. And others followed. And they followed in droves. Over 500 US runners alone have broken the 4 minute barrier,  and many weren’t out of high school when they did it.

The question that must be asked is how many of these runners would have run sub 4 minutes if no one had ever done it before them? My point is this: what we think is impossible might be impossible only in our heads, but very possible outside of our heads.

What are you capable of that is impossible? Here’s a clue. There is only one way to find out.


February 22, 2018

Do it. Because Life is Too Boring (and Short) Not To


It’s a dark night.  It’s pouring rain. I’m on my back sliding head first down the side of a mountain. I can’t see anything. I can’t stop myself. I surrender to gravity. And then to my fate.

What crosses my mind are two thoughts. The first, my body is traveling on a safe path and will eventually come to a gentle stop. Then I will crawl back to my feet and head to the finish line some 40 miles away. Second, my body is on a collision course with a protruding slab of granite, and my head is about to be the first point of contact. I don’t get back to my feet.

There are moments like these. They stick in my brain. Moments that make me wonder, sometimes, why a grown man over the age of 50 would put himself in these situations. Moments that are so vivid and consequential that they make the routine of life seem mundane, ordinary. Moments that make me feel lucky to just be on a mountain in the midst of a journey, any journey, that brings memorable challenges.

My advice to you runners and non runners out there. Look for opportunities. Take your mind and body out of their comfort zone. Find a challenge and go toward it. Why? Life is too boring and short not to!

February 18, 2018

Intoxicating the World Over


Intoxicating The World Over

If I were a tree in another life, I think I would be a Western Juniper. Known for their ability to survive nature's most extreme conditions, these endurance junkies produce a berry used by distillers to make one of my least favorite alcoholic beverages - Gin.

I just think there is something pretty awesome about a species that can survive with little to no water, freezing temperatures, high altitudes, incessant wind, all the while producing a little berry that flavors a beverage that has intoxicated the world over.

Usually thriving in the presence of more grandiose competitors like the Jeffery and Ponderosa Pines, the Western Juniper sometimes grows into a gnarled shrub with the aesthetic beauty of a rouge weed on steroids, and other times into a majestic evergreen that stands toe to toe with its biggest rivals. Predictable? Hell no. Bad ass? Well, you get the point.

California Juniper
  


February 11, 2018

Happy Birthday C. McCandless. The Sage of Solitude


Today was a good day. On Los Pinos trail. From hot springs with 2,000’ of ups. There were a few minutes on a perch overlooking Hot Springs Canyon. Contrails overhead, and a red tail hawk soaring below. Memorable for sure. It's not often that one looks down from were they stand to watch a hawk soaring. The best of all? For several hours there was not another human soul to be seen.

It reminded me of a scene with Alexander Supertramp, aka Christopher McCandless, from the movie Into the Wild. Randomly, he looked into the sky to observe a airplane passing overhead. In the movie everything goes silent for a few seconds as you watch this jet move across the sky. The contrail forming behind it. Why do they show this? There is no explanation. Maybe it is a silent protest of the fact that no matter where we are on this planet, we can’t escape human fingerprints. They are everywhere.

McCandless tried to escape from the fingerprints. He went to the farthest end of the earth, walked among grizzlies, ate wild berries and shot wild game. He was born 50 years ago tomorrow. He escaped the hands of society to travel the country, to find his refuge in a place a long way from the maddening crowd. A place with no lines. No malls. No traffic. No hordes. I wish he were still alive today. To share with us what motivated him to push the boundaries. To move "into" the wild. To shun what so many of us grasp onto.

Happy Birthday Christopher McCandless. You are the sage of solitude. Thank you for reminding us how important it is to go it alone.





February 4, 2018

Striking Out and Not Giving a $#@T


I shouldn't complain. That I signed up for three race lotteries, including Western States, Hardrock and Wasatch, and struck out in all of them is, well, probably what the therapist would've ordered anyway. Last week I was ranting about leaving "the cage" and "stepping into the unknown" to experience the "fun and mystery" and "magic" of what might occur. I'm embarrassed to admit I signed up for these races even though I've already run two of them, including one three times. Ok, its hard to escape the cage people.  It's so comfortable in there!

Time to really drop some sandbags and move on from the outworn memories. 

My heart still yearns for fun and mystery of Hardrock.  I'll leave the cage for that one!

  

January 24, 2018

The Routine Cage



Be careful my friends. Of comfort. Of routine. 

I’ve embraced all of these - lately. Now I’m paying the price.

We sat, quietly, for a little while, until someone asked the question, then each of us spoke up. There were four or five of us, I don’t remember the exact number, but I remember I could detect that all of us were feeling the nervous energy. The kind that accompanies runners before a race. This race happened to be the London Marathon, and the question posed was “where are you from?”

I was the only American among us, which made me smile inside, because it felt really cool at that moment to be riding a train through England to the start of a marathon with people from all around Europe that I had never met, and probably would never see again. That was the moment that prompted me to look for more. The moment I chose to run ultras.

Deepak Chopra wrote “relinquish your attachment to the known, step into the unknown, and experience all the fun, mystery, and magic of what may occur in the field of all possibilities.” As Chopra describes in the law of detachment, we have a tendency to return to the known, to that which we find familiar. To the people, places, events, activities and even thoughts, we call the known. This goes to the old cliché that we don’t like change, and we are all creatures of habit.

Chopra says freedom from the state of attachment to what we are familiar with, including our own past, comes from the wisdom of uncertainty. The not knowing.  Not knowing what is going to happen next. Not knowing what to expect. Not knowing if we will succeed or fail, in whatever we seek to do.

I once met a girl at a party that told me she found it really helpful to throw sandbags over the side of a hot air balloon. I think, or at least I hope, she was speaking metaphorically.  Letting go of her past (sandbags) so her balloon (life) could rise to new heights. Was she seeking uncertainty? Not sure, I just remember nodding my head and sipping my beer.

Are we all just creatures of habit, unwilling to leave the cage we call routine?  Chopra says without uncertainty, life is just the repetition of outworn memories. This leads to stagnation, entropy, and decay. Not high on anyone’s bucket list. But why do so many of us follow this path?

The answer? It’s our ego my friends. According to Chopra, we stick to the comfortable and the familiar and the past and the boring because, well, it is safe. And the ego loves safe, because the ego clutches violently to fear and insecurity. Why risk “failing” at something you’ve never done and know nothing about when you can “succeed” at something you’re familiar with? Afraid to speak in public? Blame the ego. Start a new job? It’s the ego. Start a new business? The ego. Enter the routine cage. And lock the door behind you on your way in.

But how do we escape from this cage? How do we access Chopra’s freedom of uncertainty? The answer isn’t so simple. Per Chopra, when we stand apart from our ego, we are who we really are. Detached, floating, unfettered by what others think of us. Unshackled from the bondage of our peers, colleagues, friends, even our families, all of whom are co-conspirators with our ego.

The key here is to detach. Detach from the outcomes we seek. Find something we know nothing about, and dive in. Find an event, a race, a sport we’ve never done. And go. Then sit back and enjoy journey.

I’m working on this…stay tuned.

January 13, 2018

Bell View to Los Pinos

Los Pinos Peak
It was my third attempt to get to this place. Not knowing the actual distance or elevation gain, I kept heading back to Bell View trail after failing to go the distance, probably to address my separation anxiety from solitude and emerging go-it-alone-on-any-desolate-trail yearning. Today the only sighting of civilization came in the form of two rounders (mt. bikers) just when I was about to reach the summit of Los Pinos, and just after spotting an empty beer can of the IPA sort. I grabbed the can on the way back, as my legs started to remind me I'd been climbing over two hours. It was only 6.5 miles from A to B, but B was 3,400 feet higher than A. So by the time I turned around at B, getting back to A wasn't so easy. In total a 4.5 hour, zero calorie day. 




December 30, 2017

Solitary Sought. Solitary Found.

Bell Canyon Trail with Santiago Pk 
There is, I believe, a fundamental need that lurks in many of us. It's something that we don't usually talk about because, um, well, we've been trained not to talk about stuff that might make us seem odd, or different, from everyone else.

I'll call this, simply, the need to be alone. Or more specifically, the need to be away from people, at least some of the time. Not just away from the assholes, or the obnoxious ones, just people. Yes, many of us, some more than others, just need to be alone and, frankly, away from people. At least for a period of time. Away from their voices. Away from their attitudes. Away from their beliefs. Just away. Far away. Far enough away so that we cannot hear or see any trace of them. 

This is not a new concept, this need to spend time alone. Its been around for millennia.  Christian monks (along with devout Buddhists, Hindus and Taoist, to name a few) have lived eremitic (secluded) lives long before any of us starting seeking solitude from the holiday shopping hordes. As soul seekers, they no doubt found this to be a cleansing experience.       

I don't know, but maybe there is some connection here to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that the need (according to Maslow) for social belonging ultimately gives way to the need for self-actualization and even self-transcendence as we develop and grow. Is this why when we think of hermits we picture old crotchety men? These must be the guys, alone, at the top of Maslow's ladder.     

When I got in my Jeep this morning and began to drive, I chose not to decide where to go. I was headed out for a run, but hadn't decided where. So I just started driving. As I drove, many trails and potential places to run began flashing through mind. I took inventory of each one, and I tried to weigh the good and the bad of each. But all I could think about was one thing - the solitude of each place (or lack of solitude, actually).

The next thing I knew I was pulling up to one of my favorite (and most solitary) trails. I made it nearly four hours before I saw a single person!

Ok, I'm not crawling under a rock any time soon, but it felt good to cleanse. 


December 17, 2017

The Land of Painted Plateaus


Every so often I find myself stopping to appreciate something unusual.  And beautiful.

This time I was in a rental car – a Subaru Legacy in fact – that was hurling me across the plateau known as the Big Horn basin. As I drove along the highway I couldn’t stop stealing peeks in each direction. It felt like the sky and the landscape around me were colluding somehow to get me closer to them.

The next thing I knew I was rumbling down a dirt road, heading in the direction of a hill that stood between an expansive view that I knew was waiting for me. The Subaru – bless its little wheels – was taking a beating. I weaved the innocent little car around large puddles and punishing ruts, many of which in all my haste I couldn’t avoid.

When I finally reached the hill’s crest, I pulled over and just started walking. I walked toward a rock formation and wondered what it would be like to just lay down there forever. Under this sky and in this slow meadow of grass and wild flowers.

I’m heading back to Wyoming. To the land of painted plateau’s and inspired skies. This time, I hope I can catch a little less rain on race day.

December 10, 2017

Paddling Into It


There was a time when I pulled the trigger without really knowing why. I went with the feeling, the emotion. A wave would rise up from underneath me and rather than try to analyze what was happening, I just decided to turn and paddle into it. The rides were, well, something I wont forget.

Today I paddled in again. I’m looking forward to sharing this ride with all of you.

Stay real people. Keep playing. Life is too short not to.