April 20, 2014

Trail Running Becoming Too Commercialized?

Work with me on this. I’m trying to find an angle on the topic for this post, and I’m struggling. So I’m just writing now. It isn’t something I do often, but it seems to be working right now, to just start writing. The Banco de Gaia Pandora station playing on my headphones is helping, but the topic seems to be too big for my current lack of creative perspective. Ok. Whatever. Let’s just see what flows...

Let me start by continuing the conversation of a fellow blogger at nomeatbarefeet.com about commercialism and trail running. Where this is going I haven’t a clue, but it seems to be top of mind for me right now.

The question is real simple. Is trail running becoming too commercialized? If only the answer could be so simple. If the question elicits an increase in your heart rate, you have an opinion. This is good. No, this is great. Keep reading and, please, leave a comment at the end of this post.

First of all, “trail running” is a broad term that includes many types of running. Starting with the sport of cross country which has been around for over 100 years to the more recent and sometimes mass produced mudder, adventure and xterra type events, the sport attracts a broad range of participants. Throw in ultras and the spectrum now includes events of just a few kilometers to more than 100 miles.

Back to the question. Is trail running too commercialized? I don’t think it is possible to answer the question without identifying a specific type of trail running. Cross country, for example is huge high school and college sport. Is cross country too commercialized? I don’t think so. I think the sport has retained its well-deserved tradition of flying under the commercial radar where the big three – football, basketball and baseball –have flown for decades. I don’t think there will be any big money shoe or skivvy contracts for cross country athletes any time soon.

My only comment on the mudder, adventure and xterra type of events is that they are, in large part, nothing more than a commercial endeavor, with a profit motivation driving the proverbial boat. Whether this is good or bad isn’t for me to judge. The fact is we live in a capitalistic society and I have no qualms about people starting a business with the objective to make money. The entrepreneur spirit is, after all folks, how we became the most powerful country in the world. What we leave in our wake can be troubling, however.

This leads me to ultras, and whether “ultra” trail running is too commercialized. I’m on record of supporting the Leadville 100 which has fallen out of favor with ultra “purists” due largely to its bulging size and related challenges race organizers really need to fix. Leadville is probably one of the most “commercialized” ultras in the US. Is it over commercialized? It is getting close. But if race organizers follow through with their commitment to fix the challenges runners and crews have experienced, Leadville could set the standard for “commercial” races.

Here is the real beef. As long as trail running remains a sport you don’t regularly find on ESPN, CBS Sports or even your local news channel, chances are the sport will not become too commercialized. Will companies continue to bring new products to the sport? Will new events continue to sprout up around the country? Will races continue to fill up within hours or even minutes of opening? The answer to all of these questions is – absolutely. Blame it on the book Born to Run, Ultra Marathon Man or the internet, this is what happens in a growing industry.

As long as people are willing to write a check there will always be someone there to cash it. Welcome to the free market, for better or worse.  

April 17, 2014

Looking for Why

Why is an illusive word, especially for ultra runners, at least this ultra runner. It bubbles up at awkward times, only to fade away when I think I have found it. Then, out of nowhere, it jumps back up and slaps me in the face. That is when I wonder if I will ever learn why.

Though it hides from me when I’m on a solid run. Like last night, when I started my run wondering why. Then after 10 minutes it simply slipped away as I scampered 12 miles over one of my favorite trails.

As I neared the end of my run, and looked across the horizon and saw the sun setting. I was sure I had found why. But, as I learned later that night, it wasn’t to be.  

Whether I ever find it, I will just have to keep on looking for it. Maybe that is all there is to why

April 6, 2014

March 23, 2014

The Road Less Traveled (by humans anyway)

Mountain Lion Print - Limestone Canyon today

When the gov said he didn't like running by himself out in these hills, I reminded him that when the cougar is in full chase mode all I have to do is run a little faster than him and its all over anyway. We turned north, toward Limestone Canyon, and came upon a prominent do-not-enter-trespassing-violators-will-be-prosecuted sign. It was the warmest welcome that I've seen in a while so we invited ourselves into a very remote and unused trail in heart of Orange County's Park system. This was virgin trail for me and I was loving every step!

photos courtesy of the gov

So much so I had to launch a roller just to make a point to gravity that we had climbed a pretty monster hill despite its stubborn resistance. "What are you going to do with that video?", my daughter Devon C asked me as I was writing this. "Its just a rock rolling down the hill," she says. "Yea, but it's a big rock," I replied. It felt good just to see gravity gobble this bad-ass rock up as the gov and I stood there wondering how much further we would wander into this scat riddled odyssey.

We continued into this lion's abyss and were reminded who's playground this really is. Apparently the big cats that roam these hills are not bashful about leaving their mark on trail. The gov kept his distance. 

Not our playground

The rest is just some really cool views by two runners seeking the road less traveled. 

Keep it real runners. 

March 17, 2014

This Thing Called Energy

It’s strange. This thing called energy. There are times when it enters you without warning, and bursts forth with all the power and resolve to lift you up and into a deep, icy river. Then there are other times. When it sits precariously near you. Watching you. Waiting for you.

It wasn’t something I could really predict. And if it were, it probably wouldn’t have happened on that day, when I was just like any other college boy foraging for a moment, a reason, to feel alive.

The door hadn’t even closed all the way when I started running. “Where are you going?” my friend yelled from behind me. But I couldn’t turn around to answer him. I just kept running. Away from the classroom where I had just completed my last final. I ran to release energy. I ran to gain energy. I ran because it just felt really good. I couldn’t stop smiling. I lifted my arms into the air and ran through the campus. I felt like a prize fighter who had taken the title from the champ. Now I was the champ! It was building up inside of me all semester. Now the energy wanted out.

So I talked my friend into driving down to the Potomac River. It was November in Washington, D.C. and the autumn days were turning colder. We got into his Ford Bronco appropriately nicknamed “Dino” with its bulging tires and gun racks. When we drove up to the side of the river I jumped down from Dino and ran to the seawall. It was a strange moment, to be overcome by pure exuberance like that, then to step off a ledge and into that dark brown river, fully clothed, not knowing the strength of its current or the temperature of its water.

There are certain moments in life that will never leave us. Moments when everything moving into and out of our conscious minds simply stops, and we find ourselves alone, with nothing else but the company of what is happening to us right then, right there.

The air in my lungs disappeared. And the muscles in my arms and legs went limp. The seawall that beckoned me just seconds earlier was now getting smaller as I drifted down the cold, dark Potomac River. It wasn’t fear or despair that had overcome me. It was just shock. My body had been reduced to a numb piece of flesh so quickly that I was just about helpless. Fortunately some of the energy that lifted me into this careless situation was still lurking somewhere, waiting. Enough, thankfully, to snap me out of the hypothermic stupor and get me back to that seawall.

Strange. This thing called energy.

March 8, 2014

Thank You Kind People - You're Key

The Key...Sitting, Waiting. 
By the time I’d reached the two women on trail my hope was dwindling rapidly. I was still hanging on to a glimmer of it though, because I could visualize the moment the night before when I felt something touch my leg while I was running along the trail, something that seemed to have fallen from above. It wasn’t until I arrived back at my Jeep after running 7 miles that it realized I’d dropped my car key on trail.

I realized at that moment I had pulled an Al. The good news was I knew, sort of, where the key became dislodged. But was it a key or a disoriented bug? I had it in my mind that it was the key, and so the next morning I chose to ride my mountain bike to work and put an end to this mystery along the way.

“Excuse me, did you happen to see a lost car key on the trail?”, I uttered without much enthusiasm as I rode by the two women. “Yes, there is key back at the Audubon house on the board,” one of them blurted out. “Really, I can’t believe it!” I replied. “Thank you!”

Thank you to the kind person, whoever you are, for picking up my key and placing it on the board. And thank you again to the two women who happened to see the key on the board, and be on the trail when I happened to ride through at 7:43 am Friday.

March 2, 2014

Trespassing In the Mountains

“Hey, hey!” I could hear him yelling behind me. I continued on, but he persisted. “Hey you...hold it!” So I stopped, turned around and watched the red coats come rumbling in the snow toward me. I half expected to be noticed and even stopped, but I acted like I knew what I was doing and just tried to blend in.

Was it my purple ski cap that sat erect on my head like a Norwegian birthday hat? Or was it my red Blackies sweatshirt? I’m pretty sure it was neither of these fashion statements that caught their attention. No, I’m pretty sure it was the snowshoes I was wearing at the top of the Snow Summit ski mountain. After all, who wears snowshoes on a ski mountain?

It was enough to convince a team of ski patrolmen to conduct a serious inquiry. “What are you doing up here?” one of them asked me accusatorily. “Well I’m snowshoeing, of course,” I replied. “Do you have a lift ticket? the other asked. No, I don’t have a lift ticket, I said. Looking bewildered, he quipped “Then how did you get up here?”

There was a brief pause. And I told him I hiked from the bottom of the mountain, and stopped at the cafeteria on the top mountain to buy a cup of coffee. Then the old one really burst my bubble. “You’re trespassing! You are not allowed anywhere on this mountain, including in the cafeteria, without a lift ticket.” Oh really! I replied a little miffed, “then why didn’t the cashier ask to see a lift ticket when I bought the coffee?”

Just then their radios lit up with an emergency and stopping this passing snowshoer lost all their unneeded attention.

I continued along my path and finished my "snowjourn", and even lived to blog about it.

February 24, 2014

Birthdays - Blessings and Burdens

There are moments. And then there are moments. Since this is officially a running blog, I’m going to describe this moment like it is…a bit of a runners high…only it didn’t involve any running.

It goes something like this. I’m in New York City with my family last week for my birthday. We go to this really cool/hip restaurant in Tribeca for dinner to celebrate. We sit down at a table and next to us are four people, and one of them looks really familiar.  I sneak a closer glance and realize its Smokey Robinson, as in Tears of a Clown and Tracks of My Tears Smokey Robinson. For those of you runners not musically inclined, it’s the guy who helped put Motown on the map. 

Anyway, after sitting there for a while I lean over and whisper to my wife and daughters. I tell them who I see. We all agree not to be star struck idiots and make a big deal out of the situation.

The night goes on and eventually the waiter brings out a birthday cake with a candle. Only it isn’t for me. It is for Smokey. It's his birthday too! His table begins to sing happy birthday. We and others join in. We all clap at the end. Then Smokey looks over at our table to thank us and he notices the card my oldest daughter drew for me. It reads Happy Birthday Daddy! He wishes me happy birthday and we shake hands.

No big deal? “I just shook hands with Smokey Robinson,” I keep saying while my girls laugh at me. I think back to the hundreds of times I’ve said “smooookeeey” with my good friend Lobster. I think further back, some 30 years now, and I remember the bass riff I used to strut during the song Tears of a Clown I played with my old ska band The Exceptions. 

Now the waiter brings out a cake and candle for me, and Smokey Robinson and his friends begin to sing happy birthday to me. What? Is this really happening? Apparently it was happening, because my daughters told me it did.

Next, the waiter brings a special desert to our table. “Wait, we didn’t order that” I’m thinking to myself.  “Special birthday gift from Smokey himself” the waiter announces. So I get out of my chair and walk over to thank Smokey Robinson for buying us a special desert for my birthday. He gets up, we shake hands, pose for a quick photo, and share a minute together talking about birthdays and such. I remember saying something about birthdays being blessing and a burden, to which his friend replied that the alternative is much worse. All I could think was this one was only a blessing. 

What can I say other than the evening really got a hold of me.

February 15, 2014

Does Age Beat Youth?

I'm not really sure...but I know that I would have a biased answer even if I was sure. A quote to think about....

"Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty."

February 9, 2014

Swim Stroke Sundaes

When I blink my eyes, everything is different. Slightly, ever so slightly closer to tomorrow. To next month. Next year. I just wish I could remember this. Every time. Before they go on their way.

When raising 10 and 15 year old daughters, I have to be persistent. If I want them to refine their swim stroke, I’ve learned that I have to come up with an incentive.  Because an hour in the pool with a coach is like being sent to the likes of teenage purgatory. But 10 minutes chatting with them while feasting on a hot-fudge sundae is like nirvana to me. Ergo, genesis “swim stroke sundaes.”

It takes 10,000 years for energy from the sun’s core to work it’s way to the surface. Then, in 8 minutes, it reaches the surface of the earth and I can feel it touching my skin as I watch them from the side of the pool. Time can seem infinite. Then you blink. And it doesn’t seem so much anymore.

I just wish I could remember.

January 28, 2014

Training. Don't Pick Your Fruit Too Early

Staying fresh. It’s not easy. Here’s my theory – when it comes to training, we runners can easily end up like a piece of fruit left up on the counter for too long. In other words, don’t expect to stay ripe all the time, because you can end up rotten when you need to be fresh the most.

This last season was a lesson for me on being “on the shelf” for too long. I trained and raced for nine consecutive months, grinding through 3,250 miles from February to November. Completing four races; a 100k, two 100 milers and a 50 miler. By the time I was done, I was feeling like forgotten banana at the back of the cupboard.  

The races were the easy part. The hard part? Staying motivated. There were times when I struggled just to lace up my shoes and go for a run. My body was holding up, but my motivation was slowly waning. I even tried to mix up my training. The excitement that normally courses through my veins was getting thin. What I learned is this: once the fruit is ripe, I can’t expect it to remain that way for very long.

The coming season has me a little worried. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve got four 100 mile races over a four month period starting the end of June. This makes last year look like tiddlywinks. So I’m planning on doing things a little differently. First, its January, and I’m not running much at all.

Sounds crazy, but I’m not going to get sucked into a serious training regimen until I know I can sustain it well into the summer. That would start around March and will take me through April, May and then into June. By then, my fruit will be just ripening and, if I treat it right, will remain that way through all the mountain miles before me.

Keep it real runners!

January 12, 2014

The Grand Slam...Not Just at Denny's Anymore

Why? Why am I doing this? Another year in front of me and I’ve gone and signed up for four hundred mile races. I’ve signed up for the Grand Slam. Western States. Vermont. Leadville. Wasatch. What the *$%@ am I doing this for?

I’m hanging on to something here, but I’m not sure what. An obsession? Sometimes I wonder. Then I find my repose by refusing to believe that I’m the obsessive type...and what loony tune ever would? It all comes down to a grudge match between self-awareness and delusion. Which just means that I’m aware of my own delusions.

I guess it wasn’t very helpful that I told my wife about my Grand Slam ambitions while we were at Denny’s Restaurant, and I was eating the Grand Slam breakfast. Wow, I should have gone lighter on the Tabasco and pepper that day. I can still taste that one.  

It will be hard. It always is. Work is getting more demanding. Or, maybe I’m demanding more of it. There is travel on the horizon. And goals and the vision. My family is and will remain my greatest priority. They are done with the 100-mile family vacations. “It’s just not fun anymore dad,” my oldest daughter said to me recently. What I’m trying to get my arms around now is how to maintain more balance, and to find the time to run without jeopardizing these important things in my life.

I’m learning along the way that, much to my relief, there is no perfect time or balance for life’s priorities. Time is always tight when I’m trying to keep priorities in balance. Family, work, training, in this order, is the balance that I seek. I am very fortunate that I have this triangle to begin with.

These are the days.

December 31, 2013

What I Learned About Ultra Running in 2013

Pacing my friend Larry R to an AC 100 finish
Giving Back 

Once I was on a run with a couple and we were talking about church. I’m not sure how it came up, but they mentioned that running was their church. Really?, I said to myself. Isn’t church about giving back? What have we runners become? Then I started running ultras. And before long I volunteered at the finish line of a race. Then I spent a weekend doing trail work, and then I paced a fellow runner through a 100 mile race. It’s not a lot, but it's something. Something that, when I look back, I’m just as pleased with as I am with finishing my own races. Unlike running 5ks or marathons, or doing triathlons or riding criterions, ultra running asks for something more. It asks you to give back. And this, I’ve come to learn this year, is what I like most about our sport.

No Comment

E=FP Squared.

This one is still work in progress, but I felt it worthy of mention because I believe it’s had a big impact on my running the last few years. It’s taken me until now to realize, through my own experience running 100 mile races, that the equation is real and not just my imagination. What is it? “It” is not meant to be a scientific formula, but rather a kind of ultra aphorism. To break it down “E” is for energy, while “F” is for fat and “P” is for Protein. Which means, of course, that when it comes to running long, and I mean really long--like 100 miles--that there is no substitute for fat and protein to produce energy in the human body.

Of course there is much to write about on this. There is the scientific perspective, which I will spare you here but will address more so in the weeks to come as I begin to explore the OFM (optimal fat metabolism) diet with my training in the coming season.  To summarize this point, if you are still sucking down gels and carbs by the mouthful to get through your racing and training, you are not only polluting your body, you’re blocking it from tapping into its own natural, deep and efficient energy stores.

In the End, It’s the Journey that Matters.

Relaxing atop Mt. San Gorgonio before Leadville 
If I could only write about just one thing, it would be this. Mainly because, when it comes to ultra-running, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of the event. Whether it’s a personal record, a do-or-die commitment to finish an extreme race, or some other kind of goal, we all tend to get obsessed with the event itself. And when we do, we forget about the importance of the journey that gets us there. And when we forget that, I believe we become slaves. Slaves to our ego and to our obsessions.

Sure, we are all motivated for different reasons. And I’m still trying to figure out what motivates me. But there is one thing that I have learned along the way. And that is that if I am unable to appreciate what I’m doing while I’m on my way to doing something, then I’m not likely to get there. Let me just leave it at this: stop every once in a while. Smell the pine trees. Look at the horizon. The clouds. Take off your earphones. Then listen.

Happy New Year Ultra Runners!

December 20, 2013

Are We All Flawed Characters?

Ultra runners are an interesting breed. As one myself, I believe we are an obsessive, compulsive, selfish, narcissistic, stubborn, ego-driven group, to mention a few descriptors. Oh, sure, you aren't one of these types, right? Wrong. If you've strapped on a pair of shoes and trained for a 50 mile race or longer chances are your character is flawed by some or all of these tendencies.

But there is more to the story here. If you are an utlra runner, you've probably run next to someone during a 100 mile race, pacing them toward the finish line while they struggle from mile to mile and through highs and lows. Or chances are you've spent the better part of a day working at an aid station helping other runners through challenges non-runners couldn't begin to understand. Or maybe you've spent hours on a 30 mile long run hanging back with a buddy who was struggling to hold his cookies.

Running. It's all about the yin and the yang.

Happy holidays to all you flawed characters out there!

December 6, 2013

JFK 50 Miler - A Run Through History

When the sun finally pierced the cold night’s sky, I could feel the early morning air pressing against my cheeks. The temperature was dropping into the low 30’s and a cold, northwestern wind was blowing over the Appalachian Mountains. “These are downright balmy conditions,” a local runner said boastfully. Really? I thought to myself. As one of the few runners from California, I quietly pulled my running cap over my ears, slipped on an extra sweatshirt, and made my way to the starting line.

I was in Boonsboro, Maryland, a rural town nestled amidst the historical crossroads of the American Civil War. I was here with the original running Elvis and my pal Jeff Padilla to run the JFK 50 Mile endurance run, the oldest ultra-marathon in the United States. Inspired by John F. Kennedy, who extoled the benefits of physical fitness, the event was first held in 1963 and originally intended as a challenge for the United States Marine Corps. Today, 50 years later, the call to complete 50 miles on foot has evolved into an ultra-marathon that attracts military and civilians alike.

On November 23, 2013, exactly 50 years and one day after President Kennedy was tragically assassinated, I stood with more than 1,000 runners to take up the late president’s challenge. Surrounding me were people from all walks of life: active and retired members of the armed forces, civilian men and women, athletes and non-athletes, fathers and sons, the young and the old. Despite this diversity, we all had something in common. Each of us had our own reason for being here.

Antietam Battlefield
The chant began just before 7 a.m. 10, 9, 8…and grew louder and louder…7, 6, 5...as the starter lifted his gun…4, 3, 2, 1...bang! We ran for several miles on a paved road until we reached Turners Gap, where General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops engaged Union troops advancing under the command of General George McClellan over 150 years ago. From there we turned onto the Appalachian Trail, known universally by hikers around the world as the “AT.” What ensued was 15 miles of jagged rocks hidden under autumn’s fallen leaves—a virtual minefield for runners. One misstep, one brief lapse of concentration on the AT, and we would be sent hurtling to the ground.

As I’ve said before, running ultras is like riding a roller coaster. One moment you can be on top of the world, and the next you can feel like you’ve got the world on your shoulders. Elation and exhilaration that flow through your veins one minute are usually overcome by suffering and self-doubt the next. What I’ve learned most from running ultras is patience. Patience to know that when things get really difficult, if I just accept my situation and keep moving forward, eventually things will get better.

My concentration lapsed somewhere between mile 12 and 15 when I rolled my ankle then took a sharp fall on the trail. I had just begun to utter the first of a few words of encouragement to another runner when I found myself hurtling face first to the dirt below me. Fortunately I’ve become pretty skilled at a contorted tuck and roll maneuver in these situations so I got up and brushed myself off pretty quickly. Not in time, however, for the other runner to miss my impromptu circus act. “You okay?” she said. “Sure, I just have to watch my mouth,” was all I could muster in reply.  

From high on the Appalachian ridge we made our way down to the C&O Canal, the 184-mile water highway once used for commercial trade and as a supply line for the Union Army. Flat and scenic, this section of the course gobbled up 26 miles, a full marathon. Then we made our way just north of the historic town of Harpers Ferry, site of the infamous John Brown raid which was the catalyst of the Civil War, and into the town of Williamsport.

When I turned the last corner and caught sight of the finish line, I could see the clock and the people gathering to greet the runners. My heart raced and my pace quickened. I could feel the weight of the day on my shoulders as I approached. Finally, after seven hours and twenty-eight minutes of highs and lows blended with a slice of American history, I crossed the finish line. The weight lifted from my shoulders and, at that moment, exhilaration seeped in.

Keep it real runners!

November 29, 2013

Missing: In the Mountains

When my brother and I set out on an ride up to Butler Peak, it was a perfect 40 degrees. We rose from about 6'700 feet to approximately 8'400 feet over about 10 miles. The weather was cloudy with a few snow flurries. As we rode along a soggy fire road until we hit snow drifts along the trail. What followed was a wobbly, near-crash experience the whole way down from this very cool, top of the world place that I recommend you go visit if you are near Big Bear Lake, Ca. By the time we hit the car to drive back to our cabin, my bro announced he lost his keys! Oh my. That was interesting! I won't bore you with the details, but someone had to take a long drive back down the mountain.    

Smoke in the Forest

San Gorgonio...and its 10'000' ridge

Backside of Saddleback!

Devon C Checking Out the Wild

Al C. Keys? Huh?

November 26, 2013

Stay Tuned

Last weekend I completed the JFK 50 Mile. I have yet to post a race report. Stay tuned. In the mean time I thought you all might enjoy a photo of me next to this cannon. I'm fond of the term "you can't shoot a cannon from a canoe" (a reference to doing speed work with no base) so I thought the picture was, well, sort of relevant to a running blog. I couldn't find a canoe for this scene but I'm sure you can imagine one next to me there on the bricks. The picture was taken by Jeff P at the Antietam National Battle Field, site of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. More than 22,717 men lost their lives, went missing or sustained serious injury here on September 17, 1872. The battle was considered a draw. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  

November 11, 2013

Hardrock Speaks. Should Leadville Listen?

Ok, the following is a little more than I expected to write. If you can make it through, please take a minute and leave a comment.

I read today that the Hardrock 100 is phasing Leadville out of its lineup of qualifying races. Beginning in 2015, Leadville Trail 100 finishers will no longer be “qualified” to run Hardrock. What I find interesting is the reason behind this decision. Here is the text taken directly from the Hardrock website:

A note about the 2013 Leadville 100: The Leadville 100 includes many of the features that are important for a HR qualifier: high altitude, long climbs, potential for mountain weather, and more. However, the 2013 Leadville 100 ignored other traits of importance to the HR: environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport.

I think the Hard Rock organizers are overreaching here. And, yes, I’m fully aware that this isn’t the popular position to take. Bashing Leadville has become a sport within our sport. I get that. I also get why. The Leadville trail 100, despite being one of the oldest 100 milers in the country, has become the equivalent of an outcast kid in a class of buttoned up Ivy Leaguers. Its bulging size (943 starters in 2013), its NYSE listed corporate owner, its lack of a trail-service requirement, its olly olly oxen free philosophy of no qualifying race required because, after all, everyone is qualified to run 100 miles, all these quirks, big or small, make Leadville something of a outcast among its peers.

I understand that there were some serious missteps by the race organizers at the 2013 Leadville 100. Most of these were the direct result of too many runners combined with too many crew members and inadequate logistics. What ensued were traffic jams at Winfield, Twin Lakes and other aid stations, a shortage of supplies for runners, trash on trail, confused aid station volunteers, etc., etc. It probably doesn’t help that Life Fitness, the NYSE owner of the race, is not, heaven forbid, a non-profit organization and does have to justify its existence with profits to its shareholders.

That said, all of what went wrong in this years Leadville 100 can be fixed if Life Fitness listens to the feedback that is flowing like the Mississippi their way. But are they listening? I have not talked to the corporate brass at Life Fitness but I would love the opportunity to do so. If given the chance I wouldn’t hesitate to inform them that they need to pay attention to these details or the past 30 years of good will that this event has engendered with the Leadville community and the ultra-running sport at large is in jeopardy.

Which brings me back to the Hardrock organizers’ decision to throw their cross state brethren to the wind by “phasing” Leadville off their qualifier list. This, as I said, is overreaching. Why? Because it sets a bad precedent. It would be kind of like the Boston Marathon saying to the NYC marathon (or any marathon for that matter) that its runners can’t qualify for Boston because the race is too big, too corporate, too harmful to the environment, too crowded, etc. It is not a perfect analogy but the concept is relevant. If NY is singled out, should London, or Berlin or LA also be excluded? Along these lines, if Leadville is singled out, shouldn’t UTMB as well? That race (2,300 entrants) dwarfs Leadville, Western States, AC and Hardrock combined. Can you imagine the impact on the environment from that event?

The problem is illuminated by asking one question. Where does one draw the line? What does it mean to be environmentally responsible? Is smaller better? How small is small? And where does one find a clear definition of a “positive impact on the health of our sport?” The more I think about this last one the more baffled I become. One thing I’ve learned about running 100s is that crossing the finish line is the single most gratifying part of our sport. How does one apply this gratification to a definition of a “positive impact on the health of our sport?”

The thing that gets me is that there seems to be a little bit of elitism seeping through the veins of this whole subject.  Who among us runners can say what another runner should want or value? When I showed up to Leadville this year I too was aghast at the number of runners on certain sections, the amount of cars on the streets, the disorientation of certain volunteers. I was also extremely impressed by the volunteers that I personally interacted with. Never had I been so well taken care of at a 100 mile race. I’ve also never experienced such a positive vibe from other runners on the trail (I'm not sure reducing the number of runners is the best solution). To me the Leadville 100 was the best experience I’ve had in the six 100 mile races I’ve completed. Was it perfect? Of course not. But I didn’t sign up for this sport to experience perfection.

When I was a little boy, I used to get embarrassed when my mom did something that was different. Like when she drove her yellow Volkswagon Thing down the sidewalk on her 40th birthday. Or when she would talk to total strangers like they’d been her best friend since grade school. And, when the principle at my high school told me not to take my hat off at graduation, it was my mom who asked me why on earth I would hide my new haircut – a mohawk – on such an important day.

My mom taught me a thing or two about conformity. The first was that conformity leads to intolerance. And intolerance leads to a lot of what is wrong with our society. It is important to keep an open mind about people and things. Leadville is not Hard Rock. Nor should it be. It’s bigger. It’s corporate owned. Any adult can enter it, regardless of experience.

My hope would be that the Hard Rock race organizers reverse their decision to phase out Leadville as a qualifier, and give the Leadville race organizers a chance to right their ship. Sure, they messed up this year. But give them a break. After all, Leadville has been part of the ultra family for 30 years.

October 22, 2013

Don't Go Back to Rockville

Rockville Town Center
It wasn't amusing in the least, for the first few minutes anyway. Then I began to recognize it was going to be a fun ride.

It was 1988, and I'd just moved into a rental house in Arlington, Virginia. There was me—the new guy from California—and three guys from Pennsylvania. It was a typical east coast group-house of rudderless 20 somethings trying to figure things out after college. There were four small bedrooms and a little back yard with a lawn where folks could sit quietly in the 90 degree heat and enjoy the sight of mosquito clouds, hovering. 

Last week I put a song list together for a long run. My plan was lose myself for a few hours while listening to some throwback music from my past. I hoped to trigger a few fun memories. It worked.

I was unpacking at the time. With a clear view of the back yard from my room, I noticed my new roommates in the yard hanging out in a small circle and listening to music. Minding my own business, I noticed they were listening to just one song…over, and over, and over.  I still hear those lyrics....

Looking at your watch a third time
Waiting in the station for the bus
Going to a place that's far
So far away and if that's not enough
Going where nobody says hello
They don't talk to anybody they don't know

At this moment it dawned on me that I now live in a house with roommates that are listening to the same song for 20 minutes. But I had good feeling on this. I looked out the window again and noticed these guys weren't really sitting in a circle, as one would think of a group sitting like that. They were sitting in a baby pool, all three of them. A five foot round, six inch high, baby pool. I looked closer still. One of them was snorkeling.

Ok, so baby pools aren’t so cool, particularly in California. And to snorkel in a baby pool, well, that’s stupid. But when you are 25 and looking for any excuse to have fun, you make things cool all on your own. I eventually learned how to do this with that baby pool. And thank god for that. I can’t tell you how “cool” we thought we were when we invited girls over to a “pool” party. I will never forget the expressions on their faces when they rounded the corner to that back yard.

You'll wind up in some factory
That's full-time filth and nowhere left to go
Walk home to an empty house
Sit around all by yourself
I know it might sound strange but I believe
You'll be coming back before too long

Don’t go back to Rockville. Don’t go back to Rockville. And waste another year.

Thank you long runs! 

October 18, 2013

Please Don't Wake Me

We were only 5 minutes into our run last night when I realized something was terribly wrong. Across Bonita Canyon road, one of my favorite trails was being dismembered. Destroyed. Bulldozed. 

I should know better. Because I live in a place once known for sprawling orange groves but now is the epicenter of urban sprawl. Because the good ol' OC, short for what some call the Orange Curtain, once the home of a mere 1.4 million people, is now the home of more than 3 million people. Yes, 3,600 people per square mile. Only 5 other counties in the entire country have more people. Only San Francisco packs more people into one square mile in California.

I shouldn't complain. After all we have Shamrocks, beaches and Disneyland. But these new homes are slowly demolishing my favorite local trails. What is a runner to do? At what point do I go to a hypnotist and ask him not to wake me up? It works in Office Space.