December 3, 2016

Western States Lottery - I'm not Bitter

  Western States Lottery Stats:

4,246 applicants 

369 runners “permitted” by US Forest Service

less 119 “automatic” entries “granted” by WS board of trustees

=          250 slots available
=          2.5% chance of being selected (based on ticket system)
=          Genius marketing. But what are the motives?

I’m not bitter. Just a little frustrated. Submitting my application to the Western States lottery, anymore, is getting a bit futile. Outside of the “automatic” selections, which includes a list of categories that would make any politician blush, the remnants are getting kind of skimpy. And the “automatic” list, frankly, seems to be multiplying like cancer cells, gobbling up spaces the average hard working trail runner would otherwise have. What are the “automatic” entries you ask? Here’s the latest menu:

30 spaces for “Race Admin.” Trail crew etc.
24 spaces for “Golden Ticket Races”
20 “sponsor” slots
19 Top Ten Runner Slots
10 “raffle” winners
6 UTWT “elite” foreign athletes
3 “special considerations”
2 runners going for 10th finish
1 “trustee”
1 “silver legend”
1 entry for Gordy

Again, I’m not bitter. But I’m wondering if the direction this is going is away from the culture of the sport. Ultra running is about hard work, suffering, paying your dues, putting you time in on trail, sacrificing time with family, etc. In this light, does putting your time in mean elbowing your way into an aid station for three years? Does sacrifice mean locking in every “raffle” date in your outlook calendar? Shit, I’m beginning to feel like I should dress up like an Oompa Loompa so I can have the inside track to a “golden ticket.”

What the hell is a “Golden Ticket” race anyway? Well it’s a list of races, sponsored by the Western States “Presenting” sponsor, that provide entry to the top finishers in those races. Not a bad idea, but it gets a bit grey when I look at the motives here – attract more runners to races sponsored by the “presenting sponsor” so said sponsor can reap more marketing juice from their sponsorship of said races in a build up to Western States. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for profit motivated enterprises, but Western States is a non-profit organization entrusted by the Forest Service to administer a fair event per the course's legislative mandate.

Why, then, do sponsors – presumably profit motivated sponsors – control 12% of the entries to Western States? Is it because the event needs capital? From what I can find the race organization does not need money. It’s sitting on $149,209 in cash, after bringing in $382,587 in revenue and spending $425,228 in expenses in 2014 (the latest year I could find on record).

So, what…then…am…I…saying? I’m not saying as much as I’m starting to question the cozy relationship between the board of trustees and sponsors looking to maximize brand. All at the expense of the hard working runner who just wants a chance to “toe the line” at an event that bills itself as “the world’s preeminent 100-mile trail run”.

So I leave you with this. Why do I feel like I need to dress up as an oompa loompa when I know I’m going to be dressed down by a shoe company?

Really, I’m not bitter.


November 23, 2016

Western States -- I'm In!

Not really. I'm still waiting for the Dec. 3 lottery. But I found this post from 2008, and it made me laugh. And I keep doing this stuff? 

2009 Western States Endurance Run -- I'm In

It is now official. I just submitted my entry to the 2009 Western States 100 mile endurance run. Although I was guaranteed an automatic entry as a 2008 participant, I was required to accept or decline the 2009 automatic entry. I accepted, as I expect 90 percent or more of the other '08 participants will do. Who wouldn't accept after being shut out of this year's race due to fires that rose from freaky dry lighting? What runner would train for six months, create animosity between his spouse, develop lingering and sometimes very painful injuries, become single minded to the detriment of his oh-so-important social graces, concoct visions of grandeur in his minds eye, talk excessively of race day tactics with 100 mile finishers, develop the disgusting yet important habit of stuffing TP in his pocket before embarking on early morning trail runs, grow a portfolio of running shoes to rival any Emelda Marcos poser, watch others stare at him with a look of utter confusion and discontent when they hear of his fixation, find ways to work out in the most miserably hot conditions, refuse to unpack a suitcase for a year, identify with terms like "beware of the chair" and "time on foot", write a blog about the absurdity of it all, only to choose NOT to reenter?

I'm looking forward to the next 10 months! I'll keep you posted....

November 22, 2016

In Time or Location

Ever stumbled upon a place, in time or location, where you just want to sit and stay a while? Where something, not sure what, makes you wonder why you can’t just say to hell with the noise, I’m tuning out?

This is Gary’s bench. I sat down here last weekend atop Bedford Peak, signed his journal and looked across Santiago Canyon as the clouds crept slowly over Modjeska Peak.

Not a bad place, Gary. I’ll be back.

November 19, 2016

Western States - The Dreaded Wait

Pre Start @ Western - The little ones

Here it is again. The dreaded wait. A space in time saturated with anticipation and anxiety. Fantasy and foreboding. But who among us is willing to ignore the hype and hullaballoo? The lights flashing, the music blasting, the sponsors spamming?

I’m talking of the Western States lottery, of course. The good ‘ol cattle call that turns us typically stoic, anti-establishment ultra runners into a stampeding herd of steer rushing for the barn door so we get our shot at the big league.

Hmmm. Western States. Is it really the “big deal” everyone talks about? Or is it another overblown media sensation. I’m down on the media right now, but that will change as soon as they pay back the $billions they made during our presidential election circus, oops, I meant cycle.

Ok, back to this post.

Western States. The original. The granddaddy. The track meet. The lottery with odds of getting in dropping each year. Why bother?

Well, like everything in life, its complicated. To run Western is to run with a cascade of fanatic volunteers, throngs of supporters and well wishers, and gobs runners staking their claim on ultra running’s most storied event. But, again, is it worth it?

My first 100 mile race was Western States. I was drawn to it for all of the above reasons. I’ve run it 3 times now. Every time vowing to return to improve my time. Every time succeeding. The last time without crew and pacers, my first stop on the way to finishing the Grand Slam.

The hardest thing about running Western States isn’t the climbs, or the heat, or the canyons, or the humidity, or the punishing downhills, or even the dreaded “mandatory” pre-race meeting bestowed on all runners by the sponsors footing a big bill. No its none of these things. The hardest thing about running Western States is making it through the labyrinthine application process that has driven the odds of a typical runner getting in down to an all time low of 4.7%.

I get it. But I hate it. There are limited slots (thanks to the forest service) and more and more people apply each year. Everyone wants a bite at the apple of the granddaddy of ultras.

So here I sit. In that space in time.

October 23, 2016

When the Student Becomes the Master

To my readers: yes, sometimes my posts go astray. After seeing both Bob Dylan and Neil Young last weekend, I couldn’t help myself. Hence, what follows. I hope you read and share a comment.

Neil Young
It was an innocent summer. Not unusual, I suspect, for an adolescent lost in the isolation of high school, stumbling along to the sounds and voices that drew him away from a boring life of acceptance, toward the intoxicating journey of curiosity and skepticism.

Like a magnet, they drew me toward them, the sounds and voices of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, two iconic musicians who’s relationship, in my simplistic interpretation of folk music lore, can be characterized as one of student and master.

That Mr. Young revered his, I dare say, peer, in such a consistent manner, the relationship can only be described not as one of equals, as some would argue it should be, but as oddly submissive, if not subordinate. But should it be so? Should the annals of rock history go down with Neil Young, the “quintessential hippy-cowboy loner” as described by music critic John Rockwell, bowing in dutiful respect at the feet of the first musician ever to receive a Nobel Prize for Literature? If you ask this intoxicated skeptic, I should say not.

Dylan, for all his wizardry with words and verse, has staked a valid claim as a gifted songwriter and poet, one who has captured the imagination of a generation. As the Wall Street Journal music critic Jim Fusilli states, “…Mr. Dylan’s words absent the accompaniment…changed popular music by discovering and then exploring, repeatedly and often magnificently, new ways to set distinctive narratives to melody and rhythm.” Mr. Fusilli raises the Dylan bar to an insurmountable level by stating “there is no comparable body of work, regardless of standard of measurement, by any other artist of the rock era.”

But then I turn to a song by Young, the famous Cortez The Killer, where guitar and words lull me, slowly and methodically, toward a place of vulnerability and innocence that doesn’t really exist in this world, a place where Young often went, obscured by “evocative ambiguities” as Rockwell would put it. Or, to Southern Man, Young’s screeching reprimand of a country’s embedded hatred that remains stubbornly lodged in a certain fabric of our society.

Last weekend I joined the throngs in Southern California at the outdoor Desert Trip concert which featured, among other big names, the two legends playing on the same stage on separate nights. The first act, Dylan, was punctuated with black and white film clips from the early 20th century, casting a somber mood. Of the more than 500 songs written by Dylan, the music chosen by the recently announced Nobel Laureate was, to this music fan, largely unfamiliar and uninspiring. Dylan himself moved on stage - albeit behind his piano, without taking more than a few steps.

The next night I looked up and saw a row of glowing, golden tepees, eerily conjuring up an image of a small campsite nestled somewhere on the great plains, under a full moon no less. From there Young, the new master in my humble opinion, taught a lesson few can deny – that you should never take your craft as a performer and those who have embraced you for granted.

The hippy-cowboy-loner stood before a crowd of some 75,000 and unleashed a raw, emotional performance that only Young is capable of delivering. He worked slowly from a raw electric riff into a frenzy of guitars in Cowgirl In The Sand, bringing the audience to its feet more than once. Another song, Powderfinger, sent shivers down my spine, not from its meaning (which remains unknown), but from the imagery it foretells:

Shelter me from the powder
and the finger
Cover me with the thought
that pulled the trigger
Think of me
as one you'd never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love,
I know I'll miss her.

My hat is off to Bob Dylan for being the first musician named Nobel Prize winner in history. He deserves all the recognition and the glory. But Dylan, in my humble opinion, should at least tip his hat to a new master, the evocative one who raises the bar even a little higher – at least for those of us that still embrace the craft.

October 14, 2016

Hey Mr. Tambourine Man!

Some people are less than enthusiastic that Bob Dylan received the Nobel peace prize, the first musician in history to receive the prestigious award. Hmm, I’m just happy I’m going to see him tonight. Personally, I can’t think of a musician that tells a better story about everything American.  

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can't feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it

Coming down from an awesome runners high...

October 10, 2016

I'm Now an Active Member of Outdoor Writers Association!

I'm excited to announce I've been admitted as an Active member of the Outdoor Writers Associations of America! The OWAA is comprised of nearly 800 individual outdoor writers from the broad, modern spectrum of outdoor beats, from shooting to camping, backpacking to kayaking, wildlife watching to mountain climbing. And now ultra running!

OWAA is a nonprofit, international organization that represents a diverse group of professional communicators dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience. They inform the public about outdoor activities, issues and the responsible use of our natural resources.

Thanks to the Board for approving my membership! I look forward to sharing my journey with OWAA as an ultra runner exploring the outdoors!

September 27, 2016

What's a High Without a Low?

Ever found yourself wondering what your next ultra event is going to be but can only brood about not finishing your last (3 mile) run?

I've come to realize brooding is a big part of running ultras. It's all part of the highs and lows we face when we're in the elements. Anyway, who's really high when they are never low?

Listen to the running gods my friends. They will show you the way.

Images of Runners Who Didn't Listen
Keeping my ear to the ground...

September 17, 2016

Visions. Grandeur. And The Tahahumara.

A few weeks ago, with visions of grandeur and a renewed sense of purpose, I sat down and laid out a new training plan for myself. Oh the possibilities! The images came flooding into my cranium. They were like a wave of morphine enveloping an addict. I pictured myself waltzing up the most gut wrenching climbs. Weightless and stealthy, like a Tahahumara Indian out of Born to Run. Yes, with the right training program, I chanted to myself, I can mold my body into anything and break new barriers I never thought possible!

Funny thing is, all this was in my head. And my head hadn’t consulted with my body. When it did, after doing a couple long runs, there was, well, a little push back. It’s not like these visions were naïve, or foolish, like my body is saying, just a little premature, like the “I” is saying.

I don’t know what is worse. Having visions of grandeur with not quite enough to back them up, or just not giving a shit about the possibilities that lie ahead. I know what I believe.

What do you believe?

P.S. This question isn't just about running.

August 21, 2016

Life Would Be So Simple

If only we were all just inanimate objects. Life would be so simple. Oh, yea, I forgot. Life wouldn't exist. Hence in-an-i-mate. There are times, though, when I feel a lot like an inanimate object. One that has been in motion for a very long time, until confronted by this unbalanced force. And following such unbalanced force, one that is now, comfortably, at rest.

Well, here's to remaining in a state of rest.  Until confronted by the next unbalanced force.

Inanimate or not, one thing running has taught me? We're all subject to the law of motion.  

August 14, 2016

But I Still Have All My Toenails...

“Oh, I think it’s time for my pedicure,” she uttered as we reclined on the grassy knoll waiting for our girls water polo team to play. Unfortunately, it wasn’t more than an hour earlier when I was noticing my own toes, probing them with my fingers for any loose tissue. It had only been two weeks since the large blister was lanced at TRT 100.

Blisters, I’ve learned, are best left untouched for an indefinite period of time after they’ve been “lanced.” Time enough for the dead skin to slowly, and naturally, work its way off the appendage. Any “probing” can accelerate the process, I’ve learned, and can create somewhat grotesque looking lumps of flesh that hang from the toe. It’s rather unsightly to the average onlooker.

As her eyes moved from her shiny toenails to the half-living-half-dead flesh that covered my toes, I realized the probing I’d done was not well timed. Left only where gaping holes in spots that looked conspicuously ghoulish.

“But wait,” I clamored, I still have all my toenails!”

August 3, 2016

July 27, 2016

Top 10 Running Shoe Lacing Techniques

Problems getting those shoes to fit perfectly? Try one of these out for size.

Cool display of varying methods to lace your shoes. How many times have you tied your shoes the exact same way? Time to mix it up folks!

July 23, 2016

Grand Slam Drop Rates

It seems a bit counter intuitive, but it makes sense if you really think about it. That Wasatch Front has the lowest drop rate for GS runners of all the Grand Slam races is really about survival, fitness and cut offs.

If you are running the Grand Slam, it might be helpful to know that if you make it past Western States (26% drop rate), there is 9% chance you'll drop at Vermont, a 29% chance you'll drop at Leadville, and only a 7% chance you'll drop at Wasatch. Of course take these stats for what they are...just stats (based on the last 10 years of Grand Slam runners, excluding 2008 when Western States was cancelled).

What is the biggest take away here? Well, I put them together to prove a hunch that I had since running the Slam in 2014 - that Leadville is the hardest of the four and has the highest drop rate.

Here's my two cents.

Make it through Western, you have a good chance of going the distance. But your biggest challenge is Leadville, for several reasons. The first is altitude. My guess is most slammers, coming from around the country (or the world for that matter), don't have the time to properly acclimate to Leadville's 10,000' starting altitude. This is a huge factor that, combined with Leadville's 30 hour cutoff, creates a insurmountable hurtle for nearly 30% of all runners who never make it through this gauntlet.

The secret? Acclimate! If there is any possible way, spend at least two weeks at 7,000' or higher before Leadville. Hike a lot. Get high and reap the platelets. You'll pay the price if you don't. Leadville is a very runnable course, but not if you don't acclimate. You've got to get over Hope Pass and back, and getting this done takes more than guts. It takes more red blood cells. Wasatch, a much tougher course, is at a lower altitude and gives runners 36 hours to complete, six hours more than Leadville.

One other tip for all you GS runners. Don't worry about running between races. Just get out and hike, stay on your feet, and enjoy the outdoors. It's a long summer and you need to give you body some time to rebound. By the time you reach Wasatch, you will have much more fitness than when you started Western States. Let the journey take its course, and enjoy the ride!!

Keep it real GS runners!


July 21, 2016

Tahoe Rim Trail - There Are Moments

Mona G, Will C, Yours T, Al C. 
He took the scalpel from the package and held it, hesitantly, over my left foot. As a new volunteer, he was unsure of himself, worried about the pain it might cause. But there was no pain, just a quick lance, lots of fluid oozing, and the blister the size of a grape on my big toe was no more. Another volunteer quickly applied a wrap over the loose skin. It was a team effort at the 50-mile aid station, with my friend Mona G in the middle of the scrum barking out orders.

Last weekend I completed the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 mile endurance run. It was a weekend of firsts. My first 100 miler since completing the Grand Slam in 2014. The first ultra my father and brother came to watch. And the first time I’ve come so close to not finishing.

Pre Nuclear Fuel Rods
I’m not sure if it was the average elevation (8,300’), 20,000 feet of climbing, technical trails, dry-to-the-bone heat, or my new-fangled cross-training program with not-so-much-weekly running, but this race kicked my ass! From mile 50 to 60 I was teetering from faithful survivor mode to DNF zombie mode.

One minute I was swearing to myself that I’d never, ever run another 100 mile race (now a routine), and the next I was rationalizing that every runner needs at least one DNF, and why shouldn’t this be mine! But I knew my Dad was waiting for me at the finish line.  So, with that, I resolved to grind through the misery even if it took me until the 35-hour cutoff.

Marching into 50 mile aid station

In terms of difficulty, I place TRT in front of Angeles Crest and just behind Wasatch Front. It’s challenges are many, but the coup de grace is the Diamond Peak climb, which is presented to runners twice – at mile 30 when the heat of the day is reaching a crescendo, and mile 80 when your body feels like it just woke up in a bed of spent nuclear fuel rods. The beast is 1,850 feet straight up the face of a ski slope laden with sand and an elevation of 8,540 feet. No switch backs, no plateaus, no relief.
Spent Fuel Rods - Mile 80
Questions floated in the balance during this race like so many other meaning-of-life obscurities. Was I born with this need for pain? Or was it nurtured during my early years in catholic school? Why do I push the envelope when most people my age are pushing pencils? Do I need a therapist? Then, in the middle of the night, I ran into my friend Dave B with his pacer high on a ridge. At least I wasn't alone I thought.    

Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States, the tenth deepest in the world. Not unlike the highs and lows experienced during 100 mile race, the lake is a picture in contrast, with deep blue waters surrounded by turquoise shorelines and bright sandy beaches. Seeing it from high upon the rim trail as I ran through the forest was something I won't forget.

There are moments. Moments that I hold on to after moving through the mountains all day and all night, under the beaming sun and rising moon, when I’m ready to just sit down on a rock somewhere and say to hell with this, when the raw trickle of endorphins move through my veins and keep me climbing toward the top of the mountain, when the city lights flicker far below to make me feel like I’m on top of the world.

Once making it through the lowest lows, I started to feel up again and began the process of picking off a few runners. Again, it dawned on me that finding my strength would ultimately happen if I had the patience to work with my weaknesses and not let them control or define me. Its a game of patience being in the elements when your body is struggling and your mind is fragile. It's life in one day. You just have to keep moving forward as good and bad happen. 

After climbing Snow Valley Peak (9,000’) for the second time, I began the long 7 mile descent to the finish line. It was a good feeling to have completed the last climb and have only a downhill section to get through. Despite hours of punishment, my legs, surprisingly, were holding up enough to allow me to push the pace when another runner came up on me. With the finish line so close I couldn’t let anyone pass me.

At the finish with RD George R, Will C

When I reached the coveted 100 mile finish line in 25 hours and 17 minutes my crew was waiting. I can’t describe how good it felt to see them and just sit down and not move for a few minutes. Yes, finally, it was over, and another moment was captured.

The TRT was easily one of the toughest races I’ve ever completed. It was also one of the most organized and well-run races and by far the best marked course. During the 25 hours I was on trial, not once did I feel concerned about being on the right trail, a common occurrence on other courses. Whenever I wanted to ensure I was on the correct trail, I’d look up, and within a minute or two I’d see a trail marker. It is a first class event and I recommend it especially for those of you seeking something a little less mainstream with a higher margin of difficulty.

I’d like to give a hearty shout out to the volunteers, all of whom did a great job keeping us runners fed, hydrated and moving on our way. But most importantly I want to thank my crew Mona G, Alfred C and Will C for keeping me motivated during the low points. This was the most difficult day I can remember, and I don’t think I would’ve finished without knowing you’d be there for me at the finish line!

All photos by Mona G.