April 22, 2017

Angry Dog Video

Just when you think you’ve got a spontaneous run down, something rushes at you and wants to bite you in the ass! Hell, all I want to do is finish my damn run.  They always catch me off guard, these dogs. Oh well, what would running be without a little excitement?  

April 16, 2017

Getting Into the Ultra Mindset - Vol. 1

Recently someone asked me to write about the challenges of mental training for ultra marathons. Hah! If I ever write a book about ultra running, I will most definitely dedicate a chapter if not the entire book to this topic!

One of the greatest athletes of all time – Mohamed Ali – said that a man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. Do you get where I’m going with this one? I started running marathons in my late 20s, then switched to ultras in my mid 40s. For better or worse, everything I thought I knew about running has changed.

The term mental training is really a euphemism for teaching yourself to embrace a mindset. For me, when I switched to running ultras it meant teaching myself how to think differently. To abandon the mental shackles that controlled my perceptions and expectations about running and being a runner.

To begin, let me say I’m going to build on this topic over several intermittent posts (hence the Volume 1 above). There is just too much to write on this topic in a single post.

Lets start with preparation. How do you prepare mentally for an ultra marathon? (For purposes of these posts, I’m going to use mountain oriented 100 milers when I refer to ultras. Everything else is just a long marathon :-). Rule of thumb – pace means nothing, so stop obsessing over it. Really folks, especially those coming from a marathon background, throw away any GPS that is tracking your real-time pace or splits. Why? First off, your poor ego will be devastated to learn that your mile pace is very often barely faster than a brisk walk.

Depending on the terrain, altitude, vertical gain, descent, heat, daylight, distance covered, nutrition/hydration – your pace and energy levels will very wildly. Mentally speaking, you have to be prepared to roll with this and not try to control it. The mindset that you control your pace and use a GPS to monitor it is like thinking you can fly the Apollo to the moon with a compass. Your leaving the earth’s magnetic field my friend, it ain’t going to get you there. Think of it this way - when you’re running 100 miles in the mountains, you entering a new stratosphere. What worked at ground level won’t help you up there.

Rather than monitoring your pace, turn your mental focus inward, to your energy output. This is critical in training because you need to teach your mind patience and your body how to move efficiently for long periods. In most cases, the slower you start, the faster you will finish – in workouts and races. As one of my running mentors says, when it comes to training, it’s all about “time on foot.” Yes. It’s more than just a slogan.

March 31, 2017

It's the Journey, Stupid.

Miniature Golf Date
Just the other day I surprised myself. I was driving with my daughter who was home from college for Spring Break. We were off to play miniature golf, and enjoy some quality father-daughter time that is so hard to come by for us these days.

I looked at her and just started talking. The thoughts turned into words that started flowing outside of me. Like my sub conscience was talking for me. It was surreal, and I just found myself listening to what seemed like someone else’s conversation. Statements about how I didn’t think I could run ultra races anymore, that life was different now, and running like this just didn’t seem to mean anything to me anymore, at least like it used to.

There are thoughts. They come from the emptiest places, where self-doubt lingers, resolve begins to melt away, and personal commitment is at risk. They are not drawn to weakness, or insecurity, or indecision, but they uncover them.  They float in and out of our lives. They hide behind good days and expose the bad ones.

She nodded, and then we laughed, like people would do when they realized they’re talking about something really strange, or odd, and they were having a serious conversation about it anyway. Like someone not wanting to stick a needle in their eye anymore, so they are actually talking about not doing that to themselves anymore. Surely it's not this bad? 

I realized that the apathy that owned these words was nourished by a race – a marathon actually – that I ran recently. That I went into this race with high hopes and left with a new dose of humility was, in retrospect, a bucket of cold water on whatever flame was burning. But one thing I’ve learned in ultra running, is not to build a fire on the results of a race or races, but rather on the journey that I take and the experiences I encounter all along the way.

Time to get back on the journey.

March 26, 2017

From the Cup of Reality

Call it strange. Tragic. Morose. But more than 200 bodies lie on top of Mt. Everest, perpetually at rest, entombed in an infinite frozen state. All in pursuit of “summiting” the highest mountain on earth.

The mountains draw. They are, as Thomas Wolfe once wrote “the cup of reality.” But why is this so? Why are so many of us drawn to them?

Of course there are endless words that describe their tidings, their extremes, their danger and beauty. From Muir to Mallory to Sir Edmond Hillary, all one has to do is open a book, or click a link, and the most eloquent, descriptive verse or prose will beckon you to higher altitudes.

After several weeks of running near the ocean, I felt the need to go high, closer to the clouds, into the metaphorical container of, as Wolfe put it, reality.

Not to take anything away from Wolfe, but there is a lesson I’ve learned, and too often forget, when I run in the mountains. It’s one of those things that often slaps me into submission, lest I forget while rollicking around the flatlands. This isn’t anything profound or spiritual.

It is that the mountains extract more from me. More of everything. I was reminded of this yesterday when embarking on a long run, again when I was a mere 6 miles in, and again when reached my turn around point after 3 hours of running. I would ultimately finish, depleted, in over six hours.

When crunching the numbers it starts to make sense. Between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, the space I ran between, there is 23% - 26% less effective oxygen than at sea level where I live. Unfortunately I’m not sure what was crunched more, my toes or my ego. This morning I woke with a pulsating blister under my toenail. Pain extraction - above average.

It was a new route for me. I found what looked to be a secret single-track trail that meandered strait up the mountain and into the trees, in the direction I wanted to go. Once on it, it became apparent that this was a very well used trail with some really steep sections, and amazing views of Sugarloaf Mountain and Mt. San Gorgonio. I climbed, and climbed some more, around 1,000 feet in the first two miles.

At the start, I promised myself I would eat after 90 minutes of running, and then every hour after that. By the time 90 minutes rolled around, I had been doing some calculations in my head about how much distance I had already covered. Big mistake. I intentionally avoided looking at my GPS constantly. When I realized I was several miles short of my “calculations,” all I could do was shout an expletive not needed here. I always spend more time running in the mountains, because I run slower. Time extraction – growing.

The next milestone was my turnaround point. It was only after I started this run when I began the debate in my head about exactly what I was going to do. It started with 20+ miles, then moved to 24, then 26 miles. All this seemed reasonable, so why not go for 30 miles? So I settled on 28, which meant a turnaround at 14. The turn around was a success, and then it dawned on me I wasn’t going to make it back to my car until close to 6 pm. With the temperature and my energy plummeting, I just tried to keep moving forward.

Surprisingly my legs didn't falter, even after a deceivingly punishing technical trail with some major rock fields to cross along the way. After a couple stops to drink in the views, snap a few picks, I found myself descending the secret trail I had ascended several hours earlier. There were moments - particularly on the banked turns - where I was starting to feel lighter on my feet than my age would have me believe. Life extraction - achieved.   

March 18, 2017

Old Camp Via Bell View - Cadillac - Santiago

12.5 miles / 3,500' gain / 280' per mile / Out and back

Got swept up by all the wildflowers 

March 17, 2017

Come as You Are

Someone recently asked me if I get excited when I’m about to go for a several mile run. My reply was kind of knee jerk, “sometimes, but sometimes not so much.”

There are good times, and not so good times being a runner. Sometimes these ups and downs swirl around in my head like an Irish stew with a little too much Guinness added for good measure. I’m not saying this because I’m drinking a Guinness right now -- about ready to poor a second (it’s St. Patty’s day people) -- or because I’m listening to Nirvana playing really loud. I’m saying it because it really sucks to run hard for several hours, reach a finish line, and then be disappointed. WTF? How can I do this to myself?

I’m hoping that Kurt will help me understand. It’s all in the head. Expectations. Yes. All in the head.

Come as you are. As you were. As I want you to be.

How else is there?

February 24, 2017

Earth's Curvature

 Mauna Kea Sunset
As the sun continued to sink, the bones in my fingers started to feel like freeze-dried, orthopedic stumps impaled in withering flesh-sticks. Ok, embellishment aside, it was very cold. And I didn’t expect it to be. My fingers are always the first to punish me when I’m cold. 

That we were standing at 13,796 feet above the Island of Hawaii made it all the more surrealI’ve never been a huge sunset connoisseur, whether its because I lack the patience to sit for the few minutes it takes to appreciate what nature serves up everyday, or I’m just distracted by life’s less meaningful machinations, but this night was different. 

The sky, cloudless above the horizon, started to morph from powder blue hueinto a butterscotch colored sundae layered with boysenberry and marmalade topping. I wanted to reach out and take a scoop, but my fingers weren't willing. We watched the scene unfold standing on the summit of Mt. Mauna Kea, the largest mountain in the world at 33,500 feet when measured from it’s base at the bottom of the ocean. 

From here the horizon bends with the curvature of the earth, while the clouds coalesce along into a dessert sprinkled with white telescopes. A first for me and something to remember. 

February 20, 2017

The Making of a Peace Sign

We gathered white coral rocks. Then gently laid them down on the black lava. As the circle formed, we noticed the line down the center was a little crooked. Liv made the adjustment, then we stood back to see what we had done. Nothing magic, but magical nonetheless. A first for me.

They posed standing inside of it. Then they lay down in it, above the two lines which signify palms outstretched, downward, like Goya’s peasant before the firing squad, in the circle known for eternity and the unborn child. Two teenagers, two young girls, teammates, friends.

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?