March 11, 2024

Monument Valley - Embracing the Unknown

It is said that to embrace running ultra marathons, you have to embrace the unknown, Unknown weather conditions, unknown course conditions, even your own unknown mental and physical condition. They all can change in an instant, usually for the worse. How ever you expect things to go out there, usually doesn’t go, but the idea is you keep going anyway. 

When I was running into a 50 mph head wind at the Monument Valley 50k last week, with sand blasting into my face and body, I realized that wasn’t the picture I had painted in my head preparing for the day. And when I looked up and saw tumbleweeds twirling toward me like something from a 1960s horror show, that visual had eluded me. 

What is known during an ultra is the inevitable self doubt and questioning that invade your mind along the way. Why did I sign up for this? Why keep going? Why would anyone keep going? These questions typically come at the lowest point in a race, when the known meets the unknown. When bravado meets humility. Everyone has their own way of navigating these moments. Some hunker down and put mind over matter. Some tap out and head for a warm bath. I’ve been known to lower myself to screaming expletives at anyone associated with the event, mostly at myself. 

Freud said that the pleasure of satisfying a savage instinct, undomesticated by the ego, is much more intense than the one of satisfying a tamed instinct. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I would classify finishing an ultra marathon, particularly when running into a gale force headwind, as savage. It certainly isn't civilized.  

As I drove onto the Navaho reservation before the race, the first thought I had was of my late grandmother. She was proud of her Native American heritage. She was, as I am, a descendent of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma. She once took me to the movie theater when I was a young boy. We went to see a cowboy and indian feature film about Custer's last stand. I believe she wanted me to see that the Native American's were not always the victims, that they too were strong and capable of winning. 

As I continued toward the finish line, a strong tail wind came upon me. My tired legs and body were lifted by this wind and it carried me forward, stride for stride.

I've read that wind is most commonly referred to as nilch’i in the Navajo language. Was this a spiritual nilch'i from my grandmother? As I crossed the finish line, I raised my arms thinking, at that moment, how good it felt to embrace the unknown. 





February 22, 2023

Age? What Do We Know About Age?

Getting back in the ultra-running saddle has taken some time for me. Three and half years to be exact. I’ll just chalk it up to life getting in the way. The particular saddle was the Ranch 50k which took place last weekend, on my 60th birthday, in Escondido California.

John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society, in a memorable scene encouraged his students to live by the dictate carpe diem. It’s a scene that reminds me of why I run ultras – to seize the day. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my big day.

On my drive to the event it crossed my mind that I was now society’s definition of an “older” runner. But as I rolled into the parking lot, any of this chatter in my mind gave way to the pre-race rituals I’ve become so familiar with. The sprint to the porta-potty, the slow walk to the registration table, the suiting up in my car to stay warm, the jog to the starting line.

I was bracing for a brutal day with a website calling out 6,000 feet of climbing. What I didn’t expect, despite warnings from the race director, was problems staying on trail. Runners were advised to wear a GPX watch and download the course so as not to get lost. For a 50K? I’d never heard of this on a marked course.

Turns out the course was very well marked, which made it all the more difficult when some a-holes moved the markers to intentionally throw us runners off course. I’ve been lost in trail races before. It isn’t a good feeling. But when I saw 10 or so of the lead runners running back toward me after running a mile in the wrong direction, I knew we were in for a long day.

The Ranch 50k is a two-loop course with significant climbing, lots of single track, incredible vistas offering views of the Laguna Mountains, and a heathy mix of technical trail. My watch recorded just over 5,000 feet of ascent, or 161 feet per mile.

Despite the 3.5 year hiatus from racing, I’ve tried to use this time off by focusing on my running technique, specifically on my running cadence. My default cadence was low to mid 170 steps per minute. In the last year I’ve focused on keeping a consistent 180 steps per minute on training runs with the help of a drum loop / metronome on my phone. A bit tedious, yes, but also a big help in many ways. It's well documented that an increased cadence puts less stress on the muscular-skeletal system. Shorter, quicker strides bring less impact on the knees, ankles, hips and back than longer, slower strides.

This has paid substantial dividends. I’ve noticed a difference after training runs. My legs simply don’t feel as trashed with a higher cadence after long runs. During the race, I found myself running more on the climbs, and noticed my heart rate was actually lower when running with a quick cadence than power hiking.

Thoreau said “none are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” I’m grateful to still be an enthusiastic runner on this winding road called life. The clarity running brings to me is difficult to match, whether it’s under the stars in the black of night during a 100 miler, or down a long, rock-strewn trail when my instinct and legs carry me to the finish of a 50k.

When I signed up for the Ranch 50k I was set on a simple finish as the goal. A good way, I thought, to get back into the swing of things. As the day unfolded, however, I realized I was feeling pretty strong, especially on the second loop. Maybe it was the new cadence training, or maybe it was the years of experience knowing that if I just keep moving forward, eventually I’ll be at the finish line, reveling in another worthy experience.

It was somewhere around mile 28 when I came across another runner who was walking it in. He said I was now in 5th place, and the runner in front of him was struggling a bit. Reminding myself that simply finishing was the goal, I continued to run along, content with just getting to the finish. I came upon the next runner not more than a half mile later. I moved passed him gently knowing there were still a few miles and a very steep climb remaining. Then, as it happened, my competitive juices began to flow and I pushed the effort to create a bit of a gap with the hope of sealing a 4th place finish.

It was on the steep climb, about a half a mile from the finish line, when I looked back only to see the other runner 20 yards behind me. Shit, I thought, now I really have to hustle! On the top of that hill I told myself if I keep a solid downhill pace, I would reach the finish line in time.

That I did. And fourth place overall it would be!

Age? What do we know about age? 

August 7, 2022

April 3, 2022

Feeling at Home

It's been a couple years since I've been out running on the trails consistently. It's good to be back out see the raven, and the hawk, and of course the road runner. I hope I never take these guys for granted. They make me feel at home.    


February 21, 2022

Beyond the Chatter

I recently signed up for a mindfulness based stress reduction class. The concept, based on a meditation method developed by a microbiologist named John Cabot-Zinn, is to be able to reduce stress by practicing formal mindfulness meditation.  Zinn said that most people don't realize that the mind constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter winds up being the force that drives us much of the day in terms of what we do, what we react to, and how we feel. Good, bad and ugly. 

The problem with mind chatter is it usually robs us of being present. It floods us with thoughts that have nothing to do with what we are doing at that moment, and instead zaps us with thoughts about what we did or didn't do yesterday, or what we have to do tomorrow etc.  

Zinn states that mindfulness mediation is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally." For this class we are supposed to practice mindfulness mediation daily for 45 minutes (a long time with little or no training) AND write in a journal positive and negative experiences we have during the day. 

I'm hereby confess I have not been a compliant student. I've made it trough exactly zero 45 minute sessions and written down nothing. 

What I have noticed from this class, however, is that I can apply much of the concepts to running. Let me explain. 

When I went for a run today, I made a point of paying attention to the present moment by noticing what my body was experiencing or what was going on around me. When mind chatter picked up, I simply tried to bring it back to these two things. When I was able to do this, I knew I was present.  

Would I have noticed the things I can now recall if I wasn't present? Not a chance. 

Like the man walking his dog on the bluff wearing headphones and looking at his phone. Seeing he was clueless about what was going on around him, I steered clear as I ran up behind him and noticed the dog startled as I ran by. Or the yellow commercial planes that took off from John Wayne airport, one as I was heading out on trail and another while heading back. I tried to get a picture of the last one but instead got a shot of the clouds. 

Or the dead bird laying in the middle of the path that I had to pass four times on an out-and-back part of my run. And of course the black crow perched on the side of road that could have been a raven but I'm pretty sure it was a crow. It didn't fly away as I ran by it which was nice of him/her. Then, when I heard the screech of a bird way ahead of me I assumed it was an Osprey which I'd seen perched many times in the past on this part of the run. But the screech was the sound of a Red Tail Hawk, which I believe now to be the likely species because I ran under him/her perched up on a tree and got a closer look some 30 mins later. Then there were the white pelicans which seem to have made this one area home for themselves in the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

When I made it to the half way point of the run, I knew I would be running into the wind on the way back, requiring a little more effort for the remaining 7 miles. But my cadence was locked in at a very steady 180 steps per minute during the entire time, making the effort less of a struggle than I expected. The cool wind felt good against my body, and my legs felt responsive to the end despite this being the longest run I've done in several months.

Running in the moment. A memorable way to avoid the chatter. 

January 23, 2022

Available Now

"The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now." Nhat Han


July 9, 2021

Buried Deep In All of Us

Perhaps it is the hunter gatherer genes that are buried deep in all of us, but the need to be outside is something I believe cannot be taken for granted by us homo sapiens. After all, if our ancestors survived by roaming large spaces in the great outdoors to survive, natural selection would suggest that there is something in our DNA that predisposes us to be outdoors and to move around when we are out there.

I suppose it’s no wonder that studies prove time and again that spending time outdoors and exercising combat anxiety, depression, anger and other negative states of mind while contributing to a positive state of mind. We are, in my humble view, not meant to be cooped up indoors for extended periods.

It has been a while since I immersed myself in the hunter-gatherer mode and set out on a long trek in nature. I chose the South fork trail to San Gorgonio via Dry Lake and Dollar Lake loop – a total of 21.7 miles. What was most satisfying on reflection 24 hours later was the feeling of simply moving forward in the elements for the 8 hours I was out there.

Motivation comes in varying forms and from varying places. On this day it came from somewhere inside. Somewhere, I think, that precedes me and will long endure beyond me.

November 23, 2020

Running and Therapy

It has been said that running (exercise in general) is therapy for the mind as much as it is the body. I can’t think of a year other than this year that this would ring  more true. I would be in a much darker place during this time of isolation if I wasn’t doing my short but potent 3 to 4 mile runs around my neighborhood several times per week. Thank you running...for keeping me on the sane side of neurosis.  

September 27, 2020

Above the Clouds


Been a while since I've been out running on the mountain (one year?). I don't know how or why I've let this essential activity slip away for so long. I was reminded of how much I miss it after climbing with Kevin S above the clouds. We were shrouded in marine layer until we punched through the ceiling to see blue sky and sun about 1'000 up. Chalk today up to a spiritual re-awakening...time to return to the temple.


September 15, 2020

Reach Out and Touch the Pepper Tree

If you are ever in need of a reminder of why getting out of the house to go for a run is better than staying inside and grinding a peloton or treadmill, try running under a pepper tree. When you do, reach up and grab a handful of leaves with berries. But don’t pull them off the branch. Rather just rub them around in your hand. You should be able to do this w/out breaking your stride - just half a second is all you need. 

Once you do this with the leaves and berries, bring your hand to your nose and smell the peppery aroma. It always gives me a lift when I can get a little taste of nature in this increasingly virtual world. 

July 31, 2020

Getting What I Need

Today's Run - Low Tide

It's strange, this pandemic thing, especially what it has done to the sport of ultra running. All those races cancelled. It's enlightening as well, this pandemic thing. No races, no obsessive training, no blogging ;-). But really, I'm a new believer in running just to run, vs running to train for a big 50 or 100 mile race that takes over your life and your family's life.

My new routine is to lace up a pair of hoka Clifton road shoes and just go out for a 4 to 6 mile run. That's right. 4 to 6 miles. In fact I rarely go over 5 miles. But here is the deal. This gets me everything I need -- Solitude. Tranquility. Wisdom. Clairity. Fitness. Energy. 

Need I say more? 

Get out there people. 

And keep it real! 

May 23, 2020

Good Bye Hard Rock - Time to Just Run Again

Start of the 2017 Hard Rock 100

          "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

                                                                                         Winston Churchill 

There comes a time when one should change paths. That time, for me, is now.

After following a certain path blindly for four straight years, I'm opening my eyes to search anew.

It was late July 2016 when, like a dope, I discovered the race I had just completed - the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (TRT 100) - was NOT a qualifier for the Hard Rock 100. Why I didn't just look at the list of Hard Rock qualifiers before entering the TRT is, well, part of the dope designation. Maybe I wasn't really considering Hard Rock until after I ran TRT, or maybe I just assumed that TRT was a qualifier. Whatever. That was 4 years ago and I just don't remember the details.

But then I became obsessed. Probably because running Hard Rock is, in the ultra running world anyway, considered a right-of-passage. Why this is the case I'm not totally sure but it probably has something to do with 30,000 feet of climbing in the San Juan Mountains, altitudes that surpass 14,000, and a tradition of difficulty. The race makes the Leadville 100 look like high school cross country course.

Fast forward to 2017 when, unlike my inner dope, I did my homework on which races were qualifiers for Hard Rock and signed up for Bighorn 100. Notwithstanding the nightmarish conditions of that race, I finished it and promptly sent in my application to the 2018 Hard Rock lottery. The odds weren't in my favor. I recall something like 1 in 1000.

No dice.

So in early 2018 I started to prep for another Big Horn to qualify for the 2019 Hard Rock lottery. But, just as my training miles began to ramp up, I stumbled onto a nuance about Hard Rock qualifiers  -- they are eligible for two years. I promptly cancelled my plans (and training) to race Big Horn and entered the 2019 Hard Rock lottery. Again, no dice. Like a robot, I then set my sights on finding another qualifier in 2019. But then the 2019 Hard Rock was cancelled due to excessive snow. All 2019 runners were granted entry to the 2020 Hard Rock, which meant the earliest I could run this elusive race would be 2021, assuming I qualified.

So last year I signed up for the Tahoe 200 miler, thinking why not? If you're going to go long, why not go really, really long. Unlike the TRT 100, the Tahoe 200 is a Hard Rock qualifier. As the race approached, I was out on a training run high in the San Bernardino Mountains. From the corner of my eye I spotted a shadow on the mountain road. Only there were no trees or anything that could create a shadow. I stopped to look around. When I looked up I saw the silhouette of a hawk hovering between me and the sun high in the sky. The shadow seemed to be tracking me for several minutes along that mountain road. Surreal.

When I returned from that run I had a vision, and it didn't include running the Tahoe 200 mile. It took me instead to the Mogollon Monster 100, a beast of a run in the mountains of Arizona. This one turned out to be my worst performance in my less than stellar ultra running career. I finished, but it took me 30 hours. Yes, the course was absurdly difficult with more technical terrain than I've ever encountered, but it really had me questioning why. Why am I doing this? Why am I out on these trails, crawling up near vertical terrain when I could be actually running on a trail?

I finished the wretched Mogollon Monster and, once again, qualified for the Hard Rock 100, to be held in 2021. Then Covid hit, pushing the 2021 date to 2022.

I think it is time to change paths, find a new trail. One that doesn't involve toiling up and down mountains and always seeking vertical in training, just to get shut down by a lottery. Maybe it is time to just run again.

May 3, 2020

April 20, 2020

A Positive From a Negative

When I started my run today I was replete with anxiety. Being held up in the house for days and dealing with this "new normal" was getting to me. As I ran along I started to think about some of the positive things that have come from the current shut-down. For the first time I ran with a mask, through some pretty dense shrub where pollen was floating in heavy doses around me. It was then I realized I was protected from this airborne nuisance, so often an allergic trigger for me. No more wheezing! Would I have ever thought to wear, let alone run with a mask before? I’ll mark this one down as a positive from a negative. 

April 11, 2020

The New Normal

Now that major races are, or are soon to be, shutting down due to the Corona virus, its high time we appreciate things beyond running. I'm adapting quite well to this new normal. Just looking at the sky does wonders to the psyche. Try it, I think you'll like it.