June 10, 2019

On Pain and Suffering

It's been said there are two types of suffering. The kind you run away from, which follows you everywhere, and the kind that you turn and face. And it is only that kind, that you turn and face, that brings you to freedom.

I was recently quoted in another article on marijuana and ultra running. In that article the author interviews several ultra runners who use cannabis to soften the pain and suffering they encounter out on trail. "You stop thinking about how sore everything is" said one runner. These runners don't see it as an ethical issue, despite that fact that marijuana is generally banned in both professional and amateur sports.

Based on a recent survey conducted by University of Colorado at Boulder, it appears marijuana use is on the rise in many states where it has been legalized. Turns out 82% of those who responded to the survey that live in marijuana-legal states use it within one hour before or four hours after working out.

As I've stated in this blog, I believe the use of marijuana is very appropriate for people who are recovering from or dealing with medical ailments, be it chronic pain or the side effects of treating life-threatening disease. But to use it to mask the suffering that comes with one's chosen sport like ultra running, as difficult as it might be? Sorry folks. I don't think so.  

In America, we live in a culture that is hell-bent on avoiding pain. I suppose this should come as no surprise. After all, one of our most famous founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, said "the art of life is the art of avoiding pain." It would appear that big Pharma took their lead from Jefferson. Got a headache? Slam some Advil. Heartburn? Swallow some Rolaids. Stuffy nose? Down the Sudafed. Sore throat? Suck on a Chloraseptic. 

I also oppose using ibuprofen during races and training. Again, why bother being a runner if you can't handle the pain. Why not take up golf instead?

If pain wasn't indelibly imprinted into the DNA of distance running, then I would have turned to golf a long time ago. But I think it is, because one need not look further than the words of some of world's greatest runners of all time. Roger Bannister, the first human being to break the 4 minute mile said "the man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win."

Frank Shorter, a silver and gold medalist in the marathon, talked about running and pain holistically. Shorter: "experience has taught me how important it is to just keep going, focusing on running fast and relaxed. Eventually pain passes and the flow returns. It's part of racing." I'm guessing Shorter wasn't smoking joints to get back to "flow."

May 26, 2019

Seeking a New Personal Best

"I once walked the six miles from my house to Kent Lake in less than 4 hours. But that wasn't my best time. My personal best is 8 hours and 15 minutes. That includes time resting with lizards sunning on the rock. Writing down a dream remembered starting at Mt. Barniby. Listening to woodpecker knocking herself against the tree that harbors Osprey's nest."

 Barbara Ruth

Joplin trail today...seeking to improve my personal best...


May 21, 2019

Entering Flow

"Until you face your fears, you don't move to the other side, where you find your power." Mark Allen

He was probably the most talented endurance athlete of his generation - winning the Ironman World Championship six times, despite competing in and losing the race six previous times, always to his greatest rival Dave Scott. He worked hard for years but always seemed to come up short. Then something changed.

His quote on fear above really grabbed my attention. It is both profound and inspiring. Yet, reading it for the first time I couldn't help but wonder what Mark Allen - among the greatest triathletes of all time - could have ever been afraid of. Much has been written on his heart rate training philosophy. He mastered the Maffetone Method by becoming an early adopter of the revolutionary training technique that emerged in the 1980s.

It wasn't until he turned his focus to something he had neglected for years - his mind - that he was finally able to win the most grueling race in the world. In his first win, struggling to stay with his rival Scott during the run, he tapped into a certain vision - that of a 110 year old Huichol indian - to remove the negative thoughts in his head and untap the energy source and belief that carried him to victory. Allen didn't know this man in the image, who's name was Don Jose, and only saw his picture in a magazine just days before. The image clearly had a lasting effect on him.

To think that an image, so random yet powerful, could infuse energy into an athlete to such a degree as to change the outcome of the Ironman is remarkable. The mind, with all of its chatter, takes us on wild rides, in sports, at work and in life. If the chatter goes negative which it most often does, we go negative, and find ways for ourselves not to perform at our true potential. But if we can quiet the chatter and just focus on what we are doing in the moment, we open the door to our true potential, unhinged from the thought barriers that cloud our mind. That's when we enter the flow state. 

May 13, 2019

Getting Back on the Elephant

I wrote recently about the relationship between the elephant and the monkey. And how the elephant follows the monkey aimlessly, to random places, for no reason. The elephant, of course, is the mind - my mind at the moment - chasing the monkey, which is nothing more than distracting thoughts we are confronted with in our daily lives. Hmmm...the LA Angles are in second place. Can they hang on? Why did I run in those zero drop shoes again? Why didn't I remember that they always cause a calf injury? I really need to drop 10 pounds. The list goes on and on and on...prime mind wondering.

In my case, the monkey and the elephant found their way to this blog. They were quickly engulfed in a quagmire of more random, rapid fire thoughts. Hmm....how long have I been writing this blog? Does anyone even read it? Most of the posts these days aren't even about running. Why is it called An Ultra Runners Blog?....more wind wondering.

It's been nearly two years since I competed in an official ultra event. Sure I've done a few shorter distance events and some good long runs. But no ultras races. My elephant has been wondering.

I'm beginning to think that the simple act of preparing for and showing up to these longer events forces me to sit atop my own elephant.  And once I'm up there, I'm committed and in control again. 

I think it is time to get back on the elephant. And say goodbye to the monkey!


April 28, 2019

Fear, Preparation and the Comfort Zone

Some of the more memorable quotes I've heard in a while have come from a young rock climber, Alex Honnold, who free soloed El Capitan. In his effort Honnold accomplished something no one else has even attempted, let alone completed. And for good reason - after all, isn't climbing a 3,000 foot vertical wall with no ropes or protective gear a bit of a death wish?

In an interview before he free soloed El Capitan, Honnold talks about risk, fear and constantly pushing himself beyond his own comfort zone. Here is Honnold in response to the question if he ever gets scared while climbing without a rope:
"When you experience hunger your body is giving you a signal that you need to consume food, but you set that aside and eat when it’s convenient. But with fear it’s fight or flight, your pulse quickens, your vision narrows, and you’re like, oh my god I’m feeling fear, oh my god, oh my god, and then it cascades out of control and you lose your ability to perform. So why can’t we set our fear aside like we can with hunger?"
Setting aside fear so that it doesn't hamper performance. Not as easy as it sounds. In a response to a question about the danger of climbing thousand foot vertical cliffs without a rope, he is reflective, sharing his view on the process of pushing his own comfort zone back, until the impossible becomes possible...
"My comfort zone is like a little bubble around me, and I’ve pushed it in different directions and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy, eventually fall within the realm of the possible."
Just like Tommy Caldwell who free climbed El Capitan's Dawn Wall (with ropes used only for safety), Honnold approaches his trade with an obsessive approach to training and preparation. These guys spend weeks, months even years preparing for these major climbs. With so much at risk, I can't imagine any other way.

So what does this have to do with running ultras? Everything. Because if you push the comfort zone in enough directions, things fall within the realm of the possible...

April 23, 2019

Grass Running

It’s been many years since I ventured out barefoot on a run. For the record, it wasn’t a great experience both times, whether on sand or asphalt. The soles of my feet felt like they’d been massaged with a belt sander.  Yet, I’ve been running a fair amount on grass lately and decided to give the barefoot option another go. Outside of a few errant pebbles penetrating several  nerve endings, it actually felt good to be free of shoes. I then turned to a pair of Merrill Barefoot’s that I had in my rack for years but have never used. They worked perfectly on the grass. Everything barefoot except the pebbles and nerve endings!  

March 24, 2019

Nibbling the Enchilada

Starting at a mere 500 feet in a Palm Springs parking lot and rising to 10,500 feet at the top of San Jacinto peak, the Cactus to Cloud trail is something to reckon with. Given its extreme ascent (10,000 feet in 16 miles, or 625’ per mile) it’s been dubbed in some quarters one of the hardest trails in the world.

Another component of this trail’s prowess is the temperature swings it can throw at you. At the base, temps climb as high has 115+ degrees and, at the summit, plummet to as low as sub zero.

Today i took a little spin on the Cactus to Cloud trail. It was my first time on the beast so i chose to experience some of its grandeur by climbing 4,000 feet in 5 miles, just enough to get taste of what the full enchilada might taste like. I must say that the flavor was enticing and spiced with magnificent views of neighboring San Gorgonio, the Coachella Valley, cactus and wildflowers.

I’m looking forward to returning for the full course.

P.S. If you’re looking for the other kind of Enchilada, check out Las Casuelas in downtown Palm Springs. They make a fine one that goes down very well with a Cadillac Margarita.

March 21, 2019

Sugar Moon Rising

Was on my way home tonite and noticed at the top of the hill a large, full moon rising in the night’s sky. I quickly assembled my Nikon DSLR and 600mm telephoto lens to capture the moment. Turns out the Sugar Moon gets its name because it coincides with the tapping of the sweet sap of maple trees, and is symbolic of a lot of good to come.

March 19, 2019

Goodbye Winter - I'll Miss You!

Snow Blanket - Big Bear Lake, CAWith the official start of spring occurring this week, I must say that I for one will miss winter, especially this winter, which brought more snow than we’ve seen in Southern California in many years. My best day was a four hour snowshoe trek through knee deep powder in the the San Bernardino National Forest followed closely by several ski runs on untracked powder.

“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”   Jack London

March 11, 2019

Escaping the Hordes


Getting from place to place is always more interesting in the mountains. Here is a shot from Harding Truck Trail on my descent from Modjeska Peak, the lower of the two peaks that are Saddleback Mt. Not a bad place to be when trying to escape from the OC’s 3.2 million people….

February 24, 2019

Training - When to Jump Into the Abyss

The Abyss

You walk out to the edge of cliff. You look down. One hundred feet below you, waves are crashing against the cliff and on jagged rocks.  Currents of foam and rip tides surge in and out with the heavy surf. The problem is your life boat is anchored beyond the waves, and the only way to get to it is to jump into the abyss and swim for it. If you don’t jump, you will soon be consumed by the angst ridden Troll of Runner’s Doom. The ghost that haunts you everyday.

But when do you jump? Jump too early and you get hurled against the imposing cliff by a crushing wave. Jump too late and you’ll be dragged over the jagged rocks under the receding swell. The only choice is to jump at the exact right time, then be carried to safety beyond the violent break.

I’ve come to learn that training for ultramarathons is a lot like jumping into the abyss. Jump in too early and you get crushed month after month by energy sapping workouts, burn-out and eventually injury. Start too late and you’ll be battered at the race by showing up unfit with miserable race results and possibly staring at a DNF. The only choice is to start just at the right time.

These days, my modus operandi is to start 4 to 5 months before a race, but proceed in two phases: 1) a  general aerobic and strengthening phase and 2) a running phase. 

Phase one consists of all kinds of aerobic workouts including hiking, elliptical, spinning, cycling, snowshoeing, running. It also includes strength training including upper and lower body weight training, core work, climbing with weight vest etc. The key here is to keep things diverse and lively. Don’t get stuck on one or two activities, mix it up! This phase is helpful because it builds your aerobic base without the constant pounding from running and therefore minimizes burn out and injury.

Phase two consists of some of the aerobic work above, but a greater and greater emphasis on running. This is when you get to start tracking your weekly miles or hours running, and build toward race day. It is important to stress here however that, while running is the focus at this stage, there is still a benefit to supplementing all the running with running oriented aerobic workouts. I’m suggesting 20% of your miles (even in this phase) are running-related including climbing big hills and mountains, climbing on treadmill with weight vest, elliptical etc.

That is it for now. I’m falling, I’m falling….

Keep it real runners!

February 10, 2019

Snow Shoes and Contemporary Mores

The sound of the mountain resort at Snow Summit was still loitering in the air over the tall pine trees to my left. A man’s voice was droning on and on over a loudspeaker of some sort. Why on a Sunday morning do they have to do that?

I just kept climbing, up the steep grade, in deep powder cutting what felt like one hundred switchbacks just to manage from sliding backwards head over heels on this near vertical snowfield. Just when I thought I had this snow-trudge figured out, my snowshoe would plunge deep into an abyss. Getting out of these contorted positions I’m guessing was as good as attending an advanced yoga class with ski pants and poles. No preparation possible here folks.

When I crested the main vert section, I was welcomed by a blistering alpine wind that sent hardened specs of snow into the frozen skin on my nose. I’m not complaining here, mainly because I’m always looking for a lesson or a new experience of some kind to log into my bag of tricks, to take with me on my next big adventure. Given I’m signed up for a 50 mile, a 100 mile and a 200 mile race this year, I’ve felt a draw to get into the elements again. This day being a good reminder that nature is always there with a surprise for me, as long as I’m willing to venture into it. Seek and ye shall find, as it were.

This four hour effort felt hastened by a book I listened to the entire way, mainly because I couldn’t stop listening. Her colorful and descriptive story of descending into neurosis was only bearable to listen to because she told it in such a relatable way. But then I found out that she (the author) didn’t have much of a happy ending, and she didn’t survive the success of her own hard lived experiences that she so ably transcribed into this indictment on contemporary mores.

On snowshoes…and mores…keeping it real.

January 13, 2019

Taming the Elephant

The Elephant Path

There are moments, flashes of them, sometimes strung together in a timeless sequence that I only wish I could recreate on demand. When I close my eyes sometimes they come back to me in a flashback. Like the moment I was moving along a ridge in the Wasatch Mountains on a moonlit path. All distractions melted away. Fatigue? Thirst? Pain? Gone. Bodily sensations and thoughts? Gone. At least for those few precious moments.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the mind is like an elephant. Large and wild, easily distracted and not easily tamed. The monkey is distraction, unpredictable and elusive. The elephant follows the monkey, endlessly, always to different objects. This is mind wondering, which we all do. The monk, or meditator, follows in pursuit of the elephant, seeking to tame the beast. But the beast is large and unruly and is constantly chasing the monkey to different objects. 

Eventually, through much training and effort, the monk subdues the elephant, and is able to hold the elephant steady. The mind is at ease. Then the monk begins to lead the elephant, and the monkey follows, and the mind is subdued and under control. 

Call me a mystic or want-to-be shaman, but if there is one thing that stands in the way of what we seek, it is the elephant. The large, wondering, undisciplined elephant.

I think I best tame this beast.

December 31, 2018

AMORE Runners!

saddleback horizon

2018 Started out with such promise! But as the days and weeks and months wore on, I simply wore out. I think my ambition got the better of me. It’s not that I didn’t embrace the idea of running several big audacious ultra’s - Hard Rock, Bighorn and Rocky Raccoon to name a few - because I loved the idea of it. It’s just that, well, the idea is all I could muster. It was when the idea needed to transition into reality that I kind of hesitated, stumbled. The old “I’ll start my training next week” syndrome started rearing its head. This lead to “I’ll skip this race and focus on that one” which pretty much is an apathy spiral which, I believe, plagues even the most ardent runners (admit it folks).

But so what? So I took the year off from formal “racing” and kind of chilled out. No big deal. Instead, I had some great hikes up Mt. Whitney and San Gorgonio. I did some camping, some philosophising, and even some tree analysis, among other things. All in all a good year!

Looking back I’m pretty sure I forgot the basic rule of running which contributed to the spiral. I’ll describe that rule here as AMORE!, which is Italian for love. If you are thinking I’m using AMORE in the context of love running, or the love of running, you’re on the right track. But there is more here than meets the eye. To me AMORE means more than love. It is an acronym about running that always proves to be true. The rule is it’s better to slow down and go easy on yourself. Not push the pace all the time. Because when you do this, you: 

A - Avoid burnout, stay fresh

M - Minimize injury, stay healthy

O - Observe your surroundings, get outside of your head 

R - Run longer, wear down your prey 

E - Enjoy the darn sport!!

Keep if real runners!