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.
  

March 22, 2020

Impermanence


"No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it's not the same river, and he's not the same man."

― Heraclitus

March 1, 2020

Pause, and Concentrate

  

Sometimes the most routine trails reveal the most interesting things. All you have to do is pause, and concentrate on what's right in front of you. It's amazing what appears. That's life, really.

February 9, 2020

Proof of Presence


Buddha is often quoted on the topic of being "present." He, by all accounts, wasn't one to dwell on the past, saying poignantly that "there's only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment." In other words, forget about the past, and just focus on being present in this moment.

My concern with this is that I have too many memories of being "present" in the past that remind me of how important it is to be present.

I remember, for example, pacing a friend during a 100 mile race. It was late at night, and it was starting to get pretty cold as we climbed toward the top of a mountain. I saw a glimpse of another runner's light above us. As I looked up, I noticed snowflakes falling gently from the sky. Yet, there were no clouds, just snowflakes. I remember being very present in that moment.

There was another time, during Western States 100, when I came into the Forest Hill aid station. I was really beat up, wondering how I was going to finish with 40 miles to go. Then I saw my family and crew, and my youngest daughter took my hand and walked with me for a while. I'll never forget that moment. Precious.

Yes, living in the present is indeed the best way to be "present." But remembering moments of clarity in the past, those precious seconds etched so vividly in our minds, are proof of presence, and not to be forgotten. 

January 26, 2020

Happy Birthday Mom



Dear Mom:

A few months ago you told me you were tired of walking around the neighborhood. You said it was boring, and that you and Eileen were going to start getting out on trails. I have to say, initially, I was a little nervous about this. Looking back, I'm not sure why. You've now tackled Buck Gully via the long route, the steep Bobcat trail, and now the full 2+ mile, 400' climb to Coastal Peak Park from the fire station.

Recently, after one of your hikes, you told me how beautiful the mountains were. That the recent storm had left them covered in snow. It's really hard to get up and out there so early in the morning, you said, but all you have to do is think about how good you feel when you finish, and that overcomes any doubt.

You recently sent me a picture of the trailhead at Buck Gully before sunrise. You guys were about to begin your hike. Most would look at this and say, what's the big deal? Not me. Understanding why someone would take a random picture of a dark trailhead before sunrise requires a special connection, a kindred.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too old to keep doing this running thing, and if I should just turn my attention to more age appropriate activities, like golf, or tennis, or woodworking. Then I remember how you used to let me explore the hills and canyons around our home as a child. I can still remember those canyons like yesterday, and the pollywogs, and the lizards and the hawks over my head. Thank you for letting me loose back then. I don't think I would've done well in a cage.

Happy birthday, my kindred spirit. 


December 31, 2019

Running for (my) Mental Health

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Happy New Year to all you out there reading this blog!

Given 2020 is here, I’ve been thinking a lot about a topic central this blog – running. Why I do it, and why I keep coming back to it.

Running, like any activity, has its strengths and weaknesses. Mention running to a former runner and you’re likely to get an earful about injuries -- knee problems, Achilles tendonitis, IT band inflammation, hamstring pulls, sprained ankles or plantar fasciitis. The list goes on and on.

As one who’s experienced all of these injuries and more, during races but most often during overambitious training runs, I have to confess that 99.9% of the time it wasn’t the running that caused the injury, it was me, the runner. Like fire, running can burn you if you don’t respect it. And I’ve been burned more than I would like to admit. When you play with fire, you get burned.

But what would life be without this flame?

Over the years, I’ve struggled to find anything more accurate as a measurement of my strengths and weaknesses. When I step to the line of an ultra, everything I’ve done in the months leading up to that moment, unmistakably, becomes real. There are no excuses. No alibies. Nothing but 100 miles between me and the finish line. That, to me, is ominous. And it draws me back in. Every time I think about trying something different.

In business, people can become obsessed with competition. Doing deals, making money, and driving revenues higher and higher. Growth for the sake of growth. Beating the next guy. Becoming number one! But that culture will ultimately lead to destruction. Because growth, like everything in this world, needs its yang. With every up, there comes a down, and every success, comes failure. Most businesses don’t prepare for that day. Running is similar, because there are the inevitable lows that come with the highs. I try not to forget this, although I often do. 

It’s easy to point out the risks of running, but what about the rewards? After all, we humans have been engaging in this activity for thousands of years, well before the advent of orthotics or Advil.

Research shows that running and exercise can provide a healthy, stimulated mind that can defend itself against the onslaught of societal pressures. When running there are regions of the brain that are stimulated that overcome the stress you feel from work, school, family or even the dentist office.

These regions include the limbic system (regulates motivation and mood), the amygdala (controls the fear reaction to stress, or fight or flight), and the hippocampus (directs memory formation, mood and motivation).[1] According to PubMed report, running (along with other forms of aerobic exercise “improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”

What I know if this. When I’m running I feel alive, energetic and full of optimism. Life seems more colorful. When I’m not running I feel lethargic, drab and a bit cantankerous.

To run, or not to run in 2020? That is the question. I know what my answer is. What is yours?



[1] Exercise for Mental Health, A. Sharma, MD, V Madaan, MD and F Petty, MD, Ph.D., Pub Med ___ date.

November 28, 2019

Saltwater 5000 - 2019

Another year in the book...


Our 16th year touching the Pacific Ocean then running 32 miles to the top of Santiago Peak at 5,700'. Read about it here

October 6, 2019

Sorry Mountain Bikers. Thank You City of Newport Beach


Once in a while we all have to get our opinion out there. This is one of those times for me.

While I appreciate the sport of mountain biking (I have a bike of my own), I'm not a fan of the unregulated use of mountain bikes on all trails. While I'm sure this position won't be popular with my off-road (cycling) brethren, I've been a trail runner for the last 18 +/- years and I've seen the impact mountain bikes can have on our delicate trails.

The city of Newport Beach recently announced "one way bike traffic" at a popular trail near my home. This "one-way" happens to be uphill, which means the high speed mountain bike descents that have lead to collisions and emergency helivacs might be done. For the sake of everyone's safety, this is great news.

For the sake of trail sustainability, more rules like this are necessary. Again, while I appreciate the freedom mt. bikers have to ride to their hearts' content in the great wide open, we need to call out the damage that they can do to the trails. Yes, the Warrior Society has made strides to repair damaged trails, they simply can't keep up with the sheer volume of cyclist and the trails they are destroying.

Examples:

Upper Holy Jim - Cycling rut leads to water erosion. Bye bye runnable trail.



Famous ultra runner working on cycling damaged trail. No bueno.






       





September 28, 2019

In the Mood?


I've heard it said that "the destination is the journey," or that "it is better to travel well than to arrive" or even "a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

Sometimes righteous quotes like these really get to me. I think, wow, that is really deep. How can something so simple be so poignant?

But there are other times when such wisdom has zero effect on me. Maybe it's a mood thing. Like I have to have right mood for right wisdom?

I've known runners to throw away all pretenses and shut down big time runs because they weren't "in the mood." Sounds melodramatic, and in fact it is, but it happens to the best of us.

I think we have to give mood more credit than we do. All of us poo-poo those that are "in a bad mood" and think that they will simply turn the corner in a simple matter of time.

It's a bit troubling, how much wisdom has been forsaken, or how many runs have been shunned, because of bad mood?

Think about it. If you're in the mood.




 


September 19, 2019

Mogollon Monster 100 - Now I Understand

When nightfall arrived the full moon was rising behind the glowing thunderclouds hovering over a distant ridge. The image remains stuck in my head and reminded me of a Van Gogh night scape, with the large orange moon shrouded in clouds of violet haze. I could see lights from runners shining on the trail high above me. But if there was a picture to be painted here, it would be one of suffering and not sanity.

The Mogollon Monster 100 (pronounced mugee-yawn) takes place in the heart of Arizona’s pine country and is named after the 2,000 foot geological ridge known by the locals as the backbone of Arizona. Many sightings of a big-foot like creature have been reported in this rugged backcountry. Hence the monster moniker.

Going into this race I was resolved to deal with the rugged terrain it’s known for, but with very little insight and lots of naivety. The website states in no uncertain terms the difficulty of the course:

"This is a VERY technical course in many areas, specifically the Highline Trail, Donahue and the soon to be revered, Myrtle Trail.  This is one of the most technical 100 milers in North America."
After reading this I thought, well, ok, that sounds like a challenge. I’m in. Thinking, like any red blooded ultrarunner, that if I could handle Wasatch Front, Angeles Crest, or Bighorn, all 100-mile Hard Rock qualifiers, I could handle this. I pulled the trigger and signed up for the Mogollon Monster.

Learning how to ride a bike by reading is different from actually learning how to ride a bike by, say, riding a bike. Just as I now realize learning how difficult Mogollon Monster is by reading is different from, say, learning by running it. Which leads me to the next verse from Don McLain’s famous song Vincent:

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me

[I] would not listen, [I] did not know how
Perhaps [I’ll] listen now

There were sections of this course the reduced me to a quibbling, pathetic little boy forced to ride his bike without training wheels. When I realized the Monster doesn’t negotiate with spoiled whiners, I had to make a decision: put up or shut up. So I stumbled on, through the horrendous rock strewn Highline trail and soul stealing climbs. One small step, trip, stumble, in front of another small step, trip, stumble. There were sections of the climbs that poles where useless, because it was too steep. A belay and a carabiner would have been more useful.

The runner’s manual was about the size of a Tolstoy novel and read like a chapter from Lewis and Clark, with directions of the course down to 10 o’clock and 3 o’clock turns, Y-in-the-road warnings and detailed landmark distances. Useless intel unless you were carrying the novel and a reading light with you. The course was marked pretty well with a few gaps along the long dirt road sections when runners need confidence markers.


At one point at night I thought was following the trail quite well in the dark with my head and waist lamps lighting the way. But then found myself staring at a dead end of creek bed with 6-foot walls on either side of me. Wait, what? Traveling into random creek beds wasn’t unusual for me on this night.

More useful was the manual’s warning of lightening strikes during the run, which kept me alert, if not a little paranoid:
Lightning strikes in Arizona kill people every single year. In June 2015, a group of 7 people were hiking near Pinchot Cabin [on the course] and a young woman was killed by lightning just standing by a tree. Just because we’re not at 14,000 feet and in Colorado doesn’t mean you can’t die. The weather can hit extremely fast, and when it does during monsoon season, it hits very hard.
From the runner's manual
I can only say I felt like high school wrestler entering the ring with a mixed martial arts champion. I was totally outmatched and on my heels before the second aid station. Entering the last 20 miles, when I’m usually at my best, I happened upon an epiphany -- I’m not a great hiker or technical terrain runner. Every time I got any rhythm on a runnable part of the course, I was punched in the face with more rocks and scrub.

I heard some on the course talking about the beauty of the course, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The red cliffs reminded me much of the Grand Canyon views I’ve seen during my rim to rim to rim runs. But like the rose flower, beauty has a way over covering up the pain that lies beneath.


Running Mogollon Monster was like having humble pie thrown in my face. The years of machismo that had been building up my ego from running some 30 ultra’s was vanquished faster than receiving electroconvulsive therapy. I walked to the starting line full of myself, but crossed the finish line in spite of myself.

August 16, 2019

A Cross of Iron

Also Discovered on Today's Run

Ok runners and readers, this might not seem like a running topic, and it isn't. But I heard it spoken today during a run on Audible, and found it to be so incredible that I had to post it. If you have any concern about where this world is headed, I promise you this quote from a US president will awaken you...

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.  It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953)
34th President of the United States
Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces - WWII

August 11, 2019

Somewhere Out on the Pacific Crest Trail


San Jacinto (left), San Gorgonio (right) 
Nearly five hours into my run and approaching 9'000 feet at Onyx Peak outside of Big Bear Lake, I'm feeling the effects of altitude; dry mouth, light headed, energy levels fading.  I stumble after tripping over an invisible rock, but keep running and hiking, trying to move forward and a little higher.

At this moment it's just me, the road beneath me and the piercing sun over my head. 

I notice a shadow out of the corner of my eye. It's the shape of a hawk, but it isn't moving. I move closer, then look up. Above me was the silhouette of a large bird of prey, with an illuminated plume of feathers at the wing tips and tail. It appeared motionless as it floated in the sky, waiting. But for what?

I fumbled for my phone. But it was too late.

"The hawk symbolizes the ability to use intuition and higher vision in order to complete tasks or make important decisions. Animal guides can deliver important messages to us from beyond, and hawks definitely serve as animals that can heighten our spiritual awareness and help us along our paths." Power of Positivity