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

July 28, 2019

Over a Field of Graves

This week I went for a jog in Washington, D.C., making my way to the mall where I wondered around my favorite veteran's war memorial. The following words are enshrined on the grounds there:

"Our nation honors our sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." 

Do you know which war this was? I'll give you some hints...



- The UN fought on the same side as the US there

- We nearly lost the war. Neither side won. An armistice was reached.  

- It was General MacArthur's last campaign before he was fired by President Truman

- The area remains highly volatile and one side routinely launches missiles over the ocean

- 36,000 American's gave their lives there  

If you've never been to this memorial, make the trip. It is eerie and emotional as much as it is sobering. These figures are like a platoon of ghosts unwittingly marching over a field of graves. 

Surreal. 

July 20, 2019

Lactic Eating Bacteria -- In Your Gut!

the closest picture I could take of real-life bacteria
An article was published in the LA Times a few weeks back which said that we runners have a certain bacteria in our guts that survives on lactic acid (the stuff that the body produces when we exercise aerobically). These bacteria, or Veillonella, consume lactate and then produce a bi-product called propionate that is used to fuel our muscles. Not sure how relevant this is to this blog, but it is an interesting concept - that the body creates fuel from its own waste product.

Of course the article expanded on the marketability of a substance containing these bacteria or the actual propionate. The idea according to the story is such a substance -- call it an athletic probiotic -- could be sold to the average Joe who wants to become an elite athlete.

Good luck on that one, Joe.


July 7, 2019

Into the Bedlam. Avoid the Mundane



San Gorgonio from Seven Oaks Trail
It was around mile 15 when the aerial siege descended upon me - with a vengeance. I was under attack. Moments came, then went, when I was flailing my arms and hat - the only weapons at my disposal - at the thickening black cloud. I had to climb 2,000 vertical feet through this mayhem just to get to the ridge where I hoped to find refuge. The worst were the bastards that bit right through my compression socks. Knowing what they were feasting on gave me a sick sense of satisfaction when I crushed them mid-meal.

Then there was that noise. That constant zzzz  zzzz zzzz  that would fade in and fade out. One minute it reached a crescendo as I brandished my weapons, the next minute it faded to the background, when I stopped to catch my breath while hunched over, heart racing and trying to comprehend why I didn't bring a head net. I stumbled deeper into the bedlam, visualizing a ridge with a strong breeze where I could finally sit down.

One of the my favorite things about longer runs, particularly those at altitude, are the random thoughts and experiences that I often stumble upon. Maybe it's the lack of oxygen, the constant drip of endogenous (natural) opiates, or the overwhelming elements nature throws at me, or all of the above, running long in the mountains helps penetrate the mundane.

When I made it to the ridge at the top of Seven Oaks Trail, I sat down on a bench and peered across the valley to Mt. San Gorgonio, southern Cal's highest peak. I realized I'd covered a lot of terrain, from Big Bear Lake to the top of Bear Mountain, down to the Santa Ana River via Radford Rd. to refill my water, then up Seven Oaks trail. But now I wondered, how far would it be to the summit of San Gorgonio from Big Bear?

Maybe next time. With a head net.           




July 2, 2019

Western States - "Gordy Will You Pace Me?"

Gordy Ainsliegh and I - Rucky Chucky
"Have you been eating?" I asked Jukka as soon as he arrived at Forresthill aid station. "Not really," he uttered. We jogged in the dark toward the aid station then he said "I've had a bit of nausea." The next thing I heard was  a collective gasp. "Oh my god, are you ok?" a panicked voice blurted out from the crowd of volunteers. Jukka was flat out on the pavement, struggling to get to his feet. I quickly helped him up, blaming myself for mishap. 

We sat him down on a chair at the aid station. A volunteer tended to the raspberry on his elbow while I tempted him with Forrest Hill's best: cheese quesadillas, pieces of PB&J, Coke, M&Ms...anything I could get my hands on. Jukka wasn't taking the bait.

Things then took a turn for the worse. Jukka, my chatty, happy-go-lucky friend from Finland, started to fade. His sentences were turning to gibberish, missing key verbs and consonants. Then his head slumped down between his shoulders. He was out. Unconscious (but still holding cup of coke I noticed.) "Medic!, Medic!", the volunteer yelled.

As a pacer you always feel responsible for your runner. No matter what happens, because a pacer's number one job it to keep his/her runner safe. I had been on the job for less than 10 minutes and my runner was already passed out.

Jukka - getting calories during WS 100

By the time we got him to the medical tent Jukka was already showing signs of life. His gibberish was turning to jokes, which then turned to jousting with me. As I handed him another coke and quesadilla he reminded me that the only time I ran UTMB it was short course - 100k not 100 miles. Jukka did UTMB, but it was the full 100 miles. At this point I knew he was back in the saddle and ready to ride the bronco.

One of the hardest things for a crew and pacers to do during a 100 mile race is estimate the time the runner will arrive at a given aid station.  Jukka's second pacer and crew chief, Dreama W, and I decided I would pace him from Forresthill to Rucky Chucky near side, and she would take him from there to the finish. This worked great for me as I needed to drive to Santa Cruz for an event the next day. Timing when we would arrive at Rucky Chucky proved a little more challenging.

But Jukka still had to make it there first. After the "lights out" incident at Forresthill I was worried he wouldn't make it another mile. He was talking a good game after getting some calories back in him, but talk is talk. My job was to keep him safe. His job was to get to the finish line.

So we set out into the dark night and quickly found a nice rhythm descending the switch back trail. We came upon one runner and his pacer, then another, and another. Within an hour or two Jukka and I had passed a dozen runners, moving in sync on the winding single track trail. Jukka was back in the game.

Based on Jukka's pace for most of the day, I suggested to Dreama that we should be into Rucky Chucky around 3:30 am, or 30 minutes before the thirty hour cutoff. But that was before the "lights out" incident at Foresthill, which put Jukka back 15 minutes and much closer to the 30 hour cutoff. When we departed Forresthill, the more accurate estimate would have put us into Rucky Chucky around 3:45 or 4:00 am. But there was one problem. We got there at 3:20 on account of Jukka's resurgent running after leaving Forresthill.

As a runner, it's one thing to suffer through nausea, dehydration, stomach cramps, dry heaves or the many maladies a 100 mile race will throw at you. It's another thing to find your pacers in disarray.

When we arrived at Rucky Chucky the first thing I noticed was that Dreama wasn't there, not realizing we were early due to Jukka's fast pace. I walked through the small crowd looking for her. No luck. I then noticed Jukka had struck-up a conversation with the legendary Gordy Ainsliegh, the man who started Western States back in the late 1970's. Jukka was sharing our situation with Gordy. Gordy turned to me and asked why I couldn't simply pace Jukka for the next 20 miles to the finish line. I explained I had to be in Santa Cruz that afternoon and there was no way I could get there on time if I ran all the way to the finish. 

Jukka was ready to set out on his own, but then he turned to Gordy, "can you pace me?" Gordy kind of chuckled. Then he paused. "I don't know why I didn't think of that?" It was totally surreal. One minute I'm running with Jukka on the Western States trail, and the next minute I'm pinning my pacer number onto the legendary Gordy Ainsliegh's shorts. I asked Gordy if he really wanted to do this. He was resolute.

It is said by many that things happen for a reason. That the greatest surprises in life come as part of a greater plan. If this is so, then Gordy was there to ensure that Drema would, after all, run with Jukka to the finish line. Because just as Gordy was walking down to the boats to cross the river with Jukka, Dreama appeared. And it was, maybe by destiny, the few minutes it took Gordy to get suited up to run, the exact amount of time Jukka needed to wait to depart with Dreama across the river.   

Congratulations to my friend Jukka for finishing the Western States 100 mile endurance run. Thank you, Jukka, for inviting me to run with you. It was an experience I won't forget.