December 21, 2009

Saltwater 5000 -- 2009

Standing Aloft Santiago Peak - 5,687'

What started six years ago as a dubious quest between two runners, has now grown to an annual pilgrimage; a 32 mile holiday journey from the edge of the Pacific ocean to the top of Saddleback Mountain, Orange County’s highest point at 5,687 feet. On December 19, 2009, ten of us leaned over and touched the cold, blue water of the Pacific Ocean then turned to make our way to the summit. This year’s Saltwater crew was the largest to date, with six returning runners and four first timers. Also Included in the lineup were two female runners.

Unlike last year, we started under a dry, pristine sky. Darkness hung over us for most of our trek through El Moro canyon and the winding single track below the toll road. Leading the charge was Kevin S, who just a few weeks earlier had announced via email and Facebook that he had scouted and marked the trail along this section. Kevin’s one assignment as a newbie was to see the group safely through this section. However, when I realized Kevin and the group had run right by the turn and were lost, I could only wonder what the little guy had been smoking.

The next section usually brings some of the most breathtaking scenery, as the sky fills with yellow, orange and then deep red from the rising sun. We all made our way over the ridge and down to Laguna Canyon. But with runners, of course, nothing is sacred, especially when the moon is rising (and I’m not referring to the celestial moon here). When nature calls folks, what can you say?

We moved easily through the Serrano section of the run, with the normal stops along the way. Thanks to our hardy and ready crew Dawn and Trina, nothing was missed, except for an “embarrassing” moment for Bino when Trina was picking up ice (we’re all winners Bino!). Fast forward to the Skate park, where Al, Dawn, Trina, and Marshall met us around this midway point, a good transition for the more difficult terrain to come.

It can be said that life is comprised of the little things, those brief moments we don’t notice at first, that we remember in the end. This year’s Saltwater 5000 didn’t disappoint.

As we climbed up the infamous dreaded hill, the sky seemed to open up before us, and presented some of the most amazing views I’ve seen in my 40 years in the OC. The higher we climbed, the farther we could see. Once on the mountain, every turn seemed to present another unbelievable view. At such an altitude, we stood well above the curvature of the earth, making San Clemente island appear larger than ever. Snow topped peaks of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains stood beside us, lending to a panoramic playground.

I’d like to say congratulations to all the runners this year, especially Laura who worked long and hard to prepare and get through this day. And to Bino, who also trained specifically for this year’s Saltwater. Seeing these two getting to the summit was sweet. Seeing Laura and her dad, two generations, making their way up Modjeska grade trail was a special moment. And we are all honored to have Gerry, our master, who at 68 years young raises the bar every time he steps foot on the mountain. Fellow first timers Kevin, Joe and Sue ran very well, as did third timer Jeff D. Keeping the faith is also a big part of Saltwater, and I was happy to share the trail yet another year with Jeff and Rob.

Keep it real Saltwater!

December 13, 2009

There There, Marathon Snobs

Today I was thumbing through the January/February 2010 issue of Running Times. I came across the following quote which was also carried in the New York Times:

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours. It used to be that running a marathon was worth something—there used to be a pride saying you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’” (Adrienne Wald, a college cross country coach).

Yo Adrienne, please reboot your ego. Hopefully when you login again you will know, as a runner, what running is really about. If you don’t, you should read a few books by George Sheehan, who taught us that running is just as much about self awareness as it is times and competition. Sheehan once wrote that “the mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body”.

If you still don’t understand what running is about, then I suggest you go out on a Sunday and volunteer as a support crew at the finish line of a marathon. But don’t quit after the fast runners are done, wait there until the 6, 7 and 8 hour finishers to come through. You will likely see people who are in their 60’s and older. You might even see people who’ve never done anything athletic in their life, some of whom have struggled for years with physical or emotional problems. When these runners cross the finish line after battling for 26 miles, look into their eyes. When they look back at you, tell them what you really feel.

We runners are all individuals, and we all come in different shapes and sizes, and with varying abilities and ambitions. A fast pace for one, is ultimately slow to another. But we runners share one thing in common, something we should be loath to forget. When we run, we feel alive.

December 5, 2009

Western States 2010 - I'm In!

I’m really not the superstitious type. In fact I laugh at some of the superstitious things people have done to get an edge. Like Michael Jordan wearing his college shorts under his NBA uniform. Hah! Like that really helped him. I wonder if he wore them inside out? Because its said that clothes worn inside out bring good luck. Ok, lets get real here.

When I walked out the door for a run this morning, I was sure to bring my blackberry, because the 2010 Western States lottery was about to be held. There was no way I could wait to see the results of the lottery after my run when I could see it during my run using the web browser on the device. It was, after all, the same blackberry I used to see my very own name selected in the 2008 lottery. Superstitious? No way.

Today I was also sure to wear my Western States sweatshirt for my run. It only made sense because I’m in Chicago for the weekend and its 20 degrees outside with a wind chill. Sure, I could’ve worn my usual long sleeve shirt with a wind breaker, but today was a special day. It’s the Western States lottery. Superstitious? Nope.

As I was running along Lake Michigan, the clock counted down until it struck 9 a.m., the lottery had begun. I looked up and saw four Canadian Geese fly directly over my head, and the song Right Here by Jesus Jones started. Are these good signs? I don’t know, but they couldn’t be bad. I continued on my run around Soldier Field, checking my blackberry every mile or so.

Turning back toward the hotel, the wind was at my back, and my stride seemed effortless. I stopped, and glanced at my handheld. I scrolled down through the last names and there it was, my name! I’m in! My arms lifted to the sky, as I savored the moment. I quickly called my wife. “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news, which do you want to hear first? The good news, I got into Western States again, and the bad news, I got into Western States again!” We laughed together knowing what would be in store in the months to come.

As I was heading up the elevator I glanced at the mirror. Something was sticking up on the top of my running cap. As I looked closer, I realized it was the tag. I’d been wearing it inside out the whole time.

No way!

November 29, 2009

November 20, 2009

Of Travel and Training

So I woke up Tuesday morning 3,000 miles from home. Twenty five stories over Times Square, I could hardly roll out of bed, being 3 a.m. pacific time and all. What? There’s a Starbuck’s on the corner? Gatorade has its place my friends, but not at this moment.

Still sore from last Sunday’s 23 miler, I sipped hot java walking up to Central Park. Drink bold coffee. Walk progressively faster. Warm body up. Run. But wait! Trees glowing of orange, yellow and red beckon me into an out door mosaic. My breath slows. Autumn enters.

Now it’s Wednesday morning, and I’m 1,000 miles west, then a little north. That would put me in the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Land O Lakes, original home of the Lakers. It’s 4:30 am and again I’m struggling to get to my feet. But it’s not the time zone this time, rather the Asian restaurant “Big Bowl” from the night before. I was feeling Big Bowl’s spice, but not in a perky kind of way. I finally made it out the door, five miles along a bike path to the town of Roseville, just in time to see six Canadian Geese fly gently over my head, aloft and amidst a cold, 28 degree Midwestern sky. Yes!

Thursday comes, another day on the road, but now I’m 450 miles due south of the Twins, closer to home, and smack dab in the center of the contiguous 48. As I walked out the door for a late afternoon run, I turned north out of the city, headed for the 12th &Vine Monument anointed by the song “I’m Goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come”. But why don’t tourist maps ever tell you where NOT to run? As I passed the Greyhound bus station and then the city rehabilitation center, I thought, do I want to be in this neighborhood? I finally made it to the piano monument, and promptly turned around as the fading daylight started to outrun me. I passed a very crowded bus stop. Are they yelling at me? I felt my heart rate as a scampered by. From arms length I heard a shout, “what the F*#K! are you doing here? Ruuuunnnnn!!!” And that I did.

Now its Friday afternoon, I sit quietly on an airplane typing this post. A song from the Foo Fighters creeps into my headphones….and the lyrics begin to capture my spirit.

…I, I’m a new day rising
…I’m a brand new sky to hang the stars upon tonight
…I, I’m a little divided
…Do I stay or run away and leave it all behind?
…Its times like these you learn to live again

Travel on!

October 25, 2009

Hydration for the Long Haul

After suffering through a miserable cold this week, I finally decided today to set out on trail, feeling well enough for the first time in several days. I used to run with a cold all the time, but found that doing so gave the virus easy pathway to my lungs. Not that I’m 100% yet, but I’m well enough to get out under a crisp blue sky and sun drenched trees.

I’m pretty sure today was the longest time I’ve spent on foot on a single run since Western States. Total time logged was 4 hours and nine minutes, which felt like butter for the first 2 ½ hours, while I stayed well below my max aerobic heart rate, climbing gently up San Joaquin Hills road and under good shade, until crossing over to the Coyote Canyon trail that parallels Ridge Park Road. Along this trail, which sits in the heart of Newport Coast but is unused if not unknown to most, the fall shadows loomed over the rocky terrain and ancient caves. Fall is most certainly here and with it is a brand new season to explore.

One of my objectives today was to go the distance self supported, without refueling along the way. I want to know how long and how far I can run without a water source, and what kind of equipment I can reasonably carry on a long sustained run. The system I used a few weeks ago, a Patagonia hiking pack with 120 ounces of water, a sleeping bag, a mat and bug net was a disaster and I don’t know what I was thinking when I started up Holly Jim trail. Sometimes na├»ve enthusiasm can carry you a long way, and it did, until I realized I couldn’t run in the contraption without the bag bouncing up and down more than a worn out Cadillac hurling over massive speed bumps.

Thanks to a fellow ultra runner and blogger Ian, I realized that they actually make bags for runners that can carry this kind of gear and water. I purchased one he recommended to me, the Camelbak Rim Runner, which holds 100 oz of fluid (3 liters) 1590 cu in of cargo. I loaded the bag up with about 80 oz of water, some bars, a sweatshirt for girth, and set out on trail. They bag worked great, had minimal bounce (I’m still trying to get used to Camelback because I’ve been using a Nathan hydro pack for over a year), and I made it the full 4 hours without having to stop for water. I felt so great around 2 hours that I called my wife and said I was going to be out for a couple more hours.

From the top of Newport Coast, I dropped into El Moro State Park along the Fence Line and Missing Link, and over to Laguna Coast Wilderness on the southern most ridge, and then down to Laguna Canyon Road, and back via the Ranger Station hill. The climb out, well, was not so fun and the butter it felt like earlier was beginning to curdle inside of me. Oh how I miss these long runs!

October 19, 2009

Running vs Cycling - An Interview with PhD Pam Hinton

Imagine two piers. Both are built using the same solid design and quality material. These piers are identical in every way, with one exception. Pier One is built over the ocean and is regularly subjected to storms and rough seas. Pier Two is erected over a small lake with calm waters. As years pass, Pier One takes regular beatings from high surf and gale force winds. Builders are constantly repairing and replacing its pillars and support beams. Pier Two, on the other hand, gets very little abuse in its placid environment and, on the surface, shows little need for repair.

Fast forward 50 years. Pier One sits majestically above the same rough seas and storms. With its pillars and support beams continuously replaced over the years, it still stands like a fortress. Pier Two, well, Pier Two collapsed some years ago. Its decaying pillars were never repaired or replaced and it eventually buckled mercilessly under the force of neglect.

Now imagine your bones as a Pier. If you are a runner, chances are your bones are like Pier One - constantly abused, but always being repaired and replaced. If you’re a cyclist, well, your bones might be like Pier Two, a shrine of tranquility but getting weaker beneath the surface.

This isn’t a joke guys and gals. According to Pam Hinton, PhD and associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Missouri, running promotes stronger bones, while cycling does the opposite.

Hinton co-authored a study this year comparing bone densities of elite runners to those of similarly accomplished cyclists. Her work was published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Metabolism. I recently caught up with Pam via email to learn more about her research on this topic and what it all means to runners and cyclists.

Will: Pam, first of all thank you for doing this interview.

PH: You’re welcome. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about our research and to increase awareness of this important problem that affects apparently healthy and fit individuals.

Will: I’ve read that you were a competitive runner in college, but a car accident ended your running career. You then became a cyclist. Can you talk a little about this experience? How does this motivate you and your research?

PH: Well, a great thing about my job is that I have the freedom to study problems that interest me—both professionally and personally. Some of the best career advice I ever received was from my postdoc mentor at Cornell University, Dr. Rasmussen. She told me that I SHOULD study what I am passionate about. She said that the odds of being a successful researcher are much greater if you’re passionate about your work. I’ve been interested in the interactive effects of nutrition and physical activity on bone for a long time.

Since my days as runner for the University of Wisconsin, I have been interested in how energy balance affects bone health. At that time, I was interested in how being in an energy-deprived state results in loss of bone mass, even if the skeleton is exposed to high-impact loading. As you mentioned, I was hit by a car and suffered a fracture that required surgery and almost a year of physical therapy. I took up cycling as a result. The inspiration to look at bone density in male cyclists hit me on a group ride one day.

We know that there are three key factors for maintenance of strong bones: adequate nutrition, especially calcium and vitamin D; normal hormonal status; and, regular loading of the skeleton. Although the men I ride with get enough dietary calcium and do not have endocrine issues, I wondered what years of spending so much time in a non-weight-bearing sport would do to their bones.

Will: I’ve always thought cycling was less damaging to your body than running. But your study on the bone densities of runners and cyclists would appear to indicate the opposite. Can you explain the results of your study?

PH: High impact (ground reaction) forces exerted on the skeleton during running or other high-impact physical activities are both good for the bones and bad for the joints (especially if your anatomy or biomechanics are not suited to running). What we found in our cross-sectional study is that cyclists had lower bone density of the lumbar spine than runners. In addition, ~65% of the cyclists we studied had osteopenia of the lumbar spine or hip. Osteopenia can be viewed as “pre-osteoporosis.”

The clinical definition of osteopenia is bone mineral density that is one standard deviation below the mean for young adults, while osteoporosis is less than 2.5 standard deviations below the mean. On a population level, fracture risk increased 2-3-fold for each standard deviation below the mean. So, it appears that the cyclists in our study were at increased risk for fracture of the lumbar spine.

Will: Can you tell us about the number and type of athletes that were involved in this study?

PH: We had 43 amateur runners and cyclists aged 20-59 years in the study. The athletes who participated in our study were competitive at the local and regional level.

Will: What kind of questions did you get from the athletes when they learned of the results? What kind of feedback did you give them?

PH: Most of the participants who learned that they had low bone density were surprised to learn that they had low bone density—typically a disease of older women! Their reaction was understandable, as these were otherwise very healthy and fit individuals. Some did not believe that the results were anything to worry about—“I’ve crashed many times and never broken anything!” However, the majority were concerned and wanted to know what they could do. We recommended that they contact their physician for follow-up treatment.

Will: I’ve known many runners who have had to hang it up because of various injuries. Doesn’t running pose other risks that aren’t present in cycling? How do runners avoid these debilitating injuries?

PH: Yes, although running-related injury is not my area of expertise, life-long runners often develop joint or soft-tissue problems that are associated with the repetitive impact of running. From a bone-strengthening perspective, however, it doesn’t take much running to achieve the maximal benefit. Unlike most benefits of exercise, more is not better when it comes to bone. This is because the bone becomes refractory after 100 loading cycles (i.e., impacts or foot strikes). Bone recovers after 8 hours of rest and will respond to additional loading. So, from a practical point of view, it makes the most sense to do more short bouts of high-impact activity as opposed to longer bouts less frequently.

Will: Do swimmers have the same risk as cyclist when it comes to bone strength?

PH: We have not studied swimmers, but, yes, we suspect that swimmers would be at increased risk. Swimming, like cycling, does not produce ground reaction forces on the skeleton.

Will: At what age should someone be worried about osteopenia?

PH: The key to prevention of osteopenia or osteoporosis is maximizing peak bone mass during periods of skeletal growth. A normal consequence of aging is loss of bone mass. Thus, the goal during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood is to put as much bone in the bank, so to speak, as possible to minimize the negative consequences of age-related loss. However, unless an individual is at risk, e.g., use of medications that cause bone loss, endocrine disorders, or decreased estrogen, clinically significant bone loss does not typically emerge until after menopause in women and age 70 in men.

Will: How can one find out if they suffer from or are at risk of osteopenia?

PH: They must have their bone density measured. The most accurate assessment is measurement by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).

Will: Can supplements help minimize risk of osteopenia?

PH: Adequate nutrition, especially calcium and vitamin D, but other nutrients, too, is necessary but not sufficient. In other words, supplemental calcium cannot “make-up” for lack of weight-bearing activity or inadequate estrogen.

Will: What can we expect to see from you next? Are you planning any future studies?

PH: Just last month, we were awarded a 3-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to determine the efficacy of one-year exercise-based intervention to increase bone mass in men with osteopenia. We are going to compare plyometrics (jump-training) and resistance exercise.

Will: Thank you Pam. Your work is very enlightening. I look forward to hearing more about your next project!

October 14, 2009

Padilla's 60th Mile

Last weekend welcomed a 60 mile run by my good friend Jeff Padilla. Jeff turned 60 years old and decided, in true ultra fasion, that he would run 60 miles to celebrate his entry into the next age group. Friends of Jeff ran with him every step of the way and we all met up with him after the run at his favorite spiritual center, Blackies Bar in Newport Beach. Happy Birthday Jeff! It was great to run and celebrate with you! Click on the video below and enjoy...

October 3, 2009

Trail post--Santa Ana Mountains

This is a first for me. Today I'm doing my first overnight, self supported run. I started with a sleeping bag, 134 oz of water (yes, very heavy), some bars and dried fruit, and a few other odds and ends. I sarted at the base of holy jim trail and made it to blue jay, about 14 miles. Running with a full back pack was brutal, but I'll be returning a lot lighter now that half my water has been used, which is more than enough to return. Now I lay under a full moon.

Keep it real!

Trail Post #1

Today I plan to do a first effort with overnight equipment on trail. This is a test to see how posting from the trail via blacberry works. More to come...

September 23, 2009

Get Well

I just returned from a three day trip tonight and learned that two ultra runners, Fidel Diaz and Gina Natera, were lost for three days in the Cleveland National Forest. I know nothing more than what I’ve read in the news and from emails of friends. Apparently the two ran out of water on a long run that started at 5:30 am on Sunday, they got separated, and lost their way under the intense heat. Both runners were found alive today by search and rescue teams and one, Gina Natera, is in critical condition and in intensive care.

Get well, soon, Fidel and Gina.

September 15, 2009

I Went Back to Ohio

Last weekend I was taken by ambulance from the Columbus airport. Medical emergencies are scary, but being transported by ambulance only hastens that fear. As the ambulance rolled out of the airport I heard the siren begin to blare.

Thank goodness this was not your typical ambulance, and I was not suffering from a medical emergency. In fact the last emergency this converted rescue vehicle likely saw was a hang-over induced up-chuck, or maybe a failed satellite TV signal in the closing minutes of an Ohio state football game. Yes, this was a real life, fully functional ambulance converted to a modernized tailgating party wagon. Genius!

This was the kickoff of a weekend in Columbus, OH to see the Ohio State Buckeyes play the USC Trojans. But what do football and ambulances have to do with running? Absolutely nothing. Then let me dispense of the running thing quickly. I ran Coffman High School, which as it turned out was where the Trojan football team practiced before the big game. I ran a 1.5 mile warm up and 1.5 mile warm down, and 1,200 meters on the track including 100 and 200 meter stride outs, designed to help me get a little speed back after spending the last two years training for really long distances.

Even with such a short run, the weekend turned out to be as much an ultra marathon as any race I've ever entered. I don't care what kind of shape your in, because when you arrive seven hours before game time to a tailgate party equipped with kegs of cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, cherries soaked in grain alcohol, cigars, and swarms of hardened Buckeye fans anxious to break a six game losing streak, fading down the home stretch is a real risk. I walked into Simon’s tailgate zone like a babe in a lawless saloon. I quickly loosened up with a few games of cornhole, the Midwestern version of horse shoes, a few BPRs, and then watched several college football games on the flat screen TV mounted in the back of Simon’s converted ambulance.

Pulling in the Sandbags

Then there was the game. USC and Ohio State have been battling each other for decades. I remember watching the epic battles between Woody Hays and John McKay as a kid. But this year, while the Trojans had beaten the Buckeyes in their previous 6 match ups, I wasn’t about to get sucked into this pre-game hype. Football is football and when you have a freshman quarterback, two new coordinators, and you’re in a rocking stadium with over 100,000 fans screaming at your team on every snap, anything can happen. So, whether staging for a Katrina size storm or a freaky high tide on Balboa Island, sandbagging has its place. Ok we won, but because we won I need to remind my Buckeye friends that while you have Tressel Ball, we have Carroll Ball. While you consistently beat weaker opponents, we consistently lose to them.

Thanks to all you guys, gals and tennis players for a great weekend and...we'll see you in the Rose Bowl!!!

September 5, 2009

Patagonia Makes Shoes? A Review

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by a rep of Patagonia if I would post a review of Patagonia’s trail running shoe, the Release. Of course I would, was my reply. I’m not one to experiment too broadly with running shoes, since I’m usually disappointed when I do, and I always seem to come back to my Asics 2130 Trails. But the worst that could happen, I figured, is the shoes could suck and simply end up in my shoe junk heap.

When the shoes arrived I immediately put them on my shoe scale. No, they don’t make shoe scales. But they do make food scales that are easily convertible to shoe scales. Regardless, these shoes are a little heavy! Weighing in at just over 14 ounces, they are on the heavy side of shoes I like to run in. But they are not far off from my 2130 Trails (13 oz), Asics Gel Cumulus (12 oz), and are the same weight as my La Sportiva Fireblades. Trial shoes are usually a little heavier than their road brethren because they usually have, among other things, thicker outsoles and midsoles to protect the feet from the elements on trial.

When I laced these up I was pleasantly surprised at how the shoe hugged my feet. The Release looks a little stiff and rigid, but when I put it on it stretched nicely to tie into a perfect fit. Patagonia calls this Dynamic Fit Lacing System and it seems to work well for my foot. I often run a few miles on streets to get to trail and I dread shoes that are too hard, but also those that are too soft. I have now done several runs from 5 to 10 miles in the shoe in varied terrain. My overall impression of the Patagonia Release is quite good. Their traction is excellent, cushioning is just right and stability seems quite good.

Another thing I liked about the shoe is the arch, and where it bends when you push the toe and heel together. One thing I’ve learned as a runner is shoes that bend right in the middle of the arch when you push the toe and heel together really play havoc on the middle section of my plantar fasciitis. Shoes that bend in front of the arch, like these, seem to protect this area for me. I can buy a pair of shoes and if it’s the wrong shoe feel a sharp pain right in the middle of my arch. Shoes with higher arches also help control this.

So, do I recommend the Patagonia Release? For those of you who are looking for a solid, comfortable trail shoe that don’t mind a little heavier shoe for training, this shoe is a good choice. Also, if you are the green sort concerned about the environment, the Release uses recycled material for the midsole. I wouldn’t recommend the shoe for those of you looking for a fast trainer or racing shoe, unless you are doing a technical course and need a little more girth around the toes. In sum, I like the Patagonia Release and I expect to continue using it for my longer training runs.

August 31, 2009

2009 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run Cancelled

When mother nature speaks, she usually has something dramatic to say. For those of us who have to listen, it often comes as one sudden disappointment, even sacrifice. Last year, as she wielded her powers down on the forests of Placer County, dozens of fires rose from lightening strikes, and hundreds of Western States runners, some traveling across the globe, were told to quietly go home. The race had been canceled. Runners of the 2009 Angeles Crest 100 mile endurance now face the same disappointing reality.

As one who experienced the Western States 2008 cancellation, I can only say this -- accept the fact that we type-As can't control everything and indeed control very little; get over the obsession of the "event" and celebrate the journey; and get on to another venue where you can display your fitness and resolve. Oh yea, don't feel guilty about tipping a few extra to get over the angst.

Keep it real runners

August 22, 2009

Americans vs Africans

Are America's golden years of distance running over? Will the successes of Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit Samuelson ever be repeated by another American? According to an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Africans Are Hearing Footsteps, not unless we put our watches away and our obsession on the science of training in the dumpster.

According to Kenyan runner Felix Limo (London and Chicago marathon winner) American distance runners have been surpassed by Africans because "U.S. runners rely too much on structure and scientific programs". Other sources quoted in the article say Americans don't have the same threshold for pain as the Africans and, oddly, Americans have read too many books and have become too structured in their training.

If I didn't know anything about the sport and its literature I might be so inclined to buy this argument hook-line-and-sinker. True, there is a plethora of science and literature that has entered the sport in the last couple of decades. But too much reading? Too much structure? I don’t think so. First of all the literature the article sites as influencing American elite runners would lead one to believe the author is, well, clueless. He points to Runner’s World Magazine, a magazine designed for beginning runners, as an influence. Runners World? Come on Wall Street Journal, do you think our elites have been sitting around waiting for there monthly issue to learn the top 5 ways to improve their 5k time? Another source sited is the Runners Handbook, by Bob Glover. While he writes good training primers for beginning to advanced runners, Glover's books fall way short of elite training tools. A reference to Jack Daniels or David Costill would’ve lent some credibility.

Let’s face it, it’s not about what runners are doing in America or Africa, it’s about what running means to Americans and Africans. Distance running doesn’t put food on the table in America. It doesn’t lift Americans from a poverty to prosperity. It doesn’t even make us national heroes. If it did, in my humble opinion, the tables would be turned.

July 28, 2009


It was a sweltering day, 15 years ago. Alone on a steep hill, I climbed. But just as fast as the sweat pored off my skin, guilt was drowning my mind. With a budding career weighing on my shoulders, I asked myself, why am I out here? And just like that, I succumbed.

Motivation. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. It’s the reason we keep going, through thick and thin, fatigue and frustration. It's how we overcome life's many challenges. Motivation comes to us in different forms and from different places. It is intellectual and emotional. It is in our head and in our hearts. Without it, we are hapless souls, trudging in and out of life's bland encounters. With it we are colorful players on the field, ready to take on the greatest opponents our minds can throw at us.

But where does it come from? Motivation. Are we born with an innate supply of it? Do we learn to "become" motivated through life's experience? This may well be forever unknown. What is known, however, is that motivation comes in different forms. Intellectual motivation, for example, is different than emotional motivation.

Like everything linked to the mind, intellectual motivation comes to us through rational thought. The desire to win trophies, gain kudos from friends and peers, or to be "known" as an athlete. These are all intellectual "motives" to which we often succumb. They are motives of the ego. But are these motives long lasting? Will they get you though the most grueling and challenging times? Unfortunately, they will not. Just like sugar, they'll leave you high one moment, and low the next.

Emotional motivation is different. It runs through your body. It comes from your gut, enters the spine, then without warning seeps through your skin. Before you recognize it, it will give you goose bumps. Wherever its starts and ends, you can feel it. And what's best, it doesn't even have to make sense!

What I've learned is that, unless I can really feel the motivation to do something big, I'm better off not even attempting to do it. The fact is I've been motivated by my ego to beat my marathon PR that has stood for 16 years, but I am yet to feel that I can do it. Can I still do it at 46? I'm still waiting for the goose bumps. And should they come, my ego will be anxiously waiting.

July 13, 2009

No Need to Get Away

I was thumbing through some quotes to help revive my vision of where my feet may fall next. I stumbled across this, and it kind of blew me away. Enjoy.

"People try to get away from it all- to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful-more free of interruption-than your own soul."

Marcus Aurelius

June 29, 2009

Western States 100, An Epilogue

This one is hard to put into words. I’m not sure if it is because there is so much to say, or because there is so much I just don’t know how to say. In short it’s been a long road with many bumps and turns along the way, and I wouldn’t have made it without the help of my family and friends.

Saturday, June 27th. 5:00 am. Literally the moment for which I’d been waiting three consecutive years. It finally came. When it did, a crazy, chanting group of some 400 eccentric runners started up the face of Squaw Valley, destine for the small town of Auburn exactly 100.2 miles away. We would travel on foot over mountains, under forests, across canyons, through a river, beneath the blazing sun, and then into the darkness of night. It was a surreal feeling to be there at that moment, with so much anticipation. As I pushed up the mountain, I couldn’t help but think to myself, will I get through this?

Start to Robinson Flat (First 29 miles). From the start at Squaw Valley to the top of the Escarpment, the first 3.5 miles, is the steepest and highest climb of this race. Starting at 6,200’ above sea level and rising to 8,720’, this section had me checking and rechecking my heart rate, which was reading north of 160 bpm for the entire climb, just power walking. This was a much higher rate than I anticipated, which had me a little concerned with some 97 miles to go. Once we summited, I looked back over Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains, and felt a nice, important rush of energy.

For the next 26 miles we ran what was for me the hardest part of the course. This was mostly a single track, up and down, winding trail at or above 7,000’. My goal here was to eat and drink as often as possible, avoid overexertion, and try to get through the section with minimal episodes. I knew my body would have to work 20% harder through this section just because of the altitude. All was going well, so well in fact I decided to celebrate by listening to some music on my Ipod. Then, just like that, my left ankle buckled as I was rounding the tight, rocky trail. I felt a sharp pain shoot up my leg. Shit! Did that just happen? I just sprained my ankle and I have 83 miles left to run! I stopped, collected myself, then began slowly walking. My ankle was stiff and in pain, but I could still walk on it. After a few minutes, I started to jog slowly. I continued to feel pain, but it was muted by the endorphins now rushing through my body. I continued gingerly through the most technical sections of the course.

As the miles crept by, my confidence began to return. Having experienced an ankle sprain on a long run before, I knew that there was a good chance the pain and stiffness would work itself out if I continued running. And it did. After a couple hours I didn’t feel the pain anymore and I was able to get back to my normal stride. I deemed this ankle sprain to be a blessing in disguise, forcing me to slow things down for the long run ahead. I continued through the long decent into Duncan Canyon, and then up the 1,400' climb to Robinson Flat. In terms of difficulty, this was not far off from the first climb up the face of Squaw because we were still at altitude. The heat was also beginning to set in. Seeing my crew at Robinson was a welcome site. They made sure I got my nutrition and got me on my way.

The Canyons – Robinson Flat to Forrest Hill (Miles 29 to 62). If there is one dreaded section of the Western States trail, it would be the canyons. Hot, steep and unrelenting, the canyons come in the middle of the course, when the sun is at its highest arch. I knew the heat would be a factor so I loaded up with more water than normal, carrying at certain points 110 ounces in a hydration pack and two hand held bottles, 60% of which I would dump over my head along the way to stay cool. This strategy worked as I never felt too hot, even with temperatures

reaching triple digits and climbing the nasty Devil’s Thumb and Michigan Bluff ascents. What I didn’t do so well was to conserve my quads on the descents. I’d been told by many Western gurus that running with any intensity down the canyons was risky business because my quads could really suffer, which would slow me down later in the race. I moved quickly down these descents despite these warnings. I met my unflappable crew again at Michigan Bluff (Mile 55) and Forrest Hill (mile 62) for a much needed, but quick break. My pacer Rob McNair joined me at Forrest Hill for the rest of the run.

Forest Hill to Auburn (miles 62 to 100.2) – Western States veterans all say that you need to save your energy until Forrest Hill, for it is here where you can really run. The trail is smooth with a gentle downhill and it is the most runable section of the course. I entered the section with some life still left in my legs. As Rob and I continued down the long winding single track I knew every step I took in daylight was a step faster than I could take at nightfall. We pushed under the fading light.

At the end of the Forrest Hill trail we reached the river crossing at Rucky Chucky. Nightfall had set in. Here we crossed the American river, submerging ourselves in the chilly, chest high running water, stepping on boulders illuminated only by glow sticks glimmering beneath the surface. The glow of the lights in the river and a long cable beckoned me across. As I stepped into the water a cold shiver ran through my body. After 78 miles of running, my mind was beginning to slip. The mountain water was a good wake up call. Volunteers were in rafts telling us where to step, and where not to. The whole thing reminded me of a scene in the movie Apocalypse Now, when American Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Marten Sheen) and his men were stuck at night at a bridge under heavy fire by the Vietcong. Lights flashing, people barking out orders. Organized chaos.

We moved up Rucky Chukcy to Greengate, were my fearless crew waited for us. They had hiked 1.25 miles in at 10 pm just to see me wave at them and keep moving. From there we made our way through a very runnable section of the course. And it was here where my quads began to give way. I’d been running some 18 hours by now, up and down tens of thousands of feet of mountain trails, and my legs were now saying enough already! Every step I took hurt. Wait, I remember saying to myself, you can’t give up now! And so I persisted in a fight with my quads for the rest of the night, pushing them as they pushed back. I had to shorten my stride just keep my legs from buckling under my own weight. I continued this battle as Rob and I made our way over the dark undulating trail toward the finish line.

Finish Line – Placer High School. How does one describe the feeling finishing a 100 mile run? How does one tell a story of spending three years to qualify, train, plan and then run a 100 mile race? I don’t know if this is possible. I do know, however, that as I ran the last half mile of this long journey, the pain began to melt away. When I saw the finish line, I could hear my crew and friends yelling for me. It was a moment for which I had been waiting a long, long time. And then, just like that, 23 hours and 28 minutes after taking my first step, I crossed the finish line.

I can't say how much help I received from others to make this possible. My crew, which included my wife Jen and friends Laura, Rob and Jeff, where phenomenal. They met me at every stop throughout the day and night, often hiking long distances just to see me for a minute. They took great care of me. As for Rob, my pacer, I simply couldn't have made it those last 20 miles without him. His words of wisdom along the way gave me the confidence to push through the dark moments. Thanks guys, running 100's is truly a team sport and I had the best team!

June 26, 2009

Western States Live Webcast

Click here for the live Western States webcast and follow your runner through the course. There are 24 aid stations and each runner must pass a mandatory weigh-in 10 times along the course.

My number is 167.

June 22, 2009

Don't Ignore the Journey

When I crossed the finish line at the London Marathon three years ago, I had not a clue what was in store for me. After my return, I remember sitting across the table from my friend Jeff Padilla, trying to explain how awesome that experience was. Then, in a moment of weakness, I remember raising my beer and exclaiming, let's do Western States! "Are you nuts" I recall hearing. "You've never run anything over a marathon!"

A few short months later Jeff and I were sitting on a plane headed for Sacramento to run the Helen Klein 50 miler to qualify for Western. We both qualified but didn't make the lottery. Months passed. Should I try again? Why not. Another 50 miler qualifier done, I sent my application, and well, you know the rest.

This has been a wild ride for me. Until then, I never dreamed about running a 100 miler. It seemed absurd, sort of self indulgent, to run that far let alone to train for something that far. But there are two things I've learned along the way.

First, training for a 100 miler is a team sport. There is simply no way one can do it--and I mean "do it" as in learn, prepare, train and then run it--totally on your own. I can't even say here how much I've relied on my wife, my kids, my parents, my friends and other runners to get through this. And I haven't even reached the finish line yet!

Second, to train for this kind of thing I don't think the end can justify the means. In other words, and this goes out to all you runners, if you can't find enjoyment in what you are doing, especially a sport or hobby like this, don't do it. Otherwise change how you do it so you will enjoy it. I've learned to enjoy and appreciate the little things along the way--a flock of geese flying over head, my pacer's endless stories, a tumble down the hill, the breathtaking fatigue that (sometimes) fades to a source of energy, the view from the top of a mountain peak. Would I be the same person if I hadn't pursued this? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know I wouldn't be feeling the nervous energy I'm feeling right now.

Keep it real runners!

June 8, 2009


Ta-per-ing. vb. 1. To become progressively smaller toward one end. 2. To diminish gradually. ~vt: to cause to taper.

On a warm summer day in 1984, Alberto Salazar, one of America’s most revered distance runners, stood at the starting line the Olympic Marathon. Three weeks prior the race, succumbing to the pressures to win, he tried to “catch up” with his training, rather than rest. When the gun went off and the runners assumed an arduous pace, his dream of capturing an Olympic medal quickly faded away. In his words, he had “the horrible experience of watching the leaders pull away…in the first mile and knowing there was nothing I could do about it”.

On that same summer day, another runner, unheralded and running under the radar, stood at the same starting line. But this runner was unable to run for 10 days prior to the race due to a car accident. That runner was Carlos Lopes of Portugal, age 37. He went on to win the marathon and take home the Olympic gold medal that day, and set a Olympic Record in the process. According to Salazar, its “better to taper a little too strongly, than not enough”.

Have you ever stood at the starting line after months of training, wondering if you’ve rested enough? Too much? If so then you are, indeed, an endurance runner. Rest assured, there is no such thing as the perfect taper. But perfection isn’t on the menu in our sport. But if you’re looking for the perfect recipe here, don’t lose your appetite.

There are some basic guidelines that should be heeded when tapering. The first, like Salazar suggested, is to go into a race a little too tapered, rather than not enough. Pete Pfitzinger, author of Advanced Marathoning who beat Salazar in the Olympic Marathon in 1984, suggests starting your taper three weeks prior to race day, and cutting back your total mileage by 20% to 25% in the first week; 40% in the second week and 60% the week of your race. If you are doing speed work, progressively easing back on the intensity during your taper is recommended. Also be aware that too much time off though can leave your legs feeling a little flat on race day, so don’t turn into a couch potato for three weeks. Taking several full days off during the week of race day is advised.

There is one other thing to remember during your taper, especially for us older runners. Watch your calories! It’s pretty simple, but when you start ramping down the miles you need to remember that your body doesn’t need as many calories. And the last thing you need is to put on pounds before your race! Take this time to cut back and even lose weight.

May 26, 2009

Western States Training Camp 2009

After last year's oh-so-soggy training camp I was a little reluctant to sign up for another memorial day retreat into the Auburn foothills. Now that I'm back, I will say it was worth every minute. Even though it was just three days, I got in 78 miles of running, learned a ton about the trail and race day strategies, saw some old friends and made a few new ones.

Day One: Robinson Flat to Foresthill. This was the most valuable day for me. I have never been to RF before (last year the buses couldn't get access) so just seeing and running this part of the course for the first time was worth the trip for me. Simple subtleties became roaring realities, such as the mile long climb out of RF that rises to over 7,100'; or the winding, rocky single track trail out of RF that I did a face plant on; or the nearly 4,500' decent over 15 miles from RF to the base of Devil's Thumb; even the three pb&j's, several paydays and brownie I ate at a single aid station that made me feel like bloated chicken ready to blow on trail.

Day Two: Foresthill to Rucky Chucky: This was another helpful day, but it went by quickly. By the time I hit this section of the course on race day I'll be sitting on 60 miles and hope to have some legs left. After beating myself up last year on this section of the training run I calmed down a little. This must have helped as I felt strong right through to the finish including the 3-4 mile climb out of the canyon that we had to do to get back to the buses. I even tacked on a 6+ miler after this run by running the last 3 miles (out and back) of the course that afternoon.

Day Three: Greengate to Finish. 20 miles. This section of the course will be run in the dark and it's the last 20 miles of the course. Oh well, not to worry. After running 58 miles the two previous days, I still felt human. I have no idea how I'll feel at this point on race day so I'm not going to invest a whole lot into what I learned here. It was just a good day running and chatting with others on trail.

For the record, running the Western States Training runs is much more than "training" for the actual race. Its more about getting to know other runners, getting to know and really appreciate the trail, and, ultimately, getting to know yourself. Having come by myself I was able to reflect a bit more on how things worked, or didn't work. I also feel really fortunate to even be in this thing, and running with so many other people I've met along the way makes it all the better. Yes, I had the opportunity to talk and/or run with many: Michelle Barton, Kyle Hoang, Brian Krogmann, Kevin Sullivan, Jen Shelton, Luis Escobar, Jean Suyenaga, Stacey Bunton, and so so many others. I wish Rob McNair, my pacer, was here over the weekend, but sometimes even life gets in the way.

Keep it real runners!