December 31, 2011

Happy New Year Ultra Runners!

I’m not usually one to look back, but this time of year brings out the nostalgia in me. Why not? I don’t have any new year’s resolutions neatly typed up. In fact I don’t have any new year’s resolutions period. I don’t even have a goal for 2012! Oh my!

More to come on that topic. In the mean time I’m happy to be putting my feet up and celebrating the end of 2011 tonight with my wife, sans kids. This last year was particularly gratifying to me because I think I finally learned how to listen to my body and better understand its peculiar ways. Yes, its taken me 48 years to do this, but progress is all I’m looking for. Relentless forward progress.

And the simple things. They matter the most. It really is true. This year I discovered this on my way through the Southern California Ultra Grand Prix. Racing every 3 weeks when I could barely walk the week before. It made me see why the journey is better than the destination. The journey brings a cup of coffee before a race. A laugh with friend on a long climb. The dancing glimmer of headlamps strewn across a canyon below. What does the destination bring? Pain! Self doubt. Can I do this again in three weeks? Ouch. This stuff hurts! 

Keep the faith ultra runners!

And have a happy, happy, new year! 

December 22, 2011

The Longest Night

Good news northern hemisphere runners! We have, as of today, finally reached the shortest day of the year (and the longest night!). The northern hemisphere is at its most extreme angle -23.5 degrees - away from the sun. Now each day will be a little longer than the last, for a few months anyway.  Don't forget your flashlight for after work runs. I've been running under the stars lately, and enjoying switching between Radiohead's music and the audio book the Shining by Steven King on my Iphone. If I can survive this morose combo I'm sure to have nothing but sunshine to look forward to.

As for you southern hemisphere runners, enjoy the summer while you will soon be ours again!


December 12, 2011

Saltwater 2011 - A Video Post

This is a short video album of the 8th annual Saltwater 5000. Another great year with great friends running from the ocean to the top of Saddleback Mountain! Push play then click on the expander to get a full size viewing...

Saltwater 2011 from Will C on Vimeo.

December 8, 2011

Go Angels!

Finally, ESPN turns its attention to the west coast, at least for a day or two! And why not, when a baseball's most valuable player moves to a new team for $250 million, and that team is on the west coast,  all of a sudden the eastern sports network takes notice!

Ok, back to running. I'm looking forward to a great run this weekend, with lots of climbing!!! 

December 4, 2011

A Place Oddity

One moment I am flying through the cosmos, alone in a spaceship, destine for greatness on some other world years away. Will I reach my destination?  Mind and spirit intact? Bouncing from galaxy to galaxy, I prune the edges of planets as I drop down to observe each ecosystem and extra terrestrial being. Entire worlds and life forms that I never dreamed of lay below me. Am I really here? Is this really happening? Life takes on new meaning. Along my journey obstacles want to destroy me, yet I avoid getting marooned inside these black holes that lay waiting like minefields along my cosmic pilgrimage. Is it destiny or my own free will that guides me? Oddly I’m able to use energy from these dark places to slingshot me deeper into space. Further into the abyss. 

The next moment I am running down a mountain trail, lost in my thoughts, locked into a feeling that I’m getting stronger with every step. Is this possible? To gain strength with a single step? Thousands of steps? Running from ridgeline to ridgeline, I peer down into the canyons below and notice the clear streams and steep canyon walls. The hot sun on my neck tells me this is real. My eyes move back to the trail, and I realize now many more rocks lay maliciously under my feet. I go down hard. Thud!! The wind leaves my lungs. My knee bleeds. Startled, I get up and begin to catch my breath. Then something inside begins to stir. Its an odd feeling, energy from another place. One I didn’t know about, until now. Despite a searing pain in my hip, I’m running again. Deeper into the wilderness.

November 27, 2011

Alcohol - Good or Bad?

Seems every time I pick up a newspaper, log on to the internet, or find an interesting news show, the topic of alcohol and health seem to appear. Is the stuff good or bad for you? Seems there are so many opinions that I'm left with nothing more than a wilted view on what is fact or fiction. Maybe it's one of those subjects that you believe what you want to believe.

I found this link to an article that sheds some light on the matter.

Happy holidays

November 19, 2011

Man's Best Friend?

I’d like to say for the record that if dogs are man’s best friend, they can be a turd in the punchbowl for us runners. Actually, it’s not the dogs that spoil the party, it’s a select group of their “clueless” owners. Hey, I’m all for pets, including those of the canine variety. But as a runner, I’ve learned to grow weary if not downright resentful of some dog owners. Hear me out on this one.

Last night I was on the back leg of a 6 mile out and back run I’ve completed dozens of times. As I ran along the dirt trail on the UCI Eco Reserve I could see a couple with a dog walking toward me about a half a mile away. It was dusk and the sun light was diming. As I approached the trio a long fence with a narrow opening stood between us. I could see that the dog, like most I come across when running on trail, was not on a leash.

Ok, here we go, I thought to myself, “the random dog encounter.” There are two types of dogs encountered on trail. Those that trod along with their head down that never notice you.   These are the whimsical ones, either too old and tired to give a shit about you, or smart enough to understand that their business is keeping their snout to the ground seeking scents from the orifices of their four legged brethren.

Then there are the other makes. These are the direct descendants of Jack London’s Buck from The Call of the Wild. The kind with instincts that, if crossed on the wrong day or in the wrong mood, would be threatened by mother Teresa dancing a two-step. Ok, I’m oversimplifying here, but you get the message. To a runner there are dogs that are “friendlies” and the less preferred “un-friendlies.”

As I made my way through the narrow gap, I noticed this couple was immersed in deep conversation. No glance, nod, nor eye contact came my way. As one who has run thousands of miles and come across hundreds of dogs on trail, I always look at the owner of the unleashed dog to determine what my next move should be. If the owner makes a move to grab the pet as I approach, I always slow to a walk to give them the time to do so. If the owner makes no move at all, which is most common, my eyes quickly move from the owner to the pet, then I proceed with caution.

As my eyes moved away from the couple, their pet was already passing on my left a few feet away. I had slowed to a walk, sensing something was amiss about the situation. Then the dog, a youngish black and white shepherd, turned and lunged toward me, growling and barking like a rabid Rin Tin Tin. A standoff that lasted a few seconds ensued, until I heard the owner yelling at the dog as if she had never seen her little guy perform such an act. Hello? Dog owner, this just in: get a clue! Your dog should be on a leash! If you want Fido to roam free on your watch, call for him. He’s not a “friendly” and a stranger is approaching.

It amazes me time and time again when dogs turn aggressive and their owners seem so damned surprised. Again, I’m not a dog hater, in fact the opposite. I grew up with a dog named licorice that literally adopted our family one day when I was in first grade. He waited at the end of the driveway until we took him in as our own. We kids used to rub his stomach until he went crazy and ran around the house like a wild pig. He once got sprayed by a skunk and we had to give him a bath in tomato juice. He was a great dog.

To all dog owners out there, let's keep the turd out of the punchbowl, eh? 

November 12, 2011

Once in a While

Once in a while. Not often. During a long run. I carry a few bucks with me. And stop. To indulge. Only during a long run. That is the rule. 

November 7, 2011

What An Imp Told Me

“Lose not yourself in a far off time, seize the moment that is thine.”

It’s been said that every minute is the beginning of an hour. Today I realized that it's really the minutes that count. The hours? Well, they might not always be there for me. 
As I laced up my shoes before my run tonight it occurred to me that I only had 20 minutes before I had to pick up my daughter. I decided to run anyway. I wanted to run for an hour, but knew I had to take what I could get.

The path I ran upon seemed to take me back in time. It was dark out. I noticed the lights along the foot bridge at UCI that I’ve run across hundreds of times. Only on this night they looked unusually appealing, glistening amidst the dark night. Along the path I noticed a series of funky statues. I stopped for a minute to take a closer look. From the darkness peeked an impish face. I had never noticed this face before. What was this little face telling me?

I moved on, making my way under the science building I’d run under so many times before. My legs felt strong, and after bouncing up a flight of stairs, I floated back toward my car.

Then it occurred to me. That little face wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. It was just a reminder. When time is tight, forget the perfect workout and the ideal schedule. But don’t ever forget the precious minutes. They add up to a lot.  

October 30, 2011

The Beginner's Mind

I recently posted that wisdom is not a flower to be plucked. It is a mountain, and it must be climbed. The idea here is that it takes time, years even, to gain an awareness of the trail that you tread on.

I still believe this.  However I think there is more to this story. Yes, wisdom is gathered from real life experiences. And there is no substitute for experience. But I also think wisdom can be overrated. I dare say that for everything we gain from wisdom, we also lose something precious from it. Let me explain...

As I lace up my shoes for my very first ultra, my nerves are tense. My heart beats rapidly. Everything around me appears larger than life. The other runners. The glow of the rising sun. Before the race everything is ominous, every little detail surreal. I pin the number on my shorts, I drink a cup of coffee. I fill my water bottles. All these things, so monumental. Then I step to the line. More than anything, with a fresh mind, I think about the unknown...and the possibilities yet to come...  

Fast forward now. I lace up my shoes for my 15th ultra, my nerves are still tense. Again my heart beats rapidly. Yet everything around me has an air of familiarity. I chat with my fellow ultra runners. I glance at the rising sun. My thoughts are more focused, more disciplined. I check my fluid and salt supplies. I review my nutrition for the day. I know now what is to come. I remind myself of the mountain I’ve climbed to get here.

Zen master Shunryu Suzuke once said that in the beginners mind, there are always possibilities. But in the experts mind, there are few.

Stay fresh my ultra friends. Keep a beginner’s mind. And if your reading this on the eve of your first ultra, don’t forget to stop for just a moment. And remember. 

October 17, 2011

Training. An Act of Patience.

For those of you who follow this blog, you know I'm a believer in training principles espoused by Phil Maffetone.  The key objective to this type of training is to teach your body to burn fat for fuel. The method to achieve this is built around training at a lower heart rate (180 minus your age +/- your own history). The biggest challenge to this approach is having patience. Patience NOT to go fast when you feel like hammering, patience NOT to sprint up a hill when you know you can and, yes, patience during training runs to let go of the hunger to push your body to the brink.

Of course this approach to training has its critics. The famous British runner Sabastian Coe once said that "...long slow distance produces long slow runners." Emil Zatopek, winner of three gold medals in the 5k, 10k and marathon in the 1952 Olympics was quoted saying "why should I practice running slow...I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast". Zatopek is considered to be one of if not "the" pioneer of interval training.
Maffetone's principles are very similar to the training principles taught by the legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard who coached many Olympic champions. The difference being Maffetone (who coached mostly triathletes vs runners) stresses the use of a heart rate monitor. Both approach training with a mindset that the athlete has to build his/her aerobic conditioning before they begin to introduce anaerobic conditioning to the training regimen. The point here is that both the Maffetone and Lydiard methods incorporate anaerobic work. It's just that they don't drool over it like so many of today's athletes do.
A friend of mine once said that you can't shoot a cannon from a canoe. What he meant was just that. You can't shoot a cannon (high intensity workouts designed to develop speed) from a canoe (a runner with no base). I know from my own experience that when I start working out on the track doing intervals, several things usually happen. First, I get faster. My turnover becomes quicker, and my cruising speed increases. Second, my body starts to crave sweet things. Sugary, starchy foods. The stuff that it burns when my heart rate gets way up there. Third, I start to notice aches and pains a lot more. Annoying twinges remind me I'm walking on the razors edge between great fitness and the brink of a serious injury.

Mark Allen, the six time Hawaii Ironman champion and student Maffetone, trained up to 38 hours per week during the "push" stages of his season. Allen used intervals to fine tune his training, but not to define his training. When asked about speed training under Maffetone, Allen said...“He looks at the whole picture while most coaches and trainers look at isolated elements even with, for example, speed work. You need it and he prescribed it for me but it is not the only thing you need, just to use one simple example. Certainly there have been many schools of thought about the best method to train...I look at all of them and I still do not think any of them are as good as the basis {Maffetone} uses to determine optimal aerobic heart rate training.”

This year I did zero interval training. Whether that helped or hurt me is a difficult question. I know I could have developed a little more speed if I spent time on the track. But at what cost? I also know that my aerobic training paid some pretty good dividends. I finished six ultras in six months this year, including three 50 mile, one 100k and two 100 mile races, placing top ten in half of these (at 48 years young, mind you).  Many of these races were only three weeks apart so I didn't have a lot of time to recover. I didn't sustain any debilitating injuries (knock on wood). In some of these races I felt stronger in the second half of the race than the first half, passing many other runners in the process.

If you are interested in getting more information on these training concepts, I suggest you read this interview with Mark Allen,  this article on Lydiard's training methods, and this article on the definition of aerobic training by Phil Maffetone.

Like my grandfather used to say.......patience jackass..........patience.

October 9, 2011

Steve Jobs and The Running Continuum

I never was an Apple fanatic. I never understood the cult-like zeal of Mac mania. Steve Jobs? To me he was just another tech billionaire capitalizing on our materialistic, trend crazed society. But then something changed for me regarding Jobs.

When a friend told me this week that Steve Jobs had died, it wasn't the news that surprised me. It was my reaction to it. So soon,  I remember thinking to myself. A hollow feeling crept into me. Something really big and really important has come to an end. In a moment my thoughts bounced from an image of a gaunt man standing on a stage, to the device he held in his hand, to the hundreds of miles of mountain trails that device accompanied me on as an ultra runner.

Jobs on Dreams

The more I've read about Jobs the more I'm enlightened by his perspective on life. Man, here is a guy who had the world in the palm of his hand. Despite unfathomable wealth, he stayed true to himself by continuing to pursue his passion for work at Apple. Jobs was a big advocate of pursuing your dreams, and finding what you love doing, and not settling until you do.

What I've come to realize is that Steve Jobs wasn't unlike the rest of us. He experienced failure like us. He feared death like we do. But despite these similarities, Jobs was different because he could see things more clearly than most of us. He once said that "...for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

Jobs on Death

Jobs said that "remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

What would Jobs say to us runners? I think I can hear his words now. Do what is in your heart. Don't worry about embarrassment or failure. You have nothing to lose. Let everything else fall away when you step to the line. And when the starting gun goes off, breath deeply and remember.  This could be the last run of your life.

RIP Steve Jobs.

September 22, 2011

Midwest On My Mind

Columbus Skyline
Today wraps up my midwest trip that took me from California to Chicago, IL, Des Moines, IA, Indianapolis, IN and now Columbus, OH. Five states in five days. The good news is I still got around 4 hours of running in, albet mostly on bone crushing concrete and asphalt. It reminds me of the song by the 80's punk band Fear called "I love Living in The City." I don't mind running in far away places as long as there are funky and/or cool things to look at. This trip had a few.  

Ohio State Capital 

The Face

The Bean

September 11, 2011

Going Slong

The Osprey I Saw Today
One of my favorite runs is going slong. I walk out the front door with no particular route planned. No particular destination. Just my Nathan, GPS and heart rate monitor. I start running—really, really slow—with nothing to prove other than time on foot. Time to myself. Time to melt. 

Today I did just that. Walked out the front door, and headed south. Toward my old stomping grounds as a kid. I passed through the baseball diamond where I pitched as a little leaguer. Along the coast highway past the place I worked as a buss boy as a young teenager (the Chinese restaurant is gone). Through the park where I take my girls. Then along back bay drive where I’ve run countless miles. Countless being a large number.

Slow, methodical, fat-burning bliss. That is what going slong is all about. Slow and long. Slong. Heart rate always under 140. Am I coming off an injury? No. Am I out of shape? Not really. Then why slong? Its simple. I’m building my base all over again. I’m shifting my protocol slightly by not focusing just on miles, but time. My goal as I enter the next year is to slong 20 hour weeks before I start to tighten the screws for racing. Its a hunch that I have. Focus on base today, recover better when tighten the screws tomorrow.

Coast Highway - Near the old 'Kams' Restaurant
One of the fringe benefits of going slong is that you notice things much more. Like an Osprey perched above your head. Have you ever seen an Osprey? I did today. It was pretty cool. I was taking a pit stop and heard a really loud noise. I looked up and saw it. Perched atop a utility pole. I found out that Ospreys migrate up to 430 kilometers per day. When they migrate, they have a tendency to fly at night. They usually mate for life, and they are unique in that they are found every continent except Antarctica.

Slonging. Try it some time. I think you’ll like it.

September 6, 2011

Fire Rages Through Ultra Marathon

This is a heads up to the ultra community. Two women are in critical condition after competing in an ultra marathon last weekend that was engulfed by a raging out-of-control brush fire. The race was in a remote location in northwest Australia. It took 5 hours for rescue workers to reach them. Both suffered burns to 80% of their bodies and are fighting for their lives. Click here for more details.  

August 31, 2011

Finding Steeps

Found this hill the other day. I'm really excited about it. It's a half mile long with 400 feet of elevation gain, all single track. At the top is a panoramic view of California's southland -- Saddleback Mt., the San Gabriels, the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. It's very difficult to find from the road, and pretty steep, so I don't expect  much foot trafic out there.

Summer is over. Time to get back on the saddle...

August 24, 2011

Running the 49th Parallel

Marker One - The Start of the Boarder with Canada
Sometimes it is good to just go easy and enjoy the scenery when running. I got to do just that this last weekend while on vacation and in Vancouver, Canada and Point Roberts, Washington. Vancouver is amazing and has an extensive system of bike trails. One thing I learned though is they don't like to share their bike paths with runners in Vancouver! I made the mistake of running the oposite direction on a bike path and was quickly put in my place when a cyclist yelled at me like a traffic cop.
Random Sunflower Growing Out of the Rocks on Beach
Point Roberts was a little more laid back. A funky little place in US territory, "the Point" is only accessible on land through Canada.  What was really cool about running here was running along the 49th parallel. Cal C and I ran down Roosevelt Avenue which stretched several miles along the Canadian boarder. The only thing separating us from Canada were people's back yards. I also got to run along rock and drift wood covered beaches for several miles. All in all a great time away with the family!  

Orca in the Straight of Georgia off Pt. Roberts

August 11, 2011

Not a Flower for me to Pluck

While taking what I believe is a well deserved break from running, my mind wonders more than what I'm accustomed to lately. Heck, it's only been a little more than two weeks since I crossed the finish line of my sixth race this year, but it seems longer. Some have asked me what I have planned next. This is a great question but its not (yet) worthy of a response. I'm simply trying to absorb some things from my experiences since January. Six races totaling 412 miles with a total elevation gain of 74,623 feet. To put this in mountain climbing perspective, that’s enough to scale Mt. Everest 2 ½ times.

As I reflect on the last six months, and even the last four years, I discover things that I take for granted now as a runner that I had no knowledge of before I started running ultras. I'm also keenly aware there is so much I still don't know, and may never know, but hope to learn one day. As long as I remain willing.

We live in a saturated society. Information gained with the push of a button. Billions of facts and figures at our fingertips. But are we wiser for it? Are we better because of it? Most of us seek knowledge. Questions asked are readily answered. But do these answers bring wisdom?

The answer to this question is no. Because unlike knowledge, wisdom is not found through a push of a button. Or the turn of a page. It is found on the hard road taken toward the goal you put down on a piece of paper. The commitment you make to yourself that you didn’t ever think you could make, but do, and then you deliver on it.

It starts with small steps. A progression, from questions to commitments. And moves from answers to awareness. And it reminds me of a quote that I heard that goes something like this...

"You think wisdom is a flower for you to pluck. It is a mountain, and it must be climbed.”

          Kwai Chang Caine

August 5, 2011

My Article Published in the OC Register

My Pacers Bino and Chris

Yesterday The Orange County Register published an article I wrote about my experience leading up to and running the Angeles Crest 100 mile endurance run. Click here to read. Enjoy!

July 31, 2011

AC 100 - Being Drawn Back In

“The Mountains are Calling. And I Must Go” 
                          John Muir

Before the start with Bad Rat Tracy M. 
There is so much more I have yet to learn about this sport. So much! And I’m beginning to realize it's what I’m learning that keeps drawing me back into it. Even after deciding to move on with other priorities in my life. I’m drawn back in.
Entering aid station somewhere between mile 25 and 50.
Last weekend was a perfect example. Because last weekend should not have happened, if not for a fate-filled phone call I received but didn’t take, and ultimately couldn’t deny. I’m talking about Angeles Crest 100 miler here, the race I chose not to do, then changed my mind only to line up with all the other nut jobs at the starting line at 5 a.m. Saturday morning  July 23rd.
Its been said that wisdom is learning what to overlook. If you think about it, one has to deduce that the opposite must also be true. After all, how could you know what to overlook if you didn’t know what not to overlook?

negotiating hydro pack while conferring with crew
My plan at AC 100 was first and foremost to finish the race. Why? What I’m learning about this sport is you have to have respect. Respect for the mountain you run on. This I try not to overlook. To go into a 100 mile race with a goal time, if you have never run those mountains, is to not respect the mountains. I don’t believe in this approach and I’ve seen a lot of people who get chewed up and spit out up there who try otherwise. Other than getting lost on a training run, I had never run in the San Gabriels before Angeles Crest 100 mile and I wasn’t about to go in guns blazing.   
There were quite of few learning granules I picked up running AC.  Mainly from things I overlooked:  
Granule number one: incorporate hiking into the training regimen. This course has soooo much climbing up steeps that aren't runnable that you have to prepare accordingly. The climbs up Baden Powell, Mt. Hilliard and Mt. Wilson are the big three, but there are others. Its hard to bounce out of a one or two hour hike and into a solid pace if your not ready for those hikes.
Granule number two: train for the heat. This race used to take place in September, now it's in July, the hottest time of year. Yes there is more daylight in July, but daylight brings heat. I didn't feel cool until the sun was behind the horizon. Even then I ran all night with no shirt on. It's a scorcher out there.
Granule number three: maximize time training on the course. There is no better way to find your advantage out there than to experiment on the trail you'll run on race day. Knowing how long you'll be trudging up a mountain or flying down a canyon is a  huge advantage to everyone.
Other observations:
AC has a lot of running at elevation, even more than I expected. You are flirting between 6'000 to 9'000 feet for first 50 miles. This is much more time at elevation than Western States when you are off the mountains and into the foothills after mile 35. So what about this? Unless you can live and train over 6'000 feet for three weeks or more you have to run carefully for the first half of this race. My heart rate was at least 20 beats per min higher in the first half than in the second, even going conservatively.
Finally, there are some very runnable sections on this course and you have to be prepared for them. Going easy on the first half of the course helped get me through the second half. While I might have gone a little too conservative early on, given my goal to finish and not scorch the trail I’m happy with how I executed the plan. Thanks a million to my crew Trina M and Jeff P and Chris C and Bino M for pacing me.  
All in all another fun day at the office. Now I have to get back to my other office!  

July 25, 2011

Angeles Crest 100 - Cliff Notes

Here is my brief take on last weekend with more to follow...

What a course! Just when you feel like letting loose it roles you up again in a wad and spits you out! The hiking, oh the hiking! Relentless climbs. Started out very conservative in 44th place and slowly made my way to 11th overall, but short of a sub 24 hour time. Not disappointed though because my goal since the day I signed up for AC was to finish this race not for time but to help my chances for the So Cal Ultra Series.

Thanks to Bino and Chris C for pacing me, and Jeff P and Trina M for crewing me!

July 18, 2011

When Going Through Hell, Keep Going

A bright sun was shinning over my head. But every step I took was into darkness. I was struggling just to hang on. My stomach, legs and feet had all abandoned me. My mind was now slipping.

I recently wrote that running ultras is more about trust in yourself than your god given talent. Sometimes things can get really bleak out there. As if you’re going through hell. But if you keep moving forward, despite your state, eventually you can get through it. And when you do, when you make it through hell, you can learn a lot about yourself.

My very first trail race I was going through hell. My body started to shut down. I couldn’t eat or drink. I could barely walk. I felt helpless. The feeble thoughts that occupied my mind were like gasoline feeding the flames around me. As I stumbled along in this hapless state, I was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind me. I turned to see an elderly runner approaching. He slowed to inquire about my condition. He then reached into his pocket and handed me a small white tablet. "Take this, it will fix your problem."

As I reached out to take the pill from his hand, I noticed he was smiling. He explained to me that my electrolytes were out of balance. I didn't question or doubt him. I believed him and took the pill. From a total stranger. Within 5 minutes I started to feel better, good enough to finish the race. I’ve been using Succeed Tabs as a runner ever since that moment.

Wisdom comes from many places.  But mostly it comes from just being on trail, in the elements, seeking answers. If you have trust, wisdom will smile on you. 

July 11, 2011

Running In Life's Balance (pub. Ultra Running Mag. 9/2011)

A friend of mine once said it. No matter how focused you are on your training. No matter how committed you might be to accomplishing a goal. Sometimes life gets in the way. After 23 years of running, I’m still learning how not to fight this rule, but to embrace it.

This morning I hitched a tandem up to my mountain bike and my seven year old and I rode around our neighborhood. We stopped at a playground and I pushed her on a huge tire swing. She laughed and giggled as I spun her. Then we rode away until we arrived at a coffee shop where we stopped for a snack and I played music for her on my IPhone.

My difficulty is this. I have a hard time hitching tandems, or pushing tire swings, even hearing giggles when I’m hunkering down for a 100 mile race. Its not easy to explain, but it is easy to understand. Life is a plethora of priorities. But for each priority I choose today, I must also choose to put off another for tomorrow.

Over the last six months I’ve been hunkering down a lot, training and racing more than I ever have. But recently I’ve come to realize that sometimes running gets in the way. I have no regrets about my running, and its been a great year for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve also learned that running is a really just a metaphor for life. The ups and downs that it brings. I’ve faced some challenges in my races this year. Yet overcoming these has helped me build confidence and trust in myself along the way.

I recently wrote that it's the simple things, those that we take for granted, that matter the most. The moonlit path under a steely blue horizon during an ultra. Surely we all need to be carried away on our own moonlit path. But for the beginning of every path there is also an end. And we need to notice when we arrive at the end of these paths. And when we do, we just might find someone there for us, laughing and giggling.

Yes, it’s the simple things. They matter the most.

July 3, 2011

Lost and Loathing On The AC Trail

What, we're lost? How do you use this compass anyway?

I spent the better part of today on the Angeles Crest trail with two very cool runners, Travis C and Larry R. Until two weeks ago I’d never set foot on the AC trail so today offered a great opportunity to see some of what’s in store come July 23. 
Larry R and Travis C
We ran the last 25 miles of the course from Chantry to the finish. All was going swimmingly until we hit Millard campground, mile 95ish on the course and site of the last aid station. Following what looked like the course trail according to the map, we sauntered down along a creek until we got to a place that looked like it had been blown up by a tsunami. Only tsunamis don’t make it as high as the San Gabriel Mountains. But the trail had vanished!  So whatever hit it, even if it wasn’t a tsunami, must have been as big as one. Trees were obliterated, rocks and branches strewn about. But I’m really not complaining about the lost trail. Because a wrong trail that is lost is much better than a wrong trail that isn’t. Get it?    

The Bug Man from the Gardening Shop
So then we turned around. And climbed. And climbed. And complained. And complained a little more. Until we came upon this eerie cabin with abandoned cars and surreal looking dolls staring out of the abandoned cars. It was zany here. So Larry R decided to knock on the door to find something. Like where the F#Vk-are-we? Or where the h3#L do we need to go? He knocked. And just like that, no one answered! Uhmm....isn't this is a good thing? 

So then we kept running. And running. And wondering. And wondering where the hell we were. Until we came upon a man behind a bush. This man showed not his face, nor his body. Just water from a hose was all we could see. I semi-yelled “Excuse Me! Where is Loma Alta park?” And the man behind the bush spoke to us in clear sentences as if he spoke to everyone from behind a bush. “Oh just turn right once your down the road”, he said with no discernable face or body parts. “Thank you man behind the bush” I thought to him as we continued running into our unfinished abyss.

From here we ran over a paved road with lots of turns and houses along the side. Finally, after battling heat, smog, flies, a bugman, self doubt, tsunamis, and a bushman, finally, we found our pot of gold.

But Travis, Larry and I never did see a rainbow!  

June 29, 2011

Race Difficulty - Comparisons of Ultras

I came across this analysis of various races and their relative difficulty from Very revealing and seems in line from my experience at San Diego and Western States. I'm about to find out about Angeles Crest 100. Three weeks and counting...

Relative Event Finish Time to Western States 100 Mile.

Sample Criteria:

Same individual completed the listed event and one of the following 100 mile run in the SAME YEAR: Western States, Vermont, Leadville, Angeles Creset, Wasatch, Kettle Moraine, Hardrock, Rocky Raccoon, and Mohican.

The relative percentage is first averaged over the samples for each 100 mile reference, then normalized to Western States, then averaged over the nine 100 mile runs listed.
The relative uncertainy of the analysis is porportional to 1/sqrt(sample size).
Dist. Rel to Sample Event Name
 WS100 Size 

135m 157% 133 BadWater Ultra Marathon  
100m 155% 904 Hard Rock 100 Mile   
100m 131% 58 HURT Trail 100 Mile   
100m 117% 3279 Wasatch Front 100 Mile   
100m 113% 45 Mount Rushmore Trail 100 Mile  
100m 113% 115 Bear 100 Mile   
100m 112% 90 Bighorn Mountain Trail Run 
100m 111% 396 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile
100m 108% 14 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miles 
100m 108% 2156 Angeles Crest 100 Mile   
100m 107% 12 Grand Teton Races 100m  
100m 106% 79 Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile 
100m 105% 80 Cascade Crest 100 Mile   
100m 103% 4508 Leadville Trail 100 Miles  
100m 100% 7497 Western States 100 Miles  
100m 99% 79 San Diego 100 Mile   
100m 96% 46 McNaughton Park Trail Runs 
100m 93% 72 Rio Del Lago 100 Mile   
100m 93% 41 Ancient Oaks 100  
100m 91% 66 Haliburton Forest 100  
100m 90% 984 Mohican Trail 100 Mile  
100m 89% 108 Javelina Jundred 100 Mile  
100m 88% 341 Old Dominion 100 Mile One Day  
100m 88% 34 SULPHUR SPRINGS 100 Mile 
100m 88% 451 Arkansas Traveller 100 Mile 
100m 88% 628 Kettle Moraine 100 mile  
100m 84% 3533 Vermont Trail 100 Miles  
100m 84% 91 Heartland 100 Mile   
100k 81% 68 HURT Trail 100k option  
100m 81% 281 Umstead 100 Mile   
100m 81% 1654 Rocky Raccoon 100m  
100m 80% 41 Old Dominion 100 mile Memorial Day
100m 76% 22 Dan Rossi Memorial Ultras 
140m 66% 17 IronMan CoeurdAlene  
140m 61% 20 IronMan Canada  
200m 60% 8 Mt Tam Double Century 
100k 58% 45 Where's Waldo 100K  
200m 57% 14 The Terrible Two  
100k 53% 97 Bandera 100km  
140m 53% 25 IronMan Wisconsin  
50m 48% 332 Zane Grey 50 Miles  
140m 47% 28 IronMan USA Lake Placid  
100k 46% 1052 Miwok 100K  
140m 46% 35 IronMan Florida  
100k 46% 42 Kettle Moraine 100k option 
140m 46% 14 IronMan Hawaii World Championship
50m 40% 99 Bishop High Sierra 50 Miles 
50m 40% 70 Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Miles 
52m 39% 340 Sierra Nevada   
100k 39% 144 Ruth Anderson 100k  
100k 39% 7 Orange Curtain 100k  
50m 37% 229 White River 50 Miles  
50m 36% 340 Silver State 50 Miles  
50m 36% 528 Quicksilver 50 Mile  
50m 36% 425 FireTrail 50 Miles  
50m 36% 80 Run on the Sly 50 Miles  
50k 35% 338 Silver State 50k  
50m 35% 342 Nugget 50 Miles   
50m 35% 19 Mt Hood PCT 50 Miles  
50m 35% 369 Leona Divide 50 Mile Run 
50m 35% 147 Umstead 50 Miles  
50m 34% 536 California 50 Miles   
35m 34% 84 Santa Barbara 9 Trails 35 Mile  
50m 33% 2568 American River 50 Miles  
50m 33% 52 McKenzie River 50 Miles  
50m 32% 414 Avalon 50 Miles  
50m 32% 41 Rocky Raccon 50 Miles  
50k 31% 203 Baldy Peak 50k  
50m 31% 163 Helen Klein 50 Miles  
50m 30% 114 Cow Mountain 50 Miles  
50k 30% 64 Tahoe Rim Trail 50k  
50m 30% 372 Jed Smith 50 Miles  
50k 28% 16 Bishop High Sierra 50 Mile and 50 Km
38m 28% 26 Haleakala Run to the Sun
50m 28% 20 Ruth Anderson 50 Miles  
50k 28% 37 Mt. Disappointment 50 Km  
50k 25% 12 Nugget 50 Miles   
50k 24% 411 Ohlone Wilderness 50K Trail Run 
50k 23% 253 Crown King Scramble 50k  
50k 23% 195 McDonald Forest 50K  
71m 23% 31 WildFlower Long Course Triathlon
50k 23% 7 Bighorn Mountain Trail Run 
50k 23% 76 Run on the Sly 50 Km  
34m 22% 36 Peterson Ridge Rumble 60k 
50k 22% 219 Golden Gate Headlands 50k 
50k 22% 58 Bandera 50k  
50k 22% 53 Bulldog 50K Ultra Run  
28m 22% 687 Quad Dipsea  
50k 21% 43 Siskiyou Out Back 50K  
50k 21% 81 Chuckanut 50k  
71m 21% 27 California Half Ironman  
50k 20% 297 Quicksilver 50K  
50k 20% 13 Ruth Anderson 50k  
50k 20% 512 Skyline 50k  
50k 20% 1392 Way Too Cool 50k  
50k 19% 73 Hagg Lake Trail Runs 50k 
50k 19% 5 Wild Wild West 50k  
50k 19% 36 McKenzie River 50k 
50k 18% 301 OTHTC High Desert Ultra 50k 
50k 17% 31 Helen Klein 50k  
50k 17% 38 Salem Lakeshore Frosty Fifty Km 
50k 17% 384 Jed Smith Ultra Classic 50K 
45m 12% 14 Santa Barbara Long Course Triathlon

A general trend can be observed below:

From 50 km to 100 mile,   factor is 4 to 6.
From 50 mile to 100 mile, factor is 2.5 to 3.5

June 25, 2011

Thanks For the Memories

National Cathedral - One of My Favorite Places to Visit
This week I spent some time on the road. On the road as in traveling. On the road as in “off” the trail. Normally a double dose of “don’ts” when training. But I’ve learned there is no such thing as perfect preparation when training for ultras. Its not like I can just press the pause button on life to do this stuff.

When my red-eye flight landed in Washington, D.C. it was north of 90 degrees and 90% humidity. I’m used to running  while I’m traveling but this trip was a little more of a challenge. It wasn’t the heat so much as the schedule of afternoon and dinner meetings that took their toll. If I can’t run in the evening while on the east coast, mornings become a roll of the dice. I’ve just never been a morning runner. Waking up 3 hours early makes mornings that much more miserable on the east coast. I still managed a few very low-key runs.

Most importantly I was able to see Warren S and Martin V, two good friends of mine from my days living in DC during and after college. I haven’t seen these guys forever and it made the couple hours we spent together seem like minutes. Warren reminded me of the first night I met them. In the middle of a warm summer night in DC. Driving in the back of George’s pick-up truck with several cases of beer. No arrests. Martin reminded me of the 10ks we ran together. Like the Georgetown 10k. He pointed out that we did that race after staying out the entire night before eating and drinking a lot of nasty things. Then I remembered. Everything flowed perfectly for me in that race. Until I reached the finish line. And then I couldn’t control the flow. I continued running. Real fast. To the can. Not pretty.

Thanks for the memories guys.

June 13, 2011

San Diego 100 - Race Report

Ever tried to mix things up on a 100 mile run? Make it fun? Keep it interesting? Its not easy because it’s still, well, 100 miles.  

Whether it was the copious amount of Cabernet and the gineormous hamburger I had for my pre-race dinner, the Vespa drink and mayo-smothered turkey sandwiches during the race, or the hours spent on my elliptical machine at sub-aerobic heart rates for many months, something worked for me at SD 100.
Race Director Scotty Mills
The only problem with wearing a blue clown’s hat made of heavy felt for 100 miles is that after just 13 miles your head turns into a boiling tomato. So my vision of running 100 miles with a clown hat to “mix it up” quickly faded, and I flung the circus derby like a Frisbee at Rob M when I rolled into the Red Tail Roost aid station.

The San Diego 100 mile endurance run takes place in the Laguna Mountains 57 miles east of downtown San Diego. 2011 was the tenth running of the race which, by this runners account, is every bit as challenging as Western States. Sure San Diego lacks Western States’ vertical gain and loss, but it more than makes up for this in its more challenging technical terrain. Yes San Diego lacks the stifling Western States’ heat, but it counters with a long sustained climb at elevation at the end of the race. Its no surprise that the average finishing times of these two races is within 3%. 

One of the toughest sections of SD is an 8 mile climb which comes at mile 36, during the hottest time of day. I suffered here but loved the popsicle station around 2.5 miles into the climb. Here runners are offered a choice of a small or large popsicle, the large being the prized cherry/pineapple Big Stick I remember from grade school. Have you ever run with a Big Stick? I grabbed my ice cold 60 calories and quickly shuffled along.
Jen and I at aid station 
As I moved through the aid stations my crew was doing a great job at keeping me fed and hydrated. My wife Jen, Laura W and Rob M served me what I’ve determined was my magic formula – Vespa Drink and Turkey sandwiches. I started on this diet at mile 44 and by mile 50 an unusual and sustained energy crept into my legs. My heart rate dropped to a consistent 130 bpm, my optimal fat burning zone. I no longer had to eat gels every 30 to 45 minutes to sustain my energy as I had early in the day. 

Having now completed my third 100 mile race, I’ve come to realize that this sport is as much a selfless endeavor as it is a selfish one. On the grander scale, the hours of my solitary training to prepare for this grueling oddity are dwarfed by the hours spent by all the race volunteers and my crew and pacer who worked around the clock to watch my back. It is here that I give a special thanks to Rob M who, for the third time now, paced me to the finish line of another 100 miler. When I began to crack around mile 93, yelling loudly that we were sure as hell lost on this dark trail, Rob simply said “stop worrying about your map and just run”. At one point I was sure we’d missed a turn, thinking we’ve covered more ground than we really had. When Rob finally said “you think you are hauling ass and you’re just not” I knew it was time for me to shut up. Moments later we found our turn and began the long descent to the finish line.

As Rob and I approached the finish line I could see Scotty Mills, the race director, who I’d seen throughout the day offering words of encouragement to all the runners. Then I heard Jen and Laura W cheering for me, and I knew I had truly reached the end of this journey. Time was on my side on this one with a top 10 finish and a new PR of 21 hours and 46 minutes.

To my crew Jen and Laura W, all the volunteers (especially Bad Rats Scotty Mills and Tracy Moore), and most importantly my pacer Rob M, thank you all for making this journey one to remember.

June 6, 2011

Burning At Both Ends

After running the Bishop High Sierra 100k two weeks ago I was feeling pretty good about my conditioning, as well as my preparation for the San Diego 100 miler this weekend. But after catching a stubborn cold a week ago my confidence has been facing a stiff headwind. A cold in June? Yes.  I hate colds. What I hate more catching three colds in the last six months.  I don't remember the last time I had more than one cold in a year. Then again I don't remember ever training for and racing 6 ultras totaling 412 miles in six months. Did I mention I also have a job and a family? Yes, my candle is burning at both ends.

What I’m realizing is that I can’t take my health for granted, particularly now when I'm pounding my body like I am.  I’ve also learned that the little things—like good nutrition, adequate recovery and lots of sleep—are irreplaceable.  I’ve overlooked some of these and my immune system has paid price. Knowing this I'm going to do a few things differently now. Like not waiting until I'm sick to take vitamins and drink lots of water. Or trying to get my miles back up the week after finishing a 50 miler or 100k. Or not slowing down the social calendar when I really need the sleep. All common sense stuff, but stuff that leads to common mistakes. 

I'm looking forward to my next two races. Both 100 milers, and both within my grasp. As long as the candle doesn't burn me! 

May 31, 2011

Thank You. Hoka One One

It wasn’t long ago that I was having serious doubts about finishing my ultra racing season. Routine long runs, something I look forward to, were becoming nearly unbearable from the pain in my foot caused by a neuroma. I went to a podiatrist who did to me what western medical professionals do so well – he gave me drugs by shooting me up with cortisone. But the pain didn’t subside. Instead it lingered and seemed to get worse on the tough, rocky trails that I’ve been training and racing on. 

I experimented with several types of shoes, hoping the pain would just go away.  Trail shoes, road shoes, racing flats, anything I could get my hands on.  But nothing seemed to help.  Some shoes made it worse, while others fought off the pain for an hour or two. But inevitably the pain kicked in as soon as I started climbing hills or running on rocky terrain. All I could do was shrug my shoulders in frustration.

Then I tried Hoka One Ones.  A rather unconventionally designed shoe, Hoka midsoles are as much as 2.5 times thicker and 30% softer than the typical trail shoe. With the additional thickness, Hoka’s were designed with a significant rockering (curve) in the soles, help
ing runners to produce a quick turnover. The shoes have a very wide birth with 50% more surface area than other shoes.  Even with the thickness and wide surface these shoes are surprisingly light. My size 11’s weighed in a little over 12 ounces.  

 Just as soon as I started running in Hoka’s the pain from the neuroma simply stopped. I’ve been running and racing in them since April.  With a couple of hundred miles logged in them, including a 50 mile and a 100k race with some significant technical terrain, I’m pretty sure my neuroma is no longer a factor for me. Other than some customary blisters, I walked away from both races without feeling any pain in my foot. I even switched back to a conventional trail shoe to be sure and the neuroma flared up again.

Hokas come in two models with a third to be released very soon. The Mafete, which is designed for trails, is the bulkier and widest of the two. The Bondi, for roads, is a little lighter and has a slightly smaller profile. I’ve been using both on and off the trail with much success. One caution is that I don’t recommend the Bondi for trails.  I took them out on trail one day and rolled my ankle in the first several steps. A final note for Hoka neophytes—be sure to order at least a half size larger than you typical shoe size.

A third model, the Stetson, is due to be released in a matter of weeks and shares the Bondi light upper section and the Mafate wider footprint. My order has been in for a few weeks and my feet are getting anxious.

Thank you Hoka One One.  I don’t think I would be running and racing ultras without you.

May 23, 2011

Bishop High Sierra 100k - Having Trust

When Rob M and I arrived Friday evening in Bishop for the pre race dinner I quickly made a beeline to the beer garden that was serving up free local brew for runners. The restaurant was buzzing with runners chomping on pasta and garlic bread.  But when I lifted the clear plastic cup and pulled on the silvery spout,  a loud, hissing sound nearly knocked me off my feet.  The keg was already dead!

The Bishop High Sierra 100k is the first 100k I’ve ever run. Aside from its connection to So Cal Ultra Series, I chose this race because of its difficulty and reputation for old school charm. With two kegs killed before our arrival, the charm had warn off and the difficulty had begun!

We started Saturday morning under clear skies with the prospect of thunderstorms arriving in the afternoon.  I’ve never seen lightning during a race, and I was looking forward to some fireworks to keep my adrenalin flowing.  Even though lightening didn’t appear, the course didn’t disappoint. We climbed along a sandy and rock strewn trail for 15 miles and over several snow drifts until we reached the Overlook turnaround at 9’400’.  Here runners were required to grab a hole punch dangling from a post to mark their race number as proof they made the distance.

Surrounded by the majestic peaks of the eastern Sierra, we continued along mostly fire roads for another 18 miles at an elevation between 7’500’ and 8’500’.  At this altitude I chose to ratchet things down a little and save some energy for the miles ahead. Even though my watch was set to ring every 45 minutes to remind me to eat, I wasn’t getting enough calories, probably due to the extra effort needed to run at altitude. I devoured some chicken burritos at the Intake 2 aid station at mile 26.5, and washed it all down with Gingerale.  Man that tasted good.

Then I remember being passed by another runner on a climb around mile 29. I reminded him we weren’t even half way.  His double take said it all.  As the miles ticked away, my confidence continued to grow. I decided to hold back until mile 35 when we began the long 15 mile descent back down to Bishop. Again, I said to myself knowledge is patience, and patience pays dividends in this sport.

It dawned on me during the race that getting through the last portion of an ultra is more about trust than your god given talent. It's about the trust you have that the pain will eventually fade, and better moments are sometimes just around the corner. It's also knowing that this trust is constantly being tested, because sometimes even greater difficulties are around the corner.  But you keep moving forward, despite the challenges, and eventually you get through them.

When I reached Sage Summit aid station at mile 52, my trust was redeemed.  From here I could see the turnaround some 1,000 feet below. I knew I had to run down and back up 1,000’ of switchbacks, but I also knew that once I made the final climb, it was just over 5 miles to the finish and all down hill.  So after several more shots of Gingerale, I descended into the valley below and turned to make my way back up this stairway to the sky.  The Sierras were gleaming by this time, and the sun’s rays  were piercing through the clouds and highlighting the valley below.  Before I knew it I was making my final steps to the finish line.  My final time was 11 hours and 38 minutes, 4th overall and 2nd age group.

Another day at the office as Rob M would say.