December 31, 2013

What I Learned About Ultra Running in 2013

Pacing my friend Larry R to an AC 100 finish
Giving Back 

Once I was on a run with a couple and we were talking about church. I’m not sure how it came up, but they mentioned that running was their church. Really?, I said to myself. Isn’t church about giving back? What have we runners become? Then I started running ultras. And before long I volunteered at the finish line of a race. Then I spent a weekend doing trail work, and then I paced a fellow runner through a 100 mile race. It’s not a lot, but it's something. Something that, when I look back, I’m just as pleased with as I am with finishing my own races. Unlike running 5ks or marathons, or doing triathlons or riding criterions, ultra running asks for something more. It asks you to give back. And this, I’ve come to learn this year, is what I like most about our sport.

No Comment

E=FP Squared.

This one is still work in progress, but I felt it worthy of mention because I believe it’s had a big impact on my running the last few years. It’s taken me until now to realize, through my own experience running 100 mile races, that the equation is real and not just my imagination. What is it? “It” is not meant to be a scientific formula, but rather a kind of ultra aphorism. To break it down “E” is for energy, while “F” is for fat and “P” is for Protein. Which means, of course, that when it comes to running long, and I mean really long--like 100 miles--that there is no substitute for fat and protein to produce energy in the human body.

Of course there is much to write about on this. There is the scientific perspective, which I will spare you here but will address more so in the weeks to come as I begin to explore the OFM (optimal fat metabolism) diet with my training in the coming season.  To summarize this point, if you are still sucking down gels and carbs by the mouthful to get through your racing and training, you are not only polluting your body, you’re blocking it from tapping into its own natural, deep and efficient energy stores.

In the End, It’s the Journey that Matters.

Relaxing atop Mt. San Gorgonio before Leadville 
If I could only write about just one thing, it would be this. Mainly because, when it comes to ultra-running, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of the event. Whether it’s a personal record, a do-or-die commitment to finish an extreme race, or some other kind of goal, we all tend to get obsessed with the event itself. And when we do, we forget about the importance of the journey that gets us there. And when we forget that, I believe we become slaves. Slaves to our ego and to our obsessions.

Sure, we are all motivated for different reasons. And I’m still trying to figure out what motivates me. But there is one thing that I have learned along the way. And that is that if I am unable to appreciate what I’m doing while I’m on my way to doing something, then I’m not likely to get there. Let me just leave it at this: stop every once in a while. Smell the pine trees. Look at the horizon. The clouds. Take off your earphones. Then listen.

Happy New Year Ultra Runners!

December 20, 2013

Are We All Flawed Characters?

Ultra runners are an interesting breed. As one myself, I believe we are an obsessive, compulsive, selfish, narcissistic, stubborn, ego-driven group, to mention a few descriptors. Oh, sure, you aren't one of these types, right? Wrong. If you've strapped on a pair of shoes and trained for a 50 mile race or longer chances are your character is flawed by some or all of these tendencies.

But there is more to the story here. If you are an utlra runner, you've probably run next to someone during a 100 mile race, pacing them toward the finish line while they struggle from mile to mile and through highs and lows. Or chances are you've spent the better part of a day working at an aid station helping other runners through challenges non-runners couldn't begin to understand. Or maybe you've spent hours on a 30 mile long run hanging back with a buddy who was struggling to hold his cookies.

Running. It's all about the yin and the yang.

Happy holidays to all you flawed characters out there!

December 6, 2013

JFK 50 Miler - A Run Through History

When the sun finally pierced the cold night’s sky, I could feel the early morning air pressing against my cheeks. The temperature was dropping into the low 30’s and a cold, northwestern wind was blowing over the Appalachian Mountains. “These are downright balmy conditions,” a local runner said boastfully. Really? I thought to myself. As one of the few runners from California, I quietly pulled my running cap over my ears, slipped on an extra sweatshirt, and made my way to the starting line.

I was in Boonsboro, Maryland, a rural town nestled amidst the historical crossroads of the American Civil War. I was here with the original running Elvis and my pal Jeff Padilla to run the JFK 50 Mile endurance run, the oldest ultra-marathon in the United States. Inspired by John F. Kennedy, who extoled the benefits of physical fitness, the event was first held in 1963 and originally intended as a challenge for the United States Marine Corps. Today, 50 years later, the call to complete 50 miles on foot has evolved into an ultra-marathon that attracts military and civilians alike.

On November 23, 2013, exactly 50 years and one day after President Kennedy was tragically assassinated, I stood with more than 1,000 runners to take up the late president’s challenge. Surrounding me were people from all walks of life: active and retired members of the armed forces, civilian men and women, athletes and non-athletes, fathers and sons, the young and the old. Despite this diversity, we all had something in common. Each of us had our own reason for being here.

Antietam Battlefield
The chant began just before 7 a.m. 10, 9, 8…and grew louder and louder…7, 6, the starter lifted his gun…4, 3, 2, 1...bang! We ran for several miles on a paved road until we reached Turners Gap, where General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops engaged Union troops advancing under the command of General George McClellan over 150 years ago. From there we turned onto the Appalachian Trail, known universally by hikers around the world as the “AT.” What ensued was 15 miles of jagged rocks hidden under autumn’s fallen leaves—a virtual minefield for runners. One misstep, one brief lapse of concentration on the AT, and we would be sent hurtling to the ground.

As I’ve said before, running ultras is like riding a roller coaster. One moment you can be on top of the world, and the next you can feel like you’ve got the world on your shoulders. Elation and exhilaration that flow through your veins one minute are usually overcome by suffering and self-doubt the next. What I’ve learned most from running ultras is patience. Patience to know that when things get really difficult, if I just accept my situation and keep moving forward, eventually things will get better.

My concentration lapsed somewhere between mile 12 and 15 when I rolled my ankle then took a sharp fall on the trail. I had just begun to utter the first of a few words of encouragement to another runner when I found myself hurtling face first to the dirt below me. Fortunately I’ve become pretty skilled at a contorted tuck and roll maneuver in these situations so I got up and brushed myself off pretty quickly. Not in time, however, for the other runner to miss my impromptu circus act. “You okay?” she said. “Sure, I just have to watch my mouth,” was all I could muster in reply.  

From high on the Appalachian ridge we made our way down to the C&O Canal, the 184-mile water highway once used for commercial trade and as a supply line for the Union Army. Flat and scenic, this section of the course gobbled up 26 miles, a full marathon. Then we made our way just north of the historic town of Harpers Ferry, site of the infamous John Brown raid which was the catalyst of the Civil War, and into the town of Williamsport.

When I turned the last corner and caught sight of the finish line, I could see the clock and the people gathering to greet the runners. My heart raced and my pace quickened. I could feel the weight of the day on my shoulders as I approached. Finally, after seven hours and twenty-eight minutes of highs and lows blended with a slice of American history, I crossed the finish line. The weight lifted from my shoulders and, at that moment, exhilaration seeped in.

Keep it real runners!

November 29, 2013

Missing: In the Mountains

When my brother and I set out on an ride up to Butler Peak, it was a perfect 40 degrees. We rose from about 6'700 feet to approximately 8'400 feet over about 10 miles. The weather was cloudy with a few snow flurries. As we rode along a soggy fire road until we hit snow drifts along the trail. What followed was a wobbly, near-crash experience the whole way down from this very cool, top of the world place that I recommend you go visit if you are near Big Bear Lake, Ca. By the time we hit the car to drive back to our cabin, my bro announced he lost his keys! Oh my. That was interesting! I won't bore you with the details, but someone had to take a long drive back down the mountain.    

Smoke in the Forest

San Gorgonio...and its 10'000' ridge

Backside of Saddleback!

Devon C Checking Out the Wild

Al C. Keys? Huh?

November 26, 2013

Stay Tuned

Last weekend I completed the JFK 50 Mile. I have yet to post a race report. Stay tuned. In the mean time I thought you all might enjoy a photo of me next to this cannon. I'm fond of the term "you can't shoot a cannon from a canoe" (a reference to doing speed work with no base) so I thought the picture was, well, sort of relevant to a running blog. I couldn't find a canoe for this scene but I'm sure you can imagine one next to me there on the bricks. The picture was taken by Jeff P at the Antietam National Battle Field, site of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. More than 22,717 men lost their lives, went missing or sustained serious injury here on September 17, 1872. The battle was considered a draw. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  

November 11, 2013

Hardrock Speaks. Should Leadville Listen?

Ok, the following is a little more than I expected to write. If you can make it through, please take a minute and leave a comment.

I read today that the Hardrock 100 is phasing Leadville out of its lineup of qualifying races. Beginning in 2015, Leadville Trail 100 finishers will no longer be “qualified” to run Hardrock. What I find interesting is the reason behind this decision. Here is the text taken directly from the Hardrock website:

A note about the 2013 Leadville 100: The Leadville 100 includes many of the features that are important for a HR qualifier: high altitude, long climbs, potential for mountain weather, and more. However, the 2013 Leadville 100 ignored other traits of importance to the HR: environmental responsibility, support of the hosting community, and having a positive impact on the health of our sport.

I think the Hard Rock organizers are overreaching here. And, yes, I’m fully aware that this isn’t the popular position to take. Bashing Leadville has become a sport within our sport. I get that. I also get why. The Leadville trail 100, despite being one of the oldest 100 milers in the country, has become the equivalent of an outcast kid in a class of buttoned up Ivy Leaguers. Its bulging size (943 starters in 2013), its NYSE listed corporate owner, its lack of a trail-service requirement, its olly olly oxen free philosophy of no qualifying race required because, after all, everyone is qualified to run 100 miles, all these quirks, big or small, make Leadville something of a outcast among its peers.

I understand that there were some serious missteps by the race organizers at the 2013 Leadville 100. Most of these were the direct result of too many runners combined with too many crew members and inadequate logistics. What ensued were traffic jams at Winfield, Twin Lakes and other aid stations, a shortage of supplies for runners, trash on trail, confused aid station volunteers, etc., etc. It probably doesn’t help that Life Fitness, the NYSE owner of the race, is not, heaven forbid, a non-profit organization and does have to justify its existence with profits to its shareholders.

That said, all of what went wrong in this years Leadville 100 can be fixed if Life Fitness listens to the feedback that is flowing like the Mississippi their way. But are they listening? I have not talked to the corporate brass at Life Fitness but I would love the opportunity to do so. If given the chance I wouldn’t hesitate to inform them that they need to pay attention to these details or the past 30 years of good will that this event has engendered with the Leadville community and the ultra-running sport at large is in jeopardy.

Which brings me back to the Hardrock organizers’ decision to throw their cross state brethren to the wind by “phasing” Leadville off their qualifier list. This, as I said, is overreaching. Why? Because it sets a bad precedent. It would be kind of like the Boston Marathon saying to the NYC marathon (or any marathon for that matter) that its runners can’t qualify for Boston because the race is too big, too corporate, too harmful to the environment, too crowded, etc. It is not a perfect analogy but the concept is relevant. If NY is singled out, should London, or Berlin or LA also be excluded? Along these lines, if Leadville is singled out, shouldn’t UTMB as well? That race (2,300 entrants) dwarfs Leadville, Western States, AC and Hardrock combined. Can you imagine the impact on the environment from that event?

The problem is illuminated by asking one question. Where does one draw the line? What does it mean to be environmentally responsible? Is smaller better? How small is small? And where does one find a clear definition of a “positive impact on the health of our sport?” The more I think about this last one the more baffled I become. One thing I’ve learned about running 100s is that crossing the finish line is the single most gratifying part of our sport. How does one apply this gratification to a definition of a “positive impact on the health of our sport?”

The thing that gets me is that there seems to be a little bit of elitism seeping through the veins of this whole subject.  Who among us runners can say what another runner should want or value? When I showed up to Leadville this year I too was aghast at the number of runners on certain sections, the amount of cars on the streets, the disorientation of certain volunteers. I was also extremely impressed by the volunteers that I personally interacted with. Never had I been so well taken care of at a 100 mile race. I’ve also never experienced such a positive vibe from other runners on the trail (I'm not sure reducing the number of runners is the best solution). To me the Leadville 100 was the best experience I’ve had in the six 100 mile races I’ve completed. Was it perfect? Of course not. But I didn’t sign up for this sport to experience perfection.

When I was a little boy, I used to get embarrassed when my mom did something that was different. Like when she drove her yellow Volkswagon Thing down the sidewalk on her 40th birthday. Or when she would talk to total strangers like they’d been her best friend since grade school. And, when the principle at my high school told me not to take my hat off at graduation, it was my mom who asked me why on earth I would hide my new haircut – a mohawk – on such an important day.

My mom taught me a thing or two about conformity. The first was that conformity leads to intolerance. And intolerance leads to a lot of what is wrong with our society. It is important to keep an open mind about people and things. Leadville is not Hard Rock. Nor should it be. It’s bigger. It’s corporate owned. Any adult can enter it, regardless of experience.

My hope would be that the Hard Rock race organizers reverse their decision to phase out Leadville as a qualifier, and give the Leadville race organizers a chance to right their ship. Sure, they messed up this year. But give them a break. After all, Leadville has been part of the ultra family for 30 years.

October 22, 2013

Don't Go Back to Rockville

Rockville Town Center
It wasn't amusing in the least, for the first few minutes anyway. Then I began to recognize it was going to be a fun ride.

It was 1988, and I'd just moved into a rental house in Arlington, Virginia. There was me—the new guy from California—and three guys from Pennsylvania. It was a typical east coast group-house of rudderless 20 somethings trying to figure things out after college. There were four small bedrooms and a little back yard with a lawn where folks could sit quietly in the 90 degree heat and enjoy the sight of mosquito clouds, hovering. 

Last week I put a song list together for a long run. My plan was lose myself for a few hours while listening to some throwback music from my past. I hoped to trigger a few fun memories. It worked.

I was unpacking at the time. With a clear view of the back yard from my room, I noticed my new roommates in the yard hanging out in a small circle and listening to music. Minding my own business, I noticed they were listening to just one song…over, and over, and over.  I still hear those lyrics....

Looking at your watch a third time
Waiting in the station for the bus
Going to a place that's far
So far away and if that's not enough
Going where nobody says hello
They don't talk to anybody they don't know

At this moment it dawned on me that I now live in a house with roommates that are listening to the same song for 20 minutes. But I had good feeling on this. I looked out the window again and noticed these guys weren't really sitting in a circle, as one would think of a group sitting like that. They were sitting in a baby pool, all three of them. A five foot round, six inch high, baby pool. I looked closer still. One of them was snorkeling.

Ok, so baby pools aren’t so cool, particularly in California. And to snorkel in a baby pool, well, that’s stupid. But when you are 25 and looking for any excuse to have fun, you make things cool all on your own. I eventually learned how to do this with that baby pool. And thank god for that. I can’t tell you how “cool” we thought we were when we invited girls over to a “pool” party. I will never forget the expressions on their faces when they rounded the corner to that back yard.

You'll wind up in some factory
That's full-time filth and nowhere left to go
Walk home to an empty house
Sit around all by yourself
I know it might sound strange but I believe
You'll be coming back before too long

Don’t go back to Rockville. Don’t go back to Rockville. And waste another year.

Thank you long runs! 

October 18, 2013

Please Don't Wake Me

We were only 5 minutes into our run last night when I realized something was terribly wrong. Across Bonita Canyon road, one of my favorite trails was being dismembered. Destroyed. Bulldozed. 

I should know better. Because I live in a place once known for sprawling orange groves but now is the epicenter of urban sprawl. Because the good ol' OC, short for what some call the Orange Curtain, once the home of a mere 1.4 million people, is now the home of more than 3 million people. Yes, 3,600 people per square mile. Only 5 other counties in the entire country have more people. Only San Francisco packs more people into one square mile in California.

I shouldn't complain. After all we have Shamrocks, beaches and Disneyland. But these new homes are slowly demolishing my favorite local trails. What is a runner to do? At what point do I go to a hypnotist and ask him not to wake me up? It works in Office Space.

October 13, 2013

The Wisdom of Master Kan

Little Corona Beach - At Dusk
I’ve read quotes by runners about running. But I have not found a quote that captures the counter-intuitive nature of running ultras better than the one below. If you’ve been reading this blog you might have noticed a preference for words and philosophies from the eastern traditions. Well, to me, they just seem to be more relevant. When it comes to making it through 100 miles by being patient, conserving your strength and finishing well, this one really resonates with me:

Weakness prevails over strength. Gentleness conquers. Become the calm and restful breeze that tames the violent sea. -Master Kan

October 11, 2013

Blisters, Toenails and things...

Hovercrafts - Post Vermont
There are blisters. And there are BLISTERS. The upper case ones being those that lead to something beyond everyday misery. What I didn’t realize, until recently anyway, was that it is possible to get blisters under your toenails. Can you guess what happens when you get one of those? If you are reading this while eating, I suggest you push the plate away for a minute.

But what exactly is a blister? As I write this I’m discovering it’s not an easy object to put into words. A skin balloon of bodily fluid? Or, maybe, a subcutaneous juice bag? Not easy. Like I said. How would you describe one?

Turns out, the official definition per Wikipedia is...a small pocket of fluid within the upper layers of the skin, typically caused by forceful rubbing(friction), burning, freezing, chemical exposure or infection. Wiki goes on to mention that the stuff inside is not really fluid or juice, but rather serum or plasma. Or blood. Or pus.

Ok, time to move on from definitions. I’m happy to report my two big toenails are slowly making a resurgence. Last July, after the Vermont 100, I noticed they were acting more like hovercrafts than a functional body appendage. I don’t want to go into a detail about toenails here, and I’m sure there is some evolutionary purpose for them, but are they all that necessary these days? I’ve been doing quite well without my two big ones for nearly three months now. It’s a lot easier to put on socks without them.

It’s not something to talk about at dinner parties, I know. But I can write about it, right? After all, how many people can say they’ve been able to reach down and pull their toe nails right off their feet? Ok, maybe they were just about to fall off, and I only had to give them a little nudge. That, my friends, is what happens when you get blisters under your toenails. You should have seen the look on the faces of my two daughters!

Keep it real runners.

October 4, 2013

Do You Long for The Fruit?

For some reason, maybe because of my state of mind at the moment, which happens to be  influenced by the fact I’m between running events, I found this conversation between Master Kan and the young student Caine to be enlightening. If you care to read it yourself, do so, and then think about what things you cling to that might be disrupting your preferred path, or even your next step toward a particular goal.

In the interest of being totally transparent, I’m the first admit that I’m clinging to more than I should, and I’m not totally sure what to do about it. It isn’t just material things, it’s also the thoughts inside my head. It’s the daily habits I’ve become accustomed to. It’s all the things that make me think that I’m not really in control.

But what is control? Is it not doing the things you feel like doing? Or is it not feeling like doing the things that you shouldn't be doing? I think the truth is somewhere inside that fine line that separates these places in which we all find ourselves. Am I strong because I overcome my weaknesses? Or am I strong because I lack weaknesses? 

Master Kan:

“The law of the fast seeks to strengthen the spirit, by purifying the body. A man may die from a hunger of the body. But whole nations have fallen from that of the spirit. Discipline. Discipline cures. The fruit of this tree is delicious. But in the discipline of our fast, no one may touch it. Not even I.

Student Caine:

“Then why show it to us master? It is already difficult for us to fast”.

Master Kan:

“To be certain you know and understand the law, it will test you.”

Ok, it doesn’t seem like much. In fact you’re probably wondering why this dialogue is even relevant to a running blog. It’s the three words that resonate with me. Discipline. Discipline cures.

And one last thing to think about. Kan's metaphor doesn't end with food. Now, do you long for the fruit? 

October 1, 2013

A Learned Skill

A few hundred yards after I rounded the corner of Rue de Saint Dominique, a narrow Parisian street, I was flying. Literally flying down the street. So much so that I put my arms out and pretended I was a bird. So there were a few pedestrians walking down the street. It didn’t matter to me.

The first two miles of this 11 mile run were, well, challenging. I had come face to face with a predicament most trail runners are not prepared for when running in a foreign city. The situation is something you just can’t plan for. Which is why by the time I reached the public restroom, or “Toilettes”, it was too late. That is the bad news. The good news is I’ve learned how to deal with this situational challenge. And, as I runner, I’ve long since accepted these moments as a vocational hazard.

I’m not at liberty to get into a lot of detail here, but I can say there is a certain skill involved in managing these moments. I call it disappearing. I’ve disappeared in the middle of city streets in Cleveland, Ohio of all places. It’s a learned skill. Training for it can be frightening at times. When you are in the “moment”, you have to let go of all inhibitions.

One of my favorite things about running in Paris is there are many parks and designated sections with no vehicle traffic that are perfect for running. On the Left Bank is The Jardine de Plant which sits right on the river Seine and is easily accessible via the Paris River walk. This is a 70 acre park that includes a zoo, a botanical school and garden with some 4,500 different types of plants.

Another great place to run is the Le Jardine de Luxumberg, a 55 acre park and garden of the French Senate. In addition to a crushed gravel surface which is perfect for running you will find over 100 statues, monuments and fountains in this park. After my mishap with the toilets I ran from the river walk to the Jardine de Plant and eventually made my way to Le Jardine de Luxumberg. When I arrived at the Lux there was 10k race going on so I jumped in for a few miles and then put a few more miles in circling the garden. Along the route I also ran by the Pantheon where the great philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau are buried and then over to Les Invalides, burial site of Mr. Waterloo himself, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Then I rounded the corner at Rue de St. Dominique and was overcome by all that I had experienced. All I could do was run. Faster and faster until I felt like I was flying.

Au revoir Paris!

September 27, 2013

Just Wondering

I was on my way to completing a 7.5 mile run when I passed Notre Dame on the river Seine in Paris and I was feeling a bit perky about my training. You know, animated, bouncy, bright, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, bubbly, even buoyant ( It's not always that one feels perky about training so I thought I would indulge myself by wondering a little. 

Do you ever wonder? You know, think about what might lie ahead of you if you did this a little more or that a little less? And so I wondered. I wondered what would happen if I approached running  more like a religion instead of a hobby. i wondered what would happen If I looked at training more like a mountain to climb, rather than a flower to be plucked. I even wondered if I had the discipline to move into a space I had never been before, where I would take nothing for granted, especially what I've got still waiting under this skin. 

Ok, I'm not trying to get woo woo on you here, but I'm just saying I think it is good to wonder sometimes. I think it might even lead to things that, today anyway, I can only imagine.

What Did Your Ancestors Eat?

Ok readers. I'm stepping up my game. Gone are the posts that are thought (if not yawn) provoking subjects on  ultra running and philosophy. In are posts that roll off my thumbs devoid of my better filtration. 

For the next several days I'll be posting daily from my phone about something that happened to me in Paris, France, while running or doing something random. Yes I'm in Paris. The City  of lights. I'd post a picture but my laptop is dead and the three prong cord doesn't fit the two hole euro AC adaptor. Damn. 

On another note, have you ever eaten a cows colon? I did today. It wasn't planned or anything I do a lot. It just kind of happened. I ordered grilled sausage from the menu  at a dainty kind of cafe in the Montmarte district, known for an eclectic vibe. It wasn't long before the waiter was shuffling down the cute little sidewalk with our plates of food. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly our food was prepared and delivered to our table. 

The scene was a little hectic though, only because a large group of  customers were taking their seats next to us while a street musician was strutting up and down the row of tables asking for money. I'm normally not one to judge but just at that moment I smelled what I can only describe as a bag of stale urine, you know, like the smell of a public restroom. The stench was so pungent it was like I was the  very last guy in the porta-potty before the all-city 5k and momentarily forget to breathe through my  mouth. 

It was when the waiter set the food on the table that I was looking most intensely for the culprit. Was it the musician? He did, after all, have the look of an old, wondering gypsy. Yes, it was him! But there was one problem with this theory. He was long gone and the stench was still enveloping me. 

I finally resolved to accept the smelly situation was out of my control and reached for my knife and fork. As I cut I noticed this wasn't like any sausage I'd eaten before. It looked strangely un-sausage-like. The inside was not grounded-up bits and pieces of whatever.  This was something still whole, just wrapped and rolled to make it look like a sausage. 

By the time the small morsel was in my mouth, a survival alarm went off in my nostrils. As I chewed it occurred to me that the stench that was all around me had nothing to do with traveling gypsies or unbathed Europeans, and everything to do with the tube that was laying on my plate, and was now quickly dissolving in my mouth and about to make its way down my throat. As I chewed the mustard I dipped this thing in slowly gave way to a flavor that I simply cannot find words for. 

In retrospect, why my gag reflex didn't kick in has me baffled but I'm thinking, at some point down my hereditary chain, my ancestors must have dined on cow shit, or possibly used it for a sauce to strengthen their collective immunity system. Is it just me? Or does the idea of eating an organ who's sole purpose is to create, store and pass feces from the body seem, well, just not healthy? 

I needed to test my hereditary theory so I decided to ask my wife, much more the connoisseur of fine if not obscure foods, to give the local delicacy a whirl. I surmised that if she couldn't swallow this thing without gagging then my ancestral shit eating theory might have some legs. And sure enough, her gag reflex took over immediately upon impact from the latrine laden organ soaked in mustard. 

Happy anniversary honey. 

...The French call it andouillette and, according to wikipedia "it is rarely seen outside France and has a strong, distinctive odor related to its intestinal origins and components. Although sometimes repellant to the uninitiated, this aspect of andouillette is prized by its devotees."

September 22, 2013

The Cult of Science

Science. Science. Science. Why does society envy you so?

When you said that the world was flat, you mesmerized us with images of ships sailing off the edge of the earth. But then someone sailed beyond the horizon and into the new world.

When you said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, you frightened us when you said we would die in the attempt. But then Roger Bannister crossed the finish line in under 4 minutes and lived to tell about it.

When you said that we endurance runners need to drink water even when we are not thirsty, you told us that the alternative would be heat exhaustion, heat stroke or possibly death. But then people started to die from hyponatremia, a deadly condition brought on by excessive hydration.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. Without your discoveries and breakthroughs , we humans would still be living in the dark ages. The billions of lives your work has helped to save would have wasted away in misery and hopelessness. We owe you a lot for what you have done for us humans.

What I have come to realize is that, as a product of us, you are just as prone to imperfections, mistakes and failures as we are. And yet we still look to you as the beacon of truth. Without a scientific explanation, we’ve been told, it just cannot be real.

So I ask you this. If a runner is gifted with an exceptional VO2 max, or an extreme anaerobic threshold, will he or she always run faster than those without these gifts? My answer to this is no. Why? Because there is something that will always, always trump physical talent. And that, my friends, is motivation. And how does science explain that?

To you ultra runners out there. Think about this the next time your alarm rings before the sun rises.

September 8, 2013

When It's Time for the Ego to Shut Up

“When the truth knocks on your door, and you say “Go away, I’m looking for the truth.” And so it goes away.”  


When the fireworks began to rain down from the damp summer sky, runners were nervously assembling on a dirt road. It was still dark outside and we were getting ready to begin a hot, 100 mile journey through the countryside.

I looked at my watch. The start was now only a few seconds away, and I just finished sharing my ultra-wisdom with my good friend and only crew member, Jim “Lobster” Milton. “The real starting line isn’t until mile 70” I remember saying to him. “I’m going to go easy until then, so I can really run when I arrive there. You watch, I’ll be fresh when everyone else is dying.” Lobster looked at me like I was some kind endurance yogi speaking a foreign language. He’d never heard of a 100 mile race, let alone crewed for one, until I called him a few weeks prior.

What followed was a spontaneous meltdown that would certainly have landed me in the ultra running hall of shame...if there were such a place.

Merriam Webster defines Meltdown as: a rapid or disastrous decline or collapse. A breakdown of self-control (as from fatigue or overstimulation). In ultra running, both definitions apply, but the second one usually precedes the first in the sequence that typically unfolds on trail.

The stage that was set is pretty simple. I spent months training for a single event. I traveled to a distant town to run the event. I huddled with several hundred other runners in a small space at the starting line. I listened to the countdown. I heard the sound of the starting gun. I shouted as I started to run. Adrenaline coursed through my veins.  

As I ran through the first five, ten, fifteen miles, I checked my body for signals. But it wasn’t sending any. Or so I thought. What was actually happening was my body was working 20% harder than it should’ve been. I just wasn’t paying attention to it. But I kept hearing something. What was it? Oh yes, that was my ego. And yes, what I learned was my ego doesn’t listen to the truth. And when the truth knocks, my ego sends it away.

Then came the rapid and disastrous decline. Rapid because it came by mile 23. Disastrous because it appeared in the form of a sharp, stabbing feeling in my quadriceps. Kind of like the feeling of an ice pick entering and exiting the muscle in a nanosecond. What was that? Nervous thoughts bombarded me. Then I started seeing an image of Humpty Dumpty laying on the ground, his pieces scattered all about. And there was this very angry person yelling at him, trying to put him back together. But it wasn’t working. At that moment I realized my body was broken. And the angry voice was my ego.

Here is my take on this situation. My body is the only part of me that speaks the truth. Whether I choose to listen to it, really listen to it and act upon it, is a simple function of whether my ego can shut its mouth and sit in the corner. That is a tall order for anyone’s ego, especially mine. Just being aware helps. Because when the truth knocks, and I tell it to go away, I know that is my ego talking. 

Dear Ego: that is the time for you to shut up and sit in the corner. 

August 30, 2013

The Clash - Icons of Energy

There is probably no music that has influenced me more than the music of the Clash. The gritty, political and diverse sound took hold of my conscience in high school. Yes, that was a long time ago, probably before you were born. Ok, I listened to most of their songs on LPs, which I still have stacked somewhere in my garage.

But what does any of this have to do with running? Hmmmm…..let me think about that. Because if I think long enough, the connection will roll right through my headphones, down my fingers and into the keyboard. Yes, this is working…just as I thought.

Maybe it starts with energy. Doesn’t everything start with energy? The little spark that triggers something inside that starts to smolder. Then burn. Then rage. Imagine you are holding a match and standing next to a 10-foot high pile wood soaked with gasoline. Now imagine yourself lighting the match. What do you see next? That is energy, ignited.

When I was eighteen I often found myself standing next to that proverbial pile of wood…that energy waiting to be lit. And whenever I listened to the Clash, the match would flicker and spark, then roar to life. Where things went next, well, that is another story. I turned out ok, I think. Let me just say running is a very effective way to generate and channel energy. There. A connection.

If you want to know more about an iconic band who’s music will never lose its message, read this article on the Clash in the Wall Street Journal. If you want to light your own match, then put on some headphones and turn the volume up. Way up.

Live my friends!