December 30, 2017

Solitary Sought. Solitary Found.

Bell Canyon Trail with Santiago Pk 
There is, I believe, a fundamental need that lurks in many of us. It's something that we don't usually talk about because, um, well, we've been trained not to talk about stuff that might make us seem odd, or different, from everyone else.

I'll call this, simply, the need to be alone. Or more specifically, the need to be away from people, at least some of the time. Not just away from the assholes, or the obnoxious ones, just people. Yes, many of us, some more than others, just need to be alone and, frankly, away from people. At least for a period of time. Away from their voices. Away from their attitudes. Away from their beliefs. Just away. Far away. Far enough away so that we cannot hear or see any trace of them. 

This is not a new concept, this need to spend time alone. Its been around for millennia.  Christian monks (along with devout Buddhists, Hindus and Taoist, to name a few) have lived eremitic (secluded) lives long before any of us starting seeking solitude from the holiday shopping hordes. As soul seekers, they no doubt found this to be a cleansing experience.       

I don't know, but maybe there is some connection here to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that the need (according to Maslow) for social belonging ultimately gives way to the need for self-actualization and even self-transcendence as we develop and grow. Is this why when we think of hermits we picture old crotchety men? These must be the guys, alone, at the top of Maslow's ladder.     

When I got in my Jeep this morning and began to drive, I chose not to decide where to go. I was headed out for a run, but hadn't decided where. So I just started driving. As I drove, many trails and potential places to run began flashing through mind. I took inventory of each one, and I tried to weigh the good and the bad of each. But all I could think about was one thing - the solitude of each place (or lack of solitude, actually).

The next thing I knew I was pulling up to one of my favorite (and most solitary) trails. I made it nearly four hours before I saw a single person!

Ok, I'm not crawling under a rock any time soon, but it felt good to cleanse. 

December 17, 2017

The Land of Painted Plateaus

Every so often I find myself stopping to appreciate something unusual.  And beautiful.

This time I was in a rental car – a Subaru Legacy in fact – that was hurling me across the plateau known as the Big Horn basin. As I drove along the highway I couldn’t stop stealing peeks in each direction. It felt like the sky and the landscape around me were colluding somehow to get me closer to them.

The next thing I knew I was rumbling down a dirt road, heading in the direction of a hill that stood between an expansive view that I knew was waiting for me. The Subaru – bless its little wheels – was taking a beating. I weaved the innocent little car around large puddles and punishing ruts, many of which in all my haste I couldn’t avoid.

When I finally reached the hill’s crest, I pulled over and just started walking. I walked toward a rock formation and wondered what it would be like to just lay down there forever. Under this sky and in this slow meadow of grass and wild flowers.

I’m heading back to Wyoming. To the land of painted plateau’s and inspired skies. This time, I hope I can catch a little less rain on race day.

December 10, 2017

Paddling Into It

There was a time when I pulled the trigger without really knowing why. I went with the feeling, the emotion. A wave would rise up from underneath me and rather than try to analyze what was happening, I just decided to turn and paddle into it. The rides were, well, something I wont forget.

Today I paddled in again. I’m looking forward to sharing this ride with all of you.

Stay real people. Keep playing. Life is too short not to.

December 9, 2017

The Beginners Mind - Repost

The Beginner's Mind (original post October 30, 2011)

Since posting this over six years ago, I keep searching for more possibilities...I hope I can still find some....   

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.

November 30, 2017

Cold Air Greets Me

Wooded Trail Washington DC

It’s not often when living in So Cal that a breath of cold air greets me before a run. This week offered me just that as I strolled onto a wooded trail that was blanketed with colorful autumn leaves in the politically effervescent city of Washington, DC.

Washington DC National Cathedral

I made my way up to Wisconsin avenue and then circled one of my favorite buildings, the National Cathedral, a gothic-clad megalith I used to explore to impress girls in college. Once I snuck myself and another through the back door and up a hidden staircase. We found our way onto an obscure balcony where we stood, solemnly, peering down on a choir performing a classic choral hymn.

It was just one of those moments that has stuck with me for a long time. 

November 18, 2017

The Dark Side of Commitment

Commitment. The word has been lingering in my head all day.

What does commitment really mean, anyway?

Now, here I sit, swinging from self-reflection to out-of-shape-neurosis, trying to come up with a blog post that most of you at least consider unique and most of all not boring. I see this massive Webster’s unabridged International Dictionary just sitting on the shelf. The book is huge! It beckons me to pick it up and open it. I turn to the last page, number 2662. This thing has 450,000 words in it!

I turn to the word Commitment.

“The act, obligation or pledge to carry out some action or policy or to give support to some policy or person” seemed quite logical and commonplace. But when I read another definition, I began to feel a bit deceived, if not betrayed. Odd, it would seem, to feel betrayed by the word commitment, a word most of us associate with positive things like strength, resolve or even loyalty. But when I read “the act of committing or sentencing to confinement (as in a prison or mental institution)” I had to pause. As I read further, positive notions of strength and resolve gave way to “the state of being obligated or bound (as by intellectual conviction or emotional ties).”

A couple of weeks back I signed up for a 100 mile race. Now I’m having second thoughts about running it. Which started me on this commitment crusade. Am I a committed runner? Or am I becoming a lazy sloth? Should I remain in the state of being “obligated or bound?” Am I really just sentencing myself to my own mental confinement?

I say there is a time for commitment. It's a powerful force. It can get us to the starting line. Yet there is a dark side to it. When it binds and confines, it makes us prisoners in our own self-made institutions.

Keep it real runners.

November 1, 2017

Hardrock 100 Mile Lottery - I'm All In!

Looking to defy the odds by getting into one of the most difficult ultra marathons anywhere. 34,800' cumulative ascent, highest elevation on the course 14,050'. May the running gods be with me. 

October 29, 2017

The Running Thread

Moi, John D and John W on the PCT

The stories just kept coming this weekend. There was the one about Brian cat getting thrown into a rag doll like cartwheel on the buss ride back from the St. George marathon. Still wearing his marathon medal, the post race beer garden had taken its toll on his sense of balance.

Then there was “Big Gulp” Karl. Karl rode his Gold Wing motorcycle through a traffic light one evening.  Oblivious to the dead end just ahead, he launched himself Evel Knievel style into the air. He walked away from it. “Big Gulp” was for showing up to a trail run with two 7-11 big gulp cups to meet his hydration needs.

Some of the stories have taken on a life of their own.

Like the one when John W and I were each smoking a cigar in my hot tub one evening. I looked over and saw a gargantuan sized cockroach on the cinder block wall some ten feet from us. We just laughed and joked and continued smoking. Then, a few minutes later, John W experienced something that belongs only in your worst nightmare. He took a puff from his cigar but didn’t realize the roach was sitting on the tip of it. By the time he realized what was happening, the roach was in his mouth running around! It was not a small roach. It was a gargantuan roach.

We runners share a common thread that we use to stitch our lives together. I call it the running thread. I hope to keep stitching for some time to come. How about you? 

October 23, 2017

Your Seed

What if I were to tell you that you and your thoughts are controlled? That the desires and feelings you have are being directed by something – or someone – other than you? Seem absurd? Maybe, but then again, reality does have a way of disappointing us. Which is why most of us live in our own altered form of it.

Think about it this way. What if your thoughts were a tree that grew atop an open field? Would they be free from the elements? Would wind, rain, drought or fire have any influence on them? Most importantly, if you were a tree, would it matter where your seed was buried?

Still with me? If you are, you’re probably having a hard time imagining a tree, let alone how your thoughts could have anything to do with one. This is why I included the picture. Do you think this tree would be shaped differently if it were protected from the wind? If it were not in an open field? Do you think your thoughts would be different if you changed your daily routine? Changed what you read and listen to?

We are nothing more than our thoughts, which control our actions. So shouldn’t we want to understand our thoughts? Or better yet, regain control of them?

If I handed you a seed, and that seed was to grow into a large tree representing your thoughts and ideas, where would you plant it? Would it be in front of a television and computer? Inside a novel or music hall? Would you want it to be around other plants that were green and growing? Or ripe and rotting?

What we read, watch, listen to, discuss, learn and ponder are what we eventually come to believe. Who we become to be.

Where is your seed buried?

October 15, 2017

Run for Our Little Roses - And Then Some

Starting Line - In front of Mutt Lynch's

This weekend I entered the Run for Our Little Roses half marathon. This was a true fund raiser event for a very worthy cause, that being to provide a full-time residential home for abused, abandoned and neglected girls in Honduras. The organization behind the event is dedicated to transforming broken lives into productive, joyful young women.

Our Little Roses provides a home for young girls that come from abject poverty, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment and oppression. They are infants, toddlers, young girls and teenagers. According to Our Little Roses, these girls have endured extreme neglect, abandonment, and abuse. They often are left alone to fend for themselves --unable to care for or protect themselves.

Here are some pictures from what turned out to be a fun and worthy event in Newport and Huntington Beach, CA. What followed the run was a bit of a crawl...though Newport's finest dive bars.

Pre Race Strategy Meeting - Mutt Lynch's

The Elvis Mobile 

Aid Station Mile 11ish 

Scotty's Finest Moment 

Scotty Back to Reality

Sunset On Balboa Ferry (w/Cracker, Jeff P and Scotty) 

Jeff P 

Haunted House - Balboa Island 

" said 5 minutes a half hour ago"

October 1, 2017

Giving Back Sets Ultra Running Apart

I finally submitted my service form to be signed for volunteering at Hardrock 100 in July. Yes, it took me a while, but with several lottery applications coming due in early November, I thought I'd "get ahead of the curve" and get that box checked off sooner than later.

Gone are the days of nonchalantly deciding to enter a race and sending an application in a couple weeks before the event. This approach only leads to frustration and angst. And you can forget worrying about training, because that's the easy part. With the advent of lotteries and the requirement to do volunteer service, getting into a 100 mile race takes real planning!

Actually, I'm really happy I chose to go to Hardrock to volunteer this year. I didn't go because I had to, I just wanted to immerse myself in the race culture. It was worth every minute. I learned some important intel about how to run that course. It was also a lot of fun. In fact, I don't think I've had a bad experience volunteering at a race or doing trail work. Whether swinging a McLoed on the PCT or the Angeles Crest Trail, cooking breakfast burritos at the HR finish line, or handing medals out at the finish of a marathon, there is something special about giving back to the sport.

I think the service requirement is a huge plus for ultra running. It weeds out the less than serious, and contributes to multiple good causes - be it staging races, supporting runners, maintaining trails and the like.

The requirement to give back, to volunteer at a local race or help maintain the trails, is something special about this sport. I believe it is what sets ultra running apart from the highly charged, spandex  burdened endurance crowd.       

Keep it real runners!

September 28, 2017

A Random Walk Through Ireland...

A few shots from a recent trip to Ireland...some running, but lots, lots more. One of my favorite quotes from the prolific Irish wit, poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde - "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

St. Stephens Green, Dublin

The Long Room, Trinity University, Dublin
Oscar Wilde Exhibit - Dublin Writers Museum 

Doheny and Nesbitt Pub, Dublin 

County Galway, Near Ashford Castle

Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Ireland's School of Falconry

Spirit of Place Project - About Fishers of Men, Cong, Ireland 

Cliffs of Moher

September 17, 2017

Getting Back In the Saddle

When I was in 5th grade a girl invited me to go horseback riding. What happened that day permanently shaped my psyche. I was thrown from a small pony in front of a bunch of kids. I can still visualize falling from that little beast after it charged toward a fence and turned abruptly at the last second. I still don't like riding horses to this day.

When I look back on this event, I think I waited to long to get back on a horse. Now, instead of getting "back in the saddle" I'm pretty sure I'm "saddled" with a distrust of these hoofed creatures.

After running Bighorn 100 in June and promising myself I'd never do another 100 miler again, I've finally settled back to reality which, like it or not, brings me back once again to training for another 100 miler.

Next up - the flat and fast Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Texas. Time to get back up in the saddle and ride!

Giddyup runners.


August 31, 2017

Nick Coury - Finding The Fat Burning Groove

Nick Coury at the 2017 Hardrock Finish 

This is Nick Coury from Phoenix, Arizona. He finished Hard Rock this year in 27:18:58, and placed 5th overall. This time represented a huge improvement from his previous times at Hard Rock.

Nick was nice enough to share a little of his race strategy with me while our crew prepared a breakfast burrito for him at the finish line.

Nick did some things differently this year. First thing he did was he walked the flats. Sounds crazy, but the benefits paid dividends for Nick. By walking the flats he was able to keep his heart rate down after running the long descents and hiking the big climbs. A lower heart rate means more fat burning as an energy source. More fat burning means more sustained energy over 100miles with less fatigue.

Next thing Nick did was never let his legs get juiced up with fatigue. He took it easy enough on the descents and climbs to keep the lactic acid from accumulating in his legs. Lactic acid is the result of pushing your heart rate beyond the aerobic zone and into the anaerobic zone. When in the anaerobic zone, consuming increased amounts of food (sugar) becomes a prerequisite to sustaining your effort. Consuming increasing amounts of food increases stress on the G.I. track, which can lead to serious stomach issues, nausea and the G.I. track shutting down entirely. Problems with the G.I. track are some of the most common reasons ultra runners lose so much time on the mountain and never make it to the finish line.

Nick was pretty adamant that these tactics made all the difference in this year’s Hard Rock. I whole-heartedly agree with him.

--> Good work Nick.

August 27, 2017

To Run and Not to Run. I Appreciate Both.

Jeff P - Not running and not on foot

One of my favorite things about running is not running.

That's right. Just plain not running, or at least certain kinds of running. For sake of clarity, I'll refer to this type of running as hell or high water running.  You know,  running not for the love or joy of running, but rather to prepare and train for something, which some of us tend to do "come hell or high water."  If you've trained for a marathon or an ultra, you know what I mean. This is running all the time running, or running because you have to running, which of course makes running a responsibility like doing the dishes or brushing your teeth.   My friend Jeff P (above) always talks about "time on foot" running. I don't mind that kind of running, because a lot of the time your not actually running.

How does one appreciate something by not doing it? My feeling is if you do something enough, you learn to appreciate it even more when your not actually doing it.

Run, rest, reflect. Repeat.


August 14, 2017

Asthma - Meat - Karma - Science

My Pre Asthma Enlightened Diet
No, this is NOT a political blog. But every once in a while I get a bug up my ass. In fact there is one up there now, burrowing further and further into…uhm, well, you know what I mean. This bug needs to be extracted. The act of writing this post will serve that purpose.

This is sort of a personal story, so bear with me.

Last year I had a bit of an asthma attack. It wasn’t so bad that I had to go to the hospital, but the ordeal was a bit of a wake up call. I couldn’t breathe properly for days. After this episode, I started depending on antihistamines to quell a lingering wheeze.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, why me and why now? And, how does one go from having no asthma symptoms for decades, to a regular bouts of wheezing.

I’ve been determined to get to the bottom of it, and try to fix it.

This first thing I did was change my diet. I started eating like a vegan. That’s right. No meat, fish, dairy or eggs. It’s been difficult, but I’ve made it 5 consecutive weeks. Last week I started eating limited portions of fish. Since starting the no meat cuisine, I’ve gone from regular bouts of asthma quelled by antihistamines several times a week, to virtually no asthma or drugs. I say virtually because I had two asthma incidents since going vegan, once after eating a Greek salad with feta cheese (I forgot) and another after being enveloped by pot smoke for several hours at a Steve Miller concert.

Is not eating meat the antidote to my asthma? I’m not totally sure, but it sure seems like it is. My original plan was to slowly start introducing various meats – fish, chicken, beef, pork – whatever, back into my diet, and see what happens.

That was before I read this book and watched this movie. To be honest, after experiencing these documentaries, I felt like a chump that’s been blind-folded in the middle of the herd while running closer and closer to the edge of the proverbial cliff.

If you haven’t read How Not to Die or seen What the Health, I suggest you do, and do it fast. Even if you don’t believe the science, or believe it and choose not to care, it will open your eyes to what you are putting in your mouth. I can’t help but thinking of the word karma. In other words, is it possible that we, the great rulers of the earth, who nonchalantly feast on our fellow creatures, creatures that are slaughtered and processed in our industrial size plants, is it we who are dying because of it?

Here are a few facts from How Not to Die to chew on:

-       A person’s risk of colorectal cancer rises by a factor of about 1.1 or 1.2 for every serving of processed meat consumed per day.

-       Researchers found a 72 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer for every fifty grams of chicken consumed daily. And that’s not much meat, under two ounces— just about a quarter of a chicken breast. The researchers expressed surprise that it was the consumption of poultry— not red meat— that was more closely tied to cancer. 

-       The single greatest public health burden in the United States in terms of food poisoning is Salmonella. It’s the leading cause of food poisoning– related hospitalizations, as well as the number-one cause of food poisoning-related death. And it’s on the rise. Over the past decade, the number of cases has increased by 44 percent, 
-       An estimated 142,000 Americans are sickened each year by Salmonella-tainted eggs.

-       In a 2014 issue of Consumer Reports, researchers published a study on the true cost of cheap chicken. They discovered that 97 percent of chicken breasts found in retail stores were contaminated with bacteria that could make people sick.

-       As the Mayo Clinic rather indelicately put it, “Most people are infected with Salmonella by eating foods that have been contaminated by feces.” How does it get there? In slaughter plants, birds are typically gutted by a metal hook, which too often punctures their intestines and can expel feces onto the flesh itself.

-       According to the latest national FDA retail-meat survey, about 90 percent of retail chicken showed evidence of contamination with fecal matter.

-       Researchers in Sweden decided to test out a strictly plant-based diet on a group of severe asthmatics who weren’t getting better despite the best medical therapies. Patients who stuck with a plant-based diet, 70 percent improved after four months, and 90 percent improved within one year. And these were all people who had experienced no improvement in their conditions at all in the year prior to switching to a plant-based diet. Within just one year of eating healthier, all but two patients were able to drop their dose of asthma medication or get off their steroids and other drugs altogether.

Keep it real runners!