Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Gentle Reminder

The following quote was posted by Gordon Ainsleigh on his Facebook wall a few weeks ago.  It resonated very loudly within me.  What a very simple and true statement that can be applied to guide one's entire direction in this world.

"Just a gentle reminder to follow your gifts, avoid distractions that steer you away from where you want your life to go, pursue at least two exercise disciplines with zeal and mindfulness, and fill your diet with whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Remember that you've been placed on this earth to do some things that only you can do, and if you don't do them, they won't get done."

Gordon is a renaissance man.  I truly admire and respect his approach to life.  As a longtime chiropractor, he has challenged conventional thinking in the medical community and embraced wellness from a simplistic, fundamental level.  I believe this "gentle reminder" captures the essence of this approach to life very well.

Western States 100-mile Endurance Run finisher's buckle.

Amongst those of us in the hardcore ultramarathon community he is truly one of the pioneers.  In 1974 he toed the starting line of the Western States 100 for the first time.  This is significant because all the other entrants were horses!  Gordon's horse came up lame and he figured if a horse could do it so could he.  A few years later the official human version of the event was born.  Gordie has officially finished the Western States 100-mile 22 times.  At the age of 63 this past year he completed the entire 100 miles just over the official cut-off time in about 31 hours.  

Let's break-down the quote form above:

Follow your gifts...

We all have unique talents, abilities, and passions that we have to offer the world.  Hard work and persistence can be used to overcome a lack of natural talent or other shortcomings, but if you can apply those same efforts and persistence to your strengths and passions even better!

Avoid distractions...
These can come in many shapes and forms.  Negative, poisonous people.  Possessions and trappings of the rat race.  Do not make the mistake of basing your life on stuff.  The true good stuff in life is based on unique, fulfilling experiences, not stuff!  Dream big, act boldly in that direction, and follow your heart.  This will surely lead to the fulfillment of YOUR personal destiny.

Pursue 2 exercise regiments with zeal and mindfulness...

Our bodies are designed for motion, and lots of it.  Use it or lose it.  Movement heals.  Some diverse or complimentary activities will add many quality years to your life.  Gordon obviously runs, a lot.  He is also an avid rock climber among other things.  In his 60's he can run circles around most of people of any age.  This does not happen by accident!

Fill your diet with whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables...

Again, this is what our bodies have been designed to consume for healthy fuel.  Not all of this processed, artificial crap most people buy in the grocery stores and happily pay way too much money for in restaurants.  A well-rounded balance of many different fruits and veggies will give you all the nutrients your body needs.  Look in the mirror at your body.  Naked.  This reflection showing back to you is a direct result of how YOU have taken care of your vessel in life.  Your exercise regiment and dietary choices have directly given you this result.  That is the plain and simple truth.  If you do not like what you see, and more importantly how you feel, do something about it.  The power is within all of us!

There are things on this earth only YOU can do...

We all possess a unique combination of talents, gifts, passions, and opportunities to find the path of our personal destiny.  Along the way people will come into your life for a specific reason.  Act on it!   That opportunity is presenting itself specifically for you.  If you let it pass it is gone forever.  So many amazing movements of human kindness started from seemingly insignificant acts.  The ripple effect of these positive actions is usually infinitely impactful beyond our perception.  Sometimes only later do we realize how huge that moment and the initial step we took to act might have actually been.

Some people seem to think the path to happiness and fulfillment in life cannot be this
simple.  We all have a choice.  Free will if you will!  I choose simple.  

What do you choose? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sharing the Joy of Running with my Kids

I continue to embrace my desire to get back to the basic joy of the act of running.  Running for me has never been about running to lose myself, my thoughts, problems, etc.  Running has always been about finding myself.  Gaining clarity of thought and purpose and direction.  I crave my times of solitude on the trail under a clear blue sky or on the streets at 2am on a moonless night.  It is a gift I give myself.  The pace, distance, or time ceases to matter.  Everything becomes in the moment-to-moment.

William and Juju!

To that end I took 2 of my kids (Ben was a a friend's) out to my favorite local trail, Erwin Park, on Sunday.  Spring-like weather emerged in full bloom after our arctic deep freeze of the last few weeks.  I get so much peace and enjoyment around my activities on the trail I want to make sure my kids get a solid dose of exposure to what it is all about. Thankfully, my kids dig it!

It was a perfect 70 degrees when we got to the park.  Will, who is 7, was so excited to be "running trails" with his dad.  He has told several of his friends at school that I run 100-mile races.  Most of them thought it was a kid exaggerating in "my dad can beat up your dad"  fashion.  I had lunch with him a few weeks ago and showed the boys the 100-mile buckle I was wearing that day and answered a million question form 10 different directions.

My three amazing kids:  William, Benjamin, and Julia.

My daughter is 15 and a full-blown teenager.  She is a great kid and really enjoyed our day on the trail.  I never will force my kids to pursue anything that they do not want to, but I really hope to instill a life-long love of fitness, nutrition, and wellness in all of them.  If they happen to get into running, or specifically trail running, all the better.

Someday he will have a running beard like Dad.

For me I had no intention of doing any running at all while we were out there.  I set a brisk walking pace that required Will to run to catch-up every now and then.  He was so into this today.  Within minutes he has his shirt off in the sunshine like his dad and I help him fashion his shirt into a bandanna.  We amble along at a good pace for a while.  Will asks a steady stream of questions.  Julia is really enjoying connecting with nature and being unplugged from her very digital world of a typical teenager.  I am a happy man at this moment.

The kid is a natural!  So are adults, we have just forgotten the pure joy.

We end up covering 4 miles of the eight mile trail.  Will was a trooper.  Most 7-yr-olds would have been whining, complaining, and dragging after a very short while.  At several points during our jaunt he would move to the front and break into a nice steady run.  He wanted to set pace!  He did it well too!  Great running form.  Solid foot strike, relaxed, steady running form.  He is a natural.  How old do you have to be to enter a 100-miler?

We finish up our trek on the trail with a quick session on the swings where we parked the car.  We are all kids at heart still, no?  Our shoes are muddy, bodies sweaty, and spirits soaring having had this time outside together.  Both kids ask when we can do this again.  I wonder why I have not done more to include them directly in my running exploits.  As we drive out of the park Will hangs his head out the window like a dog and hoots and hollers.  The sun is shining.  Life is beautiful.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rocky Raccoon Race Report: A Tale of Records and Revelations

What an incredible weekend in the world of Ultramarathons and I got be right in the middle of the whole thing as it unfolds.  The adventure starts with a very challenging drive from Dallas, 200 miles down I-45 to Huntsville.  Icy roads were now covered with 4-6 inches of snow.  I was carpooling with Deborah Sexton, a fellow NTTR runner, and she had me drive her 4x4.  We fare better than most while making steady progress down the ice and snow covered road.  Once again, all the overconfident impatient idiots in pick-up trucks dominated the vehicles crashed into guardrails and stuck in ditches.  The trip only takes us an extra 1-1.5 hours and we hit town in good shape. 

Events like this are rare in Dallas so there is not adequate equipment to clear roads.

On the way down my “allergies” seem to be kicking up.  Deborah points out that most allergens are not active when it is 20 degrees out.  At our pit stop at Buccee’s in Madisonville I pick-up some cold medicine just to be safe.  After checking into the hotel I take a great two-hour nap.  When I wake up I am in a little bit of a fog and have a pressing sinus headache.  I drink another 1.5 liters of water and take 1,000mg of vitamin C. 

The men's restroom has more urinals than the old Texas Stadium.

From there we are off to drop supplies at the Damnation aid station run by NTTR.  What can I say about the volunteers who give up an entire weekend to help others pursue their endeavors?  Lynn Ballard heads up an all-star crew again this year.  Volunteering at these races is a gift given to all the runners on the course.  It is definitely way past due for my time to return this gift.  I will be volunteering at a race near you soon! 

The work for volunteers begins 12-24 hours before the race ever starts and ends well after when the last runner is through .

Next on the agenda is packet pick-up and I have still have to register.  There is a limit of 750 runners between the 100-mile and 50-mile races.  Early in the week there were still 80 spots and looming bad weather gives me confidence this would not be an issue.  As it turns out almost 200 people will fail to start.  With runners from 35 states and 8 countries many have difficulties with flights and other travel arrangements.

Moments before departing into the frosty darkness.

Now it is on to dinner with my pacers and dear friends, Craig and Carla Vining.  I love these guys!  It means a great deal to me that they brave the elements just to get here as well as run with me through a very cold and dark Saturday night.  Pacing for a runner is another very special gift similar to what the volunteers offer the runner on the trail.  It comes in the form of very vocal and direct physical support during the race and even more of an impact is made by just knowing they are there for you supporting your heart and soul as you put it all on the line that day.  I have been on both sides of this equation and it is a beautiful thing and it is not dissimilar to surviving a combat situation with someone.  Many strong bonds and lasting friendships have been built between strangers over these weekends.

It was amazing to toe the line and run the course with this cast of amazing runners.

After dinner it is off to bed and early to rise at 4am in advance of the 6am start.  One more proactive dose of cold medicine and I quickly drift off to sleep.  Upon awaking I take a hot shower to get everything warmed-up and try to clear my congested head as much as possible.  I readjust some of my strategies for layers and clothing and we head towards the course.  The check-in and and starting line are abuzz with energy despite the frigid temperature of 20 degrees.  There is definitely extra energy in the air this year with a world-class field in the men’s race.  Anton Krupicka, Scott Jurek, Zach Gingerich, Hal Koerner, Karl Metzler, and some dude named Ian.

Topping off fluids at Damnation aid station.

My plan for the day is simple.  Run 4-hour loops in a very steady fashion all day long and into the night.  That is a 12:00/mile pace.  This is very conservative on this flat course, but will allow me to pursue a strong 20-hour finish.  The first few miles tick by easily and the body welcomes the latent heat now being generated.  I am careful to moderate my effort to stay on pace and not to sweat too much in the early morning freezing temps.  I hit my marks on the button all the way around the course during the first loop and come into the start/finish at 3:58. 

Me and my Running Beard at mile 45.  The beard got a significant trim on Monday.

My fuel and hydration strategy for the day is quite simple.  With my improved metabolic efficiency I am going to consume around 150 calories an hour and hydrate heavily with Nuun from my hydration pack.  The first loop I fall behind a bit on hydration due the tube to the mouth piece freezing solid.  Food for the day is organic, vegan Bonk Buster bar.  I also supplement with Endurolytes to make sure my electrolytes stay topped off.  I will not fall victim to GI distress today.

Anton and Hal coming back into Damnation.  Scott Jurek is just a 100 yards behind them.

I start the second loop just as I did the first.  Steady and even.  All systems are go through the first aid station.  On the way to Dam Road I notice my sweat rate is picking up quite a bit.  I feel flashes of warmth not in a good way in the still cool morning.  Now that the hydration tube has thawed I redouble efforts to stay on top of my fluid intake.  I am hoping I can flush whatever is ailing me with liquids and a healthy sweat.  The leaders on the course are smoking it.  At one point I come around a corner and there is an apparition otherwise known as Anton floating effortlessly over the trail towards me.  Hal is right behind him with a big smile and a friendly hello. 

A great ambassador for the sport.  Scott was very friendly and gracious to all who approached him all weekend.

A few minutes later and here comes Scott Jurek.  I pinch myself to see if I am dreaming.  Maybe a dream within a dream?  I just watched Inception for the first time so I reach for my talisman to insure myself this is real.  On the way back to Dam road I actually get to run WITH Scott Jurek for a few minutes.  He has a minor injury that was bothering him so he had already decided to stop after his 3rd loop.  He is chatting with everyone.  It is very cool to be treading through the single track on a beautiful morning in the forest right behind Scott.  When he gets back to Damnation he stays for over 10 minutes and visits with everyone, takes pictures, etc.  He is the real deal and a total class act.  I leave the aid station to move on and it is not long before he co bmesy me again.  He is really moving this time.  He offers a friendly “looking good” and continues gliding forward.

Who is this Ian guy running out front with last years Badwater winner Zach Gingerich?

How can it be that I am in trail running heaven and dealing with this stupid cold?  The second half of this loop I find myself falling off this very easy pace I have been running even after the inspiration of all the great runners I am getting to share the trail with this morning.  With almost 4,000 miles of training last year, the fatigue I am starting to feel is not due to lack of preparation.  By the time I reach the start/finish I have given an hour back to the course and finish the second loop in 5 hours. 

These are my Brook's Cascadia trail shoes.  I logged over 3,000 miles in these shoes last year.  

Craig and Carla are there again to help me transition to the next loop.  I talk about some of my struggles and my strategy.  Even though this is their first time to crew, they seemed to instinctively know to keep pressing me forward and talk about nothing other than working the plan.    At this point I am nine hours into the effort.  My body feels like it is 19.  Body aches in my upper torso and places that usually do not ache from a 40-mile effort.  At this point my legs and my heart tell me to just keep moving forward and to not think about the time.  Despite the motivation of my spirit, my head starts doing calculations on pace and time.  I am 9 hours in with 3 loops to go.  It will probably take me 5.5 hours to do loop 3 unless I am able to rally significantly.  Loops 4 and 5 will be in total darkness and in falling temperatures below freezing.  6 hours each for these loops.  That makes 9 hours plus another 17.5 hours to go at these paces.  26.5 hours to complete the 100 miles.  This sounds doable under fairly “normal” ultra conditions.  Not a great time, but any finish is a victory in itself regardless of the time.  

Here I am on the same course in the fall.  Everything clicked on this day.  

On many courses on any given day this is what it can boil down to.  Do you have the mental toughness and determination to endure this kind of death march to get it done?  The wild card for me today is the fever and the severe temperatures I will have to endure through the night.  I spent most of December and part of January with a very bad bronchial cough that sidelined me for a while.  I am not excited about the prospect of a repeat performance.  Logically in my head I have determined that I need to drop and probably do so at a reasonable place on the course before darkness.  The miles I have gotten in today so far have been good from my legs perspective, although the rest of my body aches and aches. 

I saw Anita Fromm conquer adversity many times while pacing her along the Badwater course last summer.

Now my heart and soul start to take over the conversation.  This is the moment I always seek out.  That place where you have to open the door to full-on commitment to the cause no matter what.  While it takes courage to sign-up and toe the starting line, there is still always this point I described where that commitment will be reaffirmed in a profound way.  This is that moment.  I think back to all the battle lines I had drawn in my mind regarding how I was going to attack this day in this blog post a few days ago:  Testing My Soul Yet Again.  Now I find myself maybe considering dropping before I ever get to take on Loop 4!  I think about all my friends in my tribe who offer me encouragement and support.  Craig and Carla who endured a dangerous drive just to get here!  They are more excited about running tonight with me than I am at times.  This is going to be their first experience at a true ultramarathon.  How can I let them down?  How can I let myself down?

I battled several bouts of nausea at AT100, but was able to prevail on this day.

Two thoughts prevail:  1. I did not come here to walk all night.  I came here to run.  2.  I do not want to wreck the next 2 months of training due to another extended illness.  I have about 2 miles into the next aid station.  If I can generate and maintain enough effort to run a reasonable pace all the way in to Nature Center I will continue.  The plan is to make this decision aid station-by-aid station for the next 13 stops.  I ramp back up to my pace and plaster a big smile on my face and revel in the sunshine.  This is short lived.  A surge of fever and cold sweats overwhelm my body with even this modest effort.  I shut it down and walk the rest of the way into Nature Center.  I make a very conscious decision at that moment to not wallow in any negativity or second-guess my decision.  It is done and it is the correct decision. 

Raven Lake on the morning of the race.  It was quite nice at this point to be just walking in the woods.

Now I am just out for a nice stroll in the woods along the lake with the sunshine on my shoulders.  I round a corner and some dude named Ian comes blazing down the trail.  I have seen him a few times and he is always moving fast.  He has number 6 on his race bib.  He is not one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but he looks capable of giving a good chase for sure.  Little did I know at the time he is the leader!  A short while passes and along comes Anton floating down the trail.  They are finishing their 4th lap.  I will now get the pleasure of being at the finish line to potentially see history in the making.

Ian Sharmer widens the gap on the field of contenders.

I hit Nature Center and check-in so they will know I was there.  I remove my bib number and the resignation is complete.  It is about 2 miles back to the start finish.  I am sure I could have gotten a ride, but even though I was totally OK with the decision, I still did not want to be carted back to the finish.  I want this to all be my decision and on my terms under my own power.  If it is OK for Scott Jurek to make a smart call today and drop it is for me as well.

This guy was awesome all day.  He ran most of the afternoon with his shirt off.  If that Running Beard could talk!

When I return to the start/finish I take off some wet clothing and layer up a bit for the impending darkness.  The second part of a glorious weekend immersed in the ultramarathon community is just beginning.  Hanging out at the finish line I am now able to cheer on all the people finishing their 50-mile races.  For many these are the first ultras they will complete and there is wild celebration for each and every one.  A steady stream of 100-milers come and go.  I take on the role of aid station volunteer and fetch hot cups of soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, or whatever else they might need.  I encourage several who are going out into the fading daylight in just short sleeves to layer-up or at least take something warm with them.  Outside of the contenders on their last loop, most of these other sturdy, courageous souls are in for a long, cold night.

The two best pacers that never got used!  Thanks for being there guys!

Craig and Carla wander back over form their campsite close to the time they were expecting me to finish the next loop.  I know they are disappointed for me, but I assure you, I am way more disappointed for them.  They sacrificed a weekend with their family to come to battle with me and it is over before the fight even really begins.  Craig makes plans to go for a run after dark and get some miles in since he is already planning on running with me and I camp out at the finish line to see if this guy named Ian will break the course record.

Moments after finishing.  The whole running world knows Ian Sharmer now.  12:44!!!

Not long after darkness the somewhat anonymous Ian crosses the line in 12 hours and 44 minutes.  He crushed the record by 32 minutes!  7:38 per mile pace for 100 miles! Now some may be surprised that Ian came from out of nowhere to shock the ultrarunning world on this day amongst a star-studded field of runners.  A more careful examination of his running CV will indicate otherwise.  Ian has been a very fast and competitive 50-miler for a few years and finished in 8th place at Western States this past summer.  Certainly the sun, moon, and stars align for him on this day.  Perfect weather amongst a looming forecast.  A dry and fast course (except for the icy bridges).  Nutrition, hydration, and his stomach all stay in his favor.  We all know how any one of these factors can create a less-than-desired outcome.  Bravo Ian!

Anton crossing the line at 13:18 on a day where at one point the thought of dropping due to an injury crossed his mind.

The next question is going to be is how far behind him is Anton?  How about Hal?  Will they come in below the previous course record of 13:16 as well?  At 13:18 Anton crosses the line.  Minutes after finishing he barely looks like he has even been out for a short training run let alone 100-miles at a sub 8:00 pace.  Hal Koerner is just 7 minutes behind Anton.  At this point many are circulating around trying to grab tidbits of commentary from the runners about their day on the trail and how the race unfolded.  

Hal Koerner was breathing (and coughing) down Anton's neck all day on the way to an amazing 13:25 finish!

Very opportunistically I grabbed a camp chair near a heater at the back of the tent close to where Ian is regrouping and loading up on some hot food.  What a great guy Ian is.  Very affable and talkative I engage in a conversation with him about his day on the trail, how he felt along the way, thoughts in his head, etc.  Just another one of the great people you meet in the running community only he runs 100 miles faster than anyone ever has on US soil!

Anton and Hal also grab chairs just to the other side of me by Ian and I get a front-row seat to how the race unfolded from each of their perspectives.  Anton gives Ian a very good natured “You bastard!” for his stellar effort for the day.  Anton is very gracious and congratulatory.  Hal is beaming that huge grin he carried on his solidly bearded face all day long.  Why not?  He just ran 13:25 for 100 miles!  A short while later and Karl Metzler finishes and joins the rambling dialogue.  Oh just as an aside, Scott Jurek also came back to see them finish and plops down in the chair right next to me.  Now I am not name-dropping because these guys are  running “celebrities”.  Most people on the street will not recognize them or know them by name.  I respect their abilities knowing what a commitment it takes to complete any ultramarathon let alone be competitive at the highest level.  At the end of the day they are regular guys who love running as much as I do, only do it much faster!  All told they hang out for well over an hour and a half.  Scott and I talk for a long time about Vegan stuff, my Cascadias with over 3,000 miles on them, etc. 

Course records and PR's abounded for most of this group.  

Once the elites disperse I go back into full-time crewing mode for the continuing stream of 100-milers braving the elements.  I am also still waiting on my friend Deborah Sexton to finish her 50-miler.  She will be the first one to tell you she is not fast, but she is determined.  After a rough 2nd loop, she is able to rally and finish her 3rd and final loop in strong fashion.  Many more courageous runners trickle in and out of the aid station.  Some come in with beaming smiles on their faces while others are struggling to keep their eyes open.  They are warriors each and every one of them.  During this time Liza Howard comes in as the winner of the women’s field.  She posts a time of 15 hours and 33 minutes as the first woman and 5th overall finisher.  What a class act Liza is.  Until that night I have never had the chance to sit and chat with her.  I play gopher for her and get her some hot food and drinks as she basks in the glow of the space heater and her victory. 

Liza Howard with one of the best in the business, RD Joe Prusaitis.

As we sit there an extremely wobbly and weary looking runner approaches the heater.  I immediately jump up and help him into a chair.  Those of us sitting there quickly recognize the signs of someone whose day is done.  He has just completed his third loop and is shivering very badly and vocally.  I start talking to him to see if he is cognizant enough to have a conversation and see just how bad off he is.  Forming words between his shivering is very difficult for him.  He rejects my initial attempts to get him some hot food, hot chocolate, hot soup, or something.  I persist a bit and he agrees to take some hot chocolate.  I hand him the glass and he tentatively takes a sip and resumes rocking back and forth as his entire body shivers.  He tells me that he has taken a pretty good fall and it is hard to breathe deep and his shoulder hurts pretty badly.  I begin to look for the race medical director because it is obvious this guy could be in real trouble.  In the meantime, he falls asleep while sitting in the chair and begins to spill his drink.  

Liza makes a quick save to keep him from being cold and wet and the doctor now has his full attention.  She starts with his vitals while asking him questions about his condition.  Turns out he is a surgeon himself.  His blood pressure is kind of low so we help him lie on the ground and get his feet elevated above his head.  We pack 4-5 blankets around him and start putting hand warmers and hot water bottles next to his skin to help raise his core temperature.  I ask him if there is anyone we can call.  All he can say is “Tom, Holiday Inn Suites, Rm 208.”  I get Tom on the phone and assure him that his friend is getting great care and will be OK, but is in pretty bad shape.  At this moment I realize that that could have easily been me later in the evening had I decided to continue.  Before the night is through 4 other people will be transported to the hospital for hypothermia and another for a badly broken leg.  Running 100-miles is difficult and rewarding, but it can also be dangerous if you do not keep your wits about you.  Joe and his crew always look out for the safety of runners and put necessary precautions/safeguards in place.  In the end you are responsible for yourself, but we all look out for one another.

Breakfast with Ian on Sunday.  We will hear more from this guy!

Shortly thereafter, Deborah and I gather our drop bags and head back to the hotel for hot showers, warm beds, and a good night’s sleep.  While the shower was great and the bed was comfortable, I would have much rather been out there kicking Loop 4’s arse!  I drift off to sleep sending positive energy out to my many running friends who are bravely trudging through the cold, dark night. 

Gerard and I at the start.

One person in particular comes to the forefront of my mind.  Gerard Martinez.  He is a 25-year-old law student who is relatively new to running, let alone running Ultramarathons.  Gerard and I have become good friends over the last year due to our common love of all things ultrarunning.  We first met at Badwater last year while pacing different runners.  He is on quite the journey.  Visit his blog here:   If you do not take inspiration away from this young man’s story we may need to check your pulse.  Back in October he DNF’d at Cactus Rose after getting severely lost and missing the cut-off times.  I believe he ended up covering 90 miles of the most rugged course in Texas before it was painfully obvious he was going to run out of time.  There is never any shame at a DNF at Cactus Rose after giving your all.  That course has chewed up and spit out all variety of runners.

I saw Gerard out on the course several times throughout the day.  A few times I saw him he did not appear to be having his best day by his responses or his body language.  We would  encourage each other and we would both keep moving on.  I really wanted him to be able to keep it together, hold on during the night, and rally to find the strength to get it done.  When it comes to heart and perseverance there is no doubt he has the right stuff and he is committed to his training and nutrition as well.  When I wake up in the morning it is close to 9:00.  I wonder who finished when?  Did Gerard finish?  I know he runs with his phone so I sent him a text around 10:00.  A minute later the phone rings and the caller ID lets me know it is him.  I skip the pleasantries of hello, etc and get right to the point.  “Did you finish?!”  He responds that he is at about mile 98 and moving!  He’s going to make it!  To me seeing this milestone in his evolution take place is the highlight of the entire weekend for me.  Over the past year we have both taken much inspiration from each other.  Here is a quick video clip of him crossing the finish line Sunday morning over 28 hours after starting:  Gerard's finish at RR100

On the ride home I get to thinking:  Where does all this leave me in my journey not only in running but my own personal evolution in life?  As far as running goes I think I may have lost sight a bit in the pure joy of running for running’s sake.  I believe I became a little bit too event/distance/time focused.  The events are great and the camaraderie with all the great people is a big part of why I love running ultras.  When you boil it all down most of the time it is just you out there with your own thoughts and testing the limits of your body and spirit. 

These are the moments I live for out on the trail...

I think I need to get back to some basics.  Late night runs under a full moon with nothing but the sound of my feet crunching on a trail.  Solo boondoggle runs under the cover of darkness where the only spectator is the guy working the graveyard shift at 7-11 where I refill my water bottles.  Forget about time and distance.  Henry Hobbs and the trail marking crew always post interesting quotes around the course at races.  This particular one grabbed me:  “Where ever you are, be there.”  Lately I have caught myself too focused on where I am going, where I need to go, or what time or how long it should take me to get there. 

Lisa and some friends enjoying her "backyard".

To that end there are only 2 organized events I am going to keep on my calendar for 2011 at this point.  Pacing at Badwater and running Lisa Smith-Batchen’s inaugural Grand Teton’s 100-miler in September.  Other than that I am going to take my running moment-by-moment and revel in each beautiful stride.  I am sure I may find myself at some other organized events, but I will be the guy with the biggest grin on his face enjoying each step.  And if everything clicks, I might even be fast that day.

I’ll close with a quote that was shared with my by a kindred spirit runner-poet, La Mariposa.  She did not write these words but brought them to my attention and she certainly embodies them in her every moment.

Apache chief and medicine man Geronimo.

I was warmed by the sun, rocked by the winds, and sheltered by the trees.  I ran free, where the wind blew with nothing to break the light of the sun, where there were no enclosures. I lived peacefully. I ate well, slept well, running everywhere with a good feeling. We have an oath, not to do anything wrong to one another, or to scheme, or deceive one another. While living, I will always live well.”

-Goyathlay (Geronimo)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Testing My Soul...yet again.

The prize:  Rocky Raccoon sub-24 hour buckle

This weekend I get to yet again toe the line at a 100-mile endurance trail run.  Rocky Raccoon down in Huntsville, TX.  This year’s edition is extra delicious with an amazing field.  Runners are registered from at least 35 different states and 8 different countries at last count.  Top talent abounds this year.  Jurek, Krupicka, Meltzer, Gingerich, Koerner and many others will set a blistering pace in the men’s race.  Connie Gardner and Liza Howard will definitely be mixing it up with the boys.  Sort of a mini-Super Bowl of trail running in our backyard here in Texas

At 3% body fat, Dean is a lean machine.

While the star power is bright this year, it always comes down to me alone on the trail testing the limits of my soul.  Dean Karnazes can draw a mixed response from many in the hard-core trail running community.  Some say he is too much about self-promotion.  I tend to disagree.  Anyone I have ever known to have met him has always said to a person that he is extremely gracious and genuine to everyone that he meets.  I greatly admire Dean and the message he spreads about living a healthy, fulfilling life full of adventure.  The following quote captures the essence of what I relish about doing extremely long and difficult Ultramarathons:

"As for why I continue to push the limit, I believe the modern world might have things a bit confused. I think we have become so comfortable, we’re miserable. Personally, I never feel more alive than when I am in extreme pain and discomfort, when I’m pushing my mind and body to the absolute extreme. This is when I feel most whole and in touch with the universe." -Dean Karnazes

Here I am feeling whole and in touch with the universe after a 50-mile race before vomiting for 6 hours.

Over the past few years I have dug deep within myself and extracted the true essence of myself by pushing beyond all of my previously-held self-imposed limitations.  Physical and mental.  As I fill the gaps in my physical capabilities and extend the distance and effort levels I can sustain, the mental horizon is ever-expanding.  I continue to be amazed at the raw power of one’s own mind to carry someone beyond thresholds thought to be unattainable or impossible.  Impossible is nothing. 

This weekend running 100 miles will present numerous, obvious physical challenges.  The course may be pretty sloppy from rain.  In the later stages of the race this gets magnified.  Nutrition and hydration strategies can always go awry.  It will be cold.  Many of these factors combined can conspire against you being successful on any given day.  This causes severe discomfort and pain at times.  It will be uncomfortable and downright painful at times.  That is a given.  Whether or not I am miserable is up to me.  This is where I get to smile and embrace the difficulty that I have purposefully sought out and find the fortitude to persevere. 

David Goggins:  One hard individual.

Mental strength is the single biggest factor in whether or not I will be successful on this day.  I am resolved now to persevere through any hardship.  That is easy to say right now while I am sitting snugly in a Starbuck’s watching the snow swirl around on a day where the wind chill is -2 degrees.  Doubt is the great enemy of the mind that allows weakness to sneak in.  Will I have the strength to win that battle so I can win the day? 

The course at Rocky Raccoon consists of five, 20-mile loops.  There is a certain mental challenge to doing loops.  My plan is to very conservatively run the first 3 loops through the daylight hours.  The fight with doubt, uncertainty, and weakness will occur on the fourth loop.  Once you leave the start/finish and begin the fifth loop you feel as if you are on the home stretch and you will crawl if you have to.  At the beginning of the fourth loop I will be facing about 8-10 more hours of running after already having covered 60 miles.  It will be getting dark and the temperature will plummet.  The biggest drop in energy levels happens during this time.  Physically and mentally.  Glycogen stores are getting pretty depleted overall and brain function diminishes.  Doubt senses this vulnerability and will jump at the chance to infiltrate this chink in the armor. 

Every man dies.  Not every man really lives!

I am putting Loop 4 on notice right now.  The fight is on and I am taking it to you!  We are throwing down and you are going down!  If I would not sweat it off so quickly, I would paint my face blue, don a running kilt, and give blood-curling cry of Frrreeeedddddoooommmm!, and run you down Loop 4!  I will return from this fight with my shield or upon it.  And when I turn the corner and begin Loop 5, I will smile and enjoy every step of that final loop.  Relishing in the fact that I am running through the woods on a blustery winter night reaching new depths of my soul as my spirit carries my along the trail.

I am generally very Zen-like in my approach to running and life in general.    But when Loop 4 starts all that goes out the window.  For this loop I am adopting David Goggin’s mantra of “Show no Weakness”.  The battle lines have been drawn.  I will emerge victorious.

Lisa Smith-Batchen completing a leg of her 50-miles in 50 states in 2010.  She personifies Courage and strength.