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Monday, August 29, 2016

Focus On The Things That Matter



Sometimes we forget about the things that matter most.  It seems like the new norm brought on in part by social media, sensationalist news reporting and the ever growing narcissism of our lives is to be focused on others.  What others are outraged about, what they have, what they are doing and how they are feeling, to the detriment of our own introspection.

I've fallen victim to this far too often.  It struck me this weekend.  I had two longer, more intense runs scheduled.  One of hills, and the other of a long run.  You see, I'm signed up for the Bear 100 at the end of this month and I should be starting to taper.  Instead, I'm trying to ramp up my mileage and run up to it.

But for some reason, all I could think about was reading a book on my swing on my yard with the dog...and I didn't know why.  I know that if I am to have any chance of succeeding in the race I need to train.  I need to focus on cramming these workouts into my already way too busy life (which is extra busy because of all the talking and planning about doing the Bear 100 as well).  And somewhere in all that busy-ness, stress, planning, training, straining and logistic-ing....I said fuck it, when home early and read a book on the yard with my dog,


I wonder what this means?  am I focusing too much on what other people think?  Have I forgotten about what's important?  The Bear 100 isn't going anywhere and if I don't care about it enough to train then why am I going?  So I find myself at a crossroads.  Cancel the flight, enjoy the fall and focus on winter races or spend the next month stressing out about not being ready for the Bear and trying to cram for it.

I think what matters most is allowing myself to change my mind and do the things I want to do.  I think when running (not unlike running groups and friendships) feel more like a job than fun it is time to do some self-examining.  My mind isn't made up, but I do know what is most important, and I'm definitely starting to steer the ship to that more now.  Because it's just running.  And running is just a pastime.  It shouldn't feel like a work project I fear I won't finish.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On a plane home from Leadville.

Sunrise at the Leadville 100


This weekend I had a chance to do something I really love that is unique to the trial and ultra world  - crewing (Carrying supplies and meeting a runner at places along the trail) and pacing (running with the runner in later stages of a race to offer support and safety) a runner in a 100 mile race.  Our runner, Adam Benkers, was a Flatlander who had never ran mountains or at altitude before.  Nonetheless, he was pushed off the cliff to sign up for the Leadville 100 - the "Race Across the Sky," which happens entirely at it above 10,000 feet of atlltitude and has two 2,500 foot climbs to 12,600.

Adam, John and I had many adventures packed into a few short days in Leadville.  We reunited with our old friend Dusty (Pacer of the Century) Bill Dooper (Ultra running fan of the century) Patrick Sweeney (Beer mile Yoda) and Jen Coker (Boxed wine enthusiast) Vanessa and Shaky Runs....and so many more.  We were lucky enough to rub elbows with Leadville 100 winner Ian Sharman, Western States champion Tim Olson and Max King.  

Johnny D, Adam and Box of Wine
Dustball and Me

We raced a beer mile. (4 beers and 4 quarter miles). 



We discussed complicated race strategies while playing Yahtzee.



We attempted to climb a 14'er (Mount Quandry) only to be turned back at 13k by a storm....but we did make a new friend.  



We woke up at 4 am to see the start of the race and tracked it and our runner Adam all day. Eventually the effects of running at altitude caused him to miss a time cutoff, ending his day at mile 50. Nonetheless, we had an amazing time and it felt like we were in Leadville for weeks when it was only days.  

If you get a chance to pace or crew someone in a 100 mile race, Do It!!  the memories are priceless and they will last a lifetime. 



I am going to continue to try to post here weekly.  As some of you may know I am working on a book.  I am trying to get into the habit of physically writing more and this is helping quite a bit.  Thanks so much for reading!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fitness Posts and Narcisism

Last week I shared an article about a Science Daily article (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150521213743.htmwhich discussed a study that concluded that "Facebook status updates about their romantic partner are more likely to have low self-esteem, while those who brag about diets, exercise, and accomplishments are typically narcissists, according to new research."  Many people shared the post and there was a lot of discussion.  Some humor.  Some hurt feelings.  

I should in the interest of full disclosure state that I have never posted any workout related Facebook material.


Me being Awesome at the top of Pinnacle Peak

OK, I have.  But I really don't think the takeaway from the article was: if you post fitness selfies you ARE a narcissist.

Me being Awesome dragging my sled
I think the point that can be taken is that we should ask ourselves what our motivation is for sharing things on social media.  I do know several people that have told me my running posts have inspired them to start running.  That warms my heart.  I've also had several people confess that they un-followed me (or un-friended me) because it was just "look at me running" and "look at this awesome place I ran at" and "look at how awesome I am."  Although I'm not that sure what they are talking about.

Not just being Awesome but looking Awesome at the comrades finish
Over time I have started to think about my motive for my posts, and from time to time check back on my wall and ask "Is there too much me?"  Sometimes I fall short.  Sometimes I look back and say "wow....that's way too much you."  Other times I successfully try to find a way to motivate or inspire people without making it about me.

All the stuff between these hands is Awesome! (sorry Aaron)
I guess other signs that we might be a little too into ourselves are: posting every split, posting every workout, making sure we have the best selfie angle (i.e. if you apply makeup and get into a yoga pose you might be making it about you) posting every meal, posting 50 hashtags, etc.  Do we post about bad runs?  Do we post pictures when we fail?  I know many of us would rather be caught dead than have an embarrassing picture of ourselves show up on Facebook, but it happens. (Just not to me).

My Awesome shirt!
We should also address the "don't judge me" crowd.  We need to come to grips with the fact that EVERYTHING we put on Facebook is, to some extent, a cry for judgment.  I know we don't want to admit it, but each time someone "likes" our post they are judging it (favorably).  We need to come to grips with the fact that when someone posts something negative about us, they are also judging us, just negatively. (Not that this has ever happened to me).

Gordy agrees.  I'm Awesome.  #NotReally


So if you post your 5 mile run and you are more than happy to have 100 people "like" it and 25 people call you "beast mode" you should also be willing to accept the person that says "5 miles isn't that far" or "is this really something that needs to be on Facebook."  You can't say "Don't judge me, unless you think I'm Awesome!  *Note: Race Directors....this applies to you too.  If you are fine with being blown by 100's of satisfied runners you can't bitch about those runners that want to post about their disappointments too.


I think it would be a mistake to simply say "this article is dumb" or "I'm not a narcissist!!"  Instead, I think it gives us some food for thought about our relationship with social media.  No, I'm not saying over-think it.  No, I'm not saying change what you do per se.  But I think we could all learn a lot by looking into our behaviour, especially on social media, asking ourselves why we do what we do and making sure that we are being honest with yourselves and the Facebookland.  This is especially so as more and more of our life begins to be lived virtually.  

Next up for me, crewing and pacing at the Leadville as part of training for the Bear100 while trying to pump out a healthy dose of podcasts.  :)





Monday, August 8, 2016

Running Friends

If you're like me you have two (or more) sets of friends.  Running friends and regular friends.

Most of your regular friends are people you made a decision to become close to for some reason or another.  Maybe they were your neighbor, or you worked together.  Maybe you have a common interest or even a friend in common.  Nonetheless, the common thread with all of these people is that for some reason you decided to create and form a friendship.  These friendships ebb and flow at times based on your common interests.  You switch jobs.  You give up stamp collecting.  You move.  These friends also tend to change.  There are people in my life that were critical connections a decade ago that now....well... I can't even think of their last name.

Flatlanders Dog Days of Summer 8 Hour Fatass 08-06-16

It might just be me, but running friends seem different.  Obviously there are people in your running group or club.  They might start out like the friends described above.  But if you run long enough (meaning a long period of time) or long enough (meaning a really long distance) you might make a different kind of friend.  What I call my "running friends.

I can't tell you some of my running friend's names or what they do for a living.  I might not know the names and ages of their kids.    Nonetheless, the bond that you will make with people on the trails or on really long runs will be, in many way, more intimate than all of the other relationships in your life.  You'll tell them about your chaffage and diarrhea.  You'll tell them all your secret stories from your life, the stuff you would be afraid to tell anyone else, simply because it gets your mind off of the fact that you are suffering and will be for many more hours.  Some of these friends you'll keep in touch with on Facebook or Strava.  Others you won't even think of until the next time you bump into them at a race, and they won't mind your lack of contact at all.  You'll pick up right where you left off. There's just something about running friends that's different.

Sure, there are more than a few narcissists and drama queens and serial assholes, just like in any other social group.  But I submit that running friends are the best friends you'll have.  They'll know just what you need and when you need it.  They'll say the right thing to change your mindset.  They'll believe in you, even when you don't believe in yourself.

So next time you are out on a 30 mile training run, or 3/4 of the way through a long race look to your left and look to your right.  You're next best friend might be right there, waiting for you to lean on them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trail Therapy - and Being in a Hole



I realize I haven't blogged in a while.  There has been a combined overwhelming amount of activity with the Ten Junk Miles podcast, Flatlanders, races and personal issues (health friends and family).  I hope to write more in 2016.  Once in a while someone gets something out of it. It always helps me.

A lot of us in the trail and ultra world, myself included, are a little bit broken.  We were abused or neglected, had drinking, eating, sex, money or gambling problems.  Some of us are running away from things and others are running to things.  It's different for everyone.  One thing many of us do share is using trails and/or running as therapy.



I found running when I was finally sorting out all of the hard times I had been through.  Sometimes when I run I think about my childhood and how extremely unfair it was to experiences the horrors I have been through.  Other times I think my addictions and recovery.  I've thought about the death of my friend Alfredo.  Sometimes I just worry about others.  (Although, to be fair, I do think about jokes from time to time too).

When you are running away from horrors you can forget them on the trail.  Running a marathon, or a 20, 50 or 100 miler sometimes gives you clarity and singularity of focus.  The bills, the kids, the boss, your "baggage" no longer matters.  And when you cross that finish line and they give you the 100 mile buckle you can feel, in a real sense, validated and good enough.  It doesn't matter so much that you've been a shitty friend, husband, co-worker or human being from time to time because, well, look.....you were working on achieving this piece of awesome!  No pain no gain.  You can't make an omelette without cracking a few eggs.  You can forgive yourself.  Others forgive you.  It's all good.



Sometimes we don't know what to do when trail therapy doesn't work.  You see, I have thought about the fact that I might not be the best husband, worker, friend, etc. but that it's understandable based on my circumstances.  I mean, I'm training for X.  It makes me forgive myself for the shortcomings that, between you and me, would normally keep me up at night.

The problem is that when (like now) the running isn't working, it only emphasizes the fact that I fall somewhat short in every other category.  When running is your therapy and your medicine and it stops working, you can get a little lost.  Everything seems ten times worse because you can't feel better by just going for a run.  In fact, the struggle of the run makes it all feel much worse.  And now, "I can't even do this right?"

I think some of the answer lies in removing the results from the calculus and enjoying the run, the friendships and the experience over the result as a way to "get over."  If there's one thing running has given me, its unimaginably good friends that share an intimacy like very few other groups.  To be with another runner, in the woods, sharing my problem makes me feel not so alone.  And as we say in one of my 12 step groups, "You're only as sick as your secrets."



I recently related the story of the guy who fell in the hole to a couple people.  It goes like this:

This guy is walking down the street and he falls in a hole.  The walls are so steep he can't get out.  A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up "Hey, you, can you help me out?"  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on.  Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up "Father, I'm down here in this hole.  Can you help me out?  The priest writes a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by.  The guy yells "Hey Joe, it's me, can you help me out?"  And then the friend jumps in the hole.  Our guy says, "Are you nuts? Now we're both down here."  The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before - and I know the way out."

Bottom line - running fast, running far and running in amazing places can and will help you through almost anything, but nothing beats being able to spill your guts to someone when they don't have time to judge you because they don't want to trip on a root.  Reach out.  We've all been in the hole at some point or another.

And keep running.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Elite-ification of Ultrarunning



Ultra running faces many huge problems because of the rising popularity of the sport.  Doping, cheating and cash prizes at races are likely to further compliment all of this.

For elites 

If you follow ultra running at all your feed has been filled with panic stricken posts and articles about the state of our sport.  People like Ian Sharman (http://www.irunfar.com/2015/12/doping-and-the-effect-on-ultra-and-trail-running-what-to-do-about-cheaters.html), Ethan Veneklasen, Sage Canaday (http://sagecanaday.com/dopinginmutrunning/) and Katie DeSplinter have posted or blogged about it.


Two things brought this into the forefront currently: 

1) an Italian elite runner who was convicted of doping in 2009 (and served a 2 year ban) lined up at the North Face 50 in San Francisco (and failed to finish) http://running.competitor.com/2015/12/news/ultrarunning-at-a-crossroads-is-there-a-growing-doping-problem_141321 ; and 

2) Lance Armstrong won a trail race (corrected....I previously indicated it was a fatass event...that was incorrect).  http://running.competitor.com/2015/12/news/lance-armstrong-wins-35k-trail-running-race-in-california_141905 .

While reading all of the alarm on social media and the pleas that we keep our sport clean I couldn't help but feel like Lance and Elisa were treated a little unfairly and that the general ultra running population was tricked into thinking they should care as much as the elites do about this problem. Which caused me to reflect a bit on the following.

1.     Everyone deserves a second chance.  I've not made it a secret that I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.  That means that for a significant period of my life I lied, cheated, stole and generally mistreated everyone that loved me.  I'm glad that when I decided to right the ship people accepted my apology and let me try to make it up to them.  It would have been easy to say I am out of their lives forever.  What is hard, is allowing for the possibility that people can and do change.

2.     I don't stay up at night worrying about whether the top runners are cheating.  There's always been cheaters.  there always will be cheaters,.  Course cutters, PED users, etc.  There always will be, no matter how much testing is done (unless everyone is tested for every race, as well as outside of racing, which is impossible).  Cheating sucks.  It's bad.  I mean really bad.  I also feel sorry for the person that came in second.  I wish we could live in a world without cheating.

That being said, PED use in ultra running (while totally dumb because there is no money or fame in ultra running) only really impacts elite runners, for now.  So Sage or Ian gets second to a cheater.  The rest of us remain placed at somewhere between 30-400 and although the best athlete might not have won, in an overwhelming number of cases they don't care about us much at all (unless we buy their book, training plan, follow their blog, watch their youtube videos, buy their special gear, etc. etc. etc.)  Moreover, who is going to pay for this testing and regulation??  We all are.  In the form of increased race fees.

3.     Our sport isn't mainstream, becoming mainstram, or anything of the like.  Think on this: ESPN has 3-6 channels dedicated to sports around the clock.  They broadcast the entire hot dog eating championship from Coney Island.  They don't mention Western States.  Mention.  It's a fringe sport, with no prize money, which most people know nothing about.

4.     PED users have an unfair advantage.  True.  So do rich people, people that live at altitude, people with more talent, etc. etc.  Everyone has advantages.  This isn't about leveling the playing field.  Athletes do everything they can to tilt the playing field in their favor.  I don't have a cabin in the mountains.  Some people can't use caffeine, marijuana, some people are lactose intolerant, gluten sensitive, peanut allergy, etc. etc.  The use of PED's is the only avenue in which this level playing field argument comes up.

5.     The integrity of our sport is at risk?  I think not.  Two years ago I went to the Leadville 100 to crew and pace.  I saw Jimmy Dean Freeman running down the trail and come upon a girl that was struggling with her pack.  He stopped to help.  I attended the funeral of my best friend this summer who died of ALS.  You know who was there?  All the ultra runners.  We clean up trails and raise money for causes.  I don't know what it means for the sport to have integrity.  But whatever that is supposed to mean, believe me, ultra running has it.


This discussion brings up a much broader issue that I can't for the life of me figure out.  Why are we, as a sport, so obsessed with elites?  How did we become so convinced that what they do and say, the products they plug, the races they do, matters to the average runner?  True, some of these people are extremely cool and interesting people that are sometimes fun to follow.  Sometimes a neck and neck race between two athletes battling can be exciting to watch.  But social media has us convinced that they are the real interesting thing about this sport.  I think that's wrong.  I think a large percentage of us got into this sport to enjoy a nice easy run in a pretty place with our friends.  We tell stories.  We struggle through scenarios.  We see sunrises and sunsets and, or sad occasions, put each other to rest.

I didn't get into this sport because of [insert famous runner].  I don't really care what place I came in for my age group.  I couldn't name 10 elite marathoners.  Why is it that I can name at least 100 elite ultra runners??

The fact that the sport is moving from the everyday runner to the elite runner is exemplified by what has happened to our media.  Remember when Ultrarunning Magazine used to put all the results in the back of each issue.? Wasn't it cool to see your name and result?  That's gone.  Instead, you can get another coaching article from another coach who is sponsored by the company that sells your shoes, pack, watch or hydration pack. You can learn about someone who can run 50 miles twice as fast as you...including the details of what they eat and how they train.  You can learn about their latest book. You can go to irunfar and read articles by elites, for elites about issues that are important to elites and/or interviews with elites....or....when that gets old ....you can hear them being interviewed on a podcast about how awesome they are.



I'm tired of it.  The competitive, elite, famous, outrage, panic.  I want the focus of my ultra running to return to the reason I came here in the first place.  To jog some easy miles with my friends in pretty places.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

867-5309

I remember growing up as a kid in the 80's.  Playing video games, especially Pac-Man.  I remember the way the game changed once I mastered it, I became convinced that I needed to get to a certain level without "losing a guy" to have a chance of a good game.  If I suffered any early setbacks the rest of the game was useless.  If I was at home I'd just hit reset.  If I had no chance of getting my name on the board there was no point in playing. (Note: I was terrible at Pac-man and I don't know why I used it as an example).  (Note: I kicked ass at Crazy Climber).



I worked  at an aid station at miles 37 and 60 of the Hennepin Hundred this weekend.  For about 15 hours I met numerous runners trying to run fifty or one hundred miles, many for the very first time. If you have never been to an ultramarathon I highly recommend volunteering at one.  You see the human spirit pushed to its brink.  You see suffering on an unthinkable scale (well, it's thinkable, they paid for it, but you get what I mean).  You feel like you are a part of their race.  Your assistance is helping. A tiny part of their success becomes yours.  In summary, it is a VERY rewarding experience.



As I gain experience in these races I observe different things.  In this experience one of the key things I observed was the arbitrary emphasis we seem to put on numbers.  Maybe it is imposed by others. Maybe advertisements, running magazines, movies and books have gotten in our heads.  I don't know where it really comes from and why we care. But we seem to.

I remember (like it was yesterday) my first 5K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, 50 Mile and 100 Mile races.  I don't know why 3.1, 13.1, 26.2, 31, 50 or 100 mattered to me.  Those numbers have no independent value.  It's not like running that exact number of miles means anything other than on magnets, medals and t-shirts.  I don't recall anyone putting any focus on HOW i ran those distances.  I don't recall working on my form or speed.  My place wasn't really important.  I don't remember having a finishing time in mind.  I was convinced somehow that there was value to moving my body that distance.  Among the memories I have of those events, my finishing times and/or goals really don't play a big part in them.



At some point I read that "if you can't break four hours in a marathon you shouldn't even bother."  I then made that time my goal and chased the four hour marathon for years.  I never made it. Once I started focusing on it I stopped enjoying my marathons. I stopped having fun at any event where it became clear my goal wasn't possible. I then completely fell out of love with running and marathoning.  I took a long break and smoked cigarettes and got out of shape.

At some point in 2011/2012 I discovered trail and ultra running.  The crowd was extremely different.  I met characters.  We ate real food.  We talked about "time on our feet" and enjoyed spending hours and hours together on the trail sharing experiences.  I met a new family.  It changed the way I looked at running.  People seldom asked me what my time was.  We didn't talk about age group awards.  No one seemed to talk about "who beat who."  We might discuss who won and marvel at how fast they were, but I honestly felt like no one really put any stock in their time, place, etc.  It was more about the journey and shared experience.  the vibe was cool, laid back and fun.



Somewhere that vibe has been missing from some of the events I have been in lately.  This weekend I talked with many people that were considering quitting. They weren't in pain.  They weren't in danger of failing to finish.  Instead, they were going to drop because they weren't going to meet their goal of finishing in "under 24 hours."  The fact that that goal was unobtainable made them feel their experience was such a failure that they would be better off failing to finish altogether.  What a bunch of bullshit.  What a travesty.  All those miracles happening around them.  All that splendor and beauty.  All those people working tirelessly to help them - and they wanted to throw it away over a number.  It just seemed so arbitrary.  It was such a shame.

I'm not saying goals are bad.  I'm not shitting on accomplishment.  I certainly think people should do their best on the given day.  I also think that if you are injured (and by this I mean *really*injured, like, going to the doctor tomorrow, not the ole "knee acting up" followed by a ten mile run the next day) there's no reason to be a hero.  (I should also probably say I have never come close to running a 100 mile race in less than 24 hours. So feel free to chalk this post up to that if you must).  What I am saying is that we might be starting to make the amazing the enemy of the ideal.

I don't know of a single elite that reads this blog (sniffle).  So I feel pretty safe in saying this.  If you think you are better than someone or had a better race because you ran longer or faster than someone else, ranked higher, won an age group award or got a PR you're kidding yourself.  Stick around and watch the smiles on those finishing near the end of a 100 mile race.  Go see the shock of those finishing their first 5K.  See the "couch to marathon" crowd at mile 26.2 of their first marathon.  Tell me any of these people had a worse race than you.  Just try.



The next time you're considering dropping because you aren't going to make your arbitrary time goal. Try thinking of a reason to stay in the race, rather than a reason to quit.  You meet a lot of great people in the course of a race.  One of them might be you.