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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dovi and Me: Fear of Failure

Dovi and Me: Fear of Failure: Well, I completely fell flat on my face at the San Juan Solstice 50 miler.  It was an amazing trip/experience with some really great...

Fear of Failure

Well, I completely fell flat on my face at the San Juan Solstice 50 miler.  It was an amazing trip/experience with some really great friends.  We camped in the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, we ran Hope Pass, we hung out in Lake City with many really fun ultra-people, and, best of all, I got to see some incredible sights.....the kinds of things you only see when you run ultras.

David Hill and winner Paul Hamilton

Tony Cesario getting the campsite ready

Tony Cesario and I on Hope Pass

Chey Hasemeyer triumphing at Hope Pass

I knew going into it that San Juan Solstice would be a tough 50 miler, but I would have never guessed that I would have my ass handed to me at mile 15.7!!  I ran at a comfortable pace and worked my way up and down the first climb/ascent at what I thought was a fair pace.  Nonetheless, at the second aid station I learned that I was being cutoff.  That's never happened to me before.  I was really surprised.  I'll be back again to try next year.

But make no mistake about it.  I failed to finish.

I have tried to think of words to describe the San Juan Mountains to you guys.  I'm sorry, I just can't.  It's like nothing I have ever seen in my life.  I've traveled quite a bit this year.  Being on top of the San Juan's is like giving a handshake to god.  You are surrounded by the most awesome and humbling's indescribable.

I may have paused here too long.

Lake City

Next up for me is the Angeles Crest 100.  One of the hardest 100 mile races in the country.  It will be hot.  It will be mountainous.  I will be dealing with these two elements that I have not had the luxury of training in.  It's outside my skill level.  It will hurt.  I may fail again.  Miserably.

I realize I have chosen a sport that entails a certain degree of uncertainty.  If you know someone that has never failed to finish a race, they probably either haven't been racing long enough, or haven't tried anything hard enough to push their limits.  Some people try to excuse their fears, joke about them or brush them under the table and chalk their ultimate failures up to circumstances beyond their control.  I've found that this community of ultra runners is extremely supportive of a specific kind of runner - one I believe I am becoming - the mediocre person that isn't afraid to haul ass head first at a failure waiting to happen.

But make no mistake about it.  I'm scared.  I am really afraid I may fail.  I'm afraid that after my wife and I spend thousands of dollars to make this trip happen and I get cut off at mile 40 she will tell me that my successes to this point may have been a fluke and it might be time to find a new hobby.

This fear of being discovered as a fraud isn't new.  On my first day of college I felt like I had somehow sneaked in under the admissions radar.  That suspicion continued well into law school, the bar exam, my first legal job and today.  In fact, the next time I step up in front of a judge I will have a passing fear that the judge will discover I am a fraud and I have no business practicing law.

Similarly, at times I believe my wife must have caught me on a good day.  I'm not that handsome and I'm not that nice.  Sometimes I fear she will look over at me and let me know that I'm really not as awesome as she thought I was - and tell me and my collection of rather smelly clothes to take a hike.

We all live with these fears.  I know I'm not alone.

What's the point?  Facing these fears head on is what makes us feel alive.  My sincere fear is that there will come a time in early August that my feet will be raw and the majority of my body will be chaffed.  The sun will be beating on my head and it will be over 90 degrees.  I will have not slept in 30 hours and my wife and pacer will both decide once this race is over they are done with me.  I'll be looking up at Mount Wilson and wishing I was dead. 

Then I will face that fear and finish the race.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Comrades - An unexpected reaction to a legendary race

I've known about the Comrades a Marathon since reading "A Step Beyond" when I first became an Ultrarunner.   The book has a chapter on must do races.  The Comrades is #1 on the must do list.

The specs a history of the race are the subjects of numerous books.  It's the world's oldest and biggest ultramarathon.  18,000 participants.  89k. (Around 56 miles).  It's a road race that changes directions annually.  One direction is more up than down. The other is the opposite.  This year was a down year.

It took forever to get to South Africa.  From Chicago to Munich to Johannesburg to Cape Town where I spent a week relaxing, touring and running along the ocean.  To say it was beautiful would be an understatement.  Within hours I was in love.  From the coastal scenery, to the roadside zebra...the sights, sound, smells and tastes were like nothing I have ever experienced.  By day two my wife and I were already discussing the next time we visit.  I could write three blog posts about the first week of this trip alone....but we had to leave Cape Town and fly to Durban for the race.

We arrived two days before the race and were warmly welcomed.  The whole city was about Comrades.  Everyone was wearing Comrades apparel.  The energy was intense.  The whole town was buzzing.

In the morning I had the pleasure of doing a shakeout run with some of the other Americans, Michael Wardian and British phenom Jo Meek (who would go on to finish 5th).  They were so nice.  It was amazing.

The expo was typical.  Booths of vendors, chaos, excitement, energy.   There was a great display of the history of Comrades.  Many people complained about the lines and the fact that a lot of the race branded products were sold out.   It didn't seem too unusual to me.   It became clear that this race is extremely important to it's participants.  In fact, your bib indicates how many finishes you have.   It also indicates your name and whether you are an international participant which provides a good conversation starter during the race.  "where you from Scott?"

I woke up at 1:00 am.  After a breakfast spread put on by the hotel we (me and a small group of strangers from Germany that I found myself with) headed out looking for the buses.  It took some scaling of fences but we got it done.

After an extremely long bus ride through Durban I found myself at the start of the race, in Pietermaritzburg jamming into my corral.  It was interesting being around so many different people, different languages, etc.  The excitement was extreme.

The start of the race was amazing.  Chills.  We started with the National Anthem.  followed by the song Shosholoza.  Everyone was arm in arm singing.  It was moving. I cried a little.  After this they played a traditional recording of a rooster and the theme from chariots of fire.   Then a cannon blasted and off we went.

We started in the dark.  We had to stay on out toes to avoid tripping on the clothing on the trail.  I quickly learned a few things.  1) this race was not going to be easy; 2) the "down" run wasn't really down, or all down, or didn't feel down.  This race was brutal.  It was warmish, in the 80's and we were constantly either running up (too steeply) or down (too steeply).   My goals going into this race were to : 1) finish; 2) NOT spend my only run across Africa worrying about my time.  I accomplished both.  (11:03ish).

A few initial observations.  No headphones allowed and people really didn't use them.  I felt self conscious about it and only used them twice for about 15 minutes.  The race was painstakingly marked by kilometer (which I have no sense of).  I didn't like that aspect.  I like not knowing.  Also, aid stations were every couple of kilometers.   They served water and an extremely sweet endurance drink out of plastic tubes that you had to bite to squirt water out of.  They also had some random fruit, potatoes and energy bites.  I also had some GU's.  The spacing and type of food effected me, but not to a degree that it made a difference.

People were extremely friendly.  I met many people while running.  I even stopped at one point to meet a Doberman and her owner was the head of a Doberman Rescue in SA.  With the exception of the presumably drunk person near the end that yelled "be a man and run faster," every single person running, spectating and/or working at the race was AMAZING and acted as if my finish was personal to them.  My bib had my name and people used it.  I can't say enough about how important this event the entire country.

I struggled.  I figured I would take it conservative until the halfway point and then cruise the down portion comfortably.  From a running perspective none of it was comfortable.   4,000 feet of vertical climbing over 56 miles.  It was crazy.  I wasn't prepared for it.   I did quite a bit of walking.

I made it to the finish in 11:03.  The race ends through the streets of downtown Durban and then into a huge stadium which is PACKED.   Everyone was screaming my name.  It felt like I won the Super Bowl.   I'll never forget that.

I learned a lot about life, the world, and myself on this trip.   In Cape town we stayed in a really upscale area and only saw the poorer neighborhoods on occasion (and quickly turned around).  During the race the magnitude of the poverty many South Africans live in completely devastated me.  I made a point of high fiveing every child on the course that was near me.  Sometimes with two hands.  Sometimes to the detriment of my race.  They wanted anything I could give them, but they settled for a touch.  They collected the clothing we threw away, they collected the unused water tubes and food.  I looked deeply into their eyes as they sang Shosholowza to me.  I thought about them every time I heard that song for the rest of the race and it brought me to tears.  I spent much of the race in a state of extreme sadness.   Seeing the wealthy folks later in the race only made that feeling worse.

I realize the race brings money and good to the community.  I know only a few of you will really understand this, those of you who have been there.  There's nothing wrong with the Comrades.  It was amazing.  But I can't lie, the poverty and sadness ruined the experience for me.  I completely broke down in tears of sadness at the finish.  I will forever be haunted by the looks on their faces.  I'm crying as I write this on the plane ride home.  A part of me is ashamed to live in a world where it is OK for people to live like that.  If I ever return it will be with something more for that community than high fives.

Strava Data:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Old People Have Ruined Facebook

I decided that during my vacation I would take a minute and write a few non-running related posts that I have always wanted to take time to write about.

I missed the MySpace era.  I didn’t join Facebook until the late 2000’s, and I basically only joined it to have an efficient way to schedule and meet up with running friends.  It seems that every year more and more moms and dads and grandparents join Facebook.  In fact, kids don’t use Facebook much at all anymore.  

As a consequence, it has become one of the most stale, narcissistic, socially awkward and annoying cyber-locations ever. 

Yes, I realize at 42 I may technically be an “old person” in the eyes of many.  I also note that the fact that I even have a Blog makes me, to a degree, a narcissist.  Nonetheless, I’m going to take a minute to let you all know the dirty secret that many of your friends are irritated by your Facebook posts.  Your Fakebook posts.  You’re whining, unimaginative, lack of intellect and humor status updates that no one (and I’m actually including the people that “like” them) cares about.  Let me give you a few examples.
  1. Weather Posts.  NEWSFLASH!  If I have Facebook I have a computer or smartphone.  As such, IF I am unwilling or unable to experience the weather outside on my own, I already have a very advanced device to fill me in on it.  Every day it is below 20 it isn’t “COLD!!!!” and every day it is over 80 it isn’t “HOT!!!!!”  I know this snow or rain might have seemed substantial to you, but trust me, no matter what your alarmist mom or grandpa has said it isn’t.  Please don’t post about the weather. 
  2. Kids and Pets.  I love my dog.  I love my dog as much as anyone has ever loved anything, ever.  Nonetheless, I am mindful that everything he does isn’t cute.  You don’t care about most of the things he does.  I may post a good pic or a funny story now and then, but I am mindful that everyone doesn’t think everything my dog does is cute, funny or interesting.  I think the same applies to your children, dog, cat, ferret or the like.  I bet I would love them.  But I don’t need to be updated about everything they do on Facebook.  Every picture of them isn’t cute.  Everything they do isn’t FB worthy.  (But there will be an alternative described to you below).
  3. Throw Back Thursday.  Can we just end this?  Please?
  4. Talking to people that can’t hear you.  As a rule of thumb you should not post messages communicating with people that have no chance of reading your post.  This includes: sports teams, deceased family members, famous people that don’t follow you on Facebook, your infant or your pet.  I realize that some people feel better paying tribute to loved ones that are gone publicly, but it really creeps many of us out.  Think about it this way….if we were all at brunch together would you say it?  If not, consider deleting that post before you make it.
  5. Expressions to the person on the couch next to you.  Imagine you came to my house for dinner and in the middle of it I went on a long very personal rant about how much I love my wife.  Would you feel a little creeped out?  I would.  How about if I we had an argument and said mean things to each other in front of you?  Everyone loves that!  Instead of telling them how much you love them/hate them on the internet do something productive for your relationship and communicate with (only) them.  Another phenomenon I don’t get is the ‘routine daily life spouse post.’  “Looks like we’re watching survivor tonight…I’ll pick up a pizza.”  Really?  You should find a more private way to make your evening plans than on Facebook.
  6. Share if you Care.  Changing your FB picture or posting a picture of something related to a holiday doesn’t show you care about something.  In fact, very often when I see these posts I imagine that the person’s only contribution to the cause in question IS the FB post.  Instead of posting a picture of your mom and telling us how much you love her (even though she’s not on FB to appreciate it) how about going to her house and doing something for her?  Just because you posted a picture of a tragedy you have not become part of the solution.  And the fact that I don’t share it doesn’t mean I care any more or less than you do.  Save your abused animal shots, your inspirational memes.  Go out in the world and do something. 
  7. Politics.  I love news and politics.  Not on FB.  There’s no discourse.  There’s no fact checking, there’s no listening…only talking.  It’s not the time or place.  If you think your pro-life, pro-choice, anti-X and/or political rants have changed anyone’s minds you are delusional.
  8. Selfies.  By selfies I’m talking about both you and your food.  I’ve posted about ten food pictures in my life.  I’ve been interested in 0.  Let’s just agree not to do it anymore.  If you must take a selfie: 1) don’t hold up your phone in front of a mirror; 2) I don’t want to see the toilet behind you; and 3) PLEASE try to make it fun.
  9. Boring Posts.  Before you hit send ask yourself, would I be interested in this if someone else posted it?  Only a few of the details of your life are interesting to most of us, and only in a general way.  If you are exploring the great wall of China I might be attracted to your every move.  If it is laundry day I might not need status updates.  If you’re feeling sad I may care if you post about it once.  By the third time you lost me.  This category can save the others.  If I see a food, dog, weather, political, etc. post that is funny, interesting, thought provoking, etc. I actually appreciate it.  But for god’s sake if you’re going to be boring be boring at home, not on FB.
  10. There is hope for you.  Many people are unaware of the fact that FB allows you to make friends lists and post to those groups.  For instance, I have a group called “running” and a group called “non-running.”  I try to keep my running posts to my running friends.  I have seen people do this with Yoga, Children, Politics, Family, etc.  Here’s how it works:  1. Make a list of all of your friends that you already know LOVE [X] stamp collecting like you do.  Put those friends on a FB Friend List Called “Stamp Collecting.”  Then make two posts:
A.    “If you are seeing this post I have added you to a friends list called Stamp Collecting where I will make most of my stamp collecting posts.  If you do NOT want to see my posts about Stamp Collecting that’s OK, just “like” this post and I will remove you from the list and you will not see those posts.”
B.    “If you are seeing this post I have not added you to a friends list I have made for all my stamp collecting posts.  If you DO want to see my posts about Stamp Collecting that’s OK, just “like” this post and I will add you to the list and you will see those posts.”

Many people are unaware of this feature, which is a shame.  The other benefit to managing your friends lists is that you can just watch a particular group in your feed depending on what you are interested in.  For more help just search on FB re: Managing Friend’s Lists. 
I know this post might seem harsh and offensive to you.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of several of the above.  Hopefully it at least gave someone something to think about.

Friday, May 16, 2014


My next adventure is to travel to South Africa to run the Comrades Ultramarathon.  The Comrades is an approximately 56 mile road race run in Africa between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. the direction is changed every year from "Up" to "Down," and vice versa.  this year is a "Down" year so I will be starting in Pietermaritzburg and running to Durban.

It is the world's largest and oldest ultramarathon.  Approximately 18,000 people will be participating.  There is a strict twelve (12) hour cutoff to make it the distance.  I will be dealing with some different kinds of food and nutrition.  I will be treated to many locals and attractions along the way.

Although I do not believe I will struggle with the cutoff, I do not intend to run the race as quickly as I can.  I do not know if I will ever be in Africa again, so I do not want to spend the race looking at my watch or doing math in my head.  I am going to run at a comfortable pace, listen to some traditional South African music and enjoy the entire experience.  I may need to stop and take a picture or two.

Prior to the race I am spending a week relaxing and resting in Cape Town, which looks like one of the prettier cities I have ever seen.  My wife and I will be shopping (for fabric) exploring and just plain relaxing. (As if the 30 hour flight each way isn't going to give me enough time to relax).

 While I am gone I hope many of you (Melissa Pizarro) will be training your asses of for the Kettle Moraine 100.  I'll be there pacing and crewing.  Have a great Memorial Day holiday!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Marathon Training is a Big Fat Lie

One of the nine people that actually read this blog asked me what I've been up to.  So I thought it was time for a short post about what is new and noteworthy.

April was about training  After healing from Potawatomi I tried to ramp mileage back to around 80-90 miles per week.  The overall goal in April and May is weight loss to try to make climbing the mountains of the San Juans and the San Gabriels a little bit easier.  I've been running well and really enjoying the training.  The Flatlander Ultrarunners have been interested in a lot of group runs in interesting places.  That really helps.

I also had an opportunity to pace two good friends - Tony Cesario and Alfredo Pedro Perro at the Indiana Trail 100.  Both finished.  It was a great time and a great race.  I am definitely putting it on my to do list. I really enjoy pacing.  I think it is an important part of giving back to the sport.  If you haven't done it you should.  

The sub 24 Hour crew!

Todd and Siamak

Alfredo Pedro Perro

In late May I am scheduled to run the 56 mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa.  One needs to "qualify" for the race by running a sub 5 hour marathon or a longer distance within certain time restraints.  Those restraints are not conducive to people like me that run at the back of the pack in tougher type trail races.

I thought I had my qualifier.  Three days before the deadline I determined that I was wrong and that I needed to go run a marathon within three days.  All I needed to do was break 5 hours.  BUT I needed to get to Kenosha Wisconsin in rush hour traffic, sign up, go home, get a few hours of sleep, pack, and drive back at 4 a.m.  And nothing could go wrong in the interim.  

I ran (plodded) road marathons for many years before I became an ultra runner.  In those years I was taught many keys to marathon running: the virtue of the taper, training programs, speed work, proper planning and race execution, etc. etc.  I'm sure someone will argue with this point, but some marathoners tend to be over planners, somewhat superstitious and ritualistic (okay, douchey).  What I was about to do ran counter to everything I was taught about marathoning.  No specific training.  No planning.  I had run 90ish miles the week before and I already had 40 miles of training that week.  I did no speedwork.  I barely slept the night before.  I threw my gear together last minute (including some 'seasoned' Hokas) and the entire thing was executed by the seat of my pants.

Now, of course, four other members of the Flatlander Ultrarunners hopped on board.  If you want people to make bad decisions at the last minute which are running related, join an ultrarunning group.( #crazypeople #bandwagoners)

I set the "virtual partner" on my watch to five hour pace, stuffed a bunch of salted caramel gels in my waist pack, and ran by feel staying ahead of that qualifying time -- with no race plan whatsoever.

My prior PR was 3:50.  To attain that time (my first sub 4:00 marathon) I lost weight, did speedwork and tapered.  I was also about 20 pounds lighter than I am now.  Although I had a secret goal of beating that time I was realistic about the fact that it was unlikely.  

At the halfway point I was shocked to see a clock that read 1:47.  I knew that was too fast, but I started to negotiate with myself that if I could hang on a bit longer I would break 4 hours.  I stopped at every other water station, stood still and drank.  I made two bathroom stops.  I petted one dog.

I resisted the urge to look at my watch the entire second half.  (Not a peek).  The negotiations continued mile by mile.  I think the fact that I started passing many people in the last 6 miles really inspired me.  In the last two miles I probably passed 50 people.  When I turned the corner to the finish line I had NO idea what the clock might say.


I was shocked.  Every mile I ran in the race was faster than my average training pace.  I have absolutely no idea how that happened.  Could it be the extra weight? The lack of speedwork?  The failure to taper? part of me thinks it was not looking at my watch.  I guess I'll never know.  But the experience led me to the (tongue in cheek) conclusion that marathon training is a big fat lie.  My best guess is that taking all of those "truths" out of the equation and remembering that its just running makes all the difference.

*I realize that half (meaning 4 or so of you) of the readers will say "Just imagine if you trained right..."  We will probably never know.  

Next up....Comrades!!!!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

New Beginnings


          Well, it certainly has been a crazy March/April!  In mid March a group of friends and I decided to set up a small informal ultra running Facebook Group so that our friends could connect and meet for runs and talk about ultra running.  Little did we know that it would develop into a close to 200 person club.  As you may guess, this created quite a bit of administrative work, as well as conflict.  All's well that end's well because I now have a way to run with my friends without any drama, commercialism or superimposed authority figures.  The group is called the Flatlander Ultrarunners in Chicagoland.  The website is:

          And our Facebook group can be found at:

          So far we have a great group of hardcore ultra and trail runners.  I think it is going to be a solid group.

          The other thing I did in March was train my ass off for the Potawatomi Trail Races 150 Mile race.  I came up about 50 miles short, DNF'ing at mile 100.  I went into the race confident and well trained.  My wife Kylia was there to crew me throughout and all my friends were there.  The race also has the best RD's around.  They treat everyone like family.  In the first few loops I ran a little too fast and had way too much confidence.  I really believed I would finish 150 miles and break 48 hours.  My training and experience at SOB 50 really paid off!

          Then I got sleepy.  Then my feet started to hurt.  Then they started to hurt even more.  I knew by mile 70 that it wasn't going to be my day.  Between the streams and the blisters I reached a point where it was a reality that I wasn't moving fast enough to finish 150 miles within the cutoff.  ( became clear that I wasn't tough enough, trained enough or talented enough to push through what I was experiencing and finish anyway).  It's a tough call.  I'll let you decide.

          Fortunately for me I was sent ultra angels from the heavens.  My friends Tony, Joy, Matt, Julie and Eric formed a group of people that were changing to a goal of only running 100 miles.  We stuck together.  We laughed.  We labored.  We made it to 100 miles and got our 100 Mile DNF Buckle.  I consider it a great day.  I consider it a learning experience.  It was both a 150 DNF and a 100 finish.  Looking back, I know I made the right decision.

          The highlight of March/April was watching my friends finish at Potawatomi and cheering for them at the Mad City 100k.  I have to admit, I can't watch a finish line without tearing up.  I love watching others succeed.  Even in the face of my own failure.  I don't want to list you all.  You know who you are.  I want you to know that you amazed and inspired me.  I can't get enough of your success.

50 Mile Finisher - Tony Silvestri

Last second decision to run 100 - FINISHER - Katerina Claiborne

150 Mile Finisher - Melissa Pizarro

First 100 - Jeff Moss

150 Mile Finisher - Tiffany Dore

What it is all about

          What's next?  I am pacing Alfredo Pedro in the Indiana Trail 100.  After that, I need to train my ass off for the Comrades Marathon in Africa followed shortly thereafter by the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler.  I have some work to do!