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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!

Monday, March 3, 2014



          It has been a brutal winter.  I'm sure you've heard.  There has been a ton of snow and it has been colder than usual.  With that snow and cold came a few of my new, most hated, phenomena: the weather selfie (snapshot of the temperature) the projected forecast panic (a/k/a the "weather alarmist") and the....well......person who's non-stop bitching about the weather keeps it the forefront of your mind constantly.  Many of us took extra days off, hit the treadmill, found an indoor track or, just decided to wait till the weather got better.  Our training suffered.  But more importantly, our mental toughness suffered.

           Let's face it....most of us run with the ability given to us by our genes.  Sure, we may get relatively quicker or slower based on training and weight, but few of us are going from cutoff chasers to lead chasers in our ultra career.  As such, I don't think "running ability" or "training" is the deciding factor in most of our "performance."  

          I have participated in some difficult events.  Some were 100 mile races.  Others were long senseless fat-asses.  When I have been successful (which I define as completing the event) I have chalked that success up to three things:  1) my ability to eat or drink absolutely anything while running ("nailing the nutrition"); 2) the experience gained from long training runs, pacing and crewing those that know more than me (which is almost everyone); and 3) Mental toughness.

          Which brings me to this brutal winter.  Or the soon to come too hot summer.  Let's also include: the rain, snow, darkness and ice.  Let's not forget that when we are training things will happen in our lives: people get sick, family problems, work problems, stress, fear, anxiety, lack of sleep, sleepiness, boredom, sloth and lack of motivation.  All of these things are often used as reasons why we take a day off, skip a run, or explain our poor training.

          Here's a novel idea: if you want to improve your mental toughness these are all EXACTLY the times you need to run the most.  Because guess what?  All of these things can hit you on race day.  So instead of looking at the 50 mph wind outside and complaining about it putting a damper on your training see it as what it really is:


Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Last year I spent a week running in California and tackling a tough 50 miler (Ray Miller 50) in an effort to give myself a wake up call on some tough trails.   It worked.   I consider it a major reason why I was able to finish my first 100 miler (Potawatomi 100) and my first Hardrock Qualifier (Superior Trail 100).   This year I decided to do it once again at the inaugural Sean O' Brien 50 miler in Calabassas, CA. 

Unlike last year, I brought some company.  Melissa, Cory, Jeff and Kevin who are each in a couple of my running groups joined me.   Melissa and I flew into LA on a Wednesday night.   We stayed with a longtime friend of mine from Milwaukee in the Calabasas area which is northwest of LA.

We started the trip with a 7 mile run with the SoCalCoyotes and one of my personal heroes Jimmy Dean Freeman.  Although I had communicated him with online and seen him at a few races, this was the first time I actually got to meet and spend time with him and the Coyotes. We met at Westridge and ran with a large group.  It was nice to chat briefly with Kate Freeman and Jimmy, as well as a surprise couple of miles with the extremely talented Guillaume Calmettes (who ran a couple of miles with us).   


Afterwards we went for coffee with the Coyotes and we made a few more Coyote friends (Erin, Jennifer, et. al).  Jimmy and the Coyotes treated us extremely well....and we even came away with some swag! (Coyote Shirts).  

Spirit Freeman!

Coyote Swag

We had a nice dinner at Wolf Creek Brewery that night (the GM, James, being the guy Melissa and I stayed with) and also had the pleasure of meeting Keira Henninger (RD, ultrarunner and nutritionist), Chandra Farham and and Bryon (irunfar) Powelll. 

The following morning Melissa and I had Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles

and then headed to Wrightwood, the city where the Angeles Crest 100 begins.  We drove to Vincent Gap (mile 13ish of the AC100 course) and made a stab at Mt.  Baden Powell (10,065 ft. - the tallest summit on the course).  The mountain was snowy and beautiful.  The scene was spectacular.  We ran until it became too dangerous to continue (sheer ice).   We got in 2,500 feet of climbing and got up to 9,000+ feet of elevation.  We had a final pre-race meal at Wolf Creek, packed up our drop bags and hit the sack early.

Race day for the Sean O' Brien 50 began on Feb. 1, at 4:00 am.  The field contained the best of the best.  To name a few, Domonic Grossman. Tim Olson, Dylan Bowerman, Chris Vargo, Chris Price, Mike Aishe....the list goes on and on.   The women's field included Cassie Scallon, Meagan Arboghast and Sally McRae, among others.  This will be one It was extremely cold (for CA) and we started in the dark with headlamps.  We didn't really get to see many of the other competitors due to the darkness and we were all pretty separated when the field spread out.  We passed very few people.   We took it easy and enjoyed the amazing views being revealed by the morning sunrise.

The cutoff was 14.5 hours.  The race was advertised to have more than 10,000 feet of vertical climb.  Melissa and I had a plan to run together and try to keep a 12 hour pace as long as we could and make a decision when one of us struggled.  Both of us acknowledged that POT 150 was the next big race, and that just finishing was all we expected. 

The good news was that the race was, for the most part, not too technical.   There were a few rocky sections and a few sections of running on amazing rocky hill/mountain tops, but the course was overwhelmingly smooth fire roads and/or gentle single track.   Neither Melissa nor I tripped during the entire 50 miles (which is unusual for me). 

The bad news was that there were more ups and downs than any race either of us had ever done.   Long.  Sustained.  Climbs.  I'm talking 2,000 feet in 5 miles.  If you can't imagine 2,000 feet imagine the Sears (fine...Willis) Tower....on top of the Willis Tower.   That's 3,000.   Gulp.   We went up up up and then down down down, with a little bit of technical.   We worked our asses off and just barely made the 15 mile cutoff (thanks Flo;) ).  Melissa had some early struggles we had to work through, but we got though them and got to roughly the halfway point on 12 hour pace.   Then shit got real.

We had a 2,000 foot climb followed by a 1,500 feet descent followed by a 2,000 foot climb that kicked our asses.   It was the hardest 7 mile stretch I have been on to date.  I'm talking straight up, straight down and then straight up again.   It left Melissa and I winded and stopping in the shade to catch our breath.  We both ran out of water.  It was a low I have not been to in a LONG time.

Then we hit the next aid station and it was a total reload.  We never returned to that bottom again....but we were pretty burned out.  With our makeshift trekking poles from trees on the side of the road we looked more like characters from the Lord of the Rings than serious runners.  We laughed.  We cried.  But we made it to the finish with 15 minutes to spare.

Our finish is captured on this video:

Three takeaways from this trip:

1) Ultrarunners are AWESOME people.  Jimmy Dean Freeman literally took us into his home and gave us Coyote Clothing.  We made so many new friends.  Every time we turned a corner we knew someone.  The elites posed for pictures with us and talked to us.  Some even came to the fun run just to meet us.  We were welcomed into their homes, given their gear....and a few of them even stayed at the finish line until we ultimately finished.  .  That just doesn't happen at road races or marathons.

2) Never discount the value of doing HARD SHIT.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Do a race that is WAY outside your skill range.  Try to run up an Icy Mountain.  Try to run 50 miles.  Try to run too much.  Too hard.  Too high.  Too fast.  Try running at altitude.  But most importantly....just try to fucking do something. If you find yourself gripping the side of an icy mountain and afraid you are about to fall off or if you come in last place at the race, or find yourself sucking wind at altitude - GUESS WHAT??  You're LIVING!!!!   Don't wait to try to reach your goals.  Do it now.  If you fail you can try again.  And AGAIN.  Because it is only when we try and fail....when we push our limits....when you taste the adrenaline in the back of your throat that you can look back and say "Did that REALLY just happen?"

3)  This one of the most obvious.  CA is awesome.  I have to go live there.  Soon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Up Next - Sean O' Brien and California Dreaming

Next up is the Sean O' Brien 50 Mile in the backcountry trails of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The good news is that I get to spend some time in sunny CA and get out of the cold (this morning's run was 0 with a -22 wind chill).  I also get to spend some time with friends Melissa Pizzaro, Jeff Moss, Cory Feign and Kevin Kwilinski.  I hope I get to see one of the most inspirational people I know - Jimmy Dean Freeman (View his Blog) and run with the SoCalCoyotes.  I'm also hoping to preview some parts of the Angeles Crest 100 Course (my "A Race" of the year).  See this Beautiful Blog for an example.

I love LA, I love running in LA.  And I am travelling equipped with a GoPro Camera for the first time, so you can expect some great video/pictures.  Keira Henninger is a great RD and this is going to be a great event!

The Bad News:

This one is going to hurt. Click here for a course preview  This race was put together to replace the Ray Miller 50 that I did last year.  (See, Race Report)  That race left me in tears.  I made some mistakes and learned a lot.  How much?  We will see this weekend!  I put this race on my schedule because it was tough.  I find that doing tough things makes training and runs close to home seem easier.  I'm not going to lie....just finishing this race will be hard for me.  But I intend to put my head down, plug in some good working music and get her done.  My hope is the hills of POT150 will look quite small after this.  Well, at least for the first few loops!

This is the deepest field of runners I have ever been in an event with.  The field includes: Mike Wolfe, Jimmy Dean Freeman, Michael Aish, Chris Vargo, Chris Price, Jorge Pacheco, Dylan Bowerman, Timothy Olson, Jesse Haynes and Dominic Grossman in the men's field and Meghan Arbogast, Cassie Scallon, Michelle Barton and Sally McRae in the women's field.  I am looking forward to seeing them on the out and back and perhaps at diner afterward.  If I got to meet one or two of these people I would be thrilled.  Unfortunately, they will likely be in bed when I get done!

Great race report and video (hopefully) to follow!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Reflections and the year ahead.

On top of Pinnacle Peak, AR

2013 is in the books.  Although I did not accomplish my goal of running in the Hardrock 100, I took some major steps toward it.  Looking back and looking ahead, there is a lot to be happy about.

Potawatomi 100 Finisher! - April

I don't know exactly how many miles I ran because between Dailymile, Garmin and Strava a lot is missing.  I'll guess that I ran more than ever before.  I had some hamstring issues and a broken toe, but I made it through the entire year pretty much injury free.  there really wasn't a period of time when I was unable to run.

Ray Miller 50 - February

I think I finally got my everyday dietary issues down.  A low Carb whole food diet with little or no refined sugar, carbs, potatoes or corn seems to work best for me.  After only a few days of eating that way every major aspect of my life improves.  In 2014 I hope to eat that way the majority of the time.  Special thanks to Phil Maffatone and Tim Noakes for the education.  If you are looking to change your diet or you have any struggles in this area you should check out Dr. Phil's Big Red Book.

I also got my racing nutrition down, which is in stark contrast.  Justin's Nut Butter for gells, Vitargo for carbs Ensure+ for extra calories and burger king cheeseburgers for filling seem to do the trick.  No GI issues or bonking in the entire second half of the season have convinced me of this. 

I went 2-1 in 100 mile races.  I'm not thrilled to have DNF'ed, but it is a fact of life.  I'm proud of the fact that I finished one graduate 100 (Potawatomi) and one post-graduate 100 (Superior Sawtooth).  I raced  one 50 (DWD Devil's Lake) but did three (Ray Miller 50 and Ice Age 50)  and a 24 Hour Race. I did 0 marathons.  I matched my best at a 5K (21:43) and I PR'ed at the 50K (Frozen Gnome). 

Mt. Elbert - the Perfect Storm - August

Most importantly I qualified for the Hardrock Lottery by completing Superior Sawtooth, but I did not get selected.  I am qualified again next year already though.  I have to keep in mind that Hardrock is the ultimate goal.  

I tried my luck at altitude by running at Leadville and up and down Mt. Elbert.  I'm pleased to report that I didn't have any major problems, so this isn't a major Hardrock concern.

I'm most proud of a few of the complete knucklehead training runs and fatass events I participated in.  I did 6 hour and 8 hours fatass runs with new Leaf Ultra Runs.  Some friends and I did some chilly muddy loops at McNaughton to train for the Potawatomi 100, a 29 mile re-taste of Chicago food run with 10 required eating stops, a run from Naperville to the Bean in the early winter greater than 50K and a 91.5 mile world's longest Turkey Trot from the Bean to Milwaukee.  I also got to help crew and pace Shan Riggs and Chuck Schultz in their 410 mile run across Illinois, crew Tony Cesario at Leadville and pace Kathleen Rytman on her 150 mile effort at Tbunk.

Re-Taste of Chicago - All You Can Eat - July
Water Crossing Practice - March

Crewing Leadville - Go Cory!!

Magic Starved Rock Run - Oct.

I think we did plenty.

Chicago to Milwaukee Turkey Trot (Orange you sorry you missed it?)

Superior Trail 100

Now, for 2014?

Sean O' Brien and San Juan Solstice 50 milers.  Each is sure to be one of the toughest 50 milers of the year.

Angeles Crest 100 and the Bear 100.  Two post-graduate 100 mile races.  Each is also a qualifier for Hardrock.

And finally, I am going to take a stab at the Potawatomi 150 mile run.  It seems simultaneously both impossible and stupid.  So it is right up my alley.

My only goal last year was to run 100 miles straight.  I sold myself short.  I made hundreds of new friends, ran hundreds and hundreds of miles with them and achieved more than I ever could have imagined.  In a way I'm glad I didn't get picked for Hardrock yet.....because the journey is most of the fun.  I'll get there someday soon!