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


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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

One Last Chance

It has been quite some time since I updated the blog.  Unfortunately life has been extremely busy between Flatlanders, Work, Training and Racing.  To make matters even worse we started a new podcast Ten Junk Miles which has been extremely rewarding and fun.

I didn't fare very well at the Angeles Crest 100.  I missed a time cutoff at mile 30 and they would not let me continue.  I wish I had an epic story about this failure, but there is none.  It's just a simple fact that when I try to run really hard races often, I fail from time to time.  And that's perfectly fine.  Not in the sense that it's acceptable and I don't need to learn from it and try harder, but rather, in the sense that as long as I am giving my all I can't really beat myself up over the results.

I think after 23 years of sobriety and several years of ultra running I have finally reached a point where acceptance is coming quite easily.  I don't find myself worrying as much about what other people think.  I don't do these races to brag to other people.  I do these races because I enjoy running in beautiful places.  I love nature.  I love running.  And most of all I love the feeling of pushing my limits as hard as I can.  When I fail I do not feel shame.  I'm grateful for the chance to try to do these things.  I do the best I can and leave the results up to god.

I have one more chance to re-qualify for Hardrock left this year at the Bear 100.  I have around a month to prepare.  I really hope I can finish under the 36 hour cutoff and keep my Hardrock Lottery tickets, but.....it's not my decision to make.

If you have some spare time check out the Podcast (Ten Junk Miles on Itunes).  I'm really proud of it.  I've been getting emails from people all over the world telling me that it makes a difference in their life.  It's really amazing.  :)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On Pacing 100 Milers

Kettle Moraine 100 - 2015

"Hey man....you want a beer before we head out?"  Not the typical conversation between a runner and his pacer before heading out for mile 62 of a 100 mile footrace.  But this wasn't a typical runner or a typical day.   His wife Cindy Faford is the world's greatest supporter/cheerleader/crewperson. James ran a rather unusual 100 miler in April at the Potawatomi Trail Races (46 hours over a couple of days after signing up for the 50 miler). Prior to that, he hadn't finished a 100 mile race in almost five (5) years.  James was 0-2 at last weekend's Kettle Moraine 100 mile race.  At 51 years old one would think his best years of running were behind him.   

James told me about his prior struggles at kettle as well as his problems running at night, generally, at the St. Pat's 24 Hour Race last year.  When I heard of them my response was simple: I need to pace you and make sure you get that kettle.  (the award you get for finishing the Kettle Moraine 100).

Little did I know this was not going to be a slog (slow jog) fest with a masters runner.  Instead, James took off like he was trying to win the whole race.  I expected to finish between 30 and 32 hours.  Much to my suprise, James rolled into mile 62 (the point where I was going to pace him) at 13:55.  About 3-5 hours sooner than I imagined.  He looked great and he was full of energy.  He was in fantastic shape and I instantly knew he would finish.

"Sure, that might hit the spot."  James took a cold Spotted Cow and started hiking with me down the Nordic Trail.  The sun was shining.  Our plan was to hike a couple of miles, drink the beer, get his stomach settled and then start running.

We had a blast.  chatting up some of the more colorful and interesting ultra folks along the way.

My nemesis Juli (although we can be friendly when not trying to kill each other)

We had a few run-ins with ultra vegan Dave Wiskowski and his amazing pacer Daniel Robinson.

In the end, vegan power overtook us.  We were resigned to a walk for the last five miles.  We went from at one point gunning for sub 24 hours, to 25, to, well, top speed at the time.  We talked of life and love and music and god only knows what else.  We saw and heard virtually millions of animals and frogs along the trail.  We tried certain things to settle James's stomach that worked and some that didn't.  One thing we never talked about - quitting.  The idea of dropping never came to mind and I think that's one good thing that can happen when you have a pacer.

In spite of what you might think, I didn't really focus much on pace.  (That's a lie.  I did break down the numbers on a semi regular basis for him to finish sub 24, 25 and 26 until he confessed that he could go no faster).  Moreover, we were not really concerned about what place James was in.  (That's also a lie.  I was constantly pointing out that he was ahead of people we saw on the trail in hopes of motivating James.  I don't believe it worked.  James is way too nice of a guy).  At the end of the day what we really were was two good friends (Well, that might be a lie, we don't really know each other too well at all) sharing the wonder of the trails at night (Another lie.  "This Sucks" was said early and often) together.

Does any of it matter?  At 26:02 we crossed the finish line.  James got his kettle and I finally fell asleep at the finish line.

You may be someone like me, that is in an Ultrarunning club.  You may have many questions about how to run 100 or 50 miles.  I just want to put out there something that I said earlier in my group about pacing and crewing: "I learned what I learned from finding people that knew a lot and watching them, crewing them, pacing them and expiramenting with them. I didn't learn it in a book or from the Facebook page. there's no easy answer. It's a path of discovery....It's one thing to come in [to a Facebook Group] and say "Anyone have any advice for me....I'm trying my fisrst 50k." It's another thing to spend 20 hours in the woods holding someone's bottle and seeing first hand how they struggle and overcome. And you give back. And you remember that later when a new guy wants to hold your bottle.

That smile was for you James Faford.  Because you really knocked me out!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Quick Update and Review of 2Toms and Saxx

It's been an interesting month, to say the least.  My double Potawatomi 100/Indiana 100 didn't turn out as expected.  I dropped at mile 60 at Potawatomi, but managed to pull out a 29:30 finish at Indiana in some calf deep, shoe sucking mud.  (special thanks to my pacer Paul Wilkerson).

Hanging with the crew at POT100 post-DNF

Photo by Scott Laduick

Going into Ice Age I wasn't totally healed (only 11 days post Indiana 100) and my feet, knees and back were a little sore.  Nonetheless, I had a great day (for me) and finished 11:15, more than 30 minutes faster than last time.  I was really happy with how strong I pushed and how good I felt all day.

Next up I have a large block of training which will end with Cry Me A Rive 50 Mile and then a short rest before Angeles Crest 100.  AC100 is the main race of my year and I've been waiting a long time to get to that start line (I was DNS due to injury last year).  This is a really important race to me.  It'll be the hardest race I have attempted.  Graduate level. Mountains, Altitude, Extreme Heat.  But breathtaking views and many great runner friends.

To get ready, I am going to have to train pretty hard.  I expect to really make it hurt on the trails and stairs...especially in the heat.  I am also going to have to work on losing about 30 more pounds by following the NSNG program I have been on.  So far I've lost ten pounds on it.  You can learn more about it here: http://vinnietortorich.com/

At Ice Age I tried two brand new products for the first time.  (I know....bad idea).  2Toms sport stick:

And Saxx underwear:

There's no delicate way to say this.  I'm a big guy.  Big guys chaffe.  In many, many places.  I also have a track record of blisters on my gnarly feet.  I am happy to report that, in spite of the really humid temps, I didn't chaffe AT ALL at Ice Age and both of these products are AMAZING.  No blisters, no chaffing.  I didn't change clothes once.  I wore a polyester tshirt.  (Imaginary Foundation).  And my mind was blown by these products.  I can't say enough good things.

Finally, things have really been taking off for Ten Junk Miles.  http://www.tenjunkmiles.com/

We've had about ten times as many listeners as I thought and it gets bigger every day.  If you get time give us a listen and rate and review us on itunes.  We don't make any money off of it, but your reviews move it up in the ratings so more people can find it.

Have a great Summer!!!!

Monday, March 30, 2015

I Cry When I Run

These days I cry almost every time I run.  It usually happens near the end.  It's really hard to explain.  I think of my friend Alfredo and I cry.  I just hope people assume it is tears of joy or the endorphins spilling over.  But really, it's that I miss running with my friend and I'm afraid I'll never get to run with him again.

Shortly after being introduced to ultra running I learned of a guy named Afredo Perdo Perro, or Alfredo Pedro, or Alfredo Perro.  No one really knows for certain and no one cares.  He was a CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) runner who was a recovering alcoholic and running for PAWS (a dog charity).  Between my love of running, dogs and the fact that I was a recovering alcoholic I knew Alfredo was someone I should be friends with.  I sent him a friend request and an instant message.  He confirmed that we should be friends and meet up soon.

Several weeks later some friends were running across Illinois (west to east) and my wife and I went looking for them to offer assistance.  That night we found Alfredo and my friend Kathleen Rytman running along a country road.  I jumped in to help and spent the next twelve hours getting to know the person that would become my best friend.

 Since then Alfredo and I have done just about anything hard we could think of.  We went on to run our first 100 mile race together, the Potawatomi Trail 100:

We then ran the Superior Sawtooth 100 together:

Ran a goofy food challenge through the streets of Chicago:

We did the first World's Longest Turkey Trot from Chicago to Milwaukee:

And so on.  I've spent many many hours with Alfredo suffering silently on the roads and trails of America.  We didn't talk much.  We silently suffered together.

One day two winters ago we ran 30 miles along the Chicago lakefront in subzero temps for no reason at all.  As the wind blew us nearly off the trail I turned to look at him and said "You know...when I run with you I feel like there is nothing I cannot achieve."  He said he shared that exact feeling.

Last spring and fall Alfredo started falling.  He was always a little clumsy, but he started falling hard and hitting his head.  He had trouble descending.  His neck bothered him.  No one could explain why.  Running got harder and harder, and eventually he couldn't run anymore.  In December he became hospitalized.

In late December he was diagnosed with ALS.

Our last run together was, ironically, the Leadville International Beer Mile.  Now we spend more time together watching movies and eating food.  We also talk more.

But I have to admit, it's hard.  It makes running hard and at times makes loving running hard.  If you see me crying and running just smile like you assume I'm super pumped to be running or finishing. Or I'm just my normal emotional self.

Alfredo has limited finances and needs a LOT of help.  If you have even $5 to spare, consider making a small donation to his giveitforward fundraiser:


And please, don't ever take running for granted.  Never take a finish line for granted.  Your entire life can change in one second.  Be grateful!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Winter Ultras - Part 2 - Frozen Otter

Amanda and I near the start

On January 17, 2015, I set out with a few of my fellow Flatlanders to tackle the Frozen Otter Trek, a 64 mile race in the northern Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin.  The race is historically a tough race, with a 25% completion rate.  The race has a set of required gear that must be carried.  There is very minimal support.  Water, Coffee, Hot Cocoa and Ramen every 8 or so miles.  We were also given one hot sausage.  the required gear added a significant burden.  The forecast called for favorable conditions so I brought the absolute minimum.

The race consists of two out and back treks from a lodge in the park.  One is 46ish miles, while the other is 18ish.  To be an official finisher you need to make it to one of the posts and back to the shelter.  The finishers are then ranked by distance covered.  

To be one of the "Frozen Few" you have to make it through the entire course in less than 24 hours. 

The race takes place on mostly single track moderately hilly trails.  My watch got about 5,000 feet of climb in the first 40 miles.  I would guess the total was not more than 7,500 feet.  

Lucky for us, the temperature was very warm for that time of year.  I don't think it got below 20 and I think for quite a bit of the time it was around 30.  Cold wasn't a factor.  I didn't have to use any of my required gear.  The conditions were ideal.

Striking a pose with Mike Mike

That being said, this was no cakewalk.  25 degrees isn't 70.  Moreover, I've never done a 100K.  It's a strange distance.  In this instance having little aid was really challenging.  I found myself craving hot food and desperately craving coke.  I never realized how important it is on long runs/races!  I bonked a bunch.

I started with my friend Amanda Runion.  Our plan was to run the entire race together.  the other two friends we ran with, Mike Mike and chuck Schultz set off on their own.  We did see each other several times throughout the race.  With 9 miles to go Amanda, Chuck and I set out to finish together.

Amanda got cold because Chuck and I were moving so slow.  I mean molasses slow.  I mean like 45 minute mile slow.  Chuck and I have been in several bonk-bunkers before so we made the best of it....hallucinating the final mile with false identifications of the finish, followed by "that's not real" in unison.

In the end Chuck and I finished in 22:14.  I joined the frozen few and my name will be permanently added to the Frozen Few plaque.  Amanda was about a half hour in front of us and Mike was about a half hour behind us.  We all had a blast.  I would do this event again, but I did miss my sled.  I think I would prefer a sled pull event if given a choice.  If I do it again I'll bring a few cokes for sure!

Gear: I nailed the gear on this one.  I wore my Hoka Stinson Trails and did not change shoes at all.  Injinji mid calf hiking socks, shorts (yep, no pants at all), Act'eryx Stryka Hooded Base Layer and Arc'Teryx Gamma Men's Hoodie  Arc'teryx Phase II Liner Gloves, Flatlander Buff.  Black Diamond Headlamp.

Finishers Dog Tags and Buff