Thursday, December 22, 2016

Trail Running Doesn't Feel the Same - 2016 a Retrospective

I look around sometimes and notice that a lot of the people that used to be a huge part of the trail running community don't come around to the group runs anymore.  In fact, we hardly see any of them anymore.  When i ask I usually hear something like "it just doesn't feel the same anymore" and I wonder what they mean by that.

When I first came to trail running I immediately fell in love with the culture and community.  I was wowed by the fact that people cared more about me reaching my goals than measuring them against their own accomplishments.  People didn't ask my finish times.  At fatass events no one really cared who ran faster or further.  I couldn't believe how quick seasoned veterans were to lend a hand, some advice, crew or pace me, or just ask me to go on a run with them.  They genuinely welcomed me to the community and I felt like that really wanted me to succeed.

In those early days group runs were a place to make new friends, pass along the knowledge we learned and cultivate relationships.  Spending all day on the trial with people and you feel a sense of closeness.  You paced them overnight during their 100 miler.  You crewed them.  You saw them fail. You watched them triumph.

Maybe your life got busier or your priorities changed.  You started just doing group runs just with your close group of friends.  It was easier for this smaller group to just crew and pace each other. You focused on dominating your age group and getting into Western States while taking more intimate trips together.  You didn't have time to slow down and help.  You didn't reach out to the new trail runners.  People just didn't understand that you can't give an entire day to working an aid station.  You did your volunteer hours for the year already....other people can clean up the trails.

And then one day you came around and noticed how things had changed.  All the old people were gone.  It just didn't feel the same.

I think at some point we all come to discover that the trail and ultra "community" gives way more than it takes, but only to those that give back.  Think about it this way....running 100 miles alone with no crew or pacer on inadequate training is hard.  Compare that to having a great crew, inspirational pacer and knowing that you put in all the hard work... it makes it easier.  It also allows others to play a role, learn, build a relationship with you and share in your accomplishment.

Are you leaving the world of trail and ultra running better than it was when you found it?  Do you give more than you take?  Did you pace or crew a stranger this year? Did you extend your hand to a newcomer and make some of those first hard long runs easier for them by giving them company?  Did you work an aid station all day?  Did you help put on a fatass?  Volunteer for a local Race Director? Did you inspire a stranger by believing in them before they could believe in themself?

If you answered no to several of the above it might be time to look in the mirror and admit that it's not trail and ultra running, but you that's changed.  Let's make it a goal in 2017 to give more than we take.

You meet a lot of amazing people out on the trials.  One of them is you!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Running from Chicago to Milwaukee for ALS - Never Again Every YEar

2013 - World's Longest Turkey Trot #1

In 2013 my friend Alfredo Pedro Perro wanted to run one last 100 mile race for the year.  I came up with a much worse idea.  "Let's just get a backpack and credit card and run from Chicago to's about 100 miles."  In doing so I created a monster.  You can read about the first Turkey Trot here:

The following year Alfredo was diagnosed with ALS.  

I found a few friends dumb enough to join me once again. This time we flipped the course and ran from Milwaukee to Chicago instead.

In 2015 Alfredo lost his battle with ALS.  So we did it again.  From Chicago to Milwaukee.  Each year I swore I would never do it again.  It's so cold and miserable.  It's so much concrete.  There are long stretches of nothing in the middle of the night.  Bad neighborhoods.  A lack of reliable plumbing.  Bonks.  I mean, if I was going to be 100% honest with you I would say the first two hours are awesome.  After that.  Well, you know.

So of course this year I returned.  Again.  For the fourth "last time" and joined an even larger group of people with questionable decision-making skills and we ran from Milwaukee to Chicago.  Although this time, there were a few differences.

First.  We had a much larger group (12 people) of really crazy folks.  

Rocketts at Wisconsin/Illinois Border

Second, we had about 20 angels who spent the day bringing us almost every possible type of food or drink you can imagine.

Example of random aid station someone unaffiliated with the race set up in their office along the route.
Aid station, hot home made soup, and hugs from MILF's available.
But most importantly, we decided that if we were going to continue to do something this stupid, we should do it for a cause, so we re-named the event the Alfredo Pedro Perro World's Longest Turkey Trot for ALS.  We set and achieved our goal of raising $5,000 for the Les Turner ALS Foundation (which treated Alfredo for his disease free of charge).   If you want to add to the donation please do so here:

The great thing about this event isn't that we actually made it almost 100 miles:

or that people received a buckle, though both those things are cool.

Commemorative Buckle

The amazing thing is how it brought the community together.  People that loved and cared about Alfredo wanted to run, to cheer, to pace, to support.  They set up aid stations over the 100 mile course randomly.  They showed up on the course and ran.  They hugged us and offered whatever they could give to keep us moving and get us to our destination.  People also sent us inspiring messages on social media.  We ran together.  We waited for each other.  We shivered in cars and slept in gas stations to re-group.  No one wanted to win.  No one worried about losing.  The only time concern was to try to finish before the sun set.  In all, it took us roughly 32 hours.  During that time we ran and sang and goofed around.  We made new friendships. We took over a Starbucks

We ate several sit down meals.  We laughed and cried.  And in the end, we had a journey we will never forget. 

And one that I will never do again.  Until next year.  Again.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016


If you are a Cubs fan or a baseball fan and you woke up this morning wondering if that really happened you aren't alone.  It's hard to comprehend things like this and it takes some time to sink in. I've felt this way a few other times in my life.  (the day after my wedding and the two Packers championships).  Some moments are so big that we can't get our head around them.  We can't fit them into the context of our life.  In many ways, our world shifts because of these moments.  Our life history.  Our story.  We will always remember where we were when they happened and who we were with.  They become a part of us.

If you have no interest in the Cubs or baseball you aren't alone either.  You might be troubled by the state of your neighborhood or Facebook feed.  You might complain about people jumping on the bandwagon.  Maybe you just don't get it.

Here's why I think it's important.  

Since 2007/2008 it feels like we've been in a negative spiral.  Financially, socially, politically.  We've been polarized and hopeless.  We aren't making enough money and too many among us are struggling.  We've forgotten how to "just agree to disagree" and we've been outraged by everything.  We've been offending and shouting at each other.  Complaining.  We think things are headed in the wrong direction.  We look into our children's eyes and hardly believe the lies of hope we are telling them, because for many years hopeful moments have been few and far between.  Most of us go to bed each night wishing we could just get a break.

Last night proved that miracles are possible.  Last night proved that there are signs all around us of what is possible.  It verified that little part of your broken heart that still believed that something good can and will happen to us and to the world.  We can look each other in the eye and honestly say that there is hope.

This doesn't mean you don't have work to do.  There will be a hangover.  This feeling won't be forever.  There will be struggles and setbacks.  People will die, you will argue with friends, you may gain weight, Donald Trump might win.  Reality can and will set in at some point.

For our part, we should try to use this moment as a catalyst of hope to make our lives and the world around us a better place.  Do something good for the world.  Call and old friend or relative.  Dust off those running shoes.  Tell someone you love them, or you're sorry.

We're all hoping for something.  Let's play it forward.  Don't let the miracle go to waste.  Be the hope others seek :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Well, I certainly didn't stick with the plan of blogging once a week.  It's shocking how life can get in the way.  I can't really figure out how other people find the time to write a book....much less blog regularly.

Catharsis was a metaphor used by Aristotle in Poetics.  Today we often use the word to talk about a cleansing of sorts.  Usually we have an emotional breakthrough that results in a refreshed lifeview.   Whether or not that is really currently happening to me or if I'm just full of shit remains to be seen, but at this point I'm hoping the casual tourists to this blog have logged off in boredom because the subject matter is going to be a little deep and uncomfortable.

About a year ago my friend Alfredo developed ALS and quickly passed away.  You can read about him, our adventures and his struggles with the disease elsewhere on the blog.  As you can guess, I had a very strong reaction to his passing and it changed my life in a number of ways.

I think before Alfredo got sick my life was really at the top of an arc.  I don't recall a time when I had it together as much as I did then. My running was really going well, my career and marriage were starting to fire on all cylinders, the Flatlander Ultrarunners were growing exponentially into a huge happy trail running family and I had just started our podcast, Ten Junk Miles.  I felt like everything I was doing went well.

I didn't deal with Alfredo's death or sickness very well.  In a lot of ways he was the person that made me feel like I could do anything.  Seeing him slowly fall apart and ultimately die, I suddenly felt like I couldn't do anything.  I couldn't finish races.  I felt like a fraud and failure to my running family and the ultra community.  I mean, here I am, talking in a podcast, giving people advice, and I can't even finish a race, I didn't even want to run, and to make matters worse, I was being destructive to myself.  I would go see Alfredo and then sit in the Culvers parking lot down the street from his house, eat burgers and cry.

I think I started to feel like all of this diminished me as a person to some extent to my friends and the running community.  It was very hard to see them being inspired by Alfredo while I was having the opposite effect.  I felt like they pitied me for failing at everything and getting out of shape.  People didn't ask me for advice as much.  People didn't like being around me as much.  And really, in retrospect, I wasn't being a very good person or friend.  I let all of this effect me and I never sought help.  I think talking to a professional might have done me a world of good.  I feel like in some ways I really started to be a shitty friend and a shitty ultra runner.

The only major race I accomplished over the last year was the Comrades, basically fueled by the love and support of my friends, many of which I didn't really deserve.  Prior to the race they started a social media campaign with #IRunWithKummer.  It got me through.  But something else happened in South Africa.  Something that really threw me for a loop.

One night, out of the blue I received an email from a couple that have no love for me.  The email advised me that they knew about "Jerry and Troop 16" and that I should leave them alone and they would leave me alone.  I was stunned.  "Jerry" is my father who sexually abused most of my Boy Scout Troop (16), including myself.  Being attacked and threatened with this information out of the blue was, to say the least, shocking.  On my trip I found myself unable to sleep, breaking down in tears, hostile, angry and filled with extreme feelings of fear.

I really was surprised that I was so affected, because I've spoken publicly about being a victim of childhood sexual abuse and an incest survivor.  I think it's important.  I've even given podcast interviews about it.  But there was something about the way this info was used that felt different.  I sought and obtained treatment for my feelings and thought I was good to go.

In retrospect I wasn't done.  I will always regret not getting more help, because the events that followed changed my life forever.  I became hostile and angry.  I was downright mean, mostly to the people that I love.  I withdrew and then resented them for not trying to help.  Which made me feel alone and isolated.  I spiraled.  I pushed people away.  This is going to sound impossible to comprehend, but I felt like I was re-living that feeling I had as a little kid when I was screaming on the closet floor.  For what?  Just for someone to notice that something was wrong.  And no one ever did.  And I know this is super confusing and must sound bizarre, but inside I was screaming as loud as I could for my ultra family to notice how bad I was hurting and it felt like they weren't there.  Even though they were.

This summer I hurt a lot of people.  I alienated people.  I pushed them away and ruined their activities.  I stepped down from Flatlanders, ruined re-taste, disappointed people, didn't tell them how important they were to me and took everything I have had the good fortune to obtain for granted.  I was simply a mess.  Sadly, I've also lost the closest friend I had.   I really screwed things up.

All this being said, I think there is a certain catharsis that I am undergoing.  I have had several emotional breakthroughs (as well as breakdowns).  I've tried to make amends to many people.  I've been so emotionally raw that I've been able to say some things to people that i never said before.  I'm telling people that I love them.  I'm telling people how important they are to my life.  I'm trying to be a better me on the other side of this.  I'm also working with a therapist again on my issues so that this doesn't happen again.  I really hope this is the beginning of the end of a year of emotional upheaval.  I'm ready to fly again.

Nonetheless, I want to take a minute to apologize to you.  The things I have been through are not an excuse for being an asshole or hurting people.  I am responsible.  And I am sorry.  I can't say I won't fuck up again.  All I can say is I hope never to fuck up in this way again.  And I will always have the best intentions.

You meet a lot of interesting people running ultras.  One of them is you.

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) feels 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 ( 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, 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.