Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 The Year I Found Home

For the last few years I have written a reflection piece on the previous 12 months.  It allows me express my thankfulness for the blessings received and renews my spirit to seek out the challenges of the coming year with optimism and humility.

A few years my reflections were based on difference and contrast.  How am I better than I was?  Why did it take me so long to celebrate life?  Why did I stay in one relationship or another for so long?  Why did things not work out certain occasions when I swore they would? Etc.

2013 I learned that if you give 100% you never have to worry about living with regret.  I grew up and became a the man I wanted to be rather than the one I thought should be.  In true form, a picture tells 1000 words, so I put together my transforming images of 2013, the images which let feel HOME.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pope Francis Catholicism: Stoicism v Humanity

The Catholic Church is a difficult discuss without offending because commentary is as passionate as it is opinionated.

In academia our view of "Catholics" or the "Church" is shaped by the Crusades, the Protestant Revolution, harsh treatment of Galileo, Spain’s Conquest of the America, Henry the VIII, etc.  Just as those examples exist so to does Christ, the social justice champions (saints) (link), Roman oppression during the first two centuries of the church, Joan of Arc, the Cristero Movement (movie), the Protection of America’s Native Population (VascoDeQuiroga-Link), Papal Succession from Peter, etc. etc..

The history illustrates the polarizing views regarding the Catholic Church's place in human history and within the Church itself.  Pope Francis, hereafter Pancho, via his acts of humility shifts the focus and connects with the faithful and non-faithful in a different manner.  Many observers say his actions are more Christ-like; embracing the lowly, removing excessive bishops (link), removing the opulence of the Church in favor of the simple and even calling members directly.  However detractors argue his statements walk a thin line between dogma and heresy permitting wiggle room to subjects long considered closed.  [note: he has not said anything contrary to church teaching]

Had the Axis triumphed the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s may not have happened nor would the Eiffel Tower or Louvre exist in current form had Charles Martel not brilliantly maneuvered at the Battle of Tours stopping Muslim takeover of Gaul…the historical examples are endless.  The examples are always looked at in hindsight and from the winner’s perspective.

Pope Francis has taken winning and hindsight out of the equation.  Rather than waiting for history to dictate whether the sin was in fact a sin, Pancho takes the fight directly to the soul.  As parents balance between punishment and forgiveness when raising their children so too has Pancho moved to re-balance the church and her members.  

In the information age it is pointless to reiterate the "rules" of the Church since anyone who wants them can freely seek them.  Why repeat them ad infinitum? Why repeat what is wrong all the time?

The CC determines what is right and what is wrong in terms of faith and morals for Catholics, if you are not Catholic why should anything the Church decrees bother you?  The fact is that it does...maybe not because you care, but because the church has always been at the forefront of moral issues making critiques and dispensing advice.  This view in light of modernity shows the focus teaching the rules muddied the best way to apply them.

As a child is allowed to learn life's lessons by falling and getting up so are the members of the CC invited to learn.  We fall 7 times and rise 8.  The whole purpose of organized religions is to provide a guide to being a good person, so why not focus on the purpose rather than the method?

Access to information and ever expanding scientific discoveries have shaped the way we think about nature and our place in it.  The pope’s statements admit that there is a lot more gray out there than previously considered.  Finally, the function of the Church is not to condemn but to save.  In this spirit I think Pancho is choosing to leave the ninety-nine in an attempt to recover the one.

The Atlantic - GOP should be like Pope Francis (link)
The New Yorker - Conservative Catholics Feeling Left out of Pope’s Embrace (link)
Gawker Article [Opinion] Proposing to Liquidate the Church (link) (my comment on the article link

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Value of Imagination

The most common drawback of natural intelligence is: people who believe that intelligence is innate tend to give up much faster than those people who believe it can be developed.  

It seems to comes down the subtle distinction between A or not A. Believing skill-intelligence-ability are innate qualities we perceive them as foreign, thus more easily discounted as "not A" rather than "A."  Application means seeing this "not A" person is gifted i.e. different than I (A).  

Alternatively, if we believe regardless of talent that hard work and diligence will gain us the same results as someone to whom things come "naturally" we view ourselves as "A" rather than "not A." This alternative perspective means no skill-intelligence-ability is remote nor alien; therefore can be developed.
the dilemma

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Artisanal LA with my girlfriend.  Dozens of booths lined he LA Mart on Broadway with local merchants generating new business and fostering new peer connections.  Originally I aimed to only visit Le Pop Shop ( since I have known that business since inception and and addicted to macaroons (particularly with coffee).
Drip Stand seen at Artisanal LA
Cruising the aisles I saw a coffee drip stand for the Hario V60.  The stand was $85, i.e. out of my ballpark.  I like coffee, I do not think this is a secret.  The process by which the taste and aroma of each blend is extracted is like Dexter's Laboratory to me.  The strange thing is coffee calms me down.  Most people enjoy a cup of joe for that extra pep in the morning, but for me its purely the taste.  In the mornings I am pretty wacky and my mind races with random thoughts.  The scent and taste of a cup of coffee settles me into a "home" feeling and I am better able to go about my day.  Anyway, I saw V60 cone drip stand and thought…how clever.  Noting the price I thought to myself, why would someone charge this much for a drip stand?  A quick google search for "Hario V60 Stand" yielded shocking results: prices ranging from $30 - $124 for a stand!

I decided; why not make my own?  It can't be that complicated.  I opted to be "A" rather than "not A."  I rarely have the ability to use my imagination and go from idea to reality.  All of us are rushing from one place to another so creating something in our mind then applying it to life is luxury we do not have.  
the process
But, Saturday, my muse encouraged me to just do it.  We were not busy and had no "plans" so why not try and create something?  The result was a personal drip stand that looks great and works for my life costing around $20.  At Home Depot, C and I spoke as if we were on a planning committee.  What about 1/4" ? 1/2" ?  Should it be taller since we use travel mugs a lot?  Can it be adjustable? What the hell is a washer, finished wood or stain, etc. etc.?

Finished Product
We engaged in "A" behavior.  Rather than simply shelling out some cash for someone else's work we decided to make it personal and functional, why? Because it's fun to create and see ideas materialize.  It is fun to accept that we can accomplish things that are not normally in us to do.  Think about it…why are you so happy when you do something that you thought you couldn't do?  Because you are A rather than not A; the little voice in your head that makes things unknown suddenly whispers…why not, go for it. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gentleman in the Modern Era

Lately there has been a trend in fashion, music and culture towards the "old-fashioned."  Males want to be more cultured, respected and manly while maintaining amicability and emotive freedom.  Often times I am complimented or frowned upon for having "old man" tastes.  I believe few things are best done old school like: keeping a journal, knowing how to open a book without ruining the binding, wet shaving and courting a lady.

But, let us not forget the past lest we be doomed to repeat it.  Although a women were revered and respected this old fashioned-ness; she was at the same time seen as chattel and not an equal.  Women have not always shared the same societal place men have enjoyed and even today are a long ways away from gender equality.  

So why the trend to the classic?  The economic downturn of the last decade has left many of looking longingly into the mirror asking the big questions.  Who am I?  Why do I "blank"? or alternatively why do I not "blank"?  Our consumerism, flagrantly displayed in the late 80s and 90s, is not sustainable so we collectively sought the things that worked for those that came before us.  This seems to me as a a substitution for what we were already doing; cherry picking.  All us us tend to look to the past as a springboard to the future and in times of uncertainty we simply go further and further back. 

The inquiry into what a gentleman is or what is appropriate for a man to be or do makes us all philosophers.  We can make lists ad infinitum and never get it right or complete.  A gentleman dresses appropriately, is chivalrous, well read, loves family, is opinionated but not closed minded, etc, etc.  The "old fashioned trend has focused heavily on these ideals and made them marketable.  We see fashionistas and trend riders profit hand over fist by capitalizing on our need to look into our past for answers.  Five or six years ago "vintage", "tarnished", "organic", "reclaimed" were words reserved for antique roadshow and architecture students and now are all over everything and everywhere.

A few days ago I used my girlfriend's nickname while speaking to my mother.  It was an unconscious slip of the tongue.  However, reflecting on the slip I realized it was no mistake.  Subconsciously I hold both of these women with the same respect and the care reserved for those closest to me.  I realized it is more a function of how I went about doing things rather than what I went around doing things with.

Being a gentleman, old school, old fashioned or an old man is not about what you do or what you have but rather about how you do it.  I admittedly cherry pick.  For example, I am not going to use a rotary phone nor am I likely to develop my own film, etc.  The trend things of things "old school" in my opinion should be tempered by an awareness of context.  Is our love for the old genuine or simply a substitution for avoiding that long look in the mirror? 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Headlands 100 - 2013 - DNF Report

Headlands is a place where lessons come to me even if I don't want them.  The trail strings together 5,000 ft of climbing per loop that humble the best climbers and destroy the rabbits.  Nutrition (Tailwind) and mood were spot on, heck I could even string together complete sentences, but a tweak on the downhill from Rodeo Beach to Tennessee Valley on the third loop sealed it.

Buff Visor (really like)
Salomon Vest
Oakley Radar Sunglasses
Garmin 310xt
NorthFace Better than Naked Shorts
MoBen Arm Warmers
Ultimate Direction Handhelds
Drymax Trail Socks
NB MT110 Trail Shoes
Badass Attitude*

Re-Cap - Thoughts
Let me be honest for a minute.  This is going to sound like complaining but the fact is I planned on running 100 miles and I did not accomplish my goal.  My participation in ultra running is a blessing and a privilege.  So please do not look at my frustration as complaining but its a tough pill to swallow to know that I did the best I could and it was not good enough.

The first loop in 5.5 hours was too fast for my goals.  Sub 24 was never the game plan for this race, just to finish strong and see the sunrise on Sunday.  The plan was to come into Rodeo Beach, the 25 mile mark, around 6.5 hours.  I took advantage of the cooler temperatures early and was able to put together a few good stretches, particularly coming into Tennessee Valley where the descents are not as steep.  Unfortunately this threw my hydration off.  I was around Sam Adams level by the end of the first loop which is not where my body needed to be so early in the race.  

I took a long break at the end of the first loop and patiently endured the second loop, hiking the hills and making sure I was hydrating.  I had plenty of energy to run up the grades but knowing my hydration was off I was patient and sat back.  I swapped positions with a friend Starchy a few times so it was nice to see a familiar face a couple times during the day.  However, by mile 38 ish I was still running with a lot of 50 milers and I knew I needed to throttle back.  Finally getting back to a Stella hydration level my mood dramatically improved because I was able to process more calories while taking in significantly more water.  

The first loop I was averaging 24 - 30 oz per hour and the second loop I increased the amount to 45 - 50 oz per hour.

While on the 2nd loop I had to focus and it took a lot of talking to myself.  I reigned myself in when I felt that I was getting carried away with the pace, I practiced patience and tried to hold off any feelings of angst or discomfort.  The first descent to Vista Point (Bottom of Golden Gate Bridge) left my hamstring clamoring, but the second loop easing was just was the doctor ordered.  By the and of the second loop I was feeling energized and my hamstring was all but healed.  Any hard harding downhill meant throbbing pain but light steps and the pain was minimal.

3rd loop - ish
I left Rodeo Beach in the dark.  I set out with my headlamp and 2 additional layers.  Halfway up the hill I removed one of the layers; overheating.  During the paved section of that hill I turned off my headlamp and let the moon guide me, it was beautiful.  The mist had not rolled in and the night was actually pleasant.

Climbing out of Rodeo I was excited !  No mist blinding my headlamp, winds were mild and temperatures held steady.  This was going to be a good night for a little jog.

I felt connected and really at peace with my effort on this uphill.  I began running again once I hit the single track at the top.  Suddenly I felt a rip in my left ankle.  You know that sound...the one that happens when you are quartering a chicken and something just makes that crunch/rip noise...yeah that was it.  I immediately stopped, hobbled, tried running but that was not going to happen.  It was a different kind of pain.  I felt a sharpness running up the back of my calf to the back of left knee whenever I placed pressure on the mid foot area.  Without the mid foot I knew my race and maybe my running days were done.

I worried I had done something permanent or something that would require weeks if not months to heal.  I came into Tennessee Valley with a panic look.  I told C., "I am not good."  My face was all panic. I thought that I may have really messed something up.  

At TV aid station my pacer met up with me.  We checked my ankle…the knot was gone.  I had a knot on the left ankle for months and it was now smooth, for the first time in a long time.  No swelling, but just sharp pains up the back of the calf.  D. my pacer was awesome, he was trying everything to help me out of TV.  I took a tylenol and headed out into the night.  Any pressure on the forefoot or mid foot was just not possible.  I walked like a pirate, leaned like a cholo, did the stay cat strut….you name it…but nothing helped.  We left TV and made it about a mile out, but turned back.  

There was no way I would make Pirates Cove or the Muir beach decent or ascent without a mid-foot.  My race was over.

My last few races have been less than stellar, but I have taken valuable lessons from them.  The Headlands is no different.  One day it may be mental space that beats you, other days it may be an injury completely out of control.  Regardless, the fact we are out there doing it for the love of it just goes to show how much this sport means to all participants.  

When I started ultra running I consumed a lot of literature about the sport.  I nerd out, just the way I am.  Everything I read talked about this place.  The magical place where (blank) happened and runners saw everything from the white light at the end of the tunnel to that cheeseburger of legend only reserved for last meals.  After hitting that turning point, reality would focus and feats of amazing happened.

The place where epiphanies happened did not happen to me.  I don't think I have reached that place yet.  I have searched and searched but that bottom of the barrel has not revealed itself.  I am scared as hell about what I may find there since this moment tends to be life changing.  Maybe my search is different..  Maybe I am not meant to get that AhAh moment...  Maybe I am meant to plug along until the moment becomes a string of moments, a continuous timeline of working hard and being better.  Naturally only time will tell, but cheers ….here is to getting to the bottom of the barrel.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Headlands 100 - Game Plan

Ideal Splits
Loop 1 - 6 hours
Loop 2 - 6.5 hours
Loop 3 - 8 Hours
Loop 4 - 7.5 hours
Total Time: 28 hours

Short and Easy
My game plan is going to be to consume 200-250 calories per hour.  My primary nutrition source will be Tailwind Nutrition (berry) and assorted aid station food to get some texture.  Since Muir Beach has no crew access I will be leaving myself a drop bag with Tailwind there, or if thats unavailable it will be Tennessee Valley Aid Station.

Decided not to use the Salomon shorts for this run.  They worked well for Run De Vous 100km, but that test was on paved road and not trail.   Now sure how they will react to the dramatic change in temperature and significantly more dirt.  Rather than risk unfortunate chaffing situations I'll stick with the North Face - "Better than Naked" shorts that have worked for me for a few years.  Shoes will be Altra Lone Peak and/or New Balance MT110.  I have put in a lot of miles with both, but I prefer extra grip on steep descents and for my stride the NB feels better, but the trade off will be my feet getting beat to shreds. 

Tops I will be using Ink N Burn Tech Tee's and Patagonia Silk weight tech tees.  Headwear, probably will go with the buff visor the whole way through.  I race with sunglasses and the buff allows me to see better since the visor can be put up or down which is not an option with traditional visors or hats.  I will be using handhelds for this race and during the heat of the day it will be Nathan's new insulated handhelds and all other times my Ultimate Direction Bottles.  

Scared as hell, but excited to see this beautiful course again.   Things have come together...pacer, crew, etc... (link) and hopefully I will have an interesting tale to tell come next week.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Marin Headlands Jitters

PCTR (link) hosts the infamous Headlands 100 Trail Race.  The course strings together some of the most lush beautiful trails this side of the Mississippi (always wanted to throw that phrase in there).  Runners are treated to views of Muir Beach, Pirates Cove, Rodeo Beach, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  The Marin Headlands hold a special place in my heart because it saw reinforced friendships and helped create new ones.

The steep ascents and descents (20,000 elev chg) taught me to find a gear unknown to me until that was my only option (report).  This year having course knowledge and placing DFL (32:51:14) last year serve as some motivation.  I would love to claim that destroying the course record is the goal but that's not in the cards; never was.  My training is as good as it can be under the circumstances and that's exactly where I want to be.

1/17/13 I wrote:
"For my 2013 is going to be a building year...My goal is create a training program for ultra marathons that allows for any athlete to peak several times during the year with a forced off season.  Many of us, especially me, don't know how not to be athletes.  We miss family events, cut dates short and bail on social gatherings because we want that extra workout.  In my case this sort of thinking has caused an imbalance."

A training program that allows several peaks is still a work in progress because at the time I did not account nutrition as well as I should have (in progress).  More importantly 2013 has been all about prioritizing.  Last year my priorities were tested and many times I failed.  Spring semester at school was a learning experience both in the classroom and outside of it.  Spring 2013 saw everything from CT scans and EEG tests to finals about midgets in bumper cars so fun for everyone I suppose.  

I lost a few friends because of my poor ability to prioritize.  I was out when I should have been studying, looked out for other peoples wants/needs before my own, protected other's time while disregarding my own and even tricked myself into habits I knew did not work for me (e.g. 8-10 hrs in the library), etc. 

Law school is first and the athlete in me wants to compete but the man in me knows better.  The race season was full steam ahead with an American River 50 PR that was a huge confidence boost (report).  However, my boost dwindled with the epic blow up at Nanny Goat (report) blacking out 2x and shivering on a cot for a few hours.  My rattled confidence spurred me to sign up for Run De Vous.  At RDV I had a great experience running 100km (report) which was a solid long run with no major issues other than being tired and hungry (shocker).  

For Headlands I had no pacer no crew.  All year I banked on a friend of mine, R. being able to help me out as he has done so many times.  However, fate changed his path and this year and he is kicking ass in a different way…by fighting cancer !!! (blog-bertostrong).  Rather than fighting circumstances all the time I placed myself in God's hands.  Truth is I don't know what is best for me all the time.  But, I know that doing good for others allows God to sneak some good vibes in my direction.  I allowed myself to be open to God's will and a lot of blessings have come my way because of it.  

My girlfriend C. just happens to be transitioning jobs so she can make it out to crew, her sister N. will accompany her and low and behold N. works night shifts so I don't have to worry about C driving tired!  Also, the photographer from RDV (the race I only did b/c I failed at Nanny Goat), D. reached out when he saw my predicament and offered to help pace through the night.  Furthermore, my friend P. may be able to make it out on Sunday morning to hang out for a few miles.  

Things are coming together.  I do not know what is going to happen at Headlands because the nerves are setting in.  But, whatever does I will take the good, the bad and the ugly.  These ultra marathons, though solo adventures, bring people together that would have otherwise not met and I have to be thankful for allowing my path to cross theirs and someday (soon I hope) I will be able to jump in at a moments notice (as others have for me) to help another lunatic trying to cover 100 miles on foot without stopping. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Run De Vous 100k - Race Report

I signed up for this race as a "make-up" for the tragedy that was the Nanny Goat 100 (report).  However, after doing this second loop course, I am certain that 100 mile loop courses are not my thing.  I can see myself coming back to do a 50 miler, but 100 is such a mental toll that I do not find appealing.  Yet, a loop course does provide a great testing ground for new gear and I took advantage.

Garmin 310XT / Garmin 910XT
Headsweats Supervisory Visor
Oakley Radar Glasses
Ultimate Direction Fast Draw Bottle (review)
Ink n' Burn Tech Tee
Salomon EXO Wings Twinskin Short
Drymax Socks
Newton Gravity / Altra Instinct 1.5 

Tailwind Nutrition 

I decided to camp the night before this run for a few reasons but most importantly it was just to disconnect.  After summer session my energy was zapped and my overall demeanor was that of burn out.  I needed some reflection time and a little distance from the hustle of school to charge my batteries before the start of the new school year. 

Camping provided the benefit of allowing me to feel the temperature rather than just scouting it via the web.  I knew it was going to be warm (91 high) but feeling the 46% humidity on friday was huge for me.  Although it did not alter my game plan very much feeling the temperature changes did help me stick to it more religiously.

The course is a two mile loop in San Martin, Ca. with a total elevation gain of 94 ft per loop and paved all the way around.  There is a "trail" on the inside our outside of the loop.  Many runners elected to wear trail shoes and run on the dirt path, which probably would have made my recovery easier but I did not know of its existence and only prepped for a road course so I stuck to the plan.

As a rule I would always have at least one bottle in my hand with nutrition and/or water.  The race started at 6 am and when the runners took off I was finishing setting up my tent and did not have my bib number yet.  Once I actually started most runners were completing their first loop.  My intent with this run was to (1) sort out the nutrition issues that had bothered me at Nanny Goat 100 (only completed 81 miles, blacking out 2x), (2) test the Salomon EXO Twinskin Short which I may use at Headlands and finally (3) get a long run in.

My nutrition is Tailwind.  Tailwind had done right for me for a very long time.  The simplicity of adding your nutrition to water and going makes fueling thoughtless; no gels or remembering when you took the last gummy block or whatever other thing you are consuming.  Furthermore, Tailwind does not give me sugar spikes like other gels do.  The nutrition is a smooth source like an IV; steadily feeding what the body can reasonably (with training) digest while running.  My standard is two servings (scoops) per 26 oz of water which equates to 200 calories as well as the sodium I need to balance my electrolyte levels.  I no longer use as many salt caps because Tailwind contains sodium.  I will take them on hot days or if I feel I am cramping too early into a run, but generally Tailwind takes care of it.  Many people ask me what it tastes like and at this point I will date myself.  Remember what Gatorade used to taste like? Gatorade tasted salty.  Now it tastes like sugar, but before there was some sodium in it which made it savory, that is what Tailwind mimics.  Because it is both sweet and savory it is palatable for many hours which is important since after consuming anything for 8+ hours you instinctually want to reject it, but this has worked for me so it stays in the bag.

When the heat of the day hit 12:30 pm - 3:30 pm, I eased up to one scoop per 26 oz of water.  The reason is that at that point I was consuming almost one bottle per loop.  At the original rate that have been 400-500 cal per hour; too much for me to process.  I did not want to have GI issues so the modification during the heat of the day was planned out beforehand and was one of the many lessons I took from Nanny Goat.

Running for 12+ hours does not sound like fun to anyone, but this is a different type of community.  We all suffer and succeed together.  I have never met an ultra runner who is not happy for their fellow runners success or who does not empathize when anyone's day goes south.  Instead of focusing only on my performance and my feelings/thoughts I chatted with other runners sooner than I would have otherwise done.  My general racing style is not to chat at all for the first half of any race.  Generally, multiple racing distances start at the same time (50m, 100km, 100m).  The fields are small so it makes sense, but from a racing standpoint you could be keeping pace with a runner going half the distance you are and that just spells disaster.  But, because I had a different goal for this race I was chatting with everyone thus making the monotony of the loop more bearable.  Had I not chatted with other runners I doubt I would have made it past the marathon distance.

Naturally, what is said out there stays out there, but I did enjoy running with my friend Patrick who was doing a 50km race and helping him stay on his goal pace.  I really like going to races because I get to meet a lot of runners I know virtually and/or have met at previous races and seeing familiar faces is always a positive.  Strangely, despite the course being a loop, we did not meet up with P. until 17 miles after he started.  

The biggest take away from this race was sticking to intent.  I generally schedule a race and with the "racing" mindset I set of to accomplish it.  However, this time I used the run for a purpose, a long run for Headlands.  I originally wanted to complete the 100 mile distance, but after confirming how much reading I had for the first day of class and having achieved all the goals I had set out for myself I dropped down to the 100km version.  

I think it was a smart move on my part because I stayed honest to my intention.  We all have lives other than ultra running and sometimes the sport takes so much out of us that we loose focus.  I do it because ultra running centers me and makes me a better person.  I am more positive and my virtues (the few there are) tend to show up more often.  

When I loose that focus and skew the balance other areas of my life take the hit.  Basic rules of thumb, (1) do it because it makes you happy, (2) have clear goals based on your training and intentions, (3) remember what your priorities outside of ultra running are and let those priorities dictate your goals.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Run De Vous - PreRace

The race overall is straight forward.  The course is a two mile loop that runners will do 50 times.  This is a classic style ultra; small field of runners & dedicated volunteers.  The race has one cut-off, 32 hours, i.e. 2 pm on Sunday.  Its nice to not have intermediate cut-offs because there is no pressure to run at a pace or "bank time" while you still have legs.

This run is going to be my long run for the Headlands 100 (link) steady is the name of the game.  I want to be able to run at night, smile, and drive back to Los Angeles after finishing.

^^^yeah you read that back to LA after finishing^^^

The weather is going to be the issue with this one.  Slight breeze, some humidity (43%) and then 91 degrees in the heat of the day.  If my nutrition is off it will be a Nanny Goat (Report) repeat and I am not looking to have that happen ever again.

The plan is drive up north thursday night/friday morning.  I want to be in the area before the race to pick up a few gallons of water and anything I may have forgotten.  Also its going to a different race for me because I'll be camping in nearby Henry W. Coe State Park (link) by myself the night before.  I want a little alone time before this one.  Lately my mind has raced so much with school and life that it will be nice to just unplug and meditate a little.  I think the silence will help me focus and stay on task rather than the usual pre-race rush that I am usually in.

Basic plan is to run the first 50 in 11-12 hours, and the second 50 in 13-14 for a total moving time of 24-26 hours.  Legs have been able to turn quicker in the last few months, but my problem is mentally reigning it in.  I get excited being out there with good people and I forget the plan.  This race is all about saving enough legs for the night which will be crucial at the Headlands.  If its in the cards and my race is developing well I'll try and break 24, but that's not the goal for this one.

First half for sure I will have the headphones in and be a mute.  I know that I need to stay in my head not get carried away with the other runners that are doing a shorter distance since there will be simultaneous runners doing 50k and 50m races in addition to the 100m.

The big gear change is the Salomon Men's EVO Wings Shorts (link).  I usually race in NorthFace or Patagonia because they have never let me down and they feel right.  But I wanted to try something that would reinforce the quads a little and these fit the bill.  Particularly because I know how much downhill can kill your major muscle groups on the trails.  I have never raced in these, but have done some good runs in them so I am confident that they will hold up.

Nutrition, standard. Tailwind (link).  It works, 200 calories per 22 oz bottle and off to the races.  I will probably run the race in the Newton Gravity and have the Altra Instinct 1.5 in a bag just in case.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lines in the Sand

Motivation is a line in the sand and difficult under the best conditions.  As you persist and endure that line gets deeper and more defined.  When you waiver the line blurs and the impetus to go is lost.  When that strength leaves often times I am left holding the remainder of myself and asking; who am I?  What do I actually want?

Friends ask if the endorphin high is that amazing that I am addicted and have to keep going.  The truth is I am a suffering junkie.  I enjoy knowing how far I can go when its not my day.  I enjoy it so because in those moments I learn a lot about myself.  

During a good training cycle I can go into low gear and grind it out.  I force myself to smile when I feel terrible and the pain subsides.  During bad training cycles I cave under the weight of my own thoughts.  The "you can't do it" or "you're not strong enough" thoughts bury my soul and my body breaks down and quits. 

In those dark moments the big questions arise.  What or who am I proving this to?  Did I really pay the entry for this?  What was I thinking?  I have accomplished so much more than I ever imagined.  I have good excuses...why keep going?  Cash in the chips and walk away.

The answer to those questions used to be .... I am scared.  I was unhappy, unhealthy, perennially seeking the momentary satisfactions rather than long term happiness.  Being scared of going back to that place kept me going, it kept the train on the rails.  

Now, I can't give a a single answer as to why I do it.  Keeping that line in the sand visible and defined keeps me balanced, humble and thankful.  In the last few months I have learned a lot about myself because of the struggles on and off the trail.  For me it comes down to giving fear a swift kick to the curb.

A thin line in the sand when I began.  The motivation is no longer to be something or someone else.  It is be a better version of me everyday.  The push to be better every day is mine and mine alone "..and happiness I've known proves that its right...I walk the line" (Johnny Cash).

Monday, July 1, 2013

CureDuchenne and Eaton Canyon

Last week was less than ideal; a few doctors appointments, a mid-term and to top it off some less than pleasant conversations.  Despite a tough week I felt I was doing things "right."  Since high school the coping mechanism I use to turn off my mind for a while is exercise to exhaustion, but my life no longer allows those sessions.  Rather than beating myself up on a trail or the bike I planned a good saturday.  We hiked into Eaton Canyon towards the waterfall.  At the end of the 4 mile trek we even closed with an impromptu run.  The hike was followed by Dim Sum, Vietnamese ice coffee and the Forest Lawn Museum's "the art of the brick" (Lego exhibit) I had been meaning to check out.  Sunday I was unavailable so not able to do much, but saturday was solid.

Saturday was not only fun but a personal reminder to remain open and amenable to different situations where my talents may be used for something greater.  At the waterfall we met a large group/family wearing CureDuchenne t-shirts.

The group was on an annual hike to the waterfall.  One of the boys has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and the family made it an event to have him experience the outdoors.  The boy's father mentioned some of the family took turns carrying him because he had a difficult time managing the trail or they would use a stroller wherever possible.  They had a yellow lab which helped him with chores around the house like getting dressed but worried they would not be able to hike for much longer.

As we spoke I felt the need to help.  I am a grad student and cannot contribute much financially but I told them I would love to help with the annual hike.  This family was taking an active role in fighting back and at the same time spreading the word by walking the walk rather than just can I not cheer for that!?

CureDuchenne came onto my radar some time ago as I became increasingly frustrated with charities.  As  a runner I was always being asked to run "for a charity." But when I would dig around looking for more information I discovered funds going to line pockets and fancy overhead rather than the purpose of the charity.  I like CureDuchenne because they are clear with their purpose.  They state what research projects they fund rather than the traditional "money goes to research" which is to vague for my tastes.  There are a few Southern California charities that I am a huge fan of; the two that immediately come to mind are and CureDuchenne.

I gave the family my email and offered to map out some routes in Griffith Park that are stroller friendly.  Griffith Observatory would be fun and allow them to continue their tradition of hiking even as the Duchenne progresses.  I also emailed the charity directly because I cannot find the slip of paper where I wrote down their names.  They reminded me that no matter how difficult my life is there are others out there getting it done with a much heavier load.

Even though this particular disease has not touched my family directly it has touched my human experience.  Staying open and amenable let me see my running habit as selfish and solitary as it may be can also be used to bridge that invisible gap that divides us.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Victory Sportdesign - Bear II Review

First heard about about Victory Sportdesign (Link) via the Trail Runner Podcast (link).  The podcast crew was interviewing Victor Ballesteros just after attempting to break a FKTs (fastest known time) around the Tahoe Rim Trail (link).  During the broadcast he mentioned designing a drop bag for ultra runners.  A "drop bag" is a bag, or any container you leave for yourself at some future point in the race with whatever gear you will expect to need.  For example if you know you are going to change shoes or need a headlamp around mile 60 then your "drop bag" will contain those things at that future spot or some aid station near it.  Most races do not care about the drop bag style, heck 99% of the time its a plastic bag or something disposable.  However, Western States 100 "drop bags must fit through a 6"x 8" opening and can be no longer than 16" (link).  WS100 is the Boston Marathon of ultra running thus most things are done with the "big one" in mind.

Bear 1.0 (original) and put through its paces
Large Exterior Window for individualizing (style)
Top Flap Window for Race Number or Personal Identification
Interior Window Storage Pockets to quickly identifying Small Items
Interior Storage Pockets for medium sized items, but expandable for larger items
Detachable Clear Divider Pocket (velcro folds on itself, to keep from snagging stored items (Updated)
2 Insulated bottle holders, detachable
Glow in the dark zipper for night use
Interior loop for holding small flashlight
waterproof shell
Size: 6 x 8 x 16 (WS 100 regulation)
Fabrics: 250 Durahex Nylon Outer Shell + PU Coating, 210 Nylon inner, PE Foam, PVC

Version 2.0 has a slightly larger insulated bag for drinks
Use / Testing
First, disclosure, most of my use has been with the version 1.0.  The Bear II has been updated since my providing a thorough beating to the Bear I.  I had the pleasure of chatting with Victor about the updated bags and changes.  Victory Sportdesign stopped taking orders for a few months while the updates were implemented which delayed bag availability because he refused to let the quality of the bags suffer.  I ordered one of the new versions, not because I needed it (already have 2), but rather because it has become useful outside of ultra running and when gear had multiple uses its huge for me.

The Bear II (updated new version)
I have used the Bear at several ultras since purchasing them.  Although I expected that I would not need them when I had a crew for a race I was dead wrong.  The fact the bags are so organized not only made my life easier but crewing was substantially easier as well.

...Imagine your runner comes into an aid station needing the smallest more innocuous object you can put in a bag: chap stick.  A good crew will dig through the duffle bag searching until the fateful statement "we can't find it."  The runner goes on with parched dry lips into the wild.  Believing the first stages of dehydration are revealing themselves the runner drinks too much.  A few miles down the trail the crew sees the lumbering body slowly enter the aid station...GI issues and then the inevitable drop...

I am not saying lack of chap stick will seal your fate, but it is the little things that really turn our day around; a smile, a kind word and yes maybe even some chap stick.  Having an organizational tool like this allows the race to flow smoothly.  All of us have had that frustrating feeling knowing we packed something in our bag only to not find it when we needed it.  This design takes care of that with its ease of use and smart compartments.  My crew was able to find anything I needed quickly and without having to fumble towards the bottom of a duffle bag or backpack and making my transitions through aid stations a breeze.  For ultras, my favorite part of the bag is the insulated bottle holder.  I have used Vietnamese Coffee with great success for running and these pockets keep it cool and delicious for nighttime pick me up.

New version has extra clear divider pocket in the center
I also will use the bag for repeats or longer workouts.  I set it up in the trunk of my car and take off into the hills.  Rather than carrying all of my supplies in one shot, I run a route that will let me use the car as a pit stop.  The design of the bag helps me get in and out fast and not having to carry all the weight I more closely mimic race conditions.  Not only can I practice with the gear I will actually use on race day, but the fact it allows me to get in and out so quickly the temptation to cut the workout short is diminished.

So here is the important part; this bag is NOT ONLY FOR ULTRA RUNNERS.  I know the all caps may have been a little drastic but its true.  For anything other than class I generally reach for this bag.  Only reason is it does not fit a MacBook in there and I am not hip enough to own an iPad Mini (yet).  This bag replaced my gym / overnight bag.  Its dimension allow it to slide into most lockers and everything stays organized.  I no longer have to fumble for the shampoo or sandals, etc. its all there in its place.  As an overnight bag; toothbrush, toiletries, shaving stuff including my old man razor and shave mixing cup...its like moving my bathroom with me.  Result, I avoid the "walk of shame" look and no one is the wiser.

The bag works.  I don't review things unless I have tested it myself and can either vouch for it or tell you to pass on it.  When I first ordered the bags for the Headlands 100 I thought, well I hope I can eventually use them for Western States.  I never really thought I would enjoy them so much or use them in other areas of my life.  So if you are a trail runner or just just want a bag that you can actually find stuff in then give it a shot.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Resetting and Cast Iron Skillets

The many months of pushing during training are finally showing up.  My mileage mildly reflects the increase in stress and my body certainly feels it.  This year, the training has taken a different toll than seasons past.  It is an emotional toll this time around.  My nutrition was off in November, legs a little shaky in March, and now that we are in June my body is taking its time to reset for the push in September.  Last year I would have said, HELL NO, and forced myself to get out there and log the miles I "should" be logging.  But, now being at peace with rest and healing for the trials ahead is more important.

For years my line was "I will get plenty of rest in the grave."  Now, with a little bit of distance and maturity I realize rest is not only physical but emotional.  There are aspects of life that provide the emotional balance we all need to be healthy and happy.  As I sorted out what makes me happy those situations were modified until the best blend arose.  Sometimes that means letting go of people and places I thought would be there forever and accepting closing one door really does open another.

I have accepted my training as it is and liken it to a cast iron skillet.  There is something special about seasoning cast iron.  The combination of time and experience provide a flavor that is uniquely yours and irreproducible.  Like training we make it our own and as we sort out those things that make us happy we learn that its not just one thing or another, but a combination of them.  Family, friends, challenges, successes, defeats, and failures all combine to season our life and make us better people.  As I learn to appreciate the "rest" seasoning I appreciate the "going" so much more.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Nanny Goat 100 Race Report

I went into this race knowing it would be a challenge.  As a law student classes and particularly finals are my first priority.  May is the time of the year that brings flowers for most of the country and nervous breakdowns for 1Ls.  One final exam determines the grade for the class and spilling your brain onto the paper in IRAC form is the only way to succeed. (IRAC - Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion, then repeat for every issue/element…forever).  I was fueled either by frustratingly high amounts of coffee or decompressing with generous pours of scotch; or both.  Ultra training was disastrously low on the priority chart.  Regardless of the stress, 32 miles per week was my average going into this race.  Those miles were quality trail miles so my legs could reap the benefits of the hills and the subtlety of the terrain, but the race course on the other hand was deceptively simple.  A one mile loop 100 times.
Victory Design Bear Drop Bag (link)
Tailwind Nutrition (link)
Headsweats Visor (day) / Buff -(night) (link)
iPod Shuffle
Oakley Radar Glasses
Perl Izumi Arm Coolers (day) / MoBen Arm Warmers (night)
Patagonia Tech Tee (Capilene 1, silk weight)
NorthFace Flite Series 5" short (day) / Sugoi Tight Shorts (night)
Tevasphere Trail Shoes (25 Miles) Altra Running Lone Peak Trail Shoe (56 miles)
Garmin 910XT
Drymax Trail Socks (grey)
BodyGlide Anti-Chafe + BodyGlide Skin Glide (blister protection)
Fenix Headlamp / Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Ultimate Direction Handheld (Review)

Nanny Goat 100
The one mile loop is on a horse ranch in Riverside, Ca.  It is deceptively easy as far as courses go which is the problem.  The first few miles I was cruising along at a relatively quick pace for a 100 miler.  Around mile 4 my knees began aching.  How could my knees hurt on a course with no elevation and not even a 10k into it?  The answer lay in the courses deceptively tricky flatness.  The temperatures at the start were perfect; high 50s-low 60s and overcast so everyone went out a little quickly to take advantage of the conditions.  That fact coupled with a grassy section about .2-.3 that sucked the unsuspecting runners into a false sense of security only to reward them with twisted ankles or in my case achy knees.  Shoes sunk into sponge like obscurity and before you realized it the pain sets in and its a patch job style race from that point on.  After 6 miles I began walking a part of this section and by mile 25 I was walking the whole grass section, lesson learned.

At mile 25 I took a break.  I felt great but knew I was running too quickly.  I had been running steady with no aches and pains after making the grassy section adjustment.  I began chatting with another runner named Arturo and  it turns out he is going to be taking on the Headlands 100 in September.  A few days after the race I got an email from him telling me he had to drop because his daughter, who was there to support him, fainted and had to be taken to the hospital.  At the time I was blissfully unaware the heat was crushing all of us.  I should have been more cognizant given I saw an older man fall backwards on his head in the middle of the afternoon, but of course you never think it could be you…so wrong.

But, by mile 10 I was not urinating on schedule.  Its a weird thing to talk about but in ultra running it's your personal tracking system.  I drink a lot of liquids.  My urination schedule is pretty regular and even on the hottest days out in Griffith Park I am clear with a slightly yellow tint, i.e. hydrated.  Sorry for the details.  Race day consuming copious amounts of liquids and still nada.  Approximately 4-5 hours into the run I noticed that my urine was an ice tea color; not a good sign that early into a 100 miler.  The overcast perfect running conditions heated up in a heartbeat and I missed the adjustment.  The next 6 hours I tried to consume more liquids and re-hydrate but the urine got darker and darker.  By the 50 mile mark I was not at coke color level, but pretty dam close to it.  I ran the first fifty in about ten and a half hours.  I was on pace to break 24 hours, which is the magical number for ultra runners but the hydration was a problem a bigger one that I thought.

Mile 60 Al joined me to pace for a few miles.  Al was there at my first hundred and was the first person to see me hallucinate from exhaustion (Rocky Road 100 - Report) live and in technicolor and has been one of my biggest supporters since I started running ultras.  He saw me drop 50+ lbs. and increasingly become healthier and happier.  We ran for a few miles and I told him my plan was to run hard from 1 am - 3 am and make up lost time.  He asked how my hydration was doing and I answered, fine.  I probably should have been more forthcoming but I did not want to have him come out to Riverside to walk a few miles in the dead of night.  So we jogged a little and he left me after midnight.  I did end up running from 1 am - 3 am, but that was all the gas I had in the tank.   

Mile 80-81
My body had not adjusted the hydration issue despite my best efforts  Throughout the day I met amazing people.  Everyone, as is typical in an ultra, suffered together and rejoiced in each others accomplishments.  It would be impossible to list everyone, but if you look at the Nanny Goat 100 facebook group you will see what I am talking about.  A solid group of people who are all about cheering for each other.  Despite all of these positive vibes I decided to drop at mile 81.

The body took a toll and I did not want to push beyond my limits.  I knew that my hydration was off and this was just not the day to push the red line any further.  Arriving at the main aid station and announced that I was dropping.  The RD told me I could walk a mile an hour and still make cut-offs, but I reiterated that I was done.  He suggested I sit for half an hour and decide after that.  I agreed...

I sat on a cooler leaned my head back and felt a tremendous weight come over me.  I woke up to a few people slapping my face asking if I was okay?  I asked what happened and the answer was "you blacked out."  My initial thought was; bull****.  There is no way I blacked out.  Blacking out it is a college drinking story not a seasoned ultra runner story.  I tried getting up and lost consciousness again.  Then it sunk in, my body was agreeing with my decision to drop and it was not taking any other answer.

The volunteers, particularly Jean, really saved me.  Knowing my personality I would have tried to keep moving and probably collapsed somewhere, but they brought a cot and had me lay down.  Once I laid on the cot my body was alternating between strip into nothing hot then shivering cold.  Jean placed a heater and placed it near me and then tried getting me to consume water.  I was so miserable and I could do nothing about it.

My breathing labored and naturally could not get comfortable.  My legs were complaining with the pain that sets in once you stop.  I went from feeling confused and disoriented to achy and cramping then back to confused.  It was akin to a boxer being knocked out.  It just came upon me in a flash and I had to ride it out.  Some time later, honestly I have no idea how much time because I was confused, Jean brought a pillow.  It was fluffy and white. 
I tried to complain that I was gross and would ruin it to which she answered, don't worry about it we are ultra runners.  I finally fell asleep. 

I woke up feeling nauseous but years better than I had a few hours before.  I thought; what if I had sat somewhere on the course?  What if i had opted to keep going regardless?  The questions naturally will never have answers but just the thought of those answers is scary.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons, but more than that I am proud I listened to my body and decided to drop.  My body obviously overjoyed with the prospect of stopping (read as survival) showed agreement by passing out.  It took me a few hours to get back into a good mental place, such a good mental place that I signed up for another 100 in August.  I respect the Headlands too much not not dial in everything before it.  Most of my non-runner friends think I am nuts and should take the experience as my chance to retire from the ultras.  Giving up is not my style.  I look at the experience as a gift. I was given a lesson and a bunch of new friends with 81 miles thrown in.  Failing is only failing if you don't get up and I think its my duty as member of this community to get up and get motivated.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nanny Goat 100 Pre Race Thoughts

My average training week has been 32 miles.  Generally it would not be a bad idea to even attempt a 100 miler with that low of volume.  The course is a 2 mile loop that each competitor will go around 50 times, yes you read that right; le hamster wheel.  Why?

For me this race represents a mental challenge.  I have completed a few 100 mile runs and recognize that  physically I am not in shape to compete for time; law school has made that impossible this year.  But I do have an insatiable desire to test my metal.  This run in particular lends itself to this test since I will neither have a crew nor pacers; the two things that have saved me time and time again during ultra marathons.   My thoughts and the prayers of those who know me versus the distance.

I will have some Victory Design Drop Bags, Tailwind Nutrition and hopefully a few votive candles from my mom shinning in my direction.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Hard Lesson In Kindness and Law

     I normally do not feel the need to share personal details as it is a blog about running.  But today I need to vent a little, I am sorry so feel free to stop reading now.  Monday I was waiting in line at the In-n-Out in Culver City.  I was meeting a friend on that side of town and famished after working in Orange County I really wanted a double double and a chocolate shake.  As I waited in line a man backed his suburban into the rear driver side of my car. 
     The first words out of his mouth, after pulling over; did I do that?  You sure, it looks like you can just pop it right out.  I said, sir you hit my car and there is blue paint on your bumper.  I snapped some pictures and honestly should have taken this as a red flag but didn't.  When I asked for his insurance and driver's license he asked if we needed one of those in this state.  I smirked and requested it again.  Rather than calling my insurance right there he asked if I could get a few estimates and he would rather write me a check.  I quickly copied his insurance and license information.  He then asked if I was the allowed to drive this car and if the damage had not been there as he wiped some of the blue paint off his bumper.  I know red flags, but he was older and I did not want to be rude.  I thought...if I'd hit someone and could pay to fix their car rather than have my premiums go up I would want someone to do that for me.  I consented to seek estimates.  
     I called him tuesday afternoon with estimates.  He did not like the sound of them and asked if I could go to "his" body shop.  Feeling a little frustrated I had wasted time I agreed.  In my head I thought, this is it.  If it does not get settled wednesday I am just calling my insurance and having them deal with it.  Again, do unto others...I thought.  
     I went to his body shop and their estimate was 2x everyone else's because they informed there may be structural damage.  I called him to inform him of the news and that I would be calling my insurer.  His response was that he would mail me a check for the estimates I had given him the previous day.  I told him I was not accepting his check and that I was calling him as a courtesy.  He proceeded to ask me the name of the other body shop so he could make the check, I did not repeat it.  He then asked if the address on my license was a good place to mail it and I again repeated I was sorry but that I was not accepting his check.  He stated that he was going to tell "his" body shop not to accept my insurance and that he would deny he had hit me claiming that as he backed up I refused to move.  I informed him that there are cameras that caught the scene reiterating that he backed into me.  He then said he would be mailing a check and that was it; and that it was illegal for me to be in Los Angeles and not report the address change to the DMV.  This last remark set me off. 
     The remark set me off because it reminded me of all the people that get abused because of their ignorance of the law.  I remember as a younger child listening to one race subjugate another with the statement; "well its illegal to...".  A statement that an immigrant or a non-english speaker would have generated the fear of God within them.  It infers some "other" knowledge and takes an authoritarian tone.  It was a threat veiled in law.  The law that is meant to protect everyone, especially the defenseless.  Instead it was used as a weapon to make others feel inferior.  He was attempting to impose his will on me without my consent, but it was not his words that angered me.  My anger came from the knowledge that this was probably learned behavior maybe used on those less knowledgable and not willing to take the risk.  I let him know I was lenient enough.  I had wasted 2 days attempting to help him out and that I was not going to risk my safety over this.  I hung up the phone.  He did not call back. 
     I share this story not as a "warning" but as a lesson.  Not everyone we meet will take our kindness and may try to abuse it.  Because of this man's actions I am not going to stop reminding myself to do unto others as I want to be done unto me.  But, I will set my boundaries much sooner.  Maybe through kindness we can change those learned behaviors that only serve to divide all of us.