Living Vice Not Dying

grug-eep-the-croods-34956736-940-473Today as I drove around Mexico City doing family errands, my girls were watching a movie — The Croods.  I overheard some dialog that resonated with me:

  • Eep: Dad, you have to stop worrying about us.
  • Grug: But it’s my job to worry!  It’s my job to follow the rules.
  • Eep: The rules don’t work out here.
  • Grug: They kept us alive.
  • Eep: That wasn’t LIVING! That was just… “Not Dying”! There’s a difference.

That last line repeated in my mind all day.  It’s quite profound on many levels.  Too often I find in today’s hustle and bustle we are conforming to this set of norms and that set of rules–continuously trying to stay within the lines.  How should I be raising my daughters?  What food should they eat?  What should I not do at work?  How should I comport myself in this or that social situation.

In my athletic world, how much should I be training?  How hard should I train?  What should I eat?  Is this the right form?  Did I recover enough?  Am I “fueling and hydrating” properly? And on and on and on…

Rules and regulations permeate practically every facet of my life.  I actually revel in the rules and get a weird sense of accomplishment when I feel as if I have checked all the imaginary boxes on self imposed checklists of things I should and should not do.

While I definitely am not proposing anarchy and mayhem in a ruleless society, this quote was a reminder that I should be more mindful of my actions and decisions.  I don’t have a meaningful takeaway to share with the world but what I do know is the next time I go out and run, it will be with a youthful exuberance and push the limits of fun.  The next time I interact with my daughters, I will be mindful to not stress the rules but instead promote what they can do–ask them what they think.

Let us choose to live rather than simply not die.

43 for 43

43k - 9

Since becoming a dedicated runner, I’ve tried incorporating a long run around my age.  Back in 2014, I ran 39 miles for my 4 country run starting in Belgium, traversing Luxembourg, touching briefly into France, and ending in Germany.  This year, I set out to complete 42 km for my 42nd birthday but ended up doing 43 km.  I justified the “43” since technically your birthday is the first day of the next year and the birthday means you have completed that many years.  It is all semantics, I know.

WARNING: This is more of a stream of consciousness type post.  While I would like all my articles to be top notch, I figured that I will sacrifice quality at this point to try to build the routine of daily writing.  Hopefully, over time they will improve.

43kI set out on this run to just enjoy it.  I had no preconceived notions of total time, pace, or expectations other than reflection.  My GPS watch was set only to show me my cadence (for those non-runners, that calculates the amount of steps I take per minute).  Too often I find myself in the never ending loop of checking my watch for my speed, how far I have gone, or how far I have to go.  If I am in a particularly low moment in a run, it can actually make the run drag even longer if I keep looking at the kilometers tick by.

43k - 1

After seeing my daughters off to school, I took off with good lineup of music in the playlist and a smile on my face.  My journey was to take me all around the western part of Mexico City.  The “fun” part of running in this section is that is quite hilly.  For the most part you are either going up or down.

The last time I ran this distance was in March for the Marathon Before Work Challenge that Fast Corey created.  Since then, my training has been haphazard due to family obligations, random life things, but more importantly I lost focus of my fine tuned dedication I normally have.  In my mind this run was a re-confirmation to my movement forward physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  In fact, it was my 14th consecutive day running.  For those that don’t know, I like the concept of run streaking to get things going in the right direction.  If there is no choice as to whether I am running or not, it makes it a done deal.  After 3 weeks, habits are formed and it becomes second nature.Back to the run…  It was a cool but humid morning.  In the beginning, I did some out and backs to pad the overall distance to the big loop I was running.  The first 30% of the run would have 70% of the elevation gain–over 1000 meters/3300 feet.  On one particular part, I took a road in which I was unfamiliar.  Much to my chagrin, I quickly found that it was much more downhill than I anticipated.  As I continued to descend, I had this feeling that I was going further and further into elevation debt because I had to back track to the overall loop.  In the end, I decided that the uphills are what I need to get my fitness back to top notch so I forced the smile back on the face and went into diesel engine mode as I came back to the loop.43k - 3Shortly after that section I reached the peak of this run.  From that point I felt more relaxed and was able to hit cruise control for a while.  An interesting challenge during this run was all of the chatter coming across my phone because of my birthday.  As a technology geek, I have my GPS watch tied to my phone which would chime/buzz every time another birthday wish would come across.  On top of that, I had a family member in the hospital who I was trying to keep tabs on via text messages.  Then there were some phone calls coming in as well.  All of this caused many stops and starts.  Rather than get frustrated (which can happen to me easily) I remembered that there was no time limit on this run and to just enjoy.  Once I let go of any ideas of how I needed to do this run, I was not bothered by the interruptions.  I definitely need to remember this frame of mind going forward.43k - 4When I run 4 hours or more, I like to carry water and some sort of food.  I used a 3 liter hydration pack for water and brought some Huma chia gels along with some mini Larabars.  I have learned that when you are training for an ultramarathon, it is not just the running that you need to train.  You need to train with your equipment and train your stomach for the food options you will use in the race.  It is much better to find out that a hydration pack or type of food causes you big problems during a practice run then to have race day emergencies or melt downs.  This run was almost perfect in terms of water and food.  My only changes would be to eat about 15% more and to restock the water in the last hour.  I ran out of water with about 30 minutes to go.  Luckily the temperature in Mexico City is quite mild so I can handle it.43k - 5Another point of focus to help enhance my enjoyment of the special day was to take photos.  I love photography but am always too caught up in the moment to stop and take photos for good memories.  Today would be different and as you can see by this post, I was able to capture much of the scenery of the run.  Now that it is completed, I am content that I forced myself to stop often for the snapshots.43k - 6When I crossed the 3 hour mark, I could feel some flagging and fatigue setting in.  My previous experience with many long runs is that I know I have the capability to keep on trucking when I feel tired.  I think I did that for about 15 hours when I ran my first 100 miler.  The tough part is when I started flagging, I was almost at the lowest elevation on this run–meaning I had about and hour of straight uphill to contend with to complete the journey.  Let the mind games begin!!43k - 7Once I hit the final major uphill, I committed to myself I would just downshift to a low gear but keep the wheels turning over.  I knew I would persevere if I just let it come to me and not worry about how long the hill was.  Just relax and go with it… At the summit I had a quick decent through a neighborhood of winding streets.  I could hear my feet slapping the ground quite violently which meant my form was deteriorating.  Eventually I made it to the final huge albeit short climb.  Slowly but surely I made it up while definitely redlining.  From that point I cruised to my make shift finish line and with that, the run was over. 43k - 8 This run instilled and reminded me of a few things:

  • Relax while running
  • Focus on the next step and the rest will work itself out
  • Keep on smiling–it makes you feel good
  • When tired, remember your form
  • I still need a lot of training for 100 miler in October
  • Life is good when you are committed to making it good

 

A Renewal of Sorts

MD_Route_42Today I celebrate another year completed on this rotating globe named Earth.  I have never been one much for parties and hoopla but for some odd reason this year it feels like I should recognize and celebrate the occasion.  Over the past couple months, I have found myself becoming more introspective as well as having the desire to learn and challenge myself increasing.  I’m not sure where it originates but sometimes when you feel life pulling you in a positive direction, you need to go with it.

I started the year training very well but things derailed in April causing my level of fitness to fall apart and added many kilos back that I worked off.  Rather than dwell in the setback, I looked forward and wanted to figure out what do I need to do to get things going again.

First, I need to run a qualifying race by the end of October 2017 to be eligible to enter in the WSER 2018 drawing.  Since I didn’t get picked in 2017, I will have two names in the hat, provided I qualify.  I was going to run the UTMX 100 km in October–which would be convenient since it’s only hours away from where I live.  The problem was that when I went to sign up (at the same time I did last year) it was already sold out.  I guess the stars were trying to tell me that wasn’t my race this year.  I searched for other races in October and sitting right there was the Javelina Jundred.  I have heard lots of great things about the race but, and that’s a big but, it’s 100 miles not 100 km.  I have only run one 100 miler and that was two years ago.  Instead of worrying, I have put myself in “figure it out” mode.  I have around 16-17 weeks to prepare.  I believe it will be enough but I don’t think I’ll be as prepared as I was for the Keys 100.  That said, I simply need to finish the race in 30 hours.  I am sure I can do that as long as any unexpected injuries or incidents pop up during the race.

Going forward, I have decided to challenge myself in many different ways in this next year of my life:

  • Complete the Javelina Jundred
  • Write in this blog quite regularly (hopefully daily)
  • Focus on my training like never before–getting good sleep, no alcohol, clean eating, etc.
  • Renew my commitment to a whole food-plant based diet–I went vegan all of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 but then reverted to vegetarian/pescatarian.
  • Be more mindful and intentional of my actions and decisions.
  • Explore meditation–finally! (I have been learning and thinking about it for at least 20 years)

That is just a portion of what has been rattling around my mind but I think with writing, more will flow naturally.

To reward myself today, I ran 43 km to mark the first day of the 43rd year of my life.  I will post a separate article about the fun run around “La Ciudad de México”.

43k

 

Officially Masters

40

I have been mulling over what my next topic should be for many days now.  The funny thing is that I have ended up procrastinating by being indecisive — paralysis by analysis.  My goal, which I missed by a bit, is to get at least one post up every week.  Topics I have considered:  how to choose a coach, keeping a training program diverse, how to measure your progress, importance of family support, how to stay motivated when your race is so far away, and the concept of a milestone birthday.  I think all of the topics are worthy of blog posts but typical to my personality, I am going to go with the easiest topic first and move on from there:  milestone birthday.

This week I turned 40.  It has been surreal, exciting, motivating, a time for reflection, and, at times, no big deal at all.  For the better part of the year, when I was 39, I was already considering myself 40.  I am not sure why.  Maybe I was excited to be 40, maybe I just wanted to get it over, who knows?

The first part of turning 40 is everyone asking how do you feel or what do you think about turning 40?  Honestly, I am very happy to be 40.  For me, it is some sort of validation that I have done pretty well so far in life.  I have been happily married for ten years, I have two lovely daughters with a third on the way, I have an amazing family and some very important and wonderful friends in my life.  I feel more grounded and confident at this point in my life than any other point in my life.  My youth and early adulthood was filled with worries–worries for the future, worries about the unknown, worries about my past, worries about what decision to make, worries on what will happen in terms of love.  You get the idea.  The incredible power of the love, in which my wife has showered me, has almost completely erased that pervasive feeling of worry that plagued me for so long.  Imagine this:  have you ever been in an office, public building, restaurant, or home where there was a very loud a/c running or some sort of white noise that was in the background but not loud enough to be an acute sound and then that sound is removed.  Do you remember that feeling of relief you felt once that agitating white noise was gone?  That is what I feel in my life now.  The love from my marriage has removed all that unwanted white noise from life.  I have clarity and a defined direction.  Do I know what is to come in the future?  No, but I do have the feeling of calm because I know that whatever comes will be great and will work out.  Plainly said, I have faith in what is to come.

Wow, I think I digressed quite a bit there.

finish start

The title of this post ties into the fact that age 40 I am now officially in the masters category for racing.  Does it matter to me?  Maybe.  Why do I run?  I run because I love to run however, I do have a desire to compete and to test my limits in and out of competition.  It might be a nice goal to try to win the masters title in a race.  It will take a ton of work since many strong ultrarunners are 40+ but I think it is highly important to set lofty goals.  Without them, we are limiting our potential.

Another thought I have had regarding turning 40 is that I wish I would have discovered my passion for running at an earlier age–like in my twenties.  At age 40, I am aware that biologically I am past my peak muscular development point in my life.  I also understand that in order to perform at your absolute maximum in various sports, you need to put many years of dedicated training.  Multiple experts claim that it takes around seven years to reach your pinnacle of performance.  I have only been a dedicated runner for three years.  In terms of ultrarunning, my weekly/monthly training at that level just started in midway through 2014.  This means that I still have a long way to go in my development.  The part that frustrates me is that I may be in my mid to late forties before I reach full potential.  At the same time, I do have concern that time/age is burning the candle at the other end.  Had I discovered running at age 25, for example, I would be in my early thirties at the predicted time to reach full potential.  Biologically, that would match perfectly.  What I finally realized is that it is a waste of time to spend energy thinking about the “only if” or “what if” scenarios.  What use is it?!  I am not going back in time.  I need to focus all my energy on what I can control.  I do realize that many of the runners I respect and admire have been running since high school and have 20+ years under their belts.  I cannot do anything about that.  On the flip side, I have much less wear and tear on my body.  Maybe that could work to my advantage.  And again, does any of it really matter?  It only matters if I make winning or placing in the top 10 the end all be all.

Tranquility

Where am I going with this post?  I am not exactly sure but the point I want to make is that I am very happy to be 40.  My life experiences, both successes and failures, have taught me many lessons and give me the direction and drive to pursue my passions to the fullest.  I relish the opportunity to discover what adventures are to come and I am putting as much energy as I can into who I am as a runner today.  That, in and of itself, is as much as I can do to push myself beyond the imaginary boundaries of my capabilities now.  I do want to succeed yet success is an artificial construct.  It may not necessarily be in winning a race but more so in the path that I am following to find out what my potential truly is.  The truth of the matter is that success is only in my mind and if I find peace and fulfillment in my journey, then I have already won.  Bring on my forties because I have been waiting for you all my life.

Childhood Idols as an Adult

WSERTomorrow at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time, the Western States Endurance Run commences.  In my estimation and in the opinions of many others, it is the Super Bowl, World Series, or World Cup Finals of ultrarunning.  This race is 100 miles through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.  While it isn’t the toughest 100 mile ultramarathon in the world, it is a race that’s been around since the mid 70s when there were barely any 100 mile races and it attracts the best athletes from around the globe.  For me, as well as many other aspiring ultrarunners, it is the first ultramarathon we read or hear about.  It reminds me of my youth when I would hear legendary stories about World Series games with stars like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson.

Mr. October himself.

Mr. October himself.

As race day approaches, I have found myself glued to interviews, podcasts, blogs, and magazine articles related to this year’s event.  The enthusiasm in which I find myself made me look at the connection between my passion for ultrarunning compared to baseball.

Look at the profile of this race!

Look at the profile of this race!

Back in 1987-88, I had somewhat of a breakthrough athletically.  Prior to that, I wasn’t uncoordinated per se.  I was fast and strong but didn’t really stand out in any particular sport.  I was decent in basketball as a guard, I was good at soccer as a fullback, but in baseball I was relegated to the dreaded right field position.  For those that are unfamiliar with little league baseball, right field is where you would stick your worst players because the frequency of balls going out there was very little.  Yet in 1987, my parents had a great idea to send me to a baseball camp in Cocoa Beach, Florida–The Clint Hurdle Baseball Camp.  Those 5 days of working with professional baseball players changed my life.  By having people work with me and teach me drills, the technique of proper practice, and the repetition necessary to improve, I suddenly gained a level of confidence I never had before.

Eric Davis Cincinnati Reds  May 25, 1987 X 34717 credit:  John Hanlon - assign

credit: John Hanlon

When the next season started for baseball, I went from being a bench warmer to one of the top players in the league.  My love for baseball grew exponentially.  I watched and listened to as many games as possible (no internet or cable television in those days).  I collected baseball cards.  I played baseball video games on the Nintendo and my computer.  My friends and I played pickup baseball games all year long.  When we would play these games, one thing we would do was pretend to be players in the Major Leagues.  We would try to emulate their mannerisms, batting stances, and styles.  The player I always picked was Eric Davis.  He was a center fielder for my beloved Cincinnati Reds.

Quick side note–while I lived in the Washington, D.C. area for most of my life, I did spend 3 years in the suburbs of Cincinnati in a town called Loveland.  Because Washington did not have a baseball team during my childhood, I adopted the Reds as my team because I was not from Baltimore.  I followed the Baltimore Orioles but I loved the Reds.

Eric_DarrylAs a boy it was common to pick an athlete to idolize and I knew everything about Eric “The Red” Davis.  I knew what high school he attended, that one of his friends growing up was Darryl Strawberry, what minor league teams he played for, his birthday…well you get the picture.  What I particularly liked about him was that he played the game all out.  He gave EVERYTHING he had every single game.  He was fast, he could hit homeruns, he made amazing plays as a fielder, and seemed to be an all around good guy.  He was never mixed up with drugs, arrests, and other off field shenanigans.  I truly idolized him and tried to craft my game after him.  Since those times, I have always been known by my teammates as someone who would play at 100%, organize my own practices-even when the teams weren’t practicing, and would sacrifice my body to make a play or win the game.  I had coaches tell my father at various times that I should try to relax a little more during practice because of my intensity.

Looking back on those times and comparing it to today, I wondered do I idolize any runners?  Is it possible for me, a grown man, to idolize anymore?  Do I know enough about the sport of ultrarunning to really speak on the subject?  To answer the question about idolizing–I don’t think as a grown man I would idolize anyone.  I am content with who I am as an individual and my path in life.  However, I do know that finding a few people that represent some of the things I hold important and who have immense experience to share is important if you want to grow.  Think of the sensei-student relationship.  As for knowing enough to speak about ultrarunning, who knows…I have only been studying the sport for a couple years, have only been running ultra distances since 2013, and only completed my first race 6 weeks ago.

To get straight to the point, I would say that there are some people that I find represent many of the qualities in which I aspire.  I don’t know whether it was serendipitous, coincidence, or just plain old dumb luck but the very first two books I bought related to ultrarunning were Finding Ultra by Rich Roll and Eat and Run by Scott Jurek.  These two gentlemen seem to embody many of the things that are important to me at this juncture in my life.

Rich Roll

Rich Roll’s story is one of a school athlete who lost his way in college and by the time he was in his 30s was overweight, abusing alcohol and drugs, and unhappy with his life.  He had a moment of clarity one night climbing the stairs, finding himself out of breath and realizing that if he continues down this road, he may not see much of his children’s life unfold.  By way of reaching out for help, changing his diet, and dedicating his energy to improve his life he turned himself into an incredible ultra athlete who completed the Epic 5–an annual event consisting of 5 Iron Distance Triathlons, on 5 Hawaiian Islands, in 5 Days.  He wrote an amazing book chronically his journey, hosts a widely popular podcast “The Rich Roll Podcast” (which I am a dedicated listener), and now has a fabulous cookbook “The Plantpower Way“.  Reading his books and listening to him talk to such a diverse array of guests on his podcast has really given me an idea of what the guy represents.  His insights, personal successes and failures, and the information that is presented in his podcasts has had such a profound impact on my life.

Scott Jurek

After I read Rich Roll’s first book, I was thirsty for more.  The next recommended book by Amazon after Finding Ultra was Eat and Run.  This book by Scott Jurek tells his story starting as a young boy from Minnesota who worked his way up to being one the best, if not the best, ultrarunner in the world for a long stretch of time in the 2000s.  Starting in 1999, he went on to win 7 consecutive Western States Endurance Runs, a feat that has never been matched.  His story chronicled personal and family struggles as well as his journey to become a fully plant based athlete.  Besides his success at the Western States, he went on to set numerous other records during his career.

  • United States record for 24 hour distance on all surfaces (165.7 miles/266.01 kilometers).
  • Won the Spartathlon 153-mile (246 km) race from Athens to Sparta, Greece three consecutive times (2006–2008).
  • Won the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run (2007), and held the record time for one year until Kyle Skaggs set a new record in 2008.
  • Won the Western States Endurance Run seven consecutive times (1999–2005), and held the record time (15:36:27 in 2004) until 2010
  • Won the Badwater Ultramarathon twice (2005, 2006), and held the course record for two years (2005).
  • Finished first three times (2002–2004) and second three times (2001, 2005, 2006) in the Miwok 100K Trail Race.
  • Won the Leona Divide 50 Mile Run four times (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004).
  • Won the Diez Vista 50K Trail Run twice (2000, 2003).
  • Won the Montrail Ultra Cup series twice (2002, 2003).
  • Selected as UltraRunning Magazine’s North American Male Ultrarunner of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007.

Dean Karnazes

I would also say that I am impressed with Dean Karnazes.  He is a polarizing figure in the ultra community but for me he is a genuine person who has done very well for himself by sharing and marketing his experience.  While many athletes are annoyed at the amount of attention he receives stating he was never the best runner in the sport, he has won many prestigious races and has some amazing accomplishments.  After reading his books and watching/listening to interviews, he passes my test in terms of guy who is the real deal.  Here are some of Dean’s feats:

  • Ran 350 miles (560 km) in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleep in 2005
  • Single-handedly completed “The Relay”, a 199-mile (320 km) run from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, eleven times
  • Ran a marathon to the South Pole in −13 °F (−25 °C) temperatures without snowshoes in 2002
  • Ran a marathon in each of the 50 states in 50 consecutive days in 2006
  • Winner, Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles (217 km) across Death Valley in 120 °F (49 °C) temperatures), 2004 (with five other top-10 finishes from 2000-2008)
  • Winner, Vermont Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, 2006
  • Overall Winner, 4 Deserts Race Series, 2008
  • American Ultrarunning Team, World Championships, 2005, 2008
  • 148 miles (238 km) in 24 hours on a treadmill, 2004
  • Eleven-time 100-Mile/1 Day Silver Buckleholder at the Western States Endurance Run (i.e., better than ten twenty-four-hour finishes), 1995–2006
  • Ran 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, running 40 to 50 miles (65 to 80 km) per day, 2011

What I particularly like about Scott and Rich as well as Dean is they come across as humble yet driven men.  They don’t seem cocky or have self-inflated egos.  From all accounts, they are down to earth and enjoy sharing their experiences and helping others–qualities that I strive for in my life.  While I may not attain such lofty accomplishments as these gentlemen, I draw inspiration and energy from what they have done and represent.   What is important to me is that I continue to strive for that which seems beyond my reach, to challenge myself to be better at my life, and to be a father and husband to be proud of.  I want my wife and daughters to see me in the light that I saw my idols as a kid and to truly be that person through and through.  That is what drives me in life.

Three Years Running

3 years

Three years of dedication adds up.

Some of you know my story but most do not.  On June 1st, 2012, I decided that I was going to challenge myself to a run streak of 30 days.  It wasn’t going to be complicated.  I just needed to run 30 minutes or 5km for the entire month of June.  At the time I was still overweight and had been battling to continue my weight reduction.  Some six years prior to that I was at the most unhealthy point of my life and was tipping the scale at 225lbs (102kg).  Keep in mind I’m only 5’8″ (173cm).  During those 30 days, some sort of miracle took place–I became a runner.  The seed was planted and for the first time in my life I figured out how to run regularly without hurting myself.

During the first year of being a dedicated runner:

In my second year, I didn’t start very strong.  I had a light June and July of 2013 and found myself adrift in my training schedule as the year progressed.  By December I realized that I needed to focus on a goal of sorts.  Looking back on what made me successful in my first year, I decided to try a running streak again for the month of January.  During that streak, I set my sights on a distance farther than 50km–a run across the entire country of Luxembourg (63km/39mi).  I picked that my route to give me a distance of 39 miles.  I wanted to run 39 miles before my 39th birthday.  After 4 months of dedicated training, including some cycling, I successfully ran from Petange, Belgium to the German border next Remich, Luxembourg.  While I was very proud of that run, my second year of being a runner wasn’t as focused as I would have liked.  That gave me some real motivation for year three.

In year three, I feel like I finally was able realize some of my potential through dedicated training.  There were many new firsts and achievements that made me proud and gave me a feeling of accomplishment.  Here are a few of my highlights:

  • Ran my first race of my life – Keys 100 – 100 miles in 20:28.
  • Ran my first 100 km distance from Olney, MD to Georgetown, Washington, DC and back.
  • Ten runs of a marathon distance or more.
  • Three 50km runs in the month of December.
  • 5153 km / 3202 mi run in total.

3 years summaryAs I look back on these three years of progress, I am shocked by the numbers because it doesn’t seem like I could have done all that running.  However, the years have taught me many life lessons and one in particular–no distance is insurmountable, you just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and never stop.  I am fully aware that my accomplishments pale in comparison to many runners out there but accomplishments are not the primary reason why I run.  I run because it is who I am.  I run because I feel alive.  I run because it connects me with life.

Most importantly I also know that none of this, absolutely none of this, would have ever been possible without the support and belief from my wife.  Knowing that she is there at ever step, either physically or emotionally, keeps me going.  I love you Karina!

My wife and I on a run in Heidelberg, Germany.

My wife and I on a run in Heidelberg, Germany.