Monday, August 4, 2014

Initial Thoughts On a DNF: Searching for Resolution.

My phone buzzed at 3:00 am and I woke ready to stop trying to sleep and just start running. Finally, after months of waiting, at 5:00 am we were off headed for Altadena. We patiently climbed the acorn trail in the dark, hopped onto the PCT, and were cruising down to Inspiration Point by the time the sun came up.  Everything felt right.  I was running comfortably, letting Chris, Dom, and the others speed off ahead.  “We’ve got plenty of miles to tire ourselves out,” I thought.  

Over Baden-Powell, splash in Little Jimmy, Islip, Eagle’s Roost, slight low point, climb out up to Cloudburst, float down to Three Points, and off to Hillyer.  It all seemed somewhat effortless, but before I knew it things were turning on me. By the time I arrived at Chilao my gut was beginning to be non-cooperative.  “I can’t run downhill without it feeling like its going to explode,” I thought, “Fuck!!!” So I walked out of Chilao, shuffled up to Charlton Flats, and walked down the canyon to get to Shortcut.  There was no part of me that could fathom walking the next 40 miles.   At Shortcut Peter dumped coffee down my throat trying to convince my gut to let go of whatever it was holding onto, but the pain only increased. I still don’t know if there really was any other choice, but then and there my only option was to call it a day.  

Two days later and I just sit here to try to experience those moments somewhere in the illusionary land of my memory.  Could something have been different? Could I have turned it around?  That time and place it over a dead now, and yet in my mind I have carefully tried to recreate the scene of my crew trying to push me out and down the road, and me only knowing the pain of my bursting gut.  In this imaginary movie scene I float around searching the place for a hint of something that I couldn’t see then.  I can hear Peter’s stern words and see Jess’ looks of support and concern.  I see the faces of the people I wanted to impress and I can still feel the weight of  letting them down when the scissors cut through my wrist band.   

The more time I spend replaying that scene the more I get lost.  I can’t find that missing piece, and none of it is real anymore. The race is over. I go back and forth trying to tell myself that I doesn’t really matter anyways.  Its just one race in a niche sport that most of the world doesn’t even know exists.  On the other side of the coin is a long focused effort that ultimately was unsuccessful, and that does seem to have some level of tangibility and importance, even if its only in my own myopic world.  Any real resolution continues to evade me.

Congrats to all of the finishers, and especially to Ruperto for running a very smart and calculated race.  Thank you to all of the people who spoke encouraging words to me during the race, most notably Katie’s mom Joan: what a wonderful lady.  I couldn’t have asked for a better crew captain in Jess. She was encouraging when I needed it, and militant when it was necessary; she’s a true bad ass.  

In a few hours I will have to sign up for next year’s race, and the journey starts all over.  And so it goes.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mountain Sports Suck

As I stuffed my refilled water bottle in my shorts and began to walk out of the Candy Store aid station, a volunteer shouted to me, "You have about ten and a half miles left." Exhausted, I turned and shot him an evil scowl, to which he replied," if...if you care."  I tried to change my scowl into a smile, but all energy for any niceties was being preserved for my slog back to the finish.  With in half of a mile I was back on the technical single track I had already covered three times.  As the sun beat down on me I thought for a second how nice it would have been to drop from the race at the last aid station.  My legs decided they had had enough a couple miles before, but somewhere in my exhausted mind I was convinced that they didn't know what they were talking about, "We've still got to get our tired ass back to Blue Jay Campground," I thought.  It was time to grit my teeth and run myself into the ground, and as I attempted this, I couldn't help but to think, "man, mountain sports suck."

I grew up the son of a surfer, and thus was thrust into an early life that revolved around the ocean.  Tides and swell were the subject of constant thought, drawing perfect "A-frame" peaks and hollow right handers in my school note books instead of math equations or important dates in history. Summers were spent surfing fun south swells in San Clemente and when the weather got cooler and the North Pacific began turning out swell we would head down to San Diego County.  This was the world I knew, but somewhere in there, at some point the mountains began to interest me.  This was my down fall.  I began climbing and then running.  I gave up the snow board for the more efficient skis, but efficiency in the mountains only means that you have a better means to suffer.  If you carry less you can move faster, but this also means that you have less comfort, less warmth, less "# 1" type fun, and more "# 2" type fun (#1 being having fun in the moment; #2 being the event is fun after it is finished).
Mike cruising in the Santa Monicas

As I ran and hiked in the hot sun at mile 43 I thought to myself, "I could have just stuck with surfing, I could be hanging out on a beach," But, instead I was learning how to suffer better, developing the ability to harness any grit I might have.  And why? Why do this to yourself again and again, returning to the mountains whom seemingly, at least, are indifferent to you and, at most, hostile to your presence? I am not sure of the answer.  Perhaps its an unhealthy addiction that many of us share for the energy of the mountains.  Or perhaps its that this environment allows you to dive to the depths of your own being, and suffering is the vehicle which helps you feel the reality of your mind and body.  The more suffering, the more you are stripped down.  All things become simplified enabling the movement of the body and mind in unison.  Miles, eventually tick by, step by step.

Old Goats 50 miler was a great experience, and although I would have liked to have a few more weeks on hard training under my belt, I learned where my weak spots were, and what I can focus on more in the next few weeks before Zane Grey.  "Thanks" to Steve for putting on the race and for all of the supportive words from the other competitors.  The ultra community never ceases to amaze me.
Jess and I atop Timber Mountain
The sight of future suffering: AC 100

And for those who are curious here is my race set up:

 Top: Patagonia Cap 1 Camo
Bottom: Patagonia Strider Pro 
Feet: Patagonia Everlongs, Injinji LW
Food: I mainly just used Hammer Sustained Energy in my bottle, but I carried some powergels and Pocket Fuel Java Shots for a quick boost if I needed it.
Other: Soft flask bottles, Trout headband.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Training for the Mountains

"The consequences of falling short made training important. I realized early that controlling the things that I could control gave me greater freedom to address the things that I could not control. And the mountains offered those up in spades." - Mark Twight (Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete. p. 14)

The consequences that Mark Twight talks about are without a doubt much more serious than the ones I face in my ultra running and racing, but the reality that there are many things outside of my personal determinacy, whether it be on a long alpine run or in a 50 mile race, makes it all the more important to train as if the consequences were indeed the same.

Training, as the our friendly Unicorn reminds us, is indeed at the base of every serious athletic endeavor and with my knee finally feeling a bit better I have been able to begin to rack up some more proper training for the upcoming season. It is wonderful to yet again feel the movement of arms and legs as my lungs gasp for air and my heart beats wildly inside my chest.  The time away has given me time to think about my training, about the mental side of performance, and the necessity to hone both the flesh and blood as well as the mind.

In less than a month I have Old Goats 50 miler scheduled, but my focus is more directed towards Zane Grey 50m in April and ultimately AC100 in August.  That being said, I want to go and run hard at Old Goats, but for all intents and purposes use it to really ready me for Zane Grey a month later.  In the mean time, the harder I can train the better I will be able to suffer in the upcoming months.

This is what it looks like on your first day back to serious training...Chris running away.

Scrambling fun

This was the point I should have realized I was on the wrong trail.

Any day is made better with a Lady Fox run

Going for some flatter mountain miles

New reading.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hard Work

Its been a while since I have sat down here to collect my thoughts.  Since late November I have been dealing with an on-going knee issue, and it has been a struggle to commit to writing anything.  I have already missed two races because of my, still, mysterious knee problem and at times it has become all consuming.  I have been driven to the end of my wits trying to figure out how to fix my knee problem so I can get back to training.  I have been putting in some strength training lately, and I think that it is helping out, but I have to remember to be as patient as possible as I work back to knee health.  I was reminded of this last week when I attempted to run the last 25 of the AC course with Dom.  We started at Chantry at 2:00 feeling strong, but by the time we reached the top of Winter Creek I realized my knee wasn't in it for the long haul, so I tucked my tail between my legs and ran back to the car.  This was definitely a blow to my confidence, but on the way back down I was able to snap a few pics of the beautiful evening.

It feels like it has been a long season of dealing with this injury, and some days are better than others. Since my run with Dom I have had a couple really good runs and a couple of failures. Its apparent that it's going to take a consistant effort of hard work and nothing less. I will keep you updated. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014


I woke this morning to smoke filled air; a cool 65 degrees at 7:00 in the morning.  Dreaming of winter, I sipped coffee under a tinted red sky and thought how depressing it was that the mountains that I love so much where on fire again.  Like the hills, I lament the dryness of this January. I have been dealing with an injury for the better part of two months now, and I am convinced that the lack of winter conditions is inhibiting the healing of my knee. It is difficult to sit and accept the things that should be different. There should be snow on the mountains; I should be able to run. Nonetheless the reality is the hills are on fire in January and there is not much I can do about it.