Monday, March 13, 2017

Going car-less carefree!

On January 7th I text Lisa. “How soon are you ready to go car-less?”
“ASAP!” she replies. I log on to Volkswagen's vehicle buyback website to schedule the date...March 23rd was the first available date.

Embarking on a new adventure - going car-less!

Well, okay. This gave us time to prep. When I mention that we are going car-less the typical response from friends has been offers for us to borrow their car if we need. Sweet! At this rate I’m building a fleet of loaner cars indefinitely into the future. We’ll become professional car moochers and start a car share app business!

Yes, our coming experiment to go car-less is about to begin. March 23rd is the date. Our diesel-gate VW Jetta Sportwagon will be bought back by VW with a settlement payout that day. We will walk/bus/bike/Lyft/something our way back home with a $20K check in hand.

Car-less adventures abound! Bike touring Italy's Tuscany region in 2015.
So, actually this car-less thing has been a long time in the planning. We considered it in 2011 before our current VW car when our last car was dying. But due to work logistics it was needed for our budding non-profit. Fast forward to 2015 and news breaks about VW's cheating with emission standards. We realized this might soon be the time to ditch the car thing and wait patiently for either the electric, self-driving car age to arrive or the expansive Euro-style public transit networks to be built. Either way I guess it will be a wait.

So, here I am imagining how my life will be different without a car. Guess what my biggest fears are?

1. Having our home broken into. Yes, our car currently sits in our carport 90% of the time. It will no longer be there to give an impression someone is home which helps to deter burglars. Our car is our home security system. And it works! We have never been burglarized (knock on wood).

Anyone have an extra car they need to park somewhere else for a bit? Too bad we don’t live near the University and just charge a poor college student for a parking space. Or maybe we should make a sign: “Burglars beware. Homeowners do not own a car and may or may not be home at any given time.”

2. My trail running days will be few and far between with increased difficulty to get to trail heads. Or, I could flip that around and consider the getting to the trail head as my new cross-training. For last resort I could use the Tucson Trail Running Facebook group to ask over 500 peeps for a ride share to the trail head. This actually worked well as a beta run in early March when trying to get to the Old Pueblo 50/25 race start. Perhaps I can continue to build my shared ride bartering economy and offer home-brew kombucha, kiefer, sauerkraut, or whatever other skill/service I may be able to offer…

So, soon I may hesitantly ask you for a ride to the trail head to escape the urban jungle. Thank you in advance for your kindness.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Running to kick the habit

July marked an anniversary for myself and a neighbor down the street, Christy. I hadn’t seen Christy since her 1-year anniversary last July until just a week ago which coincidentally marked her 2nd year anniversary.

“Has it really been a year?” I thought? The last year crawled at a snail’s pace for me. Yet looking back it feels like yesterday.

In contrast to my melancholy morning attitude my neighbor was ecstatic!

Most week days that I run in the morning I robotically trot down the street, make a left, then a right. A half mile away – my eyes and mind still wiping the sleep away – I pass a little corner house with a table and two chairs out front. Just under 2 years ago as I passed this little corner house I notice in the periphery of my vision a woman sitting with a man waving to me. I flick my hand in response and continue on.
Our neighborhood...not quite a Mr. Roger's type neighborhood.
But, we are trying to change the neighborhood dynamic
through our own converted bus bench in our shady front yard.
“God bless you, and thank you!” She yells after me.

I continue running…Is she shouting at me I wonder? Is she crazy? Should I stop or keep going?

“Bless you!” She yells louder.

I pause my advance down the street and half turn in her direction. She skips toward the street from her patio chair.

“Today marks 1 month.” She proudly exclaims. I look in puzzlement. “I have seen you run by most mornings past my house as I sip my coffee and smoke a cigarette. The good Lord provided me with your daily inspiration of health and activity to help me stop smoking and drinking. It’s been 1 month now.”

Still somewhat in bewilderment at 6:15am I smile, congratulate her, wish her the best and turn to continue running. I begin to contemplate how a simple, daily act of mine can lead to inspiration for another, and then be returned to me.  And, here I thought I was being selfish by taking time for myself to run each day. My heart begins to warm and I am renewed with new purpose to my running habit.

For 11 months after that first encounter as I approached her corner house painted in a heavy green, I would look for her to give her a wave and greeting. We have exchanged names, remarked on the weather or sunrise, and I would receive periodic updates on how long it has been since she stopped smoking and drinking.

During month 10 for Christy – my Dad visited with me for a week. I outfitted him on my mountain bike to ride alongside as I went for a morning run. It had been about a month since I have last seen Christy and as we pass by I tell him the story of my neighbor and how my simple daily act of running inspired her to stop smoking and drinking to improve her health.

An hour later we are passing by on our way home. A block past Christy’s house a woman pulls out in front from a side street. I look in amazement as I realize Christy is riding a bike.

I introduce her to my Dad and she gushes to him how much of an inspiration I have been through my daily discipline in healthy activity and how this helped her take interest in having a healthier lifestyle. Christy highlighted the positive impacts from my daily running which was a welcome departure to how I felt others perceived my running as a narcissistic act including my Dad. Growing up, my Dad spent a significant amount of his time training for Ironman competitions. He felt in hindsight this had taken him away from family time and as a father. Conversations on this topic made me question my motives for running and the time commitment impacts they had on others close to me.

I remark to Christy how long it has been since I saw her last. She responds that she has taken up going for rides or walks to increase her daily activity and thus we have not been crossing paths as frequently. Whenever, I am feeling negative about running – either I am tired, sore, or can think of a million other things I would be rather doing – I pass by Christie’s house and have a renewed lightness in my step and am thankful for her shout out that first morning I ran by.

Soon after her 1-year anniversary I was not able to run for a dreary long 10 months due to recovering from a difficult running injury. I forgot about Christy, her green corner house, and her resolution to not drink or smoke. I was melancholy in my own thoughts and struggling to attempt some level of fitness. Then for a month I was able to build into short 2-4 mile runs every few days. Slowly as the weeks passed I was able to extend my runs. Through this past year of not running I have turned to many others for inspiration for myself. Some being friends, some family, and others just doing what they do with a smile. I am grateful for these often anonymous persons being an uplifting force for me and demonstrating how each of us can be a positive influence to others.

Two weeks ago, about a year since I last saw Christy, I decided to test out my old running route again. Just down the street from my neighbor’s corner house, I see her waving and shouting to me!

In a bubbling of conversation Christy exclaims her delight in seeing me just a few days away from her 2 year anniversary for not drinking or smoking!

I am delighted to be reminded how my daily actions can be an uplifting force for someone else and provides me positive energy in return to dispel the melancholy clouds.

When injured I switched from daily runs to seeking mountain swimming holes
regularly with Lisa. Upper Sabino Creek, Tucson, AZ on an overnight backpack.
Yuba River after a short 2 mile jog, Nevada City, CA shortly
after crewing at Western States Endurance Run. 
Sabino Creek just a couple of weeks ago after my first hill effort
workout and about 75% back running.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mont Blanc 80k - the highest of highs and lowest of lows

Mont Blanc glowed dimly across the Chamonix valley in the pre-dawn light. A thousand specks of light threaded the trail, back and forth, up the goat like switchbacks to Mt. Brevent. In the lead group of 10-15 we climbed at a tempered pace thinking about the 20,000+ft of vertical climbing ahead. Occasional runners jockeyed for position, but otherwise we maintained a near pedestrian pace. The day looked promising as Alex Nichols (INOV8) and I chatted here and there. We even spotted an Ibex silhouetted against the twilight sky. I surprisingly felt relaxed climbing unaware of how hard it would become to just finish the race.
Chamonix, France. Mont Blanc (upper left) mixed in with some passing clouds.

The opportunity to compete in not just one but two international races this year was a lifelong dream come true. And with that dream came hopes and ambitions that led me to start preparing in January.
I write to help me digest and overcome post-race feelings of failure from the 2nd of my international exploits as part of the World Skyrunning Series, Mont Blanc 80k held in the magnificent Alps and starting and ending in the touristy mountain town of Chamonix, France.

I had two very different races within the one race. My first race was one of wonder, excitement, intense climbing challenges, joy in overcoming prior injuries in time to race, technical descents, and pure mountain amazement. My second race was filled with despair, self-pity, a loss of all motivation, and sense of failure.

My biggest challenge that day was not the terrain, the miles, the intense running. It was myself. Falling out of the top 10, one of my primary goals, I lost motivation to simply run. And that made for one of my toughest and most enduring runs to date.
Exploring the Aiguille du Midi at 12000+ft. Past the stairs is a view up the Chamonix valley.
My wife, Lisa, and I arrived in Chamonix, nestled into the Alps, a week prior to race day. Chamonix is home to about every mountain sport thought possible. Alpinists head out for epic ascents. Paragliders drift down from the tram tops. Glaciologists track glacier movements. Tourists in shorts and puffys take speedy trams up to the top to peer over glacier white valleys watching alpinists like ants march across the snow covered slopes. Rock climbers make sport of the many cliffs that comprise the steep canyon walls carved by glaciers not too long ago. Mountain bikers clad in protective gear scream down trails and then lounge on chair lifts back to the top.
Tourists in puffys.
My first exploratory run upon arriving took me near the top of the Mont Blanc 80k’s first 2000+ft climb. There I glimpsed Mont Blanc peak through the clouds that day across the valley. A chamoix (small deer like animal) gracefully played on the steep slopes. My sense of amazement and anticipation of the race climbed high. The next day it climbed even higher as we trammed it up to the Aiguille du Midi at 12000+ ft. The views were breathtaking in the crisp, thin air.
My first run in Chamonix of course took me up to grand views and an amazing trail network.

A sample of some of the trails along the steep forested lower slopes.
Race morning started early - just before 4am we lined up in the town center. Up we climb. Before long (~3hrs) we are descending from the first big climb and traverse towards the 2nd aid station, in the town of Le Buet, where Lisa patiently waits in the early morning sunshine. Refueling and feeling smooth, I then start the 2nd and toughest climb of the day up to Col de la terrassee. My legs feel much better than at Transvulcania where I struggled with a pulled groin injury just prior to that race.
3:40am race morning with Hillary Allen and Alex Nichols.
Photo: Lisa Shipek
Past the aid station I find myself running with Seb Chaigneau (finished 10th overall), an older French veteran of this race. Shortly after the grade steepened to power hiking pace, Seb works his hiking poles and I quickly fall back. I am determined to remain relaxed up this climb but it continues getting steeper and I feel the burn in my calves. The final push is up a long section of bright snow carved steps and then a short section of a goat like scramble to the rim.

I made it! I sneak glances around before threading my way over the rocky back slope of the bowl starting the decent to the Emossen Dam, the 3rd aid station. I am running by myself and having fun. Slipping on a long snowy descent I realize it is much easier to slide down on my butt and give my legs a rest. I slide down several more slopes with my arms outstretched on either side to help steer. I am grateful my thin running shorts hold up to the icy slopes and I don’t end up bare cheeked.
I arrive miles later at the Emossen Dam aid station. Both water bottles were empty due in part to the slow going trail sections and the deceivingly intense alpine sun. This temporary dehydration may have been just the start to losing confidence and ultimately motivation.
A view near the top of Le Tour with Emossen Dam in the distant middle of the photo and Col de la terrassee just behind the left foreground.
The near vertical descent from the dam is the steepest and most goat like yet. A few cables and ropes are strategically placed for the less sure-footed. I silently pair up with another as we descend. We pop out onto a street of a small hillside village. He refills and splashes off in the streetside water fountain piping refreshingly cold water from snowmelt above. I follow suit and am thankful for his example.

Then before I know it we start the 3rd brutal climb up and over to the town of Le Tour. My legs are quickly becoming heavy but hanging in there. I slowly pass a pair of runners. Near the top I run out of water and realize the aid station is not for another few miles. A small stream slips down the trail and across. I contemplate the potential consequences of untreated water or dehydration. I screw off the cap and plunge my bottle in. The water is perfectly cold and refreshing with just a few grains of sediment captured.

The view from the 3rd climb is equally gratifying from the first two. Still feeling competitive I allow myself only a quick glance around before descending again. A short while later I am surprised to see two top world class runners among a group of spectators, Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, are out cheering us on. The descent to Le Tour aid station where I will see Lisa for the 2nd time is hot. I feel the sun beating down on me and despite the smoother trail my legs and feet are feeling battered by the steep, tough descents.

I come into the aid station feeling worn out but know the hardest parts are behind me. Lisa informs me that I am just barely in the top 10. I look forward to the next section before the final climb which on the maps and profile guide seem much easier. I grab two orange slices, refill my bottles, and scurry on with an extra boost of adrenaline. A half mile later the adrenaline of the aid station has worn off. Another runner comes past me. I realize I am out of the top 10. I slow to a sluggish jog even as I move downhill. My aching legs move to the front of my mind and drain the last of my motivation to keep racing. A couple more runners pass and completely annihilate any last drops of motivation remaining in me.

The trail mentally becomes full of obstacles. Each small climb is an effort. The sun burns. My feet hurt with every step. I whine quietly to myself wishing I had a grand excuse to just quit.

I don’t though.

I continue plodding on with just myself to commiserate in my misery. The grand scenery passes with barely a note. I arrive at the next aid station much later than anticipated. It is another mandatory gear control check station. I grouchily show the volunteer my pack containing a headlamp, rainjacket, water bottles, emergency blanket, phone, and a whistle. I contemplate quitting here but the sight of Lisa drives it from my thoughts. Instead I complain to her about my feet, refuse any change of socks or other items, and plod off.

Here, the climb up to Montenvers – the fourth and final major climb – starts. Thoughts of turning around and quitting enter faster and stronger into my thoughts. My watch states I am already near 50miles – the advertised race distance – I do not look forward to continuing much past as I realize I still have miles to go.
The stunning Montenvers Hut alongside the Mer de Glace glacier.
Each kilometer up climbs steeper. I stop and peer back down the switchbacks. I ask myself if it is shorter to turn around or to make it to the aid station to quit. Hikers coming down the trail state conflicting distances up to Montenvers which plays with my mood.

My feet plod on but my whining becomes louder in my head. If only I could push the mute button. Just days prior I was excitedly telling Lisa my desire to race epic 100 milers like Western States and Hardrock one day. Now I feel like retiring from ultrarunning.

With great effort I scramble up and around a few boulders following the trail. My mental anxiety comes to a head. I sit down on a boulder, lean over the side and hurl, and again, and again. The two oranges from hours before fly out nearly intact along with most of the liquid from that same time period. Tears leak out of the corner of my eyes caused by the gagging effort. I swish out my mouth with a bit of water and realize I am nearly out, again. Without motivation to continue racing, I don’t do what I know I should and try to get more calories back in me. Instead I let my whining continue and slowly take the next step up.

I finally reach Montenvers, where I had visited in awe of the glacier scenery and toured inside the glacier cave just days prior. Instead it is now the last place I want to be. I ask to sit down and try to get some liquid calories back in me. The aid volunteer urges me inside the hut to lay down.
I pull out my mandatory phone and text Lisa. “Just made it up to Montenvers. Had a really rough climb. Resting for a few before continuing.”
The Mer de Glace glacier.

Lisa exploring the ice caves in the Mer de Glace.
She responds “You go honey! Run like an antelope in control…run, run, run.”
Ignoring her initial encouragement I text back awhile later, “Ok, I laid down for a few minutes. Feeling a tad better now. Will start on my way but will be slow. I can text later so you have an idea of when I might show up.”
“Ok, enjoy the last leg!” she responds.
And a few minutes later, “I’m really torn about quitting. They say it’s 10k more. I am already at 49 miles. I feel like I should finish but…”
The phone immediately rings. Lisa asks “Can you walk?”
Me, “Yes.”
“Start walking and you will feel better soon”, she says.
“Ok.” I respond flatly.

Shit, she is not having it. Ok, I can at least finish this race I think to myself.

I get up, reassure the aid station volunteer, and miserly head up the trail. I have no idea where I am place-wise and don’t care anymore.

Not until I finally enter the town of Chamonix with less than a mile to go does my interest in running faster return. Spectators along the final mile cheering give me motivation to resume a faster pace. These spectators lining the road is what makes this race special. Surprisingly my legs feel good. Well, I think, I just took it easy for the last 20 miles why should they be tired.

I cross the finish line in relief. Relief simply to be done. I am ecstatic to find out U.S. runners Alex Nichols placed 1st and Hillary Allen placed 3rd woman. I was bummed to have missed Hillary passing me by without notice as I was laying at the hut in Montenvers.
Coming across the finish. Very happy to have made it!
Photo: Lisa Shipek
Americans Alex Nichols (1st overall) and Hillary Allen (3rd female) on stage accepting their cash prizes for the 80k race.
I am embarrassed with my own performance. I am embarrassed to have given up so easily. I was hoping to show how strong of a mountain ultrarunner I was at these two international races. Instead I struggled to finish each race. Feelings of doubt set in strong.

It is always good to look at the bigger picture. I did place 27th overall in 13hrs 26min out of 701 finishers over 56miles and 20,000+ft of vertical climbing. This year I have been a much stronger competitor at the U.S. races than I have ever been. I continue to learn and grow competing in increasingly more challenging races.

I have since been sidetracked by bike touring through a Tuscan heat wave, cooling off in Munich’s Englisher Gartens, and figuring out traveling logistics before starting to prepare myself for my next race (Audi Power of 4 in Aspen, CO) in a week. I struggle with how to overcome my disappointments, move on, and ensure I better prepare mentally to not let this happen again.

In hindsight I should have reworked my goals for Mont Blanc 80k based on having a reduced training intensity in the lead up to ensure I recovered from a pulled groin. In the future my first goal will clearly be to finish the race. Future goals will include process-based goals along with outcome based goals.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I received due to support from Run Steep Get High and U.S. Skyrunning to experience the international ultrarunning scene at Transvulcania and Mont Blanc. The lessons learned and strength gained from these races will allow me to push new boundaries at my upcoming U.S. races. Each race brings new friendships, insights, and lasting memories.
Extremely grateful for Lisa's love and support and ability to get me to the finish.

We had tremendous fun exploring the Chamonix valley and thankful to the
support from Skyrunning and my sponsors to get me there.
The final traverse from Montenevers before the final descent.
The view down valley and the point in the race where the final descent back to town started.

An alpine climber shadowed by Mont Blanc.

Touring the Tuscan hills with Lisa for a post-race recovery and much appreciated vacation.
Photo: Lisa Shipek

Friday, May 15, 2015

Transvulcania - The World Skyrunning Stage Tests Me

I straddle the trail with my hands on my knees. I zone out on the chunks of banana dusted in volcanic cinders mid-trail that my gut just expelled 3k past the aid station at kilometer 30. Ah relief from a grumbling stomach sapping my strength. I push on happy to be on the recovery side. Perhaps now I can regain my pace and work back up to Emelie Forsberg, Salomon professional athlete from Sweden, who just passed me 5 minutes back.

Still recovering my strength a kilometer later I spot Tim Olsen, North Face professional ultrarunner from the U.S., ahead laying back against the slope with his hands on his head. He doesn't look good I think.

“You ok?” I ask. Tim groans. “Here walk it off with me” I respond and hold out a hand to help him up. “Go on, I’ll be fine” he responds, “just an upset stomach.” I continue along and a moment later I hear him hurl violently just as another American, Josh Arthur, comes trotting up the path. I expected Josh to be well in front of me and am surprised to see him.

I met Josh at the Madrid airport on the way to La Palma. Josh, based in Boulder and running for Altra, is traveling solo and joins up with Jamil and myself on our way to La Palma Island for the Transvulcania race. We spend our first day in La Palma scouting some of the course, picking up our race packets, scope out the finish line, and grab dinner. Through the long weekend I meet, hang out, and get to know several other American runners as well as notable personalities in the ultrarunning community. Our shared moments at Transvulcania forming bonds which will be recalled with a smile or laugh some unknown time in the future. I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to join them this year.

I make a decision to not let Josh out of sight and attempt to get back into racing mode – not merely survival mode. We conserve our remaining drops in our bottles and question how long to the next aid station. I estimate I lost time over about a 5-6mile stretch smack in the middle of the longest section between aid stations, which also turns out to be ~2 miles longer than advertised. I find myself out of water with just a bit of my CarboPro/HydraC5 mix left. Josh seems to be fully out and suffering from the heat and dehydration more. Perhaps it is the desert rat in myself that keeps me feeling ok. We push along.

Finally, near to the aid station to replenish our parched bottles we come up on Mike Foote, co-director of The Rut from Montana and a North Face athlete.  He has also been having a rough day. A few words of encouragement pass – solidarity among us Americans – and Josh and I continue on. This course has not been kind to many of us.

Transvulcania is a 77 kilometer (45.5 mile) race with over 14,400 ft of climbing up and around volcanos and a caldera on La Palma Island off the coast of Morocco. Over 2000 runners started at the windy southernmost tip of the island just above sea level. Elbowing for place we stampede up and out of the starting gates and pierce the dark with thousands of LED headlamps. Volcanic dust gusts and swirls in and around us. This race is spectacular!

Lining up for the start - a mad dash up a hill and onto sandy singletrack.

The near-correct course profile found on a forearm.
The energy exuded by spectators lining our passage through towns and even dotting remote trails throughout yell words of encouragement, “Animo” y “venga ninos”, as we cruise by. I have never done a race like this. This is leagues beyond any major, big city marathon in the U.S.

The first 11 mile we ascend up and through the clouds with over 6000 feet of climbing. An hour into the race we are warmly welcomed by a glowing sunrise peaking above a sea of clouds below. The views are astounding and the ever changing plant communities and coastal views over 6000 feet directly below us are breathtaking.

The race takes us further up and around a giant caldera topping out at just over 8000 feet elevation. Once we are up on the rim of the caldera we scramble up and down steep jaunts. A few opportunities afford views down to the finishing town below and we realize how far we still have yet to run and descend.

Nearing the final climb up to the 51 kilometer aid station I have recovered and decide to push the pace up and over to get a head start on the 10 mile descent (and over 7000 feet) back to the ocean below. I expect Josh to come whizzing by any moment yet my legs seem to gain energy as I enjoy bombing down the technical, rocky trail. I feel I am making up good time as I catch a few tired souls. Then OOPS! My toe snags a root and I fly down the trail with my arms and chest leading the way rather than my feet. I screech to a halt and pause stunned. I slowly peel myself up checking my vital systems. A few scrapes on my hands, hip, and a banged knee. My knee throbs. SHIT! Is all I can exclaim.

I hobble forward as I dust myself off hoping to work out the knee pain through continued movement. Josh comes by just moments later. Encouragement is exchanged briefly as he hauls past. He looks strong. I begin losing hope in finishing in the top 20. Several more runners come flying by. My knee pain slowly subsides and I resume running just a bit slower than my previous pace as it will take longer to regain my confidence.

I pass a couple more runners that look heat stricken. I thank Tucson for keeping me somewhat heat adapted naturally. I come up to the final switchbacks descending steeply into the town of Tezacorte and the final aid station along the beach. The noise of the announcer and music below bellow up the trail. I dance down the rough cobblestone path when again I fly forward. I slam the same knee again! The pain seems to be magnified than from the previous fall. A Spanish runner comes up on me quickly and tugs at my arm. “Solomente cuatro kilometros mas. ¡Lev├íntate! (get up)” he proclaims. At this point I would rather lay awkwardly on the stones and forget about the race. The challenges and demands throughout the course have been almost too much for me. I am out of reach of the race goals and targets I set. I feel like giving up, kicking off the shoes, and going for a swim at the beach just a few meters away.

But, I peel myself up – yet again – and I hobble down to the crowds below. The announcer goes crazy announcing me – something about “el Americano de Arizona y de el Run Steep Get High equipo”  – as I  run through. I pull my hat brim low to hide the pain on my face. At the aid station I refill my bottles, get hosed down with water, and trot off for the final 1000ft climb to the finish.
Folks dot the way offering encouragement to me. I look up ahead and behind and see that I am well by myself and decide to just run it comfortably in. My knee pain subsides yet again and surprisingly my legs and lungs feel pretty good. I just lack the motivation to push myself hard.

I top out the final climb and turn onto the near final straightaway about 400 meters from the finish. Barricades line the street with folks lining both sides. A police motorbike pulls in front of me to lead me in. Hands line the way looking for a return hand slap from me. Kids take turns running with me for 50-100 meters each. I look back to ensure no one will overtake me at this late moment. Seeing no one I melt into the satisfaction and enthusiasm of the swelling crowds and of completing a tough, grueling race. I finish 23rd of 1488 finishers in 8hrs 40min.

The finish after hundreds of hand slaps the final kilometer.
Photo credit: Bryon Powell,

Los americanos que representan.
Photo credit: Bryon Powell,
This is how I will remember Transvulcania. It offered me the highest of highs for ultra Skyrunning and forced me to face some of my lowest of lows and rewarded me with sharing that finishing moment with thousands. For that I am thankful to my team Run Steep Get High for helping make this experience possible.

After a short recovery this week my training continues for heading to Chamonix, France for the Mt Blanc 80k June 26th.

The volcanic coast near where we stayed with the volcano in the background
which the race took us up above the clouds to 8000+ft elevation.

Cruisin' Cancajos streets on La Palma Island.

Post race fun on the island. Scouting out cliff jumping options.

My splits through the race.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Transvulcania. Estoy listo.

Only one week to go!

My first international ultrarunning race is Transvulcania, May 9th, part of the World SkyRunning series. Held on La Palma in the volcanic Canary Islands (Spain) off the coast of Morocco it is 50 miles with over 14,000ft of climbing. My goal is to participate and be a top contender in both the World and U.S. Skyrunning series this year. The season begins now and preparations have taken months!

To prepare I have spent most of my free time running long each weekend - sometimes both days. Since recovering from Old Pueblo 50 mile race my last few weeks of intense training can be summarized into the following basic stats:
  • April 20-26: 92miles/13hrs of running/10,700ft of climbing
  • April 13-19: 62miles/8hrs/2,800ft 
  • April 6-12: 96miles/14hrs/12,600ft
  • March 30-April 5: 63miles/9hrs/1,000ft
  • March 23-29: 118miles/18.5hrs/22,000ft
  • March 16-22: 72miles/9hrs/4,600ft
These early warm spring days here in Tucson, Arizona have been perfect for mountain training. My training is really just an excuse to thread more mountain trails. Thankfully, I often have friends or group runs to share the views, snake sightings, and swimming hole cliff jumps. And, when the miles get rough training buddies help push me up, keep me honest, and often just help me pause and chat.

This spring has not been all flowers, yet the harder the week – either at work or in life – the stronger I run.  And, in reverse, the tougher the week in training the more resilient and greater clarity I have to be grateful for life’s lemons.  The week of March 23-29 - the most miles I have ever run in a week for training - I nailed my workouts and both long runs. However, equally intensive at the workplace that week I launched a stakeholder advisory group to restore surface water flow to Lower Sabino Creek. And, on a personal level through several difficult conversations I found clarity to work through critical relationship issues in my own life to start the rebuilding process.

This week is just one example of how my running has helped instill balance in my life. Running provides me mental clarity and physical stamina to excel in work and play. However, it has taken a shift in my daily outlook to achieve this level of performance. I now approach work and hard training blocks not as a burden but as a time to shine.

The summer racing season is about to begin and I am in my best shape yet for mountain ultra trail running! I am ready to shine! I eagerly await putting to test my gear and conditioning at Transvulcania.

I am humbly grateful for the support from my family, team, and sponsors, who have helped invest in my dreams. Estoy emocionado. Buena suerte a todos los participantes en Transvulcania.

Mountain mischief mid-run at a swimming hole

Skyrunning at the top of one of Arizona's Sky Islands
Enjoying trails and training with my friend Charlie

Contemplating the meaning of life mid-run creek side

Always in awe of the majesty of ever changing mountain scenes

Enjoying the support from my sponsors post 30mile mountain run
- Run Steep Get High, CarboPro, and Salomon

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lessons Learned Lead to New Potential

My recent course record (6:53:51 which was 5 minutes faster) at Old Pueblo 50miler – a hometown race – was bittersweet. Bitter in the lead up to the race, yet pleasantly sweet as everything came together for me that day.

Top 3 at Old Pueblo. Myself, Nate Polaske, and Sion Lupowitz.
Photo credit: Mindy Polaske
Race day weather was perfect, cool, not cold, in the early morning. I had friends to run with in the early miles. Volunteers helped me speed through the aid stations. I ran with my friend and training partner, Charlie, the first 25 miles until he had to deal with leg cramps. My training came together even as a “B” race thanks to my coach, Ian Torrence. And previously learned lessons regarding gear and nutrition enabled me to keep my pace strong.

And proof that my Salomon shoes help me fly even at the end of the race.
Photo credit: Joel O'Bryan

I used two handheld bottles from mile 7 and forward. One with just water and the other with a mixture of CarboPro and HydraC5. The first few hours of the race I aimed for ~200 calories per hour and then around half way dropped back to ~150 calories per hour. My new fueling strategy worked. My stomach held strong. I stayed hydrated. My energy held constant.

My goal for that day was to run the race specifically focused on expressing joy and grace.

The bitter bite came from some personal issues the week prior which I am still working through. I tried playing the mental blame game, feeling sorry for myself, and myriad other thoughts streamed through me. Of course that led nowhere. I prayed for direction to know how to start the healing process.

My Old Pueblo race was a beautiful reflection of making a mental shift in the final hours the night before. I found peace within myself.  I am continuing to learn and grow and I am thankful for that breakthrough moment only hours before the race.

I broke through years of being stuck on a proverbial plateau for many aspects of my life. The Old Pueblo race demonstrated to me new life potentials which I am eager to stride forward and work to achieve. 

My race was a demonstration of my own healing and mental outlook. Running calmly and with joy through an ultrarunning race for my first time was a revolutionary experience I recommend others strive to achieve. We are not destined to always suffer through ultras even though it does make for great stories.  

Most importantly I will be living life more fully, deepening my relationships with others, and striving to improve not merely maintain the status quo. From this new outlook I have already glimpsed new potentials personally and athletically. I hope to embrace new trials with heart and recognize the strength I can derive from them.

Now to refocus on running and with big World Ultra Skyrunning races coming up – Transvulcania in La Palma, Spain, May 9th and MtBlanc 80k in Chamonix, France, June 27th – I will be mentally focused to race again with peace, joy, and grace.

Happy running to new heights!

Enjoying the Tucson trails with Charlie Ware.

Ready to climb higher and leave behind limitations.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Black Canyon 100k – a race report. A scorching start to the season!

Flowers and love notes were not on our mind this Valentine’s Day morning at Spring Valley high school track. The early morning began with a chilly 50F start and a blowing wind. Within a few hours – in true desert fashion - it sizzled into the low 90s.

The Black Canyon 100k was part of the Montrail Cup series this year and the top 2 finishers for men and women gained automatic entry into Western States 100miles – a premiere ultra running race in America.  It was the most talented field in probably Arizona’s ultra-racing history. The big familiar names starting the race included Hal Koerner, Dave Mackey, Ryan Ghelfi, Kaci Lickteig, Angela Shartel, and a dozen more.

Five miles into the race a group of 8-10 of us comfortably wound along the single track watching the sunrise and barely paying attention to the couple of early lead runners 1-2 minutes ahead. My strategy for the day was to run at a comfortable pace for 40+ miles focusing on conserving my energy and staying hydrated to ensure a fast, strong finish.

Early into the race the pace was quick but comfortable.
Photo by Bret Sarnquist:

In the first 20 miles I peed 3 times as an indicator to my hyrdation, I focused on breathing through my nose to control my pace and conserve moisture loss, and sipped on my CarboPro liquid energy.

Just after the aid station at mile 24, Ryan Ghelfi began his move with Ford Smith in tow. I decided to latch onto this small train and found myself easily keeping pace. We passed several runners and made our way up to the top 5. At the next aid – without a crew to speed my way through the aid station – I fell back about a minute. On a switchback ahead I saw that Ford was now leading Ryan and their pace had picked up slightly. I decided to stay on my own pace and slid back slightly.
Following the train. Starting to get hot!
Photo by Bret Sarnquist:
Then Ryan and Ford took a wrong turn. I glimpsed them below on a trail and when I made it to the switchback ahead I realized it was actually a junction. The correct trail went in the opposite direction. I yelled but they were well ahead and probably out of ear shot. I continued on hoping they would realize their mistake quickly.

I made my way to the first river crossing and relished the refreshing flow of a desert river with what had become a searing sun overhead. As I made my way up the opposite canyon wall I glimpsed with relief Ryan and Ford making the river crossing.

Ryan slid past – on a mission – and made up quickly for the time lost with the wrong turn. Ford crept up soon after but less intent to push the pace as quickly now that the heat had set in.

Ford and I came into the Black Canyon City aid station, mile 37, together realizing we would soon move into 3rd and 4th place. A sense of excitement coursed through my mind.

Then a simple mistake on my part put the rest of my day in dangerous peril. I had mixed up my drop bag locations and in my confused state I forgot to grab a salt tablet to keep my electrolytes in balance. A mile down the trail I realized my omission but pressed on. Crossing the river a 2nd time we started on a long switchback haul up the canyon wall. The heat drilled into me. My head became woozy, my body ached, and my energy suddenly evaporated. I realized I needed electrolytes badly but it would be 6 more hot miles before the next aid station. I slowed to a crawl and watched Ford climb strong up and over. I contemplated the effects of heat stroke and had to push away thoughts of disappointment and potentially dropping at the next aid station.

I passed the 40 mile mark and realized that instead of starting my race at this point it was now purely about surviving. I shuffled into the mile 47 aid station and immediately grabbed 2 salt tablets and downed it with cupfuls of Gatorade. I soaked myself with ice water and headed back out before I could think of alternate endings.

I found myself slowly recovering feeling fine on the downhills and flats but still without energy for the slightest bit of incline. I kept sucking on a mixture of CarboPro and Gatorade and dousing myself with cold water.

I did a mental self-check and found my legs to be strong – no aches and little tiredness. I realized how strong my legs have become and the potential they hold for upcoming races.

At the last aid station with 4 miles to go I realized I could still break 9 hours. I took another salt tablet, downed more Gatorade, and felt my energy reserves kick in. I estimated to finish before 9 hours I had to run under 8 minute miles. I imagined my recent fast finish focused workouts and easily covered the remaining miles faster than I thought possible and finished strong.

At the Black Canyon 100k I learned that racing ultras is just as much about focusing on survival as racing alone. With many complicating variables mixed together it takes a consistent calculating focus. However, even more critical is the ability to flow gracefully along the trail in overcoming both mental and physical challenges. I struggled mentally to remain graceful and through persistence I successfully rebounded from that long, low point in the race.

It was an epic battle among Ford Smith, Ryan Ghelfi, and Dave Mackey for the top 2 slots to Western States. All three raced strong and made it an exciting race to participate in.

Aravaipa Running hosted a great race. A highlight for me was relaxing at the finish post race, sharing stories, cheering on finishers, eating wood-fired pizza, and making new friends and catching up with old ones.