Wednesday, July 29, 2015

PNC Milwaukee Running Festival

Looking for an exciting new fall race?

While Chicago has earned the right to get the attention it deserves, look a little further north to Milwaukee for an exciting new series of events.  The inaugural PNC Milwaukee Running Festival is a full weekend created to celebrate the city of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods and landmarks. On Halloween weekend (October 31st - November 1st) come to the city that runners in the area already know is a heckuva a place to run and learn why they know that to be true.

In addition to the traditional marathon and half-marathon, the Milwaukee Running Festival is included a 5k, and America's distance: the mile! The love affair that this country has with the mile is decades old and while the mile has often been replaced with the 1600 meter race, there is a movement to return it to its rightful prominence. Stake your claim to this all-American race by taking on the distance in Milwaukee!

Furthermore, with the mile race on Saturday, you can do both that and any of the other events on the next day. Double up for an entire weekend of fun. In addition, while there are some perfectly fine marathons in and around Milwaukee, none is run entirely within the City of Milwaukee like this one does!

All participants will enjoy a beautiful combination of city streets and parkways, including several of
Milwaukee’s historical landmarks and a diverse mix of neighborhoods. With a distance for all skill levels, everyone can have a chance to participate and bring home some bling. There is no excuse to not come and take part in a new tradition.

Especially when, Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated you can register for any of the races with this code (DANERUNS) and save $10 off the Marathon and Half Marathon, and $5 off the 5k Race and Mile Race!

I will be at the expo signing books and taking part in many of the races over the weekend myself. With weather that almost guarantees fast times, a course designed to help your legs churn out a new PR and a city warm and welcoming, it is going to be an exciting adventure.

 Looking forward to seeing all of you there!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

US Mountain Running Championships Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 14th Edition 
167.9 miles run in 2015 races
Race: US Mountain Running Championships
Place: Mt. Bachelor, OR
Miles from home: 150
Weather: 50s; Some sun; cloudy mist at top

Runners are not all the same.

I love how egalitarian the sport of running is these days. Without it, not only would I probably not be running as much as I do, I assuredly would not have much of an audience for my books, blog, speeches etc. I am perfectly aware that a 2:49 marathon PR would have barely qualified to run Boston back in the day. Those who feel I am cocky or arrogant (rather than confident or well aware of my value and worth) don't know me. Accolades and praise are definitely to be bestowed upon many who take up the sport of running, regardless of their finishing time. However, and this is huge, because of this "ours is the only sport where you can compete with the greats" sometimes we forget we are not the greats. But we are not. That is you and me (at least most of you, anyway.) We do the same sport as the elites but when you think about it, we really don't. I know this all seems rather obvious but to more than a few people, it is not.  For those who think that they are just a few pounds, a trainer and some hard workouts away from being elite, I highly suggest you sign up to run against the best in your country. That is exactly what I did at the US Mountain Running Championships.

There are no excuses for how I performed in this race. Only reasons. Actually, one reason: my parents. I didn't win the genetic lottery. Absolutely the people who excel in this race work very hard.  They have great work ethic and drive. But they also have, like Liam Neesons, a very particular set of skills, skills they have acquired over a very long gestation.  Even if I was in the shape I would like to be to take on this race, I would have still been destroyed by more of these runners than I could count. I am perfectly OK with that fact, especially when I give all I have on race day. If we do show up, leave nothing on the arena of play, we have nothing of which to be ashamed. As I have often said, no one should ever apologize for their skill level; only their effort. Having said all of that, let me describe this course and my own participation in it.

Designed by Max King, he of the enviable foot speed on road races (2:17 marathon PR, I think) and 100k world championship title, this course was brutal. Starting at the Sunrise Lodge at Mt. Bachelor near Bend, Oregon, the course immediately goes up upon commencing. Over 800 feet in less than a mile over a varying amount of terrain it ascends. Grass, roots, scree, sand, rocks of varying sizes and the like are all under foot.  Then, through a brief single-track trail, dodging trees which were literally right in the trail, you erupt onto a rutted jeep road for no less than nine switch backs as you descend from 7300 feet to 6500 feet. For the women it was two loops of this course; for the men: three. (For the reasoning why it was a different number of loops, read more here. I will also be talking about this in a later blog post.)

My bestie Shannon was entered in the women's race which started an hour before the men's. This allowed me to at least see not only her off but to get an idea how the course was run, as far as we could see it from the starting vantage point. When the bell sounded, I could see the running did not last very long for most people. By that I mean only a few non-mortals would be tackling this chin-scraper in anything resembling a run. Why I have signed up for so many of these types of races this year, when I am so so bad at them is anyone's guess.  But as I watched her climb up this monstrosity I was not looking forward to following suit soon thereafter.

I watched the women do their first loop in the company of Bryon Powell of iRunFar, ultra-star Megan Kimmel, and former track studette and now marathoner Renee Metivier Baillie. Nothing like being outclassed by not only all the competitors but the spectators as well. As the first few female runners came down the mountain, I loved seeing all shapes and sizes of women. Some were what you would expect with tight figures, great abs and small frames; some had dumps like a truck and curves to wreck a car; some were tall and rail thin; and some were 11 FREAKING YEARS OLD! Just awesome the whole way around.  But it was time for me to get ready to race.

Normally, while I don't cede too much space at the front of a race to too many runners, I will be a row or two back. This almost always bites me in the ass as I have to run around people who don't belong there. At this race, however, I knew I was outclassed. I put my butt in the way back of the 116 competitors. Doubling also as the collegiate mountain championship race, there were athletes from all over the country here to take on Max King's baby. I just wanted to not break any bones and hopefully not finish last.

First Loop:

The cowbell sounded and we were off. I immediately fell to the last 1/3 of the back.  More accurately, I stayed in the last third of the pack. Even on a good day, one thing I know about my body is that staring off and immediately going uphill is not something I do well. Throw in the fact this race started at 6,500 feet and my sea-level bum was having none of it. I looked in awe as some of the guys ran ahead. I shook my head at the number of people continuing to try and "run" which seemed like it was using so much more energy than they were getting results for.  Then again, I was way behind them so who was I to cast any aspersions?

The footing was fair and with a thin track where many had already run, it was easy to know where to go.  The loose rock and the like was easy to navigate when you are only moving along at a 20:00 minute mile pace. Up ahead runners turned left and out of immediate view.  I wondered how much of the 800 feet we went up at that point and hoped it was the majority.  When I made the turn myself I could see it was definitely not.

The roots and grass gave away to a mixture of sand and grey rock here with some scrambling needed to keep the footing.  Again, this was easier at this pace.  Then again, as I gasped for breath and used my hands to push my on my quads, nothing was really easy. After this very steep climb there was a quick 90 degree angle and for maybe 100 yards, you could actually run.  But before you could run a photographer was there to take your picture. As you walked. Hunched over. Dying for air. Or was that just me?

Around the top of the ski lift and finally down we go. I had been telling myself I was taking this first loop "easy" until I saw what it had in store for me.  I also told myself that since I am a fairly good downhill runner, I would be making up time on those in front of me. I envisioned reeling in dozens on this descent. Instead I reeled in three. A large crowd was waiting at the place where we sent ourselves hurdling back up the hill.  I greeted them all with a very Clark Griswoldian "This is stupid. This is stupid.. This is stupid." Then back up I went.

Second Loop:

I can tell from my pace off my Timex ONE GPS+ that my second loop was not faster.  I can tell you, however, that it felt much easier than the first loop. I stayed in virtually the same position amongst racers this entire climb up the hill.  Two older gentleman passed me as we started the climb but then stayed about twenty feet in front of me the whole way.  When we finally to go the point where I could run, I glimpsed behind me for the first time in the race and saw some thin fellas behind me moving rapidly.   Oh you have got to be kidding me. I am going to get lapped.

I was trying to decide what to do as I did not want to get in their way. The only portion of the course where this is a reality is the 1/3 of a mile section on that very narrow-single track.  As I crested the hill and began running down it, I assumed I had enough distance and leg speed to get out of there before these flashes of light got to me.  I was wrong.


For those who don't know track parlance, this phrase is used when someone approaching you from behind to let you know you are inexplicably running WAY too slow in lane one and are about to get, as Ludacris said: ran the Eff over. I found this humorous because where we were currently running could not be less like a track if it tried. Also, well, I really didn't have anywhere to go. I too was running downhill at breakneck speed (for me) and while I know people should pass on the left, the right side of the trail provided the only real place for this to happen. So, hoping the guy barreling down upon me saw this conundrum as well, I stepped onto the slippery sliding left side of the trail. Bear in mind I didn't stop running as that would have caused me to go down in a heap of arms and legs. Fortunately, all went well and no collision occurred.

A few meters later, I heard some voice and some word being said. What was said was rather indistinguishable. (It wasn't "track".) Here, however, I had at least a small shoulder to stop and pull over. As the runner passed me, I looked back and didn't see a third racer even though I recalled one being behind me. So, I began running again. Almost immediately, I heard heavy footsteps approaching, which made me realize this was the indeed final runner. I again, at the corner of a switchback, had a small area to pull over. This runner, taking no chances, simply went up and over an embankment. As I began running again myself, I wondered how much faster they were running than me as I began to give chase. The answer was "Quite a damn lot."

I soon passed the two older gentleman who passed me on the uphill and they both pulled over for me like I
was one of the leaders. I immediately felt bad and told them they needn't do that. This was their race just as much as it was mine and the nature of trail and mountain running is that the person passing has to find a way to get around. Of course, the person in the way needn't be an ass about it but that's just the way it is.

When I hit the runnable section I was astounded how much distance the front runners put in between us.  I mean, I should not have been surprised since they just lapped me but nevertheless. Wow. A different breed. As I neared the end of this loop one last runner passed me from behind, just to make sure I really understood how much of a different class I was in here on Mt. Bachelor.I began my final loop meters later, locked eyes with a spectator, nodded at the lightning bolt which had just passed me and said; "Well, that wasn't disheartening." 

Third Loop: 

The third loop was cathartic. I found out what was in store for me on the first loop.  The second loop was there to remind me I was not only not done but that people far superior to me were going to crush my spirit.  This loop was about completion. As I began the climb to the top this final time, the crowds had begun to thin. Everyone was heading toward the finish to cheer on whomever they wanted to cheer on. Ahead of me were a few runners I felt I would catch by the end of the day.  However, I had the sinking feeling I was absolutely last in the "open" division. Granted I am less than a year away from "masters" (holy crap. really?!) but today I was 39 and therefore running against people potentially 20 years younger than me.

I passed two runners as we approached the summit and one stayed in front of me. As I had not seen him most of the day I assumed I would have more in the tank to pass him on the downhill. Winding through the singletrack gave me no time to look to see if I was making any progress on catching him. I couldn't look as I needed to make sure I did not become one with the mountain and not in any sort of "zen-like" way. Popping out onto the jeep road, I saw I was within striking distance to take down one final competitor.

When making a pass in a race, there is one thing I have learned in all of my racing one must do: make it definitive. If you pass a runner, and then slow down, all you do is fire their engine up. As such, if you aren't ready to pass, save your energy. Two weeks ago in the Dam 15 Miler I wasn't ready to pass a guy in front of me for the lead quite yet. However, he slowed exponentially and left me with no choice. So, in spite of my desire to hold off for a bit, I passed, turned up the speed and went on to win the race. Here, the chap in front of me did not exactly slow but for some reason went reallllly wide on one of the curves. With me on the inside of turn, I was left with no choice but to make my move here. So with a mile left, I did.

I could tell, however, this guy was not going to let go easily so I really had to run with abandon. At one point, my foot slipped on some loose rocks and kicked out to the inside. Hitting my other foot, this could have easily sent me sprawling. Yet somehow it hit my shoe at just the right angle to send it forward. I stumbled a bit but recovered. The twisting and turning of the road underfoot was definitely giving my proprioception a run for its money.

Up ahead appeared was what I was guessing was one of the last  finishers, who was just on his second lap. Sixty-seven year old Guenter Hauser was out here on this brutal course giving his all.  I passed him and in spite of being in full race mode wanted to show him what an inspiration he was, even if I only saw him for three seconds. I gave him a pat on the back and said "way to go."  He returned the exchange and it invigorated me.

Down the final quarter of a mile and I could hear the footsteps behind me. One of the three remaining spectators was a young kid who yelled: "Go Dad!" Obviously the guy hard-charging on me from behind was this boy's father. As we left the path and began running over uneven grass and field, I could almost feel his breath. I was going to be damned though if I was going to let him catch me.

Down the final stretch I gave everything I had (and accordingly it showed that for a brief sprint I hit a nice 4:47 mile pace) and secured 99th place overall in a time of 1:13:06.  I have never been so thoroughly knackered or excited to finish in the bottom 15% of an event.  In fact, I don't think I have ever finished in the bottom 15% of an event.  But that is what happens when you race people out of your caliber. (Full Results Here.) Knowing now that working hard kept me in the double digits of finishers made all that extra hurt so much more worth it. There really is no difference in between 99th and 100th, except for the fact that we all know there sure as heck is a difference.

Also, I didn't finish last in the open division. The fella I passed at the top of the last climb had that honor. So two weeks ago I won a trail race outright by a large margin and this weekend I got destroyed by the competition. It all goes to show it only matters who shows up to a race in order for you to go from feeling great to wondering if they are the same species as you. So, in this arena, just show up. Put yourself on the starting line even if you may very well finish way behind everyone. Let the naysayers say what they will and by definition they will say "nay." Allow them to poke holes in your accomplishments when they sit at home on the couch. Because even if you finish absolutely dead last, every person who didn't race that day got destroyed by you.

Kudos to all the runners out there who took on this challenge. It was beyond fascinating and inspiring to see so many ages, shapes and skills on the mountain all at once. It reminds me, as it does virtually every time I run a race, why I like to be out here, pushing myself. The feeling of accomplishment by stretching your body to its limits is euphoric. Your quads hurt, you have lightheadedness, and you do briefly wonder what the hell you were thinking. But that all passes and all you are left with is the glow.

Go get your glow, runners.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Fallacy of Fat AND Fit

I recently read an article in Runner’s World about Mirna Valerio, a just-barely-not-morbidly-obese runner. By the way, that description of Valerio is not meant to be hurtful.  It is, in fact, accurate (she is 5’7’’ and 250 lbs giving her a BMI of 39 when 40 is morbidly obese) and uses the exact terms she uses in the article about herself. The crux of the article, which you are welcome to read and form your own opinion, is whether one can be both fat and fit at the same time. However, if you are looking for an answer to the question, save yourself some time. The article doesn’t really say one way or the other even though it definitely leans in the direction of “Sure you can!”(As for what is "fit" exactly, it is a vague term that has various levels of shades of grey. Some definitions are touched on here, and I welcome you to read them at your leisure. If you choose not, let's all agree that we have a relatively solid idea what is fit and what is not so we can move on with the rest of this article.)

Before we get any further, let me lay down some ground rules for this article. I do not know Ms. Valerio. Any conclusions I draw from here on out will use her story as a generalized example, but are not meant to mean her case exactly. She seems, by all accounts, to be a lovely person whom I would enjoy getting to know. I am, at least, greatly interested in many of the things she said and learning more about them. So, while I will draw from her story, nothing I say is a personal attack on her whatsoever. There. Is that enough of a caveat? (I doubt it. But let’s move forward.)

The article says:

“A highly publicized 2008 study, for instance, found that compared with normal-weight active women, the risk of developing heart disease was 54 percent higher in overweight active women and 87 percent higher in obese active women. In effect, the study seemed to suggest, you really can't live healthfully with obesity; being fit and being fat truly were mutually exclusive. (emphasis mine)”

Then it says:

“Since then, however, a number of studies have been published reaching a somewhat different conclusion. “The scientific evidence has become quite powerful to suggest that a healthful lifestyle dramatically mitigates the risks associated with mild levels of obesity,” says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., author of The Diet Fix and a professor at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Medicine in Canada.”

I get chastised by people who think I parse words too carefully. They throw “Well, of course, you think that. You went to law school!” as if being educated and knowing that words have an assigned meaning so we as a society can understand them is a bad thing. But let’s take a look at these two paragraphs. To begin, I think you would be hard pressed to find any recent study that would refute to any discernible degree the heart disease percentages stated above. Perhaps they have changed, however. If so, we need only to move onto the statement by Dr. Freedhoff to realize how little water it holds as a counterargument. If you break that down, you would have a difficult time finding a sentence with more qualifiers in it that really still doesn’t say much at all. Bear with me.

1.    The evidence doesn’t say or point to anything but it suggests.
2.    A healthful lifestyle? Could that be more vague? I am guessing nowhere in “healthful lifestyle” is morbidly obese considered one of the categories.
3.    “Mild levels of obesity.” Not severely obese. Not morbidly obese. Not super obese. (How sad is it we have a standard above “morbid” obesity?)

In other words, we have a suggestion that if you vaguely live well, it will decrease some of the risks connected to being overweight. This is the smoking gun statement to combat the studies which show obesity leads to massive increases in developing heart disease? That’s pretty darn flimsy.

The study of exercise and weight-loss and physical performance is extremely important to me. I am invested in learning as much as I can for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it affects not only my livelihood but my own personal racing goals. I have come out, time and time again, to state that being fit is an extremely hard thing (even if we all agree on what “fit” actually is.) I struggle with it all the time. While I have made my name doing things that few have or could do, I still struggle with weight. I am 6’1’’ 185 lbs for the most part. One of my proudest personal achievements is that my marathon PR, my placements in National Championship races, and virtually all of my racing has been done around that weight. It matters not if that weight is all muscle (it is so not even close to all muscle) or not, it is still 185 lbs. It is a lot of body to move through space. Simple physics says it is harder for me to do what I have done than a person who weighs, say 155 pounds. In fact, I would also love to know how many 185lb men have run a sub 2:50 marathon. Not as a pissing contest, but so I could meet them and learn their secrets. Learn what they eat. How they train. See how many of us there actually are out there. But I digress.

My point is, I work very hard to maintain my weight. I also know that running alone is not the best way to keep it down. Valerio says something I have heard from many people: “No matter how much I run and work out, my weight never goes below around 240 pounds.” Again, I use her quote as one used by many and am not attacking Valerio.  But if you are running and working out so much that “no matter” what you do you can’t lose weight (in and of itself hard to believe) then you must look at your diet. Through a completely scientific method I just created, my feeling is that 65% of weight loss and good health comes from diet. Exercise comprises the other 35%. And I think it easily could be less. Basically, we think our furnace can burn off more than it does and we underestimate how much fuel we are placing in it in the first place.

Reading the article, I very much liked the approach of Valerio’s doctor which was blunt and to the point. (Want to not be dead when your son turns 10? Lose weight.) Good luck finding anyone of note in the running world to dare say anything remotely disparaging about people that are overweight or not in perfect shape. They know where their bread is buttered (and food fried.) But I have no problem being as blunt as that doctor, even if it makes me have a few less twitter followers. The reason I feel I have every right to do so is because I do not have six-pack abs. I am not model-thin. I race long, hard, and often. Note I said “race” and not just run.  Yet, I continue to have to watch my diet. I was not blessed with a fast metabolism. I was rail-thin when I was child and through parts of high school but that was a long time ago. In spite of the success I have achieved in my exercise and athletics, it did not come from the body of one who was traditionally built to run relatively fast. As such, I have earned more than enough cache to know what it is like to be a decent runner AND have to work hard as heck to not have a double chin. So if someone wants to dismiss my views as those coming from a guy who doesn’t know what the middle of the pack feels like, well that just shows their ignorance.

At one point in the article it says “Valerio runs at about an 11-to 13-minute-mile pace, roughly the same rate at which Terry Fox ran across Canada on one good leg and one prosthetic leg in 1980.” It was here that I knew no reasonable answer was going to come from this entire reading. If you want to compare Valerio’s pace for her roughly 30 miles a week to what a cancer-stricken, one-legged man did in a single day, FOR MONTHS ON END, I now know this is article is more about feel-good than it is about facts. Mentioning Valerio’s excellent singing voice, dealings with deep-seated racism in the South, and a plethora of other things make for an excellent story. They also completely obfuscate the facts or at least the reason for the article. The questions get muddled and no answer comes forward. So let me answer the question for you.

Can you be fat and fit? No, not really.

Will exercising make you a fitter version of the exact same person who is not exercising? Absolutely. Is Valerio (or anyone in this scenario) better off by hitting the roads and trails and putting miles under their feet? Of this there is no doubt. But let us not sugarcoat the facts that we all know. I am not even remotely saying you have to be ready for the cover of Men’s Health magazine to be fit. You needn’t be ready to take on American Ninja Warrior Climbing Mountain Skills Competition to get through your daily life. But just because you can’t be that pinnacle of fitness doesn’t mean you should adopt the idea that obesity won't affect your health.

I am in no way saying that those with weight problems need to hate themselves. But I am saying that pretending that weight problems are not an actual problem is a bad thing. (I wrote extensively about this in the Cost of Obesity.) It is perfectly fine to say that being fat is not healthy. It is perfectly fine to be on the road to better health and still not be as fit as you would like. Rarely are we where we want to be health-wise for a long period of time. There are ebbs and flows. There are changes in lifestyles and workloads and injuries and setbacks which keep us from being where we would ideally like to be for very long. It is OK to embrace that we have work to do. I know I do. I know I have to eat a little healthier than I did a decade ago. I know my workouts have to be a bit more structured. I know that even doing all of that, I remain right around 185lbs. But I also know that disparaging those who are thinner or are healthier (fit-shaming) doesn’t automatically by default make my situation any better.

In summation, I think it is wonderful Valerio is out there moving along.  I applaud anyone who is attempting to better themselves. But we don’t need to sugarcoat the results or the facts. Runners like hard numbers. We are tough people willing to run dozes of miles for non-precious medals. I know we live in an era of instant-gratification and thunderous applause for the even the most minute accomplishment but science is science. While every way we know to study fitness has some flaws it is very hard to make a reasonable argument that being fat is just as healthy as not. So rather than make excuses or distort the truth, simply give a pat on the back to the person who is bettering themselves.

We all need encouragement far more than we need misinformation or to be praised where praise needn't be. Just like "You're almost there!" at mile 20 of a marathon, we may want to believe it but we know it isn't true.

N.B.  If, in spite of all the caveats, you are still somehow offended by my statement of facts, know that the subject of this article herself read it and wasn't bothered. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Scott Jurek and Caitlyn Jenner: Courage and Commenters

That’s quite a pairing, huh?

At first blush, there seems to be little to no reason to group Caitlyn Jenner together with Scott Jurek. However, even on the surface they have similarities. While Jenner was primarily known as a decathlete, he definitely was a runner (four of the ten events in the decathlon are running events.) Scott Jurek, for those who don’t know, just thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in the fastest known time, besting a 4-year old record by held meat-eater Jennifer Pharr Davis.  (I had to add the meat-eater part as I got tired of hearing how Jurek is a vegan. Like his food choice was the only reason why his DNA was structured in such a way to help make him into a phenomenal endurance athlete.) But the fact they are both runners has virtually nothing to do with why I am grouping them together here.

A while back, I realized that disliking sports teams was a pretty silly endeavor. Heck, even liking sports teams is pretty silly. Those teams and those athletes on those teams are invested in me about roughly one-millionth the amount I was invested in them. I also realized that the teams I thought I didn't like, for the most part, were teams I was actually indifferent towards. What really bothered me most were the fans of those teams. (Also, I can barely stand the fans of teams I like as well.)  Similarly, with the advent of social media and the proliferation of internet commenters on just about anything, I realize it is rarely the story about anything which fires me up the most. That fervor is reserved for the masses and what they anonymously spew in comment sections. Which brings me back to Jurek and Jenner.

I have met Scott once. I was in the greater Estes Park, Colorado area with my friend Terry Chiplin as we were planning out a running camp we were going to put on together.  As we passed through the outskirts of Boulder (I think) we spotted Scott and another runner. Terry recognized them both and pulled over.  If I recall correctly they were in the middle of some little 30-mile run from one place to another. Ho-hum for Jurek. In our brief conversations he was pleasant enough.  I enjoyed the interaction and that was the end of it. With regards to Jenner, I have and probably never will interact with this former gold medalist. As such, any opinions I have on the two are based solely on minor to no interactions with them personally. In other words, I know them just as well, if not better, than virtually all of you reading this.

When Jurek was nearing the end of potentially breaking the thru-hike record, I would hardly say I was an anti-supporter. In fact, I was rather indifferent. I found it to be great he was pushing himself in what he called his “masterpiece” (something I felt was an interesting name for an event he had not yet done.) But when arguably the greatest ultrarunner America has ever had was taking on a record held by a self-described "hiker", it almost seemed like people were gladly and loudly cheering for Goliath versus David. It rankled me a bit.

Similarly, when Jenner was making his transition (which may be the wrong word so don’t skewer me LGBT community) I felt that it was nothing I cared about.  I knew nothing of Jenner’s views on anything of note. I only knew he was a decorated decathlete who got snookered into marrying what seemed like a shrill and horrible woman while simultaneously siring awful off-spring.

For the most part, when it came to all things Jurek and Jenner, I was basically in the “Good luck to them. But I don’t care” camp. Then, like when the epiphany hit me that I don’t actually hate the Pittsburgh Steelers, but rather I can’t stand their fans, the commenters came out of the woodwork. Jurek was positioned as an attention-seeker whose best years as a runner were when there was no media attention for ultrarunners. Now, this was his last grasp attempt at cashing in on his waning fame. Jenner is a rich man who has no courage at all and shouldn’t be on the ESPYs. Summing up what I read by many, Jurek and Jenner were people who should not be given the attention they were for a variety of reasons. Hearing the ludicrous arguments of people who may be on the same side of the fence as you, but way off on the fringe, really puts your own thoughts into perspective.

With Jenner, it was that he was supposedly not as courageous as this one soldier who carried his buddy on after he was shot in combat Never mind that the picture which accompanied that story was of two toy soldiers in a movie called Marwencol (which I highly suggest you watch. It’s on Netflix, I think.) Every argument about his lack of courage placed him on this scale of comparison to those who were more courageous. By the comparison argument, there is only one person who is the most courageous and everyone else does not get to use that word whatsoever.

However, the mere fact that Jenner was famous and rich doesn’t remove the amount of courage it took to do something like he did. In fact, I doubt anyone could have predicted how openly many in America accepted his decision. Unrelated but coincidentally, the shift in the majority of feelings towards transgendered people was as swift as both the feelings toward gay marriage and the Confederate Flag in South Carolina. I recall watching news stories about both and being aghast at how quickly and suddenly viewpoints changed across the country on both.  I vividly remember saying to a friend how I was astounded about how quickly those opinions seemed to change.   As such, saying Jenner showed no courage because he was now accepted is misguided at best. Few would have thought he would be when his announcement was made.

Some also wondered why was Jenner on the ESPYs to begin with. He wasn’t a current athlete. He wasn't even involved in sports at this time. This, of course, ignored the fact that the award he received was one often given posthumously or to athletes who had long since passed their prime. As for whether he was the most, or even close to the most, courageous person on Earth is a silly proposition. The ESPYs are a sports awards show. Of course they are going to focus on athletes. They are not awarding chemists or dam builders or schoolteachers who quite possibly are brave and deserving. They are giving accolades to athletes. It’s ESPN. Does one really need to connect those dots? (Sidenote: It’s rather astounding, given how much ESPN is part of ABC, which is part of Disney, how the last two award recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award have been Jenner and Michael Sam. Disney is hardly known for pushing the boundaries of civil rights or upsetting “traditional family values.”  Yet, a transgendered person and the first openly gay man in the NFL have grabbed this trophy.  Seriously, astounding progress this country has made.)

Jurek, for all intents and purposes, broke Pharr Davis’ record in a photo finish. Besting her time by just three hours over a period of over 45 days is just a hair breadth of a victory. So what if he happened to be the one seemingly most likely to break such a record? So what if he had a very capable crew and a support system of hundreds of random runners cheering him on and running with him? So what if he had some of the other top ultrarunners out there (like Karl Meltzer who had himself failed to break the same record) helping him along the way.  He put himself in the arena. To conquer or fail. To try and see what was possible.

Too many armchair quarterbacks (and decathletes and runners) feel they need to have their opinions heard. Without a doubt, I love that our country allows anyone to speak their mind.  I also will gladly admit that many people haven’t the foggiest clue about what they are talking about most of the time. Someone asked me recently about the Greece situation. I am an informed adult with a terminal degree. I read quite a bit. I like to stay up to date on the world the most I can.  And I haven’t the foggiest idea what is going on in Greece. I also have no problem telling you that. Good luck getting commenters to admit the same thing.

Chances are I would be much better served reading about current events and not reading the comments about people who are tearing down Jenner and Jurek. Although, admittingly, I am glad I did.  I was feeling a bit intolerant, or perhaps sexist (?) toward Jenner and perhaps a little like a “hater” toward Jurek. Upon reading those who had very little of a leg to stand on with their arguments against both, I realized I was neither. I was just someone asking questions to find out more with a perfectly healthy amount of skepticism. I asked questions because I wanted to actually know more, not just have my opinions reaffirmed.

Did it take courage for Jenner to do what she has done? Absolutely. Was it impressive that Jurek set a new AT Fastest Known Time? Absolutely.  If coverage of both bother you, you could get off of media and possibility be courageous or impressive in your own life. Then you can watch others, sitting on their asses, tear your accomplishments apart.  If you can build up a thick enough skin, you can learn not to care they are doing so.

In effect, if possible, your efforts would fit the definition of both courageous and impressive. You would also learn it matters much more what we do than what we say.

(11.23.06 Edit:  Since I wrote this, Karl Meltzer broke Jurek's record and the tolerance and forward thinking I thought our country was showing was proven to be a subterfuge. Donal Trump's "election" showed how ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, horrible naive or any combination of the above vast swaths of this country are.  That's something I am very sorry to have been wrong about.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Dam 15 Miler Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 13th Edition 
160.4 miles run in 2015 races
Race: The Dam 15 Miler
Place: Deer Creek Reservoir, UT
Miles from home: 810
Weather: High 70s; sunny; hot

I was in the greater Salt Lake City area to work with one of my sponsors, ASEA, this past weekend. I know there are a dozen races every weekend in the valley and its surrounding neighborhoods, so I figured I could find one I hadn't run which would be unique. The Dam 15 Miler, starting at 6 p.m., fit that bill.  As I am a person who thrives on activities that take place at night, this seemed to be right up my alley. Well, up my alley with regards to the time of the race. A trail race, at elevation, where one has to be responsible for their own aid is not up my alley.

This last portion, where races have gone "cupless" is a tad annoying. I am all for being green and like the sustainability of races but have done a few of these cupless races and they are not always being genuine. They taut their saving the environment mentality when it is really a "we are giving you less as we don't have volunteers or manpower or supplies." Runners are not dumb. We are fine with a race not giving everyone a sherpa at all events. But don't do so in the name of the environment. To a point, as I have mentioned in other recaps, I tend to like a frill here and there. When I am racing, I am working hard.  I don't want to have to also be responsible for some ice and water as well. Call me pampered.  Just don't call me late for dinner.

Besides the evening nature of this race, what drew me to it was the fact that the out-and-back course was the exact same course upon which I had done my first ever triathlon, back in 2008. I had won that race and was hoping, after two 2nd place finishes in races last weekend (which irked me to no end) that perhaps this would be some sweet redemption.

As the race would be without any real aid (there was supposed to be a cooler at the turn-around for the 10k and then some at our turn-around) we knew we had to carry our own water. I opted to test run the Camelbak Circuit hydration pack with a 1.5L bladder.  I had worn it once on a run in Rio last month but this would be my first racing test. Wearing some Thorlo trail socks and Karhu Flow3 Trail shoes, I would be all geared up.

Arriving earlier than I needed I grabbed an empty parking spot.  It ended up that it was literally next to where we would start the race.  If I had not been in the portapotty continually as I tried to stay hydrated, I could have rolled out my passenger door and onto the starting line. As the countdown to the race came near, I looked around and tried to size up the competition. I didn't recognize anyone. On one hand that meant I saw no one I knew was faster than me. On the other hand, that simply meant someone new might beat me again.

Out portion: 7.5 miles in 1:02

As we headed out of the cattle guard gate and onto the oddly named Provo-Jordan River Parkway (it was neither close to Provo, nor the Jordan River, or even remotely resembling a parkway) no one immediately ran with me. Determined not to be the pace-setter for this race and then have others feed off of me, I immediately slowed my pace. Almost immediately the race begins climbing from 5400 feet to 5600 feet in less than half of a mile. Two hundred feet of elevation gain is not a ton, and in this era of everyone bragging about all the "vert" in their race, won't get noticed much at all.  But my sea-level lungs noticed it a whole bunch.

I felt like an anaconda was tightening around my chest. Not being a good uphill runner to begin with and then starting a race a run with an uphill climb definitely did not play to my strengths. Right before the top of this first climb, I said screw it and started walking. I know what I am good at and it is all much better when I can breathe. I took about 10 steps and tried to get my breathing under control. Right when I was about to start running again, I heard footsteps behind me. I saw a grey-haired gentleman in the blue shirt coming up beside me. Rather than take off again right when he was next to me, I let him pass me. I figured I could at least run with someone else for a bit and see what sort of pace he had in mind.

For the next 1.5 miles we ran fairly in lockstep and as the course undulated up and down with small rises here and there and twists and turns, I learned that this runner was a decent downhill runner but a not-so-great uphill runner. Around the 2nd mile, as we hit another decent climb, I decided to once again take a short powerhike break. I knew another runner was not too far behind me and I thought I would let him pass me too. It would be best to see what my competition had in their legs early on. This salt-and-pepper-haired chap in the bright orange shirt was the opposite of the runner in front of us: strong on the up hills and only so-so on the downs.  I figured this would make for an interesting race.

For the next 3 miles or so, we stayed in close contact. Occasionally the blue and orange shirted runners would change positions in the front but I simply stayed a few yards behind them both. While I was not feeling especially winded here, I wasn't exactly feeling like I could push the pace just yet. What was pleasing, however, was that my powerhiking method had me losing no ground whatsoever to the guys in front of me. As they ran up the hill and I walked, it would only take me a few seconds to make up the distance lost once I started running again. This is a method I have used to my advantage in many runs. I know some feel that it is a badge of honor to "run" an entire race but I don't think they have a podium just for those who only run every step.

At one point around the 5th mile I turned around to see if any other runners had closed the gap on the rest of us. I noticed a fella about my age in a grey shirt had done just that. I hadn't really looked behind me prior to this to see if he was gaining or losing ground. Nonetheless, I wasn't too happy about a third interloper in the mix. I had figured out the runners in front of me, or so I thought.  This guy was a wild card. But one runs against those who show up and grey shirt guy was showing up.

With about a mile to go to the turn around, the course went from its rolling upward course to a long steady downhill.  As the blue shirted runner pulled away, I found myself on the heels of the orange shirted one. I wasn't quite ready to show my hand but I did not wish for the blue-shirted runner to get away from me. So I had to go with how my legs felt and I poured on the speed.

As I accelerated and passed Orange he said : "Good job."  I replied "Long way yet to go!" and he nodded. I was curious if he would try and stay with me, but I felt no resistance on his part.  I pulled way from him and was now between the runners. Before long I was behind blue and we skirted the reservoir finally in the shadows.  Even though the race had started at 6 p.m., the vast majority of it was run with the sun baking us in the 78 degree weather. I forgot how dry Utah is and realized here I had emptied the entire 1.5L bladder of the Camelbak Circuit. I could only hope that the "aid station" at the turn-around would have some ice. I figured my $70 entry fee might have purchased a few cubes.

I pulled my dry Camelbak off my back, and asked the two nice young ladies at the aid station if they had any ice. Alas, they did not. So I filled my pack with the cool water and figured I only had 7.5 miles to go.

And back again... 1:03

I spent a few more seconds at this aid station than blue shirt as he only had a handheld to refill. I, quite masterfully if I say so myself, refilled my pack, closed it and re-holstered it. This Circuit pack was working out quite stellarly. As I left the parking lot and headed back to the trail, orange shirt and grey shirt came in almost simultaneously.  Looked like grey shirt might be someone to contend with in this second half.

Within a few hundred yards, I was in blue's back pocket. In addition, for the first time in the race I felt like I could breathe as well. I had no real intention of taking the lead again at this point but one rule I live by in racing is to run hard when you feel good- chances are it won't last long. So, right before the trail began to climb again, I passed blue shirt. I knew, being a seemingly better uphill runner than he, if I just put a little effort into these hills, I would be able to create some distance between us.

I had a conversation with a fellow runner about whether this course was runnable or not. I had to think about my answer a bit I did not know which definition I thought "runnable" fell under. I finally decided that runnability has everything to do with the terrain of the course. Sure, the grade of the hills and the altitude at which the race it is run will have an impact on how fast or hard you can run it, but whether the footing is solid determines whether you can run it at all. Given that agreed-upon definition, this course is completely runnable. Whether it is soft-pack dirt, hard pack-dirt or a mixture of both and just a smidgen of gravel, the footing for the course was about as nice as one can hope for in a dry desert trail race. Only rarely did I send a few rocks here and there. Now, of course, I say this knowing full well I actually stopped at one point to shake a rock out of my shoe. But that could happen anywhere. Would some sort of gaiter have helped to keep the rocks out? Sure. But the Karhu Trail shoes were performing excellently, as they have every time I have worn them.  By the by, if you haven't heard of Karhu (and it shocks me how often I am the first person telling runners about this Finnish shoe company which pre-dates just about every shoe company in the world) you owe it to yourself to check them out. I have been running in them for close to three years now and I thoroughly recommend them. But I digress.

As I climbed the hills, more and more of the runners were headed in the opposite direction on their way to the turn around.  In between gasped breaths I wished them all good luck and even high-fived a few. I recognized a few friendly Salt Lake City running faces but didn't have much energy to do more than smile and give a thumbs-up. I knew this hill I was running would come to a summit around the 9th mile. Then it would scream downhill for a bit and begin another quick climb. When I got to the top of that hill, an assessment would be made of what my competition would be for the rest of the race.

I topped the first hill and felt quite good. I cut loose on the down to take advantage of what I knew lay ahead. Other people might care about scenery. I pay attention to the road or trail I am running on for this very reason. When the hill began to climb again I took a ten-second powerhike before continuing my jog.  I looked behind me, which was really to the side given the twisting nature of the trail and saw blue shirt was a ways back  I breathed a sigh of relief. This should be a rather easy second half. Just as I turned my head and would have begun a possibly slower pace, I caught glimpse of the grey shirted runner.  He had passed blue and was between us, much closer to me than I would have ever expected.  I guess my work wasn't done yet.

Fortunately, over the next two plus miles, I felt fantastic. I laid into any downhill as hard as I could and ran the uphills virtually as hard.  The thing about winning a race is that it is not really all that special, in the grand scheme of things. Someone has to win it after all. In fact, the number of races to the number of winners is an exact 1:1 ratio. Moreover, those winners are rarely, if ever, you and me. Yet here, even in an event with only approximately 50 finishers, winning is important. It is special. There has to be a winner but, as I just said, it usually isn't you or me. So while it is just a footrace and doesn't change the course of human events, winning is fantastic. Even more, not winning, when you have a chance, is so awful that it almost supersedes the wonderfulness for a victory. Having tasted the bittersweet second overall twice just last weekend, I wasn't about to let that happen a 3rd time in a week.

With about three miles to go, I looked over my shoulder. I couldn't see anyone. For a long ways behind me, no shirt of any color presented itself. I looked and looked and saw no one. Finally, in the distance the grey shirt appeared. I realized this race was mine to lose. The remaining 20 minutes or so of this race would be about not dying of a sudden heart attack, not rolling down the hill into the reservoir, not getting run over by cattle, and just running hard to the finish. If I did that, I would win.

The sun had gone behind the mountains now and the shade felt wonderful. A tailwind added a little more of a breeze even if it was hot air being pushed around. Because of the footing being solid, I could actually enjoy the view. What a view it was. Interrupted by not one single butt in front of me, this meant I was in first place. I liked what I saw.

As I approached the last half of a mile, I was hoping to break two hours for the race. Having paid virtually no attention to my overall time until now, I could see that wouldn't happen. Instead, I flew down the trail and into one of the most unceremonious finishes ever. I nearly bowled over two young girls who I didn't realize were essentially the finishline. They tried to hand me a finisher's medal and an envelope saying "First Overall" all while I was still in mid-stride. I didn't even realize I was done until a few steps passed them. I clicked my watch. I was the winner. My time of 2:05:22 will serve as a course record for at least a year. That's a pretty neat feeling.

I stayed at the finishline just long enough to congratulate the guys who had been in my view all day. The first female finisher came in just a brief  period after orange shirted  guy. (Their order was grey, blue and orange shirts, for those scoring at home. I also won by over 5 minutes which was a nice feather in my cap as well.) Grey shirt was named Justin and we spoke for a few minutes.  Real nice guy. Blue (Kris) and Orange (Curtis) and I did not speak as much which was unfortunate as I wanted to thank them for pulling me along. They were either winded or didn't like me. When you win you don't have to care, really. (I am kidding. Sorta.) I waited a bit to see if any other runners might come in so I could cheer for them. When one did, I realized I was actually quite chilled and quite hungry.  With this race happening in the evening, I had only had one meal during the day (around noon) and was quite famished. I wanted to be out of my dripping wet clothing and into a cheeseburger.

As I got into my car and started to drive away I realized I have now run on this trail in two races. I have won both of them. The Deer Creek Triathlon no longer seems to be run. I own the course record on this race.

I might just have to retire running here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Thorlos - A Sock Review

As runners we agonize over so many different aspect of our gear. We spend hundreds on our shoes and clothing and sunglasses and hydration packs.  But we often forget to pay attention to the layer between our
feet and those oh-so-important shoes: the socks.

I was sent a variety of socks from Thorlos, a company whose socks I have worn for quite some time, in order to review them for you.  That's what I am going to do.

Thorlos Trail Running Socks 

First up are these socks meant for trail running.  I am a road runner and trail run very infrequently.  So my chances for wearing them are less than most. Fortunately, for testing purposes, I had a couple of great opportunities in a short period of time.  First, I ran a Rim2Rim in the Grand Canyon. Second, I ran the entire length of the Wildwood Trail in Portland's Forest Park.  Finally, I took on the quad busting and treacherous Dipsea Race in Marin County north of San Francisco. There was more than enough terrain change and trail running in those 60 plus miles of racing to let me know if a sock works or not.  That's how I can say this trail sock works. Now let me describe it tad more for you.

Like many trail socks, the top of the sock goes higher than an ankle sock (or even a crew sock) to protect your foot from getting debris in it. In addition, this extra height keeps your ankles from brushes with sharp sticks and rocks. The instep and arch have extra cushioning. You can really feel it when you are running. The sock is snug and comfortable all-around. Because of the extra padding and thickness I thought the socks might retain water from sweat and streams.  Fortunately, they wick very well.

I even wore these on a few runs out on the streets of Portland. They performed just as well there as well.  Good sock.

Thorlos Experia Socks

Virtually anyone who has had a pair of Thorlos seems to have had had a pair of Experia.  They come in the Experias are primarily made of a Coolmax which almost looks mesh-like.  In fact, they are so thin, I thought I had worn though the sock as they are almost see-through in places
most eye-catching colors and are much more prevalent in the running community. 

They are very no-frills. Easy to get on and get off.  The padding is still there but no where near as much in the other socks I wore.  The thicker, engineered pads of the other socks make way for a lighter pad here. While I am unsure if any sock is going to completely help with any foot problem, I can see these being placed in a category of "not even attempting to help". I mean that as a compliment in that they don't try to be anything other than what they are.  Efficient, low-profile, effective. Solid stuff.

Thorlos 84N Runner

Initially I did not know what to make of the 84N Runner. They are said to be made for "feet that hurt" and the comfort of the sock makes you see why. Thick padding, soft to the touch, they feel almost more like a sitting around the house sock then one to run in.  I was skeptical how they would perform.

I tested them solely on roads and while they felt a touch heavy, and definitely held more wetness than the Experia, true-to-their-claim, they wicked the sweat away from the foot. When you think about it, who cares if they are wet?  You want your foot to be dry.

The 84N did make my feet a little warmer but that could be because Portland is in the middle of record-breaking heat and everything feels warmer now.  I do know that simply wearing the socks made my feet feel cozy.  I ended up wearing the socks around the house more than I did out on my runs and was just as happy. In fact, I am wearing them as I write this review.  (Seriously. Putting them on is what reminded me I needed to review the socks!)

Three socks, three types, all good. Your feet will thank you when you put them on.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Life is good Playmakers/ Falmouth Road Race

When Monday rolls around, social media is filled with “Ugh, this is Monday!” memes and complaints. Unrelated to Monday itself but in the same realm of framing things negatively, when something nice happens around the world people will post a link and say that this restores their faith in humanity. To me, a person who can easily get upset by people not backing away from the luggage carousel at the airport, these are odd complaints. Mondays don’t suck.  Either your attitude or your job does. Change one if not both of them.  If you need your faith in humanity restored, part of that is on you for not surrounding yourself with good humanity. In other words, Life is good.

As such, it gives me great pleasure to announce I have begun to work with the Life is good Playmakers. From their own website,“…playmakers are men and women who dedicate their lives to building healing, life-changing relationships with children.”

I have spent a majority of my time over the last few years doing what I can to reach out to all people to chase their dreams.  However, while it is great to get adults engaged in dream chasing, it is even better to instill that sense in our youth so that hopefully, someday, the need for me to inspire will be far less than it is today.  In the meantime, I plan to continue the work I have done doing what I can to help kids.  From meeting them at their own playing fields in Florida, to stopping in the middle of 350 mile runs up the coast of Oregon in their schools, and everywhere in between, I have found kids only need a little guidance and a little shove to take on the challenges in front of them. This is where the Life is good Playmakers comes in.

First on this list of things we will be doing is the Falmouth Road Race.  An iconic event which I have always wished to run, I will be taking on this 7.1 miler in a fundraising capacity for the non-profit Playmakers. There are two ways you can get involved.

1. If you would like to contribute to helping make good things happen for children when children need them most, please click here to donate.

2. In the alternative, if you wish to join me as an athlete at the Falmouth Road Race, I also have two bib numbers generously provided by the Life is good Playmakers. You would simply have to take on the same fundraising goal I am taking to run the race for this fantastic group!  If you are interested, drop me an email at

I am looking forward to where this new chapter in helping to make children healthier will go and can’t wait for you to join me!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cook Park Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 11th Edition 
145.4 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Cook Park Half Marathon
Place: Tualitin, OR
Miles from home: 23
Weather: 70s-80s; sunny; hot

My original plan for this marathon was to get a low-key run in near home. I figured I could possibly eke out a victory in this race, get my summer started well in that category, and then move right along with life. But then the summer of oh-so-hot-days in Portland rolled in. The month of June broke the record for the most days above 80 degrees and the most days above 90.  A week or so before the race, the forecast called for race day to be 106 degrees. What in the sam hell?

Then I went to Brazil and not once, but twice, summitted Corcovado to catch a glimpse of  Jesus. The latter of those two was on Monday. This race was on a Friday. Combine air travel and tired legs with ridiculous predicted heat and I decided this race would be a 13.1 mile effort and not a 26.2 mile death march.

The race was put on by Steve Walters, a very amiable chap who is a fixture in the Marathon Maniac circuit. It is one of many he puts on a year which follow the same basic no-frills approach. I think he does a very good job with them but, in all sincerity, I like some frills. I can run virtually by myself, carrying my own water bottle any day of the week. When I race, I want someone else to carry some of the weight. Again, this is no knock on the race and many runners enjoy them (for a variety of reasons) as they deliver mostly what they promise. They just don't promise a great deal.

Because my expectation, like the distance I was planning on running, were lowered, it barely felt like a race day. No nerves, no butterflies, just knowing I needed to Body Glide the heck out of myself in order to somehow stave off chafing as my superhuman sweat glands rid me of approximately 10 pounds of water in 13.1 miles.

The marathon and the half marathon lined up together with ~65 total runners crammed onto a tiny narrow bicycle trail. The course would be three loops for the halfers and six for the full. It was a twisty-turny, undulating course that looks neither difficult nor impressive when seen over the long run. But each loop consisted of two dead-end out and backs, oodles of turns, and super quick rises on the path. Again, I am not saying the race didn't warn me. I just need to know why I do these sort of things to myself.

Loop One:

When the metaphorical gun fired I shot out to the front. I figured at most a handful of people would challenge me for the win and the last thing I wanted to do was give them any head start. I was joined before long by a young redheaded lass and the timer himself, who was running the 5K. I made an educated guess the redhead was running the 5K as well. Regardless, if she wasn't, the way she took off in front of me meant I wasn't catching her either way.

Less than a half of a mile in, another runner passed me and he looked more like a half marathoner. He pulled away a bit as well and I figured I might not have much of a chance to stay up. But after two miles, and me reeling him in a bit, I passed him. Alexjandro was his name and as I caught him he remarked how he shouldn't have tried to chase down people running four times shorter of a distance. I concurred.

When we turned on the out and back portion to head home, a third runner had caught us and fell right in line. I was leading the pack with Alexjandro behind me and our newcomer, a young Kiwi named Benedict ("Beenie" I would learn later) right there as well. We finished the loop like this, in-step, all in the same time of 31:22 for 1/3 of the way done.

Loop Two: 

I was beginning to wonder if the race was going to be like this, where I led the charge and they simply followed, hoping to out kick me at the end. As I weaved from side to side on the path, cutting every possible tangent, I heard footsteps right behind me. Yep, they were going to ride my ass.

Right before the 5th mile, my eyes in blinders, I took us down a wrong path. This is absolutely no fault of the races as we later would see a comically large "NO!" drawn on the sidewalk.  But I was so concentrated on the race and they were so concentrated on following me that we all ran the wrong way. As we crossed a footbridge, I came to a sudden stop. I did my best Gandalf impression.

"I have no memory of this place."

They agreed and we turned around. It seems quite clear we added at least a quarter of a mile to our day. Bonus miles!

As we began to make up time, this little extra bit seemed to take the air out of Alexjandro's sails a bit. As Beenie and I began the final out and back before beginning the third loop, we had a full 1:20 lead on Alex.  Now the only question was how much did Beenie have in the tank.

I tested him with little spurts in some place and little areas where I would slow down. Every time he stayed right in my hip pocket. Bollocks. He might just be toying with me today. As we came into the area for the beginning of the third and final loop, I could not hold out any longer. I needed a drink. (The race was cupless in its aid stations other than this one right here so I had run 8-ish miles with nary a drink. I had sweat off enough to offset Oregon's drought. Not good.)

Loop Three:

I grabbed the drink and slowed to let Beenie go by. I was hoping to let him do the work for this loop, at least for a little bit. However, he soon showed he, at least here, had way more in the tank than I. As we wound our way through the path, he pulled away. I tried to respond but had nothing to do so with.

The twisting nature of this path allowed for someone with a ten yard lead to seem like they were forever in front of you. Because of this I didn't realize, as we neared the halfway point of this final loop, that I had closed the gap somewhat. On the first out and back I slapped palms with him and told him good luck. After doing the out and back myself, I entered an area where I could see further ahead.I had closed the gap even more. Did I have a shot? 

The hardest portion of the course was this final out and back. It was punctuated by two steep but short hills. I knew on the first lap these might be trouble for me later on. Sure enough, as I came close to this last out and back, I could see Beenie had pulled away. With no one close to pushing me from behind I lost my will to even try to hunt him down.

I finished the last mile or so and even though it felt rather slow it wasn't nearly as bad as it felt. I do know, however, there was no way that I could have run the marathon on this day. Well, I could have but it would have been an awful sight. In this final portion I also saw my bestie Shannon who had thought about running the full as well but wisely decided against it and dropped to the half like me. She shouted words of encouragement to me about looking good or something but considering I felt like death, I laughed a little inside. In fact, after the race, in speaking to Beenie, he told me he was absolutely shocked at seeing a person sweat this much. Yep, that's how I roll.

All told, the time was less than stellar but the effort was solid. I took second place behind Beenie in a time of 1:38:07. Admittingly a bit sour after giving up my first victory in a half marathon in 5 years, I decided that I would sign up for another of Steve's races on Sunday. It will be hotter, have one more loop, and looks just as twisty and turny with hills and three out and backs. I am already declaring I am an idiot.

 Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Come to Jesus Moment: Climbing Corcovado to Christ the Redeemer

When I realized a friend of over a decade was ending her two year stay in Brazil, I did what any good friend would do: quickly try to take advantage of free room and board in a foreign country.

That's how I found myself in Rio De Janeiro for a few days at the end of June last week. As with any trip I take, I immediately scope out places that I can run which are either iconic or provide me with a wow factor. In Rio, I knew I simply could not miss running to the top of the hunchback mountain known as Corcovado and gaze upon the yes-we-are-now-telling-the-audience-we-are-in-Brazil-with-this-crane-shot-of-this-statue-in-every-movie-set-in-Rio Christ the Redeemer. You know the shot. It is law that this shot must be used (apparently.)

So, while having fun and enjoying myself was the main goal for this trip, summiting this mountain was something I had to do. Sure, I wanted to catch up with a friend and spend some time on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. But Jesus had his arms wide open to me and I was going to run to him.

Attempt One: Hiking Corcovado from Parque Lage

I do not like to plan things out. I like to have them planned for me, at least when it comes to physical endeavors. I will exert tremendous amounts of energy during the event but ideally I don't want to think. That's why stage races and carry your own gear races always are low on my list of "to-dos." That said, I often look for places to go for an adventurous run and do at least plan out enough to get by. I have to know how to get to where I am going and have a general sense of an idea of how to conquer the challenge. But other than that, I wing it.

As such, in my planning, it appeared that the best way for me to take on the mountain was to run from my friend's place in Copacabana, around the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon and to the Parque Lage. From there, just a few thousand feet straight up the sheer cliff and Bob's your Uncle, I high-five Jesus and come back down. Easy Peasy.

The run from Copa to Ipa (I have no idea if they are called that but apparently Rio De Janeirians[?] shorten all their words, so I am going with it) went smoothly as did the run to the Lagoon.  After running around the Lagoon, I turned into the city a bit earlier than my plan and got a little lost. Using my spidey sense I realized I was not where I was supposed to be but was not sure which direction I had to go.

I saw what looked like a police officer of sorts in a little phone booth on the side of the street and thought I would try to see if he could tell me where I should go.  Note, in all my travels to Central and South Americans countries, as well as some time spent in Italy, it seems every third person is wearing a uni which gives them some sort of police-looking-officialness to them. I assume they have power and just do what they say or what I can understand.

I caught his attention, held out my arms like the statue, and said quizzically: "Christo?" He knew exactly what I meant and pointed in the direction down the street. Then he gave me a thumbs-up. I learned the thumbs-up is HUGE in Rio. So I used the one word in Portuguese I knew ("obrigado") and ran down the street. Sure enough, there was the park entrance I was looking for right around the corner.

Cobblestone streets led past a few buildings in this beautiful park. I would have loved to check the buildings out and see what they held inside of them but I was on a mission. I told my friend to meet me in this park in about an hour. I laugh now thinking of my hubris with that prediction but I just didn't know how hard this climb actually was going to be. Mistakenly, I had read a few reviews which painted a picture of  climb to the top being one where you would get a little sweaty but otherwise would be fine. Apparently, these reviews were written by the offspring of mountain goats and Killian Jornet. Stating they were not difficult was an out-and-out lie.

The cobblestone continued up toward the mountain and I looked up to see Christo outstretched in the clouds. WAY above me. (For respective, that tiny savior up there is 12 inches short of 100 feet tall.) Time to climb!

The road seemed not too bad and I figured as wide as it was now it would narrow some. The cobblestones were slick and not exactly well-placed together but I have run over worse terrain. I passed a tiny shack on my right after about a quarter of a mile but paid it no mind as I wound around a bend. About another quarter of a mile later the cobblestone stopped and a reflecting pool of sorts took its place. Shrouded in mist and greenery, a few people gazed into it. I spotted what I thought was the trail off to the side and continued on.

Climbing some steps and continuing my running pace, I had to then pick my way over some fallen trees and around roots and dirty piles on the trail which was now suddenly single-track. So much for the cobblestone.Then abruptly the trail ended in a side of a sheer cliff. OK, maybe it was just a hill but my point is there was no going further. It was here I remembered from looking at Google maps that a little spur that dead ended went off from the trail I really wanted to be on. Sure enough, after returning home and looking up where I ran, this is exactly where I was now. So I went back down the stairs, around the reflecting pool. and back to the tiny shack. There, hidden under a low-hanging branch was a modest sign that said "Corcovado" with an arrow. (Talk about underselling an experience. Or assuming one knows where they are going.) I climbed the stairs, passed the little stone shack, and began to finally go up the mountain. I hate wrong turns but this wasn't too bad.

Another tidbit I learned later is this shack is a check-post where all hikers are supposed to announce their climb. Some directions are given and they keep a head count of who is on the trail. That all makes sense. Too bad I knew none of that and no one stopped me. Then again, maybe they tried. I don't speak Portuguese. Also, upon returning and reading more on the internet, I learned of some robberies which had happened on this trail. I guess I am happy/fearful I did not know about this in advance. However, as you will see, I have no idea how those could have occurred.

The path turns from the cobblestone to a rooty, dirty, single-track here and starts to begin its climb. Nothing too ridiculous to begin with which gave me hope the reports I had read were true. You cross a slow moving stream over exposed rocks, not once, not twice, but three times as you switchback up the hills. Hardly a Columbia Gorge crossing but one's feet might get wet here and there. After the final streaming crossing, the trail turned up some steep steps hewn out of rock and began getting ridiculous soon thereafter.

I wish I had taken some pictures here to show how difficult this portion was to walk, let alone run. But by this point I was drenched in sweat and had burned through 3/4 of my Camelbak handheld. I did not have my Karhu trail shoes on and was absolutely not dressed properly for the terrain I would encounter soon thereafter. Live and learn. Fortunately, I found a picture online which puts this into perspective.

I passed more than a few people for a while as I tried to make my run seem at least mildly faster than their hike. A couple of small groups came down the mountain at me, most looking far less prepared than I to climb. How they got where they did was beyond me. One group, obviously filled with Americans, came out me and wished me good morning in Portuguese. I said the same back in English and they looked surprised as I was obviously American. He gave me a quizzical look and I said; "You are wearing a University of Pennsylvania hat. Not too many Brazilians are big Quaker fans." He laughed. I asked how bad it was and he said they only made it another 50 feet or so. That did not bode well for me but I figured I had to be much more prepared than they. I just wished I had the foresight to wear my IceSpike.

Here and there the trail would get so bad that only by using vines and the grace of God (I mean, he was right there, for his sake) was I able to get up the trail. Meanwhile, my watch was doing two things: one, it was dying as I forgot to charge it recently. Two, it told me I was rapidly approaching the time I told my friend I would meet her and I still hadn't even reached the top. This trail was nothing like I suspected. I knew running down was not going to be a fast affair either. But up I went just a little more hoping perhaps she was delayed by traffic and wouldn't be waiting for me too long.

Here and there you will catch the slightest glimpse of the the statue of Christ through the trees. But seeing the statue breeds nothing but false hope as it is so much further away than it seems. Soon, another group of girls was heading down the mountain, gingerly picking their way. I asked them how far left it was to the top and they said about 30 minutes. Now, I didn't know if they meant 30 minutes coming down, 30 minutes going up, 30 minutes their leisurely pace or 30 minutes at my more brisk. So, I simply passed them and kept climbing. A few minutes later, however, I made the executive decision to turn around. I was completely out of water, my watch had died, I was out of time and the path had barely stopped going straight up over roots and rocks and everything else.

But don't take my word for it.  Look at over 600 feet of gain in less than a 1/3 of a mile. And now I had to go back down it.

The descent ended up be marginally easier than I thought it would be. I did have my foot hit a root near the last half mile where it was runnable and I almost became part of the mountain.  However, I used one of my running superpowers (they are limited) and somehow stayed upright and running. Finishing the run, I had to search for my friend for a bit but finally found her. I described my attempt and was a little disappointed in myself.  However, I knew I had made the right decision for the circumstances. I looked up at the mountain and said:

 "You won this round."

Without a doubt this is not an easy hike or run. I am not trying to make it seem harder because I failed to get to the top. It will take you an easy hour to go just the 3-4 miles up and that is if you are in good shape. Coming down is easier but requires concentration. I would also suggest wearing some sort of gloves so you can grasp the rocks and roots and vines. If you can wear a waist or back pack instead of a handheld, do so. It frees up both hands and allows you greater balance as well. I don't think hiking poles would help you any but trail shoes definitely will. The girl wearing jellies who was going up when I was coming down probably made it about 20 feet.

Fortunately, I was doing this hike during Rio's winter. I can't imagine what a hot humid day on the mountain, trampled underfoot by the steamy jungle, would feel like. While I was pleased with my choice, it did gnaw at me. When I got back to the apartment, I sat down and looked at other ways to get to the top. I decided I was not done just yet.

Attempt Two: From Cosme Velho to the Top

I am a frugal man and any chance to avoid spending money is one I take. Well, that might be oversimplifying things. I tend to spend money on experiences not things. However, sometimes I acquiesce to save myself time and energy. Like changing a tire. I could change a tire but I pay AAA for a reason. I would rather have a professional do it. Likewise I knew in order to ascend Corcovado from the other side than I had tried previously, I would need to take a taxi to and from the entry point. I could run there but it would take a long time, in a country whose streets I did not know, and language I did not speak. As such, resignedly, I realized if I was going to tackle the mountain, I was going to have to spend a little money. I had researched my routes a little more and knew that the road on the other side was a paved one and would not require trail shoes, walking poles, a sherpa or a compass and sextant.(As fun as the last one sounds, it isn't. Google it, you damn millenials.)

I woke up a little earlier on this run than before. The weather promised to a little warmer and I wanted to avoid as much of the heat as possible. I hailed a taxi, spoke the address, and away we went. About 20 minutes later I was standing at the train station that takes less fit people to the top. That's a slight dig at the tourists and I am sure some of them were perfectly fit. However, when you are running up a mountain and everyone else is using motor vehicles, you sort of feel like a bad ass. Running arrogance, I guess.

For this run I was far more prepared than the previous day. Instead of just a single handheld, I had the new Camlebak Ultra4 strapped to my back with ice cold water in it. If you know anything about countries in these warm climes, finding ice is like finding gold. With it on my back, I was ready to start running. (A review of this fantastic pack is forthcoming. It was really top-notch. I had worn it already on a few other less technical occasions and wanted to really test it out when the incline got tough.)

As people loaded themselves onto the train, I turned on my Timex OneGPS. I waited just a few seconds for it to gain satellites (it really is the fastest watch I have ever had when it comes to this), checked my pack for its contents, and away I went. I ran down the street about a block, turned the corner, made another quick turn and immediately ran into quite possibly the steepest street I have ever seen.  Not again, I thought. Hands on knees, I began to powerwalk up this incredibly sleep slope. At least the footing wasn't atrocious.

I passed some houses and shacks that were not abhorrent like the favelas in other sections of Rio but I wasn't sure how safe or friendly the people were here in the neighborhood of Cosme Velho. I definitely do not wish to come across as an ignorant person but when it comes to this area, I truly was just that. I knew nothing of their lives and whether this sort of housing was substandard or above par.  All, I knew was that it did not look like a place I wanted to live. Then again, even some of the million dollar condos in Copacabana were in buildings that hardly looked safe, secure or worth the seven figures. Maybe that is American arrogance. But it is what I knew. Here, I figured I would just act like I belonged, look as tan as possible, and try not to smell American. Regardless of the condition of the homes or the grade of the slope, the artwork on the walls was amazing. In the picture above you can see not only the artistic ability of the painters but also the ridiculous grade of the slope I was running, or rather, walking. The camera was not tilted to create an optical illusion. That is simply the 45 degree angle this road was built on.

As the climb became more and more crazy, the thought I had was how I had to ascend roughly 2,000 feet on this run. If a great deal of those feet happened to be conquered at a snail's pace here in the beginning, so be it. Doing so simply meant I got to get as many of those vertical feet out of the way as possible. I turned the corner and a few more people were out on the streets. The cobblestone road became more widely spaced and a cracked, uneven sidewalk provided very little more of footing or stability. I did not mind the slow pace as it gave me a chance to figure out if I was correctly following the right path.

Suddenly, the road flattened. I was confused. I rounded a bend and I started to go ever so slightly downhill. Had I made a wrong turn? I definitely did not recall any downhill on this road to the top. As I stood there, another runner, a local woman, went by. We exchanged the knowing smile of one runner to another acknowledging that what they are doing others will think is insane. Then I realized I might be going the wrong way. I ran back to a small intersection I had just come up. The only other possible way I could go led to what appeared to be a dead-end. While it had felt right to go down the slight downhill, my head had told me I was wrong. But I trusted my instincts and decided not to let my non-memory of this small flat section keep me from moving forward. Continuing a bit further I saw the road did a quick 180 degree turn and began to climb steadily. Up the hill there was a sign for Christo. I now knew I was on the right road. Time to climb.

The next few miles were relatively runnable. The degree of incline was manageable, the tree cover took away the bite of the sun and aside from a small shoulder to avoid cars barreling down the road, it was fairly safe. I soon took to running on the righthand side of the road as I could hear the laboring buses coming up from behind me and react quicker than I could the careening, out-of-control vehicles on the left side of the road. I drank liberally from my back and stopped to take some rather breath-taking views into my camera lens. I posses neither the camera nor the skill to get shots that will be awe-inspiring of the surrounds alone, so I insert my ugly mug in the picture to make me want to look at them later.

The rest of the climb was rather uneventful. Before I knew it was passing parked cars and taxis and could hear people. I knew I could not possibly be to the top yet but I must be getting close. I rounded the bend and saw lines of people forming. I wasn't exactly sure what they were lining up for but the road continued up to the right. That was where I was going. But before I could leave the area, I had to take at least one picture of the marmosets which dotted the walls and landscape. It also gave me a breather before what I assumed was the final mile or so.

I started running again and felt good. The road was again rather flat here and I wasn't sure why.  I figured I had perhaps simply mis-remembered the map and continued onward. I was running relatively fast and the fact I covered a fair amount of terrain before the road began to climb again should have been a sign. Any picture of Christo reveals it is on a solo peak, which rises drastically from its surrounding. There is nothing gradual about its ascent at all. But when the road climbed high again I made the assumption I was in the right place.

Not quite sure what made me decide to glance over my left shoulder but believe me I am glad I did.  There, off in the distance, on a peak I was no longer climbing, was the statute I was trying to go to. This is the face of a person who realizes they made a wrong turn somewhere and have a lot of running to do just to get back to where that turn might be.

I had no choice but to turn around and figure out where to go. Back down the road I went finally making it to where all the people were lined up. I asked someone how exactly I got up to the top and they pointed toward the line of people. I shook my head and moved my arms to indicate like I wished to run to the top. Again he pointed toward the line of people. I simply said thanks and headed back down the hill. Down was not the direction I wanted to go. Suddenly, I saw a small road, hidden by vines and shrouded in shadow. A small bus popped out of the darkness and I realized this was indeed the road to the top. Huzzah! That said, it was no wonder I missed it. These Brazilians like to hide their treasures.

Up I went knowing I had about a mile and third left until I finally hit paydirt. Here the road got more and more steep and the switchbacks became numerous. The buses from behind me were louder and louder as their gears strained to make the turns and grade. I would wave at the people in the comfortable seats as they stared back at me. I might have been struggling but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I was finally going to get to the top. I tried not to think about it too much as I wasn't there yet and a torn achilles and organized marmoset attack could easily stop me.

Finally, one last turn and ...a turnstile. Yep. All this way and the non-payoff comes from the fact that I didn't have the equivalent of $16 to get past the attendant to climb the final few steps. Drat. I guess by being a runner and being able to see some of the most amazing things in the world for free, you get a little uppity when it comes to paying for sights. Now, if I happened to remember my credit card I may have paid the amount needed to swing around the other side and see the front of the statute. But I think it was rather fitting that after all of this, there was still something left for me to view some other day.  So I took the best shot possible that I could, with a wall and trees seemingly in place to keep anyone from doing anything of the like and then turned to run back down.

As expected, it was far easier to head back down the road but from from easy. The grade was so steep that the quads really took a pounding. But as I zipped down the hill, chatter from marmosets in the trees and sun on my back, I was happy nonetheless. While others could take a train halfway up, and then take a bus, and then pay to get through the turnstile (each costing a different amount if I recall correctly) I was lucky enough to be able to run to the top. Almost twice in two different ways. Neither went as planned but both helped paint this tale.

Before I hit the steepest part and couldn't do much looking around and enjoying lest I go ass over teacups and break a collarbone, I was still enjoying the scenery. All over town I had seen what I would say is graffiti of a certain face. Sometimes he had a pencil-thin mustache. Other times he had on a gas mask. But it was undoubtedly the same character probably drawn by the same guy. Now I say graffiti because I don't think it was commissioned by anyone to do. Obviously the artwork took talent and it would be great if more art like this could be turned into paychecks for the artists. Nevertheless, even though I had seen the face in numerous places, it was only on this final descent did I see one that struck me. It struck me because, holy crap, did it look like me!

OK, maybe I am stretching it a bit as my teeth lack the gap and I am not orange and my chin is not pointy but still. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy. It was like the mountain, after making it so hard for me to get to the top, was kinda winking at me and saying good bye.

I may not have seen the statute from the front but I saw so much more as I wound my way around Corcovado. I ended up running more than a few miles more than I wanted to originally yet those extra miles allowed me to see even more of the mountain and its environs. In fact, as I ran on my extended visit of the mountain, I overheard that a waterfall was up the road a piece from one of my meanderings.

Now I have something else to see if I ever go back. Hope they don't charge for it.