Dreams are Made to be Had

 

I just received confirmation after receiving my medical clearance that I’ve passed the final step to entry to the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race.

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It was a simple generic email from the race organizers but nonetheless it stoked excitement within me.  You see I started racing ultra marathons four years ago and am in many ways still a bit of a newbie to this masochistic sport.  That first year in 2014 I ran my first three 50k races.  I was pumped with emotions after completing each one. They were not by ultra race standards overly tough courses, but they challenged this rookie immensely. Sometime between my racing SOB 50k and the McKenzie River 50k I read an article that Anton Krupicka had won the 2014 Lavaredo race in near course record time.  Wait!  What?  I had never heard of this event.  That race is in Italy!  In the Dolomites!  I read through the entire article and salivated over the photos.

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This seemed awesome. I was not ready yet for a race like this with more than double the mileage of my first two ultras and over triple the elevation gain but nevertheless a seed was planted. My wife grew up in Rome Italy and I’ve had the opportunity to travel there several times. I enjoyed the country and it’s people immensely on those prior visits and it was time to go back. I thought what a great way to celebrate turning 50. We could go to Italy again, visit her family, dine on exquisite cuisine and in between I could squeeze in this race.

Life has a way of creating many twists and turns that we can never imagine are coming. My 50th came and went with no trip to that mountainous northwestern corner of Italy.  However the seed which had since sprouted within me kept growing.  I continued to race and train and with each passing year I gained valuable experience, fitness and knowledge to the point the dream of racing no longer seemed an impossible task. Now it was a question of simply when. My wife and I finally decided that it was time to go back no matter what else showed up down life’s path. It had been over a decade since she last visited her childhood home and despite having two children to bring along we would make this happen. So we put things into motion and began making all the necessary arrangements.  I checked into gaining entry to the race and found out that one must run a qualifying race to get in.  Their website stated  “Athletes must also have completed at least one qualifying 4 point race as per the new ITRA classification (see art. 4).”  My heart sunk.  I learned races in Europe have their own point system and not all ultra races in the U.S. participate in this system. Did I run anything that would qualify me?  Why didn’t I look into this much sooner?  Would I even have time to run a qualifying race if my previous ones didn’t meet the criteria?  I nervously began scanning their list of  races which qualified in my region of the Pacific Northwest and low and behold there it was. The Gorge Waterfalls 100k.  I had a rough time during that race and had my slowest finishing time to date for a 100k but it did qualify me. So now I was in!  Err not so fast. There is a generous amount of racers allowed to run but the event did have a cap.  There was going to be a lottery. Ugh. Fingers crossed I waited. Odds were better than getting into Western States 100 and I made it. One of 1500 racers out of  nearly 3,000 lottery entrants.

Pouring over race details with some Italian wine and cheese.

It took four years of luck, planning and hope but what seemed just a fantasy is now reality.  Far fetched dreams and goals are often great motivators to keep one pushing, training to not give up. All that’s left now is to keep training and get to the starting line as fit and healthy as possible. Piece of cake, right?!  The journey continues.

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Return to Running with An Old Friend

As I make my way down the asphalt path I am conscious of the sound of my feet hitting the ground.  It’s something I usually don’t pay much attention to but today is different.  I am running with more attentiveness to my form.  Is my posture good?  Am I leaning into this short grade properly?  Am I engaging my glute muscles?  As my legs continue to propel me forward the parking lot comes into view.  I see someone leave their automobile and make their way towards the trail head.  As I go by him I see two others coming off the trail up ahead.   I ponder as I approach.  Do I head up the mile long trail or continue on the relatively flat route I’ve planned for myself this morning?  It’s about a 600 foot gain in elevation which I’ve done many times over the years. But today I hesitate.  After 7 weeks of  virtually no running due to an injury this is just my third consecutive day running.  It’s been a slow and frustrating process to get to this point.  I felt pretty descent the previous two runs although not without pain and stiffness.  I quickly check in with myself.  Right calf is a bit tight as well as my right piriformis.  Two months ago if you would have asked me where my piriformis muscle was I would have said piriformi what!?  But so it goes with my running.  I learn on the fly.  I don’t come from a running background and with two young children to raise I can’t justify the expense of hiring a full time coach to aid me in my mid pack race finishes.  Like many I learn from experience, from reading articles and books, blog posts and conversations with other runners.  But pursuing running, or any sport for that matter, with the goal of continually pushing ones limits and trying to get better lends one to walking a tight rope.  Stay on the taut, high wire and push to your maximum ability in attempt to maximum your gains.  But go too hard and you’ll lose your balance and not only will your gains be less fruitful but can often lead to injury.  I fell off the tight rope and didn’t even notice when I had lost my balance.

The start to my year had been good.  I decided to try a new diet and become fat adapted and have had success with it so far.  I ran a low key 50k race in January, the Madrass FatAss 50k and then another long run weekend along the Rogue River in southern Oregon with a group of other runners at the Southern Oregon Fat Ass run (SOFA).   Although I ran into some stomach issues during the second run along the Rogue I learned much about fueling with this diet and had a great time.  Things were clicking along and plans were being made for my upcoming running season.  Then without warning down I went down.

It was an innocuous start to a short day hike.  Just myself with my two children and our two dogs.  It occurred on the way back about half a mile from the car.  Our dogs in need of burning their pent up energy were playing fetch as we hiked along the snow covered forest service road.  I bent over to pick up a stick when a sudden pain pierced my lower back.  I almost couldn’t right myself back up.  I managed a slow shuffle back to the car and my 8 year old son had to lift my legs so I could get in.  Upon getting home it took almost a half hour for my wife to help me get back out.  The pain was that intense.  This injury seemed to apparate from out of nowhere like a Death Eater attacking Harry Potter, but in retrospect it was nothing quite so dramatic.  In fact it probably had been a long time coming.  Too much training spent just running and little to no time focused on stretching and working the supportive muscle groups.  Add to this my work environment where I spend half my time in a chair with little walking and it’s no wonder that my problems didn’t arise sooner.

After a little research I self diagnosed myself with a condition called piriformus syndrome.  Hey, Doctor Google is never wrong, right?  But as the weeks went by my suspicions proved correct as my symptoms lessened and body responded to core work and hip and glute exercises.  I was heading down the right path.  I’ve been trying to incorporate regular workouts for these muscles by going to group classes and using resistance bands at home.  It only took me 14 months and an injury to finally take the bands out of their original packaging!  I had good intent when I bought them, but poor follow through.  Don’t you make the same mistake.  All those articles we see regarding cross training, stretching, strength and core work outs are there for a reason.  They benefit us in becoming better runners and staying injury free.

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So today I look up the hillside as I approach Pilot Butte seems like an old friend.  One who patiently waits, unchanged since my last run weeks ago. I quickly decide to turn up the path and climb to the summit.  She quickly makes me sweat from the effort even though I try to take a slow and steady pace.   My calves begin to complain and a slight burning sensation begins to grow in my right glute.  But I don’t hesitate or think of turning back.  I’ve missed the exertion of running.  The pain and sweat along with the things I see in the outdoors.  When something you love is suddenly taken away or is lost it really hits home how often one takes it for granted.  My old friend who I used to avoid like the plague when I first began running I now welcome with open arms.  For although she doesn’t realize it she will be instrumental in allowing me to see many things and accomplish great goals.  My regular running partner whose always there, waiting for me to join her.  So I climb.  Step by step.  It’s not easy and I’m not fully healthy but it feels right.  My heart rate rises and my breathing becomes labored and every step is worth it.

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Mind over matter

In ultra running and any endurance sport for that matter, how you think can play a huge role in your results. I’ve often thought the mental aspect was as much if not more important than the physical side of running. Don’t get me wrong you can’t perform well in a 100k ultramarathon without proper physical training, but one needs to train the brain as well. This topic and many others has been written about in previous articles by Alex Hutchinson and now is the topic of his new book Endure :Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. His article “The Mental Tricks of Athletic Endurance” in the Wall Street Journal talks about this often neglected topic by athletes.  Here is one tidbit from the article.

“Hill and other early researchers soon realized that psychology must play a key role. In 1961, a pair of scientists at George Williams College in Chicago showed that they could boost the maximum strength of weightlifting volunteers by 7.4% if an experimenter sneaked up behind the subject and fired a .22-caliber starter’s pistol just before the lift. It was among the first (and most bizarre) attempts to demonstrate that the limits we perceive as physical and absolute are often negotiable and mediated by the brain.

The precise nature of the mind-muscle connection remains hotly disputed today, but most researchers accept the essential point: that the physical manifestations of fatigue—racing heart, elevated core temperature, a rising tide of metabolites like lactate in the blood—merely serve as sources of information for the brain, rather than direct limits on our ability to continue.”

After reading the full article I look forward to gleaming more insight from his new book.

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A run in the Tetons.

Breathing in, breathing out. One foot forward striking the hard ground. The other foot follows quickly as I pick my path watching for rocks that lay strewn along the way.

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It’s a warm afternoon and I feel the suns heat upon my head and shoulders. Sweat trickles down stinging my eyes. I wipe it away and take a drink from my bladder pack which rests upon my sweaty back.  My footfalls continue as the trail flows beneath me as I follow it twisting through the mountain landscape. I look left then right. Jagged peaks, grey and immense tower above as I progress deeper into their midst.

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I pause to take in these mammoth granite giants. Feeling their power they fill my inner being, replenishing my emotional state. I look around at my immediate surroundings and breathe in deeply. The smell of plants and flowers enter my nostrils triggering more feelings of joy. This is why I come. This is why I don’t mind the hard effort and pain. For the physical pain is short lived but what I gain from a run in nature such as this lasts for days, even weeks. Some of the memories and feelings of pure joy last a lifetime. I look ahead and the trail becons me forward. I oblige with anticipation of what’s lies ahead. I turn and push my foot forward digging into the trail. Breathing in, breathing out I continue on. I feel so alive.

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Dealing with breaks in your training.

As I myself have been struggling of late to keep a regular training cycle going for my running this article gives some great tips in dealing with getting back at it after unplanned breaks.

Training for a distance race takes months of commitment. So it’s not surprising that there are times where you miss a run…or multiple weeks of runs. We often expect injuries to derail our training, but most of the time we take a short break because of other life commitments. Busy schedules often call for runners to readjust…

via How To Start Running Again After A Short Break In Training — Competitor.com

Time to talk about mental health — Marathon Marcus

Marathon Marcus posts about two recent high profile suicides.  It’s important to keep the conversation going as I feel depression, suicide and mental health issues need more attention and acceptance as the serious health issue it is.

After his friend former Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell died two months ago from a suspected suicide, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington wrote a letter of thanks to his friend hoping he would find peace in “the next life.” Bennington wrote. “Your talent was pure and unrivaled…Your voice was joy and pain, anger and […]

via Time to talk about mental health — Marathon Marcus

To just finish and have fun. A Gorge Waterfalls 100k 2017 race report.

It’s often been said that ultra marathons are a lot like life. It has its ups and downs, both physically and emotionally. Spectacular moments and also times when you want to fall to your knees and just cry. The unexpected can and will happen. How you respond to this adversity will effect you in so many ways going forward. FullSizeRender 8 The challenges and rewards of taking on an ultra are many. As a person who faces ongoing mental health challenges, one reason I took up running ultras was to remind myself difficult obstacles can be surmounted and that I am capable of more than I realize. This reinforces belief in myself from day to day.

My latest race, the Gorge Waterfalls 100k dished out plenty of challenges and rewards. The race began at 6:00 am after race director James  Varner filled us in on some wrinkles Mother Nature provided to this years race.  Because of the rough winter there were still some sections of snow on the course. One snowy spot in particular created a dicey situation. On a steep downward section of trail the snow was still deep and packed. Running down would be dangerous because one could easily slip and tumble down to the water and rocks below, not to mention twisting and injuring an ankle or foot.

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The snow bank before the steps were added.

So kudos to Rainshadow Running for taking the time to actually shovel out steps in the snow bank. We were urged not to run but to walk down as the snow would not hold up to such pounding from some 300 racers. I needed no urging to go slow when I came to the snow bank in the still dark morning. Also, there were more downed trees then usual so we would have numerous opportunities to test our scrambling and limbo skills.

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Just one of the many downed trees we’d have to negotiate.

Lastly, due to one particular mud slide the trail was impassible and we would have to rope climb around that section. All would add to the fun of the long day, right!?

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Readying at the start

Having run this race in 2015 I had an idea of what to expect. Last time I took the first hill climb of some 1,500 feet in 2.5 miles too fast and I vowed to go slower. Well, I did take it at a somewhat easier effort, but I should have gone even slower. Maybe it was my running poles which I was racing with for the first time that gave me more confidence, but more likely it was the emotional high of running my first ultra race in almost a year that overwhelmed any practical thinking at this point. On the descent of this first hill I continued to run harder than I should have. I love taking downhills. Usually running them with the attitude of the harder and the faster the better. So once I did reach the top of the first climb I let loose and didn’t worry about pacing.

This somewhat fast pace out of the gate wouldn’t necessarily have doomed me for the latter stages of the race if I would have handled my caloric intake better. Just days before the race I decided to run with a bottle for the first 13 miles until the second aid station where I would pick up my hydration vest. Packed in the vest I carry various energy bars and gels. Well, I forgot to bring some of those with me so I had to rely on just my water mixed with Tailwind along with the first aid station for calories. To further compound my situation when I did reach the first aid station instead of taking a few extra minutes to take in some much needed calories and even grab something to take with me for the next 7 miles I hurriedly ate just a bit, said a quick hello to a friend manning the aid station and took off again. I believe these first 13 miles put me into a quick calorie deficit which I’d not be able to overcome.

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Upon reaching the second aid station a fellow running friend Drew Dinan who graciously offered to crew me, was there to hand me my race vest and offer words of encouragement. I’ve never had someone crew me in a race before so it was a learning experience. I very much appreciated his help but I had feelings of guilt. Knowing what a long day it would be for him hanging out just waiting for me, moving from one location to the next. At least that’s how it played in my head. Next time I will certainly try harder not to worry about anyone crewing me as it defeats some of the purpose of their being out there. Drew is also a darn good ultra runner so he knew what he was getting into by offering his assistance, so I should have focused on that when feelings of guilt arose. However that is one of my personal challenges I face on a daily basis in dealing with generalized anxiety disorder.  I worry too much about what others think. Knowing that I shouldn’t worry about something doesn’t mean I can stop myself from doing it. Just one of the “little” challenges such a mental health problem creates. To his credit throughout the day each time I saw Drew he always offered words of encouragement, a laugh or two and even reminded me of what really mattered. I was out on a fabulous trail doing what I really loved, trail running.

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Before I left the aid station I dropped to the ground to try and stretch out my right hip and glute. It was an issued I had been dealing with the last couple months and it now reared its painful head once again.  It would literally be a pain in my ass until midway through the race.

As the miles continued to mount I gradually eased up on my running intensity and tried to take in the scenery.

FullSizeRender 9I even stopped on occasion to take a photo or two and sent out short texts to my wife and family who were following me and wanted to know how far along I was. At one point I think around mile 25 I saw on a long straight stretch of trail a runner approaching. I immediately knew it was Jim Wamsley. As he got closer I noticed how fluid and fast he was moving. As he got right next to me I shouted to him to bring it on home. It seemed he needed no encouragement as he looked like he was racing in a 50k race not 100k. Having such an encounter, just the two of us on a stretch of trail, both running in the same race, one being one of the best ultra runners today and the other a mid pack runner is one of the things that makes trail running special. As I later stepped aside for more front runners to run by many of them countered my words of encouragement with their own. Some thanked me for my getting out of their way and one guy even let out a loud primeval scream as he came down a switch back towards me and several other runners. Yelling “You guys look awesome!” or something to that effect. Needless to say moments like that give average runners like myself a nice emotional boost.

The trail continued to offer plenty of sweet trail to run on along with muddy shoe sucking sections and occasional snow packs to gingerly walk over as well as rocks. Lots and lots of rocks underfoot. I almost forgot how the embedded rocks in the trail over time will tenderize the soles of my feet and by races end they were a bit sore for sure.

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By the time I reached mile 31, the halfway point and turn around I was feeling good except for the nausea I was feeling.  I had encountered this once before in a race and knew what it meant. My body was craving food but it was hard to put anything down because I felt like I’d just throw it back up. I forced down as much as I could and indeed after awhile as I’d started running again I regained some energy and the nausea dissipated. But it was short lived. My body seemed to use up any calories I took in very quickly and I’d be back at the nausea stage again. I was to repeat this process the entire second half of the race.

Some 48 miles in I came to Elowah Falls. It’s a spectacular waterfall among many amazing ones in the Columbia River Gorge. I stopped at several spots to take in the view and also on the foot bridge to feel the spray from the splashing water.

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Elowah Falls

As I continued down the trail I noticed a trail marker pointing up off the trail and up the steep hillside. Slowing to look I just thought “Well that can’t be right. Someone messed with the course markings. ” and kept going. Well I came to an abrupt stop. The trail in front of me was washed out.

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View of the wash out from other side of approach.

I thought about trying to cross anyway but one look down the steep hundred foot drop finally nudged my memory from the prerace talk. There was to be a rope at one location to get by an obstacle. Hmmm. I walked back and taking a closer look at the last arrow marker I now saw several pink ribbons leading up the hillside and then I saw the muddy rope which now blended in to the hillside. Another runner came up to me and I said I guess we go up.

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@glenn Tachiyama and @ross comer going up rope section to bypass the trail washout at Elowah Falls

As I packed away my poles he grabbed the rope and went up. I soon followed. It looked worse then it was and I soon had found my way back onto the trail and off the brief detour.

As the race progressed I had some emotional ups and downs as my body continued to complain in so many ways it’s lack of nutrition. But I tried the make the best of it. Taking in the scenery and on occasion taking another photo or two. I had to dig deep for motivation to keep going. It was in these late stages of the race I reminded myself why I did this. Running races was both a motivator to me and a reward. When I started running several years ago I did it mainly because I had found that excercise helped me combat my anxiety and depression. Over time running became one of my cornerstones in maintaining my mental health. I chose running because it was my favorite form of exercise.   Even though I got much enjoyment out of it I often found myself lacking motivation.  When my mental health took a downward spiral I just couldn’t do it regularly. But I soon found that signing up for races helped motivate me to get out and run regularly week in and week out. Because I knew if I didn’t I would pay dearly come race day. And once race day was here I always have three goals in mind. First and foremost is to just finish the event and have fun. Second goal would be a time I feel is a fast finish for me but doable. Third goal was if all the planets aligned and I was having a great day to go for an even faster finish time that would put me near the top 20% of finishers and near the top of my age group. Well today was a day goals two and three would not be attainable so I focused on just beating the cut offs and thus finishing in under 17 hours to qualify my entry into the Western States Lottery. I finished in 16 hours and 8 minutes and was very pleased to have done so. It was a hard earned finish, with many unexpected twists and turns but in the end I got it done and managed to even have a little fun along the way.

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