Friday, November 1, 2013

Stinson Beach 50K Race Report

My girlfriend and I drove three hours up the Californian coast to Stinson Beach. We slept in the car Friday night. A cop knocked on the window in the middle of the night and my sleepy response was, “Can you please wait for us to wake up?” He gave us a warning and wished me luck on my race. In the morning, it was freezing! I was late to the start of the race in the parking lot at the beach. All I heard at the pre-race talk was, “-so it’s just that section that’s confusing. Besides that, you’ll be fine.”

The race director said something funny during the first timer's trail racing talk: Alright, running and walking. Only the very elite runners run all of the course. The fact is: you run the flats and downhills. And you run the hills...until it gets stupid.”

Around thirty of us gathered in the road. He counted down from 10 to 1. “Go.” We started shuffling off, trying not to step on each other’s heels. The others had hydration packs, sunglasses, hats, and many accessories. I had my winter camelbak.

We ran up, across the road, through sandy trails. The golden meadows swayed in front of a blanket of fog over the Pacific. We chugged up through a rocky and root-laden trail that followed a mountain creek through redwood groves. We cornered around switchbacks. The trail was narrow and I needed patience to pass others. There was poison oak everywhere. Horse poop was blocking the trail. The mountain was steep. We crossed bridges across the creek. I tried to keep up with those around me in the first group. When we switched trails near 2500 feet, I realized my mistake. I went out too fast and brash. My legs were toast. And I had finished only one of four climbs up Mt. Tam. The course was a figure eight loop that we ran twice. The forest gave way to sweeping views of the ocean and San Francisco Bay. At the aid station atop the mountain, there was the most helpful volunteer I’ve known. She said, “Let me take your jacket around your waist. We’ll keep it here for you.” And after my return climbs up the mountain, without me saying a word, she sprayed my hot face with water. Telepathic, I tell you.

Across the mountain and down the other side. Grassy hills, steep switchbacks. The trail descended until we were near the beach again. I ran through a flat field, the only flat place on the course. More forest, dark and lush. A rickety bridge that almost bounced me off. Then I began walking up the steep hills and stairs. My legs felt drained and numb. My spirits dropped. Why am I running the same course twice? I’d rather hike with my girlfriend today. I worried that I might drop out. That I might be disappointed with myself. My brain swirled, frightened by the emptiness of defeat. The fears and doubts consumed me. I decided to ignore them, figuring I’d run until I couldn’t anymore, and then I would drop out. But I wouldn’t let myself worry about it and only make it worse. I kept walking up the hills. The leg cramps began: first my quads, then my calves, then both.
After cresting Mt. Tam again, I crossed the parking lot and waited for a volunteer to let me cross the busy Park road. After a downhill delight, I barked a short whoop! to keep my spirits high. The narrow switchbacks down to the beach were full of hikers. I yelled, “On your left.” or “Passing.” or “Runner!” Most understood and kindly moved to the side of the trail. When I passed a group of older ladies, I tripped slightly and they shrieked in surprise and fright. I laughed. Tripping doesn’t scare me anymore, not after so many crashes on a skateboard, bike, roller skates, and scooter. At the Stinson beach aid station, as I sadly contemplated quitting my first race ever, I overheard that only a handful of 50K runners had passed by so far. My spirits were raised! Maybe I wasn’t so bad at this after all. Despite wanting to quit, I pressed on. As I started up the trail, I was confronted with a parade of monsters led by a pair of hippies. A Halloween party. They blocked the entire trail. “Passing. Runner, Move!” All commands fell on deaf ears. I waited until the ugly crowd passed. On the slow ascent through the forest, I finally resolved to take the race step by step, knowing each step brought me closer to the finish line. Every step is accomplishing the race. That idea led me to a song, based off of Every Breath You Take, by The Police:
Every step you take, every move you make, every fear you shake, every doubt you break, I’ll be helping you.

I also used the mantra from my last race, a 100 mile run last March. I synchronized my words, breath, and stride, saying, “Be here, be now.” Despite feeling more tired and walking more hills, I started feeling better and better. I crested the mountain again, saw the ocean far beneath me, and started singing, “I want to fly like an eagle, into the sea, fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me!”
By this time my legs and sides were cramping most every step. I told a guy running ahead of me and he said a good treatment was taking an S cap (salt pill) to restore the electrolytes. Except, he said, don’t swallow it. Bite into it, and let it dissolve through your mouth. The salt will get into your system faster and you should feel it in 5 minutes. I was hungry for healing, so I did as he said, and bit into it. Yuck! It did lessen the cramps. The guy and I ran together the rest of the race. His name was Jim, he was from Murphy’s, CA where the Gold Rush started. He took my mind off worrying about not finishing. Another blessing in this race. The last time up the mountain, I walked so much. I let go of finishing in six hours. I just wanted to finish. “Be here, be now.” Finally, at the aid station atop the mountain, I grabbed some orange slices and chocolate coffee beans and shuffled off towards a sweet descent.

I hit traffic. It was the afternoon now, and the trails were full of hikers. Every minute, I was yelling ahead to hikers to let me pass. One group of ladies, on hearing me say, “Passing on your left,” moved to their left. On the right side of the trail was loose dirt and the steep side of the mountain. I fell into the dirt. The ladies winced and shrieked. I said, “I’m fine.” and tried to hop out. I fell again. Luckily I got to my feet the third time and ran off laughing. I was too happy to be embarrassed. The fast technical downhills are my favorite and I relished the sweet thrill of it all. I had done what I had thought was impossible. I crossed the finish line. Like the book title from endurance master Marshall Ulrich, I had been running on empty. My Love came running towards me and we hugged. Following another suggestion from Jim, we cooled off in the icy ocean to wash off the poison oak oils.
I'm so grateful to carry this passion for running over the past ten years. I've traveled to beautiful places and met wonderful people. I'm grateful for the help of my parents and friends and loved ones. I'll go wherever my feet take me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Road trip update #1

Left Boston loaded with sandwiches and fruit and veggies from the love of my Aunt and Uncle. Drove until Syracuse, where I stayed with a good friend. Next day, the car battery drained and I stood beside my car with a sign that read, "JUMP MY CAR PLEASE." A man across the street at the steelworkers place helped me out. He said he was happy to get out of work - his shift started at 3 AM. I thanked him and drove away - without my bag of car supplies I had placed next to the car. I only have the jumper cables, which is the most important piece of gear, so I don't mind much.

I found a cool waterfall along the way.

Chicago bound today! I am grateful for the love of friends and family.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Peace Corps Bound!

After almost a year long application process, I'm proud to say that I have been accepted into the Peace Corps! I'll be flyin down to the Dominican Republic in March of 2014 to teach and promote literacy for 27 months. And guess what? I'll write to you every month with news, stories, jokes, fun runs, and anything else you ask me for. I might be the only PC volunteer at my post, so, PLEASE!, feel free to comment and keep me sane.

Well, I haven't done much running this summer. But I did find my way up this hill in Maine. Did you know they also have pretty rocks there?

In October, I'm hittin the road! Driving to California. Livin on the [BEACH!] in Monterey Bay with my girlfriend Becca. I'll be sure to have great times on the way over so stay tuned for that post.

And now for something entirely different. This summer at camp, I had an idea. A funny idea. And it became a reality. Hooray for fun at Journeys End Farm Camp (

Saturday, May 25, 2013

AT and Highlands Trail Run

I just went on such a great run. It was pretty hard towards the end, more mountains than I expected, I kept losing the trail, I ran out of water, the trail was a river (we've had a lot of rain lately).

I met such great people along the way. The first guy I met at the parking lot. He looked older, mid-40s, receding white hair, carried a buck knife around his hip. Thick New Yorker accent. He had just run up and down these steep mountains. He started telling me about running in moccasins on the rocky mountain trails, I couldn't believe it. He said, "You run in moccasins on these trails for a few months, you'll get great coordination. You'll be a FUCKING DANCER!" He was funny.

Then I met a guy at the "Bobcat" shelter that was section hiking the AT. He said he was cold, and he looked like he was shivering, but it was hard to tell since he also stuttered when he talked. I'll call him Shiver-Me-Timbers. He didn't want to get out of his sleeping bag and didn't want to go get soaked and cold in the rainy day. I told him about my Peace Corps application, and he said his friend did Peace Corps in China, and absolutely loved it. That got me pumped about Peace Corps.

Lastly, I met a couple eating lunch on the Highland trail. They were standing there, their belongings blowing all over in the gusts, eating sausages. They sounded Russian, or maybe that was just because they had food in their mouth, or maybe a combination of both. Heh. I asked them how they were doing in the rainy day and the lady said, "Y'know, you have to go, in whatever weather, it will be better tomorrow, next day. The waterfall was BEAUTIFUL. Very strong and big. I would not have seen it like that had we not hiked today."

Hikers are my favorite!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NJ Ultra Festival Race Report

This past weekend, I ran my first ultramarathon since last September. The NJ Ultra Festival was held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ. I decided to camp out at the fairgrounds on Friday night. While I had a frigid night with little sleep, I did get to see the brightest shooting star of my life! It was white and blue, very bright, and big, and it rocketed across the sky with a long tail.

My parents came to the Festival Saturday morning to crew for me. I was glad they were there. They even laundered my sweatpants while I ran and brought me hot chocolate and compliments. The race was well-managed and well supplied. Water stations every few miles. An aid station with granola bars, junk food, and terrible tasting Hammer endurance drinks. At night, they even had hot broth and noodles at the far aid station. Yum. The food at the Sunday Brunch after the race was even better, but I wasn't able to eat much initially, because my mouth was sore from 20 hours of snacking on salty foods.

The race course had surprising unnecessarily poor conditions. It's a 10 mile course with two out-and-back trail sections. The "trail race" was on an unmaintained old gas pipeline trail that was swamped in many areas. For the 100 milers, we had to traverse the swamps 20 times! The runners had to walk on the slanted side of the trail to pass the swamps and the trails edges became icy at night. I slipped and stumbled into the icy mud many times. The course was flat and fast, all considering. The large bathrooms and aid stations made this race pretty convenient compared to other places I've ran long.

The weather was cold, but pretty easy to manage through the day and night.

I went out 90 minutes for the first 2 lap and soon realized I went out too fast. I started to worry that I had wasted energy, that I wouldn't finish, that this race would take forever to finish, etc.. I was reminded of the Mindfulness book I am reading right now called, The Mindful Way Through Depression, by Williams, Teasdale, et. al.. I had a great thought at some point - if I can just get my mind out of the way, my body will be able to run smoothly. So I came up with a mantra to say in sync with my breathing and foot strikes, saying, "I'm - In - The - Groove." The other one I said to keep me thinking and sensing the present moment was, "Right - Here - Right - Now." These mantras helped my mind stay present and calm while I ran. Can you believe it, I continued to say those mantras to myself for over 10 hours until I finished.

After a day of running, I continued to run through the night. Oddly, there weren't many others running the course at night. Most people were walking. I stopped to walk with one woman because she seemed distressed and down. Her partner had left her after the first lap, she was having stomach problems, and she was worried she wouldn't finish in the 29 hour time limit at her current pace. I was happy to help, sharing my mantra, my eating habits, and giving her some company. Hell, I was pretty lonely myself. Even though the course is set up so you pass many people on this narrow two lane trail, I hadn't run with anyone for 10 or even 15 hours. But soon enough, I said goodbye and good luck to Eleanor and started running and slipping on the muddy trail again.

On my tenth lap, my dad told me to rush this next lap so I could finish in under 20 hours. I told him no. I wanted this run to be about experiencing the race, and enjoying the run. I did not want this experience to be driven by a need to get some time or some place. As my friend Barry says, when someone asks what time he got in a race, he says, "Yes, I had a good time."

I am always surprised how alive I feel and how strong my emotions are at the end of a long run. At the finish line, I was overcome with relief. I was proud of the conviction within my body, spirit, and mind. I was proud of my parents for being there, and being great parents. The race director said they'd monogram my name into a belt buckle and mail it to me. My first belt buckle. My mom's friend joked that it was quite necessary to give me one since I'd need it to hold up my pants after losing weight from the race.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I signed up for a 100 mile race in March, part of the NJ Ultra Festival. This will be the first 100 mile race I have ever done. The Native American spiritual journey I have attended the past two summers- the Katahdin 100 - is indeed 100 miles long but not a race. I hope I can finish the race. Wish me luck! And I'd appreciate a comment or two in the weeks to come to kick my butt into high gear, bear the cold weather, and train!