Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Emotional Wealth

It's the end of the year.  It's a time to be thankful and take stock. Running's a [relative] lull, and the End of the Year Post is coagulating in the brain. As a prequel to that post, this missive:

Two separate events in the past week+ have motivated me to write this, admittedly non-running post.

The first: my most recent trip to Placer County, a fortnight ago, for Craig "Lord Balls" Thornley's "Congratulations Roast".  Hosted by AJW and MonkeyBoy, it was half-roast and half-tribute to a great man who is about to take the reigns of the greatest trail run in the world - the spiritual center of the Ultramarathon Running Community.

Among those present were some of the most respected, revered men - Elder Statemen - of The Community: Rob Cain, John Medinger, Tim Twietmeyer, Gary Towle, AJW, and several more great folks.

"If anyone can understand the slower runners, it's Craig" - Tropical John Medinger's ringing endorsement of LB at Auburn Ale House.
Wealthy people.  Not measured by their balance sheet, but by something greater: Emotional wealth.  The collective resources of true friendship and love, wisdom and maturity; wells of emotional wealth of depth and breadth - not only to ensure personal and familial security, but plenty to share amongst The Community.

Secondly: more motivation came from one of my best friends.

I've been doing a great deal of reading and reflection in the past month, and it's been rubbing off on friends (or, more specifically, I've been smearing it on them).  Sharing relationship tales, my friend  related some issues involving her boyfriend: he had some commitment issues, having broken up, then reuniting over the past year.   

Looking beyond all that, she mentioned that he had a child from a previous relationship.  With great reverence, I suggested, "You know, the state of relationship with his daughter is going to play an important role in how your relationship will progress - perhaps you should talk to him about that?". 

She did.  And it completely blew up.  She wants kids.  Because of the dysfunctionality of his relationship with his daughter and her mother, he does not.  Game over.

Woah. Oops. Sorry!

I didn't mean to blow her relationship to hell, but I did.  But as I see it, I merely pointed out to them, "Hey...did you guys notice the sticks of dynamite sitting next to the smoldering fire?"   
Those two experiences (mixed with guilt about my part in her relationship's demise) inspired me to write something.  On her behalf, and on behalf of all women looking for a good partner: The concept of "Emotional Wealth" .  Demonstrated so well by those men assembled last weekend in Auburn,  what are the things that really matter when pursuing a long-term relationship?

Why is Emotional Wealth important?
  • Couples in a long-term relationships are a Team.   The key to a successful, healthy, sustainable, long-term relationship lies in each person being a "Great Teammate", bringing loyalty, dependability, nurturing, toughness and resolve, problem-solving, fidelity, and commitment to the success of The Team.
  • Emotional Wealth represents the resources that a person brings to the Team: resources that can be used in difficult times, during a crisis, or simply enduring the struggles of daily life.  The more resources a person brings, the higher the likelihood that the Team will thrive. Conversely, a teammate with a dearth of Emotional Wealth has less at their disposal to work through challenges that threaten the security of the Team.

These concepts are much more important that compatability, mutual interests, or personalitiy traits.  Anyone who's ever been on a team knows that, implicitly: uncommonly powerful love can form between people, despite vastly different backgrounds and personalities, based on their mutual, unwavering commitment to the Team.

When I met my friend's boyfriend, I could sense, immediately, that he had a good soul: he was a very nice man, and we had an enjoyable time together.  But I also picked up some clues about the status of his emotional wealth - or, in his case, some liabilities on his balance sheet.  Liabilities that, ultimately, became significant issues resulting in the termination of their relationship.

So, how do you measure and determine emotional wealth in a person - a perspective friend or love interest?

Just as people don't wear their checking, savings and IRA account balances on their shirt sleeves, neither do men with their emotional wealth. It can be difficult to perceive. Indeed, even men, themselves, don't realize just how wealthy they are.

When evaluating a new member of your team, you might consider the following as indicators of emotional wealth:

Q: Does he smile and laugh?  A lot?
Why: Capacity for Joy, Love, and Survival.  The ability to smile and laugh, a lot, is a measure of Joy: one's ability to seek out and appreciate the good things in life.  It is the recognition of beauty and gifts.  And, according to researchers, it is a survival trait.  In his book, Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales notes that survivors consistently demonstrate joy and the ability to find beauty even in the darkest circumstances.  As such, the ability to smile, laugh, and be silly represents a deep well of coping ability and survival strength for when times get tough - as they invariably do in important relationships.  The capacity for Joy is also a correlate for ability to Love.  Love is not simply about happiness in good times; it's finding and appreciating the gifts of Life at all times, most notably the Dark Times.

Example: When I first witnessed AJW racing, he appeared to me as an insane person: constantly smiling, laughing and having a grand-old-time in one of the most grueling physical feats that man voluntarily endeavors.  Craig Thornley laughs like a teenage girls...most of the day.  Their capacity for survival, triumph, and overcoming obstacles - due in large part to their limitless joy - is well documented.

Andy Jones-Wilkins, LB, and "Monkey Boy" Scott Wolfe.  No shortage of joy amongst these guys.  Photo: John Mackey.

Q: Does he finish what he starts?
Why: Commitment, Perseverence.  Finishing what you start is a rare thing in this world.  Attention spans are short, commitments many, distractions endless.  The ability to finish something, no matter how seemingly easy, or unexpectedly tough, is a true measure of commitment and perseverence.  It is the inner Warrior of the man that finishes what he starts, and sticks with commitments even when obstacles seem insurmountable. This is an extraordinarily important factor in relationships.  In their book, The Warrior Within, Doug Gillette and Robert Moore point out that "Perseverance and fidelity are products of the Warrior's determination.  Though the Lover initiates a relationship, it is the Warrior who maintains it - without the Warrior, the Lover is merely promiscuous."

Example: Though I can count on a single hand the number of hours we've spent together, I consider Scott "FastEd" Jaime as a friend and role model.  Scott has a decorated ultra resume, including a half dozen Hardrock finishes (and at least two podiums).  In 2011, he ran two of the most competitive 100s in the world: Western States and UTMB.  In both, he ran early amongst the top runners, only to run into trouble.  But despite struggling, as many of his peers dropped, Scott did not.  He stuck it out.  From his WS report: "At this point it was all about getting done to see my family. And I knew my family, including my boys, would be there waiting. That was enough to give me the strength to get to Placer High School."  Giving up, with his family there to support him, was not an option.  Indeed, a quality of immense value in a man.  

Only a little worse for wear.  "Team Fast-Eddy" at the finish of the 2012 Hardrock 100.

Q: How does he treat strangers, store clerks, wait staff, and other service industry people?
Why: Empathy, Gratitude, and Patience; Humanity.  This might seem random, but it is an important indicator of a measure of a man.  During the dating and courtship process, it's a no-brainer that a man will treat you well.  If he's smart, he'll also treat your friends and family well.  But courtship is about earning something - the lengthy job interview process.  But what, then, happens once they're hired and on-the-job?  How a man treats his fellow man of all types speaks volumes.  His interactions with "the unimportant" -- waitresses, convenience store clerks, gas station attendants - can tell you a lot about how he will act with you, his family and "his kingdom".  His interactions with people outside his realm reveal two important concepts.  One, his capacity for empathy, gratitude and patience.  Even if that person - be it a snooty waiter or gruff highway patrolman - is impolite or rude - does he have the empathy to relate to their experience, and what they might be going through at that moment?  This is enormously important, as this is a measure of his ability to provide you that same degree of empathy, gratitude, and patience in the many moments where you aren't at your best - anxious, tired, grumpy, angry, stressed.  Additionally, his interactions with "the unimportant" reveal another important quality - his ability to recognize the value and gifts of the random individual, of Humanity.  Just because they work behind a counter, or wearing an apron, does not mean they're not extraordinary people.  Respect and empathy for all people demonstrates the ability to find value - and Love - in all people and all humanity.

Example: A terrific example of a friendly, loving human in the Ultra Community is my friend, Jorge Maravilla.  Few could even think of anyone more consistently kind, friendly, energetic and joyful as Jorge.  Both on and off the course, in good times and bad, easy times and tough, he is consistently this man.  Yet Jorge's had his battles and challenges.  Despite those struggles, his positive regard for everyone is inspirational and represents a vast wealth -- part of what makes him so damn tough on the trails!
Jorge Maravilla, finishing the 2012 Western States 100.  I could barely stand up straight; he's karate-kicking.  Awesome.  Photo: Glenn Tachiyama.
Q: How is his relationship with his mother?
Why: Indicator of respect for women; Capacity for sensitivity and nurturing.  As boys, our mothers are the first important women in our lives.  Their energy comforts, nurtures, and grows.  As we venture toward manhood, we must ultimately become independent from her and that powerful female energy - referred to by Moore/Gillette as Anima.  However, it is vital that we maintain contact with it, as it is an important resource that teaches us nurturing and sensitivity.  In short, men's relationships with their mother is like the Earth to the Sun: too close and we incinerate; too distant and we freeze.  Men who are too distant from their mothers often lose their capacity for nurturing and sensitivity; men who are too close often have difficulty being loyal, or are overly subservient to their adult female relationships; or conversely, they can be overtly disrespectful to women, on account of their resentment from their inability to break free from their mother.  (Deep stuff!  Told you I've been reading!) 

Examples:  I don't know a whole lot about my ultra friend's relationships with their mothers, but I do know Craig's mom, Carol.  Great woman with incredible energy and positivity.  Yet, when discussing his move to Placer County, within minutes of his mother, in 2013, LB said, "We've already had a discussion on how often we will see each other".  ;-) 

Q: How is his relationship with his father?
Why:Predictor of a man's relationship with his family; Support and mentorship.  A man's relationship with his father is incredibly important.  A father is the role model of what Moore & Gillette, in their formative text, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, refer to as "King" energy - stability, peace, fertility, and affirmation.  A man's relationship with his father - past and present - can be a strong indicator for those traits in a relationship, between man and woman, and amongst the family and community.  A distant or absent, or tyrannical or weak father represents a possible liability.  Will he transpose those qualities on your "realm", or will he be able to transcend them?  A father also represents a rare, invaluable resource for a man: elder mentorship - a vitally important part of life at any age.

Examples: I have several examples of strong, supportive, fatherly role models: my high school friend Max's dad, Ron: a respected college professor and black-belt in karate, who taught his sons about strength, endurance, and loyalty; my friend James' dad, Mike: a role model of knowledge, passion, commitment, and love for family and community.

Q: Does he have true friends? 
Why: A vital resource for support, feedback, honesty, moral compassing; Strength and material support.  This seems like a no-brainer - men having real friends - but it's shocking and saddening how few men have true friendships.  This is a keynote point in Jeffrey Marx's book, Season of Life.  It is a story of Joe Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colts lineman whose lifework is devoted to the mentorship and development of mature masculinity of teenage boys. In his work as football coach and community organizer, Ehrmann points out the crisis of modern men: of having no other close relationships outside their girlfriend or wife, and instead investing in False Masculinity: athletics, sexuality, and money.  This presents a dearth of resources for a man, and a threat of dependency on a single person - or material objects -  for strength and support.   True male friendships are enormously important, as men and women need sources of support, honest feedback and moral anchoring in their lives.  True friendships also provide material support at times of greatest needs: be it a family crisis...or something heavy that needs moving.  ;-)

Examples: The gathering at the Auburn Ale House for Craig was a powerful example of his relationship wealth; but a small collective of people who would come at moment's notice if LB needed it.  Indeed, the nuturing, competitive relationship between he and AJW has been a great example for many younger fellas like me.  I, too, consider myself blessed by incredible friendships, most notably Jacob Rydman (aka "The BGD") in the Ultra community.  That guy would run 38 miles in the heat and dust for me...coaching and cajoling and serenading...  And then some.  And some more.  An amazing man and friend to the end, indeed. Like any great friend, both on and off the race course, he tells me the things I need to hear...even though I might not want to hear them. 

True Friends, and a Terrific Team.  BGD and Sara, post-Waldo.
Q: How are his relationships with exes?
Why: His ability to deal with conflict; to establish boundaries.  Almost every man has an ex-relationship - a love interest that, for one reason or another, ended.  All relationships end; how they end, and what remnants remain, can be a powerful indicator of future relationships.  Are his ex-relationships conflicted, or hostile?  This could be an indicator of his inability to fairly and respectfully deal with conflict - a measure of man's grasp of his Warrior energy.  The Warrior energy - in its mature form, wields his destructive power only with the object to create something better in its place.  Often, this means ending a relationship such that both parties are better off in the end.  Wielding this energy with fairness, justice and respect is vitally important for relationships, family and community.  Conflict, long past the end of the relationship, might indicate a poor control of emotion, and a lack of empathy.  On the other hand, does he have [seemingly uncomfortable] closeness with his ex?  This may be an indicator of a weakness in the Warrior energy - an inability to establish boundaries.  The establishment and protection of boundaries is extremely important in relationships.  All people need boundaries - between mine and yours, in and out, right and wrong.  Defending boundaries is crucial in defending relationships.  Without boundaries, outside forces can jeopardize a relationship, family or community: other people, career demands, vices (e.g. drinking, partying).  Without defensible boundaries, every relationship is at risk.

Q: Does he have a Cause greater than Himself?
Why: A true measure self-efficacy and emotional wealth; Moral grounding. Having a Cause greater than oneself is enormously important.  Not just because it generous, or kind.  Not simply because there are vulnerable people out there that need help.  It's more important than even those things.

Both Moore/Gillette in Warrior Within and Marx/Ehrmann in Season of Life point out the overwhelming importance of A Cause.  The former call it "a Transpersonal Other" - an over-arching principle to which a person is dedicated.  Moreover, that "other" must be beyond one's own selfish needs; indeed, one other person, your immediate family, or even a personal relationship with God are insufficient qualifiers, as they are ultimately self-serving.  A Cause is a belief, ideal, group, or community that requires our efforts, dedication, and commitment.

Ehrmann, in his work with adolescent boys in his football program and the community ("Building Men For Others"), uses the Cause - justice for the weak, helping the poor, housing the homeless, working with other young men's groups - as a way to develop two crucial parts of young men: one, that their abilities are best actualized, and happiness truly obtained, when applied to others; two, to develop these boys' self-efficacy - their strength and abilities as real men - instead of False Masculinity.  Moore and Gillette talk about the importance of the Transpersonal Other in guiding the immense power of the Warrior; a sort of moral grounding and target for that power in formative, constructive ways, as a warrior is committed to king and country. 

Having a Transpersonal Other/a Cause is a tremendously important factor in a man's life.  Without it, you run into two serious emotional liabilities:

1. Without a Cause, is the man focused on selfish fulfillment: using talents for personal gain?  This person may lack moral compassing; he may lack the security and always feel the need for more: wealth, things, power, women.  He may be collecting things. Including you

2. Without a Cause, does a man, because of his wounds, feel like he lacks the ability to help others?  This person may lack the fundamental self-worth to feel like he can contribute to a Cause; or, they're so wounded, that they're focused solely on meeting their basic needs that they cannot devote any resources beyond themselves.

Both represent significant red flags, a potential emotional bankruptcy resembling a black hole, tossing thing after thing into it, trying to fill it.  One of those things could be you. 

Examples: Where do I start?  There are so many excellent men out there in the Ultra Community, devoted to Causes:

Craig Thornley. We joke about how little LB works at his real job; it's because he's too busy with his many causes: Ski Patrol, race directing, stewardship of trails and public lands, and serving the Ultra Community.  We joked about his "Boy Toys", but Craig's dedication to helping us younger guys learn the sport - with respect and reverence for the community - is profound.

Andy Jones-Wilkins.  AJW is teased for being a "taker" on the race course, but beyond his commitment to his family is his commitment to his other kids: his high school students that he leads and mentors.  His love of The Community, and of the Western States 100 as a celebration of community, is unrivaled. And, like LB, AJW is a tremendous mentor and role model on competitive, spirited running. 

John Medinger. As a long-time race-director, board member of WS, and a literary leader as editor of UltraRunning Magazine, "Mr Tropical" is an excellent example of leadership and stewardship of the ultrarunning community.  His commitment to helping the Children of the Vineyard Workers in the Sonoma area is noteworthy and admirable. 

Jacob Rydman. This guy's so wise beyond his years, it's almost annoying (almost). He's just got it together. He's learned a lot of tough lessons and amassed incredible emotional wealth. BGD's cause is his athletes he coaches at William Jessup.  This inspiring work with young people, I feel, is just the tip of the iceberg for this "kid" - from whom I expect even greater things in the future.

There are many, many more excellent examples of emotionally wealthy men:

Rob Cain
Nick Clark
Yassine Diboun
Gary Gellin
Hal Koerner
Matt Keyes
Jason Leman
Bryon Powell
Tim Olson
Ken Sinclair
The EUG crew: Tom Atkins, Dan Olmstead, Lewis Taylor, Cliff Volpe
Scott Wolfe
Kelly Woodke name just a few.  This is what is so special about our sport, and the single greatest motivation to sustain The Community as a supportive, inclusive entity.
Sitting amongst that group at the Ale House, it hit me:  These guys here are f-ing loaded!*  I hope some of it rubs off on me.  And my hope is that my friends, and all of us out there, can identify emotional wealth and encourage its continual growth.

(*the open bar added another dimension of meaning to that...)

Emotional wealth is so important.  Financial wealth is fickle; it comes and goes so easily.  And it's far less helpful for the real challenges of life.  Emotional wealth, once earned, is difficult to destroy.  More importantly, it rarely - if ever - runs out.

In fact, it's the opposite: the more you spend, the more you earn!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Letting Go - 2012 The North Face Endurance Challenge

Going into the 2012 The North Face Endurance Challenge ("TNF"), I had it all:

- Rested legs
- An amped mindset
- The best running shoes for the muddy conditions
- The best "Brain iPod" song
- A best friend helping me, before, during and after
- A great setting with great competitors and human beings to run with

And it all went to shit with a unceremonious splat.  Sometimes having it all - or having too much - can weigh you down.  And on those Marin climbs, I felt like a thousand pounds...

I worked a full week Monday through Thursday, then caught an early flight to Sacramento.  Jake picked me up at the airport, blasting critical positive-vibe popWe made a quick stop-off for some footwear, as I'd been struggling with choices for the impending hurricane predicted for The Headlands.  On a total whim, I picked up a terrific pair of Salomon Speedcross, and they fit and felt great, with a monster tread.

With that, we were on our way to the Bay.  Stopping at Muir Beach, we enjoyed a windy but dry shake out run/hike up the Muir climb.  Incredible views met us atop the Coastal Trail.  I even demo'd some yoga moves on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific.  I was so ready to stomp! 

Friday night sunset at Muir Beach
That pre-race day was some great catch-up time for Jake and me.  We had some terrific, stirring, and important conversations - but, perhaps, not the sorts of things you want to mull with a pre-race mindset. 

After a couple great beers (OK, a few), we hit the sack early.

It was an easy up-and-at 'em for 3:30AM on Saturday morning.  In 2011, I was a total zombie; I resolved to be ready this year.  As such, I was blasting my race-day song in our hotel room before Jake had even performed his "morning constitutional". 

"I notice that you got it
You notice that I want it
You know that I can take it
To the next level, baby"

The mood was set.  Some breakfast, a quick coffee and salutations to The Boss Man, as we rode for Ft Barry.

The weather was pretty solid, given the dire forecasts: windy and misty, but not cold.  Nonetheless, I Olive-Oiled Up, liberally, on the arms and legs - if nothing else as rain and wind repellant.  I jogged a bit, did drills, then toed the line with a few score of the best runners in the World.  Cool.  Just as cool, a bunch of great guys.  I embraced mi amigo Jorge ("M8") amidst the final words from Karno, and, like that, we were off.

Race Start
We got out pretty comfortably up the hill out of Ft Barry and onto the pavement.  I somehow wound up front with a couple fellas - one of them was Cam Clayton, because he was tall as hell.  You know you're in a pretty big race when, not only are the fellas next to you not speaking English...but that you can't even figure out what language they're speaking.  Along we ran, down the mild decline toward the first dirty rabbit ear, up and around the first climb.

The weather played havoc with comfort and temperature control.  Running uphill, with the wind, guys were shedding layers like pole dancers - I doffed my hat and gloves, but was glad to keep the jacket, because by the time we'd ascended and bombed down the hill, into the wind, things equalized.

I always start slow.  Always.  It always, always hurts early, no matter what.  And almost always, given enough time, I "callous over", quit caring, and can crank it.  I accepted that reality with only mild bitterness as we began that first climb, slipping from the lead back, gradually getting absorbed by the chase pack, then being pooped out the back of that, as well.  I felt sluggish, and I felt like I was working really hard.  But I didn't care.

Soon, I settled in a bit with some of my favorite guys: Gary Gellin, then Dave Mackey rolled up beside me, and soon we were joined by The Hal Daddy.  I struggled to keep contact with them, however, until we summited the rabbit ear.  The descent felt excellent: I rolled effortlessly and caught the trio at the bottom and we ran together toward Tennessee Valley.

The stride felt terrific on the downs and flats; I focused on the compact, efficient stride and a strong push off the right leg.  After the usual physical and mental malaise, I was coming around at just the right time.  I looked forward to grinding it out with the help of some Trail Guys, on our way to Muir Beach.


Starting the climb to Tennessee, I immediately fell off pace.  My legs felt like a thousand pounds.  Each.  I worked the stride: pelvis, hips, gluts, anything.  I was doing it, but nothing was coming out; in fact, it was as if my legs were balooning up with lactic acid.

I shuffled up that climb through relentless wind and rain.  Crazy stuff.  I could barely see ten feet in front of me.  It would've been a blast if my legs weren't redwood trees.  On the flats and downs to Tennessee Valley AS (~8mi, ~63 minutes), I caught no one, and remained about 100m behind the next runner.

Through the AS, I made my way down the road, westward, to the Pacific.  Hard rain and wind.  My hat and gloves, tucked into my shorts band, flopped with the weight of flour bags.  I struggled to put them back on, nearly dropping my headlamp and bottle.  I fumbled for an S!Cap.  Finally organized, I got the stride together.  I looked up.

Alone.  Black.

I pushed onward, looking for specs of light, hoping for runners, only finding glowsticks, illumiating the climb up to the Coastal Trail.  I pushed and pushed, never walking.

Trudging along amidst the tempest, I began to feel soreness in my right hand.  I looked, and felt - my hand had a death-grip on my bottle.  A surge of pain, then relief as I let it go.

"Let it go."

It was time.

For the past month, maybe a few months, I'd been holding a great deal of stress, from all directions: a back strain three weeks out sent me reeling, and was wreaking psychological havoc even o Friday morning; (having to lie down and stretch between flights is not a good sign); personal, relationship stresses -has whirled through me in torrents, akin to the morning's storm.

For the past month, I've felt like the apprentice, frantically organizing the messes of my mind.  And though I felt like I did so with greater aplomb than Mickey, I didn't recognize the physical toll.  But I did on those hills.  The reason I felt so "on" that morning was, I've been "on", non-stop, for the past month.  Like leaving the headlights on overnight, it had drained the life from my legs. 

I had to let go of the painful grip: of my bottle, my ambitions, my pain, my heart.  Let it GO.

So I did.  I slowed to a sustainable jog along the rolling Coastal Trail.  Peace returned.  I took in the scene around me:

"You call this a storm??"

Dark. Rain. Wind. Fog. Cliffs. Ocean. Alone.

It was exhilarating. Letting go of the race, the toil, the expectations, the burden, I just ran.  Alone.  Not another headlamp in sight.  Perched precariously on the very edge of the Western Hemisphere, the pure power of nature around me.  Indeed, it was one of the coolest, most joyful moments in my running career.

I picked my way along the trail, doing occasional route-finding, as the fog and rain was so thick I could scarcely follow the trail.  I found two downed trail markers - one of which prevented a headlong descent into the Pacific - and restored them.  I made my way, patiently but honestly, to Muir Beach.

There I met Jake.  "I've got nothing, but I'm gonna keep going".  Encouraging and supportive as always, he stocked my gels, helped me adjust my shoes, and shooed me out of the aid station.

I got my stride together on the flat loop around Muir Beach, rolling back to the climb.  The stride felt smooth, but I wasn't going anywhere.  I picked my way slowly up the hill; never walking, but with little power.

It was over.  And I was OK with that.  I picked my way along, encouraging folks as they bombed down the hill to the AS.  I very slowly passed a couple guys who'd blasted past me in the AS.  Then, once again, I was alone.

Letting go is hard. To let go - to surrender without giving up - is both an exhale and inhale, a release, but a rushing in.  It was emotional, but the emotions were buffered by the pain of the unrelenting climbs.  Moreover, whenever I did begin to get emotional, I'd start thinking of this song, then laugh, and totally ruin the experience.  ;-)

Still moving OK, I focused on efficiency, picking my way down the new trail segment into Tennessee Valley.  I was done, I knew it, but I was wholly committed to a full lap back to Ft. Barry.  At the AS, I got some appreciated encouragement from BP, who asked, "Did you use enough Olive Oil?"

Yes, Bryon, I had on plenty, thanks.

Leaving the AS for the final climb, I came across a runner walking down the hill at me.  Wearing a TC Running Company jersey, I knew it had to be Chris Lundstrom.  I've known of and admired Chris, a fellow MN native, beastly road guy (2:19 at the '08 Trials, at least) and budding trail stud.  I introduced myself, we chatted a bit, and I tried to get him to come my way, but his calf was wrecked.  Once again, I shuffled on, alone.

Midway up the climb, I spied another struggling runner - doing the walk-jog shuffle.  I approached and saluted to find Jesse Haynes!  I'd also known of Jesse for quite a while, but never had a chance to talk.  We shared battle stories and gathered up our strides over the last climb up and over toward Ft. Barry.  We talked about racing, 2013 and Western States ("You only take what your body will give...unless it's the last Saturday in June...or it's the Saturday that gets you to the last Saturday in June!").  We also found out that we went to high school in Wisconsin (little Phillips, WI, for Jesse). 

We enjoyed a relaxed but honest descent to the starting out and back.  There we saw bits of the competition - Hal, Ricky, and some other fellas on their way back out for a second helping of rain, wind and mud.  I felt a surge of competitiveness, then took pause: "It's easy to be competitive after a three-mile downhill...".

We jogged into the start-finish.  I took a knee. 

It's hard to quit a race.  I hope it stays that way.

The understanding was that BGD would be at Ft Barry when I arrived, but - perhaps as a punitive act from above - he was not.  It was cool and misty, and soon I was shivering.  Jesse came to my rescue by securing us a ride to Tennessee Valley. Whether Jake was there or not didn't matter; the warm car was a godsend.  From there, we got a ride straight back to Ft. Barry with Kiera and Jesse, where we ran into Jake.

I was a little worried to see him; I felt like I let him down.  But he understood.  He always does. 

As swaddled myself in warm layers, he filled me in on the chaos of the day - guys getting lost, doing "penalty laps", guys leading who weren't, guys who thought they were in 16th place but were actually leading...  Ugh.  I wanted to stick around and support and socialize, but I couldn't stomach the chaos or drama.  So we left.

23 mile run. Shower.  In 'N Out.  Lagunitas.  All before 1PM.  Still a great day.

Thanks to everyone for their support: to Jake before, during and post-race, to the gentlemen runners out there who encouraged me throughout, for Jesse for helping me at the end and after the race, for awesome Drymax socks that once again took great care of my feet, and to everyone north and east supporting from afar.

Overall, this year's North Face race was important:  it was my first race against international-caliber competition  since Western States.  It was a good wake-up call to the level of fitness, toughness, and overall preparation required to have a 2013 equal to what I did this year.  Moreover, my ambitions for '13, namely Western States are not simply to tread water, but to improve...

Jake's "boobful" of Brown Sugga, and my cask-style Little Sumthin' - Lagunitas Brewery, Petaluma, CA
...but not before a "little snack" at In N Out Burger.

What else do you do, 3-hours post-race?  Plan your Western States Training Camp '13 schedule, of course! 

SUNDAY: It's Sara's turn!  At the windy, rainy start of the Cal International Marathon in Sacramento.

Finishing!  3:09:05

Tired?  For a couple minutes...
Ultra veteran Erik Skaden, who led the 3:05 pace-group.  He'd better watch out for Sara in the future!

Post-races, on Sunday.  A couple of my favorite people.
Sunday evening, heading to SMF.  Now it gets nice...
Wanna make friends with airport employees? Bring In N Out through security...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Autumn Leaves 50K - 2012

You never forget your first: Autumn Leaves was the site of my first-ever ultra race, and the 2012 event was the two-year anniversary of that momentous (and admittedly life-changing) day.  I return to Autumn Leaves each year for that reason, and others:

- It's a local race (only of only two that I've run), organize by great and friendly folks: Bret and Gale Henry
- It's become my "defacto marathon", on account of it's flat[er], fast[ish] nature
- It's a good speed work tune-up for the longer races, like TNF.
- The half-out and back, loop course, provides a unique opportunity to interact with all your fellow racers from front to back - great for mutual encouragement and fun. 

I try to run hard, but I try not to be rested.  A year ago, I ran the famed Squaw to Michigan Bluff with BGD the week before.  This week, I went a bit further: not only did I put in a long day in the mountains (this time with Nick Clark in Rocky Mountain NP, on Monday) and my usual tempo work and light workouts this week, I also managed to get myself sick for the first time in two years!  So handicaps (and excuses) abounded going into this year's event.

I really wanted the course record.  Friend/Eugenian Matt Lonergan ran a solid 3:17:59 on the course. Though not fresh, I thought it'd be easy work: <6:20 pace, how tough could it be?

The Start/Finish Turnaround, at pre-dawn (and pre-rain) hour.
 The forecast conditions were rain.  Lots.  But not until later in the day.  I hoped I could show up, buzz my five laps, then get off course and around the campfire with coffee in hand. 

It wouldn't be the case. 

The skies stayed dry until I pulled into Champoeg State Park.  Light drizzle greeted me.  I jogged a bit, then retreated to the cold bathroom to apply a liberal layer of extra virgin to shield against the precipitation.  The mist consolidated to rain just before the start, so I also wore a jacket. 

A good hundred or so folks - in both the 50K and big-boy 50M - toed the line in the dark and rain, and off we were.

Lap One
Starting a hard road[ish] effort in the dark is tough; difficult to gauge pace.  I pushed it out the gate along the first "chunk" - the flat path from the start to the midway aid.  I was a bit disappointed to see there was no mile (or other) marker.  So I guaged a random tree and saw I hit it in 6:30 and figured that was over a mile.  Through "chunk two" - the river flats - and into the third - "the wooded rollers".  I weaved through the forest and up the 100m hill to the turn around, hitting it in about 18:20.  I had no idea what mile marking that was.  Probably less than 5K, but no clue.  From there it's a back track until midway aid, where we then split off on the last section: the single track.

It rained hard that first lap - enough to soak everything and even numb the thighs, despite the lube insulation.  Moreover, the rain made quick work of the already uneven, winding trail section, rendering it muddy and slick from the first lap.  But I picked my way through, back onto the pavement and up the incline to the start/finish for a respectable 37:57 lap.

Lap Two
Without stopping for aid, I rolled through, breaking stride only to grab a home-made 10-oz hand-held, made from thin disposable bottles + packing tape for a hand loop.  They worked great.  Affixed to each was a single leg.  I carried an additional 4 in my shorts.  The routine was: a gel and water to wash at the start, and one at the turnaround.

At the turnaround of both midway and the start-finish, I noticed another guy hot on my tail - less than 20 seconds back!  "Huh!".  I didn't know who he was; he looked to be in his early 20s and he ran in basketball shorts.  That was it.  I thought he was going out a bit hot for a 50K, but I didn't pay much attention.  

Lap two was uneventful. The rain continued, the field strung out, and the skies lightened.  I failed to remember to lose my headlamp, so I ran a second lap with it on my gourd.  At the junction of the first and last loop sections was J-Bob, Jason Leman, dutifully directing the racers in the cold, wet conditions.  I gave him virtual fistbumps as I ran past - all ten times - and tried to keep strong and relaxed.  

I slowed a bit on that second lap; basketball shorts guy was still behind, the same ~20 second gap separating.  The trail section was a bit slower the second time 'round, as I began to pass folks.  Still, my second lap was respectable: 38:35.

Rolling through the early stages of the Trail Section - you can see that big ol' foot ready to strike too far out front!  Photo credit: unknown/Autumn Leaves 50/50.
Lap Three
Into the third lap, I felt trouble.  I was tired.  My stride felt brake-y.  Worst off, my stomach was grumbling.  Damn.  I took an S-cap, which was a pain to get the mini-bag out of my shorts, then open the seal to obtain.  I felt a bit better, but it didn't quell my stomach.  Just before entering the "wooded rollers", I stepped off trail to a set-back patch of trees with massive, wet maple leaves abounding.  I "went" as rapidly as possible, but it kept coming!  I wiped frantically then got on trail, feeling a ton better.  

The stop - and the pre-stop malaise, and post-stop momentum loss - slowed me. 39:54 for lap three.

Lap Four
Going into the tough lap, I reasoned, "OK, even if you do simply 40s, you'll still break the record".  Long-gone was the notion of busting it open - now it was a fight to hang on.  Both calves were trashed.  Braking.  Damn.  The good news was, my right leg push-off was really good and the "trash" was at least symmetrical.  I focused on keeping forward momentum.  

I reached for another S-cap*, once again a bitch to get out, but before I got it into my mouth, I dropped it into a puddle!  "#@$%!"  I stopped, fished it out, and shuffled along.  Big-time slow down.  

(*I tried a salt tab at the AS, but they were E-Caps, not S - accept no substitutes!) 

I felt like crap...and I needed to. Again!  "#@$%!"  I ran past the nook in the trees, made it through the rollers and the halfway mark, hoping I could hold it, but on the way back, I couldn't resist any longer: another stop. I got shuffling again, trying to hone the stride and get my feet beneath me; my calves began to protest, so I did everything I could to stay efficient avoid cramps. 

The trail segment was slow - uphills were a real drag, but I did my best to keep churning.  I hit the penultimate finish.  Bret asked me how I was doing: "Rough", I said.  I guzzled two cups of Coke and shuffled out, an abysmal 41:17 split - my slowest since the 50M in 2010.

Lap Five
Just as I entered the AS before the last lap, I saw the clock: "2:37:37...38..."  Shockingly, my brain was coherent enough to realize that, if I could run a 40-flat last lap, I could still break the record.  Having taken but a few seconds to pound the soda, I took off down the path on the last lap.

I felt brutal.  I was tired, my legs roughed up with a crappy stride.  The rain continued with a slight wind.  I fumbled annoyingly for one last S!cap before falling into the last lap.  I churned the legs, but they felt slow and heavy.  The gut held up as I hit the half-way point, but it was an absymal 19:5x - a full 90 seconds slow than the first lap's split.  

As I turned for the final 5K, I resigned myself to relative defeat, but kept moving, gulping one last distasteful vanilla gel (Note: the new PB GUs are excellent - they taste like Bit-O-Honey!)  As I made my way through the rollers, I perked up.  The ghost of "The BGD" appeared.  

"Get the feet moving!  Lean forward! Tap-tap-tap-tap!"

I obediently and expediently obliged.  

I picked it up, the sluggish turnover beginning to resemble something athletic.  There was still a chance.  I hit the midway AS but slowed only enough to ditch my last bottle to free the hands.  

The Brain iPod was abysmal as the weather: I started off with that new Flo Rida song, "I Cry",  with that annoying high-pitched hookI tried to sneak in some Jessie J, mid-race, but it didn't take.  Finally, in the last lap, I loaded some Usher, which helped.  But as I hit the trail section - with 1.4 miles to go - I looked down at my watch and saw 31:xx.  "Let's go!"

I busted out the Bushwacker arms through the muddy grass, around the tight corners and up the short, killer uphills.  Luckily there were very few fellow racers in this section as I blew through - passing only a pair in the last bit of trail before the parking lot home stretch.  

Through the lot and up the hill, I pushed nearly as hard as I ever had at the end of an ultra, but as I climbed the final 100m incline to the finish, I watched the clock tick "3:17:57...58...59...".  

Too late.  I crossed the line in 3:18:06.  A solid but unspectacular 40:21 for an equally descriptive overall effort. 

Who has the sillier nickname?  Olive Oil Joe with RD Bret "Fat-Boyee" Henry, post-race.

Post-race: you know it's a little chilly and wet when your first request, seconds after crossing the line, is coffee!  I enjoyed two cups and huddled around the fire ring, oozing post-race contentment, just-missed-it chagrin, and watery olive oil. 

Had a great time hanging out, watching people flow through on their laps in varying states of admirable decay.  The fire ring was clutch in keeping me warm.

Classic Ultra Running Moment: Runner crosses finish line (or did he still have laps to go)....

...and promptly roasts a marshmallow...

I enjoyed a terrific post-race massage from Lowell Welch, LMT, who practices out of Newberg.  He worked a lot of kinks out of my calves and thighs - the best post-race work I've ever had!  After that, I hustled back to the fire, grabbed some grub, then shoved off just as another wave of hard rain set in. 

Gear: has some fun with some homemade disposable hand-helds: 10oz crappy plastic affixed with packing-tape handles and an extra gel. I wore the adidas adizeros - a solid shoe, but not a great choice for the wet leafy pavement, much less the wet, slick grass and mud.  The Drymax Socks were clutch as usual - this time I went with the "Hot Weather Running" variety: an odd choice, seemingly, but a great mid-thickness sock ideal for the distance and terrain...and moisture.

The Grades

Pacing: B.  Not very good.  Too fast in the first 10K, an abysmal 4th.  But I went for it.  The effort was strong. 

Mechanics: B+.  High grades for symmetry - I think my hips were doing their thing with symmetry I haven't seen in maybe over 4 years.  Great news.  But I was still braking - dealing with the lingering effects of 3-4 years of disregarding the flexion phase of running and - quite simply - landing too far out front.  The "blipping" calves in the last 15K were evidence (along with dural tension in the gluts and hammies earlier) that I wasn't landing well enough beneath.  BUT...symmetry trumps all.  A positive step.

Fueling: A/F.  A perfect "A" for race day fuel: the water bottles + two gels/station were perfect.  A flat-out "F" for eating crappy frozen pizza the night before.  What was I thinking?  I'm not 25 and Wisconsinite any more... Never again!  Those two deuces cost me the CR.

Mental Toughness: B.  Good, not great.  I gave up on myself in the penultimate 5K; mild bonus points for the hard running in the last 5K.

Joy: B.  Tough to be joyful in the rain and the dark.  I didn't do a great job of encouraging others as I'd like (though that's harder to do at 6:00/mile than it is 9:00/mile); I did enjoy the post-race atmosphere, and cheering the other racers.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Learning My Lessons - Solo Fast 2012

When LB mentioned he was doing a “solo fast” last October, I thought he was nuts.  He was.  So was Dan-O.  While they each sat alone in the woods all weekend – doing nothing, and, more notably, eating nothing – I instead ran around the Three Sisters.  I’m not  sure who was more miserable.  But after hearing of their experiences, when It came time for the ’12 version, I gave it some thought.

The idea behind a solo fast – truly, sitting alone in a remote area of the wilderness, no work, no communication, no technology, no food, and – if you’re die-hard – no fire – is equal parts mediation and strength through deprivation.  I like both those things about running, so why not try it?  Moreover, unlike running, you can’t out-run your “issues”: if there’s something going on in your life, chances are good you’ll be mulling it over, given 40+ hours.  There’s nowhere to hide from yourself.
Long story short: LB, Dan-O and I drove from Eugene to the Diamond Peak Wilderness.  We hiked in a bit, found a trail junction, and we each took a compass vector and started walking.  “Have a good weekend!”

I hiked alone up the steepening grade, past two rocky outcroppings til I found one of my suiting.  I carried with only a tent, sleeping bag, pad, a few layers of clothes, and water.  OK, so I also had a couple luxury items: toothbrush and paste, lighter and handwarmers, and a pad and pen. 
I set up camp and had a nice view of the western ridges and the setting sun, the false peak of Diamond to my rear. 

I set up camp, and sat there.  And slept.  Walked around a bit.  Sat there.  Slept.  Laid there, not sleeping.  From 6PM on Friday night, until 9AM Sunday.
That’s all.  Just me, and my thoughts.

Here’s what came from it.  First the fun-facts:
-The 43.5 hours – from 3PM Friday until 1130AM Sunday – was the longest ever I’ve ever gone without food.  It was interesting…I never craved, but I felt depleted.  Like an ultra.

-The 38.5 hours that I was alone was, I believe,  the longest time I’ve ever gone without even seeing another human being.
-I did as close to nothing as possible: no running, no yoga, no core work, no stretching.  I ocassionally wrote in my journal, and when the constant cold finally wore me down, I caved and built a small fire. I went on two walks, totaling about 300m. 

-I drank maybe a liter of water the entire time.  With no food, and no exercise, I wasn’t thirsty.
-I went the entire day of Saturday without a single “deuce”!  Has such a thing ever happened?  Not sure.  :p

Wanna know what running the last few miles of a 100-mile trail ultra feels like?  Don’t eat for 42 hours, then run a half hour at altitude. 
Reflections from the Solo

Craig said a couple things about what might happen during a Solo:

1.)    If you’re running from something, you won’t be able to hide from it out there.

2.)    Whatever you “crave” when you’re out there is what you’re looking for in normal life.

3.)    Every time he’s done a long solo, something big has happened in his life.

Here’s what my experiences were:
“Alone and bored? This is way too comfortable.”  It didn’t take long for me to realize that what I was doing – alone in the woods, bored – is all too familiar to me.  And I didn’t like it.  It sucked.  What I “craved” the most were relationships.  And people.  I thought about a lot of different relationships – the “big ones”, family, and even the every day “little ones”.  Top to bottom, big and small, they all offer tremendous wealth to our lives.  I really do value them, and I need to put a lot more effort into cultivating those ties – however weighty or seemingly insignificant.  And it can be as easy as picking up a phone, stepping out the door, simply opening my mouth.

"Patience. Not everything has to change now. Or ever."  So I spent a lot of time with my back against “The Sittin’ Rock”, as I coined it, looking westward over the ridge and valleys of the Willamette Valley.  I bet I could see fifty miles.  But right in front of me was a small confiner tree.  Hardly a tree.  Simply a bush with two branches: one that grew straight up; and the other, which grew a few inches upward, before abruptly veering left…then, down…then back up again and farther left.  Unconsciously I stared at that bush.  I imagined having a handsaw and cutting off that offensive, absurb branch.  Over and over.  Hack-hack-hack.  Symmetrical perfection.
But when I finally looked closer, I saw that the straight branch – the perfect one – was half-stripped of bark. Broken. While the circuitous branch was robust. 

I’ve always been stubborn. I think I know how everything should be.  I also work in profession where it’s my job to change things to my liking.  The right way. 
But not everything  - or everyone – needs to change.  Everyone and thing has its own journey and lessons to learn. Constantly trying to change things to suit my worldview is exhausting for me and robs that entity the lesson they need to learn, that will ultimately allow them to grow.  Ultimate patience, then, is the ability to sit back as they experience that lesson, for them to live out that journey, and see how much better off they are. 

Perhaps that two-headed conifer would be dead if it weren’t for its bigger, stronger, circuitous half.  Perhaps he grew that way to avoid an otherwise deadly obstacle; a fate that it’s straighter brother seemingly did not avoid.
"Everything, good or bad, ends."  Friday night was OK. Saturday was OK.  Saturday night SUCKED.  It was so cold, that I slept from 7PM to 11AM, Friday to Saturday – it was too cold, sans fire, to want to get out of the tent.  Then, once out of the tent, there wasn’t much to do.  So I took a “cat-nap” from 4-6.  I watched the sunset before breaking down and building a small fire to lengthen my evening before the cold again forced me into the tent.  I was able to “sleep” until 1AM.  From then, it was fits of semi-consciousness – rolling around on my inch of air separating my hips and shoulders from lava rock, a nose that wouldn’t stay thawed, and absolutely no fatigue. 

I did the bulk of my real “thinking” during that time: when I could no longer escape…anything, even with sleep.  Maybe by sleeping all day, I was running from those thoughts.  Either way, I had plenty of time to mull them over in those sleepless, pre-dawn hours. 
I really feel like things – experiences, or relationships – are presented into our lives for us to learn lessons. And when we’ve learned those lessons, those things end, and it’s time to move on to the next experience.  People who fail to learn from mistakes aren’t doomed to repeat them – instead, they repeat the lesson until it’s learned. 

Perhaps 2.5 days was just long enough for me to learn from that weekend.  Whatever it was, I was quite miserable on Saturday night into Sunday morning, but if it weren’t for that time period, I’m not sure I would’ve fully grasped this lesson: all relationships end. Sometimes, but very infrequently, it’s from death. But most of them are not.  They might be amazing, or God-awful, but they exist for us to learn important lessons, and move forward. 
I used to believe that when a relationship ended, that I had failed. I no longer believe that (though I think I’ll continue to struggle with that belief).  I’ve learned an extraordinary amount about myself in the past two-plus years, and I’m a much better person for those lessons.  So how can I be bitter, or guilty, or regretful?  I grieve the loss of that thing – good or bad – and I embrace the new. And the new after that, and after that.

Sunday morning was good: I woke up early, took the sleeping bag outside and watched those same stars I’d seen appear twelve hours earlier, fade into the light.  Then I packed up my stuff and hiked down the hill. 
It’s remarkable to think about all the cool things I’ve learned from Craig Thornley.  This was yet another experience that I am thankful to him for introducing to me. But at least I’ve been able teach him one thing: how amazing a good beer is, be it after a run or at 1130AM on a Sunday morning!  Cheers!

By virtue of his 50-plus hours of fasting, Lord Balls takes the cerimonial first pull off the mountain air-chilled Oakshire Espresso Stout, breaking the fast.

Friday, September 14, 2012

McKenzie River 50K 2012 - Race Report

It's been nearly three months since Western States, so I figure it was time to race again.  Despite being fitter, stronger and more efficient than '11, the post-WS recovery has been slooow: leg-feel and energy were down, and breaking free from the "hundred-mile old man stride" has been a challenge.

Mentally, it has also been difficult: Western States hurt a lot.  And the brain has had a hard time letting go of that pain memory.  But the prolonged break, along with flat-landish course like McKenzie set a perfect scene for my return.

The McKenzie River Trail Run is Oregon's oldest continuous trail ultra, and the '12 race was the 25th edition.  It's a teriffic race on an incredible 25-mile single track that runs along the icy-cold, crystal clear McKenzie River, which originates from volcano-filtered snow melt of the Central Oregon Cascades*.

*Also noteworthy, it is the watershed for some pretty incredible Ninkasi and Oakshire beers

While the trail grade is quite pedestrian - note even rising to "douche-grade" status - it makes up for it in footing and flow: several miles run through young volcanic rock, and the trail serpentines through rocks and trees like it was made for a downhill slalom course. 

After a fire year in 2011, we were back on the original course: starting at Carmen Reservoir, six miles from the northeast terminus, the course runs (relatively uphill) to the end, before turning 'round and heading clear to the southwest end - a net downhill of 1700'. 

Pre-race: I camped out with LB and Hannah at Ice Cap CG, right near the start.  Mild temps made for great sleeping, even though I forgot both my sleeping bag and pad at home.  The swag blanket really came in handy! 


Got in a little shuffle warm-up with Jeremy Tolman, a local friend and running stud who's podium'd several times at this race.  Coming off a serious injury, he's the most fit he's been for a year.  Given another year of sustained running, and his ultra potential is enormous.  He's a strong guy, for sure, with a serious (<4:00 mile) speed background. 

I knew he'd be there to push it up front.  We'd also heard of Mario Mendoza, another speedy Salomon guy from the Bend-area, who was signed up to run.  His status was unknown 'til we saw him striding out just minutes before the start. 

I welcomed the competition and speed-push in this race: after a year of shuffle races, I was eager to truly run hard and [relatively] fast.

Brad Putnam gave us the go and we were off.  I pushed out front and set what felt like a sub-six effort along the easy dirt road along Carmen Reservoir.  Mario and Jeremy came up on either side of me and thankfully took the lead, in that order, in front of me as we hit the trail.

My overall fitness, after three low-key months, is down.  Moreover, it typically takes me several miles to feel strong, so it surprised me little that I felt worked early.  We hoofed it upstream, up and over several sets of wooden stairs and rocky inclines as we passed close by the river and a pair of falls.  I wasn't climbing well, so both Mario and Jeremy would get 10 meters on me on the short ups that I'd have to recapture on the flats.  This was efforted, but I knew a fast race depended on running with these guys at all costs.

Stairs and ups ceded to the volcanic rock of the upper McKenzie trail: sharp, uneven and sometimes loose volcanic rocks comprised several segments of the winding trail.  Both Mario and Jeremy were moving fast, and it was all I could do to keep my feet moving quickly enough to keep them in sight.  Mario gradually pulled away along the shores of Clear Lake, and I struggled to keep within shouting distance of Jeremy.  A well-placed Cher Lloyd number in my head helped me "want them back", but it wasn't quite working. 

Finally, after a long, mega-douchey upgrade of 1-2%, we arrived at the first AS (mile 5.7).  I grabbed two gels and a Coke, make a bee line for the turnaround cone, then chased after the guys.  By the time we got back on the straighaway, Mario was long-gone.  I opened up my downhill stride and was able to reel in Jeremy, but not without effort.

The stride felt pretty good all day, but it took serious focus to keep the stride "open" and trunk forward to fully "gobble up" the downs and maintain consistent speed around the little ups, downs, and tree slaloms.  Jeremy set an excellent tempo and I had to work to keep it going.

This is a prime time to get negative: early in the race, less than 20% in, and already struggling with the effort.  But what I've learned about trail ultras is that early feel means nothing -- and that early aerobic or anearobic pain will cede to other things - or in the very least these systems get periodic breaks, allowing for several hours of intermittent suffereing.  I also remembered that I always feel better about 15 miles into an ultra than I do early on.  So I gutted the discomfort and focused on efficiency and consistent fueling.

Leaving Clear Lake behind, we crossed OR-126 for the final time and got back on the meat of the course.  Once across the road, the trail became quite technical once again, especially on the north side of the river near Carmen Reservior and the 2nd AS (11.2 miles).  Jeremy and I hit it in tandem (1:19:14 overall for 11.2 miles) and were quickly in and out and primed for yet another segment of technical single track.

More tree slalom, more lava rock, more roots - it is evident why mountain bikers love this trail.  It's enjoyable running but damn hard to go fast.  I felt as though I was flying, but knew better - we were lucky to be going sub-7s.  However, the highly technical elements allowed for my aerobic/anaerobic system to rest.  When the track finally mellowed, I got right on Jeremy and feeling pretty good. 

I could sense he might've been fatiguing so I tried to pump him up by singing some Jessie J:

"...Oooh-oooh-oooh-OOOOH!  Dirty dancin' in the moon LIEEEGHT!  Take me down like I'm a domino!..."

Dunno if it helped him, but it got me pumped up!  :)

Now in full groove, I felt ready to pass him and do my share of the work.  But with every tight turn and up-and-over, I would fall back a stride.  So I waited...

We hit Trail Bridge AS (16.7 miles: 40:12/1:59:27) together, but I was quickly in and out and took the lead.  I knew I was feeling stronger with more stride momentum, so I took full advantage.  However, I hoped Jeremy would tuck in, but he ultimately fell off.

I really wanted to get after Mario.  We'd heard "two minutes!", "50 seconds", "A minute!" many times over the past 10K, and with my stride primed and energy good, I was ready and eager to reel him in.  I pushed aggressively on the ups and gobbled up the downs with a big, "Hungry-Hungry Hippo" stride as I call it - big, high heel recovery with windmill strides.  Outside of some nagging left inner knee soreness, I felt strong.  I knew he wasn't running faster, but I could only hope he was slowing down...

The technical stuff ceded to runnable single track - flatter, smoother, less slalom-turns. I pushed and pushed and pushed.  The aerobic fatigue returned; muscle fatigue also built in my hamstrings and gluts. And some back pain.  Oops - I was slipping into "Old Man Stride".  I worked hard to relax the trunk forward but extend through the pelvis and hips.  Both my back and knees felt better.  I pushed...

More soda and gels at Deer Creek AS (21.8 miles: 36:11/2:35:39), and more pushing.  The course flattened and straightened, allowing faster running but harder efforts.  I fought "the bind" and worked to keep the stride open as I hit the dirt road a couple miles before the final AS at Buck Bridge.  When I finally got there (25.1 miles - 23:20/2:58:59), I got a last bump of soda, and another "two minutes!" update.  Frustrated, but determined, I took off for the last 10K.

I wanted to get him.  I wanted to win!  So, channeling my Inner-Jimothy, I said it out loud, "I wanna win!".  I even threw in some well-timed growls and grunts as I pushed along the winding trail and ups and downs from Buck to the river's edge.  Several rolling ups and downs punctuated this early segment, but I churned and pushed, elbows flying and "GRRR!"s reverberating off the old-growth.  I pushed powerfully up and over the rollers, hard around the corners.  I was moving.  More talking, and grunting and pushing. 

Eyes ahead on the trail, I was hoping for a glimpse of Salomon red - but only an ocassional black and white of a couple random runners on the trail.  I pushed past and down the trail.  Two miles from the finish, I got my last update..."two minutes".  Sheesh! 

I pushed and pushed, focusing on all the mechanics and toughness I could muster.   But it wasn't quite enough - for first, anyway.  I rolled along the rushing waters of the icy cold McKenzie and up the final little climb to the surprising finish in a hard-earned 2nd place, in 3:37:51.  Mario won in 3:35:58.

I do think I closed on him in the second half, but I could never pinch that two minutes.  He ran hard and smart; my hat's off to him. 

Post-race: I was tired!  My back was sore from old-man flexing, but that subsided quickly after some relaxing and a couple Pepsis...and a couple bumps of Oakshire Espresso Stout (a wonderful post-race beverage).  Jeremy was 3rd overall after falling back in the second half. 

Other notable finishes included:

LB finishing his umpteenth McKenzie - albiet a bit more leisurely this year!
- Tommy Atkins running a strong 50K in front of LB
- Denise "The Sparkplug" Bourassa winning the 50M and finishing 5th overall
- Andrew Miller - a 16-year old high schooler from Corvallis, winning the 50-mile outright! 

Overall, I was pleased with the day.  It was exactly what I needed: legitimately fast, hard running on challenging, technical trail, devoid of huge hills that give one the excuse to shuffle or hike.  I got a good dose of what it takes to run hard and compete at a fast pace on the trails.  Moreover, it was good feedback on what is working and what's not, mechanically. 

And it was good to be able to rumble with a guy of Mario's caliber - 2x podium for the 15K trail championships as a sub-ultra trail stud.  My time, while slower than I was hoping for, still ranks well, historically.  I now have a ton more respect for Braje's 3:33!

The Grades
Pacing: A-.  Solid.  I had trememdous help from Jeremy early.  The only demerit comes from my lack of aerobic strenght right now - I need to be able to run harder, uphill. 

Mechanics: B+.  The good: Excellent forward trunk and arm use, excellent leg mobility and "gobbling" up huge chunks of trail on the flats and downs - absolute musts for fast, competitive trail running.

Not great: flexing the pelvis -- namely the right (see the pics below).  I know what I need to do, and how.  It's just a bad habit I have to keep working on it.  If I do it, I'll run faster, my feet will feel better, and my back won't hurt.
Hydration/Fuel/Electrolyes: A+.  NAILED IT.  Did a gel every 20 minutes, and some soda at every AS.  I took S'Caps at :60, 2:00, 3:00 and an "insurance cap" at 3:20.  I wore my Nathan 1.5L (~50oz) but only drank maybe 35oz of it. 

Here's a fun-fact: first-ever ultra where I neither went "#2" or "#1"!  Never stopped, or went.  It was perfectly minimal and awesome. 

Mental Toughness: A-.  Solid.  I hung tough early but had some low points.  I pushed hard solo over the second half, but still have a lot to learn to really, really push.  Again, a good experience race, both physical and mental.

Joy:  A-.  I had some low points, but otherwise had a blast!  I was able to use some "fun" mental strategies to stay positive, including a bit of serenading and some excellent self-"talk", Jimothy-style at the end.

Significant kudos to Mark and Brad for putting on a great 25th edition, as well as the McKenzie locals, including Jeff Sherman.  Way to go in keeping going the oldest - and among the very best - trail ultras in Oregon!  Thank you!

Some excellent photographs, courtesy Michael Lebowitz at LongRun Pictures:

The Start

Clear Lake (~Mile 6) - on a mercifully paved volcanic area.  Notice the nice L hip "opening"...

...and the same point on the right side - not so "open"...Stuck!

On the other side of Clear Lake (~mile 8).  Jeremy putting the hurt on me.  Ouch.

In the technical downriver section near Carmen.  Pickin' my way through...

Mario at the finish - glad he was hurting, too!

"Is this the finish?"

T-Bag finishing strong!

The teenage Andrew Miller, age 16, winning the 50-mile! 

Denise, carving up the trail.

LB looking good on the shores of Clear Lake.  And we know that's most important...