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...