Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Western States Experience Report

I did everything in my power to not only train and prepare for Western States, but also to earn the privilege of running in this iconic race. I hired Ann Trason as my coach and I ran my heart out for over 6 solid months. Sadly, I was unable to finish my Western States race. I have no regrets. I may not have gotten the finish I wanted, but by chasing my dreams with all my heart, I got an amazing journey and lots of new and wonderful friends out of the deal. I'll be back to Western States someday to finish what I started. Until then, the amazing journey and dream will continue. 

My mantra for the race was to "float like a butterfly". The first 30 miles are run at high altitude (Average of 7000 feet), and can be very rocky. By floating like a butterfly, I hoped to navigate the rocky terrain lightly and gently, without disastrously spraining an ankle. I also wanted to keep my heart light, and to soak in the experience. This is probably the most beautiful section of the race and I wanted to be fully present in the moment. It was a blissful 30 miles. 

The first 3.5 miles climbs 2500 feet to the highest point in the race. It's the only section that I did not run in training. I hiked up the climb, like everyone else, and it felt great! The silence was deafening though. Everyone was probably conserving their air. Maybe I should have too! I was just so happy to be out there! I reached the aid station at the top in about 1 hour and 6 minutes. The sun was rising on a glorious morning. I felt so alive. 

Imagine your feet are carried on the wings of a butterfly
Light and soft, gentle and kind
Flit and flutter over rocks and earth
Dance between earth and sky
Keep the heart light and embrace the beauty all around
And see the world through a butterfly's eyes

I arrived at the Duncan Canyon aid station (mile 24) in great spirits after about 6 hours and 15 minutes. This aid station is run by the Quicksilver Club, which I had joined this year. The cheering was simply amazing! I was surrounded by teammates and good friends. I drank some coconut water and got a fresh bandana, filled with ice, to combat the mild heat that would creep up on us in the next section.

The next six miles included a tough climb, but I planned to take it easy and to take breaks anytime the exertion felt too strained. We had three things going against us in this section: the heat, the altitude, and the climb. I slowed down, but got through this section in great shape. I came into Robinson Flat (mile 30) feeling great! And Ann Trason was here crewing for me! She sat me down and sponged me down with cold ice water. She stuffed gels in my pocket, handed me a cold Pediasure, and told me I was doing great! I felt great!

Unfortunately, my bubble was soon to be burst. After a couple miles, I learned from some safety runners that I was only 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff time. How was this possible? It scared the hell out of me! I panicked. I began to run scared. I no longer floated like a butterfly. I ran harder and faster to make up some time. And still, I felt really slow. By the time I got to the Last Chance aid station (mile 43), my quads were hurting and I was in a bad state of mind. I was right at the 30-hour pace and now one hour ahead of cutoff times. Eric was there to calm me down. He told me to focus on getting to the next aid station and to take one aid station at a time. And just like that, my fears were abated, and I was back in the game.

At mile 46, after a soothing river crossing, I had to climb one of the toughest climbs of the race. My quads were shot. I trudged up the climb slowly. I was not feeling good. I stopped to drink from my handheld bottle and just started to throw up. The rest of the climb took what seemed like forever. At the top of the climb (mile 48), the Devil's Thumb aid station took care of me. The wonderful volunteers checked my weight, fed me soup and ginger ale. They convinced me to get going again. On my way out of the aid station, I threw up again. It broke my heart and my spirit. I cried, as I stood, hunched over, as waves of nausea overtook me. I was a mess. And still, the volunteers pushed and prodded me to get going. Time was running out. I needed to eat. I needed to keep moving. But my stomach was not happy and my spirit was broken. I did keep moving though. I wanted to believe that a second wind would come and that I could chase the cutoffs to the finish line. The next 5 miles were miserable. I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I could barely muster a 30 minute pace - walking, downhill. Sips of water only made me feel more nauseous. By the time I got to the next aid station at mile 52.9, I was done. My race and dream was over. I felt like a failure. I had let down my coach and everyone that believed in me. I wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole, and die. But those feelings quickly passed. And I realized that I was lucky to have gotten the chance to shoot for such a crazy dream. I am still sad, disappointed, and heartbroken, but my hopes and dreams are still very much alive and strong. I will be back.

Thank you, to everyone that helped me during this journey and on the day of the race. Matt and Ann, my crew - you were awesome out there! My pacers, Jeremy and Eric - who cheered me on and waited patiently to pace me through the night, thank you! I really wished I could have shared the trails with you! And to my loving and supportive wife, who made plenty of sacrifices to help me realize my dream, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  There is so much more I could say about this epic journey. I could probably write a book about the whole experience. But maybe I'll save that for the day when I have a happier ending!

I believe we learn more from our defeats and losses than we do from our victories and wins. Life is too short and fleeting to worry about winning or losing. Play the game, enjoy the journey, and whatever you do, don't stop dreaming or believing in yourself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chasing Dreams

“Do not worry about how you will make it all work. Just focus on how you feel and go towards those things that bring forth joy. When you are living in your joy, the Universe is living joyfully through you. When you are living a life of fear, the universe is dying and becoming smaller. Remember you are a child of the universe and everything the universe provides is abundant. The sun shines rays of joy, the bird sings a song of joy, the tree joyfully grows to provide shade and keep the air clean. Everything has a purpose and when we are living in our joyful purpose we will be supported because the universe loves joy. It takes a little bit of time to go from fear to joy, but if you stay steady and keep the course you will at last come to see that your joy can be your reality. Trust in promise of joy, it is your birthright.” – Jackson Kiddard

There is great joy and an uneasy fear present as I face the greatest race of my life. This is my pie in the sky, my Superbowl, my World Series, my Boston Marathon; this is my dream, materializing before my very eyes. If I could pick one race to run, over and over, it would be Western States. I know there are many other great races out there that I have yet to experience. I know I would enjoy many other races - ones with great support or amazing sights. But in the present, its all about Western States. Everything I've read, everything I've seen and heard lead to Western States. It's what my heart wants and it's what captures my imagination - it's my dream. And it's here. Now. 

This race is the Superbowl of Ultra Running to most people. The field limit is only 400 runners, and a third of that number is reserved for elite runners, international runners, or runners given special consideration. Over 2700 people wanted to get into the race this year via lottery. These people have already proven their worthiness by qualifying for the race through a fast 50-miler, 100K, or 100-mile completion at a qualifying race. There were runners with up to 5 tickets in the lottery, based on the number of years where they qualified but were not picked. I had one measly ticket in the lottery. And somehow, through some twist of fate, I was chosen. I did not feel worthy of this honor. I knew other runners much more qualified and deserving than I. So I knew I had work to do - to earn the honor, to train my heart out, and to prepare for the race of my life. On that note, I began my training. I hired an amazing coach in Ann Trason to help guide my training, which in itself has been an amazing experience. 

Training consisted of running nearly 6 days per week with a long run every week. The first couple months were solely dedicated to building a mileage base. The next couple months included more quality runs that included more speed workouts, and the final months included speed workouts, hill repeats, and training runs on the Western States course itself. All throughout the training, core workouts and upper arm strength training were added in addition to all the running. Any time there was a sign of injury, aqua jogging, elliptical machines, or stationary biking was prescribed in addition to a trip to the chiropractor or massage therapist. A handful of 50K races and a 50 mile race were used for training, along with a handful of organized training runs. All in all, there were 9 training runs/races over 30 miles plus another 11 runs in the 20-26 mile range. In 6 months, I had run over 1500 miles, averaging 250 miles per month and 58 miles per week. My massage therapist, Greg Finney (Sports Medicine Institute, Palo Alto) and chiropractor, Lyresa Pleskovitch (Spine Therapy Center, Palo Alto) played big parts in treating my injuries and kept me healthy enough to run consistently throughout my training. And Ann Trason, my coach and friend, always knew what to say to motivate me, inspire me, and guide me through this epic journey - which will hopefully culminate at the finish line in Auburn, California. 

And lets not forget about my wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters! It breaks my heart to leave my wife and kids for many of these long training runs and races. Without their support, patience, and love, this dream of mine is empty and meaningless. My eggs are not all in one basket. Regardless of whether I finish Western States, I am already greatly blessed - with a loving family, good health, and the opportunity to chase my dreams. Allyson and Grace, I hope that you believe in yourself and your dreams. And I hope that someday, you too will chase down your dreams and make them come true. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Western States Training Update Q&A: The Final Push

Only 26 days remain till Western States!

Q: Hi John! What is going through your mind right now? You must be so excited for the big race! Your training has been awesome!
A: I won't lie to you. I'm kinda scared. 

Q: What's wrong? I thought your training had been going great! 
A: My training has been pretty great. Not perfect, but I am very happy with how my training has been going. However, I sprained my ankle this past Saturday on a 22 mile night run. I turned my ankle after about 8 miles. It wasn't a terrible sprain, so I slowed down and just finished the last 14 miles. 

Q: Oh no! You poor thing! How does it feel now? And how long do you think it will take to heal?
A:  It feels okay. There is still some minor pain and swelling, but I'm not limping and can even jump a little on the bad leg. I'll trying running 4-6 miles today and see how it goes.  I'm hoping to be back on the trails this weekend for a last, long trail run before tapering. If that doesn't happen, it's still okay. 

Q: The month of May was supposed to be a big training month for you. How did May treat you? Other than your little mishap at the end, that is. 
A: May was pretty awesome! I logged about 274 miles in May, and was able to get some training in the infamous canyons twice. I only ran 48 miles on the first day of the Memorial Day Weekend WS Training Camp, and it ended rather poorly, but I am okay with that now. 

Q: Finishing a 48-mile training run on the WS course on a warm day sounds pretty good! And yet, you still sound disappointed! What's wrong with you?
A: I made some mistakes and bonked badly in the last 10 miles. It was a big blow to my confidence! Ann Trason tells me that she sees it as a good thing though - as long as I learn from it. And that makes a lot of sense to me. 

Q: Speaking of THE Ann Trason, everyone wants to know how that is working out. What insight can you share about this mysterious legend who's won Western States 14 times? Is she a good coach? Would you recommend her?
A: Ann Trason is a great coach! If you need evidence of it yourself, you can listen to Trail Running Nation's Podcast where she and Andy Jones Wilkins are interviewed about the Western States Race:
One of the main reasons why she is a great coach is her genuine passion for running. She is humble and kind and just a pleasure to work with. I really feel lucky and blessed to have her as my coach. All her legendary accomplishments are irrelevant when it comes to Ann Trason as a coach and friend. I talked to her on the phone the other day about my bad 48-mile training run, and she reminded me that she failed to finish WS on her first two tries. She made plenty of mistakes. Shocking, I know! And it's okay to make mistakes. Bad stuff happens. Learn from your mistakes, plan accordingly and solve your problems as they will surely arise.

Q: I know this race is your dream race. Will your family be coming to cheer you on? 
A: Sighs... At the least, my wife and kids will be there at the finish line. I'm hoping that my wife can make it to Foresthill (mile 62) the night before, but that may not happen. I've asked my parents and siblings to come out to the finish line, but I'll be lucky of any of them show up. They've never come out to any of my races. It's a little sad, but I'm okay with it. Coming out to cheer for us ultra runners must be a tough job. I really admire those of you that have family cheering for you. I'm just happy that my family loves me and supports me (mostly from a distance, in spirit).  

Q: What do you have left to do? Is the taper going to drive you nuts?
A: I still have some running and training to do, but it'll be just a little less running. I'll be doing more heat training to acclimate to the heat that we'll be expecting on race day. Ann calls it "protection mode". The proverbial hay is in the barn. 

Q: Do you have any time goals? Or are you focused solely on finishing?
A: Finishing under 24 hours feel like a pipe dream. On a cool day, I think it would be possible. I believe I need to run "by feel". Get to Foresthill (mile 62) conservatively. If I can get there with some fresh legs the whole experience will be so much more enjoyable. I'll be happy just to finish. 

Q: Any last thoughts you want to share about this big dream of yours, that is coming to fruition?
A: I want everyone to believe in the power of their dreams. Dreams do come true. Western States isn't just my dream. A lot of deserving folk (many faster than me) did not get into this race this year. When I got into this race, I knew I had work to do - to earn this privilege. I need to fight for that finish to the very end. I have to want it. I have to believe in the power of my dreams. And simply make it happen.

And thank you, my friends, for following along on my little journey. And I wish you luck on the chasing of your dreams. Believe in yourself.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Born to Run Ultra Marathon Experience-Race Report

The Tarahumara are a beautiful people. "The Tarahumara live in and above the canyons of northern Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental, where they retreated five centuries ago from invading Spaniards." They call themselves the "Rarámuri", which is a more respectful term for these amazing people. The Rarámuri are human just like you and me, but I believe they represent so much more - living and running free.

"They are extraordinary endurance runners, having lived for generations amid a transportation network of narrow footpaths through the canyons; Rarámuri means "foot-runner" or "he who walks well," and they've been known to irritate American ultramarathoners by beating them while wearing huarache sandals..." ("A People Apart", National Geographic, November, 2008) 

Caballo Blanco had a deep passion for running and the Rarámuri. He would have loved the Born to Run Ultra Marathons this past weekend, if he were still alive. He would have been surrounded by people he loved and the people that love him. A team of Rarámuri racers had come to run! Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett were running the 100 mile race. And El Coyote, Luis Escobar, was running the show as the Race Director. It was a reunion of the Born to Run cast! Without the spirit of Caballo Blanco, there is no "Born to Run" book or Ultra Marathon weekend. Caballo Blanco made all this happen, through his love and passion for running and the Rarámuri. There were over 550 people registered to run the Born to Run Ultra Marathons (10 mile, 50K, 100K, 100 mile). The festivities began on Friday, May 16th, and the Rarámuri were conducting a Rarajipari Bolla Race demonstration! "This will be the only acceptable time to photograph them." I was actually going to see the Rarámuri playing Rarajipari! How cool is that!

I bought a fantastic burrito lunch and took a front row seat to witness the Rarámuri play their legendary game. Volunteers were needed to join the Rarámuri in a 5-on-5 Bolla Race! How would you feel if you were given the opportunity to play basketball with Michael Jordan on a friendly 5-on-5 game? Utter shock. Joy. Honored. I quickly stood up, abandoning my lunch to join in on the race. Maria Walton and Billy Barnett were also on my team along with one of the Rarámuri. Each lap is about a quarter of a mile and we were going to complete 10 laps. Each team has a wooden ball and the Rarámuri runner holds a wooden stick (you can't use your hands). It's like racing with a soccer ball, except with a wooden ball the size of a softball. I threw all caution to the wind and played my heart out, like there was no tomorrow. It was a blast! We ended up losing, but no one cared. We were all champions. I was exhausted, but happy!

There was going to be a beer mile, led by Patrick Sweeney, an amazing ultra runner who has raced in the Copper Canyons for the past 4 years. On Thursday, Patrick set a world record for the beer half marathon! He drank 13 beers and ran 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 17 minutes, with temperatures in the mid-nineties! After the Rarajipari Bolla race, I was tired and had no intention of running the beer mile. Fortunately, Gregorio, who also participated in the bolla race convinced me to join in on the fun. I caved pretty quickly, in the spirit of stupid fun - since it was for a good cause (donations as entry fees into the beer mile). I just planned to take it easy and just have fun with it. 

There were over fifty people doing the beer mile. We were supposed to bring our own beer, but I was able to get 4 free Bud Lights to participate with. It was a lot of fun, but it got progressively hard to chug down the beer after each lap. We cheered each other on as we drank beer and ran. The winner, Nick Coury, finished in 7:26. He would go on to win the 50K the next day in 3:17. I finished my first beer mile in 10:39. It was such stupid fun! After a nice burrito dinner, I headed back to my campsite to set up my tent, prepare for my race, and get to bed at a decent time. The band, Metalachi, had begun to play, and the party had just begun for a lot of people, but I was content to call it a night.

All the ultra distances started at 6:00, and we all started on the same 10 mile loop (marked with pink ribbon), while the 10-mile runners start a bit later on a different 10 mile loop (marked with yellow ribbon). Before the start, we raise our right hands and recite Caballo Blanco's disclaimer: "If I get hurt, lost or die - it's my own damn fault."

This was a training run for me, so I just took it easy and enjoyed everything about the race. I chatted with a lot of runners and made new friends at seemingly every turn. Everyone I met this past weekend was just so damn cool! 

I finished the first 10 mile loop in 1:38:17. The second loop was a little harder, but very manageable. There was a really interesting downhill section that was a lot of fun to run down! I channeled my inner-Killian Jornet and ran down it with the joy and freedom of a little kid. I finished the 2nd 10-mile loop in 1:55:59. The first 20 miles flew by all too quickly and I felt fresh enough to hammer through the last ten, but I knew that I needed to stay conservative and keep it easy. I have a 50-mile training run on the Western States course the next week, so I could not afford to wreck myself with a fast finish.

I ran into Patrick Sweeney at mile 22, and was wondering what he was doing, going so slow! This guy won last year's 50K with a blazing time of 3:49! Apparently, the world record beer half marathon took its toll. He was having a "lazy" day - unmotivated to run fast. I hung out with Patrick for a while, slowing down just to hang out with the cool speedster who I will probably never run with again! We talked about Western States and the Rarámuri. He described the Rarajipari Race that he witnessed down in the Copper Canyons, which I found fascinating! On a 4 mile course, teams consisted of 25 players, and they would cover up to 100 kilometers, or until one team lapped the other. This eventually happened in the game Patrick witnessed after over 10 hours! I eventually took off to finish my race but I really enjoyed our conversation! 

With about 3 miles to go and a gentle downhill slope, I decided to finish strong and ran the last few miles at a comfortable 9 minute pace. I finished in 5:26:20, which is my second fastest 50K time with a relatively easy-effort, which I was happy with. With less than 7 weeks till Western States, I am in the best shape of my life. I feel so lucky and blessed lately. I'm living the dream, and loving it! 

Photo Credits to Jeff Genova, Rony Sanchez and Michele Evans for the wonderful pictures!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Born to Run

The book Born to Run changed me. It captured my imagination and opened up a new world to me. It gave me big dreams and bold goals. After reading this book, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and belonging. Maybe I was "born to run" after all! I didn't have to be fast. I just needed to believe in myself and "keep on, keeping on."

I met Caballo Blanco in October of 2009, in Palo Alto, California, at our local ultra running store, ZombieRunner. After reading Born to Run, I really wanted to run Caballo's race in the Copper Canyons. But there were too many risks associated with the trip into such a remote area of the world. The perceived dangers from the Mexican drug cartels alone was enough to keep me reserved. Being married with children forces me to reduce risks I would otherwise take in the name of adventure and excitement. So I asked Caballo Blanco a question: "Would you ever organize a race in the United States, and invite the Tarahumara?" I don't remember how he responded, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't in his plans.

In October, 2010, I met Ann Trason, another hero from Born to Run. It was her last year as the race director of the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile race. It was such an honor to shake her hand. I was so starstruck that I neglected to take a picture of her or with her. The memory of meeting her was enough. Ann Trason was an unsung hero in the book. She raced with the Tarahumara in Leadville and was a fierce competitor with the best of the best. Having 4 sisters, 2 daughters, and an amazing mother, you could say I have a huge love and respect for women. Ann Trason is more than a legend to me. She is a role model for any woman who seeks strength and power. I want to teach my daughters that anything is possible for them. And I would use Ann as the perfect example of a strong woman who kicked men's butts in the ultra world.

In June, 2012, I got to meet Scott Jurek in San Francisco for a fun run and book signing. I read Born to Run like a science fiction novel. I fell in love with all the characters. And meeting them, in real life was a dream come true. Running ultras made me feel like I belong to this isolated community of running people. We run far. Very far. And Scott Jurek - well, he's just cool.

This is the 4th year of the Born To Run Ultra Marathons in Los Olivos, California. This is about a 4 hour drive for me, and a very busy time of year for me (my wedding anniversary and daughter's birthday are in May). There are also a lot of very popular races being run in May that are much closer to me. This year, however, a team of Tarahumara were making the trip to the Born to Run Ultras! I talked to my wife about it and she thought it would be okay for me to sign up and run it. After all, chances to run with the Tarahumara may never happen again (in the U.S.) in my lifetime.

So yeah, I'll be running with the Tarahumara this Saturday. And yes, they will kick my butt. Luis Escobar will be there as the race director. Jenn Shelton and Barefoot Ted are signed up for the 100 miler. It should be an epic weekend!

Did I mention how lucky I am to be coached by Ann Trason? And that I'm running Western freaking States in 45 days? My cup overflows with blessings!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Canyons 50K Race Report

The Canyons 50K is a new race. It covers 16 miles of the Western States course and it is tough! The race contains 9714 feet of elevation gain over 32 miles. It starts in Foresthill (mile 62 of WS), runs to the base of Devil's Thumb (mile 46) and heads back the same way, back to Foresthill.

The views were fabulous!

It was my 11th wedding anniversary. Somehow, I was able to convince my wife to let me go off to run all day in the wilderness, hours from home. I'm really lucky to have such a loving and supportive wife! I would have run long the day before if I could find someone to run with. The Western States canyons are fairly remote and can be dangerous for anyone running alone, unsupported, and in the heat! And unless you know the trails, the chances of getting lost are pretty high.

The charred trees on the Devil's Thumb climb is sad - but it helps us appreciate the green forests a little more.

After contacting the race director, I was able to sign up, minutes before the start of the race when a handful of runners did not show up. I think I was the only race day entrant!

I was full of energy climbing Devil's Thumb! Hopefully I can do that again at Western States!

It was a great day to run, out on such beautiful trails. The volunteers were all fabulous, as usual. And the fellow runners I got to run with were all amazing. I took it really easy for the first 16 miles. For me, it was just a long training run and I took my time socializing with everyone out there. At the turnaround, after running down Devil's Thumb, we get to hike back up it!

Gretchen Brugman took this picture of me shortly after I climbed Devil's Thumb

It took about 4 hours and 7 minutes to cover the first 16 miles. My legs felt super fresh, so I decided to work a little harder in the second half. I passed a bunch of people and ran up some of the hills. I took my time to eat and drink at the aid stations, and just had a blast! I finished the second half in around 3 hours and 48 minutes and felt great. I would have added some bonus miles, but my left toe was bugging me a little, so I just called it a day and drove home (3 hours away).

This is "Devil's Thumb", a rock formation that looks like a black thumb! The view is obstructed - it was the best I could do without scrambling off the hillside.

There were a lot of special details I left out - particularly about the new friends I made that made this run so special. One new friend, and Western States finisher, will be pacing me at Western States! I was also chatting with someone who remembered me from the American River 50 way back in 2010. He remembers me because I blew by him near the finish line! Since we were getting close to the finish line of the Canyons 50K, there was no way I was going to try the same thing again!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Western States Training Update! 60 Day Countdown! Yet another Q & A

Q: The Western States Endurance Run is in 60 days. How are you feeling?

A: I feel nervous, excited and scared for a variety of reasons. While my training has been going great, the next 5 weeks are still tough and I haven't done any serious heat training yet! With a three week taper, that only leaves about 39 days of real training! Excuse me, while I freak out. 

Q: What has your training been like?

A: Over the past 4 months, I've run a ton of miles (Jan: 253, Feb: 274, Mar: 249, Apr: 253). That puts me at 1030 miles over 4 months. To put that in perspective, I ran about 1000 miles in 2013. Since December, I've run 14 long trail runs over 20 miles (20-25mi.: 4, 26.2mi: 4, 30mi: 4, 36mi: 1, 50mi: 1). 

Q: That is a lot of miles! Have you been doing any cross training or injury prevention activities?

A: I'm glad you asked. I've been using a ton of kinesio tape, mostly on the bottom of my feet to keep the Plantar Fasciitis in check. I've also been foam rolling whenever I have some spare time in the evenings to take care of any soreness/tightness in my muscles. I've gotten an orthopedic massage almost every month to keep things in order/check. I'm working on my core strength and some light weight training for the arms about 2-3 times a week. I'm also hiking more on the treadmill - about twice a week to improve my hiking abilities (usually 2 miles at a 15% grade). 

Q: Besides a lot of miles, have you been doing any speed work?

A: Unless it's a taper/recovery week, Ann (my coach) has me doing one tempo run per week, and recently added some hill repeats on the treadmill (since she knows how hard it is for me to get to hills on the weekdays). 

Q: Sounds like your training has been nearly perfect! Has anything gone wrong? Any pain?

A: Things have not been perfect. I struggled a little in the last 10 miles of the American River 50 Mile race. I've had a few "niggling pains" that have come and thankfully gone. I had a few runs where I felt tired and burnt out. I still don't know this will all work out. Overall, things have gone amazingly well. It is a bit shocking to think how far I've come and what little time is left till my big race! 

Q: How is your coach, Ann Trason, working out? Any stories about your coaching experience with her you'd like to share?

A: Ann Trason may be a ultra running legend, but she has become so much more to me. She has become my coach, mentor and friend. She is kind and caring. She is the kind of person that you'd trust babysitting your kids or fur-babies. And she is an excellent, knowledgeable and responsive, coach! I am very lucky and blessed to have her coach and mentor me in this journey of a lifetime. Regardless of how Western States turns out, I have already won - an amazing journey with a great coach and friend. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Running is Suffering

I have been getting re-acquainted with Buddha's teaching on suffering lately. My wife had gotten copy (audio CDs) of "Coming Closer to Ourselves" by Pema Chodron from a colleague, so we have been listening to it during our morning and evening commute. I had studied some of Buddha's teachings and philosophy back in college when I majored in Philosophy at San Jose State. During my long run on Saturday, Buddha's teachings about suffering came to life and brought me to a more enlightened state of being. Words will surely fail to describe all the thoughts and feelings I had that day, but I know I have to try. 

"Life is suffering". Life is full of suffering, regardless of how blessed you are or think you are. Suffering is complex subject. We suffer due to sickness, death, pain, and a variety of things that are outside of our control. I thought about the suffering in my life and the suffering of everyone close to me. Compared to many of the friends and family I know, my suffering is minuscule. My brother has Cerebral Palsy. A friend is fighting Cancer. An uncle has lost a son to suicide. Another uncle has lost a son to Heart Disease. I cried for them. And I cried tears of joy for all my blessings. I have two beautiful daughters and a loving, supportive wife! I laughed at my own suffering. It was a very emotional run. 

I have been suffering more lately during my long runs. I took a few moments to try and understand why I have been suffering. I have been training for the biggest race in my life - the Western States Endurance Run, and it represents something that I really want. And for that reason, I was suffering. I was afraid of an unfavorable outcome on one of the biggest stages of my life. And because of that fear I had stopped listening to my body on these long runs. Most long distance runners know that on long training runs, you need to listen to your body and just take what it gives you in a very relaxed manner. Save the aggressive running for races or for the shorter speed oriented training runs. 

After 13 miles, I was tired. My training plan for the day included 30 trail miles. I took a 20 minute break to rest and recover before heading back on the trails. I did not know how much further I could go. My coach had told me to "do what you can." So my plan was to go as far as my body would let me. Suffering is greater when you resist that which you cannot change. Because I wanted to do well at Western States, I had been running harder during these long runs. I was resisting the possibility of failure at Western States. When I realized this, I let it go. I accepted my fate at Western States and it automatically lifted a huge weight of suffering off my spirit. And miraculously, I could listen to my body again. I could simply take whatever my body gave me, whether it be a slow hike up a hill or a relaxed shuffle down a hillside. And I could run with the ebb and flow of the earthly trails. I was one with the world around me. It was a beautiful run. I felt so blessed and so alive.

With a mile before arriving back at my car, I tried to assist a little furry caterpillar across the trail, so that it won't be trampled on by any unsuspecting hiker or runner. But instead of climbing on my little branch, it took it's time across the trail - much like the way I found myself running my own pace. We accept our fate and our pace, and in doing so, we lessen our suffering. 

On a scenic hilltop, I stopped and practiced a few Tai Chi movements. I am more than just my running. I am also a martial artist, a husband, and a father (among many other things). I am blessed regardless of what happens at Western States. Even though I deeply desire a good finish at that race, it does not define who I am or who I will become. It is all part of the path to MY awakening. I found such joy and peace during those last 12 miles. 

At the end of run I found a little inch worm and two other little bugs on my shirt and arms. I gently helped them get back to their home on the trails. 

During those 12 miles, I also ran into a fellow runner wearing a bright yellow Adidas shirt and Boston blue shorts. I cheered him on and told him that I recognized his Boston colors. I may have also yelled out, "Boston Strong!". Congratulations to all you Boston Finishers today!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Yosemite Long Run

This past weekend, I went to Yosemite with my family! My parents and siblings all went. About 20 of us stayed at the Yosemite View Lodge Hotel, which is only a short distance from the entrance to the park. We went on a easy hike in the morning with the kids. In the afternoon, I went back into the park to go for my long run. I was still recovering from the American River 50 Mile from the previous week, so I was only planning to run around 15 miles.

I parked at the Bridalveil Falls parking lot and started my run through Yosemite Valley. It was a glorious run. I ran up past a ton of tourists on the Mist Trail, past waterfalls and all kinds of amazing sights. I did not want to run back the same way I had run, so I decided to hop on one of the free shuttles to get back to my car once I was done with my run. My run was not easy. There were some really steep sections that could only be hiked at a snail's pace. At 14.3 miles I ended my run and hopped onto a shuttle bus.

That would have been the perfect ending to a great run filled with gorgeous sites. But I made a mistake. It turns out the shuttles don't go as far as the Bridalveil Falls parking lot, where I parked! I was tired. I had already run for 3 hours. Usually another 5 miles after 14 would not be a problem, but I had no more fuel and it was getting dark and cold. Instead of hitting the more windy trails, I chose to run back on one of the main roads. It sucked. But I got it done. Here are some more pictures from the run! And one bonus picture of my family.

Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 American River 50 Mile Race Report

"You are not qualified to quit."

I met some wonderful new people at this year's running of the American River 50 Mile. Michaela ran Western States in 2012 as her first 100 miler. She shared this piece of advice with me. Unless you're injured, you do not have the qualifications to decide to quit. Leave those decisions to the doctors and the running experts. It was simple, yet very profound.

Throughout the day, I ran into friends, both old and new everywhere I turned. The volunteers and crowd support were amazing! The weather was perfect. The course could have used a little less pavement and poison oak, but we can't have everything we want, can we?

For 36 miles, I ran really well. I executed my fueling plan flawlessly. Unfortunately, I neglected my hydration, and that eventually affected my fueling. By mile 40, I had slowed down to a crawl. I felt nauseous and did not feel like eating anything. I was tired - really tired. Jim Magill offered some friendly encouragement as he passed me here. This guy is 67 years young and still running strong! After a few miles of "crawling", I was eventually able to run better. The last 3 miles are all uphill, but I was able to run in most of the last 1.5 miles, which made me happy. I finished in 10:25:33 (340/826), which was a respectable finishing time. It wasn't finishing time I wanted, but I wasn't supposed to be racing anyway. Let's just call it a good training run for Western States!

Other notes:
I decided not to run with Vespa, again. I have not decided whether or not to use Vespa at Western States yet. Instead, I chose to consume as many calories as I could (along with my Pediasure). I should have also planned to drink more water - that would have helped! I was originally planning on running with a new pair of La Sportiva Crosslites, until I talked to Ann Trason about it! I ended up using an older pair that has less tread, but felt much more comfortable.

I took more pictures this time!

There were some fabulous views along the course!

 The pavement sucks, but at least its surrounded by beauty!

Wildflowers were everywhere on the course!

 Watching the sun rise during a long race is a special treat! I just had to stop and snap a picture of it!

We start in the dark, but it gets brighter pretty quickly! Especially if you're running in the second wave at 6:15!

Folsom Lake is really dry! But still really pretty.

 More pavement. But at least I met a new friend along this pavement! Blakely was his name, and he is a philosophy professor! Since I got my bachelor's degree in Philosophy, we had to chat about it!

A friend took this picture of me crossing the finish line!

Watching the sun set after getting a shuttle ride back to the start in Folsom, California