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.