Another day of rain: Ground Control to Major Tom

Three and a half seconds from walking out the door – “I’m not wearing these socks. They’re too small!” Dude, WTF.

Rain boots and puddlesIt’s another day of rain. I yanked my hamstring on Wednesday and now I can’t run. My calves are sore. My shoulders are stiff. The power went out. The dishes aren’t done. We’re out of clean towels. I need a haircut. The music in the coffee shop is too loud.

The email to a new client went unanswered, even though I know he opened it. I track these things. I have seven unfinished projects at work and I can’t get that video I’m recording to come out just right.

But… I have my new rubber boots and a raincoat. I needed the rest anyway. I’ll exercise this afternoon in my garage. The dishes and towels will eventually get done. They always do.

I just heard The Beatles, The Doors and David Bowie (“Ground Control to Major Tom..”). “Piano Man” is playing right now. The music doesn’t seem so loud now.

I’ll finish those projects today, and what doesn’t get done didn’t need finishing right now anyway. The client will get back to me. There are more coming anyway.

Right now, a 16-year-old girl is waiting on her lab test results. An alcoholic is cracking open his third Budweiser, while his wife makes eggs and packs the kids’ lunch, hoping she’s not late for work this morning. Man, she’s tired after working the late shift at her night job, but it’s the only way to make the rent.

The homeless guy downtown is wet and soaked, cold and hungry. He wishes he had rent to make.

Everyone moment can’t be wonderful, and they aren’t. I’m supposed to be present, and that’s hard. Really, really hard. Maybe that’s why the present is so important. In the moments that suck, we need to accept that the suckiness could be much worse.

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

All in one sip of coffee this morning

A storm blew out the power in our neighborhood last night and blew up my evening routine that includes grinding coffee beans and prepping my Bialetti coffee pot for the next day. The power came on sometime during the night, but the damage was done and I was regulated to a Starbucks Via packet this morning.

coffee from top and above view on wood background with empty space in vintage

The water boiled, I poured in the packet and took a sip. That sip brought me back to 2014 in Dallas, TX.

It was then I was working at Blend Labs, spending week after week in Dallas (Lewisville actually…) configuring software and running the implementation for our first lending client. Over one stretch, I traveled to Lewisville eight out of nine weeks – on the Monday 5:30am American flight from SMF to DFW and back home again on a Wednesday or Thursday night flight, and occasionally on Friday.

I squeezed in 30-minute workouts in the shoebox hotel gym with its three treadmills and rack of dumbbells, doing rehab exercises from knee surgery, followed by late nights logging bugs and testing configuration changes as the engineers back in San Francisco pushed code every hour. I couldn’t even go for a run because of my knee.

At some point close to midnight, I’d call it a day and wake up again at 5 or 6am to start the next day – chewing through Silly Putty hard-boiled eggs and cardboard bacon, and scrounging for an apple, a banana or anything resembling fresh fruit.

And of course, the hotel coffee. Oh yes… That’s where the Starbucks Via came in. I’d buy a 12-pack of those and travel with them, at least 3-4 in my bag at all times. Every morning, I’d add a packet to a cup of the hotel “coffee” so it might remotely resemble real coffee. Then out of the lobby, trying to remember what color my rental car was this trip and heading back to the client site for ten hours in a brown cubicle and fluorescent lights.

Meanwhile during my Lewisville time warp, Lena was back home, waking up every morning to take Benjamin to day care, work on her dissertation, pick him up, make dinner and get him to bed so that she could get in a few hours before he woke up for his night feeding, then to start it all over again the next morning.

Even during weeks I wasn’t on the road, I commuted to San Francisco three days a week, catching the 4:45am Amtrak and arriving home on the 7:07pm. On Friday nights, we’d meet out for dinner, pretending to catch up on time lost that week.

I remember the first time my son was sick, really sick. I saw a series of texts and missed calls from Lena just as I was walking into a BW3 Wild Wings to meet my team for dinner. A croupy cough and breathing troubles led to a trip to the ER. After a call to American, I was stuck in Dallas – no more flights home that night. So there I was, in Lewisville, Texas, eating a bad salad and bland chicken wings, feeling helpless.

By Christmas 2014, I decided that was enough – the travel, the late nights staring at my computer screen, missing time at home. I needed to make a change. By May 2015, I began working with Byron Davis as a business coach. He helped me structure my thinking around the business and life I wanted to have.

By August, I joined a mastermind group called BlackBelt and I put in my notice to Blend that it was time for me to spend more time at home.

Lena finished her PhD at the end of September and my first day as a full-time business operator was October 1, 2015. I always joked with her that I would retire as soon as she finished, and I did. I retired from working for other people. I retired from absence.

Now, I’m home most mornings to make breakfast and take my son to school. I do the dishes at night and go to bed by 9pm. I’m a regular at the local coffee shop. I make time to train during the day and I’ve knocked out a 50-mile ultra marathon, a swim across Lake Tahoe and Uberman in the past 15 months. I write every morning. I have awesome clients.

I have problems and challenges just like everyone, but they’re my problems in my company. Mornings are almost always a battle – getting Benjamin to eat, dress, and agree to part ways for the day at school drop-off. But, I’m here. Every day. I’m present.

This is my path of happiness. This is my life of freedom.

All in one sip of coffee this morning.

I’m sure glad for that storm last night.

I registered for a 100. Why? #gofarther

Alas, tis true… I’m registered for my first 100-mile ultra marathon – The Badger Mountain 100 in Richland, WA. No, I don’t know why. Well… not entirely….

It’s event that will take 24 hours or more (hopefully less…) to complete. Ironman races take half that time, and even with Uberman where I was out there for multiple days, I had the chance to rest overnight before starting the next leg of the journey. The 24 hours of persistent movement. It’s just something I want to experience.

During Uberman, I watched the sun rise and set in the same day twice in three days – first over the Pacific Ocean then in the Mojave Desert. The experience brought a calm about the endeavor – that I travelled not across a distance, but through the day.

The day of this 100-miler, the sun will rise at 6:52am on race day and set at 7:16pm that evening. I’ll watch the sun begin the day just before we toe the line, then I’ll run all day, and if I’m on pace, I’ll watch it set right around the midway point. Then I’ll go all night and cross the finish line at sunrise on Saturday.

There’s something wildly intriguing about this.

screenshot-2017-01-18-09-43-18

But seriously… why do a 100?

Even before completing my a 50-mile ultra in December 2015, I’ve long had the thought that I wanted to give a 100-miler a shot, so I am.

Three Ironman finishes are pretty satisfying and I’m happily done with those. It’s overwhelming to look over the bike transition area in the early morning hours – 3000 sparkling bikes lit up at 5:00am by flood lights, racked and awaiting the return of their owners, one-by-one, to enter the hamster wheel bike and run courses. The crowds, the congestion, the constant stress about transitions, the 30 pieces of gear – wetsuits, Body Glide, bike pumps, helmets… The cowbells. The music. There was a time all of this was magical for me. And even more, the training is more than I’m willing to bear. That’s why my end to Uberman was so emotional for me. I knew that was it. I was done.

I knocked out three huge swims since 2015 – Alcatraz (2.5 miles), a Tahoe crossing (11 miles) and the Catalina Channel (23.74 miles). I feel pretty damn good about that part of my endurance event portfolio, and I’ve got absolutely no desire to get back in the water. I was at the gym last month to cancel my membership and figured I’d fit in a quick workout. As I walked past the pool to the locker room, I watched a lap swimmer hit the wall and flip back for the next 25 yard length. Then I smelled the chlorine. I thought I was going to vomit. Yep, I think I’m good with swimming for now. (Another good reason to skip Ironman races…)

Cycling has never been my favorite. I like going all out on a flat. I like ascending a big hill even if I climb like an anvil. I like the shorter rides where I’m pushing out intervals and sucking hard for air, but my back always aches by the third hour of a long ride. The best part of a 50, 70, or 90-mile ride is when I hop out of the saddle knowing that I’m done for the day.

I’ve done a few century rides. They’ve taken me to places like Palm Desert, Sonoma and along the Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve biked the Sutter Buttes. While I see the camaraderie in big groups, I’m usually trying to separate from a pace group that seems to be bothering me. Doing the “Death Ride” isn’t on my bucket list. I’d rather Everest if I’m going to put myself through that.

So what’s left?

Running, with all it’s simplicity – lacing up my shoes and heading out for a run. It’s my default. Running is what I couldn’t do before or after knee surgery, and for a time, it’s what I thought would never return to me. It’s what I do when I need to de-stress – I can always run a lap or two around the neighborhood any time of day or night. I can walk out my front door at 5am, turn off my headlamp and run in total darkness along the olive grove with the stars. I can run down the middle of the road because it’s too early for cars. I can stop to watch the sky turn purple, then orange, then yellow with the sunrise over the Sierras.

On the trail, there’s total peace and quiet. No kicks to the face. No blinding white caps. No gear shifts clicking. No mid-pack Ironmanners passing me on mile 79 just because the want to reach the top of the roller first, only to pass them back on the downhill because I weigh more or have a better bike.*

Sure, there’s gear, electronics and nutrition. It’s just that running is the most basic of our human movements – using our legs to move from one place to the next.

During my Uberman training, I spoke with Max Wunderle. Max was the second-youngest person to ever swim around Manhattan Island (28.5 miles at the age of 17). In our conversation, Max asked me why I was doing Uberman, and I couldn’t answer the question. (Heck, I’m still not sure why and it’s been three months since I finished.)

Max told me this:

“You’re doing it because you don’t know if you can.”

Yep, that’s probably right. 100 miles is a long, long way. 24 hours is a long time to be be moving. I might get bored. might get injured. It’s hard damn work just getting to the starting line. It’s just something I need to do, to prove to myself that I’m willing to start… willing to try… willing to see if I can.

Go Farther.

* I’ve had phenomenal experiences at my Ironman races, and I wish EVERYONE well that makes an Ironman effort. I know exactly what it takes to get there –training, family, schedule. It’s just not my thing anymore…

Take Action: Do something, anything. Please, just start. #gofarther

I laid in bed this morning, vacillating between conscious states for nearly 40 minutes before I pulled myself out from under the warm blankets. I was nearly ten minutes into my Morning Pages when I realized I turned on the wrong burner to make coffee. I told myself I was tired and that I deserved more sleep.

Then I reminded myself why I get up this early – to do my thing, to get going, to start. I made a commitment to myself to write every morning. This day mustn’t be different.  I had no idea what I’d write about, I just knew I needed to start.

For a Commitment to be real, you need both Decision and Action. A Decision without Action is just a wish. Lots of people have wishes. Action without Decision, and pretty quickly you’re left without a reason. You can only push yourself so long before you lose motivation. Decision is the “what” and the “why.” Action is the “how” and “now.”

Commitment is why I registered for my first 100-mile ultra. I’ve been training every week since Uberman, putting in miles and workouts but without a clear reason or race to keep going. No Commitment made it easier to eat pizza instead of salad on Friday nights. No Commitment made it easy to go a little lighter or skip stretching at night.

But the thing is, taking Action all the while – training even without a Commitment – got me to a point of Decision. Action precipitated the Decision. That’s why I say – do something, anything. Just start. Action got me to ask myself why I was doing this. And once committed, my actions improved even more – 15-milers instead of 9-milers and track repeats instead of easy five-milers.

I still have to play mind games to get going and to keep going.  It’s on the toughest days and times that Action is the most important – days when you feel what Steven Pressfield calls “The Resistance.”  The toughest days show you how your body and mind respond. Action is simply putting your mind and body in motion – it’s putting yourself to work for your Self. Even if you have to back off what you planned, it’s that you took Action that matters. Just start.

Write the first sentence. Do ten pushups. Walk the first mile. Pick up the phone. Make the first call.

Do something, anything, instead of nothing and later regretting that you never took a single step. Just get moving and life will show from there. Your mind will see the opportunity you’re presenting to yourself and construct a story for that day, that project or that workout. Even if you don’t have it that day, at least you started and kept to your commitment.

Yesterday, I didn’t have it. After four rounds of the “easy” workout I planned, I was lying on my back, breathless on the floor, staring at the garage ceiling wondering what was wrong with me. I wasn’t even sweating and I was completely spent. I’ve done ten rounds of this workout in the past. I laid there for a while, got up, did one more round and called it a day – half of what I planned. It was better than nothing and that one last round gave me some measure of gratification that I pushed past where I thought I was done.

The plan isn’t really that important anyway. A friend recently shared a Churchill quote with me – “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Steve Blank famously said “No plan survives first contact with the customer.

I have lots of plans, lots of ideas. Most of them are probably lousy anyway which is why I throw them away. The plan is just a decision. From there, it’s the Action that matters.

Do something, anything. Please, just start.

Go Farther.

Mind Games & Project Management to Endurance Training

I wrote about working in sprints earlier this week. I think the same goes with workouts in whatever training you’re pursuing. Whether you’re training for a 10k, half-marathon or 100-mile ultra, it’s all the same:

  • The Race = The “Project”
  • Weekly workout plan = “Weekly Workout Sprints” comprised of daily workouts.
  • Daily workouts = “Daily Sprint Sessions” or “Tasks.”

Each week, or my “Weekly Workout Sprints,” is different – they take on a personality and theme of its own.

Last week’s theme was “Do Miles.” I didn’t do any lifting or Cross-Fit except on Sunday morning. The rest of the week was focused on running and returning to an evening mobility routine. I did four runs of 9, 6, 5 and 13 miles to get myself above 30 miles in a week. I hadn’t done that many miles in a week in a while and the miles were mostly longer, slower miles.

The 9-mile run on Tuesday was very slow – running 9:00 (or slower miles). My 13-miler was with GVH so I ran 8:00/miles the whole way without intervals or pickups.

Only my 5-mile run on Friday when I went to the track was “hard” running where I did a ladder workout, going hard over increasing distances – 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, 1 mile, then back down the ladder to 1/4 mile with easy 1/4 mile segments between each hard segment.

This week’s theme is “Strength & Conditioning + Harder Miles” – more difficult, faster running and more strength and conditioning (SC). I’ve got three (3) SC sessions with fewer, but harder, miles in the week.

Strength & Conditioning:

  • Sunday: Hanging shoulder presses, followed by a CF workout of 4 x (5 pull-ups, 25 kettle bell swings & 15 goblet squats), then 2 x (5 pull-ups, 50 sit-ups)
  • Tuesday: Deadlifts with 5 pull-ups between sets, followed by a CF workout: 4 sets of Russian twists and Burpee Boxjumps. (I was toasted after this one…)
  • Friday (planned): Hanging shoulder presses, then CF with kettle bell swings and a 10-minute hard run.

Running:

  • Monday & Tuesday: off-days to recover from Saturday’s long run and Sunday’s strength & conditioning work.
  • Wednesday: 7-mile run consisting of a 2-mile warm-up then 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery) for the next four miles, then a 1-mile cool down.
  • Thursday: Track workout – 3 x 1-mile time trial (TT) runs with a 1/4 mile recovery in between, for a grand total of 4 miles. Eventually, I get that up to 5-7 mile TT runs, but for now, three miles was all I needed.
  • Friday (planned): Time permitting after the SC workout, I’ll add a few easy miles to experience running after a hard SC workout.
  • Saturday (planned): 13 miles with intervals scattered throughout. This is a group run with GVH so I’ll need to figure out who to do the intervals while sticking with the group.

Having a theme each week helps me justify whatever pain I might feel along the way with each workout. Each workout is just a “task” or “daily sprint session” in my “weekly project sprint,” and each workout, set or interval is just a “job” within the “task” or “daily sprint session.” When I’m doing 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery), it’s hard and it’s painful, especially the early intervals when I’m still getting my body revved up. Keeping a mindset that each interval gets me closer to finishing the day’s workout helps me bear the discomfort of that particular rep or interval. In other words, mind games…

Using the 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery) workout as an example, I’ll think to myself:

  • Rep #1: Okay, let’s just do the first one to get started. Once I get started, then I’m on the way.
  • Reps #2-3: We’re on our way. Get to the midway point of the workout, then I’m on the downside.
  • Rep #4: Woohoo! Halfway done!
  • Rep #5-6: On the downside, just a couple more after these.
  • Rep #7: Only one more after this one
  • Rep #8: Last one, then we can jog it home.

Same goes with Cross-Fit workouts where I’m doing 4-10 sets in a workout. I break down the thinking into individual goals I’m hitting along the way. For me, reaching the midway point is the tipping point for most workouts – once I’m halfway, I know I’ve got whatever workout I’m doing licked.

Finally, I apply the same breakdown strategy within sets. If I’m doing sets of 25, I think:

  • Reps 1-5: Getting started
  • Reps 6-10: Now I’m in this
  • Reps 11-15: Get to 15 and then I have 10 left, and I can do 10 of anything
  • Reps 16-20: Only 5 more after these
  • Reps 21-25: Last five
  • …then I’ll add 1-2 more reps as buffer for any bad reps in the set: I can do a couple more. The 1% rule…

For me, this process generates confidence at the end of long training cycle leading up to a race when, despite following whatever training program, however rigorous, when I’m feeling like I could have done more. If I’ve put in the time along the way and completed my “daily workout tasks” and “weekly workout sprints” then the completion of those tasks should yield a successful “Project”for me – a solid race with the opportunity to hit whatever time or completion goals I’ve set.

Looking back, I’ve almost always hit my time and races goals. Using my Ironman races as examples:

  • Ironman #1 Goal (2010): sub-13:00 attained [Race report here.]
  • Ironman #2 Goal (2011): sub-12:00 attained [Race report here.]
  • Ironman #3 Goal (2013): sub-11:00 missed… came in at ~11:15 in gnarly windy conditions on the bike. [sadly, no race report yet…]
  • Completed my first ultra marathon (2015) [Race report here.]

(Wait a minute… Maybe I should set more difficult race goals…? Oh no! Confidence crisis!)

If you’re struggling to keep motivated in a given day or week, try the mindset that each week and each workout is just another task or sprint along the way to a winning project.

Put Your Self First #gofarther

I failed this morning. I knew last night what I was going to write about. I devoted part of my Morning Pages to it just so I’d be primed and ready to go. Yet, before I cracked open my laptop, I put others first instead of my Self.

I peeked at my email only to find out that a new client scheduled to start today backed out and another prospect decided to work with a pro-bono consultant instead of paying me.

The thing is, from a business standpoint, I don’t even care about the losing these guys. My business is strong and clients like this can end up being difficult anyway. Trust me, I want to help them and know that I can, and I know they’re in for a tough road ahead without me. But, why the hell did I do that to my Self?

The morning is MY time – for Morning Pages, for meditation, for writing – and I put other people, people literally on the other side of the world, first instead my Self.

Dammit, Scott. Put your Self first.

Protect your Self because no one else will. They’ll take, punch, kick, push and slam your Self. They don’t even know they’re doing it (usually). They’re just out for themselves, unaware of their own Self.

Just because someone asks and just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should.

“But they’re really expecting me to do this…”

God I hate that. Unless it’s a “HELL YEAH!,” it has to be a “no.” Friends included. Especially friends. If they’re really your friends, they’ll understand. Don’t worry. They’ll figure it out without you…

Be the CEO of your Self – make unpopular decisions. Unfollow Negative Nancy. Heck, skip Facebook altogether for a day. No one will miss you. Seriously. I know I won’t. Go into airplane mode and be present. The world will still be here when you come back.  I’d rather you read the last chapter of that novel than read one of my posts.

We’ve all had friends struggling with anxiety or stress or sadness. How many times is that anxiety, stress and sadness caused by someone else – someone they’ve let bully their Self? We tell our friend to say no. We say – “tell them to fuck off!” We advise them – “you should totally go to that yoga class!”

Then how many times do we ignore this advice for our own Self?

Saunter. Doodle. Sing.

Buy some persimmons, or blueberries, or beets, or bacon, or a burrito.

Talk a walk. Exercise. Breathe.

Make time. Sleep.

If you don’t put your Self first, you can’t be your best Self, and guess what? The world needs your best Self.

At breakfast this morning, my son, eating eggs with ketchup, wearing his blue Elsa dress, watching our science project concoction of baking soda and vinegar bubble in a bowl, asked questions that four-year-olds ask – “Why does Mowgli wear a grass skirt in Jungle Book?” and “Why do the good guys want to beat the bad guys in Star Wars?”

I gave him satisfactory answers, but those emails were festering – “Do those guys really think they can get the same help for free? What is wrong with them? What is wrong with me?” He didn’t get my best Self.

I’m nervous about hitting ‘publish’ right now. I’m worried about what others will think… how they will react… what they will say…

But this is my blog. This is my writing. This is my time. This is my Self.

And I choose to put my Self first.

50-Mile Ultra Marathon Race Report: The 2015 North Face Endurance Challenge

SPOILER ALERT! 

Reaching the finish line:

Yeah, I was pretty damn happy.

WRAP-UP & WHAT’S AHEAD

Here’s my race report, 13 months later… The rough draft’s been sitting in my Evernote since last Christmas and I figure it’s time to push this one out… Plus it’s fun to remember the success as I look ahead to 2017. It was a good exercise for me to review what I did to prepare for the 50-miler in 2015, a full six months before I even started on my Uberman odyssey in 2016, especially now that I’m registered for my first 100-mile ultra in March 2017. More on that decision in the coming weeks.

Now onto the report…

THE DAY BEFORE

I worked in San Francisco the day before with all of my racing gear, commuting via Amtrak from Davis, then took a ferry to Larkspur, and from there I walked to my hotel – The Courtyard Marriott – selected because it was only 0.2 miles from one of the shuttle stops that carried racers to the starting area and I had enough Marriott Points to grab a free night. 🙂 Parking is sparse at the race start area, so the shuttle was definitely the way to go.

I arrived to the hotel around 1:00pm, checked in and worked from my room, then focused on organizing myself for the race.

For lunch, I had a Togos veggie sub and my pre-race dinner included a big salad and a gourmet burger. I’m a bit ashamed of the Togos sub, but options where surprising light in the hotel area. In both cases, I ate more bread that day than I do in month, some for the carbs and some to help block up my digestive track because I tend to have voluminous bowel movements on race morning, and I had been experiencing some as well on my long training days, mostly due to my conversation to a mostly plant-based diet. I wanted to circumvent digestive system issues if at all possible.  (Yes, such topics are normal conversations in my world…)

I was pretty nervous in the hotel, thinking about the day ahead – whether I was kidding myself about my preparation (more below on my training program). I was also feeling a bit sick with a cold, and as always, I lamented that maybe I didn’t train enough or do enough miles or do enough to prevent injury.

 

I got to bed before 8am, flipped on the TV and major score! I caught the end of “Blades of Glory” and the first part of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” I pretty much tossed and turned all night, waking up every hour to either fidget or use the bathroom.

WAKE-UP CALL

I set the alarm for 2:30am to catch the 3:00am bus to the starting area for the 5:00am start. I’m a beauty in the morning…

Event days are are long days, which is why the sleep two nights before a race is more important than the night before a race. I had Starbucks Via packets for coffee, a Clif Bar and a banana or two for breakfast. I mostly just wanted to get up and out to the race start area ASAP. It takes me a while to my body moving in the morning for training and racing. I don’t dilly dally, I just seem to have a lot of steps in my process. I got my race bags together, dropped off my computer and clothes at the front desk for Lena to pick up later and headed to the bus stop.

The shuttle ride was quiet. It’s a weird scene. You can feel the anticipation of everyone headed out there. We all try to act relaxed –  “Ho hum, just knocking out a 50-mile run this morning…” Truth is that everyone is scared shitless. Everyone had put in their hours of training, imagining this day every day for months, and now it was here. We all knew that this is it – the crescendo to the training, time and sacrifices that you and your family has made to get you there.

PRE-RACE, START & THE FIRST MILE

The shuttle arrived around 3:30am. It was a chilly morning, but not cold.  I dressed well in several layers – tights and sweats on my legs and several layers of shirts and a jacket on my torso. Once I checked in, I found a place to camp out under a tent to begin stretching and to prep my drop bags. I chatted with a couple of women, one was probably in her late 50s and was waiting to hear if she made it into the Western States 100 by way of lottery. Not her first rodeo on the ultra circuit. 😃

I put together my drop bag that included a bag of Hammer Perpetuem drink mix, a change of shirt and socks and a few other items that I can’t remember, then and checked in the bag. With nothing to do now, I was just killing time, taking my time stretching, using the bathroom, waiting for the coffee tent to open. Yum! Yum! when it finally did about 20 minutes before race start.

Racers migrated to the starting area about 5-10 minutes before 5:00am.  I was in Wave 5, which considering the race length and relativelu small number of racers (roughly 300-400), having waves seemed a little silly, save for making sure the pros were comfortably positioned at the front. I can see doing the waves in a marathon with 1000s of runners. For a 50-miler, the crowd from the starting line dissipates pretty quickly.

The clock struck 5:00am and off we went!

The first mile was just about realizing the race had finally come. I was mostly shuffling along to warm up and enjoy the fact that the day had begun – I was on the course and moving. Woohoo! From here, it was all about focusing on the next segment, then a mile at a time and returning to the finishing gate in one piece in a reasonable amount of time, uninjured.

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MILES 2-14: AND AWAY WE GO!

After a couple of relatively flat miles, we hit our first big climb. Everyone around me stopped and walked, which was my plan too. Plenty of chances ahead to run. I just wanted to situate my body and mind, and focus on reaching my first big landmark – the Mile 9 aid station.

This segment was very peaceful. The sky was dark with stars everywhere above and headlamps lining the trail ahead. Conversations with scattered enthusiasm from running neighbors quieted and I listened to the “crunch crunch crunch” of rocks under my feet. I had a moment of panic when I realized I’d left my supplements back at the race start -– Endurolytes, Race Caps and the like. I let it pass quickly and accepted that there was nothing i could do, and with the weather what it was, I didn’t feel like I absolutely needed them.

Once over and down the first climb, I dropped off my headlamp at the aid station (that later went missing and I never got back… :-/). I took time to balance my accouterments, retie my shoes and prep for the next five miles to the bottom of a long gnarly climb that started at mile 14.

This is where it felt like the day began. The first nine miles were a precursor in a way – a microcosm of the the rest of the day – running on a short spell of flats, walking up a big climb, pacing myself on the downhills, monitoring and adjusting my physical and mental state and walking up the inclines.

My strategy was to reach Mile 14 feeling good and warmed up, then walk from Miles 14-18 up the big climb, then know that once I got up to the top of the big climb at mile 18, then it was a bunch of rolling hills then a long descent to Mile 27 where I’d pick up James, my pacer. So even here at Mile 9, I was thinking about those next 18 miles, chunking them into manageable pieces.

After reaching the segment peak, there was a long, steep, treacherous downhill, including sections with craggy rocks jutting out from ground and steps built into the trail. I felt like I should be making up time on the downhill, but also didn’t want to crash and tumble into the ocean because that was definitely possible.

The top of the climb rewarded us with a view of the Pacific Ocean and the red sky reflecting the sunrise behind us. Magical. After a steep descent, I hit Mile 14. This stretch was familiar to me – it was here on my 50K attempt in 2010 that I felt the first twinge of a calf injury that eventually caused me to withdraw from that event by Mile 18. Psychologically, it was a little spooky at first to hit this same stretch. Today was different – I was good and strong today. Squarely in the 11:00-minute mile pace, I felt fresh and was nearly through a third of the race already!

MILES 14-18: THE BIG, LONG, SLOW CLIMB

This section started with switchbacks where I alternated between running and walking – running the flatter sections and walking the steeper ones. Even in walking, my pace wasn’t much slower or was equal to runners trying to run the inclines expending lots more energy that me.

I reached the mile 18 aid station feeling very accomplished. The course does a lollipop, and this stop doubles as the Mile 31 aid station atop a long painful climb aptly named “Cardiac.” (More on this later when I talk about my experience with this stretch.) Here, I saw a pro competitor coming up the last few steps of Cardiac. He was 13 MILES AHEAD OF ME ALREADY! Incredible.

I didn’t know who he was at the time, just that he was a complete badass to be at mile 31 when I was reaching mile 18. The dude was just humming along and it reminded me that one of the best parts about these long events is that I am running the same course as the pros. When the race starts, just like an Ironman race we all have the same challenge – the same obstacles, climbs, and distances, and that when I finish, I’ve completed the same challenge as the pros.

Later, I found the post-race interview with this runner and race winner, Zach Miller.

Seeing that Zach won a whopping $10,000 shows that the pros are out here because they love it. They’re not making millions of dollars, and in most cases, not even making $100k a year as athletes. They’re doing it for the love of the grind [INSERT LOVE THE GRIND] and the sport. This is something rewarding and redeeming to me, especially compared to Ironman races which have quickly increased their commercial value with more athlete sponsorships and higher paydays. The age grouping and competition for Kona spots becomes tiresome. Grant it, even the top Ironman athletes are barely breaking even each year too, and the ultra running competitors are an even earthier crowd.

It was also here that I knew I had this race beat. I knew if I could stay healthy, I’d be able to finish – I was fit and prepared – leaving the Mile 18 aid station feeling confident.

Mile 18-21: UP & DOWN

This stretch included a bit more climbing and a few places to open up and do some running. Coming out of the mile 18 aid station, I hit the eucalyptus forest and the single-track with two-way traffic. The single-track was a little frustrating because there were logjams with 10+ racers in a single line plus runners coming back the other way. Those of us in the outbound direction stepped off the trail to make way for the returning runners – that only seemed fair to the faster competitors. And I also I hoped that meant for good karma coming back… Not exactly altruistic, but that’s the way it goes…

I began drinking Coca-Cola at the mile 18 aid station to give myself a little boost, and began a concoction of water, Coca-Cola and whatever drink mix was left in my bottle. Interesting flavor that somehow tasted good.

With the slower pace, I kept reminding myself that there was still more than half the course left and that I should be thankful for the opportunity to conserve energy. I tucked in behind a couple of guys that I found to be relaxing and entertaining. The Bearded Guy was an ultra veteran, talking to his running mate about various runs in Colorado and other places in the nether regions of the ultra running land. They had no desire to run faster and Bearded Guy seemed to be simply pulling his buddy along. That was cool to see.

We finally hit a somewhat open stretch and I asked Bearded Guy if I could pass. “Yeah dude. Whatever you need. It’s all good. You just let me now when.” Once passed, I made my way up to the mile 22 aid station. I was still under a 12:00/mile pace at this point, and I expected to pick up some time on the descent down to Mile 27 where I’d pick up my pacer, James.

MILES 22-27: THE FIRST FALL

The good feelings continued at the Mile 22 aid station. Yes, I felt tired, but still strong and confident. My strength, conditioning and training that focused on building a “go all day” heart rate was paying off. I knew that I had mostly downhill for the next five miles, and that was exciting to me – I had made it to the zenith of the course, and James would be awaiting me in just five miles.

In this stretch, I did get back some of the course karma with outbound racers mostly stepped aside as I worked through the return.

The downhill started gently then got gnarly for the next three miles. For all of the open grassy switchbacks on miles 14-18 on the way up, steep, wooded switchbacks with tree roots and exposed rocks pestered me on the downhill.

I attached myself to a train of runners – about eight of us that kept a nice, steady pace so that I could see where the trail was going next by following the bright jacket colors ahead of me and focus on footing. We encountered plenty of day hikers coming up the hill, and having a train of runners helped to have the hikers step aside for us. Most of the hikers had a look of confusion and partial astonishment in seeing scores of runners zip past them.

As I watched my Garmin click off to Mile 27, I felt a sense of personal satisfaction that I had now run longer than I had ever done in my life. More than a marathon!!

And then almost immediately thereafter…

OOMPH!!!

I fell.

Hard.

Fortunately two things happened. First, I rolled my body to the side and landed on my shoulder rather than flat on my face. This cushioned the fall instead of scraping my hands and face. Second, my head landed about six inches short of a large rock. Whew. Another six inches and I probably would have cracked open my head. Who knew you needed a helmet for ultra running?

As I fell, I heard a runner behind me yell – “Ahhhh!” My fall disrupted the rhythm of the runners directly behind me who had to pull up to keep from tripping on me. The guy either cramped or jammed his hamstrings. (Hamstrings take the brunt of the force headed downhill, so stopping quickly puts even more torque on this muscle group.)

I took a second to take stock of how I felt– nothing broken and head in tact – then asked the guy me if he was okay, and luckily he was.

“Okay,” I thought. “Let’s keep going.”

I got back up and kept on the descent, reaching the Mile 27 aid station with James there, ready to rock. I took a few extra minutes here to stock up on food and clear the rocks from my shoes.

By the bottom on the descent, I barely scratched back any time on the 12:00/mile pace. Kind of a bummer, but still feeling good and strong. More than half the course was behind me, I had a pacer for most of the rest of the way. Just time to start thinking about getting into the 30s and 40s, then finishing this thing.

MILES 28-31: HIKING

Cardiac. Yep. That’s about right. I picked up James as a pacer and about the only thing we did for the next three miles was walk. Pretty frustrating. The trail was so steep that steps were built into the hill. Not even a gentle slope to jog a bit. I even joked with James – “You signed up to be a pacer and instead you get to hike.”

James was great. Really great. He kept saying – “This is awesome. I get to be out here in Muir Woods and nature. No worries. I can’t believe how beautiful it is out here!”

I never hit a truly dark moment in the race, though this section was one of two low moments. The slow move up Cardiac was a real bummer. After watching my pace per minute drop down into the 11:40s at the course peak, I watched seconds tick higher and higher until I was well past 12:00 minute miles. This was frustrating mostly because I felt good and wanted to run but couldn’t because of the steepness and terrain.

We hit some single track flats on the way to the Mile 31 aid station where I saw the course leader TWO HOURS AGO! That made his pace even more amazing to me. I was about six hours into my race hitting Mile 31and he hit this point at only four hours. Really amazing.

This was a big spot for me. In training leading up to the race, I thought about dropping back to do the 50k instead of the 50-miler. Now I knew that had I chosen to drop back to the 50k instead, I would have regretted it because I had plenty of gas in the tank and I would have missed out on pushing well past my previous limits.

I took a while at this station, rummaging through my drop bag,changing into a fresh shirt and restocking my nutrition. James was awesome. He helped me reset, filled my water bottle and got me square.

Feeling we reached a new beginning, I felt ready to finish. Less than 20 miles to go.

Let’s do this.

Off we went.

MILES 32-45: WINNING THE DAY

I only remember moments in bits and pieces from this part of the course – hitting a good stride for a while after Cardiac and making up some time, running through Muir Woods and forest and really feeling like we were pacing and making good time, passing a group of 4-5 slower runners on a downhill set of steps and one of them pulling up lame, and feeling that I caused that by trying to pass him and forcing him to change his stride and asking if he was okay, and while he said yes, I’m still not convinced I hadn’t caused it.

I remember passing a couple of racers on the 50k course and hearing them say – “A lot of these guys passing are doing the half-marathon…” then thinking- “Well I’m not one of them! I’m doing the 50-miler and I’m passing you!”

I remember tripping on an exposed tree root and landing pretty hard, and James asking how I was. “Let’s keep going. You fall off a horse, you get right back on it.” I really wanted to remain undeterred in getting to the finish.

I remember working back to the Mile 14 area of the course and making really good time. We were running an 8:30 pace on a flat area. Around mile 40, I asked James – “What time of day is it?” It was just past 1:00pm.

“If I run 11:00 minute miles from here out, I’ll break 10 hours.” I felt that good that Iet myself think this. I knew I had the course licked and I was seriously thinking I could run 11:00s from here to the end, even if I hadn’t considered whether the course would let me.

We reached the bottom of the hill and a rest stop. I turned and saw a huge open climb ahead on the fire trails. Starting the climb, we passed a couple of hikers who asked how far we were running. James told them – “50 miles.” Then they asked how far we’d gone so far today. With pride, I said – “We’re on mile 42.” It before 2pm and I’d freaking run 40+ miles already today! Even better, I knew I’d finished the full 50 miles save for a freak injury.

On this climb, we tried to jog the slight inclines, but there was little we could do. The climb was ferocious. We hit a turn that I thought was the peak and looked up only to see another long section of at least a half-mile of more climbing.

I blurted out: “That’s just gross.”

We eventually made it to the top and were treated to another long smooth descent, then back down to the mile 45 aid station where James would ceremoniously take leave of his pacer duties. His work was done. It was up to me now to finish the last 5-6 miles. Thank you, James!

I still felt good and strong (relatively speaking of course…), especially after the long descent with good pace.  A volunteer told me that the rest of the course was easy, and nothing would be as hard as what I’d been through. I was skeptical because I knew there was one more climb, but she remained steadfast on her message.

MILES 45-47: ONE LAST CLIMB

Out of the aid station, I immediately hit a climb. I remembered this climb from the half-marathon event I did here back in 2009, and I remembered it being tough but not heart-breaking. The problem was that there were no flat sections. It was all walking. My hopes of breaking ten hours were severely dampened, but not completely obliterated.

I told myself to stay patient and just get to the top to the last aid station. So I did. I kept a solid walking pace, passing other competitors.

THE BIG FINISH: MILES 48-50

At the last aid station around mile 47, I knew I had only downhill to go. I refilled one more time and prepared for one last push.

Coming out of the station, I heard a pair of runners talking – “I’ve got 30 minutes to get there.” His friend said “Go for it man.” I asked if he was going for a 10:15 race and he said “10:30.” The timing didn’t make sense to me. He took off and started bombing down the hill. I figured what the heck and I did my best to keep up with him.   I couldn’t but at least I had a rabbit ahead and a reason to keep pushing. The first mile or so from the aid station was a steep, rocky fire trail, so I made sure to use some caution to avoid a catastrophe. Then the course descent leveled off to a nice downhill and I pushed, running about an 8:30 pace.

The course worked down to the main road leading to the finishing gate. There was a slight incline and I kept pushing. Coming around the bend, I could see the field and the gate and then a feeling of utter elation came over me.

I crossed the line just before 3:12pm, which put me at a 10 hour, 09 minute day. (It took about three minutes to hit the starting line with my wave.). Wow. Awesome. Just awesome. And I felt like I could have gone more – another 25 if the course had required. Easy to say that post-race with no more miles ahead and adrenaline pumping, but I’m sure I had much more in the tank.

What a day. What a finish. What a sense of accomplishment.

NORTH FACE RACE ORGANIZATION & EXECUTION

I’ll hand it to North Face – the know how to put on an event. While there were a couple of hiccups along the way – the online registration app wasn’t working and I had to email and call to register which was kind of annoying, though they did answer the phone and respond to emails quickly. They lost my headlamp when I dropped it off at the Mile 9 aid station and made it up by responding to my emails and sending a replacement headlamp from those that went unclaimed.

This was my third North Face Endurance Challenge event. I did a half-marathon way back in 2009 and then attempted the 50k race in 2010 (the one from which I withdrew). Super job at the race start and finish – everything from tons of Port-o-Johns to race help to food and heaters. They run a top notch event and I’d definitely recommend any of The North Face Endurance Challenge events. In fact, James went back a year later and slain the 50-miler himself!

MY TRAINING PROGRAM:  STRENGTH, MOBILITY, FEWER MILES & MANAGING INJURY

I had a good fitness base going into specific event training in September – the Donner Half-Iron race in July and the Touch ’n Go 2.5 Alcatraz swim – to put me at a good place cardiovascularly. The swim training in particular gave my body a rest from the heavy running work.

Most of my running focused on keeping runs easy, light, and smooth with a big focus on heart rate. I only used my Garmin on training runs occasionally – about once a week for shorter runs just to make sure that I was keeping a consistent heart rate, and  for all of my longer weekend runs. For me, running under 140 bpm is a very good place, and on several longer runs in the 9-12 mile range, I was down in the 133-137 range.  On some of my longer training runs, my heart rate dropped down to 130 which was a bit alarming in that my body temperature would also drop and I’d feel cold even though I’d be 15 or 16 miles into a running session, but not low enough that I was experiencing bonk.

In total, I did only four long runs in the 17-19 mile range, each one the day after a 12 mile run the day prior. I tried to hit some semblance of hills by driving to Cantelow on a couple of occasions. I also did some running in San Francisco when I was there for work overnights. I knocked out my final long run on Thanksgiving morning on the trails at Forest Park in Portland – doing nearly 19 miles at a sub-10:00/pace over 2500 feet of elevation gain. That’s when I knew I was either ready or not for this thing.

My biggest goal was to get to the starting line without injury. At most, my body can handle 35-40 miles a week in total miles. I tried to inch up to a 50 mile week, and I could feel my knees, calves, and body generally feeling cranky on me.

I did mobility work about five nights a week, spending 10-20 minutes stretching my quads and hip flexors with ”Couch stretch,” my hamstrings and calves with a lacrosse ball, and rolling my calves and quads. Each leg and muscle group got two minutes of attention, thus the 10-20 minutes total. I would do the same before training runs, and a bit after. Mostly I was worried about my body holding up to the miles. In my two previous ultra attempts, I had to quit because of injury – once during the race and once before I could even get to the starting line. Check out “Ready to Run” by Kelly Starrett & TJ Murphy. (And thanks to Lena, who of course found the book for me…)

After my first two long runs, I decided that I would probably need to skip the eventual 30 mile day that I planned early in my training schedule for two reasons:

1) Time available to train: 30 miles in a day is a really long day. Even getting up at 4am and starting a run at 5am, with stops and rest and everything else that goes into a 30 mile run, that’s a 5-6 hour training session, which just seemed to be too much.

2) My body’s message to me: When I hit the 18-mile mark on runs, while I felt muscularly and cardivascularly that I could do more miles, it just felt like my legs and joints were telling me otherwise  “Dude chill. That’s all we’re doing today.”

I decided about six weeks before race day that I would rather do a solid, strong 18 miles than struggle to eek out a 30 miler and risk injury. About then, I also began introducing a few basic Crossfit workouts into my routine to give myself a strong midsection and core. Occasionally I’d throw in a few planks or stability work. These workouts were mostly body weight and kettle bell work with movements and exercises such as:

  • Burpees
  • Candlesticks
  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Goblet squats
  • One-armed snatches
  • Kettle bell swings

An example workout would be 4 sets:

  • 25 push-ups or Burpees
  • 25 Sit-ups
  • 25 Kettle bell swings
  • 25 Squats (either goblet or air)

I also used my Elevation Mask regularly, including one run in San Francisco on the hills from the Marina to Pacific Heights then through the Presidio. Again, working on my breathing and heart rate. I figured if I could get into top cardiovascular fitness and was muscularly stronger enough, I could eschew training miles and manage my way through race day.

My one injury occurred trying to squeeze in a quick Cross-Fit workout one night at a hotel gym in late October. I didn’t warm up properly and jumped right into an exercise like the one shown above. I ended up tearing the tendon on my pubis bone. At the time, I thought it was a lower abdominal pull and I was able to manage through it.

In early 2016, I visited a sports doctor and a specialist who informed me of what the injury was. Unfortunately, this injury doesn’t heal without either surgery or LOTS of rest. It’s now January 2017 and I’m still at the same spot with this injury 15 months later… Kinda sucks. I need to figure this one out…

NUTRITION & EATING

For the months leading up to the race, I started and kept on a mostly vegetarian diet, partly for health and partly experimental. Most of my protein came from avocados, seeds, nuts and dairy. I did use some protein supplements and ate protein bars.  I wanted to scale back “bad” meats, especially processed meats or poorly farmed meat, and I wanted to see if would maintain the same, or better, nutrition and health without meat. As described in my detailed post about this decision, I’d been reading about more and more ultra athletes going straight vegan. I wasn’t ready to go that far, but did want to try a shift.

I can’t say one way or another if the diet made a difference. This got me eating far more salads – usually a salad as the main course for most meals, especially breakfast and dinner. Along with my mobility and strength work, I was able to stay injury free and I do attribute my recovery time between workouts to my diet and nutrition.

As a manner of habit, I also stay away from simple sugars and carbohydrates. I do eat a lot of fruit – bananas, apples, strawberries and whatever else is in season. While these all have sugar, they also have fiber to help with digestion. I skip bread, pasta and anything with added sugar. So while not officially “low carb,” I am definitely carb-conscious.

Post-race, I barely felt any soreness whatsoever. While I wasn’t interested in hitting the trail the next day, or even for a few days, my recovery time was very short.

COMPUTER OUTPUTS

My computer outputs from my Garmin activities page for the event:

screenshot-2017-01-09-10-20-19

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