Monday, July 21, 2014

The First Steps (Out the Door) Are Often the Toughest - Original 6 Hundo Challenge aka #O6HC Blog Entry 01

"You are capable of more than you know.  Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path.  Aim high.  Behave honorably.  Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure.  Persist!  The world needs all you can give."
-E.O. Wilson

*Original 6 Hundo Challenge (#O6HC) - the first six hundred mile trail races to exist in the United States, in order of inception: Western States, Squaw Valley, CA to Auburn, CA (1974), Old Dominion, Fort Valley, VA (1979), Wasatch Front, Utah (1980), Leadville Trail, Colorado (1983), Angeles Crest, Wrightwood, CA to Pasadena/Altadena (1986), and Vermont (1989)  * - this challenge has historically been known by the title the Last Great Race which is presently "on hiatus".  Out of respect to the organizer, we've chosen to call the challenge another name until we are able to register for the LGR officially.

It's been quite a 9 month stretch since I completed the 2013 Angeles Crest 100 (AC) and Leadville Trail 100 (LT) inside of a two week period (well, 2 weeks, 1 day and a couple-few extra hours).  I spent about 10 days post that 100-mile double challenge hibernating, as it f**king wrecked me.  So, sounds like a perfectly rational idea to run 6 hundreds (the first 6 hundred mile trail races that existed in the United States) in a 13 week period, right?!?  A long-standing motto of mine: the worst ideas often make the best stories.

To begin with, I blame the seed for this idea being planted on Andy Kumeda.  In 2007, we were chatting in Wrightwood awaiting the check in for the Angeles Crest Endurance Run.  Andy had attempted to run these same six races in 2007 and going into AC Andy was 4-for-5 having timed out at that year's #4 (Leadville), at Mile 60.  I was still floored, as he had finished the Wasatch Front 100 (WF)  in 35:57 (with less than 3 minutes to spare) and was attempting to complete AC only 6 days after that finish.  The 2007 Angeles Crest became my first ever DNF at any race of any distance (it was my only hundred attempt in 2007). I pulled out about halfway through (Mile 49, Mt. Hillyer) with some breathing problems that may or may not have been hypoxia or the early stages of hyponatremia.  Andy finished AC with a couple/few hours to spare.  He vowed to give these 6 hundos another shot as soon as he got back into the Western States 100 (States), and 7 years later, here we are.

I personally loved the idea of The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (the Slam) which is 4 of the original 6 hundreds, about one per month, but have some longer term goals at Angeles Crest, so while I wanted to run Western States, the Vermont 100 (VT), Leadville and Wasatch in the same summer, I felt too impatient to skip AC for a summer (FOMO in LA is particularly fierce).  Angeles Crest used to be late-September/early-October as recently as 2008, but has been moved to July/August since the devastating Station Fire in 2009.  Now, with AC in late-July/early-August, it's sandwiched in between the only 4 week break in the Grand Slam, 2 weeks after Vermont, 2 weeks prior to Leadville.  I realized I'd be doing 5 of the original 6, looked up Old Dominion 100 (OD)which was formerly a part of the Grand Slam, between 1986 when Tom Green first finished OD, Western States, Leadville and Wasatch in the same summer, and Tom is at it again this summer 28 years later (Go Tom Go!). Old Dominion was a part of the Slam until 2003 when OD did not happen and Vermont has formally replaced it in the Slam every year since.  Since my modified Grand Slam (the Slam+AC) only allotted 2-3 weeks between each race, it didn't seem like much more of a stretch to throw in OD 3 weeks before that all began.  NOTE: I joked far too often that Old Dominion was my "warm-up race" and that joke bit me in the rear.  OD kicked my butt, and I was taught that joking about how one race will be easier is a very dangerous mental space to be in.

The Torrey Pines Glider Port (Cliff) Stairs and Blacks Beach
I DNF'd for the second consecutive February at a SoCal 50 mile race (2014 was the inaugural Sean O'Brien, a race I helped lay out, and test ran in October to create an elevation profile, and 2013 I failed to finish the Ray Miller 50 Mile before going on to complete Angeles Crest and Leadville later that year), and I'm holding my breath that it was a good omen (although I have to work out my string of lifetime DNF's the second time I run a course which includes 2 hundreds and 2 fifties).  That was a wake up call.  Training got a lot more consistent after that.  Life, however, failed to cooperate with my extended training plans for this challenge.  From February to late-May, ultimately I averaged 47.5 miles per week, which included an entire month where my mileage total didn't eclipse 62 miles (for the entire month!).  At one point, spent about 2 weeks with my mom who had a horseback riding accident that led to her fracturing L1 and requiring some significant medical care for the first phase of her recovery.  I got to know the running available in La Jolla, California pretty intimately as I'd help administer my mom's meds and home care, then head out the door for a couple hours of sand running & cliff repeats near the Torrey Pines Glider Port & Blacks Beach.  Looking back on this, it may have been the longest half month of my life.  Seeing a loved one that injured is beyond any emotional or physical stress I have ever experienced.  My mom is greatly improved (3 months into her recovery) and may have dodged a bullet not immediately needing a major 5 vertebrae spinal fusion surgery.  Yay, mom!  Got really sick for about 8 days after that, and didn't feel like myself (running or otherwise) for another 3-4 weeks.  When all that dust settled, I was 3 weeks from race #1 in the #O6HC

"Good judgment comes from experience.  Experience comes from bad judgment."

-Mark Twain

Instead of going through and writing a blow-by-blow recap of the 3 one-hundred mile races I've already gone through (which I promise to recap via podcast or video-blog, at the very least), I'll let you know a few of the epiphanies and reflections that could hopefully be more useful to you in your running or life goals.

*Never underestimate 100 miles  - researching all 6 races in this series, both Old Dominion and Vermont had the least aggressive elevation profiles and fastest historical finishing times.  I went into OD saying, "this is my warm up 100" and the race beat me down pretty soundly.  Kate has seen me run this distance at least a dozen times, and said she had never seen me looking that broken at the end of a race.  Every 100 will have it's own unique (and idiosyncratic) challenges.  Respect the distance.  Respect the conditions.  Seek to uncover the hidden challenges of an event prior to starting.  I was geared up for the challenge of the humidity, when my left peroneal tendon went out, I realize I had never considered what cambered country roads would do to me.

*Plan to flow (and how to flow when the plan disintegrates) - mentality conditioning is as important as physical conditioning in difficult life and running adventures.  Look to unlock your Zen by practicing some mantras and putting forth a positive perspective (or assigning silver linings to tough situations) in training and in life, prior to the adversity that will inevitably find you in your goal events.  In the early stages of the Vermont 100, I noticed a piece of trash on the trail, which I picked up to put in my handheld water bottle sleeve.  The paper, when examined, was from a fortune cookie.  The fortune?

"You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails."

Frolicking at Western States around Mile 38
This thought stuck with me the rest of the day.  I couldn't control when/where my difficulty would arise, but I could determine what attitude I approached the difficulty with, and make adjustments to my plan for that race.  That sourced me the rest of the day and worked very, very well.

*Far more fun to be had rooting FOR people than wasting energy rooting AGAINST someone - I have met and enjoyed the company of no less than 30 people over the 300 miles Andy and I have covered thus far (in Virginia, NorCal and Vermont).  To qualify that, I've talked to more than 300 people, but have held at least 3-5 minute conversations during the race, with probably around 1 person every 10 miles.  I love hearing a person's (aka new friend's) story.  Why they do this crazy $#!^ too, what they are up to in this one precious life of theirs.  First half of the race it's generally talking about life, goals and dreams type of stuff.  Second half of the race, often times we're talking about problems we're having, a running issue we need to trouble shoot, (adjusted) goals for the race, and how we can help each other achieve them.  The last time I remember actively rooting against some one (save any member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, LA Kings, or Dallas Cowboys) was Rollie the Goalie after seeing his cheap antics of the 2006 NHL Playoffs.  Honestly, don't even ask.  When it comes to ultrarunning, a few people have made it clear to me that they are rooting against me (again, don't ask) and I can't even find the energy to return favor.  There's so much goodwill, and positive humanity around 100 mile mountain races, I find that I want everyone to have their best day.  We all know we're in for trials, for discomfort or bone-jarring pain, and the day/night/day will be an adventure.  The kinship this activity breeds is what makes this community so special to me.  So even if I get it in my head that I want to "finish before you do" which never equates to me as "beating someone" as there are only a few rare friends I even think this way about (Mike Chamoun, Karl Hoagland, Eric Wickland, George Gleason, Kate Martini, etc.), I still want you to have your A+ day out there, and want it to be a fun story for both of us to share a beer over when we're long since old-and-gray.  So do what you can out there to help people succeed, yes, help your fellow competitors.  It will make you feel better (and forget your current issues for a moment).  That good mojo will feed back into your race.  But don't do it for the mojo.  Do it because you want to see yourself as kind, generous and graceful.  Never know, you might turn someone's day/race around.  That feels better than a finish (to me).

I could wax on (and wax off) a lot longer on these things, and these three races.  But there's a lot more decompressing to do, and 3 more races to "run".  I'm going to sign off now and get this thing up, as it's been too long a dry spell for this #WannaBeWriter

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

But I Don't Feel Like It Anymore - Commitment vs Feelings and Why You Should Do It Anyway

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable (of becoming)."
-Coach John Wooden

My first career (1995-2001) was inside and outside sales for a technology firm in Silicon Valley during the boom/bubble years.  That's a fancy way of saying that right out of high school I got a job working for my father's business partner Paul on business development of a new territory.  The new territory?  Southern California.

From 1995-1997 I went to school full time and worked part time developing new business making cold calls from a business guide.  This is prior to major & minor companies having robust websites and prior to Google telling me how to find any information on any company, product or person that has a public presence.  I had only an encyclopedia sized book, a company name, their product line and a phone number.  It was my job to call the receptionist, and somehow talk my way through the web of that company to get to someone who purchased electronic components from other companies to make the product that they sold.  Simple enough, right?  Only problem was that the bigger the company, the more intricate the web of people who didn't know what anyone else did, not to mention the bulldog receptionists and personal assistants that were hired and trained to be a firewall against calls like mine.

Paul, my mentor/boss, has completed many endurance rides/runs.
In 1997, Paul (co-founder of the company, Signet Technical Sales, later Signet LCD and then IDS) offered me a full time position.  I accepted and stepped full tilt into the corporate world, which included 10-15 hours a week of commuting (to and from San Jose) and 40-60 hour weeks.  "Salesmen have no hours!" Paul used to say, much like Alec Baldwin's character from my favorite movie about sales, "Glengary Glen Ross."  Back then, I would spend most of my day dialing up strangers and asking for a favor, "please tell me who I need to talk to who makes the decision on purchasing these parts for your products."  I got really clear that there were going to be good days and bad days.  Days I felt inspired to do it and days I didn't want to pick up the phone to encounter 43 more rejections in 44 calls (and the 1 other call was a voicemail).

My last full year at Signet (2001), I stopped commuting.  I moved from San Francisco to San Jose, and cut my 3 hours of daily driving to 15 minutes each way.  I suddenly had 2 to 2.5 hours per day I didn't even know what to do with.  I was inspired, energized and ready to train for my first marathon, something I had put off for 5-6 years.  I committed to run my first 26.2, which was actually the second time I made that commitment (it was first a New Year's Resolution in 2000, until I didn't feel like training anymore, about maybe 19 days later).

I had signed up for the San Diego Rock'n'Roll Marathon, I also booked the round trip flight from San Jose to San Diego for early June and I hired a coach to help guide me (shout out to Coach Kaley, the first coach I ever hired).  Problem was, I was overeager.  I trained myself right into an overuse injury (ITBS) within about 2-3 weeks.  I wanted to run, but I couldn't.  So Coach Kaley (a very talented triathlete) started working with me on swimming and biking (as much as sitting on a spin bike can be considered biking).

I cross trained for a full month, until I just didn't feel like it anymore.  My knee hadn't improved, and I still had pain after mile 2 on basically every run I'd go on to test it out, about every 2 weeks.  I stopped training altogether.  That was mid-February.  Late-May came up on me fast and I realized I had a trip to San Diego (flights booked, accommodations made) and suddenly I was feeling inspired again.  So I went for a few runs to shake off the rust, determined my knee didn't hurt at mile 2 anymore and flew to San Diego.

*Note: this is NOT my bib # from 2001
Along the way I had raised maybe $500-$900 for the NCCF, but it was all in $1-$2 per mile sponsorship donation checks.  I was certainly not fit for 26.2 miles straight, on roads.  But I also felt a sense of obligation to finish what I started since I couldn't donate checks for the amounts they were written out for if they were based on the miles I had committed to doing.  I was in a quandary: do I run a marathon and put myself at risk of re-aggravation of this injury that put me down for 3-4 months?  Do I not run it, yet send in the checks anyway?  Do I not run it and send the checks back to their donors?

I went into the marathon expo on Saturday and again was inspired by all the fit, healthy people. There were many charities there with teams, and coaches, and team colors.  I knew I had to send these checks in.  I also knew I needed to run the distance.  I also didn't want to spend another 4 months not being able to run.  I decided to walk 13-14 miles, Saturday.  I got the course map and followed it until I got to a freeway entrance (94 out of downtown SD) and elected to do another lap around Balboa Park.  I wrapped it up in about 4 hours (about 17-minute mile pace) and went to visit my sister for dinner in La Jolla.  Sunday morning I caught a cab to Sea World, and at about the mile 14 mark I waited for the race to come by.  I watched the elites, the sub-3 national class athletes, the age groupers, and somewhere about an hour later jumped into the fray.  Again, I walked more than I ran, but I was coming up against my feelings of failure, the disappointment I wasn't an official participant (it was a chip race, and I'd never show up in the results).  But on the other side of those negative feelings, I was doing something maybe for the first time in my life, that wasn't going the way I envisioned it, and I was finishing it anyway.  My watch read 6-hours, 17-minutes when I hit the 26.2 mile mark, and based on when I started the day prior, my unofficial time would have read 22-hours, 17-minutes.  By all measures of marathon finishes, I was a DNS (on Sunday) or a DNF (on Saturday).  Two half marathons in back-to-back days is not a marathon.  But I sent in those checks and wrote a letter to everyone who donated, "I am happy to reimburse you if you object to the way I completed this marathon, and here's why you won't find me in any official results...".  It was a huge turning point in my life.

Officially finished my 1st marathon 16 months later.

Even today, I still come up against the feelings of "I don't want to train today, I just don't feel inspired or motivated to do it." and some days, those feelings win out.  But more often than not over the past 13 years, I cast my feelings and lack of motivation aside, and ask myself, "what am I committed to?" and often, the answer is pretty simple.  When you ask yourself what you're committed to, and weigh it against what you're feeling, whatever is bigger wins.  So my commitments have become huge, 'larger than me' type challenges, such that my fickle and ever-shifting feelings can be good, bad or ugly, but rarely are they bigger than my commitment to the goal.

You won't win this battle every day.  But the more you play this game, the stronger at "being your commitment" which is essentially "adhering to ones principles" instead of empowering your feelings which can change moment to moment, day to day and are as unpredictable as the weather.

What are you committed to?
*post a comment below and declare what you're committed to!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Heavy Lifting for the Runners' Mind - My Film List for the Mental Game

I'm fresh off of my second 50 mile DNF (both coming the first weekend in February on my sophomore run of a course in my Santa Monica Mountains backyard).  I know that my body didn't respond, part of which could have been just having an off day, and part of it definitely being undertrained.  I don't regret being undertrained, as my focus is on Summer 2014, and I now know there's no way I'm peaking too early.  But that's also my self-justification for not doing enough of the necessary grunt work, laying the foundation brick-by-brick.  I'm out the door for a run in a few.  One day at a time.  All that said, until my body failed me, my mind was solid in spite of a great number of problems out there.  That is one of my take-aways.  I have 4 months (or 17 weeks) to get in peak 100 mile shape.  I know my mind is ahead of that curve.

"Like success, failure is many things to many people.  With a positive mental attitude, failure is a learning experience, a rung on the ladder, a plateau at which to get your thoughts in order and prepare to try again."
-W. Clement Stone

Get to work on your mental game.

It seems like a general and broad-sweeping stroke.  But here's what I mean when I say that.  Workouts and physical fitness are only about half the story when it comes to setting new personal standards in speed or distance (or both).  You must develop the mental makeup so that you don't mentally breakdown.  There are a lot of ways to get there, and generally speaking, a coach will implement these things into your training runs (sometimes overtly and often times, like in my case, covertly).  You can always improve your mental game.  I love reading inspiring books and watching inspiring films (they absolutely do not need to be about running to be good for your mental game).

Here's a list of a few movies that really stoke my mental fire.  What I mean by that?  I cry tears of joy, tears of anguish and tears of being moved by the human spirit each and every time I watch them:

Pre's gutsy 5000 meter Olympic Final (actual event photo, not film)
MY TAKE: There are 2 movies about Prefontaine's life, this film is just that, a film.  The other (Prefontaine) is a mock-umentary, and is good, but not great (it's great material/story, but poorly executed from a filmmaking standpoint, love some of the performances though).

SYNOPSIS: A film about the late Oregon running legend Steve Prefontaine and his coach, Bill Bowerman. Bowerman helped create a generation of world-class runners at the University of Oregon and went on to coach at the Olympics. An enigmatic, commanding man, revered by his team and respected the world over for his training accomplishments, he became Pre's close friend and mentor. Although taken aback by Prefontaine's unwillingness to substitute strategy for a fervent desire to run at the front of the pack, Bowerman also respected the young track star and came to know him as few others did.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: Pre is arguably the James Dean of American Distance Running, so talented, so much promise, gone before we really knew what he could do.  It will give you the fire to be the best runner you can be, and give your best effort every time you race.

QUOTE I LOVE"The real purpose of running isn't to win a race. It's to test to the limits of the human heart."

Ferg Hawke running through the valley of death
MY TAKE: A searing documentary about the BADWATER 135 Ultramarathon (aka the World's Toughest Footrace).  I've crewed/paced this race 3 times now, and I'll be stoked to be help another friend get this done this year, even though I can't attend the race.

SYNOPSIS: This 90-min documentary features Canadian Ferg Hawke as well as Scott Jurek, Dr. Ben Jones, Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, Monica Scholz, Pam Reed, Dean Karnazes, Marshal Ulrich and Mike Sweeney as they experience the BADWATER Ultramarathon. Footage from both the 2005 and 2006 races are included as well as interviews, course profile, blister care and finish line drama. The race itself is broken into the six legs and even after 90 miles three athletes are separated by only about a mile and a half. The finish is amazing with records falling and 11 athletes are shown crossing the line.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: Because if you're reading one of my blogs, let's be honest, you're already pretty silly, and there isn't much sillier than running 135-miles through Death Valley in the peak of summer heat.  In case of invisible self-limiting barriers, break glass (ceiling).  This movie will leave you without valid excuses.

QUOTE I LOVE"If you run long enough, something is bound to happen."

How many setbacks must one endure to realize an impossible dream?
MY TAKE: It is slow at points, but then again so is life.  If you patiently entrench yourself in this story, you'll feel Rudy's passion, his devastating lows and triumphant over-coming of long-shot odds.  I love this movie.

SYNOPSIS: Rudy has always been told that he was too small to play college football. But he is determined to overcome the odds and fulfill his dream of playing for Notre Dame.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: You don't have to like college football, this is a movie about having a tenacious spirit and chasing impossible dreams.

QUOTE I LOVE"In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself."

What inspires you to run fast?  Old dares do it for me.
MY TAKE: Also takes some time to build into things, but each scene is vital in a really well woven piece.  It examines the why of two Olympic runners.  One runs to "feel God's pleasure" and another runs from an absolute terror of being second best.  Love vs Fear.  A perfect examination of life.

SYNOPSIS: The story of two British track athletes, one a determined Jew, and the other a devout Christian who compete in the 1924 Olympics.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: It doesn't matter why you run.  It matters that you run (see: exercise).  This movie will have you examining why you run and when you run and may enable you to get the most out of your mental game by determining your mental outlook.

QUOTE I LOVE"I've known the fear of losing but now I am almost too frightened to win."

Buoyed by great performances and Academy Award nom for Giamatti
MY TAKE: One of my 2-3 favorite films of all time (the other 2 are Shawshank Redemption and Crash).  I love this movie for so many reasons.  It will make you feel.

SYNOPSIS: Based on the true story of fighter Jim Braddock, who in Depression-era New York enters the boxing ring out of desperation to feed his family. He becomes a common folk hero as he battles his way up the ranks, vaulting from broken-down ex-boxer to living legend with a string of amazing upsets to his credit. As word of the scrappy underdog spreads, entire families stay glued to their radios, cheering, praying and experiencing his victories as their own. Their devotion reaches fever pitch when Braddock faces heavyweight champ Max Baer. That night, Braddock's dignity, courage and determination gives hope to a nation and earns him the nickname of Cinderella Man.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: You don't have to like boxing, nor be a fan of Russell Crowe or Renee Zellweger.  This movie is about choosing to get back up after getting knocked down (no matter how many times you hit the mat).  Boxing may be a perfect analogy for life in the courage to get back up off the mat when life is punching you in the face.  Give in to this movie.

QUOTE I LOVE"For two hundred and fifty dollars I would fight your wife... and your grandmother, at the same time." 

Photo by Luis Escobar, RD of Born to Run Ultras and Red Rock
MY TAKE: This is JB Benna's masterful weaving of a story about living outside the box, challenging one's perceived limits and going into that unknown void and seeing what part of you comes back from it.  This movie inspires me for many different reasons.

SYNOPSIS: This is the story of the 2010 competitive men's race in the granddaddy of trail ultra runs, the Western States 100.  In addition to following 4 of the top ultra runners in the world, it tells much of the story of how the Western States Endurance Run came into being.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: Because everyone faces their mental breaking point in a race that means a lot to us.  Sometimes our expectations, our goals, or even the conditions in the race can break us.  Sometimes it's our competition.  But watch how these competitors respond to being broken, and what they do in the face of it.  Warning: it might make you want to run Western States, or 100 miles, or both.

QUOTE I LOVE"I can still take one more step. And so at that point I decided to take one more step until I could not longer take one more step." 

HONORABLE MENTION - Other Films I Love for the Mental Game
The Fighter, Finding Nemo, Rocky, 300, Rocky IV, and many more...

We could all use a little (more) work on our mental game.  These 6 movie-films will help you with that (and I threw in 5 more on the HM list a few sentences above this).  Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  Let me know what you think, especially if you see them now (with new perspective).

If you have other films you love watching, post a comment below and let us know what films help you with your mental game!