The Obligatory Goal Post and Getting Epic Like Kim Jong Il

I've written about goals in the past and how I don't really believe in them. I don't sit down at the beginning of the year and write down things that I don't really think I'll be doing come January 31st. Instead, I spend the year focusing on what I enjoy doing, whether that be spending time with my family, or running trails. I run long races because I love to run, so this year I'm focusing on more of the same. The main thing that I learned this year about my running is that if I focus too much on goals and reaching them at the expense of the enjoyment that I gain from running, then there really is no point in running at all.

That's not to say that I don't want to run faster or further, I just don't want to do it at the expense of my enjoyment. I love running and I cringe when I hear the cliché answer "because I can" or the "because it's there" to the admittedly difficult question of "why do you [insert hard thing here]?" I love a long jog in the mountains, I love running through the night, I love running through the rain and muddy trails, I love watching high def videos of European mountains that I hope to run someday, I love the long talks with friends, and the short guttural responses when we are running too fast to form sentences, I love walking to meet the early morning regulars with my headlamp off and steps lit by the stars, I love running through streams with my dog, I love coming home after a hard run, sweaty and stinky and giving my kids hugs as they cringe, and I love the taste of blood in my mouth and numb shoulders because I can't give any more. "Because I can" doesn't begin to describe it.

I've been thinking a lot about potential lately, and pushing the limits to reach mine, and to be able to see it in others. That is something I need to work on. We all have greatness in us, the ability to accomplish things unimaginable. I think that's one thing that my kids have taught me, and I'm working really hard to see this potential in others.

My daughter Kaya was born nine weeks premature, and she struggled early in life.


I remember the incubator and a short, elvish doctor discussing the health of my daughter, still developing lungs, with the help of tubes, drugs, and a warm, glass-covered bed. I remember being scared, not sure if she was going to make it.

This memory came hard at me last night as I watched her dancing to Just Dance 3, our new video game, my five-year-old keeping up with her six- and ten-year-old siblings. Moving arms and legs, spinning around, singing the songs that she has heard from the lips of her older sister, and laughing.

I failed to see this potential as she struggled in the hospital, relying on machines and drugs to live, to gain weight and recover from starving in the womb, with a knotted umbilical chord. We were as surprised as the doctors when she came out, her source of life cut off, and slowly starving. Now she makes us all laugh, spouting off knock knock jokes at the dinner table with the timing of a natural comedian.

Last night, as she finished dancing, growing weary of LMFAO on repeat, she squeezed in next to me on my favorite chair as I wrote about her early struggles. She looked over my shoulder as I typed on the screen, asking me what I was writing about and I told her I was just writing about my sunshine.

Sometimes I get lost in the day to day struggle, the fear and the uncertainty, and I forget to recognize the potential for greatness in others, a potential that we all share.

I have a lot planned for 2012 and it's more of a wish list than a list of goals. The year will start with some short trail races, a marathon in Death Valley, a traverse of the Joshua Tree Riding and Hiking Trail, a traverse of Zion National Park with Jess, a 50 miler on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 100 miler on some of my favorite trails in San Diego, and a top secret marathon on the trails of San Elijo Hills with some of my favorite people. When I look at that list I get giddy from excitement. I look forward to stretching my limits while sharing beautiful trails with some amazing people. I consider myself lucky and blessed, and when the struggle gets me down, I am grateful that I have the ability and the drive to occasionally do some long, epic jogs.

And while we can't all run a 1:59 marathon like Kim Jong Il, occasionally we can all do something epic.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

Hiking Elfin Forest

Yesterday, I went on a long hike with two of my favorite hiking buddies. It was a nice reminder to slow down, take in the view, and talk. We talked about school, where lightning comes from, Charlie Brown's Christmas (Woodstock is cool, but the rest of those kids are kind of assholes, right?), and the amazing taste of orange Gatorade. My son carried his own CamelBak and snacks that we ate at the top of the climb, overlooking the Olivenhain reservoir and dam. We did about 5 miles of pretty steep hiking, and he only fell six times. I guess I should have bought him the trail-rated Chuck Taylor's. He's a good little hiker, though, strong and deliberate. He would stop every few minutes to point something out to me, he spotted Double Peak Park, the new hospital by Stone Brewery, a hawk circling above us, and he would ask me to be quiet so he could try to hear the stream down below. I run this trail a lot, but I generally don't take the time to look around, and yesterday was a good reminder.

My wife's friend passed away a few days ago. My wife and kids went to the memorial service on Sunday and had an amazing time. Her friend was an artist, so all the guests made a huge splatter painting. My kids came home covered in paint and laughter. I can't think of a better way to celebrate a life.

Thanks for reading. I hope you are all able to slow down over the holidays and enjoy time with friends and family.

Finish Lines

By a rough estimate (and with some help from, I figure that I have crossed over 40 finish lines in the past five years. Crossing that line comes with such a mixture of emotions, happiness, relief, disappointment, and sometimes overwhelming joy.

On Sunday, our Girls on the Run group ran the Sparkle and Shine 5K (complete with a pre-race glitter and hair station, of which I did not partake). Every girl ran with a mentor or coach, most ran with a parent or relative. The girls have been training hard for the last three months to be able to run a 5K, and they made amazing progress. At the beginning of our program, some of the girls couldn't run one lap around our make-shift track (about 300 meters of grass around the elementary school playgrounds and baseball fields) without a walk break. They ran that loop hundreds of times, sometimes incorporating games and rest breaks to make the workout seem easier. On Sunday, that work paid off as all of the girls finished the 5K.

My daughter asked me to run the 5K with her. She had two goals, to beat her previous time and to run the entire 3.1 miles without walking, something she had never done before. Before the race, I told her to take it easy, especially at the start, then at the end, if she had anything left, to push hard to the finish.

I ran alongside her, sometimes a little behind to let her dictate the pace, offering words of encouragement and I tried to be mindful not to push her to run faster, this was her race, not mine. She ran steady, with a smile on her face, sometimes breathing hard and we'd slow a little to help her recover. As we turned the last corner before the finish, she heard footsteps behind her, and she ran, pumping her arms and stretching out her legs, with a smile on her face, sprinting towards the line confident that she had accomplished both of her goals. As we finished, she grabbed my hand, or maybe I grabbed hers, and of all the finish lines I have crossed, this one was the sweetest.

The Dirty Running Holiday Gift Guide

I usually spend about 30 minutes every morning deleting junk email. This is too long, and it's my own damn fault. For some strange reason, I receive daily emails from discount shopping sites like The Clymb, Steap and Cheap, Open Sky, Chain Love, Living Social, Groupon, Google Offers, REI Gearmail, and Victoria's Secret (for my essential running undergarments). It's pretty easy to unsubscribe to these, but I don't. I should, but I'm worried that I'll miss some super good deal. I've spent way too much money on these sites, and have bought some great gear at a discount, but I've also bought things I don't really need just because I couldn't pass up the deal (seriously, how many pairs of aviator sunglasses can one man wear?). And with the success of all of these deal sites, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. This is also the time of year of gift guides, black Friday taser fights, crowded malls, giant bow-covered Lexuses, and overwhelming holiday trips to the mall. And while I'm not full-blown anti-consumerism, every year around this time I inch a little closer.

One of the things I love about running is the simplicity. You really just need a pair of shoes to get out there and participate in the sport. It really is just you and your effort out there. You can invest thousands of dollars in running gear, and it's not going to make you any better, in fact carrying the extra pounds of packs, GPS watches, overly built shoes (or $150 shoes that claim to mimic running barefoot), and iPods can actually make you slower. There really is no "buying speed" on the run, and the simplicity and purity of this is unique to running. The more you run, and the smarter you run, the better you'll get.

So, in the spirit of simplicity, and with a tip of the hat to The 5 Best Toys of All Time, I offer the Dirty Running Holiday Gift Guide.

1. A Notebook. I don't know if it's all the solitary time on the trails or the countless hours spent listening to the rhythmic sound of feet on pavement, but runners like to write. A journal, lined notebook, scratch pad, or various sizes and colors of old paper lying around can be the perfect place to keep track of those musings that come on a long, slow run. If you don't have anything to write, write about the workout you just did. Log the miles, the time, the weather, how you felt before, during, and after the run. Keep these running logs as a resource to learn from, or to re-live some of your more memorable runs. Running can be similar to a dream state where you'll have some great, world-changing idea while on the run, then forget about it as soon as the sweaty polyester clothes are thrown into the laundry and the shower starts to steam. Write that stuff down before you forget it.

2. Chaos. This isn't really something you can buy, but there is no shortage of it. We all have our own level of stress and for most, this level is too high. Running will help lower your stress levels, and will also make you a better person to be around during regular life. There's nothing like going out for a run after a hard day, going back to the simple and sweet pain of the physical challenge, and coming out the other side relaxed, happy, and ready to deal with screaming kids, nagging spouses, demanding bosses, and a pile of bills. You know why? Because you just kicked some ass. The chaos of ordinary life makes those quiet hours spent on the road or trail that much more peaceful and cathartic.

I will never again do an image search for balls
3. Balls. I'm not talking about the kind that it takes to push the "Register Now" button for a 100 miler, let alone run one. I'm talking about the kind you probably have in a bag in your garage, or under your couch, or in the shadowy reaches of your closet. Balls can take the place of a lot of the $100/hr deep tissue massage sessions, and can prevent some major injuries. If your IT band is tight, lay sideways on a tennis (or lacrosse if you really like the pain) ball and roll over it, letting it dig deep into the fascia. Arch pain? Grab a golf ball and work it back and forth on the bottoms of your feet. You can do this while sitting at work, or watching TV. A foam roller is great for this as well, but if you want a free version that still gets really deep into the muscle, use a ball or a rolling pin. You can find a good introduction to the technique here.

Undisclosed location
4. A Good Hill. The hill usually has a name and it's one that a good runner will know intimately. I have my favorite and I call it Desolation Row. It just seemed to fit. I have cried, nearly puked, and spent all my bullets on that hill getting ready for races over the past few years. Desolation Row is the perfect length for brutal 30 second hill sprints, it's 2-3 miles away (perfect for a warm-up), and has an ocean view from the top. It has landmarks...a rock, a branch that sticks out, a clump of weeds; I can measure myself against these things and see progress over the weeks and years of training. I imagine the best hills have multiple names given by various runners who each have a connection with those inclined stretches of dirt. If you don't have access to a steep hill, a flat stretch will do. Measure a quarter mile, or a half mile and get to know that stretch, give it a name and sanctify it with your blood, sweat and tears.

5. An Alarm. Set it early and run before the sun comes up, while you can still see your breath, with friends or alone, and watch as the sun paints the hills in pinks and oranges. Get back to a quiet house, a sleeping neighborhood, a hungry dog, and put some coffee on the stove. Take a deep breath and know that you may have sacrificed an hour of sleep, but you have experienced the beauty of an early morning run.

That's it. My list of 5 greatest gifts things that every runner needs, and while the gadgets and gear are fun, it really all comes back to the basics...a pair of shoes and a long stretch of trail. I'd love to hear some of your simple essentials in the comments below.

Las Vegas Marathon Race Report And My Dilemma

I finished the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon on Sunday in 3:24. I put the time in there, because I was really focused on running for time, 3:15 to be exact, and it didn't happen, and I want to remind myself not to make that my primary focus in future races.

My training has been going great the last couple of months, I was pretty sure I was in 3:15 shape going into the marathon, but there were a couple of things that were out of my hands. I don't want to use this as a place to make excuses or complain, however there were some difficulties with the race that affected how I ran. If I was stronger, mentally, I'm sure I could have overcome the logistical challenges with the race. If you want to read about the fallout from the race, head on over to Facebook and sort through the thousands of comments there.

My race went a little something like this:

I started in the first corral and felt great as the sun set over the mountains to the west of Vegas and we headed to an industrial, seemingly deserted section of town, zig-zagging through city blocks, pin point turns and out and backs. My pace was solid and steady, and I was looking forward to the second half of the race were we would run up one side of the Strip and down the other. The main problem for the marathoners running the race (there were about 4,000 of us) was that as we were funneled back onto the strip, we joined 40,000 half marathoners who had started about ten minutes before my group joined them, so I was right in the middle of it, dodging, bumping, saying sorry and being called an asshole as I tried to keep the pace by weaving through the throng. It was tough and draining, but I actually sped up at this point...probably anger and adrenaline. I think it came back to haunt me because at mile 20 I didn't have much left, I slowed considerably off my goal pace and really had a tough time at the end.


I was disappointed in myself. I thought of all the hard work and the training that I had done to get me ready to run a good race, and I felt that I had blown it. I felt like I had let myself, my coach, my wife, and my friends down. And I know it's silly, but I even felt like I let people who read this blog down. I was in a pretty rough spot when I saw my wife. My daughter asked us to text her my time as soon as I finished and she immediately responded with a text saying "That's so cool. Good job." It was actually something more like "Cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Good job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's so cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" That snapped me out of the darkness and self-loathing really quick. I chalked it up to a shitty day (they can't all be great, right?), the race was over and I was in Vegas, so it wasn't all bad. We went out that night, and I worked hard at replenishing my glycogen stores until about 2 AM.

Running down the strip at night was pretty cool at times. It's not a novel idea to say that the Rock and Roll Marathon series caters to the "just finish" crowd and they do provide more of a party experience than a race. I'm not an elite runner, I like to think that I'm a relatively fast runner compared to the average person, and I just don't think these gigantic road races are for me, but for those that crave a shared experience with thousands of people and are in it more for the spectacle/party/event than the race, then these continue to be great options. It seems that as the bottom line becomes more and more important to the corporations that put on these races, the more and more they cater to this crowd. It's not necessarily a bad thing, and there are still plenty of options for more serious runners (those who still wear dolphin shorts and headbands with pride), it's just not my preferred type of race.

On the plus side, Vegas is always fun, and I didn't lose any money gambling. I also took advantage of cable TV and caught up with the Kardashians (and mourned the fall of civilization at the same time...a two birds, one stone thing). I also learned the The Discovery Channel has become the Blowing Shit Up Channel (and I kind of like it).

I try to learn something from every race, and I think I learned an important thing about myself from this race. I haven't raced a marathon since 2007 (where I broke down at about mile 20 and ran a 3:24...coincidence?), and I don't really like the distance. I don't know if I have the mental focus and pain tolerance to complete 26.2 miles at a pace that should be do-able based on the training. I can endure the dull pain of races three times as long as a marathon, but I have a much more difficult time enduring the sharp pain of speed. I give in too quickly, and I lose confidence in myself, and that's hard to get back in a marathon.

Now, I need to make a decision, and I welcome any advice or comments. I am considering two options.

The first is to continue with my training and try to run another marathon in the beginning of February. I think I have good fitness right now, I could back off and recover for a couple of weeks, then ramp up the training again for the Death Valley Marathon in February. I wouldn't go into it with a concrete time goal, I'd try to have fun and run to the best of my ability. I have friends that are running it, it's a small race, and I think it would help get rid of the slightly bitter aftertaste of the Vegas marathon. My concern about this is that I may be at the peak of my fitness right now and I will train too much and get burnt out or injured with diminishing returns.

The second option is to take a longer period of time to rest, recover, and just run without a training structure. I'm planning on a big year next year with a Joshua Tree traverse, a Zion traverse, the PCT 50 mile race, and possibly the San Diego 100 all between March and June next year, so the rest could be exactly what I need. I'm going to lose a lot of speed with this option, and that kind of makes me sad, but the rest may be necessary.

Thank you for reading, and I appreciate your comments.

One final note, I wish my blog was this awesome.

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