Training Run on the PCT from Penny Pines to Boulder Oaks

I wanted to share a few pictures from Sunday's run on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), starting with a short out and back past Garnet Peak, then running from Penny Pines to Boulder Oaks campground, which is basically the second half of the PCT 50. These hills are less than an hour east of downtown San Diego. There was a group of seven of us, and we hit a great weather window, picking a weekend between two storms. We ran close to 27 miles of the PCT in a little over 4 1/2 hours. We kept a steady pace and took a few short breaks. I took most of the pictures as I was running because if I stopped for too long I would lose sight of the group. It was good training for next month's Joshua Tree traverse.


I have written about my sister Sharlie in the past (here and here), and she received a double lung and heart transplant over the weekend. To read more about her, and to follow her progress, visit Sharlie's Angels on Facebook. She has been an inspiration to me and so many others. There was a lot of down time this past weekend as we waited in the hospital while Sharlie underwent her surgeries and I had a chance to write some of my thoughts down, and while personal, I wanted to share them here in hopes that her story continues to inspire others. Thank you for reading.

I don't like hospitals. They are big, industrial, generic places, unfeeling, too clean, too many fluorescent lights, too much sickness, tired nurses, and bad memories. I dreaded going, but when I arrived at Sharlie's room, it was like a church, quiet, light and calm. I have spent many hours in hospital rooms with Sharlie, but none as important as Thursday. After a late night call and a frantic ride through the night from San Diego to Palo Alto, past swerving big rigs and methed up drivers drifting too close, pushing me to the shoulder, and too tired to correct as I listened to the hum of my wheels on the graded road.

Once at the hospital I found Sharlie's room, full of family and her high school friends. Suedy and Jessica, the same friends that have been there through the years, always bringing the party to Sharlie during her long hospital stays, making sure she never missed out on any of the junior high and high school fun. My mom was there along with my brother in law, Ryan, and everyone was smiling, calm, and waiting. Sharlie sat on the bed, soon to be wheeled down the hallway, to the operating room where her heart and lungs would be removed from her body and a stranger's organs put in their place. A family has made the decision to give this gift, the most generous gift of life to a complete stranger, and I hope they learn about Sharlie and her remarkable story and that it comforts them, because I know Sharlie will honor this gift as a living and breathing testament of gratitude.

I can still feel this hug.
Me, Sharlie, Mom, and Ryan. Pre-transplant.
Sharlie was the calmest person in the room.

The surgery went well. It was long, but there were no serious complications and after the final update from the surgeon, I had the urge to hug him, but I just clapped. It was all I could think to do for this artist.

The next morning we were told that there was internal bleeding and that Sharlie would have to undergo another surgery to stop the bleeding and remove the blood that had pooled beneath one of her lungs. It was another long procedure and as I sat in waiting room I noticed a mother and daughter, older, with matching red eyes and wrinkles being laid as they waited for a son or husband or brother. I would occasionally catch glances and we would look at each other, bonded by this waiting.

The doors to the various operating rooms would open loudly and doctors, nurses, orderlies, would walk through, all with the look of people going about their normal jobs as we wait with expectant eyes, searching for some sign, a smile, satisfaction, a worried look, anything to betray what is going on behind the heavy doors with signs and big red capital letters that screamed "no entry." These workers are used to the expectant waiting room looks and avoid eye contact, not wanting to give false hope, or hints of failure.

I walked the halls and looked at the art, most of it standard hospital art, landscapes, the sea, and flowers, but there was a series by a Russian artist, Ilya Kabakov called "The Flying Komarov" and this series was meaningful for me, or maybe I was just searching for some meaning. The series of drawings stretched down the hallway and the first few look like people jumping off buildings, but then as you continue down the long hallway, you see that the people are floating, flying, couples holding hands higher and higher, disappearing in the clouds.

That morning, they rolled Sharlie down the hall, machines, tubes, bandages everywhere, still under sedation, looking lifeless, bleeding near her lungs. The initial transplant went well and this was just one setback, and there will be more. This is going to be a long healing process, and Sharlie will need to fight, but she is strong. The previous evening the joy of the new organs and successful transplant rippled through the waiting room, but the reality is that there will be new issues, post transplant issues, and struggles as her body tries to make these foreign tissues, cells, muscles her own. I watched as my mom, my sister, and Sharlie's husband kissed her as they rolled her into another surgery. I don't like seeing her this way, sedated, unconscious. I need to see her soft smile, her calmness reassuring that everything is going to be good. Her faith, big enough for both of us.


It was beautiful out, sunny and cool, and I had to get away from sitting, from the lights of the hospital. I had to stretch my legs out, so I found some nice trails near Stanford in the Arastradero Preserve. I changed to running clothes in my truck, trying not to flash the van-load of senior citizens who had parked next to me. I followed a trail along a creek as it narrowed to shady single track and I ran as fast as I could, stretching my lungs out in some sort of glorious punishment.

Trail therapy

I left Saturday morning, but before the drive back to San Diego, I was able to spend a couple hours by Sharlie's side as she woke up from the cloud of anesthesia. Her eyes were brighter than the previous night, her skin was glowing and her breath was steady and deep. We talked that morning about the donor and how grateful and sad Sharlie was, and how in her mind and prayers she always used "she" when referring to her. We talked about the coming months, the healing and the strengthening and how for the first time in her life, she will be getting stronger. We talked about the challenges and bumps in the road that will require much strength and dedication, and I can't think of anyone who is better equipped to deal with and overcome the challenges. There were words said that morning that were so special to me, words that I will never have to write down; they are written in my heart.

Now, my heart is full with gratitude for so many people who have helped Sharlie on her journey. I am so grateful to the surgeons and the transplant team at Stanford, giving life, doing the work of gods. I am grateful that Sharlie will be staying in Los Altos for a while. It is a beautiful place with hundreds of miles of tree-covered trails and I can see her healing as she explores the area.

Before Sharlie went into surgery, my mom asked her what she wanted to do with her new lungs. She said, without hesitation, I want to run with Dax. And this piece hasn't been about running, but for me it has everything to do with running. When I picture Sharlie in my mind, I see her running, and as she was wheeled away for her transplant surgery and as I whispered be strong, I love you, you're amazing, you're my hero, and gave her a final hug, she whispered see you on the trails. And I do see her on the trails, smiling, stretching her lungs, laughing, racing her young son to the next tree, and dropping us all, her spirit dwarfing the giant redwoods.

I Love Running

My wife has been kind of obsessed with this website called Lists of Note. It's a site of lists, mostly lists from famous people. My wife will occasionally send me the good ones. My two favorite lists so far are Sid Vicious' list of What Makes Nancy So Great (it's sweet, romantic, and crude so don't click unless you're into that), and F. Scott Fitzgerald's list of things to worry about, not worry about, and things to think about.

In honor of Valentine's Day, and in a desire to embrace my cheesiness, I decided to make a list of why I love running. Here's my list:

  • I love the peaks and appreciate the valleys because that is where the growth happens. Flat roads are boring.
  • Bad weather makes a muddy playground.
  • That dead feeling at the top of a long climb, and the satisfaction of looking back at where you came from, where your body brought you.
  • I love that I have never regretted a day on the trails.
  • Everything about finish lines.
  • That nervous energy at the start of a trail race, the jokes and the conversations.
  • Running downhill with abandon.
  • Pushing around a corner, leaning into it and feeling the side of your shoe dig into the dirt.
  • Jumping over rocks, fallen trees, and sticks that may or may not be snakes.
  • Meeting new people and knowing that we already share a strong bond.

Don't like my list, or want to add to it? I'd love to read why you love running in the comments below. Happy Valentine's Day.

Here's some trail goodness:

With my wife, and looking like I just picked up a hitchhiker
My daughter catching air on a local trail
Noble Canyon 50K
SD100 in the Laguna Mountains
Grand Canyon
Mt. Laguna

And on a completely unrelated, non-running note, here is another list. I wrote this one for my son, and I don't know what to call it. How to be a man sounds too pretentious, so I'm just calling it advice from your dad:

If you decide to jump into something, don't step lightly. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and fly.

Don't be cautious with your heart. Don't protect it, but if someone gives you theirs, treat it like it's the greatest treasure in the world. It is.

It's usually better to walk away, but if you have to fight, keep your eyes open, your breath slow, and punch straight.

Don't be afraid of being alone or the silence, because this is when you learn about you.

Look everyone in the eyes.

Be free with compliments.

Be kind to everyone, especially to those from whom you have nothing to gain.

Ask for directions.

Don't talk a lot and when you do, use simple words.

Read a lot. Read books with pages. Not the kind on a screen.

Get attached to people even though they will leave.

Be content to hold hands and kiss cheeks. This is the sweetest and purest love.

Use manners more than you think necessary. Open doors, be the last person through, and give your seat up. Say excuse me, please, and thank you.

Ask for advice and opinions, but after all that, trust your gut. It's right.

Death Valley Marathon -- Race Report

I decided to drive to Death Valley by myself. I'm not sure why, but I love the desert and the loneliness of a long flat road that cuts through the sand, disappearing in a wavy heat blur miles away. I wanted to experience the desert slowly, and in my own way, so I bailed on the carpool, possibly offending the four other guys I was running with. We all signed up for this race together, James had shirts made, and we did a lot of our training together.

This group of five, sometimes six, sometimes less, meets every Monday and Wednesday morning at 6 AM and we run through the early light, still half asleep, and over the last couple of years we have become pretty tight. I think of us as a kind of Pre-Breakfast Club (a Brain, an Athlete, a Basket Case, a Princess, and a Criminal...I won't go into who's who, but I think we all know who the Princess is). We all have similar paces, and like any group that runs together, we have become close, sharing the pain and celebrating the successes both in running and in life. So, with a touch of guilt, I headed off to the desert solo, seeking some kind of spiritual experience, but knowing I was also missing some good fart jokes.

The drive was everything I hoped it would be, passing signs for Badwater, stopping occasionally to take in the wind-carved wonders of the desert. I drove towards Furnace Creek, music loud, and the clean, dry air screaming through open windows.

Not quite ready for this turn

After the six hour drive, it was nice to meet up with the others and jog a couple easy miles to stretch out the legs. We ate dinner at Furnace Creek Ranch, and then early to bed.

The race started at 8 AM and the race director led us all in a chorus of "America the Beautiful." Singing that song in such a beautiful setting, in a national park as the sun rose and lit up the red hills, and surrounded by hundreds of other runners was a special moment for me and I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up a little.

There were a few bellowed instructions about running on the side of the road (it's not a closed course), drinking a lot of water, thanking the volunteers (who were awesome), and after waiting for a couple of cars to pass, the race director yelled "on your marks, get set, go" and we were off.

I decided before I started this race to not worry about time, to run it as a training run, and to try to run the whole race strong which, for me, meant holding back for the first half of the race. I started steady, running with Cory, Paul, and James. It felt like a long training run on the coast, we talked, cracked jokes, but held a good pace, passing people, but not pushing too hard. Two of the guys had stomach flu and really did their part in contributing to the fauna and biological diversity of Death Valley. I won't go into much more detail than that, but they both finished under really tough circumstances.

We hit the 13 mile turnaround point at 1:45, and I decided to try and negative split the race which would give me a sub 3:30 marathon. I kept a steady pace and really felt strong at mile 20 (even Tebowing for the photographer), so I pushed it a little. This came back to hurt me during the last few miles of the race as I slowed, but I was still passing people who went out too fast and were now walking. I've been there many times, but this time I felt strong, and after a couple words of encouragement, I ran on, pushing the last mile and finishing with a 3:29, good for 11th place overall and 2nd in my age group.

Couldn't resist

It was a special experience to run a part of the Badwater course and it helped motivate me to think of the Badwater runners who do this in the middle of summer and do more than five times the distance I was doing. Thinking of that challenge made it hard to get down on myself during the race, and really helped me push through the minor pain at the end of the race.

If anyone reading this is thinking of doing this race, I would highly recommend it. The organization (Enviro-Sports does a great job putting on this event) is awesome, the course is beautiful, and the people are great. The Furnace Creek Ranch is a nice place to stay for the night and it's convenient to roll out of bed race morning and walk a hundred yards to the starting line. I wouldn't call the course flat and fast; there are some long gradual hills and some short tough ones, but nothing too grueling. While the weather was great for our race, it did get up in the 80s by the finish and with no coverage and the dry air, it seemed hotter than it was (although I almost got smacked by this old local lady when I mentioned that I thought it was a "hot one"), and close attention to hydration is necessary. I loved this race so much that I think I'm going to do the trail marathon in December. Anyone want to join me?

With our matchy-matchy custom shirts by Cheddar Yeti (check their cool story)
Thanks for reading.

Death Valley Two Month Taper Week

I've been amazed at the response to my "Sh*t Ultrarunners Say" video. Last I checked it had over 22,000 hits (and I think I only hit refresh about 5,630 times, so over 16,000 non-me hits). I just wanted to thank everyone for watching and commenting on it.

I'm running the Death Valley Marathon on Saturday. Road marathons make me cringe, but this one should be fun. I'm giving the distance another shot, mainly because of the bad experience I had at the Las Vegas Marathon. When the opportunity to run the Death Valley marathon with four great training partners arose, my gut told me to run it.
"...the most deadly and dangerous spot in the United States. It is a pit of horrors -- the haunt of all that is grim and ghoulish. Such animal and revile life as infests this pest-hole is of ghastly shape, rancorous nature and diabolically ugly. It breeds only noxious and venomous things. Its dead do not decompose, but are baked, blistered and embalmed by the scorching heat through countless ages. It is surely the nearest to a little hell upon earth that the whole wicked world can produce." -- the New York World, 1894, on Death Valley. 
Most of my running this year is going to be on the trails, so this is kind of my last hurrah road run for awhile. I'm going into the run without a time goal, and without having done any specific marathon training in the two months since the Vegas marathon. I have been running, though, with one 20 miler thrown in and 4-5 days a week of unstructured, untimed, fun trail runs.

I did run a trail 5K on Saturday and ran it in the low 19s, taking 1st place in the 30-39 (or as I like to call it, thinning to balding) age group, so that takes care of my marathon speed work. It reminded me how difficult and fast 5Ks are. There really is no time to build into the race, and no time to warm-up, because when the race starts, the fast kids sprint. My strategy was to park four miles away and run to the start, then run the 5K easy, then run back to my car, for an 11-12 mile day with a little speed thrown in the middle. The plan was working great until that gun went off and I started sprinting with the high school kids. I hate getting passed and it's really difficult to go easy in a 5K especially when you are being passed, so I went, and ran it harder than I should have, but it was fun, and since I took the start a little easier than most, I was able to finish strong. I didn't save much for the run back, so I hitched a ride with a neighbor.

Solid Metal
Yesterday I ran for about five miles, the first couple with the dog and the last couple in my new shoes. I won a pair of New Balance MT110s in a raffle (thanks Michael Jacobs and Road Runner Sports), and the shoes are fast, responsive and fun. If you like minimalist shoes, you should check these out. I will probably use them for shorter distances because I like a little more cushion on long runs.

Even though I haven't really trained for Death Valley, I still get those pre-race nerves where I spend too much time obsessing over the race which is inversely proportional to the time I spend actually running during a taper week.

I had a great conversation with Lucho this week and I'm super excited to be training with him again. Check out the video he did for Ultimate Direction below. His take on running (and on life) is just spot on.

Thanks for reading.

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