How Running Has Made Me a Better Dad

90 percent of being a dad is just showing up 
-- Jay, Modern Family

I spent last weekend with my oldest daughter at the San Diego 100 Miler. We left Friday, which was the last day of school for her, and even though her friends were going to the beach to celebrate the last day of 6th grade, she still wanted to leave early Friday afternoon to go set up camp in the Laguna Mountains and help out wherever we could.

As we drove to the mountains, we sang, made jokes, talked about school, talked about the heat and how difficult it was going to be for the runners. For the first of maybe 100 times over the weekend, she thanked me for bringing her camping.

Dads have it pretty easy, we really just need to be there for the soccer games, skateboard competitions, ballet performances, and occasionally take the kids out for a frozen yogurt. You do that stuff, and your kids will look back at the important moments of their life and they will remember that you were there for them. Of course there's more to it than that, but that's what kids remember.

They'll also remember what dad was passionate about. My dad had his work, and when I was growing up, he devoted most of his time to it, but he also involved me. I saw him speak on stage and I would work for him on the weekends, setting up chairs, and various other odd jobs that at the time seemed important. I'm grateful for those memories, and I'm grateful that I was part of his world on those weekends.

My daughter shone last weekend. We hiked a small section of the course on the Pacific Crest Trail, and I told her some stories of my experiences on it. The next day, at the aid station, she poured a welcome stream of ice and cold water down the backs of the struggling runners, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and cheered them on as they went back out on the hot, dusty trail. It would be too much for most of them.

My friend, John, asked if I could pace him for a short section during the night. Sophie had already made a friend, and I didn't hesitate to leave her in the care of her new friend's parents, Russel and his wife. She helped make chili for the runners who were coming back, tired and defeated, and she was so excited to be there at the finish when Jeff Browning came in for the win just after midnight. She sat with Paul as he continually updated the results page and she followed the progress of the people she had met. Her eyes shone (or maybe they were just bleary from lack of sleep) as she gave me the blow-by-blow accounts after I made it back from my pacing duties.

As we drove home the next day, she thanked me again. And, really, I didn't do much except to expose her to my passion, trail running, and to the kind and generous people who inhabit that world. I can honestly say I don't care if she ever runs an ultra, but I do hope that she remembers the trails, the people, the courage, the lessons, and the energy that surrounds these races. If she does, then I think I've done the other 10% of my job.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Father's Day.

A little video I shot with the family at Elfin Forest Preserve. Thanks to Teva for providing the gear to test out.

A Lovely Summer Weekend On Mt. San Jacinto

How far are you guys goin'?

22 miles today, I answered, nonchalant and with the confidence of many miles under my belt and races through tougher terrain. Three times that distance might have worried me, but 22 miles I could do in my sleep.

Do you have water?

Yeah, we all answered, and I lifted my pack up slightly off my shoulders, all fourteen pounds of it. I weighed it the night before, weighing myself on the scale, 168, then put the pack on and weighed myself again, 178. A ten pound pack filled with a sleeping bag, pad, cooking stove made out of a cut up aluminum can with denatured alcohol for fuel, a bivy sack to keep the bugs off at night, a change of running clothes and socks, a grab-bag of sugary gels, chews, and bars, a backpacker's dinner (Nepalese Lentil Mix -- it's hard for me to even type those three words now without feeling my throat close up and my stomach try reach its way through my mouth), and oatmeal for breakfast. When I added the 1.8-liter bladder filled with water and Skratch, the total weight of the pack was 14 pounds. At the last minute I decided to bring my new handheld water bottle, because 1.8 liters didn't sound like enough, and I stuffed a handful of salt tablets into the small pocket.

You guys are crazy, he said shaking his head. He was stretched out on a rock, his pack propped up next to the water fountain at the trailhead on the desert floor, Palm Springs. He was dark with deep wrinkles written by the sun, maybe darker now in my mind, could have been Middle Eastern or Mexican, but I prefer to think of him as Native American.

There's no water for 20 miles, he said as we started up the trail, and I smirked, I had run 20 miles without any water before. 20 miles with 2 liters shouldn't be a problem.

I didn't look back, but if I did, I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't have been on that rock, he would have vanished and the heat waves would have shimmered in the distance and the low strum from a Spaghetti Western's steel guitar would ring out, and I would shield my eyes from the blistering sun, and suggest (again) that maybe we should take the tram up to the top instead of making the 22 mile climb to the top of the mountain. That way we would be fresh for the 29 miler we had on tap for the next day.

I didn't look back.

It wasn't even that hot, maybe 80 when we started, working up to 90s as we climbed towards Mt. San Jacinto. It felt hot, though, and I sipped from the tube connected to my water every 15 minutes or so, making sure to stay on top of my hydration, and trying to take a gel every half hour.

We heard the rattlesnake before we saw it, coiled up on a large rock directly off the trail surrounded by some dead desert brush, and Jess, who was leading at the time, froze at first, then tried to back into a rock which didn't give, then, after what seemed like too long to be face to face with a rattler, ran up the trail. I was a big help behind him, yelling back up, back up, run forward. The 4 1/2 foot diamondback didn't want anything to do with us. It uncoiled and found a safer spot away from the trail.

I'm out, Jess said, sucking a tube connected to a dry 2-liter bladder. We were about 7 or 8 miles up the side of the mountain. I checked my water. I had a few sips left in my bladder, and my handheld was half full. Paul ran out of water soon after, then I followed. We all shared towards the end, so it didn't take long. We weren't supposed to be out of fluid this early.

My tongue was swollen, I found it difficult to talk, and I was stumbling a little. I definitely would have failed a sobriety test, but I was aware enough to know that I was dehydrated. I wasn't able to take in any nutrition, because I couldn't swallow. We all just put our heads down and headed up the mountain. There was no sense retracing our steps back to the desert floor where by then it was 108 degrees. Plus, we were ultrarunners. What's a few miles without water or calories? Pretty soon we'd hit the trees which meant shade, cooler temps, and then soon after that, water.

I was able to stomach a packet of baby food (it was really just pureed fruit in a pouch, but I like to call it baby food because at this point I was acting, and felt like a baby...maybe I should call it little princess food) which gave me enough energy to run for a bit. My stomach felt like it was going to revolt at any moment, but at least we were running, there was some shade, and we were done with the worst of the climbing for the day.

This was before it got bad (photo credit: Jess).
We were supposed to cross a campground with water, but we ran into a parking lot. There were a few kids sitting on a picnic table, and we asked them if there was any water around and they told us there was some at the campground about 1/4 mile down, no more like 3 or 4 miles down the road, someone corrected. One of the girls asked if we needed water and we casually said sure, and that we would probably die if we didn't get  water soon, really die, so if they could help us, that would be fantastic. One of the guys in the group looked at us like we may come back and take the women and start our own commune in Northern Idaho, but they were all really nice, and at that moment, as one of the girls refilled my water, they were the most beautiful people in the world, almost as beautiful as the couple who saved our asses the following day.

That water didn't last too long, and by mile 20, after some more steep climbing, lack of food, and more dehydration, I was feeling pretty low.

Finally, we crossed muddy section of trail, hiked up a hill, found a trickling stream of mountain water sliding through the rocks, and filled our packs and bottles. I sat on a rock, and downed one bottle, then another one. Then I puked everything up.

Is this drinkable? (photo credit: Jess)
I'm not a quiet vomiter. When my wife is sick, she'll go throw up in the bathroom that is just a couple feet away from our bed, then come out and tell me that she threw up, and I'll respond “really? That's so cute,” because that's what you're supposed to say, right? She usually just heads back to the bathroom after that.

I freaking shake the walls when I vomit, and in this case, the forest. Luckily I had friends that were supportive, and realized that even when I am at my lowest, jokes and photo documentation are necessary. Jess even offered to hold my hair back, accomplishing the rare double-whammy bald joke and vomit joke.

I like to call this picture Skittles, because if you look closely, you can see, and almost taste, the rainbow.

We walked a few hundred yards down the trail, and there was a big, glorious, clear stream. We all dunked our heads in the rush of ice-cold water, and I've never loved water so much as at that moment. It was a beautiful thing.

Dousing myself in the water helped me pull it together for a little while, but after walking, pulling off the trail, deciding that I wasn't going to move another inch and that first thing tomorrow I'd take the tram down and hitchhike to the car, we all decided that the best thing to do was make the 2 1/2 mile hike to the campground and leave the decision for the next day.

Wanting the day to be over, I forced myself to run some of the next section, and once we hit the downhills, I started feeling like myself again, just with absolutely zero calories in me, and dehydrated, but at least I was able to run.

We made it to the Strawberry Junction campsite in time to set up camp and make dinner before it got dark. I tried to stomach the Nepalese lentil mix, but it sounded so much better in REI than it tasted that night. Trying to conserve water, I didn't put in enough, so the result was a dry, hard-to-swallow mixture of pepper and lentil powder. I was able to eat a few spoonfuls and keep them down, but every bite was a battle, a battle I eventually lost, so I just surrendered and curled up in my sleeping bag.

One of the positives from the set-up.

Last thing I said that night was “if you guys here me call for my mom, don't worry, I'm just having a nightmare about today.”

Shockingly, I didn't sleep well that night, but I woke up feeling good. I was in major caloric deficit, but I was able to eat some oatmeal. I didn't even think of bailing on the 29 mile run. I probably should have, but it was a beautiful mountain morning, cool and crisp, and all I wanted to do was run, and for the first 15 miles or so, I felt great.

Jess told us that the majority of the climbing was done in the first 3 miles, so once we did that I felt like I was home free, but 26 miles was still a long way to go. We refilled with water at about mile 10, and that was the last water we would see on the trail, but we were ultrarunners, and we could easily make it 19 downhill miles on 2-3 liters of water.

"See those mountains over there? Yeah, we're going to run to the bottom of each one of those then back up to the top."

It wasn't all downhill, and on a different day, without the dehydration and nutrition issues, and if I were rested, this 29 mile section would have been amazing, beautiful, and sure, hard in parts, but mostly runnable. The problem was that it wasn't a different day, it was that day, and my body was done. I couldn't ask it to do anymore, and I was reduced to a slow walk on the uphills, stopping frequently to rest in the shade.

It felt that we had some good miles under our belts and that the car would be about 2-3 miles away, but then I heard a loud yell. I looked down the trail and saw Jess sitting with his head in his hands and Paul shaking his head and the mountains rang with a loud “fuck” and I realized that there was a slight possibility of some bad news.

The PCT sign read “HWY 74 10.8 miles.”

At that point I was probably capable of 1.5 miles per hour. And we had gone through all of our water. This was the first time I thought that I'm not sure I can make it. I wasn't scared or anything, and I knew I wasn't going to die, and that night I'd be in my own bed, but I remember thinking that's probably what people think before they die on the trail. That everything is going to be okay, and there is no way this could happen to me. I'm an ultrarunner.

We made the best decision of the day and took a sharp right turn off of the PCT and headed the 3ish miles to a lake and some cars, hoping to hitch a ride back to my car. At the bottom of what seemed like 1,000 switchbacks, we "interrupted" a couple on a blanket and asked for some water. They shared their extra with us, and for the second time in two days, strangers came to our aid.

It's embarrassing to think back on it now, how helpless I felt, but one of the big lessons I learned (aside from the "water is important" lesson) is that I need to take ego out of it. It's easy to feel invincible at the start of a long run, or during the planning stages, but there must be a respect and healthy fear of the conditions, of the trail, and of the distance. It was a humbling day on the PCT, a day that I know my limits were reached physically, and when Jess came tearing down the road, horn blaring (we sent him hitchhiking, because he was the only one without a beard, and he had the best chance of getting picked up...that, and the fact that he could still walk), I felt true joy that I was out of danger, that I was with good friends (who slowed down for me to their own detriment), that I had water, and that we would soon be eating a bacon cheeseburger and drinking a beer, sitting around a table, planning our next adventure.

Yes, I'm ending another post with this picture. It was just that good.

5 Reasons To Do A Cleanse -- My 21-Day Cleanse Recap

If you missed it, this is the first update, and the second pissed off update. This is the what I based my diet on (mainly because she was on Oprah, and hey, it worked for Oprah, right?).

This would have been easier
Top 5 things I learned from doing the cleanse:

You become mindful of what you put in your mouth. The first couple of days I had to stop myself several times mindlessly sticking my hand into a bag of chips, or a bowl of snacks that one of my kids had left out on the counter. It was such a natural motion and it made me realize how much I snack throughout the day, and how much crap I eat. I don't usually serve it for myself, but if it's sitting out, I tend to grab a few handfuls without even thinking about it. After a few days when the sugar cravings wore off, and I'd eat a piece of fruit, it was a juicy piece of heaven. I admit it, I perved out on peaches.

You realize what you are dependent on. For me, the hardest part of the first few days was the caffeine headache. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I do like my morning cup or two, and caffeine is addictive, and it's really tough to kick. I was in a bad mood for a couple of days, and I'm pretty sure that cutting out caffeine was the main cause. After about five days, I woke up feeling great, not needing the extra morning jolt. I still enjoy coffee. I love the smell, the ritual of grinding the beans, mixing in a touch of cream and sugar and sitting quietly in the kitchen before the rest of the family wakes up.

It forces you to get creative and try new foods. You can only eat so much hummus. Some of the more creative meals I've tried are rice curry with chickpeas, portobello mushroom tacos, ratatouille, and vegan variations of my wife's Persian dishes. I became a frequent visitor to Native Foods, and we bought a couple vegan cookbooks to continue to try out new meals.

It's a good test of will, and like hard training or racing, while it's tough going through it, it's satisfying and fulfilling to follow through and rise up to the challenge (especially over Memorial Day weekend).

You realize how important food choices are to people (and how crazy some people can be). A lot of people think they have the answer (and the studies to back it up), even the guy in the Denny's commercial who is exercising his freedom by stuffing his patriotic face with Red, White and Blue 'Mericakes. For a fun time, you should ask a vegan if they get enough protein, or someone on the Paleo diet about fat, or someone who eats "clean" about the hormone-stuffed lettuce-wrapped patty they just ate.

People treat diet like it's religion and there is only the one true diet. I tend to believe that different things work for different people, and most of these cleanses work for weight loss because they cut out processed foods and sugars, so the testimonials are endless. Speaking of which...

After the first few days, I felt awesome. I dropped 11 pounds overall, not including the extra 10 pounds I lost due to dehydration (not a recommended cleanse) last weekend on the PCT training weekend (which will be the subject of my next blog post, so stay tuned for pictures of me vomiting). My running felt great, and I don't know how much of that was attributed to the weight loss, and how much of it was the actual diet. I was able to run some steep local routes faster than I ever have before, but I also bonked pretty hard on a couple of longer training runs, so I'm not sure that I was getting enough calories even though it seemed that I was always eating.

Going forward, I'm sticking with a few of the changes I made over the past three weeks. I'm trying to completely cut out gluten (my wife and daughter are both allergic, so it's easy for me to make that switch), I'm switching to green tea in the mornings with the occasional coffee, I'm going to eat less meat, and get more creative with vegan dishes. I'm also going to cut back on the alcohol, but not cut it out completely (because as my neighbor said, what's the point of feeling great if you can't enjoy life?).

I broke the cleanse in a small diner off the PCT with a bacon cheeseburger covered in barbecue sauce, criss-cut sweet potato fries dipped in ranch dressing and a pint of Fat Tire Ale. After finishing the aforementioned dehydrated death march, I ate with unrestrained gluttony. And it was so damn good I nearly cried.

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