I'm not into goal-setting.  I was raised in the goal-setting industry, working at seminars where people Sharpied their fears on 1-inch plywood boards and then at the end of the seminar they broke through the boards, symbolically breaking through their fears, except for one older woman who actually broke her hand trying to break through her fears.  I imagine her next board will say "BOARDS" in big black letters.  I fire walked with Tony Robbins and sat through hours of trainings on motivation and setting goals and the 80/20 principle, and I can't be too negative about these experiences because they have their place and appeal to some people and hopefully change lives for the better.  The process isn't for me, though.  Too loud.  The goals written carefully and thoughtfully on the yellow legal pad would fade when the music and flashing lights and back slapping support faded.  The process became a chore, and the goal would usually fade away.

Last year, instead of writing a list of goals on January 1st, I just decided to be open to more, to say "yes" more, and looking back on last year, I believe that this was a good decision, and a process I plan on repeating this year.  Some of my favorite and most memorable adventures from this past year weren't planned, and weren't goals.  I didn't plan on going to Everest, running a 50 miler, running across the Grand Canyon, or climbing Mt. Whitney.  These were things that just came up, the opportunity presented itself, and I was lucky enough and fit enough to be able to add them to my schedule.

In order to be able to do those things, it was important to maintain a base level of fitness.  This wasn't a goal.  Running far, hard, or fast isn't a goal of mine, it is something that I do, something that is inside and when I get the question: do you think you are addicted to running, which I get a lot, like it is a bad thing, I am not sure how to answer, but no, I don't think I am addicted to running any more than I am addicted to spending time with my family, eating good food and drinking good wine, playing fantasy baseball, listening to music, or shooting up heroin (that last one's not really an addiction, more of a pastime).  Running is my passion and it is what makes me happy.  Most can't understand the pleasure and reward I take from it, but I don't understand the pleasures some people take in scrap-booking, gardening, or making crocheted beards, but I do understand the passion.  Recently someone commented on one of my older posts

"Some are running away, others running to. You run because you are there,"

which was probably one of the best compliments I have ever received.  I don't think I am "there" yet, but I am definitely enjoying the process.

Goals seem to focus on the end result and the process is secondary.  The cliché of the packed gym in January that is empty by March is a good example of this.  The gym is empty because the goal of dropping x pounds by going to the gym everyday only works for people that enjoy going to the gym every day (these people exist, I have heard them grunting at each other).  They don't need to set the goal of going to the gym every day because they will be there anyway.  My son likes to hang from the pull-up bar in my office, but I get tired of lifting him up there every time, so I told him he would have to find his own way up.  He worked on a few different techniques, tried over and over, and finally...

My daughter, who is similarly driven, loves the Guinness Book of World Records, and right now, nothing would make her happier than to be in that book.  She scoured it and found a couple of things that seemed possible in her mind, and I found this note in her room a couple of months ago...

It refers to the pogo stick world record of 178,457 jumps, and to the side she writes "my goal: 178,458."  She set out to break the goal and reached 782 before realizing that 178,458 might be out of reach.  She then set a more realistic way of entering the Book by eating 8 Ferrero Rocher chocolates in 1 minute.  Now, if she only had the kind of parents that would buy her Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

So, no, I don't have any quantifiable goals set for the year.  I want to stay fit and healthy.  I want to run across Zion National Park, I want to run the Kalalau Trail on Kauai's Na Pali Coast, I want to finish the Canadian Death Race, and I want to do a couple of 50K races and place well. but if I'm not able to fit them in, or if they sell out before I have a chance to register for them, then I'll find something else to do.

I'm sure something will pop up.

Christmas Eve on the Trails

I took my two older kids and my dog for a hike on Christmas Eve.  The recent rains have made the hills green; the trails were a little muddy, and it was fun to see them through the eyes of my kids.

I love this shot of my girl.  Someone built up some bike jumps and a berm; my kids love going up there to run around the obstacle course.

Inspired by Facebook

I wasn't planning on running yesterday. I even planned to flake a day in advance, emailing Cindy, my Wednesday morning running partner, as the rain got heavier and the forecast called for lightning and thunderstorms, writing that I was going to bail.

I sat in my office all day, watching it come down, not really wanting to work, already checking out for Christmas vacation, pulling out an umbrella every couple of hours to take my dog out to pee, catching up on blogs and Facebook, scouting out some local races that I might want to do next year, and basically being a lazy sack. After a whole day of this I felt heavy, my head was cloudy and I had the kind of headache you get when you watch all three football games on Sunday, leaving the couch for more chips and beer and the occasional trip to the bathroom. I needed to get outside, and I decided to wait for a break, a window of blue sky, a pause in the incessant rain, the rain that had been falling nonstop for three days, flooding San Diego, closing roads, washing out whole hillsides, and forcing the train to shut down. There was no pause, and I sat at my computer as the light started to fade on one of the shortest days of the year, wasting the last part of my working day browsing Facebook, when this popped up from one of my friends...

I really should get out, I thought, get bundled up and go for a short walk, just to clear the clouds in my head. Then this...

It's like she added the parentheses just for me. Screw it, I was going out in the storm and I was going to run. I grabbed a hat, a long sleeve and some still wet and muddy trail shoes, and headed for Double Peak.

The run was difficult, but I felt better than I thought I would. As I pushed up the climb to Double Peak, a carload of boys drove by, staring at me and making faces like I had escaped from somewhere. When I got to the top, I put my hands on my knees, caught my breath, then took in the view, it was starting to clear and between the low-lying pregnant grey clouds and through the mist, I could see the ocean and the rain-soaked green hills. The wind was blowing hard and the rain was starting again, plus being at the highest point in North County during a thunderstorm probably wasn't the ideal situation, so I headed down. Taking one of my favorite trails down, half running, half sliding, coming home with my legs covered in mud and a bleeding ankle that I didn't notice until I was home, warm, eating a slice of homemade chocolate marble bread with chocolate ganache.

Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast

Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

This has become my new mantra, from the mouth of one of the best TV dads ever, Phil Dunphy, thought of on the run, when I think of funny things to pass the time, thoughts drifting from Sofia Vergara, the usual means of time-pass, to Phil, reacting to emergencies, calm, zen-like, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.  It doesn't sound rational; how can slow and fast exist at the same time, linked by smooth, fluid movement, the steady metronome of soft-landing feet on dirt?

There is a moment, all athletes talk about it, the runner's high, the zone, where time slows and there is no thought, only pure motion, where it would be outside the realm of possible to miss the shot, the pass, the putt.  A moment when the mind is operating on a different level, beyond conscious decisions about angles, speed, power...it just flows.

Go slow.

Watching the world's fastest runners, everyone seems to comment on how easy they make it look, how they don't look like they are struggling; they are relaxed, smooth, just over 4 minute miles for mile after mile, running in slow time.

Don't slow down.

But don't try to go fast, don't clench your teeth, don't raise your shoulders to your ears, don't extend your leg as far as they can go sending heels crashing, don't squint your eyes, don't worry about that big rock or the downed tree lying in your path, don't hold your fists so tight you make fingernail marks in your palms, don't run loud, don't think.


Find your inner 5-year old, smile softly, kick your heels up, jump through puddles (your shoes will dry), say good morning to people you pass, and good job to people who pass you, hurdle rocks, branches, tree stumps, go off the trail, get scratches on your ankles and shins, sprint to that next tree, then take a break, listen to your breath.  Listen to the animals, warning each other that there is something wild coming down the trail.

Relax, go smooth, let time slow down, because slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

1 Mile with Uli Steidl and Geoff Roes

Sunday's Run -- Cuyamaca Peak

Yesterday, I joined Mick Gieskes for his monthly mountain run.  The plan was 6.5 miles to Cuyamaca Peak and then back down the same way for a 13 miler with nearly 2900 feet of climbing.

It was a beautiful morning, sunny and dry with some wind.  The scenery was stunning, running through the trails to the top of the peak, burnt groves of skeleton trees, a windy ocean view at the summit, and some fun downhill running on the return.  Three of us were running together and we missed the turn to get back on the trail, so we ended up on Hwy 79, sharing the shoulder-less road with recreational vehicles and motorcycles, jumping into thorny bushes around blind turns.  I finally found some familiar trail along the 79 (at about mile 48 on the Lost Boys course), and we soon found ourselves making our own trail, crossing a river and trying to stay parallel to the road.

This hill was so steep that we needed a rope to climb it

Looking Back

I loved this video and wanted to share it. The thing that struck me most was Kami Semick discussing the amount of miles she runs in a year (between 3,000 and 4,000), and the minuscule percentage of those miles (10 or 20 miles) where it all comes together in a race and are pure bliss, and all that effort and training is worth it.

As I look back at the past year, I have been lucky to experience some truly blissful miles.

Hiking into Tengboche, Nepal and seeing Mt. Everest for the first time, after hiking all day following a night of 105 fever, and delirious dreams, pulling it together and sitting with my mom and two brothers on the rough, hand built stone wall underneath the Buddhist monastery, in the shadow of the peaks where people risk life to climb, some still up there, goals frozen in time and desire.

Pacing my friend Kara at the San Diego 100, watching courage in action, a will that would not be denied, forcing a run after 99 miles to finish under 24 hours. That sunrise, after running under stars, and wandering along the Pacific Crest Trail, was one of the most welcome and beautiful that I have ever seen.

Climbing Mt. Whitney under the Persied meteor shower, headlamp glowing a soft halo on the trail.

The last 7 miles of the Lost Boys 50 mile trail race, where I knew I had accomplished my goal of top 10, knowing I could walk some if I wanted, but not wanting to, feeling the energy of the finish line pulling me and seeing my family at the end.

Being halfway through the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim, and knowing that we were going to finish. Taking a break at Phantom Ranch, sipping lemonade mixed with iced tea, sitting and relaxing for a few precious minutes, knowing that there was one more hard climb and the day, the beautifully torturous day would be done.

These are the moments that stand out, but when I think back over the past year, some of the best times I had while running were running with friends, talking about families, upcoming races, training tips and racing strategy, chilling over a post-run coffee, sweat-drenched and stinky, or stretching after a hard track workout with friends, wonderful people that I never would have known if not for this gift of the run.

Off-Season Training

It's a difficult transition going from structured, goal-oriented training to an unstructured off-season period, but it is starting to be enjoyable.

I find it hard to take a complete break from running, so I am still mixing 3-4 runs a week in, but the running has been the unstructured, leave your watch at home variety. I am also trying to gain some strength and flexibility, mixing in some new workouts and trying to have fun, while giving my joints, muscles, and tendons a time to rest before the hard training starts again.

Last weekend I did a 10 miler out in Daley Ranch organized by Movin' Shoes' Mick Gieskes (who is also a track and field coach at UCSD). Mick gave us some great running tips and something to focus on as we ran the hills. He reminded me to watch my stride on the downhill and to keep it compact, as most people tend to over-stride when running downhill. He also talked about focusing on the foot strike as your foot touches the ground, keep it engaged, flexed and active, limiting the time your foot is in contact with the ground.  The route became really muddy in parts and it was a struggle keeping my balance. It was a difficult run as the rain and wind really started to pick up, soaking through my clothes and numbing my fingers, but those tough runs are always the ones I remember.

Daley Ranch
Thanksgiving morning I joined about 30 others from a local running group and we ran up and down Iron Mountain. The climb to the top started gradually and increased in difficulty as the summit came into view. The view from the top was an amazing and clear panorama of most of San Diego County. The descent was a lot of fun.  Since I don't have any major races coming up, I was able to risk a twisted ankle, bounding down the hill and pushing the limit between adrenaline rush and bloody knees and scraped palms.

Thanksgiving Day Trail Run -- Iron Mountain

The day after Thanksgiving I joined about 15 other friends for Turkey Bowl 2010, a chance to use muscles I haven't used since Turkey Bowl 2009. We have been getting together for nearly 20 years for our annual football game, and we are all a little older, slower and more concerned about health insurance than we were 20 years ago. Luckily, I survived the day and the only injury was to my ego. We hit Pizza Port after the game and discussed glory days, come from behind victories, and diving catches over seven large pizzas and seven pitchers.

Saturday was my oldest daughter's birthday, which we held at the local climbing gym, so I went an hour early to set up and get a few climbs in. It was great watching a bunch of 9 year old kids scaling the rocks, reaching the top and beaming with accomplishment.


I'm hoping that a couple of weekly mountain bike rides, some core workouts, family hikes and 3-4 weekly trail runs will keep me in shape and help balance out the holiday eating binges, while mixing it up and giving me a break from serious training.

Grand Canyon R2R2R Video

This past week, the motivation to run hasn't been there. I'm still sore from the Grand Canyon descents, so I have been taking my dog for slow walks, going to the park with my two kids every evening, and running barefoot on the grass. My daughter joined me the other night and we did some skipping drills and some other running drills. She is such an easy, relaxed runner with her hair bouncing as she glides over the grass, laughing and occasionally looking back to see how far behind her I am. Last night at the park I did relay races with my kids, giving them a head start and making sure they won, barely. It was a fun night, and my son, who has some unknown energy source, begged me and my daughter for just one more race as we sat on a bench, catching our breath and watching the sun paint the clouds pink.

It's cleanse time. After the Grand Canyon I let out a deep breath, then inhaled everything in sight, over-eating and over-drinking and listening to too much Johnny Cash, depressed and sleeping terribly, with no running-related events in the foreseeable future. So, now it is time to make a list for next year. I want a mixture of short and long, races and fun, challenges and cake. I haven't decided on races yet, but I would love to do a running traverse of Zion National Park, and since I am going to be in Kauai next summer, I plan to run the Na Pali Coast. I have decided not to enter The Western States 100 because it is the same time that we have our Hawaii vacation, and in looking at other 100s, I have decided that I'm not there yet. I hope to do them someday, but I'm in no rush at this point. Next year, I would like to do a marathon, qualify for Boston, and do a couple 50Ks.

Here's some footage of the Grand Canyon run:

Check out the deer at 9:00.  They were so calm as we passed them.

Toby and Jess, two of the other guys on the Grand Canyon trip, wrote a couple of great trip reports:

Toby's report
Jess's report

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R)

...a descent into the Canyon is essential for a proper estimate of its details, and one can never realize the enormity of certain valleys, till he has crawled like a maimed insect at their base and looked thence upward to the narrowed sky.

John Stoddard, 1898

My muscles are still aching and my mind isn't quite right yet. I am still looking for the right response to the "why" question that I always get. Why would anyone want to run across the Grand Canyon and back? I still have to walk sideways down the stairs because my calves and my quadriceps remain too tight to allow the contraction required for normal, fluid movement, and today, three days after the Grand Canyon run, I'm anything but fluid.

This morning I joined a group training for a 5K, a beginners group, using the running/walking technique to slowly build up to be able to run the 5K distance, it's billed as a Couch to 5K Program, and as we ran, I noticed that some were suffering during the running intervals, enduring the pain, then stretching, talking and smiling after the run, feeling that sense of accomplishment that comes after some good work.

That feeling doesn't go away, and if it ever does for me, for a certain distance, maybe 100 miles, then I have no business running that far.

The feeling was there Saturday night at the completion of the Grand Canyon run and it was still there Sunday morning when we drove out to the South Rim, staring at the silence and the space between us and the North Rim far in the distance.

The Grand Canyon is wide across, wider than I thought it would be.  I was making the trip with three others, Jess Downer, Toby Guillette (who coined the excellent word, "brutiful," to describe the day), and Mike Campian.  The four of us flew and drove from San Diego to do the Rim to Rim to Rim run, and when we arrived late Friday afternoon, we went straight to the South Rim.  I had never been to the Grand Canyon, and it's hard to find the words to describe it, just wow, and I thought, tomorrow we'll be running that, down the Bright Angel trail to the Colorado river, through Phantom Ranch, and then through the belly of the canyon, red cliffs and thousands of years of sedimentary layers towering above us, then running up, what from the South Rim, looked like a sheer cliff, the North Rim, then back, retracing steps, dusty footprints already tired, sweat and for some, vomit. Friday evening, as I watched the sun glow off the red rocks, I wasn't thinking of any of that, just searching for the words, feeling my heart speed a little with the excitement of seeing somethings beautiful and knowing that early in the morning, in the darkness and under millions of bright stars, we would begin the journey, not of conquering the canyon, but fully experiencing it, feeling the pain and continuing on, letting the canyon seep through from the soles of my feet, working through the tired and cramping muscles, straining to cover the distance and keep the forward momentum of discovery.

I don't remember much about the start, just the halo of the headlamp and the dust as the I followed the footsteps and the pace of Toby, Mike and Jess down the Bright Angel trail in the dark, jumping over rocks and wooden beams probably placed there to prevent erosion or to piss off the runners trying to keep the pace. I remember feeling good and hoping I wouldn't twist an ankle in the first couple of dark miles, prematurely ending the journey, thinking we were probably going too fast, but feeling good, excited and glad to be starting the journey.

5 AM start

Sunrise over the Colorado River
Trail carved into the cliff
I carried a pack that held 2 liters of water, about 25 shots of Gu, a couple of bars, some dried mango slices, a small bag of trail mix. This was the nutrition I hoped would last me the planned 12 hours. With water stops every 5-10 miles, I figured a 2 liter pack would be enough, it wasn't. I ended up refilling at every water stop, going through at least 15 liters, and at one point running out of water about 3 miles from the next stop. This was the scariest part of the day for me, the reality of dehydration crept into my head, knowing there was no way to drop out, there were no volunteers out here, grabbing your bottles, refilling them and giving you rice krispie treats, this was the Grand Canyon, and at this point I was 20 miles from my goal, 10 runnable miles and 10 miles that I would end up walking, stopping every 10 minutes or so to gather myself, curse myself out, then try to find the motivation to keep going. When I hit that next water station, I hit it with a vengeance, cutting off the other hikers, actually they saw my condition and offered the spigot which I gladly took, refilling my hydration pack and sucking on the hose simultaneously. This stop is called the caretaker's cabin and if, at that moment, I could have seen the caretakers, I would have hugged them until they asked me, awkwardly, to stop.

Jess at the North Rim (he would recover)
The run from that stop to phantom ranch, those 10 miles were beautiful, running along the river, a slight downhill grade that I thought was flat on the initial pass, turned out to be a false flat, a gradual ascent that slowly wore us down for the grueling climb up to the North Rim. That false flat turned into a slight descent, and running through the shade, next to the cliffs was the high point of the day.  With 30 miles under our belts, I felt good.  Jess was sick, struggling with stomach issues, but he pushed through and we made it to Phantom Ranch where they serve the best lemonade in the world. We rested there, 30 minutes or so, my legs needed it and Jess's stomach needed it.

We made fairly good time the next 5 miles, crossing the bridge over the murky brown and swiftly flowing Colorado river, over the knife that had slowly dug through the earth, carving the red rock into names like Isis Temple, Buddha Temple, and Wotan's Throne.

A sign warning hikers not to attempt to hike to the river and back in the same day

That final push up the Bright Angel Trail, from Indian Gardens to the trail-head, was the hardest stretch I've ever had to deal with, emotionally ready for it all to be over, and physically unable to keep a rhythm without frequent rest stops along the way.  I was glad that I was still with Jess, who set a good pace up the hill and even had us running the final 50 or so yards.

The run took us 14 hours.  The distance covered was nearly 48 miles, and the total elevation gain was 11,300 feet.  The weather was gorgeous, around 40 at the rims and between 70 and 80 in the Canyon.

The day after the hike, looking at the North Rim and sure that the distances are off

My equipment list (this is what worked for me; if you are planning a R2R2R trip make sure you do your research and have enough food and water to last you -- know what works for you):

25 packs of GU (I ate 20)
1 Probar -- Kettle Corn flavor (400 calories of organic, real food)
8 individual serving packs of GU Brew (100 cals each)
Small bag of trail mix and dried mangoes
50 Thermolyte salt tablets (I took 48)
6 Motrin (I took 6)
Ultimate Direction Wasp pack with 2 liter hydration bladder (loved this pack)
Moeben arm sleeves
GoLite t-shirt
GoLite shorts
Glove liners (didn't use)
Long sleeve tech shirt
Inov-8 gaiters
Running hat
Adidas Adizero XT trail running shoes (I love these so much that after the run, I made out with their dusty tongues)

I took some jumpy video which I will post soon.
Elevation profile

Lost Boys 50 Miler

I hope someone writes a good, detailed race report of the Lost Boys 50 Mile Trail Race. The race deserves one, and this post won't do it justice. Someone needs to sit down and describe the course from start to finish, because when I try to write down my experience, there are only small segments that come to mind.

Looking for hand-holds on the slippery granite boulders and struggling to climb up the dried out waterfall, which I thought was a joke in the course description.

Turning off my headlamp a little past dawn, and looking up at the sky over the desert hills and seeing the pink and orange glowing against the rocks, going from the small oval light of the headlamp to the fire of a desert sunrise.

Watching the thick mist and fog come in, covering the black and white skeletons of fire-damaged trees and feeling the drops as I passed under the pines.

Rice Krispie treats, two of them, three miles apart, and the salted peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Talking about how crazy ultra-cyclists are with a woman named Andi who had just completed the Furnace Creek 508.

Aid station volunteers urging me to catch the 5th place guy, saying he was only 2 minutes down the hill, then pushing hard to catch him on the switchbacks, coming within a few yards, and watching his back steadily disappear, and being fine with that.

Singing along with Kanye.

Feeling a blister form on the inside of my foot, a huge one, then feeling the pain and release as it popped in my shoe.

Seeing my daughter run towards me, kissing my wife, my youngest daughter and my son a few yards before the finish line, wanting to stop and hug them, then being pushed to the line by my wife who was watching the clock and wanted me to finish in under 10 hours.

Hugging my sister, Sharlie, at the finish line, with her oxygen tank, knowing she struggles to breathe at altitude, and being so grateful for my family -- my mom, her husband Ric, Sharlie and Ryan, and of course Sanam, Sophia, Beckett and Kaya. The feeling of running to the finish, towards my family, after doing something difficult and to be surrounded by people that inspire me is just a little too hard to put into words.

It's hard sitting down to write a race report, especially for a race where everything went right. I enjoy writing about the puking, the pain, the bloody blisters, the mental anguish, but for some reason, at the Lost Boys 50 Mile Trail Race, everything went according to plan.

I thought so many times about what I would write in a race report, and I think that helped during the day, probably what a cameraman feels like with the filter of the lens between the action and the eye, and there was so much to write, but now, sitting here, after the post-race high (and nothing is more exhilarating than the last few miles of an ultra), I can't bring myself to write a detailed report about the race, other than to say that it was run so smoothly that the race organizers, Kara Scarbrough, Paul Escola, and Jeremy Scarbrough, along with all of the awesome volunteers at the aid stations deserve some major credit.

My coach, Tim, had a great deal to do with how the race went for me. I initially decided to use a coach after hurting my knee and was worried that I was going to miss the Lost Boys race. After a thorough scouring of the internet, I decided on Tim mainly because he writes things like this, and he makes furniture out of fallen timber. I spent nearly an hour on the phone with Tim a couple of days before the race and my hand was sore from writing down the wealth of information and advice that he gave me for this particular race, and there were four or five things that directly stemmed from that conversation that had a huge impact on my race. If you need a coach, I highly recommend you contact him.

I tried to take some pictures of the race, but most didn't come out, so I am borrowing some from Kelly Gaines, who came out from Chicago to run her first 50 miler with her husband, Brian.  I think they both discovered that there are mountains in San Diego.

Running towards the mountains on the only flat section of the course

The waterfall
I'm smiling because it's the final turn
My daughter running towards me and the ambulance waiting just past the finish
My sis
My family at the finish, it was a long day for all of us

My fuel for the race
Elevation profile; lots of climbing

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