Happiness is not necessarily how many things we have--happiness is the ability to share what we have with others. 
--Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Running with the Mind of Meditation

We stood there at the top of the climb, the sun painting pinks and oranges on the wisps of clouds to the East and a dense layer of fog covering the houses to the West with the tops of hills poking through as islands covered by this thick, soft blanket.

The decision was whether to push on for a few more miles, or to head home and start the day. I had told my daughter that I would print her paper for class, so my vote was to return, and there were a few others that needed to be home to get ready for work, or take kids to school.

This trail goes by a couple different names, the Paul trail, or the Cindy trail, named after the runners who have been lost here, and the name depends on whoever is absent on that particular day. The land is owned by a church that at various times has been described to me as a yoga retreat, a meditation retreat, a cult, a vacant insane asylum with guards or ghosts who haunt the trails at night. I hope it belongs to the peaceful, hippie variety of cults as opposed to the crazy, git yer gun and drink your kool-aid kind of cult.

As we stood at the top of the hill, catching our breath and deciding whether or not to return back through the trails, past the rusty barbed wire fence, a couple No Trespassing signs, across a pit of mud and through two streams, back to the families, and the sanitized neighborhoods where you get a home owners association letter if you have a basketball hoop on the sidewalk, or dead spots on your lawn, I took a deep breath in, looked around and was grateful.

There is a cross at the top of the hill, a large one, maybe 15 feet tall, probably not placed there by the ghosts of the vacant insane asylum, and I realized as the sun was coming up, bouncing the colors off the hills and the clouds, that this is my church.

It sounds dramatic for such a simple exercise that really requires no skill, but running has saved me. Running is where I find peace, strength and courage. Running is the place where I share this with friends, whether it be a group of ten of us and three dogs as it was this morning, or just a couple, and if you added up the miles that we have all run together, it would be in the thousands by now, maybe tens of thousands.

One of my friends is Israeli and on one of our runs, he told me that there is a slang saying in Israel, that you never break palavra, you don't ruin the mood when a bunch of people, usually guys, are hanging out and talking shit, you don't start getting all serious. So, while we stood there at the top of the hill, catching our breath under the giant cross and the sunrise, I wanted to thank this group, to acknowledge this moment, but I didn't say anything, just took a deep breath, and started back down the single track, feet landing in the soft dirt of the trails, jumping the streams, breathing hard, mouth open, and mind clear, another morning shared with friends, outside, free, and joyful.


I sit with the moms and dads at the skate park as we watch our sons and daughters, pushing them, the way parents do now, hiring coaches and paying starving pros to teach our kids the latest trick. I don't want to sound like an old guy, but it's different now; we used to skate in parks, or on streets, tearing the shit out of curbs and benches as anyone over 30 shook their heads, and gave us dirty looks or worse. We have brought the soccer-mom and football-dad "must do better, must win" mentality to the skate park as my 7 year old son turns toward me for approval and I give him the thumbs up sign.

Things have changed, but it's still a beautiful thing watching these kids work on a trick, bleeding, twisting ankles, breaking wrists, smacking heads on concrete, working for that one moment when everything works, when the practice pays off, the pain, the hours, the concentration as the board flies slowly through the air, twisting, unconnected to torn shoes and worn soles, sliding down the steel rail, screeching metal on metal, then a slap of the wooden tail, and board, rider, and wheels float, punching gravity in the stomach, arms out, hair flying, and then, everything comes together, knees absorb the impact, the board bends, and the rider, teetering on the edge of balance, lands and with a half-smile that hides the joy exploding in his head, slowly glides away.

I just watched a movie trailer, and I can't remember the name of the movie, but it was about a kid who wants to surf Mavericks, one of the most dangerous waves in the world, and the kid's friend says this is about more than just surfing, it's about finding that one thing in life that sets you free. I feel a connection to these kids as I watch them fall again and again before finally landing that one trick that has taken hours, days, and weeks of practice. It's a feeling that transcends sports and drives us to do better, to work hard for something, to not give up on it, and to feel that flow when everything comes together, that feeling that sets us free. And as I sit here, a skateboard dad, watching my son fall as Fugazi screams in the background, I can only hope that he finds that feeling, too.

Ragnar Napa Ultra Team -- Race Report

I'm not going to do a whole detailed race report of Ragnar Napa. I kind of feel like the first rule of spending the weekend in a van with 5 other smelly, foul-mouthed, sleep-deprived, and smelly (yes, I'm aware that I repeated myself there) runners, is that you don't talk about it. It's a fun experience and I'm glad that I was able to share it with a group of great guys. I can't imagine being in a van that long with people I didn't know or like. I can't remember every funny story, joke, or bodily function that was shared, and the ones that I do, I can't share because I don't want to get more emails from my Grandma.

Our team was an ultra team, meaning that we each ran 6 legs of the nearly 200 mile course. It also means that we didn't have much time to stop, eat, or sleep because we were either supporting our runner on the road, or heading to the next checkpoint.

I ended up running about 40 miles, and there wasn't really anything exceptional about the running portion of the race. The Ragnar experience for me is about hanging out with friends and being part of a team. I had previously run Ragnar in San Diego and there is quite a difference between being part of a 12 person team and being part of a 6 person ultra team.

I have mixed feelings about Ragnar, and what better way to show them than some sort of list.

Things I like about Ragnar:

  • Running on a team.
  • Costumes, even though I wouldn't wear one (it was a stretch for me to wear a red matching shirt for the finish line picture), it keeps the race interesting to see what people come up with.
  • Team van names/decorations.
  • The food and drink at the end.

Things I don't like about Ragnar:

  • The course. Both Ragnars I have done have some nice parts and some really awful urban sidewalk running and a lot of running with traffic. I know it would be next to impossible putting a 200 mile route together on country roads.
  • The road. I just don't like running on it (Ragnar is putting on a trail race next month in Zion and I'd love to try that if they do it again next year).
  • Running along the narrow shoulder of a highway in the middle of the night as every car that throttles towards me has its brights on, and assuming that the drivers have been wine tasting in Napa all day.

Some pictures:

I brought wet wipes for a reason, well for a couple reasons.

James crushing the woman in the tutu.

I think I was pointing to my unusually large Adam's apple.

Passing off to Paul, who would go on to pass about 100 teams while destroying his IT band.

Seriously, it was that big.

Running through Petaluma.
Thanks for reading.

San Bernardino 9 Peak Traverse

Looking up at the cloudless blue sky, it was hard to imagine that the ranger who told us to watch out for thunderstorms and to get off the mountain at the first sign of lightning was doing nothing more than messing with a few minimalist (see: way too under-prepared) trail runners. A few hours later we would be running as fast as the muddy trail would let us, through freezing rain, hail, flashes of lightning and simultaneous ear-numbing bursts of thunder in an amazing mixture of fear and the excitement of being in the mountains, exposed to the elements, running hard, feeling alive and smiling like a lunatic.

I've been wanting to do this route for awhile. Ever since I read Toby's nighttime account a couple of years ago (I think it was before I had ever met him, I had just heard stories and legends). The 9 Peak Traverse is a 27 mile point to point route with about 9,000 feet of climbing. The route meanders along the top of the San Bernardino mountain range on the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail, passing 9 peaks all of which are over 10,000 feet and include a summit of San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California at 11,500 feet. We started at the Vivian Creek trail-head and finished at the Angeles Oaks trail-head.

 The 9 Peaks:
San Gorgonio (11,500’)
Jepson (11,205’)
Little Charlton (10,676’)
Charlton (10,806’)
Alto Diablo (10,563’)
Shields Peak (10,701’)
Anderson Peak (10,864’)
San Bernardino East Peak (10,691’)
San Bernardino Peak (10,649’)
After the soothsayer/forest ranger checked our permit, Jess, Paul, David, Toby, and I hit the trail for the climb up San Gorgonio. It was a beautiful morning, but the day would be a reminder of how fast things can change in the mountains.

Overall, the day went very well. My legs felt great, and we made it to the top of San Gorgonio in under 3 hours, which I think is the fastest I've done that route, but as we hit the top of San Gorgonio, the dark clouds started rolling in, but they didn't look too ominous, so we carried on, running along the ridge, and over the rocky single-track middle miles. We would stop and re-group every half hour or so, but as the rain and hail started to come down, we stopped less frequently because it was just too hard to stay warm. I was so thankful that I had decided to throw a wind jacket in my pack at the last minute (water resistant and weighing 4 ounces, the Patagonia Houdini jacket has become one of my favorite material possessions).

"I have a great idea. Let's head toward those."

Peak 1 -- San Gorgonio

As we reached San Bernardino Peak, we waited for one of our group who wasn't too far behind, but it had been awhile since we had re-grouped, so we weren't sure how far behind he was. We each tried to find some kind of shelter from the hail and rain. There wasn't much shelter at the top, so we stood around, shivering, and waiting. I'm not sure exactly how long we waited, probably between 30 minutes and an hour, before someone said there was no way he was that far behind. David back-tracked and didn't see any sign of him, so we figured that he skirted the peak and was already headed down the mountain. We were scared and worried about him, but as the thunder and lightning got closer, and as we realized we were on one of the most exposed and highest peaks in Southern California, we figured it was time to get the F off the mountain.

For some reason, I was drawn to this tree.

Trying to get out of the rain.

We were in the middle of a thunderstorm for the initial descent, and each time the thunder would hit, it felt like it was going through me. I've never been that close to lightning before, and it was amazing and terrifying. We all breathed a sigh of relief as we ran past a small campsite and spoke to a ranger who had seen a solo runner about a half hour ahead of us. The rain had let up, and as we ran into more hikers who confirmed that a runner in a blue shirt was ahead of us, I breathed easy, took advantage of the descent, turned on some music, opened the legs up a little, and felt the pull of the Ballast Point IPA waiting at the trail-head.

I feel great going into another big training week, and then a taper for Cuyamaca 100K. I primarily used Allen Lim's rice cakes for nutrition and I couldn't have been happier with how they worked. I didn't feel hungry all day, and I had no problems with digestion or bonking; just a steady stream of energy. I also used Skratch Labs for hydration.

Some useful logistical details for anyone who wants to do the 9 Peaks Traverse:

  • It takes two cars, one parked at Vivian Creek trail-head and the other at Angeles Oaks trail-head. It's about a 15 minute drive between the two.
  • You need an adventure pass to park at both trail-heads (REI and A16 sell annual passes, or day-use permits)
  • You need a permit to hike the trail. It's free, and easy to apply here.
  • If you go in the direction that we did, there is a stream (please check that it's running) about 6 miles up, so I carried a 500 ml bottle to the stream, then filled a 2-liter bladder at the stream. The initial ascent was much easier without carrying all that fluid. I ran out of water about two miles from the finish.
  • Check the weather (San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail weather).
  • Be prepared for wind (light jacket, gloves, hat).
  • Take a map.

9 Peak Traverse
One last thing, after you finish this route, you should go eat a huge plate of delicious Mexican food at Casa Maya in Redlands. I recommend the mole enchiladas. They have Negra Modelo on tap, and as you sit around eating, drinking, and talking about the adventure, realize just how lucky you are that you can spend a day messing around in the mountains with good friends.

Thanks for reading.

Finding Ultra Winner and Allen Lim's Rice Cakes

Thanks for all the comments on your favorite running books. It looks like Born to Run and Once a Runner topped the list. I picked a random comment (from Facebook and the blog) and the winner of Finding Ultra is Andrew (whose favorite running books are (Born to Run, The Perfect Mile, and There's Nothing Funny About Running). Send me an email with your address and I'll get the book out to you.

Like most runners, I am constantly tweaking my nutrition. Some things work for awhile, and then I get sick off of them and that's the end of it. I used to think I had an iron stomach, but that has changed over the last few years and I'm not sure why. I can no longer run on GUs alone and have tried to switch up my nutrition (while running and everyday eating) to whole, non-processed foods. I've been using Dr. Allen Lim's Skratch Labs drink for a few months and it has been working great for me. It's an easily digestible drink with enough electrolytes and not a lot of chemicals and sugars (its sweetness comes from freeze-dried fruit). Lim's nutrition strategy is to drink fluids and eat calories (and he knows what he's talking about). When searching for a good nutrition option for an upcoming mountain run, I checked out the Skratch Labs site and found an easy recipe for rice cakes. The more I researched these, the better the reviews got, and the better the rice cakes sounded.

I stuck to the recipe below (although the possibilities are endless...vegetarian, sweetened with dried fruit, smoked salmon, etc.) and they turned out great, so good that I wanted to share them with my readers. They are simple to make, delicious, and they were easy to digest and kept me fueled and feeling strong for an 8-hour day running in the mountains, mostly above 10,000 feet.

Dr. Lim has a cookbook called The Feed Zone and it's currently en route to my house. I can't wait to try some of the other recipes.

Dr. Allen Lim’s Rice Cakes

2 cups uncooked calrose or other medium-grain “sticky” rice
1½ cups water
8 ounces bacon
4 eggs
2 tablespoons liquid amino acids or low-sodium soy sauce
brown sugar
salt and grated parmesan (optional)
  • Combine rice and water in a rice cooker.
  • While rice is cooking, chop up bacon before frying, then fry in a medium sauté pan. When crispy, drain off fat and soak up excess fat with paper towels.
  • Beat the eggs in a small bowl and then scramble on high heat in the sauté pan. Don’t worry about overcooking the eggs as they’ll break up easily when mixed with the rice.
  • In a large bowl or in the rice cooker bowl, combine the cooked rice, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Add liquid amino acids or soy sauce and sugar to taste. After mixing,press into an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan to about 1½-inch thickness. Top with more brown sugar, salt to taste, and grated parmesan, if desired.
  • Cut and wrap individual cakes. Makes about 10 rice cakes.
  • Nutritional Information Per Serving (1 cake): 225 cal, 8g fat, 321 mg sodium, 30g carbs, 1g fiber, 9 g protein
Here's a video for those visual learners.

Let me know if you try them, or if you change up the recipe. Thanks for reading.

In This Next Post I Will Review 3 Books and Give One of them Away

After my last post, I felt like I need to lighten things up, review a couple of books and give one of them away. I was worried about the reaction I would get for that last post. I received many emails, comments and actual in-person conversations (!) and I want to let everyone know how much I appreciate the kind words. It  was healing, but I was worried that some people would be embarrassed or take it the wrong way, and I want to thank everyone for being supportive. If it helped anyone out there who may be grieving deal with their emotions, or let them know that they are not alone, then it was worth publishing, so again, thank you.

Now to the book reviews, yo (sorry, I've been watching a lot of Breaking Bad so please forgive me if I use "yo" or "bitch" at the end of every sentence).

I was in Utah a couple months ago for a family reunion/coffee detox, and after a few weeks in the mountains, we ended up in Salt Lake City where I rushed to the local bookstore (which was conveniently attached to a coffee shop) for some air conditioned down-time. After I dropped the kids in their various sections of interest, and as I wandered the aisles, I saw a book with a picture of a worn hiking boot and red laces called Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I am fascinated with the PCT, so I picked this book up and started reading. I couldn't put it down, and for the first time in years, paid the full price for a hardcover book (as opposed to paying the discounted Amazon price or waiting for the paperback), just so I could continue to read about this woman's life. Cheryl Strayed's journey that led her to the Pacific Crest Trail is a complicated, brutally honest, raw, and revealing tale that I couldn't put down.

When my mom called me and was talking about my last post, she spoke of journaling (which is what blogging is for me; I just chose to share it with the world), and how she attended a writing class where the teacher asked a question, "When the angels read from your book of life will they yawn or will they cheer?" When reading Cheryl Strayed's book you cry, you hope, you despair, but ultimately you cheer. This book doesn't have anything to do with running, but it has a lot to do with why so many of us ultrarunners are attracted to the trails and to testing our physical limits.

On my custom rating scale of "I'm keeping this one" to "I'm going to give this book to a lucky reader," this gets a hearty "buy your own damn book, it's worth it. It's a great book and I'm keeping it."

Just as a side note to show you how awesome a writer Cheryl Strayed is (and to what extent I have a literary crush on her), I read an excerpt from another book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, then went to Amazon and ordered the book on the spot, not even knowing who the author was. When it came and I realized it was Cheryl Strayed, I got goosebumps, or maybe that was just the ghost passing through me.

Staying on the theme of personal redemption through physical challenge, I was sent Rich Roll's (that never gets old) Finding Ultra to read and review.

Rich's journey is one from an athlete to an unhealthy, over-worked, overweight and out of shape alcoholic back to an amazing endurance athlete, and one of the top competitors at Hawaii's Ultraman (kind of like an Ironman for people who think Ironman is too short and easy).

Rich embraces a vegan lifestyle and most of the book is about the transformation he makes from an unhealthy alcoholic to a vegan athlete. He does a good job arguing for the vegan diet, but it's an argument that I don't really have an interest in hearing. He does a good job of not preaching veganism, because, at least for me, when someone starts preaching, I just shut down. I like the appendix and resources at the back of the book. Rich shares some great vegan recipes and training resources (a few of which he has a financial interest in).

I'm not ready to go vegan, but I'm trying to cut down on the amount of animal protein I consume, eating organic, lean meat as a side dish and incorporating a couple of vegetarian dinners every week, and I definitely see the positive health and environmental effects of a vegan diet. Actually, if it were up to me, I'd probably be vegan by now, but I married an awesome cook who happens to be an Iranian and her food is just too good. Lamb, beef stews, and kabobs are staples here, and they taste too good to give up. Sorry, vegans.

My favorite part of this book is Rich's account of his Epic5 Challenge of completing 5 Ironman races on 5 Hawaiian Islands in 5 days. I won't give away whether Rich and his training partner completed the challenge, but I loved reading about how they dealt with adversity, the logistics, and the physical and mental challenge of this stunt.

On my custom scale of "I'm keeping this book even though it was given to me to review for free" to "one lucky reader who leaves a comment telling me what their favorite running-related book is will be the proud owner of Rich Roll's Finding Ultra," gets a "I liked it, but one of you will probably like it more, so I'm giving this one away to a reader." So, leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite running-related book is (because I'm always looking for more of those to read), and you will be entered in the drawing to win Finding Ultra.

The last book I'm going to review here is called Anatomy for Runners: Unlocking Your Athletic Potential for Health, Speed, and Injury Prevention by Jay Dicharry. It's a technical, informative, and slow read. I feel like I am taking a class in anatomy, physical therapy, and strength training all at the same time. I'm still reading this one, but I know it's going on my running book shelf, the one in my office, where I put the books that I go back to again and again (not because I love them, although I do, but because my memory is shot).

My favorite running books

In the preface, Dicharry writes:
The media is encouraged to focus on current trends and "the one exercise every runner must do this fall!" This book's aim is to reveal how the musculoskeletal system responds to running and how to optimize this relationship.
I believe Dicharry succeeds on both counts, and while a few parts of the book took me a couple times reading to comprehend, he writes in a way that is easy to understand and he is good at making complicated concepts simple. The book also contains a lot of great charts, diagrams and pretty pictures.

This is an important book, and while it's great to just get out there and run, and run, and run some more, it is also important to get to know the mechanisms that allow us to do all that running, and to take care of them so we can keep running. The book claims to answer a lot of current running questions like Should runners stretch? Which shoes are best for running? and Is running barefoot beneficial? I feel that Anatomy for Runners does a good job addressing these questions without getting all combative and emotional...just the facts, and then decide for yourself. I must admit that I'm a novice when it comes to this stuff, but I love reading and learning about it and trying to put some science behind the advice that runners throw out when they've run out of other things to talk about on that long 20-miler.

You've probably already guessed that I'm keeping this book, too. But, don't let that stop you from leaving a comment below and letting me know what your favorite running-related book is. You might just win a copy of Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.

Thanks for reading.

Ratings and Recommendations