And If You Close Your Eyes

I’m feeling my age today. Maybe it’s because my baby girl turned 13. Maybe it’s because I took her to her first concert last night, and we had to be there two hours early so she and a friend could reserve their spot against the stage, front and center, as I looked on from the far less crowded parent’s section off to the side. Maybe it’s because I thought her cut-up shirt that showed her belly button was too short, or maybe it’s because I thought she was wearing too much make-up. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t in bed by my normal 9:00 PM, but instead hung out by the guarded tour bus parking lot, waiting in vain for the band to shake hands and take pictures with their fans, waiting until midnight when I finally convinced the girls that they’re just not coming. Or, maybe it’s because the music just wasn’t as good, the energy and the poetry weren’t quite as strong as they were when I was her age.

It doesn’t help that I’m slipping into live music-induced nostalgia, to a time when my life’s meaning depended on the next thing that came out of Kurt Cobain’s mouth. I remember showing up to the show two hours early to secure a spot crushed against the stage in a run-down club in Tijuana, seeing this underground band with a headache-inducing superfuzz sound and a promising name, Nirvana. This was before they were polished, this was when the Marshal stacks blared, the guitars wailed, and Cobain, screaming himself hoarse into the microphone, spoke to us with pure, raw emotion. We climbed onto the stage and dove into the pimply and angst-ridden crowd, riding the manic energy of our tribe.

I walked into the restroom last night and there were a couple of security guards briefing a paramedic who was about my age on the status of the 19-year-old in the stall. All I could see were khaki pants and blue vans kneeling on the piss-covered tile floor. I couldn’t see him draped over the toilet, but judging from the stench, I could only imagine that it wasn’t a pretty sight. “Stay with me, don’t pass out, we’re getting you a wheelchair, and we’re going to get you to an ambulance.” It sounded bad, and I wasn’t in the mood to see some 19-year-old kid have a heart attack and die because of the latest new lavender bath salts that kids are bathing in, or eating, or snorting, or whatever they do with spa products these days. The security guards looked alarmed as they told the paramedic that the boy had half a cup of vodka and some marijuana in his system, and that he was in bad shape. The paramedic looked at me and said “half a cup of vodka and some weed? They sure don’t make them like they used to.”

I occasionally caught glimpses of my daughter, hands raised, watery eyes with too much makeup fixed on Danny, or Billy, or Kevin as they looked into the audience, into the bright lights. In her mind, they were singing to her, and after the show she told me about all the times she made eye contact with Kevin, I think it was Kevin, and how it was the greatest night of her life, and how it touched her, and that I just wouldn’t understand how deep the connection was, I mean, eye contact, EYE CONTACT.

I stood with the other parents for most of the night, necks straining, trying to watch over our kids, to make sure they weren’t crushed, and to walk that fine line between hovering just enough to keep them safe, but still let them feel the independence. Not that I’m ready to let her drive to Tijuana with a friend, walk over the border, take an unmarked taxi to a smoke-filled club to see a couple of punk bands, but there are only so many first concerts, and I wanted her to remember this one, and not remember me standing behind her, glaring at the college boys who were walking around, trying to find a free spot next to a cute girl, and me whispering in the boy’s ear, “she’s 13, and I can break you.”

I moved towards the crowd for the encore, nodding my head to the one song that I knew, mouthing the profound chorus, “eh, eh, oh, eh, oh, eh, eh, oh, eh, oh, eh eh, oh, eh, oh, eh, eh, oh, eh, oh,” and jumping with the crowd’s energy, singing along as Kenny or Dan or Kevin held the mic to the audience and sang “If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you've been here before?” And I could have sworn, at that moment, he was singing it only to me.


My Jeep is a gas-guzzling, earth-f%$#ing beast, and if there’s not going to be a zombie apocalypse anytime soon, I should probably prep it for craigslist and trade it in for something more sensible, but I just can’t bring myself to wash the layers of dirt off and bring the military-brown paint to a shine.

It’s not that I have a special place in my heart for poorly designed, American-made cars, but there are just too many memories in the cramped second and third row of seats, kids piling in, pushing against each other and against their own boredom on the way to Zion, falling asleep on each others’ shoulders and then waking up, seeing the ground covered in snow. The Jeep is scarred with small dents and scratches and melted surf wax on the roof, and the sour smell of old sweat, maybe from Joshua Tree a few years ago when we talked music and running after a long, hot day in the beautiful desert.

My shoes are old, too. They have covered hundreds of miles of trail, have holes on the tops and sides, and their permeating dirt makes every sock a slight shade of brown. The padding is worn out, and I’m starting to feel it in my knees and my hips, but these things tell stories, and it’s difficult to trade those stories for something clean, shiny, and perfect. New shoes and new cars will be bought (13 miles per gallon is just not sustainable) and new stories will be written, but it’s that first wear, or that first drive that brings to mind a posed family picture on the beach where everyone is wearing matching outfits and all the smiles are forced.

I remember when I tore the top of my shoes. It was an early morning run, and it was on a steep section of a rocky trail, and the side of my right foot connected with a sharp rock, and it hurt a little, but it was a long steep hill and I had momentum, and the rocks on the trail were the kind of rocks that had to be climbed or jumped on, and if I slowed, it would be a hobbled pace, so I just kept the feet moving, and I knew that in about ten minutes, I would see the view, the sunrise. It had to be earned, and if I stopped, I’d feel that at the end, and the colors wouldn't be as bright, and the lungs and the legs wouldn't feel as good without the struggle, the fire.

I’ll take the worn out shoes, the used, busted up and broken gear, the old car, and the ripped hat because that is where the stories are. It’s in the scars, the bruises, the scratches on my car, and the holes in my shoes. Those are honest. Those are real.

One Epic Summer

A year ago, this week, I hiked and ran through the Sierras on the John Muir Trail, and I'm sure that I used the word epic more than once. It felt like every time I took my camera out, that I was taking a picture of something epic, and each night when I wrote in my journal, I wrote about something that I considered epic. That word has become overused, and has lost a lot of its meaning. When I think about the John Muir Trail now, and what I was doing a year ago, it was really just a lot of slow walking and some light jogging through some amazing scenery. There were some difficult passes at high elevation, but the same bells and alarms start going off in my head when I describe it as epic as when I read about someone's epic 5K or epic morning run, or an epic sunset. The word has lost its meaning.

This summer has been a welcome vacation from long distance running. I have been sleeping in, sometimes joining a friend, or occasionally two on a 5 or 6 mile jog around the neighborhood trails, pausing often to talk (I think we've solved the crisis in the Middle East multiple times over), to catch our breath or to wait for my friend's dog to do its business.

This has freed up my mornings for other things, mainly spending time with my kids and rekindling my love of the ocean. I wore one pair of shorts this summer, and my goal was to wear them out. They are faded, blue Patagonia board shorts, and they smell like the ocean with a hint of the sweet, tropical smell of warm water surf wax. Most mornings I would wear those shorts to the beach, surf in them, swim in them, and then I would sit in them as the kids and I downed Mexican food. By the time I finished my plate of ceviche, they would almost be dry, but still damp around the waistband and near the single zippered pocket. In the evening, I would jump in the shower, rinse the dried salt and the few remaining grains of sand from the shorts, then hang them to dry. By morning, they would almost be dry, almost, but then I would throw them on, strap the boards to the top of the Jeep, grab the kids and a couple towels, and head back to the beach for another day, another few hours of free, pure joy. I don't think those shorts ever had a chance to become completely dry.

This was the summer that my son learned to surf. This was the summer I pushed him into his first real wave, past the breakers, on a clean, smooth face, and this was the summer he popped up, without going to his knees, slid down the face of the wave on his 5’6" red surfboard, turned at the bottom, his back to the wave, pumping the board just like he'd seen in the movies, and riding it ahead of the whitewash, all the way to the shore, falling forward as the three small, plastic fins, dug into the sand. He looked back at me and I can't adequately describe the look on his face, but I knew it, I remember it.

I've been surfing off and on for about 25 years. Way, way more off than on. My friend Ian and I would catch the 305 bus from Village Park in Encinitas, transfer to the 301 south to Cardiff, turning a 10 mile ride into about 45 minutes. We sat on the wide back seat of the bus, holding our surfboards. I remember the first real wave I caught. It was at Pipes in Cardiff, no wind and the swell was 2-3 feet, smooth and glassy. I remember the sound of the wave crashing behind me, the cliffs reflecting on the clear face of the wave and those few seconds that felt like minutes and that smile that didn't leave my face, still smiling as I devoured the post-surf maple bars at VG’s Doughnuts.

I was in Salt Lake City last week at a business conference and I heard from some of the best in the business at getting people motivated. I sat (and stood and jumped around) a few feet away from Tony Robbins as he worked the crowd into a frenzy, close enough to see the sweat pouring off his forehead and the spit flying from his mouth as he created this energy from the thousands of people in the arena, pushing them to celebrate, then to take it up, then to take it up yet again, until the room was shaking from the noise. I tried to play along, but really all I could think of was that morning's adventure.

Jess picked me up at 5:30 AM and we were at the Mt. Olympus trail-head a half hour before sunrise, for what I assumed would be a couple hours of some hiking, scrambling and maybe even a little running. Jess assured me that the slabs were no big deal. It wasn't technical climbing and shouldn't take us more than about 3 hours.

As the morning’s first light spread over the Salt Lake valley, our trail turned into a scramble, climbing over small rocks, then larger ones, and then we hit the 500 foot wall known as the slabs.

I started apprehensively, and was doing okay finding foot and hand holds. I'm not a climber. I've done some gym climbing with my wife, but nothing crazy, maybe some 5.7s and 5.8s, but only after a few weeks of building up hand and arm strength. This wasn't as technical as that, and it wasn't straight up, but it felt like it as I climbed, watching Jess easily navigate the slabs. I felt okay, working up what felt like 100 feet of the 500 foot climb, but was probably much less.

Photo by Jess

Our family would take summer trips to Lake Powell when I was a kid, filling a houseboat and puttering around the lake, finding a vacant alcove to dock the boat each night. After we docked, my brother and I would go explore the canyons. I remember how easy it was to climb the sloped, sandstone walls, and how great it felt to be up so high, but when it was time to descend back to the boat. I remember sitting there, frozen on a ledge, looking down and unable to see a path to get from where I was, shaking on the wall, to the safety of the boat a couple thousand feet below, or so it seemed. It was probably only 100 feet. I can't remember how I got down, only the fear of being there, stuck on the wall, looking down and thinking I could die.

That same feeling came back as I froze on the slabs, looking down to where I would get seriously hurt if I slipped, and up, to what, to me, seemed like an impossible climb. I told Jess I was done, and we climbed a little further to a bailout point, a dirt and rock path along the side of the slabs that still meant a scramble to the top, but did not mean serious injury with a misstep.

For Jess, that climb was basic, something he could do without thinking, something that he may not even call climbing, but for me, that climb was fucking epic. It was a climb I was not prepared for, and a task that elicited enough fear that I had to bail out. As we scrambled along the easier route and did some more nontechnical climbing near the summit, and as I took in the panoramic view of the Salt Lake valley from the summit, all I could think about was how great that feeling was, that excitement, adrenaline, and even the fear.

So, now I'm trying to quiet the alarm in my head when I hear or read the word "epic." For a lot of people, it's the struggle to get out of bed and interact with the world, for others, it's free soloing a climb where the slightest misstep could mean death, and it's really not for me to judge what is epic for them.

In the quest to keep our kids' brains working over the summer, we had them write in daily journals. I read my son's entry the day after that first, magical wave. He wrote about the day, catching the wave and how it felt like he was surfing Mavericks. We watched Chasing Mavericks a few times this summer as it was on HBO’s maximum rotation, catching 20 to 30 minutes at a time until we had seen the whole thing a couple times over. In his 9-year old mind, he had surfed a 30 foot wave on that 2-3 foot day, and that feeling he had, that stoke, and everything that beamed out of that smile was absolutely, undeniably epic.

Lazy Parenting

I want to preface this by saying I’m not the best dad. I’m not the worst dad, either (that honor belongs to this guy), and I feel that I do get it right occasionally, but I’m not looking to show off about what a great dad I am. In fact, I already messed up pretty bad today.

My wife took the Jeep in to get the oil changed (which ended up being a $500 trip for changing all the fluids and an engine tune-up…I’m sure glad they sent us that $24 oil change coupon). So, she’s asking for a loaner car from the dealership and she texts me, but I didn’t know that my 12-year old daughter was also in the group text, and it went something like this:

Wife: Got a loaner for the day…
Me: Sweet. I got a boner for the day…
12-year-old: that’s disgusting.
Me: Sorry. Didn’t know this was a group msg.
12-year-old: sigh
Wife: lolz

The main lesson here is don’t say or text any word that rhymes with “boner” around me.

Now that I think about it, that probably wasn’t even the worst parenting fail that I made this week. But, like I said, sometimes I get it right.

A couple of weeks ago, Saturday, my kids were going after each other, arguing, and snapping at each other, which happened as we were trying to figure out our plans for that Saturday. They quickly responded with movies, Legoland, and Disneyland. None of those sounded great to me, so they threw out some other options, mostly arguing, but some wrestling, too, and an inadvertent elbow was thrown followed by an extremely advertent punch. There’s this trail that I run on quite a bit. We call it Andy’s trail because Andy is the one that first gave us the tour of the single-track that runs along Escondido Creek, crossing it a couple of times, and through the welcome cover of trees. As I watched one of my kids throw a punch at the other, and the crying that followed, all I wanted to do was to get out of the house and head to that trail.

I’ve been wanting to take the kids down there since I first ran it a few years ago, but for some reason it hasn’t happened. That Saturday morning seemed like a perfect time, plus it would save me the hundreds of dollars that would be spent mingling with sweaty tourists in cramped spaces and buying overpriced food. Of course the kids thought this was the worst idea ever, and my oldest daughter announced she wasn’t going. I once read in some parenting blog or maybe it was a book written by a PhD that you should give your kids the freedom to offer a logical explanation for the reasons that they do things, so recalling this information I shouted, “put your damn shoes on and get in the Jeep in the next 10 minutes, or your phone is mine for the next week.” She may have rolled her eyes, but it worked. The Jeep was packed with kids, water and snacks and we were at the trail within 15 minutes.

As we took the first few steps on the trail, all the tension, the stress of the morning, the fighting, and the yelling disappeared. The kids walked, ran, climbed trees, crossed rivers, sometimes holding hands, helping each other over the steep and more technical areas, and within a few minutes of our hike, my oldest daughter exclaimed, “this is the most beautiful trail I have ever seen.”

My daughter and I walked hand in hand behind the rest of the family and we talked. It was about something important, but I don’t remember what it was. All I can remember is that we walked along the trail holding hands, and that hardly happens at all anymore as we navigate the awkward father daughter relationship as she grows into a woman, trying to find her place, and manage hormones, boys, mean girls, and friends, and we’re both new to this, so being out on the trail and talking while she held my hand was just exactly what we both needed.

I sometimes feel like a lazy parent, letting my kids play computer games or watch TV rather than pushing them to go outside and play. But man, there’s really something to be said for getting the kids out to nature. It’s the lazy parents dream. It’s hard getting all the camping shit together and setting up tents, but once you’re out there, it’s cake.

Last weekend, I captained an aid station for the San Diego 100. My wife was working medical for the race, so we decided to make it a family affair. I went up Friday morning and set up a nice site right on Lake Cuyamaca, I sipped a couple of beers and by the time the kids got there, I was content and relaxed. When my wife pulled up with the kids, they immediately ran to the lake and started gathering sticks and feathers. They hooked up with some other kids and played around the lake, out-of-sight, and it was all I could do to not check up on them. Anything can happen out there, but I’m learning to hold back and let nature teach them.

It doesn’t hurt that one of her responsibilities involved sponging off an Italian male model
They helped at the aid station. My oldest had the job of sponging off the hot, tired runners with ice cold water. She did the same thing last year, and she likes the work. It’s great to see the looks on the runners’ faces as the ice water rolls off the back of their necks and down their backs. My two younger kids helped fill up cups with water and coke, and then they helped keep track of the runners’ numbers as they ran into the checkpoint. The kids were out there in the heat for about six hours, and they didn’t complain. No iPads, no TVs, just helping out a lot of tired runners who had the goal of completing 100 miles by foot. These are the people that I want my kids to be around.

That night, as the runners were still out on the course, my wife took the girls to help set up the finish line bags and cots where runners would collapse after their work was done.

My son and I stayed at the campsite where I had promised to break out the fishing rod. I recently bought a Tenkara fly fishing rod, which is basically just a long bamboo stick with line tied to the top, and a fly at the end. It’s a very simple set-up, no reels, just a stick and a line, which works for me, because the fewer moving parts, the better. I taught him how to cast, and how to mimic a bug landing on the lake, hopping lightly on the surface. He caught on pretty quickly, and within an hour, he had pulled out 3 small bass. I showed him how to remove the hook, and we threw the fish back in the lake. By the time we threw the last fish back, it was dark, but he wanted to keep going. It was late, but he wanted to tell his mom about his first fish. I still remember the tug of the line at a small lake in Big Sky, Montana, fishing with my grandpa, my brother and my sister. I remember pulling it in, and the slippery skin. I was surprised that my mom knew how to clean the fish, and I remember the taste of fresh trout fried in butter.

I don’t set out to teach lessons or create these memories. I just love to be in the mountains or on the trails, and I love to share those things with my family, letting nature do the parenting, waking up to the sounds of hungry geese and going to sleep with dirt under their fingers, smelling of fish and fire, and eyes full of beauty and pride. Nature is a good parent.

Scorched Earth

We moved to San Elijo Hills in 2005. At the time, I was training for triathlons and just starting to get into trail running. One of the things that drew me to the area was the extensive trail network. I started with the wide, manicured paths that led to the schools and grocery store, then as the distances grew, I became more adventurous, covering more trail miles and discovering an amazing network of beautiful trails surrounding our dense suburban neighborhood. The wilderness was outside my door, and it became my playground.

Early fires on Double Peak
It has been a particularly dry year in Southern California, so when the fires started, the trails really didn’t stand a chance. When I saw the flames on top of Double Peak, my heart broke. One of the nice things about keeping a blog like this is that it preserves so many good memories. I did a quick search on Double Peak in these pages, and so many good things popped out, Mother’s Day hikes, early morning runs with friends, a run in remembrance of a departed dog, countless sunrises and sunsets, Fourth of July hikes with my oldest daughter for the best vantage point in the county, the start and finish line of our underground trail marathon, and hill repeats that made me throw up. I have an intimate relationship with that hill, and to see it on fire floored me.

At the start of the Inaugural San Elijo Trail Marathon

I didn't want to run up there today. I wanted to ignore it, to wait and experience it with the friends that I have shared so many miles with, but as I sat in my office in the shadow of the Peak, I felt like my heart was being squeezed with cables, and I knew that I had to go see it.

It was what I imagined it to be, skeletons of trees and black earth everywhere, tracks from fire trucks and bulldozers, small patches still smoldering and the smell of burnt wood, but the trail was still there.

I have run in some amazing places, but these trails are home to me. They have made me a better runner, and I have left hundreds of thousands of footprints in their brown dirt, discovering new routes, linking together old ones, and being absolutely crushed by the sun and the steepness, and while the trails may seem insignificant, and rightly so when compared to peoples’ lives and houses, they have a special meaning to me as they fuel my passion and have made me the runner that I am today.

I went solo today, because those have always been my hardest runs, the runs that build fitness, the runs that turn into walks, and eventually incoherent stumbles with not enough water and not enough strength. I have been burned out there to the ground, but those are the runs that make the good ones possible.

During the last race I ran, the Leona Divide 50K, I thought about one of those runs. It was a 28 miler where I started with a couple friends who pulled off one by one, leaving me alone at the end to climb up the back side of Double Peak. I thought of that run whenever I was feeling down in the race, and I remembered how awful that run was, and how it took me to a place that hurt, and I remembered the top of the climb, sitting on a park bench near the telescope on Double Peak, avoiding eye contact with the few other people up there as I sat with my head between my legs, spitting, drooling, and trying to hold it together. I knew that if I could get through a run like that, I could finish the race. Those are the runs that build strength, the runs that burn you to the ground, to your base, and allow you to grow into something better.

The base trails are still out there, and as I made the steep climb, I saw a ribbon tied on a branch. It was probably placed there by a firefighter, an all clear sign, or a line of defense, but to me and to anyone who has ever run a trail race, it’s a trail marker, a sign that everything is going to be okay, and that you are on the right track.

There is something stark and beautiful about the trails now, a fertile ground ready for rebirth. I’ll be out there looking for the change, and the new growth in the hills, and I look forward to being cut down to the base, covering the trails with footprints and sweat, and growing with the trails that are my home.

Leona Divide 50K

It's been a long time since I last raced. I'm pretty sure that the the ill-fated 2013 Miwok 100K was the last time I pinned a freshly crumpled race bib to my shorts. I hadn't signed up for any races this year, but thanks to my friend Chris, who won an entry to the Leona Divide 50K at a charity auction and somewhat uncharitably donated the entry to me, I was racing whether I liked it or not. Chris, by the way, ran the 50 miler and had a great race. He ran right through the finish line and kept going, running into some chairs and a couple of helpful bystanders.

I was very happy with my training coming into the race. The 50K training plan that I set up worked really well for me. It wasn't too much to handle, and I think all the extra stuff helped keep me healthy (MYRTL, foam rolling, cross training on the bike, core work). I feel like all that extra stuff, plus taking rest and recovery seriously, is as important as putting in the miles, especially as I age and the miles add up. I also really appreciate the advice of James Walsh, who suggested I add a fast finish long run every other week. I cursed him while I was running those, and I hope what I said under my breath doesn't hurt his chances to get into heaven. Those workouts were so tough, but I think they really paid dividends during the race.

There's not much in Palmdale. There were clouds covering the mountains to the west, bringing the rain, wind and snow, but by race day the clouds were mostly gone, the wind blew a bit, carrying some snow flurries, but it was crisp and beautiful running weather for most of the day. But yeah, not much in Palmdale and I really wanted sushi the night before the race, and there was this place called Shogun that was a little outside of town, if sprawling flat towns like Palmdale have an outside. It seems that there is no center there, and everything is outside of town, but this sushi place across the street from a few deserted warehouses and a Boys and Girls Club took me right back to Japan. It was some of the best sushi I've ever had. As soon as I opened the door and smelled the oil from the tempura, I knew that we had picked a good place.

My wife joined me for the weekend. It was the first race she has been able to come to in a few years and it was great having her there. Seeing her at the finish was one of the highlights for me, and made the day worth it.

Our marriage is sponsored by Patagonia (#sufferbetter)

The race director, Keira Heninger, found out a few weeks before the race that the course would have to change. The new route was run mostly on the PCT, and I was really worried about that. The PCT is pretty narrow, and this race had two long out and back sections on the PCT, but that really turned out to be one of the best parts. First of all, the sweeping views from the PCT were beautiful, and the other racers were so supportive of each other, offering "good jobs," "nice work," looking good," and "keep it up" as we squeezed by each other. Usually these races are much more solitary, but it was nice to share the trails with fellow racers, especially this group of trail runners.

My race was unspectacular. I passed some people, and I was passed by some people. I had a goal of finishing in between 5 and 6 hours, and I came in at 5:23, so I was happy with that, and I haven't run a lot of 50Ks, but that was my second fastest time, and my fastest time in seven years. Looking back on the race, I feel like I could have run certain sections harder, and that I walked some sections that I should have run, but that's easy to say a week later while sitting in a comfortable chair, sipping a cup of coffee.

My desire to race has been waning, so I don't have any other races on the schedule for this year, but I know racing has its necessary place; it motivates me to get the training in, it pushes me to run faster than I would if I were just out enjoying the trail, but as I take this running journey, I know that my favorite type of running is just getting out on the trails for a stress-free run, not worrying about time or distance, just appreciating the day.

Another benefit of racing: cool race photos

May you be blessed with a grimace that looks like a smile...people will think you're always positive.

Thanks for reading.

Spirit Animal

It’s not uncommon that I see a coyote during a run, but it’s still infrequent enough that I get excited when I see one. I usually see them trotting in the other direction, nonchalant, having already seen or heard my heavy footsteps, not sprinting off scared, more of a saunter, an “I’m faster than you, and I don’t want to be too close, but I don’t need to run very fast either” retreat. I’ll watch as they disappear into the bushes. And even though it takes seconds for me to run to where the coyote left the trail, and the brush isn't very thick, I usually can’t see them, as if they were never there.

I have seen coyotes rip apart a house cat in seconds, then drag it away when they sensed me watching them.

The coyote I found in the middle of the trail was young, and small, about half the size of my dog, who I’m nearly certain has some coyote in her. She walks with the same tall, stiff rear legs, and her face and bushy tail shares something wild with the coyote.

I wasn't sure if it was dead, so I cleared my throat loudly as I approached, and it just lay there, motionless, but no apparent injury that I could see, no blood, except for a worn part of its leg where the ants were starting the decomposition process.

Its eyes were open, and there were no bites, no scratches, no sign of a struggle, just a young dead coyote in the middle of a trail. I made the sign of the cross over it. I’m not religious, and I wasn’t sure I got the order right, so I tried to remember the rhyme about spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch, or was it watch and wallet?

In my head, I thanked the coyote for running the trails, for creating new ones for me to follow, and I apologized to the dead coyote for paving over its trails, and for building houses in its hunting ground.

I ran on, pushing hard up a hill called the Whiptail Loop, and towards the top I saw another coyote, just the head and ears off to the side of the trail about 30 feet away, and I sped up to try to follow it, but by the time I ran to where I had seen it, the coyote was gone.

Life is Going to Kill You

Whenever a new study comes out that links running to heart disease, bone loss, death, or whatever else may generate headlines and web traffic, people email them to me, or tell me with a concerned tilt of the head and a hushed tone, “you know, running a lot is bad for you.” I’m sure these people mean well, and I appreciate the concern, but I’m not planning on changing anything.

The first time I read one of these studies, I was worried. Like most who initially lace up running shoes, I hoped that running would lead to a longer, healthier life. One where my wife and I would lie in separate bathtubs at the edge of a lake, watch the sun go down and wait for the drugs to kick in (what’s so bad about a 4 hour erection, anyway?). Of course, as soon as a negative study is published, articles appear that challenge and discredit the research. I can’t remember if the counter-argument claimed too small a sample size, or if there was a bias against running, or if the data was misinterpreted. I just remember finding some research to back up my beliefs, and everything was fine again. Time to get some big miles in.

After a few more of these studies appeared that linked heavy training to heart problems later in life, I’m not sure I can just ignore the results any longer, but to be honest, I don’t plan on cutting out any trail time.

Being healthy is way down on the list of reasons why I run, maybe 8th or 9th. Here are a few of the things that come ahead of staying healthy:

  1. So I don’t break things or yell at people.
  2. To try to arrange a regular morning run and end up with endless text messages questioning sexuality, toughness, masturbation, hotness of various spouses, etc.
  3. To be able to wear runderwear in public places.
  4. To be able to run on the most beautiful trails in the world, and to go to the bathroom on them.
  5. To learn Hebrew swear words.
  6. To do a bunch of hill repeats, then walk around with the good kind of soreness for a couple of days.
  7. To spend time with friends.
  8. To create a plan, follow it, and see the transformation and the payoff from the hard work.

Last Saturday night I was ready to break something. It’s not a feeling that comes very often, and I’m not sure what triggers it, but when I feel it, I know that I just need to be alone. I need to be away from my family, away from noise, and be able to lay down and shut everything out in a quiet place. It’s a scary feeling, a combination of a lack of control and feeling the edge getting closer.

I told my wife I was going to bed, and she looked at the clock, and rolled her eyes. 7:30? Seriously? I don’t think I said anything, and after asking if I was all right, and if she did anything, she just left me alone. I didn't sleep very well. I was planning a long run, 4 hours or so, the next day. There was a group running Noble Canyon, in the mountains east of San Diego, and I really didn't want to make the drive, and had planned on staying local and putting in my four hours on less exciting, but closer trails. I woke up at 4 AM, and couldn't go back to sleep. I just sat there in bed, and finally said screw it, I’m going to the mountains.

The run was beautiful, as it usually is in the mountains, but there was something special about that day, something that made everything right. I felt light on the hills, and spent some time talking and running with Scotty Mills, who always has some wise words, and you can’t run with him without picking up some great advice, or catching some of his contagious love of the trails.

After the run, I had to rush home and arrived just in time to coach my son’s soccer game, and I couldn't have been happier. Not every run is like this. Some are absolutely awful, some are just painful, and some are boring. The average runs are far more common, but those few days where everything just flows more than make up for all the others.

Recently, my wife spent some time volunteering for hospice and she would come home and tell me stories about these people who were close to death. Most of them had saved for a long retirement, and had grand plans to travel the world. They had sacrificed their whole lives to spend their golden years doing what they loved to do. Then they got cancer. Some had never touched a drop of alcohol, smoked a cigarette, and most did what they could to ensure a healthy, long life, and now they had weeks or days to live, and their biggest regret was planning for a future while neglecting the present.

(Photo: Jason Smith)
I went on a run last week, just a regular weekday morning run in a long line of 6:30 AM runs with a few running partners that have become some of my best friends. We picked a hilly route, one we hadn't done in a while, and set off, conversation coming easy, shit-talking coming easier. We talked about the things we always do while we run…work, family, world conflicts, and which of us has the most supple ass. This run was different, though. A few of the guys are moving, so we know that our group will change, and I had this feeling of gratitude for these people, some of whom I've know for just a couple of years.

I don’t know of another activity that brings people together as close as running does (well, maybe one other activity). The time spent on the trails, hours and hours of conversations, bonding through the physical struggles, and the pain all serve to strengthen those friendships. Those meaningful relationships are what makes life worth living, and aside from family, a lot of my most meaningful relationships have been formed on the trails.

I don’t know if running will lead to an early death, and I don’t know if the hours I’m spending on the trails are doing more harm than good, but I do know that I’m not getting out alive. Death wins. I also know what makes me happy, what calms me, and gives me peace, and it’s such a simple thing; just putting one foot in front of the other, preferably with others on a trail under the trees. It connects me to the land and others who share this passion, and it’s the only way I can live my life.

The Top One Thing Every Amazing Runner Does Before 8 AM (Number One Blew My Mind, But You'll Never Guess What Happened Next)

I can't resist clicking on those links, the new era of self-help articles via the short, bullet point list of The Top Ten Things [insert something successful and idealistic here] Does Every Day. I read them even though I know in advance that there won't be a lot of substance. We have distilled our advice to junk food bullet points with no emotion; glossy-sounding tips created in someone's sterile life-lab, stripped from any real experience. I clicked on one about the top ten things successful people do, and realized that, wow, I occasionally multitask, act rashly, and sometimes even dwell on the past. Kiss any notion of success goodbye.

I don't want to be accused of click-baiting, so there is this running tip that has been working for me lately, and while I'm sure it has been said before, it just struck me as so obvious and simple, that I wanted to share it. I figure I owe at least one bullet point based on the obnoxious headline.

  • Fake it.

When you're out there running, struggling, tired, and the hill is winning, your body will reflect it. Your head will be bowed as if that section 3 inches in front of your feet holds the keys to the Universe's most pressing question (which, by the way, is "Kim Kardashian?"), your shoulders are so hunched that Quasimodo would offer some advice on posture, and your two feet are engaged in a battle over which one can take the smallest step.

I know, because I've been there. I was there last week on a steep climb, the second time up a mile and a quarter hill repeat. I pushed too hard on the first one, and didn't have much energy for the second, but I vowed to myself that I wouldn't walk it, so I trudged along, letting the win. Then I saw my shadow, hunched over, head hung low, and shuffling along, and it hit me...that person in the shadow hates what he is doing. What would I look like if I actually enjoyed running? What would I look like if I was on one of those elusive perfect runs, the kind where everything feels easy, and perfect form comes effortlessly? I pulled my head up, pushed my chest out, pulled my shoulders back, and increased my stride (just a little bit, because I was still hurting pretty bad), but it worked. I faked it, and immediately felt better. I was still hurting, just not as much. Good form leads to efficient running and energy savings, so fake it, just run like someone who loves to run. It can make your bad days a little more bearable.

Channel your inner Ethiopian

If you have kids that play video games, you probably know about Minecraft. It's probably the most visually boring game ever, and I played Pong on my Atari. My son loves it. He plays it whenever he has a chance, which is usually after his homework and chores are done. I'll watch him play it, and what, to me, is the most boring video game in the world with graphics straight from 1982, to him, is his own world that he created and controls, so there are some creativity, engineering, and organizational skills that are being nurtured, or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Do you know what I dislike more than Minecraft? Listening to my son tell me the intricate details of the world he is building in Minecraft. But, I do it anyway, with a smile on my face, an occasional nod, and some well-timed "wows," "that's neat," "you did what?" and "I can't believe your character slept for 8 straight hours...that's amazing." I fake it. Sometimes, I even see it as a challenge; exactly how much feigned interest can I show without actually figuring out what a "Zombie-Pigman" is. I don't need any self-help bullet points to tell me that while I may not care about Minecraft, I love my son, and if I want to be happy, I'll turn off the computer, or put the phone away and try my hardest to pretend that Minecraft is the coolest thing that I have ever seen.

Double Peak Repeats

San Diego is known for a lot of things (nice beaches, staying classy, handsy politicians, apathetic sports fans), but bad weather isn't one of them, so last week, when the most recent MegaSuperStorm of the century rolled in and dumped some rain on us, I was ready to log some muddy trail time.

The day started with that Cadillac commercial, the one where the guy is walking around a house talking about how lazy people are, and how they take the whole month of August off in France, and the difference between taking a month off and a couple of weeks off is a shiny new Cadillac. I decided to take the rest of the day off.

My wife and I saw the pre-noon showing of Non-Stop, the Liam Neeson movie. The one where he kicks copious amounts of ass, and eventually saves everyone (Spoiler Alert!). We weren't planning on seeing this movie, but the Key & Peele sketchvertisement put us over the edge. More advertising should be like this.

By the time we returned home, the rain and winds had really picked up, and you can't just sit still after watching a Liam Neesons movie, you just can't.

I don't want to dramatize our storm too much, but we're used to a spectrum of weather that ranges between "mostly sunny" to "clear with a chance of you might need to wear a shirt with sleeves" weather and 10 degree swings from 65 to 75 degrees year-round. So, when the wind picks up and the water starts falling from the sky, we kind of freak out here.

The workout for the day was hill repeats, and my hill is called Double Peak, which is one of the highest points in the county and has a view that encompasses Palomar Mountain, the San Bernardino Mountains, Tijuana, and the Pacific Ocean from La Jolla to Catalina Island. The wind was screaming off the Pacific, unhindered and helped to push me up the initial climb to "The Secret Trail," which is secret in name only as there is a big sign there that reads "Secret Trail."

My workout called for three hill repeats, three loops starting with the one mile-ish, rolling Secret trail to the back side of Double Peak, which is one of those hands on the knees climbs. If I can run half of the climb, I am happy. It's about 5 minutes to the top, then a quick, technical descent back to the Secret trail.

The first repeat was fueled by Liam Neeson vengeance (which is the name of my new performance your doctor if your erection lasts longer than 3 hours, or if you get the urge to beat up vaguely Middle Eastern terrorist/human trafficking organizations with nothing but your bare hands and your 3 hour erection). By the second repeat, the movie theater popcorn had hit and had the opposite effect of Liam Neeson vengeance. I struggled to reach the rock formation that is about halfway up the climb without walking, and tried to keep my heart from trying to free itself from the confines of my rib cage.

At the top of the second loop, I saw a dad with two little boys in wind jackets. The younger boy was clearly scared, holding tight to his dad's hand and trying to turn away from the wind. I smiled at him and yelled, "THIS IS LIVING," which probably didn't help calm him down at all.

I fought the wind on the narrow and steep trail down the front of the hill, pushing against the wind, but trying to brake as I slipped down the muddy trail with wind in my ears and rain stinging my eyes. I hit the Secret trail, where the hill offered protection from the wind, then turned up for my last repeat, pushing as hard as I could, but not going much faster than the previous repeat, hitting the telescope at the top of the peak in just under 5 minutes.

The unimpeded wind had picked up at the top. I sat on a bench, and watched people who had driven up to watch the storm roll in try to open their car doors against the wind, then giving up and driving home. I sat there alone and leaned my head back and as the wind rushed over me and the rain soaked me, I took long, deep, tired breaths.

The next day, when the wind picked up and the clouds started to roll in, I grabbed my two youngest kids and drove to the top of Double Peak, briefly stopping to yell at James and Maggie as they glided down the hill. I wanted to rush up there before the howling winds died down, because it's not very often we get a chance to feel what it's like to fly.

On Inconsistency

My wife used to be an amazing runner.

She made it to state at Mesa College, then went on to run at track and cross country at UCSD. When we were first dating, I would go watch her run at track meets. I would sit on the stone steps of the stadium, and wait for hours before she would run, bored out of my mind as she hung out with her team, and I would force a smile every time she looked up at me from the track where she spent what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time, stretching, running short sprints, stretching again, jogging, then stretching again, then taking off her warm-up clothes and bouncing around a little bit, then stretching again. When the gun went off for her event, which was the 5000 Meters (which is something like 1,476 times around the track), and I watched intently as she suffered in the heat, running lap after lap, not in the front pack, somewhere in the middle, where the cheers weren't as loud, but I could see how focused and driven she was. In my eyes, she flew around that track, and at the finish, 17 or 18 minutes later, she put her hands on her knees and would look up to where I was sitting, cheering for her, and smile.

She talks a lot about those days, not in the glory days, we could have won state, "bet I can throw a football over them mountains" kind of way, but in a "it was so much fun to run hard every day, and to be fast" kind of way.

I get frustrated with her every time we run together, because I saw how fast she used to be, and how much potential she has. She talks about running consistently again, getting back into a routine, getting fast, not college days fast, but 45-minute 10K fast, and I always tell her the same thing, "if you trained with any kind of consistency, you could be so fast, so strong, but you never string together a long training cycle."

We went running on Valentine's Day together, and I was kind of being a dick (which is something I'm pretty consistent at), and as she was struggling to run up a trail, I was telling her to push harder, to not take so many walk breaks, and I was about to go into my "you need to train more consistently" speech, but I stopped.

It's hard for her to be consistent. We have three kids, so she took some long breaks from running during pregnancies, and also when the kids were little. We now have the luxury of a built-in babysitter, but now my wife has decided to become a nurse and is in school full-time, some days leaving at 4:30 AM for clinicals and coming home at 5:30 PM. She still makes dinner for the family most nights, and packs the kids' school lunches before she leaves in the morning. Even after all of this, she runs with some friends, occasionally, inconsistently waking up at 5:00 AM to get a run in before class. Sometimes, on her days off, she plans to run in the mornings, but instead she sleeps in, just too tired to wake up, and taking advantage of the sweet luxury of turning off the alarm and going back to sleep until the daylight wakes her.

My wife is an inconsistent runner, but no matter how many times she stops training, she has never completely given up running. So, I stopped myself on our run together, and told her that I was proud that she is still running, that she keeps coming back to it, and that she has never really quit. Life has gotten in the way, and she has taken some long breaks, but she always comes back to it, and that is what is important, not a 45 minute 10K or a 100-day running streak. Her inconsistency is amazing to me, because all this time she has been an inconsistent runner, she has been a consistent wife and mother, and I love her for it.

There are very few people that can run or work out consistently for years at a time. Injuries, kids, work, and just the stuff of life can get in the way. Part of being inconsistent is starting up again. Even when there are so many other things going on, obligations, fear of how much fitness we have lost, and how much it is going to hurt, we still get out there and take those first painful steps, and enjoy a few minutes of freedom. And, no matter how many times we stop, it feels good to start again.

50K Training Plan

tl;dr version: go straight to the plan.

I started off 2014 with no real running direction. I was seriously considering the Tahoe 200, but the $800+ price tag turned me off. I put in for the Tahoe Rim Trail Lottery (for the 50 mile race), and wasn't selected. I have aspirations of running the Wonderland Trail in Washington, but that's still a blurry image in my mind that time and desire hasn't quite put into focus. My plan for the year was just to run, to enjoy running, to not run for time or distance. No need for a coach or a training plan; I just wanted to get out and run 3 or 4 days a week and then see what happened, to see where my feet would take me. Well, what happened was that I learned that I'm not wired like that.

I realized that I needed a plan. I needed something in the future, something clear and sharp in my mind to train for. Maybe someday I'll be one of those purists that can just run for miles and miles with no destination in sight, no plan, no watch, and no purpose except for running itself, but right now I need direction.

My last race...about 8 months ago.

That direction wasn't chosen by me. It was dropped into my lap by Chris (who actually is one of those aforementioned purists). Chris gave me an entry to Leona Divide 50K. He won the entry at a silent auction (thanks to Keira Henninger for the donation), and for some reason, maybe realizing that I was a lost running soul who just needed a swift kick to the ass, Chris gave me the entry. I tried to give it back to him, but he wouldn't take it. I think Chris only runs 100 milers with 30,000+ feet of gain.

I put off creating a training plan for a couple of months, because I just wasn't that motivated to train, and I figured that I could handle a 50K pretty easily.

I actually slapped myself right after I wrote that last part. Seriously. My right cheek is red, because that's such a dumb and lazy thing to say. If I'm planning to go to a race, I might as well train hard for it, and even though I could probably be lazy about the training, and show up to Leona and hike, prancercise, jog and lollygag the 31 miles, that's not really the point of a race for me. I want to train and see how fast I can cover the distance.

I didn't want to get stuck in that "it's only a 50K" attitude. I'm kind of tired of the distance trumping everything, and the fetishization of the 100 mile distance. One of the hardest things I did last year was train for and race a 10K. I thought I was going to black out near the finish. I had tunnel vision, and tasted the iron in my blood. The same taste that I had before I passed out in 4th grade after running the mile. It's what you put into a race that counts, and whether it be a 10K or a 100 miler, there comes a point in the race where you are uncomfortable, and I measure my personal success in any race by the decision to push past that point, or to back off and stay in a comfortable place. My goal for the Leona Divide is to train hard enough in the next 3 months to be able to run as close to the 5 hour mark as I can. It will hurt, and it's not going to be a lot of fun, but just having that goal, and creating a plan to help me accomplish it has given me motivation, drive, and a level of enjoyment of running that has been missing since I got off the John Muir Trail last year.

There aren't a lot of 50K training plans out there, so I decided to share mine in hopes that it will help others develop their own.

In creating this plan, I was heavily influenced by The Dream Season article by Ian Torrence. There is a lot of good advice on setting up a plan in that article, and for this 14-week training cycle I am going to be focusing on strength and mobility, hillwork, and increasing my endurance.

Strength and Mobility

I have found that while running is a big part of any training plan, as I get older, the other stuff gets more and more important, especially strength and mobility work and good nutrition. I like to keep it very simple and rely mostly on bodyweight core exercises. For this plan, I have incorporated the MYRTL routine 3-4 times per week. I am also mixing in a strength circuit from Mario Fraioli once a week, and adding in my own kettle bell swing progression, and single-legged jump rope. I'm religiously using the stick and the Trigger Point  roller every night before bed on my calves, IT bands, quads, and hamstrings. When I take the time to roll out all the tightness at night, it's much easier to get out of bed the next morning and I don't look like I'm method acting for Bad Grandpa 2 (I prefer method acting for Bad Santa 2).

Long, and recovery runs

About 90% of the running I do is on trails in the hills around my house, so even the easy runs incorporate hills; I just try to hold back on the pace during easy, long runs and recovery runs.


I'm going heavy on the hills for this training cycle because the Leona Divide course is pretty hilly with 4,900 feet of elevation gain and some extended 1,000+ foot climbs. I have a few favorite hills that I use for hill repeats. I think everyone needs to develop a special relationship with their hills. Mine are like psycho girlfriends. I have names for them, and I get excited thinking about them, but also kind of sick in a bad way. These are the kind of hills that are real good for a short amount of time, but I don't want to hang out for too long afterwards (I guess I'm still talking about hills). One is super steep, short hill, the kind of hill that is staring you in the face as you climb it. The climb lasts a couple minutes and if I'm doing repeats, there is no way that I'm running all of them, so it also helps me practice some powerhiking. Another is about a mile up with about 600 feet of gain. It's a long, uninterrupted climb that, if I'm in good shape and keep a steady pace, I can run up 2 or 3 times without stopping. Another one of my favorite hill workouts is from Lucho and is a hill fartlek run. It's basically one of my regular 6-ish mile hilly routes, but I push the pace on the uphills harder than normal and take the downhills and flats easier than normal to recover.

The Plan

If you're looking to copy this plan, you should know that I'm starting from a solid base of about 3-4 1-hour runs per week with the occasional 1 1/2- to 2-hour run thrown in on the weekends. These are all hilly trail runs, and while I feel out of shape, that is relative, as I'm not starting from the couch. I weigh 177 pounds right now, and I feel best and fastest when I'm in the 165-170 range, so I'm looking to gradually drop about 10 pounds.

This is my 50K plan. If you're semi out of shape, 40, bearded, not too fast, but not too slow, and running a hilly, but not very technical 50K, this is for you. If not, you may want to make some changes. The plan is in Google doc format, so you can download it and change it to suit your needs.

Let me know if you used the plan and how it worked for you. Thanks for reading.

6th Annual "No Puking on the Trail" New Year's Day Run

The Payoff (pic courtesy of Paul Jesse)

The climb isn't super steep or crazy long, it's just a grind. It's a climb that I can do without taking a walk break, but only if I don't push too hard at the bottom. It's my favorite climb, and I know every turn by now, I know there will be some shade at the bottom, and I know that the initial steep section lasts a quarter of a mile. It flattens out a little bit, then the rocky switchbacks start and there is no more shade and it gets steep again. I know where the two false tops are and even though I know they are there and that there is still some climbing to be done, I still have this faint glimmer of hope that the false top that I have crossed hundreds of times is the real top, as stupid as that sounds, and there is still some disappointment when I turn the corner and see more hill. I've started the past six years with this climb, and I am lucky enough to share it with friends and family in what started out as just a couple of us attempting to hold down the food and drink consumed during the previous night of New Year's Eve partying and sweat out the poisons with the most amazing hangover cure of replacing suffering with greater suffering. The rolling trails after the initial climb as well as the views at the top with frequent re-grouping stops along the way are just icing on the cake.

The New Year's Day run is always one of my favorite runs of the year and I get to re-connect with people that I have shared trails with in the past and run with those that I am lucky enough to run with on a regular basis. My favorite part of this run is the variety of people that it draws. This year my family made up a large contingent of the group and it was so amazing to see my nieces, nephews, and the rest of my family make the climb to start off the new year.

Some came and hiked, some road runners training for their next Boston qualifiers and sporting marathon times in the mid-2 hour range braved the rocks, roots, twists and turns of the trails, and couldn't quite figure out why the rest of us kept stopping. There were a few that started a couple hours early to get more than the 6-8 miles in, and some that hiked up half a mile, then looped back to the cool waters of the creek, but everyone from the elite ultrarunners to the youngest kids shared the same joy of being outside, taking part in the struggle, the views at the top, and the friendships that are renewed and solidified on the trails, and I can't think of a better way to start the year.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.

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