Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What If Our End of Days Was Tomorrow - Musings on the Apocalypse

We live in a sick, twisted world.  This world is cold and unforgiving.  No, something didn't just "happen to me" that's suddenly made me turn dark and negative.  Turn on the news anytime you like and you'll get the latest and greatest DOOM and GLOOM.  It's the reason I do not watch the news anymore (to be honest, ESPN SportsCenter is now depressing enough)...

*stands up on soap box, 1/2 of crowd walks away while 1/4 of crowd rolls eyes*

Most American news stations are there to make money (not necessarily to report the most important breaking news, as we may have been force fed to believe).  News stations will show us and report on the most horrific things they can find because fear is compelling and draws higher viewer ratings.  The more blood, guts and fear they peddle, the more 90% of the American public watch.  The higher the viewer ratings, the higher the dollars paid for advertising spots and the more profitable a news outfit is.

Think of it this way: when we pass a really, really bad accident on the freeway (that is on the opposite side of the divider), often times, traffic is worse for the lookie-loos than it is for the reduced to 2-lanes accident side.  Most humans simply can't help themselves.  In America, generally people get more up-in-arms over the sight of a woman's breast (on TV or movies) than they do seeing graphic violence in a TV show or movie.  Graphic violence is commonplace (and accepted) because we see it on the news nearly every day.

*steps off of soap box after having lost 1/2 the audience again*

ESPN SportsCenter news clip:

On a run a couple nights ago (pretty much how every one of my BLOGS starts and is conceived) I was back and forth with one of my best buddies, Josh,

JDF - "So, are you ready for the end of the world?"
JS - "Maybe. But might just be the end of things the way we knew it. New beginning, maybe?"
JDF - "The way things have gone in the world, recently, wouldn't surprise me if the powers that be hit the reset button saying, 'well, that experiment failed.'"
JS - "Yeah, no kidding. But I don't think it's going to end."
JDF - "Neither do I... but I can't help but wonder if one of these days, somebody is finally going to be right about it. If it really were the end, we've got a lot to get done in the next few days."

So, here's the thing (wait for it...)...

What IF the world were going to end in a day or two?

If you knew you had 1 FULL DAY left, what would you do with it?

Start here: nearly everyone regrets something (according to every interview of people on their death bed, they regret what they did NOT do most, very few talk of regrets of having done something specifically).  Most of my regrets are from interpersonal interaction, and again, generally I regret things I didn't SAY and didn't DO, not the mistakes I made (which I learned from, ultimately).  If you only had a day or two to live, would you call a family member OR close friend whom you've had a "falling out" with and bury the hatchet?  Would you make sure those you love most know how much they are loved by expressing that to them?  Would you do something new you've always wanted to do but never made the time for?  Would you be more courageous if our time was about to run out?

What would YOU do?

My invitation to you (if you had the mental stamina to make it this far in my blabbering foolishness)... call somebody, RIGHT NOW.  It can be someone you love to make sure they know how much.  Sometimes that's the easy call.  So make that call first.  Then when you hang up, call the person you ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO CALL.  Bury the hatchet, fall on the sword, take your lumps, be the bigger person (insert whatever cliche will inspire you)... because the world MIGHT just end, and why not have the energy surrounding you be love and renewal?

Even if you don't believe the world will end, the person(s) you failed to call might be gone sooner than you think, suddenly, unexpectedly.  I lost a friend I loved dearly in October, the day before my birthday (she was my age), and I think about that almost every day.  Our time here is short, it's going to be done-and-gone before we know it.  Get right with the people that are (or were) the most important to you... and do it NOW. *I'm not writing ANY MORE until you do*

Let me know (in the comments) what you did!  Who did you call???

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Dispersers - Qualities & Traits of a Life Well Lived

This is a REPOST with permission from the author (thank you, Mr. Miller).  I read it and it was too compelling to NOT to share it with all of you (and have a place I could easily refer back to often, as I intend to remind myself of these messages).  I hope you are challenged by it and it provokes many emotions and thoughts, but mainly, I hope it calls you to live life.


Like the rest of us, I knew Micah [True]. I’m sure not as well as many here but I considered him a friend and he affected my life deeply, in many ways. I've had a lot of time lately to reflect on Micah’s life and death as I've been injured. I've shared some of those thoughts in other venues but I've also had the opportunity to step back and ponder the bigger picture, because for me, Micah was not the first larger-than-life, charismatic, dynamic, inspirational man to enter my life, change the way I think, and leave again far too early. For me he was the seventh. There are many commonalities amongst all of these men, and I've been thinking about things like what makes for a well-lived life? What makes for a good death? Why does it seem like the best among us leave far too soon? And what is it that made these men who they were and what drove them to do the things they did.

I would love to tell you stories about all these great men, because there are amazing stories to be told but I don’t think I have 8 days to speak so I’ll try to keep it brief. I’ll tell you about a biologist friend of mine who studied the worlds greatest carnivores, grizzlies and Siberian tigers and in the end he was killed and eaten by a bear at age 49. Another friend was one of the worlds best mountain climbers, he was killed in an avalanche at age 40. Another was an endurance athlete who didn't own a car but rather rode to races on his single speed road bike. He was a Hardrocker, and a finisher of a race where he ran 700 miles in 12 days. He died in the last mile of the Tucson marathon at age 40. My own father was born into an Amish family but when he was 12 his neighbor took him for a ride in his plane, and four years later my father left his family and the Amish community and went out on his own to pursue his dream of being a pilot. When he died he was a pilot for a commercial airlines, captain of the 747 but he was killed in the crash of a plane that he wasn't even flying age 58. The same age as Micah.

These five men all died doing the things that they loved. Every one of them however, had taken great risks in their life and in the end they died doing things that for them were relatively easy and safe. For most people, the things they were doing would have been impossible, dangerous, physically demanding, lonely, frightening, but for these men it was what they did every day of their lives. They were doing what they loved but that’s not what killed them. We don’t know the exact cause of Micah's death yet, but I suspect we will find out that like the others it was more or less a random chance. They died doing what they loved not because what they were doing was so dangerous but because they spent so much time doing those things that pure statistical probability made it likely that they would be doing them when their time came. That’s beautiful man. I hope we all live lives like that. I miss all these men greatly and would gladly give a year of my life for one more week with any one of them but they led amazing lives and they died well and with no regrets and I cannot feel sad for them, only for us who have been left behind.

But I said there were seven and I've only mentioned five. Another friend who had also been a grizzly bear biologist left that field and became a computer programmer because he thought it would be a more secure future. He chose safety but he always regretted that decision. He used to tell me “Bart and Alex are out their making a life and I’m stuck here making a living”. And he was making plans to move to Alaska and join his friend Bart but before that happened he died in front of his computer late one night of a brain aneurysm  age 45. Sure, Bart got eaten by a bear and Alex died in an avalanche and you might think they died because they lived risky lives, but they had no regrets and they outlived my friend who had chosen safety and regretted it his entire life. That is truly sad. Safety is an illusion my friends. It doesn't exist. We cannot control the timing or manner of our passing but we can control our lives and for me the lesson of this is to live the best life we can and not get so caught up being afraid of death that we never truly live.

The seventh one pains me most of all. Another spectacular, larger than life personality. He grew up in Jackson Hole in the 50's and became a mountaineer and skier putting up many first ascents and first descents. He had to move to Canada because his conscience wouldn't allow him to fight and when he came back to the states many years later he became my friend. We skied and climbed together for a couple years before he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and given six months to live. He beat that by three years and we got to climb a few more mountains together but in the end he suffered a long painful death that was terrible to watch. Fighting with insurance companies, kept alive by drugs and machines. Although he lived longer than any of my other friends I would not have wished that on any of them, it would have been a fate far worse than the ones that they received.

I've thought a lot over the years about these men and what made them different. As a biologist I can tell you that in every population of animals there is a small segment of the populations that are prone to disperse. These dispersers don’t stay at home and fight for a territory to defend, they head off into the unknown by themselves. Many of them die lonely deaths in wild places but occasionally one succeeds and when they do find another population or an empty patch of habitat they can be wildly successful, spreading their genes far and wide and that keeps the dispersal gene from going extinct. It is a high risk, high reward strategy but it is critical because without these dispersers populations would not be able to expand, or adapt. They would become inbred and stagnant and eventually extinct. Dispersers keep populations vital by connecting them.

Humans have a dispersal gene too. Of course we do. Throughout history, humans have struck out in search of new lands and new people undaunted by the risk they take and many of them do die lonely deaths in wild places but a few become wildly successful and I’m sure we can think of many examples. In today’s world there are not undiscovered lands sadly, but there are still empty places in the world and people to connect and dispersers are out there climbing the peaks, studying the wildlife, flying the skies, running the trails, connecting with new people. They can’t help it. It’s in their genes. Unfortunately in today’s world there are fewer and fewer outlets for dispersers and many of them end up stuck in cubicles trying to shoehorn themselves into a life that somehow never seems to be a good fit. They have an innate deep seated need to get out and so before they go to work or after they are done they go outside and run, or bike, or climb, or ski. They dream of travelling the world and seeing new places and meeting new people. Their non-disperser friends will never understand but they are dispersers and they can’t help themselves.

Now, if you are a disperser there are some qualities that you’d better have if you’re going to be successful. You better be strong because you are going to encounter some hardship and you might have to defend yourself. You better have a positive attitude because you just have to believe that the grass is greener on the other side. You better persevere because you have a long way to go. You better be comfortable alone because you’re gonna be alone a lot. You better be smart so you can adapt to changing situations, you better be peaceable because when you get to where you are going it will be you against everyone else, you better be charismatic because you’re gonna want the people you meet to like you. You’d better have love in your heart because the whole point is to spread genes right? These men I knew had all these qualities in spades. Have you ever watched nature shows on TV? You've see then dispersing wolf trying to ingratiate themselves into a new pack. They don’t come in aggressive and belligerent or they would be killed. They come in humble and submissive, wagging their tails, this doesn't make them weak just practical.. You see the same thing amongst children on a playground or musicians entering a picking circle at a bluegrass festival. This too is a trait of dispersers and I suspect that if someone had been there to observe it, it would have been the way that Micah approached the Raramuri, humble and submissive and wagging his tail. It works.

We know what Micah did for the Raramuri. The race provided food and money to many but Micah didn't want to just give them handouts to meet their material needs he also wanted to show them that they were respected and honored by many other people and that they should be proud of their culture because that is not a lesson that they heard very often. And he did, and they responded. And Micah did the same for many of us. Us dispersers. He gave us a name, called us Mas Locos, and when the world was at war he brought us together in peace at the bottom of a canyon in Mexico, because that’s what dispersers do, they connect us. He taught us, like the Raramuri, that we are not alone, that there are others out there like us who have never really felt part of this modern world. He provided a venue where we could express all these innate qualities that we all share. Strength, perseverance, peace, love, humility. And like the Raramuri, he instilled in us a sense of pride in who we are, and we went home changed people. And now that Micah has left us I hope that we will take his lessons to heart and we will disperse out into the world with peace and love in our hearts and strength in our bodies and we will find ways to make it a more connected, and vital place. Micah showed us one way but there are many other and it’s up to us to find them, and while we are searching for our own path I hope we keep in mind one last trait that all of my friends have shared. They gave back far more than they ever got out of the world and they never bothered to collect much in the way of material wealth. Instead they collected experience and relationships and when they died they were wealthy and happy men. It’s a high risk strategy but the rewards are also great. Giving is more powerful than getting.

I’d like to finish with a word to the non-dispersers out there. You will never understand us. We know that, just as we will never understand you. The things we do seem risky and frightening to you. You are going to give us advice like Never run alone, always tell someone where you are going, be prepared for anything and always carry a massive pack loaded with rain gear, warm layers, extra food and water, a huge first aid kit, a flashlight, a cell phone, a GPS, and a SPOT. Its good advice and we should probably take it more but often we will respectfully ignore you because we are dispersers. Our destiny lies often in places beyond the reach of cell phones and search parties. We have to travel light, and we have to be free to adapt to changing conditions and we are comfortable being alone and we are comfortable with a little risk. The things we do are not frightening to us, we don’t do them in order to face fear, we do them because it is what fuels our spirit and recharges our soul, we can’t help ourselves. It’s in our genes. Sure, some of us will die out there in the lonely wild places but we are OK with that because we are more concerned with living than dying. Dying in the woods does not frighten us, what frightens us are cities and paperwork, and car crashes and sitting on a sofa watching TV and dying a long slow death trapped in a bed becoming a financial and emotional burden to our loved ones and having insurance companies decide whether it is worth keeping us alive any longer.

I’m not here to tell you to be stupid and take risks and ignore safety and to be unprepared. But nothing in that advice would have kept a single one of my friends from dying. It may have shortened the search but it wouldn't have saved their lives. Ultimately everyone of us is responsible for assuming the level of risk that we are comfortable with and there is nothing wrong with being safe but there is nothing wrong with an occasional calculated risk either. If Micah had listened to that advice he certainly would never have gone to Guatemala in the middle of a civil war and would not have gotten the name Caballo Blanco. He probably would not have become a trail runner because there were no other people to run with in those days, he would not have met the Raramuri in Leadville, traveled to Copper Canyon to live with them and he would never have started his race and many of us would not have been inspired and this would be a much smaller crowd and the world would have missed something beautiful. And if Micah hadn't done these things he would never have met Maria or Guadajuko and his last few years might have been lonely and sad rather than full of Love and peace and joy and I want to say a special thanks to Maria for providing that to him in his final years.

So please, let us go, let us explore, and connect, and inspire, and head off into the wild, lonely, empty places with wild abandon. Let us go beyond the range of cell phones and search parties. We know what we are doing , we are listening to out hearts and following our destinies. Its what we do, we can’t help ourselves and you need us out there, even if you don’t understand why. Just like we know that the world could not function if everyone were like us. We need you too and we appreciate what YOU do because, after all, somebody has to fill out our tax returns for us...

Mike Miller

"Dying ain't much of a living, boy".
-Clint Eastwood.
Said in another way, "get busy living or get busy dying."  Now get out there and connect people, and LIVE LIFE my friends...

Friday, December 07, 2012

Pandora's Race - the Danger of Signing Up for a 100-Mile Trail Run - SYNCRO-BLOG

*I invite your unique take/perspective on this post/topic in the comments! Have something to share, comment on or respond to?  I'd love to hear what you think at the end of this post!

PANDORA'S RACE - 100 Miles Closer to My True Self
On a solo run a couple times over the last two weeks, I thought to myself how early December every year since 2005, I've thought about what 100-miler(s) awaited me the following year.  It all started with Western States, as did many an ultra-runner's story. I had heard that people ran 100-miles, straight through, over mountain ranges.  I initially dismissed it as an insane misunderstanding. Then I saw an article in a running magazine (I believe it was Marathon & Beyond) likening the 100-mile run to a 100-year life-cycle, quite metaphorically.  While I was intrigued, I still wondered WHY anyone would knowingly put themselves through such an intentional physical suffering.  It didn't take long until my one major running goal (to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon) was no longer my goal, and it was time to set my sights on something new, and raise the bar on the challenge.
The olden days when Western States "auto entries" due to 2-time loser status still existed...

Pandora's Race, is what I now call it.  The race I can never again close the box on.  There are things I know now that I may have never discovered in quite the way the mountain 100-miler taught them to me.  I'm here to talk to you, both the newbie (who's never before run 100-miles straight) and the veteran (who's run 1, 10 or dozens of these things) about the inherent "danger" of signing up for the hundo...

I'm not even quite sure what position I'm taking in this opinion piece: don't sign up for 100-mile runs OR every runner should experience this?  I have solid reasons to tell you not to jump off this cliff.  I have many reasons why I am glad I did it.  So I guess I will give you the Yin&Yang and at least feel better that I did all I could to ed-u-ma-kate you prior to leading you to certain doom.
"Finished" at the Angeles Crest 100 2012, both literally and figuratively

As with anything deemed cool in the court of public opinion, this type of event has a considerable amount of hype.  No matter how hyped you are, running 5-miles is a long way, running 5-miles 20-times in a row is extreme and excessive.  Isn't running 5-miles 5-times per week for 4-weeks enough?  Most doctors will tell you that many health benefits can be achieved with 25-35 miles per week of running (said in another way: 45-min to an hour of exercise a day with a couple of days off).  Many runners training for any 50-miler to 100-miler soon learn the pain of overuse and muscular imbalances.  It's almost a 50-50 coin-flip that you'll have some major aches & pains in training up to a hundo.  Sure, we all read the blogs of those elite runners and some coaches who seem to never be injured, but as someone who has seen nearly 1,000 first time marathoners cross the line (and has worked on coaching committees and organizing groups for both USATF & Team In Training, injury numbers for most marathon programs is around 1/3rd).  So, if we're doing this to improve our health & fitness, then why do it to such extreme excess?  I spent 2006-2011 trying to talk anyone and everyone who came to me to say, "I want to run 100 miles" out of that silly idea. Call me a hypocrite. I knew I was addicted (and still very much am). Endorphin's and morphine effect the same opiod receptors in the brain.  Try asking a morphine addict how easy that addiction was to kick sometime.  Some other aspects of 100's you better warm up to: boredom, pain unlike any you've experienced, sacrifice including lack of adequate sleep.  Some in your life may turn dismissive, calling you crazy, stupid and the worst-of-all barbs: "supremely selfish". Sounds lovely, right?  It's harder than they say, and all I ever heard was "it was the hardest thing I've ever done."  That last statement undersells it.

Kate Martini Freeman and her merry maids
So, that last statement isn't entirely true.  I have done many things better than running 100-miles in a single shot.  I married my Kate.  I adopted Spirit.  I still value and cherish running alongside my baby sis in her first marathon, my big sis in her favorite half marathon and my bro-in-law Stan in his first ultra and first two hundos MORE than my own personal finishes.  I get a lot more out of helping others achieve than doing it myself.  That said, attempting to run (note: I said attempting to run, NOT "finishing") 100 miles is one of the best things I've ever done.  There are a few things it has deepened and developed in me, things I still certainly lack but qualities I wish to perpetually improve.  I have infinitely more patience (with people, with life situations and myself), I am able to put things in perspective in new ways attempting to maintain some sort of Zen in highly stressful situations, and interestingly enough I am able to take heavy-handed criticism from people close to me without spiraling into self-loathing (a problem from my past).  That's come from the crucible of pain of both training and race day.  I wonder whether I have become a better 100-mile runner as I have applied the principles of my life to racing these distances OR if I've become better at my life by applying the principles of 100-mile racing to my day to day living.  A few things I've picked up...

1. RFM - Relentless Forward Motion means never stop moving forward, until and unless you discover you've made a wrong turn.
2. WCIDRN - What Can I Do Right NOW in order to improve my situation? We often take too big a view on things like "I still have 71-miles to go" when really all we need to do is focus on the present moment to improve the big picture.
3. It ain't about the FINISH line.  Why are we always in a rush to be done?  We're not trying to be dead immediately, right?  So enjoy the journey, each step along the way, the unique views and perspective of the mountain peaks AND valley floors.  And if you enjoy the whole process and the journey itself, the finish line is even sweeter when it comes.

If you find yourself attracted to running (your first) 100 mile trail run, go back and reread my "DON'T EFFEN DO IT" paragraph again, because I've changed my mind.  In the meantime, I've gone and signed up for THREE 100's next year.  I hope to see you on the starting line next to me...
Running myself down, into another valley...

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt

Katie DeSplinter -
Jen Benna -
Dominic Grossman -
Amy Sprotson -

Huge thanks to Katie, Jen, Dom and Amy for throwing their awesome ideas, opinions and perspective into the mix!