Monday, December 23, 2013

Kayaking the River of Life - Self Limiting Beliefs & Adaptive Thinking

It took me a couple decades to figure out how much of an impact how I think (and what I believe to be true) about an experience influenced how I perceived that event, and furthermore, how my actions moving forward (in relationship to that event) would be affected.  Flashback 25 years prior: I am in lock-down psychiatric care, yep, I am institutionalized. (read more on the depression story here if this is the first you're hearing this information)  I believed I didn't belong in an institution.  I was in shock, angry and upset.  Doctors & case workers would interview me in therapy sessions, and I acted like I was completely above it all.  In group therapy, my body language was a collective "go f**k yourself" and I absolutely refused to participate.  How the patients there were treated and managed seemed to me a little bit how I imagine prison might be, but instead of everyone being a danger to each other (i.e. fights between prisoners), most inmates were just on watch for being a danger to themselves.  A couple of days into that experience, I finally started asking questions of myself and the doctors.

"How long do you expect me to be here, doctor?"

"3 months or more, Jimmy."

It was June, and I was just graduating (if one can really call it that) from elementary school and preparing to enter middle school.  It was a huge transitional time for all kids, but I was put in a whole other category of transition.  It would be like most 16 year old kids are getting drivers licenses and I'm completing a program to pilot the next space shuttle mission.  Except I was 12 pushing 13.  Well, at least chronologically I was that age. This experience launched me into a whole other mode of consciousness about life, the fragility of freedom, the societal agreements about what sanity is, and really put me in a place where I felt desperately alone in the world (for a great many years).

"3 months is my whole summer!  I can't be here 3 months!!!"

"Then you'd better start cooperating with your caretakers and case workers, Jimmy, and pretty quick."

So I started to (figuratively) dance.  Like an organ grinder monkey, I learned some tricks.  It was at that moment I realized that there was no turning back.  The institution was my new reality at least for the time being, and I had to adapt or die.  If cooperation was what would get me out of there, i.e. not fighting against my circumstances, then I was going to be the poster child for institutionalized good behavior.  I was 3-4 years every other patients junior.  The older kids began to take me under their wing, make sure I was protected and cared for (by the other kids).  If you were against the grain with those kids, some horrible stuff happened that I won't dare describe to you, as it's simply a sad, tragic situation.  I was released within 2 weeks.  Making so much progress, the doctors said, that I could be moved into normal life with out patient psychiatric therapy sessions.  Life started to flow in the direction I desired again.

Imagine the energy and direction of your life like water flowing down a river.  There are times the water isn't moving very fast and you can pretty easily navigate your kayak back and forth to either side of the river, even turning your direction upriver if the water is calm enough.  Then there are times you hit Class IV rapids (or worse) and instead of navigating, you're just trying to pass that section of the river safely.  You aren't thinking about the banks or even where you want to go, you are mentally present and in the current moment, each paddle stroke is a critical one, getting through the tough part to where the water will settle down again.  Going backwards (at least while in the water) at that point is completely out of the question.

Life moves like the most powerful river you can imagine.  More often than not, it flows in one direction (we all are getting older each and every day, there is no getting younger chronologically).  We can fight that flow, but we'll be much more powerful and efficient learning to work with the flow, and the occasional ebbs, and then the flow again.

For parts of 2013, my life seemed calm.  I had time to really think things through.  Reflect on what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be moving forward.  I/we hit some Class IV 'life rapids' in November (my partner in crime Kate broke her leg and will require 9-12 months of rigorous healing, relearning how to walk, drive, and eventually, another surgery, then hopefully, someday soon, she'll run again) and I've been doing all I can to survive since then, and just now the waters are starting to calm down a bit.  This river is still moving swiftly, so I am mindful that I'm likely close to more rapids, but I'm calm and present to the work there is to be done.  I'm mostly at peace with my situation. Mostly.

This principle is applicable to life, athletics, career and even romantic relationships.  There's a time to think and plan, and there's a time to act with little to no time to think.  And the more willing you are to accept your present circumstances as they are, the higher efficiency you will have in your ability to navigate to calmer waters where you can think about where you want to be next.  Plan, act, plan, act.  But we don't get to choose where the rapids happen.  Yes, we can feel the water start to move more swiftly (in our lives, there are always signals and indicators if we are paying attention for them), and you can anticipate, but you rarely know whether something will be Class II, Class V, we really just need to work to be as ready as possible to adapt.  When an undesirable event happens, of course there is a normal progression of shock, awe, frustration, sadness, etc.  But if you spend a ton of time feeling sorry for yourself (and working to get others to feel sorry for you), it's precious time and energy wasted, energy that could have been spent getting you back to where you want to be.  We all freeze in moments of trauma.  It's the moment you realize you're frozen that you have a choice to start moving, or just complain about being frozen.

A smooth river never made a skilled kayaker.
I am not suggesting that you shouldn't ever be upset.  Just consider that there is a point where we personally prolong the upset by getting others around us riled up about our situation.  We want to hear "I'm so sorry that happened to you" over and over and over again, and there's no gold in that. It just cements the energy and emotions around those events in place, and makes us stagnant.  Think for a moment about that family member or friend who wears their trauma(s) like a badge, and dumps them on you when you ask "how are you doing?"  You sometimes start to avoid that person (oops, that call went to voice mail again).  Moving forward becomes increasingly difficult for you (or them).  Imagine when someone hears about your difficult situation and says, "I'm sorry" and you can turn it around (adapt to the moment) and say, "don't be sorry for me, this event gave me new perspective and I'm now more clear about which direction I am headed. Maybe you could help me move in that direction?" Suddenly, you are one step closer to creating the new environment and life that you seek.  Instead of in the same place you were, hating your situation for much longer than necessary.

I acknowledge that this rule is much easier stated than followed.  My last 6 weeks has been the one of the toughest month and a half periods of my life.  But as is often the case with something difficult, it has been rewarding, it has been profoundly moving, and it has given me clarity of purpose.

Take a look at situations you might be presently struggling with.  If you are an athlete, look at how being upset and wishing a moment (in a race, or in training) be different than it actually is stops you from your forward progress.  I have been known to throw a few tantrums at aid stations in 100 mile mountain races, shhhhhhhhhh, don't tell anyone.  This can literally apply to any unexpected circumstance.  Moving forward, you have a choice to create a new pattern of thought and behavior that empowers you, and maybe you'll start looking at the rapids in life as something far more interesting to navigate, possibly even exciting and exhilarating...

One more thing. Class U / Class VI rapids will get you killed quick, so don't go chasin' waterfalls...

Thursday, October 03, 2013

What You Do Isn't Enough, Challenge What You Think & Say - the Word Creates World Paradigm

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right."
-Henry Ford

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can... I just did.
I'm here to take a look at the relationship between what we think, what actually comes out of our mouth, and what we follow through and do.  I'm going to start with an assertion: if you are reading this blog (and I assure you at this point, YOU ARE reading this blog), then you are a dreamer, and I further assert a dream-seeker.  Otherwise my incessant "live your dreams" bantering would be annoying.

This blog entry in particular, is intended to have you put your thoughts and words under a microscope for a moment, to devote thoughtful consideration to that what you think (even those thoughts you keep to yourself) and consider how deep that influence is on the world you manifest and create.
A brilliant 'Thought Diagram' borrowed from

You either speak (and think, and act) from a space of LOVE or from a space of FEAR and your word creates your world.  Especially your thoughts (your words to yourself).  I haven't read the book "The Secret" but from what I understand from the people who've demanded I read it to embrace more magic in my life, this isn't anything in the realm of the law of attraction, nor manifesting things.  This is common sense stuff, in terms of how we perceive the world around us.

I have a rule for myself, and this is where it begins:

95% of the time in life, I am not going to know the answer, the truth, nor the reality of something.  As a human being my mind absolutely must fill in the blank with the answer my mind deems most likely to be correct.  If I'm going to make something up, it might as well be something that empowers me and propels me forward.  I'm just as likely to make up something positive OR negative that will be incorrect, but until I know the truth of the matter, I shall consciously and intentionally make up something empowering.

I'll give you a real world scenario to illustrate this long winded rule.  One of your friends, maybe a coworker, suddenly stops talking to you.  They no longer respond to texts, when you see them are suddenly quiet and reserved.  Why is it in these situations we commonly assume the worst?  That inner gremlin (my inner voice, I call it a gremlin because it rarely has really positive insight) says something to me like, "they're MAD at you about something" and I start to wrack my brain for what I could have possibly done or said that has offended them.  Now, I can be a particularly offensive person from time to time, I'm brash, over-the-top, I talk too much and listen too little, and I can be quite crass.  I'm never surprised when someone is upset or offended.  My stomach still bottoms out when someone is upset with me, especially a close friend or family member, but that bottoming out hasn't really changed my patterns of speech and behavior.  For better or worse, I'm ME in just about every situation.  I would have made a great court jester, until of course I offended the queen and was beheaded (I didn't research this piece, so not sure if that's even historically accurate).  When I IMAGINE that someone is upset with me, I naturally start to interact with them less.  Not seeing them, I start to miss my friend so I finally reach out (via email, of course) with a "hey, is everything okay? I noticed you're not yourself and I assumed I did something wrong and wanted to check in" type message.  A very high percentage of the time, I get a message back explaining some family trauma, somebody is sick, a relationship just ended, and it had nothing to do with me.  Suddenly, I realize that the few days I avoided this friend, I was being a horrible friend as they could have used some love and support.

Baseline message, fear sourced those thoughts and actions.  It influenced my perception, then my behavior.  Imagine the same scenario where you brought love to the assumptions and how it might influence those actions.  Can you see you'd think, speak, and act differently?  I know I have (when implementing my rule about assumptions).

Gratuitous Chan Chan pic of Sim and Cameron for no reason
Cliche as it may be, if your self talk (thoughts) indulges fear, fear grows and takes over.  If you seek to love and respect yourself, if you practice consciously creating things out of love, which starts with loving yourself (your strengths, your weaknesses, your perfect imperfections) this will translate into a foundation for loving others around you, consistently.

Next time someone is downright nasty to you (stranger or friend) for no good reason, before you knee jerk into their black hole of negative energy, ask yourself what they might be saying to themselves that is causing their sour behavior and perspective.  Sometimes the best way to help someone out of that space is to not join them in it.  Yes, that's much easier said than practiced.  But it is indeed possible.

"In order to carry a positive action we must develop [first] a positive vision."
-Dalai Lama

My relationship began and thrives with a positive vision (yet sometimes the gremlin rears it's ugly head)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Journey of 7,609 Miles Begins with a Single Step - What Confucius & Forrest Gump have in common

So y'all know I love my inspirational quotes.  I throw them in Tweets, BLOGS (see below), post them on all social media outlets available to me, each quote is a log stoking my own personal fire of inspiration.  I love sharing what inspires me to help each of you (my family, my friends and my readers) learn to keep your own fire burning hot (the inspiration fire, for this analogy).  This morning was a really surreal start to a Thursday.  Many know that my favorite morning nearly every week is Thursday morning, as 99% of the time it starts with a Coyote trail run and 30-60 badass trail runners of the noob and advanced variety, and everything in between.  Today's run was full of unique circumstances and nostalgia, and since you're here, I'd love to take you on part of the journey with me...
Parker Mesa Overlook, off of the Los Liones trail called "the Chute" also accessed by Paseo Mirimar fireroad
"A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."

Kate and I running Route 66 miles together
Today marked my 1,000th run in the last 5 years.  Now this may seem silly for someone who heads up a group like the SoCal Coyotes, and maybe even trite for someone who has completed 11 races of 100 miles or further.  Yet I found myself thinking of the run Kate and I did together from Chicago to Santa Monica on the Route 66, which took us about 16-17 days in May/June of 2012, the Run It Forward tour.  There were 8 ultra runners (and a few more support crew who ran a leg here and there), and we completed the route with each of us averaging around 20-25 miles each day.

I started to do a little math in my head.  I started running this block of training on November 21st, 2006.  2,494 days have passed since.  By the averages, I'm running once every 2.5 days (or about 3 times per week).  Since 2006, I've actually logged an average of 5-6 runs per week (let's say 5.5 to split the difference).  My present cycle of running began in late-August, 2003.  It's been 3,673 days since then.  If one assumes I've run 5.5 times per week (on average) and rounds my 7.6 mile per run average down to 7.25 miles, it gives me a pretty safe estimate of around 40 miles per week, which considers weeks off, and a slow build up from August of 2003 to April of 2004.  40 miles per week times 525 weeks (how long it's been since the last week of August in 2003) is 21,000 miles (or my best guesstimate of how much I've run this past decade, a little over 2,000 miles per year).

Why do all these numbers matter?  Well, really, they don't, but we humans give everything meaning.  So, whilst I was running with Rachel this morning, I realized how difficult it was to START running again, from ground zero.  I recalled a week in late-May of 2001 when I promised my friend Troy "I will walk 2 blocks to get groceries" and I couldn't even do that.  I trained for 4 marathons before I finished my first.  Lack of motivation, sickness, injury, I withstood setback after painful setback, and the physical pains often led to much more complicated emotional pain and suffering.  I saw an opening when I finally went for that first run in late-May 2001, I felt liberated running down this fairway on a golf course near my apartment, and I never wanted to lose that feeling again.  I elected to go to a marathon I knew I couldn't finish (San Diego Rock'n'Roll in June of 2001, the first of the four I trained for before I finished the Chicago Marathon in October of 2002).

Y'all know I get hokey from time to time (so here goes): after picking up my bib at the SD R'n'R expo (a race I didn't plan to complete), I walked by a palm reader / fortune teller.  She said many things but one thing I buried in my subconscious was "you will be a very successful author, and have a few well regarded books."  Now, you can say what you want about fortune telling, fortune cookies (yum, best stale dessert ever), and horoscopes being incredibly general so everyone can relate, but this was something that in my mind (back then) was not on the radar, at all.  I thought to myself, "hahahaha, she picked the wrong dude for that generalization."  And while it remains to be seen how many books I write and how successful and well regarded they are, what I recalled this morning sent chills up my spine.  The first chapter of my book is titled: Breaking Through Inertia and is 100% about May of 2001 and the lead in to the SD R'n'R Marathon.  I'm still doing mental cartwheels over that one.

"Wherever I went, I. WAS. RUN-NING!"
“I don't know if we have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happenin' at the same time."
-Forrest Gump

So back to the numbers, and the meaning behind them.  At one point I thought I might never be healthy enough to run a marathon: remember that I trained for FOUR before finishing one part?  Then, after Chicago in 2002, I developed stage 3 patellar tendinitis less than a month later and was OUT of running again for 10 months.  At that point, I honestly thought I'd never run again.  So looking back on a decade where I've (hypothetically) run more than 20,000 miles and have a record for 7,608, that got me thinking about Forrest Gump and his run back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth-again across the US.

Just taking my verified mileage total, following a hypothetical route that Forrest could have run: I have (virtually) run from Montgomery, Alabama (Forrest started in the fictional city of Greenbow, so I used Montgomery to estimate distances) to the Santa Monica Pier, all the way across the country to a pier in Maine, back to Montgomery and I'm all the way to Colorado City, Texas (just west of Sweetwater) en route to the Santa Monica Pier again.  I'm not here to boastfully brag about it, but rather to say for someone who thought they'd never run again, for someone who was so depressed that I couldn't get out my front door to WALK TWO EFFING BLOCKS failing 7 days in a row when I promised my buddy Troy I would, well, if I can do all that, then YOU TOO can do ANYTHING.  That doesn't mean running, per se, you can do ANYTHING you dream of doing.  Um, okay, KAMF and Panda, please do NOT act on your dream of actually FLYING, this might not be the best "you can do anything" outcome.

To the rest of you: don't be reasonable about your goals.  Dream BIG.  Like Everest BIG.  Moon BIG.  And don't get overwhelmed by the enormity of it (you will from time to time, but then let the overwhelm go).  Be inspired by something that is so much bigger than you.  This is your one chance at this life, so do something so massive that it inspires so many people, that you suddenly find yourself inspired by yourself.

You can do it.  Now stop READING and do something about it.  Right. NOW.  Even if it's just simply writing that goal or dream down, you know, the one you keep rationalizing is not really possible.  It is.  Make it happen.  I believe in you!

SUCCESS (a poem by Berton Braley*)
If you want a thing bad enough
To go out and fight for it,
Work day and night for it,
Give up your time and your peace and your sleep for it,
If only desire of it
Makes you quite mad enough never to tire of it,
Makes you hold all other things tawdry and cheap for it,
If life seems all empty and useless without it
And all that you scheme and you dream is about it,
If gladly you’ll sweat for it, fret for it, plan for it,
Lose all your terror of God or man for it,
If you’ll simply go after that thing that you want
With all your capacity, strength and sagacity,
Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,
If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,
Nor sickness nor pain of body or brain
Can turn you away from the thing that you want,
If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,
You’ll get it.

            *huge thanks to Jon Clark for that shout out!  Much love, my brutha!

Brian Lhee wrote one of his dreams down, now he's off to ICELAND!
Okay, here goes.  I'm even going to make STEP 1 of this 1,000 mile (or much longer) journey easy on you.  Post a comment (below) with your biggest dream/goal that you're presently either already working on or were previously not willing to admit.  POST it here and release it to the universe.  Because I'm rooting for you.  And I won't be the only one...

#JustPostIt  (yeah, I couldn't help myself there)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Adversity When Viewed as Opportunity - Evolution of the Spirit

"Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out."

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
-John Wooden

It's quite simple: some people persist when others quit.  Some people stretch for huge goals while others go home night after night and watch other people stretch for their huge goals on X Factor, ESPN and other reality based television.  There are the gladiators and there are the spectators.

In today's society, you have a choice to be in the arena chasing your dreams, or listing off the perfectly reasonable explanations as to why the world won't hand you your dream life on a silver platter.

The bottom line?  Some see adversity as the WALL preventing them from achieving their goals, while others see adversity as an OPPORTUNITY.  Adversity is challenges that provide a mainline to the lessons that will lead to the experiences that could help deliver your dream to reality.

I am living my dream life. I can tell you from much first hand experience, the dream life can still be a nightmare from time to time.  Failure is difficult to deal with, especially when chasing a dream or huge goal.  Disappointment is a very real part of the game, even if people view me as super positive and unstoppable in pursuit of my goals and dreams.  I often feel down, I have the wind taken out of my sails, yet I commit to getting back on my feet and moving forward again as soon as possible.

It starts here: I embrace the difficulty of life, the challenges of dream chasing and setbacks of large scale goal fulfillment.  This doesn't mean I don't feel deep disappointment when I fall short, but I do step back and take stock of what lessons I can learn from each failure to aid me in moving forward toward a next step in achieving that goal.  It isn't easy, but it is possible.  And if you're reading this now, no matter how loud that inner skeptic might be, YOU are very capable of this type of perspective shifting.

Set your goals high.  Embrace the challenges, setbacks, and failures that may line your road to fulfilling that dream.  And no matter what happens, keep moving forward no matter what that looks like (and sometimes it'll look like crawling).

Now go embrace those dragons...

Friday, September 13, 2013

100 Mile Run Double aka Angeles Lead - Biting off more than my BIG mouth can chew

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit."
-George Sheehan

Standing among legends (from L to R): Tomo (5th), Tom (2x winner, 9x finisher), Jorge (4x winner), Jussi (2x winner, 26x finisher!!!), me (nice eyes JD), Dom (2x winner)

What I Learned Attempting to Run 2 Mountain Hundos with 13 Days Recovery

A- Rest/Recovery are more important than most runners know/practice
B- Sleep, very specifically the week of, is essential to peak performance
C- Pain is an emotion, and often times, it's not based in reality (Embracing Pain: pain sensation and pain perception are different things)
D- Inspiration is a fire, the more logs you throw on the fire (i.e. the more people/stories you've been inspired by), the more fuel you have to burn that fire hotter and longer
E- the people of Wrightwood, CA and Leadville, CO are amazing
F- there are many challenges within a 100-mile endurance run, especially over mountains, and at each event they are unique to that location, and unique to each individual taking that event on
G- Everything you do in prep counts: including (but not limited to) lifestyle modification (eating healthy, drinking less alcohol, supplementing, etc.), strength training, stretching, cross training, heat training, sleeping in an altitude tent, mental prep, etc.
H- We may be able to complete amazing things alone, but with the love and support of friends, family (for me, specifically my amazing wife Kate), not only can we complete them with more fun/enjoyment, but the lows are less sustained because people help pick you up (figuratively, and sometimes literally)
*Learned many of these lessons previously, and some were reinforced these last few weeks
The Pacers/Demons (Andy, Chad) and Crew/Angels (Kate, Chan Chan, Renee) at Angeles Crest

To get to the heart of the matter, I was looking for my next stretch goal.  A stretch goal is something that you CAN NOT DO today, that might take 1-5 years (or sometimes longer) of physical and mental prep to complete, and upon your completion of this type of challenge it will surprise even you and you'd be unrecognizable to your former self upon completion.

Photo by Luis Escobar, BW135 2010
Stretch goals (in the athletic realm) for me over the past 10+ years have included running the Boston Marathon (dreamed up in 1999, completed the first time in April of 2005), running a 100 mile mountain race (dreamed up in May of 2005, completed the first time in September of 2006) and then finishing the BADWATER 135 (dream/nightmare in 2005, completed in July of 2010).  Since BADWATER I have thought about many athletic stretch goals, but have been more focused on career and family stretch goals (presently: writing my first book, engaging in more keynote and motivational speeches on the career side, getting a dog aka Spirit two years ago, now working on the first Freeman baby... stay tuned there).

I'm not going to declare the last 2-3 years an 'athletic malaise' phase as I continued to train for and compete in many races of varied distance and terrain.  Thus far in 2013, I DNF'd my first race shorter than 100 miles (Ray Miller 50 Miler). Then we (Team Coyote) won the inaugural BADWATER: Salton Sea team race (3 runners run side-by-side for 81 miles) from Salton City, CA through the Anza-Borrego Desert, then up to the peak of Palomar Mountain in Eastern San Diego County.  Next I looked forward to my annual 'home hundo', the Angeles Crest 100 Miler (in early August).  As I geared up for my focal point 'A race', I was offered an opportunity to run the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Run with one of the sponsors for that race: HERBALIFE.  Since Leadville was on my Top 5 bucket list for 100 milers (a bucket list that includes Mt. Fuji, Wasatch, Vermont and San Diego), it was an opportunity that I could not afford to pass up, even though Leadville happened to fall 13 days after Angeles Crest completed.  There was indeed a reason behind this level of pure masochism: my next athletic stretch goal.

Team HERBALIFE and some Coyotes at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile RUN
THE LAST GREAT RACE is a SIX one-hundred mile trail race series spanning 15 weekends, with a 100 miler every 2-3 weeks during that span.  This is something I've been dreaming about and pondering the feasibility of since 2007 when I watched a buddy (Andy Kumeda) take it on.  The Last Great Race is ALL of the Original 6 trail 100 milers in the US (the birthplace of 100 mile mountain running) in the same calendar year (from early June to early September).  Old Dominion, Western States (3 weeks after OD), Vermont (20 days after WS), Angeles Crest (2 weeks after VT), Leadville (13 days after AC), and for a grand finale Wasatch (20 days after LT).  The catch?  I've gotta find a way into Western States, where I'm 0-for-6 in the random selection lottery.  There are 5 ways to get in, which I'll rank by the number of entries that go that way.

I have GREAT LUCK in many areas. WS lottery is NOT one of them.
WESTERN STATES 100 - Entry Process
1- THE LOTTERY - approximately 250 entries each year (around 2,000 applicants the last few years)
*telling elementry school kids about my WS100 Silver Buckle dream and my luck with the lottery
2- ELITE QUALIFICATION - 20 entries from the Top 10 men and Top 10 women from last year's Western States (aka States), and prospectively another 2 men and 2 women from each Montrail Ultra Cup race 50 miles or longer in distance, which could account for another 36 entries, but often there are repeat names in the Top 3 at the MUC races
3- AID STATION SELECTION - I've never worked an aid station, so one of these 20-24 slots isn't available to me
4- SPONSOR RUNNERS - 1 per specially designated sponsor, again, not likely a realistic option
5- RAFFLE WINNERS - somewhere between 5-10 of these a year, from 2 raffles happening at lottery weekend in December and at States the weekend of the race (a boy can dream...)

My desire to run Western States 100 again: UNBREAKABLE
One needs to also apply for the Wasatch lottery, however, upon gaining entry to Western States, Wasatch has 'The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning(tm)' clause which states, IF you are denied entry through their lottery, one simply needs to complete States in June, Vermont in July and Leadville in August and you'll backdoor it into Wasatch (provided you've registered for the Grand Slam, which I learned this week is mutually exclusive from the Last Great Race entry/entity).  One needs to be diligent to sign up for Angeles Crest and Vermont quickly, then make sure not to miss the window for Leadville entry and last, but not least sign up for Old Dominion.  Heck, HALF of completing the Last Great Race challenge is getting into all six races and showing up at the starting line.  Logistics for 6 race trips in less than 3.5 months seems daunting, in and of itself.  Then there's the training and prep leading into it.  Recovery in between.

So... TLGR was a very large part of why I accepted an entry into Leadville this year (again, thank you to HERBALIFE for believing in me and inviting me to take part, with a specific shout out to John Heiss and Eric Sammuli for the pre-trip, pre-race and on course support).

100 miles over mountains will sometimes lay you out
Prior to 2013, in the previous 7 years, I had never put 2 of these monsters within 2 months of each other, so within 2 weeks was gonna be a bit CRAY-GEE-TOWN.  I realized that, in advance.  Stretch goals are supposed to stretch the mind (and sometimes the body too).  I made some dramatic changes, including but not limited to:
*hired a strength trainer, the one-and-only June Caseria Johnson, and met with her 1-3 times a week to build core strength, balance out my weaknesses and actually stretch for once
*scheduled 5 deep tissue sports massages with Scott Amiss
*scheduled 2 ART and chiropractic sessions with Chris Tosh
*cut out beer and whisky for the better part of 2-3 months (cheating twice at BADWATER while crewing Jay Smithberger)
Pacing Jay at BADWATER, NO beer/whisky in my water bottle... OR is there???
*upped the amount of greens, cold pressed juices, healthy smoothies/shakes I was consuming
*started consuming more vitamins and recovery supplements (see: amino acids, healthy fatty-oils, etc.), the most key of which was HERBALIFE 24's Rebuild: Endurance shake/drink powder
*upped the amount of sleep I was getting by an average 60-90 min per night (adding 7-10 extra hours every week)
*acquired an altitude generator and tent, used, from my good buddy Peter, to get some altitude acclimation for 4 weeks prior to Angeles Crest and 6 weeks prior to Leadville (my real concern was Leadville)
*started meditating more, and at the same time NOT fixate on the challenge of things too much
I considered each piece of this essential to taking this 2 race challenge on.  Furthermore, this test was to consider whether the investment of time/resources/finances was viable for the Last Great Race.  Enough set up, already. Many of you want to hear about the races themselves...

ANGELES CREST 100 Miler - 2013
My fifth 'AC.'  2006=26:27, 2007=DNF (at Mile 49), 2011: 23:51, 2012: 22:38
Seven's Heaven - the Awesome AC Angels
Spirit is ALWAYS ready to race.
This year I'm #7.  A lucky number.  7th Heaven?  Planning to run sub-22 hours and IGNORE that I was to run Leadville a couple weeks later.  My crew (above: Chan Chan, Kate, Renee, and Sarah) all wore 'Seven's Heaven' shirts, and my pacers (Chad, Gareth and Andy) all donned 'Seven's HELL' tanks.  The Monday before, like a dumbass, I raced Spirit (our athletic dog) through our side alleyway and tripped over a staircase having one of the most violent falls of my life.  Initially thought I fractured my hip.  Kate thought I knocked myself out.  Somehow I ended up with scrapes on both sides of my left hand, my left shoulder (the primary impact point), hip and chest.  I jammed my right leg on the the trip.  More on that later.

Mile 14, beginning the climb up Mt. Baden-Powell
The race starts and I'm in great spirits.  The cuts on my shoulder and left hand are oozing and troublesome, but I chalk it up as a minor annoyance and resolve to ignore it until after the race (note to future self: don't do that again, one month later the wounds have become discolored skin/scars).  Somewhere around Mile 20, descending into Islip Saddle, I feel my right hip flexor isn't right.  My hip flexors have been an issue on and off for a few years, starting with the Oil Creek 100 in 2010 (my last DNF at the 100-mile distance).  Mildly concerning, but nothing to panic about yet.  5-6 miles later, it's bothering me a lot more and I start bitching about it at nearly every aid station (Kate commented I set a personal best for complaints in a 100 mile race, which surprised me a little bit later).  On my way up and over the next mountain, Mt. Williamson (peak #3 of 8 in this race), my stomach starts giving me trouble.  I'm 5 hours, 30 minutes into the day, and stomach challenges inside of the first 6 hours are also not new to me in an ultra distance race.

Eagles Roost (Mile 30) Damage Control
I come into Eagles Roost (my least favorite aid station in ANY race, of ANY distance, ANYWHERE) and I'm battling the demons already.  I come into the parking lot favoring one leg, moving pretty slowly and ask for a foam roller, figuring I'll try to roll out my right piriformis and get some alternative calories in (see: Coke-a-Cola).  My ANGELS mercifully kick me out of the checkpoint and sent me down the road with more ice, fluids and calories.  I Baatan death marched for a while, but as the angels drove by on the 2-Hwy as I walked up it, my head hung low, they yelled some really encouraging words and I began to run again.  As I carved my way back into Cooper Canyon, I began another death march from the base of the canyon up to Cloudburst Summit, which is now about 1 mile longer than it was 2 years ago, as we take a part of the older AC100 course up the PCT.  This didn't help my mood much.  I tried to be encouraging to the many people passing me in the canyon, on the flatter sections of the PCT as I continued my crawl out of the place where many good feelings at AC go to die.  I knew the running would hypothetically get better atop Cloudburst, as it was about 5 miles downhill to the next aid station.  I continued to hydrate and eat as best I could.

Chad and I walking outta Chilao at Mile 53...
Mile 38 to 53 were a bit of a blur.  It was hot, sections rolled down, then up, then down again.  I moved alright, hiked a bit, ran some downhills, and came into the figurative midway point at Angeles Crest (Chilao Flats checkpoint) at Mile 53, ready to pick up my first pacer, Chad.  Chad was lined up to pace me at Angeles Crest in 2007, the year I dropped out of AC one aid station prior to this, earning my first lifetime DNF at any distance.  While I was stoked to pick Chad up, I walked nearly every step of the 6.5-7 miles he was with me.  He was great company, very encouraging, and helped me continue to get calories & fluids in me in hopes of me turning things around.

Tom and Jorge dropped at 60, Ashley dropped at 75
I came into Mile 60 (Shortcut Saddle) worse off than Mile 53.  I was delirious.  Took almost 15 minutes to put me back together, and I sat near three friends and heroes: Tom Nielson, Ashley Nordell, and Jorge Pacheco (who between them have won Angeles Crest a staggering 7 times).  Gareth, who has signed a lifetime contract to pace me from Mile 60-75, and I walk down the trail.  Somewhere before Mile 61 (where I've puked the last 2 times I've run AC), we start running again.  I'm starting to feel my mojo come back.  We run this section faster than I've ever run it previously.

Chantry Flats checkpoint at 10:15pm
Darkness descends.  I start playing a game where I look at the flour markings dropped on rocks to indicate both direction and a tripping hazard, and I call out the animals and shapes I see in the flour formation (much like looking at clouds, but far more hallucinogenic seeming due to deliriousness).  Some of the monsters I see in the flour markings scare me.  I just keep running.  We're starting to pick up bodies, I encourage everyone I pass, many of whom passed me earlier in the day.  But it's at the very least an indication that I might still have a puncher's chance at my 3rd sub-24 silver buckle in a row.  In order to do that, I'm going to have to run the last 25-miles, over 2 big mountains (Mt. Wilson and Mt. Lowe) as fast as I have done in 3 previous finishes.  I pick up my final pacer, Andy Pearson, at Chantry Flats and he knows what I'm pushing for.  We go to work.

Peter and I at the finish line: 23:39:58 & 23:39:59 (unofficially)
The 5.5 mile climb up Mt. Wilson/Mt. Harvard is brutal.  It takes me longer this year than it did in 2012 when I felt much better.  This means we're going to have to run a very fast final 20 miles.  About a half mile down the Mt. Wilson Toll Road descent we pass Peter Cross, and after a bit of "hey we can still go SILVER, come with me!" encouragement, we're both running 9's downhill carrying a lot of momentum into Idlehour.  We are no more than a few minutes apart the last 20 miles of the race and we push each other all the way to the finish line moving up a few slots in the process.  Peter finished in 12th and I was right behind him in 13th (although good luck finding this reflected in the results for AC, the 2nd straight year they blew the results due to their refusal to acknowledge a 'tie').  But let the record on our watches AND corroborating photography reflect we came across one second apart just a second or two under a 23:40 time.  Now, I have about 13 days to get myself back together for Leadville.  I'm not worried about that just yet, I'm thrilled with my 3rd silver buckle in a row at AC, a current consecutive streak that is only outdone by the amazing and ageless Ruperto Romero who has 7 consecutive silvers from 2006-2013!

LEADVILLE TRAIL 100 Miler - 2013
Fast forward 12 days: HELLO LEADVILLE, COLORADO!  My first crack at one of the highest hundreds in the country (the other two highest being Hardrock and Run Rabbit Run, all three of these races being in Colorado).  I've had one of the crappiest weeks of sleep in the past 4-5 years of running hundred milers (the week of a race).  This was compounded by the fact our late LAX-Denver flight was delayed 3 hours, we got into a Denver Airport hotel at 2:30am and had to be up at 6:00am to drive to the Leadville race check in with our buddy Grant (aka the Dingofish Express!).  Leadville is the highest incorporated city in America sitting at 10,152-ft (3,094-m for those of you readers using the profoundly smarter metric system).  Thank goodness Kate agreed to sleep in an altitude tent for nearly 6 weeks leading into this, the last 4 weeks we set at 10,500-ft!  I'm not heaving like normal at anything above 7,000-ft.  Standing around is one thing, running over mountains is a whole nutha animal.
Michael (crew), Jason (running LT100), Kate (crew/pacer), Marci Faye (crew)
Race morning comes harshly soon.  I've slept about 8.5 hours cumulatively over the past 2 days, about half of what I planned.  Cest la vie.  If I've learned one thing during my lifetime 13 attempts at one hundred or more miles, it's that you must have a plan, then you must be willing to deviate because things rarely go according to the plan.  Our good friends Marci Faye & her hubs Michael come to crew (they live in Denver) and I have a marathoner I coached about 10 years ago named Neil who plans to come out and pace for a section.  I go into the start feeling pretty good, all things considered.  The shotgun goes off and the race has begun.  Game on!

I'm too sexy for my shirt...  ;-)
I think better of TRYING to run sub-24 hour splits, even though that is indeed my goal.  I resolve to run by heart rate for the first marathon and something strange happens after the first 15-miles of generally flat or gently rolling trails, my heart rate inverts which is to say that my normal hill climbing HR is between 150-165 and my normal downhill HR is between 130-150.  For most of the first 20-miles of Leadville, my HR is doing exactly the opposite.  So I adjust.  As is sometimes normal, I start to hurt around Mile 20, but these are pretty non-typical pains. I take solace in the fact that while I've never experienced these pains previously, they are equal and balanced on both sides and don't cause my gait to change.  Also, after running over 5 miles on a street, I realized that the Leadville TRAIL 100 Miler actually will have more ROADS than any 100 miler I've run previously.  I'm not running very quickly, I'm hiking a lot (even on flats now), and I get to a place I planned to meet Kate, Marci Faye and Michael and they aren't there at Mile 27 (they got stuck at the zoo of an aid station at Mile 23.5).  Luckily, Marshall Howland (a Coyote crewing for Michael Chamoun) is there, knows Kate isn't going to make it (Kate called to let him know they were stuck), and he gives me a couple extra gels, fills up my bottles and sends me off.

Kate speeds me out, Marci Faye photographs
I find a new groove and from there to Twin Lakes (Mile 39.5) and really enjoy some of the singletrack trail rolling and descending into that checkpoint.  Kate gets me out quickly, particularly impressive because this place is slammed with activity, people and bustling.  Leadville started around 850 runners this year and I've probably got 150-200 people ahead of me and another 200 runners, at least, within 30-minutes.  I run out of Twin Lakes hooting and hollering with superstar runner Maddy Hribar (the last time I'd see her other than when she was bustin tail back towards Twin Lakes #2), and I don't know which of the mountain passes around us is Hope, but I'm yelling at all of them, "YEAH, BRING HOPE PASS ON, BABY!"  My enthusiasm lasted about one mile, as when I got to the base of the approximately 4 mile climb, the wind was sucked outta me.  I hiked.  I crawled.  I sat down on a stump to try to eat and drink.  I peeled myself off the stump and hiked ever so slowly again.  I sat down.  I hiked.  I laid down in a meadow to stare at the clouds.  No less than 20-30 people passed me, many of them friends from other races, or from social media.  Chris Jones and I must have leap frogged about 17 times, Chris Eide and I were also seemingly together the whole race without ever actually running together for more than a few minutes.  Jonesy passes me as I'm laying down, "DUDE, WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING LAYING DOWN!?!?"  I smile and reply, "I'm trying to enjoy SOME of this brutal climb's beautiful scenery.  Needed to take a break from the suffer-fest for a minute."  I get up and continue the push up to the aid station nicknamed 'Hopeless.'

A fast downhill into Winfield (Mile 50)
I finally get to the other side of 12,700-ft (3,871-m) and start blasting downhill into Winfield.  I pick up many of the people who passed me headed up Hope.  I get into Winfield about 1 hour, 45 minutes behind the average sub-24 splits from 2012, which to me are silly (10 hour front end, 13:45 in the 2nd half).  I like to run more even, even negative splitting a few hundos.  I weigh in about 7-lbs down and feel a little off.  Crap.  I have to take some time to piece myself back together, didn't get enough fluids and calories in due to the thin air.  About 20 minutes later, Neil and I leave to head back up Hope Pass Part II.

Neil is awesome about reminding me to eat/drink every 30-minutes.  I bump into Henry Schliff, a regular Trail Runner Nation podcast listener, and we chat for a couple switchbacks as I start to unintentionally drop my pacer Neil.  I feel much better on Hope climb #2 than I did the first time.  I get up and over it and again blast downhill into Twin Lakes.

Charging back into Twin Lakes #2, around Mile 59.5
Kate has wandered around Twin Lakes searching for the missing link: a person to run 16-ish miles with me from Twin Lakes #2 to Outward Bound #2 where Kate will run me the rest of the way in.  She finds Todd Brown of Illinois (around the Chicago area), who knows me because he just ran (and won) a Chicago Marathon food challenge inspired by my Jackass-meets-Joey-Chestnut stunt running the LA Marathon Stadium-to-the-Sea course in 2009 while stopping at 4 LA famous eateries.  If you haven't already seen that nonsense, make sure you didn't JUST eat and click: HERE.  Todd was the perfect pacer.  He asked me great questions at appropriate times, ran beside me matching me stride-for-stride, ran behind me on singletrack and kept me focused on moving forward.  I had to hike for a few miles out of Twin Lakes, but then we found our stride and crushed the next 12 miles of the course, at times, running a consistent 10-11 minute pace.  Suddenly, sub-24 seemed like it was a very real possibility.  It was cold (in the mid-high 30's) by SoCal standards, but we were moving quick so the running kept my body temperature warm enough that I didn't need a jacket (yet).  I rolled into Outward Bound #2 to pick up my wifely pacer Kate, and we blasted off into the night ready for one final hill (Powerline/Sugarloaf) and a 'big boy buckle' representing a sub-25 hour finish, but I was pushing for sub-24 still.

Notice the beaming smile on my face.  No, no you don't...

 The wheels came off around Mile 83.5.  Maybe that's not the proper analogy.  The wheels came off, the engine fell out and the radio stopped playing music.  I mentioned to Kate running downhill off of Sugarloaf, "I'm at my absolute breaking point, not sure how much longer I can maintain this".  Not much longer, as fate would have it.  I started having trouble breathing, my lower back locked up, my feet felt broken (the last 50-miles of a 100-mile mountain race are always tough on the feet, but this felt especially fierce), and my confidence and positivity took a nosedive.  Not only did I have trouble envisioning a finish, but my pace per mile (now between 25-30 min per mile on flat ground) wasn't going to mathematically get me under 30-hours (the course time limit).  I lamented to Kate, "I'm not sure I'm going to make it even 3 more miles to the Mayqueen aid station."  Kate refused to accept that as an answer.  We walked, ever so slowly, down the trail towards the final aid station at Mile 86.5.  At one point I attempted to lay down in the bushes, which Kate physically prevented me from doing (I must not have been moving as slyly as I thought in my head, as she had time to put her knees under me as I tried to angle myself to the ground).  When I realized my stubborn-horrible-person-nasty-ass-bee-yotch of a wife wouldn't just let me curl up in a ball and freeze to death, I started YELLING at the trail, "WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME TRAIL!  YOU WERE ONLY 1/3rd OF A MILE EARLIER TODAY, NOW YOU'RE 2 MILES LONG!  WHAT THE F**K!" Kate had to be at least a little amused.  I demanded she run ahead to tell me exactly how long this stupid trail was to get to the aid station.  By the time she returned, I had mentally found a new gear.

"Okay, Kate, so here's how this is gonna go: I'm checking into the medical tent when we get to Mayqueen.  I'm going to get my calories and fluids up, electrolytes back in balance, I'm going to lay down and maybe even sleep for a little bit.  I need 30-minutes probably.  Then I'm going to get up and FINISH this f**k**g race."

I can't repeat what Kate said next, but I'll say it was enthusiastic.  Maybe too enthusiastic for me at that moment.

So close, yet so far away.
Mayqueen checkpoint.  Dr. Viktoria K was amazing.  My crew was unstoppable.  It took me 30-minutes to piece myself back together enough to get the cramps/spasms and shivering to stop.   Thanks in large part to Kate bringing me ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts) mixed in hot chocolate and Marci Faye massaging my legs and laying on top of me for body heat.  An HOUR after I checked into Mayqueen, I sat up and checked out (after what must have been about a 20-minute nap).  Kate and I ran down the trail for about a mile and a half, then settled back into my feet falling off pace, probably around 20-22 minutes per mile.  Kate and I shared some amazing conversation in between me re-communicating over and over how much my feet hurt.  Hey, did I mention my feet hurt?  OMG my feet hurt so much.

Kissing street just over my 200-mile mark. The pavement was cleaner than me.
Return to Leadville.  After clocking a blazing sub-4 half marathon from Mayqueen to the finish line, I bump into my buddy Grant "Dingofish Express" Maughan who catches up to me only a half mile from the finish line.  He's resolved to run the final quarter mile and that simply ain't happenin for me today, so he runs off ahead. As a funny aside to illustrate how busy Leadville can be, in the last quarter mile of me death marching, no less than 9 more people passed me after Grant.  I didn't care about place, only my time, and I'm perfectly good with a sub-28 hour finish, as I would have been with sub-30 hours.  I was just happy to be done after finishing Angeles Crest only 13 days prior, well, now 14-days ago since I finished Sunday morning.

My Leadville low point was indeed the hardest thing I've had to overcome in a race, not to mention this year's Angeles Crest had a series of rough moments from Mile 20-60.  But I was glad to be done.  I am happy I did it.  Onward to the next stretch...

HUGE THANKS TO ALL OF MY FRIENDS (and especially Kate) for supporting me at both of these events!  I'm looking forward to 2014 to spend more time with ALL of you at one or more of these events!
Crew, pacers, friends...
AC100 2013 - finish #4, sub-24 #3
The longest it's taken me to complete 100-miles, proportional to my satisfaction, LT100 2013.
Just in case this long ass write up wasn't enough for you, you can get the PODCAST recap containing a few different stories and a little more about the Last Great Race challenge, from our friends at Trail Runner Nation!  Find that podcast: HERE (or FREE on iTunes)

If you made it THIS FAR, take a moment and leave a COMMENT!  HOWL!!!