Monday, July 21, 2014

The First Steps (Out the Door) Are Often the Toughest - Original 6 Hundo Challenge aka #O6HC Blog Entry 01

"You are capable of more than you know.  Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path.  Aim high.  Behave honorably.  Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure.  Persist!  The world needs all you can give."
-E.O. Wilson

*Original 6 Hundo Challenge (#O6HC) - the first six hundred mile trail races to exist in the United States, in order of inception: Western States, Squaw Valley, CA to Auburn, CA (1974), Old Dominion, Fort Valley, VA (1979), Wasatch Front, Utah (1980), Leadville Trail, Colorado (1983), Angeles Crest, Wrightwood, CA to Pasadena/Altadena (1986), and Vermont (1989)  * - this challenge has historically been known by the title the Last Great Race which is presently "on hiatus".  Out of respect to the organizer, we've chosen to call the challenge another name until we are able to register for the LGR officially.

It's been quite a 9 month stretch since I completed the 2013 Angeles Crest 100 (AC) and Leadville Trail 100 (LT) inside of a two week period (well, 2 weeks, 1 day and a couple-few extra hours).  I spent about 10 days post that 100-mile double challenge hibernating, as it f**king wrecked me.  So, sounds like a perfectly rational idea to run 6 hundreds (the first 6 hundred mile trail races that existed in the United States) in a 13 week period, right?!?  A long-standing motto of mine: the worst ideas often make the best stories.

To begin with, I blame the seed for this idea being planted on Andy Kumeda.  In 2007, we were chatting in Wrightwood awaiting the check in for the Angeles Crest Endurance Run.  Andy had attempted to run these same six races in 2007 and going into AC Andy was 4-for-5 having timed out at that year's #4 (Leadville), at Mile 60.  I was still floored, as he had finished the Wasatch Front 100 (WF)  in 35:57 (with less than 3 minutes to spare) and was attempting to complete AC only 6 days after that finish.  The 2007 Angeles Crest became my first ever DNF at any race of any distance (it was my only hundred attempt in 2007). I pulled out about halfway through (Mile 49, Mt. Hillyer) with some breathing problems that may or may not have been hypoxia or the early stages of hyponatremia.  Andy finished AC with a couple/few hours to spare.  He vowed to give these 6 hundos another shot as soon as he got back into the Western States 100 (States), and 7 years later, here we are.

I personally loved the idea of The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (the Slam) which is 4 of the original 6 hundreds, about one per month, but have some longer term goals at Angeles Crest, so while I wanted to run Western States, the Vermont 100 (VT), Leadville and Wasatch in the same summer, I felt too impatient to skip AC for a summer (FOMO in LA is particularly fierce).  Angeles Crest used to be late-September/early-October as recently as 2008, but has been moved to July/August since the devastating Station Fire in 2009.  Now, with AC in late-July/early-August, it's sandwiched in between the only 4 week break in the Grand Slam, 2 weeks after Vermont, 2 weeks prior to Leadville.  I realized I'd be doing 5 of the original 6, looked up Old Dominion 100 (OD)which was formerly a part of the Grand Slam, between 1986 when Tom Green first finished OD, Western States, Leadville and Wasatch in the same summer, and Tom is at it again this summer 28 years later (Go Tom Go!). Old Dominion was a part of the Slam until 2003 when OD did not happen and Vermont has formally replaced it in the Slam every year since.  Since my modified Grand Slam (the Slam+AC) only allotted 2-3 weeks between each race, it didn't seem like much more of a stretch to throw in OD 3 weeks before that all began.  NOTE: I joked far too often that Old Dominion was my "warm-up race" and that joke bit me in the rear.  OD kicked my butt, and I was taught that joking about how one race will be easier is a very dangerous mental space to be in.

The Torrey Pines Glider Port (Cliff) Stairs and Blacks Beach
I DNF'd for the second consecutive February at a SoCal 50 mile race (2014 was the inaugural Sean O'Brien, a race I helped lay out, and test ran in October to create an elevation profile, and 2013 I failed to finish the Ray Miller 50 Mile before going on to complete Angeles Crest and Leadville later that year), and I'm holding my breath that it was a good omen (although I have to work out my string of lifetime DNF's the second time I run a course which includes 2 hundreds and 2 fifties).  That was a wake up call.  Training got a lot more consistent after that.  Life, however, failed to cooperate with my extended training plans for this challenge.  From February to late-May, ultimately I averaged 47.5 miles per week, which included an entire month where my mileage total didn't eclipse 62 miles (for the entire month!).  At one point, spent about 2 weeks with my mom who had a horseback riding accident that led to her fracturing L1 and requiring some significant medical care for the first phase of her recovery.  I got to know the running available in La Jolla, California pretty intimately as I'd help administer my mom's meds and home care, then head out the door for a couple hours of sand running & cliff repeats near the Torrey Pines Glider Port & Blacks Beach.  Looking back on this, it may have been the longest half month of my life.  Seeing a loved one that injured is beyond any emotional or physical stress I have ever experienced.  My mom is greatly improved (3 months into her recovery) and may have dodged a bullet not immediately needing a major 5 vertebrae spinal fusion surgery.  Yay, mom!  Got really sick for about 8 days after that, and didn't feel like myself (running or otherwise) for another 3-4 weeks.  When all that dust settled, I was 3 weeks from race #1 in the #O6HC

"Good judgment comes from experience.  Experience comes from bad judgment."

-Mark Twain

Instead of going through and writing a blow-by-blow recap of the 3 one-hundred mile races I've already gone through (which I promise to recap via podcast or video-blog, at the very least), I'll let you know a few of the epiphanies and reflections that could hopefully be more useful to you in your running or life goals.

*Never underestimate 100 miles  - researching all 6 races in this series, both Old Dominion and Vermont had the least aggressive elevation profiles and fastest historical finishing times.  I went into OD saying, "this is my warm up 100" and the race beat me down pretty soundly.  Kate has seen me run this distance at least a dozen times, and said she had never seen me looking that broken at the end of a race.  Every 100 will have it's own unique (and idiosyncratic) challenges.  Respect the distance.  Respect the conditions.  Seek to uncover the hidden challenges of an event prior to starting.  I was geared up for the challenge of the humidity, when my left peroneal tendon went out, I realize I had never considered what cambered country roads would do to me.

*Plan to flow (and how to flow when the plan disintegrates) - mentality conditioning is as important as physical conditioning in difficult life and running adventures.  Look to unlock your Zen by practicing some mantras and putting forth a positive perspective (or assigning silver linings to tough situations) in training and in life, prior to the adversity that will inevitably find you in your goal events.  In the early stages of the Vermont 100, I noticed a piece of trash on the trail, which I picked up to put in my handheld water bottle sleeve.  The paper, when examined, was from a fortune cookie.  The fortune?

"You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails."

Frolicking at Western States around Mile 38
This thought stuck with me the rest of the day.  I couldn't control when/where my difficulty would arise, but I could determine what attitude I approached the difficulty with, and make adjustments to my plan for that race.  That sourced me the rest of the day and worked very, very well.

*Far more fun to be had rooting FOR people than wasting energy rooting AGAINST someone - I have met and enjoyed the company of no less than 30 people over the 300 miles Andy and I have covered thus far (in Virginia, NorCal and Vermont).  To qualify that, I've talked to more than 300 people, but have held at least 3-5 minute conversations during the race, with probably around 1 person every 10 miles.  I love hearing a person's (aka new friend's) story.  Why they do this crazy $#!^ too, what they are up to in this one precious life of theirs.  First half of the race it's generally talking about life, goals and dreams type of stuff.  Second half of the race, often times we're talking about problems we're having, a running issue we need to trouble shoot, (adjusted) goals for the race, and how we can help each other achieve them.  The last time I remember actively rooting against some one (save any member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, LA Kings, or Dallas Cowboys) was Rollie the Goalie after seeing his cheap antics of the 2006 NHL Playoffs.  Honestly, don't even ask.  When it comes to ultrarunning, a few people have made it clear to me that they are rooting against me (again, don't ask) and I can't even find the energy to return favor.  There's so much goodwill, and positive humanity around 100 mile mountain races, I find that I want everyone to have their best day.  We all know we're in for trials, for discomfort or bone-jarring pain, and the day/night/day will be an adventure.  The kinship this activity breeds is what makes this community so special to me.  So even if I get it in my head that I want to "finish before you do" which never equates to me as "beating someone" as there are only a few rare friends I even think this way about (Mike Chamoun, Karl Hoagland, Eric Wickland, George Gleason, Kate Martini, etc.), I still want you to have your A+ day out there, and want it to be a fun story for both of us to share a beer over when we're long since old-and-gray.  So do what you can out there to help people succeed, yes, help your fellow competitors.  It will make you feel better (and forget your current issues for a moment).  That good mojo will feed back into your race.  But don't do it for the mojo.  Do it because you want to see yourself as kind, generous and graceful.  Never know, you might turn someone's day/race around.  That feels better than a finish (to me).

I could wax on (and wax off) a lot longer on these things, and these three races.  But there's a lot more decompressing to do, and 3 more races to "run".  I'm going to sign off now and get this thing up, as it's been too long a dry spell for this #WannaBeWriter

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

But I Don't Feel Like It Anymore - Commitment vs Feelings and Why You Should Do It Anyway

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable (of becoming)."
-Coach John Wooden

My first career (1995-2001) was inside and outside sales for a technology firm in Silicon Valley during the boom/bubble years.  That's a fancy way of saying that right out of high school I got a job working for my father's business partner Paul on business development of a new territory.  The new territory?  Southern California.

From 1995-1997 I went to school full time and worked part time developing new business making cold calls from a business guide.  This is prior to major & minor companies having robust websites and prior to Google telling me how to find any information on any company, product or person that has a public presence.  I had only an encyclopedia sized book, a company name, their product line and a phone number.  It was my job to call the receptionist, and somehow talk my way through the web of that company to get to someone who purchased electronic components from other companies to make the product that they sold.  Simple enough, right?  Only problem was that the bigger the company, the more intricate the web of people who didn't know what anyone else did, not to mention the bulldog receptionists and personal assistants that were hired and trained to be a firewall against calls like mine.

Paul, my mentor/boss, has completed many endurance rides/runs.
In 1997, Paul (co-founder of the company, Signet Technical Sales, later Signet LCD and then IDS) offered me a full time position.  I accepted and stepped full tilt into the corporate world, which included 10-15 hours a week of commuting (to and from San Jose) and 40-60 hour weeks.  "Salesmen have no hours!" Paul used to say, much like Alec Baldwin's character from my favorite movie about sales, "Glengary Glen Ross."  Back then, I would spend most of my day dialing up strangers and asking for a favor, "please tell me who I need to talk to who makes the decision on purchasing these parts for your products."  I got really clear that there were going to be good days and bad days.  Days I felt inspired to do it and days I didn't want to pick up the phone to encounter 43 more rejections in 44 calls (and the 1 other call was a voicemail).

My last full year at Signet (2001), I stopped commuting.  I moved from San Francisco to San Jose, and cut my 3 hours of daily driving to 15 minutes each way.  I suddenly had 2 to 2.5 hours per day I didn't even know what to do with.  I was inspired, energized and ready to train for my first marathon, something I had put off for 5-6 years.  I committed to run my first 26.2, which was actually the second time I made that commitment (it was first a New Year's Resolution in 2000, until I didn't feel like training anymore, about maybe 19 days later).

I had signed up for the San Diego Rock'n'Roll Marathon, I also booked the round trip flight from San Jose to San Diego for early June and I hired a coach to help guide me (shout out to Coach Kaley, the first coach I ever hired).  Problem was, I was overeager.  I trained myself right into an overuse injury (ITBS) within about 2-3 weeks.  I wanted to run, but I couldn't.  So Coach Kaley (a very talented triathlete) started working with me on swimming and biking (as much as sitting on a spin bike can be considered biking).

I cross trained for a full month, until I just didn't feel like it anymore.  My knee hadn't improved, and I still had pain after mile 2 on basically every run I'd go on to test it out, about every 2 weeks.  I stopped training altogether.  That was mid-February.  Late-May came up on me fast and I realized I had a trip to San Diego (flights booked, accommodations made) and suddenly I was feeling inspired again.  So I went for a few runs to shake off the rust, determined my knee didn't hurt at mile 2 anymore and flew to San Diego.

*Note: this is NOT my bib # from 2001
Along the way I had raised maybe $500-$900 for the NCCF, but it was all in $1-$2 per mile sponsorship donation checks.  I was certainly not fit for 26.2 miles straight, on roads.  But I also felt a sense of obligation to finish what I started since I couldn't donate checks for the amounts they were written out for if they were based on the miles I had committed to doing.  I was in a quandary: do I run a marathon and put myself at risk of re-aggravation of this injury that put me down for 3-4 months?  Do I not run it, yet send in the checks anyway?  Do I not run it and send the checks back to their donors?

I went into the marathon expo on Saturday and again was inspired by all the fit, healthy people. There were many charities there with teams, and coaches, and team colors.  I knew I had to send these checks in.  I also knew I needed to run the distance.  I also didn't want to spend another 4 months not being able to run.  I decided to walk 13-14 miles, Saturday.  I got the course map and followed it until I got to a freeway entrance (94 out of downtown SD) and elected to do another lap around Balboa Park.  I wrapped it up in about 4 hours (about 17-minute mile pace) and went to visit my sister for dinner in La Jolla.  Sunday morning I caught a cab to Sea World, and at about the mile 14 mark I waited for the race to come by.  I watched the elites, the sub-3 national class athletes, the age groupers, and somewhere about an hour later jumped into the fray.  Again, I walked more than I ran, but I was coming up against my feelings of failure, the disappointment I wasn't an official participant (it was a chip race, and I'd never show up in the results).  But on the other side of those negative feelings, I was doing something maybe for the first time in my life, that wasn't going the way I envisioned it, and I was finishing it anyway.  My watch read 6-hours, 17-minutes when I hit the 26.2 mile mark, and based on when I started the day prior, my unofficial time would have read 22-hours, 17-minutes.  By all measures of marathon finishes, I was a DNS (on Sunday) or a DNF (on Saturday).  Two half marathons in back-to-back days is not a marathon.  But I sent in those checks and wrote a letter to everyone who donated, "I am happy to reimburse you if you object to the way I completed this marathon, and here's why you won't find me in any official results...".  It was a huge turning point in my life.

Officially finished my 1st marathon 16 months later.

Even today, I still come up against the feelings of "I don't want to train today, I just don't feel inspired or motivated to do it." and some days, those feelings win out.  But more often than not over the past 13 years, I cast my feelings and lack of motivation aside, and ask myself, "what am I committed to?" and often, the answer is pretty simple.  When you ask yourself what you're committed to, and weigh it against what you're feeling, whatever is bigger wins.  So my commitments have become huge, 'larger than me' type challenges, such that my fickle and ever-shifting feelings can be good, bad or ugly, but rarely are they bigger than my commitment to the goal.

You won't win this battle every day.  But the more you play this game, the stronger at "being your commitment" which is essentially "adhering to ones principles" instead of empowering your feelings which can change moment to moment, day to day and are as unpredictable as the weather.

What are you committed to?
*post a comment below and declare what you're committed to!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Heavy Lifting for the Runners' Mind - My Film List for the Mental Game

I'm fresh off of my second 50 mile DNF (both coming the first weekend in February on my sophomore run of a course in my Santa Monica Mountains backyard).  I know that my body didn't respond, part of which could have been just having an off day, and part of it definitely being undertrained.  I don't regret being undertrained, as my focus is on Summer 2014, and I now know there's no way I'm peaking too early.  But that's also my self-justification for not doing enough of the necessary grunt work, laying the foundation brick-by-brick.  I'm out the door for a run in a few.  One day at a time.  All that said, until my body failed me, my mind was solid in spite of a great number of problems out there.  That is one of my take-aways.  I have 4 months (or 17 weeks) to get in peak 100 mile shape.  I know my mind is ahead of that curve.

"Like success, failure is many things to many people.  With a positive mental attitude, failure is a learning experience, a rung on the ladder, a plateau at which to get your thoughts in order and prepare to try again."
-W. Clement Stone

Get to work on your mental game.

It seems like a general and broad-sweeping stroke.  But here's what I mean when I say that.  Workouts and physical fitness are only about half the story when it comes to setting new personal standards in speed or distance (or both).  You must develop the mental makeup so that you don't mentally breakdown.  There are a lot of ways to get there, and generally speaking, a coach will implement these things into your training runs (sometimes overtly and often times, like in my case, covertly).  You can always improve your mental game.  I love reading inspiring books and watching inspiring films (they absolutely do not need to be about running to be good for your mental game).

Here's a list of a few movies that really stoke my mental fire.  What I mean by that?  I cry tears of joy, tears of anguish and tears of being moved by the human spirit each and every time I watch them:

Ferg Hawke running through the valley of death
MY TAKE: A searing documentary about the BADWATER 135 Ultramarathon (aka the World's Toughest Footrace).  I've crewed/paced this race 3 times now, and I'll be stoked to be help another friend get this done this year, even though I can't attend the race.

SYNOPSIS: This 90-min documentary features Canadian Ferg Hawke as well as Scott Jurek, Dr. Ben Jones, Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, Monica Scholz, Pam Reed, Dean Karnazes, Marshal Ulrich and Mike Sweeney as they experience the BADWATER Ultramarathon. Footage from both the 2005 and 2006 races are included as well as interviews, course profile, blister care and finish line drama. The race itself is broken into the six legs and even after 90 miles three athletes are separated by only about a mile and a half. The finish is amazing with records falling and 11 athletes are shown crossing the line.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: Because if you're reading one of my blogs, let's be honest, you're already pretty silly, and there isn't much sillier than running 135-miles through Death Valley in the peak of summer heat.  In case of invisible self-limiting barriers, break glass (ceiling).  This movie will leave you without valid excuses.

QUOTE I LOVE"If you run long enough, something is bound to happen."

How many setbacks must one endure to realize an impossible dream?
MY TAKE: It is slow at points, but then again so is life.  If you patiently entrench yourself in this story, you'll feel Rudy's passion, his devastating lows and triumphant over-coming of long-shot odds.  I love this movie.

SYNOPSIS: Rudy has always been told that he was too small to play college football. But he is determined to overcome the odds and fulfill his dream of playing for Notre Dame.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: You don't have to like college football, this is a movie about having a tenacious spirit and chasing impossible dreams.

QUOTE I LOVE"In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself."

What inspires you to run fast?  Old dares do it for me.
MY TAKE: Also takes some time to build into things, but each scene is vital in a really well woven piece.  It examines the why of two Olympic runners.  One runs to "feel God's pleasure" and another runs from an absolute terror of being second best.  Love vs Fear.  A perfect examination of life.

SYNOPSIS: The story of two British track athletes, one a determined Jew, and the other a devout Christian who compete in the 1924 Olympics.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: It doesn't matter why you run.  It matters that you run (see: exercise).  This movie will have you examining why you run and when you run and may enable you to get the most out of your mental game by determining your mental outlook.

QUOTE I LOVE"I've known the fear of losing but now I am almost too frightened to win."

Buoyed by great performances and Academy Award nom for Giamatti
MY TAKE: One of my 2-3 favorite films of all time (the other 2 are Shawshank Redemption and Crash).  I love this movie for so many reasons.  It will make you feel.

SYNOPSIS: Based on the true story of fighter Jim Braddock, who in Depression-era New York enters the boxing ring out of desperation to feed his family. He becomes a common folk hero as he battles his way up the ranks, vaulting from broken-down ex-boxer to living legend with a string of amazing upsets to his credit. As word of the scrappy underdog spreads, entire families stay glued to their radios, cheering, praying and experiencing his victories as their own. Their devotion reaches fever pitch when Braddock faces heavyweight champ Max Baer. That night, Braddock's dignity, courage and determination gives hope to a nation and earns him the nickname of Cinderella Man.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: You don't have to like boxing, nor be a fan of Russell Crowe or Renee Zellweger.  This movie is about choosing to get back up after getting knocked down (no matter how many times you hit the mat).  Boxing may be a perfect analogy for life in the courage to get back up off the mat when life is punching you in the face.  Give in to this movie.

QUOTE I LOVE"For two hundred and fifty dollars I would fight your wife... and your grandmother, at the same time." 

Photo by Luis Escobar, RD of Born to Run Ultras and Red Rock
MY TAKE: This is JB Benna's masterful weaving of a story about living outside the box, challenging one's perceived limits and going into that unknown void and seeing what part of you comes back from it.  This movie inspires me for many different reasons.

SYNOPSIS: This is the story of the 2010 competitive men's race in the granddaddy of trail ultra runs, the Western States 100.  In addition to following 4 of the top ultra runners in the world, it tells much of the story of how the Western States Endurance Run came into being.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS: Because everyone faces their mental breaking point in a race that means a lot to us.  Sometimes our expectations, our goals, or even the conditions in the race can break us.  Sometimes it's our competition.  But watch how these competitors respond to being broken, and what they do in the face of it.  Warning: it might make you want to run Western States, or 100 miles, or both.

QUOTE I LOVE"I can still take one more step. And so at that point I decided to take one more step until I could not longer take one more step." 

HONORABLE MENTION - Other Films I Love for the Mental Game
The Fighter, Finding Nemo, Rocky, 300, Rocky IV, and many more...

We could all use a little (more) work on our mental game.  These 6 movie-films will help you with that (and I threw in 5 more on the HM list a few sentences above this).  Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  Let me know what you think, especially if you see them now (with new perspective).

If you have other films you love watching, post a comment below and let us know what films help you with your mental game!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Unlocking the Magic & Mystery Behind Sean O'Brien - 50 Mile Course Notes

Ah, my boy Sean O'Brien.  Friend.  Fellow trail running junkie. Dog lover.  Uphill fiend.
SOB The Man. The Legend. The Uprising.
We are all so excited that Keira Henninger is a tenacious 100 mile mountain runner because if not, this SoCal gem of a race wouldn't exist.  We were all devastated by the Springs Fire last year that wiped out about 80% of the park that the amazing Ray Miller 50/50 happened in.  The trails in Pt Mugu (northern Santa Monica Mountains park area that Ray Miller happened in) are all still in decent shape, albeit everything around them is charred.

Enter Sean O'Brien.

Keira & Sean
Anyone who knows Sean, loves Sean.  I hope you all get a chance to shake his hand, high five him or give him a sweaty hug on race day.  He's a dog loving trail runner (Arlington, one of his pups, can go for a 15-25 mile run and probably logs an extra 5 miles of out-and-backs sniffing around), and may be the nicest dude you'll ever meet in the middle of nowhere on a long trail run in the San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains or any other mountain range within a 30-90 min drive of LA. Sean is one of those people that would stop in a race and give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.    You'll also find him on nearly every nasty staircase in the greater LA area, as he just loves to fight gravity.  For those of you who've heard of a nasty little race called the Los Pinos, Keira designed a route that she said would be impossible to run every step of.  So Sean did just that on a test run, and finished it smiling.  As nice as Sean is, he's notorious for inviting friends out for "I don't know, about 17-ish miles" and you'll come back to your cars 24 miles later out of water cursing his name again!  "Damn you, SOB, you did it to us again!"

Sean and Arlington on the trails together!
Welcome to the first year of what's going to end up being one of the most magnificent 50 mile races in the country.  Challenging and extended climbs (for the Santa Monicas).  Majestic ridgeline views of the Pacific.  Rolling canopied single track on the most legendary trail in this range, the Backbone.  Malibu Creek State Park to Zuma Canyon and back.  It's a semi straight forward "lollipop course" (an out and back with a loop in the middle), but really, the 50 mile race is better described as a "suckers course."

After test running this full route in mid-October, I've gone back and run every section of the course, out and backs, hitting each section semi fresh, with time to really think about what it did to me in October.  I'm excited for this race, and I'm a little bit in awe of it.  I've always been in awe of Sean, so I guess this course strikes up a similar love, respect and awe in me.

Sean O'Brien 50 mile - elevation profile

Here's how I break down the 50 mile course!

BLACK writing applies to ALL 3 race distances.
PURPLE writing applies to 50k & 50 miler.
RED writing applies to 50 miler only.

I only included major aid stations, not minor ones, nor water only top off spots.  What you'll find on the Sean O'Brien 50 website course breakdown will differ, slightly.

I round off to approximate half mile marks (as they apply to 50 mile race), and make no claims whatsoever as to what your GPS watch will say at designated points.  If you're running 50k or marathon, do a little math and you'll work out your aid station (and section) distances.

START NOTE: For those of you not familiar with early mornings at Malibu Creek State Park, it'll be cold (for California) and will be/feel 20-30 degrees lower between 4-6am than what our afternoon ridgeline temps will be.  Plan for 35-40 degrees at race check in, whereas the ridges later in the race could achieve 60-70 degrees (if not overcast).

Start (Malibu Creek State Park) to Mile 2
Double track - wide enough to pass
After a short stint on paved road, you transition to a rocky/dirt road, then to a double-track trail up and over a little hill you might not even notice (on the way out, on the way back, that nasty f**ker will feel twice as steep and three times as long).  Take note of the short little downhill around Mile 1 because you'll see it again around mile 48.5 as a hill I affectionately call "the Angry Chihuahua" otherwise known as the prison camp climb. Coming off that double-track, you'll transition to another dirt road, zig-zag across a flowing creek (everyone is going to have wet shoes, I promise) and you'll start the first climb of significance of the day.

Mile 2 to Mile 7 (Corral Canyon Aid Station #1)
Nick & I hiking/running up typical fire road climb here
Climb, climb and climb some more.  Something in the neighborhood of 1,500+ feet in around 3 miles, then some rollers into the first aid station, Corral Canyon.  Most of the climb is semi rocky fire road.  Wide, with some golfball to baseball sized sharp kickable stones.  There's a fun section of non fire road after most of the climbing that connects you to the aid station and runs through/over some sweet looking sandstone formations.  You're there after the second one of these sandstone formations.

Mile 7 Corral Aid to Mile 13.5 (Kanan "Coyote" Aid Station #2)
Coyotes navigating the single track rollers
This would be my favorite stretch of trail in the race.  Not the most amazing views of the race, but the most fun stretch of single track rollers past Castro Peak (a great visual reference point, the peak with communication towers, antennas, etc.).  You'll run about 4 miles from the aid station until you dump out in a dirt parking lot and cross over Latigo Canyon Rd (please be careful, this is the only road you cross in the race, and you cross it twice).  After Latigo crossing, you have another 2.5 miles of single track gradually rolling down and occasionally up to reach the Kanan Aid Station.  The last 200 meters into this check point is a rocky, rutted, semi technical drop into the parking lot.  Get too caught up in the commotion below and you might need medical attention for scrapes at the aid station.  This is the MARATHON TURNAROUND point.  This is a DROP BAG station.

AID STATION NOTE TO THE GUYS IN 50 MILER: if you aren't in competition for TOP 3 overall, please be aware of the top females and allow them to get helped at the aid station before you.  They might have Top 3 Western States aspirations on the line.  30 seconds to you won't likely mean very much, but 30 seconds to them could be the difference in their race.  Be a gentleman, you're not competing with them.
Sean O'Brien at Kanan "Coyote" Aid Station area

Mile 13.5 Kanan Aid Station to Mile 16 (50k turn around) - water only (take water only if necessary)
More joyful, mostly rolling, semi canopied single track!  You'll run 2.5 miles of winding, canyon and dry creek flanking single track.  You'll get to the connection of the Backbone Trail (the trail you've been running on for 14 miles) and the Zuma Ridge Motorway.

Mile 16 to Mile 19 (Zuma Edison Intersection Aid Station #3)
Do not enter.  Watch for vehicles to/from BR Ranch.
You'll turn left heading uphill for a quick 1.5 mile climb.  Every twist and turn of Zuma Ridge Mtwy will yield a unique view giving you a panoramic perspective in each direction (important note: it's possible there will be a vehicle or three that will cross your path on this stretch between the BBT single track and the top of this climb, please be aware and courteous, these vehicles have the right-of-way, as they are graciously allowing us to use this road).  After the 1.5 mile fire road climb, you'll pass Buzzard's Roost Ranch and begin the most epic descent of the 50 mile course.  With a very brief respite from the descent around 1.5 miles down, you'll reach the next aid station.  Everything you've run to this point, you'll run again in reverse, after you complete the lollipop/suckers part of this loop that double dips into Zuma Canyon.

Mile 19 Zuma Edison Intersection Aid #3 to Mile 23 (Bonsall Aid Station #4)
This pic just won't do it justice.
Down, down, down we go!  Be careful not to get carried away on this section.  It's a lot of fire road and great views of the Pacific (unless foggy/raining/overcast).  When you're about 3 miles down, you'll transition from the fire road across a parking lot left onto a very dusty horse trail single track.  You've got about a mile to the Bonsall Aid Station!  Head toward the ocean (west) and you'll end up at the Bonsall Aid Station. This is a DROP BAG station.

Mile 23 Bonsall Aid Station to Mile 31.5 (Zuma Edison Intersection Aid #5)
Grinder of a climb
It is important to acknowledge here that you are in Zuma Canyon, the lowest point on the course.  Race starts around 500-ish feet of elevation and you are now at around 25-ish feet of elevation.  From Mile 23 to Mile 43, two thirds of the next 20 miles will be climbing, and about one third will be flat or down.  Buckle up, buttercup, it's going to be a tough go (but you're a tough mutha-effer, so get to it).  This next 8.5 miles will likely be one of the most challenging sections of the entire course.  You have a half mile of flat in Zuma Canyon to get to the climb, then you're going to climb via a switch-backing series of single track trails, this is about a 4-ish mile ascent with a few breaks in it.  As soon as you achieve the ridge and connect to Zuma Edison Road, where the single track becomes fire road again, you're going to dive into the back of Zuma Canyon.  This is one of the two most steep descents of the race (loosing some 600-800 feet in one mile), watch those quads.  After a two mile crushing descent, you're now staring down the most significant climb of the race.  You'll be able to spot Buzzard's Roost Ranch while running down those two miles, and that marks the top of the climb.  You may like looking at it (knowing where the climb ends) and you might not want to look at it (it'll seem forever away).  You have a 2 mile switch back on fire road climb to the Zuma Edison Intersection Aid, your 2nd trip here, now the whole course is the way back from whence you came!

Mile 31.5 Zuma Edison Intersection Aid (Part II) to Mile 34.5 "50k Turnaround"
Center off in distance, Ray Miller 50 course, Tri Peaks and Sandstone Peak
You have the final 1.5 miles to get to Buzzard's Roost Ranch via the Zuma Ridge Mtwy, of which about 1 mile is actual climbing.  Then a 1.5 mile fire road descent to the 50k turnaround intersection with the Backbone Trail single track. Looking to the north while descending from BR Ranch, you'll be able to see the Tri Peaks from here, near Sandstone Peak which is where the Ray Miller 50 mile course came out to run past and turn around.  By the Backbone Trail, it's about 10-15 miles away to reach the Ray Miller Course from here.  Fill one water bottle with water here if you're dry, otherwise press on.

Mile 34.5 "50k Turnaround" to Mile 37 (Kanan "Coyote" Aid Station #6)
Press on to the Kanan aid station only 2.5 miles down the rolling windy single track.  From Mile 34.5 to Mile 43, you're going to be rolling, trending slightly upward more often than not.  It's really runnable stuff if you managed your calorie intake, fluids and electrolytes, not to mention were conservative enough with your effort level.  I was surprised how difficult I found this section to run, which was mostly mental bonking when I ran it in October.  Arrive at Kanan Aid Station and tank up!  This is a DROP BAG station.  It is important to have a FLASHLIGHT or HEADLAMP in this bag if you will finish anytime after 4pm.  Better to have one and not need it than need a light an not have it.

REMINDER NOTE TO THE 50 MILER GUYS: by this point, you're probably pretty clear who the Top 5 women are if you're around them.  Something I love to do here is help them!  Encourage them.  Let them in front of you at the aid station.  If they achieve their goal of a States slot, and you really supported them, you've made a new friend on the trails.  Never know when you'll need some of that trail karma.

Mile 37 Kanan Aid Station to Mile 43.5 (Corral Aid Station #7)
Heading back towards Corral through this
You are again trending upward on rolling single track trail.  2.5 miles of this upward trend, you'll cross over Latigo Canyon Rd (BE MINDFUL OF CARS, BIKES, TRUCKS, etc. especially now that you're delirious, and especially if it's dark out).  You are 4 miles from the last major checkpoint.  One little tough climb up to flank Castro Peak, then you'll roll 3 ish miles to the Corral Aid Station again!

Mile 43.5 Corral Aid Station to the FINISH LINE!
Descending rock formations with 6-ish miles to go, Pacific Ocean views
You have about 1.5 to 2 miles of rollers, first on single track, then on fire roads before the plunge.  The plunge is good news OR bad news depending on how your legs are feeling.  You're going to have a pretty brutally steep 2.5 mile descent (one mile will lose 700 feet) on rocky fire road.  When you go from fire road onto single track, you've got about a mile to go (until the creek crossing).  You're legs will likely be pretty unsure at this point so I recommend going straight through the creek.  Careful not to turn an ankle!  Once you're through the creek crossing, you've got a little more than 2 miles to go.  About 2/3'rds of a mile to that "Angry Chihuahua" I warned you about earlier.  The prison camp climb (Angry Chihuahua) is about a half mile, but it might seem like 1.5 miles at this point.  The moment you achieve the saddle atop this climb, almost precisely one mile to go!  Run a half mile down the double track and you'll hit the gravel parking lot and fire road, a quarter mile to the paved road and a quarter mile to the FINISH LINE!  Wooooohoooo!  Hit the pavement and finish it strong!

You made it!!!  High five, sweaty hug and celebrate life with some other rad peeps!

*Be courteous to your other racers
*If you're on single track and someone comes up behind you, ask them if they'd like to pass, let them go and worry about catching up later, or tuck in and hang with them for a while
*If you are having a low moment and choose to listen to music, one earbud must be out and the music must be low enough to communicate with other runners, hear rattlesnakes, etc.
*Have fun!

"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 to quit."
-George Sheehan

I wish you all your best race out there.  Make sure you ALL meet Sean O'Brien.  In fact, stop him during the race for a sweaty hug and chat him up.  I'd really like to finish ahead of him and the more of you do that, the better my chances are...  *playful wink*
Sean whooping my butt again, Avalon 50, 2011

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

10 Ways Running 100 Miles Over Mountains is like a Weekend in VEGAS!

I saw Little Miss Sunshine (yes, for the first time) a couple nights ago.  It's the second film I've seen in the past few months with a speaker who doesn't live his message (Donnie Darko was the other).  I know I'm not Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze's charater) nor am I Richard Hoover (although I'm not too far off of Richard Hoover's "don't stop, no matter what the circumstances dictate" mantra), but sometimes I worry about losing my audience being overtly content & happy many days.  Henceforth, I'm going to work to integrate this blog into three types of posts:

1- life lessons (stemming from the adversity I've faced)
2- adventurous stories (tall tales, many running related)
3- silly perspective posts (every so often to lighten the mood)

It's going to be a unique soup of posts, but there you have it.  I'm all over the place sometimes, so this will better represent me too.  Without further ado...

10. Some people stop in the light of day, but many will be pulling an all nighter.

9. Waking up the morning after, we all ask ourselves why we just did that to ourselves.
"Never, ever again!  This time I mean it!  For reals!"

8. The longer we keep going, the less we seem to care when we throw up on a friend, on our shoes or in one of our own bags (shout out to Puck!).

7. Friends always make it more fun.  They can also validate and legitimize your stories of what really happened.

6. Aid station hopping can be just as fun as club/bar hopping.

5. After a crazy night, all we want to do the next day is lounge by the pool.

4. You're either going to have a good time, a great horror story, or both. Chances are you'll see some $#!^ you've never seen before.

3. The wetter you get, often times, the better the story is... TWSS?

2. You might have a crazy naked dude *chase you with a crowbar.
*In the 100, you're probably just hallucinating. Probably.

1. the cougars love the night life!
(Photo Credit: Steve Winter/National Geographic)

BONUS: you might end up passing out on the bathroom floor in either.

Photo Credit: Coach Jen Vogel - 

BONUS: in both, there's always a photo or two we hope doesn't end up on social media!
What is Chamoun doing here???
Don't worry Chamoun, this isn't my best look either.

What have you experienced in a 100 miler (or Vegas) that you can relate to both activities!?  Hope you enjoyed the list...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Overemphasis on Training in 100 Mile Trail Run Prep - Angeles Crest 100 Lessons 2006-2014

"Nothing on Earth can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on Earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."
-Thomas Jefferson

BAD ATTITUDE 101 - Angeles Crest 2006 at Eagle's Roost
I am not the most qualified person to be telling you how to train for a 100 mile mountain race.  I am not fast, and am lucky to crack the Top 25 of a deep race field.  I don't even log high mileage all that often (number of weeks in 2013 over 70 miles = 6, number of 100+ mile weeks not including a week with a 100 mile race in 2013 = 0).  I have even coached runners for Angeles Crest (and various other 100 milers) that have failed to finish their respective races (don't ask about my Dave 'Comet' Chan story, please).  There are many more qualified AC experts out there.

All that aside, you have found this blog entry (so pull up a chair and stay a moment).  I'm here to present a perspective that I've been chewing on for a few years now, something I've struggled to fully grasp or articulate, but it crystallized in a conversation with a fellow student of 100 milers, and someone far more credible than I (who will likely blog on this very topic in the near future *nudge, nudge* ).

Okay, I lied, look how pretty I am here.
Running 100 miles (or "migrating 100 miles", to quote my fellow blogger Ashley) in a single day is a brutal challenge.  It tests us physically and psychologically, sometimes to the very fabric of our being.  It strips us of all excess energy, to the point where all facades fall away and we're left raw and emotive, just a primal being often going off of pure grit and gut instinct.  In my case this is often not a pretty sight.  For some of my closest friends it is a time to fully enjoy the show, as I behave in ways I might not want to be seen behaving at any other time (at least publicly).  I might throw a tantrum or two. I sometimes complain. I often puke. Sometimes I even cry like a baby.  And hold on to your seat for this one, there are instances I am dead quiet for extended periods of time.  *GASP!*

Chamoun leads Gleason up Williamson - AC 2012
I'd estimate in all of the training programs I've personally executed over the last 12 years preparing for marathons and longer races, my two most dedicated, high mileage, most focused training programs were in 2006 training for my first Angeles Crest 100 Miler and in 2008/2009 training for the Western States 100.  Interestingly enough, until I tried to run my 2nd hundred miler in a 2 week period (AC/Leadville back-to-back in 2013), both AC '06 and States '09 were my two most difficult 100 milers (see: most frequent low points, most death marching, and highest cumulative time in aid stations).  I don't care if you finish these races in 18 hours (or faster) or 30 hours, to me, speed is relative and it is an impressive feat of courage (and foolishness) to even toe the line of one of these monster mountain endurance runs.  Conversely, two races I probably had the least consistent training for, AC '13 and Rocky Raccoon '10, I had some of my better times.  Yes, those are wildly different events. I suffered tremendously at AC last year due to my lack of training (and other influencing factors), but I ran times I consider to be good for me at those two events (with less than ideal training).  This had me examining some of the finer points of 100 mile race prep with many friends of mine who have a depth of personal experience at 100 miles.  Leading up to a conversation between Pam, Kate and I, about interesting and notable performances on less than ideal training earlier this week.

As far as I'm concerned, this hypothesis could apply to the Pam Smith's (see: runners who win races) just as much as it does athletes who are fighting cutoffs for a high percentage of the race, and everyone in between.  Granted, the athlete who has less than ideal training might not be competitive for a win in today's deeper fields of competitors since most elites I've read up on now consider every element of what I'm about to talk to you about.

DISCLAIMER: I do not intend to insinuate that an athlete does not have to train very much to finish a 100 mile race.  Training up to this distance is essential.  Doing so intelligently, patiently (over an extended period of time), and consistently over race specific terrain is ideal.  The goal should be arriving at the starting line healthy, rather than "how many times can I run 100 miles in my weekly training" no matter the consequences.

HYPOTHESIS:  a great many athletes, especially first timers, place a dramatic overemphasis on training in prep for a 100 mile mountain race

To say this another way: many of us focus so much on cumulative weekly miles, running fast, running up steep terrain, tempo runs, speed work, stair repeats, strength training and getting physically ready that we overlook some pretty essential aspects of 100 mile racing (not to say we're all racing, but 100 miles in an event is distinct from just going out to do 100 miles on your own with no time constraints).

What often gets overlooked when training is overemphasized:
Checklists of everything I could possibly anticipate: AC 2012 edition
*Nutrition - both day-to-day diet influencing metabolic efficiency and effective race day nutrition strategies
*Mental Strategies - conditioning ourselves to think in a way that empowers and inspires our best effort, learning to deal with the inevitable and often devastating lows of a 100 mile run.  This can include mantras, anticipation of difficulty and acceptance of certain problematic scenarios.
*Hydration/Electrolyte Replenishment - there are many schools of thought here, but often athletes don't even consider how little (or how much) they're drinking or how an electrolyte imbalance might affect their race
*Pacing Plan vs Exertion Plan - you might think to yourself here, "nope, I always have a pacing plan" and that's one of my key points: we are often more focused on some target race time than actually adjusting to the effort/exertion level that is appropriate at that moment based on the signals our body is sending us, which can be greatly affected by conditions (heat, altitude, wind, terrain, humidity, etc.).  This doesn't just mean running too fast, it's sometimes being too conservative.
*Attitude - I hold this one slightly distinct from "mental strategies" although it is closely related.  A positive mentality can sometimes help us look at the same (sometimes ugly) circumstances and instead of panicking or having an emotional breakdown, we can smile and laugh about it.

"Do as I say, not as I do." -  IPA & a donut???
I'm the last person who can tell you what you should be doing for nutrition, but for many athletes, it seems to be almost an afterthought.  Fueling strategies implemented on race day aren't tried-and-true for most.  Sometimes, athletes that have something they've practiced a ton in training goes haywire on race day because of aid station grazing (those candies and cookies look great, I'll have a couple).

Hydration and electrolyte replacement is really personal.  There are some diametrically opposed schools of thought here on how much one should drink and whether one should supplement with electrolytes or not.  Again, if you've given no thought to it, it's just guesswork.  It's amazing that so many athletes spend a year planning to run 100 miles, pouring hours into physical training each week, many more hours just thinking about it, without consideration for anything specific here.

Pacing plans: here's the thing, if you are seeking to finish your first 100 mile race, finishing will be a PR.  Some athletes get so caught up in buckling, going for sub-24's, and completely ignoring the redline signals because of pace splits for a goal time that they sacrifice the finish.  And it has proven to be a grotesque oxymoron for me (and dozens of the athletes I train) that when I focus on everything but my splits, I run my fastest time.  When I focus on my time splits, I fall off them pretty quickly and then have to deal with my negative emotions around that early failure.

"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."
-Winston Churchill

Hurting: Mile 52 at AC in 2011. Attitude shift necessary.
Attitude/Mentality: I remember a few years back being too sick to start the Lake Sonoma 50 Miler, on race day I ended up working race check in and helping build the finish line area.  I got to cheer a few Coyotes and a few other friends across the finish line.  I remember one girl in particular who finished mid-pack and threw a tantrum to her friends, "That was the worst day of my life!" she sobbed.  I sat there awestruck.  Wait, didn't you just finish 50 miles?  What about the people still out there, behind you?  What about the people who DNF'd today?  I will never know this girl's name, but she taught me an amazing lesson that day: embrace the hurt locker.  I went on to Angeles Crest that summer (four months later) and every time I felt miserable, I thought to myself "I'm still moving forward at a decent clip, it could be worse, I'm so grateful to be out here doing this..." and it changed my race.  Without very much race specific training that summer, I ran my fastest AC100 time.  A huge part of that was my perspective shifting.  I put a lot of thought into it beforehand.  How am I going to feel out there?  Probably pretty crappy at some point, but that's what I signed up for.

In summary, there are so many pieces to traveling 100 miles on foot, in a single go.  Training may be a key piece of that, but if you don't consider every other piece, you might just be throwing a lot of that training down the drain.

Another parting shot, a clip of the conversation between Pam, Kate and I:
Pam - "So, how fast do you have to run to go sub-24 in 100 miles?"
JDF - "You gotta run 12-13 minute miles, depending on how much time is wasted in aid. Overall 14:30-ish average."
Pam - "Right. So really, how fit does one have to be to maintain 12-13 minute pace?"
JDF - "Depends on the course, I guess?"
Pam - "Sure, but don't you think it's not often the pace that sabotages one's sub-24 goal, but rather, poor nutrition plans, sour stomachs, and not being ready for the low points (mentally)?"
JDF - "Interesting point, Pam..."
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (photobomb by yours truly)
There's a good chance you'll see Pam on the starting line at Angeles Crest this year with a personal vendetta against AC.  I met Pam in 2010 at AC, at Mile 42.  She was trying to drop out and her husband Mac persuaded me to convince Pam to continue.  So she dropped out at the first aid station that was crew inaccessible.  Coincidentally, it was the aid station where I branded myself with my first ever DNF too, Mile 49, the Mt. Hillyer checkpoint.  Whether there in 2014 or not, I'm betting on Pam to finish her next AC...

My Angeles Crest 100 History in finishing (or DNF) photos:

2006 - Finish, 26:27
2007 - DNF at Mile 49

2011 - Finish,   23:51  (first AC silver)

2012 - Finish, 22:38
2013 - Finish, 23:39
2014 - ????
No idea what this year holds in store, but I know Angeles Crest will hypothetically be my 4th 100 mile race inside of 2 months (June 7 - August 2).  I'm ready to be schooled again by one of my favorite mountain ranges anywhere... and I'll be hitting the starting line leaving no stone unturned...