The Puzzle: Part I

There are a lot of factors that go into a performance: nutrition (vegan, keto, intermittent fasting…), the physical (specificity, level of intensity, duration), sleep, recovery, attitude, emotion (highs and lows), and the mental. I liken the process to a puzzle.

When setting out for a goal, all of the pieces are right there, scattered about. At first, it is exciting. A few pieces attach here and a couple others connect there. The momentum begins to build. Then, the frustration sets in. With so many pieces, it’s easy to take notice of the work that remains. That is usually accompanied by a sense of being overwhelmed. That’s the nature of setting out for an ambitious undertaking. The excitement can dim quickly.

Sometimes a break helps reinvigorate or refine perspective. Patience and flexibility will help in puzzle piece positioning. Consider it can trial-and-error. Trial-and-error. Trial-and-error. There will be days when the weather sucks, and others when your heart just isn’t in it. I think those are the prime moments to step back and examine the entire puzzle and the progress that you have made. There’s need to beat yourself up for taking a day off. There is no need to compare. You’re on your own trajectory. The puzzle looks different for everybody. It’s a long journey. Those unused pieces certainly aren’t going anywhere.

 

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Magical Morning at Ford Ord. February 2017.
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Weekly Musings

“It’s the little things…”

 

This past weekend, I helped crew/pace for my friend Chris at the Tahoe 200. Yep, that’s right, 200 miles. Chris and I met while traveling on the STRAY bus in New Zealand early 2015.  The trek around Lake Tahoe started at 9:00 AM Friday and culminated the following Tuesday afternoon. I arrived in Tahoe Saturday afternoon to link up with Chris at Heavenly, which also signified the 100-mile point. He recuperated, refueled and geared up for the dark, cold night ahead.

 

We left Heavenly around 6:30. There would be no aid station for another 20 miles. Chris’s ankles were taped and wrapped, but that didn’t quell his spirit for the trek ahead. We walked, shuffled, jogged and conversed as the day gave way to night. We would stop occasionally to in an effort to relieve the pressure caused by the bandages tightly-wound around his ankles. At times, we were accompanied by others, exchanging words of encouragement. As the hours got later and later, that ubiquitous sense of care becomes more evident.

 

The night got longer, colder, and darker. At times, the trail became rockier. Combine those factors with sheer silence and fatigue, and everything becomes a little more formidable. A half-mile felt like 4 miles. The night got longer and longer. Since we were power hiking, it was difficult to keep warm. Temps had now dropped into the low-40s. Coming from triple-digit temps, this felt bone chilling.

 

Also, it’s difficult to gauge progress at night because all you can see is the luminescent glow beaming from your headlight five feet in front of you. This makes it difficult to stimulate your mind. That lack of stimulation added in with extreme fatigue and you have a recipe for some serious mind games.

 

It was now nearing midnight. At times, the fatigue was evident when Chris whether or not we were on course or how much longer we had remaining until the aid station. I estimated we had nearly 3 more miles remaining. Mike, another participant in the race, claimed that we had at least 5 to go. This was the second time, Mike had estimated that there was more than what actually remained. This was deflating. Without missing a beat, Chris replied, You’re a real Debbie Downer man!

 

Whether it was due to fatigue or frustration, Mike didn’t reply. About 20 minutes later, we arrived at a sign that stated: Spooner Summit 3 miles. I laughed, probably because I didn’t know what else to do.

 

As the night wore on, so did our spirits. We inched closer and closer to Spooner Summit. It was now 1’clock. We needed Spooner Summit. Chris’s water supplies were low and, in addition to his ankles, his left knee was hurting. Switchback after switchback, I continued to reassure Chris that we were almost there. In reality, I had no idea. It was getting pretty grim.

 

Finally! At 1:45, I saw the light. There it is Chris! We’re going to get your ankles and knee looked at, some real food in ya, a quick nap and you’ll be ready to rock! We slowly entered Spooner Summit. Ahhhhhhh, yes!!!

 

The volunteers were outstanding. Almost immediately, they provided us blankets. There was another EZ-UP next to the aid station that had cots, yoga mats, blankets and chairs, all surrounding a propane heater. Other participants were gathered there. They were wrapped in blankets like burritos and probably deep in the REM cycle. Speaking of burritos, the wonderful volunteers made us some breakfast burritos and chicken broth. Double-bonus!

 

Since my duties as pacer/crew required a little extra focus, I had a heart-warming half-coffee, half-hot-chocolate combo. Wrapped in a blanket, I gingerly walked back to emanating heat with a burrito in one-hand and a coffee/hot-chocolate in the other. There was a spectator standing next to me. We both nodded and smiled.

 

It’s the little things isn’t it?

She replied, Oh yes, it most definitely is.

 

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Absolutely stunning sunrise over Tahoe Sunday Morning. This was captured about two hours after leaving Spooner Summit. 

Directly below the heater, Chris was passed out on a yoga mat next.  Slowly, I was warming up. Accompanied by some light Pearl Jam in the background, I smiled while savoring my caffeinated-hot chocolate. In that moment, I had all I needed: Warmth, a hot meal/drink, shelter, and support. It didn’t take too long before mind slid into a deep slumber.

 

This moment of respite is one I will not soon forget. It would have never happened without the remote darkness or frigid temperature or the mounting impatience. That’s what it took to make Spooner Summit feel better than any 5-Star Resort. There are plenty of lessons to pull from my pacing/crew duties in Tahoe; however, my lasting takeaway is that it really is the little things!

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Chris and I parting ways at the Tunnel Creek Cafe (Mile 140). He ended up finishing sometime late on Monday night. Kudos to him for sticking with it!!

 

 

Kodiak 100: BIG BEAR, CA

We had arrived! After a long stretch through arid desert, we were welcomed by a more temperate climate in Big Bear. We arrived at our studio Airbnb; it was packed with all the amenities that would ensure a restful night. Sweeeeeet!! In past races, the night before has comprised of attempts at sleeping under trees (only to awoken by sprinklers), camping in the rain, or uncomfortable sleeping in the car. This was a huge step up! Kudos to Matt for taking action.

From there, we went to the pre-race packet pick-up and pasta dinner. Yeah, say that five times. We received our bibs, some grub, and caught up with some friends (shout-out Nate Moore and Eric Chrisman – Chad’s brother) and then headed back.

I always find “the night before” to be amusing. The combination of nervous energy and chatter equals usually lends itself to an unneeded analysis. In terms of a social setting I usually don’t hang too long at these pre-night shindigs for two reasons: A. I have already made up my mind as to how I’m going to run and B. There is no amount of training or adjusting in 12 hours that can be overly advantageous. For some, those conversations are helpful and I think that awesome. As for me, I prefer to head back to my accommodation, double-check my provisions and dial in to the right headspace. Typically, that means either reading, listening to some Jack Johnson or watching a movie.

GO TIME: August 25, 2017

Coffee, Breakfast, Shower. After that, Matt and I were met by Randy VT and Scott K. at around 7:15 AM (meaning they left really early). I was stoked that they were coming to pace me. Not only did they pace, but they went above and beyond and crewed from start to finish. Without them, the overall experience would have lost its luster. It made for a wonderful team effort. I’ll touch more on this later…

We arrived at the starting line. Can we just start already? As per the rules of participating in this race, we were mandated to wear a SPOT tracking device. This device was to be ziptied on to us and it’s awkward size emulated the size of an early cellular phone. The intention for these devices was that those following along on a computer could accurately track us. Long story short, they didn’t.

9:00 AM

Go! Nothing really exciting happened at the beginning. We went up, then we went down. A sip of water here and small talk there; all in all, the first 15 miles were pretty vanilla. That’s okay because it allows me to find my groove.

After that aid station, Matt and I were running together. He had gone off course, which sucks, but it happens. Then, we weaved our way through paved roads, until the realization came that there weren’t any course markings. 10 minutes removed from the course and our frustration was evident.

Since it was early on, I was a tad bit concerned: if we were veering off-course this early, what would happen would happen at 3 in the morning?

Frustrating? No doubt. On the plus side, it was early on, meaning there would be plenty of time to make up for it. It was out of our control and in the past, but our attitudes were not. It was early, but we had a choice: dwell in frustration or press on. We opted for the latter.

We arrived at Sugarloaf (mile 19), refueled and refocused for the arduous climb ahead. 12-ish miles stood between us and the next fueling/aid station, which also happened to be this very same one. We hit 10,000 feet on this climb. Slowly making my way upward, I felt nauseated, like as though I was sucking air through a straw. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. As my body felt the climb, so, too, did my mind. And the negative thinking began to fester: This is beyond you. What are you doing? You’re not even 1/3 of the way done and you feel like this already. Just grueling. Every half mile or so, I leaned against a tree, took a breathe and tried to stay just where I was at. I stayed calmed and my thoughts slowly shifted. One step at a time and we’ll be to the top quickly…

Finally! I arrived at the top with a couple others. My water bottles were empty and my mind disoriented. But, we had downhill ahead of us. I looked over at a dude named Cameron That was gnarly. He sucked down the last of his water. We were bone dry at the top and not the only ones. It was grim at the top. We then jetted down the loose shale and unsteady rocks. GET WATER ASAP. En route back to Sugarloaf, Nate Moore – head of San Joaquin Running Tribe – blew by me. He recently completed a 100-miler up in Tahoe. Kudos to that guy! Stud.

Super parched, Cameron and I rolled back into Sugarloaf. Come to find out, Cameron is one of the owners of Stumblefoot Brewery in San Marcos. Their beer was waiting for us at the finish line. Having not had a beer in nearly 3 months, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an IPA.

As we neared, I heard Willemina, Cody and my Mom cheering. I was so stoked to see them!. Also, Scott and Randy were there to refill my bottles and double-check if there was anything I needed. Matt’s wife – Kate – and daughter – Brooke – were also there with a ice cold bucket and a sponge. Matt had already gone through, so it was very kind of them to wait for me. They continued that throughout. Again, team effort. I slugged a V8, grabbed watermelon and trudged onward.

The next 10 miles consisted of uneven footing, more loose shale, and some short, punchy uphills, followed by rolling terrain. Basically, a little bit of everything. As the sun was now setting, I arrived at the mile 42 aid station “The Dump”. This would be the last time I would see my crew until mile 69. My lungs were exhausted and voice was waning. It had been a long day so far and I had yet to reach the halfway mark. I swapped hat for headlamp and tank top for tee shirt. On the eve of nightfall, I was now at the point where the senses become heightened and everything else becomes a little more visceral. I took off with a fellow participant named Jack. Jack is from New Orleans. We shared the next 3 hours with wide-ranging conversation and plenty of quiet moments.

 

We linked up with a guy named Chris. Together, we arrived at the mile 55 aid station. It was there that Jack and I split up. He decided to switch shoes and I carried on. For the next 2-3 hours, it was pitch black. I plugged in my tunes to help maintain focus. The stars were shining above a low-hanging crescent moon. The lights of greater Los Angeles were in the distance. This stretch was one of those periods where the magnitude of the moment becomes evident. I weaved through burnt forest, which made this stretch all the more formidable. The trees were sharp, jagged and pitch-black. I was on a trail at midnight in the mountains. Looking back on it, it’s quite surreal.

Finally, I saw a light. Aid station!!! Woohooo! I drank broth, met a dude named Jorge. Jorge just woke up from a 20-minute nap. They had had conveniently placed a couch behind their table. I was tempted to lie down, but made the decision at the beginning of the race to “beware the chair”. Jorge also just so happened to be an OG in the ultrarunning scene. I had no idea of this until immediately before the race. The cool thing is that I would have never guessed that when speaking with him. Understated and kind, it’s people like Jorge that make this sport rad.

Snow Valley – mile 69 – signified an important juncture of this race. For me, it was the point at which my pacers began to join me on the trail. From 69 to 87, I would be accompanied by Randy VT. Post-87, the duty belonged to Scott K.

It was 1:30 and I requested some broth. Part of the amenities offered by the race were chicken broth and veggie broth. Instead of broth, they offered me some lukewarm cup-o-noodles. Well, I didn’t sign up for this race to critique food and upload my YELP account. So be it. Randy and I carefully left the aid station through what was a very unconventional route that ran parallel between a chain-linked fence and highway.

We descended into Siberian Canyon. From there, it marked the final, big climb of the race. This climb was even more frustrating that the one before. It was one of the most annoying segments of a race I have ever experienced. The “trail” was sandy, slick and accompanied by low-hanging trees. At one point, I climbed on my hands and knees because the markings (at certain points) sort of just disappeared. There were ample, if any opportunities to run, so we trudged. I needed an attitude adjustment, a mental reset. Tyler, get over yourself. Suck it up. If I wanted to make the most of what remained, I had no choice but to accept how things presently existed.

We climbed and climbed and climbed. It was around 3:30-4:00 AM and my thinking brain had dissipated. Also, I was out of water (again, I know, what a clown). We turned the corner on this ridge and I saw something move about 15 yards ahead of me.

At this point, I was getting delusional, but I know I saw something. I stopped in my tracks:

Randy, did you see that?

No, what was it?

I was confused because at this point every shadow that moved with my headlamp looked like a black bear. This was different. It was distinct. Also, I saw a tail. Or at least I thought I did. The figure disappeared and went above us. We both looked for it.

There it is! Do you see it?

Where? Where? Oh. Yes.

A pair of green eyes… And they were locked in on us…

From above, no less…

We moved forward about another 100 yards.

We looked up again.

The eyes were again parallel with us and bearing down

We moved forward…

Same result.

Randy grabbed a big walking stick and I clutched on to a rock.

Again, I can’t fully verify what the animal was, but I know it was curious. For the sake of a good story, we’ll go with Mountain Lion. Seriously though, having seen one before and I didn’t see a bobbed-tail.

Of more importance, I am very thankful that I had a friend with me. I don’t know how I would’ve responded had I been solo.

We decided to jog a bit and speak in loud, audible tones. From there we stayed the course and rolled along the trail for a quite some time. After a while, Randy brought up the fact that there hadn’t been any markers for over an hour. Then one hour turned into almost two.

 

At this point, 5:40 AM, the sky was slowly morphing from black to a deep blue. I was too disoriented to conjure up the remote possibility that we had been going off-course for beyond two hours.

 

Nearing the 80th mile, not iota of me wanted to turn back. I was praying some sort of boost or a sign (literally and metaphorically). Just something.

 

Fortunately, we never had to entertain that option as an orange course marker FINALLY appeared. Yes!!! I just stopped, and stared at the sign with insurmountable relief.

Dude, a course marker… Finally.”

My fatigued tone certainly didn’t match the magnitude of the moment, but this was big-time.

 

When we went to the aid station, we informed them of the massive gap that lacked course markings. The lady explained, albeit in an authoritative tone, that they were on top of it and would soon figure out who didn’t do their job. I found that to be a bizarre response, given the fact there would be plenty of people who would soon encounter the same issue. A more helpful response might be sending somebody out there to mark it? Just a thought.

23 ½ hours after starting, we ended up making it to mile 87. Scott had been patiently waiting for us. I’m sure he was eager to get moving. I slammed some bacon and a cookie, my first real solid food yet.

 

Scott and I ran what I could. It was probably the slowest half-marathon of his life, but he never once exuded any negativity for the entirety of the closing miles. Randy was much the same. They both encouraged me throughout. Most of this last half-marathon comprised of going five yard down and twenty yards up. That ended up meaning lots of walking. The effects of elevation and fatigue had me yearning to just get this thing over with. Finally, we hit mile 97 and the what-was-promised-long-ago-downhill that I was very much looking forward to.

 

At about mile 99.5, we hit the pavement. The hay was in the barn. I heard the banter down below. Scott peeled off to the side and there it was! My body exhausted and spirit thankful, I crossed the finished line in 26 hours. I immediately tossed the SPOT tracker to the Race director at the finish.

 

You can keep that

 

Real quickly, Matt had finished in under 24 hours for a stellar 4th place overall position. He was paced by our good friend , Ben G, who will be running in his first 50 miler soon. To make it even better, Matt got to cross the finish with Katie (spouse) and Brooke (daughter). How epic! I exchanged high-fives with the crew. My mom’s friend (and pretty much family), Shana, and daughter, Astrid, even drove all the way from Ventura to watch the finish! I couldn’t believe it. I sat down and Matt mustered up a couple more steps and fetched both of us each a frosty Stumblefoot IPA. Ahhhhhh!!!! Satisfaction guaranteed!!! I kicked off my shoes to reveal filthy feet and a smile that couldn’t be fabricated. The job was done.

Ruminations, Musings, reflections….

 

Completing something that stretches you to your outer-limits is unique. There’s nothing quite like a long and difficult effort spent in the outdoors. Those moments where I’m called to tap deep into the well are the ones of great importance. This go-around, the only way I could move beyond those low points (miles 22-29, 74-78.5) was to remember that they’re inevitable.. You try to prepare your best for the lows in training. This requires simulating the terrain or conjuring up various scenarios to help you gauge your potential reaction(s). Despite the preparation and emulation, Plan A usually goes out the window. Moving forward from Plan A is neither good nor bad; but it leaves me with a choice. I can either fighting the present circumstances or accepting them. I’ve learned that by fighting the pain or dwelling on the negative chatter, it only exacerbates everything else. Everything. But, if I just accept the brutal climb, sketchy footing,, or overall discomfort, I can at least give myself a chance for something good to happen. There are no guarantees, but it seems like a chance worth taking.

 

 

 

 

Nutrition Change-up

Going into this race, I completely switched my nutrition to a High Fat Low Carb, almost Ketogenic style of nutrition. In case you were wondering, this was why I didn’t drink any beer for almost 3 months. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

In any case, this was a 360 from what my train of thought had previously been. I have dabbled in plant-based, vegetarian and pescatarian for various amounts of time in the past.

This meant completely eliminating grains, legumes, and/or wheat from my consumption. I’m certainly not an expert on nutrition, physiology or anything related, but it was fascinating to observe any noticeable changes.

First, I was always vehement that the HFLC (High Fat Low Carb) protocol is the most idiotic idea for endurance sports. It never made sense to me. Then, after my Dad brought it up to me. That was followed by multiple conversations with Randy VT, Peter Defty of VESPA, and my parent’s neighbor, Brian. Well, I figured the only way I can truly form an opinion on this is if I actually try it for myself. So that’s what I did.

It took a couple of weeks to get through what felt like a “mental fog”; however, after that, my body slowly became “fat-adapted” and things got much better. My palate changed. I even started eating cheese!

The goal for this race was to avoid any stomach-related issues or glycogen-spikes a.k.a. “bonking”. Over the summer, my energy levels were much steadier and I was able to run on a much lower caloric intake. By reducing the carbohydrate intake, my inflammation was dramatically reduced, which enabled me to train in a more optimal manner. Also, my goal was to not use gels because I have had such horrendous experiences with them, so I was stoked to not use them. I’m sure there were moments when they would have helped, but this was something I wanted to do sans-gels.

 

As far as the race went, I consumed:

 

VESPA product – 1 per every 2-2.5 hrs. This helped me in using “fat as fuel”

Watermelon

Broth

Cup Of Noodles Broth

3-4 V8

Perrier

Sip or two of Red Bull

3-4 cups of soda (near the end)

½ slice of Bacon

A cookie (very end of the race)

 

 

 

Will I continue with it? I’m not quite sure at the moment; I will go on the record and say that I do believe HFLC works for ultra-endurance sports. There are a bunch of tweaks I’d like to make for the next race, but I’m excited to see how this journey goes.

 

 

Lessons

  1. Family, Friends, and Co.
    1. I looked forward to seeing them at aid stations. They consistently encouraged me while assisting to my needs and provisions. They helped me get through my low points.
    2. More specifically, I thought of them when I was sucking air while climbing Sugarloaf and during the middle of the no-course-marking melee in the wee morning hours.
    3. Nietzche said that “He who has a why can live to bear almost any how”. For me, family and friends really accentuated the “why”. I privileged to be able to something I enjoy, while encouraged by the ones that mean the most to me.
    4. That type of enduring support stretches far beyond any specific moment or circumstance.
  2. Elevation is serious
  3. The mountains do not discriminate
  4. Bring an extra water bottle
    1. Or two
  5. Pacers are awesome.
    1. So is a crew.
  6. The journey lies in making it to the starting line. It’s all gravy after that.

And lastly, this was a song that Matt introduced me to on the drive down there. I loved it and for an added bonus, it was jingling in my head during the run!

Boston Revisited

Amid the rich history, iconic landmarks and throne atop the sporting world Bostonians exude a boundless passion; in addition, they are the true definition on friendly town folk (okay, the wicked awesome accent probably helps). This passion is accentuated even more so on Patriots Day. Needless to say, with Good Will Hunting being my favorite movie, the hype was more than real. If more than real is a thing.

While the marathon was my ticket there, the weekend was much bigger than that. It was an opportunity to explore a wonderful city that I’ve never seen. Even better, I had family & friends there to revel in the experience. Shoutout to Paul, Jacque, Cody, Mina, Luke & Haley.

We strolled around Fuenial hall, saw Bunker Hill, perused the the Boston Commons (even saw Bill Simmons eating Pizza), walked through the Cheers Bar, stood amid the cobblestone paths of Cambridge, stood atop the Green Monster, and devoured food in Irish and Italian neighborhoods. Having heard how fickle an East Coast spring can be, the flawless weather was an added bonus when we attended an outdoor Easter service! This was already a weekend for the books.

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Fast forward to Patriots Day where the weekend mood got amped up a few notches.

If you want the summary of  a short & sweet summary of the day

Nervous Energy / Hype / Bathroom / This is actually real-excitement / Relaxed / More Nerves / Bathroom…again / Full-on enthusiasm / Ready, Set, Go, Chaos / Avoid tripping  / high-fives / Pandemonium / Deafening cheers / Hills / More Hills / More high-fives / More People / More People / More People / Okay, is the whole city here? / Finish / Just Wow. Surreal.

 

The alarm rings. It’s go time. I grabbed the necessities, hopped on the shuttle, and carried antsy conversation with other excited runners. We loaded onto school busses like school children – a little bit of nostalgia to give some perspective. We were hauled 26-ish miles away from the finish line to the starting line at Hopkinton School. As we cruised the outskirts of Boston, I’ll never forget the image of rowers gliding along the Charles River at sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise, one that I wouldn’t have seen had I not had a window seat.

45 minutes later, we arrived.

Upon exiting the bus at Hopkinton School, I started to feel the magnitude of the Boston Marathon. We cruised through the small town of Hopkinton. It was vintage classic-Americana houses spread in front of a forest. At the top of a hill, there was a quaint country school. We’re talking quintessential small-town New Northeast – very Rockwellian… That thought was brief as I descended down to a field filled with a whole lot of neon & pent-up energy waiting. Around 30,000 people to be exact.

We had tents to provide shade & all sorts of food. Having skipped breakfast, I needed to eat. Fortunately, bagels were provided. Unfortunately, there was nothing to add to the bagels. Note to those running Boston in the future: Bring a packet of some form of nut butter or something to add b/c a bagel, by itself is sad.

 

After lounging for a couple of hours, I saw my buddy Matt’s Dad – Al – & we discussed the usual pre-race stuff, except this wasn’t his first rodeo. Reading the newspaper, he was cool, calm and collected. This, I believe, was his 3rd Boston. Stud. He also informed me of the heightened security. I thought I was attentive, but he immediately pointed to snipers on top of the school. I couldn’t believe it. Crazy! It’s unfortunate that tragic circumstances led to this; however, there was a sense of re-assurance that this city won’t allow allow 2013 to happen again.

Finally, the bell tolled. Go time. 30,000 others & I walked this rural road between Civil War-era houses towards the starting line. It was eerily quiet, but you could feel the excitement. That lasted shortly when we arrived at a last-minute port-potty stop before the race. It was absolute chaos, lines zigged & zagged everywhere. When the porta-lines were too long, lines started developing behind bushes.

10 minutes to start. The starting gun went off. So, too did the elites and the other corrals ahead of me. Itching to get going, those in my corral had to wait for another 3-4 minutes until we officially crossed the starting line. Finally, we did. No more hype. No more waiting. No more nerves. No more anticipation. Game on.

Literally, the first 4-6 miles, everybody is jockeying for a position. The roads were packed with crowds. It was incomparable to anything I’d ever seen, and this was only the start. We’re talking about 10-20 people deep. I remember passing the first bar. Yes, it was opened and, yes, it was crawling with people. On Patriot’s Day in Boston, it is treated like a legit holiday. Hailing from California, I had never heard of it before. From what it looked like, most of these people seemed to be cheering along the course. I couldn’t believe how dense it was & I was only 1/6 of the way through it.

A little bit beyond the bar & I could hear “Sweet Caroline” blasting on loud speakers. The chorus was cranking & so were a couple hundred people (spectators & runners), belting out “so good, so good, so good” in unison! I am getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

Amidst the fanfare, I did my best to stay attuned to my breathing, hydration, pace and legs. Sure, I had a goal that was aimed at a specific time, but I really, really, really wanted to immerse myself in this experience. Most of the race, I would run right next to the crowds to feed off of the infectious energy. There were also plenty of high-fives exchanged throughout. Stoke, adrenaline, mojo, endorphins, positive energy… Call it what you want. It was raw. It was intense. It was everywhere. So dope.

I kept cruising, still trying to avoid running into people. Then we hit the halfway point and the crowds intensified, both in numbers and in enthusiasm. Yes, it is hard to believe. A little bit past the halfway point (maybe mile 14 ish) there was this mass scream that was undoubtedly louder than anything I had heard thus far. Oh yes, this noise was like a half-mile away. And no, I am not exaggerating. It (the noise) was comprised of students from the all-girls school – Wellesley College. As we neared, the screams were deafening. At this point, I had my headphones on, but clicked pause to see what this was all about. For what felt like a mile, I kept my arm extended for high-fives. Girls were screaming at all of the runners “Kiss Me, Kiss me” and sure enough, there were dudes around me that fulfilled those requests. Some of them were probably old enough to be fathers of these girls. I understand that social norms get thrown to the wayside during running races (public urination, loud self-deprecating expletives, and other forms of bizarre behavior that become “normal”), but this was strange.

Moving on, the rest of this race was a blur. Bars were packed. People cheered en masse. I took probably a dozen orange slices from strangers. I grabbed vasoline-on-a-stick and thought it was salt. Fortunately, when I grabbed it, I asked. The person shouted it wasn’t what I thought it was just as I was about to devour it. Whewwwwww! Glad that didn’t happen, things would have gotten weird.

At mile 18, I saw the November Project crew going bananas. This rad conglomerate of eccentrics brought the noise all day long. It was a much needed pick-me up, as I started to notice that I was starting to fade. I was entering the mode where you just hold on and see what’s left.

We went over some hills and the climbed the iconic Heartbreak Hill. I kept my rhythm, but it was a grind.

A couple miles later (mile 21.5), I was due for the inevitable bathroom break. I had about 4.5 miles and a little more than a half an hour remaining to achieve the goal (sub-3). I used this 45-second respite to have a quick conversation in a porta-potty, with myself. Again, that whole thing about social norms being thrown to the wayside… Don’t worry, this isn’t a “new normal” for me; it was just a moment to recalibrate. I knew the next bit was going to be intense, but I was exactly where I wanted to be.

I held pace. But I noticed my legs were moving slower. And then bam! Mile 23 – the wall. It slapped me across the face, reminding me of how grueling a marathon can be. The distance is 26.2 miles for a reason. For the next 3 miles, it was going to be a battle of mental/physical fatigue vs. the clock.

I saw others walking. More and more followed. When this happens, I do my best to stay in my own headspace and put my head down, otherwise it becomes alluring. And that allure doesn’t dissipate until crossing the Finish Line.

I held on, but was moving slower and slower. My energy was sapped. The crowds were now sweltering. I faded into the final corner. All I wanted to do was finish. No more steps please. Despite the agony, I admired the pageantry, tradition, and surreality of running down Boylston. I looked for my Family and didn’t see them, despite jogging by them at a mere 10-15 feet away. I crossed the finish line with 100% relief.

 

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I crossed the finish line and sat repeatedly every five steps until I received one of those stylish foil jackets. Then, they put the medal around my neck and I gingerly turned the corner to find my parents. We hugged, talked and then went back to the hotel for a much-needed shower, pizza, and an IPA.

The three of us sat in the hotel restaurant overlooking the water for a couple of hours simply enjoying each other’s company. The day wasn’t quite done. We were treated by a memorable scene that was one of the most visually stunning sunsets I have ever seen. The Man upstairs often provides some unique reminders of who really is in charge. From walking the hallowed ground of our forefathers to enjoying a stellar Easter service to Mile 23 to seeing a wounded veteran complete the marathon while carrying the flag and, to cap it off, a tranquil sunset that illuminated the water. There were so many it’s-not-about-you-moments that slow time down and I’m grateful for that. It was all made better because it was weekend shared with family. To me, it doesn’t get better than that!

 

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NORTH FACE 50: A strong dose of Vitamin Stoke.

4:00 AM. The coffee is hot. The boys are ready to rock. We’re zig-zagging our way through empty streets comprised of those holding on to whatever bit of euphoria remains from a night on the town. The euphoria we’re seeking is miles away. Miles away.

For some of us – Hudson (Huddy), Dave and Rob (Slooter) – the North Face 50 marks their first exploration into the ultramarathon world. For Matt, Josh (Hickey) and myself, this is another opportunity for progression at the 50-mile distance. Hickey is like our sensei. Hickey – our good vibe guru – carries with him invaluable experience, constant encouragement, and a relentless smile. Our drivers – Brit (my brother) and brother Nick – embraced the selfless duties of making sure that we were ready to rock come 5 AM. They squared away logistics between start and finish and were stoked to do so.

Amidst the starting area were bright colors, excited spirits and propane heaters. Oh yeah, porta potties too! We all bee-lined towards a mandatory bathroom stop with ten minutes until start time. Runners were lining up near the start. The music was pumping. It’s go time!

On the first climb, there’s boundless energy and chatter while everybody tries to find a groove. During our first ascension, I was talking to this dude named Jonas and he told me to look back. What I saw was absolutely incredible; it was a stream of speckled light (headlamps) down below. Way cool.

From that point onward, I just remember desperately wanting that California sun to share its beautiful rays with us. When the sun finally did rise, it was extraordinary. The birthing light emanated from behind the mountain silhouettes and, to compound the stoke, the Golden Gate Bridge was visible. To top it off, I could hear the waves crashing into the rocks. Are you kidding me? That was a polysensory experience that I won’t forget anytime soon.

Anyways we rolled along from Aid Station to Aid station, the warm sun made a December day feel like summertime. After heading towards the Mckennan Gulch Out-and-back, it was inspiring to see some of the Elites hammering down. It’s a whole another level.

After turning around, we had some sweet decline entering Stinson Beach (mile 29.4). I was dogging it pretty badly and needed a quick fix to snap out of it. Salt should do the trick. They didn’t have salt tabs. What to do next? I saw a bowl filled with salt and went for it. I threw a handful in my mouth and washed it down with Mountain Dew. Well, that was a first. It wasn’t until after the race that my squad informed me of the proper salt-intake procedure. Ha! Apparently, there were baby potatoes next to the salt. The idea is to grab a potato, roll it in the salt and then consume. This is a novel concept, and, a far more appetizing one. I’ll be sure to remember that for next time!

After a while, I entered into one of the most spectacular parts of the race. It was through the John Muir Forest. With the tunes blasting, I weaved through pine-softened trail splitting between massive Redwoods. This was the rhythmic trance I had long been waiting for.

That all changed when I arrived at Muir Beach (mile 41). It was time to go full grind mode. All of sudden I heard my name. It was my buddy Matt. I looked at him and had made the assumption that he was already done.

He said “No, No. I’m still in it.” I was stunned. This dude is high-caliber. He went out with the big dogs and it didn’t pan out. That happened with like 30 miles to go. Rather than throwing in the towel, he decided to stay the course. I love it. It shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but instead that idea of “going all in” needs to be celebrated. Matt could have played it safe. But he didn’t. He chose to let it rip.

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Aid Station Treats

As I am writing about that moment, it fires me up!

We power-hiked the next climb. And kept hiking. And kept hiking. Finally we arrived at the top and saw the next aid station below.

When we rolled into it (Tennessee Valley – mi. 43.8), I immediately heard voices. “YAHHHHH BOYS” It was my cousin Hayes, Erin, Lindsey and my Tante Wimpie and Uncle Rob.

Then my brother Brit rolled up to us. “You guys good? I’m pacing you until the end”.

We trudged forth together. I was dragging hard, but miles were slowly clicking off. It was the last bit of uphill and before I knew it we arrived at the final aid station (Alta 46.7) with only 3 miles left! My initial goal was to finish this race was to go sub-9 hours. Brit said screw that, let’s go sub 8:40!

It was all downhill from there. We kept at it. We then passed some more family with less than a mile to go. It was my sisters – Willemina, Amber, and cousin Erica. At that point we knew the hay was in the barn.

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As we approached the last turn, I could hear the music blasting and the noise of the cowbells. We trotted a little faster. People were screaming. That feeling of euphoria when nearing the end is hard to match. We crossed the finish in 8:39:51. I laughed. Sub-8:40 by 10 second; thank you bro!

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As we were adorned our finishers medals, I saw my parents. That was really special. We exchanged high-fives and all kinds of positive conversation. Now it was time for a much needed beverage!

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Shooting the proverbial with Brit and Pops!

We then waited for Slooter, Hickey, Huddy and Dave to finish. When they did, it was incredible! We saw Slooter hammer his finish.

When Slooter crossed, we yelled and gave hugs. It was awesome! He did it! He crushed it. I was so amped to see him finish.

After that, like only ten minutes later, Hickey clicked his feet at the finish line. Despite a jacked up lung and multiple warnings to not participate in the race, Hickey finished it. Not only that, but he did so with a beaming smile on his face.

After that, we hung around the beer garden and waited for Huddy and Dave to bring it home. As the sun settled, we cozied up next to a fire. Every ten minutes, somebody would go check to see if they checked in at the last aid station. We wanted to be there for them at the finish.

We remained huddled and all of a sudden “Hudson Hanlon coming through the Finish” blared on the loud speaker. Without hestiation, our table sprinted through the finishing gate. Hugs around the house, they freaking did it! Huddy and Dave stuck together for the majority of the day and gritted it out. It was deeply inspiring to see them stick with it and get it done.

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The boys! (Minus Matt)

After that spectacular moment, we loaded into our vehicles and headed back to San Fran. for pizza and beer. What a way to spend a Saturday!

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Sharing stories. This is what it’s all about!

Lessons Learned:

It’s not about the time you get, rather the time you had. No matter if I met my goal, everything about December 3rd was spectacular. It was an arduous day, but I loved it! These journeys always tend to cover the emotional spectrum. They strengthen the soul, harden the body and fortify the mind. Deep down, the suffering we experience strips us of comfort and we become the rawest version of ourselves. The ego no longer exists and humility is the only option. Following these intensely visceral moments, is a very powerful, feeling. It’s hard to quantify in either a written or verbal manner. Really, it’s indescribable.

Reasons this race was surreal

  1. Familial support. Hands down the reason why the weekend was so incredible. I can’t express enough gratitude for them.
  2. Thanks to Brit for pacing me and Matt for hanging with me until the finish (I wouldn’t have gotten my time without them).
  3. Seeing Friends/Family testing their limits at the 50-mile distance for the first time. It was super inspiring.
  4. The scenery. Stunning.
  5. The volunteers were outstanding. They opt to put up with a ton of characters. And they do it on their own time.
  6. A sunny 60 degrees in December is hard to beat.
  7. The post-race vibes were flawless.
  8. Pizza and beer
  9. That feeling of adrenaline and fatigue that stayed with me for a couple of days after was 100% worth it.
  10. I can’t wait to go back next year!
  11. Last but not least, this juicy jam kept me dialed when I need it most

SUMMER SOUNDZZZZ

School is out. Ice cream, cloggers, mexican beers, road trips, beaches, mountains and long days that allow more play time!

First things first, a couple little bangers to get the adventure juices flowing. AYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Magic City Hippies – “Bull Ride”

Sticky Fingers – “Headlock”

Machineheart – “Circles”

Dagny – “Backbeat”