Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Like No Where Else

Last weekend, I put on a bib and started a 50-mile race through Bryce Canyon. I didn't "race" a single step though. I ran when I wanted, I hiked when I didn't want to run and even walked when the other two didn't sound fun. I joked around, encouraged runners in the other races that I caught up with, pulled a few of them with me through their dark times, helped out at aid stations along the way and even stopped to take pictures. It was a much needed and different experience I have ever had after pinning a number to my shorts.

Photo courtesy of Grand Circle Trail Series

Being drawn to a certain place time and time again is a feeling that each of us can relate to. Some of these places are physical locations the empower us, transcendent mental states achieved through various efforts, or they can even be spiritual connections we make with the solitude and time spent in mountains. For me, there is one place that I return to year after year that can offer all three. I yearn to go back every June in order to grow as an athlete and person. It's a place like no where else. 

Bryce Canyon is that sacred place to me. It started my ultra running career 4 years ago (with undoubtedly my most miserable yet satisfying experience to date) and then turned around to give me my first 100-mile win a year later. The next year was the most powerful experience I'd ever had running as I overcame so many demons and pressed on through a very difficult day. It's been a growing experience every year and I was crushed to not run the 100 again due to injuries and lack of training... but my soul stirred to cross the canyon through the highline trails and ridges to gain that perspective and enlightenment I so desperately needed.

While hanging out at packet pick up on Friday, I foolishly made the decision to pick up a bib for the 50-miler when RD Matt Gunn offered the consolation prize of a shorter distance after telling him I was dropping out of the 100 this year. I had no intentions of actually racing though. I respect my competition too much to expect good race, let alone a podium, with the 30-mile weeks I’ve been able to scrape together over the last few months. 
Having fun in the lead up to Pink Cliffs AS
Still, my heart couldn't say no to that piece of paper, the ticket that might allow it an opportunity to heal as it has experienced deep in those canyons in the years past. It knew this place had healing to offer my soul. So I grabbed it with the only purpose of getting that personal time to refocus my life. To offer myself to the canyon in hopes that it would offer me back the perspective and experience that I needed.

Through a long and hard 50 miles, I was able to gain yet another incredible experience on the Paunsaugunt plateau overlooking natural wonders of this land. I shed sweat, blood, tears, and the weight of so many emotions I had been carrying with me for much too long throughout those miles. I laughed, cried, and looked forward with hope, all without once looking back in regret.

Life has, and I assume always will be, a learning and growing experience. A constant evolution of self. That’s what makes it such a challenge and experience. I have evolved so much in the last few years and I hope to continue growing and changing as time and miles pass. Life, after all, is nothing more than a series of opportunities to react and respond to what it throws at you.

Finishing 4th after another great day in Bryce
Some experiences are precious and intimate. The understandings and thoughts that I had on the trail that day aren’t for me to discuss but rather cherish and respect for myself… suffice it to say that I am better for having picked up that bib and taken the chance at the 50-miles I had no business trying to run.

I challenge everyone to find their special place. Whether it’s the dusty trails of favorite run, the euphoria felt after exhausting yourself to the top of a climb, or a just simply a course that takes you along your favorite views that make you look with wonder, visit your place regularly. Dive into your own soul to find new purpose or reconfirm your current purpose. We all need time to reflect in deep introspection to learn from our constantly evolving souls. We will all be better for it. 

Being true to myself while supporting those around me who have been so much in my life is a new focus of mine. I’m so grateful for my team, sponsors and friends that continually encourage the evolving person that I am. They know my heart and they appreciate my spirit. I am grateful and humbled by that. And thank you for ALL your support and encouragement.

Kicks: Altra Torin 2.0
Socks: Injinji Trailweight
Threads: Gore Apparel Magnitude split shorts and singlet
Nutrition: Vfuel hydration powder and Trailbutter expedition espresso
Packs and bottles: Ultraspire Revolt pack and Iso Versa handheld

Caps: Discrete headwear

Monday, March 28, 2016

When A Race Becomes More Than A Race

When a race becomes more than a race, it’s a special day. Most often it’s a breakthrough in your abilities, maybe a new personal best at a distance or just a simply well executed plan that got you your goal. The Buffalo Run 50 miler on Antelope Island was one of those days for me. But in a much more unique way than I’d ever thought would happen.

The race started off with one goal in mind; get that sub 7-hour time I’ve been eyeing for a couple years. To me, that time on the island is a marker of a strong run and fit body. After two separate attempts, however, I’ve fallen further and further behind my goal. Both times admittedly because I’ve neglected my body and ran for a time rather than anything else. The sub 7-hour race on the island had become the white whale that my pride hunted into its own self-destruction.
I've always been self-conscious of how my calves are as wide as my quads
That morning didn’t start off any different than previous years. The moment Jim Skaggs called us to the line, I went into instant race mode with my mind only set on one thing. I knew that tenacity, I’ve argued with it before. But she’s completely unreasonable. She is a respecter of none and destroys anything to get her way, even if it means sinking her own ship.

A countdown sent us off and she took hold. Running by moonlight, as I usually don’t carry a headlamp if I can avoid it, helped keep my pace honest for the first few miles of climbing. I did notice, however, that I had become consumed with my watch and pace. Constantly checking every minute where I was at. It was mile 2 and I was already distracted and consumed with the end result.

Smooth running through the trails
Knowing I haven't run more than 50 miles a week only a couple times this year, my fear of chasing an unrealistic goal made me concerned enough to allow reality to sink in. It was in this moment that I had my first clear thought during the frantic opening miles of any race… just shut it off!

That tenacity has a weakness, her heart. Take away the life-blood of timing and pace and there’s nothing she can do. Like a ship without compass, she’s dead in the water… only guessing at where to set course.

"BODY GLIDE, next aid station!" 
I haven't let myself just RUN in a long time. I turned off my watch notifications to show just mileage. No pace, no time... just miles to keep track of aid stations. And then something magical happened. I started run with a smile. I wasn’t concerned anymore with anything more than just running comfortably hard for the day. I ran my race the whole day and never once hit the broken down lows of pushing to the max but also never felt like I was giving up effort or time taking it too easy.

It was fun again. There were a lot of friends on the out and back sections and I drew a lot of energy from their positivity and well wishes as we passed. I stepped out in the lead from the gun and maintained it all day. The smile off the start line had only disappeared a couple times. A wonderful crew of my father, Caitlin and Roo kept me moving quick all day with fast aid station turns.

Into the Ranch (mile 33)
The only downfall of the day was heading into Bridger Bay around mile 44. Having marked that particular section the day before, I’m embarrassed to say that I pulled my head off the terrain to instinctively find a course marker and I found a hole with my left ankle instead. It took about 10 minutes of limping around until it was finally numb and inflammation tightened things back up.

Knowing I had a sizeable lead, I didn’t let it affect me mentally. Just waited it out until I was able to move well again. My speed reappeared as I made my way around the last 4 (and the most fun) miles of the course. I hit the final mile stretch with the win in hand and kept moving forward until I landed the plane in finishing chute.   

I was shocked to see the clock at 7:02 when I crossed the finish. It was confidence building to see that my running at a moderately concerted effort all day was enough fitness to reach within 2 minutes of my goal. I’ve gained a new respect for my current training structure and have been pleased with the results. More focus on a running a structured plan instead amassing large amounts of miles. Specificity in my workouts is paying dividends. And now, I know I just need to trust in the system I have and make sure I’m having fun

Mile 42 and one of the few times I wasn't smiling all day... but no one smiles up the fence line
I've talked a lot about my goal for a sub 7-hour finish there. And it's ultimately still a goal that I’ll accomplish. But I needed that feeling after the race more than the bragging rights of a sub 7 on the course. I’m happy to be in the W column again and excited where my fitness is this early in the season.

Today was about more than just the race. The race itself was a proving ground and an opportunity to surprise myself with a solid run. It instilled the confidence I need going into the next couple months of goals and races. It was a break-through back into a fitness that I’m blessed to have and mindset to make it a weapon. The season is starting to look a lot more exciting right now… adventures are waiting!

Couldn't be happier coming into the finish!
The Getup
Threads: Gore Apparel Mythos splits and Magnitude tee
Kicks: Altra Footwear Torin 2.0
Socks: Injinji SoCal trail weight
Pack: Ultraspire Spry 2.0
Nutrition: Trail Butter (Ozark’s Original) and Vfuel powders (Lemon Lime)

Brian Beckstead, Leslie Howlett and myself... all podium finishers for Altra's Endurance team that day!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Healing Season

In reflecting for 2015, I’ve been at a loss for thought and direction. It was a difficult year for me. Laden with injury, failure and depression.

2014 was a hard year to beat. It came with a couple trips to the top of the podium in the 100-mile. I set PR’s and established new limits. Ending the year a little worn down from 3 hundo’s, 2 50k’s, a 50 miler and couple marathons in just 14 weeks, my spirit carried a stoke into the next season that my body just couldn’t handle.

Training only highlighted my body’s fatigue and need for rest, which I declined to indulge in. I started the year off with my sights set on Black Canyon 100k. I felt confident that I could compete for a Golden Ticket to the big show. Tangled legs and hard fall just a few miles into the race brought about an injury that forced my first ever DNF. I was crushed. I never had felt so defeated.

Sitting in a comfortable third place early into a failed Black Canyon 100k
Unfortunately, the season continued down this path. Antelope Island 50 miler I was certain would be a hard fought win and new 50 mile PR. Instead, the Black Canyon injury stuck around and it ended up the slowest 50 miler to date. My pride at Bryce Canyon was destroyed when a body pleading for rest decided to give up and wouldn’t let me push hard for the race. Then followed another frustrating DNF at Skyline 50 miler and a broken down performance at Bear 100. The only win of the season came from the Skyline 50k where Andrew Knapick should have beaten me had he not let himself get dehydrated and literally collapse from heat exhaustion just a mile from the finish. Even though I ended up on the podium for every finish but Bear, the once fiery stoke was beginning to diminish.

This was also the year that I entered a doctoral program at the University of Utah. The stress was compounded greatly. My desire to be outside and training when I should be inside studying ended up winning half the battles. Which led to less than desirable results in my studies. I never failed any exams but education was something that normally came so easy and natural to me but not for these semesters.

Showing the look of a fatiguing body late into the season
Now for the hard part. I suffer from depression. It’s not something I’ve been open about previously and it’s one of the reasons that I began running a few years ago. Running clears my mind, it allows me to focus on the beauty of the Wasatch, and there’s no doubt that daily dose of endorphins keeps me chemically balanced. Sadly though, the two things that I could once pride myself on, scholastics and running were becoming points of frustration and shame. I was ignoring my passions because they weren’t a happy refuge for me anymore.

Bear 100 really was the breaking point. I struggled to find identity after that performance. The finish wasn’t what I was capable of, which led me to the conclusion that I had failed… the one single most destructive word to the human psyche. The darkness soon overtook and it once you’re in that deep pit of despair and self-loathing, there isn’t much that can take you out of it.

Sitting a few hours behind schedule at mile 75 of Bear 100
At first I ran for me, for my health and happiness. But then came success, the notoriety, and shortly after came sponsors. Sometime during that period, my self-worth became fused with my successes as an athlete. You become known more as an athlete than a person. One bad performance and you’re less successful that you were when the race started.

And when you add the pressure of sponsorships and the expected results, it’s easy to stop racing for you and start running for everyone else and that can lead to poor choices in training and racing. Choices that can lead to your detriment if you aren’t careful, which will only add to the spiraling decline in performances. The innocence in running, the beautiful catalyst that keeps the training honest and sustainable, is lost.

Training in places like this should be so much more special than they were
I’m still learning to separate my self-worth from my accomplishments. I am not the amount of podium finishes I have in a season. I am not the amount of likes I get on a social media post. It’s a difficult balancing act to keep your personality separate from your performances. To appreciate the many other attributes that make up your character and who you are is key to keeping the separation there.

I’m so grateful for those around me who show unconditional love and support. The only thing that matters to them is that I’m happy. My wife, Caitlin, is constantly by my side to lift me up and support me in whatever way she can. My closest friends are there to, mostly unknowingly, inspire me and keep me positively motivated.
It wasn't ALL terrible... there were still plenty of good times with great people
A big thanks to all the sponsors and supporters that carried me through the year. Altra Footwear kept my feet happy, legs healthy and races swift. Vfuel tasted great through the whole season and stayed down every time. Stayed blister free all year thanks to Injinji’s toe socks. I stayed hydrated all season thanks to Ultraspire hydration packs. Their support means the world to me. Thank you.

Now that I’ve taken a few months off of training, focused on school a little bit and worked on myself, I’m ready to enter 2016 with the freshly healed scars of lessons learned. Emotionally I’m feeling better and fitness will come back soon. I’m happy to be back running for fun and for happiness. Each run no longer feels forced and taxing in effort but freeing and full of elation. 

2016 will be the year that I relearn to love running and love myself. It will be the year that I allow myself to enjoy the moments and harness the positive in each run and each day. This will be a season of healing for me. I don’t know quite what that entails just yet, but I can promise that I will listen closely to my body and do what’s best for me.

I will not promise results, and I don’t know if I’ll ever win another race. At least that doesn’t seem to matter now. All that matters is I get back to the mountains and trails that are calling my name and that I find solace and happiness and get back to the mindset that freed me from depression years ago.

Finding the happiness with some great friends

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Seasons Change

I’ve had a lot on my mind recently. Many of those thoughts I’ve wanted to pen out and post. Unfortunately, life has been a little crazy and time to sit down has become less and less abundant. All of my attention has been poured into the doctorate program and recovering from 12 hour learning days.

When I originally got into the program, I felt that by not working and being a full time student that I would be able to maintain my running program and continue to improve. There have been milestones I wanted to reach and goals that I became engrossed with for a few years now. I was finally hoping that this year was my year to break into those goals. A string of disappointing performances (and even a couple unfinished performances) has proven me wrong.

School is tougher than I anticipated. It eats up way more time than I thought it would and wears me down more than training ever has. And it certainly is not conducive to reaching the goals I set forth. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate the opportunity to learn and have worked hard to succeed there. I love learning and the similar feeling that it shares with training and racing. But I’m realizing my limits.

Recently, I had a run up on the beautiful trails of the Bear 100 course. I was amazed at the beauty of the wilderness around me and a feeling of excitement for race day built with each mile. Around the Tony Grove area, I began to notice that the trees and grasses were showing signs of summers fade. Colors that represent changing of the seasons were starting to turn like the blooming flowers and shades of spring that I could’ve sworn were showing just last week.

I noticed a single red leaf among the many shades of green. He was solid and bold in color, moving forward with the inevitable changing of seasons. The tree will lose his bud, but only for a season. All things will turn and eventually this leaf will grow back. Seasons are a wonderful opportunity for growth and expansion. All things come and go but it’s their fall, winter and spring preparations that allow for a strong summer growth.

Seasons are changing
This leaf inspired me to go forth in my season. Now is not the time to focus on running. Rather, it’s a time to focus on the future. Much like a fall and winter harvest, it’s my time to prepare for the next season of growth and exuberance. Competitively racing cannot be my focus. But as I focus on school, I can balance creating a stronger base with added strength training and shorter distance speed to work into my endurance when the time is appropriate. Setting up the opportunity for the best success in the next “season” of my ultra running career.

That’s not to say that I won’t be racing and training for the next two and half years, but it will be with a different reason and focus and definitely less frequently. School is the priority and setting up my future will be the focus.

Inspired by the many bold trees that didn’t hesitate to move forward with the seasons on my last run, I too must move forward to prepare for the changes that are taking place in life. It’s not easy and almost seems like I’m stepping backwards, but I boldly face the newest season knowing that my summer will come around again and I’ll be stronger and better for having properly prepared myself and utilized the purpose of each changing season in my life.