Sunday, June 18, 2017

Decreasing and Increasing

"Minimal" - it is a word I have spent much time thinking about over the last 6 years or so.  At some point in my life, I realized that my life was full - but not in a good way.  My life was full of noise, and stuff, and obligations, and expectations put upon me by others (with my permission).  It was also when I realized that despite all of that,  I felt completely empty.  

It has been a 6 year journey since my divorce to get to a point where I understand where I want to be, and what is worth spending my most valued possession - my time - on.

Finally, I find myself in the last phase of this part of my journey, downsizing my life so that everything I own (except for my vehicle) fits into the smallest space possible.  Through this slow purging of "stuff", I now feel lighter than I can ever remember feeling since I was a kid living in my parents' home.  

Besides cleaning out the physical clutter, I have cleaned out quite a bit of emotional clutter as well.  I have worked hard for the last years to minimize the impact others are allowed to have on my sense of well being.  Slowly, I am able to recognize when someone is being toxic, and rather than soaking in their venom, I realize that their ugliness reflects on them, not me, and I move on.  I have no control over anyone else's happiness, and I have no responsibility for it.  I never want to be the cause of someone else's grief, but I also can not be the cure for it.

So, as I am doing the final de-clutter, in anticipation of moving next week into a small cottage near downtown (in the PERFECT area for running directly from home), I have boiled it all down to this:  If it doesn't have REAL meaning, or if it is not an essential item, it is not coming along.  

I have done the same thing with my social media feeds.  Anyone who is consistently negative has been hidden.  I don't want to unfriend people - I still like them and want to be friends with them, but I will keep that exposure to once in a while when we are face to face.  If I get to the point that someone's social media posts are affecting the way I feel about them, when I know I like them in our face to face contact, I simply hide their posts. My newsfeed is decidedly upbeat now, except for the occasional grump when someone is having a bad day - totally acceptable.  

Years ago, when I would think about what I "wanted", the list had many objects on it.  Now, when I list the things I want out of life, very few if any are things that can be bought.  I still have a ton of work to do, but I am on the right path, and hopefully that path leads through the woods.  And maybe to a waterfall or two.

Happy Running, Y'all! 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pinhoti Training - Phase 1 Complete

For the first time - ever - I have an official coach for an ultra.  The first few that I did years ago, I found training plans online, attempted to follow them, and ended up injured.  Then for the next 20 or so, I pieced together my own plans with decent success.  My times consistently got faster, but I knew there was something missing.  For Pinhoti 100 miler in November, I reached out to my friend and mentor, Joe Prusaitis and asked him to coach me.  Joe has been running ultras and race directing them for years.  He knows everything there is to know about the sport, and I trust him completely.

Joe and I after the finish of my 2nd 100 miler
After watching ultrarunners for years and seeing what works and doesn't work, Joe has changed his philosophy a bit, and the new philosophy suits me just fine.  Gone are the weekends with back to back long runs.  Also gone are the 100 mile peak weeks, replaced by a peak of 70ish miles, but with higher intensity workouts.

The philosophy of this plan is periodization.  The training is broken into concentrated chunks where you do one specific workout consistently, until there are no gains to be made from it, then you have a week of recovery and move on to another challenge.  The first few months are focused on building cardio (speedwork).  

I just finished the first stage where I had 5 workouts of:  5 - 3 minute bursts (as fast as you can run) followed by 3 min recovery, over a 60 minute run.  By the end of this phase, I was beginning to understand periodization.  The first of these workouts was tough.  The 2nd and 3rd were easier and my intervals got faster.  The last two, it was tough to maintain my interval speed (7:15 - 7:30), and by the last interval of the 5th one, it was  a slug out.  I feel like I squeezed everything I could out of this segment, and it ended just as I was getting burned out on it, and inching closer to possible injury.  

Now I am in a week of easy 60 minute runs, and looking forward to the next segment of longer speed intervals.

I am committed to sticking to this plan.  It will be a long, sweaty summer, but I think the dividends will be great come race time.  

Check this out if you want more info on this concept.

I'll check in after the next stage of training to give another update.  

Happy Running Y'all!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

2017 Red Dirt Ultra

Waiting for the start.

  1. sur·re·al
    1. having the qualities of surrealism; bizarre.

      "a surreal mix of fact and fantasy"

      synonyms:unrealbizarreunusualweirdstrangefreakishunearthlyuncannydreamlike, phantasmagorical
      "a backdrop of surreal images"

  2. This is the only way I can describe last weekend for me.  It has been hard to put it into words over the last few days, but I am going to give it a shot, so hang on.

Leading into Red Dirt, people kept asking me if I was nervous, and I would answer them honestly and say "no".  I had been planning this race and working on even the smallest details for a year.  I knew that all of the logistics were covered and I had the best possible people in place to make the race go smoothly.  My team is completely competent and once they were set to a task, I no longer had to worry about whether it was going to be done correctly.  We were ready.

But, in the back of my mind, I was waiting... waiting to get nervous or have doubts; waiting for something unexpected to happen; waiting for some unforeseen kink to show itself.  None of those things ever happened.

All of the planning, meetings, race dreams, middle of the night wake ups while details of the race ran through my all paid off, and the race came off without a hitch.  Or at least without any major ones - there is always room for improvement, and we are working on that for next year.

Instead of being nervous, I was completely at ease all day.  There was anticipation - it felt like my kids were running, and every time a runner finished, there was a sense of pride and relief that they accomplished their goals.  I must say, the finish line hugs were my favorite part - even if you guys smelled pretty bad sometimes.  :-)

I loved every minute of the race, even the set up and tear down.  I loved visiting with the families and crews while they were waiting on their runners.  I loved seeing runners head back out that gate for another loop.

From the first runner to the last runner, regardless of pace or time on the clock, every single one did something amazing this weekend, and I could not be more proud or more humbled.

THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for having faith in me and trusting that we would take care of you.  It was an honor, and I am already looking forward to Red Dirt 2018!  

Course tear down complete.  Time for some rest.

See you guys next year!  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Finding My Way

For years now, I have told people that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up (I am 46).  Over the last 6 months to a year, I have finally figured it out, and things are taking shape.  On February 4th, I will host my first trail ultra as a race director, the Red Dirt Ultra in Kisatchie National Forest.  I have put on various shorter races over the years for different causes, but this is my first ultra (any distance over a marathon (26.2)).

I have been asked many times over the last few weeks if I am nervous about it, and I can honestly say "no".  This really does feel like the most natural progression for me.  I love the sport.  I love the people who choose to participate in the sport.  I love being out in nature.  I love my friends who are generously offering to give up their weekend to help our runners succeed.

Next Thursday, we will begin arriving at Kisatchie to mark the 31 mile course and get the aid stations set up and stocked.  Runners will start pulling in Friday evening for early packet pickup and I will get to meet these amazing people and reunite with old ultra running buddies.

Saturday morning, we will be out there by 4 a.m. to set up and be ready for race day packet pickup, then we will hold a short trail briefing and they are off at 6 a.m.  Over 80 runners will take off onto a dark trail to attempt to achieve something amazing, running either 31, 62, or 100 miles.  Over 1/3 of the field is made up of folks attempting their distance for the very first time.

This will not be an easy race. I have run the 31 mile loop quite a few times, and it is challenging but beautiful, and incredibly peaceful.  When the runners cross the finish line and I get to put their medals around their necks, or hand them their belt buckles for the 100 miler,  there will be no doubt in my mind or theirs that they earned it.

The journey to this point has been filled with angels, people stepping up to help and offering services for the race that I would have never considered asking for.  So many wonderful people have reached out to be a part of this race, that it is not just mine, but ours.  Everyone that will be out there running and volunteering has ownership in the success of this race.

I am so ready to officially kick off this part of my journey.  The starting line for the runners is the figurative starting line for this amazing chapter in my life, and I am so grateful for the people that I get to share it with.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What's next? The lure of 100 mile races.

What's next?  It's a tough question when you have run a bunch of half and whole marathons and 24 ultra marathons, including eight 50 milers and four 100 milers.  What's next?  The Grand Canyon?  Check.  (one of the top three most amazing experiences of my life, by the way) Running a 200 miler? .... Nah.  At least for right now, that is not on my bucket list.  Running a harder 100 miler?  BINGO!

After my last 100 - Rocky Raccoon in 2015 - I thought I was done with that distance.  I didn't make a firm declaration - I know better, but I thought getting the 500 mile jacket at Rocky would be the end of that era.  Not so much.

There is something about the 100 mile distance that draws you back.  Besides the thousands of miles run in training, hundreds of squats and push ups, hours holding the plank's the journey on race day that can not be ignored.  The great unknown.  To me and people like me, it is downright irresistible.

The starting line of a 100 miler is unlike any other start line I have experienced.  At least for me, the nervous energy and doubts that fill my mind at shorter distances do not exist there.  In their place is a calm, peaceful feeling.  There is an understanding that what you are about to attempt defies rational thought.  Some people might think you are cool or superhuman for attempting a 100 miler, but most just think you are crazy or self-destructive. At the starting line, you understand that both schools of thought hold a grain of truth.

Many romanticize the idea of running 100 miles and getting a belt buckle.  The reality is far from that ideal.  The question is not if but when it will start to hurt.  The test is how well you can manage that pain and continue to push towards the finish line.  The lesson is who you are when you are laid bare and all of your truth is exposed for the world to see.

There is nothing like the feeling of seeing the finish line for a 100 miler.  All of the doubts, all of the pain, all of the all disappears in that one moment.

2016 has been a nice break.  Fairly lazy except for covering 31 miles in the Grand Canyon,  and now I am rested and refocused.

Looking forward to signing up for the AT100 miler as soon as registration opens, and spending all of the summer of 2017 running hills at Clark Creek and loops of Chicot.  Top notch pacers are secured, and race crew is in place.  Now it is up to me to make it to the finish line so that I can wear that sweet belt buckle to my 47th birthday party.

Happy Running, Y'all!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Back to the Basics

I find myself three weeks out from attempting the double crossing of the Grand Canyon with some of my favorite people.  One more peak training weekend and its time for the taper.  And the doubts that inevitably follow.  This is a different undertaking than anything else I have ever done.  This is not a race.  There are no aid stations, just a couple of water sources.  There is no back up plan.  A favorite quote about the Canyon - "Going down is optional.  Coming back up is mandatory."  Unless you want to pay a high price to be rescued via helicopter, you have to climb back out of the Canyon under your own power.

Will I be optimally trained?  No.  With the brutal heat here in south Louisiana this summer, long training runs were no longer just unpleasant, they were dangerous.  I wasn't able to get the volume in running I would have liked, but I was able to do plenty of strength training, stairs, and parking tower runs.  It will have to be enough.  

In starting to prepare for the actual event (three weeks from right now we should be crossing the bottom of the Canyon towards the climb to the north rim), I find myself switching into race prep mode.  Tomorrow, we are heading to Clark Creek for a last big hill workout, aiming for 5,000 feet of gain on Saturday alone with another hill workout on Sunday.  (The total gain for the double crossing is just over 10,000 feet)   Saturdays run is our "dress rehearsal".  We will be wearing the same thing we will wear for the Canyon, carry the same amount of fluids and food, and carry our trekking poles (one of my favorite discoveries - more on that later).

In my prep for tomorrow (and for the big ditch), I am pulling out my tried and true.  I am leaving my Suunto (fancy schmancy running/trekking watch with gps, barometric altimeter, bluetooth capability, etc., etc.) at home, and wearing this:

This is the watch I have worn for all of my ultra marathons, including all four of my 100 milers.  I have never worn a GPS watch on a trail race.  Why?  Well, first of all, for me, it would just add stress.  If I am making a big climb, I don't need to look down and see that I am doing a 20 minute pace.  Secondly, the distance on trails is never accurate, another source of stress when your watch might tell you you have run 50 miles but the actual course tells you that you have 3 miles to go.  Lastly, I always want to minimize the chances of gear malfunction.  The less stuff that can go out or lose battery power, the better.  I have seen people who are so dependent on the data that their devices give them, that when that device fails (they inevitably do), their mental game is shot.  It is hard to come back from that.

So, as you see, my faithful cheapo watch needs a little maintenance, then it should be good for the next 5 or 6 years.  Heading to the jewelry shop today to get the battery changed.  As I hand my watch over to the repair tech, he may see it as a cheap piece of junk (part of the band was chewed off by my cat, so I just trimmed around it with a pair of scissors), but I know that this watch has more value than any Rolex he has ever handled.  And I will smile as he holds it, knowing the amount of times I have had to rinse the sweat, bug spray and sunscreen off of it.  

Sometimes less is more.   This is one of those times. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


According to Western States 100 race doc, a pacer can be defined as:

A pace runner, or pacer, is defined as a “trail companion” who may accompany a runner along designated sections of the trail. Pacers are allowed solely as a safety consideration for fatigued runners in the remote and rugged territory of the Western States Trail. Absolutely no physical or mechanical aid may be given by the pacer to assist the runner over difficult sections of the trail (except in medical emergencies), and no food, fluids or supplies of any kind may be carried for the runner.
Pacers should be experienced trail runners in excellent physical shape and conditioned adequately to run 40 miles over rough terrain. Most pacing will be done during night time hours and early morning; so pacers should be warmly dressed, used to running with flashlights, and familiar with the trail. Pacers should be adequately supplied with flashlights, food and water. They may accept aid at the checkpoints.
A pacer is an encourager, therapist, drill sergeant, decision maker, guide...and so many things that can not be put into words. Ultra distance races allow pacers for the safety of the runner.  Many times, when you have been running for over 12 or so hours, you might not be in the position to make the best choices for yourself regarding whether you should eat, what you should eat, how close you should get to the edge of that cliff...your pacer is there to help you to overcome the unexplained desire to eat those peanut m&m's when you have a raging peanut allergy, and remind you that you might be shivering uncontrollably because your jacket is still tied around your waist.

Choosing a pacer is not something you should take lightly.  The wrong personality choice can be fatal to your race.  I have heard stories where after running 90 miles, a runner has to drop their pacer because the pacer is whining too much or the pacer simply can not keep up with their runner.  Before you make a knee jerk decision to ask your best buddy or your spouse (This can ruin your race at best and damage your marriage at worst.  Yes there are exceptions, but they are just that - exceptions) to pace you, there are a few things you need to consider.

First - What type of runner are you towards the end of a race when you are fatigued?  When you are feeling this way - what would you respond better to?  Do you want someone to be a cheerleader?  Comedian? Strong, silent type?  Drill sergeant?

Second - Out of your group of friends - who have you run enough long distances with so that you are familiar with their attitude when they are fatigued?  Pacing usually takes place in the later hours of a race when your pacer has already been standing around all day waiting on their chance to run with you.  They will be tired.  When night falls, they will be sleepy.  Whether they are doing 20 or 40 miles with you, they will be working hard under rough conditions.  You need to have a pretty good idea of someone's true grit before considering them as a pacer option. 

The best way to illustrate this is to tell you a few of my pacer stories.  As with every aspect of my 100 miler journey, this was a procession of bad to excellent choices.  Hopefully this can help you make the right decision.

ROCKY RACCOON 100 MILER 2011 - Pacer Disaster
Going into the 2011 100 miler (my first), I was planning to run the whole thing with a friend at the time.  This was a great idea until at mile 60 he was called away for a family emergency, leaving me facing the last 40 miles of my first 100 miler completely alone. I did mile 60 - 80 in the pitch black, sub freezing weather on my own.  You haven't lived until you find yourself trying to change the batteries of your headlamp while sitting on the side of the trail in complete darkness, next to a lake, with no other runners anywhere to be seen, using frozen hands and minimal fine motor skills due to exhaustion (probably 18 hours into the race at this point).  For mile 80-100 a well meaning person decided they would keep me company.  I would have been better on my own.  Every time I moaned from jamming a toe, they encouraged me to sit down, and they made sure I knew that this was really a hard thing for them and that they were still sore from a race they had run the previous weekend, etc., etc.  When at mile 93 I found myself thinking angrily about how I was going to do it better the next year...I knew I was hooked.  Finish time:  27:55

ROCKY RACCOON 100 MILER  2012 - Perfect pacers, terrible conditions
As soon as I healed from 2011, I started planning 2012.  First order of business - lining up pacers.  My two first thoughts were Mark Weineke (an experienced trail runner who has completed most of the toughest 100 milers in the US) and John Fell (a multiple Ironman finisher, mountain biker, and all around tough dude).  Luckily they both agreed, and 2012 I was ready and aiming for a sub 24 hour finish.  Mother Nature had a different idea, and after torrential downpours for most of the 100 miles, slogging through mud, rinsing sand out of my shoes....I finished in 25:28.  Shy of my goal, but I was satisfied considering the conditions.  Mark and John were wonderful pacers, and this run helped me to fine tune what I was looking for:  I like for my pacer to run slightly ahead and guide me along the trail, many runners like the pacer to run just off of their shoulder (even the side they want them on varies).  I also like for my pacer to keep light conversation but not to expect me to answer them.  Both of these guys were perfect at this.  But, I didn't reach my goal so when planning for the next year...

Mark Weineke - expert pacer, great guy!

ROCKY RACCOON 100 MILER 2013 - When the stars align
Just before putting my money down on RR2013, my first call was John Fell.  He not only agreed to pace me again for this redemption run, he offered to do the last 40 miles with me.  He had never run that far, but John is one of the toughest human beings I know, so I wasn't worried.  8 months of hard training later, and we find ourselves at Rocky.  I managed to stick exactly to my predicted splits for the first 60 miles, and knew that I would do whatever John told me to do for the last 40 miles.  John had run enough with me at that point to know me pretty well.  He would tell stories (he tells great stories) and told me from the beginning that if I wanted him to shut up just to tell him.  I told him he could talk all he wanted just not to expect much banter on my part.  I knew I would have to work harder than I ever had to achieve my goal, and I didn't want the pressure of conversation.

John would run slightly ahead of me and guide me to the smoothest sections of the trail (there are TONS of roots at RR).  When the roots got too nasty, we would walk for through them then run again.  When we got to aid stations, John did two things that were very important - he made sure I was getting the fuel I needed, but he also made sure he got all of the fuel that he needed.  A pacer who bonks is of no use to anyone.

On the last 20 mile loop, John started bargaining with me.  I was beyond rational thought at this point, and working on sheer survival instinct.  I can't even describe how this last loop feels.  You just have to experience it for yourself.  It was then that John told me that if I gave him 5 minutes of running, I would get to walk for 1 minute.  As I got more and more fatigued, he would tell me to give him 1 minute of running and I would get 1 minute of walking.  All this time John never looked at his watch, so I knew he wasn't really keeping time, but he somehow knew when I was almost at my breaking point because that is when he would let me walk.  It worked.  Finish time 23:27

This is just one example of many I could give of how the right pacer can make a world of difference in the kind of race you have.  What qualities in John Fell did I see that made me think he would be a good pacer for me?

1.  He is an experienced long distance athlete, and I know he is very familiar with suffering and would understand to some degree where I was at in my head.
2.  He is a plain spoken person - no bullshit or flattery - just truth.  I like that.  
3.  John has high expectations from himself and everyone around him.  I have tremendous respect for him and what he has achieved, and I would NEVER want to let him down.
4.  He is physically capable of completing the distance required of him and barring injury, I never had to worry about John slowing me down.
5.  We met prior to the race to go over race splits, nutrition plan, etc., so he knew exactly what plan I was following and what my goals were, and he was experienced enough to understand any spur of the moment changes that might need to be made.
6.  He wanted me to reach my goal almost as much as I did.
John Fell.  No words to explain this feeling.

To end a too long post, keep these things in mind:

Some people will find the idea of pacing you for an ultra distance race sexy or may think it sounds cool for them to say that they were a part of an ultra.  Avoid these people.  The idea may sound sexy but the reality is not.  If they are the type to make it about them, they are not the type to be of any help to you.

Some people will get their feelings hurt because you don't ask them to pace you.  Let them.  This is your race, not a popularity contest.  As with any task, you choose the tool that will most effectively help you to achieve your goal. If they are that sensitive, they would suck as a pacer anyway.

Because you think you might end up walking the last 10 miles of your race, don't pick a pacer who is only qualified to walk 10 miles.  If the stars align and you are crushing the course, the last thing you want to do is wait on a pacer.

When you choose a pacer, choose someone with thick skin.  You may not be rude necessarily later in the race, but you will be pretty raw and you will not give a damn about your pacers feelings....until a day or two later.  Choose someone with a good sense of humor.

Any specific questions about this topic, post on the Paix Running Facebook page or email me at

Happy Running!