Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Accountability and Corrective Action

Corrective Action
I find myself to be a comical breed.  Not in the ‘funny, ha-ha sense’, but more in the ‘amusement for those more intellectual than myself’ kind of way.  I am incredibly self-absorbed, yet claim to be striving for altruism.  This rumination has been a defining feature throughout an extensive time span, and yet no change has seemed to have occurred.  To accompany this flaw, I fear the change that’s required to become the person I want to be.  I fear that who I am likely to become and who I strive to be do not coincide.  As a side note, I fear posting remarks such as this to the public because, well, this is very personal, and it doesn’t provide much help in keeping an adequate level of machismo on display.  I don’t think this quarter-life crisis of mine is depressing me, I think it’s simply a challenge I have not experienced before, and one that cannot be anticipated.  I have no clue what’s around the next bend; I can’t convince myself it’s possible to plan for the inevitable peaks and valleys of my attitude; I feel out of control.  I’m nearly certain that the lesson to learn is that I must realize control is not necessary, and striving for it will only make life more complex.  I fear a contrived reality that is merely a figment of my imagination and I fear a lack of control, which is likely the sole aspect that will allow me to feel most free and alive.

It seems as though I’m able to reasonably and realistically come to accurate conclusions on my shortcomings and faulty behaviors and thoughts, yet fail to take corrective action in order to better my own being.  I’ll figure this out, but damn do I feel I’ve had to dig deep in order to stay afloat.

My main form of “corrective action” has been vented through my favorite pastime, running.  It has afforded me numerous benefits: 1. Keeping me on schedule – sleeping early, rising early, ensuring time management is moderately efficient; 2. Keeping me healthy – I sleep, eat, drink, and behave sustainably; 3. Helping to make me feel productive – PRs are always mood-boosters; 4. Helping my esteem – it’s a great feeling to know you’re fit and are performing well no matter which facet of life you’re focused on; 5. Providing social atmospheres – I’ve met the greatest people through this sport, and it’s only begun; I’m certain there’s more, but that’s a good start.

Who actually knows if I can attain this quality; my past doesn’t exactly reflect success when it comes to following through with preconceived plans.  I eventual make things happen, like getting fit or writing a blog entry…it’s on the list, but that list isn’t exactly prioritized or rushed.  Excuses tend to define my daily doings…”I have to get a workout in”, “I have to make dinner”, “work went longer than expected”, “I needed the extra sleep”, etc.  I have written countless entries in an attempt to motivate myself to run a 2:29 marathon, apply to medical school, or simply follow a daily regimen of working out, eating healthy, studying, and socializing…  It comes down to being a matter of character rather than reputation - I hope I’m seen as being moderately successful, but my true actions are what count in the end.  To pair with this, the opinion that matters most (mine) of my own successes and failures, spirit and status, is unrealistic.  I have high expectations and so many outrageous goals it’s hard to comprehend; when I “fail” to reach these, I count it as a failure.  Rather than focusing on the baby steps I’ve taken to help become the person I want to be, I ruminate on the large steps I’ve failed to effectively make happen on a timeline that is only “real” because I wrote it on piece of paper at one point in time. 

I’m certain I’ve mentioned this before in some way or another, but I have very few ultimate goals in life; one being that I enjoy each year more than the previous, another being that I hold myself accountable for all that I do and all that I am…

My ultimate goal is to be real.  I want this because I like to be different despite my best efforts, and mostly because I think people in my culture and generation are to some extent afraid to be who they are.  I want this because a large majority fear the judgment they may encounter when expressing their true selves.  There is fear of releasing the secrets that keep their identity their own; a fear of losing both control and uniqueness…a fear of allowing others to know just as much or more about yourself than you do.  I’m not that narcissistic…I realize my opinion, my words, and my thoughts aren’t sought out by the average person, but maybe this notion I’m forcing upon myself right now - this need to be real despite the risk of exposing everything I am and everything I hope to be - can be a catalyst for others to behave similarly; peeling away their shell, and allowing themselves to feel a mental and emotional release simply by becoming what they are.  And not apologizing for any part of their true selves.

That seems to be a little too deep for an hour spent at four in the afternoon at Starbucks, but I believe I hit this message spot on – finally expressing my thoughts the way I initially intended.  Just so I don’t digress from that, I shut my mouth (/keyboard?) and let you reflect if need be.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Cayuga Adventure

I DNF’d after 28 miles.  I need to be smarter.

I messaged friends and family of the DNF after it happened.  I’m not terribly disappointed with myself, though some semblance of that notion resides.  I don’t actually know what I’m feeling.  David Huss’s response summed it up well: “I’ve learned more from DNFs than I have from PRs”.  As long as I gain insight into the reasons for this incomplete and take corrective action to prevent future repeat offenses, I will believe this is a positive experience.

Ithaca is a beautiful place.  Although I have a heavy conscience due to all the expenses incurred on this trip, I don’t think of it as a waste.  I will set out to hike the initial section of the race course, take photos, and enjoy the remainder of the trip – hopefully without too much thought poured into the previous relationship, the medical school admissions process, the lack of enjoyment at work, etc.  And no, writing those ruminations down does not constitute “thought”.

During the race, I had adequate energy levels, was taking in slightly less than I thought I should, was running much faster than I thought was wise, but was having fun on the heels of Canaday, Flaherty, Yassim, and another guy who I didn’t recognize at the time (Jordan McDougal).  I knew I didn’t necessarily belong in this group, but rare is the opportunity to experience a run in a place so beautiful, with a group of ultra runners so talented.  The start/25mile/finish line was planted in the Treman State Park, with the 12.5/37.5mile turnaround point in the Buttermilk Falls State Park, which doubled as my campsite for the weekend.  The course brought us through various gorges, across a few roads, through 5 creeks (one quad-deep), and over an excessive amount of mud.  All its aspects took their respective toll, but enjoyment was the priority…in hindsight, I’m still relishing the possibility that placement in a field of this caliber would have done more for my running "career".  Let’s hope I can take a few lessons home and really start to train and race with success and sustainability in mind.  The joints and muscles hurt too much to convince myself this is a lifelong endeavor…  I think I have a decent amount of experience, but a lot of work to do.  I would prefer learning these lessons on my own to ensure the point is solidified, but having a few opinions from others never hurt much.  That being said, one “prize” of the day was a free consultation from Yassine to the first DNFer, which I may be the benefactor of…not sure if that’s good or not, but necessary!

The days are long, the months are short

(posted two weeks after writing...weird)

Wow, how time passes by; in the blink of an eye my year of “make it happen” is half gone.  Not wasted; would never think such an atrocity, but gone indeed.  Looking back partly in anger, partly in awe, partly in wonder, where has the past 6 months taken me?  It has been centered on running, and that’s it.  An act that will in the end bring me a sliver of popularity and recognition, some feelings of increased self-worth; some appreciation by others, some resentment, some believing I’m wasting my days, some asking themselves why they don’t enjoy the sport.  This act affords me complete peace and a slew of feelings that do not relate, nor do they do justice in expressing my actual thoughts.  But, the point I’m failing to get at is, why do I do this?  Running is my measure of success and worth and productivity, but it’s not sufficient.  It’s in fact requisite on the rest of my life being in order.  The fact that I have run 19 PRs since July 28th, 2012 should provide comfort knowing I’m on a corrected path compared to the previous years.  But something’s missing.  And that “something” is huge.  I have lost balance.  I have lost my way of being able to successfully juggle a relationship, multiple jobs, school, and family, all very successfully.  In a sense, I have lost me.  Yes, I am a runner, but that’s analogous to saying someone is Autistic rather than saying they suffer from Autism.  I don’t suffer, but I need to be who I am rather than let a single aspect of who I am define me as a whole.  I am Sam Jurek: a researcher, an athlete, a friend, an average human, a smiling stranger, an extrovert, a conversationalist, a hard worker, a fearless wanderer, an adventurist; thoughtful, contemplative, inquisitive, deliberate, with integrity, trustworthy, trusting, patient, kind, caring, nonjudgmental, and curious.

After stating all that (and reflecting in bewilderment), I do feel I should complete another portion of this intended entry, my running and racing life.  Once this is out of the way, I will reflect and likely realize this running gig really is who I am (let’s hope not)…

Just three weeks post-Stone Cat I ran a PR in the mile: 4:38, and followed this up with a string of 5K and 4M performances in the top 5 while sporting my now famous blue and white button-up flannel along with the Santa hat.  In January I ran a few more indoor track meets, adding on a few more 4:40 miles, an 800, and an anchor leg in a 4x400.  February brought along a steady stream of quality training weeks, hitting 104 miles for one of them.  March landed 10M, half marathon, and 20M PRs (54:30, 1:11:40, and 1:52:56 give or take).  This was critical for the buildup to Boston.  Although I didn’t hit the goal, I still managed to break my marathon PR by over 3minutes (from January 2009…over 4 years old!!!).  I went through the half and a little more on pace for a sub-2:29; finishing in 2:31:12, good for a top 100 spot.  All this set me up for a few other races which will all serve to help me piggy back performance all the way through September’s 100 miler (my first) and hopefully another course record at Stone Cat in November.  I won the Blue Hills 10miler again in 62minutes.  I got back to the mountains, mostly with David Huss in preparation for his upcoming Western States 100.  I ran all winter with the Dreamfar High School Marathon team again, culminating in the Providence Marathon on May 12th.  May 18th brought me home again for the Superior Trail 50K.  This time I put up a good fight with Chris Lundstrom still taking the crown, this time by only 3minutes.  That course is tough!  That brought me back to a string of weekends in New Hampshire and Maine, enjoying the Pineland Farms Running Festival, winning a great prize, maple syrup!, camping, carpooling, road tripping, and running some painful stretches of the Pemi Loop.  This coming weekend is the inaugural Cayuga Trails 50miler: a race with 10,000 feet of elevation gain and over 15 elites to compete with.  It is serving as the USATF 50 Mile Trail Championship, so that’ll bring in more than just scrubs like me beyond the elite field.  Should be interesting…

Now that I’ve failed to convince either You or myself of my altruistic, non-running-oriented ways, I’m off to read a little more Alan Watts and really question my internal intentions.

Be well my future self and whomever was bored enough to subject themselves to this post.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quick Update

Hello People,
Nothing noteworthy here, just an update so not to become completely distilled from this blog.  The end of Fall is wrapping up with much success, but with the holidays just around the corner, the anticipation for laziness and gluttony can't be emphasized enough.

I have finalized a 2013 race schedule, with Boston still slightly in the air, but I have a couple sources to get a bib number from, so hopefully that works out to my favor.  The peaks will be Vermont 100K in July along with the Superior Sawtooth 100M in September.

Here's a link to an interview that New England's Level Renner was kind enough to post about Stone Cat and what led up to it...

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012 Stone Cat 50

The Days Post-Stone Cat

Cloud nine.  That’s practically the only term that can sum up my mental status the previous few days.  I’ve never had more confidence in myself and can’t remember the last time “self-satisfaction” was a descriptor of my subjective feelings.  It feels good; odd, but good.  And of course, like any good addict, the corresponding time has also been focused on what the next goal (aka, high) will be.  The dopamine surge has finally began to subside, which is typically when I like to write; I’m in a state of honest reflection, yet not quite back in the depths of depression so much as to provide a tone of melancholy for you to peruse in hopes of a happy ending.  Before I begin, I can’t help but to acknowledge and concern myself with the idea that I haven’t had a workout beyond easy runs and bike commutes since Stone Cat, so with the paranoia of decreasing fitness returning to full force, it’s probably time to think about what the next training cycle will entail.  If all goes well, an indoor track season will be followed by a quick marathon, leading up to an eventual 100-mile debut.  Western States entry will be dependent upon the lottery; Vermont and Superior will be considered if WS doesn’t work out.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself…not an atypical happening…so, back to the items of importance:

I am a terrible blogger.  Seriously, I hope no one pays attention to my ramblings via blogspot, not only due to the probable humiliation I’ll feel from my thoughts being publically viewed, but also from the incredible lack of frequency.  I’ll check, but am nearly certain the last post was from Stone Cat 2011.  Not that life hasn’t been filled with enough eventful episodes – there’s been too much activity for my liking – but, not much to speak of has been categorized as a proud moment or accomplishment until recently.

2012 has had its share of ups and downs; fortunately, I’ve gained endless knowledge from the good and the bad.  I’ve learned to appreciate my surroundings that is the Greater Boston area, and have found a great group of guys to spend weekends in the White Mountains with.  Along with that, I’ve solidified a few friendships which will continue even if Denver soon becomes my next home.  I’ve progressively increased my ability to be honest with myself, what my desires are, and accurate ways to describe who I really am.  And, most importantly, I have put happiness above all other virtues and measures of both intrinsic and extrinsic worth.  Although ideally my immediate future would entail a move and medical school soon after, enjoying each moment has been priority, and much to my surprise…I’m happier.

The year began just as 99% of Americans’ years begin; a New Year’s resolution was made to “get back in shape”.  Since the move from Wisconsin to Boston in May 2010, I’ve looked at myself as more of a weekend warrior than a runner.  Weekdays typically didn’t involve more than a commute, work, eating and sleeping.  Weekends were filled with running escapades, mostly on local trails, and periodically to Vermont or New Hampshire where the New England elevation resides.  Starting Sunday night, I would be in recovery mode until the following Saturday morning rolled around.  Not exactly a productive means of building fitness, more so a way of keeping the mind in idle and the joints in constant agony.  After having an inflamed Achilles for over a year and falling apart in the Boston Marathon it was decided that something needed to be done.  I put the mental toughness cap on, finished the spring season with a couple reasonable race results, and wrote a training plan that, as long as it was adequately adhered to, would produce something to be proud of.  As the training frequency increased, the racing naturally came as a result.  To open up the summer, I was fortunate enough to make another trip to the Western States 100 for pacing duties; this time for Josh Katzman.  The experience of “Statesmas” is something to remember – nothing my 25 year-old self has seen can compare.  I socialized, and Josh performed, as always; making his way through the rigors of the course with more consistency than anyone could dream of.  With a 22nd place finish in 18:11, my pacing from mile 62 through the finish was completely unnecessary, but a memorable highlight of my running life to say the least.

The summer carried on in good form, finding a little speed in the legs, motive in the mind, desire in the heart, and life in the lungs.  I joined the Greater Boston Track Club while on the road and appreciated every moment with the Trail Animals when away from the constructs of artificial surfaces.  Racing became more of a social activity and a means of weekend entertainment rather than a chore.  Running was fun again.  Waking at an earlier hour on the weekends than I was during weekdays was anticipated, not scorned; the Whites were waiting, just two hours away, providing escape, serenity, and companionship from those who accompanied the early morning escapades.  The main component I value most among these fellow ultrarunners is their love of the sport.  Given the right environment, nothing matters except the fact that we’re running; not pace, heart rate or competitors’ recent results, not our job, financial status, family difficulties, or questions in life.  There’s an understanding shared among this cohort of the population and, for me at least, with trying to avoid sentiment as much as possible…it’s similar to love.  Ultrarunning is the anticipation of what’s to come while appreciating every moment along the way, yet not knowing how to define exactly what you feel or why you’re feeling it.  Yup, that’s it…love is pretty similar to what I would define the perfect run to be.  Apologies to those of you who don’t partake, but just so you know, this addiction of ours goes beyond weight control, comparisons to others, and finisher’s medals; it’s a lifestyle that you can’t fake, you just feel it.

Leading up to Stone Cat

I don’t know a single person who can honestly claim they’ve had a season of training go as planned.  I tried my hardest…well, that’s a complete lie, but I put forth a solid effort in attempting to stick to my training schedule as diligently as possible.  85-90% of the time I was faithful to my calendar of penciled-in workouts and scribbled-out changes, and as far as I can recall, that’s enough to pass.  Yet, considering the 5am long runs, 8pm track workouts, declined Friday night social outings, consistent sleep and diet regimens, and the two marathon races in the previous three weeks, there was still a sizeable level of disconcerting thoughts scouring my mind.  Did I run enough?  Did I run too much?  Was there enough recovery?  Will my GI issues relapse?  Will Josh make me cry like a little school girl the second half of the race just like the 2010 and 2011 races?

I grumble as the alarm shatters the white noise of the fan keeping me cool as I slumber.  After the initial snooze releases its penetrating energy that is NPR, I finally consider rolling out of bed…the second brings on System of a Down, now I’m up.  The trunk of my car has been packed for three days, my clothes have been laid out for two, and my cooler was packed last night.  I brew some coffee, make my shake, and jump in the car.  During the quickest drive I’ve ever had down Mass Ave, I pull into the Katzman residence 8 minutes before my scheduled arrival – a rarity, to say the least.  (I was fortunate to meet Josh just a month after moving to the Boston area; it’s been two and a half years and he still puts up with me and my excessive immaturity; I feel pretty fortunate to have him around.)  As we continue the drive north towards Ipswich, MA, we try to make small-talk about our previous week and how “everything has been going”.  It doesn’t take long before the race strategy discussion unfolds.  We fully acknowledge and accept our idiocy from last year’s race; we ran the first 25 miles in 2:56, and let’s just say the second half wasn’t pretty.  Yet, our hopes are still high despite the feelings of potential inadequacy in our training.  What will it take to place 1st and 2nd along with going under the course record of 6:24?  We both have a fueling plan.  We’ll both run with music (a first for each of us) the second half of the race.  We know Sebastian will be back to compete in full force.  So, let’s stick together as long as possible, run the first 25 miles around 3:10, then hold on with consistency to finish the race.

The meeting area is in Doyon Elementary’s gymnasium.  It’s a social atmosphere as we collect our goody bag, glow-in-the-dark shirts, and race number.  There’s enough nervous energy to light a fire.  We chat a while and set up our personal aid station at the start/finish/turn-around; I shouldn’t mention this, but to avoid the painfully long bathroom line, we scurry out to a port-o-john near the starting line – it’ll be there next year for those of you as impatient as me.

We end our conversations, lace our shoes, drop our sweats, turn on the headlamps, and line up at the start.  The gun is fired.

There are four of us in front to start and we pack up through the first couple miles.  Quickly thereafter, Sebastian darts off to the lead; he puts a minute on the rest of us before we know it.  Josh and I continue to chat throughout the initial loop without realizing a recurrent flaw.  We come into the turn-around in 1:30:40…  “Sam, we did it again” is all I hear from Josh.  I honestly was a little pissed, and felt the anxiety creep throughout my body…is this going to be a repeat of last year?  We switch bottles and continue on without missing more than a stride.  The second loop we were silent.  Neither of us felt amazing, and I think there was enough concern to keep each of us in a singular contemplative mindset.  Nearing mile 25, Josh finally looks at me, “Sam, I think this is the least we’ve ever talked on a run.”  “Yup” was all I could muster.  1:29:04 second loop; under three hours through the first 25 miles.  We felt a little destined to blow up within the next 12.5 miles.  Fortunately, Sebastian was still leading/motivating us, keeping his solid 1-2 minutes lead the entire way.

We switched bottles again, stocked up on Gu, and plugged into our IPod shuffles.  Within a minute, I was cruising to the beat of Rage Against The Machine.  It becomes a lonely endeavor when running through the forest on your own.  I really enjoy company, even if nothing is said.  All I can do is think about maintaining effort and trying my best to not lose ground from the leader.  I continue to see Ashley as she makes the drive to nearly all the aid stations throughout the course.  It’s motivating having a spectator around to support only you.  Though I felt bad since I was in no place to chat or offer much of a smile with each viewing.  1:34:00.  I switch bottles as Ashley asks “Do you need anything?”  My Gu-covered face responds, “Just mile 50…”

I see Josh just before ducking into the woods.  He wasn’t far behind, and Sebastian was just seconds in front.  “You got this!” Josh yells as he charges by.  Between the motivation from Josh, the sugar-rush from the Gu, and the music continuously damaging my ear-drums, I felt on top of the world…if I can just hang on…  These moments of painless high are infrequent and fleeting, but always welcomed.  Sebastian started walking.  I offered as much encouragement as possible as I passed by; knowing that only meant there was another person chasing me.  Starting around age 16, I jumped on the Prefontaine bandwagon – his legacy has continued to motivate me and a quote from one of his dedicated movies resonates with me as I move to the front of the race, “Second place controls the race.”  Fortunately, I have decent success running with the fear of being outkicked in the final miles.  I turn the music up louder.  My single handheld bottle gets refilled at each aid station and I force down a couple Gus and salt-sticks in hopes of avoiding cramps.  With a mile to go I come past a horseshoe section of the course providing a view of those behind me; empty.  Oh, thank God; no embarrassing last-second loss to worry about today.  I finish lap number four in 1:39:30, giving a final time of 6:13:14, a course-record by over 11 minutes.

I’m hunched over talking to Ashley as the second runner comes through.  Marty, the race director announces “Josh Katzman, finishing in 6:18.”  All we can do is smile; 1st and 2nd, both under the old course-record.  Sebastian comes in not far behind in 6:21.  Given the ideal weather and a little help from culverts to displace the ankle-deep water stretch we became accustomed to, I don’t know what would have happened if Ben Nephew had been around.  Knowing him, he would have had enough drive to hold onto his course-record.  Until next year…

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An apology and an update

For those very few who have glanced at and possibly read this blog during the 9 months of its existence, you have duly noted the inconsistencies which define my blogging “style”; that being said, I’m on pace for a grand total of 12 postings this first year.  Due to this, I would like to take a line or two to express my most humble apologies and provide a glimmer of hope for future of my public ramblings.  I will not provide a multitude of excuses or justifications for my seeming laziness when it comes to writing.  I will simply try to do better.

November 5th, 2011,
The Stone Cat 50: Ipswich, Massachusetts

The daunting days leading up to an event are not pleasurable by any means.  The final week before competition you have heard to take it easy, relax, and prepare mentally because the “hay is in the barn”.  In fact, this time is more painful than the peak weeks of training: the days of exhaustion following 50-60 mile weekends, nights of tossing and turning due to a bruised hip, mornings plagued by an inflamed Achilles, etc.  No one enjoys this down time; you are never convinced you’re prepared well enough, eating becomes a complex chore rather than a source of limitless delight, your ideal race weight is never attained, and anxiety embezzles hours of sleep from each night.  Regardless of these (at least, personal) facts, as soon as the alarm clock blazes in the early AM of race morning, you couldn’t be more ready to go. 

In preparation for Stone Cat this year, my training was like my blogging, inconsistent with spikes of moderately impressive attributes.  I was not pleased; however, per usual it was completely my fault.  The main aspects I saw as setbacks were mental and physical.  A constant pressure on myself to begin studying for the next level of education was the primary time consumer; this was coupled with an aching Achilles which has plagued me since age 17.  Hurdling these mild obstacles should have been easy, but difficulty appears to pair with what should be the simplest of tasks for someone who has minimal obligations outside of work and studying.  Needless to say, I was not convinced the hay was properly stacked.

Fortunately, I was eager to race despite the insufficient preparation.  Race morning began at 4:00AM with the monotone voices of NPR.  I was instantly awake, energized, showered, and…nervous, reminiscent of the previous eight mornings.  I contemplated the variety of breakfast items available in the kitchen – settling for an atypical choice on my part: toast and coffee.  I was out the door by 4:25, prepared with all the Gu and Gu-Brew I could possibly consume in the hours to come.  The 45-minute drive passed with enjoyment and deafening tones of a custom playlist including System of a Down, Slipknot, Foo Fighters, and various other angry talent.  Upon arrival at Doyon Elementary I met with Josh Katzman.  Josh has been the measuring stick of my ultra ability since we met in August 2010…and if you know Josh, there’s a damn good chance you’re falling short of his ability.  A couple weeks prior, we ran the Stone Cat course (three loops for him, two for me), so I knew there wasn’t a great chance for anyone to take the crown but this guy.

We setup our drop bag at the Start/Finish/Turn-around point, found the desolate and lineless port-a-john, and appreciated the crystal-clear, star-filled sky over the starting line.  T minus one hour.  Socializing consumed the majority of the remaining time leading up to the race.  We collected our race packets, shirts, and admired the finisher’s jackets on display…oddly enough, a strong motivator for getting yourself through the redundant four loop course.  We lined up on the 32 degree soccer field with our headlamps and shivering legs and we were on our way.

After 800 meters we dodged the first water-obstacle, found a little mud, and were joined by Sebastian – a very nice first-time trail and ultra runner.  He had ran a few quick marathons prior to this race, but made the trip from Quebec to experience a couple novel aspects of running – aspects I feel are absolutely necessary to stay sane in this sport.  Josh, Sebastian, and I blazed through the initial miles in the dark, trudging through the 250-meter stretch of shin-deep, ice-cold water, and passing by the first aid station in need of nothing except a rain-check on that freshly-cooked bacon.  At mile 7.5 Josh refilled his handheld as Sebastian and I continued the pace for the next mile.  The trail continued with some variety between single and double track stretches, and before the closing of lap number one was upon us, we turned off the headlamps and began to feel the modest warmth of the sun.  Josh had caught up to us and with some moderate surprise to all of us, we closed the initial 12.5 miles in 1:28:35, which equates to a shade over 7 minutes per mile…quick. 

Josh and I had played this game before and were well prepared to stop only if necessary.  We dropped our headlamps, empty handhelds, and extra clothes while picking up already prepared bottles of fluid and Gu.  We didn’t lose more than a second or two in order to refuel for the next loop; Sebastian did well to keep pace and stayed close the entire time.  We cruised through the course for the second time and could likely complete the loop even without markings thanks to a few preparatory trips in the months leading up to the race.  Josh and I continued to chat, but the conversation faded more with every mile.  During this time I was on cloud nine, knowing very well this feeling wouldn’t last, but I always take advantage of the ups when they grace me with their presence.  Again, we blazed through the water section and the aid stations in need of relatively little support, and even though the course is burned into memory it still hadn’t begun to bore me with its ever so predictable twists and turns.  Closing lap number two the fatigue began to sink into the quads: 1:28:09, a negative split.  We dumped the empties, grabbed the full bottles and were off for lap number three.

And it hit.  Fatigue, exhaustion, the pleading desire to walk any form of an incline.  Josh appeared tired as well, but his strength shined through as I tried to keep pace.  He continued to pounce like a wild deer in pursuit of a dream, and I hung on for an extra stride at a time.  We stayed together until around mile 28; the next time I would see him would be the finish line.  I began taking some advice I had offered to Sebastian in the initial miles of the race, “…remember to move to the beat of your own drum”.  I slowed, walked portions of the inclines, and began stopping at the aid stations in search of temporary relief.  I uncharacteristically fueled very well during the first 25 miles, putting down two Gus along with a bottle of Gu-Brew each lap.  This trend stopped abruptly when the fatigue got the best of me around mile 30; the exact point which I should begin fueling more.  This is an aspect of the sport I desperately need to figure out.  Regardless of the realization, I wasn’t fueling, and was paying dearly for it with minutes per mile added to my overall time.  I trudged through the lap attempting to talk myself through the swings of highs and lows.  During this time a notion from Geoff Roes came to mind…embrace the lows: taking advantage of the highs will only take away seconds per mile from your time, but grinding through the lows can evaporate minutes to hours from your finish.  I should have thought about this earlier in the race.  Fortunately, I had a little relief waiting for me at the start of lap four: a friend, Erich Marks waiting to pace me.

Erich is a great guy who moved to Boston this past summer for a residency position at Brigham and Women’s.  He’s a fellow runner and skier who spent the past four years in Madison, Wisconsin…home.  Luckily for me, Erich was waiting for me with a mile to go on lap three.  I was elated to see him.  I’m not much for socializing when exhausted (and still in need of competing), but this time was different for some reason.  We closed the loop together in 1:59, nearly 9:30 per mile pace.  After 37.5 miles, I had an overall time of 4:55.  If I could finish these last 12.5 miles under two hours, I’d be happy.

I almost don’t like admitting this, because this was a race, but I had a lot of fun that final lap.  The pain was incredible; I had never experienced this much pain before, but I was okay with it.  In truth, I appeared a little high from the pain.  I was in a great mood – moving slow, but moving constantly.  We talked about anything and everything for the next two hours while enjoying the beautiful day and, of course, bitching about the inclines and unavoidable water stretches.  I spent nearly a full minute at each of the two aid stations along the course (miles 41.5 and 45), filling up on bacon, M+Ms, and more electrolyte drink.  We hit a few rough patches coupled with a surprising number of high points marked by a sub-seven minute per mile pace.  Upon approaching the final mile I was excited to be nearly done with my fourth 50-miler in the past three years, but there was a mild humility hanging in the air as well.  I finished the final loop in 2:09.  Falling far off the initial pace, and missing my hopeful mark of 6:40 by 24 minutes.  I will convince myself that had I ran 1:40 for the opening loops, that could have been sustained and my goal could have been within reach.

Josh finished in 6:29 – the second fastest time ever on the course, and just 5 minutes behind Ben Nephew’s course record from 2010.  Sebastian finished his debut ultra in style, taking second place overall in 6:45.  A nice man from New Hampshire placed third just under seven hours.  And I placed fourth while Aliza Lapierre of Vermont took the women’s course record and was fifth overall.

In summary, this was a win for me.  I learned from the experience and have bettered myself from the previous day.  There is much work to be done in terms of 1) fueling, 2) training and endurance, and 3) pacing.  More to come on those.

Cheers fellow masochists.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An overdue WS experience to share

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011
ome days I find there are inventions that make you wonder just how much violent potential you have; like Rufilin…don't you just feel like finding the founder of the drug, hog-tying and beating the living S#*t out of him for consecutive days on-end?  That also goes for the makers of the Segway, Agent Orange, pop-up ads and the snuggie…  And today is one of those days - the homicidal thoughts directed solely toward that damn alarm clock.  Annoying, exhausting, and completely lacking any form of conscientiousness.  Its 3am.  I have a 6am flight to catch at Boston Logan International.  And although I've been successfully kicking the predictable daily coffee consumption, this morning will require a healthy fix of the sweetest drug this world knows: caffeine.
Ashley was reluctantly coaxed into providing me a ride to the airport by 5am - a much appreciated (yet slightly forced upon) gesture that saved me an hour of commute time - mass transit is only great when you're not in a rush or are in need of traveling between the atypical 10-2 midday time-frame.  I quickly passed through checking and security in time for boarding a capacity flight to Los Angeles.  This was not anticipated, since the chances of sitting next to an individual who had a methane-release issue, a small bladder, or a "big bone" gene was nearly one in two (thank you Westernized societies).  Instead, the flight included an adorable and friendly flight attendant, a window, a British sneezer to the left, a reclining sleeper at 12'o'clock, and a 6-year-old future soccer star kicking my ass (violent tendencies resurfacing…). 
After a brief six and a half hour flight, a couple episodes of 'Modern Family', a good portion of Robinson Crusoe, and some training planning, I was in smoggy California.  LA was great, and refreshing to land in, since the weekend's target was now within State lines.  Some shenanigans are sure to be had at each airport encounter, so I won't bore with details, but after some direction-seeking and another security checkpoint, I was on my way to Sacramento along with my "suspicious" blue-raspberry Gu Brew - thanks for the input Mr. TSA man.
Awaiting my arrival at the American Airlines terminal in smog-less Sacramento was the cutest little man sporting a lightning red Chevy Aveo, ready to chauffeur us to our final destination.  Jason Finch and I did look pretty damn cute in our nearly Smartcar-sized ride, but my faith in the red rocket was lacking to say the least…we did have a lot of elevated terrain to transverse in the coming miles.  Fortunately we made it to Squaw Valley in one piece, and with great attitudes thanks to the above-par music selection (thank you Finch).
Squaw was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics.  The original buildings were lost to fires in the late '60s, but the area was rebuilt in the finest fashion by a PETAphobic, tree-hating developing tycoon.  I don't usually support such behavior, but the 6200-foot-high neighborhood is pretty amazing.  Now, while in Squaw, we were able to finally address just why we were here - the Western States Endurance Run (WSER, WS100, WS).  Again, I won't bore with details, but as a rough-draft title of this post foreshadowed, the WSER is a cluster---- of awesomeness.  This is the greatest, most prestigious, most admirable, most recognized, and now most competitive 100-mile race in the nation.  Western is the goal for ultra runners just as Boston is the goal for marathoners.  These races don't even need description anymore - they're like Madonna, Oprah, and Animal-style - as soon as you mention their nickname, everyone knows exactly what you're talking about.  Even I have been obsessed with this race since the days of believing Runner's World knew what the hell they were talking about.  One thing they did get right was the impact that Scott Jurek would have on the sport (and yes, I will continue to speak of him solely due to the fact that I have the same last name).  The first time I saw that beautiful man he was rocking a gnarly ponytail with his dog Tonto on the way to his fourth WS100 win.  Between the history and atmosphere this race provides, the entire experience is epic and needs to be seen first-hand for the full experience.  It's tough not getting caught up in the excitement.
We meet the entire crew for our first WS adventure; everyone in attendance to ensure Joe Uhan crossed the finish line in Auburn.  The group included the "spectators" Meredith, Donna, Brandi, Will, Steve and the little man; the medical team of Nate and Dan; the dietician Britt; the pacers Finch and I; the man in charge, Matt, and the belt-buckle-seeker, Joe.  Overall it was a large crew, but essentially robust and ridiculously entertaining to be around.  For me, this initial gathering a Squaw was a rush.  Joe had mentioned a 50-mile attempt to me back in September 2010 to qualify for WS.  Of course, without hesitation I agreed to join him in the masochistic endeavor if the lottery treated him kindly.  By time December rolled around, Joe was just seven months away from the most painful day of his life…how cruel it is to know the exact date and time of such relentless self-induced torture…  We signed up for the three-day Memorial weekend training runs and before I knew it, I was living out of my REI duffle bag and Safeway foodstores, meeting and taking notes from some of the most knowledgeable WS veterans there are. 
The remainder of the initial day included the most grueling 5-miler I've slogged through in recent memory - luckily I could blame Finch and the elevation for such an embarrassment.  We talked strategy, necessities, and pacing requirements; all of this obviously fueled by some decent local brews and pizza to ensure proper nutrition was in check.  Dan, Matt, Finch, and I then found our way back to the Truckee Inn in our adorably matching Versa and Aveo - the only thing that could have questioned our sexual orientation more would have been packing all four of us into one of the cars.  I take that back, Dan and I spooning throughout the night after knowing each other just a few hours questioned it more…no complaints though, it was cold.

Friday, June 24th, 2011
ou'd think that the body would want more than seven hours of sleep after traveling 3000+ miles and staying active for 25 hours - I'll assume sleep-deprivation is on its way.  We rose to a beautiful day and Hudson Bay Bread for breakfast.  The two bar challenge (TBC) will forever be acknowledged as the greatest 1000 calories to grace my lips at such as hour, especially after a night full of Truckee massages.  We helped Joe and Britt pack then saddled up ourselves back to the runners' central in Squaw.  After a few pit stops for coffee and snacks, Finch found himself in a bind without his Ultima - a diabetic energy drink…I still question its efficacy.  Fortunately, this landed us in Tahoe City.  Though a complete tourist trap, the area was great to see - Lake Tahoe appeared to live up to its expectations and now lives vividly in my memory, in hopes of seeing it again someday soon.
We arrived at the Squaw Valley Lodge in time to socialize for a moment before the mandatory runners' meetings began.   Here, we were introduced to the major players of the annual WS event - most credibly defined by Tim Twietmeyer, then followed by this year's top contenders.  I was jealous and intimidated as Nick Clark and Kilian Jornet raised their hands in acknowledgment of their recent accomplishments; and I fell in love with future Mrs. Jurek, Sandi Nypaver…I don't think Ashley will find out about this brief period of infatuation.
Joe received a little TLC from the infamous Gordy Ainsleigh as the meeting continued on in the California heat.  In the near future, when all was said and done, the 100-mile rookies peeled their fried skin from the sun-soaked grass, as the still vibrant veterans came out from the shade and returned to their slumbers.  It was still early in the day, so the noncompeting crew members decided to hit the slopes in our skank-shorts.  Matt, Britt, Dan, Steve, and myself began our trek up Emigrant pass - the first four miles of the WS100 departing from Squaw.  We gave that running thing a try, just to be embarrassed within seconds of putting down a 7-minute-per-mile pace.  Matt and Britt were quick to catch up.  We snagged a few great shots of the valley, focusing primarily on the greatest tree I've seen along with a 14-foot high snow drift that had yet to succumb to the sun's forces at 7000'.  The four miles to the ski chalet overlooking the Tahoe area was completed at a blistering pace that approached 15-minutes-per-mile.  And although the group was questioning our decision to sport skimpy-wear at this point, the view distracted our pain receptors as we posed for a few photo ops.
Much to our surprise, we found a hidden oasis at the chalet.  This domain was heavily guarded by lingering and persistent woodchucks, but since we had Dan the Man with us, our safety was well in check.  So, we stripped down as much as appropriately possible and enjoyed the times while they lasted.  The oasis failed miserably at providing heat, potable water, or fresh towels, but the pool and hot tub were generous enough to leave a memorable experience for us all.  Our two-hour hike wasn't well disguised by the 3.5 hour duration it consumed.  And our efforts to conceal our time well spent were blown by the reek of chlorine and sense of pleasure we brought off the mountain.  The remainder of the night included last minute note-worthy topics for the crew and pacers to be well-aware of, as well as a little dinner and a few more brews to keep the spirits artificially high.  Fortunately enough, earlier in the day I had ran into a couple East Coast friends who offered a grand spot on their hotel-room floor for the night, so I declined a ride back from the always-enthusiastic Finch - a great guy I must say; I just wish I had the energy he does on a daily basis…  After a relaxing time with the crew, I wished my temporary Big Spoon a farewell in hopes we'd sleep together again soon, and was off to socialize next door the eve of the 2011 WSER.  Bob Crowley and Chris Haley were deep in academic conversation by time I arrived - not to my surprise.  Bob is one of the greatest guys I know, and like my typical friends as of late, he has a few years on me; 34 to be exact.  Bob has homes on both coasts, but spends the majority of his time in Fair Oaks, CA - regularly cruising across the ALT and WS trails.  He and Chris are the founders of the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC) that has seemingly taken over the Boston trail ultra running scene.  I believe the club is nearly 1000 members and isn't slowing.  Bob earned his buckle at WS in 2010 after 3 DNFs; Chris is making his first running for WS finish this year, and is more prepared and more calm than any runner I've met - it's amazing to be in his presence; he has complete control and not an ounce of doubt.  We chatted over a brew and fell to our frigid, thinly-composed carpeted beds just after 10pm.  Seven hours 'til go-time.
June 25th, 2011
am. The alarm clock sounds; not quite as annoying as the average day.  In two hours I'll be privileged by witnessing the 38th official running of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run.  This year is rumored to be host to arguably the most talented field an ultra marathon has ever seen.  We'll see if it lives up to the expectations.  Geoff Roes does not appear to be a popular contender; instead the spry and heady 23-year-old Spaniard, Kilian Jornet, is proposed to take the title, possibly with another record-setting performance - an occurrence he is not unfamiliar to.  In any case, I'll be rooting for Dave Mackey, with hopes that the American minor Sean Pope can squeeze out a top 5 performance along with Nick Clark.
I quickly knocked down my fix of caffeine for the day with the TARC veterans before biding them a farewell until Foresthill.  By 4am I was back to the crew, and Joe was strapped, oiled, and ready to go.  Squaw Valley was struggling to hit the 40˚ mark, but it didn't matter.  With the anticipation for the race start, the runners, crew, and spectators gathered around the base of Squaw Peak, heating the base of the mountain with excitement for the day's event.  By 4:55am, the crowd was roaring and Cowman was dressed to the nines while lined up with the elites…quite a site to see.  The gun came as quickly as the crowd blazed up the mountain, but as expected with a 15-30 hour racing effort, walking was the preferred means of travel while scaling the 2500' climb.
Britt and I were off the Auburn post-race-start, with Nate and Will leading us.  We met up with Finch in hopes of catching a few more hours of sleep, but between the coffee and eagerness to stay connected with the race, we packed our gear and began our journey to Pacer Central.  Of course, a pit stop was required to restock our drugs of choice: candy, coffee, and beer.  And by 10:30am we had a prime location scouted out for our crew to enjoy the scene at Foresthill.  We socialized with a few fellow ultra-enthusiasts, along with a local or two - namely, the man who owned the home we were perched in front of along with a horse-owner who took much pride in having completed WS as a jockey.  We took our time getting settled, I took a few notes and we waited for the action to begin.
It was 2:27pm before our first glimpse of the front-runner came within sight: Kilian Jornet; along with his custom-fitted Solomon gear and professional pacer.  Soon after the line of front-runners came though: 2. Mike Wolfe, 3. Nick Clark, 4. Hal Koerner, 5. Jez Bragg, 6. Dave Mackey, 7. Tim Olsen…  It was an impressive stream of runners; clustered together as much as could be for rolling into mile 62 of a 100 mile race on a 90˚ day.  Meghan Arbogast and Craig Thornley were in high spirits coming off the medical check and continuing down the Cal Street decent - it was invigorating to see people twice my age with the ability to kick my ass at the single sport I consider myself fairly decent at…it's also funny how 'invigorating', 'humility', and slight 'embarrassment' come to mind at the same time…I guess sustainability truly is what we should be aiming for.
Joe rolled into the camp with surprisingly exquisite mental capacity, complacency, and overall robustness that any runner could have at this point.  He sat down for eight minutes - twice as long as he had hoped - all of which was needed to mend a few hoof issues, refuel, gain some confidence, and realize he was 60% done with the distance of the day.  Finch was fueled and thriving off the anticipation for the next 18-miles.  Joe got to his feet with ease and started down Foresthill Road to California Street with Finch at his side; in just 16 short miles it would be my turn to enjoy a little WS trail time with the 100-mile stud.
Matt and I made our way to Highway 49, through Cool, and down to the chapel where our shuttle to Green Gate awaited.  We grabbed a couple Throwback Mountain Dews for the journey and enjoyed a white-knuckling experience cruising down the back roads of the American River valley.  On our way, we discovered two 15-passenger vans are not meant to cross paths on these windy roads - Joe, you're lucky you saw Matt and I at the river - we were nearly sacrificed to the running gods.  We arrived with time to spare, and began the trek down past Green Gate to the Ruck-A-Chucky river crossing.  Of course, since we had extra time on our hands, we unknowingly found ourselves lost along with banks of the American River.  After a slight freak-out and panicked spirit back up the path, Matt and I caught our breaths and recollected ourselves in ideal fashion, allowing time to snag a few photos of the boat-assisted crossing before meeting Joe at mile 78.
I have to admit, this time, although Joe was responsive, that mental clarity I spoke of prior wasn't exactly there.  Matt, Finch, Joe and I made the two-mile climb up to Green Gate as a group, gearing up and making decisions as much as possible outside of the approved sights for assisting runners.  We ensured the headlamps and flashlights were in hand, Gu and water restocked, excessive gear dropped off, and consciousness at least partially present before making our way out of Green Gate.  Joe wasn't exactly in the best of moods, but in all honesty, who the hell would be?  Do you enjoy 20-mile runs in 90 degree heat, in the dark, while being dehydrated and energy-depleted, not to mention the fact that you're on a trail with roots and rocks, climbs and descents, and water-crossings?  Now, let's add 80 miles to your day before starting this adventure…I think my mood would be depleted too.
Joe's first request was to hold off on the stories and jokes until he had the energy to listen and comprehend again…I readily obliged, since after my incredibly exhausting day, this 2-mile run was already a little daunting (sarcasm present - this was not the time, nor did I have the audience to bitch to about being exhausted).  The aid stations were spread out very well and appeared to be frequent when looking at the map, but once on the trail, the miles seemed to extend past 1609 meters.  Needless to say, Joe pushed through the dark times and surprised me on numerous occasions with the will to keep forward progress, often running whether it was on the flats, ups or downs.  I could tell exhaustion was taking over, so per request, I continued to annoy the shit out of the poor man, robotically vocalizing cues to "stay efficient", "flick and pull", and keep the "toes up!".  For 18 of the 20 miles I was with Joe, I sympathized with him to the fullest extent, wishing I could help him across the stream-crossings or piggy-back him up the technical climbs.  I could feel his pain stabbing me in the back when he'd ask for me to slow down and listen to where he was behind me.  The dark didn't make the effort any easier, and neither did my infant attempts at cracking dead-baby jokes; no pun intended.  We entered each aid station with much appreciation and existed with rejuvenated aspirations for making it to the next.
By time we came through mile 93, the Highway 49 crossing, I had already blabbed on for over 2 hours about my crazy Kayla story and how that tied into an endless havoc being reeked on the UW-L social life.  Joe was now up to date, though the memory of such a rambling may not exactly exist.  But with each step we took toward the last crew stop until the finish line, even I was experiencing that tingly feeling you get when inspiration and feelings of accomplishment and desire surprise and override your system.  It was an amazing experience rolling into the Highway 49 aid station.  At this point, we all knew Joe was crossing the line in Auburn.  The volunteers refilled our bottles, Gu Brew for me, and Joe was enjoying Coke as a drink of choice the last 15 miles.  We popped a few pieces of fruit down the shoot and continued on with nothing but cheers echoing in the shadows as we blazed through the prairie.
The final miles of the race were quiet.  We didn't meet another runner, nor did I try initiating much of a conversation.  In my experience, when I'm tired, any indication of my running partner having more energy than me pisses me off and exhausts my energy reserves more than it should - I hope that's a reciprocal feeling among the ultra crowd.  Joe continued to take his 20-breath walking breaks, typically initiating the running trot quicker than I anticipated.  We made it through the final stretches with relative ease and minimal "f&*k!"s and "gall-darn-it!"s brought upon by toe-high roots and rocks that appeared endless along the trail.  No Hands bridge was noticed from a quarter mile away - a pretty great disco-ball was radiating halfway across the river.  Joe blew right through the station, in no need for fuel and rest in any form.  We were at mile 97.
Joe and I ran side-by-side along the American River before climbing to Robie Point.  I don't think exhaustion, fatigue, or pain experienced anymore, solely the need to cross the finish line.  With 2.5 miles to go Joe decided that a sub-20-hour finish meant nothing to him compared to crossing the line with his family.  I tried convincing him otherwise, but he wasn't having it.  We met Finch at Robie where earlier in the day a bear was spotted.  Us three completed the last inclines together and met the remainder of the crew at the white bridge, less than a mile from the finish.  Luckily, Joe's mental acuity was in check at that point, since Dan was giving us the pity-clap and "nice job runner", completely unconvinced that Joe was the man he was cheering on towards the finish.  After Joe's obligatory "well…are you coming?" they joined in the final efforts of a day well spent, and a trip that will never be forgotten.  Joe finished in 20:01.  He earned his buckle.

June 26th and 27th, 2011,
he crew was in high spirits and although Joe's CPK was nearly influencing a flu-induced state, we could tell the elation of his effort was the only thing on his mind.  We socialized with the a few others at the awards ceremony, including the TARC representatives from Massachusetts - three of three, no DNFs.  The rest of the day included a trip to the Auburn Alehouse, a pool-side party just outside of Auburn, and a good amount of brews down the hatch.  I will have to admit, we closed out the night first by sending a motorcycle off the diving board and followed that up with devirginizing our foursome (Dan, Steve, Finch, and I) for the second time of the In'N'Out burger experience.
Monday included a breakfast to send us off.  Britt and Joe headed back to Oregon, while the rest of us caught our flights to our respective homes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts.  It was a trip that will never be forgotten, and one that must be repeated.
 Joe, a final thanks to you for this opportunity.  I hope to experience the clusterf#&k of awesomeness toeing the line with you in the near future.