Running up, over and through the cogs

Posts tagged “Psychology

Golden Hour Dreams (or Nightmares): The 2017 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Race Report

19429677_10155361144566635_348515520655347049_n

A LONG TIME AGO…

Before I had even run a full marathon, I was a bona fide Western States aficionado. It was the summer of 2010, and having drastically changed my life (and appearance) by quitting smoking, exercising and eating right, I was training for my first half-marathon. On a run one day my mind got to thinking…

13.1 miles seems like a lot… but 26.2 miles seems like a lot more. I wonder if anyone has ever run more than a marathon. Nah… that’s crazy. No one could do that. Right?

I didn’t know. So I did what I often do in times of uncertainty: I summoned the Google oracle.

“Does anyone run more than a marathon?” I typed.

“ULTRAMARATHON MAN by DEAN KARNAZES” was the result: a book on running crazy distances just because.

BOOM. I bought it.

A few days later, I read it.

And I fell in love. I fell in love with the idea of running and running and running just to see what I might be made of. Dean went into great detail about an insane-sounding race in the Sierra Nevadas called the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. It championed self-discovery through physicality. It was described as a relentless test of the human spirit — an unprecedented ceremony of lunacy were participants run 100 miles up and over mountains and through valleys while suffering temperatures ranging from 20-110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some day… I am going to do THAT, I thought to myself.

I had no idea. It sounds silly now, mostly because I had very little experience distance running outside of the few months I had dedicated to training for a half marathon. But at the time I was desperately searching for meaning in my life. I didn’t know who I was or who I was becoming, but in reading Dean’s book I came away with the idea that the deep pains in my heart might find release if only I could somehow find a way to push past physical pain and let my feet discover worlds on their own, without limits.

FAST FORWARD TO DECEMBER 2016

Six years later and now a cagey veteran of countless ultra events (from 50ks to 50 milers to 100 milers), all of that time and dedication wandering in the woods with missing toenails finally paid off. After four years of trying with no success, the Western States running gods chose MY name out of the lottery and suddenly I am going to the big dance.

BOO YA!

BUT WHAT IS THE WESTERN STATES 100-MILE ENDURANCE RUN?

For those who aren’t ultra nerds, think of Western States as the Super Bowl of ultrarunning — the Cadillac of 100-mile running events. It’s Christmas morning for distance junkees. Steak and lobster for gluttons for punishment.

It’s also every expensive — not just the entry fee, but also the transportation, the lodging, the rental car, the crew accommodations, the supplies, the gear the food the blah blah blaaaaaaaahhhhhhh… I knew that if I got in I’d have to run it, conquer it and be satisfied that it would most likely be my one and only shot in this life.

Serious shit.

Back in 2013, I was lucky enough to be the pacer for a good friend of mine, Siamak Mostoufi in his mission to complete the Western States 100. I had a front row seat to magic that only kindled the fire of my dreams. Thereafter I patiently qualified, year after year, until I could finally get my opportunity at doing what most ultrarunners dream of doing.

When they called my name in the December 2016 lottery I told my wife, “We’re in!”

And we were in. No turning back.

THE CREW

In 100-mile races, it is quite common to have “crews”. A crew is an individual or group of individuals who help the runner (AHEM — crazy person) during the race by offering specific aid at various checkpoints throughout. Each runner/crew is unique, so their responsibilities may vary, but usually they center around providing food, drink, gear, clothing and moral support. Oftentimes a pacer is designated — someone who runs along with the runner through the second half of the race for safety reasons, pushing the runner to do his/her best when it might otherwise seem impossible.

I had a crew for my first 100-mile race, the Pinhoti 100 back in 2014. It was my dad (Mike); my buddy, Siamak; and my then-girlfriend now-wife, Edna.

For a trip as epic as the 2017 Western States, I had to get the band back together again. So we did!

19437796_10213011059541278_7757379099131396489_n

 

BAM. Good lookin’ group.

For this race their duties are:

Siamak – Crew Chief/Navigator
Dad – Driver/Head Cheerleader
Edna – Pacer/Love-of-my-life

Damn, I am in good hands.

JANUARY 1 2017 TO JUNE 23 2017

Life. Oh man, life.

Good things. Bad things. In-the-middle things.

Unpredictability. Yep, that’s about right.

Training? Yes, TRAINING!

I am a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, so I always stay in shape. I run. I box. I run short races. I spar. I run long races. I fight.

I lead aerobics classes. I hold focus mitts. I jump up and down in homage to Richard Simmons and I try to get folks excited about being healthy.

It’s good all-around training.

But it ain’t no mountains, man.

Western States is tough for a number of reasons, but it’s super tough for flatlanders like me because specificity training is impossible outside of traveling to a mountain somewhere — something that definitely isn’t in my budget.

Luckily my brain already knows what it’s like to suffer through 100 miles on foot. Did it at Pinhoti (2014), Hallucination (2015) and Mohican (2016).

In this sport, the brain trumps all.

RACE DAY – JUNE 24, 2017 – 5 A.M.

19399169_10158733244155062_2021602190061802167_n

Six months of preparation, positivism, nerves, nightmares, doubt, determination and DREAMS now come down to this: me against the Sierra Nevada, me against the canyons, me against the clock.

In our meetings last night and leading up to this I have been adamant to my crew that my only goal is to finish this race under the 30-hour time limit. I don’t care if I’m dead-fucking-last, just let me finish before they stop the clock.

This game plan seems particularly appropriate considering the conditions this year. Record snowfall in Squaw Valley has left a blanket of white on the first 15 miles of the course, something that will be difficult to navigate while either climbing or descending. Then, once we get past the high country, we will be in for heat in the mid to high 90s.

Yay.

3… 2… 1…

WE’RE OFF!

I’m doing this… I’m running Western States… I’M REALLY RUNNING WESTERN STATES!!!!

And now I’m walking Western States.

The race starts out with a few seconds of flat… followed by four miles and 2100 feet of  straight up climbing. I am walking this.

And I’m walking… and walking.

Walking!

I pay little attention to the fact I am at the very back — that there’s only 7 or 8 people behind me… out of 369!

Man, come on, grandpa! You gonna go this slow the whole way? I ask myself.

Taketh what the course giveth, man.

I’m working hard just to keep this steady uphill pace. I can’t concern myself with what everyone else is doing. If I’m slow, I’m slow. It’s going to be a long day no matter what. Better to not burn out before I’ve even gotten started.

So on I labor.

It’s not long before we’re in snow. Going up. Slipping. Sliding. Climbing. Struggling.

At the top of the escarpment I take in the view, then start to navigate down. Slipping. Sliding. Struggling.

I’m mostly going downhill now, but there’s little to no running happening. Every time I try to jog down I end up on my ass. My hands are already scratched and numb from multiple falls on the crunchy snow and now I’m just trying to stay on my feet.

It’s early, but already I can feel the stress and strain in my legs.

Staying upright is tough, man!

Time is not my friend right now. I look down at my watch and know I am in trouble. ALREADY! It’s been three hours and I still haven’t made it to the first aid station.

Don’t panic. Not yet. Just keep your ass moving.

Slipping, sliding, struggling.

3 hours and 8 minutes after the gun went off, I finally arrive at Lyon Ridge, mile 10.3.

Get that? 10.3. It took me 3 hours and 8 minutes to go just 10.3 miles! I’ve run marathons faster than that! What the hell!?!?

And oh look, the cutoff of for this aid station is 10:00 a.m. The average time for a 30-hour runner to reach this station is 7:40 a.m., putting me 30 minutes behind right off the bat. I ain’t got no time to stay here. RUN, FOREST, RUN!

I fill my bottles and go. SCARED.

Running scared, running scared, running scared.

A few ups, a few downs, a few face plants, and now… MUD. Why not?

What the hell… mud… and muck and snow and mud. I keep moving the best I can. There aren’t many people behind me. I’m at the back. Every time I look behind, I see panic on peoples’ faces. Gotta stop doing that. Gotta stop doing that myself.

DON’T PANIC. NOT YET.

Okay, one foot in front of the other and we’ll get through this.

I think.

I reach a mud bog — the sort of thing that ate Artax in The Neverending Story and makes me cry every time I see it. Still.

Left foot goes in. Right foot goes in. Left foot comes out. Right foot comes out… but without a shoe.

FUUUUUUUUUCCCK.

Right foot goes back in, shoeless… and now I’m digging through the mud elbow deep looking for my shoe.

I find it, pull it out and shun the Western States gods because now it is chock full of mud and a bazillion tiny rocks, same as my shoeless foot.

0133735_42657_MC_Tx360

P-A-N-I-C.

How am I going to go on now?

I slip the shoe back on and feel every single stone. I hobble over to a large rock, sit my already-tired ass down and assess the situation:

Okay, my right foot and shoe are caked in mud/rocks/grit/evil. I have water. I have water in my bottle. Yes…

I rinse my foot and sock off with the water, getting rid of most of the adhered stones. I rinse out my shoe the same way, taking the insole out and squirting it down with everything I have. I get as many of the rocks out as I can, slide the insole back in, shove the shoe on my foot and GET MY ASS BACK ON THE TRAIL.

Now I’m really behind the clock.

Gotta go! Wish I could! This shit is hard!

I get to an aid station but blow through it not knowing where I am. I go a ways and get to another one. Is this the second? Or third? Where am I? The only thing I saw going through was the cut-off time I’m just barely ahead of it so move, move, move!

I’m running scared. Keep moving. I try to eat but can’t. That’s not good. Usually I can eat anything in an ultra. Right now the thought makes me nauseous. I suck down some gels I’m carrying. I can drink, so I do that.

I traipse down a long descent and finally reach the bottom. It feels different here though. I start my way up, up and up… and now… now I know what’s different: IT’S FRIGGIN’ HOT, MAN.

I climb. And climb. And CLIMB. I’m getting tired. I’ve BEEN tired.

Minutes go by. Lots of them. I forget where I am. Am I at mile 20? 25? I’m all alone. No one around me. It’s just me and this heat and this trail and these trees and I’m hot and my heart rate is soaring and I feel like I’m gonna be sick.

I stop.

Throw up, man. You’ll feel better, I tell myself. But I can’t.

Some deep, steady breaths calm me some, but I’m struggling. Gotta keep moving. I do the best I can.

But now my mind wanders…

I’m not gonna make it. It’s almost 2 o’clock and I haven’t even made it to Duncan Canyon yet… right? Wait, where am I? Am I close to Robinson Flat or do I still have a ways to go? I’m confused. And tired. And sore. ALREADY.

This is too much for me. What am I going to say to my crew? To my students back home? To my wife?

And here I am: STILL climbing. Good grief. This is so dumb.

“Mi amor!!” I hear.

“Mi amor?!?” I yell back, delirious. “Mi amor, is that you?”

“Sí, Papi! Good job! Te amo, mi amor!”

It’s Edna! My wife! My beautiful Mexican wife!

If she is here then… that means I must be at… Robinson Flat! Mile 30! And it’s 1:35 p.m. so I’m not out of the race yet! I’m alive!

Good grief, I’m aliiiiiiiiiiiiiive!!

“Mi amor,” I say cresting the climb, falling into her arms… “Estoy jodido… I’m suffering. I don’t know… I’m just…”

She stops me: “What do you need? You want food? Ice?”

“Ice, yes. Food… I can’t eat. I need gels. Please. And Coke. I can drink Coke.”

She kisses me then runs off ahead to where Dad and Siamak are waiting with supplies. I can’t help but smile thinking I really won the wife lottery by getting her. I love her, man. I really do.

19247888_10155312003457778_5854749031541476428_n

I stumble into the aid station and get can of Coke. They top off my bottles with ice water and as I move forward I see Dad and Siamak with my buff full of ice, ready to go.

“I’m messed up, man,” I tell Siamak delirious. “The climbing. It’s a lot. I’m shot. My feet. I can’t eat. Just fruit and water and soda really.”

19437262_10155312003217778_5405249679290971051_n“You just got out of a tough climb to get here,” he replies.

“If somehow I survive this, I mean, looking at the time, if I can keep in the race, I don’t think I’ll make it to Michigan Bluff before 8:30 p.m. See if Edna can be ready to pace by then. I will need her.”

“I got you, man. Don’t worry.” he says.

“The next part is going to be easier, mi amor,” says my wife running back towards me.

“Really?” I perk up, chugging Coke. *BELCH*

“Yeah, a little climb then some downhill to the next station,” says Siamak. “It’s going to get hotter and hotter so stay wet. Keep this buff full of ice from here on out.”

I say goodbye. It’s 1:40 p.m. and I don’t have much time. Twenty minutes before they close this station. FUUUUUCK.

Gotta move. Gotta move.

“You can do it, mi amor. You are strong. I know you can.” She stays with me for a bit, shoves gels in my pack and kisses me goodbye.

If she thinks I can do it, damnit, maybe I CAN do it. Let’s go!

*BELCH*

What happens next is pretty wild:

I… AM… RUNNING!!!

Iced down… re-fueled… having seen my wife… I am a new man. And I start to pick up the pace, running hard on the downs, power-hiking like a champ on the ups and pumping my arms hard so my legs will follow on the rare flat.

Miller’s Defeat (mile 34.4), Dusty Corners (mile 38), Last Chance (mile 43.3). I’m rocking it now. How? Ice, maybe. Drinking Coke and eating *BELCH* watermelon? I don’t know. My wife said I could do it so I better prove her right.

I leave Last Chance and cascade down to the bottom of the hot canyon knowing that the hardest climb of the day is coming up. There’s a creek at the bottom of the descent, and when I get there it looks like Hot Tub Time Machine because there’s four people sitting in it, including me. Unlike a hot tub, this water is COLD and REFRESHING and JUST WHAT I NEED before attempting the long, arduous climb up Devil’s Thumb.

The water brings my core temperature down and numbs my beaten feet. I take off up the climb, keeping my head down, trying not to count any of the 36 switchbacks that make up Devil’s Thumb.

It’s slow. But steady. I just power through. Every once in a while I feel sick so I stop and breathe. And then get going again. It’s a bitch. But at least I’m getting through it.

Forever and a day later, I finally reach the top… and what do I find? CARNAGE.

Lots of folks here in chairs, beaten, puking, demoralized.

Not me. Can’t stay here. Gotta go. I got a date with my wife at Michigan Bluff and I gotta get there NOW.

I slam some Coke, eat some fruit and get on my way.

Down, down, down to El Dorado Creek (mile 52.9) only to go back up, up, up towards Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7).

As I get close, I hear people talking on the ridge above me and I know I’m almost to Edna so I just pump my arms like a champ to make myself move that much quicker. I take a quick assessment and know that if I have time I should try to change my socks here. Both my feet are on fire with blister hot spots and I fear the worst.

And then…

“MI AMOR!”

It’s Edna! And she’s ready to run! Yes!

“Mi amor! I’m so happy to see you!” I say.

“You did good, mi amor, going faster. You made good time. What do you need?”

“I need to change my socks and I need Ensure. I can’t eat anything but fruit and soda without feeling sick.”

“Okay, I will get it ready, then we will run together! Te amo, mi amor!”

Edna runs ahead and I see it’s 8:35 p.m. I’m 15 minutes ahead of 30-hour pace and an hour and ten minutes ahead of the cutoff.

Hallelujah. I might just fucking do this.

Rolling in to Michigan Bluff, I follow Edna’s voice as she leads me to Dad and Siamak where they have a camp chair ready along with a sock change and Ensure. For the first time all day long, I sit down. It feels good.

Don’t get comfortable though. Gotta keep moving.

Removing my socks I can now see that my feet are macerated and I know there’s no stopping the blisters now. We can only hope to contain them.

Gonna be a bit painful over the next 45 miles but if I finish it’ll be worth it so don’t cry over that now.

My crew has me in and out and on my way with my pacer, my love, my wife and for the first time in almost 16 hours I actually feel like I can do this.

Hell yeah.

19442027_10155043793364340_2699433144238607988_o

I spend the next two hours being Chatty Cathy, telling Edna every little detail leading up to where we are now. The high country. The snow. The mud suck. The climbs. The panic. The pain. The defeat. The descents. The joy. The return. The triumph. The love.

Being here. Right now.

Now is easy. I’m with my girl. I let her set the pace and all I have to do is follow.

It’s dark. We turn on our headlamps and slow ever so much as our vision narrows. Still, before I know it, we’re at Foresthill (mile 62) and Dad and Siamak are again there waiting for us.

We say hi and grab a Red Bull (I think) but we don’t stay long. Keenly aware of the clock, Edna has me in and out the station, making me run hard down to Cal-1 (mile 65.7), Cal-2 (mile 70.7) and Cal-3 (mile 73).

I’m doing relatively well (awake, alert, semi-stable), but on the steep drops the loose rock footing of the trail starts to have a negative effect on my knees (both stiff and achy) and feet (severely blistered, everywhere).

I start to let out little screams on the descents.

OUCH!

SHIT!

FUUUUUUUCK!!!

“I know, mi amor. Me too. Me too. Está bien, vámanos!”

Around 3 a.m. I start to get sleepy. Yawning. Belching still occasionally and then yawning and stumbling some more. Edna splits a 5-Hour Energy with me.

YEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAAA!

Back to life, right on down to the river.

We get to Rucky Chucky (mile 78) and Dad and Siamak, once again, are waiting for us handing out Ensures, ice and lots of encouragement.

We don’t stay long. Edna is adamant about getting in and out of aid stations. She did her homework and knows all the cut-off times. She is working hard to buy time so I can stay well ahead of that 30-hour mark. She is awesome.

We say goodbye to Dad and Siamak and, like we’d just went down the ultra rabbit hole, some volunteers put glow-in-the-dark necklaces around our necks and push us towards raft boats while saying “Welcome to the River Crossing!”

This is like Disneyland, I thought to myself. Ultra Disneyland. Why not.

We begin to cross the river in a raft with an Irishman (I remember because of the accent) and a few other crazy folks who thought running 100 miles in the Sierra Nevadas might be “fun”.

Hmmm. I like ultras. Mostly when I’m done running them. And I usually enjoy the first 10-20 miles before my legs go to shit… but to be honest, I haven’t “enjoyed” much of this race. It has been mostly suffering. Then again, suffering makes non-suffering WAY better than suffering…

“We’re here!” the boat captain says.

“Vamos, mi amor!”

“Ándale!”

We go. Sorta. We climb. Up to Green Gate. It’s a long climb and my sluggish legs and labored heart are starting to revolt.

I feel sick again. My heart rate soars. I have to stop and catch my breath several times.

“You can do it, mi amor!”

Okay, okay, okay… if you say so. I try. I do the best I can. We reach the top of Green Gate (mile 79.8) well ahead of the cut-off and even though my body is throbbing with question marks in the way of blisters, knee pain, busted toenails and aches, I start to feel like this is probably going to happen for me.

NOT YET! Don’t let your mind wander. Not yet. Stay focused. Anything can happen.

Indeed. Head down. Plug away.

“The sun will bring us back to life, mi amor,” says my wife, noting the chirping birds and squeaky rays of sun bursting through the trees. I know those same rays are going to scorch me as I try to get to the finish line but I welcome them anyway. I could use some pep in my step.

We get to Auburn Lake Trails (mile 85.2) and dig some Ensure and Red Bull out of our drop bag while a man dressed as a hot, mini-skirt clad nun fills my water bottles with ice water. I’m not sure if it’s really a man or really a nun or a woman or what but I’m laughing because it’s six in the morning and I’ve been running all night through the wilderness with my hot wife and some busted blistered feet so I don’t know I just ahhhhhhh what the hell go with it.

The Ensures are keeping me alive! Yay for dietary supplements for the elderly! My wife was SUPER SMART TO BRING THEM!

ALSO…. I like fruit!

And ice is cool, man!

Are we having fun yet?

It’s getting hot. Sun is coming out. Just following my wife now. Not saying much. Thinking less. My feet hurt. Fuck. Every step is a bomb in my shoe. Ugh.

We’re at Pointed Rocks (mile 94.3) and Dad and Siamak are there feeding me Ensure again, stuffing ice in my face and neck and BUUUUUUUUUUURN.

The ice is good but since I’ve been wet basically all day long; I am chafed all over, especially down there, so now I’m aware of that as well and oh yay isn’t this some kind of awesome party with genital chafing, blisters and rocks in your shoes? I must be a VIP.

But hey, I’m okay! I’m going to finish. I think! We’re 15 minutes ahead of 30-hour time and 45 minutes ahead of the cut-off so no matter what we gotta get going!!!

19424223_10212644137953925_7780259061428560931_n19510673_10212644138033927_3610192223232529994_n

“See you in Auburn!” I tell the crew as they we fly jog plod off.

Just six miles to go!!!

It hurts but we move anyway… racing that damn clock!

I LOVE MY WIFE! SHE IS AWESOME! I LOVE NATURE! IT IS AWESOME! I LOVE ENSURES! THEY ARE AWESOME!

We reach No Hands Bridge (mile 96.8) and stop only to be doused in ice water before we get right back to running. AND WE ARE RUNNING! High turnover! Get those legs moving. I gotta finish this shit!

SLAM! BAM! RAMA LAMA DING DONG!

I stub my right toe into a rock and the toenail gets flipped up, perpendicular to my toe! What the FRANKENSTEIN?!?!

AHHHHHHH! I scream. I stop and bend down and try to fix it but Edna’s says, “No, we have to keep moving, mi amor!”

“But it hurts! It hurts bad!”

“Ya sé, pero vámanos. It’s our last chance. We have to push. We can’t stop. Vámanos!”

Damn it, she’s right. Don’t cry. Suck it up, buttercup. Just another lost toenail.

imrs.phpWe keep running downhill and as we finally start our final big ascent up towards Robie Point I notice I have the Curt Schilling bloody sock thing going as blood soaks through to the top of my shoe. GNARLY!

Never mind, we gotta keep busting ass. Less than an hour before the finish line shuts down let’s get going!!!!

We climb up, up, up… “Welcome to Robie Point!” they say to cheers and claps and drums? And bells? And whistles?

Or is that just happening in my head?

Doesn’t matter. We’re almost done. We’re on blacktop now. Mile 98.9. People from the town of Auburn are out and cheering. They’re smiling. They’re making me feel like a million bucks.

The next several minutes are a blur until I see Siamak… he’s elated, jumping out of his skin.

“Man you kicked ass!” he says whipping out his phone, recording Edna and I as we enter the Placer High School track for the last 300 meters of this monster race.

We’re running. Floating. SOARing.

This is really happening. Now.

19400051_10155315041367778_6397119403430831951_n19420906_10155315041232778_7416826256425477962_n

From a depressed, overweight smoker who decided enough is enough… to a curious newly fit young adult who wondered if people could really run more than a marathon… to a seasoned ultra vet with one last wish to run the coveted Western States 100… alongside his hot wife for that matter… and now look… dreams are coming true.

Good grief I am in heaven.

Edna and I hold hands as we cross the finish line in 29 hours, 38 minutes, 45 seconds.

I kiss her and thank her and look for a Coke.

EPILOGUE

The 2017 Western States was a doozy, no doubt. The numbers prove that. Regardless of the conditions, I pictured myself as a Golden Hour finisher, and that’s exactly what we did. The Golden Hour refers to the last hour that participants have to finish the race; and this year there were two who just skated in, one with only 8 seconds to go.

Fucking magic, man.

But wait, there’s more:

I have a great Dad who went out of his way to help me and the crew. Not being able to get around real well himself, he sacrificed his body to make sure I got what I needed when I needed it. He was also the one driving everywhere, not easy in these remote areas. He’s been there for all the big events and for that I am truly grateful. Thanks, Baba!

Also, I want you to know that my buddy, Siamak is a champ! He is so smart and quick-thinking and calming. He was a great crew leader. He also took some great photos and videos — images I will cherish forever.

And did you know? My wife is the BEST! I love you, mi amor! Edna was such a great pacer. She ran 45 miles herself and never once complained about anything. She was on her game, quick with splits, cut-offs, milestones. She was on it, shoving gels in my face and making me suck it up when everything got blurry. I wouldn’t have made it without her.

The race itself… man, what can one say? The volunteers, the management, the everything… TOP NOTCH. The aid stations were superb. Everyone there was there to help. It was a family.

I felt loved.

I also felt the pain… of the terrain, of course. My feet were hamburger. My chafing was major league. The struggle was real. It’s been a few days and I’m still limping.

People often ask me why I would subject myself to such torture and the only thing I can really think of is that I like to see what I can do on my own two feet. When I know I can run 100 miles through hell and back, suddenly life gets easier. I’m able to do much more than I ever thought I could. I try a little harder. I go a little further. I stick with things a little longer.

It makes me a better friend, husband, person.

Through it all, I find out who I am.

And for someone who spent most of his life not having a clue who he was, that’s pretty damn powerful.

 

Advertisements

Joys of a Journey that Never Ends

“We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”

E.B. White

jeff and edna namibia 2016 1

Me, greeting and embracing my wife, Edna, at the finish line of Racing the Planet’s 2016 250k Sahara Race (Namibia)

You won’t be able to do that forever, you know.

You’ll ruin your knees.

You’re too skinny.

I’ve heard it all before. Keep running like you do and you’ll be sorry.

WRONG.

I’ll be ecstatic! And guess what… I am!

Before I found running I was an overweight, depressed young man with little to look forward to. I was wandering the earth (from my couch) lost, disconnected socially, struggling to define myself.

Getting off my ass saved my life and sent me on a journey that has taken me all over the globe. It led me to start my own successful business. It’s how I found my wife.

You won’t be able to do that forever, you know.

You’ll ruin your knees.

You’re too skinny.

jeff-lung-before-and-after

Um… no.

I started this blog 5 years ago knowing on I was on the cusp of something special. The changes that were taking place in my body and in my mind were beyond positive. I was excited to wake up every morning, to see what great things I could do in my community, to see where the boundaries of limitations might be on any given day, only to push them back a bit further and transform into a better version of myself. I wanted to share my journey. I wanted to inspire others.

Though my posting frequency has dropped off a bit this year, I am happy to report that the journey is alive and well. In May, I accompanied my (now) wife, Edna Jackeline Vazquez, to Namibia as she raced another 250k across the desert. I tagged along as a race volunteer, much like I did last year in China, and once again, I was extremely impressed with the amount of love, strength and fortitude the ultrarunning community provides. The amount of individual accomplishments witnessed in just one of these 7-day stage races is enough to fill a lifetime. I have now been lucky enough to volunteer at two of them; and I must say I am now eager (and mentally prepared) to compete myself, someday soon. Meanwhile, my wife only has one more race to go, The Last Desert: Antarctica, before she becomes a member of the ultrarunning elite 4 Deserts club.

jeff and edna namibia 2016 2

In June, with just one hour and two minutes to spare before the 32-hour cutoff, I crossed the finish line of the Mohican Trail 100, arms raised, legs shot, brain fried. It was a grueling, soul crushing challenge that I never gave up on, despite not being in the best mental space. A full report is certainly in order, but the short version is that I had to adapt from the original race plan and dig deep to finish all on my own, without a pacer, fighting an overwhelming desire to sleep and the urge to quit entirely.

I also sat in a hot tub in my hotel after the race which deserves a report of its own. I highly recommend.

Jeff Lung Mohican 100 2016

In July, I got married! I married my ultimate pacer for life, Edna, whom I met through… yep, RUNNING… thus completing (and also starting anew) the continued life-as-an-ultramarathon metaphor. It was a glorious day filled with love, joy and Michael Jackson dance moves. Te amo, mi amor!

jeff and edna wedding

My business continues to make a difference in the lives of those looking for change. I am thankful to be witness every day to life altering hard work and dedication. Losing weight, getting stronger, being the best versions of themselves possible — my students continue to impress with their willingness to explore their limits on the paths of their own journeys. A young boxer I work with, Alex “The Bull” Garcia, is the epitome of such hard work and dedication. He comes to work hard every day, striving to be the best he can be, knowing that sport can be the door to an open mind and a brighter future.

Iron Lung Fitness boxing

In Alex Garcia’s corner of his most recent match which he dominated and won.

My own boxing career continues as well as I prepare for an October 1 bout in Libertyville (more details to come). Meanwhile, Edna and I are planning to make a reappearance at the Evergreen Lake Ultra (51 Miles), a race we thoroughly enjoyed back in 2014, as well as run the 2016 Chicago Marathon, together. The latter will be the ultimate combination of my favorite race meets my favorite person. We plan to run side by side the whole way.

I look forward to celebrating in the streets!

So to my fellow run crazies, the next time someone says to you:

You won’t be able to do that forever, you know.

You’ll ruin your knees.

You’re too skinny.

Just remember:

It saved my life.

It brought me my wife.

It gave me a reason to get up and be the best version of myself possible, each and every day.

jeff and edna wedding selfie

 

 

 


Melting All the Way: The 2015 Christmas in July 24 Hour Race Report

11755143_10155737921380062_1242472985543843937_n It’s July 17, 2015, and here I am getting ready to run my first race of the year.

For 24 hours.

Go big or go home… that’s the most fitting cliche for the moment. I have a feeling that in a few hours I’m going to want to go home.

But I won’t. I’m here to move. For 24 hours. Whether I log 100 miles or 50, I won’t quit… unless a bone is sticking through my flesh. Please don’t let it come to that.

Think positively. 100 miles would be nice.

Last year, at this same race, I fought my way to 94 miles, something I felt really proud of. But the idea that I was only 10k shy of a century mark has been gnawing at my conscience for a whole year now. In my mind, 100 miles is definitely doable. In my body, hmm… not so much.

While I have been running regularly since my first 100 mile conquest, my training focus was on boxing all winter and spring. My “long runs” became 8-9 easy miles or a fast 10k with weights in my hands. The result was victory for my fight game, but when I started to stretch the legs out in May, my body had a hard time reckoning just how much work it takes to build up the endurance necessary for the extra far efforts. I got in few long runs with Edna on the weekends, then we went to China. My training stalled.

I have heard it from many before in relation to training, but this was the first time I experienced it in earnest: life got in the way.

So what!? Life rocks, man!

Indeed, it does. Life rocks. And if ultrarunning has taught me anything, it’s that the only limitations in life are the ones we put on ourselves. This maxim is not an invitation to recklessness, but rather a mantra for transcendence based on hard work, dedication and basic intelligence. Having already gone the 100 mile and 24 hour distance, I knew that even with limited training my brain could take over through any rough patch.

Ultras are mostly mental. I reminded myself of this. Training or not, I think I can get 100 miles. Let’s see what reality has in store!

Hours 1 – 7 (10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.)

This feels weird. Even though I’ve done it before, starting a race at 10:00 p.m. still feels a bit strange, like putting on someone else’s shoes before running for 24 hours weird.

Nope, these are definitely my shoes. I look down and second guess my choice of year-old, 900+ mile Nike Vomeros. The tread is still intact despite a ratty affair of frayed rubber from the toes. I wore these in the second half of last year’s race after my beloved Hokas left me blistered. I love the Hokas, but my memory of maceration is hard to kill and on the roads for this long I’d rather just start with a sure thing.

Pre-destruction photo with our friend, Nate.

Pre-destruction photo with our friend, Nate.

The RDs announce something in a megaphone that I can’t quite understand, and to the tune of quiet lightning in the sky, we’re off!

Everyone starts fast, of course. It’s halfway decent out right now, with temperatures in the high 70s. The forecast for the daylight hours calls for intense heat and humidity, so all 67 of us starters go out with what I assume is the same mindset: bank miles now, while we can.

The course is a .97 mile loop, same as last year, only in the reverse direction. Right away I can feel that it’s a bit easier than last year’s, which had a little more uphill to its design. An easier course is not something I’m going to complain about, so I just put my head down and go into spin mode.

Bank miles, bank miles…

Trying to maintain a 6-mile an hour pace, at the lone aid station I grab water and something to eat (whatever looks good at the time) every loop or every other loop. The soft lightning in the sky offers a little entertainment and I start to wonder if it will rain. The forecast said only a 20% chance, so I’m thinking it won’t.

While I’m thinking about it, the course gets crowded as the 12-hour runners join us. Among them is my buddy, Adam.

Adam and I go way back. We met each other during orientation week of our freshman year in college (1997? DAMN!).

This is Adam’s first ultra. Having shared some training runs with him and watched his build-up for his first marathon some time ago, it’s a joy to share some miles with him now. We are in a groove, both trying to get in as many decent miles as possible before the wheels come off late, and the time is flying by.

Also sharing miles with me in this first part are Nate and Todd, both of whom I’ve known for a few years now. Our constant chatter is a good deterrent for my already tired and tight leg muscles. Already? Damn. Keep drinking water. Maybe it’ll get better.

I keep drinking water. It’s not getting better.

But oh look, now it’s raining, and that’s… something different.

Why not? Ultras are the ultimate test in chaos management. Always expect something to go wrong. Heat, rain, gastrointestinal problems… plan for the worst, hope for the best. I’m trying to find joy in the sloppy, slick conditions. The rain is nice and cool.

For a couple of hours it comes down hard, then lets up some, then comes down hard again. I just smile. Ah hell, going to be out here a long time, I think to myself. Might as well try to enjoy it.

I am. I am enjoying it. Finding out more about myself through intense, focused exercise is the cornerstone to my understanding of self. But 6 hours in and already it’s quite apparent to me that today is not going to be a day for 100 miles. My hamstrings and calves keep tightening up. I stop and roll them out with a foam roller a couple of times and do my best to stretch here and there, but the only real thing that stops them from seizing up is going slow. Or walking. And the sun is coming…

Hours 7 – 17 (5:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)

As the sun creeps up over Lisle Community Park, the rain has stopped, and we are treated to a picturesque suburban landscape of a happy little lake surrounded by lots of green. The strung up Christmas lights decorating the course give way to the inflatable snowmen, Santas and reindeer — just more reminders of the ridiculousness of our task. Run around a circle for a day! In July! With Christmas stuff everywhere!

I can’t help but laugh. This is ridiculous! Why are we doing this again?

My feet are squishy and soft from the rain, my stomach is growling from hunger and my legs are already shot… with just 17 MORE HOURS TO GO! WOOO HOOO!

“We forget the pain,” I say to someone. “We always forget the pain. When we sign up for these things the only thing we remember is the satisfaction of crossing that finish line — of putting our feet up at the end of the day knowing we did some epic shit. But we always conveniently forget about the pain.”

I won’t forget about what I’m feeling right now. This sucks.

BUT I’M SMILING! Edna taught me that.

“Always smile,” she says. “You’ll feel better.” She’s right.

And now, as the heat and daylight starts to settle into my pores, I feel the strong desire to be by her side. I run/walk my way until I catch up with her. 11745956_10153394756807778_8357008692557729728_n

“Mi amor,” I say, “I want to be with you. Is that okay?”

She gives me that look that says: Is that okay? Of course, it’s okay. It’s awesome! Where have you been?!?!

Good, it’s settled then. We go forth together.

Maybe she thought I meant for just a while, but no, I mean, for the rest of the race. If I’m going to continue suffering, I want to be next to someone I like.

Of course… you could just…. quit, y’know. Stop running. Stop doing this. No one would care.

I would care! Sticking with Edna will help me fight back the urge to go home early too. We don’t quit. We came here to move for 24 hours. We’re moving our asses for 24 hours. The best we can.

We put our heads down and go to work. Together.

Run for a bit. Walk for a bit. Run for a bit. Walk for a bit.

Repeat.

A lot.

At some point there is bacon. And pancakes. I lose my mind. I eat as much as I can fit in my mouth.

Heads down. Going to work. Together. Run.

Walk. Run. Walk.

I’m… falling…. a… sleeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp

Time for a Red Bull, what Edna calls “El Diablo”. *CHUG CHUG CHUG*

BAM! We have wiiiiiiiiiiings! ZIP! BOOM! BAAAAHHHH! 11751425_10155737921430062_6608830427827327007_n Heads down. Going to work. Together.

Repeat.

Run. Walk. Shuffle?

Yeah, it’s a shuffle now.

It’s hot. We’re baking. Ice. We stuff ice in our hats, shorts, faces. I want to peel my skin off and put ice in my veins.

The 6-hour runners finished a long time ago. The 12-hour runners finished at 11 a.m., Adam included. He did awesome, logging 44.77 miles! His wife and kids come to cheer him on to the finish and in doing so, give Edna and I a much needed break.

See, even after 12 hours we’re still all smiles! 11048641_10153482407943069_7998481023091050546_o 11011743_10153482407923069_8596833271971798527_oOnce Adam and his family are gone — and all the other 12-hour runners — reality sets in: we have a long way to go. Also, the sun is brutal!

Edna and I move the best we can. Sweating. Slogging. Surviving.

I keep moving… one foot in front of the other… but my eyes… they are getting heavy… and… and…

“MI AMOR!” I hear.

The scream snaps me awake and I find myself a footstep away from walking into the lake.

“Where am I?” I ask, momentarily confused, unsure of who or where I am and what I am doing. I look at my watch. It’s 2 p.m. I’m running for 24 hours.

“This is some crazy shit,” I say to Edna.

“Mi amor, tenemos que tomar una siesta.”

She’s right. Ordinarily I wouldn’t want to take a nap during an ultra. I would do my best to push through without sleeping. But during today’s contest I have had a ton of Red Bull and I still can’t keep my eyes open. The heat and humidity keeps slamming the door shut on my consciousness. I need a nap.

At 2:15 p.m. we sink into our camp chairs, feet up, hats over our eyes. I’m out before I can even — zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Hours 17 -24 (3:00 p.m to 10:00 p.m.)

I wake up to a violent gust of wind that knocks my hat off. “What the…”

The canopy tent under which we sit is trying its hardest to fly off into the distance. Luckily, it’s anchored well and we have a little cover from the choppy sprinkles of rain that follow the strong gusts. Is it going to rain again? I wonder. That’s just what we need. 

As soon as my mind recovers enough to conjure up the worst case scenarios, the rain has stopped.

“I’m hungry,” says Edna as we cautiously find our way back to our feet.

“Me too. Let’s go to the aid station and see what they have.”

Before we can, Nate circles back around to us and asks, as if sent by the gods, “Are you guys hungry?”

How did he know? Was it our sunken cheeks? Our frail disposition? The fact that we’ve been running in circles all night?

Everything moves in slow motion, like a scene out of a Scorsese flick, when you know either something awesome or something awful is going to happen in the next few seconds. Nate walks over to his cooler, lifts the lid and reveals a home cooked Filipino meal of pork sausage, flavor-packed cured beef and sticky white rice. AWESOME!

I try not to shove it all into my mouth at the same time.

Is this an eating contest or a running contest? I’d be doing better if it were the former.

“This food is delicious,” I can’t stop saying. Edna loves it too. I have to check myself to make sure I’m not making hog noises as I (ironically) devour the pork sausage. It’s the perfect combination of salt and fat and flavor and… do we have to keep running or can we just stop and eat now?

Just a few bites before immobility, I manage to put the food away and get back to my feet. Edna follows suit and we head out to finish the rest of our pain-filled voyage.

Heads down. Going to work. Together.

We talk. A lot. We figure if we can get through events like this, we can get through life together. Right? It’s hard to not love someone who is there for you, blisters, chafing and all. Plus, we keep dipping our hands in the same jar of Vaseline (IMPORTANT MEDICAL ADVICE: don’t dip your hand in our jar of Vaseline).

The heat won’t go away. It digs deep into our bodies, slowing us, daring us to quit. But our goal is relentless forward progress and in this we will succeed. You’d be hard pressed to find two people more stubborn than Edna and I and there’s no stopping us today. Our minds are made up.

Someone, a spectator, randomly hands us two ice cream sundaes. It really IS Christmas in July!!! WOW!! We SLUUUUUUUURP the ice cream so fast that our mutual embarrassment for one another cancels out. Life is beautiful ain’t it? You go run in the sweltering heat for 24 hours and some random stranger gives you ice cream. What more do you want?

Heads down. Going to work. Together.

I have been reading “A Brief History of Mexico”, so now is a convenient time to discuss pre-Columbian Mexican history with someone close to the subject. Somehow our discussion meanders off towards Lady Guadalupe and all the iterations of the Virgin mother outside of Santa María.

Meanwhile, time ticks… and ticks… and ticks. There is more ice. More shuffling. Every once in a while we try to “run” but we quickly find ourselves back in shuffle mode. We don’t care. We’re all smiles.

What’s the alternative? Being pissy? Aggravated? We signed up for this shit, man! And we are going to finish. The sun is finally going down now and the remaining field of runners is scarce; but we have survived. We’re going to go the whole 24, which is exactly what we came here to do.

Damn it feels good to reach a goal. That’s why I do these things — these insane tests of endurance that call upon one’s mental and physical toughness to succeed. I love what they do to my mind, the conversations they start; and I love that I always leave them finding out something new about myself.

Today, as Edna and I approach the finish line of yet another extreme event — one that beat us down with intense rain, heat, humidity and and overall desire to bail — I realize that I am a better version of myself with her by my side. I know that I can trust her to help me get where I want to go, in races and in life. We are good for each other. We make a good team.

TEAM JEDNA…

WE CROSS THE LINE…

Me with 70.05 miles, Edna with 65.19 — among 19 of 67 who stuck out the whole 24 hours — both of us with surreal smiles and slightly sunburned noses. 11745498_10155737921495062_7399069685831672766_n 11760071_10153178485939125_5030164948545585419_n


“The Champ Is Here!”

Jeff Lung 2015 Golden Gloves Final

(Image courtesy of Tomba Images)

I did it! I really, truly DID IT!

Six months after crossing the finish line of my first 100 mile-race, I held up my first Chicago Golden Gloves Championship trophy!

(with cornerman Melvin Miller, Jr.)

(with corner-man Melvin Miller, Jr.)

I’m not sure how many endurance athletes make the successful transition from all-day runners to amateur boxing champs, but I’m glad to say I can (and did!) do it.

15- Lung vs Yano-01

(Image courtesy of Tomba Images)

(image courtesy of Tomba Images)

(Image courtesy of Tomba Images)

(Image courtesy of Tomba Images)

(Image courtesy of Tomba Images)

Of course, I got some much needed encouragement from this raucous crowd of Iron Lung Fitness enthusiasts!

IMG_3160With a conscious effort to avoid hyperbole, I cannot help but admit: that was one of the greatest nights of my life. I was lucky to share it with so many awesome people. Special thanks to my family, to my fiancée, to my corner-man and to my hardworking Iron Lung Fitness athletes, all of whom motivate and inspire me to be the best ME I can be.

Every. Single. Day.

I wish I could give a detailed report of the championship bout, but to be honest, I only remember a few key moments: the standing eight counts and the first round knockdown. All the rest is a blur — an all-out, instinctual, anaerobic apex of a blur.

Luckily, we have the video:

 

And from a different angle, in the crowd:

 




At the end of the fight I took a deep look inward and asked myself: what’s harder, running a hundred miles or fighting for six minutes?

I still don’t know. A hundred miles hurts like hell, for a loooooong time. A boxing match only hurts for a little bit (one hopes), if at all, but then again, you have to deal with the fact that someone is trying to hit you in the face as hard as he can.

So while I may not know which one is the tougher test, the good news is I have plenty of time to keep up the experiment.

And you know I will.

More details to come…

2015-04-10 23.04.51

***
Are YOU ready to train like a champion? Do you want lose weight? Get stronger? Do you want to build that dream body, improve your race times or qualify for Boston? Go to Iron Lung Fitness and start training with me today!


Road Work: Long Distance Running as Ultimate Primer for Boxing

jeffery the iron lung boxingThose who choose to participate are subject to pain — acute and otherwise — a pain that must be faced, must be endured. They must stand up against bouts of adversity, must learn to think on the fly.

They must always stay in the moment.

They must face their greatest fears.

With all of the above, I could be talking about the long distance runner.

Or I could be talking about the boxer.

I’m talking about both.

For the last four years, boxing has been an integral tool in my long distance training kit. An all-body workout that requires combined leg and core strength paired with hand-eye coordination and mental toughness, the aerobic and anaerobic training potential boxing provides is as varied as its practitioner is creative.

And you don’t even have to take punches.

jeff lung boxing training 3In fact, most people who train in the sweet science don’t take punches. They train to be in shape, to burn calories, to de-stress. I love running long, no doubt, but I admit, there is no stress reliever quite like punching something. Walk into any boxing gym and you will find people of all sizes — all backgrounds and states of fitness — doing just that: enjoying their stress relieving workout.

For the long distance runner, boxing is a low impact cross trainer that takes advantage of strong, seasoned legs. With proper technique, it also builds upper body strength with a conscious core and allows for increased blood flow during those “off” days where one would need to rest from pounding pavement.

For many boxers, the hardest part of training is conditioning. Sustaining an elevated heart rate with sudden bursts of explosive movement can prove difficult, even for seasoned vets. Long distance runners tend to have a lock on this aspect of training, and therefore set themselves up for success.

At some point the long distance runner who boxes may decide he or she is ready to spar. It’s not for everyone, I admit. I remember the first time I was hit in the face. I didn’t like it very much. But I didn’t like the fire in my legs at mile 21 of my first marathon either, yet I keep coming back.

And so here I am, 36 years old, a seasoned distance runner with two Boston finishes, a 100-mile buckle and a 3:03 marathon PR, signed up and ready to fight in the Chicago Golden Gloves boxing tournament. It begins March 4.

I knew sometime last year, during my training for Pinhoti, that the next big challenge would be to test my might against other boxers. I had been enjoying my sparring sessions over the last couple years, seeing them both as mental chess matches and larger tests of anaerobic endurance. But around mile 80 of my 100-mile trek through the Talladega Forest — my master class on pain management — it became clear to me, that if I could withstand 100 miles of affliction, something that would take me 28+ hours to complete, then I could certainly handle 6 minutes in the squared circle.

So I will.

Indeed, I, Jeff “The Iron” Lung, will get in the ring and let my hands go.

Jeff Lung heavy bag

Training

My training for this event began in earnest on January 1st. I have to make weight (fighting at a maximum of 139 lbs), so I decided to cut out all alcohol and as much sugar as possible from my diet. I keep a close track of my food intake. I make an effort to eat as healthy as possible, staying within 1-2 pounds of fighting weight while all the time living my mantra: the better you eat, the better you feel, the better you train.

Running (what boxers call “road work”) is the crux of my conditioning. I run about 30-35 miles a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I generally run 3-5 miles as a warm up to my concentrated boxing training. I hold 2 lbs weights in my hands as long as I can during these runs, usually for 20-30 minutes.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I run 6-7 miles, whatever I can accomplish in an hour, but I mix in three or four intervals of 5-8 minutes of speedwork. On Saturdays I run longer, about an hour and 15 minutes or 8 miles, whatever comes first. I avoid the traditional long runs of distance training. I need to maintain my endurance, but I can’t afford to waste energy on additional miles when I will need that energy in the ring. Just as it can be for the long distance runner, overtraining is a real threat to peak performance.

Jeff and Edna post trainingIn addition to the running, I do boxing-focused strength training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as well as technical boxing drills. I choose to work on different aspects of my game on different days. Like in any athletic discipline, variety in training is key.

On Tuesday and Thursday nights I spar.

On Sundays I rest. Completely.

I practice yoga. I get regular massage. I sleep a lot. I even take naps if I feel like it.

And I watch lots and lots and lots of fights, in person, on TV, on YouTube — wherever I can.

But like in my long distance training, perhaps the most integral portion of preparation occurs in my mind, usually just before I fall asleep. I envision myriad “if/than” scenarios in my head, calculating countermeasures for catastrophes and methodologies for exploiting weaknesses. Most of all, I try to embrace the nerves that I know are bound to come.

Even in the comfort of my own bed, I can close my eyes, hear the crowd, and feel the nausea that threatens to throw my concentration. It’s the same sick feeling I had before my first marathon, before my first ultra. It’s that same uneasiness I felt toeing the line for each PR attempt at 13.1 and 26.2 miles.

Pre-race jitters. Stage freight. Terrified of getting hit the face.

It all goes away once I’m in the moment.

And after all, that continues to be the thing that keeps bringing me back: living in the moment.

Whether it’s running for hours, working through a yoga practice or squaring off with someone trying to punch me in the face, the thing that keeps me coming back is the very real experience of the now. Nothing makes me feel more alive than being present.

And you can bet I will be present on March 4.

Hands up. Chin down. Mind focused.

***
Do you want lose weight and get stronger? Do you want to build that dream body, improve your race times or qualify for Boston? Go to Iron Lung Fitness and start training with me today!

 

 

 

 


2014: Slowin’ My Roll, Runnin’ In Circles, Commitment

Jeff Lung 2014 Frozen Gnome 50k Butt Slide Hill

(Butt Slide Hill, Frozen Gnome 50k, 2014. Image by Scott Laudick, Runnerpics)

We did it! We made it through another year!

I started it out by sacrificing my footing in a frozen tundra.

A couple weeks later, I “ran” 21k through knee-deep snow, in the time it generally takes me to run twice that amount.

In the spring, I re-lived a dream to run the Boston Marathon, this time with no tragedies, floating atop the endless love and compassion from the good people of New England.

Not long after, I got cocky, raced a teenager and had to pull myself out of the game, flexing those mental muscles.

I recovered in time to run mad, around a .97 mile loop in a municipal park, setting a new personal distance record and fighting to stay on my feet for 24 hours straight.

In September, I experienced three distinct seasons over 50 glorious kilometers in the heart of my home state.

In October, I ran two marathons in consecutive days, and was back to work on Monday, walking around like nothing had happened.

And in November, I popped my century mark cherry by crossing the finish line of the Pinhoti 100, proving that through a sound, prepared and focused mind we can do anything we wish to do.

Throughout the year, I volunteered again at the Earth Day 50k/10k and the Des Plaines River Trail Races. I paced my good friend Siamak to a fierce finish at the Mohican 100 and Edna in her 100 miles at Potawatomi and 100k at Hallucination.

I also had the good fortune of getting another race report published in Ultrarunning Magazine (October issue).

I lived every moment, one footfall at a time, over mountainous trail and monotonous blacktop.

I ran. I laughed. I cried (more than you’d think).

I slowed down. I took it all in. I wrapped myself up in the trail, in the challenge of going far on foot, with pushing myself past any and all boundaries.

But perhaps most exciting of all: I got engaged! The thrill of sharing my life with the woman I love — a woman who shares my passion for adventure, for exploration, for making dreams come true — is more exciting than any race I’ve ever run. It’s a good thing we both love distance running, because life, my friends, is THE ultimate ultra run.

Happy New Year!

Jeff and Edna Powerade Maraton Monterrey 2014

(Un beso en la meta, Powerade Maraton Monterrey 2014)

 

 


Namaste: 7 Yoga Classes in 7 Days

(Image courtesy of UUCSV)

(Image courtesy of UUCSV)

In the wake of running 100 miles on my own two feet, chilling out has been a high priority. Post-race, I took a full 10 days off from running, mixed with some light cross training and gentle walking.

I also made sure to get on the mat.

It was during the shavasana (or relaxation/meditation) portion of a recent yoga class that I began to wonder what it would feel like to do a yoga class every day, for a week. Surely, lots of yogis do this, I thought to myself. Why not give it a try?

So I did.

Before I report my experience, I should first explain my own personal relationship with yoga. I came to the mat a couple of years ago, as a grumpy, injured runner looking for healing, both for body and mind. Having recently explored the power of meditation, the in-the-moment connection to the breath was something I could easily relate to, and it wasn’t long before I found myself in a yoga class once a week. The more I practiced, the better I felt.

Part of that betterment was encouraged by the environment in which I was practicing. I was lucky enough to find Tejas (pronounced teh-jus) Yoga, in the South Loop. From the very beginning, the owners, Jim and James, were so warm and inviting, that one would have a hard time not wanting to practice there, if for nothing else than to hang out, drink tea and have good conversation.

Considering that foundation, it’s no surprise that the teachers there also carry the same spirited warmth. Contrary to my pre-yoga reservations, I never once felt intimidated or overwhelmed at Tejas. In fact, it seems to me the teachers there go out of their way to make sure each student is comfortable, that modifications are always accessible, and that each person is set up to succeed, whatever his or her goals may be.

For me, this is essential. As an ultrarunner, as a boxer, as a person who makes his living teaching and practicing exercise, I come to the mat for mostly gentle, regenerative movements. I come to wind down, to heal, to focus on the breath, one inhalation and exhalation at a time. For me, yoga is not about wrapping my leg around my head. It’s about connecting breath to movement and staying present, the same cornerstones of running 100 miles or answering the bell.

But a class a day for seven days?

No sweat.*

*Correction: there was, at least, a little sweat.

– – –

Monday, December 1, 2014
Pranayama Class with Jim Bennitt
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Pranayama is described as the “extension of the prāna or breath” or “extension of the life force”. Simply put, this class focuses on different breathing techniques alongside a gentle physical practice. On this day, we held a bandha (physical lock) that seemed to get deep within my hamstrings, while also exploring meditative visualizations connected to the breath. Jim asked us to project any thoughts on a screen within our minds. I was quite amused at the random relfections conjured up from deep within my consciousness. Inexplicably, Roger Rabbit made several appearances.

Overall, I left this class feeling super energized and awake, acutely aware of my hamstrings.

– – –

Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Open Class with Adam Grossi
7 a.m. – 8 a.m.

Like I tell my clients all the time, I have never heard someone say, “Man, I really regret getting up and doing that workout.” The same seems to be true for the yoga practice. While getting out of my cozy, warm bed at 6 a.m. didn’t sound very appealing, starting my day off with the immediate boost of a yoga class was well worth it. While the open class offers more challenges than the classes I typically attend, Adam provided me with options and modifications to suit my own yogic level. It felt good to sweat and to use more strength and balance than I’m used to. But most of all, it was a real treat to watch the sunlight slowly crescendo through the eastern facing windows with the progression of our class. I left feeling like a rockstar — a very grounded, introspetive rockstar.

– – –

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Gentle Class with Monica Stevens
9 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Another great way to start the day, this gentle class is the type of class I typically attend at Tejas. The slower pace and focus on restorative poses is essential to my own yogic identity, offering the type of healing I need after running as much as I do. Monica’s clear instruction and warm sense of humor always puts me at ease, and she seemed to read my mind by getting us into a deep pigeon pose — indispensable medicine for my chronically tight hips and IT bands.

– – –

Thursday, December 4, 2014
Gentle Class with Marcelyn Cole
12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Gentle classes on consecutive days? Thank you, sir! May I have another?

During my two years of practice, I have taken Marcelyn’s gentle class more than any other. Her calming voice and quirky sense of humor have been staples of my own yogic development, helping me heal, relax and grow to the best of my ability. This class was no exception as we explored familiar twists and deep connections to the breath. Despite my familiarness with this class, for the first time all week I did have a little trouble staying focussed and using my ujjayi breath. My mind was wandering more than usual, something I liken to bonking in the marathoning world. Luckily, I got it under control by the time we entered shavasana, my favorite pose.

– – –

Friday, December 5, 2014
Open Class with Zach Zube
12 p.m. -1 p.m.

Though small in size, this open class was a great mix of gentle and more advanced asana, with plenty of options for every practioner. There was a theme of groundedness, of forcing movement downward, as explained by our teacher, Zach. This meant plenty of forward folding and sequencing that promoted a sound connection with the earth beneath us. It was a pleasure to be back in a class taught by Zach. I took his Introduction to Yoga series a couple of years ago when I first started. His clear and thoughtful sequencing always puts me at ease, allowing breath and movement to flow naturally.

– – –

Saturday, December 6, 2014
Open Class with Adam Grossi
8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

My second open class with Adam this week, and again there were no regrets for getting out of bed early to attend. Unlike the Tuesday class, this one was packed! There were probably close to 20 people in attendance, and as such there existed a powerful vibe in the room. So many dedicated practitioners provided me with extra focus and a desire to be a part of the group mind, even as we were lead through more complex movements. I sweat more in this class than any other and I left feeling accomplished, strong, and ready to take on the day!

– – –

Sunday, December 7, 2014
Gentle Class with James Tennant
4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

I started this week of yoga by knowing exactly how I would finish. James was the very first person I met at Tejas and I remember how nervous and self-conscious I was entering those doors, only to have such feelings disappear after a mere two-minute conversation with him. His tangible, supportive spirit put me at ease and in a position to succeed with yoga. I never looked back. Since then, James’ teachings have been a regular and welcome exploration into my own higher being. Finishing the week with his gentle class was just an extension of that. The sequences flowed, my ujjayi breath connected me to the present, and time moved so quickly that I couldn’t believe 90 minutes had already passed.

When I got home that night, I was so relaxed and serene that I had no desire to watch a marquee NFL match-up on television — a rarity in its own right. I was ready for bed. Ready for peace.

– – –

While seven classes in seven days may be a lot more yoga than I am used to, one thing I did gain from this experience is the realization that despite not always being in a class setting, the yoga practice is deep within me, at all times. Over the last two years, I can’t remember a day where I didn’t do a forward fold of some kind. I can’t recall a day without invoking the ujjayi breath. There hasn’t been a day where I didn’t connect movement to breath, whether running, boxing or just working out.

It’s more than just attending a class.

It’s breathing.

It’s being present, connected to my body and its place among the stars.

It’s LIVING.