Sunday, May 1, 2016

Amalfi Coast Running

The Amalfi Coast

It's been some time since I posted. I usually enjoy the exercise of trying to distill running adventures and races into words, both for the benefit of personal reflection as well as to share my doings with friends and family back in the States. But as of late, I've failed to make the effort or find the time.

Today I said "enough." While on a stunning run along the Amalfi Coast I made the commitment to at least post a few pictures, and if feeling exceptionally motivated, perhaps some accompanying words. So here's my torpid effort....

Crazy Desert Trail 50K

First, a bit of a recap of the past several months. A work trip to the States back in March straddled a weekend. This invariable led to a search for a trail race. The Crazy Desert Trail 50K in San Angelo provide a perfect opportunity to run the engine in preparation for the 100 Miles of Istria in April. I've been feeling healthy this year and without too much effort was able to run a 4:01. Could 2016 be a good year for me??



Next was the 100 Miles of Istria in Croatia. This is one of my all time favorite trail races. While the course on paper does not look particularly challenging (106 miles with 23,400 ascent, 24,300 descent), I find it hard. While I felt better prepared this year than in past years, the race left me worked and disappointed in my time (20:25). While I know I am capable of going under 20 hours on this course, my legs were just not used to the descending. Again I found myself moving slowly the last 20 miles and missing that mark. Return in 2017??




So with 100 Miles of Istria still haunting me, this weekend I was in desperate search of vertical knowing UTMB is just three months away. The Amalfi Coast did not disappoint with 9430 vertical on Saturday and 8550 on Sunday. Enjoy the pictures....

Yep - Got to Climb That for Giggles
Some Fine Single Track
Trail Meandering Through Vineyards
1700 Stairs - They Got to be Good for Something
Path of the Gods
Grape-Based Energy Drink at the End of a Wonderful Day!

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Experience. My Barkley Report 2016


“The idea isn’t to go out and have an “experience.” It’s not to do one, two, or even three loops, and then say ‘it was tough, I gave it my all, and Barkley won.’ The idea is to finish. The goal is five loops, and there’s really no room for any thought other than that.” 
                         – Me (Embracing Monotony, published in TAUR March 30, 2016) 

Famous last words, right?

I made it 1 ½ loops, then dropped due to intense knee pain, walking a slow, frustrating, seven-miles back to camp, via “Quitters Road.” Turns out, Barkley gave me exactly what I had snubbed with the above words—an experience. An experience that ultimately surpassed any pre-conceived expectations or dreams present upon arrival. An experience that was soul-searching, eye-opening and awe-inspiring.



The Yellow Gate
with license plates from everywhere

The weekend in Frozen Head State State Park made me aware of a few “Barkley Truths:”

Being there—regardless of your ambitions or goals, just being there is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. I met Rhonda-Marie, the first blind entrant and one of very few women to set out. With the aid of a guide, she made it through four books and some incredibly rough terrain. Starchy, Brad and Kim had the time of their lives during their thirty-two hour first loop. Hometown hero, John Kelly inspired everyone (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram followers included) by promptly laying down for a nap, just outside of camp, after starting his beleaguered fifth loop. When he woke, he looked back at camp, only 100 yards away, then turned his back and shambled up the road – a very conscious decision to keep moving, beyond the pain we all felt with him. Just remembering this heroic effort gives me the chills...
Barkley isn’t just a race—in fact, it’s not a race at all. It’s a…a…wait for it…, yep, an experience. It is submitting a license plate from my home state as part of my entry fee. It’s sitting next to "veterans" and “virgins” alike, staring at the Master Map, gleaning little tidbits of precious information, trying desperately to commit them to memory while transcribing map details and determining compass bearings. It’s wondering if I dare eat a piece of famous, digitally prepared, Barkley chicken as a pre-race meal. Luckily, it was dark as I tore it apart, so I couldn’t really tell if it was still frozen in the middle. It’s reading through wildly subjective course descriptions like, “Book Five is found at the top of the knoll, to the right of the big hollow log, nestled under the medium-sized rock with the smaller rock leaning on it.” The medium rock with the smaller rock leaning on it… Can it get more ambiguous? It’s sitting by the campfire with other “Barkers” who’ve also tapped out, sharing stories of wrong ridges, endless wanderings looking for the book that seemed so easy to find on Loop One, wondering if it’s the second or third confluence of the creek that I’m staring at. It’s forming a bond unlike any other with people who were complete strangers twenty-four hours ago. Thrashing through the hills and hollers of Frozen Head State Park for hours, then days tends to have that effect. Barkley is an experience.
Barkley is family—I witnessed this as the nearly mythical Barkley names were brought to life. Laz, Frozen Ed, Limacher, Little, Stu, Hiram…the list goes on. As the names became real, they also became people who were incredibly fond and incomparably supportive of each other. I immediately felt myself as a member of their family. I could walk into any campsite, sit next to any fire, and instantly feel like I was sitting down at a kitchen table at home. Stories swapped, advice dispensed and snatched, and jokes were plentiful. Family.
                                 
Stark Beauty.
It was seldom that we actually went straight along a ridge like this.

As for my actual time on the course, I’ll try and keep it brief, because it was brief—well, relatively. I told Laz at the end of Loop One that the previous ten-hours were the most fun I’d enjoyed on trails in many years. And I wasn’t lying. I told others the same.

“The Cigarette” lit at 10:42 a.m. We relaxed into a good rhythm up Bird Mountain, and by the time we got to the top of the first climb, I had settled in with Ty Draney (fellow virgin), Jason Poole (veteran), and George Kunzfeld (veteran). With a few others adding and subtracting over the next few hours, our group stayed together and made a good, functional team. Jason is a National Orienteering Champion, George had participated the year before, and Ty was excellent at picking out landmarks and committing them to memory for future laps. I felt wildly fortunate to “be along for the ride.” Still do.

We descended nasty ridges; crossed creeks and swampy areas, trying unsuccessfully to keep our feet dry; climbed interminable hills; and then did it again, and again…and again. Names I’d read over and over in race reports and Frozen Ed’s book came to life. Rat Jaw, The Garden Spot, Leonard’s Butt Slide, Big Hell, Chimney Top... We got turned around a couple times. I took off after John Fegyveresi, descending off Fyke’s Peak and promptly got scraped, spending the next thirty-minutes thrashing down to New River through the wrong drainage, luckily discovering myself reunited with Jason, Ty and George. Though I felt strong on the last big climb of Loop One, towards Chimney Top, an occasional stab on my left knee’s medial side had already begun. “No biggie,” I thought, as many of us do. “Aches always come and go, and I’ll have many more in the hours ahead.”

Erik and Ty heading back down Rat Jaw on Loop 1
PC: Leon Lutz


We made a smooth, and swift twenty-minute transition into Loop Two, with my brother Steve attending to a nasty laceration on my backside. I caught up to Ty and Jason, who had left camp a few minutes before me and we made good time back up Bird Mountain. The thrash down to Book One was indeed a thrash, as I realized just how different it was navigating in the dark. Over the next two climbs and descents, while still feeling strong with good energy, the stabbing in my knee became more and more severe, changing from an occasional twinge to a constant, acute, throbbing pain. By the time we got to the top of Bald Knob, I was slowing Ty and Jason down and putting most of my weight on my right leg and two trekking poles. I took some ibuprofen and told myself I’d decide what to do when I got to The Garden Spot.

Well, the ibuprofen took care every other little ache I had, but did nothing to diminish the pain in my knee. Having had debilitating ankle surgery two-years ago, the thought of permanent damage to my knee and starting down that same path was convincing. I decided my time at Barkley was over. True to form, the Barkley ate its young.

I told Ty and Jason I was done, and while expressing sympathy and concern, they didn’t try and talk me into continuing, for which I am grateful. It was hard enough as it was. Standing in the middle of the trail, I waged my internal battle of disappointment and watched their lights fade over the next ridge. “Am I being smart, or just a wuss? I’ve invested so much time and energy! My family has sacrificed so much while I trained. I have so many friends, well-wishers, supporters back home who... I DON’T WANT TO GO THROUGH SURGERY AGAIN! I WANT TO KEEP GOING!!! I am not a quitter...” My emotional war waged on, playing over and over in my mind as I stood in the trail, immobilized while trying to decide if I’d made the right decision. “Screw it!!!” I screamed into the Barkley night, and started running after Ty and Jason, only to be brought to a stumbling halt by the unseen icepick stabbing my knee. I sat slowly in the middle of the trail and cursed my knee, cursed Barkley, sobbing into the night.

Two a.m., and after ten-minutes of self-pity I pulled myself up, put on a pair of pants and jacket, and spent the next hour with map and compass riddling how to get myself to Quitters Road, the infamous path that most Barkers take for “our” long walk down. Three and a half hours later, Laz greeted my arrival at the Yellow Gate (the infamous Barkley starting point and resting place of many Barker's dreams). With a genuine air of concern, he asked what had happened (remember Barkley Truth #3 about family). He commented how surprised he was to see me since I had looked so strong and positive leaving for Loop Two. He then said, “The bugler’s asleep, so I’ll have to tap you out.” Laughing, I asked if I could play my own taps, and we both enjoyed a brief chuckle. As instructed, I turned towards camp and played myself the worst rendition of Taps I think the Barkley has ever heard. Much like my attempt at Barkley, my attempt at Taps quickly began to sputter, until I let loose a final, feeble note to pitter out over the sleeping camp. My Barkley was over. My entire statement about “The goal is five loops, and there’s really no room for any thought other than that” remains the same—in Laz’s words, “Two things are worth remembering: 1) you will never achieve great things with small goals; and 2) there is no guarantee you will have another chance tomorrow.” The goal is still five loops, just not this year.

Thinking back on the experience a week later, my thoughts continue. “Am I disappointed?” Yes, and no. Perhaps frustrated is a better word. I prepared myself as best I could, in all aspects required for a successful attempt, and still my body didn’t hold out. This is what the Barkley does. It brings everyone to their knees. It’s good for the soul to be humbled now and again. Despite the sacrifices made in order to train and prepare, the past few months have been incredible. I have established new, and re-established old friendships; and had fun with my family as I prepared. I was surrounded by beauty while making my way through Tennessee’s southeastern hills and hollers, beneath barren branches, newly tipped by millions of emerging leaves—a summit sunset on Chimney Top; the ghostly, white petal Trillium flowers shining bright as my headlamp hit them in the moonless dark; and the vivid bloom of hundreds of Redbuds and Dogwoods are absolutely stunning, permanent etchings in my mind. I will forever be profoundly grateful for my experience and for the beauty tucked among the saw briars everywhere I looked.

.


Thank you Barkley. Thank you Tennessee. And mostly, thank you Brooke, Sam, Andrew, Kate and Henry—for unconditionally loving and supporting me. Thank you to other friends and family who motivated, encouraged, woke at three a.m. with me, and believed in me. Thank you Laz, for creating the opportunity, and affording me my first try. Thank you Altra, TAUR, Wasatch Running Center, First Endurance, Gregory Packs, and Blistershield for providing top-notch equipment to train and race and my peak ability. And thank you to a loving God, for giving me two strong legs and a body that have taken me on such marvelous adventures, and a mind that can tell that body to take a break and survive to run another day.

My headquarters, and my Inspiration.
Looking down on Upper Rat Jaw,
waiting for Jared and Gary on Loop 5.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

When Nightmares become Reality



The Yellow Gate PC: Sherpa John


Yesterday, I received an email that began as follows:

dear eric;
it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that your name has been selected for the 2016 barkley marathons, to be held on april 2-4, 2016, at frozen head state park, in the state of tennessee, usa.

it is anticipated that this enterprise will amount to nothing more than an extended period of unspeakable suffering, at the end of which you will ultimately find only failure and humiliation. 

And the encouragement continues for a few more paragraphs......

It all started a few months ago when I wrote the following essay, as part of my application to be considered for entry to the Barkley Marathons:












WHY I SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO RUN THE 2016 BARKLEY MARATHONS
Why? 
I’ve thought long and hard on what I should write for this essay.  Should I make a list of all my running and physical accomplishments?  Should I be clever and witty? Maybe I could wax long about my incredible mental toughness? An idea would be to detail the rigorous, strenuous and over the top training program that I am putting myself through to prepare.  Did I mention that I am friends with Jared Campbell and he will surely enlighten me with his top secret, sure-fire, guaranteed recipe for Barkley success?
The reality is, I really have no business attempting the Barkley Marathons.  I’m not more talented than most of the runners, I don’t have an extra-ordinary amount of grit and gumption (compared to everyone else “Out There”), my training program is probably less involved than most, and while Jared is a good friend, his only top secret advice is to be down to earth and brutally honest about how difficult The Barkley is and what his own short comings are.
I have been intrigued with Barkley since Jim Nelson first told me about it while we ran a portion of my first Wasatch 100 together in 2005.  I have dreamed (nightmared) about it since Jared told me he would be attempting it for the first time in 2012.  I shed tears and shared in the accomplishment of some incredible feats of endurance as I read your Tethered report of John, Jamil and Alan completing a Fun Run with minutes to spare in 2014.
And that is the moment, while reading Tethered, walking a slow, painful, 2 mph, ankle reconstruction recovery pace on a treadmill in my basement, that is the precise instant, when I knew that one day, through your graces or not, I would stand at the Yellow Gate, ready to get the living hell squeezed out of me.
That is Why.
The lottery was held, and I found myself at #11 on the wait list.  That's a pretty good spot to be in, but there was no guarantee that it would get me there.  I started training like I was in, and as the weeks went by, I began to wake in the middle of the night, with feelings of panic, wondering what in the world I was doing, putting myself into this situation, and how I would ever be prepared. 
Which brings me to last night. The Letter of Condolences. And that's when the Nightmares became Reality.  
If you don't know much about the Barkley Marathons and would like to learn more, here is an excellent website, and here is an excellent 20 minute documentary

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Thoughts on Gratitude





Well folks, it's a new year, with new hopes, expectations, realities and ambitions.  One of my hopes, I won't say the word GOALS, is to become more grateful. It is to develop the ability to say thank you naturally, without thinking of it, and in an uncontrived way.  I believe, as do thousands of other happy people, that being grateful and giving thanks leads to a happier, more fulfilling and meaningful life.  Below I've condensed a talk I gave in early 2015. I hope you take to heart the challenge to work on your Attitude of Gratitude.

An Attitude of Gratitude is not an easy thing to develop. I am inclined to take for granted the sun on the leaves on a spring morning, that I have two legs to walk with, and that at any given time, Brooke will have a bunch of perfectly ripe bananas ready for me in the kitchen, even though even saying the word banana makes her throw up a little in her mouth. 

But, if we manage to turn on the gratitude a little, and do it enough, the psychological research suggests that gratitude might just become a habit.  If you’re one of those highly grateful people, of which I’m sure 2 of the 3 people that read this are, then ignore this and go back to scrolling Facebook,  But, if you’re more like me, here are a few tips on how develop an “Attitude of Gratitude.”


1st: Once in a while, think about death and loss.
Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I’m not just being perverse—contemplating endings really does make you more grateful for the life you currently have, according to several studies. When you find yourself taking a good thing for granted, try giving it up for a little while.  Try binging on Reese’s Peanut Butter cups for a few days. Then try giving them up for a week or two before having another one.  From personal experience I guarantee it tastes a lot better after a bit of abstinence than after the binge.

 2nd: Take time to smell the roses
And the freshly baked bread, the smell of freshly cut grass, whatever gives you pleasure.  Loyola University psychologist Fred Bryant finds that savoring positive experiences makes them stickier in your brain, and increases their benefits to your psyche—and the key, he argues, is expressing gratitude for the experience. That’s one of the ways appreciation and gratitude go hand in hand.  As adaptive humans, we will become accustomed even to the good things.  When we do, their subjective value starts to drop; we take them for granted.  That’s the point at which we might give them up for a while- be it chocolate, a good run in the mountains, or even something like sunlight- and then take the time to really savor them when we allow them back into our lives.

3rd: Take the good things as gifts, not birthrights
What’s the opposite of gratitude? Entitlement—the attitude that people owe you something just because you’re so very special. The antidote to entitlement, is to see that we did not create ourselves—rather, we were created- by a loving Heavenly Father. Likewise, we are never truly self-sufficient. Humans need other people to grow our food and heal our injuries; we need love, and for that we need family, friends, and even pets.

 4th: Be grateful to people, not just things
A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned gratitude for sunlight and bananas. That’s great for me—and it may have good effects, like leading me to think about my impact on the environment—but the trees just don’t care. Likewise, the sun doesn’t know I exist; that big ball of flaming gas isn’t even aware of its own existence, as far as we know. My gratitude doesn’t make it burn any brighter.
That’s not true of people—people will glow in gratitude. Telling Sam he did great at his swim meet might make him happier and it can strengthen our emotional bond. Telling Brooke thanks for keeping me well stocked with bananas can reaffirm to her my appreciation for the little ways she shows me she loves me.

5th: Mention the pancakes
Grateful people are habitually specific. They don’t say, “I love you because you’re just so wonderfully wonderful!” Instead, the really skilled grateful person will say: “I love you for the pancakes you make when you see I’m hungry.”
My mother-in-law is a great example of this.  She is a master thank you note writer. I have never received a note saying “Thank you for the birthday present.  It was the best”  It’s always specific.  “Thank you for the wonderful scarf and gloves.  They will keep me warm on my early morning walks.”

Finally: Thank outside the box
Here’s who the really tough-minded, Graduate-level grateful person thanks: the boyfriend who dumped you, the homeless person who asked for change, the employer who fired you. “It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one ‘feels’ grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio.”
In such moments,  gratitude becomes a critical cognitive process—a way of thinking about the world that can help us turn disaster into a stepping stone. If we’re willing and able to look, we can find a reason to feel grateful even to people who have harmed us. We can thank that boyfriend for being brave enough to end a relationship that wasn’t working; the homeless person for reminding us of our advantages and vulnerability; the boss, for forcing us to face new challenges.

To illustrate this last point, let me relate a short story a friend of mine recently experienced.  The Barkley Marathons are held the beginning of April every year in Frozen Head State Park in the backwoods of Tennessee.  It consists of an approximately 20 mile loop run 5 times in alternating directions for a total of around 100 miles.  There is over 60,000 feet of climbing. There is typically a combination of rain, freezing temperatures, hot sun, dense fog and everything in between. The route is not marked, is only revealed to the participants a few hours before the event begins, and there are no aid stations or pacers.  Since it’s inception in 1991 only 14 runners out of more than 800 starters have completed the 100 mile race within the 60 hour cut off.  In the slightly off kilter sport of long distance endurance events, the Barkley is the ugly step child.

Jared Campbell showed up in April 2014 for his third attempt.
                                                                                                                                  Psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi says that most people “have what psychologists call "positive illusion"—that is, they possess a mildly high self-regard, a slightly inflated sense of how much they control the world around them.
Jared, in a sense, is not normal and is able to distort the reality of the world so that he does have control in the very real and difficult world around him.  In his words ”There are lessons in life that can only be learned through fairly massive deviations from our normal, comfortable routines. These lessons alter our perspective on life and better equip us to deal with life’s unforeseen challenges. They can sharpen our optimism and generate a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life.” As Jared attempted each of the 5 loops, he looked for the positive, something to hold onto, something to be grateful for, the silver linings.  Here are the silver linings he was grateful for on each loop
Loop 1-The silver lining of wet conditions at Barkley is that you slide through saw briars far easier. I focused on that.
Loop 2-The silver lining of the pain “in both my achilles tendons was that it forced me to ascend in creative ways, which spread the wear-and-tear out over my body. It would also make switching shoes for lap three something to look forward to. I focused on that.
Loop 3-The silver lining of snow on the course meant I could more easily see and follow my footprints from the previous lap. I focused on that.
Loop 4-The silver lining to cold temperatures during Barkley is that you can wear pants, which means you have protection from the briars and poison ivy. I focused on that.
Loop 5-The silver lining to warm weather at Barkley is that the footing is much better. I focused on this.

Being grateful while in the darkest hours of his race, Jared became the 14th person to ever finish the Barkley marathons.

My favorite quote ever is by President Gordon B. Hinckley, one of the most optimistic, grateful people I can think of.  He says, "In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured."


It is my hope that we can be grateful while in our circumstances, that we can focus on the silver linings, and that we can laugh and enjoy life.  Above all, I sincerely hope that we will recognize God’s handiwork in this marvelous tapestry of life and thank Him for all that he blesses us with.

There you have it.  Try to say thank you, in a unique way, at least once a day. If you're feeling particularly ungrateful, then fake it.  Over time, it will become a habit, and the world will be a better place.

I'm grateful for Sunshine 
on a miserable day of 
February Salt Lake Inversion