Wednesday, February 27, 2013


                                                           Photograph by Michael Lebowitz

In 2006 I ran my first official ultra marathon at the Hagg Lake 50k in Forest Grove, Oregon. Like many races all was well for the first half of the race and around the 17 mile mark I begun to push the pace thinking I was going to finish strong, but at the 20 mile mark a major bonk hit and every muscle in my body started to cramp from lack of calories, electrolytes and hydration. I spent the next 11 miles literally rolling around on the side of the trail attempting to get muscles to unlock and stumbling on muddy trails trying to make it to the finish. I could tell I was in really bad shape by the looks of concern from other racers and aid station attendants constantly asking me if I was okay. When I did finally finish at the 5:45 mark in 53rd place my brother and sister in-law were waiting for me. I was shivering and in massive amount of pain, they quickly got a blanket around me fed me some soup and in 30 minutes I was able to pull myself together and with a lot of effort hobble off to the car to go home. I was happy to have finished my first ultra but the pain of the race and the realization that I had really had my ass handed to me from lack of training and experience put a dampener on the whole event. I felt like a world class chump.

That night over dinner which I limped to with muscles and joints that felt like I had missed a payment to a loan shark my brother recounted my finish to the whole family and made special effort to point out all the old men and ladies that had finished before me and how good they looked and how crappy and terrible I looked. The comments cut like a knife, deep down I knew he was just giving me grief like brothers do but the anger was building and I had to hold back from saying something mean in return, I bit my tongue and stared daggers. As I left the next day for the long drive home I had to walk down the three minor steps from my mom's house to the driveway backwards because my legs were so sore. My mom gave me that look that only a mom can, a mix of pity and concern. I can't remember exactly what she said but it was along the lines of, maybe this ultra thing isn't for you and why would you want to do it anyway. I left feeling terrible and with doubt in my own mind and thought maybe they're correct, maybe this ultra racing isn't for me. Weeks later as the muscles healed and my energy returned a new thought entered my mind, screw that, I'll show them and myself and with sweaty shaky hands I signed up for a 50 miler.

                                                        Photograph by Michael Lebowitz

My family since has been supportive of my racing, always asking how I did at the last race and how my training is going, my mom still gives me that look of  “why” but she seems to realize that I'm not ruining my knees and that I have met a lot of great people and seen cool places because of my racing. At this years Hagg Lake 50k race my brother crewed for me and he was cheering me on telling me to pass the guys in front of me and generally looking like he was having a great time and I ran just that little bit harder trying to show off No cramps or bonk this year, after finishing the first loop in training mode in 27th place I was able to race the second half  of the race and crossed the line in 4:17 for 14th place. As I ate a well deserved cheeseburger later that afternoon at a local burger joint with my brother in Oregon City I couldn't help smile at how things have worked out, glad that I had taken those negative thoughts and comments and turned them into motivation, motivation to try to be a better runner and a better person.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Running Rome

Rome from the top of St. Peter's
It’s hard to believe I’ve been working/living in Rome for three months. It seems like just a few weeks ago that I arrived for an anticipated year-long stay with a large Gregory duffle, a boxed bike, and an Italian phrase book from Christian - “you might need this” were his parting words.

In short, I’m having a ball. Work is both challenging and interesting. We live in a super cool neighborhood (Trastevere) in an apartment above a pizzeria and a bookstore. The building built in 1784 is on a narrow cobbled street with myriad restaurants, bars and little shops within close proximity. I enjoy not having a car and either running, biking or using public transportation to get around. And the change in environs, pace and lifestyle have been refreshing and fun for my daughter Zoe who has been visiting the last month and Adrienne who just arrived last week. All in all, it’s proving to be a most excellent adventure.

As for the running, it’s been fun and different. Let me share with a few of my favorites.

Tour of Rome – this 15K route through the city always surprises and delights me. I’ve been able to link together some of the best sights while minimizing traffic obstructions (AKA traffic lights & streets that are so busy they are hard to cross). In less than 90 minutes I get to pass the Roman Forum, run around the Coliseum, pass through Trajan’s Market, touch Trevi Fountain, climb the Spanish Steps, run up Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s, and then back home – all of time mostly on cobbled streets. The light, the traffic, the people, the smells are always different making this a run I always look forward to.

Appia Attica
Appia Attica (Apian Way) – Let’s just say I still can’t get my head around the fact that I’m running on the original basalt stones of road that was built more than 2000 years ago. From the apartment this run passes Circus Maximus, the Roman Baths and then out to Villa dei Quintili – 40K round trip.

River Tiber – When I rented the apartment I was stoked that it was just one street off the River Tiber and the “bike path” that Google Maps showed running along the river.  Since my office is also along the river I was excited about the prospect of biking or running to/from work.  My excitement turned to disappointment the first morning I ran to work. I had anticipated a scenic and bucolic path along the river where I could go to that other place in my head and run without thought or effort. The path abruptly stops 4K from the apartment and turns into a route amalgamated from roads, footpaths, parking lots and fields.  In some sense it’s a 20K “adventure race.” The banks of the river are covered in trash and the trees along the river are full of a flotsam of plastic shopping bags from when the river recently flooded. The “path” travels through several Roma camps where I’m always a bit uneasy and guarded. It’s an otherworld in the morning darkness watching silhouettes fanning out from the camps pushing shopping carts in the dark to collect recyclables, smelling the acrid smoke from campfires burning rubbish heavy with chemicals, and listening to conversations in a language I do not understand.  And, for giggles and absurdity, I have to climb over a rabbit fence before entering the office complex where the World Food Programme is located.  Given the poor design and disrepair of the fence, I’m sure the rabbits also find it absurd and amusing. What could be a great feature for the city (the river) is a shame. None-the less, I run to work most every morning and several times a week run home feeling lucky that I get to commute to work by foot.

Trail Running - Rome Style
Rome running seems to be serving me well in that I’m on the mend from the nasty piriformis I experienced the later half of 2102. My legs are feeling better and I can run again without pain and numbness! Fingers crossed I can continue to heal and get my strength back in time to run a good race at the Umstead 100 in April. My secret hope is that jumping over a rabbit fence 5 days a week will give me a competitive advantage that no other entrants will have. 

Ciao da Roma!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Skimo Racing Local Talent

I hope everyone has enjoyed the "Best of" posts lately, I know I had a great time watching the response from all of you. Greg deserves full credit for coming up with the idea and following through on it. We can't wait to see what this year brings, who the nominees will be and what new categories we'll have.

Continuing in the same vein of highlighting local talent I thought I would do a quick post on a few local runners that are among the very best in the nation at a winter sport. Before I get to them let me back up and explain why I've decided to write about them. Since the beginning of December I've taken some time off from running to try and heal some nagging issues I've been dealing with for quite awhile (future post on this). The prescribed exercises weren't nearly enough aerobic activity to keep me satisfied so I decided to try something new, Skimo racing, short for ski mountaineering.

For those that are unfamiliar with this sport I'll do my best to quickly explain it even though I am far from an expert. Basically skimo racing involves ascending a set route on skis, descending to a certain point and repeating often. The skis will have glue backed nylon hair strips affixed for climbing called skins. When the skier reaches the top of the climb the skins are ripped off and stashed for the descent. Upon reaching the bottom the skins are reattached for the next climb. The process at the top and bottom is called the transition and requires great skill to be swift. Sometimes the skier is required to remove the skis while climbing and hike up, this called a boot section or booter. Like many great sports this form of moving fast and light through the mountains has been around in Europe much longer than North America and consequently they many more races and racers. One particular fast guy is Killian Jornet, maybe you've heard of him.

This weekend is the World Championships held in Pelvoux, France and the U.S. team has a few local guys lining up against the rest of the world. They include Tom Goth, Andy Dorais (filling in as qualifying alternate to his brother Jason Dorais) and coach Chad Brackelsberg. Luke Nelson isn't a Utah resident but does plenty here in the Wasatch to be claimed as a local. Check out any of the links in this paragraph to learn more about the World Championships and the athletes paths to get there, they're all great stories.

I've known Andy and Chad for a few years now and they always encouraged me too come out and try a skimo race but I was always too intimidated to try one of the big races like the Wasatch Powder Keg, directed by Chad. Then I ran out of excuses when Chad, Jason, Andy and the SLC Samurai, Jared Inouye started the Citizen Series. Now in it's second year, there are anywhere from 30 to 60 skiers showing up on Tuesday nights at Brighton ski resort to race up and down the mountain. The races are usually right around an hour long and they're free. The participants include skiers on full race gear to "heavy metal" touring gear and the scene is very friendly and encouraging. I've done a few now and feel like I'm getting my aerobic fix while learning how to move a bit quicker in the snowy mountains.

I think it's super cool that Chad, Jared, Andy and Jason (sorry if I've missed someone) have taken the impetus to grow the sport they love and teach others about it. Hat tip to you gentlemen and thank you for all your hard work in putting the Citizen Series together. To those on the team good luck in France!