Monday, August 27, 2012

Ultra Bar Fight

After a few indepth and deeper posts, I thought it'd be nice to return to a funny topic. What ultrarunners would you want on your side during a bar fight? It's a completely random, and completely stupid topic, but that's why I chose it.

First off, here are some folks I wouldn't pick. Ultrarunning tends to lend itself to a more peaceful and thoughtful group of athletes, and thus many of the top runners would more than likely try to talk things out during a bar fight rather than actually throw punches. Also, long distance runners tend to be on the skinny, less muscular side, which also mitigates the intimidation factor.

I wouldn't want on my side:

Tony Krupicka- his rail thin 150 lb frame can fly up mountains, but I doubt they can throw down in a bar fight. Tony is also quite philisophical, and would reason out all the theories how man has evolved beyond the need for physical combat. Plus, he looks more like Tom Hanks from Castaway, than a fighter.



Scott Jurek- Scott might be 6'2" and 170 lbs, but he's just too peaceful and meditative to hurt a fly. That's what we love about him, but I don't think I'd want him backing me up in a dark alley.



Kilian Jornet- 5'7", 120lbs. Nuff said. He could outrun any bar thug on the planet, but a Vo2 max of 92 doesn't translate into punching power.


Hal Koerner- Hal has actually gotten fairly lean and ripped the last couple of years. He's also bigger than you'd think at 6'0" 170 lbs. Though he's packed on some muscle, he's still far too laid back and nice to want to get involved in something as silly as a fight. He'd rather sip a beer and watch.


Matt Carpenter- The king of high altitude can outrun anyone in the world to the top of Pike's Peak, but if Pike's Peak had a bar, his 120 lb frame wouldn't stand a chance. Too bad you can't punch with your lungs, or else Matt would be a beast.






I could probably list hundreds of other runners who I wouldn't want on my side in a bar fight, but then again they are runners. When will they ever need to fight? Again, most ultrarunners would rather enjoy the pristine outdoors, than go to a bar and brawl it out.

That brings me to who I'd want ON my side in a bar fight. Note, being on this list does not mean I think these runners are violent, or enjoy fighting. They are merely folks I think could throw down if they had to. I'm pretty sure most are just liked the runners described above and are quite happy with never having to fight. Ever.

David Goggins- No doubt that this Navy Seal is as badass as they get. The former powerlifter is now a chiseled 6'1" 195lbs. I would not want to mess with this man among men. Hammer of Thor, behold Mr. Goggins.




Mike Morton- Don't let his small 5'4" frame fool you. Army Master Sergeant Morton is a Green Beret and former Navy diver. Pain is his pleasure, and his long military tenure puts him up with Goggins as possibly the toughest humans in ultrarunning, and on earth.


Alex Barth- An east coast speedster, this guy looks like he could rip the doors off a tank. He's also a skilled Tae Kwon Do black belt.


Doug Berlin- Known mostly to DC area runners, this 6'6" 230 bohemoth is the owner of three Gold's Gym franchises. From the looks of it, he works out at all three.




Aron Ralston- few people know that Aron is an ultramarathoner, and has completed the Leadville 100. Aside from that, anyone who can survive 127 hours in Blue John Canyon, break their arm, then proceed to cut it off, is a tough S.O.B. in any book.



Jenn Shelton- She may be tiny, but this wild child would do some damage. She's never turned down a challenge, and she's got the spunky personality to boot. Jenn's holding it down for the ladies.

(Credit:Luis Escobar)

Michael Dunlop: Known better in the Lynchburg area. Mike won the Mountain Masochist bench press contest with 39 reps of 135 lbs AFTER running 54 miles. At 6'8" 250 lbs, Dunlop is hard to miss.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The War Within


It was the fall of 2004. I was only a few months removed from my college graduation and life was full of every imaginable uncertainty. Where will I live? What will I do for a career? Should I ask out that cute blonde from church? I had just started my first real job post college, and for the last 18 months I had been jogging a few miles a week to stay in shape and to help cope with the new stresses of life as an adult.

On the chilly morning of November 20, 2004, I toed the line of the JFK 50 miler. It was my first ultramarathon, and my first race. I had never run farther than six miles. That's right. Six miles.

Over the next 10 hours and 39 minutes I learned a lot about myself, and the mindset needed to push my body well beyond it's own realm of physical ability. I ran to prove to all the doubters that I could exceed the 20 miles they predicted I could run before I quit. I ran for my grandmother who was fighting a losing battle with cancer. I realized that my psychological relationship with pain was all relative. I ran to prove to myself I could do what seemed impossible. I was never a naturally gifted runner, nor to this day do I think running really comes easily. Thus, when I was able to complete that 50 mile run, it exposed a part of my will and character that for many years went undiscovered. Like many others, I thought if I could survive running/walking 50 miles in the autumn cold, then everything else in life would seem easy. That euphoric post run exuberance, however, was short lived.

Life would continue to get tougher and the stressors would continue to mount up. I worked seven different odd jobs in 2005, and struggled to pay for basic costs of living (food, gas, rent). Then Hurricane Katrina hit. I ran to raise money for Katrina victims who had lost everything. I had little for myself, but I still had running, and running was the one thing I could use to give back. I ran to cope with the pressures of reality, and again I felt that if I could conquer longer and tougher distances that life outside of the run would feel easier again. Like before it worked. For a little while.

I found that I could complete 31 miles in the mountains, then 50, and then in 2007 I graduated to the mind numbing distance of 100 miles. It seemed, if I put my mind to it, I could finish any distance set before me. Pretty soon, I realized that simply completing ultramarathons wasn't a big enough challenge, and running them faster would be the key to making the races tougher. Granted, at the time, I did not have the knowledge, or finances to seek out the significantly harder races in existence.

Over the next few years I got a little faster, but was still basically a middle of the pack runner. I ran more and more, farther and farther. I worked 80 hours a week. I ran. My grandparents died. I ran. I celebrated life's triumphs. I ran. I broke up with my girlfriend. I ran. In the frozen winter. I ran. I moved away. I ran. I quit a job. I ran. In the silent hours of the night I ran. I ran physically and metaphorically in every capacity within my mind. I ran towards one thing and away from another. Running was a constant, but one that didn't always fulfill the same purpose from one run to another. Sometimes running was just a mindless escape, because I really didn't know what else to do. Even as I write this, it seems there are days I run simply out of lack of anything else going on in my life. It's just sort of there. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, and sometimes it's just something to do because all my friends are now married with kids. There are days where I feel like life is passing me by and that I missed the boat of opportunity to get married, settle down, and start a family. It's a wonderful thought, and yet scary because it seems like a loss of freedom.

Somewhere along the way the rugged trails I met with great trepidation years ago became more home to me than my own bedroom. My comforts used to be sitting in front of my computer, blasting my stereo, and flipping through 999 television channels filled with absolutely nothing. Now, it's the curve of the single track, the jagged rocks, and the canopy of trees that I relate to. Running used to be the grueling quest that made everything else in life look less complicated, but now it's what comes easier. When relationships fracture and work drains me, running doesn't force back the same perspective it used to. It used to be that running was complicated, and reality made sense. Now reality is complicated and running makes sense. The problem is when neither running, nor life outside running make any sense. When running becomes an unenjoyable trudge through the woods, and work and friendships are also suffering, it almost feels like I have nothing else to fall back on. In those times part of me wonders if I need to step back and reevaluate what matters in the case of my own fulfillment, and whether is it seeded in all the wrong places and people.

I suppose though my expectations are a bit too high. Nothing is meant to be fully understood, nor do I think I'd actually want to understand everything. I suppose I just need to remind myself that it's the unknown that makes the journey exciting.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Moments

"It is always surprising how small a part of life is taken up by meaningful moments. Most often they are over before they start, although they cast a light on the future and make the people who originated them unforgettable."
-Anna and the King

My great grandmother, simply called Nanny, was 90 years old the last time I saw her some 20 years ago. In fact, I can still remember our first encounter when I was a small child visiting Long Island many years past. Nanny lived in a small, yet spotless and cozy room in the lower level of my grandparents house. The only thing I recall was a portrait of Jesus hanging on the wall and a set of rosary beads neatly set on her desk top. The back of Nanny's her hands were soft, yet aged liked a fine sheet of paper. Paper is an appropriate analogy given that her hands alone reflected the stories of a life well lived. Nanny's eyes also told a story of living through two world wars, a great depression, and the witnessing of several generations of children come and gone. Her voice was a little shaky, but no doubt from the many stories shared. 90 years of life, and yet just a small stitch in the fabric of time.

Meaningful moments are hard to come by these days, yet they often define and shape who we are as people, and also the threads that intertwine the myriad of human relationships we experience. It is no coincidence that the greatest experiences a person can have on earth are centered around the celebrations of life, and the duplicity within the loss and gain of it. There's always a harmony. A balance. But, such is the case with all things. We are born, we die, we love, and we hate. We are all things that fall in between the distant poles of the latter. It's what makes us....well, us. Life, and it's meaningful moments are like priceless works of art. Their limited duration and terms of borrowed use are what derive the value. How many more sunrises will you see? How many more times will you lie on your back and gaze upon the clouds? Imagine a white Christmas with family, a child with sparklers on the fourth of July, or celebrating a baby's first steps. How many of anything do we truly have left? We frequently perceive life as an inexhaustible well of moments. But, it is not.



I was born in the port city of Busan, South Korea. Nobody knew what the future held. My sister was born several years later. Her first cries echoed in the hospital corridors, thus beginning a story that we could try to predict, but would never really know until it was lived out. Lived out in a series of meaningful moments. Mere seconds after her birth my sister was embraced in the adoring arms of my mother and father, both beeming as they ushered her arrival into this life. Hand in hand, this was their first dance. It was a moment where time stood still just for a second, because this particular place in history belonged to my family.



The years go by, and like winds sweeping over a desolate sandy beach, they take their share of dreams and hopes. Life doesn't go as planned, loved ones depart, but, like the rolling tides, the years also give something back.






Flashforward 28 years and 2 months. My little sister is now adorned in all white as she is about to walk down the aisle to meet her future husband. She is radiant only like a bride can be, or like a newborn person. Though the setting is a little different, it is a mirror image to her birth, but this time her it is her second life that she is about to embark on. Instead of receiving her, my parents are about to give her away in marriage. My father's hand is a little older, and his hair a bit grayer, but he holds my sisters hand again for the first time, and my mother looks on with the same adoration as 28 years before. The sun shines through the chapel stained glass, and it is truly one of the most beautiful moments I have, or will ever experience. We always knew this day would come, but when the day arrives you still find yourself saying "Is this day really here?" The moment takes your breath away because you've pictured it a thousand times in your mind, and yet no amount of imagination can prepare you for the real thing. When my sister walked the aisle, I saw all of our moments together. I saw my little curly haired sister running through the fields, playing piano, getting her license, and graduating from college. While everyone else saw one moment, my family witnessed them all.



...and yet, even the monumental nature of my sister's wedding ceremony was merely a one hour moment in our lives. Ask a person who, like my great grandmother, has lived say 70, 90, or even over 100 years. Even the oldest people on earth have lives that were most impacted by single events that lasted shortest amount of time. A birth, a death, an illness, a car crash, a wedding, a promotion, a family. One moment you are giving a best man toast, and the next you are making a funeral speach. From split seconds to decades, it is the accumilation of these individual moments that make up this thing called life. Moments reflect the past and cast a light on the future. We are all meaningful moments waiting to happen.



Let the father and daughter dance. In this moment.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Future of Course Records


Last year I wrote about the most impressive US ultramarathon course records, and now I think we may see all of them fall in the next several years. In fact, I believe by 2017, if not sooner, all the major course records will be broken.

In today's ultra scene we are seeing more and more fast marathon runners crossing over to the ultra world. Most of this is due to their desire for a change of scenery, a new challenge, but also because running a 2:12 marathon will no longer win you marathons. However, when most fast marathoners "figure out" out how to adapt to the ultramrathon distance, it would seem likely that all the hallowed records will fall. Afterall, a sub 2:20 marathoner won't win any marathons these days, but they likely have more than enough speed to win ultras, and win the money and endorsements that could come with it.

Fast marathon times obviously don't always correlate to ultramarathon success, and is even less likely to promote success at extremely technical ultras, like the Massanutten Trails 100. To some degree, the best long distance technical specialists, like Karl Meltzer, should continue to dominate races of extreme geographic nature (Hardrock etc.). Case in point, Timothy Olson, in ideal conditions, destroyed the course record at Western States, and he's by far not the fastest guy to run. However, grinding for 100 miles requires a different skill set than raw speed. Thus, I believe most 100 mile course records are likely very safe from the super fast marathoners, but for 100k and shorter, records will drop like they are hot. That doesn't mean 100 mile course records won't continue to fall, I think they will, but by the increasing number of elite ultrarunners competing, and not due to the marathon speedsters.

However, for all the non technical ultramarathons out there we are seeing the fast crossover marathoners finally starting to get the hang of ultras. Last weekend Sage Canaday, who I think is at the beginning of a dominant stretch of ultrarunning, took down Tony Krupicka's stout course record at White River. It was his first 50 miler, longest run ever, never saw the course before, and ran a ridiculous 6:16. Tony was in his peek, had Uli Steidl's splits, and ran the course twice before getting to his 6:25 time. Even in smaller events, like West Virginia's Capon Valley 50k, fast road guys are coming in to clean house. Andy Allstadt, a 2:22 marathoner, won Capon Valley with a time of 3:52 in his first ultra. He beat out the talented local ultra stud, my friend Brad Hinton, by 22 minutes, and he even got lost on the course. Imagine what he might do next year if he runs the same race? Previously, people thought sub 4 hours was blazing at Capon Valley, but clearly a Max King, or Sage Canaday could run sub 3:30.

The number of guys who can run in the 2:20's and lower is growing my leaps and bounds. Max King, Sage, Jordan McDougal, Khalib Wilkinson, Matt Woods, Michael Wardian...so on. Even the women are out there running 2:39, like Devon Crosby Helms, and 2:40's like Ellie Greenwood, Jenn Shelton, and Leah Thorvilson. Look out ultra world, course records are gonna get turned upside down. The last time super fast marathoners dedicated themselves to training for ultras we got Matt Carpenter, Uli Steidl, and Michael Wardian. Even Josh Cox got in a little ultra action with his 50k American Record.

So where do I predict course will go in the next few years?

Western States- Sub 14:30, though the weather is a huge factor(snow and heat)

Hardrock- Sub 22:30. Eventually a high altitude runner, other than Kyle Skaggs, will figure this course out

Leadville- Sub 15:30. I think this will be the last CR to fall given Matt Carpenter was in his prime, and was virtually unbeatable at altitude when he set his CR of 15:45

Vermont: Sub 14 hours.

Umstead: sub 12:45.

Rocky Raccoon: sub 12:30, though Ian Sharman made this a beast to beat

American River: sub 5:20. Fast guy on a cool day could do it

Mountain Masochist: Sage could go sub 6:15 there

JFK 50: sub 5:30. Clifton's CR was like the 4 minute mile. Now people KNOW it can be broken

Badwater: sub 22 hours

Wasatch: sub 17:30

MMT: sub 17:30

Way Too Cool: sub 3:20

Caumsett Park 50k- sub 2:50