Sunday, October 10, 2010


2009 Full Splits
2011 Full Splits
2010 Full Splits

I am writing this 15 months after the fact.  It is the blog that got away, the moment in time that I kept to myself until this evening.  I won't lie, 2010 was a unique year for me.  A year of transition.  I felt a lot of pain, more than I thought I could feel, and also bitterness, even anger and hopelessness.  I carried a massive amount of emotional energy, much of it negative, through that summer.  I chose to funnel that energy into running for lack of any other positive outlet to select.  Chicago 2010 became a punctuation mark in my life, a weekend that I won't ever forget.

The whole Chicago idea started in 2009 with my dear friend, John Healy, who ran a 2:38 in the only marathon he has ever done.  I signed up with him, and paced him for 10 miles that year before dropping back and limping in as I progressively froze in the 31 degree air.  I vowed to never return to that city after that day.  Two other friends, David Lipke and Jeff Rangan signed up for Chicago after hearing of Healy's accomplishment, but I watched the race reach capacity from the sidelines, too consumed with work and personal turmoil to avenge my defeat.  Out of the midst of that turmoil and confusion, without any set intention, a confluence of factors all lined up in the same direction and converged on 10-10-2010.

It started with giving up.  Perhaps this was my first real yoga lesson, the hardest part sometimes is letting go and sinking in to the pose we have a natural tendency to fight.  My last strong marathon at the time was my 2006 2:37 at RnR SD.  I hadn't achieved a significant running PR in 3 years.  I wasn't training well, I wasn't eating well, I was overloaded at work and so emotionally invested in what I had built that I couldn't let go and walk away.  Then my fiance at the time moved out of the house we had spent 2 years remodeling together.  I left my job and started at a new company, meeting new friends and learning all sorts of new things.  With the job change, less responsibility, and the unexpected switch to being single, I found myself with a lot of free time on the weekends and no emotional interest in continuing the home improvement efforts which had been geared towards a life with someone who decided that was not what she wanted.  I did what every washed-up, never-was runner does when they get old, I turned to ultrarunning.  I figured my road PR's were all behind me, after multiple attempts to crack 2:37, I figured it was just a fluke or an incredibly special day and that I should really just be grateful for it.

As I got more comfortable on dirt, and I started spending large portions of the weekend on singletrack, an interesting thing happened.  I got fit again.  The last time I had really felt fit was mid 2006, and during the 3 years since that time I had forgotten how incredible it feels to reach peak fitness.  Initially I just wanted to get ready to pace Mike Buchanan over the last 40 miles of his first Western States adventure, an effort that I knew would require me to be prepared.  Then Rod asked me to pace him at Leadville and that seemed serious to me.  I borrowed Mike Mahurin's altitude tent and built my mileage up to 100 mile weeks, often times running to and from work (12 miles each way at the time) to avoid the traffic and just because I had nothing else worth caring about.  I even mixed in one or two run-to-the-pool, swim masters, run-to-work, run-home days when run commuting got too boring.  I met Patrick and Nick in the ranch at 6am with headlamps to do battle whenever they suggested it.  That summer was mostly overcast and while everyone else complained about not seeing the sun, I used the perfect running weather as further incentive to push myself.  I started eating better, incorporating salads and fruits into my diet and I dropped 10 lbs down into the mid 160's for the first time in decades.  I got into yoga and started swimming a bit too, filling in the extra time in the day when I wasn't running to work on my strength and flexibility.  I leveraged my long time running pal, Luc Teyton's sage advice and out-of-his-bum training plan, often surprising even myself with what I was able to put together in the middle of those big weeks.  The altitude tent wound up increasing my HCT from 43 to 49, and I felt like I had an extra gear, a sort of Flowers For Algernon effect that had both physical and psychological implications.  Add in the mix of emotional pain when my x-fiance started dating and I wound up running a 3 minute PR at the AFC half marathon the weekend my engagement ring was returned.

The week after AFC, as the dust settled, I learned from David Lipke that his sister, Lisa, was hoping to run 2:45 at Chicago to get her olympic trials qualification time.  The race was full, but Jeff realized that my AFC time was 9 seconds slower than the cutoff for entry to the elite development program.  Even though the race had filled months earlier, the elite development entry deadline was still a couple of days away.  With nothing to lose, I shot an email off to the coordinator who surprised me by granting me entry.  I signed up, booked my flight, and decided it was time to avenge my chilly performance the year before.

At first I thought I'd just pace Lisa to her 2:45, presumably with Jeff and David and one of Lisa's friends.  However, as the next few weeks played out, I kept running stronger and I reached a peak where I knew it was time for me to be selfish.  Lisa wound up running 2:48, just missing her time, but proving that she could do it.  This all set the stage for the 2011 Chicago marathon where she and I took care of her unfinished business from 2010.  In 2009 I had stayed with a friend in Evanston while Healy was styled out in a hotel downtown, and this turned out to be a bit of a logistical challenge since my head wasn't really in the race from the start, although my body wasn't ready either and the temperatures were a bit rough for this Hawaii boy.  For 2010, after witnessing how wise Healy is and how taking a race seriously can actually pay off, I took John's advice and tried to do it all the right way.  Jeff, Lipke and I got a room at the W and we played it pretty mellow the day before the race, doing a little walking, some eating, some socializing, and some relaxing.

Race morning came quickly, with Jeff and I spooning in one bed and Lipke in the other.  Things just went smoothly that morning, we met up with Lisa and her friend and the 5 of us walked from the hotel to the start.  The temps were perfect, no wind, not cold, not hot, and I knew the course very well from the year before.  I left Jeff and Lipke and went off the the elite development corral with Lisa.  Anyone who has seen "Up In the Air" knows that frequent travelers like elite status, and frequent runners are no different, we love the VIP tent for the access to food, space to stretch out, short lines at the port-o-potties, and like-minded, non-dorky athletes.  Being allowed into that elite development tent started my day off right.  Everyone there was faster than me and arrived ready to qualify for the olympic trials.  I was one of the few who was there for that day, this _was_ my marathon trials, my moment of glory, not just a stepping stone towards a loftier goal.  I remember saying a few words to Kris Houghton, a fellow BSK runner and sub 15 5K guy who I think had just had a son a few months prior, both of us seemed so loose and calm.  I left my bag on the side of the tent and wandered off to the corral reserved for skinny legs, short shorts, and 6 packs, feeling a special sense of privilege for being a part of it.

The gun went off and within seconds we were all off and the thoughts changed from apprehension to execution.  I ran those first few miles remembering David Volk's advice from the year prior, that finding a good pack for the first 10 is worthwhile because that's where the wind will be if there is any wind.  I remember starting off closer to 6 min pace as I had the year prior with John, but then finding a group and making the conscious decision to go with them even though they were moving faster.  The paced ratcheted down to 5:40-ish and we rolled steadily through 5k, 10k, and hit the half split on track to crack 2:30.  I didn't honestly expect to break 2:30 but in the state of mind I was in, I was ready to go for broke because I knew this was the most fit my legs and heart had ever been and I strongly doubted I would ever be able to cultivate the right blend of fierce intensity that I had at that moment.  There is a right turn just before hitting that halfway split which is in the middle of downtown and where a ton of spectators line up behind barricades on both sides of the street.  It pumps you up if you're having a good day, and it gives you a burst that carries you through the first section of the second half.

At 17 I got to see Chaz, Ashley and Marley where they hang out every year.  They had a sign for me and they were stoked to see me smiling this year instead of frozen like they had seen last year.  My heart was warmed from the inside for their endless, overflowing friendship, they are truly one of the most incredible families I have the privilege of knowing.  That warmth carried me along until the turnaround at 18 or 19, when the course really opens up.  Wide streets and thinning packs change the mood, all of a sudden you are racing yourself or maybe one or two other people in front of you instead of mixing it up, elbow to elbow with the guy next to you.  The air started to warm up too, and I noticed myself sweating, feeling the crystals of salt form on my skin as I started to chafe a bit.  I've been in that experience before and I know that a few cups of water on your head can help keep things cool under the hood and also provide a bit of a refreshing shock to keep the motivation from draining away.  Growing up in Hawaii, I embrace the heat.  Sure, I run faster at 50 degrees than 80, but I enjoy the sensations of warmth so much more than being cold.

I started counting down the miles once I hit 20, intent on keeping every mile under 6 min pace.  That was one thing I hadn't done at RnR when I pulled off that 2:37.  I remember one goof, one mile over an overpass to Vacation Island that clocked in at 6:37 and that imperfection had cost me a chance at 2:36.  This time, with all that I had put in, I vowed to not let myself run slower than 5:59.  Of course, intentions and actions don't always line up and as the splits say, I was really fighting hard to keep it sub 6 and really reaching the limit of what my body could do.  I remember the carpeted bridge where Minnie Mouse had passed me in 2009.  This time there was no sight of him.  I remember the left turn just after that bridge where I had started walking a bit, this time I knew I would not be walking.  I remembered Chinatown where a girl had ran past me with her shirt tucked into her shorts, in a jog bra and short shorts, while I was wearing a long sleeve, gloves, beanie, and couldn't feel my fingers.  This time, I ran hard through Chinatown and I did the passing.  This time the sun was shining.  This time it was game time.  I remembered the section through the college which felt like a death march last year, this time I powered over that overpass and through the campus and found myself on the home stretch before I realized it was time to kick it in.  Two and a half long, straight miles on Michigan Ave, lined with photos of fallen CPD officers and I'd be home.  I cranked as hard as I could.  I passed Manny who was having a bit of an off day I guess but I didn't notice him.  I had total tunnel vision.  Nothing mattered other than getting to the timing mat.  Who cares about my f'd up life, f'd up career, f'd up relationships, it all evaporated in that last 5k.  "Just keep it under 6" were the only words circulating through my thoughts.

And then it was over.  And I felt tremendously empty.  I went back to the elite development tent and ate myself silly but that didn't help.  I got a call from the x-fiance on the walk back to the W and that didn't help.  I had just achieved everything I came there for, the sun was shining, it was a beautiful day in a beautiful city and I had Chaz and Lipke and Jeff and Lisa to share it with and I still felt empty.  Empty and broken.  I can't explain it.  It was a wonderful weekend.  We showered up and went to get deep dish pizza and had a good time.  I felt all alone, even among some of my best friends, surrounded by warmth.

It was at that moment, the end of my race, when I stopped struggling and finally accepted the massive shift in my life that 2010 represented.  I stopped fighting it.  I sunk in and embraced the sensations of pain which I had been channeling into running.  Over the next three months, I fell into quite a nasty funk.  I picked up a little hamstring injury, got severely addicted to yoga, met some incredible people and wound up being saved from that low by Krissy who coached me to my first finish at Western States.


  1. what a story
    thanks for sharing this

    amazing amazing run

  2. i saved this for my last post to read. wow. amazing. really amazing. so interesting how you can train your body to do so much and at the same time find this stuff happening in your mind. really great. thanks for sharing this and the rest of your blog. i am officially done reading it!! time to remove the bookmark. thank you. and by the way you have tremendous talent.