Friday, January 25, 2013

A new way to HURT

Me, Brian, Miss Sonja.
Instead of a boring weekend recap, I decided to ask Miss Sonja a few questions about her first exposure to ultra racing at the 2013 HURT 100.  The following is a view of HURT through her eyes.

1. You recently paced Brian Recore at HURT, covering just shy of 26 miles on trail both overnight and the next day.  This was your first ultra experience.  What did you know going into the race.  Describe your expectations and your preconceptions.  

This was my first experience with an ultramarathon, and actually my first race experience. For those who don’t know, the HURT 100 course is 5 twenty mile laps of the same trail. Each lap is divided into 3 sections. Each section connects the 3 aid stations, which are in valleys. So each section starts with a climb out of the valley up to a ridge and a descent into a the valley and aid station.

I really didn’t know anything about this kind of event except what I picked up when we were crewing Brian for the first 50 miles of the race. Since I’d been sick and never run more than 10-12 miles, I thought I’d do one section at night and another in the morning to give Dave a break, depending on how I felt.

I really liked the casual small-event atmosphere. People were usually friendly and it felt low key. Once I got over feeling like I was not nearly bad ass enough to hang with these people, I had a great time. I showed up to switch with Dave and pace Brian at 11:30pm, which was about an hour before they showed up. So I schmoozed with the other crazy ultra runners who weren’t running and were volunteering or pacing, and cheered the runners coming out of the jungle in the middle of the night.

Every runner seemed to be handling it differently. Some were laughing, some were exhausted, some had their game face on, some were just going with the flow. A few just stared mechanically, downed some food and water and took off again. I set off with Brian up the trail after midnight, hoping that I wouldn’t totally blow it.

Brian at the finish
Brian was great. He pointed out the rough parts of the trail, where the rocks were slippery, or there was mud or roots. He was probably laughing at me because I couldn’t get over how cool it was to be going up this mountain through the forest. Blue and orange glow sticks hanging from tree branches marked switchbacks, low lying branches, or tricky parts of the path. The forks in the trail were marked with a bunch of tiny blinking lights in the trees. I felt like I was in Avatar, or some weird alien place. Every once in a while we’d cross paths with another runner or two, you could see the light from their headlamp bobbing in the distance. I learned to be nice to people and shield my headlamp, but I probably blinded a few people in the beginning when I was just staring around at everything like an idiot.

Pauoa Flats
We got to this place where the trail is laced by a network of roots, you can see a bunch of HURT 1000 pics from that part of the trail. You had to step carefully through the roots and trying to avoid the mud, and make sure you picked up your feet to avoid tripping, all in the pitch black and us just with our headlamps, me following Brian. The bamboo forests were something else too, spooky. Brian said it’s really nice to have a pacer coming through those. It’s totally quiet except for the bamboo rising up dense and dry on either side of you, creaking, snapping and knocking in the wind. Then there’s the descent near Manoa falls, with lots of slippery rocks to worry about. And there were a couple times where you could easily just put one foot wrong and you’d fall off the side of the trail. That’s it for you. At least if you have a pacer there’s someone to know where you went missing. Coming into the Paradise Park aid station was pretty awesome, the trail there is wide and paved just at the end, and they had lined either side of the trail with lanterns in paper bags. It was nice to see lights after a few hours in the forest.

2. You had seen the trails only once before, how did race day compare to this training day?  Were you adequately prepared for the terrain?

I didn’t really feel prepared but we thought I might not have to run much since more people were probably going to help out. But they ended up not being able to help so it was just Dave and I pacing Brian. We ran part of the course back in December and I’d been doing more trail hill runs in San Diego. I learned that I’m a decent climber. And a fast walker so I could take breaks from jogging and just walk for a bit. I hadn’t run for 2 weeks since I just had the worst flu I’ve had in years, so aside from still being a bit sick, my legs were fresh. I think that helped.

Easa's feasting pre-race

3. Were there any big surprises?  Anything unusual or unexpected?

The biggest surprise was how much I enjoyed it. Getting up at 11pm to go run through the jungle doesn’t seem like an awesome idea, but it wasn’t that bad. Getting up again at 11am the next day after 5h on the chilly trail the night before, only a couple hours sleep, a hacking cough and headache started to seem a little dumb, but once I arrived at the aid station, I was ready to get back out there. Plus, Brian had already run 85 miles, how the hell could I complain?

Post race dinner with Ray Sanchez

4. What was your favorite aid station and why? 

This buckle is a reward for 34 hours of movement.
They were all different. I really liked the Paradise Park aid station. They had a cute pirate theme, there were colored Christmas lights up and the lanterns lining the trail. The volunteers there were also really on top of it, getting stuff for the runners and making sure everyone was taken care of. I was pretty impressed. The Nature Center aid station was neat too, they had a lot of glow sticks and the lights on the bridge were hooked up to a motion detector so when a runner came down the trail they got brighter. Nu’uanu aid station was the smallest, but it was kind of fun because you had to cross the creek by jumping over the rocks—a little crazy at night—and for some reason they had a skeleton floating in the creek on a little inner tube. Whatever, I love it.

5. What did you notice about the other competitors?  Did anyone stand out to you? 

The other runners were all supportive of each other. Instead of saying hi, everyone we passed said things like “You got it” or “you’re doing great” which seems nice and encouraging but starts to feel like when people say “how are you doing” without really expecting an answer, kind of fake. But who cares? Better to be positive and encouraging. So I started saying my own little rah-rah stuff to the runners. Especially in the middle of the night. Cause yeah, you are doing pretty damn amazing, you’re still running through the jungle in the middle of the night. That’s freaking awesome. And by the next day, people were almost done with their 100 miles, so everyone really was totally rocking it.

6. How has your perception of distance changed as a result of this event. Do you feel any different about the numbers 26, 50 or 100 now? 

It’s hard to tell since this event is so unlike the shorter distance events or a road event. The trail is very steep at times and there’s a lot of it that’s almost un-runnable, unless you’re a freak, which I’ve heard there are guys that run it. It’s also muddy, rocky, and slippery. Parts of the trail are latticed with tree roots or rocks and you really have to pick up your feet and pay attention. There’s no opportunity to go on autopilot. It’s gotta be tough for the people who are out there all day and night.

Pre-race, circa 5:45 am

7. What methods were effective while pacing Brian.  Did you try anything which did not seem to help?

Brian is an experienced ultra runner and also had done the HURT 100 course before so I just followed his lead. I mostly tried to stay positive, chat when he was talkative and quiet when he was in his own zone. There were times when he was hurting and tired, I just stayed behind him and kept moving. I think he just liked having someone else around. When he stepped up the pace we kinda got a little goofy and I shouted encouragement or just that it was amazing to be running around all day and night, how gorgeous it all was and that he was doing awesome. Cause he was.

Manoa Aid Station
8. Did you pee on the trail and if so was this at all difficult being a girl? 

We actually talked about how your pee can turn brown from running all day and dehydration. He stopped to pee a couple times and I just went on ahead and waited for him to catch up or in the middle of the night I shouted that I had to pee too. He asked me if I checked for brown pee and I said I was more worried about his ass and did he check his pee? But it was night so neither of us knew.

9. What went through your head as you approached each aid station? 

I’m hungry, or yay I get to take a shower. I’m so glad I don’t have to keep going like Brian. I was also worried that Brian was getting bored with me and whether he’d prefer Dave but Brian seemed happy either way. It was pretty awesome to pace the last two sections of the race. We were counting down the miles and guessing cause both of our GPS watches were out of batteries. Brian found some more steam and pounded out the last couple miles with me hooting and hollering behind him. It was pretty awesome to follow him to the finish, even though I barely did anything, just to share in that was fabulous.

10. You had a number of conversations with Brian throughout the night and during the day.  Were there any that were particularly amusing or entertaining that you'd care to share with the vast readership of Irrelevance?

[[Editor's note, apparently not]]

11. Do you feel any increased understanding of the mindset behind someone who competes in 100 mile races?  Or does it seem just as looney as it might have before?

It’s totally nuts! But I guess I see more of why people do it. It’s the whole question of how far can I push myself? What are my real limits? I’ve found out I can go further than I thought I could go, so the next question is, how much further can I go? And how much faster? But I’m not one of those people who really likes to push myself to the extreme. And I like sleeping. So I don’t think ultras are for me. But I certainly enjoyed pacing this course. You get some of the fun with less of the mindnumbing hours and insane mileage. This course is also more in line with my idea of fun. It’s in Hawaii, so its absolutely beautiful, I remember pointing out some crazy flowers and trees. The views were gorgeous, and the technical trail keeps your mind busy. I’m not sure I’d like pacing a hot sweaty road marathon as much.

12. What did you like best about pacing? 

All the fun, none of the pain. Maybe just a little.

13. Which shoes did you wear and how did they treat your feet?

Adidas Boston 3. They were great. They’re not trail shoes and they’re nice and light, but they have a stiff enough sole to protect from rocks. I had no problems with my feet. Even though I shattered my navicular bone a few years ago and was told I might never run again. I thought that might to bother me or the screws would start to make my foot ache but it wasn’t too bad.

Nu'uanu Aid Station
Jackass Ginger

14. Would you do anything different if you pace the same race again? 

I would have been more prepared. I wasn’t expecting to race at all since I had been so sick and I wasn’t sure Brian and Dave would even need me to help out. So I didn’t bring warmer clothes for running at night (I would have brought a long sleeved shirt and a t shirt), it was a little breezy on the ridges at the top of the climbs, and being sick made me colder. But it was still Hawaii and cold here is not too bad.

The view from Tantalus
I would have been generally more ready to race, I probably would have enjoyed having a pack to stash my cellphone and maybe a bit more water. This isn’t a good trail to carry water in hand since so much of the climbs and descents are technical, you need your hands, I just put the water bottle between my teeth, plus there were a couple times Brian almost went over the cliff in the dark. Running downhill you also need your arms for balance and a bottle is annoying. Having hands free would have been beneficial. But with aid stations every 5-7 miles and relatively cool weather, you don’t need to pack much.

15. You ran a lot more than planned, why did you choose to continue for extra sections?
Banyan tree (aka banging tree)

We thought we’d have more pacing help but I also felt like I could handle it, and I wanted to see what I could do. Pretty much I was enjoying the experience. When I woke up from 2 h sleep after my first sections, I was coughing up all sorts of fun stuff and I felt awful and I was all ready to tell Dave and Brian that I’d crew at the aid stations but as far as running was concerned, they boys were on their own. Then after I had coffee, I started to feel a little bit better. I thought, I’m in Hawaii, I might as well be out there enjoying it, so I decided to do a couple more sections and give Dave a break. Plus, Brian seemed like he didn’t need much other than a little company and I was pretty sure I could hang. Had we been running more, I would have had a harder time I think. But on those steep climbs and descents, I found I felt pretty good. Also, if Brian could do 100 miles, worrying about 5 or 12 seemed stupid in comparison.

16. There are a number of spectacular views along the course, any that you remember specifically? 

Post race
The night views were the coolest. There was one view on the second leg at night, I think it was 3 in the morning, and the moon was over the city of Honolulu. I’d been pacing Brian already for a few hours through the jungle and bamboo and whatever, and we come to the top of this ridge and have these amazing views of Honolulu or Pearl Harbor. How many people get to see that? It felt pretty special.

17. You were sick going into this and sick after.  Did you notice feeling sick during?  Did you think about that? 

There were some times when I felt pretty awful. I probably shouldn’t have run, but the only thing I was concerned about was keeping up with Brian and keeping him happy. This wasn’t about me. I felt bad that I was coughing a lot, and then right at the end I couldn’t stop sneezing, I think something just got to me. But at least that was only the last mile or 2.

18. How do you explain your experience to friends or family members who don't run more than 10 miles at a time?

This wasn’t really running. It was more hiking up and down some pretty crazy terrain and running where the trail was good. We did less running at night because the visibility wasn’t great. But there were some times when Brian totally turned it on during the downhill and I was pretty impressed that he could find that kind of speed after all that he’d already done. This course is really hard on your knees, hips and back. Brian predicts that I’ll get into this distance stuff, we’ll see.

Friday, January 18, 2013


RR introduced me to the concept of time retarded-ness (a lovely double entendre isn't it?), which is certainly one of my personal character traits.  It has been far too long since I've had a chance to contribute to my blog, and the pressure created by my written constipation imparts a measurable increase in my craving to contribute.  Life has simply not slowed down enough for me tow write.  From an alternate perspective, I just have not made space to write, it hasn't been enough of a priority since I haven't managed to find time for all of the workouts I'd have liked to fit in and for whatever reason I place workouts on a higher rung than writing.  I will say that there has been no absence of desire to write and that makes me feel good.  Knowing that my interest has not waned helps confirm my original intention of starting this blog, the point was to force myself to reflect, and in so doing, to awaken my soul to parts of me which might otherwise have a tendency to lie dormant.  There was never any timeline, never any expectations, just a commitment to avoid being so buried in life that I forgot to check in and ask myself "how is it going?"  Today, that answer seems to be that while I may take a lot longer than everyone else, as I have with my yoga teaching intention, eventually I seem reach the same finish line, whether by persistence, stubbornness, ignorance, or basic survival.

As I sit, on a plane heading to Honolulu to crew and pace for Brian Recore at HURT, I finally have a spare moment to send my internal monologue into written words.  Spurred by recent conversation with Miss Sonja about friends who are trying to have kids, other friends who are pregnant and expecting, friends going through breakups, science and statistics and anecdotal stories surrounding the experience of pregnancy, the subject of marriage, and the magic of creating life, a myriad of thoughts run through my head.  The more I contemplate, the more it seems that my perspective tends to boil down to what I as an individual tend to like and dislike, what I approve and disapprove, far more than what I can justify or explain.  Call this gut reaction, or personal preference, it's a matter of taste instead of black and white, right and wrong.  This is probably excruciatingly obvious to anyone else, but I guess from my side I've tried to make sense of it and understand in what ways I may have cloudy vision, in what ways I may be closed minded.  I ask myself why I am not worried about a 31 year old friend who has not yet conceived but has been trying to do so and I have no real answer, no scientific study, just a gut feel that everything will work out well in the end.  Compare that to another friend going through a breakup at roughly the same age, who will certainly bounce back stronger than ever and yet who I feel a certain empathy for, most likely because of my own personal experiences with a similar situation.  I know I can never be pregnant and perhaps that is why I struggle to fully understand the fear of having all of the plumbing and yet still not being able to get the system to do the job it was designed to do.  Perhaps my summers working labor and delivery and my rudimentary knowledge of population growth make me slightly more pragmatic about childbirth.  I'm honestly not sure, and I'm just as amused by my perspective as Miss Sonja seems to be.

If I am to reflect a bit, I would say one of the bigger shifts in my attitude over the past 5 years is how I seem to have embraced non attachment, specifically with respect to deadlines.  I was raised by a father, heavily influenced by his own father, who incessantly repeated "pay now or pay later".  Shall I say he pounded this down my throat as a child?  It wouldn't be a tremendous embellishment to do so.  The guidance was to always take advantage of the plethora of opportunities I have been given, don't wait, don't be lazy, accomplish, achieve, hit the mark, pay the bill, set myself up for a better tomorrow.  Watching Lance's interview last night I felt that a lot of what he had to say, whether calculated, heartfelt, or likely somewhere in between, had to do with his own tendencies to do the same.  Lance seemed to have recently understood exactly how dangerous across-the-board application of ruthlessness can be, and how valuable a few critical judgement calls might have been.  Think for a moment how absurd it might be to theme a yoga class around "pay now or pay later" and you have some idea of just one of the very valid exceptions to this rule.

I submitted my audition application this week, the beginning of the "tryout" process for CorePower.  I know more than I probably should about how it works, having discussed it with various friends, most of whom have made it through, some of whom have not.  I am amused at how I feel about this.  Part of me is nervous, not so much about speaking in front of people I have not met yet, nor of being judged, but simple nervousness about the perhaps 1 in 100 possibility that I don't give the best that I have to give on that day.  This is the healthy dose of nervousness, the kind which precedes a race of importance, and it serves as a barometer that I am moving in a direction which suits me, it serves as reinforcement that I care and it is almost always a good thing to care.  In addition to this nervousness, I also feel a fairly healthy dose of non attachment to the outcome, and this is an emotion that is relatively new to me.  If I make it through, I will be thrilled.  If it is not yet my time to teach, I don' think I will be disappointed.  I have decided to audition, I have decided to offer myself, in my current capacity, to guide others through their 60 minute moving meditation and if I am not yet deemed ready, that is completely fine with me.  It has taken me a year longer to reach this point than most of my peers and yet I feel no shame.  I firmly believe my practice continues to evolve as does my teaching and for that I am truly grateful.  Interestingly, the primary motivator to audition is that the one class I have been most involved in, the free karma class on Sunday afternoons, is reserved for the next round of teacher trainers going through their second round of training.  In essence, I have overstayed my welcome in the minor league and it is time to check in and see if I am ready for some big boy yoga pants.  The karma class was conceived as a bridge to the audition and eventually a permanent place on the schedule, not as the semi-permanent home which is how I treated it.

I am actually a little surprised at how much I have enjoyed being a part of the Sunday afternoon karma classes.  Perhaps it is the timeslot, or maybe the low expectations I carry into a free class?  There is an element of satisfaction in seeing some of the same faces on a weekly basis, of watching smiles head out the door and feeling that I have somehow contributed in a positive way.  Despite only having one sibling, I exhibit the pleaser mentality of a middle child in that my greatest happiness tends to come from contributing to the happiness of others around me.  In that capacity yoga serves me quite well, both as student and as teacher.

Another surprise I've unearthed is that I'm not getting bored, my practice feels just as dynamic as my running and on any given day I'd really prefer to make time for both.  There is a certain satisfaction waiting for me within the small details of my practice.  The daily work towards alignment fascinates me even if the progress seems infinitesimal.  I haven't gotten bored of teaching either, with every passing week I embrace the opportunity to throw a playlist together, pick out a theme, and attempt to create harmony in honor of those who have done so for me and as a celebration of our collective ability to breathe life into the otherwise empty space of the studio.  Part of the reason I took my sweet time getting my final done, turning in my hours, and submitting my application was to make sure that I did not burn out, to make sure that this was something I still wanted to do, and it seems to me that it is, it seems to me that I do.

Will I ever be good?  I doubt it.  I am not very good at most things I do and yoga has not slipped into any semblance of proficiency while I wasn't looking.  I'm not really shooting for good, I don't think that is going to by my schtick.  I see myself more as a "Rudy" type, someone who will inspire others despite my own shortcomings and very visible mistakes.  I probably won't ever be the guy who remembers to tell a new student that it's OK to drop a knee in side plank, just as Rudy doesn't get to spike the ball in the end zone (sorry for the spoiler.)  I come to my mat to celebrate my own intensity and enthusiasm and to share that with others in every way that I can.  I come to class to bring "it" in all forms and to then to give away all of "that" to everyone else.

In that light, do I think I have a place teaching a little bit of yoga once or twice a week?  Yes, yes I do.  I think this precisely because I know that when I give all of myself, others tend to take notice and want to join in the fun.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Wide Awake

Has my music taste changed so much that I actually listen to mainstream pop now?

I suppose that is possible.  Or perhaps, in search of a cure for my own acute insomnia, reading the most random comments imaginable interlaced with spam and profanity may be the key to dulling my senses.

In the meantime, the period between sleeping and awake, I contemplate the año nuevo.  Not the state park, but the first day of 2013, although I'd really like to work another SF-SD bike trip in this year which would include a flyby of the aforementioned state park.

What do I remember most from New Year's?  How could I forget when every muscle in my body still aches, even my intercostals and trapezius.  Rolling over in bed incites a vivid remind of just how human I actually am, the net result of 300 minutes of moving meditation.

I remember what it was like a quarter century ago when my father and I would spend all day at the club playing tennis.  We would come home wasted, cooked, and completely incapable of movement.  My mother would laugh while we sat on the wood floor in the hall.  Invariably my father would be asleep on the floor by 8pm, perhaps with a koozie of Olympia nearby.  It would be difficult for me to cleave apart nature and nurture with both influences seeming to align towards making me the fool that I have become.  However I do draw upon my past, specifically my college years when I did little to no exercise, and when I noticed how much I truly disliked being unhealthy.  I certainly feel that the desire to access physical transformation is buried within my DNA as well as baked into my brain from early childhood.

January first started off gently.  My tentative plan was to run in the ranch with Luc, catch a 10:30 class with Fukumura, and finish the day off with 108 Sun Salutations at my home studio.  It seemed fine until I realized that New Year's eve called for a 5:30 wakeup to help out the retail manager who is tasked with a quarterly inventory count, coupled with a commitment to a New Year's eve party in Normal Heights which meant a 30 minute drive home.  I decided at 7am that the run would have to wait, and took a more leisurely approach to the first morning of the year.

Shelley met up with Sonja and I for the Fuku class and we giddily laid out our mats and waited in anticipation of the magic.  To watch this man move is to experience a sense of dance coupled with weightlessness and elasticity.  As if it were made of clay, his body can twist in ways that I have never seen and yet he can do so effortlessly, as a reminder of the truly amazing capability of the human body. The best part of a Fuku class is working through something basic, something you've done hundreds of times in the past, but doing so with a fresh and focused perspective.  Take the jump switch for example, the transition between low lunge with R foot forward to low lunge with L foot forward.  The novice approach this as a physical challenge, perhaps a half mountain climber, an obstruction to be pushed aside, and sends one leg violently backwards while driving the other deep into the front of our mat.  Fuku's jump switch is a little different.  He graciously lifts up and lightly lands on his toe, meanwhile his other foot has teleported between his hands.  You don't even see that second part because you are too entranced watching the first.  There is no noise or vibration when this happens, the transition between stillness and motion is so seamless that it completely disappears.  This man can do things that make a cat seem crude and awkward.

So, after that #mindblown two hour part-workshop, part-vinyasa, part-sweaty-fun, Shelley, Sonja and I gathered some quick calories and headed off to the studio for 108 sun salutations.  There was some discussion of the significance of the number 108 and I while I knew it was one of the special numbers (like 8 is for the Chinese), I am sad that I did not read this article or this blog ahead of time.  Specifically this little tidbit of trivia which is sort of #mindblowing as well.

This number also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth: The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.

The real beauty of 108 sun salutations, however, is that something which starts off as easy becomes challenging.  For those who don't practice, a sun salutation is equivalent to a stride before a run workout, a couple of laps before masters, or that first 2-3 minutes on the bike where everyone stays together and the bs quotient exceeds the work quotient.  While there can be vigor in downward dog, chaturanga, and tadasana, these poses are also some of the easiest and most natural to ease into with half measures and quarter efforts which are exactly how a warmup should begin.

Halfway through the class, which wound up corresponding to 45 out of 90 minutes but well past the 54th sun salutation, Ahlia gave us a verbal indication of having reached a halfway point.  This wound up being amusingly controversial as some participants took it as objective data indicating that 50% of the work remained.  Having experienced 108 sun salutations twice before, and having put myself through countless endurance events, I know how twisted numbers can become when scrambled into the context of a physical challenge.  Many of us who have finished a few marathons would agree that the increase in difficulty experienced during the final 10k cannot truly be measured inside the context of the difficulty of the first 10k.  It was therefore heartwarming that Ahlia chose not to give us any numerical feedback although she was counting with beads to make sure we did the correct number.

Once we reached the end and cooled off with a few supine poses, the net effects started to kick in.  While neither session was heated, both rooms were packed and body heat coupled with the humidity of a sweaty room had left all of us fairly depleted.  The call was for diet soda and a little recap at casa Melba.

One little gotchya, though.  Todd, having recently moved to the neighborhood, wasn't about to let me off the hook for a New Year's day run.  So, by the time I got home with soda, Todd has laced up and jogged the half mile to my door.  I threw on my shoes, grabbed Jack's leash, and we took off for a 60 minute tour of the Encinitas ranch trail system.  As sunset arrived, at the top of Westlake, I thanked Todd for the final beatdown and Jack and I headed home.  I slept heavy that night.

I'm not sure any of that explains why I am wide awake right now.  But it was a great tone to set for the new year, and it was a joyful day to remember, shared with friends, smiles, and plenty of sweat.  So I'm sort of still smiling as I remember how lucky I am, to be able to move, to be healthy, and to have the opportunity to share time with others in these simple ways.