Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I run because there are demons to exorcise...

One of the most terrifying films I have ever seen is 'The Exorcist' in which a young girl is possessed by the devil.

Young Regan quickly goes from a sweet, pre-adolescent girl to an expletive spewing, spider crawling monstrosity. While eventually Regan's demons are exorcised, it occurs with no shortage of bloodshed and tragedy.

I have always been of the opinion that we carry demons around with us. There are the dark thoughts that keep us awake at night, the anxieties and fears about the things we can't control, or troubling ruminations.

As a child, I felt like I had little control over my demons. They would manifest in angry, violent ways sometimes. I
 found myself in the principal's office on more than one occasion. I often didn't understand how I got there. It was if something had possessed me not unlike young Regan.

But, there were things that happened in our house that were scary, terrifying, and impossible for my young mind to understand and they possessed me at times.

Perhaps that is why I gravitated towards films like 'The Exorcist'. Terrifying films like this in some small way made the scary things I encountered at home a bit more palatable.

While what happened in these films was often horrific, the protagonist almost inevitably prevailed and I suppose I needed to see this to remind myself that I could prevail as well.

I struggled greatly in childhood to master my demons. I felt like there was so little that was within my control, including my own behavior.

Then, I discovered running. Grueling and exhausting at first, running soon became the kind of exorcism I desperately needed.

The fears, anger, and voices of doubt quieted and sometimes ceased entirely when I was on the road.

My feelings of impotence and lack of control waned as I realized I actually was in control when I ran. There was much that I could not control, but I could control my own actions. It was entirely up to me how far and fast I went.

Upon completing my runs, the runner's high would wash over me providing a peace and serenity (if only short lived) that gave me hope that my demons could at least be controlled, if not entirely exorcised.

Countless miles later and a couple decades later, running is still my preferred form of exorcising demons.

Whether it is a crappy day, an opportunity squandered, a vexing conundrum, a lurking frustration, or some combination of the aforementioned, running never fails.

When I find myself on the verge of spider walking into the abyss, I take a deep breath, put on my shoes, and go.

Miles later, the demons may still be present but their voices are less pronounced. Their presence is less a threat and more of a nuisance. Their power has waned.

So, I run because I have demons...and they need to be exorcised....


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I run because I am transcendent.

The days leading up to my departure for the Boston Marathon were a seething cauldron of personal and professional stress. A few friends asked me if I was excited and the truth was I had so much I was dealing with that I scarcely had time to even think about let alone get excited about the marathon.
Mercifully, I boarded my plane and was able to literally and figuratively put my challenges behind me. While I hadn't overcome any of them, I could at least get a respite from them for a few days.
Very quickly I began to grasp how different this experience would be from any other race I had participated in. The flight attendant called attention to a man sitting to my right sporting a Boston Marathon jacket. A collective roar ensued in celebration of his imminent journey. A few chills ran down my spine.
Several hours and thousands of miles later, we touched down. I was bombarded with Boston Strong banners, blue, yellow, and a seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm for a race that had been on my bucket list for more than a decade.
The requisite expo visit the next morning was utter bedlam. I was feeling overwhelmed and the fitful, meager hours of sleep I managed the night before didn't help. I appreciated the energy, passion, and enthusiasm at the expo, but I needed to decompress from a week that had been bedlam in its own right. I got what I needed and got out of there.
The truth is I am very much a solitary beast when it comes to my races. I generally need to be by myself the day before a race. This race was no exception. While I had no illusions I was going to run the race of my life, I knew I wasn't in the right head space and I needed to be in order to tackle 26.2 miles with a training regime that was best.
I spent several hours taking contrast baths to flush out any lingering adhesions, kinks, or other demons. I foam rolled a tight, heavy body that was barely in shape to attempt a marathon. I breathed deeply and meditated trying to quiet the nagging voices reminding me of all the chinks in my all too vulnerable armor.
My efforts paid dividends as sleep came easily that night. I was not at my best, but I would be ready to put it all on the line for a race that had a special place in my heart. The morning came all too quickly and the journey to the start line was a marathon unto itself.

Unlike all races I had previously competed in, this one involved a considerable amount of sitting around and waiting before even getting to the starting line. Eventually, the call came for me and the rest of the qualifiers to enter the corral. I breathed deeply and tried to filter out the omnipresent nervous energy that threatened to seep into my pores.

I was one corral from the elite runners, but knew I had no business being there. While I qualified with a fast time, that was nearly two years and a fractured sacrum ago. I would be lucky to manage a time 15 minutes slower than what I posted previously. I reminded myself that I simply had to do the best with what I had today. There were no pace goals, this was a pure gut race.
The dam burst and runners flooded past me in a blur. My ego grabbed hold briefly as countless streamed by me, but I told it to get lost. Making it here was enough and it was all I could reasonably expect.
Several miles into the race and it was still constant jockeying for position. I positioned myself near the shoulder of the road in an attempt to avoid the chaos, but it was hard to escape it. The road was crowded, but the chaos gradually started to abate as starting line jitters were exorcised. There was still a long way to go and adrenaline is only good for a quick hit.
Thoughts of the various challenges and frustrations I dealt with earlier in the week started to bubble to the surface, but I halted them. I would need them for the latter stages of the race when energy would be in short supply.
The sheer number of runners and spectators present was staggering. I am usually not one for wasting time and energy high fiving spectators, but I couldn't help myself.
13.1 miles approached and while I wasn't gassed, I wasn't terribly comfortable. I was ten pounds heavier than usual and had barely scraped together the minimum long runs required to give this a shot.
I felt like I was plodding awkwardly and still had a long way to go. But, regardless of my meager training and additional weight, I knew I could muster a strong finish if I marshaled my resources properly through the first 20 miles.
I also knew the Newton Hills were approaching and believed I could find a second wind here. The scream tunnel at Wellesley still echoed in my ears as I pushed onward.
Once again, the anger and frustration from a difficult week threatened to take hold and I had to fight the urge to indulge these emotions. I would need them after I put 20 miles behind me and needed to run on guts, anger, adrenaline, and sheer force of will.
A particularly loud roar from the spectators distracted me and tears welled up. I was reminded that I was part of something so much bigger than me. I could feel the energy from the crowd and was so grateful to have it on my side.
The hills arrived. Undaunted, I attacked them. I had climbed countless on the trails and throughout the streets of San Francisco. The second wind came as I began passing fading runners through this stretch without expending any additional energy.
I crested the final hill and my time had arrived. I was tired, but the finish line was nigh. I had the crowd and the demons from the past week to give me what I needed for this final stretch. It was time for me to finish.
My pace quickened as I began to actively ruminate on the challenges that had created no shortage of stress for me. The anger and frustration I had held in check for more than twenty miles began to wash over me in waves. Along with this came no shortage of adrenaline.
Boston approached and along with it came a deafening roar that transcended anything I have ever heard. Two miles of this deafening roar carried me closer and closer to the finish.
Once again, I fought back tears as I realized they were all in my corner and I was no longer running just for me, I was running for them. 

I was running for those who had been impacted by last year's tragedies, for those who only dreamed of being here, and for the countless who had their hearts broken last year at this race.
The final mile approached and I unleashed everything. This would be my slowest marathon in more than ten years, but I would finish harder and stronger than I had in any of my races.
The anger, the frustration, the crowds, the energy, the noise, and what little I had left drove me across the finish line with nothing left.
My fastest mile of the race would be my last. Dazed, spent, 
staggering, and barely coherent...I had finished.
It has taken me nearly a month to process what I experienced 
at the Boston Marathon. It's been exceedingly difficult to find 
the right words to capture what I experienced.   
I only recently realized why it’s been so difficult for me. It’s 
because what I experienced was beyond the range of normal 
or merely physical human experience. In other words, it 
was transcendent. 
I don’t know if I will ever experience anything like this again. 
But, it’s possible I might. So, I run because (every once in awhile) 
I am transcendent. 


Thursday, May 15, 2014

The City 13.1 Launch Details....

Here are some details around what to expect on Saturday as we've got a BIG day planned for you!
Test Drive!

Feel free to bring a friend or two out to 'test drive' on Saturday if you like and/or encourage them to join!

Raffle Prizes!

Anyone/everyone who officially signs up before EOD FRIDAY is eligible for the raffle which includes the following awesome prizes....

A free month at Equinox ($235 value), a free entry into one of my future training programs ($150 value) a free entry into the Bobcat Blitz 5K/10K/Half on Sunday, 8/3 ($75 value), '2' $25 giftcards from A Runner's Mind, three months of FREE grocery delivery from Instacart, and more!

Program price goes up $10 on Saturday!

FYI, the price of the program goes up $10 across the board on Saturday, so anyone's who contemplating joining can save some cash by signing up before EOD FRIDAY!
A rough timeline for Saturday's festivities....

9:30AM-Arrive at A Runner's Mind (3575 Sacramento Street) I will allow a 5-10 minute grace period before officially kicking things off. 

9:40AM-Program Preamble- During this preamble, I will introduce myself, Coach Leslie, Coach Gaby, and Coach Toby.   

I'll also talk a bit about the training philosophy we employ and how we operate. I will cover a few logistical items, and provide an overview of the day's workout.  

Lastly, I will raffle off an entire CASE of Zico Coconut Water ($25 value) to one lucky runner! You can only have a shot at winning this prize if you've officially signed up for the program! 


-We'll head outside and run an easy half mile (roughly) to Arguello Gate and segue into some range of motion drills. 

10:00AM-COMMENCE RUNNING!-Saturday's run is an EASY 2 miler (unless you consider yourself a 'Race' level runner). Here is a link to the course map-

This is a straightforward out/back course. I will be placing chalk markings along the course as well. Please keep your eyes peeled for them during the run.

10:30AM (approx.)-COMPLETE 2 MILER!- Once you have finished your 2 miler, feel free to head back to A Runner's Mind for raffle prizes, drinks, beverages, and an opportunity to chat with your fellow runners.

If you have questions/concerns for me, I am at your disposal :) 

10:30AM-12PM (approx.)-PARTAY AT A RUNNER'S MIND!


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I run because there's something bigger than me...

When I was a kid my parents used to make me attend Sunday school. While I didn't find it unpleasant, it wasn't something I looked forward to. 

I did look forward to the occasional sip of Sherry and the wafers that were provided during communion. I also enjoyed attending the adult sermons periodically as the main chapel never failed to inspire with the stained glass windows and booming pipe organs.
But, for whatever reason, the parables rarely resonated for me. By the time I was in high school it was time for me to go through 'confirmation'. Confirmation entailed a weekend retreat with many of the kids I knew in Sunday school.

Given my general lack of conviction, it really didn't make much sense to me to go through this process. It felt disingenuous. I told my parents as much and they were fine with me forgoing confirmation.

I became agnostic. It wasn't that I didn't believe there was something bigger than me, I just wasn't sure what it looked like and had yet to encounter anything in my life that definitively proved it existed.

Right around this time, I found what would effectively become my religion.
If I sought peace, I would put on my shoes and hit the road. If I sought absolution, I would find it in the comfort of a grueling ten miles.

Two decades after finding my calling, I embarked on my most audacious running related journey. I had spent several months rubbing elbows with a number of incredibly talented ultrarunners and predictably, I found myself intrigued by the idea of going beyond 26.2. I decided to tackle an ultramarathon. 

The race I elected to target was the Lake Sonoma 50 (miler). Not only did this race entail covering nearly TWICE the longest distance I had ever covered, it also entailed climbing a soul crushing 10,000 feet of ascent and descent. There was no getting around the fact that I was going to have to suffer in ways I never had before to even attempt this.

In an effort to gauge exactly how much I could 'suffer', I headed out for my first long run in preparation for Lake Sonoma. I was going to tackle 23 miles of trail with 6,000 feet of climbing...with only a single water stop halfway through.

If one of my runners told me this was their plan, I'd tell them they were crazy and it was horribly ill advised. But, I wanted to get a taste of the pain and discomfort I would inevitably feel running 50 miles. I would get much more than just a taste this day. 

I made my way through the first half of the run without major incident. 3,000 feet of climbing and 11.5 miles hadn't killed me, but it had taken some wind out of my sails. I guzzled as much coconut water as I could and knocked back a gel before launching into the second half of this ill conceived experiment.

After notching a few more miles, the vague fatigue I felt at my only water stop became much more pronounced. I also could feel twinges in my calves and quads that signaled something more ominous than fatigue, cramping. I became all too aware of just how foolhardy I had been in thinking I could conquer a run of this difficulty with little more than a single stop for water.
The wheels were starting to come off and I had MILES to go. Making matters worse was the all too rapidly setting sun. It wouldn't be long before I would be navigating the remaining miles of what was quickly becoming a deathmarch in the dark without fuel or water.

Adding insult to injury, the combination of fatigue, dehydration, and the onset of cramping reduced my speed to a near glacial pace. I was no longer running, I was essentially doing glorified power walking and badly at that. 

As I struggled through a particularly unpleasant climb, I became completely consumed with thoughts of water. I couldn't remember the last time I had been so thirsty. I had never been more desperate for fluids in my entire life. 

These desperate moments resulted in a silent prayer for some kind of salvation (in the form of fluids). It was hard for me to fathom finishing the remaining miles without water, but this trail included no such luxury. I knew my silent prayers would go unanswered.

I winced and staggered the last few steps to the top of the hill and found myself confronted with what was surely a mirage. Right in front of me in the path was a small bottle of Crystal Geyser water. I paused, wiped the sweat off my brow, and rubbed my eyes. The bottle was still there.

I glanced to my left and right to see if anyone was nearby. Not a soul was in the vicinity.
I slowly reached down and picked the bottle up. It was full and seemingly unopened. I looked around for another minute before I cracked it open. 

I took a quick smell just to make sure it wasn't urine. It was odorless. I took a small sip. It would appear my prayers had been answered. I inhaled the rest of the bottle and staggered down the hill, hoping to finish before the miniscule amount of daylight completely disappeared. 

I was still wrecked and vowed to never attempt something so foolish as this again, but I found myself confronted with the very real possibility that I had been witness to some kind of inexplicable cosmic intervention by some force, power, or entity much greater than myself.

Granted, there is also the possibility that I just got lucky and some hiker dropped their water bottle and failed to notice it until they were miles away.

It's entirely possible that the universe simply doesn't care and our lives are really just random, irrelevant, and meaningless. 

But, I prefer the idea that my silent prayers were answered that day and the delivery of water was a sign that something much bigger and powerful than myself was watching out for me that day. 

Running has always provided me moments that seem to transcend the normal, ordinary, and explicable. These moments (big and small) never fail to inspire and it is the desire for more of them that keeps me going. So, I run because there's something bigger than me... 

Monday, May 05, 2014

Wednesday Ferry Building Run (2-5 miles)

Wednesday's run launches from in front of the Ferry Building. We'll cover 2-5 miles depending upon your training level. Here's a link to the course map-

Wednesday Ferry Building Run

Run along the Embarcadero past the Ferry Building. Be careful as it can get a bit crowded around lunch.

Follow the Embarcadero. When you reach Embarcadero/Green, you will have logged .5 miles. Continue running along the Embarcadero.

A half mile later, you will reach the intersection of Embarcadero/Bay. Look for the Hillstone Restaurant on the LEFT side of the Embarcadero. This is 1 miles. Beginner runners will turn around here and head back to the Ferry Building for 2 MILES!

Continue running into Fisherman's Wharf as Embarcadero turns into ‘Jefferson’. Run along Jefferson to the intersection of Jefferson/Powell. This is a controlled intersection with stoplights. This is 1.5 miles. Intermediate runners will turn around here and head back to the Ferry Building for 3 MILES!

Advanced and Race level runners will continue running through Fisherman’s Wharf right to the edge of Aquatic Park. Once you reach the cul-de-sac at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf/Aquatic Park, you’ve logged 2 miles. Advanced level runners will turn around here and head back to the Ferry Building for 4 MILES!

Race level runners will continue running through Aquatic Park and veer RIGHT towards Fort Mason Hill. Head all the way up Fort Mason Hill. Once you've crested Fort Mason Hill, turn around and head back to the Ferry Building for 5 MILES!