Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An ultra lifestyle

What do

Super Cushy bike Seats
4 Wheel Drive Sport Utility Vehicles
Nasonex nasal spray
Asics 2080 (1090, 2090, etc... forgot the correct numbers)

all have in common? This is a strech, but these are personal experiences over time which have contributed to my questioning of "conventional wisdom"

As I said in my last post, I finally got around to reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougal. And as I said before, my response to it was "Yeah, I kind of figured some of that out on my own...... the hard way" This post is dedicated to why I agree with a lot of what the book says.

So here it goes.......

Bike Seats
Years ago, I was a bicycle mechanic in Chicago. One of my favorite jobs. Did some selling too, but had to know a lot about all of the products in the store.

At that time in the early 90's, manufacturers began making bike seats which kind of looked like sofas on a post. People went gaga over them. "how soft and comfortable they are" people would say. Everyone wanted them, except for people who actually rode their bikes any significant amount of miles.

The problem was, the seats were horrible. They allowed you to be comfortable, but not in the proper fit for riding. I never saw a serious rider use one. In fact, we all had very narrow, lite, minimalist saddles. If you were fit properly to the saddle (seat) and bicycle, it was actually more comfortable to use a high quality saddle which looked small and uncomfortable, especially if you were going over 20-30 miles.

But the bike revolution was being fueled by the mom and dad who want to go on a 3 mile bike ride with their kids. Thus, the saddles stuck around. But they suck. People still think they are great.

The premise was to give give comfort and solve a problem which really did not exist. People were not comfortbale on their saddles due to many factors. The public saw a cushy seat, and figured they must be comfortable. Add to that the evolution of "Cross Bikes" where the handle bars were higher and allowed the rider to ride upright instead of bent over. In the upright position, all of the weight would land on the lower back, and less power would transfer forward.

People switched to bad form as a result of a "better seat"

4 Wheel Drive
Another job I had in the 90's was selling cars. Yes, I was a car salesman. I have since hung up my polyester suits, white belts, and plaid coats. At that time, 4 wheel drive was becoming fashionable. Everybody seemed to want it (mind you, this was in Los Angeles) and was willing to pay for it. I would ask "do you intend to go off road?" And the answer was always "No, but at least I know I can". 4 wheel drive allowed these people to do crazy things with their cars if they wnated to..... but they never did. The car costed more, it was heavier, and they didn't understand what 4 wheel drive actually did.

I saw early on many bad drivers thinking that this would be a good car for them because it was "safer" because it was "bigger" and the 4 wheel drive somehow gave them better traction and was safer as a result. 4 wheel drive should not be used on dry pavement, and can actually be dangerous to do so in certain cases, but people had in their mind that it was safe. I surmised that many accidents would come over the years due to idiots not knowing how to drive large vehicles. They gained a false sense of security with their 4 wheel drive (for no reason), and never improved their driving skills.

Like the bike seat, they did not focus on the core of their problem - they were bad drivers. Safety lies in you, supplemented by your vehicle.

4 wheel drive is great for what it is intended for, but become something everybody "needed", when they did not need it.


I spent 14 years with one company, which will go nameless. The company was good to me, and I learned a ton in my time there. But I grew to dislike my job, and became not so hot on the company. Stress was the main component in my life, and I grew to dread going to work.

During those later years, I would get sick 2-3 times per year. It was more of a cold, lots of congestion, and would beat me down for weeks. It always happened during the Spring and Fall. I was CONVINCED I had allergies. I saw a couple of allergy doctors, got tested for tons of allergies (was pricked all over my back), and begged them to find out what I was allergic to.

Answer................ Nothing.

"How is that possible?", I asked. They responded by saying it could be something they don't test for, but most likely I just get colds.

Multiple doctors recommended taking a steroidal nasal spray, like Nasonex, as this would allow me to function while my body recovered. They said I should use it continually... like, year round. What?

Now, I have nothing against Nasonex. I am sure it is great at what it does and what it is intended to do, but it was the wrong solution for me. It was a small bandaid on a large problem. I had a hard time believing taking a perscription nasal spray "drug" indefinitely was a solution. I didn't buy it.

Did it work? I don't know. I eventually got better and stopped using it, but I don't know if it speeded recovery.

Eventually, I left the company I was working for. Funny thing happened.... I stopped getting sick. I have not been sick like that for 4 YEARS! Did the job make me sick? Kind of.

I got sick in the Spring and Fall.... peak training times for, at that time in my life, marathons. I exceeded my load factor. Stress + Dumb hard core training + basic anxiety I was having at the time = inexplainable colds. I am 100% convinced of it, but can not prove it as this is purely anecdotal.

Phillip Maffetone writes about inflamation in your body caused by stress and physical activity. When I read this, I thought he was speaking to me. The stress was the killer, the miles pushed me over the limit. 2 years later I was running 70-80 miles per week, and not getting sick. I was stressed, but in a different way. I was not over the limit.

The doctors who perscribed Nasonex for me wanted to feel like they were doing something for me. I acknowledge that get that. But this was not the solution to health. It just was a way to jerry-rig me to keep me functioning instead of making me a healthier person.

Asics road shoes

7 years ago I went out for a run the day after I had run a 20 miler. I got 1 mile and could not even walk. I was 3 weeks out from Twin Cities Marathon, and I could not walk.

I went to see my chirpractor, Fred Clary, and he basically told me my knee cap was not in its correct place due to the fact that my quad muscles were pulling it out of place. My quads were not equally developed.

Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you with your toes pointed up. Flex your quads and watch your knee caps. They should stay relatively in the same place. My right one would move far to the right when I would flex.

I told him I probably needed orthodics, really high tech shoes, and probably some other jibberish. Fred responded by saying "You need me to spend a month with you fixing this, then we can talk about all of that other stuff." He fixed me, but said "I can sell you orthodics, but I don't believe in them. They just band-aid problems and can actually make you worse. You just need to wear different shoes".

The shoes I was wearing allowed me to run in a certain way which built my quad muscles in an unbalanced way. I showed him a pair of my old Asics trail shoes and he said "yeah, run on those".

He almost nailed the problem. He got me on the right track and changed my paradigm, but left out a key piece...... My form was causing the problem, the shoe allowed my form to really be screwed up.

I still run on Asics, just the cheap trail shoes sold at Sports Authority for $50. I buy 1-2 pair per year. I get at least 1000 miles off of each pair. I think I have put 1500 on one before I ripped the heels off (Thanks to the Superior Hiking trail).

Born to Run

Read the book, and come to your own conclusions. My takeaway from the book is not that we have to all run barefoot, but that we have lost our primal love for who we are. It is more of a book on humanity, and how running is a conduit to a better world.

Heck, how do you think someone like Steve Q and I could actually get along on the trails and enjoy each others' company? It is because we are both "running people". Outside of that, we are oppososites.

A significant part of the book is dedicated to the quest of finding out how to run properly, and that the modern running shoes has all but destroyed this. I kind of agree with that, but I don't think it fits all people.

Ultrarunning is a lifestyle. It is not something you do to get bragging rights at the water cooler. I know see rookies out on the trails, wearing "Vibram 5 fingers" out tackling ultras. I am guessing these people have been inspired by the book. Problem is, many are 20 -40 lbs (or more) overweight. They are not living the lifestyle. I am not sure what they are doing, but they are not living the lifestyle.

McDougal is very clear in the book how diet and food in general is an essentail component to the success of the people he documented. But I am guessing those words fell on deaf ears and blind eyes.

Through my ups and downs, I somehow try to maintain "the ultra lifestyle". Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But that is what makes the sport worth it.

Since my days with that company I had spent 14 years at, I have been through many ups and downs. I have been laid off twice, and faced other significant challenges. But the "ultra lifestyle" has given me a foundation of discipline and mental fortitude to endure many things in life.

Were we born to run? Don't have to ask me twice. Heck yeah. It is a lifestyle.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Possibly out of the slump

I have been in a slump for about a year. A combination of work life, personal life, burnout, etc. made running not something I cared to do a lot of.

And by the quantity of my posts, the blogging became almost extinct.

It just wasn't in me. At one point earlier this year, I seriously considered just stopping it all together. I had lost the passion and fun. But that was the winter blahhhs.

I knew it would come back, I just did not know it would take this long.

I felt the old me start to come back this week. I crossed paths with Keith this week in Dallas. We joined up for a short evening run after work on the Katy Trail in Downtown Dallas. This is like running the lakes in Minneapolis. I haven't run with Keith in probably 2 years, but he reminded me a little of why we run. It was good times (Oh yeah, 2 days over 100, and 1 day 96. I survived).

I came home and just felt like running. Out of nowhere, I got up Saturday and did 8 miles at an 8:15 pace, and it felt normal. A lot better than the 9.5 - 10 minute pace I have been doing. It just kind of clicked.

In addition to the above, seeing Carl G show up to FANS and Wayne Nelson bust out his first hundo, I got the bug to just run.

I also finally got around to reading "Born to Run". After I saw an old lady on a plane tell me why I should read it... I finally did. Great book. I will give my thoughts on a separate post. I kind of felt like "....Yeah..I figured out a lot of the same stuff on my own... the hard way. I agree with almost all of the conclusions"

Nobody has to lay out a case to me that we were born to run, I always had it in my heart. Makes perfect sense to me.

But... not everybody get's it. Hence why I have said before "If you have to ask why, you won't understand the answer".

So I will keep running, and maybe a few more races this year. Because I want to... not because I have to.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fighting Cancer, Gammon Style

View this picture first
2 years ago during the Voyageur 50 Mile trail run, Carl Gammon took a fall. He crashed hard in the mud and hurt his shoulder. He was covered in mud, and proceeded to take a bath in a river. This picture captures him in a cleaned up state.

But Carl got back up and finished the race. Got up, brushed himself off, and kept going.

Those who know Carl were not surprised. Carl knows how to get up when everybody is saying stay down for a while.

When I first started running with Carl, I learned a story of him beating Prostate Cancer and defying his Doctor's orders by running the Twin Cities Marathon the same year of his surgery. To Carl it is not about showing off, it is about representing and not missing a beat.

Carl is a sort of legend in the Ultra world. He is a member of HURT, owns a coveted yellow shirt from it (shown in the picture), and has one heck of a resume. His 50k PR I believe is just over 4 hours.

I love this picture becaue it captures the essence of friendship. Zach is on the left, and I am on the right. The 3 of us have run countless miles together out at Afton in the worst and best conditions. We have shared countless stories and traveled to races together. Seeing Carl roll into the finish looking like this was priceless.

I received in email mid winter this from Carl which brought tears to my eyes. His cancer was coming back. This hit way too close to home as my mom battled (and beat) breast cancer when I was young. When she had to go through radiation treatments, it scared the hell out of us. It was the only thing I have seen bring my father to tears.

Now Carl was staring it in the face again. Radiation was coming back.

Never once have I heard Carl complain about his performance in a race, his training, or life in general. He headed this on... head on.

He kept us posted about his radiation progress, and how soon he would be done.

Carl finished his radiation treatments, and 10 days later toes the line at the FANS 24 hour timed race.

Talk about getting up and brushing yourself off... Carl brought a new level of awesomeness to the metaphor.

Now he admits he struggled that day and didn't rack up many miles... more than I would have. He showed up alive and kicking.

I guess the big man up above has a lot of plans for Carl on this earth.

So when you think life is hard, things are tough, and you want to piss and moan.... take a page out of the Gammon book. Get your ass up, brush yourself off, and get running.

Carl, you are an inspiration to us all.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Persistence Pays off

Back in 2007 I was heading up to run the Superior 50M trail run. It was going to be my 2nd 50 mile run, but I was dreading it because I knew how hard the Superior trail was.

In the email chain leading up to it, I received a good luck from a guy named Wayne Nelson who was going to be working the Temperance River aid station. He was just getting into this thing, and was volunteering to see what it was all about.

I remembering after finishing, telling him he know has to step up to at least the 50k for next year.

A month later we met up at the Whistle Stop Marathon, and I think he got caught up in my "throw common sense to the wind" attitude and just "run your ass off". He recalled having a rough race.

Wayne chipped away at the distances over these years, nailing off 50k's. Almost every race I have been to, Wayne has either been running or graciously volunteering. As a result of his commitment and attititude, he received the Upper Midwest Trail Runner of the year award (along side Helen.... not bad) for his involvement.

Wayne was unlike many runners, though. He showed up to a lot of races, but also struglled in a lot of races. He got some done, dropped out of some. But never did you hear one peep of self pity from that guy. He just stayed at it.

After 2 drops at the 100 mile distance, most would probably avoid the distance. Not Wayne. Attempt #3 was last weekend at KM 100. When I saw what the forecast was (80's.. which means 90s in the prairies), I thought Wayne was doomed. Sorry, that was the truth.

I got home from my blue tarp experience to find Wayne was right on trak. OK. good.

By bedtime, a lot of great runners had dropped out at the 100k point. Wayne was still in.

I woke up to find him having made it to about mile 80. Holy Cow! He might make it.

Soooo many people were dropping out, but somehow the tenacious Wayne was showing he had the Mojo.

Wayne came in at 29:30 (or just under), 44th out of 122 starters! Truly an awesome accomplishment.

By all accounts the weather was very difficult. But if you got the mojo, you got the goods, and he got it done.

It just goes to show this sport is not for everybody. But if you have the thought, the tenacity, the persistence, the patience, and the mojo, anything can happen.

Great job Wayne. You inspired me.

..... and the other inspiring story from the weekend gets a separate post

can you say "Prostate cancer? Hell no.... that won't stop me!"

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Blue Tarp comes back

I pulled a "Blue Tarp" at the Chesterwoods 50K.

Blue Tarp is a euphemism for "Did not finish".

After running multiple extra miles in the middle of the race, I was losing ground on everyone and everything. At 3.5 hours, I was still far away from any idea of when I would finish and the heat was punishing me. My legs were not working well, and I was not in the right mind to beat out 2-3 hours of heat hell for a finish.

Next time I will know the course before I run it.

Bill Pomerenke beat my 50K PR with a 5:10. He has bragging rights now.

I led Zach Pierce down many incorrect miles. He threw in the towel as well after figuring out how far we still had to go.

I had my 1 opportunity to beat the fastest Matt. He was going to drop, but decided to stay in knowing he would never live it down if I finished.

Darn! I should have put together a good race. Oh well....

Friday, June 3, 2011

You might be an ultra runner if.......

At 2pm on Friday you are talking to a fellow runner, and get convinced that running a 50k the next day is a good idea.

Going for the Chester Woods 50k manana.

Funny thing is..... this very well could be my 50K pr.

$20 race day entry. That is less than $1 per mile!

And..... The Fastest Matt will be there.

I am going to see how long I can hang with him.