Thursday, June 21, 2012

2 days to go!

Training in 2012

Heading into 2012 I decided I needed to really commit to running in the hills. My plan was to run 3 days a week in the hills and bump it up to 4 days as the race got closer. January started out great. I felt I had a solid base of miles built up from the end of 2011 and I was now going to be running with sub 21 hour guys (at the race they intend to run under 21 hours) on a weekly basis. I knew I would be pushed to the farthest my limits would allow.

I had some heel pain at the end of 2011 but nothing that curtailed my running just some annoyances. It turned out that it was a case of plantar fasciitis building up. I went to a training run for the Way2Cool race to get some course experience. I made it about 8 miles into the training run and my left heel was really starting to hurt. I adapted like we all do and started running more near my forefoot. The Cool race is run on many of the same trails as the last 20 miles of the Western States course. Somewhere around mile 15 I noticed my left foot was going numb and my toe was starting to hurt. I made it another 3 miles or so before I started to limp quite heavily. By the time I got to the end of the run, I had sneaky suspicion that my running off my forefoot, for only 10 miles or so, might have hurt my foot again.

I stuck around for everyone to finish but my foot was starting to hurt pretty bad and I was having trouble keeping up a good attitude. Deep down, it felt a lot like the last 2 times I broke it. I drove home, iced it and hoped for the best.

I woke up the next morning to what I already knew I would see; a massively swollen foot and a need for crutches. However this time my entire foot hurt from heel to toe. I immediately contacted the guy I had been using as my mentor for a specialist. I went and saw her and we deduced that I was very lucky. I did not break the toe but I jammed it really bad. Basically like a football players turf toe, I had cuboid syndrome (ankle issues) and plantar fasciitis. In other words, 2 months no running. I did not run another step until the Way2Cool race. I started that race and ran the first 8 miles and called it a day. My toe felt fine, my ankle (cuboid portion) felt alright, but my heel was still a mess. I spent the rest of the day walking around and jogging some people in. Nothing taxing just feeling out the foot, I wanted to see how bad it would get. It was now March and I had to start running if I was going to make it to the start line at States in 2012.

The next day my PT devised a plan for me to run but intensely work on my heel. The problem stemmed from tightness in my calf. I went out and bought this calf stretcher which I think has been absolutely key in my recovery. I carried this thing around with me everywhere I went and stretched each calf 1 minute at a time up to maybe 10-15 times a day for months. I wear a boot to bed every night to keep my foot in a right angle to my shin so my calf stays stretched. I have an intimate relationship with many golf balls on the arch of my foot and at work I pick marbles up with my toes while I sit at my desk.

April 1st I started to up the miles and got into the 30mpw range. Last year at that time I had done double that on a fairly easy week. My foot was getting better but it was still hurting a little. I did not have any ability to run up a hill without allowing the left heel to hit the ground. I kept working at it and kept the miles down. Mid April, I had a huge breakthrough. I ran a hill near my house and my left heel never once hit the ground, and, I had no pain. This was fantastic! At that point the only pain I felt was after the run and as long as I spent a lot of time stretching the thing out I could nurse it back to the point it was at just before the run.

I decided at that point I was ready to join the pack back in the hills. I made a pact that I would walk as often as needed and not worry about over all speed. I would press the downhills to work the quads but running uphill would need to come naturally, otherwise I’d walk….all of them.

My first run with the group was a tough one. We would run backwards the toughest two canyons of the Western States course then turn right back around and run them the correct way back to the car, roughly 28-30ish miles. I walked every step of the up’s and ran every downhill like a bear was after me.

I blew up on the last climb in the only way I know how, epically! My mentor had to pretty much scrap his run to get me back to the top of Michigan Bluff. Body fluids were leaving my body at record pace, my muscles were revolting and I was acting like a complete spaz! Though I blew up, I did not have much pain in my foot and that was the first run over 26 miles since December.

By this point every race I intended on running had passed except for the Zion 50. By that point my training was going well, I entered the race positive that it would be a good day and for 10 miles it was. Then I got lost multiple times, ran out of water on a very hot exposed day, and missed a cutoff at the 35 mile mark after having run 42 from getting lost. It was a rough day.

That was the last race I competed in. Not the confidence builder you want, before a 100 mile race. However, my training has been a ton of quality this year. I actually can run some tough hills now. I’m much faster hiking hills and my quads are as bulletproof as they ever were in when I was young. The fast guys only have to wait for me for a little bit these days, and I keep up with them on all the downhill’s, and usually I pass them just to let em know I’m still nipping at their heels. The first time I pass them on the uphill’s….you can bet they are going to hear about it!

I’ve now run almost 160 miles on the Western States course and seen every nook and cranny. I am confident up to 40 miles in any given run and on technical terrain I am far and away in the best running shape I’ve ever been. I also know after 40 miles, I do not know anything. In the 8 weeks leading up to my taper, I had runs of 32, 34, 34, 40, 38, 42, 41 miles each weekend. I backed them all up with at least 8 miles the next day depending on how my feet felt. I had a solid 10.5 hour (first 30 of WS course) run 2 weeks ago

In the 4 months I’ve been back running, I took 1 cutback week. I ran 139 (March), 179(April), 272 (May) miles and I’m at about 110 this month so far. My foot feels strong, my body feels pretty good. I ran nearly 1200 miles at this point last year and I’m at 800 now.

I have no idea how Saturday is going to turn out. What I do know is I’ve put in the time to give myself a good shot at running well. My focus has turned from an arbitrary time to wanting to enjoy this experience. I’m not going to win, heck I’m not going to even come close to the pace I am capable running so I’m going to have my self a great time. I intend to have a smile on no matter how bad the suffering gets or when it starts. I would not give up this journey for anything. It’s taught me lessons that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. I’ve helped inspire people to run and do things they never thought they could. I deserve to be here this weekend, and I’m going to make damn sure I come away from this race better than when I started it. I’ve got some fun things planned while I’m out there and if nothing else, people are going to see a side of me that does not usually come out except maybe at Burning Man.

I’m confident in my abilities. To steal a line from my mentor:
“I took no shortcuts, I have no excuses” nor do I have any regrets. My body will carry me as far as I am smart to let it. That means, toss the competitive part of me out the window and pick it up at Green Gate 20 miles from the finish. Run your heart out from Hwy49 those last 7 miles into the track, and run past all those things I’ve been holding onto all these years. Saturday is going to be a momentous occasion for nearly 400 runners and their crew. The 1500 volunteers will see a passion for running that is rarely found at a road race and I intend to thank as many of them as I can for being there allowing me to complete this dream I had so long ago.

I have so many people to than it would take forever to mention them by name so I’ll just group them together. To my family and friends thank you so much for all your support. The guy who hates to get help from anyone sure does appreciate all the help he’s gotten from you all. However, I have to single out my gal, without her none of this would have happened. She truly is my rock. I’m now off to Squaw for a little jaunt in the woods. Auburn Bound BABY!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

4 days and counting....

4 days and counting….
Winning the lotto….

I’d finally completed the toughest hurdle. I ran a very tough mountain 100 mile race and in my mind. I had what it took to complete Western States, and all it was needed was 7 months of getting my tail kicked! Granted the 2 courses are not the same, but I was reasonably sure that the cumulative effort level it would take to complete both would be somewhat close. I’d later learn, this is not really the case, the two courses are completely different and while the total effort might be close the muscles you use are vastly different.

I now had a couple months to rest before I had to sign up for the Lottery for Western States. In a perfect world 3 weeks after the Tahoe race I’d been back at it running, but life is rarely, if ever perfect. I came down with a string of odd illnesses and minor injuries that basically kept me from running until October. I never get sick, but I was sick for 3 straight months it seemed. I highly underestimated the effect running 100 miles would have on my bodies various systems. I think it largely stemmed from my rapid increase from couch potato to 100 mile runner in 2.5 years. Specifically the fact that I had spent more than 1 year of those 2.5 injured. My body just shut down from all the stress I caused it in the Tahoe race.

I’d lost some fitness, gained a bit of weight back but once I started running again things were just right with my world. I entered the States lotto with no expectations other than to be in it. I knew the numbers, about a 10% chance to get in.

The morning of the Lotto I had volunteered to take a couple of friends down who were vying for a spot in the race as well. I have always had this nightmare about not waking up to my alarm, it pretty much never actually happens but just before I go to bed I almost always think “you better hear that thing”. Well, the morning of the lotto, I was to be at the gas station to pick everyone up early in the morning and guess what…..I missed my alarm. Not a good sign for the day!

I got a wake up call instead from a friend at the gas station. I hoped out of bed and got out the door as fast as I could. We ended up making it in plenty of time, but that was not the start to the day I wanted. Once at the lottery you could feel the vibe in the air. They call each persons name that makes it and if they are in attendance they get some extra prize swag.

It’s tough being there. You really want your name called but do not expect it. You are so happy for the people who are called, but each one takes one more chance away from you yourself getting into the big dance. There was so much emotion on the face of so many people, I never intended on this part of the experience being so moving but it was. Seeing people who had waited 3-5 years just to get their chance was such a treat. It also helped calm my expectations. Like everything in this sport, it just takes time; time for your body to adapt, time for you to build a base of weekly miles, time to recover and time, maybe years, to get into the race.

By the time they started calling the last couple of names, I realized this in fact would not be the year I got in. I rationalized it by saying I had a lot to learn and it was a good thing. However deep down there was a lot of disappointment, I’m still an uber impatient individual and I hate it when I am forced into corners that I did not choose of my own free will.

Fortunately for the people I brought down to the lotto, there was one other chance to get in. In order to have a strong international contingent, the race holds another lottery for anyone not hailing from the U.S. Both my friends were dejected they did not make it into the first mass lottery so they went for a run. None of us knew when the foreign lottery would take place but since they hailed from Mexico and Lithuania they still had a shot. It turns out while they were running that lottery was taking place behind closed doors somewhere.

They called me to go pick them up after their run and as I pulled into what is mile 98.3 on the course one of their phones rang. It was the owner of Reno Running and Fitness calling to tell them they had both made it in! Instantly my mood went from bummed out to this eruption of happiness. I ran over to my pacer from Tahoe and picked him up and sprinted up a hill while carrying him. We had talked for so many hours that night running in Tahoe about wanting to be in this race and if I could not be in it, the next best thing was for him to be. The fact my other friend made it in was just icing on the cake.

Once things calmed down I told them both to take their crap out of my car and run their ass’s home, they would need to start training now! The car ride home was a mix of emotions, I could tell they were shocked and I think they were a bit guarded as to how they were acting since I did not make it in. Honestly I was so happy for them nothing could have brought me down. I knew I’d be on one of their crews and maybe even be able to pace them and we would ultimately share the experience together.

This would be a great ending to a story, but as has been the case since I started running there would be many more up’s and down’s to the journey. Remember that Aid Station I’ve worked my butt off the last two years at? The one run by the local club the Silver State Striders? Well they get 1 spot to give to someone for the race. That aid station captain who asked me to come back in 2010, the one whom I’ve known since I ski raced with his son, informed me that I met the criteria for their private lotto. I now had a 1 in 6 shot of getting in! This was why I worked so hard that day at Foresthill, I just knew at some point someone would see how bad I wanted this and it would pay off. I’d cut my chances from 1 in 10 to 1 in 6, things were looking up.

The next week before a run they dropped 6 tiny pieces of paper into a hat. The first and only one that came out had my name on it. Holy Shit! What? I could not believe it. I was in. I immediately ran back to my car to call my girlfriend. I was welling up and leaking at the face, while I told her we had plans for late June. After 16 years, I was into the race. I finally had a chance to close some old wounds and regrets I’d been hanging on to for years. I was going to get the chance to see if I could be like those mega athletes I saw on that TV special, whilst sitting in bed unable to walk.

It was just about a week away from Christmas, and I’d won the second lottery to get into States, one day later I found out I won 2 other lotteries. I won one to get into the largest 50k race in the country, the Way2Cool 50k in early 2012 and I also won the lottery for 2 Burning Man tickets….all in one week!

2011 was turning out to be a banner year and I was so excited for 2012. I finally had a handle on things and nothing was going to stop me! That mostly held true for 14 days into the new year, when an all too familiar foe came back to haunt me.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

6 days to go

Jan-Nov 2011
I now had almost 3 months of solid pain free running under my belt. I had a coach to get me through the training, and a local running group to lean on when running times were tough. I formulated my racing schedule with the help of my coach and January 1st I set it all into action.

The schedule was simple on paper.
American River 50 mile in April
Rock N River Marathon (Reno) in May

Simple to write but considering, as of that date, the farthest I had ever run was 32 miles and that was nearly a year earlier in March of 2010. This was going to be a big task. My first trail race (13 miles) was just a year and a half earlier.
I also had the weight issue, though I was not as concerned with that. I’m not much of a foodie, if given the option, I would take a pill for all of my nutrition needs. There are very few things I crave food wise. Although as I would learn, with the uptick in miles per week, I would start to enjoy food a bit more. I put myself on a somewhat strict diet of about 2200 calories a day. I figured, that, coupled with attempting to run 7 days a week I should be down around 200lbs by the time I hit my 100 mile race. I was starting at 221 and was shooting for about 3-4 pounds a month or 1 pound a week. Again, sometimes naivety is a blissful thing. Lets put it this way, 2200 calories and 50-70 miles a week running just does not jive. I lost weight in a hurry and with it, my long runs started to suffer greatly. By the time March hit, I was already down to 190 and eventually I would hit 182 before I had to go get even more help.

I went to visit Joe Dibble at Sierra Strength and Endurance. My training was going great but I could not run for more than 3 hours before I just died. Any run no matter the intensity just turned into a walk fest. He quickly diagnosed that I was just not eating enough. He put me on a 3300 calorie a day diet during the week and 4500-5500 a day diet on the weekends. Just a week before the Hilo Marathon I completely changed how I eat. It was a huge epiphany, and I actually started to look forward to food. I ended up leveling out about 195lbs which is where he thought I should be given the still substantial (for a runner) bit of muscle I had. To put it into context, as an 18 year old senior in high school I was 5’9” 202 pounds, and now at that point I was 33 and 195, kinda crazy.

The Hilo Marathon resulted in a PR time of 3:58. I ran an extra 6 miles (3 before and 3 after) because I was scheduled for 32 that day. I was heading into the meat of my season with no foot pain, no weight issues, things were going swell.

I had made a switch in shoe companies which I credit for the lack of foot pain. I switched from the traditional shoe types to oversized cushy clown shoes. Hoka One One, shoes are amazing and I can not imagine ever running in anything else. They will get an in depth review on this blog someday, but they are like taking a bit of heaven and wrapping it around your foot.

I arrived back on the mainland with tons of excitement. I was now almost 6 months into running with no setbacks or injuries. I was starting to think I was ready for my first 50 mile race. I got the schedule for the week prior to the race from my coach and once again he shocked me. No time off? What, I’m going to run my first 50 mile race and you want me doing a hard tempo run 3 days before…..this dude was NUTS. What about tapering? Do I not need to be rested for this huge output of effort?

The explanation I was given, taught me that everything I thought I knew about training from my other sports, was wrong in regard to this one. He asked me what my goal race was…obviously the 100 miles. He then told me why would you want to peak now in April for a race in July? I would not, but why race when I am so tired?

His reply is so obvious now but was so foreign then. “How do you think you are going to feel that second 50 of the 100?” Probably pretty tired, I said. Bingo! Lights went on, of course! I needed to feel what it would be like to go 50 miles on tired exhausted legs. No wonder this guy was such a badass, he was an animal.

I ran what is still to this date, the best race of my life at American River. I was in control all day, I moved steadily up the field and when I got to the point where coach told me to let it all lose I passed a gazillion people. I finished in 10 hours and 25ish minutes and ran from Sacramento to Auburn.
Only some 4 hours an change after coach finished, so close!

The best part about the day was getting to see a couple of friends from Reno Running and Fitness finish their first 50 mile race as well. We all triumphed that day. The running joke (excuse the pun) of the day was them telling me “congrats Brandon you ran just fast enough to run 100 more miles in July”.

A little tidbit I have so far left out, though I was signed up for the race in July of 100 miles I still had not qualified.  Not only did I qualify for the upcoming race, but, I was officially qualified to enter the lottery for Western States in 2011! I had to run this race under 11 hours to do that, and I beat it by nearly 40 minutes.

I ran the Reno Marathon (Rock n River) as a training run. I ran about 38 miles that day and ran as many people from Reno Running and Fitness into the finish as I could. I felt awesome and I was ready. However Silver State would turn out to be the toughest race of the year.
I started the Silver State 50 only minutes from my house, I knew this course like the back of my hand. The race is on Peavine Mountain. Silver State is considered a mountain 50, American River was not. I did not realize the true impact of all the extra climbing.
Lots O climbin!

Boy did I not know what I was getting into. Unlike American River I went out faster than I should have, blew up at mile 33 and basically had to walk it on in from there. It was a tough pill to swallow; maybe I was not ready to run 100 miles in the mountains after all.

A couple of great things happened at the race though, when I finished I saw the president of the Western States board. This was the same guy I saw give a lecture at the motivational clinic I went to. It turns out he was part of the Silver State Striders the same group who mans the Foresthill aid station at Western States. The Striders put on the 50 mile race I just got my ass kicked by. I quickly befriended him on Facebook. Now I also had an “in” with an influential and clearly experienced board member of Western States. Times were getting good.

I also got a pacer for my run in Tahoe a month or two later. My friend agreed to pace me. He had just run his first 50 mile race at Silver State and finished top 5. He is still to this day, not only one of the most kind and generous individuals I have ever been fortunate enough to meet, but he is also one beast of a runner…..all 12 pounds of him!

My running was doing great and I was just days from running my first 100 mile race. I intend to do a report on that as well. Lets just say the day had it’s challenges and from mile 67 to 93 I pretty much had to walk the entire time. I finished 44th out of 110 people in a time of 31 hours and 50 minutes.
Photo Courtesy of Scott Cozad one of my exceptional crew members.

Not once did I sleep, and I only sat down for about an hour or so. I finished a run in the mountains….I ran 100 miles and now I was ready to put my name into the lottery for Western States. 
Getting my first buckle from George and Dave! I can barely stand upright.

I had roughly 5 months to recover, then I’d need to be ready to hit the ground running!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

9 Days and Counting.....

I had achieved what I wanted and so much more working the aid station at Foresthill. The owners of Reno Running and Fitness facebooked me and asked if I could meet them after work one day to go over some marketing ideas. I was glad to help, but a bit weary of what I may be getting into…..again the word social is generally not used to describe me in a lot of situations, running being one of them. Even when I am running in a group of friends, I often find myself taking as much “me” time as I can and run alone.

I met them at a local pizza place and gave them the rundown on what I thought of the company they had going. It is not your standard running group, there is a fee for each session but they provide all the aid for the runs, they bring in local runners for lectures, and customized training plans for the events that you are doing. They also meet Tuesdays and Saturdays at some local spots in town for their runs. All in all it is a pretty great deal, especially if you are new to running.

I’d been on the couch for so long with my injury (about 6 months or so) I’d gained a fair bit of weight but did not know it at the time. I was so nervous the first day I ran with the new group, I do not think I talked to a single person. I came home and told my girlfriend that I was not sure it was for me but I’d give it an entire session since I was training for the California International Marathon (C.I.M.) in early December, and they were sending a group down there as well.

It probably took me a month before I got up the nerve to be friendly. It had nothing to do with the group, I am just like that. Many people tried to coax me along, but like usual, it just took some time for me to get comfortable. Once I got to that point though, I found some amazing people and stories to motivate me.

They taught me to build weekly miles slowly, how to pace myself (well I’m still working on that one), and they introduced me to some of their motivational lectures they have each session. The first one I attended had a great panel of runners. The eventual president of the Western States board was there speaking as well. I got to hear many stories about races I had only dreamed about since I started running ultras. The other benefit was they run mostly on the flat stuff, so theoretically I should not have problems with the foot. I figured I'd build up a good base and get my foot strong before I subjected it to the hills again.

I got to C.I.M. and I was entered into the Clydesdale division, that’s basically anyone over 200lbs. I hoped on the scale and saw a horrifying number…..221lbs. What the F%$K? How did this happen, I’d been a steady 205lbs since I graduated high school. I’d been training for a marathon for 2.5 months and I lost no weight. The answer is quite simple, sitting on your ass for 6 months with a bum leg will do that to you. Especially when you keep eating like you are running daily. Once I started training again I kept on eating, clearly the calories in equaled or were greater than the calories out…hence no weight loss.

I ran the race and did quite well for the amount of time I had been back running. I finished right around the 4:20 mark and enjoyed the day immensely. I actually enjoyed running on the road. I also learned there might be something to this coaching/advice thing. I was injury free so far, enjoyed both the training and the race and was once again motivated to get back on track with my journey to Western States.

In my down time with the injury I had been studying a lot of past results for Western States. I looked up the people who finished high in the standings and searched to see if they had blogs. I found a couple and had been following them for months. About 2 weeks after CIM, one blogger posted that he was taking a couple of new clients to coach for Western States. I’ll call him Mr. Consistent (Mr. C), mainly because the guy had finished in the top 10 at Western States every year he’d run the race. I immediately emailed him and told him this was my dream. Though I was not entered this year for the race, I was entered into the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 that coming July.

He replied back to me and said he would be happy to be my coach. Wow, I had a near legend of the race I have been dreaming about now coaching me. I was so delighted and enthused, then he sent me my first weeks schedule and I about crapped myself. 7 days a week running? What, who does that? I had less than a month to go from a casual 30 mile 3-4 day a week runner to an uber serious 7 day a week runner. I was so scared my body, particularly my foot, would not hold up. I was heavier than I’d ever been and now I had to run more than I ever had. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

10 days and counting....

Foresthill Aid Station-2010 Western States Endurance Run

I emailed the Aid Station director and asked if I could volunteer. I ended up dragging my gal with me because I was too scared to go by myself. I told her we would be done by 6pm and home by 9 (any one who's worked that aid station knows that statement is laughable).Many people do not believe me when I tell them, but I am exceptionally shy. Until I am comfortable with you, I pretty much just stay quiet. It’s only after I get comfortable with you that my personality really comes out. It is at that point, I would imagine, some wish I'd go back to being that quiet guy! I become quite blunt and regularly say whatever I am thinking. Having her there helped me to be a bit more in my element around so many new people.

We showed up early to help. I got out of the car in my walking boot and started doing what I normally do. Carrying the heaviest things so others did not have to. Basically trying to show that I was willing to do what ever was needed for the day to go off without a hitch. I’m kinda a big lug when it comes to physical activity; I like to take on the biggest challenges to prove my worth. You tell me to do something and I may struggle with it but eventually I'll get it done.

The day started off great. I met the head medic and we discussed my issues. He told me that women back in the 1800’s would get toes similar to the type of toes that I had. The shoes they wore back then tended to end in a V point, only their toes curved inward. I think he called it a club foot. He told me I was on the right track with the heel striking and that the unnatural bending of the toe was in fact, the reason it kept breaking. Don’t bend the toe, no broken foot….Got It!

The Foresthill aid station is 62 miles into the race. I'd never seen anyone at that point in a race so I was excited to see the kind of carnage there would be. It's a tough haul those first 62 miles of the course. Competitors climb 3.5 miles up to the top of Squaw Valley and run down the backside. When I ski raced I made fun of people who climbed mountains, I took a chair lift to the top.

Once at the top, you get about three miles of streams and mild rocks before the trail starts to get a bit more serious. Once you hit Lyon Ridge (10ish miles) you get a net downhill to mile 24 but the reality is it's up, down, down, up, up, down, up, down, down, up, down, down, down. That is the best I can describe it, relentless. The trail begs you to run fast, which is a mistake. This mistake will result in tired legs and hips and perhaps even abs. Then you hit Duncan Canyon which is never talked about, but very difficult in its own right. Duncan is the first of 4 canyons on the course It's a three mile descent on some moderately technical terrain then you climb 3 miles to get out of the canyon but it feels like 4 or 5. Unlike all the other canyons on the course, it starts out easy and just gradually increases. It fools you into a false confidence. You hit a sream and the trail just calls to me hard baby.  You feel great, the incline is not that steep and you start to push it......just like that nasty trail wants you to do. The trail now knows it will break you in less than a mile You get to the next stream and the trail, like pushing the button on the treadmill, increases the incline just a bit. Then you hit a series of switchbacks that take all your mojo away. Runners are at mile 29, the course lets up a little bit as you enter Robinson Flat. Once you finally hit the top, you are at the aid station. Now the course is actually going to get tough. The next 32 miles are the most difficult of the entire race.

Runners set off from Robinson, pushing hard to make up time. They have a lot of downhill to cover. The problem is, you have a climb into Devils thumb and then again a climb into Michigan Bluff. It's the hottest part of the day and on a large portion of the climbs you are baking in the sunlight. Each of these make you climb 1800 and 2500 feet respectively. Devils thumb starts out steep and stays that way. It's just under two miles of ridiculous climbing. Once at the top of that climb you have 5 miles of fast and fairly steep running down to Eldorado Creek. That creek signifies the start of the climb to Michigan Bluff. This is just short of 3 miles and though not as steep, it mentally beats you down.You get to Michigan bluff exausted and now you have to go though what can be the hottest canyon of all, Volcano Canyon. The canyon is not that difficult, but the distance you have covered makes it tough. Once up Volcano canyon you hit the Bath Road aid staion which is a connecting point for crews and their runners.  Crews can send an individual to this point so they can run back a mile or so with the entrant to Foresthill. This gives the crew member valuable information about how the runner is doing.

By looking at the elevation profile you would think they just fly downhill for 62 miles. However, as I described, thats some BS. The trail is relentless in the high country, it's never flat. If you have not trained specifically for this terrain you are going to be beat to a pulp before the real racing starts. Odd thing is, the elite guys and gals look like they are out for a stroll. To my surprise after 62 miles the two men's leaders were only seconds from each other.

This was such an inspiring sight to see. What none of us knew, was that this race was shaping up to be one of the most thrilling in the events history. Neither of the guys in the video had ever been beaten at this distance. The guy in third (not shown and also unbeaten in 100's) was about 15 minutes back and ended up winning the race in the fastest ever time. It came down to the last 8 miles and the guy who saved the most gas in the tank won. This, I would imagine, is a great tactic for me to learn. I've been told, the race does not start until Foresthill. There is 16 miles of mostly downhill then the last 20 miles of the course are the most flat and runnable. I've been told if you can run at that point you will pass a lot of people and if you can not, there is a huge train of people who will eat you up.

A great film was made about the race that year. If you have any interest what so ever in this race, it's a must see.
J.B. did a fantastic job at capturing the 4 competitors and their backgrounds in the sport and their personal lives. You can purchase the film at his site.

Perhaps the most motivating aspect of this day was watching the people come in who were not elite. These are the weekend warriors like myself. After 62 miles you are stripped to the core and all that remains is what you really are. There is no time or energy to put up a facade. You are no longer male or female, or part of any religion. You are no longer associated with your country of origin, you are not fat or skinny, in shape, injured, or hurting. You are simply a runner, doing everything in your power to take that next step forward. You could care less that you have boogers dried up on your face from shooting endless snot rockets through the day. The fact your face, arms and legs have been marinating in your own salty sweat for 15 hours is of no concern. You stink, you are dirty, and in almost all cases you feel absolutely awful. You might have blisters, some chaffing or maybe you are still overheating from the canyons, at this point the thought of another 38 miles much of it in the dark is not appealing.

At the time, I'd not run 100 miles so I did not understand the thought process these people were going through. It took a couple of hours of runners coming in and leaving until I realized the actual scope of what these people had already done, and how tough it would be for them to continue on. People would enter the aid station looking like death was on their shoulders. I would see someone come in and immediately say to myself, he's done. No chance that guy or girl leaves under their own power. Remarkably most people do get out of that chair, they do continue on, and many do still finish. Think about that, they run and walk another 38 miles feeling the most awful they have likely felt in their lives. That is when I realized this is not about finishing a race, it's not about winning, it's not about a buckle. It's about finding your limits and figuring out if you are tough enough to push past them. At some point in the race all you will have left is your desire to complete your goal, if that becomes less important than the pain you are feeling with each step, you will quit. This was the first time I became aware that this challenge was far more than running 100 miles in the mountains like I always thought. I think it was also this day that I realized just wanting to do this would not be enough. I would have to give in to my fears and dedicate a large portion of my life to accomplish this. Quite simply there is no way you can fake a hundred mile mountain race. You had better be trained, mentally and physically. You better have put in the time on your feet. I'd have to lay it on the line and risk failing miserably in order to succeed. This was scary, 30% to 45% of the runners will not complete the course. I would have to work that hard with those odds of finishing, that's not a bet I'd normally take. Was I even up to that type of challenge? I had to ask myself this over and over. Even today, 10 days out I'm asking myself that same question. The answer is always the same.....I just do not know. I think so, but I'm not overly confident about that answer.

The day had brought so far, some wonderful news about how to run on my foot and was filled with inspiration. I really thought it could not get any better but it did. Two local Reno running groups were at this aid station. Reno Running and Fitness had brought a group of people down to help out as well. I’d never heard of them, but I got to know one of their members. He was in their 10k program but he was so enthusiastic about wanting to run farther. We talked a lot about running and life and he mentioned I should try to hook up with them for a run or two and see how I liked it. I dismissed this because they were, by their own definition, a social running group. I run alone…..always. I’m not terribly social in big groups; I’m shy and well, insert every other excuse you can think of. Fortunately, he sorta got the ball rolling by letting the club’s founders know he met a guy who is in marketing that might be able to help them out. So they actually contacted me about a week after the race. This would turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me in running. I would eventually become, and still am proud to be, a part of Reno Running and Fitness. A social running group + me….go figure.

The other gem of the day came from the Silver StateStriders, the club who ran the aid station. Every year they bring a huge team down from Reno and pull off excellently, the largest aid station you have ever seen. It's freaking crazy the amount of stuff they have to set up. Just the food alone takes up multiple tents and carports. I worked my ass off that day, I worked from 11am to 1:30am the next day. I made my girlfriend go to sleep in the car so I could stay to work (she is amazing and has yet to give me payback on that one). One way or another I was determined to prove my worth with this running club who runs the aid station. I knew, eventually, catching on with them would help me in my journey to run the race. The aid station captain, who ironically was the dad of one of my friends I once ski raced with, asked me to come back next year. This was great, I have an "in" with the race!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

11 days and counting....

Year of the foot-2010

2010 started off quite well. I ran a bunch but quickly realized 50 miles was a bit different animal than 50k (31 miles). I had to adjust my schedule to running the Rucky Chucky roundabout 50k in March, the Silver State 50 in May and then the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July.

I trained hard, but by myself. I ran a lot on the mountain by the house, and I ended up at the Rucky Chucky race in the best running shape I’d been in to date for an ultra distance race. The Rucky Chucky race was one I really was excited for. This would be my first time on the Western States Course. This particular race takes us from Foresthill to the American River crossing (miles 62-78 on the W.S. Course), for the most part its 16 miles downhill and then you turn around and go back up to where you started.

The race started well enough, I paced myself like I normally do on the downhills. Pacing while going down to me means, run as fast as you can to make up time because I suck at running up hill. At the time I was about 210 lbs and still carried quite a bit of muscle and fat from my skiing years. About 8 miles into the descent, I started to feel a weird sensation in my left foot. It did not hurt but it was going numb. My experience at the last 50k taught me that I did in fact need to eat and drink so when I got to the turnaround I stuffed my face full of everything I could handle. As I left the aid station, one of the staff asked me how I was doing. I thought this strange since no one ever asked me that before.

I said “oh I’m fine I’m really enjoying my first time on the W.S. trail, thanks for asking”.

The person who asked me the question was an ultra running legend who at one point was the oldest woman to ever finish the Western States run. “No problem”, she responded, “I noticed you were limping a bit and just wanted to make sure you were alright”.

I am? I thought to myself. I waived at her and started running again and sure enough I was limping a bit, nothing serious just favoring the left foot. I started climbing back up, and eventually reached the finish in my best time ever for a 50k. I was an hour and twenty minutes faster than my first 50k and I was super stoked. I got into the car with my girlfriend and we drove back home.

I woke up the next day in quite a bit of pain. I got out of bed, took my first step and realized something was very wrong with my left foot. I took my sock off to inspect it and to my surprise the second metatarsal was bent like a boomerang towards the outside of my foot. Now my toe has always been a bit crooked, but this was a whole different matter. It looked broken and hurt like hell. I also had this nasty pain on the inside of the ankle, most likely from over compensating for the toe.

That is my little piggy in all it's splendor, still bent like that to this day.

I've never really had great experiences with doctors so I’d not been to one in years. I went to the “doc in the box" urgent care center near my work and they told me I’d broken the toe and torn a tendon in my ankle. He told me I’d be out 6-12 weeks and I was not built to be running those kinds of distances. He offered a solution, “you look like a bike rider and maybe you should try cycling”.

“I can’t ride a bike on the Western States trail” I told him.
“well there are many other trails you can ride a bike on” he said .
"I want to run, how can you help me run", I asked him.
"I can’t", he told me. 

Based on my X-rays it was clear my toe was actually bent long ago but the impact of the running broke it. I've speculated that it was actually from shoving my foot into 2 sizes too small of ski boots and shoes for so many years. It was not until after my first 50k in 2009 I found out I should be in size 9 to 9.5 shoes. I ran that race in size 7.5 (like all my shoes at the time) Salomon XT Wings, and predictably got a ton of blisters.

The doctor then told me the only two procedures were to cut the toe off or insert a metal pin. Inserting a pin would render the toe unable to bend backward (something needed to walk or run uphill), and cutting it off might allow me to run but might not.

I was devastated, once again an injury was keeping me from what I wanted to do and once again a doctor is telling me I’m not going to be able to do what I want. This was the first time since I’d hurt my back that I’d let the “issues” I took from that experience surface. I was a complete mess emotionally and not much better physically.

I spent a couple of days moping around realizing I would not run 100 miles this year and generally feeling sorry for myself. I recalled the army doctor and his mantra. There must be a way I thought. Then I thought of my uncle, who for my entire life has been without a leg and arm which he lost in a motorcycle accident. He played so many sports with me when I would visit growing up. We shot pool, we played basketball, ping pong and he was able to do all those things with two limbs and usually he kicked my butt doing it.

I thought of all the disabled skiers I once knew and how they overcame great odds to ski. Then I looked at my toe and decided if I needed to cut it off, that’s what I was going to do, but only as a last resort.

I tend to think a lot, so much so I have trouble sleeping at night. I have, in many instances, been able to use this to my advantage. Generally if I can sit down and really focus, I can think for hours about the smallest aspect of almost anything. I was determined to figure out how I could run on my foot, toe or no toe. I spent days looking down at my foot while I simulated the movements of going uphill, downhill and across flat surfaces. I quickly realized that landing on my forefoot on a downhill was the culprit and extremely steep inclines also bent the toe in an unnatural movement. I quickly deduced that if I increased the range of movement of the toe and started heel striking on any decline, I should be able to make this work.

I spent 2 months in physical therapy and a total of 3 months out of running so the day I got released I went out and ran! I was actually still scheduled to run a 12 man 178 mile race around Tahoe and I had 2 weeks until the race started. I decided there was no time to build up in training so I’d go run the hardest leg that weekend and see how I felt.

I started the run that weekend in great spirits, I was finally running again. I’d been so motivated up to that point to run Western States, I did not realize the passion I was developing with just the act of running. I’ve really never actually like to run, but loved how it made me feel afterward. Now, I was enjoying the run!

This particular run goes up about 1800 feet over 6 miles and then down around 600 feet over 2 miles. A great training ground called Dog Valley, or leg 4 of the race I was slated to run in. I ran up and then back down. I got home and noticed I was favoring my left foot a bit but I felt pretty good. As the evening came I started to get sore, I went to bed early and excited. That excitement would last only through the night, when I awoke I realized I’d broken my toe once again. In hindsight, I was stupid to have run in the first place at that point.

Back again at the doc in the box, and again being asked why I ran. "I’m telling you Brandon you are not built for this type of running. You are a big guy and your feet are not structurally sound to run. Endurance cycling will probably satisfy your need.”

"That’s not acceptable I’m gong to find someone else", I told him. I crutched myself out of the office and began researching everything I could about how I could run with my foot the way it was. I was not quitting this time, I decided even if it took me 10 years to figure this out I was going to do it. I just had to get to the finish of that race.

I spent the next couple of weeks trying to figure out what to do, and then it hit me. Be part of the race, find other people who do this kind of running and seek advice from them. This might seem logical to you, but to me that’s asking for help. I just do not do that, I’ve always been taught that help was a sign of weakness and you do not display weakness in my family. The few times in my life up to that point I had shown myself to be vulnerable or weak in front of others, I'd left the experience ridiculed or scarred mentally in some way.

I decided I’d volunteer at an aid station at Western States. I picked the one with the largest medical unit, figuring someone there would be able to give me some sort of direction. That aid station would be at Foresthill, and ironically was run by a local running group here in Reno called the Silver State Striders.

What I found at the Foresthill aid station was just the medical help I had hoped for, but also so much more. In fact, that decision to go there would ultimately drive key decisions in my recovery and prove to be the reason I eventually got into Western States.

Monday, June 11, 2012

12 days and counting....

March 2009,

I got an email from a college buddy who was asking for donations for a run he was doing. A casino here in Reno has an event where you climb all the stairs to the top of the building. It’s for charity. I sent him $20 and I remember thinking, there was a time when I did stuff like that. I spent 2 days pondering where that guy went, why he went away, and did I want him back in some capacity. I know my buddy never realized the impact that email would have, especially on me. In the end, he was the one giving me the charity. He lit the spark, now it was my job to stoke the fire.

Less than a week later I’d decided was going to run Western States. That is how I roll, some love it, some do not, but there is very little grey area with me. I'm the type to jump into the pool before I know how to swim. Moderation is not a word you would use to describe how I do things. 

I hoped on the internet looked up the website for Western States and to my surprise only 400 people could run it a year, and over 2000 wanted in. Even worse you had to qualify just to get into the lotto. Slightly dejected I wandered my way around and figured out not all 100 mile races were like this.  I immediately formulated a plan. I’ll run a 50k in July, a 50 miler in January and I’ll run the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 in July 2010. Then I'll be qualified for States and will run it in 2011 under 24 hours (shooting high again, gotta love being naive)!

I came home and announced to my better half that I was going to run a 50k. She asked how far that was and when I told her she gave me the  “you are nuts” look. I found a 3 month training program and mostly followed it. I say mostly because the program I got, ended up being a very elite ultra runner’s program that I found on the net. At the time, I  ran at most 6 miles a week, so finding this schedule which called for 50 miles a week from the start was stupid on every level, but that's what I did. I think I made it 3 weeks before I realized there was no way I could follow it to the T.  I did everything on my own and showed up for the first 50k in OK shape.

26 miles into the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k and I was having the time of my life. Then it hit, the bonk, the wall, the “I am done with this” thought crept in. Being totally honest it might have also been the Jim Beam shot I took at the Hobart Aid station. They were giving them out and I was thirsty, what's a guy who hates water to do? In my training I never ate, never took salts or electrolytes and drank as little water as possible. The next 7 miles were the toughest I’d ever experienced. It was funny how for the first 26 I made fun of the people at the aid stations who were devouring everything they could as I passed them all. You dummy I thought, do you not realize you are just letting me pass you in these aid stops? Well, at about mile 28 each and every one of those dummies passed the “smart guy” who never stopped at aid stations. Many of those dummies gave me water, food and salts while I sat on the side of the course waiting for my body to let me continue.My competitors were helping me....who does that? I'd later learn you really compete with the clock and the course in these things. Unless you have a shot at winning, which is not the case for me, the camaraderie with other participants drastically increases the joy you get from the event and makes the undertaking seem a bit more plausible knowing you are not alone. You are all on the same team trying to beat the course and the clock.

Once finished, I was a mess. I am an hours drive home from the race, but I swear it took us multiple hours. It seemed like after every turn I’d start to dry heave and my gal would have to pull over and watch me attempt to get what was not really in there, out. I’d realized by that point I might need help to do this, but I was not really sure I wanted to do it anymore. I hurt and I was so sore the next week!

I had worked myself up to a good fitness level but Burning Man was on the horizon and I stopped running to focus on that. I started back up in November 2009 set to run a 50 mile race in early 2010. I got myself in shape for a 50k in just months and I was already in better shape than when I started. A couple of months to get into 50 mile shape seemed appropriate.

Much later I would learn that line of thinking and training gets you in big trouble at some point, generally ending in something being busted or broken. Unbeknownst to me, I'd be getting very familiar with busted and broken body parts in 2010 which I call the year of the foot.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

15 days and counting

15 Days and counting…..

I bought my first ticket to Burning Man 2 weeks before the event in 2004. While I had no intention of making that purchase a “life changing event”, strange as it is, buying that ticket changed my perspective in ways just as quantifiable as when I hung up my ski boots. Only this time, it was all good.

Sometime around August 2004 my good friend and his gal decided they were going to go to a Festival out in the middle of Nevada called Burning Man (BM). They asked if I wanted to go and I said “Sure, but I’m not taking any time off of work to go out to the middle of Nevada to party with a bunch of hippies”. I ended up going to BM on the Friday before they burn the Man. I originally thought this event was a big drunk & drug fest that ended when a straw man burns. On the way out (about 2.5 hours from Reno) I thought I probably would not go again. I felt I was quite odd and I would not connect with anyone there, especially my camp mates whom I met just a week or so earlier. I mean, I’ve always felt I am just super weird. I rarely meet people who think like I do. I rarely meet anyone who “goes for it” like I do, and lastly, at that point in my life I was still stuck thinking the good parts had already been lived. Therefore, nothing good would come of this.

I spent less than 40 hours at the event. I did not sleep more than about an hour. I took no drugs and drank only the last night I was there. I saw things you could not explain.  The last night when they burned the man our camp marched out to the center of the event and sat down. There is a ceramoney of fire dancing before they burn him. Then they start the fire works and burn him. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I ditched all my stuff with a camp mate and ran up to the still burning remains and circled them a few times. I was alive. I was living for the first time that I could remember in so long.
Photo by Scott London Burning Man 2011

Upon leaving Burning Man in 2004, I said to my friend, “this was not what I thought it would be, I need to go back”. I got home and called my mom and I told her the last 40 hours changed my life. I told her I'd never felt more "normal" in my life. This was a big deal, I'd always sought to just fit in. Suddenly I was not the weirdest person I knew, in fact I met a lot of strange birds out there.....and I learned to appreciate every one of them. Weird or odd suddenly became so awesome. I started to think being outside of the norm was not such a bad thing afterall.

Within a month, I had sold my car to buy an SUV so I could carry tons of …well crap, out to the event the next year (a tradition that still holds true today!). I was accepted into a circle of people (my campmates) who I am proud to say are still some of my best friends. I also immediately started planning for my next “burn” a mere 11 months away. I found a happy place those days on the playa that I had not had for a decade. I realized for the first time in so long there might be more to my life than what I’d already experienced. There was something so pure to what I was feeling, I guess it was bliss.

I’ve been to the event every year since; in fact in 2005 I lived out there in my Saturn Vue for 2 whole weeks! I met a girl there in 2005, we’ve been together ever since and we are getting married in 2013. That will also be my 10th consecutive year at the event. Through the years I’ve come to really love those “odd” things about me, they make me who I am. I like to push boundaries...all of them. Mine, yours, authority, you name it I'm going to push it to the limit. I’ve learned if you celebrate what is different you’ll actually find there are a lot of people who also celebrate that same thing or at least respect it. Once you find each other it’s that “different” that bonds you. It’s not unlike Ultra running in that regard, we are a bunch of people who love to run really far and it’s the celebration of that action, where we bond.

As the years passed my annual pilgramage out to Black Rock City (BRC is the name of the city we build out there) became my purpose in life. That is not to say, I slacked on my responsibilities, just that if I was awake on some level I was thinking about the event. Every year on the way out I had this thought, crazy as it was, but I really wanted to run there. I’d always appreciated the huge undertaking the participants in the event have to deal with when they must travel for day to get there. I’ve often felt that my experience was somehow limited because I did not have to suffer like so many to get there. For years I dismissed this as crazy talk. Yet, every year on the way out, I longed to be running out on the side of the road.

These thoughts led me to start doing a lot more hiking with my dogs and a little running out on the mountain behind my house. I resumed running with a friend on Sundays and before I knew it I was thinking hard about running that race I saw on TV again. My back will always be a work in progress, I really can not sit upright for very long and instead opt to stand or lay down as often as possible. Multiple times a day everything from my neck to my hips crack like knuckles. As long as I stay upright or parallel to the ground I am good to go.The funny thing about the running, no pain. Walking and sitting, I have some amount of pain, but running, nothing, nada, no dice!

I spent the next couple of years doing my thing out behind my house sometimes with my dogs sometimes alone. I even made the goal to go to the top of the mountain behind my house. It's a 14 mile round trip and about 2500-3000 feet of climbing. The first time I did it in 2007 it took me almost 8 hours. In March of 2009 I got an email which resulted in me finally taking action and deciding I was going to run the Western States 100.

Friday, June 8, 2012

16 days and counting.....

16 days! Holy Crap, I only have 16 days left until I set off on my biggest adventure yet. I am running at 5am June 23rd from the base of Squaw Valley ski resort to Auburn, in the Western States 100 mile Endurance Race. We basically run on the Western States trail, the same one that Miners once hauled the gold and silver they mined from Virginia City in Nevada, all the way to Sacramento. The route is arduous, there is roughly 19,000 feet of climbing and 23,000 feet of descending over the 100.2 miles. On this journey we will climb straight up the face of a ski resort (something I once upon a time made fun of people doing), run through the entire night, cross the raging American River holding on to only a cable, run through multiple canyons where temps could reach as high as 115 degrees and finally....rather hopefully, we will finish running, walking or crawling the last 3/4 of the track at Placer High School in Auburn Ca.

The rules are simple, leave at 5am Saturday, get to Auburn by 11am Sunday staying on the mostly marked trail and you get a belt buckle for your efforts much like the one below. That's a silver buckle, you get that for doing the race in under 24 hours. I will likely not be in contention for that award, you get a bronze buckle for finishing the race in under 30 hours.

There is no money to win, compared to other sports very little notoriety, yet for some reason annually over 2000 people actually are willing to pay a HEFTY amount to subject themselves to this kind of torture. Unfortunately, the race runs through the Granite Cheif wilderness and the man (aka government) has stipulated this to be a special place where no events can be held. However, this race and it's older brother the Tevis Cup horse race were grandfathered in and are allowed to be run at the same participation level they had when the wilderness act was made into law. For this race that means roughly a little over 400 people will have the opportunity to start the race.

If this is your first time hearing of people running 100 miles in a single effort you are probably thinking it's not possible. I know I did back when I first became aware of the race in 1995. I was watching a PBS special or something on these crazy people running through the California wilderness. I thought 3 things, first how many days do they take to do this, second where the hell do they sleep at night and third I need to do this someday. To my surprise, people actually finish this race in 15 hours! No sleeping, some do not even sit down the entire time! That is a 9:00 minute a mile pace....for 15 hours. That may not seem fast but given the hills, rather mountain ranges one must cross in this race that is freaking really fast.

So upon watching the entire special in bewilderment I realized they only get 30 hours to be considered an official finisher, they do not sleep and I'm probably never going to be able to do it. Never going to be able to do it you ask? That's not a very positive attitude, but it's the one I was battling at the time, only weeks earlier I had an accident that left me stuck in bed with very little ability to walk. However, I made a promise to one day get to the start and see if I too could make it to the finish like those mega athletes I saw on the TV special.

In 1995 I was an Alpine Ski racer and I took a big fall at a downhill race. I had some talent in skiing but my real advantage was my work ethic. I worked myself in the gym, running and training like a dog. I was relentless in my efforts to make the Olympic team. I ended up busting my back up pretty good, to the point that the doctors I was seeing told me that skiing at a high level again was unlikely. I was probably not going get rid of the issues with walking I'd developed, and I’d need to reevaluate the activities I chose to participate in. I went to a couple of different doctors and they all said the same thing, feel fortunate you have what you have left it could have been so much worse. Basically glass half empty.....not exactly my mantra at the time.

What a shitty thing to tell an 18 year old whose entire life (and that of his family) revolved around athletics. I raced BMX from the age of 4 to 10, going to the US Nationals nearly every year. I ran track, x-country, wrestled and ski raced in high school, now I have to give everything that made me feel alive up to live a life of sedentary hell? You've had a great run kid, the fun is over now deal with your life sucking till you die...that's how I took it. Fuck that noise........

So what did I do? I went and tried to find a doctor who did not tell me those things, no small task given the litigious society we have in America. I did eventually find one, he was a former army doc and his view point was "there is always a way, it's how bad you really want it that determines the way you go". He laid it out on the line for me. You will ski again, you can compete at the highest levels, you will recover from this, your body will never be the same and it's really going to hurt a lot kid. I told him pain was never an issue for me, (boy was I wrong on that) so let’s start now!

It took about 6 months and I was back on skis, a year later I was competing in the same level of racing. From the outside it seamed as though I had worked my body back into great shape, and that was mostly true. However there are 2 aspects to an injury that one must recover from, the physical and the mental. I've always been physically tough, but some of the pain I experienced brought me to my knees and many a time I thought this just is not worth it. There would be times after doing simple push ups, I'd try to get up to stand and a pain would rush through my spine that hurt so bad I was paralyzed for seconds and would fall to the ground crying. Eventually that subsided and what I found out through that experience is the mental recovery is far tougher and takes far longer. Oh and that mentally....maybe I’m more bark than bite. The pain this experience caused me mentally would not be fully understood for a long time, even to this day I have issues thinking about it, and that's as far as we will delve into that.........

I spent the next 2 years trying to ski rarely worked. Every time I got to a point of almost being out of control (a line any skier must navigate expertly to be fast) my brain shut me down. Unfortunately I did not know this, it just happened. I thought I was truly physically broken, so I did what i aways did and worked harder. To my surprise nothing got better and without any reasonable way to get better I gave up.Quite simply something in my brain became a governor like they have on golf carts and it would not let me go fast. I became an average ski racer, and quite frankly upon realizing that, I lost my identity. If only I'd have realized at that point it was my brain and not my body that was broken.

I ended up skiing in college two years before the allure of making money overtook the competitive spirit I was so badly trying to hang on to. It was the day I finally hung up the ski boots that I lost my true competitive nature and my adolescent identity died. I've skied 1 time since 1999. I turned into a new man...some might say boy given some of the antics I pulled, but whatever I turned into I just never really liked it. I made one statement to myself that I will forever always regret.....I will NEVER again put everything I have into a single endeavor because I can not take this kind of failure ever again.

I'd finally succumbed to what I always hated....I just let life happen and was content to take what I was given. I was now a glass half empty kind of guy just like the doctors I swore off so many years ago. I spent the next several years spectating life, not really participating in it. I got my degree, went to work full time at an advertising agency and resigned myself to the fact I was going to be a desk jockey in a cubicle until I retire.

I stayed this way until 2004, and then as fortune would have it I ended up with a ticket to the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City Nevada and my life as I knew it then, changed forever.........