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Running the Hills

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Ultra Races are for Heroes

Ultra Races are intense. My first ultra race was a 50 mile 3 day 2 night race in the eastern sierra nevada’s. I completed it with another USMC vet and friend of mine. We served together as marines and as a result our bound has lasted well beyond our military days.

We talk about the physical and mental challenges that are common training experiences when we became marines. In an effort to test and push ourself both mentally and physically we signed up for this ultra marathon. There were so many challenges in this particular ultra. The first challenge was the elevation. During the trail race we were going to be running at serious altitude. At some points over 8,000 ft of elevation. For my comrade and I who normally live at sea level this felt like our longs where in total over drive.

Another challenges that the ultra run presented was the sleeping arrangements. Each day you had to get to a stopping point where you gear would be made available. Once you reached camp you had to set up your gear, cook your food, and then try to get rest. For me day two was the hardest by far. I knew in the morning that we weren’t even half way on our journey yet and I was already exhausted. I felt like I had altitude sickness but honestly I am not sure if that was real or mental explanation for my first day fatigue.

We had to grind through day two with my friend Steven pulling me along most of the way. Without him, I never would have made it. Somehow, day 3 in a weird way I felt refreshed. At that point I knew I could push myself through the last day and with each step I was one step closer to accomplishing our goal and putting the finishing touches on an incredible experience.

When we crossed the finish line we gave each other a big hug, cheered on and hung out with some of the other competitors. After getting a physical therapy massage for my soar muscles, I wrapped some ice around my legs and we headed to our hotel room. Oh it was glorious sleeping in a bed again after two days sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag. The shower felt amazing, but the soreness got worse. But with the physical pain over the next couple of days, my mind found clarity and focus to get back to life knowing I had pushed through my discomfort and accomplished my goal.

Ultra races of 100 miles or more are crazy. I cannot imagine the mental and physical strength that those competitors have. My hats off to them, they are heroes or the running community.

Personal Records

My favorite races are the races where I set a new personal record or PR for short. I keep a list of my PR’s for each distance. I also keep a record for races that I have run multiple times. When I first fell in love with running my dad taught me that it was less about beating other people and more about pushing and beating yourself. He told me comparison would either cause me to feel bad or become arrogant. Neither option producing the fruit and production I wanted in my life. The alternative was to compete against yourself and allow other racers to serve as motivation for running faster and setting a new personal record.

A personal record that stands out to me was during a 5k in Burbank Ca. My wife and I were living in studio city at the time. We had two young sons, and the amount of miles I was running wasn’t what I had wanted, but I had already signed up the the Burbank YMCA turkey trot. I had run this race each of the last 5 years, but never was able to beat my first time. Maybe it was age, maybe it was young kids wreaking havoc of my sleep patterns, but whatever it was the challenge was real and with each year, the idea of hitting a pr was only getting harder.

It was thanksgiving morning. My family was there to watch and encourage me and I was focused on willing myself to a new course PR. I ran as hard as I could, and set a new PR. It was so satisfying. It was also one of the more memorable medals. The race was sponsored by a local window cleaning company and so in addition to my medal, I got a $100 gift certificate to get my homes windows cleaned, weird, but memorable and incredibly useful.

My boys saw their dad win the race. I set a course PR in the process, and my wife got the windows cleaned. It seemed like a win for everyone involved. But let be real. I was happy that all that effort translated to getting a guilt free second plate for thanksgiving. And a second helping on pumpkin pie. Ok so I may have over eaten compared to the amount of calories that I initially burned running the race, but it was a great day field with memories and gratitude.

Night Races

I love running at night. Especially in the suburbs where there is enough light to see where you are going, but it is dark enough to feel like everything is flying past. for some reason I always feel faster as night. Im not sure why that is, but it energizes me and some of my best training runs have taken place at night.

There is something about clearing my mind at the end of a long work day that an evening run also accomplishes. Running at night certainly has it own set of challenges. Let’s just say I have stubbed my toe and fallen of my face from a crack in the concrete I didn’t see n the limited light more than once, ouch. That one hurt.

When I was in college, my roommates and I had a 1 mile beer challenge. It was stupid, but it was also one of my favorite night time races. We would sneak onto the university track. The race was the first person to finish 4 laps, but there was a catch. After the first lap you had to drink a beer, after the 2nd lap a beer, and after the 3rd lap another beer. So the true race was 4 laps and 3 beers. I don’t know who came up with this idea, or why we did it more than once, but it was fun. It was also a race I never won. Something about downing a beer and running that my body seemed to reject.

Trail Races

Growing up in California there are a lot of trail races. One of the hardest races I ever ran was a trail race outside of Bishop ca. The race was called the High Sierra Challenge at the time. It was a series or ultra distance trail runs. I ran the shortest distance which was 20 miles. Thats right, the shortest option was 20 miles with the longest being 100k. Crazy to think that when i finished that other people weren’t even half way yet.

The hardest stretch of the run was a 6.5 mile stretch where you are running uphill. Some portions were steeper than others, but uphill for over a 10k was taking a toll on my legs and on my lungs. But at the top of that hill I had some downhill miles ahead of me and I had built my lead. I knew I was ahead, but because the trail was winding I didn’t know by how much.

As the trail began winding its was back towards the finish line I had just over 6 miles left. In my mind I told myself it was just a 10k. A distance I had run dozens of times. My mindset was just one foot in front of the other. What I loved about trail running was the ability to almost black out the mind and just run. Let the miles click by and not worry about anything.

It was in the next moment I thought I was going to die. My mind suddenly went from zoned out to fully alert as I heard the sound of a rattle, and just like that a rattle snake just off the side of the trail was startled by my running and launched at me.

I jumped to the side, my eyes half way closed as I braced for his teeth and venom to puncture the skin of my thigh. But it must have been my lucky day as he barely missed. Luckily my momentum from running put some space in between us. He went back into the bushes, I took a coupe more steps forward and then bent over. It felt like my heart was going to explode inside my chest. I had already run a grueling 17 miles and suddenly I just escaped a rattle snake.

After a few more deep breathes, I started putting one foot in front of the other and finished my race. 3 miles later I crossed the finish line in first place. It took over 7 minutes for the second place runner to cross the finish line. The victory was dominant, but I was just happy to be alive.

5k Road Races

After puberty I found my true running legs. In fact, I was now fast enough that I could actually start training with my dad. After work and after school we would head out to some local trails and run a couple of miles together. these were some of my favorite memories as a kid. Just my dad and I out on the trails logging some miles.

One fall my dad asked me if I wanted to enter a road race and we could run it together. We settled on a 5k road race to enter together. The race was going to have thousands of entries and was easily going to be the largest race I had ever entered. The training began and we worked so hard over the next couple of months to be in the best shape possible. On race day we ate our banana and headed to the starting line ready to test ourselves against the course and against the other competitors.

One of the reasons my dad loved running was he could always test himself. Whether it was a personal record, a new distance, and new race, something where he could push himself to strive for growth. The gun was off and we sprinted out of the crowd. We ran 3.1 miles together breathing heavy the whole way, i wanted to push myself the best i could to make my dad proud.

I ended up surprising him, and surprising myself a little bit as well. We ran faster than we had ever ran the 3 miles in training. There was something about all the other runners that helped push me to run faster that i even thought possible.

I ram that race in a pair of new balance shoes and since then I have always referred new balance shoes over any other racing shoe.

My first Race!!!

I has asked my dad for the chance to run a race for years. It felt like each year the answer was the same, no. Or maybe later. One year he was running in a race in San Luis Obispo. I remember after the road race he had a huge smile on his face. He had won his age group and set a personal record for his own 10k time. His new PR was 33:47. As we were eating dinner I asked him if he was happy and he said yes. So i told him i wanted to have that same experience. It was after that moment he decided to let me run my first race.

My first race wasn’t a 10k obviously as a kid I wasn’t able to run that far. My first race was a 200 meter sprint, or half a lap around the track. I laugh because now that I am older longer races are not my strength, but as a kid 200 meters was kind of a lot. My second race I increased the distance up to a full rood race mile.

But I moved on too fast. It was my very first race. It was the moment I had been asking my dad about for what seemed like my entire life. And wow, was I nervous. My stomach felt like it was in knots. I had eaten the same race day breakfast my dad used to always eat, a banana and a big cup of water. But my stomach was upset and I did not like.

Just then the starter called us over to the starting line and shortly after we were off. I took off running, but the other kids all seemed so fast. I remember my dad telling me to keep running as hard as I could for the whole race, and so that is what I did. As the race progressed I started to catch up until I was in first place and winning my first ever race. It was such a fun experience and one I have never forgotten.

I have run in hundreds of races since, but that first race still is a fond memory. Now that I have my own kids I hope to teach them a love for running just like my dad taught me.

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