Monday, August 18, 2014

Brian Head, Utah - A Beautiful Place To Suffocate

As a young lad I went to a boy scout camp high in the mountains of northern Utah. There was a little lake at the camp with sailboats floating around. My friends and I had three words flashing through our brains: Must. Ride. Sailboats. 

We found out that to go on a sailboat you had to pass a swimming test. Jump off a pier. Swim to the shore. And then swim back. No biggie, I could swim and the test didn't intimidate me. My friend went first. And when he jumped in the water a shudder went through my soul. Because as soon as he hit the water he screamed bloody murder. The water was so cold that his body wouldn't function. He somehow paddled back and forth to pass the test, wailing the entire time that he was going to freeze to death.

It was my turn next. With apprehension I jumped in the water. And then the most peculiar thing happened. My body instantaneously became a block of ice. I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. I bobbed there in the water for what felt like three hours before I finally coaxed my legs to move and force air into my lungs. I now know how hypothermia feels. (And how it feels to ride in a sail boat.)

That feeling of not being able to move or breathe returned with a vengeance during my long run last week.

I joined my friend Rick Whitelaw at Brian Head, Utah. This was my first time running there but he knew each of the trails like the back of a Gu packet.

The scenery was beautiful. Beautiful! But I honestly COULD NOT breathe. The altitude where I live is 3,200 feet. The trails we were running were at 11,000 feet!

My legs have had more pep after walking off a cramped airplane after a cross country red eye flight than they had during our run. Between the two of us, one of us was a boat and one was an anchor. (Spoiler alert: I was not the boat.) 

Rick, on the other hand, is at least 3/4 mountain goat. It was an awesome thing watching him float down the trails.

I've known Rick for years and have come to know him as one of the nicest humans alive. He is also one of the gurus behind Ultra Adventures and has helped spur the growth of the Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Grand Canyon ultras. Anybody who has done one of those races will attest that Rick has been a trail angel.

My favorite picture of the day:

One highlight of the run was reaching the highest point in the area: Brian Head Peak at 11,307 feet above sea level. (Spoiler alert: there is 0% oxygen up there.) At the peak is this cool little observation tower.

At one point our trail crossed this dirt road. I loved the contrast of colors.

The last part of our nearly seven hour run was hitting a few view points of Cedar Breaks out in the distance. The scenery was really incredible.

I must admit, I was a bit concerned with my performance after this run. With the Bear 100 next month, I hope the high amount of suckiness in this run isn't a bad omen. My two hopeful thoughts are 1) Maybe I sucked it up so much because I'm only two weeks out from running the Navajo 100 miler, and 2) The highest altitude of Bear is still thousands of feet lower than our run in Brian Head. Hopefully that will bring a bit less suffocating.

But suffocating or not, I'm bound and determined to find my way to that finish line of the Bear.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Connection With Robin Williams

This is a post I really hesitated writing. I've gone back and forth 100 times about whether or not to publish it....but here goes nothing.

Like everyone, I was heartbroken to hear about the passing of Robin Williams. Like everyone, I felt my own little connection with the amazing actor and comedian. It wasn't long ago that I gave my kids their introduction to Mrs. Doubtfire. Patch Adams gave me a new perspective on my career. I couldn't tell you how many times I've watched Dead Poets Society. 

It seems all the more heartbreaking knowing this man took his own life. It doesn't seem real. Williams didn't seem like the person wrapped in chains of depression. He seemed like your funny, down-to-earth next door neighbor.

I think I feel okay writing this story now because that's how my dad was too - and he also took his own life.

My dad was wrapped in those same heavy chains of despair and depression. On the outside was a funny, compassionate, outgoing father, neighbor, and friend. A lot like Robin Williams. But that covered up a sadness (largely triggered by a multitude of health problems) on the inside. That despair overtook him. On a cold January afternoon he took his life. He was only 38. I was 14 years old.

I hope what I'm about to say doesn't imply that I think suicide is okay. It has a lasting impact on everyone left behind. BUT I can understand how people get to that point because I saw it first hand. I witnessed that smothering despair in someone I loved. I saw the feeling of being in a deep hole with absolutely no way out. 

It probably goes without saying, but that day as a 14 year old when my dad died changed me forever. I soon realized that I faced a choice: I could let that action destroy and ruin me, or I could, as much as possible, learn and grow from the experience. I decided on the second option. Here is how my life has been different:

1) I think it increased my empathy. I try to understand people better. I try not to judge. I try to support and encourage. I have lots of room for improvement but I'm trying.

2) It impacted my career choice. I'm a clinical social worker and work with the belief that I can make a difference.

3) It put things in perspective. If I'm having a bad day or going through a challenging time, I always remember that it could be worse. I choose to believe that this life experience made me stronger.

So with all that said, my hope would be this: 

Choose kindness.
Choose patience.
Choose love.

I'm not implying that if we hold hands and smile everything will be fixed. I'm saying that we can never know the demons someone may be facing. Appearances aren't always what they seem. We don't know the quiet struggles someone is battling. So you and I should work on spreading kindness. A little happiness could go a long way. In a world of so much sadness and pain, show love. Shine.

It's easy to judge someone else's actions - but I can attest that seeing a loved one struggle with (and ultimately surrender to) depression will give a different perspective. The fact that Robin Williams took his own life is proof that no matter how much awesome and how much funny and how much talent someone is filled with.....this stuff is powerful.

And if those chains are starting to wrap around you, tell someone. Let someone help you. The world needs your shine.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Breathtaking And Soul Sucking

You know the whole "Fast Cory" joke? Yeah. The joke is that "Fast" and "Cory" are in the same sentence. From the moment I gave birth to the blog Fast Cory (mainly this sentence is included because I thought it would sound funny that I gave birth) the "Fast" part was VERY tongue-in-cheek. When it comes to running, I am much more concerned with fun than fast.

Alright. Now that we've established the fact that I gave birth and I'm not fast....

I did a bit of running on Saturday. After every 100 miler I run I take a week off no matter what. No exercising. I just cuddle up to my friends Ben and Jerry for a solid week. And I took a week off running after the Navajo 100. But by Saturday my week was up. I was feeling fine. So I ran a little. And that running was in arguably the most beautiful place in the state of Utah.

Or maybe the most beautiful place in the nation. I know I'm biased but seriously this is amazing. I often can't believe I live in a place that is surrounded by so much awesomeness.

I brought up the whole thing about "Fast Cory" being sarcastic because generally I don't feel very fast. But on Saturday I actually ran fast. And it was only because I was in these beautiful surroundings with a friend of mine, Jeremiah Barber. The main difference between us is that I could call him "Fast Jeremiah".....and it wouldn't be sarcastic.

Jeremiah is a breathtaking photographer (check out his website HERE or his Facebook page HERE) and he's working on a cool project I'll tell you more about later. So as I'm running with him it starts to get really hot outside. I'm talking scorching hot. Like the kind of hot that makes you sweat so much that you're embarrassed. The heat was slowly sucking out my soul.

In fact I was running so hard that I thought to myself "Oh boy. I'm going to be fairly embarrassed when (not if, but when) I throw up on my shoes.I don't want to clean Honey Stinger chews out of my Altras." And of course I let Jeremiah know about my near-barf experience. Or not.

It wasn't all running and trying not to throw up. There were plenty of stops for pictures too. I was pretty happy to spot this little pool left over from a rainstorm.

And then another pool + Jeremiah catching some air + a reflection of Jeremiah catching some air.

It was a beautiful Saturday in the fresh air. I feel blessed that I was able to refrain from throwing up. I feel blessed that my body lets me do stuff like this. And I feel blessed to live in such an amazingly beautiful area.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Navajo Lake Solo 100 Miler - News Allegations Against Me

CEDAR CITY, UT - Thursday afternoon runner Cory Reese hobbled into a Jimmy John's sandwich shop in Cedar City, Utah. Parents shielded the eyes of their onlooking children gazing at the pathetic looking Reese who was covered in layer upon layer of sun screen, bug spray, and sweat. Reese's journey ended at a sandwich shop. But it started two days earlier on the drive up Cedar Canyon to Navajo a 100 mile run that would change his life FOREVER.

Reese, ever the glutton for punishment (he once at not one but TWO McDonald's breakfast burritos....and regretted that decision for the next 9 hours) registered for the Bear 100 coming up September 26th. Being a high altitude race, Reese assumed it would be advantageous to do some training in an area where oxygen is all but absent from the air. Destination: Navajo Lake - 9,042 feet above sea level, and similar elevation to the Bear 100.

Never having been known as the brightest light bulb in the pack, Reese set out to not only do a training run at Navajo Lake, but to run an entire solo 100 miles. "I'm a nerd. I realized that I have run a 100 miler every month for six months in a row and thought maybe I'd try to add one more month to the tally," said Reese.

"I didn't have a specific course laid out. I figured I'd just explore the trails in the area and see where my legs would take me." His route began on the Navajo Lake Loop Trail, a generally non-technical loop with stunning views of the lake nearby.

Despite the distinct feeling that he was trying to breathe through a straw and/or his lungs were beginning to fill with lime Jell-O, Reese claims that he was having fun. Though claims of "fun" are likely improbable and falsified, pictures do seem do indicate a moderate amount of enjoyment.

After the lake loop Reese ran to the nearby Virgin River Rim Trail. It was at this time that any amount of fun being had quickly vanished....nearly leaving Reese with a need to change his shorts. "I was just running down the trail minding my own business when all of the sudden there was this really loud rustle in the bushes right next to me." In an instant Reese was convinced he would be eaten by a mountain lion. "I involuntarily let out the loudest, sissiest yell that has ever come out of my mouth. I guarantee if my wife heard me make that sound she would file for divorce." Fortunately for Reese, the animal wasn't a hungry mountain lion. It was a startled turkey and her flock of babies, further confirming that Reese is a wussie.

The Virgin River Rim has more technical climbing, and more closely resembles the Bear 100 course. Only occasionally are runners treated to silky smooth single track.

Periodically views of Zion National Park open up on the horizon, though generally scenery is confined to the immediately surrounding forest.

Reese admitted that it was on this trail, within the first 30 miles of his run, that his day would not proceed as smoothly as hoped. "My legs just had nothing to give. It was probably partly due to the altitude. Probably partly due to accumulated miles over the last few months. Probably partly due to just having an off day. But the bottom line is that my legs were already fried way too early into the run. At least having hundreds of butterflies flying around helped distract me from my aching legs." Reese later admitted that saying the butterflies helped him feel better was a complete and utter lie.

Amid the controversy about whether or not he was actually having fun, campers and hikers seem to question whether or not Reese's 100 miler can actually be called a "run". "I mean...sure. I saw him jogging every once in a while," said camper Lisa Henson. "But there was also a lot of staggering around taking pictures and jumping every once in a while."

After exploring much of the surrounding area, Reese returned for another trip on the Navajo Lake Loop. "This trail is really pretty," he said. "I love how part of the trail weaves through fields of lava rock."

In the evening Reese passed campers who later expressed concern at the sight of him going by. "We were sitting there roasting hot dogs when this guy walked by. He was moving slowly and it looked like he had tears coming down his eyes." When questioned about this afterward, Reese said that during his run he listened to the entire audio book "Unbroken" about Olympic runner and WWII prisoner of war Louis Zamperini. "This is one of the greatest books I've ever come across," said Reese. "It really moved me."

Feeling inspired after finishing the book, Reese felt a renewed vitality.....which lasted for at least a fourth of a mile.

As the sun began to set, a wave of despair and frustration began to suffocate Reese. "This is the lowest I've felt in a long, long time," said Reese. "I kept doing the math over and over and over in my head. I realized that at the pace I was going going, I would be able to read 'War And Peace' at least four times in the amount of time it would take me to finish 100 miles. I just really, really wanted to give up."

With each passing mile discouragement increased. "As much as I tried, I couldn't get my pace any faster. The harder trails earlier in the day left my legs feeling like they were pressed in a George Foreman Grill. I couldn't stop thinking about excuses to stop. I could think of a hundred valid, legitimate reasons to stop. But I only had one reason to keep going: I knew I would be disappointed in myself if I quit."

The dark of night welcomed another part of Reese's story. "I saw this furry animal on the side of the trail that looked like a koala bear. I tried to get a picture but it waddled away before my camera could focus." Reese seems to have forgotten that koala bears don't live in this area, but is adamant that he was not having a hallucination.

Within hours of the sun going down, wind picked up and temperatures dropped. Reese watched lightning storms far off on the horizon, both ahead and behind him. "I prayed to God that the lightning would move closer so I would be forced to stop my run. When I finished the prayer, I'd repeat it." But the lightning didn't move closer and Reese chose to continue running under a canopy of a billion stars.

The second sunrise of his run seemed to reward the effort he put in to get through the cold night.

Reese had now covered 80 miles, a distance he couldn't have imagined reaching the day before when he was struggling mightily.

Morning turned to noon. Noon turned to afternoon. And Reese continued along his 100 mile "run" (which at this point looked much less like a run and much more like a sloth sinking in quick sand). "Even though I'm really struggling, I'm still having fun," said Reese. "A 100 miler is fun in the way that people think riding a roller coaster is fun. They wait in a long line for 45 minutes, have someone strap a tight seat belt around their manhood, go up and down steep hills that propel stomach bile into their throats, get whiplashed to the point of needing a chiropractor.....and then call it 'fun'. So, yeah, 100 milers are a blast!"

After 99 miles that were more difficult than listening to a Celine Dion album, Reese's run was nearing an end. It was in that last mile that he stopped his slow shuffle mid stride. After nearly stepping on a butterfly he bent down to look closer. And for a brief moment that butterfly became part of Reese's 100 mile journey.

Reese completed his solo Navajo 100 after 31 hours and 57 minutes. In the twelve 100 milers he has completed, only one has been slower. "Every race I've done this year has gone almost perfectly so it was time to pay my dues and have a rough one. I really struggled this time. But those challenging runs are the ones where you learn the most."

Against the odds, Reese completed his goal of running a 100 miler every month for seven months in a row. At Navajo Lake his finish was not marked by crowds of people cheering on runners. There was no medal or belt buckle. No finish line food tents. (Unless you count the Oreos and Dr. Pepper in his car.) There was only the sound of wind and the internal satisfaction of knowing he didn't give up.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Hate You. I Love You. My Love Affair With Toquerville Falls

I've been doing almost all my running lately on this route to Toquerville Falls (which also has a turnoff to some cell towers on top of a mountain). I managed to get there three times last week. My only purpose is to get as much climbing in my legs as possible to prepare for the ultra gnarly Bear 100 coming up in two months. I've been able to rack up many thousands of feet each week.

The climbing to Toquerville Falls and the towers are steep, long, and unrelenting. It's definitely not the place to go for fast running. Many times during each run I say to the hills "I hate you!" But then I reach the top of some vista, or see some amazing view and I apologize. "I'm sorry hills. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I love you. Let's be friends. You make me happy."

The route is so unbelievably hot. Inevitably it feels like my skin is going to melt into a puddle on the dirt. This is the extent of the shade available.

The climb to the cell towers adds a whole new, inhumane level of climbing. I have to keep reminding myself that this is good race preparation to keep myself from crying.
Toquerville Cell Towers

And then there is Toquerville Falls. Ahhhh, the Falls. The last few times here my legs have been an all-you-can-eat Golden Corral buffet for the deer flies.

One of my trips last week was in the evening as the sun was setting. It was still a toasty 103 degrees outside at that time. It's a beautiful place for a sunset.

Want to know something cool? Any awesome thing you see in the following picture is part of the Zion 100 course.

As beautiful as it is out here, I hardly ever see another soul.

I feel a little sheepish but I admit that at night I made it up to the cell towers, but turned around a mile before I reached Toquerville Falls. I feel a little intimidated when I'm out in the middle of nowhere by myself at night. Although I highly doubt any hungry mountain lions would mess with me if they caught a glance of my intimidating, frightening self.

I have faith that as difficult and challenging as my runs are now, I will be better prepared for the big dance in September.