Thursday, April 19, 2018

Announcing My New Book - Into The Furnace

I am SO excited to announce the title and cover of my upcoming book! It's called Into The Furnace: How a 135 mile run across Death Valley set my soul on fire.

It’s a book about taking chances. It’s about suffering. It’s about bravery and heartache and hope and courage. It’s a book about the Badwater ultramarathon, and the pure love of running. The book was co-written with Luke Thoreson who is a phenomenal and enormously hilarious writer. Dean Karnazes wrote the forward for the book. Check out this clip about the book:

The book (along with other fun rewards) is now available for pre-order! I'm nearly bursting with happiness. Click HERE for a link with more book info and details on how to order. Thanks SO much for all your support and encouragement!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Running 100 Miles On A Cruise Ship!

I inhaled two ice cream cones like a vacuum sucking up dust bunnies. Then I kissed my wife and walked to the running track on the deck of the Ruby Princess cruise ship. And then I clicked the Start button on my Garmin to begin what I hoped would be a 100 mile run on the deck of the ship.

Why attempt a 100 mile run on the first day of a vacation? Well, mainly because that's the only opportunity I could think of to vacuum up as many ice cream cones as I want while running 100 miles. Thus far, none of the trail races I've done have had an all-you-can-eat ice cream machine at any aid stations. This was my view for many, MANY more hours to come:

Some creative friends came up with some great names for the run. Some of my favorites were:
  • Andrea Bond: My Run Will Go On 
  • Colleen Rue: Seasick 100 
  • Kristyan Williams: Ship Happens 100 
  • Mike Beckwith: You’ve Got To Be Shipping Me 100 
  • Hollie Reina: Soft Serve 1600 
  • Andy Pearson: The Dumb As Ship 100 
  • Rob Steger: Finding Cory…yeah dad joke 
  • Sean Melican: The Ship For Brains Challenge 
  • Howie Stern: Chicken Of The Sea 100
We were on a California Coast cruise. We went with our friends the Coopers and lots of their extended family. This was a bonus because they were more than willing to be an informal aid station. Every once in a while people would kindly bring up some food or water or ice cream. 

The first night and day were at sea. I didn't feel like the run took away from family time much. Mel was happy as a clam hanging out and visiting with friends. And my kids are teenagers so it's safe to say that hanging out with dad probably wasn't at the top of their priority list. But the running track was right next to the basketball court where they spent a lot of time so we saw a lot of each other.

Plus the kids were awesome about bringing snacks whenever they got bored.

The night was bitter, BITTER cold and it was so windy that it felt like trying to run inside a tornado. During the night whenever Mel brought up some food, she would stay out just long enough to hand me a plate, and then would dart back into the warmth. I didn't expect that it would be this cold so I didn't have as many layers as I would have preferred.

At 3:30 a.m. I was freezing cold and a fierce wind was tossing me around the track. If you think a gale force headwind is miserable, don’t worry. In 20 feet it will be a tailwind. Which will momentarily be blowing you sideways before becoming a ferocious headwind again. I hadn’t seen anyone for hours. And then a worker showed up with a hose. He told me he had to clean the track and I could come back in an hour. I concluded that to continue my run, I’d need to succumb to some miles on a treadmill for an hour. I wanted nothing to do with Satan's Sidewalk, but I didn't know what else to do. Then I realized that the fitness center was closed. In an act of desperation, I ran up and down the long hallway of the cruise ship for an hour. 

The absurdity of this scene was not lost on me. Fortunately I’m a licensed clinical social worker so I was able to give myself therapy for the trauma I was putting myself through. Eventually I headed back to that hamster wheel of hell called the running track.

Let me tell you about this hamster wheel of hell. The surface is hard steel. (As opposed to soft steel??) Do you know what feet and knees and legs don't love? Hard steel. And it takes 16 loops to make a mile. SIXTEEEEEEEN. To make this sound infinitely more heartbreaking, that means it takes 1,600 loops to make 100 miles. If that doesn't make you throw up in your mouth a little bit, nothing will.

By the time the sun came up, I was around mile 52. I was convinced that we had been tricked into getting on a cruise to the Antarctic. #imnotrobbingabank #isthisworsethanprisontime #sanityoverboard

In the morning our friends Henry, Sid, and Mandy brought me an omelette and waffles that tasted like they had been made by the hands of angels. This may have been the only point in my life when I was so cold that even ice cream didn't sound appealing.

Around mile 72 I learned that Princess keeps an imaginary pain cave on board. This pain cave is worse than listening to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" played on repeat. Now that's saying something. What made the pain cave even more of a mental challenge was looking down at the pool and seeing people relaxing with their drinks and books and happiness. Their eyes weren't looking glassy with big bags underneath them like my eyes were looking. Mel came up to join me for a few miles which helped minimize the sleep walking.

I actually felt fairly decent overall and ended up running the second half faster than the first. I don't think I've had a negative split during a 100 miler before. Finally after 27 hours and 47 minutes I finished the 100 mile run. My family was there with a belt buckle that we brought along just in case I finished the run. I basically love it.

I'm not aware of anyone running a 100 miler on a 1/16 mile loop of a cruise ship before. After this experience I think I understand why. I can say with certainty that I underestimated how challenging it would be, both mentally and physically. I used a Garmin foot pod to track my distance because I knew GPS wouldn't work on a moving ship. You can see my Garmin data HERE. Just for fun, I started Strava for my run as well. You can see that data HERE. I love how the route looks like I ran across water.

The brutal part was that after finishing the run, I had around 7 hours to sleep before we needed to get up for the adventures we had planned for the day, which included Alcatraz:

And heading over to the Golden Gate Bridge:

Though I was stiff as a board trying to walk around, I think all this walking around was incredibly helpful to loosen up my tight muscles. Two days later, I had absolutely no soreness and felt like I could run again if I wanted to. (I didn't.) I credit the lack of soreness to all the walking around we did.

I got to enjoy lots of family time for the rest of our vacation as well. We saw some awesome stuff in San Diego, Ensenada, and Monterey.

In Monterey we caught this jumping picture. It only took 13 tries to get a shot where we were all up in the air.

My highlight of the trip was being able to spend time with my family at Muir woods. Our family vacations aren’t 100% fun. Much of the time, siblings are wanting to strangle each other. Parents are wanting to strangle kids. Kids are wanting to strangle parents. But we are creating memories we will look back on with happiness. Exploring Muir Woods with my tribe felt like heaven.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure this is what heaven will look like. Except that there will be a trail side all-you-can-eat ice cream machine.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

My Comprehensive Athlete Assessment

Years and years ago ( years ago) I had this awesome health teacher in high school named Tiffany Gust. I always admired how personable she was and her ability to engage students - definitely not an easy task with teenagers.

Tiffany is now an exercise physiologist at Intermountain Health Care in their St. George, Utah Health and Performance Center. I was psyched when she said they were starting up a new comprehensive athlete assessment program called the Sports Performance Package, and she asked if I would be their guinea pig to test the program out.

The program was designed for all athletes of any age or athletic level with the purpose of improving performance and preventing injuries. When they said "comprehensive" they weren't exaggerating. Here is the testing I did, my results, and their recommendations:

A comprehensive lab panel
I'll fully admit that I'm a GIGANTIC baby when it comes to needles. I have a bad reputation for passing out. So I was pretty proud of myself for not passing out with this lab draw. The assessment checked a CBC, CMP, cholestorol, thyroid functioning, vitamin B12, vitamin D, testosterone/estrogen hormones, Ferritin, and Cortisol. The lab draw was the first thing we did, and most results were back fast enough for the doctor to review them with me. I learned that my vitamin B12 and vitamin D were low, both of which can effect athletic performance so I've started taking those supplements.

Fitness Assessments
There were lots of tests that were part of the functional movement screening including a push-up test, sit-up test, wall-sit test, and sit-and-reach test. There was also a functional movement screening which helps identify weak areas that could be problem areas for potential injuries. My results in most of these: I SUCK. I had many weaknesses including core strength, hips, and glutes: all critical areas for runners. Fortunately they gave me conditioning exercises specifically geared toward improving my weaknesses.

Bod Pod
This test helps determine body composition and the ratio of fat to muscle. This won't come as too much of a surprise, but it would be helpful for me to eat a few less Hostess cupcakes and eat a few more carrots. WHY can't someone genetically modify carrots to taste like Hostess cupcakes??? Why!?!

VO2 Test
This test helps measure cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. My score of 45.5 put me in the excellent range here, but with some speed work and interval training (which I do basically none of), I might be able to move up to the superior range. I learned about my metabolic rate and how many calories my body burns during resting and during exercise.

Dietitian Consultation
Prior to my appointment, I had to keep a food and liquid journal for three days. It was slightly embarrassing to have "Costco Cheesecake" on my food log for every single one of those days. I told Mel not to buy Costco cheesecake anymore because if it's in my refrigerator, I'm morally obligated to eat it. My dietitian Christie Benton reviewed my logs and said I need more protein and to drink more water. She also gave me personalized meal plans to help meet my targets.

Physician Consultation
The final part of the Comprehensive Sports Performance Evaluation was meeting with Dr. Rhett Frei. He reviewed all my labs and made sure everything was in working order. Things like hormone levels and vitamin deficiencies can have a big impact on functioning. He also reviewed my running history and the longstanding problems I've had with my knees. His evaluation found that my knee problems stem from weak hips, weak VMO muscles, and weak Gluteus Medius muscles. What I really appreciated is that they gave me specific things to do to get these areas on track.

This whole process took nearly five hours. I feel like they looked at every level of my functioning and fitness. And beyond just figuring out areas that needed improvement, they actually told me what to do about it. 

I wanted to give a few months of putting things into practice before I gave an accurate write-up of my experience there. Since my visit with them I've done the stretching and strengthening exercises they recommended. I made some adjustments with my diet. (I did not remove cheesecake or Dr. Pepper from my diet.) I started taking the vitamin supplements they recommended. And I feel better. I feel stronger. I still have LOTS of room for improvement. Despite having pretty good endurance, I still have lots of problem areas to work on for injury prevention. But it's nice to know the steps I can take to get better.

If you'd like more information or to schedule an appointment, call 435-251-3793 or check out their link HERE

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jackpot Race Report - A Family Ultramarathon!

Last year my wife and I took the kids to Disney World. Though the kids had a blast, Mel and I realized that we are allergic to standing in a line for two hours for a 90 second roller coaster. I'm pretty sure I'd rather have a spleen removal than go to another theme park.

After last year's trip to Disney World, you can imagine the abounding excitement the kids felt when we told them that this year we would be running a 48 hour race together. They were so thrilled that they hoisted me and Mel on their shoulders and shouted that we were the BEST PARENTS EVER!! (Or something like that.) (Or nothing like that.)

We like the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival in Vegas. I've run it a bunch of times and it is the only race where I've ever run a sub-24 hour 100 miler. The course is a 2.5 mile loop so you get to know the other runners well, considering that you see them so often.

Going into the race, we told the kids we had no expectations of them except to go have fun. We didn't want to pressure them to go farther than they wanted. With a timed race like this, you just go as far as you want within 48 hours. (They have a 24 hour, 12 hour, and 6 hour race too.) You run when you want, you rest when you want. Since we brought the kids along, we decided to rent an RV for a few days so we'd have a place to rest when not out on the course.

I gave them a little talk about what to expect. In summary: don't get behind with fluids and nutrition. Start slow. A nipple with a Bandaid is a happy nipple. They have cheesecake at the aid station. Eat some cheesecake. I think that pretty much covers all the important things. Then we checked in.

I need to give a disclaimer: those first two pictures are us as a happy family. But those times were the minority. Usually we were wanting to strangle each other. Everyone would take their turns fighting, complaining, arguing, or giving the silent treatment. We just hoped that in the end, this would be a good experience.

The race started Friday morning. Run. Walk. Rest. Cheesecake. Run. Walk. Rest. Cheesecake. Hour. After. Hour. I truly loved seeing Mel and the kids out on the course and being able to give them a high five or a sweaty hug when we passed each other.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted my kids to have an experience at a race like this is to be surrounded by the amazing community of runners who are so supportive and encouraging. Take, for example, my friend Colleen Zato. I've known Colleen for years and always love the miles I spend with her. My admiration grew when I saw her work through some very dark times to finish Badwater. But I love her even more after Jackpot. Colleen and her boyfriend Alex kind of took Jackson under their wing and spent many, many miles with him. Getting lost in conversations with friends always makes the miles go by quicker.

A mile 34 jumping picture:

One of the biggest highlights of my race was being able to share some miles with legendary runner Ann Trason. Among her many accomplishments, she has won the Western States 100 a remarkable 14 TIMES! She is the most accomplished female ultrarunner ever. It was an honor to finally meet her and get some miles together. (When I asked her why she added the red feather boa later in the race, she said "I was needing an attitude change.")

I also met Ann's crew/pacer Dill. One night he stood by his tent handing out happy stickers to everyone who passed by. Sometimes a sticker can help you forget how loudly your legs are complaining.

Around 2:00am on the first night, I received my formal invitation to the pain cave. I reluctantly accepted the invite. I did lots of miles in training but no amount of training can prepare you for those late miles in a race.

The race is held at Cornerstone Park which is a bird refuge. There are geese everywhere. They are gigantic. And fearless. For a while, one of them was parked right in the middle of the trail by the timing tent. He looked like he was just itching to take a chunk out of my calf.

It seemed like it would never come, but finally we made it to the second day of the race. I loved seeing and talking with so many amazing people. One of them was my friend Tony Nguyen. Before this race, Tony had finished five 100 milers. And...he had dropped out of 17. This is the kind of tenacity and stubbornness that I LOVE. (Here's something cool: after this race, Tony had finished six 100 milers.)

Race director Ken Rubeli was pestering me for weeks before the race that he wanted to see a lap with the hideous cat suit. I gave in. How To Question Your Masculinity In One Easy Step: Wear a cat unitard during an ultramarathon. (This picture could also be titled "The Dangers Of Peer Pressure".)

Is a family pity party allowed after running hours upon end? I vote yes. Here is a picture of our camper pity party.

Among the awesome people I spent time with during the race, one of them was my friend Clair Coleman. He was one of my crew members when I ran Badwater and can attest that this man is a true saint.

On the second night I took a few breaks to sleep for 60-90 minutes, then got back out on the course to get in a few more miles. And then before we knew it, the race was done.

If you ever need proof that miracles exist, spend a weekend at an ultramarathon. I personally experienced many miracles. And I saw miracles with other runners. But my favorite miracles were with my family. From left to right, Jackson covered 65 miles! Kylee went 50 miles! Danica ran 40 miles! Mel traveled 52.5 miles! And I finished 130 miles. This is a weekend I will never forget.

Thanks to Altra, Tailwind Nutrition, Injinji, UltrAspire, and St. George Running Center for all your support of crazy adventures like this!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Update On My Upcoming Book!

AWESOME news! My new book about Badwater, the 135 mile run across Death Valley is getting close! It’s in the final stages of editing. And I brought on the amazing Luke Thoreson to help co-write! (Photo by Jud Burkett)

I was first introduced to Luke's writing when I came across his blog. His posts about buying a month-long all-you-can-eat pass at Olive Garden are so, so good. His writing is intelligent and hilarious, and he also has a deep connection with Badwater. You can check out his blog HERE.

Here's how the process went: I finished writing the book. Then I sent it to Luke. He took my manuscript and added another delicious dose of spice, sass, and humor. I seriously LOVE how it turned out.

When I asked Luke why he loves Badwater so much, he said “As four-time crew member, I think the question of why is amplified for crew members compared to the runner. Janice from accounting can at least somewhat understand someone wanting to run a race ("My niece ran a marathon!") - but when you tell her that you're going to spend 24+ hours in a van with three other people, eating your body weight in cookies and Fritos (magical scoops of deliciousness), and driving two miles at a time to hand someone a cup of Coke and a fistful of animals from the genus "gummus" (my personal favorite is "scandanvianus piscus," or what the lay person calls Swedish Fish) is a bit harder to explain. Why is Badwater week the first PTO request I make on January 1st? Because. Because of the moments looking around the crowded, chaotic registration room and seeing someone's face light as they do the one arm shake / other arm hug to another runner who provided some much needed company at mile 74 of last year's race. Because it's turning off the headlamp, walking away from the hazard lights blinking, blinking blinking, and looking up into the sky hearing the far-away howl of coyotes and appreciating how a moment can be both humbling and intimate. Because it's a chance to wear a T-rex costume and entertain/make a runner question their sanity ("But where would a dinosaur even get a light saber?"). Because the moment you set foot in the basin, you're being entrusted with someone's race, their hopes and dreams, and most importantly, their safety as they - to quote the great poet Artis Leon Ivey Jr once wrote - "walk through the valley of the shadow of death."(Okay fine, yes, it was Coolio and yes that's his real name) It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book writ large - you make the wrong choice and suddenly you're realizing how long it takes to walk it in from Darwin. (Answer: Long. So very long.). I didn't really understand what I was getting myself into my first year crewing for Harvey Lewis, which became progressively more surreal culminating in standing around Jake's Saloon watching Sportscenter's "Summer of Champions" segment about the race (holy crap, that's me running with him in that section - that means I was on ESPN!!!!). And there wasn't an ah-ha moment where I told the rest of the guys in the van "I get it now." Badwater becomes a part of you. It's a lifestyle, it's a family, it's a feeling. And the first year that mid-July rolls around and I'm not searching the horizon for the lights of Lone Pine, that part of me will feel empty.”

NEXT STEPS: From this point, the book has a few more edits to finish. It has been sent out to a few people for some advance praise quotes. A graphic designer will work their magic for the book cover, and then it will be available for pre-order. There will be an audio book too! Until then, you can check out my first book "Nowhere Near First" on Amazon and Kindle HERE.

I CAN NOT wait to share this new book with you.