Tag Archives: racing

Ambition

I completed my 12th ultramarathon race last weekend — the 32 mile TARC Fells Winter Ultra Trail Race just north of Boston, MA. It wasn’t my fastest race (not by far), but I had fun, finished it in good style, and was honored to share the experience with 5 of my student athletes from Sterling, each of whom pushed themselves to meet or exceed the goals they had set for themselves. They have so much to be proud of, and had a great close to the season.

Each year at about this time, I start seriously planning the coming year’s adventures — poring over maps, reading descriptions, checking airfares. The snow has started falling in earnest, and I’ve already been out skiing nearly a dozen times with the anticipation of dozens more.

But I can’t help but think, where will running take me in 2018? 

Sometimes looking forward, though, means looking both inward and back.

When I was first hired at Sterling College in 2006, I had the honor to work with Will Wootton, the College’s President from 2006-2012, and this week I had the great fortune to attend a reading of Will’s new book, Good Fortune Next Time, which weaves together heartfelt stories of horse-packing and wrangling with the administration of small New England colleges.

Just after I left the bookshop, I turned on the overhead light in my truck and paged through the index to see if I had made it into the book somewhere, and there I was, on the top of page 198.

I was floored. I beamed. I smiled broadly to myself.

Then my heart started to settle. Deep into the pit of my insecurities.

Was I really those things? Was I still that person? Did the words of this man, whose opinion I valued so much and whose perspective I so deeply appreciated, match with the person into whom I had grown in the years since he hired me as dean in 2007?

Ambitious. That word stands out more than any other on that page. It’s also the word with the most subjective meaning. Many people look at the kinds of things I do and can’t even begin to understand the drive to run hundreds of miles at a stretch or to connect running, teaching, advocacy, and love of the wildness of far-flung places to help build some sort of climate resilience.

Yet.

In its etymology, ambition refers to the ambit, the circuit one walks in order to achieve a goal (or solicit votes, support, or some distinction). Quite literally, then, endurance running is the very definition of ambition.

It’s often very easy for me to convince myself that the goals I set for myself are largely insignificant.

So, what will 2018 bring? Sharing that will have to wait. First off, I’m taking December off from training — the first extended break from active training since 2014. It feels important right now to step back and take in the larger picture and figure out how I can match my drive for doing with being the best person I can be.

Come January, I think I’ll be ready to see what ambit awaits.

What do we love?

On my morning run today, knowing I might need some external motivation, I listened to last year’s interview with Sally McRae by Julia Hanlon on Julia’s Running on Om podcast. My tired legs may have yielded somewhat slower miles on that run, but Sally’s thoughtful reflections on her Western States 100 training led me onward through my 12 miles, and brought my thinking inward to reflect on this question: what do we love?

Some answers come easily.

    

Some do not.

The more I run, the more I seem to have conversations about things like passion and purpose, goals and direction.

Most recently, I told a friend that I wasn’t yet done becoming who I wanted to be. On reflection, what I think I really meant was, ‘I haven’t yet done all I can to be the best person I can be, and I want to take my time and enjoy the ride.’

We all follow very different paths, for sure, but for me it has often been a literal path — frequently uphill, nearly always layered with soil and lichen-covered stones, under a sky that is more often than not threatening rain.

What we all share, however, is that there is a path. And even when look ahead to see what’s next (I mean, of course we do!), it is the act of being on the path — and learning to acknowledge and love every step along the way — that is essential to keep us both rooted and moving forward. To quote a dog from a book that helped me through a particularly challenging moment in my life, “that which you manifest is before you.

When I ran in the 7.6-mile race up the Mount Washington Auto Road with some of our student-athletes, staff, and friends last weekend, I could not have been more proud to see my students come up the last 22% grade to the finish line — I could see them becoming more confident, becoming more self-assured, and becoming stronger with every. tired. step.

As I start the last hard training block for my Arctic Trail run, I have to keep my eyes steadfastly on today — on this run, this mile, this training session — while also planning for the 500-mile adventure I have ahead of me. Balancing those two — the moment and the thing-that-comes-next — is, for me, one of the hardest parts of training.

But it helps answer my question:

I believe we have to love the process of becoming — whatever path we choose to follow.

The Sterling Skyrunner extended family atop Mount Washington

3,000 hours

There are just under 3,000 hours left before I set out on my 500-mile run on the Arctic Trail in northern Scandinavia in August. I like thinking about the time in hours: I can visualize and wrap my mind around an hour pretty easily, whereas 4 months can seem a lifetime away.

If I think about the hours I spend training each week and the hours it takes to plan out this event, then thinking in hours gives me perspective, gives me pause, and also motivates and inspires me to make the most of each and every one of those hours.

But, I won’t spend all of them training (or racing 😉 ).

will work hard to balance an increasingly intense training schedule with spending time with my wife and son, teaching, coaching, playing with our dogs, and taking care of myself.

I am an athlete, ultrarunner, and advocate for climate resilience, but I am also human, and sometimes that’s what is most important to remember.


Today, for example, Orion (my 12-year old son) and I teamed up with one of his friends to take 7th place in the 6th annual Mud ‘n Ice Quadrathlon (a local affair consisting of a 9k nordic ski, 4.5-mile run, 3-mile paddle, and 11-milebike). My week’s mileage may have taken a dip, but I wouldn’t have traded the day for anything else.

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The Sterling Skyrunners competed at the Wolf Hollow Half Marathon and 5k this past Sunday — with Sterling runners placing 2nd, 8th, 11th, and others finishing in the top 20 and placing in their age groups. I ran a solid but relatively conservative race myself — taking more pride in seeing so many of my students push themselves up to and even beyond what they thought were their limits that day.

I am honored and humbled to be in a place where I can not only direct the program and coach the team but also spend my time training alongside some very gifted student-athletes.

When people ask me why I take on projects like Climate Run: Iceland last year or running the Arctic Trail next summer — and how I keep going through all the training and all the miles — these students are my greatest inspiration. I hope that I’m able to give them a little in return.

 

 

 

Dreams

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I completed my first ultra-distance trail run (or rather, speed hike) in August 1989. I started at 4:00 am at Carter Notch Hut, the eastern-most of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s system of mountain huts in northern New Hampshire, and started to run westward toward the Presidential Range, Zealand Valley, Franconia Range, and finally, Lonesome Lake Hut near the range’s western end.

I remember watching the late sunset from the summit of Mount Lafayette, only 6 miles from my 52-mile goal, exhausted, but knowing that I would probably make my goal. When I reached a cold and windy Lonesome Lake Hut about 21 hours after I started, it was the single longest hike I’d done by at least 30 miles.

I was 18 years old.
In Leadville, Colorado only 6 years before, Ken Chlouber and Merilee Maupin had the creative idea to refocus some of the town’s energy into a traverse of some of the beautiful mountain trails on and around the foothills of the State’s highest summits.

I can still remember seeing some TV coverage of one of the Leadville 100’s early editions as a young teenager, and something about that — about running through the day, into the night, and into the next day — about running seemingly forever — found its way deep into my blood and remained there, fueling my adventures for years to follow.

I entered the Leadville 100 lottery for the first time in December 2014, thinking that I could complete the race a month after returning from my run across Iceland in 2015. That turned out to be a bit presumptuous…

After a year’s deferral,  I entered the 2016 race and toed the line with more than 700 other runners just before 4:00 am on August 20th, silent, solemn, and nervous, listening to the final refrain of the National Anthem before we set off, westward into the darkness.

I was 45 years old.

 

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The starting line

 

“How was it?” People ask.

Well, what is it like to realize a dream?

There were some difficult parts of the race, for sure — climbing 12,600 ft Hope Pass *twice* –leaving the relative comfort of the Twin Lakes aid station at 8:00 pm to climb the shoulder of Mt. Elbert — pushing through the night from midnight to 4:00 am on Sunday over another 11,000 ft pass — following my brother, Michal, who paced me for the final half-marathon stretch to keep a relentlessly consistent pace — all of these were harder than nearly anything I’d done in long-distance running before.

As the runners thinned out after I crossed Hope Pass for the second time at 55 miles, I felt like a different race had started. First, I’d never covered more than 55 miles in one day (on day three of my 2015 Iceland traverse), and second, I was more alone on the trail and I began to find a rhythm that I felt might actually lead me to the finish line.

I stopped in Twin Lakes for about 10 minutes for a change of shoes and socks and some chicken broth and ramen for supper before heading back up into the woods for the final 40 miles, most of which would be in the dark. Jen, who paced me in for the last 100 yards to Twin Lakes, was surprised I didn’t stay longer, but I knew that the longer I stopped, the less excited I would be to get going again, and the harder it would be to find my rhythm again.

 

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Twin Lakes looking southwest

 

 

The hours between 8:00 pm and 12:00 am are a little blurred — I remember the miles, the steep single track, the dirt roads, the poplar leaves in the light of my headlamp, and a few miles on grazing land in the moonlit valley below Mount Massive. I remember mostly the rhythm, the feel of feet against the ground with each step, the dropping temperature.

12:00 am to 4:00 am exist in a little sharper relief, maybe because this 10-mile stretch included a climb up the notorious Powerline trail to a pass at 11,000 ft. I remember, again, the rhythm of the climb, passing several runners with their pacers, solo runners, and cresting each false summit only to be discouraged to find another climb beyond.

 

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Coming into the Outward Bound Aid Station at midnight

 

Someone had a bugle. At 2:00 am, at 11,000 ft in the middle of the woods, someone was blowing a bugle that echoed through the canyons and among the trees all around me. I knew they had to be at the top of the climb, so I just kept on until the sound grew more distinct. At the very top, I was surprised by a brightly lit, glow stick bedecked ad-hoc aid station staffed by the most energetic folks I’d ever met at that time of night. They promised a downhill run to the last aid station, Queen May.

 

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A quick stop at Queen May

 

Another shoe change and some blister repair later, Michal and I were off on the last 13.5 — a relatively flat, though deceptively challenging section after nearly 90 miles of running. Michal kept our pace honest and consistent, guiding up past other runners nearly the whole of the way around Turquoise Lake, down into the lowlands, and then back up the 800 ft climb into Leadville. The sun rose as we passed the midpoint of our last section. With 6 miles left to go, I started to think that I might actually make the finish. I remember saying that to someone we passed — I think they were as delirious as I might have been, so I’m not sure if they understood, but we shared a sentiment: we were finishing something. Something significant.

Michal steered me off the dirt road onto the final climb up West 6th Street toward the finish line, and me needing to ease off our pace on the climb — It only figures that the 100 miles would finish with a 3 mile uphill. It was on that last stretch that the heartfelt “congratulations” started. It seemed like everyone in town came out to give their sincere congratulations to all the runners who made it to the finish line.

They could each look into our eyes and they knew where we had been and what it meant.

At barely a jog, I crossed the red carpet of the finish line and into the arms of Merilee and Ken, who chided me for smiling too much — “they’re going to think this is easy!” he said.

It was not easy, that’s for sure. But it was the realization of a dream many decades in the making, and that’s certainly a reason to smile.

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I don’t yet know what’s next, but you can be pretty sure that something big is on the horizon 😉

Road to Leadville: Dispatch #2

 

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Hiking around in Chautauqua Park, Boulder, CO

After only 48 hours, it already feels as though I’ve been in Colorado for weeks.

 

Although I haven’t kept track, I think this is my 12th trip to Colorado as an adult — and 13th if you add my family’s cross-country van trip in the 1970s.

Over the years, these mountains have come to feel like a second home. I’ve learned at least a little of what to expect, though I’m still always excited to explore new places and circling back to familiar ones.

Somehow, ever since I was young, I’ve been drawn to Leadville’s Race Across the Sky. I remember, too, stopping at a Leadville gas station in 1997 and suddenly really realizing where I was. That moment is so indelibly written in my memory, I remember the colors, the feel of the elevation, the snowfields still on the higher peaks, and even what t-shirt I was wearing (!!).

Now, nearly 20 years later, and probably about 30 years since I first heard about it, I’m super stoked to be headed back again.

Later this morning, we head up to Leadville for some high mountain miles and maybe some exploring in the Sawatch Range, just to the west of town, which includes several of Colorado’s highest peaks. The forecasted temperatures for the rest of the week look remarkably cool — highs in the low to mid-60s and lows in the mid-30s. Perfect for running, though it could make for interesting conditions if we get some rain early in the race on Saturday.

 

Road to Leadville: Dispatch #1

 

Running the Walker Ranch loop trail

The Walker Ranch loop trail, Golden, CO

“Why are you going to Colorado?”

 

“To run in a hundred mile race” isn’t really a great answer.

It’s much more complicated. And much harder to explain.

In the week leading up to the Leadville Trail 100 (which starts at 4:00 am Mountain Time on Saturday the 20th), I’m going to explore some of the paths that have led me to run this particular race.

More than one person has suggested that “this will be the experience of a lifetime.” Of course, that’s true, but in some way, nearly ever training run, every race, is the experience of a lifetime.

On the first of a series of annual trips to Colorado, in 2011, I had registered for the Leadville Heavy Half 15 mile trail race. I drove the 35 hours to Colorado from Vermont not really knowing what to expect from the race, but I fell in love with the town, the people, and the idea of racing at higher elevations in the mountains started to take hold. After I completed the run–from 10,000 to 13,000 feet and back–with a top-20 finish, I knew I would come back.

In the five years since then, I’ve finished 4 50ks, 2 50-milers, several marathon-length races, a 150 mile run across Iceland, countless shorter events, and thousands of miles of training with dogs, friends, and solo in mountains around the world.

All of this has brought me here.

And every part of it has changed my life.

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