Monday, December 17, 2012

Just a thought...

Just a thought. Recently, I've had a number of conversations with people wondering if what they are doing matters. If they are doing what they should be doing. Why they look at other people and wonder if they should be doing "that" instead.

For the record, some of these people with whom I've spoken are doing incredible things. Truly epic things. World-saving, empire-building, record-breaking stuff! Living the sort of lives about which we think WE would be happy if only we were living them.

So, don't beat yourself up as you ask yourself these same questions!

LOVE yourself. ENJOY what you are doing. DREAM about what you'd like to do next. ACT to bring that new reality about.

And enjoy it all, because none of those parts of living are inherently better or more important than any of the others. Don't wait for anything to BE HAPPY.

BE HAPPY NOW :) And then go ahead and wonder all you want, notice the changes you want to make, act, fail, start again, laugh, cry, reset. You can be happy through all of that.

A sunrise earlier this week. Taken at side of Hwy in New York State.
On way home from watching meteor shower from top of  AVT mountain.
Life IS Good.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank you Titanium :)

So, it has been MONTHS since I have really published a blog post. In the meantime I have copied some of my Facebook statuses and reposted them. I have also started a catch-all post that touches on some of the ridiculous adventures I've taken part in during this absence. I tend to hold them up as my "too busy to write excuse too.

A funny thing happens when I don't post for a while - when I lose my momentum. I start wondering why I started writing to begin with. Wondering if anyone even cares about the somewhat self-indulgent ramblings I produce. And then the inertia sets in.

Thus, I am very grateful to "Titanium", a stranger who commented, tonight, on my 6 week old post Post-Marathon Bedtime Ramblings (yes, one of those "copied Facebook statuses), saying this ...

"I love this. I've come back to it again and again over the past couple weeks, on the heels of a spectacular failure of my own. Thanks for living it, for writing it. I needed the reminder that life is Now. Not then, not later. Now."

For some reason, I was especially grateful for that feedback tonight. And I reread it a few times. And decided it was time to write something again. Which is this.

Titanium's statement that "Life is Now. Not then, not later. Now." is exactly the topic of an Eckhart Tolle lecture I was watching this morning. It is actually fairly light, and even humorous, but it IS 2 hours long, so don't click for a quick look. I DO recommend taking the time to watch it at some point. He is a brilliant thinker and, as importantly, a wonderful "explainer".

PART ONE (1hr)

PART TWO (1hr)

The other thing that Titanium's message brought to my mind is an exchange I had a few years ago with the great Canadian writer/musician, Paul Quarrington. I had met Paul in 2008, spending an eventful day with him in Midland/Penetanguishene. Two years later I knew he was dying of cancer (as he had written a brilliant 3-part essay in the National Post about how he was dealing with his diagnosis - and dismal prognosis), and I sent him an email letting him know about the profound, positive impact he'd had on me.

Within hours, Paul sent me this reply,
"John, thanks for writing that. It really makes me feel good, to note that such paltry little pissants as words have a beneficial effect on people. So, I reckon I better keep it up for the time being!"
And he did, completing a final memoir "Cigar Box Banjo", that I read and enjoyed immensely, on last summer's canoe trip.

Here is a great video synopsis of the National Post interviews. It is ten minutes and absolutely magnificent!!

I think Paul finally got what I finally get that Titanium has also realized that Eckart Tolle has been telling us...

"The thing is, if you decide that life is beautiful, then one year isn't any less beautiful than thirty years."

Paul Quarrington

The only thing you will ever have is NOW. 
Enjoy it. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thank you for being "___er" than I am :)

Something I have been thinking about all day...

I used to worry that I wasn't ____ enough.

And any time I needed to prove to myself that this was true, I just had to look at someone more ____ than myself.

And there was always someone more ____ than me, so it ended up being a bit of a trap.

And I found myself resenting people simply for being the way I wanted to be. 

Which is quite crazy really.

So, somewhere along the way, I decided to stop doing that. Instead of comparing myself with everyone else, I would just love myself as I am and love them as they are. 

And a great thing happened - suddenly I began to appreciate them for their "___ness", and the very characteristic that used to threaten me now made my world bigger and better. 

And I usually found that people (at least the ones who find themselves loved and appreciated) are quite happy to share their "___ness" and that I ended up being way more ___ too, which was the exact result I had always wanted anyway.

Now, I am crazy blessed to know many of the "___est" people in the world.

Insert whatever awesome adjective you want ... nice! funny! cool! fit! fast! strong! smart! sexy! groovy! kind! inspiring! (Hell, so far that is just Olof Dallner! Haha!) 

Some of them are my oldest friends and some are the newest. Every one of them is in some way "___er" than me, and I am so blessed by that.

So, my advice is simple: always find the best in people and celebrate the shit out of it. 

Know that the easiest way to grow, joyfully, in the direction you want your life to go, is to be around people who already embody it.

And be equally appreciative and loving towards those people who see something great in you.

That is it. Carry on. I love you   :)

P.S. If you are wondering if you are the one who is "___er" than I am, the answer is YES! Thank you for that.

P.P.S. Thanks to everyone who has been moved to share this post. It really resonated with me when I wrote it and I am glad that it resonated with you when you read it <3

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Post Marathon Bedtime Ramblings

Headed to bed soon (actually, it is SO MUCH BETTER than just that - I am going to bed on a Tempurpedic mattress with Egyptian cotton sheets, with a belly full of Neo Citran!) ... anyway, I wanted to share with you what I thought about a lot while running today.

I have several friends who have been struggling lately with feelings of "what's it all about?", questioning their own value and accomplishments to date. I think it comes with the mid-life territory (and I have been there).

Here is what I think. None of it means anything! AND it means whatever you want it to mean.

What you have done up until now does not count for squat. So what??? You succeeded in the past? So what? You failed in the past? So what? Everything starts anew every morning. If you choose to rest on your laurels you are going to get bored real fast. If you choose to wallow in your regrets, you will find that you can build nothing new on that. I have succeeded hugely, and found that I still had to get up the next morning and create all new results. I have also failed spectacularly, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the sun still rose again and that there was every bit as much life to live and potential to be realized as ever before.
The past - learn what you can from it and put it away!

What you say you are going to do in the future only matters if you are actually going to do it. The value in tomorrow is using it to determine what you are going to do today. Go ahead and make plans, set goals, share them. And then DO SOMETHING NOW!! Start as small as you feel you need to or as big as you want to. BUT START!

And what can you do now? Anything. Really. You may want to tell me that you have responsibilities, and I say GREAT. Then choose to have those responsibilities and do awesome stuff anyway. ESPECIALLY if those responsibilities are your kids. DO NOT MODEL "LIVING A SHITTY LIFE BECAUSE YOU HAVE KIDS" FOR THEM. Model having an amazing life of which your kids are an integral part.

Hopefully everyone who is going to UNFRIEND me for this next piece of unsolicited advice has already done so, but feel free to if you'd like. THROW OUT YOUR FUCKING TELEVISION. Stop watching other people play sports - play yourself. Stop watching other people on reality tv - go create a reality way cooler than they can even dream of. Quit watching mindless sitcoms - go out and laugh with real friends. Don't have any? Get involved in stuff and make some!! Stop watching bad news about what an awful place the world is. Go make the world better.


Maybe you absolutely love your life - and I have a lot of friends who do. That is awesome and I applaud you. Keep doing what you are doing. Do not take any of it for granted. And help others any chance you get.

By the way, I did not run a particularly great race today. I slowed considerably in the second half and did not set a personal best time. In fact it was my second worst time ever. But I LOVED it! I saw so many people busting out of their comfort zones. I saw so many people cheering and supporting complete strangers. I saw so many people volunteering their time. And I loved them all and I love you.

And now the Neo Citran is kicking in. Wheeeeeeeeee! Good night ♥

Monday, October 8, 2012

When a smoothie is not just a smoothie...

Almost every morning that my daughter is with me she asks me to make her a fruit smoothie. Of course, I always do. Lately, she has often only been drinking a little bit and letting the rest go to waste. I was starting to get upset with her, and even thought of refusing to make them anymore. Then I realized this morning that my daughter does not care nearly as much about the fruit smoothies as she cares about having a loving dad who is happy make them for her. Suddenly I wasn't upset at all and was very grateful instead. Perspective is important ♥

P.S. All that said, I AM going to start making smaller ones! Haha ;)

Be Grateful for Difficulty.

Be grateful for difficulty. 
Most often, difficulty is the very thing that creates value. 

... It is whatever makes your job difficult that makes it worth someone paying you to do. 
... The wins we end up most proud of are the ones for which we had to fight the hardest. 
... It is in our toughest times that we have to find the very best in ourselves. 

What is the point of a life without difficulty? We should seek out difficulty, to stretch ourselves and grow. And when difficulty finds us, often in forms we would never choose, all we can do is embrace it, be grateful for it (however illogical as it may seem) and be made stronger by it - because it is happening anyway.

I am reminding myself of this lesson while life seems easy. So that it will be imprinted on my being for when I need it :)

Pains, sprains and gains!

This last month has been a hugely enlightening/educating/encouraging one for me in my still-young running life. 

Background: 3 years ago this month I ran my first race since Grade 9 X-Country - the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I hobbled through in 5:21, with brutal blisters from cotton socks and cotton underwear.

Since then, I've completed a Spartan Race, another marathon, a 45hr Death Race, learned about Pose Running, DNF'd a hundred mile ultra, PR'd another marathon, a 34 hr Winter Death Race, a GoRuck Challenge, DNF'd the 2012 Death Race, finished Tough Mudder in top 5%, completed a 50 mile ultra and won the Team Death Race in Killington, VT. Throw in a handful of 5k and 10k races, some great canoe trips, and lots of fun training adventures and it has been quite a couple of years :)

And Now: The 50 mile Haliburton Ultramarathon, September 8th, was a muddy, slippery affair. I never fell or even rolled my ankle, but came out of it with a nasty, persistent sprain. I Rested/Iced/Compressed/Elevated, but it would not go away. I went to see my chiropractor, Andrew Westelaken, who has done a spectacular job holding my body together through all of this abuse, and he sent me upstairs to Back to Function physiotherapy. Carly, the physiotherapist, was fantastic, identifying that, although my pain is on the right side, it is all related to the left side on my body not moving properly. She gave me several exercises as well as instructions as to what to look for while I run. I went for an 8km run that afternoon and WHAM - I could absolutely feel how I have been running incorrectly all along. All of my bunion pain and 5th metatarsal stress fracture and sprain problems made total sense!!

What's Next: So, this coming Sunday I will get about 26,000 chances to practice the proper foot strike as I complete my 4th straight STWM. Then two weeks worth of physio to prepare for my biggest challenge so far, the Rim to Rim to Rim run - from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the bottom, across the Colorado River, all the way up to the top of the North Rim, then back down, across and up again. All in one day. It is only 50 miles but it is STEEP! Plus the temperature goes from freezing at the start to 100F in the middle and back down again.

I know that my ankle will not be fully recovered before the start of this run, and will likely be shredded completely by the end (lots of tape and ibuprofen), so I am also looking forward to rounding out 2012 with a couple of months of proper rest, physiotherapy, and very light training runs focused entirely on form.

Then 2013! Even bigger, bolder adventures to come (though the two HUGE ones on my radar are for early 2014 - stay tuned!).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ultra Math: (Rain + Haliburton + New Shoes) x 50 miles = Mud + Joy

hf100001001.gifThis past Saturday I completed the 50 Miler at the 19th Annual Haliburton Forest Ultra. This was especially sweet for me for a number of reasons. It was my first official Ultra finish. It was the furthest I have officially run (though I think I covered more distance in my aborted 2012 Spartan Death Race, but that was more rucking than running and it was never measured as such). And it was a return to the "crash & burn" of my poorly considered attempt of last year's 100 Mile event, where I dropped at about 35 miles with severe foot pain (from bunions and an unhealed break from the 2011 Death Race).

"Haliburton Forest and Wolf Center" is about 2 hours from my home in Orillia, Ontario, so I drove over in Friday afternoon in a steady drizzle. 
I arrived at 6pm for registration and a huge feast/fuelling, at which they made all the usual announcements and reported that the trail was in great shape but that big rains were in the forecast. They then had everyone introduce themselves to the whole group, which was a nice touch. That gave me a chance to connect with Joe Mauko, with whom I have shared an email correspondence over the past several months, inspired by this very blog. Joe is a great guy who has logged some serious ultra mileage this year and who has a great philosophy and attitude.

I ate with the magnificent Elise Maguire, whom I had met at last year's race (where she had just finished the 50 as I dropped from the Hundred). We have been Facebook friends ever since and had fun catching up. She shared with me that she had two concerns about the race. One was a nagging glute injury about which she could do nothing but hope it did not become reaggravated. The second was a dread of running in the rain. She had cut her "Dirty Girls 24 Hr" short a few weeks ago - having just returned from an awesome performance at the Canadian Death Race (finishing under 22 hours!), she was still exhausted and found that the non-stop rain drained her spirit quickly. Sensing a potential repeat of that experience with the shitty forecast, she shared that she hoped she could find a way to boost her spirits if she was faced with another miserably wet run. I told her that hypnosis could definitely help shore up her mindset and, after dinner, found myself conducting an impromptu treatment in the front seat of my car! Ultimately Elise did drop at 30k (of her 100 miles) with severe spasming in her glute (earning her the nickname "Pain In The Ass" or "PITA"), but she shared with me after that she had seen clear evidence of the effectiveness of the hypnosis ("I have never been so happy running in the rain! I was actually having fun!!").

At 9:30pm, I climbed into my sleeping bag in the back of the car and popped this rather appropriate movie into my DVD drive ...

It was about 10:30pm when I fell asleep and I woke up a few times to the sound of rain falling. It continued to pour through the night and the parking lot was a mud-bowl when I rose at 5am. I got dressed in the car - compression underwear, comp tights, board shorts, my Mud Mafia T, light black windbreaker, thin running socks under knee high compression socks (after slathering my feet with Vaseline and Gold Bond - a magical combo), my LOVE trucker-cap and a headlamp. I made a risky decision, on which I will expand shortly, to wear a brand new pair of shoes for the race, then stuffed extra socks and a bunch of gel packs into my hydration pack, and headed in for breakfast.

After some coffee and bagels, I got in line for the bathroom. Note to self: next time do the bathroom thing first. You can always hustle to the start with a bagel in your hand. Not so much while you are pooping. Thus, I heard the 6am race start 100 yards away from where I sat with my pants around my ankles - haha! No worries, as I hadn't planned a sprint anyway, so I quickly wrapped up, washed up, and ran across the line with several other stragglers. A few hundred yards in I passed my dear friend "Irish Joe" Cleary. Joe and I met as we struggled along in the Hundred last year. Neither of us finished that one, but Joe is about 30 years older than I am and made it about 30 miles farther! We reconnected in Vermont in March, where Joe was doing the Peak Snowshoe Marathon the same weekend I finished the Winter Death Race. Truly one of my favourite people. Joe told me he was doing the 50km race this time, and he had a walking stick in his hand - obviously committed to a slow and steady day.

I found that I remembered the course surprisingly well. It starts on a dirt road for 2 km before hitting "Station Two" where we did a 10km loop around a lake, passing Station Two again as we headed straight out into the woods for the next 28km. Somewhere along the way it became daylight, though it wasn't like last year's glorious sunrise as the rain was not letting up one bit.

This race is first-class across the board. The aid stations are like oases, stocked with everything you could ever wish for! Sandwiches, nuts, fruit, salted potatoes, candy, energy bars, Coke, water, electrolyte drinks, and super nice people! The course is very clearly marked, with an awesome variety of terrain. The hills are steep and technical - lots of exposed rock and roots along the singletrack. And the flats, usually dry and fast, were massive bogs. The rains were monsoon-like for the first few hours, and the ground got chewed up fast.

I started the race with a "loose" goal of 12 hours. I did make the 25 mile turn in 6:05, but knew the return run would be slower. I felt great but my hip flexor (right side) was getting very tight from the constant stride adjustments for the mud, and the course would only be that much muckier going back.

One of my favourite things about an "out and back" course, is passing the leaders going the opposite direction. I am always inspired to be reminded that I am sharing the day with such amazing athletes. The ultra community, in particular, is so friendly and encouraging and these uber-runners are always just as enthused for me as I am for them. I strive to help fuel them with some extra positivity in the 30 seconds as we approach and pass, and I love when they introduce themselves later, usually remembering me for my fun hat and the genuine joy with with I run despite my obvious lack of actual skill :). One of the racers who I would have seen twice (his coming back in from 25 and heading back out from 50 as I finished, since he was doing the 100) is Johnny McAlister. Super nice guy, focused but friendly. He ended up winning the Hundred, and it wasn't until reading his race report (here) that I knew the extraordinary circumstances under which he was taking part. Please stop reading and click (here) to read his post. It is a beautiful expression of love and commitment and gratitude. My hat is off to Johnny, not just for winning a grueling race but for being an amazing human being. Did I mention that you are not allowed to continue reading my blog until you have clicked (here) and read his? Assuming you have followed those instructions, now take a moment to soak in that WOW, blow your nose, and carry on.

I hit the 25 mile turn at five minutes past Noon. I felt fantastic, and had been running with Joe Mauko for the past several minutes. Joe was looking good, and knew that he had 75 miles still to go. I would later hear from him that the wheels fell off for him not too much later - his legs began cramping so badly that he could not move fast enough to keep up his body heat and had to withdraw. I have asked Joe to consider running the Hundred together next year, as I like him a lot and I know he can finish. It would be great to help one another "avenge" that particular DNF.

The rain was stop and go now, but the temperature had dropped considerably with a cold wind. I no longer had my jacket, which I had left at a station (and they kindly returned it to the base), and I think this actually helped me as I did not want to slow down and get chilled. I was still running reasonably "hard" on the flats, scampering down hills and hiking up them. The miles were taking their toll though, and by the 30 mile mark my right ankle was swelling and shooting pain, and my right knee was throbbing. I suspected that the pain in my right ankle, right knee and right hip may be connected, if only for the simple reason that my right ankle, right knee and right hip are connected - DUH! Not wanting to risk stalling, I blew through the next aid station and kept my head down.

Miles 30 to 40 sucked, plain and simple. I was sore and I was cold. I had also seen an inordinate number of good runners drop, discouraged by the rain and mud. What got me through those few hours was the same advice I had given the day before to a Death Race compadre, Robert D. Burleson. He had posted on my  Facebook wall, "Johnny, any words of wisdom for someone who is fearing running an endurance race this Sunday? Are you nervous before races or relaxed? Thanks for your time Johnny, I greatly respect your opinion." My reply was...
Absolutely Robert! My thought is that there is nothing wrong at all with being afraid. In fact, being afraid and doing it anyway is the coolest thing of all. @Jason Jaksetic taught me last year, when he spent 10 minutes neck deep in the Tweed River in March, that "I'm cold and this hurts" doesn't have to mean anything more than "i'm cold and this hurts". Just like "i'm afraid" doesn't mean "don't do it" or anything else. It just means you are afraid. Which really just means you are alive. And then acting in the face of that fear, and doing epic stuff, means - in my humble opinion - that you are fucking awesome!!! Go get it. And when you are tired, all it means is you're tired. When your feet bleed all it means is your feet are bleeding. When you feel like quitting all it means is that you feel like quitting. So what? Keep going!! Let me know how it goes, brother! Sending huge respect and big love!
A bit of practical advice. Spend some time Saturday sitting with your eyes closed generating all of the great feelings of joy and accomplishment you've had, and remember what you love about endurance racing. Get super present to how that feels. Then, several times.throughout the day, regenerate that energy from scratch. On Sunday, whenever you are hurting and struggling, pause to take a few deep breaths and bring that all back. It will make a massive difference :)
And that is exactly what I did (also exactly what I had worked with Elise on) ... generate, from scratch, all of the wonderful emotions and energies that I loved about these events, right in the middle of "the shit". In hindsight, that is what I stopped doing at the 2012 Death Race - lesson learned. Many, many times on Saturday I forced myself to smile and laugh and dig deep, and it paid off beautifully. As I passed through the aid station at the 35 mile mark, I told the volunteers that this is where my day ended in 2011 '"but not this year" and carried on with a "Hell yeah!!" whoop.

When I got to the 40 mile mark I knew the rest would be "easy". Not because the course got less challenging, but simply because "ten miles" is such a nice number. Only ten miles, only nine miles. Here I saw Steven Parke heading back out for his second 50 miles. I was sorry to hear from him that Elise had dropped early, but happy to see him looking so solid heading into the second half of his race (Steve's is a great story - he had SEVEN STRAIGHT DNF's at this race coming into the weekend, and always came back with a smile and more resolve. So many people were thrilled when he finished 100 Miles this year in 23:41:59! Awesome guy and awesome result!). But back to my race... where was I? Oh yes, only eight miles left. I started running faster, knowing I was nearing "home". Soon it was aid station 2 again, the loop, Aid Station 2, and a 2 km sprint up the dirt road to the finish. I crossed the line in 13:20 (I still haven't seen the "official time" for Bib #147, but that is what my watch said). And it felt great!!

So, I went by the car to drop off my pack and then headed into the dining hall. The chicken would have probably been awesome had I made my 12 hour goal, but was understandably dry an hour and a half later. Still it was delicious, along with potatoes, salad and carrot cake washed down with coffee. I texted Elise and she joined me for dessert. She was in great spirits, knowing that she has had an incredible season. She has been running seriously for less than two years and, at only 30, has her best years well ahead of her.

I was debating: "Do I stay here and drink beer with a bunch of awesome people then crash in the car again or do I drive home and sleep in my Egyptian cotton sheets on my warm Tempurpedic bed?". I decided a compromise was in order ... "Stay for ONE beer, and THEN head for my own bed!"

I am very glad I stayed. Elise said "Come with me. You have to meet the coolest people. They are all from Ottawa and travel to races in the 'Ultra Van'. And they are so much fun!" Moments later I was climbing into a pop-up VW Westfalia where I did, in fact, meet 5 more of the coolest, most fun people. I had my own beer in hand but they opened their cooler anyway, which had a sign "FREE BEER - RUNNERS ONLY". Elise and I used the cooler as a seat, and visited for about 45 minutes of non-stop stories and laughs. I do not remember all of the names (I hope to get to know them all better at future races), but I know that one was Neil Rosenthal who had finished the 50 Miler in 8.5 hours (wow!) for, I believe, 2nd overall. And Tara Rosenthal. And Sereena Trottier. Hey, I am doing pretty well at this name game!! They were fun and friendly and had great running stories. They are also all close with Ray Zahab, a Canadian running legend (of "Running The Sahara" fame - a fantastic documentary produced by Matt Damon) with whom I have a funny connection. Ray is married to the sister (Kathy) of my brother's ex-wife (Heather). Ergo, he was my brother's brother-in-law. I have not yet met Ray in person, but we have communicated online and intend to connect soon. They spoke so highly and, most importantly, fondly of Ray that I look even more forward to that now.

Finally, around 10:30pm I said goodbye to everyone and started driving home. Perhaps, not surprisingly, I soon found myself fighting hard to stay awake. I quickly recapped my last 24 hours ... fitful sleep in the car, run 50 miles in the rain, big dinner and a beer. That was not a good formula for staying alert for a 2 hour drive home in the dark. So, I pulled over on a sideroad, climbed into the back again and crashed in the car for a second straight night.

A happy, proud, sore 50 mile ultramarathoner <3

P.S. This is the review I posted to Salomon's Facebook page ...

"I don't know where to begin telling you how much I love my new Salomon Synapse trail shoes! After dropping out of a number of trail races last year with horrible bunion pain (tailor bunions on baby toes), I had given up on trail shoes (donating both my Nike and Adidas to a homeless shelter) and was running in blown-wide gym shoes, sacrificing tons of traction in favour of comfort. Then last week, on a whim, I bought a pair of Synapse (just because I'd bought my son some skate shoes and got 50% off another pair). As they are an entry level shoe, and priced very reasonably, I did not expect a whole lot but thought I would give them a try in a mud run. What I did NOT expect to do was wear them in this past weekend's 50 mile ultramarathon (my first). But as I slept in my van on the eve of the race it rained so hard that I knew I would be waking up to a sloppy mess. I decided to break a cardinal rule and wear brand new shoes in a race. 50 miles later, setting PR's for distance and time in horrendous conditions, I was in love. I had NO blisters at all. No black toes. No throbbing bunions. The shoes were not waterproof, but never claimed to be. In fact, my feet were underwater (mud) for much of the race and being poured on for the rest of it. But these shoes drained and breathed so well that my feet were never stewing and I did not even change my socks once (thin pair of running socks under knee high compressions). And, while they looked boxy at first, they were extremely stable and comfortable. Just as impressive was the grip. They chewed into the mud giving me great traction ascending and solid footing descending. And on the exposed, slick granite, I was able to plant confidently at 45 degrees going up AND down, never slipping a single time. Even on the limited sections of hard pack and gravel road, the shoes felt reasonably light and fast. I have never been so pleasantly surprised by a product in my life. Just thought you should know."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Happy Trails :)

I was just looking at my racing plans for the next couple of months and got to smiling when I realized that it was three years ago this month (September 29, 2009) that I ran my first actual race of any sort in over three decades (since Grade 9 X-Country) - the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I had only "jogged" a few times (5km) in the months leading up to the race, and signed up on a whim to see if I could do it. I finished, in a very unremarkable 5:21, and from that everything else developed.

2010 brought a Spartan Race and the same marathon again.

2011 was the Spartan Death Race (finished in approximately 45 hours, defying a 90% drop-out rate), the SWTM (4:36) and my first 100 mile ultramarathon (Haliburton) - which I did not finish (dropping out around 40 miles in with horrible foot pain from 5th metatarsal breaks that had not healed fully from SDR). I also ran some 5kms (PR of 22:23 in great CaniRunning Series) and 10kms.

So far in 2012, I've run a winter series of  5 & 10km races , finished 5th overall in the 34 hour Winter Death Race, completed a Go Ruck Challenge in Des Moines, Iowa, failed to complete the 2012 Spartan Death Race (dropping out after 35 hours and 50+ miles of brutal terrain and crazy loads - again from foot pain, plus lack of nutrition), then finished the Tough Mudder in the top 5% - qualifying for The World's Toughest Mudder (which I am not entering, as it conflicts with other running plans about to be described).

But it is in the next 8 weeks that things get very interesting :)

This weekend I am returning to Haliburton to tackle the 50 mile option. I know, I know, I am wimping out! But that is because ...

Two weeks later I am headed to Killington, Vermont. Originally I was registered for the Ultra Beast - a 26.2 mile obstacle race up and down the slopes of the biggest ski resort in the East. Then, Joe and Andy announced a 24 Hr Team Death Race the same weekend, for which I have enlisted with my good friends Don Devaney and Ray Morvan (CLICK AND READ THIS!). The timing of these two races is still uncertain, but my plan is to do both - likely back to back. (Thus, I am NOT running the full 100 miles so soon before this epic challenge).

Jump forward 3 weeks to October 14th for my 4th straight Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. In my head I have a goal of 3:59, but I am not exactly following a recommended training/tapering plan - haha! I figure I may just apply the "Paul Ryan Formula" and claim to have whatever finishing time I think would sound good - how about 2:27? Perfect!

But the "piece de resistance" is the first weekend in November - when I will be running the Grand Canyon "Rim to Rim to Rim". We start at the top of the South Rim, run down the trails to the very bottom, cross the Colorado River, climb all the way to the top of the North Rim ... then turn around and reverse our route, all the way to the bottom, across the river, and back to where we started. This is an awesome all-day journey, starting at 3am, running into the sunrise and finishing sometime the following night, having run back into the setting sun. I am encouraging everyone I am running with to wear a point-of-view camera (Go Pro, Contour, etc) so we will have tons of footage from which to make a highlight reel! Watch for that before Christmas :)

There may be a December 100 Miler too (waiting on details), but even if that doesn't pan out this will have been a ridiculously EPIC year!! I have read many inspiring stories of people doing seemingly impossible things, and it is fun to be on the other side of such tales. It does my heart so much good when someone tells me of a challenge they have taken on after reading about some of my adventures. And, at 44 years old, I truly feel like I am just getting started with my best, strongest, fastest years well ahead of me.

And 2013? Who knows! I will certainly be doing another STWM (the plan is 40 straight, taking me through my 80th birthday). I have already registered for the next Death Race (which will likely outdo this year's 60+ hour suffer-fest) and will probably be sucked into the Winter one again. And I plan to get much more serious about ultramarathons, so I can start considering some of the marquis events (Badwater, Leadville, Western States, etc).

In addition to the joy of competing and the thrill of accomplishment, there have been two other enormous benefits that have come along with these events (OK, I guess THREE if you include my being in the best shape of my life).

First, my coaching business has expanded significantly, probably commensurately with my own confidence. I have also been hired many times to speak about The Death Race, extrapolating and sharing life lessons from the experience - to students, police officers, baseball umpires, major corporations, service clubs, colleges and universities. The feedback has been very positive, appreciative and encouraging. Alongside several other upcoming engagements, I am a keynote speaker at this Fall's Queen's University "QLEAD" leadership conference, with the theme of "Aspire to Inspire".

Finally, and probably most importantly, I have made so many incredible friends from all over the world. With the magic of Facebook and Skype, a weekend's racing can develop into a lasting, close friendship very quickly. The Grand Canyon R2R2R run is with a group of Death Race friends, mostly from California. I can hardly wait to get to Haliburton this Friday night to reconnect with "ultra" friends on the eve of the race. Last October I drove down to Pittsfield, VT to pitch in rebuilding the town after Hurricane Irene. And my April drive to Go Ruck in Iowa was to meet up with Carrie Adams from Nebraska and Mark Webb from New Hampshire. I described it to someone recently as having "found my tribe".

That is why I say that I have "Happy Trails" ahead. Love your life and live it fully!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lucky Schmucky

From my Facebook status earlier this week ..
"I realized something important this morning. I am not any more blessed than anyone else. For years I have thought I had so much more to be grateful for than most people, because of the health and family and love in my life. But, even ignoring the many gifts others have that I may not (musical talent comes to mind), it has nothing to do with how many or how much. We ALL have 1,000,000+ things to be thankful for at any moment. The difference isn't whether it is 1,000,001 or 1,000,008. I am just deliciously aware of them all, and usually blissfully ignorant of where I am 'missing out'.
Two things come to mind ...
1. "There's only one reason why you're not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it's because you're thinking or focusing on what you don't have. Otherwise you would be experiencing bliss. You're focusing on what you don't have. But, right now you have everything you need to be in bliss." ~ Anthony DeMello
2. Rob Brezsny's "Glory In The Highest" ...
Life is Good <3"
So, on that note, enjoy this wonderful YouTube video :)
The Holstee Manifesto ...

Monday, August 27, 2012

I'm fucking AWESOME, Thanks!

Wow! It has been a LONG time since I posted to this blog, and the last one was just the bizarre story of a senior citizen drugging me at a Tim Hortons (how do I keep ending up in weird situations involving my being assaulted by senior citizens?!!)

There have actually been a couple of abandoned posts recently. 

The first is about my failure to complete this year's Death Race. It had been vacillating between self-flagellation for quitting and a straightforward recap of the race. Ultimately my takeaway from this year's event is a very positive, affirming one. When I arrived in Pittsfield I was surrounded by people who liked, even loved me. I then went out and utterly shit the bed in the race (people want to remind me that there is no shame in going 34+ hours and 50+ miles on limited food and water and no sleep, but I am not holding myself to the "participant ribbon" metric - I have to compare 2012 Johnny to 2011 Johnny who was still going much longer, in much worse shape with two broken feet and open strap sores and a huge smile). But, after quitting, I was STILL surrounded by people who liked, even loved me! I realized that whether I finished or not did not mean nearly as much as who I was being while finishing or not. I had amazing conversations with other defeated racers, wonderful support crews, locals. And I got to stick around and cheer on incredible finishers like Dan Grodinsky and Morgan McKay and so many others. Plus, after two ego-swelling back-to-back finishes, a bit of humility was probably in order, and humbled I was (though the title of this blog may not suggest that - ha!).

FYI - for anyone interested in reading some fantastic race reports from DR2012, check these links out!

A second abandoned post was about my being my own worst coaching client. It was written in a tongue-in-cheek style, but still continued the theme of self-deprecation. This seems a bit confusing, as I think I have been my usual happy, optimistic self. Being completely truthful, though, I do feel that I have been coasting a little of late and that, no doubt, is effecting this perspective.

So, having acknowledged that unflattering energy, I have decided to take stock ...

What is my "complaint"?
Well, I have not grown my coaching business as quickly or as substantially as I would like to have.
Ok, is that all?
Yes, actually. That is all. Everything else is truly crazy good.
Yes, really!
Then why is that one area, the growth of your business, lagging behind?
Because I have not focused my energy on it. I have been doing so much else.
And why have you not focused your energy on it?
Well, reflecting very honestly, I still have a story in my head that coaches tend to think they have the answers for what a good life looks like and are biased towards teaching people how to "play that game". And I don't want to be like that.
Are you like that?
Great. Then what are you "like"?
I am committed to helping people develop a plan that is truly, authentically their own. So they can forget about living "The Dream" and live "Their Dream". In fact, the more "out there" it is, the better! ("Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live." ~ Charles Bukowski) 
Perfect. So are you ready to give up that story and start helping people like you know you can?
Good. Then get to it. (By the way, Johnny, stop being such an asshole, assuming you know what other coaches are "like". They are as unique as you are!)

Great. That takes care of that. I guess the next thing to look at is this - "If I have not been focusing enough energy on building my coaching business, what have I been spending my time doing?"

Let's see. In the past few years I have ...
  • incorporated Alter Ego Life Adventure Coaching Inc.
  • become a Certified Hypnotherapist
  • opened a private clinic and worked with 100+ clients
  • become a certified Personal Trainer
  • completed my Crossfit instructor certification and begun coaching at Crossfit Orillia
  • become a Certified Life Coach
  • head coached multiple Self-Expression and Leadership Programs at Landmark Education
  • attended Mike Dooley's Train the Trainer Conference and become an Infinite Possibilities trainer
  • written 100+ blog posts at Living Myself To Death, read over 36,000 times
  • completed two Spartan Death Races (and failed to complete a third one)
  • completed a Go Ruck Challenge in Indiana
  • completed a Tough Mudder
  • run 3 straight Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathons (4th coming up)
  • run in 100 mile Haliburton Forest Ultramarathon
  • initiated a Rim2Rim2Rim run at the Grand Canyon that has turned into a group event for this Fall
  • spoken to over a thousand high school students about my experiences and philosophies
  • skydived twice - once in tandem free-fall and once solo - as well as organized jumps for 12 others
  • completed my Open Water Scuba Diving certification
  • coached hundreds of youth wrestlers, many winning city, provincial and even national championships
  • raised over $6,000 for Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario
  • hosted 2 seasons of a cable television program showcasing the Arts in my community
  • presented my leadership and mindset management philosophies to Ontario Provincial Police headquarters - TWICE
  • been a speaker/instructor for the Ontario Baseball Umpires Association : "Stepping Up To The Big Games"
  • been hired to be a keynote speaker at the leadership conference of a major Canadian university this Fall
  • completed a 10 week Mindfulness Meditation program and sustained ongoing practice
  • registered and launched website
  • launched successful "ELEVATE ORILLIA - Uplifting Film Series", a monthly movie night showing inspiring films with all proceeds going to The Sharing Place Food Bank
  • signed on as "resident hypnotherapist" for Inochi Spa
  • been a founding member of the Orillia Wellness Network - a group of Natural Health Practitioners who meet to support one another in our respective practices
  • shared countless inspiring stories and links on my Facebook page, with regular feedback that it has made a positive difference in the lives of many people
  • written for Spartan Race
  • made hundreds of new friends in the obstacle racing, Crossfit, coaching communities
  • gone on annual canoe trip with Jack and Downie & Price-Jones families
  • attended almost every one of Katy and Jack's sporting events, teacher interviews, special occasions
  • sent Katy to compete in Pan-American Wrestling Championships in Mexico and training in Poland and Germany
  • maintained a truly extraordinary, close friendship with my ertswhile-wife, Karen, as well as being very friendly with her great boyfriend Shane
  • played in annual Father And Three Sons Golf Classic with Dad and brothers
  • stayed very close with all of my extended family, spending lots of quality time with my parents, siblings and their spouses, and nieces and nephews
  • skied every winter, usually with Katy and Jack
  • geared up and started kiteboarding
  • trained my way into the best shape of my life, running regularly, lifting/Crossfitting 4 times per week
  • continued selling enough real estate and Versapay services to finance my life, pay fair support to Karen, race, and build my coaching business
As you can see, I have really been sitting on my thumbs! Ok, Ok!! So I HAVE been actively coaching and building up a phenomenal life! I may not have monetized it as effectively yet as I would like, but I have certainly been living in harmony with what is important to me.

Thinking back a few years, I also did something enormous that was very scary and difficult. I chose to give up a life that was perfectly fine. I had a good career with solid income. I had a beautiful wife whom I loved. I had a nice house and nice cars. I received tons of awards and recognition for my professional and civic work. I was a great Dad (still am, despite not living together full-time). And, yet, it did not feel like the life I was meant to live. I was successful by every definition of the word, but I did not feel authentic. Just this week I received my copy of a documentary I helped fund through Kickstarter, called "I'm Fine Thanks". It describes, almost to a tee, where I was at. It will not resonate with everyone, but some of you will see yourselves in this trailer.

People often tell me that it was a classic mid-life crisis. And I say, "You are goddamned right it was!!" And I am eternally grateful for having it. The other thing that I will always be grateful for is this - after Karen and I had determined that our core values were not in synch (hers being "comfort and security" and mine being "growth and adventure"), and I had decided that I needed to leave, she said to me, "Johnny I do understand. I hate it but I get it. Please just promise me that you WILL go out and live a life of adventure and growth and contribution like you want to. Don't just fall into the same comfortable life with someone else. I am giving you my blessing to be you - please do something amazing with that."

That is absolutely one of the highest expressions of love I have ever known.

And I think I have done that, to a degree. Admittedly, I have taken some baby steps where I would normally dive in head first - but I think that is understandable given the huge life changes I was navigating, and the evolution of my responsibilities and role as a father, ex-husband, friend. It would have been selfish and irresponsible to throw caution completely to the wind and put everything into an untested venture. Instead, I straddled both worlds - one foot in the safe, known world that I knew would allow me to provide for my kids financially, and the other solidly on the path of adventure and innovation. Looking at the life I have today - especially the unique and amazing friendship I have with Karen (and I am SO happy for, and proud of, her for the amazing life she has built - beautiful home, fulfilling work, amazing blog, and her own awesome adventures) and the ridiculously loving, fun bond I have with Katy and Jack - I don't think I would change a thing.

And now I am poised to "boom" again! All of the pieces are in place to make a massive difference in the lives of a great many people and to really kick out the jams with Alter Ego Life Adventure Company. In fact, it is already happening. Since I began this blog post almost two weeks ago (yep, crazy huh?!) - in addition to running the Tough Mudder, MCing a wedding of great friends, canoeing north of Temagami with Jack and playing in the Father and Three Sons Golf Classic with my Dad and brothers - I delivered a day-long "Infinite Possibilities" workshop with rave reviews. Have fielded numerous inquiries to set up similar events with other groups. Taken on three new coaching clients. I have been contracted to speak at a college next month. I have been asked to help organize a broader regional workshop for natural health practitioners. And I have firmed up a contract for the largest single paycheque of my life. Not bad for a couple of weeks, most of which were spent having fun and living my awesome life!

Why? Because I simply decided that this is how it is going to be. I reaffirmed my belief in myself. I set my intention. I put myself out there. I trusted the Universe (if you don't think it works, read this!)

Nike says Just Do It. This was put more eloquently in the following quotation ...
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
~ Universally misattributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but powerful nonetheless!

And a more contemporary expression of the same idea, IS definitively attributable to Ben Lee :)

And the VERY BEST PART! My dream, my job, my driving passion ... is helping other people find and act on theirs. How great is that?! As I often wrap up my Facebook posts ... "LIFE IS GOOD!"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Still searching for a motive ...

So, I was drugged on Tuesday.

Ok, I THINK I was drugged on Tuesday.

Except that nothing about the story makes sense. So, my 13 year old son, Jack, suggested I share my version and ask for suggestions as to what could have been at play. Here goes ...

I had a couple of meetings in Toronto Tuesday, and brought Jack to the city with me to longboard with his cousin, Grant. After connecting the boys in the morning, I attended my two meetings, taking me through into the early afternoon.

On my way across town, to my cousin's house in "The Beaches", I stopped to buy a Tim Horton's frozen raspberry-lemonade, a sweet - albeit unhealthy - treat. The older lady (65?) poured the syrup into the cup, followed by some slushed ice, and blended it up. When she handed it to me it did not look as pink as I'm used to - more orangey in fact. Walking down the street, it tasted less than great but was still cold and somewhat refreshing, so I finished it and thought nothing more of it.

I arrived at my cousin's to find no one home and the doors locked. They have a great outdoor sofa in the back garden, with a shade cover, so I laid out on that to enjoy some chill time before everyone got home. Soon I was drifting in and out of a very foggy sleep. At one point I heard voices in the house and called out to Grant's sister, Avalon, who opened the sliding door then carried on with her girlfriends. Next time I woke up I was sprawled on a pile of vinyl patio cushions in the basement. I vaguely remember walking up the stairs and finding the living room couch. Which is where is stayed for the next few hours.

During this uncharacteristic afternoon slumber I found I was somewhat aware of my surroundings but entirely unable to interact. Several times I heard the kids come into the room and comment on the fact that I was sleeping, but I couldn't open my eyes or speak, much less get up and join in any activity.

Eventually I "came to" and heard Jack and Grant on the upper level. I walked up and asked what was going on. They were playing computer games, so paid me little mind as I crashed on Grant's bed for another half hour. Then I must have wandered back down to the couch, because that is where I woke up when Suzy (Grant's mom and my cousin) got home. IT WAS 7:30PM!!!

We laughed at my sleepiness and chalked it up to some much-needed downtime. After a nice, casual dinner, Jack and I left at about 8:30pm. As soon as we got into the car we both noticed an overwhelming smell like cough syrup. On investigating, we found that it was coming from the empty Tim Horton's cup that had contained the frozen lemonade. I bundled it with other garbage and pitched it. In hindsight I should have maybe kept it to be tested.

Jack and I laughed about the strangeness of the afternoon and bantied around theories about what could have happened. He said that he was fairly certain he hadn't seen an elderly lady in a brown uniform and hairnet violating me on the couch. My wallet was in my pocket, with all of my cards intact. It looked like this one was going into the "mystery file".

A large Starbucks coffee got us safely through the drive home, then I slept soundly through the night.

So, I am throwing an open question out there.

W.T.F. ???????

Was I drugged? If so, why??
Could the syrup have simply gone bad? And why would it have affected me that way?
Am I just getting old and crazy?

All valid possibilities I guess. What are your thoughts?

Anyway, that is my story and I am sticking to it. Well, gotta go. My new neighbour just dropped off a tray of brownies. They look a little green but are strangely delicious. I think I will eat a few ...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Joy of Not Having Plans ...

I have no plans today. There are countless things I could be doing ... including Mariposa Folk Festival, work, cleaning my home ... but I have decided to commit to none of those. Instead I am hanging out with my son and his best friend, Lucas, doing whatever they want. That likely puts me primarily in the role of chauffeur/financier, but I'm good with that.

Reflecting on "not having an agenda" reminds me of a hugely important lesson I learned several years ago at a music festival, Gathering Of The Vibes, near Albany, NY.

Midway through the second day of the Grateful Dead inspired event there was a big rainstorm. When the sky cleared there was mud everywhere, and rivers of water running down the walkways. I saw a lovely young mom walking with her toddler, naked in rubber boots (the toddler, not the young mom - though that would have been awesome!). The free-spirited youngster walked twenty yards and then turned around, retracing his/her (can't remember) steps against the predominant flow of festival-goers. The mom followed along blissfully. Then they turned and followed their initial route for a few minutes, before doubling back yet again.

As this loop continued, I found myself a bit confused. "Where the Hell are they going?", I asked myself. The answer, of course, was nowhere. And that is what was strange to me. There was no agenda. No "Come on, sweetheart, WE are going this way." I realized how often (always) my time with my kids was actually all about my plans. This mother was modelling such unconditional love and devotion to her child and his/her serendipitous enjoyment of the day. I vowed to remember that example and apply it often in my own life.

So, that brings me back to today. Fittingly, it rained this morning. I don't think I have to worry about the boys wanting to traipse about naked in rubber boots but, shy of that, they are calling the shots.

And I am that parent who will be smiling at their wonderfulness and happy just being.

Life is good :)

The things I am supposed to be blogging about ...

I have been feeling a tad guilty the past few weeks about my complete lack of blogging since Death Race 2013. Then I remember how ridiculously self-important that is, thinking that anyone is hanging on my every word. Still, there are a few things from last month that I feel like I am supposed to be writing about ...

  • my experience in Pittsfield, VT at the 2013 Spartan Death Race. The very short preview is this; I did NOT finish this summer's race (as opposed to my first 2 attempts, which were both successful). I made some terrible decisions at the very start of the race that bit me in the ass such that I dropped out after 34 hours and 50+ miles with zero food or sleep. Ultimately, there is far more for me to learn (and share) from this "failure" than even my past successes, so I will be back with those thoughts soon.
  • my trip to Orlando to study with Mike Dooley. His "Gifts From The Universe" Conference (training us to deliver the material in his Infinite Possibilities book) was fantastic! Even getting there was a great story in itself, but the program and the people I shared it with were phenomenal. A bonus was spending time with Frank Ferrante, who was not only the keynote speaker but also a conference attendee. I will be delivering the program material later this summer, and will have those details available next week.
  • attending Roger Water's live performance of The Wall at Rogers Center in Toronto. This was a spontaneous adventure, deciding at 6pm (at my son Jack's urging) to drive to Toronto for the 8pm concert - by myself. It was beyond amazing and brought up some strong feelings and interesting lessons.
  • this past weekend's trip to Rothbury, Michigan with Katy and Jack and my friend Amanda, for Electric Forest Music Festival. Four days of electronic music in a magical setting, it was nearly perfect. I am so crazy blessed that my teenagers still enjoy hanging out with me and will travel across the country with me to hang out for a weekend adventure.

So, why have I NOT been writing about all of this? Well, I have barely sat down at my computer, except to catch up on work. In the midst of all of that I have conducted several hypnosis sessions, shot another season of Arts Scene Orillia (with more interviews this weekend at the Mariposa Folk Festival), started teaching Crossfit classes, sold some houses, BBQ'd at Marchmont Public School's year end celebrations, attended my son's Grade 8 graduation, volunteered at the Toronto Spartan Race, hosted a showing of "Happy" at my Elevate Orillia Uplifting Film Series, attended the inaugural luncheon meeting of Orillia area natural health practitioners, done about a dozen radio interviews, and pretty much just been extraordinarily grateful for my awesome life.

None of that is meant as an "Oh I am so busy" rant. Anything but! I don't feel overwhelmed or overburdened. I just feel lucky! And the next month is a bit more wide open (making room for a bunch of kiteboarding with Katy and Jack. Ok, and a few more music festivals!!)

Speaking of "Too Busy Rants", read this wonderful piece from The New York Times ... "THE BUSY TRAP" (Well worth the few minutes, no matter how busy you are!) ... a highlight: "More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter."

So, I will be back soon with the aforementioned promised posts. But first, I realize I did not annotate the video at the top of this blog. That is Ze Frank. He is one of my very favourite recent finds, and so many of his videos speak "directly" to me. I leave you here with one of his best <3

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Not the post I was hoping to make today ...

Not the post I was hoping to make today. I pulled from the race late last night. No excuses - the Death Race beat me this year. A full update to follow, but the very short version is that we were surprised with a snap start and sent on a 30 hour odyssey without food or extra water. Involved hiking 25+ miles through impossible single-track trails carrying a kayak overhead the whole way, doing a ton of manual labour and a lake swim, then hiking 18 miles back. After writing a bizarre test we then ran a dirt road to the top of the mountain, carrying 5 gallon buckets of gravel to the peak, chopped up massive logs and carried them back down the mountain, in a creek bed most of the way. When I came back into camp, for the first time, at midnight, my feet were a disaster and I could not get my energy levels restored to face what was still to come - which turns out to be a 45 minute soak in the very cold pond, hiking back up the same creek bed to the top of the mountain, bringing more wood back down, a long hike in blistering heat today and carrying the kayak BACK along the same path, and more that is still to be revealed. Zero percent chance I could have completed that this year. Several of my friends ARE still out there and I am so ridiculously impressed and inspired. Staying to the end to cheer them on, then starting the drive North tonight. THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE WHO HAS SENT ME ENCOURAGEMENT AND ENERGY. I love you :)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Death Race Chronicles - Day 2 - Overnight/Morning

Saturday, June 17th - 1:00pm
posted by James Waite

There is very little news of the race today, but a ton of speculation.  One of the two latest reports are that the racers will be arriving at camp within 45 minutes, the other is that they will not be seen until 6pm.

What is sure is that no-one has seen their racer since they left to begin the hike last night at 7pm, to the great consternation of the support crew who are anxious about the food and water situation, which is grim according to many of the returning (DNF) racers.  They are telling tales of endless hiking along vicious, sometimes-not-even-footworn paths, all the while carrying the kayaks, pipes and tires, in areas so remote that even the news crews covering the event can't get hikers/cameras in to document.

As racers drop out, they are held at a gathering point until there are enough to justify a shuttle van making the trip to return them to Aimee Farm.  So every couple of hours, a van rolls up and 8-10 racers slowly empty out and unload their gear.

The latest load included a guy who recognized the Johnny Waite "CREW" shirts and called us over to say "Johnny looks GREAT!  He's doing just fine."

So it seems like there's not much to do except sit and wait and be ready to spring into Support Mode whenever the racers appear.

Will update again when there's anything credible to report (beyond the absolutely incredible so far)!

Death Race Chronicles - Day 1 - Afternoon/Evening

Saturday, June 17th - 7:00am
posted by James Waite

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It was a busy Friday afternoon of almost non-stop activity, although none of it particularly gruelling.  There was a mandatory weigh-in at the top of the mountain between 1pm and 2pm, which required a hike of 15-20 minutes from the top of Tweed River Road, which was accessible by car.

As Johnny neared the top, those on the way down suggested not to rush as the line up was very long.  He was also warned not to curse, as there were several of the organizer's kids - each sporting a DR Volunteer shirt - milling around, and the penalty for cursing around them was burpees.

Shortly after summitting, a by-now-familiar and exhuberant "Johnny!" was called out by a fellow Death Racer from last year.  He informed Johnny that alumni were given preferential treatment and he was to move to the front of the line.  The weigh-in was done in secret, with Johnny reemerging a few moments later to begin the hike/drive back down to the Registration.

Registration took place between 2pm and 4pm, and Johnny arrived at 2:15 to a long line up.  After a brief scramble to rewrite the contents of his pack on an index card (original misplaced somehow), Johnny was processed and given the following instructions:
  • Sew your participant number (651) into the black compression shirt you were told to bring as mandatory gear, with letters at least 3" high
  • Hike towards the shed with the silver roof, then follow the trail until you reach Aimee Farm
  • Be at Aimee Farm by 6pm - the official start time of the 2012 Death Race

Shorlty into the trail, signs were posted on trees, with no explanation as to why, what their significance was or how they might (or might not) come into play throughout the race.  Not surprisingly, racers paused to write down, note, sketch, etc. the various instructions, sayings and pictures they encountered.  In total, there were close to 30 of them, some of which were clearly meant to instill fear ("Swim Test Ahead") or confusion ("Must Have Ticket").

A little over an hour later, the trail emptied out at Aimee Farm, to a beehive of activity.  On entering the base camp, racers were instructed that they needed to complete three tests: a Strength Test, a Fear Test and a Swimming Test.
  • Strength Test:  Split 10 logs into quarters (or more) and haul 0.5 km uphill to stack at the Aimee Lodge
  • Fear Test: Traverse a 30m culvert under the Interstate Highway (at any given point, 10-12 racers were in the culvert at the same time
  • Swimming Test: Swim a 20m round-trip in a cold mountain-fed pond

On completion of the tests, racers were instructed to "cut this", "move this", "tidy this", "trim this", etc.  Basically, they were berated if standing still in any way at all.

Shortly before 6 o'clock, all racers were called to gather at an area where several large ocean kayaks, lengths of very thick PVC pipe and a huge tire had been sitting the entire time.  Told to arrange themselves into roughly equal groups near one of these objects, they were then instructed to lift them - as a group - above their heads.  During the 10 minutes of standing with these objects held above them, race organizers and volunteers moved throughout and inspected the groups to make sure
that their item was fully aloft - not resting on their shoulders, on their head, etc.  At one point, Joe Desena introduced Chris Long, to a chorus of cheers when Joe announced that Chris was down to 312 lbs from his highest weight of over 700 lbs.  He then revealed that there are 39 tasks in this year's race, but that no-one was allowed to or considered finished until Chris' weight was 300 lbs or lower.

All the while, the racers continued to support the weight above their heads, and it was becoming clear that the physical toll on the arms was significant.  However, with not much else going on, the question that was naturally forming in many spectators' minds was "How long are they going to have to stand there like that?"  Standing there like that?  Not long.  Doing other things like that?  Well...using a megaphone, Joe Desena announced the plan for the racers:
Keeping your item above your head, you have to move as a group across the road to the pond, where you will set the kayaks/pipe/tire down.  At that point you will all get back into the pond (where the swim test had been done) and retrieve one of the hundreds of ping pong balls that will be floating.  Each has a number, and that will be your group number.  Once you are assigned a group, you will get back out of the pond, gear up, and once again lift a kayak/pipe/tire above your head.  We are then headed out on a 25 mile hike through the woods, during which time those items cannot touch the ground.  There will be additional challenges.  You will do many burpees.  Most of you will quit.

The group then moved en masse across the interstate, with traffic stopped several times to allow the different groups to cross.  Once the items were set down, all racers sprinted back across the road to gather their gear and return to re-enter the frigid pond, which Andy pointed out was absolutely disgusting and likely festering with e-Coli given the amount of ducks, birds and other animals on the farm that used the pond.  Andy then officially welcomed the racers to the 2012 Death Race, reminding everyone of the Peak Races slogan: People Inspiring People.  When the microphone was handed over to Joe, who reiterated the rules of race (do as instructed), Chris and the target weight of 300 lbs, Andy walkd around to the far side of the pond to dump in a bucket of ping pong balls.  Pandemonium broke out as the racers began swimming over to retrieve a number and then called out loudly to try and form up into groups, as instructed by Joe.

Once re-formed into groups and team numbers verified, Joe then called each group out of the pond one by one and assigned them an item.  After the kayaks, pipes and tire were once again hoisted high, Andy led the way up the steep service road that served as the entrance to a series of roads, switchbacks, trails and paths that form a 25 mile loop which would punish the racers for the next 12-14 hours.

UPDATE @ 4:45am
  • Peter, a race organizer, gave a brief update to some of the support crew that were awake and gathering around the fresh coffee pots
  • The group is several hours behind the projected pace
  • Racers are still hiking with the gear above their heads
  • The first task, at Chittondon Reservoir, will be to re-gravel and grade a very long driveway, using the 5-gallon buckets on the mandatory gear list
  • After that, it is expected that cold water swimming or kayaking will be required
  • Given how far behind they are, they might leave the gear so they can jog out (8-10 miles)
  • He suggested support crew go to sleep, then enjoy the area attractions and maybe go golfing, as they wouldn't be seeing the racers for another 8-10 hours
Reports from DQ'ed Racers
  • 40-50 people have dropped out, most because their water supply ran out
  • No provisions/restocking along the way, despite assurances that "water is available at the next checkpoint" - each checkpoint has simply been a random order drop all the gear and do burpees until ordered to resume the hike under load
  • Those who dropped out had to hike themselves out 5-6 hours back to camp (no guides, no rides), including one guy who dislocated his shoulder when he slipped backwards in muck as the group stumbled and dropped the pipe they'd been carrying - directly onto his shoulder
  • Lee, a race veteran, tore his ACL before midnight and lay waiting for several hours until two people could drive as near as possible and then hike in to get him and carry him out
  • At least one racer has been taken to the hospital - recovering ok