Running – When I First Felt Like A Runner

When learning a new task, a new skill or developing a new way of life.  We have all had that moment in time when we feel like we have mastered the skill or transformed our old selves into a new image of who we want to become.  For we that was leaving being the old mental image I had of myself.  An image of the “short, fat man jogging” and becoming an athlete.

This is a letter I wrote to Runners World Magazine back when I first felt like a “real runner.”  Nearly 16 years later, 17,000 miles…and I’m still going strong!

This letter was written in June of 2001.  I received an reply from one of their editors concerning this letter, they were going to feature it.  But after the first contact, I never heard anything more.

thuletreadmill

(Running on a Treadmill, Thule Greenland, 2001)

 

Runners World
33 E. Minor St.
Emmaus, PA 18908

MSgt Brian Burk
PSC 1501  Box 1223
APO  AE 09704

1 Jun 01

Dear Runners World,

I write you this letter from “On Top of The World” Thule Air Base, Greenland.  I’m Master Sergeant Brian Burk serving on a remote tour in the United States Air Force.  I’ve been a runner on and off (mostly off) all my life.

Serving in the military is a challenging profession but couple that with remote tours (one year separation anyway from family) and being constantly on the go it’s hard (at least for me) to stick with any exercise routine.  The result was gaining 30 pounds over 7 years and falling out of shape.  One day you wake up and say “Gee I’m not 29 anymore and boy I sure look like it”.  For me that day happened 03 Aug 2000 when I set foot at Thule Air Base.  Looking in the mirror I made a pac with myself to not leave this place the same way I got here.  The challenge: lose 30 pounds and get my life back (fitness wise).  Being in the high arctic (900 miles south of the North pole) much of my running was going to be done indoors during “the dark season” on a treadmill.

They say any journey begins with the first step; my first step was a hard fought 2 mile run last Aug.  Now after a Artic Fall, Winter aka “the dark season” (Nov till Feb in 24 hour darkness), Arctic Spring (temps below –30) and our approaching summer (temps a mild 40 degrees) my 2 mile labors have blossomed into 20 mile long runs with monthly mileage averaging 125+.  I’ve lost 32 pounds, and regained my self pride.  Most importantly, although claiming to be a runner (jogger) all my life I now claim to be an athlete.

What got me through this…well my family number one (e-mail is great) with guidance and inspiration from your magazine and on line site.  Every month I scanned the pages looking for advice, inspiration and all the pictures of runners running outside.  After each successful long run my reward was to cut out a picture of someone running outside which I hung on my refrigerator.  Thank you for producing such a great tool.

Running is no longer something I claim to do…it’s me.  I borrowed this from Lance Armstrong and tweaked it to fit my lifestyle.

“This is my body.  And I can do whatever I want to it. I can push it. Study it. Tweak it. Listen to it. Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my treadmill busting my ass everyday.

What are you on?”

Sincerely,

Brian Burk

Brianthule
(Near the end of my Thule Tour, Aug 2001)

FYI:  At the time I thought Lance Armstrong was innocent.

Running – Racing – Ultra Marathons and My First DNF

It was going to be my 100th finish.

It was going to be my June race.

It turned out to be something totally different.

dnf face(My Instagram post with my DNF Face)

The 2016 edition of the Bethel Moonlight Boogie 50 Mile endurance race turned out to be something ugly, and something I had never faced before. Turns out for this year, I was not mentally tough enough. I decided to drop out just 15 miles into the race.

Why did I give up some would ask? My only answer is that I was never really committed to the race in the first place.  I signed up about two months prior to the event, just before my Grand Canyon run.  I did so more to see some friends and to get a another Boogie (I ran in 2015) hand crafted mug. I did not enter the race for some larger purpose, such as testing myself, to prove to myself that I could run the distance. I signed up for the mug, a nice mug but not nice enough to run 50 miles in June when I really wanted to be home. Plain and simple I was not mentally into the race.  From the first step, I kept thinking of being home…spending time with my wife and not wanting to suffer again.

Five things I learned From My DNF.

1.  You must be committed to a race, if you’re going to stick it out when things turn ugly.  It is so easy to sign up for a race, but are you really committed?  This race will make me think twice before I click and sign up.

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2.  Every race does not have to be an Ultra.  Lately every race I’ve run tends to be in the ultra distance.  I need to get back to running races of varying lengths.  I can still view myself as an Ultra-runner and run 5ks, 10k and half marathons. 

3. To finish some of these long races under difficult conditions you have to be ready to visit the pain cave.  To finish the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim run a month earlier I had to go deep into my pain cave, and I was not ready to go back in to that dark place again…at least not this soon.

4.  It’s okay not the end of the world to DNF.  Driving home (3 hours) I was very down on myself.  I was not happy with my performance or my being.  Then it hit me, my 17 year running career will NOT be defined by one event.  It simply was not my day (night).

5. I would run again.  The world did not end, the sun came up the next morning and my legs worked during my next run. I’ll learn from this tough night and come back ready to run again.

Have you had a bad race.  Have you signed up for a race for all the wrong reasons?  Have you dropped out just because you were not into the race?  Share your experiences with us.

Things Non Running People Have Said To Me About My Running

It’s a strange world we live in.

Once people figure out that I’m a serious long distance runner they normally fall into one of two categories.  #1 Non runners, who are interested and supportive of my efforts, and fellow runners, some with more experienced and others who seek out information or conversations with me about running.  #2 The non runners who either want to convince me that running is bad for me or equally want to persuade me that they could run at the same level that I do (or longer and faster) if they just had the….(choose one) time, motivation, genetics, money, cool shoes, physical gift, and etc, etc, etc.

13119962_10209293162754954_3322676477634451765_o(In the middle of a 24 hour run)

I’ll admit it, if I can do this (run ultra marathons)…anyone can.

I thought I would share with you a few of my favorite non runners quotes about my running.

1.  “You’ll need those knees when you get into your 50s.”  After hearing this unsolicited comment, I simply smiled and continued on my run, FYI I’m 52.

2.  “I could run a marathon, if I wanted to.”  I agree with you, with the right motivation anyone can run a marathon…likewsie, anyone can run an ultra marathon, but isn’t life about motivation?

3.  “Running is bad for your heart, it (running) is going to put you in the grave early.”  That might be true or not. There have been a lot of contradicting studies published lately, but my lazy, ding dong eating, 24 Pepsi a day lifestyle before my running life took off was without a doubt going to kill me at a young age.

finish(Finishing at Umstead, 2014)

4.  A week after my first 100 mile finish I had a family member call me to inform me…“You can’t run a 100 mile race.”  I paused for a moment after they informed of this great piece of information.  After growing bored with the dead silence on the phone line I replied, “thanks, but I just did in 22 hours 51 minutes and 5 seconds.”

5.  Maybe the best one, “God, did not intend for us to run.”  Really……

I’m still amazed at how far I’ve come simply by putting one foot in front of the other. I’m equally amazed every time someone e-mails me about running.  Or when someone seeks me out at a race. Or simply asks me a question or wants my opinion on any running related topic.  Running has brought me a long way.

If you are not a runner, I respect that.  Enjoy whatever it is you do.  I have great respect for those who lift, do cross-fit, swim, bike or do whatever it is that keeps you fit.  If you choose not to be fit, that’s great too, but please don’t try and convince me to join you in that lifestyle…been there done that.

5mileronfortlee(After a run it’s fun to look to the future,
what does it hold for you?)

“We all have a different path in life…I choose to run mine.”

What is the craziest thing a non runner has told you about your running?

Running the Olympic Marathon, A Road To Recovery And Beyond

The road from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to the Olympic Marathon

In 2002 Jonathan Swiatocha was 10 years old and traveling with his family when they were hit by a underage drunk driver.  The driver impacted the side of the Swiatocha’s family van while traveling over 80 MPH.  The accident left him with a TBI and paralyzed for 12 days.  More can be read about Jonathan’s accident and recovery here.

runtovictoryA

What I found fascinating about Jonathan’s story was that he was not “just” recovering…Jonathan’s goal is to excel right into the Olympics.

Q.  I read that you walked 12 days after your TBI, when did you first think about playing or running again?

Answer:  When I first got released from the hospital, I wanted to go back and play with the other kids! What ten year old wouldn’t? It was at least couple years later when I really thought about playing sports again.

Q.  Were you a runner/athlete prior to the accident?

Answer:  Yes, I was an athlete before the crash! I played soccer, basketball, baseball, etc..

Q.  Did the accidents side effects/after effects effect your ability to run, play and partake in sports as a youth?

Answer:  Yes, Doctors told me when I got released from outpatient therapy to not jump right into things especially sports but they told me that I could never play contact sports like football, hockey, soccer, etc… But that was ok because I developed a passion and love for the sport of running!

Q.  At what part of your recovery did the doctors suggest you get back to running/sports?

Answer:  The doctors really didn’t know if I would’ve been able to go back and play sports.  Because of the severity of my brain injury and being so young, they didn’t know how my injury would affect me as I got older, that part was a mystery…

Q.  Did that step of recovery come with any additional challenges?

Answer: The challenges that I faced were really more mental and emotional because that part of my brain was the side that was damaged! Problem solving, cognition, memory, mood swings, behavioral problems, conversing with my peers were the major challenges I faced.

One point that really impressed me with your story is that you seemed to accept your challenges and not get upset at life, your luck and or at God.  I hope that I could accept it in the same light as you did but honestly, I could see myself being very upset, at least for a short time.

Q.  What advice would you offer someone who may be waking up today facing a major health challenge?

Answer:  My advice is to first put your faith and trust in God and let him fight the battle your in! If you do that, I promise you will be victorious!!! Stay humble, stay positive and believe that everything will be ok.

runtovictory1

The Olympics…..now that is a goal.

Tell us a little about your running resume.

Q.  When did your first realize you had the talent for the Olympic stage?

Answer:   When I decided to stop running for school, I was in a really dark place in my life!  Physically, emotionally, spiritually, so I needed to go back to where I was comfortable. My dad started to coach me and as I started to train under him; I found that I was getting stronger not just in running but in every area of my life! I set a goal, declared it and have believed that I will achieve it every single day! Where or when I achieve it, I don’t know.  What I do know is that I’m closer to becoming the 1st Olympic runner with a TBI than I was yesterday!

Q.  You’re aiming at running the marathon, what made you select that distance?  Or did the marathon select you?

Answer:  The marathon is a race that is not just about being physically strong it’s mental! It’s an event that’s not for the faint of heart and I’ve always been a runner that can excel more at the longer distances rather than the shorter ones.

Q.  How has your training been going?  How close are you to an Olympic qualifying time?

Answer:  My training has been going well! The one thing about having a goal to qualify for the Olympics is that it’s a process, everything has to come together: training, health, race, course, conditions, weather, nutrition, etc… So for me, since I’m only 24 years old were taking things one day at a time! I’m closer than I was yesterday.

Q.  How has your TBI affected this goal, your training or desire?

Answer:  My TBI has effected my goal more in a positive way because of the impact it has on people when I share it with them! My training is long and strenuous at times but if you want to be a world class athlete, you have to train like one. For a long time, I let my TBI keep me from reaching my highest potential but no more! I made a vow not to live by fear, anger or pride and live my life by faith and faith alone! I guess you can say I have a strong desire and hunger to reach my goal.

Q.  What does a typical training week look like?

Answer:  

Sunday – Long run

Monday – Recovery run

Tuesday – AM Speed workout/ strength and conditioning + PM Recovery run

Wednesday – Easy run

Thursday – AM Speed workout + PM strength and conditioning

Friday – Easy run

Saturday – Rest or Easy run

Noticed your writing a book.

runtovictory2

Q.  How is that coming along?

Answer:  Yes, I’m officially writing my first book right now! It’s going great, it’s a process but I believe that the finished product will be something very, very special!!!

Myself I’m writing a fictional running story, I know firsthand how intense the writing process can be.  Best of luck with that project, it just may be harder than qualifying for the Olympics.

Loved this quote on your FaceBook page:

“Strength doesn’t come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

Q.  Is that a Jonathan original or did you borrow it from someone?

Answer:  Thank you, it’s a quote from someone else that I saw and was really inspired by it!

Thank you so much for your time, I’m sure your experience and recovery will help others.  I’m sure you’ll agree recovery may just be the first step.  After recovery there’s the rest of your life and other goals and your story highlights to not just be satisfied with recovery excel in life after recovery.

Any last words you would like to share with my readers?

Answer:  If you’ve been inspired by my story and want to follow my journey, please feel free to follow me on social media! To all my brothers and sisters living with TBI, don’t give up! Don’t give in! Your life has meaning and your alive today for a reason! You can and will overcome what your going through right now, I know because I’m overcoming it! And you can too.

You can follow Jonathan on Twitter: @RunToVic and Instagram: @runtovictory  Facebook Page at Run To Victoryon and Jonathan Swiatocha. You can also reach Jonathan via email at: swiatochaj@gmail.com

More can be seen on Jonathan’s marathon journey on this video interview: on NBCDFW.com

Thanks again and good luck keep us posted on your road to the Olympics.

Brian

Muhammad Ali – The Greatest – My Thoughts

I can’t remember when I first heard of Muhammad Ali, or saw his greatest on display.

He simply always was…

Muhammad-Ali-I-am-the-Greatest.-I-said-that-even-before-I-knew-I-was.

Ali simply was the lighting fast heavyweight boxer, with a larger than life personality in my view of the sports world.  I remember his exchanges with Howard Cosell on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, I remember the great boxing matches, with Frazier, Foreman and Spinks.  I remember the great catches phases and comedic rhymes.  Mostly I remember a boxer who seemed for a period to outclass his competition.

Ali, in my opinion changed the sporting world.  He put on a show unmatched by any other sports in its time.  Ali gave sports a social platform.  He moved sporting matches into headline news and top billing entertainment.  The boxing world has never seen the draw like it had during Ali’s finest days, except for a brief time when Mike Tyson was on the rise.  Certainly boxing is not what it used to be when Ali ruled the squared circle.

Now we remember maybe the greatest boxer, athlete, and showman of all time on his passing.  The sports world will be a smaller, lesser place without Ali.

Running – Marathons – Ultra Marathons and Eating Elephants

One foot

One stride

One mile

At a time

I’m not even sure where this I came up with mantra, but it works.

No matter the situations I’ve faced in my life I’ve tried to keep them in perspective.  From my early days in the military when my primary duty was aircraft maintenance ensuring our tail number made its mission take off time.  To later in my career where I was responsible for our Special Operations Unit meeting the deployment time lines, I’ve kept it simple.

eatinganelephant

I’ve blogged about this simple thought process before.  “How do you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.”

The same approach applies to running and racing.  Whether I’m in the last leg of a fast 5k, the last miles of an Ultra or the last set of hill repeats, how do I ensure I finish?  One bite at a time…

One foot

One stride

One mile

At a time

13226746_1237562866254867_7126512203488526329_n (2)(Finishing the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim run
was a test in eating the elephant)

The next time you find yourself struggling with running or anything life throws at you remember this thought.  The next time your lungs are on fire.  The next time your legs are heavy.  The next time you’re about to give up.

Eat the elephant

One bite at a time

“If I knew it was going to be this hard, I would have done it a long time ago.”

David Clarke,  Badwater 135 and Multiple Leadville Trail 100 Finisher

Running Product Review -Beets Blu Heart Rate Monitor

If you don’t currently own a pricey sports watch with a Heart Rate Monitor, and don’t want to spend big bucks to purchase one but have a smartphone the Beets BLU is just the ticket for you.

What is a Beets BLU?

beets blu 1

A Bluetooth connected Heart Rate Monitor that links with your compatible smartphone.

I recently had the opportunity to test drive one and came away impressed.  What sold me on this little device is that it is truly…easy to use.

I’m not a high tech geek, and I don’t like investing a lot of time trying to figure something out.  When it’s time to run, it’s time to run.  I don’t like wasting time doing things other than running.  I want to push a button and have it work.

Bing

Bang

BOOM….that is just what the Beets BLU HR monitor offers.

Screenshot_2016-05-04-15-24-06

(from their web site) You don’t need any adapters whatsoever!  You will only need a compatible smartphone.  The data is directly transmitted through Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth v4.0) wireless technology, and devices supporting the feature can immediately connect to the heart rate monitor after some small changes in their settings.

I found this statement to be true, with only a few taps on my smartphone, my Beets BLU was linked up to my MapMyRun app.  Within seconds of launching the application my Heart Rate was being alternating displayed and it was time to run.  While I ran, the Beets BLU chest strap and monitor offered No mess, No fuss…and other then glancing at my phone to check my HR I hardly noticed I was wearing the monitor.

I remember the old bulky “common use” HR monitors first available at the gym.  If you wanted to monitor your performance you had to get a “used” monitor and chest strap out of a cold bucket of disinfectant.  You also had to hope you found one without a stretched out band and then place that cold, wet bulky device on your chest and hoped that it worked.

beets blu

Not today, with Beets BLU it’s comfortable, lightweight, slim and reliable.  Most importantly, at a reasonable price…it’s yours.  You already have a high tech smartphone, the Beets BLU will only make it smarter and you a better trained athlete ready for your next Marathon, 10k, 5k or long walk.

Check out the Beets BLU website, follow them on Facebook and Twitter

Disclaimer:  I was not paid to write this review or any reviews on my blog.  I was given a device to test drive.  Saying that if I don’t like a product I will not blog about it.  It’s that simply…all opinions are mine and based solely on my test of the product.

Running and Eating Better – You Can Do It

Eating Better – If I can do it you can too

Lori Nedescu was a member of our five person endurance team which recently ran the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim. aaaa

(USMES Team – Eric, Jami, Me, Lori and Dewey)

In preparation for this run, I got to spend a few days with Lori, who is a contracted Nutritionist for the US Military Endurance Sports team.   Lori is also a super-fast marathoner posting a Personal Best of 2:56:10 at the Columbus Marathon in 2016.  She is also a very competitive cyclist.  During preparations for our canyon run and during the time in Arizona she offered the team advice and suggestions on proper food selection and fueling.

lori pic r2r2r(Lori kicking the canyon’s butt)

I’ll be honest I was kind of embarrassed when we talked about my nutrition.  If you have followed my blog for any length of time you’ve come to realize food selection and nutrition are NOT my strong suits.  In fact…I border on being a junk food runner.  How I do what I do on my diet, sometimes baffles even me.  Understanding I have much to learn.  I asked Lori if she would take part in an interview to help my readers and I make better food selections.

Come on, some of you have confessed to being nearly as bad at eating correctly as I am. So here goes…

Lori, Thanks so much for taking the time to help us poor junk food runners.

Q.  Ruling out some life changing event that motivates someone to change “cold-turkey, what’s the biggest change someone like me, who may be living off of red meat, potatoes, pizza and Coke-a-Cola do to turn around their diet?

A. Small changes are key! So instead of thinking ‘no more’ think ‘a little less’. I would suggest being honest about how much of those foods you’re consuming and then making real objective goals for cutting back. For example, instead of having 2 diet cokes a day, aim for 1 a day for the first month, then 2 a week for the next month… When you set specific targets, you’re more likely to stick with them.  Also, consider what you CAN eat over what you shouldn’t eat. So focus on all the fruits and vegetables you’ll have room for by eating less of the other stuff. 

lori pics 3(Can you spot the dietitians plate?)

Speaking only about me, but I’m sure many others can relate, the biggest hindrance to eating better is knowledge and being lazy when it comes to preparing food.

Q.  What are some simple ways people/amateur athletes can turn around their diets/nutrition?

A. Meal prep and meal timing are important. You have to learn to be consistent, yet flexible at the same time. Its all about balance. The best thing to consider for an athlete is to ”eat more on the bike (or during whatever sport) and less off the bike”. Meaning you should fuel your activity more to promote more energy and cut excess calories at times of inactivity.  

Q  If you had a choice between, red meat, pork, chicken or turkey what’s the best choice from a fitness point of view.

A. Honestly I am a red meat fan. If that red meat is grass fed/ pasture raised… It makes a big difference in the quality and nutrition profile of the meat and offers up the iron an athlete needs along with B vitamins, protein, and a better fatty acid profile. The trick with animal proteins of any variety is choosing the best quality, lean cuts, and small (4ounce) portions.

Prior to a big race/run I always second guess my eating habits.

Q.  We have all heard about carbo loading the night prior to a big race, but is that theory true and when is the best time to load up.  One experienced Ultra-runner told me that he had his big meal, the night before, the night before the big race (two nights before race day).

A.  Carb loading is a very old practice. It used to be that athletes would go super low carb to deplete stores before eating excessive carbs pre race. Science has shown us this is not necessary, but an athlete can still benefit from ‘carb increasing’. One or two days before your race, reduce foods from fat and protein sources, replacing them with carbohydrate foods. This should be a change in the ratio of Carbs:Pro:Fat, not an increase in overall calories. Most athletes will benefit from reducing fiber, protein, and fats while increasing the carbohydrates the day before racing.

Q.  I love a big plate or two of spaghetti with meat sauce as my big meal and pizza the night before…(it works for me).  Thoughts on this line up and what would be a better alternative?

A. Every runner loves a good plate of pre race pasta. I’d personally skip the meat sauce as it tends to be greasy and creates a sluggish GI system. Instead, choose pasta with plan tomato or better yet, a butternut squash sauce to keep the focus on the easy to digest carbohydrates. 

One of my biggest fears going into our Grand Canyon run was that I would not carry enough or the wrong kind of food.  I’m used to having a buffet of food available at aide stations.  You reviewed each of our food/nutrition plans and made some great suggestions.

Would you share with my readers the nutrition requirements for long distance races/runs like Rim2Rim2Rim. Recovery is another area I lack education…I simply chug down a chocolate milk and think I have it covered.

Q.  What is your body looking for right after a long hard run/workout? 

A. Chocolate milk is a great option because it contains the body’s preferred ratio of carbs:protein. For endurance that is typically 4:1 as the body is still in need of carbohydrates to replenish stores, but also begins to require protein for rebuilding. Chocolate milk is also due its ease in consuming; no prep and gentle on the GI system post workout. However, for example, at R2R2R we had a vehicle in the sun for 14+ hours, not idea for storing dairy products. This is why I bring Cocoa Elite along. It is a form of dehydrated chocolate milk that is packed with flavonols to enhance recovery. Because the powder is shelf stable, I can bring it anywhere and mix it with water post event for a better than chocolate milk drink.  

Q.  What are some easy and available food items that would help with recovery?

A. Its best to have something prepped ahead of time. A hungry athlete walking into a full kitchen post workout is a dangerous thing that typically results in too many calories being consumed and the ‘recovery window’ closing. Personally I make an extra sandwich and put it in the fridge for post workouts. Smoothies are pretty easy to throw together and help the body cool off. Remember that you only need something small immediately after, it doesn’t have to be a full meal. 

It was fun hanging out with you “young folks” for a few days.  I learned a lot about fitness, food and life during our time in Arizona.  But the fact is time is catching up (with me).

Q.  Ruling out eating for fitness or race performance, how can someone who’s just trying to drop a few pounds jump start a slow or dormant metabolism?

A. I always prescribe a 3 day diet plan. This way, you aren’t revamping everything. Three days will help you switch things up enough to see changes in your body. 

I’ll be honest Lori at the rate you flew down the canyon and pulled away from the group I thought for sure we would come upon you in a crumbled mess along the trail at some point.  After all you had never run such a strenuous ultra before.  Much to your credit and my amazement…YOU ROCKED IT…being the first of our group to finish and by a number of hours.

Q.  What did you learn about yourself during your double canyon crossing?

A. Thanks! When I first began cycling, I went on a hilly charity ride. An ex pro cyclist friend was being nice and accompanying me. On the first hill I was struggling, complaining, going so slow… He looked at me and said ”You know, if you get to the top faster, the pain ends faster”. I can’t tell you how many times that statement has pushed me forward and kept me focused. I repeated those words to myself throughout the canyon with a determination to get it over with!   During R2R2R I felt so euphoric to be able to accomplish such a feat. A small portion of people get to experience what we did out there and it is an amazing thing. 

lori pics 4(Done in 14hr 20mins)

Q  What did you learn about running in general while in the canyon?

A. Omg where to begin!!?? It was a very challenging experience that really reinforced the mental aspect that comes into play when doing endurance activities. A strong mind can keep a struggling body moving!

Thank you so much for taking part in this interview. My readers can find Lori’s blog the Cadence Kitchen here (Eating clean and Training mean) and you can follow Lori’s running and cycling on Facebook and Instagram @cadencekitchen lori pic Lori has written her own cookbook capitalizing on her knowledge of nutrition and experiences as an athlete, you can check it out here.

lori pics 2Click here for a sample recipe.

Running An Epic Adventure – Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim – Part 2

Some runs break you down.

Some runs make you push yourself.

Some runs change your outlook on life.

And some runs teach you important lessons.

Part 1 of this epic adventure is available here.

From the North Rim and Beyond

NORTH KAIBAB TRAIL TO PHANTOM RANCH, 14 miles/5,734 feet - My pre-run plan was to avoid a long pit stop on the North Rim.  I wanted or so I thought to turn and burn as fast as I could.  Figuring the more time I lingered on the rim the greater the chances of calling it a day.  As the day played out, I never once thought of ending the run but I also was in no hurry to depart the rim until I got some real food into my belly.  I took the extra time to dig into my pack and break out the trail mix, jerky and M&Ms. There has to be a better way to pack this vest, was the dominant thought as I wasted a ton of time trying to access and return my food items.  I want to tell you the food tasted great, but I had to force it down.  A cup of applesauce, and a diet Mountain Dew (my normal 24 hour pit-stop food) would have tasted so much better.

With a belly topped off and water bottles ready to go the group was ready for the second part of our canyon adventure.  Before departing I did take a look around and wondered to myself how many ever get to see this less famous side of the Grand Canyon?  We learned the right to look one last time but we still had work to do so down the North Rim we went.

13179234_10209186952380467_5809498968552670668_n(It was great to be running again as
we made our way downhill from the North Rim)

My legs felt liberated as we ran downhill.  My cadence was quick and light as we rambled down the narrow trail. It felt great to run free of the uphill climb that was shackled around our necks for the past few hours. After only a few minutes and a few switchbacks that familiar soreness in my left thigh popped up its ugly head.  As we were making our way down the North Rim it became obvious that the required braking action for the switchbacks and the erosion control stair stepper down hill was adding up.

2016GrandCanyon erosion control steps(The rocks/timbers provide needed erosion control for the trail, but
they destroy your legs having to step over them)

As the day wore on and the miles from the North Rim grew greater it was getting harder to clear the 6″ – 8″ logs and 6″ – 12 ” rocks used to protect the trail from erosion.  A new tactic had to be deployed.  I would run in-between the logs/rocks then half walk as I crossed over them then run to the next transition.   After my fall early in the day, I no longer trusted myself to run fast over elevated rocks/steps.  If the downhill section looked overly technical, or had unsure footing, I hiked over it vs. risking another crash to the trail.  My slower pace and cautious nature had me falling behind the group.

Being alone for much of the descent began to wear on me as I made my way to Coconino Overlook, and Supai Tunnel.  Although I knew everyone was running their own race adventure I tried hard to catch up.  I ran all the flats, downhills and once off the deathly switchbacks I tried to run right up to the climbs.  On occasion I got to see members of my group just ahead, but I could not close the gap. At Roaring Springs I finally caught up to them as they took a break.  I tried hard to get in and out fast in hopes of departing with the group but I needed more food, more than the GUs and Gatorade I had been living on since North Rim.  I broke into my vest and pulled out the trail mix.  The real food felt good but when I went to put the food back in my pack it took much longer than I had hoped.  Eric offered to stick with me, but I did not want to hold him up or slow down the group.  Again I was alone as I departed approx. 10 minutes behind them and made my way to Pumphouse and Cottonwood Campground.

13177579_10209187000861679_5023816510757870553_n

(One part of running that I have always enjoy is crossing bridges,
the Grand Canyon offers some of the best crossing I have ever seen)

A few times my mind played tricks on me in the afternoon heat.  The temperatures in “the box” section of the canyon got up to 97 degrees.  I thought for sure I saw members of the group waiting for me around turns, sitting on rocks and high up in the canyon to only figure out it was a tree, or a unique shaped rock.  Then I saw someone sitting alone on the trail.  It’s Joshua…I thought to myself.  Guilt overcame me, he must be the one who drew the short straw to wait on the old guy.  I felt bad someone gave up on their goal time to wait on me.  I felt like the old man who slowed down everyone and it eat at me as I closed the gap after all I was the experienced Ultra Runner of the group.

“Joshua are you the guy who picked the short straw?” I cried out as I approached him. I was poised and at the ready to argue why he should NOT wait on me and run his own adventure.  Joshua then said something that changed the day for me.

“No I’m sick, I’ve been throwing up and very nausea.”

I told myself from that moment I would not leave him alone, we would work together to get both of us out of the canyon.  It was at this point that it hit me…you do not simply DNF a Rim2Rim2Rim run.  The canyon has you until you work your way out of it.

I sat with Joshua for a few minutes then asked him if we could get moving, reasoning that he might feel better if we moved on.  Once moving we were able to pick up the pace, and after a short while we were back to running the flats, the downhills and making our way best we could to Phantom Ranch.

WHAT I LEARNED:

  • Better to run smart than to run fast and risk another fall, hard on my ego, but it was wise.
  • Somewhere it was written that at halfway you should have 2/3 of your energy reserves left…if I had a fuel gauge, as I left the North Rim I was a bit under half.
  • I should have taken more pictures.
  • I need to train for the erosion control steps.

PHANTOM RANCH TO BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL (SOUTH RIM), 9.5 Miles/4,380 feet – When we arrived at Phantom Ranch the Cantina was closed.  I “guesstimate” the time was around 5 p.m. but I’m not really sure.  The only time hack I can establish is that the Cantina was closed (4 p.m.) and they were serving their reservation only dinner.

Joshua and I made our way around the ranch trying to find Eric, Jami, our lunches and more importantly the water source.  I found the water fountain around the front of the dinner and made a beeline to get some refreshment.  In a very tired state it was difficult to bend over, hold the faucet open and position my bottles to be filled.  Thankfully a gentlemen saw my struggle and offered help.  During the process he asked what we were doing.  I explained that we were running Rim2Rim2Rim.  I filled my bottles and proceeded to stick my arms and head under the faucet.  After a short time Jami came around from behind the ranch and found us.

phantom-ranch lunch(Borrowed photo but my lunch was nearly the same,
and that was one good apple)

Joshua and I sat at a picnic bench after Jami offered to get us our lunches. (Thank you, so much)  Upon opening them I was starved and not in the mood for food all at the same time.  I forced myself to eat some of the craisins, half a bagel and all of the apple. My mouth was so dry nothing tasted good…I wanted to flood my mouth and stomach with water, but I knew that would be counterproductive.  Up to this point I had not lost my stomach, had no GI issues and I did not want to test fate now.

As we sat their eating our lunches I could sense that we were being watched.  As I looked around the dinner crowd had been let out and a small group of people kept looking our way.  Two elderly ladies finally walked over and asked us what we were doing.  We told them that with three other friends we were running the canyon and we were on our way from the North Rim headed to Bright Angel Trail.  One of the ladies made the statement “You can’t do that…”  Both Joshua and I chuckled and told them that in a few minutes we would continue on our way.  We chatted with the group but finally had to break contact to get moving again.  The group wished us well with one gentleman telling us that we would be in his journal entry for the day. I raised my hand into the air with a thump up, gave him a fist bump and continued on to begin our climb up South Rim.

13177600_10209186953340491_7437792555492416293_n(This crossing terrified me)

Joshua and I fast hiked and even ran some to the entry point of Bright Angel trail making our way to the final bridge crossing of the Colorado River.  I’ll be honest, I was never really scared during my double crossing, but crossing this grated bridge scared the pooooo right out of me. Running on the steel grates with nothing below my feet but a long fall to the river gave me a very uneasy feeling during the entire crossing.  While making my way all I could think about was a safety incident where a floor grate came loose causing a employee to fall through the opening.  Needless to say I was happy when my feet were on solid ground again…even if it was a sandy trail.

Screen-Shot-2016-05-22-at-11.57.32-AM(Had no idea we would be storming the beach)

Sandy trail…where did that come from?  My mind may have been in a fog but I had no idea that our run would travel over a sandy trail.  As we made our way to the River Resthouse Joshua’s legs began cramping.  At the River Resthouse we made a major mistake.  We could not find the water supply location and when we asked a group of young girls who must have hiked over from Bright Angel Campground they had no idea.  With half filled water bottles we took off and headed to Indian Garden and points beyond.

It was at some point on the way to Indian Garden that I realized the little building across the small creek/stream at River Resthouse must have held the water stop. It was too late, it was to far to go back and we were running out of water.  Another error was made as we worked our way up the South Rim.  My mind was fading and my ability to perform math functions was failing faster.  Somehow departing Indian Garden my mind reasoned we had around three miles remaining to our adventure.  When I saw the sign that we had 4.5 miles to the South Rim I nearly lost it.  I used to curse like a drunken sailor and in recent years I’ve left that habit behind. Upon the realization that we still had a lot of work in front of us my language returned to its former fashion.

With nothing to do but get it done Joshua and I hammered away up the trail.  His legs were cramping badly and my heart rate was spiking as we made our way up the staircase  climbs.  When simply going up an incline I could make good time and my heart rate did not suffer.  Add in the stair step inclines and I needed a break about every quarter-mile to regroup.  Still with all the suffering we made each 1.5 miles in an hour.  With all out determination to finish we made the 3 mile Resthouse and 1.5 mile Resthouse.

As we made our way past the last rest house I remembered prior R2R2R runners recalling that Bright Angel Trail leading up to the rim played havoc on your mind.  With each passing switchback you believe your getting closer to journeys end when you actually have a good deal to travel.  Adding to this challenge was the visitor center lights stationed high up on the rim. These lights reminded me of just how far we had to climb.  In the pitch black of the night this weighed on my mind and tried my resolve when at times it felt like we were getting no closer.

As we made our way around switchback after switchback, I thought I heard something foreign off in the distance.  Snake, bear, an elk, or BIGFOOT?  What was that?  I think Joshua was the first to figure out what that foreign sound was.  Then it became clear, we could hear the voices of our teammates on the rim calling out to us and cheering us on.  This provided the extra motivation I needed to get up on my toes and run it home.  Exiting the canyon and being welcomed back to the world was a very emotional ending to a very trying day.

13226746_1237562866254867_7126512203488526329_n (2)(Our team of five Eric, Lori, Myself, Joshua and Jami
Mission Complete – 12 May 2016 – Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim)

Joshua and I finished our Rim2Rim2Rim run in 19 hours and 30 minutes.

NOTE:  I’ve been asked many times did you really run the entire way?  What qualifies what you did as running the canyon vs. hiking it, or walking it?  My only answer is not to justify what I accomplished to anyone.  I moved as fast as I could at every given moment while in the canyon.  Some have run the canyon faster, some slower and some have not finished nor attempted it.   To me I ran the canyon the best I could…I know this, and more importantly the canyon knows this to be true.

OBTW the Fastest Known Time for a Rim2Rim2Rim run is 6 hours and 21 minutes by Rob Kar.  View a short video of his run here.  FYI, I’m not really sure if this video is from his FKT attempt but man is he moving fast.

WHAT I LEARNED:

  • Relentless forward motion is key.  Keeping moving at all costs.
  • I made the right choice to not leave Joshua in the Canyon, may be it cost me a better finishing time, I could not have lived with myself if he got hurt.
  • A voice in the night can be very motivating.
  • Water is key, the only time I felt really low about making it out was when we nearly ran out.
  • No matter the length of the race/run, no matter the amount pain…in a relative blink of an eye it will all be over.  Live in the moment, look around and enjoy the day.

Other team members posts about our run:
Lori’s post at The Cadence Kitchen
Eric’s Post at Run-Ride-Life
Joshua’s Post at Dewey’s path

For more information on running/hiking or visiting the Grand Canyon click here.

Thanks so much to Eric, Joshua and Jami for allowing me to use the photos they took…I got next to zero photos, I had GoPro battery issues.

Enjoy these awesome videos by Eric:


(Full lenght 36 minutes)

(Condensed video 13 minutes)

Enjoy some more Photos from our run:

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0757.(Making our way down the North Rim)

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0766.(Approaching the last bridge crossing
of the Colorado River to climb the South Rim)

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0771.(Climbing up Bright Angel Trail
leaving the river behind us)