New (to me) Trails

The other day, I went out to a trail that I had only heard about. I had yet to venture out to where it was. For some reason, things never worked out for me to go run there. I kept feeling pulled to it for some reason, I just needed to wait for the right time and this day, it just felt right.

There is a sense of excitement when going on a new trail. like going into an unknown territory. I feel like an explorer at times. Everything is new to me; the terrain, the challenges and most of all the views. There is a sense of wonder around every corner and a learning of where to go. I know that I am not the first person to go this route, but when there is no one else on the trail around you, there is a bewilderment about it.  I felt like the great explorers of the past, who knew nothing about what lies beyond the the next ridge.

Adding new trails to your training lets you expand your total experience. Without these new paths, we would wear a rut into our everyday trails. Things would become worn out and nearly impassable. Changing things up will keep your running fresh, it will keep your mind sharp. Doing the same thing over and over will dull your senses. You have to stay focused if you want to traverse the path as fast and efficiently as possible.

Some people are happy going to their local track and doing the same loop over and over and over. Where is the adventure in that? Adventure is why I started trail running in the first place, so why not go somewhere new? I read about a man who ran 100 miles on a high school track, breaking a time record. I admire the grit that this took, but all I could think about was how boring that must have been. Then I realized that he BROKE a record. That means there were others who did it. I can’t fathom 400 laps spread out over several weeks, much less at one time.

We have to keep trying new trails.  Running would be boring if we ran the same loop constantly. Part of that is to step out of your comfort zone and try the new, while not forgetting the old. It’s the old ones that have lead you to the new ones, the old paths that gave you a new sense of accomplishment once.

This goes for all of our life, not just in running. Going into the unknown  helps create a new person or, as some would say, it “builds character”. Our continued growth relies on us not becoming stagnate, running the same loop for hundreds of miles. Running in circles does not give you any new visions or perspectives, it just causes worn and beaten down ruts.

We need to follow trails that, while not new, are less traveled. You may not necessarily be blazing a new trail, finding the way so that maybe someday you will be able to guide others down the same path. It might just turn out that you help refine that path, finding a better way.

Don’t judge a run til its over

There is an old saying-“don’t judge a book by its cover”.  Some things aren’t very appealing on the surface but dig in and they tend to come out great.  Maybe it’s that our perception of the journey changes somewhere along the way, or that looking back our journey was worth the struggle.

I have had many runs where I just didn’t want to go. I was tired, lazy or did not feel 100% at the time, as I’m sure we all have.  Somehow, I usually find a way to fight through the grogginess and head out the door. It seems like after a few miles, I settle into my rhythm, my muscles get warmed up and joints loosened, then those feelings are gone.  When all goes right, I get to my target mileage and I don’t want to stop, despite the fact that I didn’t want to be there to start with.  Maybe knowing this will probably happen is what keeps me motivated when I have one of those days.

Then there are the days where I take off and feel like I could take on a 100 miler.  Everything is ticking along, the world is right and the stars are lined up for me…and then it happens.  That “IT” could be any number of things, a slight muscle twinge, a car that gets to close and throws off my mental focus, There are hundreds of things that could happen and cause my focus to rabbit trail off the main thing, my run.

The biggest example of this in my life was at a local marathon, I felt good to start, but I had not slept enough due to some sudden changes in my wife’s plans. Originally she was going to spend the night with a friend and they would do the early start together.  On my way to drop her off, the friend called to inform us that she had a family emergency and would have to back out of the race.  So, I was left with no other choice but to leave over 2 hours earlier than planned.

After watching the early start, I wanted to find a place to sleep, but I was awake and that was all there was to it. There would be no more rest before I tackled the 26.2 miles before me, just waiting. Slowly other runners started arriving and the pre-race excitement started to take over, any desire for sleep evaporated.

I started off with a few of my friends, but their numbers dwindled quickly as a few dropped back. This wasn’t a concern, as I usually ended up in front of them on our training runs.  Around mile 8, I started to feel a little more tired than usual, so I took a walk break.  Afterall, this race wasn’t about PR’s, I had only signed up because my training plan for an upcoming 50k called for a 26 mile run. Why not get a medal and a t-shirt from a training run?

By mile 10 or 11 the weariness was getting to be almost too much. I resigned myself to run/walk the remainder, my legs got heavier and heavier.  My only thoughts were to finish. I wasn’t thinking about my nutrition, which added to the problems. Without realizing it, I was sabotaging my own efforts.

Around mile 14, I heard some runners coming up on me pretty fast.  As they got closer to me they yelled. As it turned out, it was my running buddies that had dropped back. I was moving so slow they caught up to me.  They were running for 3 minutes and walking for 1 minute, so I decided to try and stay with them as long as possible.  This was my first good decision of the race. Soon we were encouraging each other. The three of us all hit low points, but the other two would pull the one through it.

At the 20 mile mark we caught up to my wife and one of our other running buddies. Both of them had been fighting injuries for a few weeks and had decided to walk/light jog the whole way. I was still hurting at this point, but I was managing it much better.

The last 5 miles or so of this particular marathon are somewhat arduous.  It is a loop through a very flat and open area. On the surface a flat stretch might sound appealing but, it gets monotonous.  Hills allow you to use different muscle groups, giving others a rest.  Mentally, your mind starts to drift and then it zones in on the pain.  Luckily, I had my friends there and we were able to help each other along.

As we came up to the last half mile, we had to cross a pedestrian bridge over a small river.  I was spent and the thought of running up this one last bit of torture on the course, turned my legs to lead.  As I dragged myself over, one of my friends turned around and asked if I had been keeping an eye on my watch. I had been trying to avoid looking for many miles now, knowing that it would only toy with my thoughts.  Not looking had seemed like the only successful fight of the day, so just let me have that one victory I thought to myself.

Crossing the finish line

She yelled to me “You’re going to PR!” WAIT, WHAT?!?! PR, when I felt this bad for this long? I looked and realized that yes I could PR! Suddenly, I had more energy that ever. The thought of a personal record revived me and I began to jog at first; then it became a run. By this point we had reached the crest of the bridge and my speed only increased. As we came down the bridge to the finish, somehow, I actually passed the friends who were feeling better than me.

As I neared the line, all I could see was the official clock ticking off the seconds. This pushed me even more.  With all I had, I crossed the line and took 6 minutes off my best time. Some may scoff at my overall time but, I had done this with less than 2 months since my previous PR and no break in training.

I had almost gave up on myself and my run that day. If I had listened to that voice in my head that kept telling me why I should just stop trying to go so hard, I would have never made it to the finish. The run wasn’t over, but in my head I had given up on it. Luckily, I had some people there to show me otherwise.

A good run does not become a good run in the first mile, and a bad run is just mental conditioning.

No whining on the trail

Attitude is everything in running.  It can affect your results as much, if not more so, than any other single factor.  A positive mental attitude will push you through the tough spots and a negative one will only throw constant curve balls and walls in your path. Your attitude, good or bad, will be multiplied, this can be counted on as much as death and taxes.

Col. Chris Hadfield, who was at one time the Commander of the International Space Station, wrote a book called “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”.  In it he made a point that has caused me to stop and rethink my reactions more than once. He said “In space flight, ‘attitude’ refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the Sun, Earth, and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen: the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorienting everyone on board and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time or fuel, could mean the difference between life and death.” (Sidenote on Col. Hadfield, he is probably most famous for his cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”)

The first time I read this, I had to stop and re-read it because it hit so close to home. What direction are you facing in reference to your obstacle? Is it a positive orientation or a negative one?  A negative orientation will cause you to lose sight of your goals and spin out of control, so to speak. When focused on the negative of the situation we often forget the path we are on and the reasons that we are on it.

Something that I have heard at races occasionally is people whining; either about the weather, the course or some hill or even an obstacle. I’m not talking about the joking that occurs, you know the kind, when you roll your eyes because there is yet another hill suddenly in front of you.  No, what I am referring to is the spoiled brat, obnoxious whining. If you signed up for a race then trained for it, you should be aware that anything is possible, whining won’t change the problem.  The only thing you can change is your mental orientation to the problem.

Verbalizing a negative attitude will do one of two things, it could spread to others around you, causing them to become disoriented and lose sight of their path and goal; or they could recognize what is happening and do everything they can to avoid you. Either way, you become like a person with the flu, the only people who are willing to be around you are the ones who share in your misery.

While we spend many hours training our legs, our cores and our feet, something else happens to most of us, our minds get trained as well.  We start to look at obstacles differently, sometimes without even realizing it.  We almost get desensitized to them. Yes, there will be those mental ups and downs; emotional highs and lows.  The trick is to learn to deal with them.

Bandera 50k January 9, 2016

A positive attitude is what helps us break through “the wall”, that point where almost every cell in your body says stop.  You suddenly become so drained mentally, physically and emotionally, but somewhere in there are a few ounces of positiveness that keeps you going.  If you’ve trained and planned, stopping now will only hurt worse tomorrow.  So you keep moving, knowing that that little bit of positive, that little peek of hope, will multiply.

Thoughts tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies, you can’t afford to let them overtake your effort. Embrace a bad situation as a learning experience and push through it with a positive viewpoint. You are out there by choice and should be happy to have reached this point. Any complaining should be limited to the real problems, serious injuries, thing like that.  Complaining about having to cross a creek doesn’t move the creek, it just makes it more miserable.


When I started running, I heard a term, Ultra-runner.  It fascinated me.  Someone who runs races longer than marathon distance.  At the time I could not run a full mile without a break so, who were these super-creatures going to 26.3 and beyond?

My goal had always been to see if I had one marathon in me – just one. (I’m sure there are several people laughing,  Distance running is as addictive as heroin, but I’ll save that for another post.) As I got closer to the goal of 26.2, I began to question myself-do I have what it takes to be an ultra-runner?

In my quest for an answer, I started surrounding myself with those who had the same questions about themselves and those who had answered it.  I noticed something odd, there wasn’t the competitiveness you would expect, even among some of the elite runners. But why not?  In some races the top finisher were there cheering the last ones in.

I think it has to do with shared misery and goals.  There is a camaraderie among trail and ultra runners.  We all have the same or similar goals, so why not help each other achieve them and in the process have a much more fulfilling day?  I’ve seen it time and again, one runner has some sort of trouble and another helps them.

The realization hit me, running beyond 26.2 is only the first qualification of being an ultra-runner. The other is a desire to help others go beyond.  This desire must be proven over and over, not just once.  It must be a part of you character, deep down in the core of your being.

This attitude must extend beyond the trail and into our daily lives. I think this is why the sport seems to have so many good hearted people, not that it attracts them but, it makes them.  It changes people into what they need to be in order to survive on the trails and in life.

Having finished my first 50k, I still find myself wondering, do I have what it takes to be an ultra-runner?  Have I shown the heart that it takes?

The Bardo

A lot of fellow runners started later in life.  Their reasons many, but most would probably relate it back to health somehow.  Yet once they start, the realization hits them at some point, usually after a big race, that they haven’t been truly alive.  Until they started pushing their physical and mental boundaries they had not lived, they only existed.

Simply existing is a slow, cruel death.  One can never see their full potential by existing.  Hopefully by now you have come to the realization that to live fully, you must challenge yourself constantly.

I’ve seen this happen so many times.  Running, along with most fitness activities, creates a sense of self-confidence and greater self worth.   The greater confidence will allow you to try things you previously would not have dreamed of.

The decision to commit to an activity is life changing if you allow it to be that and almost indescribable.  It is what I call the Bardo of running.

Bardo is the Tibetan word for intermediate state.  Tibetan Buddhist believe that this is the state between death and rebirth.  Not that I am a Buddhist, but the concept of a stage between death and life seemed like an interesting analogy to running.

This blog will be about my journey through my personal Bardo and quest to become a better person through it.