Author Archives: Matt Ruscigno

About Matt Ruscigno

I'm a vegan Registered Dietitian, endurance athlete and activist living car-free in California. I think fun, adventure, ethics and radical politics go hand in hand.

Some updates and my favorite stuff from the web this week

I was at a bike race. Racers rode fast, I ate a veggie dog.

I spend a lot of time reading articles on the internet and some time in the future I’ll have an email list set up so that I can share my favorite articles and information. For now, here’s a post with what I’ve been reading this week.

Calculating Optimal Advocacy for All Animals on Vegan Outreach’s blog. I love Vegan Outreach; their philosophy has impacted my own work and activism.

How the Health Argument Fails Veganism by vegan RD extraordinaire Ginny Messina is a great accompaniment to the above. Also, like VO, her ideas have influenced my work.

Inside The Fridge is a fun project by fellow RD Robin Plotkin who was nice enough to feature my fridge and do an interview with me.

Shark Accidents, Car Attacks? looks at the terminology we use to describe incidences and how that affects our perception. Even though drowning kills more people than sharks do, when a shark bites someone there are always accompanying calls to end their protected status. Meanwhile automobile drivers run down pedestrians and cyclists with impunity and we call these ‘accidents.’

Whites Believe They Are Victims of Racism More Often Than Blacks is about research from Tufts and Harvard that most white people hold the preposterous idea that they suffer from racism more than blacks. It’s a sad reality that most are blinded by their unquestioned sense of privilege and they have absolutely no idea of the difference in realities between whites and people of color. It shows how far we have to go. Huge disparities in health is one place to look, like this chart from the New York Times on infant mortality rates.

And a quick plug for my twitter and facebook pages that both have regular updates with articles like these. And our Day in the Life page has a new episode and has undergone some reorganization. Thanks for reading!

 

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Filed under political, read, vegan

Day in the Life 8; Olympic Modern Pentathlon with Raw-foodist Justin Torrellas

modern pentathlon fencing

Fencing is just one of five disciplines in modern pentathlon. I am not very good at it, as you see in the video!

Our Day in the Life series has given us some great experiences with exceptional vegan athletes.  But I have to say, none have been as unique as spending a weekend with raw vegan modern pentathlete Justin Torellas.  Five seemingly unrelated disciplines combined to make the only sport created specifically for the Olympics! I’m somewhat familiar with raw veganism but Justin’s diet surprised even me!  This is someone who casually said, “I want to go to the Olympics” and only then discovered modern pentathlon.  A raw vegan attempting to qualify for the Olympics in an obscure sport he’s never done? Not as crazy as you’d think.  Watch and be amazed! We were.

Justin: You make competing at an elite level seem like a walk in the park with your casual 5 minute mile running pace! And your honesty about your personal struggle with riding horses is very admirable.  Unfortunately Justin didn’t qualify for the 2012 London Olympic Modern Pentathlon but his attempt is nothing short of courageous.  And he did give us his salad recipe.  I’ve included the nutrition analysis in case, like most people, you think iceberg lettuce is mostly water and doesn’t have any nutrients!

Justin’s Giant Salad

2 heads iceberg lettuce
1 pound cherry tomatoes
8 ounces bean sprouts
1 T tahini
Juice from 2 lemons

Directions: Chop lettuce, juice lemons, mix (don’t you love raw recipes?). And look at this nutrition profile. More than half of your day’s iron in only 455 calories! And 24% of the calories in this salad are from protein.

calories 445
dietary fiber 29g
protein 27g
fat 11g
vitamin A- 227%
vitamin C- 215%
calcium 41%
iron 55%
folate 164%
vitamin K 592%

You are probably wondering how Justin gets enough calories if he is eating this salad for dinner.  He does it by eating often throughout the day.  He was sipping (or gulping if it was post-workout!) a banana smoothie or munching on fruit constantly. Like he says, he loves to eat. If you are a raw vegan and training several hours a day you need to eat often.  I recommend more variety in one’s diet, but he has been vegan a very long time and seems to have found a diet that works for him. Thanks for sharing your day with us Justin!

Justin and family. Don’t let this photo fool you, it’s not often any of them are sitting still!

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Filed under Day in the Life, race, recipe, run, travel, vegan

I love a good breakfast!

I hate to admit this, but finding a decent vegan breakfast at a restaurant can be difficult. Not everyone has a vegetarian co-op near them that serves biscuits and gravy in the morning. Often if you can get something it’s uninspired tofu scramble.  Breakfast is also the meal with the widest gap between vegetarian and vegan options. I was reminded of this when I bike toured the Great Divide mountain bike route in 2006 with my friend Steevo, a committed vegetarian. About 1 in 3 mornings we’d be able to eat out at a tiny dinner in a tiny town in Montana or Wyoming. I’d watch him devour pancakes, eggs with cheese, toast with butter…while I ate potatoes and ketchup.  Fortunately, vegan breakfasts are improving and there’s no better place to experience this than the Pacific Northwest.

The Naam, a 24-hour vegetarian restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia that has been around for 30 years! And here’s everything you’d want for breakfast on one plate.

 

 

St Dames in Seattle, Washington. Another tasty, vegetable-y scramble with their homemade soyrizo. And a flaky, delicious biscuit.

 

Wayward Vegan Cafe, Seattle, Washington. Now we are getting fancy. Biscuits and gravy with diced, sautéed veggies AND a side of perfectly cooked kale. Lightly seasoned veggies are the best compliment to biscuits and gravy.  Marissa has a Monte Cristo- basically a ham/turkey/cheese sandwich with french toast as bread. It came with a side of hashbrowns, which is my preferred breakfast potato.  I wish this photo was better!

 

Jam on Hawthorne, Portland, Oregon. Jam isn’t my first choice for breakfast in Portland, but this is a terrific meal. Even though their scramble is just okay, serving it on a bed of hashbrowns with a side of red pepper sauce makes up for it. And blueberry chai pancakes!

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Filed under travel, vegan

24 Hours of the Enchanted Forest

Twenty-four hour mountain bike race on a whim? Why not? I’ve been riding a lot with my good friend Mark (who inspired my Risk is Real, Use It post, which you should read if you haven’t yet) and we’ve been talking about how 24-hour mountain bike races could help his Baja endurance motorcycle racing. We missed the Laguna Seca 24hr and just when I was thinking that there’s a serious lack of endurance mountain bike races within a day’s drive of Southern CA, I found the 24 Hours of the Enchanted Forest near Gallup, New Mexico. What’s a few extra hours in the car to hit some new trails?

First lap! Luckily the rest of the course was not this dusty.

 

These races are like a party in a campground with a bunch of riding happening. The 16-mile course, with the exception of the dirt road through staging, was fun single track. Sixteen miles of single track! Very few steep sections which made it the most single speed friendly course I have ever ridden. Didn’t have to walk a single section, even in the middle of the night and elevation above 8000 feet!

Spontaneity has it’s drawbacks, and one was that Mark had to work till 8pm Friday night. Yeah. Our friend Paul, a recent Super Randonneur, jumped in for the adventure and I invited my friend Timoni so we could drop her off in Sedona to see her partner (and get an extra driver!). If you are doing the math and with the time change, this puts us at the race at 8am- four hours before the start. Needless to say my total sleep time in the 36 hours before the race was 2 hours in the minivan. Adventure, right?

This was one of the largest fields I’ve ever raced- over 20 solo single speed and more than 70 total solo racers! I hadn’t raced a 24 hour in almost two years and I hadn’t trained for this, but that didn’t stop me from going out fast on the first lap. So dumb! Ha. The backside of the course had a 20 MPH section with berms and little jumps- I couldn’t help but go fast! A few laps later, and keep in mind that 3 laps is 48 miles of single track mountain biking, which tires out much more than your legs, and I see Mark at our camp spot. Oh no, the elevation and dryness has totally messed up his breathing! When I come around again they tell me my place and suddenly it turns into a race. “Here are your bottles and a bar, get out of here!” I try to reason that it’s too early to talk about placing but they don’t want to hear it and next thing I know I’m out for another lap.

These races are ‘slow’ enough that you can chat with others- which I did to no end.  A woman on a 4-female team and I chatted for a good half a lap. She told me how great I was doing and I told her that any idiot can ride fast for 6 hours- the next 18 are what matters. And when I hear myself say, ‘the next 18′ I get a little nervous. What am I doing?

 

My view for many hours through the night..

 

Night comes. I’m still enjoying the course and am loving the cooler temperatures.  Fewer riders are out there and suddenly everyone asks about lap number and place. Turns out I’m back and forth for second place in single speed with a 24-hour rookie named Brian. Uh oh.  First place was a lap up but Brian and I rode together for a little. He kept talking about how he needed to sleep. Those laps between midnight and 5am are an experience I cannot begin to describe. Everything is slow. And quiet. The forest consumes you. Your brain plays tricks on you. Am I lost? Am I riding in circles? Where is everyone? It didn’t help that the race organizers put skeletons and other enchanted beings along the course!

My new endurance cycling quote, ‘The first 40% is legs, the second 40% is mind. The last 20% is heart.”

Paul had cooked me up some veggie broth just before midnight and then headed to sleep- he needed to be alert enough to drive back right after the race.  I roll through around 130am and the party has dissipated. I pound a yerba mate, eat a little, put on warmer clothes and head into the darkness. Two laps till daylight I tell myself.  My legs have given their all for 40% and now my mind is suppose to take over, but it doesn’t want to.

At 3am the only person awake at the entire start/finish is the person who recorded my number. Dead quiet. I make the mistake of sitting down to eat. I feel sick and get super cold. Oh no! I wrap myself in my sleeping bag ‘just to warm up.’ Ugh. I sleep on the ground for about an hour and a half.  At the first signs of daylight I groggily head out for another lap. My eyes are closing while I ride. I’m spaced out. I wonder what my equivalent Blood Alcohol Level would be. I focus on the beauty of the forest at dawn. What a privilege to be here! A team rider blasts past me and I imagine how pathetic I probably look barely moving forward.

Post-race delirium. No, I’m fine, this empty water jug is a great pillow.

 

At camp the smell of coffee is strong. People say good morning and congratulate me on riding still. I’m filthy and wearing the same kit I started with. Paul had made some hot food and coffee, but him and Mark don’t let me relax. My sleep put me back at 4th place. “Let’s go, I’m riding this lap with you.” Mark and I head out and I’m pretty stoked. Him and I first rode BMX bikes together almost 20 years ago! Then Brian rolls up to me. He’s full of energy. Wtf? For a moment we think we’re on the same lap. Are we tied in 2nd place with 3 hours left? Do we really have to duel it out? I’m not sure I want to say ‘fortunately’ or ‘unfortunately’ but he’s a lap up. No need to race. He rode all night.

Mark and I bomb the fast section. It’s dangerous, but oh so fun. I keep looking over my shoulder for that dreaded 1-99 number of a solo single speed racer. That last climb is like a mountain. Elevation still bothering me. And just to state the obvious, my ass hurts like you wouldn’t believe. Finally the start/finish tent is in sight. Lisa, the super human race director, shows me the stats. I’m in third securely. Unless fourth place finishes goes out for an hour an a half last lap I’m good. I’m thankful.  But I don’t change out of my kit just yet- if we see him go by and attempt a last lap I have to give chase to hold onto that coveted podium place. Funny the way that works.

The first meal you eat after these races is always the best meal you have ever eaten.

 

I don’t have to go out for another lap! I eat hot food and I lay in the dirt. Relaxation! Getting changed is the hardest thing I can imagine. I almost fell asleep part way through changing. Ha! We roll down to the tent, they count down to noon and the awards start immediately. They say their thank you’s and announce prizes for traveling the farthest to the race and Mark and I got 2nd place! Free giant container of electrolyte drink- what a super awesome thing to do. Thank you! Then podium stuff, then we pack up to head back to California.

 

Can you point out the awkward straight edge guy holding a beer mug? See full results.

 

On the way we stop at Macy’s European Cafe in Flagstaff for some vegan yuminess and I coordinate via text and the internet to realize that Cara Gillis’ Race Across America 2-person team (check out her vegan challenge!) is on the canyon road between Sedona, where we have to go, and Flagstaff. Yay! Driving down we cheer on all of the teams we see.

 

Swarm! riders on the epic Race Across America crew for Cara Gillis’ 2-person team. Their adventure was just starting- over 2500 miles still to go from here.

 

It was early Monday morning before I saw my own bed again. What an adventure! Thank you everyone at the 24 Hours of the Enchanted Forest for putting on a spectacular event. Next year they host the 24-hour National Championships and I’m sure it’ll be great. Not sure, I’ll be there, but maybe?

 

Lastly, here’s an unbelievable skate video. This is how I feel when I mountain bike on fun trails. Have a great weekend! Stay stoked!

 

 

 

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Filed under bike, off-road, race, travel

The Dirty Double: San Diego County Double Century with 35 Miles of Dirt

The sun morning creeps up over the mountains.

I was tossing and turning in bed- I hadn’t been sleeping well recently. I had that familiar feeling where you know you’re alarm is going off soon- and you want nothing more than to return to deep sleep. It didn’t come and I looked at my phone- 315am. Early, but only 30 minutes earlier than my alarm was set for. I got out of bed and faced the reality of my day: The Dirty Double Century. I said hi to my housemate who was just getting in (good morning? good night?), loaded up my borrowed car (thanks Paul!), popped open a yerba mate and set off for Alpine, CA.

The Montana part of California? Early on before the first dirt climb up Viejas Grade.

I love 200-mile events; I’ve ridden over 20 of them: see my double category. We’re spoiled here in California with the California Triple Crown, 22 doubles a year and counting. You get to be on your bike all day, see obscure places you wouldn’t otherwise see, and they can vary from 11-hour ‘races’ to 18-hour long hauls (see below!). I haven’t ridden many in the last few years, but I could not pass up a new double with 35 miles of dirt. Yes, 35 miles on dirt!

Adam, the last I’d see of him as he went on to be the first finisher. He’s an MD and we had some good chats about nutrition and health.

My fitness is in a strange place. I have the Idyllwild race behind me and the running miles from the Zion 100, but I’m definitely not as fit as I usually am this time of year. But I knew this going in and was out there to have some fun. Read: I let everyone go on the first climb. There were only four of us and one guy started late.  Plus the first climb of the day always sucks! I settled in and rode smartly.  I’m confident on the dirt and even with my 39-28 low gear I was comfortable- for now.

I rode with John M. Clare on and off throughout the ride. He’s the son of John T. Clare, who had ridden 152 double centuries (!!) before passing away earlier this year. John M. Clare has ridden over 50 doubles himself and this year will race the Furnace Creek 508 with the former teammates of his father. More on them and their exceptional family here.

Somewhere on the second climb I started to have some concerns. How many more miles? Oh no, it’s too early to start thinking about this. Dirt slows you down, which makes it mentally hard. I’ve only gone how far? My average speed was about 12 miles per hour. I settled down and focused on why I like these rides so much- their meditative nature. Being out in the world, emptying your mind and intensely feeling the most basic desires- hunger, thirst, compassion, pain. It’s a beautiful experience.

“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.” -Buddha

Those hill tops sticking out of the clouds look like islands!

Early dirt. Top of Viejas.

Double centuries teach you patience. I started riding them in late 2004 and any events I’ve done since- from 24 hour mountain bike races to iron-distance triathlons- are easier because of what I have learned on these rides.  Each double is different and has its own unique features from insane amounts of climbing to having over 500 people- pacelines all day long! The Dirty Double is special because of the dirt climbs and I think this kept a number of people away. My word to those who skipped this great double- riding on dirt is a skill that can be learned like riding at night, riding in the rain or making the jump from 100 to 200 miles. If you’ve mastered those skills then this is the perfect ride to challenge yourself!

This is what most of the early dirt climbing looked like. So nice to be out in the wilderness on a road ride!

Use horn at one lane curves. This is just before the only major dirt descent.

Boulder Creek, just before the descent. You can see the dirt road off to the right.

At the top of the third dirt climb, mile 77, the aid station was run by the race organizer, Rob. Here the ultra-century riders riders turn right and head back toward Alpine while we did the 56-mile Palomar loop.  As someone who organizes events I could see his concern. How was I doing? Okay? He was very helpful in getting me fueled and on my way. He had a better idea of what I was in for on Palomar than I did. I thanked him and headed off toward Nate Harrison Grade.  I tagged along with some random roadies for awhile and here we had the first fast descent of the day!

At the turnoff for Nate Harrison Grade we hit another aid station. And by aid station I mean the trunk of a volunteer’s car.  He loaded me up with ice cold drinks, snacks and sent me on my way. I was over 100 miles in at the hottest time of the day and I was about to start a 4000 ft western-facing climb with 7 miles of dirt. Deep breath. I won’t lie. This was super hard. I was grinding in my lowest gear trying to keep my rear tire from washing out. It was technical enough that I had to pick my lines well to dodge big rocks and ruts. Standing was near impossible and there was no shade. I passed John on a particularly steep section where he was walking.  What am I doing out here? Delirium sets in.

Climbing up to Palomar on dirt after having ridden 100 miles was something else. At least what I can remember of it…
Here one of the volunteers climbed up with us after closing the aid station.

Chatting with the volunteer helped some of the time: I could be distracted by chatting about triathlon splits and mountain bike championship qualifications. But in some ways it was harder: I wanted to suffer alone in silence.  Near the ‘top’ he turned back to check on John and descend back to his car. I contemplated my situation. It’s a balance of letting yourself suffer enough so you are present in reality and maintaining enough coherence to keep moving forward. I’d pass shaded spots and want nothing more than to curl up in a ball on the ground. But I pushed on. The dirt turned to broken pavement which then turned into an actual road.

I love pine trees! Really, this wasn’t just an excuse to take a break.

View from Palomar. The Southern California most people never see…

At the top I fumbled my way into the store. I had been out of water for about an hour. I replenished with snacks and cold drinks. Later I’d find out the restaurant next to the store has a number of vegan options? Ha. Next time?

The descent was bumpier than I’d like so I wasn’t able to really kill it.  Eventually made my way back to Rob, 56 miles later, at mile 133.  With the dirt sections behind me I got my tires back up to 110 psi from 95 and started getting ready for nighttime and colder temperatures. Riding at dusk- one of the most exciting things ever. My stoke is returning at an indirect relation to the dropping temperature.

Lake Henshaw again. Familiarity does wonders for a fatigued brain.

From here we winded up and around Julian before descending the 79 and passing Sunrise Highway- where I was for the Mt Laguna Bicycle Classic and where I’d be the following weekend to crew the San Diego 100. It took to about here for my brain to return to normal. When I’d see Rob again (he closed the other aid stations and did leapfrog support for John and I) he’d tell me that I wasn’t looking good at mile 133 and that he had been concerned, but was I was looking better now. Phew.

Vista Point sign for the moon. Nighttime already?

The descent continued and I passed the 8 freeway and rode along Japatul Road- which I had ridden only once before, also at night, when I rode out to the Boulevard Road Race (I don’t think I ever wrote about how I rode out there the night before and then got second to last in Cat 5! Ha.). More descending and then the long way back to Alpine. No straight shots and more climbing! It’s now almost 11pm. The cut-off was suppose to be 10pm, but Rob extended it so we’d finish. I’d end up crossing the line at 1115pm- 18 hours after I started. Longest double century ever.  Rob and other volunteers were there, as was Chris Kostman, who had ridden the 144-mile option and also took a bunch of photos- start here. I hung out for a little bit and made my way back to the city where some mushroom sauce pasta (thanks Lis and Marissa!) and a warm shower awaited. Twenty-two hours after waking up I was getting back in bed.

Thank you Rob for the wonderful experience. You asked if you should make it easier- no way. It’s fun, challenging, beautiful; a great day on the bike. I hope to see it on the California Triple Crown schedule next year. There’s no reason for it not to be!

My bike
I rode my only road bike, a steel Seven.
My low gear is a 39-28. I pushed it through, but a lower gear would be more comfortable.
I put 700×25 Continental Ultra Gatorskins on and they were great.
I ran my Ksyrium SL’s, which probably wasn’t a good idea as I had just broken a spoke and got it replaced. No problems though.

Skills for riding in the dirt
The hardest thing about riding in the dirt is changing speeds- both slowing and accelerating. People say, ‘this is easy’ before they have to do either. Practice this.
Choosing lines. Can you read the terrain ahead of you and adjust in time? Crucial skill. It becomes second nature once you practice it.
Know when to slow down.
Shift your weight- balance between wheels, pedals and bars. Roadies tend to have trouble with this and bash things with their front or rear wheel.
Race cyclocross this fall/winter!
Check the Dirty Double site for additional tips. They even offer dirt riding clinics.

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Filed under double, off-road

What Do Vegans Eat at 24 Hour Mountain Bike Races?

Getting ready to race the 24 Hours of the Enchanted Forest solo this weekend and my food haul so far!

20120614-180509.jpg

Blue chips
Roasted salted green peas
Salsa
Tortillas
Peanut butter
Potatoes
Corn chips w flaxseeds
European hot cereal aka oats w dates, raisins
Dates
Sharkies (they were on sale!)
Chocolate covered pretzels
Cameo apples
Hot chocolate
Yerba mate
Bananas
Fig bars
Peanut butter zagnuts
Lara bars
Ritz crackers (so good!)
Tangelos
Pineapple coconut juice
Pink lady apples
Lemons
Graham crackers

Not pictured:
Sustained Energy
Electrolyte drink
Ramen noodles
Hummus
Pretzels
Soy milk
Fruit spread
(someone remind to get this stuff tomorrow, okay?)

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Filed under off-road, race, vegan

Day in the Life 7; Cross Country Skiing with Runner Megan Hebbe

Our Day in the Life series continues with another Boulder-based athlete, Megan Hebbe. Megan takes us cross-country skiing, where I proceed to make a fool of myself! Megan does mega mileage and takes her training very seriously, but still manages to have fun with it. She even put up with me crashing all over the mountain. See for yourself in this fun episode:

 

Megan’s Tips for High Mileage Running

Wear the right shoes! Very important because you are spending A LOT of time on your feet! Work in recovery weeks.  The “graph” should look like a mountain range, not just a straight linear progression.  Increase for 2-3 weeks then take a recovery week. Focus on either increasing mileage OR increasing speed, not both at the same time. Ideally, the off-season is spent building up base and then you start adding speed work.

Make time. I am a morning person, so I like waking up at 5am or even 4am to get my run in.  Second runs of the day can be done during lunch or after work.  Thirty minutes is a great length for recovery, just enough to get circulation going, but not a significant time drain.  Mentally it’s nice to do a chilled out pace. “Oh, 75-year-old dude is passing me? Whatevs, I’m on mile 12 of the day!”

Sleep and recover. I have my protein drink right after every run and because I get up early I go to bed early. If my body wants a nap, I work it in. Listening to one’s body is crucial. Rest is the most overlooked, crucial aspects of training. Epsom salt baths and ice baths are also great for recovery.

Speed work. Only really necessary immediately before and during race season. Once race season really gets into swing, most races are your speed work!

Self massage. Tennis ball, plantar fascia ball, softball, foam roller and massage stick all work wonders.

The major thing is loving it enough to be really dedicated! Like many coaches say, social life, career/school and training are a triad. One can either be okay at all three or do really well at two. The third thing suffers, which is often social life. You have to be okay with that.

 

Megan’s Gluten-Free Lavender Cookies

These gluten-free cookies are a fun way to get those extra calories for those extra miles.

1.5 cups rice flour
0.5 cup coconut oil or margarine
0.5 cups sweetener like coconut palm or other minimally processed sugars
1 tablespoon lavender flowers
Replace one egg with commercial egg replacer, ground flax seeds or chia gel
Optional: 1 tablespoon lavender flowers for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.
Cream together the margarine and sweetener. Blend egg replacer into the mixture. Stir in the lavender flowers and the rice flour. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls  on to cookie sheet.
Bake till golden, about 15 minutes. Remove cookies and decorate with additional lavender flowers, if desired.
Consume happily!

Thanks to Megan for getting me on skis for the first time in my life! Lastly, if you want to know more about iron for vegetarians, check out this post I wrote for No Meat Athlete.  Thanks for watching and let me know how these cookies turn out!

 

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Filed under Day in the Life, off-road, recipe, run, vegan

Roasted baby artichokes with garlic/breading and knishes

There’s nothing like dinner with mom.

 

Followed by vegan cannoli from my good friend Danielle’s bakery, Vegan Treats.

 

Quite a lot has changed since I was vegan teenager. Always nice to slow down and reflect.

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Filed under eat, vegan

Zion 100- Running 100 miles takes more than cycling legs and heart!

A runner at the top of Smith Mesa, 4 miles into the race, just after sunrise.

I hate quitting anything.  But there I was at mile 63 of the Zion 100, about a quarter-mile past Aid Station #7, alone on a dirt road walking hobbling, in circles. It was just after 1am, over 19 hours into the race. I knew Donovan was ‘only’ 7 miles away at Aid #8, waiting patiently to pace me the last 30 miles. My fuzzy brain calculated some fuzzy math that said it’d take me 2.5 hours to walk that short distance. The crazy thing is that I considered it. I had wanted to quit at the 51.5 mile aid station but when I walked up to the volunteers I just couldn’t get the words out (I asked for peanut butter on a tortilla instead). In my stubborn brain it was easier to carry on than to say the words ‘I quit’ aloud.  Now I was paying for that decision, 4 hours and only 11.5 miles across Gooseberry Mesa from there.

When a volunteer’s truck rolled up to me I was facing back toward the aid station. He asked if I was alright and I heard myself say, ‘I am done.’ His eagerness to help me out made me realize I probably looked pretty sad standing there alone in the middle of the night, facing the wrong direction. Once in the truck we started passing other runners and I hung my head low- I didn’t want to be recognized by anyone I had run with earlier. Partly because of my pride, but also because I didn’t want them to be discouraged by seeing a fellow runner fail. Every endurance athlete talks about not letting their crew down- it’s a significant motivating factor- so when I saw Donovan I felt a pang of sadness and my first vocalization was to apologize. But, like any good crew member, he knew what I had gone through and that if I had quit I must have been in pretty bad shape.  And I was.

Running 100 miles has been on my mind for over 5 years now- since the first time I helped at the Badwater Ultramarathon. I ran some 50k’s last year, then a 50-miler I was signed up for got canceled. Then I hurt my groin- which it turns out was from yoga and not running- and I basically stopped running. Getting to those longer distances always seemed just out of reach. Then February of this year I ran the La Jolla 50k in Malibu and felt really good- except for my foot. Did I not train enough? Post-race runs still bothered it. I was already signed up for the Zion 100- maybe I could switch to the 50-miler? But I did what every over-committed, busy person with too much on their plate does- nothing. Oops. Thirty-five miles a week had been my goal- I never even got close. My test run was 22 miles one night and then 13 five hours later two weeks before the race. And I decided to go for it! Like Shawn, who I ended up running the first 35 miles with, said, ‘Might as well start the 100-miler and see how far you can really go.’ Yeah, I like that.

I don’t find dogs, dogs find me! This little guy had some serious energy for it only being race check-in.

The Zion 100 is a brand-new race and the course is much harder than the 7850 feet of elevation would have you believe. Sixty-five percent is on single-track trails, much of it technical, and only 5 miles are paved. The rest is dirt roads and double track. Giant slick rock is everywhere- in many sections spray-painted circles on rocks marked the course. Sandy sections contrasted the rocks- both equally hard to get a groove on.

Technical rope section near mile 19.

This part of the descent required a rope. From here the trail stayed very technical as it ran in and out of the rocky creek bed.

My trip started on Wednesday when I rode 36 miles to a train to meet up with Donovan and Megan who was catching a ride with us to Las Vegas- where we’d spend the night before getting  Ronald’s vegan donuts, which is pretty much a mandatory stop.  Thursday was race check-in since the race started on Friday morning- something new to me. Is this an ultra-runner thing? The race organizer was thoughtful enough to post free camping spots on the site and Donovan and I took advantage of one just 5 miles up the road from the start.

Kolob Terrace Rd, the only significant paved section, very close to where we had camped the night before. Photo by Donovan.

When I stood there at the start and looked around I immediately felt out of place. Am I really here? Trying to make it back to this spot 100 miles and at least 24 hours later? Yes, I am! When the trumpet sounded I raced off at a blistering 12-minute mile pace.  I had met Shawn at check-in and he found me before the first climb and we’d end up running the first 35 miles together talking about everything from his experience at the Copper Canyon 50-miler (RIP Micah True) to our favorite places to eat.

Shawn and I weigh-in at the Mile 35 aid station.

Donovan met me at mile 35 where I arrived in just over 8 hours- right where I wanted to be. It was warming up, but I felt good. I had been keeping a slow but steady pace. Shawn and I ran everything but the hills. Him and I got split up here, but it wouldn’t be the last I saw him. The next 10 miles were hot and exposed trails that transversed the desert in the mid-day heat. But I felt good! I ran nearly all of it and was passing people regularly. Too fast? At the mile 42 aid station a lot of people were sitting down in the shade- no way could I do that. I had only sat down once and that was to get the dirt out of my shoes.

Single track through the desert! Not bad at all.

And here’s where my story takes a turn for the worse. My elevation increased, 1500 feet in one mile to be exact, but my mental and physical state headed in the opposite direction. I was hydrated. I had eaten. My motivation was high. But something happened on that climb. It was one of the steepest trails I had ever been on. There were points where I could reach out and touch the trail in front of me. I got to the top and a water-only aid station and I laid down on the ground. I was out of it. No!

Gooseberry Mesa viewpoint. The climb that wiped me out did award me this view.

I drank some unexpected, delicious electrolyte slushy and I got up and pushed on. The trail was mostly on slick rock- I ached for my mountain bike. I was becoming more aware of my feet- hot spots were now turning to blisters. I was getting annoyed by little, unchangeable things, a sure sign of mental and physical fatigue. Why is this ribbon here? It should be over there!! I recognize this and take some deep breaths. Shoot some more photos and be thankful to be where I am right now. It helps everything but my feet.

Mini canyon-like sections on the North Rim Trail. Probably more fun to ride than run!

If you look closely you can see the 1000 foot drop just off of the trail!

And not long after this the slight pain in one of my toes becomes a sharp pain and I’m forced to limp. Wtf? I sit down and take off my shoe and sock and what I see turns my stomach. Two of my toes are totally black, which isn’t new, but they are both surrounded by huge blisters. One of which is behind my toe, closer to the top of my foot.  One runner stops, takes a look and makes a face like I had just dropped a piece of pizza on the ground cheese-side down. He runs on. I contemplate my options. Two more runners stop and one is an MD! He tells me what I already know- the toenail has to come off. They count down and I start to pull. They both moan, I pull harder- it doesn’t want to come off. The last vestige of healthy skin holds on. It finally snaps off in my hand and I get light-headed. The doctor’s friend teases him for being grossed out- I thought you were a doctor?  [photo at bottom of post!]

Gooseberry Point from the aid station. We did an out-and-back to the viewpoint- you can see runners out there in the photo.

I still managed to run a few of the miles into Aid Station #6 at mile 51.5. I had told myself I was quitting here. But then I went out to the viewpoint and realized I didn’t have it in me to tell them I was done just yet. I had carried my headlamp since mile 35, I might as well use it, right?

On Gooseberry Point. Thanks to the guy from Vegas’ pacer for the photo!

It’s now getting dark and I’m headed out for one of the most technical, confusing sections of the course. I put some motivating music on my headphones and work toward my second wind. I pace with a few other runners and their pacers, we get lost, we find the trail, go up and over so many big rocks I think we’re going in circles….and then I fall off of their pace. I eat and it doesn’t help. I get passed. The pain medicine has done very little for my feet that are aching like I’ve never felt before. My arches, achilles, toes, tendons, everything hurts. And now my knee does. Shoot. A few more lonely, slow, agonizing miles and this is where my story picks up where I began just past Aid Station #7.

A fire at Aid Station #8 warms runners and pacers.

I don’t regret my decision to quit. And yes, I do feel very accomplished for doubling the farthest I’ve ever gone. What is hard to accept is that I never reached physical exhaustion- my feet and knees quit first. It’s a frustratingly simple thing to overcome- just get more running miles in! I’m mad at myself for not respecting the distance and only getting a dozen or so runs done in the months leading up to the race. What did I think would happen? Sometimes stubborn people like me need to be standing alone on a dirt road in the middle of the night in order to learn these lessons. I guess if I was the type of person to figure this out ahead of time I wouldn’t be putting myself in these situations.  At least I know this about myself?

See the results here (pdf!). When a Badwater winner takes 26 hours you know it’s a hard course!

We hitched a ride back to Virgin and it was about 4am when we went to sleep in the park just 100 feet from the start/finish line. After a few hours sleep we decided to head back toward California, but not without stopping at The Bean Scene in St George for breakfast burritos and coffee.

A few questions I’ve gotten:

What did you carry?
I carried my phone, headphones and a few gels in my shorts pockets and sunglasses for the day and a headlamp for night. My only water was one 24-ounce handheld which was plenty for all but one section where I ran out early in the day.

What did you eat?
Mostly bananas, peanut butter on tortillas and potatoes. Gels for between aid stations.

Did you use drop bags?
Nope.

Pacers?
Donovan was going to pace me for the last 30 miles.

How much did you actually run?
Most of the first 45 miles- except the really technical sections or steep hills. Less from 45-63.

I cannot even imagine this. What’s it like?
Imagine a long hike with aid stations where you run the flats and downhills! And remember it’s for fun. That helps. It wasn’t that long ago I couldn’t imagine running double digits! You’re looking at someone who brought two clif bars and two gels on a 10k cause I was worried I’d get hungry!

Why?
Not sure. Scott Jurek has a good explanation.

Did this make you more or less stoked on running? Will you try the 100-mile distance again?
More stoked! I can’t wait to start running again and I’m already signed up for the Oil Creek 100 in October. Plenty of time to train and run some 50-milers or 100k’s, right?

 

Sorry it’s out of focus!

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What are you capable of right now?

What can you do today to work toward your life goals? Do you have life goals?

I struggle with these questions every day every hour of my life. And I know I’m not the only one. Often, I wish I had more answers to these questions. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of working, answering emails, preparing food, paying bills and all of the other must-do’s of today’s society and miss out on how we can build.

Some people say, ‘Choose your goal and work hard every day and you’ll get there.’ But that often doesn’t work for me. I’m not Type-A nor am I super goal-oriented. I never said to myself, ‘I’m going to study nutrition for 7 years and then become a vegan RD’ or ‘I will ride cross-country and do double centuries in order to prepare for the Furnace Creek 508 in X number of years.’ My brain just doesn’t work that way. If yours does, congrats! I’m envious. It’s an exceptional ability to do so.

But I’m fortunate to have had the experiences and end results I’ve had. And the privilege and time to be writing about them for an audience! One of my main reasons for having a site like this is to motivate people. I see so many folks struggling with what they want who are so close. But they are caught up in the mundane day-to-day I mention above and they simply cannot see the steps to get where they want to be. Or don’t have the confidence to take them. And with reason! It’s not an easy task. My advice here may be counter-intuitive, but these have been helpful lessons in my life and maybe you can learn from them?

If you want to do more, do less.

Be unrealistic in your dreams, but realistic in your everyday.

Ask yourself what you truly want. Do you want to ride a mountain bike for 100 miles or do you want to have ridden 100-miles? Do you want to become an MD to help people or for people to think that you’re smart?

What is the feeling you desire and can it be obtained any other way?

This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg but questions worth asking. You can dive a little deeper and follow one of my favorite twitter feeds, Zen and Tao as well.

I’m off for my own adventure right now and cutting this short, but I’ll leave you with two music videos that are as obscure as they are amazing: a Reggae track about what vegans eat and a Hip Hop track about getting back into the gym. Get stoked!

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