Monday, February 26, 2018

Where We Belong, Part 2 of 5, Jan-March 2017

Katie and I had just returned from our yearly Christmas Pilgrimage to Missouri (seeing her side of the family and a certain bulldog named "Stella" is a religous experience of the best kind), where we had announced (to unanimous approval) that we were leaving the city to live in Wrightwood full time. Her extended family had seen LA and Wrightwood, and believed we were making the right decision. We returned home and continued going through the junk we needed and didn't need (most of it) with a sense of adventure, eagerness, and anxiety. The adventure of experiencing the town and the local trails in a new way, the eagerness to get through a move that was going to be painful due to our lack of pre-existing organization, and the anxiety was for things that may go wrong that we had know idea about (our budget, standard rural hardships, response to altitude, etc.) were strong feelings that dominated our thoughts. Whether we wanted things to go slow or fast didn't matter, we were already in the saddle.

Snowy Welcome

For the first time in the last few years, Wrightwood broke 90" of snowfall, which conveniently keep our moving truck from making it up our road until late February. This is a beautiful thing in the moment, and something that makes you proud of where you live. In the following days when temperatures are in the teens, and you missed your opportunity to shovel powder, you are so upset and frustrated with the rock hard snow that you just might throw your back out hacking it with a pick ax. We had a storm on January 21st that deposited a solid 20" of snow. I unfortunately was back in LA with Katie packing up the rest of our apartment, and when I arrived two days later on Monday night, I found a most glorious house warming (freezing) present: a good 2 hours of shoveling frozen snow out of our driveway so I could park my car and walk inside. By the time I laid down later that night, my back was in knots and I laid in bed exhausted and in pain. Never mind that I had to work on shoveling even more snow so that Katie had a spot to park later in the week, or that I was supposed to run the Sean O'Brien 100k in two weeks (I didn't/couldn't), or that I was starting a new job that had jam packed days and little down time, or that our drought busting winter had even more snowfall in the forecast... The snow had to be shoveled.

Job Anxiety

Over the course of my life, Catholic school, growing up in LA, NCAA Division I Cross-Country and Track, college engineering classes, and the real world as we know it had fostered a healthy believe that I was an impostor in every aspect. I was a Catholic that probably sinned too much, I wasn't a child phenom at anything, I rarely ever made the traveling team on my college track team, I struggled in more than one engineering class, I applied to dozens and dozens of internships before I was accepted to one, and I got laid off from my first engineering job. At my last job, I had received a promotion, and gotten a good taste of engineering leadership, but I didn't achieve all I had wanted to when I left. Starting in a new field of engineering with six talented and experienced engineers looking at me to lead them, I didn't exactly feel like I belonged. I was lucky that my boss encouraged me to "fail fast" and speak up because occasionally getting something right were the morsels of success I needed to believe in myself and stay through the low points. Still, I believed that eventually my boss would have a 1 on 1 with me and explain that my time was up. The immediacy of our next big program, the engineers on my team that were quitting, and the high expectations for my position were surely good reasons to explain that I wasn't going to fit in with a fast moving research and development department.

Yet, my self-doubt had an equal in my mind, and that was real admiration for my new company. Before I had started, I had read a book about the development of the original Predator UAV. In 1991, General Atomics bought Leading Systems Inc's tooling, airframes, and designs, and brought over a small team of 10 engineers. The company grew almost every year and filled a new role in the aerospace industry in which it became famous for high reliability, cost effective, customer centric designs. As an engineer, these three descriptions are rarely used in the same sentence, yet GA had developed a culture that made this a reality. Going from reading the book to actually working at the company, I was really impressed with how coherent this philosophy was across the company of 8,000+ people. It felt good to be apart of a team that hustled everyday to reach such ideal engineered solution, and my fear of being an imposter was challenged by my sheer desire to work here long enough to see our next aircraft's first flight. So, even though I was always nervous, stressed out, and working long hours, I kept on going to work each day excited to see what was next.

Running at altitude

There is a certain ideal in ultra running that if you can become a good runner at altitude, you can be a great runner anywhere. Though I'd raced and trained at altitude a fair amount in my career, I'd never lived up high full time. Sleeping at 6,600 feet every night, our cabin was not the get up early and go train at. I would set my alarm for 5:30, but with no one to meet at the freezing and snowy trail head, I rarely got a run started before 6:30, and would have less than a few miles to huff and puff through befoe I'd have to jump in my car and head in to work at 7:30. I'd sometimes run at work at 3,000 feet, but the sandy, flat, fire roads of the desert were less than inspiring. Eventually I would head back to sea level and feel a boost of energy, but the rest of the time in Wrightwood was much slower plodding along.

I had signed up for the Georgia Death Race after pulling out of Sean O'Brien 100k. I knew that I'd have to be ready to run hard on technical and steep Appalachian trails, but there wasn't much similar terrain during the week in Wrightwood to train on. The steep and technical trails were under a significant amount of snow that only left icy ridges to (very slowly) hike up or lower snow free trails that were more mild and gentle that the rock and root fest awaiting me. I began to realize how much easier training in the Santa Monica mountains was in the winter, and why my peers from snowier regions rarely raced in the early spring..

Still, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how magical a feeling it was to run everyday at Inspiration Point watching the forest, desert, and city come to life from a peaceful and surreal vantage point. Occasionally I'd see another person braving the cold, but most of the time it was a completely solitary and spiritual experience. I didn't miss the dirt during the snowy weeks as the highway was so empty and scenic that it met most of my requirements for what I get out of trail running. Getting started in the cold felt a lot like jumping into a pool to swim laps, but eventually I'd warm up, and would spend the rest of the run grinning from ear to ear at my luck to spend every morning here. I didn't know how long this privileged would last, and I stopped in my tracks more than once and gawked at how lucky I was to be here even if things didn't work out.

One big benefit of the new job was the 9/80 aerospace schedule. Every other Friday was off, and I made the most of those days. I would go snowboard or snowshoe, get in a good long run, and run errands done without the threat of snow play crowds. Just the freedom of a 3 day weekend itself would help me settle nervous energy and spend quality time with Katie who was busy working remotely for her former employer. Without those weekends, I don't know how I would've found enough time to enjoy the main reason we moved to Wrightwood (mountains, duh).

The Reality

We were really not ready for the move. We had spent years ignoring all of our material possessions and stacking junk on top of junk, which had resulted in an absurd amount of magazines, running gear, old scrap books, and semi-useful gear that came with us to Wrightwood. The moving package from GA packed and moved everything for us, which was nice except for the fact that didn't have enough time or space in the dumpster to get rid of all the junk we didn't need, and the rest was packed and padded thoroughly. When the moving truck finally made it up our road, we were made prisoners of a box fort that we didn't have time to go through as Katie was still working extremely long hours.

Though we had a cheaper cost of living than the city, we also had to pay all our bills and save up for trips and purchases. Those that know the contractor life know that the feast and famine nature makes it tough to balance work and the rest of life. It wasn't 100% of Katie's waking hours, but there were days when it felt like it was all she did anymore in life.

Wrightwood isn't a food desert, but it's not a cornucopia either. In LA, you can have ten places in the burger, pizza, Mexican, salad bar, coffee, bakery, vegan categories within 15 min of you. We found simple joy in Tuesday margarita specials at the Mexico Lindo, but the menu didn't really change. We were so busy, we didn't notice it much, but after a few nights out we started to get excited when we'd head back to the city for the old favorites.

The small mountain luxuries became big things for us. Laying on the couch in silence and watching snow fall, walking to the back of the canyon to take a moment for ourselves to reflect, and sitting in the car and watching the sunset at Inspiration Point was incredibly fulfilling. We had done these activities on the weekends and loved the cabin life, but knowing that there was no looming drive back to the city in 24 hours made these little luxuries incredibly satisfying.

At the end of each day, we went to bed and realized we were really stressed but really grateful for the mountains being apart of our everyday life. Much like when we worked long hours in the city to enjoy its small perks, we were pushing ourselves hard for perks that meant more to us than anything else in the city ever had. We were nervous, we were worried, but we were also really, really, really grateful for every week that things worked out.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Where We Belong, Prelude, Part 1 of 5

Prelude, 2009-January 2017

A year ago Katie and I drove up to our cabin in Wrightwood, CA -not for the usual Friday-Sunday weekend trip -but rather the final drive out of a city that we had grown increasingly unaccustomed to. Before I delve into the true reason for this four part series of blogs on our first year of living in the mountains, I'll share our perspective on why it became necessary for us to make this move from traffic to trees, from apartments to alpine.

How did this happen?

Katie and I were textbook working professionals/ultrarunners. We trained hard early in the mornings, went to work at high stress jobs in advertising and engineering, checked the high country webcams at lunch, came home exhausted and famished to feast on frozen pizza, planned out road trips for the weekend, and rushed out of the office every Friday afternoon into a wagon packed with food, sleeping bags, and running gear. If we didn't get on the 405 before 4 PM on a Friday, there was rarely a kind word said until we escaped the clutches of LA traffic and were streaking across the state towards the trail head we had dreamed of since Monday morning. Though we both were making decent money, we were so hungry for picturesque "runscapes" and epic training routes that we ended up spending most of our money traveling as far as we could in the 60 hours we had each weekend.

Canyonlands, worth the drive

When my sedan began to require maintenance in excess of it's net worth (I still can't believe people don't want to pay more than four grand for a Volvo with a mere 169,000 miles on it), we began looking at the next car that had decent gas mileage and could sleep two people comfortably in the back of it. Though we acquired Mister Volvo Two, a V50 wagon that we could fold the seats down and sleep in the back of, we soon realized that our lifestyle was wearing us out more than a few hours of sleep could repair.

Mister Volvo Two

I began looking at cabin prices in Wrightwood and found that mostly intact cabins started at around $150,000, and incessantly talked about them with Katie on our usual sleep deprived trips. One weekend, we had driven through particularly bad traffic and made it up to Lone Pine at midnight. We awoke around 7 AM to prepare to summit Mt. Russell, and though I could not complain about the amazing sunrise or the gorgeous view out the back of the trunk, I couldn't stop complaining about how tired I was and how much better the frigid morning could be if for once we could drink coffee inside a warm cabin. We actually spent a good two to three hours gawking about the prospects of waking up in the mountains in an actual a bed, making a hot breakfast, jogging from our door to a trail head, having an amazing run, and then... TAKING A HOT SHOWER!!!

Katie, busy appreciating my thoughts on cabin life

This isn't to say that dirtbagging isn't a good time, or that we weren't ever going to camp again, but after years of trying to do everything, we were at a breaking point. We couldn't just quit our jobs because of student loans and other responsibilities, we couldn't stay home on the weekends and not get deep into the backcountry, and we couldn't defy the space-time continuum and find any more hours to sleep or any closer trails that we loved as much as the San Gabriel High Country and the greater American West. We were pros at our jobs and wearing ourselves out because we never gave up on work or running. By the end of 2014, after six years of working long hours and playing even longer hours, we had successfully broke ourselves. So, in December when we found our dream cabin at the start of the Acorn Trail, we were beyond excited to be Wrightwood weekenders. We had finally earned a bed in the pines!

Typical Monday during the "We're breaking ourselves" phase

From 2015-2016, we spend most weekends at the cabin, and loved every second we got to spend in Wrightwood. We annoyed our coworkers almost every Monday with stories and pictures of idyllic weekend getaways, but we also became even better workers and runners because we were not constantly haggard and sleep deprived. We both believed that our cabin was an investment, and that our 30 year mortgage would be finished just in time for us to retire at the cabin. When we arrived each Friday evening, we were ecstatic and joyfully bounded inside to make dinner and watch DVDs by the fire. When we left on Sunday Nights/Monday Mornings, we were depressed, but told ourselves that along with the millions of other people headed into work, that the city was a necessary evil, and something that we had to survive to pay the bills to enjoy our cabin.

Our first night in the cabin! It was cold!

Our new weekend life included this, follow by a hot shower

Katie and I still went on some amazing trips: to Europe, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Yosemite, Mammoth, Zion, Moab, Montana, etc. etc. but we would always be excited to come back the next weekend to the cabin. It was no surprise that when we got married on Memorial Day in 2016, we chose Wrightwood as the venue. As the saying goes, "first comes marriage, then comes Dominic with the existential crisis of how to raise a child in the city without going completely insane and becoming a shell of his former self." Katie and I began having hard talks about whether we'd have to sell the cabin to buy a severely overpriced condo in West LA (for those wondering, a decent two bedroom in a good school district is no less than 700k). We tried to fathom raising kids in the city, and leaving the mountains behind to pursue our jobs and be good parents, but we (un)fortunately had our dream cabin and couldn't bear the thought of selling it. 

Married in the Pines

I would often spend my lunches at work watching the Wrightwood webcam, and in-between daydreaming of running on Blue Ridge, I began to notice that the town wasn't empty in the middle of the week. At the main stop sign in town, cars would pile of 5-7 deep during "rush hour", and file through fairly regularly. The gears in my mind slowly turned that in these cars, were people, and though some of these people might be retired, most retired people don't drive during rush hour for no reason. Perhaps, just maybe, there were jobs nearby, and these people were actually working nearby and LIVING IN WRIGHTWOOD! I raced to Google maps, zoomed in on Wrightwood, then began clicking around in the desert to the North, looking for any signs of life and/or engineering work. The power of the internet was about to have a life changing effect as I suddenly found "General Atomics" in Adelanto, a mere 35 minute drive from Wrightwood. Clicking over to their employment page, I gave myself more credit than my resume deserved, and began applying to all engineering leadership positions I could find. Flight Operations? Yeah, I've flown on planes. Fuel Systems? Sure, I pump my own gas. I submitted my resume, and then eagerly checked my e-mail... for the next 4 months. 

Eventually, in November, I got called in for an interview for a Fuel Systems Supervisor position. Again, did I know what a pilot valve or a jet pump did? No, but I had pumped my own gas, and had never been terrible in interviews. Much like two years before, I giddily talked Katie into the dream of spending more time in the mountains, and with her support, I.. eventually got the job after a month of interviews!!!

Suddenly our plan of retiring in Wrightwood became an immediate reality and we were making dozens of trips to Goodwill preparing for our move. Were we really ready for this drastic shift from mind-numbing traffic to shoveling 20" of snow to get in the house? Were two LA yuppies really ready for months of freezing temperatures, no Trader Joe's within 45 minutes of us, no hot yoga studios, no Acai Bowl cafes, no gastropubs, and no bougie coffee shops? Would I actually be good at the job I barely got, and would Katie be able to find freelance work? The most important question of all was, would we actually be happier? Were we in love with all the charms of Wrightwood because we always came up with a cooler of our favorite food, and never had to be away from our friends for more than a few days? 

My first day at GA
Katie continued working remotely for RPA for a few months, I dove into an engineering field I had no clue about, and we snuggled tight to keep warm at night and convince each other we weren't alone. At ages 30 and 33, we were struggling to start over again, free of traffic, but also free of all the creature comforts and friends we had taken for granted for the last 8 years.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The 2016 Angeles Crest 100 Mile, Men's race preview (live tracking Saturday is available at )

The wilderness exemptions have dried up with the new Forest Service supervisor and increased scrutiny of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, leaving the race flatter and more paved through its tough 26-49 mile section. From my experience running the course, I admit it is 30 minutes (+/- 15 min) faster that before, but also hotter than before. Temperatures are looking favorable with highs around 79-85, which puts a reasonable winning time in the 17-19 hour range. Races in the San Gabes are full of character, so no guarantees are ever given. The race for the win generally starts between Shortcut and Chantry Flats (miles 59-74), so pay attention to the feed around 2pm!

Jorge Pacheco has finished AC 9 times, won it 4 times, and DNF'd 4 times. To put a trend line on the 48 year old Jorge and predict his 2016 race is impossible when you look at his solid training and race results this year. Generally though, he is guaranteed to win if he is leading and feeling well at Chantry (mi 74)

Guillaume Calmettes has 1 finish and 1 DNF under his belt, but they don't tell the full story of this champion in the making. In 2014 his quad cramped and tore so badly that he had to limp the last 11 miles downhill in 4 hours to a 22:43, taking away a rightful sub-20 finish and possible win. In 2015 he mysteriously developed kidney problems at mi 45, and limped to a DNF at 59. Those events pale in comparison to the raw number of good long runs the 32 year old has completed for the race, and his ability to find bottomless energy deep within his adrenal glands. He is a favorite to win if he can find ways to ease back when the adrenaline is pumping too hard. 

Ruperto Romero is a 9 time, sub24 finisher with 1 win and zero DNF's. Most out of town folks are surprised to not know of him each year, but the locals know the 52 year old "Speedy Gonzalez" as a humble and determined competitor that uses his small size and infrequent racing well to be able to lay out epic finishes year after year. He is a favorite to win as a former 2014 champion. 

Jerry Garcia is a 38 year badass National Forest Firefighter (former hotshot) that is a second generation ultra runner (Dad, Manuel Garcia also ran AC in 2003). The local folks in the San Gabriel mountains have seen some great training and racing from Jerry in the 50k-50mi distance, and his first 100mi at Chimera last year was a learning experience over 22:29hours. That said, Jerry would be tough to bet against if he is leading at Sam Merrill, mile 89. He'll have to execute a cautious and calculated race to get there first. 

Joel Frost-Tift is making his 100 mile debut at AC, which is a tough race to start with. Undeterred, he's been training on the course all year, putting in hard miles covered in jackets and extra water. His 1:08/2:26 times in the half/marathon should make his pace of the paced and fireroad sections unmatched, but the rest of the field will be gunning for a technical blood bath over the last 25, where PR's will be about as useful as a microwave.

Your's Truly, Dominic Grossman has ran 4 sub 24 finishes, enjoyed 2 wins, and no DNF's. The year started off moderately well at Avalon 50, then suffered a scare in adrenal fatigue at Lake Sonoma, before some hamstring issues came up after high mileage/high heat training in June. The Mt. Disappointment 50k put those worries to rest after my PT cleared out tightness in my sitbone and allowed me to race pain free and fast. The result is I know what not to do at AC, and am primed for a 18-20 hour finish. This race is the best I've felt all year in terms of optimism and general fitness. I locate my true north in the San Gabes, and the race is my favorite place to run hard.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Finding Finesse in the Heat of the Summer 100

This weekend I spent some of my more energetic waking hours running through the San Gabriel's in the hottest temperatures seen this year. There's plenty of posts from folks (myself included) that argue the finer points of what specific "secrets" or "tricks" are important to know for navigating these mountains, ridges, canyons, and creeks with the greatest joy and minimal amount of unnecessary pain. As far as running through challenging terrain in fiery heat goes, there sometimes isn't any way to sidestep the inherently difficult task at hand.

Miles that make you think twice..

When the general public is notified of "the toughest endurance event" through various mass media outlets, there's ample hyperbolas to describe the heat, distance and/or combination of unique, one of a kind obstacles found only at Kona or Death Valley. Still, if one finds themselves out in the exposed and sun drenched Cooper Canyon at mile 35 of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run, there's another level of challenge that other "internationally recognized pinnacles of endurance" can't quite replicate. There's the terrain itself which bucks upwards and downwards at 20% in sections; there's the perfectly still 95 degree air that awaits competitors with a money back guarantee to roast them like a Thanksgiving Turkey; there's the sheer distances of  4+ miles of climbing to the next aid station and the 4+ miles behind them from the last one that they came from leaving their body in vulnerable drought conditions; and there's the simple fact that just getting through the first 26 miles of pre-heating requires 7,000 feet of climbing before entering "the oven" which means the average runner is already in some degree of extremis. The mind bakes, the legs ache, the trail climbs, the air is still, and the next 75 miles of racing still have more heat, longer stretches without aid, more climbing, and plenty of bone jarring terrain that will demand much more than just running from the competitor. The challenge is distinct and undeniable: move quickly through the hot spots, manage fluid/electrolyte/calorie intake, use whatever tools you have available to keep cool, and don't lose your mind as it bakes in your skull.

I suppose the last point above was the toughest part of my Sunday run from mile 52, Chilao to mile 68, Newcomb Pass. I've felt the burn of the Badwater, and experienced my kidneys slowing down to a near complete stop due to overheating, but the difference at Badwater was that I had a crew vehicle available every mile of the 135 miles of paved road. Midday Sunday, in the 95 degree heat of the San Gabriel backcountry, I didn’t have a car and attentive crew monitoring me every 8 minutes. The exposed and reflective heat of the Silver Moccasin trail was a technical and searing frying pan, and I was a 150 lbs spat of tissue trying to unload heat in engulfing (metaphorical) flames. Now, had it have been a nice day, I would've trotted along enjoying the sights and sounds, but it was over 90 degrees and climbing, and I was sweating faster than I could absorb water from my stomach into my bloodstream. Indeed, it was something to be worried about since the day was only getting hotter, and the next stretch would be some 12 miles without water. 

The "secret" or "trick" for me today wasn't in the little tricks like running from shade to shade like an ant being burned by a microscope, or sitting in the water of the (sure to be dry by race day) Westfork of the San Gabriel River, or the ample use of salt. No, it was already apparent the day before when I ran the first 38 miles of the course, that I needed something more than just combating the heat. All these things individually were less important and effective than the overarching concept of finesse.

I will admit- I've had plenty of laughable moments in my time in the mountains that have shown I have an utter lack of finesse. However, my bones don’t move with unrestrained vigor as they used to thanks to running in said steep, hot, humbling mountains for the last 8 years. I'm on the exposed and burning hot "Edison Road" that hides hot pockets of air easily over 100 degrees, and I start to recall memories of my worst moments in this canyon. Not a complete thought forms, but I slightly turn my toes inward to ease the impact on my knees, I shift my pack to adjust the load of my water, I listen to my breathing and hold it in for an extra moment to avoid tight and sore lungs, I sip my water when my mouth is just dry enough to earn a swig, I ingest a salt and a gel when the trail and I agree that my heart rate can slow for a moment to divert extra blood to the stomach, and I keep my mind solely focused on moving as efficiently as possible to the top of the climb through a combination of running and hiking that match the slight variations of my core body temperature. 

The Cajon Pass
The finesse isn't in doing all those things, but doing them with grace, timing and synchronicity of the heart, body, mind, and terrain. The people that do this exceptionally well look like freight trains climbing and descending the Cajon Pass; an event that transpires dozens of times a day with great ease and insane amounts of well-placed force. Trains typical weigh in at 15,000-20,000 tons (on the 2.2% grade Cajon Pass, 33,000-44,000HP would be necessary to get over the grade). However, there aren’t always 7-10 locomotives available to do the work of pulling a train straight over the hill. Momentum is used to get a running start that allows the train to coast over the 2 mile hill. Even just to start from a standstill, cars are linked together with slack to allow for a slow build up as momentum necessary to get up to speed. The tractive force of a single locomotive is only 180,000 lbs, but spread out over a long gradual pull, a single locomotive can move an unfathomably large amount of cargo up to speed using the low rolling friction of rail to its advantage. 

The same ideas apply to getting my body from Wrightwood to Altadena under my own power. The question isn't simply how much effort can I give, but how much finesse can I use to make a arduous journey a thing of art. Form is low rolling friction, momentum is getting through hot sections quickly after I've cooled myself at an aid station, and patient, consistent, guarded force is how I survive sections in excess of 100 degrees that threaten to stop me dead in my tracks.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Marriage or Something Like It

It's no secret that over the past 8 years of knowing Katie (7 of dating her) that I've grown and matured to appreciate her a lot more than I initially did. In fact, I appreciate her so much now, that I married her this two weeks ago under the pine tree cathedral of the Grassy Hollow Amphitheater. I was thoroughly convinced that each and every word of my vows was meaningful and true, yet 7 years ago I wouldn't have believed I would ever say them to Katie. I believe that we've both grown, but within my own mind I've left behind former conservative impressions of what a wife should be. Below is a letter to myself and to any other young adult contemplating the idea of a life long marriage.

"I thought that a wife cooked every night for their husband."
 Though Katie might argue that I only marginally "cook", I have ended up preparing more meals for the highly valid reason that she is a brilliant writer that adds a lot of interesting and funny stories to the world (and makes pretty good money off freelance writing). I love reading her work in magazines or online and it makes me want to heat up even more TJ's frozen pizzas and Quinoa burgers to keep her at it.

"I thought a wife always had to be put together"
Katie refers to her loose hairs in her run bun as "stragglies", which usually is used when she's looking at a picture of herself and saying "Boy, I had a lot of stragglies, I must've been working hard." That right there is the exact definition of what makes Katie a great wife: she works really hard and doesn't hold herself back with insecurity about her hairdo or make-up status.

"I thought wives had to be perfect"
Watch a traditional American sitcom, and there's usually a wive that is constantly making all the right moves, taking care of the kids and the comedically irresponsible husband, preparing a dinner that makes Martha Stewart look sloppy, making completely infallible decisions, and keeping her perfect streak of being a perfect wife going strong. Even still in hipster terms, perfection might be having a passion for volunteering for human rights programs or having a high paying job or leading a new workout class. I wouldn't say that Katie doesn't do some of those things, but sometimes she sleeps in and misses a run, makes a bad decision, or forgets to pack something for a trip. Be that as it may, she generally doesn't go nuts that her streak of perfection or impressive accomplishments is broken. When I was looking for a lady, this short sided idea of perfect living actually made me blind to a lot of other great things she does well like forgiving, being supportive, making fun of me, joining me on runs up big mountains, and cuddling me after a long day which is a lot more valuable than "perfection".

"I thought a wife always had to follow the lead of her husband" 
There's several trips that I personally plan each year, but there's also a ton of races or adventures that Katie pulls me towards and helps me discover. She's my equal, and I don't tell her to be quiet (unless there's a bear outside our tent) or tell her she doesn't know what she's talking about. I learn things from her, and I love the adventures she's taken me on. If I didn't have someone uniquely adventurous like her, I'd miss out on a lot of really interesting stuff.

Photo by Vinny Grossman

"I thought a wife was supposed to be shy and polite"
Katie is a ball of joy. On a rare occasion she can be quiet, but she's generally chatting it up with friends or razzing me about my Dom-isms. Sometimes she's fiery, and sometimes I get burned by her in a really funny joke, but she generally just speaks to me with no fear of judgement or criticism. Those unique Katie-isms like the cute way she talks or the sharpness of her Missouri "D-aaah-mm" are worthy of being shouted from a ridge mid-run.

"I thought wives had to always be sophisticated and elegant"
Katie definitely was exceptionally elegant at the wedding, but she spends most of her time in t-shirts and jeans or running gear. She is my best friend, and that usually means conversations consisting of lame jokes and extra nerdy puns. She's not afraid to heckle and be heckled for days on end even if she isn't conservatively lady-like. Through it all, even if she isn't elegant in the moment.. it's an undeniable truth that she can clean up pretty damn well.

"I thought a wife would never match my affection and love because I'm a crazy Italian guy."
Perhaps the biggest constant about Katie is her unconditional love for me. I get it that sometimes my hairstyles and behavior don't make me the most attractive guy, but she doesn't ever stop letting me know that she loves me. She has quieted an insecurity in me that used to cause me to constantly stoke the fire in a relationship through all sorts of insane antics. It was a major vice that made me difficult to be around, but she's the first to have fulfilled my daily need for ample love and affection.

"I thought wives had to be judgmental and condemning matriarchs"
Katie and I do judge right and wrong in the world, but we spend a lot more time in the Buddhist mindset of accepting that other individual's pursuit of happiness (though possibly destructive to others pursuit of happiness) is not an invalid request. We believe everyone should be allowed to find happiness, and we have sympathy for those that do so in ways that hurt us. Having someone like that who is a free-thinker and capable of having very difficult empathy is such an important foundation for me to keep hope in our crazy world. Call her a hippy for it (but also call Kate Martini Freeman or Krista Olsen hippies) but it's genuinely a necessary key to happiness.

So, if any of that above makes sense to you (whether you're a guy or girl), I can generally state that you've got a shot at happiness in matrimony. Take it from me, a married man of 11 days, partner of Katie of 7 years, the quotations "I thought wives were supposed to..." above are the furthest thoughts from a happy mind.

Photos by Jayme Burtis

Thursday, April 7, 2016


After a few false starts in the past year, I've finally started to believe I'm not just running better because I say I want to run better and get over my OTS (which is necessary), but because I'm actually doing everything it takes to stay healthy and run well, AND I've had enough time and experience between me and 2014.

The metaphor that I think best sums up OTS is that it's like falling off a cliff, surviving, and then mentally and physically getting back to hanging out on the edge of a cliff (which is oh so mentally and physically difficult). The falling off is straight forward: the endocrine system is shocked and everything is out of whack from sleep to mood to metabolism to adrenaline production to psyche. If you're in a bad mood, you might not train, or if you're optimistic and want to go out and have a good run, it just might not happen for awhile as the adrenal glands give you the silent treatment. I had this happen last year trying to train for Sean O'Brien and Gorge Waterfalls, neither race had any memorably great training runs, and my last run stateside before UTMB was pretty freaking miserable. Then, as far as metabolism goes, you might gain weight or feel very weak during runs, and when you try out diets or test theories, nothing is consistent. I tried to eat very little meat, and felt super weak but also bloated, and then even when I started to eat more meat I felt weak and hungry. Finally, I got to a point of being mostly plant based (some fish, chicken, and eggs here and there), and plenty of greens, grains, and plant based fats. The consistency of a balanced diet is chiefly focused on sustained energy levels, but to get to this point, it took some bouts of trial, error, confusion, and eventually confidence. To sum it up best, OTS makes the body a spoiled brat and that messes with you so it can stay home from school and eat spaghetti O's. At some point you just have to Mom up and figure out what is normal staunchly decrying no soda, no internet before bed, more veggies, less dessert, dishes washed, homework done, pajamas on, and mandatory bed times on school nights.

Being a good boy

As far as reformulating my training goes, I'm at a place of acceptance, patience, and organization. I accept that more mileage doesn't get me in shape as much as hard workouts, and I am more patient with setbacks that are warning signs of relapses. I think I still can run higher mileage weeks, but I know my body responds better to shorter, harder runs that require as much rest as a longer easier run. Also, there's the necessity of taking cross-training seriously and engaging in AIS stretching daily, which has done a lot for my stride, injury prevention, and overall speed on trail. I even (shameless product plug) started heart rate training with a Suunto Ambit Peak watch that tells me how much rest I need to be back at 100%. Usually this is a little silly for ultrarunners who (supposedly) require 100+ hours of recovery for a hard 15 mile run, but it's actually really nice because it rewards you with less recovery hours if you run really easy (which you're supposed to be doing anyways!), and it's generally pretty accurate with recovery time necessary to be able to run at your peak HR, performance, and efficiency. When it comes down to it, I have more memorable runs this spring because of using HR and listening to the recovery function and running harder and faster when I was fully recovered, rather than just working out on a hunch of capacity and ability. My last workout last Friday was at full recovery, and allowed me to crank out some fast miles over rolling terrain without fear of burning out or OTS. This would be the part of the metaphor when I'm back to walking along the edge of cliffs and knowing again what all the warning signs of falling off are (because it's 2016 and I listen to data).

My goals for Sonoma are simple, run to my capacity and develop a plan for HR based racing at AC based on how long I can hold different zones. I already know I can hold 150-165 for a couple hours, the goal is to figure out if I can do a few more hours, and to evaluate recovery for going into my final block of training for AC. It should be interesting to see what I can do on a largely fair course of singletrack and gradual climbs. Any specifics about racing other runners isn't going to come into my mind until the last 10 miles, so it should be easy, right?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Feb 8-28

In a perfect world, I'd never get sick and running would always be fair. Unfortunately a couple of weeks ago, I got the flu and had to take my first sick day in several years. The runs after the flu were absurdly hard on my lungs and body. Luckily, I now appear to be turning the corner with a decent sub 36 Temescal-Green Peak yesterday.

I think the big lesson from the humbling past few weeks is to appreciate the long and patient process. I actually ran better on my climb up Green Peak due to finding higher and higher gears where I could keep my effort level below extreme but maintain a running stride.

Being sick actually gave me a better sense of commonality with my community of coworkers and friends that were getting sick. In that sense of the matter, I understood what it was like to be so vulnerable and human while experiencing a painful variant of the flu and the overly dramatic burning feeling in my lungs and legs while trying to learn to run uphill again.

The humbling feeling made me realize how weird and crazy this sport is, and how crazy it is that so many people do this for fun.

Watching the election (aka government reality tv) during my flux between civilian and athlete made me understand a little bit better how such contrasting ideas of entitlement are being sold (on both sides, but I undeniably lean liberal). I understand what some people feel entitled to, because the alternatives appear to sound as crazy as running up a mountain. I'm not referring to one party in particular, as all have different demands of government, but I feel like the day to day pandering of votes is not to the crazy individuals that work hard for the sheer enjoyment of working hard.

I do admit that I am lucky to work where I do, and have the skills to do my job and be compensated enough to have my basic needs met and allow me freedom to work and run for enjoyment, which is such an abstract concept for the most of the electorate. I guess my point is that maybe the gainfully employed, safe, and balanced budget households in this country are actually well off regardless of the car they drive or items they own, as long as they can find happiness in their job. I understand how they might poll with large numbers saying the country is getting worse, but I don't agree because I see such opportunity in the basic gifts of being an American citizen, regardless if I am as well off as my parents were. I find that my path to happiness isn't through a candidate's ever changing words, but through enjoying the gift of opportunity of sport and career (but I get all the complaints!).

So, thank you flu for coming and teaching me a deeper level of empathy that the endorphins and pine trees blind me to. Although, I'm not too bummed though to be back sweating and feeling the burn... 😌

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Feb 1-7

I posted the below excerpt from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and found it to be topical to so much of what this blog has tried to explain (always in vain), about why I compete in sports/life/anything.

Perhaps the tennis coach Schtitt, could be seeking an idealism of sport that is impossible to hone in on without sooner falling victim to the sirens of ego, greed, over-rationalized cheating and overt abuse of one's body. There indeed is a hefty amount of quotations in sport of players speaking of the magic of applying themselves to the challenge at hand, all the while showing an addiction to ego and greed for awards and respect, surpassing the limits of their abilities by thrashing their bodies with irreversible trauma, and the all too common psychopathic actualization of the opportunity to attempt to get away with cheating.

This section of the novel also mentions that C.T. the new headmaster of the tennis academy oversaw the change in the motto that hangs over the boys' main hallway: "When a man knows his limits, there is nothing he can't achieve" which contrasts the romantic views of the former. The central point of this section's explanation of Coach Schtitt is that he finds excellence in being acutely aware of physical limits and also seeing that the way one plays the game allows for countless unseen permutations that only require the right creative decision at the right moment to not merely win, but to make for an actual beautiful game! I wondered to myself on Sunday night as Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl, did he really savor the sloppy offense, the multiple fumbles, the lack of creativity from his opponents who played predictably as they had all season?

The point that DFW drives through Schtitt is that the human mind working within the "boundaries of self" in the moment is the main reason to play the game. Perhaps the true answer to my question above is a layered answer from the player himself, that there are indeed moments of pure love for the game as we swirl around and dive through the commercialization of heroes. When we ask why we're engaging in these contrived competitions, we're experiencing the knife edge of idealism of the competitor spirit and its limits. To put it in layman's terms: go run a long way in the mountains to get that sweet taste of working within your limits and pushing your body and mind to their limits of effort and creativity. Accept that you might not win, be popular, earn any respect, or receive any compensation - but when you get the chance to play the game, PLAY WITH EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT!

Monday - Off

Tuesday - 8mi, Tempo up Temescal - though I was far off my PR, I was really excited to have a bit of good form in my stride and experience a fluid push from the no-dogs sign to the top. I think I was really excited by it for the sake of it hopefully translating to a better effort on raceday when I climb up Acorn (without needless nervous red-lining, but noticeable speed).

Wednesday - 10mi, Easy loop around Westridge and Sullivan. I finally got to catch up with Guillaume who was stoked after his experiences at HURT100, yet still excited in a much less technical go again at the AC course with more structured speed work and cross training (everyone always sees the light;) I also attended a cross training class at my work, which I found out fits into my XT running needs (cool!).

Thursday - 6 mi, Intervals at Temescal - 15x45sec. Not an easy workout to do on technical terrain, but definitely a good step in the right direction of building uphill power and efficiency.

Friday - Off, did a bit of Wharton Stretching and cleaning

Saturday - 15 mi, tempo up Winter Creek Climb - again another non-PR, but a fulfilling consistent hard climb. Practiced focusing on my downhill footwork on Sturdevant, which has painfully reminded me before that the price of lazy foot placement is sprained ankles and Supermans. Not falling or rolling an ankle was quite an accomplishment!

Sunday - 11 mi, recovery run with Timmy, Krista, Kate, Katie, and Bob. Good times with everyone in the group, there couldn't have been a more fit, clever, and optimistic group of runners in Malibu that day.
Photo by Kate Martini Freeman

51 mi, 9hr, 13,500 feet climbed
I finally got what felt like two good weeks out of my body, and am happy following up with an easy recovery week that is easy running, stretching, cross training, and a few strides here and there.

Monday, February 1, 2016


Perhaps my favorite thing about ultrarunning is its culture. Sure, there's an argument that there's a good amount of liberal "soft-ness" as most runners are highly educated, motivated by a pursuit of transcendentalism, and generally exhibit a minimal amount of competitiveness/maximal amount of niceness with other runners in the community. There's also a conservative values that prioritize hard work and the individual enduring and toughing out a bad patch that earns ample respect among peers regardless of whether they've won or lost a big race. I suppose as someone who's ran these races for eight years, I understand and appreciate the diversity of thought and commonality of respect.

When people talk about the worry of our sport changing, I generally shrug off the topics of races filling up too fast and sponsors ruining events. If the new faces in races have an agenda of sharply breaking from the sport's central values of respect, humility, and instrinsic motivation, then the law of distance regulates their ambitions for disrespect, bragging, and monetary pursuits. Simply put, no one lasts forever running hard, long races without learning the said qualities that make running ultras sustainable.

Respect is required to develop relationships, appreciate the dificulty of races, and be able to run with a clear perception of the challenging at hand. Humility is very easy to learn, and required to allow for a career that lasts longer than a couple of bad, soul-crushing races. Intrinsic motivation is all that keeps a runner going when every pain receptor is firing making quiting seem like it is worth all the money in the world; no external motivation can keep a runner coming back each year for 15-30 hour battles of the mind and body.

That said, it's far from a vanilla sport, and outliers are the norm. I simply believe that those violating the law of distance seem to disappear or at least get drowned out in the steady stream of good people. To me, that's what ultrarunning culture is, and why it's so sustainable.

Monday: Rest, enjoyed it! I did a bit of cross training over the weekend and felt the need to rest after remembering how weak my glutes and hips are.

Thursday: 10x1min on Sullivan Ridge - I've been harping on myself to get my form back to the sound and trully athletic place that makes it possible to hit blazing splits uphill. I don't have any other workout that helps me focus on this like 10x1min, so I'm going to keep doing it until it starts to click.

Wednesday: 13 mile with Katie/Peter/Andy. Easy run from Los Leones to Trippet and back gave me a chance to focus on recovery without being bored out of my mind.

Thursday: 7 mi coyote westridge. Couldn't say I felt good after the past couple nights in the altitude tent. I initially decided to make it another recovery day, but found a burst of energy when Jimmy came by tempoing. I joined him for 15 minutes, enough to make it feel like a fair compromise for my body. 10 min cross training

Friday: Spent the afternoon running errands for work and the car, so by the time Katie was ready to go to Wrightwood, I only had time for 3 miles and some pushups and situps.

Saturday: The woeful lack of cross training seemed to possibly be the cause of a rather bland long run on the road. I accepted the state of my body in exchange for the stunning views of the San Gabriel high country. Also found out that doing my Wharton stretches for the first time in a few days doesn't save a run.

Sunday: 10x1 in the sleet. Wrightwood generally exists somewhere above or below the snowline depending on the particular storm. We started in snow at the cabin, ran intervals on the dirt road by the 2, and ended up back in snow at the cabin. I spent a good amount of time chopping wood and shoveling some heavy and wet snow, making for some demanding domestic cross training on my back.

Overall, I'm happy with January. I know I have more cross training to do this year to maintain mileage, but I feel a bit more confidence and less fear in my training goals.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Jan 18-24

Listening to a blurb at the start of This American Life's podcast "Family Physics", a man recounted his feelings on being upset when his father (who was enamored with New York City) pulled up the family from the Midwest and moved to NYC where they were poor, hustling, and out of place. The Dad had thought that New York was "the center of the universe" and that it would be so great to live there, so much so that all the other costs would be worthwhile. The son went on to gleefully explain a philosophy concept that he had found applicable to his childhood, "the mediocrity principle" which when applied to space, considers locations to be more likely to be a member of a numerous category rather than a rare category. I.e. New York isn't all the center of the universe, it's just another big city.

Relative to life, it's the principle that spending time thinking about how special some place is can blind you to whether it really is in fact a special place. Relative to running, it's the question of whether where you're running is really intrinsically fulfilling versus communally important. Do you enter races because of what is considered important or what you enjoy?

These aren't the first time I've asked these questions, but I'm glad I have good answers for myself.

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 7.7 mi, 2000ft, 1:17, Easy Temescal - body still not feeling spry after Avalon, some lingering hip and glute pain in my right leg. Cross training: Wharton stretching and 6 min abs

Wed: 4 mi, 0ft, :31, Did 15 strides with Katie following on the bike. Loosening up the hamstrings is going to be a process. Did more Wharton stretching

Thurs: 7mi, 1000ft, :60, Workout: 10x1min, perhaps it was running in the dark, but I felt good and strong, clearing out some carbon from Avalon.

Fri: 14.8mi, 3400ft, 2:22, Ran up Echo mountain and down the Sunset Trail and Arroyo. Friday afternoon runs are tough when my energy levels are usually their lowest, but making them easy runs allows for my body to come alive gradually on its own. Plus, being on the Sunset Trail at sunset (a life long race dream) is good motivation for the soul to strive to reach for a little more in training.

Sat: 12mi, 2700ft, 2:30, Ran in the snow with Katie, Sarah, and Dean from Vincent Gap down the Manzanita trail and back up. The snow was firm but misshapen putting my hamstrings and hips to work, which seems to be necessary after Avalon. I'm much more aware of these muscular issues than I used to be, or they're weaker than they used to be. Either way, I finished up with a road run, and 30 minutes of cross training glutes, core, and arms.

Sun: 16mi, 2000ft, 2:5, Ran the road from Vincent Gap towards Islip and back. Body felt better once I got going, but stride felt tight and short. Ended up only getting in one good workout for the week, but doing another full body XT session made the week seem less weak.

Total: 61.6 mi, 10,866ft, 10:08

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Avalon 50 Mile Recap

As mentioned previously, I signed up for the Avalon 50 miler with an honest expectation of experiencing ultrarunning's stern and bitter adjudication for the undertrained. Perhaps I could have meditated about my 2008 Mt. Disappointment 50 miler (a truly brutal death march through hell, climbing up Edison Fire Road in 100 degree heat, a painful descent down the technical Silver Mocasin Trail with IT bands screaming, before a crushing final climb up Mt. Wilson with 46 miles on my virgin legs). Maybe that would have reminded me how capable and consistent Jorge Pacecho is in every Southern California ultra, and how to respect distance and terrain. I'd been going agnostic on ultrarunning; forgetting about the magic and joy of a well-executed race, working 12 hour days, and focusing on everything else in my life (Katie, work, sleep, holidays).

As I gazed upon the race in December, I felt a heavy expectation to train more and execute a disciplined schedule, but there was nothing tactile or sensually alluring about the race. There were few photographs, no personal memories besides snorkeling at Fourth of July Cove in middle school, and no instinctual urge to go for 20-30 mile runs on gradual fire roads. I wasn’t completely lazy though-I did need to run to soothe my twitching legs and screen burnt eyes with a few miles. In St. Louis, the rain fell relentlessly for 4 days, and I ground out a few track workouts to make small advances in fitness to get ready to race. When I returned to LA, the race was already upon me, but I still got out for another workout on Blue Ridge with Peter. Whatever training I had done, it would have to suffice. 

 When race day finally came, I sheepishly lined up at the starting line at 5 AM, certain that I would follow Fabrice and Jorge for as long as I could until my lacking fitness was painfully made apparent (likely at 3-4 miles in). As predictable as it would have been to see the SoCal legends dash off into the early morning dusk, I lead for 2 miles, and was joined not by either luminary, but by Paul Sinclair and Neil Feerick (local podium masters runners). They chatted, I figured out my pace, and we alternated the lead until I started to pull away sometime around mile 16.
Mile 18, Photo by Elsie Noemi Lopez

I didn't know where Fabrice (Did Not Start) or Jorge (6 minutes behind at mile 18) were, but I was running hard and focused. The drop bags did not make it in time to mile 18, so I had to make due on coke and rationing my 4 VFuel gels for 33 miles. I made a quick stop in the porta-potty, and was now in second chasing Paul who was within striking distance with no one behind us. I finally caught up to him on the descent into Twin Harbor, but lost him for a moment when I saw Hal Winton hiking uphill like the abominable snowman, with Gary Hilliard in tow. 

There's something about Hal Winton that inspires endurance in just about anyone who meets him. Perhaps it's the fact that at age 50, he decided to run ultras, and hasn't stopped since regardless of having a pacemaker installed and all the other ailments of old age. Or maybe that he still leads trail work crews for AC100 all over the San Gabriels at the ripe old age of 84 years old. So, I indulged in a PEH (performance enhancing hug) and I stopped to bear hug the 33 time (soon to be 34) finisher of the Avalon 50 Mile. I quickly caught back up to Paul and strode into the lead as we approached the turnaround at the isthmus. 

I counted 45 seconds on Paul and 3 minutes on Jorge as I made my way back. The rest of the field was stretched out for a few miles, and I enjoyed the cheers from fellow runners despite running dangerously low on calories and electrolytes. Ultras are a small family, and I recognized probably 80% of the runners heading the opposite way. After I got to my drop bag at mile 33, I downed a recovery drink and set back out towards the finish hoping to keep Jorge and Paul at bay for as many miles as possible. Running back over the rolling hills around Little Harbor, I expected to see one or both of them across the canyons, but somehow I managed to hold a lead despite having to slow to process calories. I wish I had known I had a 9 minute lead to stop and let my calories process correctly, but instead I kept grinding on trying to keep relentless forward motion.

The slow going dragged on as I couldn't run and process calories well enough from my short training stint (hint, these are real skills you develop during proper training). Eventually I made it to the Eagle's Nest aid at 39 just ahead of Jorge. He finally overtook me at mile 40 with a "sorry hero!" as my slog dragged on for another mile with weak hamstrings. I finally began to start feeling better and tried to keep him in eyesight, but Jorge was already gone and on the way to another strong finish. Though I had wanted to win after leading for so many miles, I kept in context how lucky I was to finish so well on so little training. 
49.1 miles, Photo by Katie DeSplinter

Needless to say, I was grateful to come out of the race with such a relatively positive experience. I had the taste of possible victory again, and I was grateful to get let off with a mere 13 miles of painful slogging. There’s some pain as I run beyond 30 minutes in my right hamstring and hip, but I’m okay with cross training and stretching being tangible remedies to the pain. Up next (as of now) is Lake Sonoma 50 mile, which should be as competitive as any ultra in the world. 
3-1-2, photo by: Don Feinstein

Needless to say, I was grateful to come out of the race with such a relatively positive experience. I had the taste of possible victory again, and I was grateful to get let off with a mere 13 miles of painful slogging. There’s some pain as I run beyond 30 minutes in my right hamstring and hip, but I’m okay with cross training and stretching being tangible remedies to the pain. Up next (as of now) is Lake Sonoma 50 mile, which should be as competitive as any ultra in the world. 

Thanks to..
New Balance for a sample pair of the Fresh Foam Gobi (basically a trail zante
VFuel for gels that went the extra mile when my drop bag was late
Injinji for a blister free day with the Run Midweight Crew Waves
Julbo for the simple and functional Corina Sunglasses