Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Finding my Limits and Discovering Joy in Southern Utah

“You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need”

I entered The 2014 Grand to Grand Ultra Marathon not long after completing Racing the Planet Iceland in 2013 mainly because I had a great experience at my first stage race and I wanted to have a new goal to set my sights on.

The Grand to Grand Ultra is a 170 mile long self supported stage race held in Southern Utah. Self supported stage races are such that you have to carry all your own food for the week, emergency (mandatory) equipment, your clothing and your sleeping bag and mat.

In the early of stages of training back in February, I injured my hamstring and I wasn’t sure how I’d fare in the race but I’d been assured that this race was “hikeable” since it has generous cutoff times for each day, so I decided to go for it anyway.

The months leading up to the race were tough for me personally, I had been wallowing in a “dark place” with too much free time on my hands and I was struggling to find meaning in my day to day - a lack of purpose was making me unhappy but having the race to focus on was good. Due to my injury I wasn’t able to run and most of my training consistent of long hikes with my backpack and strength training. 

Getting to Kanab

Judy and I in Las Vegas
I was lucky in that I had planned to spend two nights in Las Vegas with my friend Judy the week before the race. It was to be an early birthday celebration and it was a good distraction from the mayhem I left behind in San Francisco. After two nights walking around Las Vegas, taking in shows and seeing the sights, I was to meet the runners at Las Vegas airport on Wednesday to catch a bus that would transport us to Kanab.

I got onto the bus just in the nick of time and immediately found the “back of the pack” at the back of the bus. Andy, Brianna and others had purchased some Prosecco, rum and other libations at the airport and were getting “ready” for the long bus ride ahead. Mary and Erin from Canada who had both participated in the Iceland race were also there and made me feel welcome.

After a drink (or two) we all became fast friends. Nathan joined us from the front of the bus and Yuri one of the camp crew volunteers proceeded to tell us tales of Aliens and had good stories about the event. He had run it the year before.  Everyone was slightly concerned about how they would do in the race – I was in good company. After a while we stopped at an In n’ Out burger in St George and before we knew it we were at our destination in Kanab where we checked into our hotels and enjoyed a good nights sleep.

Exploring Kanab

Arriving in Kanab in the dark I did not notice the beautiful red rock that surrounds it. It was so lovely to see this as the sun rose and the blue sky provided the loveliest contrast.

After a traditional breakfast at The Parry Lodge , I met up with Mary and Yvonne for the days activities - The race directors and the Kanab residents had organized some local activities to keep us busy on the day before runner check in. First up was a tour of Best Friends AnimalSanctuary.

The Best Friends visit is something I had been looking forward to since Sarah (a fellow competitor and friend from the Bay Area) had recommended it to me on a training run a few weeks back. Best Friends is situated in Angels Canyon 6 miles outside of Kanab on almost 40,000 acres of land and they are famous for being the largest no-kill shelter in the United States.

Mary, Yvonne and I at Best Friends
Our tour guide Raven provided great information on the activities, we drove past horse yards, toured the cat shelter and briefly visited Dogtown but one of the major attractions at Best Friends is Angel’s Rest. This is not only the final resting place for the shelter animals but also for companions of members and staff. Besides all the gravestones and trinkets, there are wind chimes that make the most beautiful sound as the wind comes through the canyon.  Its actually indescribable, you will have to visit yourself to experience it. Yvonne and I spontaneously shed a tear as we passed by, and I knew right then I had met a kindred sprit.

After the tour of Best Friends we were to take a flight over Kanab in a small Cessna which local pilot Dave Baird had generously offered to runners. Dave turned out to be a wonderful person, with a very generous spirit, his main interest was for us runners to have a positive experience of Kanab so we could come back and it would benefit the town.  The flight was spectacular, it was a small taste of the landscape we’d be seeing close up in a couple of days time.

The view over Kanab
The final activity for the day was a massage; this was a nice treat at the end of what already felt like a long week and was the perfect end to the afternoon. At the massage place I met up with James and Yuri who asked me to join them for dinner.  We ate Mexican food with a few other runners and headed to bed for an early night. There was a lot to organize before runner check-in the following day.

Runner Check-in

On Friday morning I switched hotels to join Sarah at the Holiday Inn Express, we were all sharing rooms with other competitors for the final night in Kanab. By around one o’clock most of the runners were milling about near the hotel and since we had already received our tent assignments this was a good opportunity to start trying to identify our tent mates.

Runner check-in
Race check in went smoothly, my equipment was numbered as required and I had everything that was on the mandatory list. I was surprised that the volunteer I was assigned to did not check everything as thoroughly as I expected but I assumed that there was a certain level of trust that we had all the gear we needed and I was pretty thankful not to have take every single labeled item out of my bag.

Mo and I ready to go
At race check in, I chatted with a few other runners, for some this was their first stage race, others had a lot of experience behind them. I also met Mo who had participated in the Iceland race and had won that race, It was good to see an old friend. By the time we had finished the final runner dinner in Kanab, I had identified all my tent mates. There were 7 of us - Simon from Australia, Danny from England, Dan and Sarah from the US and Mickey and Roberto from Italy. I was representing Germany. This was tent #6 Hualapai!

Getting to Camp One

Saturday morning after breakfast we had to move our luggage to where it would be stored for the week and then we were loaded on buses that would drive us to Camp One. It was about a four-hour drive out to Camp One, of which the last hour was on a bumpy dirt road and everyone was happy to reach the destination.

Waiting on the buses to take us to Camp One
The camp was situated at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Everyone peeled out of the buses and the first thing to do was to see the Canyon – it was magnificent!! What a photo opportunity! I started to feel the nervous tension getting stronger and after I had located my tent I took some time to myself to just sit at the edge of the canyon, enjoy the view and chant to calm my nerves. It helped.
Dan and another runner at the edge of the North Rim 
The tent at Camp One with Sarah, Dan, Mickey and Simon
Catching a few minutes to calm my nerves
That evening, we were served a delicious a pasta dinner with a spectacular view. Colin and Tess gave the race briefing as the rain clouds were gathering and during the night it the skies opened and we encountered our first thunderstorm of the week – I recall waking up around 3:00am to camp crew hammering in stakes to make sure our tents were safe. That was dedication! Sarah and I giggled at the absurdity of it all. 

Stage One

A beautiful sunrise
Thankfully we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and mostly blue skies; the rain had made the start a little cooler for us. I had been worried about how the heat would affect me so I was really grateful for the small amount of cloud cover. I spent a large part of the day passing the miles with my tent mate Dan from Chicago – It always amazes me just how much one talks out on the trails and we got to know a lot about each others lives during those 30.8 miles (49.6 km). The scenery was breathtaking all day, we had the vermillion cliffs in our sights most of the time and most of the trail was hard packed dirt.

Hualapai ready to go!
Between CP3 and CP4 we were suddenly hit by a hailstorm, I was scared for a while, the storm brought thunder and lightening and the hail was hitting us from the side, we had no protection or shelter. After it passed though, I felt incredibly invigorated, I guess there is nothing better than getting up close and personal with Mother Nature!  The area we were in was a cattle-grazing area and the rain caused some flash flooding and we had to wade through mud and muck, all I could hope for is that none of my blisters were open.

Gregory and I looking invigorated after the storm!

Thankfully this was not for long and soon we were back on dry ground and nearing CP 4 with Camp 2 in sight. Towards the end of this section we found ourselves dodging cacti – you did not want these beast to attack your shoes and had to be very careful not to stub your feet on any of them.

Just after leaving CP 4 I had my first encounter with food I simply could not eat – I stopped to “enjoy” some almond butter. This was a great calorie rich food that had worked really great during training but it did not work for me right then – I gagged as soon as I felt the texture in my mouth and promptly threw up. Even though it was only shy of 5 miles to camp, these 5 miles felt like 20 … If it wasn’t for Dan, I might have just stepped on a cactus and ended it all there and then. I think this is where it all went a little south, even after arriving at Camp 2, I could not stop vomiting so I took myself to the medical tent and the nice medic there gave me some anti-nausea medicine (Zofran) which worked a charm but only after a cup of tea. Every one (especially my tent mates were so awesome and tried to make me feel better, Sarah made me some of my food but I couldn’t eat it so dinner that night was very small but I was happy that the nausea and vomiting stopped. The highlight of the evening was coming back to my tent to encouraging receive messages from friends.

Stage Two

I felt fine when I woke up, no more nausea, but my appetite wasn’t there. I tried to eat some of the dinner I wasn’t able to the night before and managed to swallow about a quarter of it before giving up. I made up my “perpeteum” drinks (calories for the day) and was ready for the 8:00am start.
The views at the top were amazing!

The first three miles up to CP1 were pretty straightforward, it was slow going largely due to the single track but the pace was friendly – everyone was excited about the day ahead. After CP1 the climbing began. We were faced with a climb of about 1300 ft (our elevation was already 6000ft) within about a mile and a half.

Needless to say this was hard, especially for a sea level dweller like me and I deployed a technique, which I’ll call “shade to shade”, where literally I climbed from one tree to the next to catch my breath at every stop the views were amazing and it was incredible to see how much distance we had covered. At the top I found Dan had waited for me. I felt terrible that he had waited, as I did not want him to miss any cut offs because of me so I urged him to go on ahead. I caught a second wind as soon as the climbing stopped and soon caught up to him and even passed a few people that had also had some difficulty getting up that hill.
Following pink flags or ribbons was how we found our way on the course
I reached CP2 before the cut off but there was not enough time to eat so I marched on. The course between CP3 and CP4 was magnificent, there was another little climb but after that earlier hill they felt very manageable especially since I had already perfected the “shade to shade” technique earlier on. The weather was getting hotter and the few trees that provided shade were a blessing.

My favorite kind of road!
At CP4 I refilled my water bottles and I felt good, I was getting my mojo back. The march to Camp 3 was amazing – I felt strong and I had energy as if I could go on forever. I found myself passing a few people and I had a lot of fun spraying water into my face to cool me down. This might have been the happiest time for me. I felt strong when I arrived at Camp 3

My appetite still wasn’t what it should be for this kind of event – food is essential to stay strong but my spirits were high and I ate as much as I could and enjoyed the conversation at the camp fireplace before retiring to the tent for the night.

I was happy that I had a strong finish on Day 2 and I was happy that I had gotten so far considering my trepidation of even getting through Day one. Another 26 miles done and once again messages of support from friends were well received!

Stage Three – the long stage

The beginning of the Long stage. We would climb over this.
For reasons that I cannot explain, I was a complete emotional wreck this morning. I guess it was the lack of calories, or the lack of sleep but I found myself really nervous about this day. I found a fellow runner, Jaime and she was equally anxious about what lay ahead, she already had developed really bad blisters and was concerned about how she would fare on this stage. A few people had already dropped out of the race and as the two of us ate our breakfast watching a beautiful sunrise we had a little cry.

Start time was 8:00am and everyone set out for the long day. The first few miles to CP1 were great, a nice long gravel road, I held a steady pace and enjoyed the cool morning air. In the distance I could see the cliffs ahead that was going to be our first climb.

Check Point 2. Sadly this is where Yvonne dropped.
Just after CP1 we were faced with our first real climbing (scrambling) up the cliffs. This felt pretty dangerous as foot and hand holds were not that easy to navigate with poles in hand but I made it and although it was tough climb it still did not feel as tough as the day before, the rest of the trail to CP2 was rolling hills, it was hot, so once again, “shade to shade” technique was deployed. The day was getting hotter and many competitors were starting to feel it, when I got to CP2 there were a handful of runners hanging out trying to recover from the heat. 

About 6 competitors dropped at this checkpoint including Yvonne who looked like she was beat by the heat, turns out she also had horrendous blisters on her feet and simply could not go on. I heard later that the runners who dropped at that check point were driven into Kanab, reunited with their luggage and wished “good luck”.

The trail was beautiful
CP2 to CP3 was a nice steady downhill on a jeep track, the views were amazing once again and I felt pretty good even though I was aware that my calorie intake was low – I simply couldn’t eat enough in this heat. I had some biltong (South African Beef Jerky) this was amazing to chew; I couldn’t swallow it every time but I felt at least that my body was getting ‘something’ solid. I was longing for any food other than what I had with me in my pack, everything that I had with me made me feel ill just thinking about eating. I persevered though and at CP3 I drank some Perpeteum. This was the only thing I could swallow but it wasn’t enough. Leaving CP3 was another steep scramble up a difficult trail, there weren’t many folks around me at this point and I was honestly scared that I’d fall back and no one would find me – I wasted a lot of energy on this fear. Energy I could not afford to waste at this point of the day – there was still along way to go.

In the distance I could hear dogs barking and I knew that I was near CP4 and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, by the time I reached CP4 it was starting to cool a little and I spent a few minutes at CP4 getting myself ready for the night ahead. I had another Perpeteum drink and fixed my red flashing light to my backpack. 

At this time Dan had joined up with me again and we headed out into the evening together for the trek to CP5. It was so beautiful in the dark, this section of the trail was near a river and we could hear frogs croaking and the cool air was a real treat after the heat of the day.

Despite the nice cool temperatures, by the time I got to CP5 I was feeling pretty low. My body had been strained by the lack of calories during the day and although I tried to eat something there and regain my strength I once again didn’t feel like anything I had with me. At this time I also overheard the race director and the guy who had designed the course boasting how hard they had made the sand dunes this year and after doing calculations in my head about how long it would take to reach the next check point and wondering if I’d have enough time to rest there before the sand dunes and then unsuccessfully trying to locate something that would be palatable to me, I took off my shoes and decided I had had enough.  I had found my limit.

The volunteers were very nice and they drove me back to Camp 4 and the first thing I realized as I was in the car was not how warm it was but how fast the landscape was passing, this gave them a good laugh.
Recovering back in Camp

Giving up is a terrible thing. I was totally okay with my decision at the time but as the new day broke and runners with whom I had been on the course the previous day were starting to come across the finish line. I started to feel sad about my decision to stop. 
Sarah pulled me aside and told me that although it may sound corny, this experience would be character building. She was spot on. I had always said that if I stopped for whatever reason I would stay with the race and volunteer so right there and then I decided to embrace my feeling and I started to look for a new assignment.  I found my way to Camp Crew.

 Stage 4

Camp 4 after the runners had left for the day
The morning of Stage 4, I gladly accepted an invitation to eat breakfast with the volunteers, and after seeing the runners off for the day, I was put to work. Bear, the camp crew boss asked me to take down the signs on the tents and gather the chairs then Duncan showed me how a tent gets dismantled. Each tent has nine poles and one center pole and every one of the tents had to be folded up and all the poles put onto trailers to be transported to the next camp and set up for the runners when they come in again after the long day out.

Before leaving I picked up a feather, Shawn, one of the camp crew noticed and pointed out that when picking up a feather it means you’re making a commitment – I committed to having a positive experience no matter what comes my way – 
I loved being outdoors and in many ways I was grateful for the opportunity to see both sides of the race in one year. Many people volunteer one year and race in another.

At the Sand Dunes
The drive to the next camp was a blast! Dean drove his four wheel truck while playing guns and roses loud on the car sound system – It took me back to days in Africa when we would drive around the bush on weekends – I was happy! We stopped at the Sand Dunes where we filled up water for the Camp – I was glad to see the dunes and was still okay with my decision to stop.

Camp 5 was to be set up in a field of wild sage and there were a lot of “stickers” - thorns with many sides that have a habit of sticking to everything that comes near, especially socks – they hurt. In South Africa we have a similar weed called “devils bush” . We improvised and made gaiters out of duct tape – this helped keep them out of our socks as we got to work setting up the tents.

A volunteer tent at Camp 5
There were 14 runner tents, one medical tent and one “cyber tent” and another 8 volunteer tents to set up. There were 9 people including myself to do this job. I got to know the rest of the camp crew that day. Hard working people. I felt right at home.

Mickey was the first runner to arrive before we had finished setting up all the tents. He had a steady fast pace and held onto his lead throughout the race. It was great seeing him come flying in but we had work to finish and James had promised me a ride into Kanab so I could get decent cell phone reception and make a call home.

Wind chimes at Angels Rest
Once all the work was done, I got a ride into Kanab with one of the crew and I met James who was picking up his car from the Holiday Inn – he had Duncan with him and the three of us set off in search of a shower. Luckily I had received a text from Yvonne earlier telling me that she and Jaime were staying in the Parry Lodge. A quick phone call secured access to the shower and Jaime was kind enough to run our dirty clothes down to the laundry for a quick rinse. Since it was so hot there was no need to wait for anything to dry and after 5 days of wearing the same running skirt a clean item of clothing was a treat even if it was wet!

After the shower we had a couple of hours to kill before dinner and James drove us through Best Friends sanctuary. I was so happy to go there again and we spent time walking around Angels Rest as the sun was setting. Just before we lost the light we found the labyrinth at Angels lookout. We experienced more beautiful views in place that has left an impression on my heart.

That night I slept in a tent with the volunteers – it felt like the right thing to do.

Stage 5

Early morning wake up for the Camp Crew! We were awake at 5:30 am for breakfast and then the day started. The runners set off again at 8:00 am and we started tearing down tents. This camp took a while to clean up but we removed everything including any unused firewood from the night before.
It was a longish drive to Camp 6, we passed Bryce along the way and stopped at a gas station where I had a chance to buy potato chips and some lip balm that I desperately needed for my sunburned lips.

The site for Camp 6 was lovely. It was the opposite of the site we just left, there was no dust, no sage, just some wild flowers and grass. There were even horses in the adjoining field. It was a pleasant sight.

Setting up Camp 6
Once again Mickey was the first runner to arrive at camp and since we had taken longer to reach the camp by car, we were not all set up by the time the 10th runner had arrived. I could tell the camp crew was also pretty tired at this point. Hell, I was tired and I had only been working at this for two days!. The guys worked hard. Every tent needed at least seven people to get it up; one on each corner pole, one to walk the big pole into the middle and preferably two people to hammer the stakes into the ground. Once the tents were up, each of the fourteen tents for runners needed to be swept, they each had a sign pinned to them then a table with two 20 gallon drums of water was set up. 

Nathan looking strong at the finish
There was talk of bad weather on the horizon and we were made aware that there might be a change in plans for the final stage of the race due to this. Bad weather turned out to be a monster storm that was barreling towards the camp and it was soon decided to change Stage 6 – the good news for camp crew was that the camp was not being moved again and the finish line was going to be right here.

The first part of the storm hit during the night and once again thunderstorms had me up in the night. It was the eve of my birthday and I couldn’t help thinking how symbolic it was to have a cleansing storm to welcome me into my new year. I was safe and dry in my tent.

It was quiet enough in the morning for the runners to complete a 2 mile final run and finish across the finish line to receive their finishers buckle – their time would not count for this stage and it was a joyous celebration of great achievement by all. I was so happy to see Dan finish, he toughed it out to finish and smiled all the way, Sarah finished strong and placed second female, it was a beautiful moment watching them run to the finish line together.

All my tent mates of Hualapai made it to the finish! I admit I felt a little disappointed in myself but I take joy in celebrating their achievements and acknowledging my own – I went a lot farther than I thought I might. I completed 88 of the hardest miles I’ve ever attempted and I had a fantastic experience, I met some of the most amazing people I could ever ask to meet, I was shown more generosity of spirit in one week than I can put into words and I know I have made friendships that will last a lifetime.
Photo credit: Simon Dodd

Runners heading to the buses that would drive them back to Las Vegas
That afternoon all the runners (including us who did not finish) were driven in buses back to Kanab to collect our luggage and to enjoy a burger lunch provided by the people of Kanab. After the lunch we were driven to Las Vegas to the Green Valley Hotel and Spa. 

I took the longest shower (as I’m sure did everyone else!) and we enjoyed a wonderful awards dinner followed by dancing.  I danced with joy in my heart for a beautiful week. The landscapes, the songs that will forever take me back to waking up in camp, the smell of sage, the people, the memories, they will all stay in my heart forever. A birthday I will not forget.

I had wanted a buckle for my birthday, yes. I’d hoped to come home with one, but I came back with so much more. I’ll get that buckle next time.

Celebrating success in Las Vegas with Sarah

The pool at the Green Valley Ranch

Hanging out with Yvonne before leaving Las Vegas

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

So much to look forward to ...

Its been an interesting time since my return from Europe and the epic adventure in Iceland - I have been working hard at keeping my priorities in check, as far as work goes, a contract as marketing consultant for the San Francisco Marathon has kept me busy, I get to be around runners and running related stuff all day but I find that it’s so easy to get absorbed by work, to the point where I don’t dedicate enough time to the things that make me happy, like running and working out.

The days are getting shorter and it feels like there is not enough time in the day to do all the things I want to do … When I do get out, I have been able to keep up with my workouts in the park in the morning, well, although last weekend I went camping up at the Russian River and that threw me off my game. The park workouts are now run by a new company that Raul formed. It is called San Francisco Strength and Conditioning, or SFNSC but it’s the same group of people and the workouts are as hard, if not harder than before. Its good, I like to be challenged, especially at this time of the year when all I really want to do is hibernate like a bear.

Despite wishing I was a little better at my training, I have had some great runs – I was out at Javelina Jundred crewing and pacing for a friend that was running the 100 mile race – I’m so impressed with the tenacity it takes to run 100 miles – Sam (my runner friend) was amazing, his strength saw him through to finish with les than 10 minutes to spare before the cut off. What a great experience, the desert is so quiet at night until the dawn when you can hear the coyotes howl. I plan to go back in 2014 to run 100 km there.

I also completed the New York Marathon at the beginning of November. It was beautiful in New York. The fall colors on the East Coast are nothing like we get in San Francisco, our seasons are less obvious here. I also had the chance to reconnect with people that I met in Iceland has been fun. 2013 was a crazy year , certainly the most tumultuous and diverse that I’ve experienced in a long time. I’ve grown so much and know that there are many adventures ahead in 2014!

 “How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” ― Dr. Seuss

Friday, August 30, 2013

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anaïs Nin

After months of training and gear planning, I was finally in Iceland enjoying a week of sunny weather in Reykjavik before the race. A few days before I was about to check into the event hotel in Reykjavik, I received my tent assignment. This was all starting to feel very real! The tents were randomly allocated unless you had previously requested to share with someone specific and since I had no team at this event, I was randomly assigned a tent.

When I first saw the list of tent mates I gasped, 2 guys from Australia, 1 guy from Saudi Arabia, 2 from China, 1 from England and a woman from Belgium. All were younger and more experienced than I was and I was already dreading the lack of privacy I was about to encounter. Thankfully these concerns were very short lived, privacy died at the check in hotel when I was assigned a roommate and discovered we had one double bed. There is nothing like sleeping on the same bed together to get to know someone quickly!

Jacqueline, is a 4 deserts member which meant she had done all 4 of the yearly races that Racing the Planet organizes so she had experience and was very generous with her advice about what to leave behind. I resisted on some items but in the end her advice was invaluable, she made me take a bunch of stuff out of my pack that I was not going to need.

Saturday morning we all had to attend a briefing and then it was runner registration and gear check. The volunteers were brilliant and it all went off without a hitch. Soon it was go time and at 2pm on Saturday we boarded buses and started the long bus ride to Camp one. We were assigned buses by tent number and I was thankful that my new friends Gabriel and Lee were on the same bus as me (they were in the tent next to mine). We stopped along the way to look at “Geysir” and then continued on. The four hour journey was a great time to get to know each other.

After driving through some very desolate terrain, we arrived to some awful weather at a relocated Camp One – the original site at Kerlingjafol had literally been blown away and there was no way they could have us stay there. Even the relocated site was very windy and this turned out to be a taste of things to come. My tent mates all seemed really nice but I still had a fitful sleep that night and a dream that I had run away! I wondered if that was wishful thinking!

Because the weather was so bad they not only had there been a change to the camp but also the course for Stage One, we were rerouted to run on the gravel road that we drove on yesterday. It was tough to be on that road all day, endless barren terrain on either side of a dusty road, relentless wind and the occasional bus or truck flying past you at horrendous speeds. The highlight of the day was seeing a Raven, the landscape is so hostile there is very little sign of life and it turns out it was the only big bird I would see all week.

It was good to arrive at Camp 2 after 28 miles on that long road. First priority was to find the tent, take off the pack and refuel. My tent mates were amazing. I joked with Mo and asked him if he had won the day, turns out he had! He kept the lead all through the race. I was the last one in to the tent that evening and yet everyone was really nice. They asked if I needed anything and seemed genuinely happy for me that I made it through the day. I felt windswept but in general really good.

Camp 2 had a cabin where the cyber tent was set up and we were able to eat and hang out in the cabin for a while to get out of the wind. It was a nice opportunity to get to know a few more competitors. I spent the evening talking to a group of runners from America who were running for Runwell. Conversation was mostly about running and food – a lot of talk about food was had during the week.

That night brought another fitful sleep. The wind was relentless and the tents’ fabric billowed all night. Soon enough though it was dawn and time to pack it all up and get going for Stage 2.Right from the start, Stage 2 was defined by the relentless wind. We ran on the same gravel road as yesterday for most of the morning. The upside was that the wind was on our backs, but a couple of runners took the downhill road too aggressively, landed on their faces and were out of the race after receiving medical treatment for facial cuts and a broken rib. Ouch!

Around 10 miles in on Stage 2 we finally left the road and traversed across a desert like landscape towards the glacier. We crossed a river over a bridge, climbed a hill and there we were at the shore of the glacier lake at the foot of Langjökull. The wind was still howling at this time and the glacier lake had 2 foot waves just from the wind. I never felt more alive! The energy at this spot was exceptional.

With the glacier lake behind us we turned a corner and found ourselves on the other side of the mountain where there was no wind. We were in the “land of the trolls”, every rock formation had a face in it. It was truly magical. The silence here was also impressive, it was the first time it had been calm since we began the race.

The calm stayed with us as we descended into the valley leaving the glacier even further behind us. After what felt like the longest final 6 miles to reach the end of Stage 2, there were buses waiting for us at the finish line. Once again the organizers had to move the camp due to the never-ending wind.

Luckily for us, the new location for Camp 3 was calm and it had a stable where we were able to get out of the wind to socialize, eat and use the cybertent. In the morning it was still relatively calm and it looked like it would be good day. After what was now becoming a familiar morning ritual of making food and packing up we were back on the buses on our way to the start line of Stage 3.

Stage 3 was amazing! The sky was blue all day and I knew if I got to the end of this stage that I was very likely to finish. A handful of people had dropped out already and I was determined to stay in good sprits and get through today. It was not hard to stay positive, the scenery today was spectacular. We crossed the area where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and the rock formations around here were simply spectacular. The road was hard to run on though, it was very rocky and by mile 18 I met up with Raj who was having a rough day. Motivating him helped me stay positive. Although the sun shone all the way until we reached Camp 4 I was thrilled to be done with this stage, I knew now that I would finish the race.

Camp 4 itself was a dustbowl. It was set up behind a hill and it felt like we were in a wind tunnel. It felt oddly familiar to have the wind back after the calm day before but it did not leave much desire for socializing so I landed up going to the tent early. Another fitful sleep … this was the theme most nights … and it was back to packing up and heading out for Stage 4.

Stage 4 started off with a short run over moss covered lava fields and then through a lava tube. Going through the lava tube meant crawling on all fours over rocks through a cave made of lava for about a quarter mile. It was quite an incredible experience and in some way it felt like a privilege to be able to experience it. It is not every day one gets that deep inside the earth, and a very new earth at that.

After the cave I headed out through the lava fields feeling quite energized but by around mile 14 I realized I might have gone out too hard in the morning . It was around this time I met up with Raj again. I was really glad to have him around that day, he lifted my spirits when I was feeling a little rough and we stuck together all the way until we got back to camp. Once we passed Thingvellir and some farms we started to climb and we started to cross over geo thermal fields. At one of the check points the volunteers had boiled eggs for us. The eggs had been boiled in the geothermal lake. It was the Best Egg Ever! After 5 days of rehydrated food a fresh egg was incredible. It also gave me much needed energy to get over the next couple of hills.

There was a storm brewing and we had to move fast to get to camp. We were 20 minutes away from camp when the skies opened up. By the time we arrived at camp I was soaked to the bone. My waterproof pants were no longer waterproof after days of wind and I had been wearing a water resistant layer that had not handled the last 20 minutes well and it was drenched.

That evening after I had dried off, I made dinner and went back to the tent to sleep and get ready for Stage 5, the long stage. Camp 5 could have been nice but the rain did not let up and during the night we all got soaked in the tents. In the morning everyone in the tent was sure they would not let us start the race since it was still raining and it was the long stage ahead. It was really a dreadful thought knowing we would be out all day in wet weather and for 41 miles!! They did however make us start which was a blessing in the end, I don’t think we could have stayed in that valley where the camp was much longer, we needed to get moving.

Besides the rain Stage 5 started out fine, I knew what lay ahead and I knew I had a lot of time to do it in. My goal was to get to the finish by the time the sun went down. (10pm.) The weather was awful at the start and did not improve. After an entire morning of rain, we had near gale force headwinds approaching the black sand beach. The poncho I had put on in the morning completely disintegrated but I got so fired up by the wind on the beach and I just wanted to get the hell away from the sand blowing onto me so I pushed pretty hard to move forward and at the check point at the end of the beach I was happy to find out that I was already at half way!

After the beach we had a mile long scramble over lava rocks on the beach. It was pretty treacherous at times but also quite exhilarating and my legs enjoyed the different muscles being used. After the lava rocks the trail took us through a kind of a wasteland of marine trash, it was odd, there was a lot of green but scattered throughout the fields were bits of fishing or boating debris. The weather was turning bad again after a brief respite but the wind was on our backs most of the time, I met up with several competitors that I had seen on previous days and we shared a few miles together. Although the final road was very long I knew it was almost over. I made it to the finish line at 9:45pm, there was a bus waiting.

They had arranged for us to stay in a gymnasium in a small village after the long stage so we could rest and recover before stage 6. The gymnasium was heated and it had showers and we also had access to our drop bags that contained a pair of dry pants, a clean top, a swimsuit and warm socks. After not having washed in 6 days a hot shower and clean clothes were the nicest things ever.

We hung out in the gymnasium all of Friday while our shoes dried. I had a sleeping spot by Gabriel, Lee, Chris and Veronica from Runwell. We sat around most of the day and ate as much as we could get our hands on. (There was a lot of trading for food.) I was also convinced to go for a swim in the pool next door. The Icelanders have such a great culture of public pools most towns have one and they are all geothermal. I slept pretty well that night – finally.

On Saturday morning we were back on the bus looking for the start line for Stage 6, this would be the last 10k of the race and would take us to the Blue Lagoon and the official finish. This last section was beautiful, lava rocks covered with moss, I stumbled a few times and eventually fell about 5km from the finish. My only injury of the race was this scrape on the knee and it happened just as I took my mind off the race. I was thinking about what I would do when I was finished! The fall did made me laugh though and I got my mind back into the race and finally I was super happy to finish.

Lee and Gabriel were at the finish line, so was Mo (amazing tent mate and winner) as well as other happy finishers and volunteers. Everyone was so happy, what a moment to enjoy. 250km done and dusted! There was meat soup on offer and after I inhaled a cup of it and some bread, I made my way to the Blue Lagoon to soak my weary body and celebrate.

Back at the hotel the first thing I did was get a sandwich and lie in the bed for a few hours. I was still in awe that I had completed the race and that I stayed intact. I did feel pretty spent though, that I can’t deny, but I did feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I could see that same sense of accomplishment on peoples faces at the awards banquet that evening.

I am so grateful for the friendships I made. I was anxious about meeting my tent mates and they turned out to be the most wonderful generous people you could ever meet - after every stage they would welcome me back to the tent and even though they were runners in the front of the pack they were so humble about their efforts of the day.

There were many competitors I made friends with along the way; there were The Vikings! (Chris and Jakes) who taught me to sing “God Bless America” during the long stage. Ted and George who always had great conversation. Gabriel and Lee who were a shining light at the end of every stage, Raj and VeeJay with whom I shared many miles with, they were both so generous with their spirit and for that I am thankful and I am glad to know Veronica from the Bay Area who showed more tenacity and determination than I have ever seen in anyone. So proud of her finish.

I feel so lucky to have had this experience; to have seen the scenery and met so many amazing people from all over the world who share a love for this kind of activity is a blessing. I genuinely miss the people I met. I feel like for a week we were a tribe and I guess for that week, we were.

For the official press release from Racing The Planet look here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Big Adventure

Wow, time flies when you're having fun!

It's almost unbelievable to me that I head to Europe this week. Back in March, July felt so far away in the future, now it's here! First stop is London and then I head to Iceland for “The Big Adventure” – so much has been going through my mind as I've been training and preparing for this event, it almost feels like a lifetime of contemplation has been condensed into a few months of intense training. I look forward to the adventure and whatever will come after it. I have thought a lot about how fabulously unpredictable life is, when I was younger I never imagined I would be living the life I live today. What a magical journey!

I still don't for one second take for granted just how lucky I have been to experience so much awesomeness during the last 4 months. Besides the Joshua Tree road trip and hanging in the Headlands and Bolinas, I made it out to Muir Woods twice, I’ve been up near Auburn a handful of times, I spent an amazing week in Kauai and I have immersed myself in the sights and sounds of San Francisco and it's surrounding areas.

Many hours have been spent running and hiking in the Marin Headlands, sometimes on my own, sometimes with friends – it is true that the more you spend time in one place the more intimately you get to know it – there are so many gems in the Headlands. The birds, the plant life, the rare sight of a bobcat or coyote, the little lizards that scurry away in the heat, even the wind has it’s own unique sound as it comes over the valley from the ocean. I’ve observed how the valley changed as it moved into summer. This is life in the slow lane.

It seems quite incredible just how much I've managed to slow down since March and also how much more simple life feels - I continue to feel more "unbundled" from my old corporate life every week. So much so, that some days I dream about a life lived far away in the woods where I could write and tinker all day but in reality, I don't think that is something I will be able to achieve on my own in the near future – Without setting any limitations on myself, I just don't like the idea of being isolated. I am a social being and I do anticipate having a partner in life who has similar values and dreams to mine; besides, I am driven to succeed and I fear that besides the isolation, I may get bored in the woods after some time. Having said that knows what the long term future holds ... I am open to any possibility right now and I have been surprised before - after all, I never had a plan to live in San Francisco and here I am 8 years later, happy and healthy... dare I say, thriving?

So, in a couple of days I leave for London and for "The Big Adventure" ... it's going to be so good to see old friends in London ... it's always a little serendipitous, London was home for a long time and is close to my heart ... It’s nice to know I have no appointments to keep while I am there, this is purely a leisure (pleasure) trip. I also look forward to (once again) immersing myself in nature and the elements while I am in Iceland.

I was asked recently why I am doing this crazy race – who runs 250km in wind and rain across a part of Iceland? The only answer I can come up with is “BECAUSE I CAN!” ... How many of us in this lifetime have the opportunity to push ourselves way outside of our comfort zone to see what is on the other side? I am pretty sure I will come back home exhausted but with a pocketful of unparalleled experience. Who needs another reason than that?
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure." Helen Keller

To follow the race on the Racing the Planet web site, here are some links:
Home page
News and Updates
My blog page on RTP

Email a competitor

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rediscovering a sense of freedom in San Francisco

It is the middle of May and that means it has been two and half months since I last woke up and went to an office to start my workday. Time flies when you're having fun! This week for the first time I felt as though I was finally starting to get into a new "groove" ... one where I am not spending every day dealing with some sort of administration ... whether it's healthcare, banking, unemployment, travel booking, it's amazing how much time it all takes.

Besides all the administration I have also made time for "things that matter" and one of those things was to make time to re-certify for the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT). I had let that expire about three years ago and I am glad that I spent this time to recertify. One must, after all, always be prepared for an emergency! It seems as though I used to easily be able to make time for volunteering in my community but the last three years of work were so intense, I lost focus.

People ask me what I do with my time. For one, the weather has been awesome recently, a typical day has me starting off with some form of workout, either bootcamp or a run, or both. My days vary, but I'll typically have something on my calendar, like driving across town to my favorite bakery for bread or going to the spa or doing laundry. Lunch is often with friends somewhere or I'll go out in my neighborhood and on slow days when I don't feel like traveling far, I'm discovering the daytime staff at The Toronado. I am keeping myself busy that's for sure!

Last month I got a new tattoo on my leg, it’s an image of the Marin Headlands and at the bottom is a scroll with words that that read "Take Time to Play" ... this is a sentiment I want to keep with me for the rest of my life. In this life, work can take many forms, it does not have to be all consuming. It makes me think of the Confucius quote: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” My next act should be just that: Something I love! But not yet, right now, my focus is on training for my Iceland adventure – it is a mere 80 days until the event and I feel that I am in a good place with my training. I'd been nursing a slight ankle injury (tendonitis) for a few months now and even though I feel it once in a while, it feels like something I can actually run through now.

I don't for one second take any of this leisure time for granted. I feel extremely privileged to have this time, in San Francisco, to run, to rediscover what is important to me; and most of all to feel free!

Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better. – Albert Camus

Monday, April 1, 2013

Change and The Dawn of New Optimism

Big news in my world: A month ago I was laid off from my job where I had worked for a little over 12 years. Now before you say “Oh no!”, you have to know that I see this as a positive change. I had in many ways been drifting in the tide of the company sea since I joined TMP in November of 2000 and it was a good ride. I had not had to spend too much time thinking about my own goals, I just followed one opportunity after another and often put the company goals before my own. Although I spent a lot of time dreaming, I did very little to act on those dreams.

I see this lay-off as a gift. I have been given the opportunity to shape the next chapter of my life – Although it is somewhat terrifying, it brings with it an incredible sense of freedom and I have decided that in order to explore other parts of my life that have been ignored for far too long, I am going to take significant time off from work before I get back into the thick of things ... call it a sabbatical of sorts.

I won't be idle though, there is so much to do! There are courses to take and road trips to go on and I intend to focus on running and development of my "inner self". Already in the past month, I have been kept busy dealing with "stuff" at home. I found myself purging during the last few weeks, everything in my closet had to be reorganized and in the process I have thrown out or donated at least a third of what was in there … I had been feeling overwhelmed by all of my belongings and have had a real urge to get “lighter”. I did not realize how long this process takes but I have made steady progress and best of all I am working at my own pace.

The most noticeable change I have observed since I stopped working is that I am slowing down and within this "slowing down", I have found that I am getting more patient. I feel with more patience one is also a lot kinder, when one is kind, kindness is often returned. I like this change. There is a lot of goodwill in this world when we take the time to observe it.

This amazing life journey so far has led me to where I am today and I recognize that to be living in San Francisco and to have the time to explore it and take advantage of what it offers is a blessing. I have no idea where this new path will lead me to and it is possible that I will land up back at the beginning, but for now I know that I owe it to myself to seek a more authentic life and this change is an opportunity to explore just that.

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” ― Noam Chomsky

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's getting real now!

Today there are 166 days left until Iceland 2013. It has been almost a year that I have been dreaming about this adventure and it's almost unfathomable that it is less than 6 months away now but I have been training and preparing both mentally and physically.

Equipment adds an interesting dimension to this event. So far, I have purchased a pack and a sleeping mat that I am happy with. For the pack, I chose the Inov-8 Elite, it is light and fits snug on my back with plenty of pockets for easy access to smaller things. It is also "hydration compatible" which was an important factor for me since I am not a big fan of carrying a water bottle in my hands while I run. For the sleeping mat I settled on the Klymit Interia X frame because it is small and light. I will buy more equipment as we get closer to the date but next on the list is the sleeping bag, I want to take time to research all the equipment carefully and make sure it works for me before I purchase it.

As far as training goes, I decided to work with a coach who has experience with multi-days ... I still consider myself a newbie to running so I am grateful for all the help I can get in preparation for the event. I have only been running for 5 years and although I have many marathons under my belt as well as multiple 50k’s and one 50 miler - I am slow... (think turtle not rabbit.) so I'm aiming to build endurance over speed.

I've run one multi-day but it was "only" 50k over two days so I can't begin to imagine what it will feel like to run for 7 days but by the time I get to the start line in Iceland I should have completed another 50k, a 50 miler and a 100k. I'm trusting that this will be plenty of training.
My ultimate goal is to arrive at the start line, prepared and injury free.