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.