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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rock 'n Roll San Antonio: Giving is the Best Way of Getting

Some of the best and most memorable experiences with running have not come from my own races or personal achievements, but rather in helping others reach their goals. I don't consider myself exceptionally altruistic, but there is just something about helping others that is special.

The San Antonio Rock 'n Roll Marathon took place yesterday, and though I didn't get to run, my role meant much more to me than if I had simply been a participant. I joined several of my coworkers from the Physical Health and Wellness team to coach 20 of our wounded warriors to the finish line, most for their very first marathon.

Apparently I Didn't
Get the Memo...

To be honest, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to go at first. This was the finale of the Run to Somewhere program that I had talked big about helping all year, but was only able to attend about half of the build up races for, and not a single training run. On top of that I had just spent the last 3 weeks out of town, not terribly excited at the onset to spend my first day home at "work".

But alas... I woke up at 4am and headed to the hotel where all of our runners and the staff had stayed the night before. I didn't know what Danny and Chris had in mind for my role, but I showed up willing to do anything that might be needed.

Team WWP!
We had runners competing in both the half and full marathon events, so it was going to be a challenge helping all of them. We started off together, staff and participants, for the first two miles. I stopped there and cut course to mile 9 with Danny and Allison to wait for our guys and gals to get there.

And so that's how it went... we would run two mile stretches at a time, motivating them, making sure they were doing well, and had everything they needed. Keep in mind, some of these people were running with significant combat injuries, probably at times not believing they would ever get to pursue such a feat as a 26.2 mile marathon.

The highlight came when we tracked our last half marathon runner coming to the split. Four staff members ran behind her for the last 2 miles of her race holding the Wounded Warrior Project banner behind her as she completed the final stretch. The crowd erupted as we approached the finish line and there was no mistake that it was all for her.

After the half marathoners all reached their goal, staff headed to the end of the full course to catch the rest on their way in. From there we took turns running with each of our warriors for the last mile of the race.



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Team RWB Trail Running Camp 2013

This weekend I had the privilege and honor to spend some time up at Camp Eagle in Rocksprings, TX to attend Team RWB's annual trail running camp.

For those of you who don't know, I have been running for Team RWB for about a year now as a veteran athlete. It's a great organization that's purpose is to create communities of veterans and supportive civilians through interaction in physical and social activities.

They Brought Me On Board Because
Of The Beard...

To read my story of how I became involved with Team RWB, go here.

The camp was like nothing I had ever heard of before as an ultrarunner. Dozens of the sports most elite runners would be in attendance... Sage Canaday, Liza Howard, Darcy Africa, Matt Hart, Nikki Kimball, and more. There would be clinics, workshops, training runs, and classes... all with the majority of attendees being military veterans pursuing their own passion for trail running.

All of this would take place at one of my favorite places in Texas, Camp Eagle. This would be my fourth trip to the camp, my first visit was to run one of the most challenging 50K's I have ever run, the Nueces 50K. Read my race report here.

I took my wife Mikayla and baby boy Connor to join in the action. Connor had his first birthday celebration while we were in attendance, keeping in step with his already present ultrarunning pedigree. The weekend also saw the celebration of the celebration of both the Marine Corps 238th birthday and of course Veteran's Day... all near and dear to my heart.

Gettin' It On The Trails.
Though my participation in the activities at camp were significantly limited in light of the realities of having a baby that wants and demands constant attention, it was a great way to spend the weekend, with my family in a beautiful place with fellow veterans and trail runners.

The highlight for me was Nikki Kimball's presentation on Saturday night about how she battles depression through her pursuit to become one of the best female ultrarunners the sport has ever seen. The presentation hit home, as the sport has been my therapy through my struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and that I now work in a professional capacity to show my fellow wounded warriors how to do the same.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pride Comes Before the Fall... Sometimes Literally

Sometimes if you come into ultrarunning with an already impressive road resume, you might think you already have what it takes. While that might be true, it probably isn't. It's best to approach something as daunting as a 50-miler with the belief that you have no idea what you are getting yourself into. Humility is way different than a lack of self confidence, so don't think that's where I'm going with this. You gotta walk that line.

                                                             If Only It Were As Easy For
                                                                               Us As It Was For Neo...

The entire purpose of these last few posts is to provide resources, insight, and hopefully help to someone that is looking to attempt their first ultra. If out of all the information on the internet you have found yourself here, you likely have a descent amount of self awareness that you shouldn't just approach an ultramarathon with nonchalance.

Here are some pointers on how to keep your head out of the clouds:

  1. Consume everything you can from your predecessors... read, watch, ask.
  2. Make your only goal this: Crossing the finish line.
  3. Volunteer at a race as an aid station worker.
  4. Go to a race to cheer on other runners.
  5. Sure it's a competition, but not against others... it's against yourself.
  6.  Volunteer to be a pacer for someone else that's running.
  7. Know your limits. Physically and mentally.
  8. Start out slow. In training, in racing, in everything.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Distance Between the Road and the Trail

Most things in life produce some sort of competitive atmosphere. The college I went to is better than your college. Pepsi is better than Coke. The Marine Corps is better than the Army (this one is totally true).

The big argument with distance runners comes down to this: roads versus trails.

Typical Road Marathon
Typical Trail Ultramarathon
If you are wondering which I prefer, then you're
probably new to my blog...

I will tell you up front my experience with both... I have 7 full road marathons under my belt to go along with 10 trail ultramarathons that ranged from 50 kilometers to 77 miles. Between both, I have run in 5 different states, in every season, in quite a few weather patterns, and been witness to a fairly diverse sampling of race-day factors.

Lets start with road running... the pros and cons.

Road Runnin'
 The Good...
  • Most races and even training runs can be easily measured.
    • Marathons are 26.2 miles, ALWAYS.
    • MapMyRun, Google Maps and similar apps are very accurate.  
Don't Lie. I Know Some of You
Thought This Was a Radio Station.
  • Road races tend to have better organization, websites, chip timing.
  • Location, location, location.
    • Marathons are everywhere, from major cities to small towns, all year long.
    • You won't likely get lost trying to get to a race... and probably won't get lost during the
      race either. 
 The Bad...
  • I hope you like an audience. Some marathons get well over 20,000 participants and even more spectators.
  • Traffic and parking. Trying to get to downtown *fill in any city or town here* is a clusterfuck when there are thousands of people trying to go to the same event as you are. Even if you live in the town, it's quite a challenge at 5:30 am.
    And Now You Know Why
    The Results Page Has a "Chip Time" and
    a "Gun Time".

The Ugly...
  • As friendly as my fellow runners are, when you're in a crowd, people are simply rude.    
    • People run with headphones, oblivious to everything around them, including you.
    • Farting, spitting, vomiting, and releasing other bodily fluids is way worse in a crowd.
    • You'd think you were in a church service by the way people avoid conversation.
  • "Concrete Jungle" isn't how I'd describe an ideal running venue. Some cities look better than others, but I like my smog to oxygen ratio a little less one-sided.    
Good Luck Finding
the Finish Line!
Trail Runnin'
The Good...
  • Intimacy is a thing to cherish. Few, if any, ultramarathons get to a 1000 participants. Many races will even have just a hundred or less. You can literally run hours without seeing a single person.
  • You will be running places that few people ever see. The views will be amazing, the wildlife will be out, and you will love every second of it (unless aaforementioned wildlife attacks!).
  • Trail running is easier on the joints... dirt and leaves don't hurt as bad as concrete and asphalt.
  •   You will meet people who will do anything to make sure you make it the whole way, even if it means they don't reach their time goal. You will make friends on the trail that put your best friend in real life to shame. There is nothing quite like shared suffering.
Getting Killed By a Mountain Lion is Still
a Pro in My Book. Who Wants to Die
In Their Sleep?

 The Bad...
  • Say goodbye to cellphone service, and forget GPS. They probably won't work where we're going.
  • Running through the woods makes it hard to see where you're going. Do your homework or you might find yourself in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre scenario. Trails are harder to mark than streets.
  • Bring a tent or plan on a day that starts at 3am. Hotels are for tourists and businessmen.
Tents are for Lustful Teenagers Who Need
The Ugly...
  • Exponentially greater chance of injury. A trail runner who hasn't been to the hospital in the last 12 months is no trail runner at all.
  • Less standardized. I have run several "50 kilometer" races, and not one of them was 50 kilometers. If you wanted to qualify for Boston, you better get back to the city. No race is the same... even if you ran it the year before.
  • Run enough races and you will get lost. Maybe you won't even be able to find the starting line kind of lost

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Dangers of Over Training

One of the biggest dangers to your running is OVER TRAINING.

How can you train too much for an ultramarathon you ask? Well it's way easier than you think.

Ahh, Shit. Now How Do I Get Back Home?
Why You Do It

  1. Lack of trust in a good training plan. You're a rookie and can't pick just one thing. You try to do them all.
  2. Addiction. You're in love. I get it, but just like your fling in the 6th grade didn't work out long term, neither will the way your training.
  3. Lack of common sense. You don't rest or know when to take it easy, running through those aches and pains that are meant to be natural warnings to ease off the throttle.
Tony Didn't Know When To Stop Either...

3 Ways Over Training Kills Your Race
  1. You get "overuse injuries" like tendonitis, stress fractures, shin splints, and muscle strains.
  2. You lose your motivation for running and your sight on the race goal.
  3. You plateau, not getting any faster or stronger. Then you backslide.
How To Prevent It
  1. Have a solid but reasonable training plan that starts out slow, peaks, and then has room for tapering... Oh yeah. AND FOLLOW IT.
  2. Cross train and be creative. Have other low impact activities that you can use to supplement running. Don't always run for training... throw in a few that have no agenda for time, pace, distance, etc.
  3. Listen to your body. If you tweak an ankle, knee, muscle, or anything else then you need to take care of it. No one likes paying a huge registration fee, booking hotel rooms, and putting in for PTO just to get injured and not be able to run. 
The Long Term Danger If You Ignore the Preventable

If you pack in the runs, constantly training, constantly racing you will burn out... plain and simple. In 2011 I registered for 12 races. All of them were marathons or longer. I had a great Spring season, set personal records for two distances and then finished my longest race to date. Then I started sliding. My running became sporadic. My commitment waned. That Fall I went to the starting line of a race that I ended up not running, didn't even show up for three that I had paid to do, had one of my worst marathon times ever, and then dropped out of another. I had pushed too hard, then I paid the price.

Everyone has periods of ups and downs in their training and their racing, but if you want to be successful, you need to be consistent.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Race Eve

Do you remember Christmas Eve when you were still small enough to believe that Santa would come down your chimney while you were sleeping? Did you sleep well that night? Knowing that just hours from then you would be opening up a ton of presents? Hell no you didn't!

Especially If You Had Seen the 1972
"Tales From The Crypt" Santa.
Running your first ultramarathon will likely be the same way. You do everything right, have it all planned, get to bed early, and then you lay there. Awake. All. Freaking. Night.

Think about it. You're nervous, hopefully excited, probably away from your own bed, and you probably can't stop thinking about the fact that in less than 24 hours you will embark on a run that will literally take your entire day. Here are some practical tips to help you make it to the starting line:

1.) Make sure you arrange lodging AHEAD OF TIME, and for your first race, don't pick one that requires camping. It sounds fun... and it is... but it opens up a host of other potential problems.

2.) Just like I've said in previous posts, TRAIN LIKE YOU RACE. Train when you are tired. Intentionally prepare yourself for running when you have had less than ideal sleep, because I can guarantee you won't be getting 8 hours of REM sleep on race eve.

3.) If you can't sleep, then rest. We have all had those nights where we are trying to fall asleep to the point where it's actually work. If you can't do it, then just do something relaxing and restful. Read. Take a bath. Whatever.

4.) Prepare everything you need ahead of time so you have to do little more than roll out of bed in the morning, and then set as many alarms and wake-up calls as you can. Being in a rush on the day of is just enough added stress that it could ruin your whole day.

5.) Try not to take pills or anything else that will either wake you up or put you to sleep. I love my coffee and I drink a ton of it, but it's not the way to go. Furthermore, you don't want to be coming out of an Ambien induced zombie state when you have to run. Just roll with whatever your body throws at you.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Many Ailments of an Ultrarunner

It comes as no surprise that running ultra distances, typically in remote places, and sometimes in less than ideal conditions has it's hazards. Ultrarunning isn't the safest or most comfortable thing you can be doing with your time, but as they say, the juice is worth the squeeze.

Unless You're Trying to Squeeze
Chuck's Lemons...

My Top 3 Running Ailments (With Firsthand Accounts)

1. Bonking (a.k.a The Wall)

No it's not the greatest double album in the history of music... it's the utter breakdown of your entire physical and mental being. Commonly referred to as "hitting the wall" or "bonking", this ailment comes well into a long training run or race. Biologically it's when your body depletes it's glycogen stores and can't get the lactic acid out of your muscles fast enough. You are nauseous, light headed, your legs cramp up, and your kidneys feel like they are being stabbed.

But Dammit I Looked Good
Doing It.
My Story: I have hit a "wall" running road marathons, usually hits me around mile 18 or so. I have only completely bonked out once though and that was during my first attempt at 77 miles. The heat that day paired up with poor training and even worse nutrition had me puking my guts out after the first 19 miles. I literally couldn't keep down water, gel, food, or even a Tums tablet. I dropped out to live and fight another day.

2. Chaffing

Unless you failed your 3rd grade science class, you at least know a little bit
about friction. Well, when you run for hours on end normal rubbing of body parts... under your armpits, between your thighs, even between your ass cheeks... is exaggerated. The result is raw, bleeding, and unbelievable pain. You might not realize it during the race, but you had better get a tub of Vaseline ASAP. Don't forget to tape your nipples either, because that ever so slight movement of your shirt is going to have you lactating blood.

My Story: You can't avoid chaffing altogether, but you can reduce how bad it gets. I learned the hard way when I was a rookie, not realizing it until the hot water from my post race shower hit my ass. I let out a cry that sounded like I was having Satan himself exorcized out of me. Then it hurt to use toilet paper for a week. My tip to you is be generous and all inclusive with some Vaseline before and during a race, get a pair of compression shorts, and always duct tape or put band-aids on your nips. (Duct-tape sticks better and won't fall off, but you may need to shave your sasquatch-like chest hair first.)

3. Temporary Insanity

Most people know that running messes with the dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain. It's like a poor man's Prozac. My theory though is that strenuous enough activity results in these balances to go haywire for a bit. It's why people cry at the finish lines of races all across the country or in some cases, completely go ape shit in the middle of race. Your physical body is working at a abnormally effecient level, burning fuel, moving stuff around. Your mind does it too. If you get off on a tangent inside your head it can screw you over. You stop thinking about the task in front of you and your mind wonders to what kind of person you wanted to become, the meaning of life, why bad things happen to good people, and it will all make you nuts. Your not racing anymore, your wallowing in whatever crazy idea your brain shifted to the front.

Running and Copenhagen are My
Only Addictions.

My Story: This is tricky because running to me is therapeutic most of the time. Sometimes though, it takes me down memory lane to things I'd rather not be thinking about. On a training run in the Winter several years ago in Ohio my mind wandered to back to Iraq. I literally stopped in the middle of the run at 2am and sat in a pile of snow for 2 hours until I got past the woe is me attitude and ran home before the sun came up. It happened at my last race too. I had a great first 20 miles, bullshitting with another runner the whole time. Then we separated and I ran alone. Having just lost my Mom a few weeks before to cancer, guess where my mind went? I dropped at the next aid station, nothing wrong physically, but my mind was not where it needed to be to finish. The solution is to have a self-talk plan for when things like this go down. Songs to sing. Positive memories. To-do lists. Anything.

As you began to run longer and further you may encounter these and others. Some other favorites, both from my own experiences and other runner's include:

-Temporary Blindness (Rarest of the rare.)
-Hallucinations (Typically reserved for 100-mile + runners.)
-Broken Bones (One trip over a root should clear this one up.)
-Animal Attacks (Going to happen eventually, hopefully it's a small dog.)
-Loss of Toenails (The truest sign of being an ultrarunner.)
-Shitting Your Pants (I always run with a bandanna a.k.a emergency TP.)

While I have experienced all but a few of these as a byproduct of running, it has been and always will be worth it. You will know what I mean when you cross your first finish line.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Finer Points: Tuning Your Nutrition

For most things in life, you learn your lessons the hard way through "Oh shit!" moments. The first time you toe the line for an ultramarathon, it's my recommendation that you reduce the chance for these epiphanies by careful planning.

                                                       As "The Sixth Sense" Taught Us, You Can
                                                                     Only Have Your Mind Blown So Much.

Top 5 Nutrition Mistakes and How To Avoid Them:

1. You don't take nutrition into account at all.

Solution: What you eat and how much is MORE important than the miles you actually run, whether in training or during the race. Energy levels, injury prevention, recovery, cramping, stomach problems... you dial all of these in by proper nutrition.

2. You know about carbo-loading, but not how to actually do it.

Solution: Carbo-load a few days in advance, leaving the eve of your event open to small meals that are easy to digest. Packing in pasta drenched with sauce the night before seems logical, after all, you need those calories right? Hell no. A lot of races enable this behavior by having pre-race pasta buffets, but it simply doesn't work that way. Your body amplifies everything during strenuous activity. If you eat 20 lbs of pasta the night before a race, then you'd better pack some toilet paper into your waistband.

At Least He Wasn't Wearing White?

3. You don't eat in training the way you eat during a race.

Solution: Sure it's a pain in the ass to carry gels, chia seeds, or mix electrolyte powder into your water bottle when your on training without the benefit of an aid station, but if you are going to utilize those things at a stop during a race, you damn sure better have them when you train. You train your stomach just like you train the rest of your body... surprise your digestive system during an event and you can be sure it will return the favor. Some people even claim not using the same flavor of a gel or electrolyte drink they train with can (and has) ruined a race.

4. You eat what you crave instead of what you need.

Solution: You've been running for hours, drinking water, eating along the way. Despite this, you feel incredibly hungry and unbelievably thirsty. You come to an aid station and clear out the Oreos and drink a gallon of water. Felt good at the time didn't it? Until you run about 10 feet away and puke it all up. Your entire body is going to freak out the first time you try to push it to its limits, don't give in, give it only what it needs to keep going.
At Least She Is Wearing Brooks!
5. You just finished your race! Now you go out and eat 20,000 calories of bullshit.

Solution: It's tempting, I know. You just burnt more calories in a single day than most people do in a month. Why not have a gluttonous feast to reward your accomplishment? Because it will destroy your stomach, stunt your recovery, and likely won't set the tone you want to set to get back into training mode.

While you're getting styled and dialed with your nutrition, I highly recommend these books:

Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

Thrive by Brandon Brazier

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Losing Your Virginity

Sure, you have run some marathons, you've read "Born to Run" and started running trails... so maybe you're rounding the bases but despite what you've told your pals in the locker room, you aren't an ultrarunner just yet. Don't worry, I was there. People heard that I had plans to run a 70-miles when I was in high school and gave me credit that I didn't earn till a whole 5-years later.

This Is My Wife and I. She Has A Pillow Stuffed
Under Her Shirt.

But if you talk about something long enough and keep making jokes...

Not A Pillow.
Now your ultrarunning aspirations should work the same way, but instead of a baby boy, you will pop your cherry and complete your very first ultramarathon!

Picking your first race can be overwhelming but if you play your cards right, you will set yourself up for success. Here are 5 tips:

1. Pick a local race.
  • Familiar terrain. Family and friend support. Easy logistics.
2. Pick a shorter race.
  •  Some people go straight to the 50-miler, but why? A 50k counts and builds confidence.
3.  Pick an established race with a good reputation.
  • Poor course design and ill-placed aid stations on an inaugural event could turn you off.
4. Pick something that is low in difficulty but still challenging.
  • No ultra is the same. Some races might be short, but just as hard as a longer one. Research. 
5. Scout it out.
  • Run part of the course. Hike it. Bike it. Know what you're getting into.
"Okay, I think this is crux. AKA where I shit my
pants and begin hallucinating."
 The first ultra you run is something you are going to remember for the rest of your life. It's a turning point of sorts. If you've done enough to make it to the finish line, you will likely swear that you will never run again. A few hours later you will beam with pride at what you just did. A few days later you will be signing yourself up for the next one as you foam roll the hell out of your quads so you can start training next week.

The first one may not be the prettiest, the longest, or even your favorite, but it paves the way to what's next... and yes I am still talking about running.

There are two GREAT sites to start researching races and I highly recommend that before you jump out of your chair and start doing hill workouts, you take a few minutes to look at them.
  • This site has a HUGE database of races that can be filtered by everything from location and distance, to difficulty and terrain.
  • Not as good in my opinion, but sometimes one site will have a race that the other doesn't. Cool thing about this one? If the race is registered here then it creates a profile based on races you've run and ranks you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

First Pick: How to Train For Your First Ultramarathon

Congratulations on reaching puberty! Much like those awkward years in middle school, training for and completing your first ultra is going to bring a lot of changes in your body that you might not expect, you will also do and say inexplicable things. Those that have preceded you will sit back and chuckle every time your voice cracks or you get caught watching Cinemax in the middle of the night. But it's okay, we've been there too!

Sorry Billy, No One Believes That You Got Up
At 2am To Watch Law and Order Reruns.
Training for an ultra isn't as much of a pain in the ass as it might look, and depending on where you are at, you may be closer than you think to making an easy transition. Here are just a few tips for training:

1. Experiment!
  • Redial your nutrition and find what works. Some runners use gels, others use chia seeds and goji berries, some use Gatorade, others use Nuun. You'll find that even the flavors of certain products work better for you than others.
  • Try out different gear. Do you really want to wear a Camelbak for 50 miles? Or would you prefer running with a hand-held bottle or waist pack? There isn't a "right way, and you'll see variations even among the elite runners.
  • Shoes matter but not in the way you think. Certain generations of a trail shoe might be better than others, some people run barefoot, while others where minimalist shoes. If one way makes you more comfortable and gets you further and faster without getting hurt, then do it.
  • Compression shorts, singlets, t-shirts, no shirt at all. It's all about comfort. That annoying tightness under your arms in a shirt you think looks cool is going to be unbearable if you are putting up with it for 12-hours of running. Pick the right clothing for YOU!
He Chose... poorly.

2. Build Slowly
  • All runners hate this. They want to go bust out 50+ mile weeks right off the bat. In reality, all you are asking for is injury. Know where you are and build slowly from there. One long run a week, gradually increasing distance or time out should be the bulk of your mileage. Use smaller races (even marathons) to train, they help with short term training goals.
3. Train Like You Race
  • If your goal race has hills, train on hills. If it's in a hot climate, train in the heat. If you are going to eat a gel every 45 minutes, do it when you're training too. It's common sense, but it's the kind of simplicity that we overlook. Best case? Train on the exact course.

4. Read, Research, and Investigate
  • There are tons of blogs, websites, books, and everything else you can imagine on ultramarathons, endurance training, endurance nutrition, and everything in between. Do your homework!
Read These For More Help:     Running Through The Wall by Neal Jamison

                                                  Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ultrarunning: Endurance of the Mind and Body

An ultramarathon is any distance greater than the 26.2 miles of a standard marathon. Their are popular distances though: 50 kilometers, which is roughly 32 miles. 50 milers, 100 kilometers, and 100 milers. There are also quite a few time based endurance events like 12 and 24 hour runs that measure how far you can run in the allotted time.

Whatever poison you pick, the purpose is still the same... how far can you go?

When the fact that I run ultramarathons comes up in a conversation, the reaction isn't varied much:

  • "You're crazy."
  • "I don't even like to drive that far!"
  • "I can't even run a mile."
  • "Wow, you're like Forrest Gump or something." 
Despite what you might perceive, running 50 miles isn't that crazy... all you need is to want to see if you can. I don't like driving that far either... especially if it's from San Antonio to Austin during rush hour. Everyone can run a mile, you just don't want to. Forrest Gump? I'm not sure how I'm supposed to take that, but if I had a box of chocolates for every... well you get the point.

Okay, okay, maybe I see some similarities.

Running endurance events is all about pushing your body and pushing your mind to its limits and then seeing if you can squeeze out some more. It takes resolve, some degree of passion, and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone.

My love of the outdoors led me to ultrarunning in high school. I wanted to experience the things I loved in a new way, but I also wanted to know myself better. How far could I push myself? What could I learn?

To read the whole story, go here.

Today, ultrarunning is just part of who I am. It always will be, even if I can't run. I love the people, the events, the places, I love it all.

I even love the intense cramping, dehydration, bloody nipples,
and inability to walk up steps for several days following.

To learn more about the sport of ultrarunning, keep following this blog, but in the meantime check out these:



Sandi Nypaver's Blog

Monday, August 26, 2013


This blog has been a haphazard train wreck of inconsistency over the last few years. I have some work here that I am proud of and some opportunities and friendships that have arisen from these pages are nothing short of amazing. Despite all that, it needs a heavy overhaul.

For the Fall semester this blog will be utilized for my "Writing for Digital Media" class. The content will hopefully improve, but the topic will remain the same: RUNNING, my races, my training, nutrition, thoughts, rants, reviews, gear, etc.

Monday, April 8, 2013

My Introduction to Team RWB

One defining characteristic of mine that has often dictated the direction of my life is that I like to take things to the extreme. If something peaks my interest, or strikes me as worthy of my attention, I tend to become obsessive. This was certainly the case during my senior year of high school when, among other things, I had to decide what to do upon graduation. I applied to several schools, was accepted by some, and rejected by others. I also made my rounds through the local recruiting office; I sat down once with the Navy, a handful of times with the Army, and even more often with the Marine Corps. I was, and still am a brick in the water, so the Navy was out. I didn’t consider the Air Force or Coast Guard, but I did pursue the Army quite a bit. However, the bait of signing bonuses and that particular recruiter’s tactic of outlining what they could give me for joining quite frankly turned me off. The language of the Corps, however, drew me in. The few, the proud…always faithful…first to fight…once a Marine, always a Marine. I had a high enough Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test score to pick any Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that I wanted, but when I signed the dotted line I had only one in mind. I wanted to be a grunt, one of the guys that kicks in doors; one of the people out front and center.

My other passion during my last days before adulthood was trail running. I had started running because I wanted to play varsity soccer, and had no illusions that my level of talent at that time would get me there. If I wanted a shot then I would have to be the best-conditioned player on the field. I ran all summer between my junior and senior years, and quickly developed a love for the sport that I originally started only as a means to an end. The event that pushed me to the extreme side of running happened in the Spring of my senior year. A friend and I wanted to hike the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in my home state of Pennsylvania over Spring break, but due to excessive snow days our break was shortened to only three days on the trail. We called ahead to confirm our two nights at the trail shelters and we were met with skepticism. “It takes at least 4 days to hike our trail, and that would be pushing it.” We scoffed at the nay saying; after all, we were both teenagers and athletic ones at that. Long story short, we made it in our three-day window, but both of us were hurt and I even had to see the doctor for a strained quadriceps when we returned. It got me thinking though, could we have been the fastest people to hike the trail? A quick Google search of the topic both humbled me and changed my life forever. We weren’t the fastest, not by a long shot. I discovered that human beings can run further than the farthest I had heard, which at the time I assumed was the 26.2 miles of a marathon. There was an annual race on that same trail we took three days to hike… the course record was, and still is, 10 hours 43 minutes and 34 seconds…for 70 miles! I was instantly obsessed. I bought trail shoes, researched running, and ran longer and longer distances. I wanted to run this race; I had to know if I could do it. However, fate and my decision to join the Marine Corps put my running ambitions on the back-burner.

In June of 2004, I graduated from high school and boarded an airplane destined for South Carolina. I was going to Parris Island to become a Marine. My parents weren’t thrilled about my decision, despite my father having served in Vietnam and my oldest brother in the Gulf War. They thought I was too smart to join the Marine Corps infantry, and that I had better options in front of me. They wanted me to go to college, at least become an officer instead of going enlisted. My compromise was that I would join the reserves and go to college at the same time. I always thought that I would go active a year or two down the line, and when my family was more comfortable with the idea, I would make the Marine Corps my career. I graduated boot camp in October 2004 and then the Marine Corps School of Infantry in December – just as I had planned. Then something happened that I did not expect. The day I checked into my reserve unit, I pulled into the drill center thinking that it was a bit strange that so many cars were in the parking lot, after all, this was a reserve unit and it was the middle of the week. I began to put the pieces together and when I went to the admin office, my suspicions were confirmed… we were being activated. I called my Dad to tell him the news, I wasn’t going to college in January, instead I was headed to Iraq.

The next year of my life, my first as an adult, wasn’t spent worrying about exams and class schedules, instead I was worrying about my friends (and myself) being shot, blown up, or killed. Through seven months in the Al-Anbar province, I saw my unit lose 48 Marines and Corpsman – the most of any Marine unit since Vietnam. Somewhere around five months into the deployment, I began to notice I wasn’t okay, not even remotely. I stayed awake for days at a time, even when it wasn’t necessary.  When I did sleep, my dreams were invaded by morbid scenarios of things I had seen and things I feared to come. I was extremely superstitious about my actions and my role in the unit. Whenever we lost Marines to either death or injury, I was making connections in my mind that put the blame on me – what if I would have been there? What if I had done this or that? I had no intentions of going back to a life like I had before Iraq, mostly because I didn’t think it was possible, and partially because I felt I wasn’t worthy to make it home unscathed.

After Iraq my life was consumed by survivor’s guilt, and a sense that I lacked purpose outside of combat. At just 19 years old, I thought my life was one that should have already ended. I began drinking heavily, not knowing that what I was experiencing was PTSD. At a case of beer a day, I had all the signs of a budding alcoholic, but that was only the tip of the spear. Nightmares, panic attacks, and hallucinations were all a daily reality. I just wanted everything to stop, so I moved on from booze to drugs. Weed to calm me, cocaine for a rush of adrenaline, painkillers and sleep tablets to bring it all down. The abuse wasn’t sustainable. In just 6 months, I ran out of the money I had earned in Iraq, more than almost any normal 19 year old would ever have in their bank account. Suicide attempts landed me in the VA psychiatric ward on multiple occasions, but I still wouldn’t admit that I had PTSD.

My turn around was slow and drawn out over the next several years, but the depression and nightmares were a constant. My new solution, healthier than the outright self-destruction I had pursued at first, was to distract my mind by basically working myself to death. I had moved to Columbus, Ohio from my home state of Pennsylvania to get away from the atmosphere of drugs and run-ins with the law. I was in a new city, working 60+ hours a week while taking 19 credits at the local community college. I didn’t have time for PTSD, so the symptoms, at least on the surface, began to wane. It was a good plan in my head, and at first it even seemed to work. But after a few short months my body couldn’t keep up with the lack of sleep or rest. I fell asleep driving from one job to the next; I couldn’t stay awake in classes. I ended up quitting one job, getting fired from the other, and dropping out of school. I was back to square one.

Through a strange turn of events, I found myself working for minimum wage as a hotel housekeeper, estranged from the Marine Corps, my family, and all of my friends. Turbulent times seemed to loom ahead, but through a chance meeting after work with a man in a similar situation, I once again had hope. After I met Dane, who became one of my best friends and eventually my roommate, I was introduced to a whole host of other people that would change my life. One of these individuals, named David, gave me the spark I needed to take control of myself using an old love – the love of running.

David told me that he was training for a 50-mile race in Virginia that coming November, making him the first person I had ever met that actually ran ultra marathons. I told him about my dream of running Laurel and told him I would help him train and run a shorter race in preparation. In February, I ran my first ever race, the Holiday Lake 50K. I followed it up with a marathon, and then another, and then ran the 50 mile Masochist. By next year I was addicted, running marathons and ultras every other month. In addition to my running, I started a blog about my endeavors, detailing each race that I completed through race reports. Running and writing became my outlet and my therapy. I don’t buy into the belief that PTSD can ever fully be mastered, but it can certainly be curtailed.

I used my growing experiences to secure a spot in the Brooks Inspire Daily program; I had discovered a gift in running that I could use to help others and make a difference in their lives as well as mine. The relationship with Brooks enabled me to play an active role in starting the now annual event, called the Memorial Day 100. This relay, composed mostly of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, consisted of running from the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond to the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, DC. The first year we raised over $10k for the Wounded Warrior Project, the second year we almost doubled that amount for Hope for the Warriors. The event, that I now follow from afar, continues to grow and takes place in New York with the relay ending at Ground Zero.

I am now in my 4th year of running, having done 7 marathons and 10 ultras. I am also in my 3rd year in the Brooks Inspire Daily program. In 2013, I am proud to continue my running career and helping my fellow veterans as part of Team RWB.

Semper Fi!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Nueces 50K

After setting a new PR in October at the Nothin's Easy 50K, there has been some what of a challenge in navigating through the new realities of my life. Finding out how my running and personal aspirations fit in with the arrival of my son Connor were at first daunting, but I think I have finally got the hang of it. Running in between classes instead of after, running as a family once a week with the jogging stroller, and as a whole, just being more intentional with my time. November, December, and the first part of January were all pretty dormant on the running front as I worked out the newness of being a parent, but that itch to run facilitated my return to training.

My newest training partner... his parents met at an ultra so I think it's

safe to assume he is going to tear some trails up in the future.

 Getting back on the horse in the dead of Winter historically is a difficult task... but down here in San Antonio a long cold Winter means 60 degrees... perfect running weather. I had ran a few miles here and there, including a half marathon with Wounded Warrior Project in January. I also got the opportunity to crew for my friend David who came down from Ohio to run the Bandera 50K. So I hadn't been completely off the grid with running. One thing I kept hearing, especially at Bandera, was, "You just HAVE to run one of Joe's races!" This, referring to Joe Prusaitis, the RD for Bandera, Rocky Racoon, and several other races under the Tejas Trails banner. I decided to take the advice and sign up for the Nueces 50K which was also doubling as the USTAF 50-mile championship. Gabe, my current ultrarunning padawan that I helped train for Nothin's Easy, decided to join me again on this adventure and registered as well.

We had about a month and a half to knock the rust off, train a little bit, and be ready enough that Nueces would be, if nothing else, a solid training run for a 50-miler in April. The preparation wasn't nearly as much as we had done for the race at Government Canyon, but we both felt ready. But maybe we felt a little too ready. Two days before the race we had done no scouting whatsoever... didn't know where this race was, let alone where we would stay or what the course was going to be like. You would think that the green gill would over prepare and the salty dog would know better than to walk into something blindly, but yeah, I guess we are lazy?

Finding the course map for this report is literally the first

time I've seen it... guess I'll know for next time?

We determined two days before the race that we would be camping at the location the night before as opposed to leaving San Antonio early on the day of. This decision was made pretty flippantly but in hindsight if we had tried to drive up the morning of, we would have never made it to this place to run.

It was about a 2 hour drive from San Antonio, but the last 45 minutes of it were spent in an area that gave the same impression I get when I watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre. No cell phone service, no gas stations, no anything, just Texas hill country. Even when we got to the access road for Camp Eagle where the race was being held, it was still another 8 miles back a very thin and unmaintained dirt road.

When we finally arrived, it was well worth the wait. I have been to a lot of parks and natural areas since moving to Texas, but this place is among the most beautiful I have seen. Steep cliffs, rock formations, rolling hills, and even a river that actually had moving water... a rare sight in these parts. As we set up our tent near the course, Gabe and I had determined that no matter what happened the next day that this trip was already worth it.

"I want to see mountains again

 Gandalf! Mountains!"

One criticism I have of the race in general, and I say this knowing that some of it is outside of their control... the additional costs on top of the race registration. There was a land access fee, camping fee with a two-night minimum, as well as a separate charge for each meal. It wouldn't have seemed so bad if some or all of that was either included in registration or at least to have an option to pay ahead of time. But I digress.

After the pre-race dinner, which was particularly good, night had fallen, but it was still much too early to hit the rack. To make good use of our time, Gabe and I decided to hike on the course for a few miles to get a feel for what we would be seeing in the morning. The short walk led us alongside tall cliffs, over a river via a suspended foot bridge, then up a steep climb to a giant steel cross overlooking the camp. By the time we headed back the stars were out and we couldn't help but to be in awe of the surroundings. Then we saw a freaking giant porcupine. This place was awesome.

Yeah... it's a freaking porcupine. 

 Back at the campsite we prepped our gear for the next day, pinning on our race numbers, filling up bottles, and pounding water. It was getting cold and it was time to rack out.

In the tent I got the best sleep I can remember having in the last few months, almost 9-hours solid, waking up about 45 minutes before the alarm. We changed over, put on some warm outer layers to brave the walk to breakfast, and tried to hold back the pre-race jitters. We watched the start of the 50-mile race before making the last minute adjustments for our own outing.

At the starting line I was freezing my ass off in the uncharacteristic 30-degree weather. Knowing that it would warm up, I wasn't going to wear more than a singlet, but looking around, myself and only about two or three others had the same idea. The countdown started as we waited under the pavilion which served as the start, finish, and half way point. Then the race began.

A short stretch of running and we hit the woods, climbing up a rocky single track trail. Runners began to bunch up as the "walk all hills" crowd slowed down. In hindsight I should have started the race further up in the pack, but easing into the day wasn't a bad idea either, just so long as I was warming up. I began passing on the wider stretches when the speed of the pack picked up and thinned. More than a couple of runners were having issues with the terrain and I was witness to some nasty spills. Within 20 minutes the sun was up, my muscles began loosening,  I could feel my hands again, and I was out of the herd. I could see a few runners ahead and my goal was just to keep them in sight without breaking out of a comfortable pace. The course was beautiful and technical, with rocky rolling hills and valleys that at times skirted some pretty gnarly drop-offs. At about 40-minutes I was on the heels of the runner in front of me. He was a better climber than me and overall a better runner, so I knew that this was only a temporary motivator. At the first aid station he stopped, I didn't, so I was briefly ahead of him before relinquishing the spot back to him. After a little bit longer in the woods, the course opened back up and took us to so amazing views of Texas hill country. The terrain became more consistent, with lots of loose rocks. The course was pretty challenging, but I managed to keep my pace, never needing to walk, and the weather was perfect so managing my water was easy. I bypassed the second aid station, even though the quesadillas looked pretty freaking good.
We were know coming through the area that Gabe and I had scouted out the night before, running alongside a huge cliff and then crossing a small stream via a suspension bridge before climbing towards the giant steel cross.

I was able to cross the bridge just seconds before this asshole showed up.

The course stayed high for a long while after that, giving more scenic views, winding past a huge windmill and staying pretty open. Around this time I started catching a ton of runners which at first kind of concerned me. I have yet to get lost on a course, but it is always an underlying fear.  I eventually, to my relief, realized that I was catching back of the pack 50-mile runners. I ran on.

When I hit the next aid station I still had a little water in my handheld and all the bottles in my waist pack were untouched. I was having some stomach issues so even though I probably should have been eating, I hadn't touched anything since the unwise breakfast of tacos... complete with jalapenos and hot sauce, and coffee. To delve into the crass world of ultra running ailments for a moment... my diet from the night before and morning of the race resulted in incredible gas, which in turn contributed to even more incredible chaffing in an area I'll simply say that you don't want chaffing in.

The course from the last aid station to the start finish wasn't long, but it was certainly pretty cool. You winded through the woods and then down from them to the main road that we drove in on. At point of crossing there was a decent amount of water running across the road that we had to kind of hop scotch through to the other side of the river, run along it's far bank and then use stepping stones to come back across. The course then Y-ed off, left for the 50-milers that had the privilege of crossing a second foot bridge, and us 50K runners going right to wrap around through the woods. During all this time I had never once looked at my watch, mostly because of a conversation Gabe and I had the night before about being a slave to the device (he never wears a watch during training or racing, while I religiously document my mileage and pace).

I came back out of the woods, hauled ass across the grass to the pavilion and on through then looked up. I was looking for the Port-a-Potty mostly, but my eyes caught the timing device and I couldn't help but do the math. I did the first loop in 2:26, almost exactly my half way mark for Nothin's Easy, except on an infinitely more difficult course. The only difference was that at that point in Nothin's Easy I had a lot more gas left in the tank and I didn't hurt nearly as bad. I hit up the facilities, performed some routine hygiene that had some rather unfortunate pain and blood involved, and then headed back out on the course. The climbs I had mocked in the first loop seemed like mountains the second time around. I was trying my damnedest not to walk what was runnable, and having a hell of a time doing so.

No one had really passed me yet, so I figured I was sitting around teens or something near it. When I got to the first aid station I refilled my bottles for the first time, tried to eat, but couldn't. I was headed for a wall and I could see it coming, you can't run hard for that long without needing calories and I had foregone all nutrition and even left my chia seeds and goji berries back home, drinking only water.

I plugged along at a pace I knew wasn't close to that of the first half, but who cares, I was still moving forward. When I came to the second aid station, I noticed my nipples had started to burn... I forgot to put on bandaids... yet another of many  rookie mistakes I made that day. The quesadillas this time may as well have been diesel fuel and feces from Iraq, the sight and smell of them made me want to vomit... I skipped all the food again, but did top off my water as the temperature was rising.

I was feeling more and more like hell and it didn't help that I could see the edge of the field where my tent was staked. I had those stupid thoughts of just DNF'ing. I ran from the aid station, across the footbridge and then just stopped. I went to the side of the trail, laid down on some rocks, took a pepto tablet, and basically sunbathed. As I lay there, runners kept coming by, more and more of them, people I had passed early on, people that had been behind me the whole race, maybe twenty runners, maybe more. I drank my entire hand held while I sat there, my stomach cramping, my legs burning, and all the pain of a hard run descending upon me. My body was starting to move from racing to being done. Some climbers that were passing on their way to go up the cliff face just a few hundred feet away from me stopped and asked if I was okay. I told them I was and commented on what a beautiful day it was. It was time to man-up and get to running. I filled my handheld with two of my waist belt bottles, stood up, stretched, and took off. I remembered that I had said that after Connor was born that I would never DNF so long as I was able to physically complete a race, no matter how bad I was doing. I also remembered the last time I dropped out of a race and the unforeseen consequences of that day, it was the last opportunity my Mom ever had to see me finish a race and I failed to make it there for her to see. Perhaps I was being overly dramatic, but those thoughts got me off my ass. Besides, I have yet to drop out of any distance less than 50-miles, and I wasn't going to let my padawan make it to the finish while I sulked on the side of the trail whining about a stomach ache and some chaffing.

There isn't much to say about the rest of the race. After my 20-minute mental breakdown things remained pretty painful, but I kept an even pace, following my mantra of "just keep moving forward".

I crossed the finish line in 6:08:23, my slowest 50K that I have ever run. To be honest it was one of the hardest 50K's I've ever run, comparable to the demoralizing Capon Valley race a couple years ago that broke me off and spit me out. I had a breakdown during that race too, sitting on a log for what seemed like an eternity after I had been well inside the top 10 for the first half of the race. Gabe and I said that no matter what had happened that this was going to be a good trip, and it was. It wasn't a great finishing time, I didn't prepare like I should have, I certainly didn't race well in the second half, but I did something I love for 6 hours on a beautiful course.

Gabe finished an hour and some change after me, beat to hell. He had blood all over him and looked like he fought a mountain lion on his way in. He had a rough race as well, but shared my consensus, it was totally worth it. I imagine and I hope that running these crazy things always will be. Sometimes I'm pretty good, but I'll never be an elite guy. I want to get faster, but it's not why I do it in the first place.

Run Happy.