Romanticizing Alcohol

A Comeback from Addiction, My Story

A friend of mine brought something to my attention last night.  She noticed me hesitate when I shared about some of the situations that I used to find myself in when I was drinking.  These hesitations, according to her, have been a common theme over the last month.  I’m glad that she bought it to my attention because it’s the truth and I needed to hear it.

Ever seen the movie Leaving Las Vegas?  Or Flight?  Great films.  While I cannot exactly relate to the stories that are told in each of these movies I do find myself, on occasion, romanticizing about being able to drink whenever, and however, I want, as told by each respective screen play.  Specifically in Leaving Las Vegas I see Nicholas Cage wander through life in a drunken haze, all day, every day.  When I see this situation play out on-screen the thought goes through…

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Pine to Palm 100 Race Report: Ice Bandanas, Blisters, Detours, Ramen Noodles, and the Adventure of a Lifetime

Pine to Palm Race Report:

6AM, Mile 0, mid 50’s, clear skies:  Go! We began the 2016 edition of Pine to Palm 100 with a quick downhill which led to a left hand turn that signified the beginning of the 10.5 mile climb up to Greyback Mtn.  The first two miles of the climb started out on pavement.  With the guidance of a course marshal we dove onto the single track trail that would eventually lead to the summit.  At this point there was enough space between the runners to run comfortably, without being in a conga line, through the Southern Oregon wilderness.  Around mile 3 I was able to discard my headlamp due to ample light that had risen and I began to power-hike up the relentless grade.  Half-way up the climb I had tucked in at the back of a group of 6 runners, which I remained with until the miniature rock outcrop-laden summit.  The sun had risen by this point and the group of us took off down the backside leading to the first full aid station at O’brien Creek (mile 15).  For the first mile or so of the descent I kept it conservative.  After realizing the speed of the group was a little too slow for me to run efficiently I asked to pass everyone and picked up the pace, within reason,  all of the way down the tight single track and into O’brien Creek.

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Betsy feeding me Watermelon and salt, a trick that I learned at Westerns States Training Camp earlier in the year.  Mike and Luke look on and take my splits. Luke created an amazing notebook of splits and time for the lead runners.  Even David Laney was coming to Luke to check on his runner, Ryan Ghelfi.

After filling my bottles and stocking up on GU’s I eased back in to a comfortable pace, cautiously taking note of a few hot spots on my feet, especially in my toes.  The next section was a 2-3% descent into mile 22, the Steamboat Ranch Aid station.  Once again, after refueling, I eased back in but noticed that something was off.  Further on down the flat and exposed dirt road into Seattle Bar I clipped a rock with my right foot, which immediately sent a sharp pain through my foot.  I had popped my first set of blisters on the day.  At mile 27, as the course took a righthand turn into a short section of single-track, I clipped another rock with my left foot and again felt the sensation of 2-3 blisters popping.  While attempting to limit the panic, I met up with Josh and Mike with .5 mile to go to Seattle Bar,  and told them to get the blister kit out.  I was going to need a bit of aid-station surgery to repair my feet.

Once I arrived at Seattle Bar I met my crew, sat down, ate accordingly, and had them tape up my two big toes, just to help curb the problem and limit the damage.  At the time I thought it might be enough to hold me over for a few hours…time would only tell.

The next section, the climb up to Stein Butte, is notorious for putting runners into a world of hurt due to its exposure to the sun and the dry, dusty single track.   After 15+ miles of descending it can be a shock to the body to go into a tough and rugged ascent.  The climb is advertised as 5 miles, but in reality you keep going up for around 8.  The trail itself is awesome!  Tight single track featuring endless switch-backs through rugged sagebrush.  After reaching the open ridge around mile 3 one can look to the right to catch a comprehensive view of the southern Siskiyou Mountain Range.  In training I had run the climb several times but on this day I knew I needed to get in more hiking than normal considering where the climb was on the course.  Towards the top I ran into a Mountain Biker who was running down the trail without his bike.  It seemed strange.  After we passed each other he immediately turned around and began matching my stride back up the climb.  After 5 seconds of this I asked the guy to please give me some space, he was kinda in my bubble,  which I get protective of during runs.  He obliged and I thanked him.  Then he disappeared back down the mountain, again, without a bike.  Wonder where he ended up?

Once I reached the Stein Butte Aid Station (mile 33) I could tell that my blister-ridden feet were in fact getting worse.  It really became an issue as I began a few rolling miles toward the descent that would lead down to Squaw Lakes.  On the technical and rocky downhill rollers I realized that I could not run with confidence and speed that I was used to on these types of sections.  Normally I can fly down these sections, but not today.  The uncomfortable feeling reached its worst once the course took a sharp left and proceeded down a quick, steep, and twisty trail that led into the next aid station.  Not being able to attack these sections became extremely frustrating however I had to limit the anxiety because there were still tons of miles to go.  I remained relatively calm as I approached Squaw Lakes .

At mile 41, after the steep technical downhill, runners made their way through the Squaw Lakes Aid station and around the 2 mile flat course of the lake itself.  After the 2 mile section on flat terrain it seemed as if the blisters weren’t getting any worse.  In my mind the damage had been done and I just needed to manage the pain while staying mindful of my stride.  Another realization I had while going around the lake was that it had been hot for the last couple of hours, and I hadn’t even really noticed.  The temps were reaching into the low 90’s at this point.

After circling the lake I met my crew at the Squaw Lakes outbound aid station to receive refueling and one of Betsy’s custom sewn ice bandanas to put around my neck.  I had seen these work at Western States earlier in the year and indeed they worked here at Pine to Palm for it kept my body cool despite the soaring temperatures.  From Squaw Lakes out-bound I got  on a 2 mile downhill dirt road section that led to the beginning of the climb up to Kilgore Gulch and the Little Greyback Mtn. trailhead.

Once I turned right on the forest road up to Kilgore Gulch the climbing once again began to kick up.  Again, in training, I had been able to run this ascent with relative ease, but today it was the smart move to get up the pitch with some fast power hiking.  After a couple of miles I reached the righthand turn onto a beautiful single track trail that contours Little Greyback Mtn.  This section, one of my favorites of the day, twists and turns, up and down, through the rugged and remote Siskiyou Forest.  At each clearing one could look down into the canyon below, to the right, for a view of Squaw Lake, the lake I had run around not 2 hours earlier.  The views on the trail were outstanding but were met with a dry and raw heat in the early afternoon sun.  Temperatures were around the mid-90’s in the sun at this point.  Luckily, the ice bandana that I had picked up earlier was still doing its job and helping to keep me cool.   The only tough section for me through this part came after I had caught a rock with my right toe that proceeded to pop, what seemed like, every blister on my foot.  The pain felt as though someone had inserted a half-dozen knives into each of my toes.  After 5 minutes of stopping to catch breathe and composure I soldiered on to Mile 50 and the Hanley Gap Aid Station.

After a few minutes of running following the blister incident I settled back in to a good stride trying to let go of the pain I had just witnessed in myself.  As I approached Hanley Gap my boy Josh met me to get an assessment as to how I was doing.  I felt great at the halfway point, coming in at just over 10 hours.  Mike’s comment to me was that I looked solid, despite the foot issues, I looked strong and composed, poised to keep trucking into the latter half of the race.  After a brief 2 mile out and back up Squaw Peak to retrieve a flag, proof that I had made it to the top, I met back up with my crew team and got all squared away with a new ice bandana and fuel to attack the Dutchmen Peak Climb.

Coming out of the Hanley Gap Aid station the pain in my feet had once again subsided a bit and  I was able to lock back in to a comfortable stride.  The next 8-9 miles of rolling terrain on forest roads, into the Squaw Creek Gap Aid Station, felt very easy and manageable.  There were a couple of sustained climbs on this section but neither were enough of an effort to write home about.  Also on this section I settled with a group of 3 others runners.  My introvert side took effect and I largely kept to myself behind them.  However, once we took the right hand turn that signified the beginning of the climb to Dutchmen I picked it up a bit and began to run the ascent right out of the gate.  30 minutes into the climb while still on the forest roads I looked back and realized that I was gaining some good time on the guys that I had shared the last aid station with.  Unfortunately, after having gained that time, nature began to call.  After getting my business done the gap that I had created had but all  been erased.  No matter, there was still plenty of time.

After 6ish miles of dry and dusty forestroad climbs we veered left to make the final ascent up to Dutchmen Peak.  When making the turn I could start to make out the booming noise of hip hop coming from the summit.  It was a welcomed sound.  After making the left hand turn onto a single lane jeep road the pitch began to increase.  The next 3 mile section up to the top of Dutchmen was surreal.  The sun was setting amidst a thin layer of smoke from a nearby forest fire, creating a reddish tint in the sky above.  After climbing 3 separate tabletop inclines I finally made it to the top of Dutchmen Peak.  The view was absolutely magnificent.  At the aid station I found myself among the same 3 runners that I had started out with back at the last aid station at mile 60, Squaw Creek Gap.  They seemed to be taking their time so I took it upon myself to hurry up and scurry back down a 2 mile stretch of jeep road to the Dutchmen Crew station ahead of them.

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Moments before reaching the summit of Dutchmen Peak, mile 67

Back at the crew station at the base of Dutchmen Peak I arrived determined to keep the momentum going given that I had just moved up 3 places.  My plan for the day was to run solo until mile 80 where I’d pick up my pacer Alinna.  However, Mike, my coach of several years had his running gear on.  He looked eager to join me.  I obliged, picking Mike up as I carried on down NF Road 20.  It was nice to have some company.

After a brief interlude for Mike, to run back to the car for some Advil for me, we turned right off of the NF Road 20 onto the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) for some rolling terrain.  I hit cruise control rather easily while cherishing a new energy to the run.  Mike is tremendous to run with.  His energy is infectious and his presence certainly fired me up to keep the train rolling.  After linking back up with the PCT we made a sharp right and continued down NF Road 20.  With our headlamps on full brightness we started a long downhill to the next aid station.  Mike was diligent in checking behind us to see where the 3 guys were, hoping they wouldn’t sneak up on us.  After several minutes of cruising downhill a truck came up from behind us.  As he passed us the driver mentioned that he hadn’t seen anyone else in a long time, we were putting distance on the runners behind us.  I knew I was moving up the leaderboard.  With a new sense of confidence we continued to cruise down the hill.

A few minutes after the truck passed us Mike and I started to have conversations that we might be off course.  There was no reason that the driver hadn’t seen the other runners, even if they were 10-20 minutes behind us, which seemed unlikely. I was so sure we were still on course and the turn off for Big Red Mountain would just be around the corner.  Unfortunately the turn never came.  As the bottom of the hill approached Mike urged me to consider that we had gone off course.  At this point if we had kept going it would have made for a VERY long night.  After a brief 2 minute chat we decided that he would run ahead back up the hill to see if he could find the turnoff.  Fortunately I wasn’t panicking much, to my surprise, so I turned around and started back up the hill as Mike ran ahead.  All in all we think our sightseeing detour cost us around 45 minutes or so.

As I ran back up to find the correct turnoff my mind was relatively calm and my body felt great.  I was running easily back up this hill.  As I got to the top Mike was waiting and we found the correct turn off that led us around Big Red Mountain.  Once back on trail I took advantage of this new-found energy and we ran swiftly up the trail.  Once at the summit of Big Red, after a brief section of power hiking we began down the technical ascent to Long John Saddle Aid Station.  It was at this point, mile 71 while descending Big Red, that the wheels started to fall off.  Coming down the technical descent my feet started to light on fire.  I could not negotiate the rocky trail like I am used to doing, given that I did not trust my feet to hold up.  With every step over the 2 mile downhill I was forced to a shuffle to preserve my feet.  I began to lose even more time on the field.

Once we arrived at the aid station I continued to be in a significant amount of pain with the blisters that I had developed some 50+ miles earlier in the day.  Regardless, Mike and I both fueled up and kept moving back on to the PCT and on our way to Mile 80 and the Grouse Gap aid station.  The next 6.5 miles of single track were tough as hell.  Mike coached me through every single 20 foot section, trying to get me to run as much as possible.  All of the sudden, as we reached the bottom of the hill heading up to Grouse gap we began to see headlamps behind us.  It turned out to be the women’s leader and her pacer, notifying me that we had lost 5 places during our excursion just a few miles earlier.  After they passed us we started the mean grind of the PCT that felt like a stair master from hell.

Once to the top we were greeted with cheers and jubilation at the Grouse Gap aid station, the last place where I’d see my crew before the finish line.  When I got to the car I collapsed into my lawn chair.  I was in a world of hurt physically, my feet were beyond destroyed from the blisters.  Any further repairs to my feet seemed senseless, I was just going to have to bear the pain.  We had had our chance at mile 28 to make it right.  As Wendie fed me a thermos full of Ramen noodles, and the rest of the crew refueled my hydration pack, I focused on breathing just to ease the pain and get straight in my mind for the last push to Ashland.  After a couple of minutes  of reprieve I rose from the chair and started to walk with my pacer Alinna up the new section of P2P, the Split Rock Trail.

After 20 minutes of walking up to the Split Rock trailhead things began to get shaky again.  The new trail was filled with rocky and technical terrain which made footing a bit tricky.  To her credit Alinna talked me through each sketchy section, making sure that I was maintaining forward progress.  For that section I didn’t do much running, my feet weren’t in a place to be comfortable   given the terrain.  Once we arrived at the Wagner Butte intersection, I tried my best to break back into a stride to the summit, the last uphill of the day.  I tried and tried but could not bear the pounding that the act of running was doing to my feet.  Once we reached the summit, a rocky outcropping that had to be scrambled up, I grabbed the pacifier, the token indicating that I had reached the top of Wagner, we turned around and began the 13+ mile descent into Ashland.

At this point my mind was beginning to get the best of me as well.  Alinna was having to go above and beyond to keep me moving.  Every mile or so the pain just became too unbearable to deal with, I was being forced to stop and fall to my hands on my knees and refocus.  Each time, like clockwork, Alinna got me back in gear and we continued moving on.  I had trained several hours on this section of the course over the summer so it was no surprise when we hit the twisty and steep downhill into the Road 2060 Aid Station at mile 90.  I was moving as gingerly as possible. After refueling we continued the march home.  This next section, in my plan, was to be able to run smoothly into Ashland.  On this night it wasn’t going to happen.  Over the next 10 miles I went to a place that I had never been before.

We started walking immediately after the aid station.  My intentions were to run as much as possible of this section but my feet had other ideas.  For the next several miles Alinna played witness to several miniature breakdowns with crying, yelling, and constant wishing that I was capable of running. What was so frustrating was that my legs felt fine and I had plenty of energy.  It took what seemed like forever down a six-mile stretch of forest road to finally arrive at mile 96 and the Hitt Road water station.  Once there, I took a 2 minute breather to regain my composure.  I knew that the next 2 miles would be rife with technical terrain.  I came to the conclusion that I need to suck it up and not let pain take over this race.  Pain is temporary, completing a 100 mile race is forever.

So, I ran, as much as I could during the next 2 miles of steep and technical downhill.  Once again, Alinna talked me through the entire section while making sure that I wasn’t in danger of clipping another rock with either of my feet.  She was an absolute rock star with taking care of me.  With the city lights of Ashland just ahead we hit the last two-mile section which was a paved residential road.  It was straight downhill.  With that, and the security of sure footing, I ran all of the way home.  Upon hitting Granite Street and taking a left, to the finish line, the sensation that I was about to finish my first 100 began to take the place of the pain from the day.

The time of day was 4:58AM on Sunday morning.  As I crossed the line it became clear to me that I had been on my feet for close to an entire day.  I was intensely amazed with what had just occurred.  With my entire crew team waiting for me  past the finishers corral I dropped my hands to my knees and began to cry a bit.  Hal came up to say congratulations but I had no awareness of the situation. After giving hugs to Betsy, Alinna, Wendie, Josh, Mike, and Luke I grabbed a chocolate milk and headed to the medical area to get my feet checked on.

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Seconds after crossing the finish line at the 2016 Pine to Palm 100

After Alinna and I had left Grouse Gap several hours ago I became less aware of my overall time and place.  That being said I had just finished my first 100 miler and ran an overall time of 22:58:00 putting me into 10th overall place.

Pine to Palm 2016 taught me several things.  As much as I had heard from friends, who had run the distance before, I finally started to believe them as they said that anything can happen and that rough patches are going to take place, it’s just a matter of how you deal with them.  I could sit here and dwell on the fact that I dealt with blisters for 80 miles or that I had gone off course, that I was the victim and that I had failed, blah blah blah.  Thankfully, I was not going to let that  happen.

The day I got sober, on February 11th of 2014, I started training to run this race.  During that time I had gone through some very important transitions, emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I put 2.5 years into running P2P and I am very respectful of that process.  Looking back, not more than a week after crossing the finish line, I am the most proud person in the ultra-running world.  I took on the challenge of doing something that most people cannot comprehend, running 100 miles, and I crushed it.  Today as I put the finishing touches on this race report I am absolutely stunned with the fact that I finished my first hundred.  Fortunately, now the fever has really kicked in, and I am planning to focus on the 100 distance for years to come.  As I posted on Facebook, I believe that I have found my distance.

A huge thank you goes out to my crew: Mike, Luke, Wendie, Josh, and Alinna.  You all played an immense role in seeing me to the finish line.  And of course, Betsy, who played the unwavering and relentless role as crew chief.  You’re the best🙂

Check out my Strava file from the race:  https://www.strava.com/activities/710270850

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My crew:  Betsy, Alinna, Mike, Luke, Wendie and Josh

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Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Your Friend Depression

This’ll be short and sweet.

It’s back, the grey colored sunglasses have returned, and they’re wrapped tight around my head.  When the grey returns I feel like I have a cement-filled blanket over me at all times.  It’s hard to get out of bed, it’s hard to communicate, it’s hard to ask for help, and it’s hard to be grateful.

If I look back through my journal over the last few years I notice a trend that a depressive episode comes up every 4 months or so.  So, what triggered this?  I have an idea, but it’s hard to fully process when I’m “in it.”

“In times of peace, prepare for war:” This time I am grateful for the fact that I have implemented mindfulness techniques to help me through this episode.  I know, conceptually, that this too shall pass, when episodes would occur  in the past I’d think that it was the end of the world.  Luckily that is no longer the case.  For me, when things are good and clear, I typically get lazy on meditation, journaling, and breathing.  I’m happy to say that over the last few months I’ve been more successful to implement these techniques, knowing that the grey will return again.  More than ever I feel prepared to wade through this episode.  That being said, it’s still a fucking battle.

The timing for these episodes is never ideal.  That is certainly the case this week as I’ve got something big coming up on Saturday with Pine to Palm 100.  Rather than crumbling as I have in the past I feel like running for hours in the woods on Saturday may just help.  The event, in and of itself, becomes even less about the result and more about the big picture.  Thankfully, it’s a terrific reminder why I do what I do.  Life happens regardless of where you are and how you feel today.

I’m not looking for a cure, as for me, depression is a part of my DNA.  In the past I actually thought that I had cured depression when I became plant-based, over two years ago.  What a crock of shit.  Hello ego, thanks for the advice.  Shut up and get mindful dude.  Breathe.

Today I am struggling.  I have several things to do before Saturday and it’s hard to comprehend doing everything that I need to do.  The simple tasks of life seem so daunting and debilitating.  Remember Spence, this too shall pass.  Keep fighting and stay in the present.

For me, it always helps to write these experiences down to share with the world, in the hopes that someone finds hope that they are not alone in the struggle.

 

 

 

 

 

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Letting go of my resentments for Bend, Oregon

Holy shit, I’ve almost been in Corvallis for 5 years. Time has certainly flown by.

Something occurred to me this past weekend while visiting Bend, OR, to train and visit a couple of good friends.  Before I talk about what happened I would like to take the time to describe all of the circumstances that happened, which created several resentments, over the last few years while I called Central Oregon my home.

As I’ve described before I first arrived in Bend, OR in the summer of 1998 to live and train for XC skiing.  After graduating St. Lawrence University in the Spring of 2002 I moved to Bend to begin my life after college.  From 2002 to 2005 I enjoyed every aspect of the Bend lifestyle while having terrific jobs, a great active outdoor lifestyle, and good friends abound.  In 2006 things changed dramatically.

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During a run on Monday morning in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.  One of Central Oregon’s jewels of trail running

It was around this time that two things happened that would change my life for the next 10 years.  First, I secured a job which would pay me close to quadruple what I was making in my previous job.  Second, I met Lynea.  With these two occurrences happening simultaneously, the innocence of Bend, to me, began to vanish.

Here is a quick overview of what happened to me in those last years while living in Bend:  I lost my identity in seeking and pursuing financial fortune; I got engaged to Lynea (I proposed to her on NYE in New York City while I was hammered); I lost touch with being athletic;  I surrounded myself with people who would support and fuel my love for alcohol and drugs; I went from making a six figure salary to having nothing but my car and a few paintings that I had kept; I was admitted to Sageview Psychiatric Center on two occasions; I was diagnosed with depression; I bought a house, refinanced it beyond my means, and ultimately gave the keys back to the bank and foreclosed; I drove around town drunk and blacked out;  Bend became a haven for Micro-breweries and partying; I started chasing around drug dealers as opposed to guys in spandex riding in a peloton; I gained around 70 lbs of weight; I lost everything financially, morally, emotionally, and physically that I had worked so hard for in the previous several years.  Take note, all of this “happened” to me, therefore making me the victim.  This is an example of my ego taking over.

Needless to say that when I left Bend in December of 2011 I had built several hard-core and raw resentments to the town where I had once thrived by way of lifestyle, innocence, and prosperity.

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A message from Cass, Phoebe, Lisa, and Davis Smith upon my arrival to their house

The past 5 years, while living in Corvallis, I’ve hated going to  visit Bend.  I continued to return on occasion because of the good friends that I had still kept in touch with, but it just wasn’t the same.  Too many things had happened while living there that kept me from being comfortable when visiting. I was letting resentments of the past dictate my present experience.  Over the last 5 years I’ve lost touch with many Bend folks who I still consider as friends.  Ultimately losing touch had nothing to do with them, it had to do with the fact that I could not let go of all of the bullshit that I had experienced and witnessed in Bend.

I hated running there (even in the mountains), I hated driving there, I hated seeing the real estate market creeping back to prosperity (for the fear of missing out), I hated seeing pictures of friends partying on the cycle-pub, I hated the view of the mountains, I hated the landscape, I hated that every block of Bend had a different Bar/Micro-brewery, I hated the fact that people so desperately wanted to move there, I hated most of what Central Oregon had to offer.  Returning to visit Bend became a very sad state of affairs.  My resentments toward the town that I once loved overshadowed everything that makes Bend a fantastic place to be.

Luckily, this weekend, something changed for me.  This past weekend I returned to the Bend area to get some higher altitude running in.  I also had the chance to visit with some very important people in my life.  One, my professional mentor and friend, Davis, and two, one of my best college friends that recently moved there with his family, my boy Benny Hicks.

While running up the base of Broken Top early Saturday morning I had an epiphany that running in Bend is fucking awesome!  What the hell was going through my mind that told me that the running in Central Oregon was sub-par?   Well, I’ll tell you.  My resentments toward running began when my buddy Brian Hetzel used to drag me out of bed and make me go for a run after I had consumed several malt liquor beverages while driving home from work.  I hated it, and therefore related all running in Bend to how miserable I felt when I used to run half-cocked around town and the trails.  It was a truly awful experience.

In terms of people and friends, I used to hate talking about how awesome Bend was.  But this past weekend I had several honest and candid conversations about what Bend is truly like, away from the lens I was used to seeing the town through.  I found myself with some of the most important people in my life, laughing, joking, and chatting just like I had done before I let all hell break loose for myself back in 2006.

During my past visits, while steeped in resentments, I would drive by the house I foreclosed on and remember all of the traumatic and terrible shit that happened with myself, Lynea, and the money that I had gained and lost.  This time I didn’t feel compelled to drive by that house to relive all of the hell that I put myself through  10 years ago.  This time those memories didn’t percolate to the surface for me.

This time, as I drove through Bend, I didn’t dwell on the fact that every corner of town had a micro-brewery.  It is what it is and there is nothing I can do to change it.  What, am I supposed to make a fuss with the city to have less of these bars so that I could feel comfortable visiting?  Absolutely not, I have to come to peace with it.  Yes, I raised hell in many of those places, but that is in the past.  Today I’m no longer attached to that identity.

Thankfully, while travelling  back to Corvallis on Monday morning, I felt as though I finally realized some very important notions for myself:  trail running in Bend is BAD ASS; Lynea and all of the heartache that I experienced with her is in the past; my financial trouble is in the past; I cannot change the town; I cannot be pissed off at the fact the real estate market is booming again and that I’m not a part of it; I cannot hold grudges towards people, places, and things, based on my own shit and life circumstances;  I cannot let all of the things that happened in my life affect my vision of what Bend truly is:  An amazing place, with amazing people, amazing training opportunities, and an amazing community.  While cruising back over Santiam Pass, on my way back to the valley, I was finally able to let go of the past as it relates to Bend.  And the result?  The idea that at some point, in the future, I can absolutely see myself returning to live in Bend, resentment-free.

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“It’s just a run”

“It’s just a run.” – Andrew Miller

A couple of months ago I was with my buddy Andrew during the final days leading up to perhaps one of the biggest and notorious ultra running races in the world, The Western States 100 Endurance Run.   He was in the midst of his final preparations, carving up his running shoes, when Betsy asked him if he was nervous and excited for the race.  He calmly said to Betsy, “it’s just a run.”  Given the circumstances and hype surrounding this race I was blown away at how calm he was.

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Andrew and I minutes before the start of the 2016 Western States 100

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the chance to get to know Andrew.  In many ways he is a friend that helps me to keep the perspective in place for why I run.  He is wise beyond his years and has become a valuable piece to my accountability team.

In 2002, the summer after I graduated St. Lawrence University, I was supremely out of shape.  As a graduation present my father gave me a road bike to help aid in my re-discovery of fitness.  That summer, while living in Bend, OR, I road for countless hours in an attempt to re-engage with my passions for being active outdoors.  My goal that summer was to ride my first century, 100 miles, from Bend up to Mt. Hood, on Route 97.  My buddy Ben was crazy enough to embark on this journey with me.  Somehow, later that August, we completed the 100 mile trek, which became a complete death march.  That experience  was the first time in several years where I felt accomplished.  Ultimately that ride set the tone for many years to come as I had successfully re-engaged with endurance sports.

100 miles is a long fucking way.  Hell, driving for 100 miles is a task in and of itself.  Riding 100 miles on a road bike is even harder.  I’ve ridden dozens of 100 mile rides in the last 15 years, and each time it becomes a humbling and fantastic adventure.  But running for 100 miles, over mountain ranges in the middle of nowhere, are you fucking kidding me?  That is insanity.

Next month, on September 10th, I’m going to once again attempt my first 100 mile trail running race at Pine to Palm 100, in Ashland, OR.  I’ve trained countless hours over the last 9 months to ensure that I am physically ready for the task.  Even more importantly I have adopted several mental practices that I hope to employ on race day, which I hope will help me overcome the tough parts of the course as well as help me keep the perspective as to why I do what I do.  I’ve never been more ready, in both regards, to tackle a feat that is far beyond normal to the casual onlooker.

Normally, my default setting, is to get super hyped up for an event like this.  I’m apt to comb the registration list and dwell on all of the other competitors that will toe the line, asking myself if I’m faster or slower than everyone else.  As a good friend reminded me the other day, I cannot control what happens to others racers, I should just focus on myself.

I’m also susceptible, partly due to my ego, to set unrealistic expectations for what the outcome might be.  Could I pull a top ten? Could I  drop a sub 20:00 hour 100?  Could I this, could I that? The truth is, the furthest I’ve ever run is 64 miles.  I have no idea what will happen from miles 65 to 100.  Zero idea.  I’m heading into the realm of the unknown and I’m excited and nervous as hell to find out what will happen.

For me, I find the most joy in going out for long runs.  I’ve done several efforts in the past 9 months,over 30 miles, topping out at 64.  Left to my own devices, without the guidance of a coach, I would have probably done too many of these efforts.  Each time I complete a run like that I feel at peace, mindful, and accomplished.  The allure to these type of efforts for me is the ability to explore the unknown.  The more I push a training distance the more satisfaction I get in return, not with the distance, but with the exploration into an area where I’ve never been.  These efforts have been my cornerstone, not just for training, but for my recovery process as it relates to life change and the struggles I have  with alcoholism and addiction.

Last year was a different story.  While having my first 100 miler on the horizon (I was training for the same race, Pine to Palm 100, but suffered an injury in the weeks leading up to the race) I sank every bit of my soul into preparation.  I had resigned from my corporate job in June 2015 to focus on training and building my new business, Novo Veritas.  With the new-found freedom, away from corporate life,  I trained like a mad man, running hundreds of miles without the guidance of a coach.  At one point in the training cycle, without any true knowledge of what it takes to race for 100 miles,  I told myself I was going to win my first 100 mile race.  I actually believed that.  My ego told me that I could be like guys such as Geoff Roes, Anton Krupicka, and others, who won their first attempt at the 100 mile distance.  I thought that I was unique and that I deserved a good result because I thought I had trained harder and smarter than everyone else.  When reality struck me over the head, after I suffered an inflamed SI joint, partly from over-training, I quickly realized that I was not ready to even attempt the grueling distance, let alone achieve a certain result.  Last year my ego got the best of me.

This year, with three weeks left to go, I am happy to say that I’m in a different place.  I don’t feel the need to obsess about a particular result.  Yes, I have goals, but those are just bricks in the wall.  Whatever happens that day when I toe the line at Pine to Palm, I’m in a place to anticipate the joy of having the ability to go out for a long run in the woods.  Just like my buddy Andrew said, “it’s just a run.”

As for Andrew’s attempt at the Western States 100?  He won the whole damn thing and in the process, continued to take on the attitude that he was just going for a run that day, doing what he loves most.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Soundtracks to Our Lives

Just for fun and on the lighter side….

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My home away from home, the Dunn Forest, where I keep my second office for writing and getting mental shit done.

Music means the world to me.  At any point in time a tune may come on and evoke old emotions and memories.  I am continually reminded of some of the best times in my life and the songs that were a part of those distinct memories.  Here’s a look back at some of the soundtracks to my life:

Early teens:  It was all about hair-metal, period.  My early teenager years revolved around mainstay bands such as Motley Crue, Guns’N’Roses, Warrant, Poison, Ratt, Cinderalla, and Bon Jovi.  Also included in the mix were more obscure bands like Lillian Axe, Trixter, Winger, Steelheart, Shotgun Messiah, and Slaughter.  If you ever get a chance check out Lillian Axe’s “See you Someday.”  It’s a FUCKING kickass ballad that never seemed to get any traction.  That song always reminds me of late night summer campouts and Navy Seal runs with my boys Matt and Matt.  To this day any song from that period can come on and I’m instantly taken back to the fun and innocence that was had in the 90’s.

Late Teens/High School:  While continuing to respect my obsession with the glamour filled 80’s bands that I had grown to love, a slight adjustment was made when I got to High School at Burke Mtn. Academy.  All of the kids there seemed to be enamored by some dude named Dave that played acoustic guitar with some other guy named Tim Reynolds.  Early on in my tenure at Burke I remember cassette tapes being traded around like baseball cards, certainly I was intrigued to know what all the hype was about.  It was at this point that The Dave Matthews Band made an entrance into my life.  Under the Table and Dreaming had just come out a couple of years prior and after one listen I wanted to hear more.  Fortunately, I was in luck, for that spring of my Junior year at Burke, right around the time when we took our annual class trip, Dave’s “Crash” album hit the airwaves.  Every single song on that album began to take meaning as friends and I would create memories based on his entrancing melodies.  The British Rock scene also made a profound appearance as Ryan Heinz, a native of England, began to bring back CD’s from home to Burke of all sorts of new bands like The Prodigy, The Verve, Blur, and of course, Oasis which to this day still has a profound effect on my memory bank.  In fact, as I’m sitting here writing in the middle of the Dunn Forest I’ve got “What’s the Story Morning Glory” blasting through my MacBook. Ryan also exposed me to a new genre of music that started a movement with what I would listen to for many years to come.  He introduced me to electronic music, most notably Underworld, through their single, featured at the end of the movie Trainspotting, “Born Slippy NUXX.”

College:  The electronic music kept forging its way into my life when I met this skinny little kid from Connecticut, who lived just down the hall from my good friends Jeff and Hillary,  named Kieran.  I didn’t really get to know him until sophomore year when we lived and pledged Phi Kappa Sigma together.  Something about him intrigued me because he was listening to music that no one else seemed to know about:  Trance.  It was also around this time that Moby’s “Play” came out.  Putting Moby together with DJ’s such as Ayla and DJ Keoki began to cement my passion for the early EDM scene.  My most vivid memory of college, in terms of music, is when Kieran and I, along with the rest of our suite mates, were playing frisbee outside of our dorm, blasting the hell out of Moby’s “Bodyrock.”  Every single time I hear that track I am quickly returned to those fantastic and care free times that we experienced together.

Post College to Present:  When Davis Smith hired me out of college to be his protegé at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain in Bend, OR, we travelled a ton together to trade shows and events, promoting the impending renovations that the Inn was about to go through.  One band sums up those road trips and time in my life.  Coldplay’s “Parachutes” and “A Rush of Cold Blood to the Head” were the soundtracks to those years, and the motivation for Davis and I to start a shitty garage band called “Tears for Beers.”  We sucked and it was fucking fun as hell.  During those times the EDM scene had taken a place on the back burner until Kieran, once again, turned me on to acts such as Above and Beyond, Markus Schulz, and Armin Van Buuren, and other prominent trance DJ’s.  I was fortunate enough to catch my first EDM show at NYC’s legendary Pacha nightclub, which has since shut it’s doors. Featured that evening was none other than Armin Van Buuren, and it was fucking amazing (until the time I blacked out and woke up with my face down in the champagne ice bucket). “Big Sky” was the opening track that night.  To this day, when that track comes on I immediately recall the love that I had quickly developed for the EDM scene.

Later in life, when times began to get dark and the alcohol and drugs became more prominent for me, I continued to lean heavily on EDM, constantly going to shows in Portland that featured smaller DJ’s like Ronski Speed, Kohma, Kyau and Albert, and some guy named Gareth Emery, who turned out to be my go-to when shit got really dark for me.  Fortunately, when things began to become brighter, I was still deeply engrossed in Gareth’s music. In fact he’s coming back to Portland this October!  I will certainly fucking be there.

Music still continues to have a profound impact on me to this day.  Last summer a page was turned in many ways, when I saw Motley Crue twice during their last tour.  The last song they played, when Jeff, Lisa, and I saw them in Portland, was fittingly “Home Sweet Home.”  After the show was done it almost felt like it was time to move on from something, I still can’t put my finger on it.  I’ve seen the Crue 17 times in my life and now knowing that I’ll never see them again (until Vince runs out of money) brings things full circle in some regard.

What’s the soundtrack of your life and what memories do those bands and songs evoke?  For me the music will never die and will continue to be an important fabric to my being.

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TransRockiesRun 2016

In 2014 I arrived in Buena Vista, CO, for my second go-around of the TransRockiesRun.  At that point I had been sober for 5 months.  Being back at the event, my first time since 2012, I had severe anxiety around the social aspect of TRR.  The running portion of the race was fine and manageable.  However, after each stage, when it came to socializing and being around tent city, I was a mess.  It may not have seemed that way from the outside, but hell, it was a battle.

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This year I was able to arrive in Colorado early to get used to the elevation.  My friends Hillary and Brian live at 10,500ft, a perfect spot to acclimate. 

Being 5 months sober I was in the midst of trying to sort out how to live without the crutch of alcohol.  Being around people, socializing without that crutch, was extremely hard as I was re-learning how to have a conversation.  It was so easy to be social and confident with the aid of alcohol!  Without it, how the hell was I even going to say hello to someone I didn’t know?

The TransRockiesRun has a special place in my heart.  In 2012, while racing the 6 day stage race with my dear friend Brian Hetzel, I was exposed to the community that exists around the sport of ultra running.  Even though I DNF’d that year, due to a quad injury, I fell in love with the aura and mystique that this seemingly obscure sport provided. After being a part of that week in the Rockies I never looked back.  Ultra-running became my new sport and passion.

TransRockies is known as a running camp for adults.  Runners occasionally like to kick back after each stage and enjoy the scenery with beers in hand, while unwinding from a long day in the mountains.  In 2014, with my alcohol sensors on high, I could pick out what beers people were having from 100 yards away.  I was obsessed with the sight of alcohol, I thought that I was missing out on the fun and camaraderie that runners were building with the comforts of beers.  It drove me nuts.  My solution was to isolate and go to bed as early as possible.  I felt vulnerable and helpless so I did what I did best 2 years ago…I hid.

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The Corvallis crew at TransRockies 2014.  From L to R: Dave, myself, Erica, Taryn, Brian, Laura, and Brandon.  Having my friends around in 2014 made the week much more manageable for me as they helped me feel safe.  

I’m happy to say that I’ve come a long way since the 2014 race.  This year, I am in a different place, eager to experience the event without the fear of being around alcohol.  The challenges that I have are far different from where I was back in 2014. For me, to look back at how things were, and hence the progress that I’ve made, is a gratifying experience.  I find motivation to continue this process of recovery knowing that I’ve come a long way as a person.  When I toe the line next Tuesday for the first stage of TRR, in Buena Vista, I will be focused on one thing: living in the moment in one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been.

Let’s lace em up and kick some ass!

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