The Purpose of the "50-Mile Dolphin Dash"

Welcome to my blog leading up to the American Cetacean Society's 2nd Annual "50-Mile Dolphin Dash" fundraiser run on Wednesday, July 6th, Monterey, CA. I'm willing to shed 50 miles worth of blood, sweat, and (possibly) tears to raise funds to attend the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in St. Helier, Jersey (UK), where ACS will be speaking out against commercial whaling and compromises to international whale protection measures. I'm also the Executive Director of ACS, so I put my heart and "sole" where my mouth is.

Support the Dolphin Dash with a tax-deductible contribution:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

There are two main weapons in an ultrarunner’s arsenal that must be mastered – both are psychological. The first is overcoming boredom and the emotional/mental fatigue of spending hours at a time “in your head”. The second is reconciling pain and fatigue.

Like an old friend, you have to seek pain, wrap your mind and body around it, and know it so well that you are no longer of unafraid of its unrelenting embrace.

I welcome running pain. I look forward to the ache in my quads the day after a long run - it’s my body’s way of telling me that I’ve done something substantive, and it still feels like an accomplishment to be able to push myself hard "at my age." I've heard it said that you don't stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.  I believe it. 

I’ve never sustained a running-related injury.  I attribute that to being so attuned to pain and how it works through my body over time that I’m able to anticipate its next move. Beginning around mile 18-19, I know that my shins will begin to ache; after a while, that pain will subside and move to my calves; then hamstrings, followed by quads. Pain shifts around like this in selective but predictable ways until... nothing. Nothing hurts for a good long time. Not surprisingly, by the time you’ve reached this state, you’re blissfully sailing in a sea of endorphins, so who cares about pain? And then.... whammo! At some point (for me, it seems to be 50 miles or so), every muscle in my legs is screaming to be rid of lactic acid and micro-tears.  This is always the most fascinating point in competitive running for me - recognizing when your fellow runners have hit their 'wall', and how they (and you) deal with it.  That movement reveals a lot about character and life philosophy. 

You can listen to fear, give it a voice and a life and let it work on you like slow water torture, or you can willfully ignore its pleading and push on.

The painful truth is this: You cannot give in to pain... or fear, the unknown, the “what if”, or whatever else holds you back in life. You have to embrace it, because pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

If you're going through Hell...keep going.  -  Winston Churchill

Sunday, March 28, 2010

You don’t have to be fast. But you’d better be fearless.

Today marks the first 35-mile run of the training season. I’m not ready. I readily admit that I rarely ever consciously prepare for such distances or even longer. I’m a notorious slacker in my running. It’s not that I don’t take it seriously... I just find more joy in it when I approach it on my own terms, rather than how others believe I should.

A former coach used to refer to me as “Jan Ullrich”, a reference to the notoriously undisciplined German cyclist who unfailingly allowed himself to get hopelessly out-of-shape and overweight in the off-season, only to have to seriously bust his ass ten times as hard in the eleventh hour in order to compete against Lance Armstrong. While Armstrong was pounding away mountains to dust in the Pyrenees, my cycling hero was watching football, couch surfing, and pounding beers and bratwurst. Ullrich always pulled it off, though, and I prefer to think he just worked best under pressure. I liked Ullrich precisely because he was the underdog, and because he seemed more real to me – with feet of clay, temptations, propensity for burnout, and natural but undeveloped talent for something that is all-at-once your greatest source of joy and anguish.

My ‘Ullrich-isms’ are heightened by the fact that I have no coach this year as a result of relocation. Consequently, I am coaching myself, which believe me... isn’t one of the more illuminating ideas I’ve had.  If I had a coach, I wouldn’t have been tempted to goof off and go surfing yesterday, which also means I wouldn’t be nursing a huge, purple, swollen injury to my right quad that aches with every step. I also would not have had three glasses of wine and enough party food for two linebackers last evening.  But here I am, feeling-less-than laser-honed and tight, and remorseless.

My Mardi Gras approach to running, training, diet, and lifestyle makes me a coach’s worst nightmare.  At times, I approach life as if New Year’s was a weekly event; I rarely get enough sleep; I work too much and burn out; I don’t replenish my body with electrolyte-balanced sport drinks; I don’t rebuild and repair damaged muscle tissue with protein bars, and I don’t load on Advil to mask pain; I may or may not remember to take in enough salt.  I don’t carbo-load before runs; I don’t use a heart-monitor; I don’t even wear a watch. I don’t stretch or taper, I don’t believe in high-tech anything when it comes to running, and chances are good on a race day that I’ve literally rolled out of bed, grabbed some chips and coffee for breakfast, and schlepped up to the starting line to banter with my fellow racers. Not exactly “Eye of the Tiger” material.

I’m not focused on the win. I’m not focused on the field of runners around me. I’m focused on reaching that point where my brain disengages itself from active thought and my body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that I almost forget I’m moving. That’s not rocket science, that’s just putting the time in.

My last coach, John Russo, liked to remind me "second place is first loser!

I’m making peace with second place – in running and beyond. It’s not a terrible place to be until second place begins to feel like first loser.  So far, it hasn't.

Running has taught me a lot about life. Maybe now life will teach me something about running.

Happy trails...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ultrarunning: One Step Beyond

Unless I'm in the company of other runners who share my passion for long-distance, I never reveal that I'm an ultra-runner - it seems implausible and galactically bananas to admit that you can't think of a better way to spend a beautiful Sunday than running for 5-6 hours (or more) and suggests that not all of your oars are entirely in the water. 

Who would believe you if told them you ran 30 miles, 50 miles, 65 miles, then 100 miles for pleasure and just to see how much you could push your own limits?  But this is exactly the allure - there's no glory, no recognition... just a runner's solitary quest to claw down to the limits of his or her physical, emotional, and spiritual core.  In our lives, we're rarely challenged to really dig in, set the bar higher than than we ever imagined we could reach, and then surpass those expectations.  And yet, these are the times when we feel most alive, most human, most inspired, and even the most humbled. 

With enough passion, motivation, time, and perspective, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.  I like to consider myself an ordinary, no - an "ultra-ordinary" person - who happens to care enough about some issues to endure a certain amount of personal discomfort in order to lift the veil of the status quo and maybe change some hearts and minds along the way. 

Distance running is mostly about what's in your mind... what could you do if you really set your mind to it?