Friday, February 7, 2014

Going Up: Skyline-to-the-Sea Ultramarathon Ascent and Bike

“Wow, she’s different.”

The first time I had that thought, Megan was flashing a mischievous grin in between bites of frozen yogurt. We were talking about our philosophy on life, the universe, and everything—typical get-to-know-you stuff. She was a field hockey player back then, and a damn good one at that. That’s why I was especially surprised by her answer to my question, “What are your favorite athletic things to do?” (what can I say, I’m a smooth talker). Megan responded to that question with 5 words that would shape our first few dates, our first few years, and hopefully however many sets of a few decades we get together.

 “I like to go up.”
Mountain biking up 14,200 foot Mount Evans in 2012 (this day had 55 mph sustained winds).

No one said we are smart.

The Plan:

1. Run the Skyline to the Sea Trail ascent, 29.5 miles with 6000 feet of climbing
2. Bike back, 43 miles with 2200 feet of climbing.

The problem with going up is that it is limited by the requirement to go down. More hikers die on the way down Everest than on the way up. A one-way trip to the moon would be a whole hell of a lot easier than a round-trip ticket. Did going down somehow cause the Beatles to break up? I’m not making any guesses. But yes, it probably did.

Well then why not just go up?
Climbing 13,400 foot South Arapaho Peak with a 6-month old puppy this year.

That was our goal. Over mischievous grins and frozen yogurt, three-and-a-half years after our first date, we hatched a plan:

  1. Park our car at Waddell Creek Beach, 15 miles north of Santa Cruz, where the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail empties out into the Pacific Ocean.
  2. Run 29.5 miles one-way from Waddell Creek Beach, up and over and up and over and up and over (6000 feet total) the redwood-studded Santa Cruz Mountains to the beginning of the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail.
  3. Hop on mountain bikes, which we would stash in the woods early in the morning at the top of the mountain.
  4. Ride back on a 43-mile route, down and around, finishing with 20 miles on Route 1 as the sun sets.

Also of note, neither Megan nor I had ever run over 21 miles on roads or trails, and the Skyline to the Sea trail is characterized by technical single-track and limited access to water. Also, we don’t own bikes. Luckily, we do own a car, along with youthful stupidity.
The rare down picture.

On Friday night, we rented bikes.

(“The cheapest, least-likely to-be-stolen bike you have please?” “Why?” “Well we definitely aren't planning on dropping them in the woods and then leaving them for half the day on a busy Saturday. I’LL TELL YOU THAT MUCH RIGHT NOW.”)

On Saturday morning, we consumed lots of food and stashed the too-ugly-to-steal 35-pound bikes at the Skyline, and drove 1.5 hours to the Sea. With that weakly-thought-out plan, two 32-ounce bottles of water, and 4 Gu’s, at 8 AM, we were off to make good on that first date promise.

The Sea to Skyline Uphill

As we took off from the beach, a jeep road turned into rocky single-track, with a 300-foot climb as an appetizer for the entrée awaiting up the trail. The waves crashed at our back as we climbed just enough to see the salt spray for miles up and down the coast. Or the salt spray could have been sweat. Either way . . . SALT.

Through mile 5, the trail was comfortable, with the occasional through-hiker coming from where we were heading. One guy had a beard down to his belly-button and a hiking-stick that looked like Rafiki’s from the Lion King. When a guy like that is on a trail that you plan to do in a few hours, it can really make you doubt your planning abilities. Fortunately, while he raised my fears that we were over-ambitious, he lowered the bar for body odor expectations.
Up into the redwoods.
At mile 6.3, we passed the renowned Berry Creek Falls, not seeing them until we were 100 feet up the next climb. “Megan, look at that!” I said with wonder. “Let’s go have a look!” Megan turned to me, smiled, and affectionately said…


We had started the first big climb, and she sure as heck was not turning around for a dehydrated waterfall. Up the 20% grade we went, bonded by the trail and our echoing footsteps. Or we could have been bonded by lactic acid. Lactic acid seems sticky.

After a 10-minute detour down the wrong path at mile 12, we hopped back on the trail. We were in a rhythm now—Megan’s footsteps were a metronome for mine, 5 feet behind her on the trail. Occasionally, the beat would pause and I knew it was time to jump over a fallen redwood branch. Then there would be a double beat, and I knew it was time to stutter-step through a rocky section.

A brief slick-rock section after a long climb.

By mile 20, the redwoods had given way to higher-altitude scrub, with stunning vistas as far as the eye could see. Megan got stronger and stronger as she realized that the bikes were getting closer. I got stronger and stronger as I realized that we wouldn't turn into yellow prunes from dehydration-induced kidney failure.

Nope, as a 1,000 foot climb came and went at mile 24, we stayed our normal colors—Megan a delightful Northern California tan, me a pasty Washington DC white. We were on our last drops of water, cresting a ridge at mile 25.5, when suddenly we saw a clearing up ahead. I have never been so happy to see a parking lot. I’m not sure if the GPS got screwed up on the single-track or if the trail is actually 4 miles shorter than advertised—either way, I was thrilled to lie down in the shade. Megan, meanwhile, ran loops around the trailhead to bring the day to 26.2 miles, with 5900 feet of climbing, in under 4 hours (click the link for Megan's GPS file). Looking back 3.5 years to that first date . . .

We got what we asked for.
We were engaged at the top of a long climb in the Marin Headlands in August. The Ring Pop is necessary for recovery.

Bike from Skyline to Waddell Creek Beach:

Megan finished her parking lot loops, and we embraced. There was good news and bad news.

Good news: our rusty mountain bikes were still buried in the leaves, and had not been stolen by a hiker with bad taste or an enterprising deer with surprising dexterity.

Bad news: At least one of us was bonked out (me), and at least one of us was cold (Megan). Very few things in the world are less pleasant than a hungry David or a shivering Megan. Luckily, the adventure gods were smiling that day . . .

. . . Because there was a hot dog stand and an awesome Samaritan at the trailhead. I scarfed down two hot dogs (which I hadn’t had since I was a 9-year old), and an amazing mountain biker named Anthony gave us two fleece-lined jackets for the ride back. It was one of those moments that gives you faith in both humanity and the industrial meat-packing industry.

Is this heaven?

We extricated our bikes from hibernation, smacked on a pair of commuter helmets, and began the ride. If we could have gone straight back the way we came, we would never have had to pedal. But we had to go the long way around, which turned out to be a blessing because Megan was turning purple from cold and the first uphill on Skyline Road kept her from becoming the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka.

Megan led every step of the run; I took the lead on the bike. We gripped our brakes on the descents and pounded the climbs to stay warm, reaching the beach after an hour-and-a-half. The particular beach we reached, however, was 20 miles away from the one where we started. So we began the long grind into the wind down Route 1.

Like a turtle retreating into its shell, I put my head down and went silent, attempting to move the hefty mountain bike forward as quickly as possible while tuning out the fact that we had over an hour to go. Meanwhile, I could almost hear Megan’s smile behind me, along with the occasional woohoo emanating from my slipstream. I am convinced that she is Superwoman.

With a few miles back to the car, we finally realized the adventure was possible. Megan pulled around, silhouetted by the sunset, and injected some life into the pace. Suddenly, we were cruising at 20 mph into a headwind on massive mountain bikes. Seeing the car, my Supergirl finished with a big sprint, a bigger smile, and the biggest hug.

Back at the beach, in desperate need of adventure beers.

3.5 years ago, I didn’t think love existed. Nope, it was a fake idea people made up because the alternative was kind of sad. Now I realize how wrong I was. Love is finding someone that is different in the same ways you are.

Wow, she is different. Wow, so am I.

Let’s go up.

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Day Diary Entry

Did you see the diary introduced as evidence by the Hoboken mayor to take down Chris Christie?

This is actually the diary she gave to MSNBC. Gosh I love politics sometimes.

She should have used blogspot instead. It might be a knock on credibility when your diary is less organized than the Son of Sam.

Son of Sam's dog was telling him to commit the murders. If I do a horrible thing to a squirrel, make sure they put Addie behind puppy bars.

Anyway, had a great run today, 15.3 miles of single-track with 2,000 feet of climbing. The hip is holding up. It is going to snow tomorrow, so my severe lack of running coordination might render that statement false in 24 hours.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bike Day

Continuing my 2 days running, 1 day beach body routine, I biked hard in the gym and did a bunch of strength and rehab today. At this rate, I imagine my body will be 2/3 ripped and 1/3 scrawny. But it'll be the right one-third. Biceps and strong arms and a strong chest and general ability to lift things = overrated. The muscle directly over the knee = truly irresistible.

What? That's not the way it works? I blame unrealistic societal expectations. Not everyone can look like Jim Belushi in the hit TV comedy According to Jim, okay? THINGS ARE SO HARD FOR MEN.

Wait, that is also the opposite of the truth? I'll stop talking now.

Anyway, workout:

-10 min warm-up 110 rpm
-70 min hardish on gym bike, 248 watt average (who knows how it's calibrated! The mystery is part of the allure)
-10 min cool-down 110 rpm

-Funny looking strength things, including an exercise called clam shells. Basically, every hip exercise looks like I am trying to use my scent and plumage to seduce a peacock that is hiding in the corner of the gym.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Timeline

Yesterday, it was abstract. Today, things gets real.

I'll start with the new millennium to spare you of any weirdness I had in the cradle.
Weird little dude who needs a tan says what?

DISCLAIMER: While true, all of this is tongue-in-cheek. I had an awesome time despite (or because of) being a crazy person. 

2000--In sixth grade at age 11, I weighed as much as I do now at under 5 feet tall. I was a cherub that could run, an apple-shaped kid with an oversized lid. So I decided that the most efficient way to lose weight would be to run and not eat after breakfast. I lost 40 pounds over a couple months. I also lost a good chunk of hair. SO IT BEGINS.

2001--I decided endurance running would be fun. I read Runner's World articles that said it would be bad to run over 15 miles a week, so I ran exactly 15 miles every week. In a year, I went from being on of the bigger kids in school to 17th overall at AAU XC nationals. (that race is a who's who of All Americans and burnouts)

2003--You know what's fun? Real sports! So I played football during my freshman year of high school. I put on 20 pounds by eating 200 grams of protein a day, and became the Defensive Player of the Year for the high school JV team and all-conference for varsity baseball. I also may have worn Axe body spray. I am not proud.

2004--Ugh, I feel fat. So I lost 10 pounds and decided I wanted to run again. But football is where all the cool kids are! I compromised by doing a 2-hour nightly (as in, started at 7:30 at night) sprint routine, focusing on explosive drills. On Varsity now, I was all-conference. In the last game of the season, my collarbone decided that skin was a tool of the system, used to oppress osteocytes, and it fought the power by compound fracturing its way out. While my collarbone was broken, I stationary biked for 1:30 a day.

2005--Junior year! Did I mention I liked baseball? Because boy did I! After being all-state my sophomore year, I decided I wanted to be the best. I'll spare you the details. Needless to say, my junior year ended up being disappointing. But our football team went to the state semis after being winless the year before I joined! My newfound 4.4 40-yard dash speed helped.
Yes, that is a Pope John Paul shirt. Into popes before it was cool.

2006--I decided I didn't like baseball anymore and wanted to play football in college. So it was time to gain weight. I ate protein and lifted like a madman, getting up to 195 pounds,running a 4.38 40, and benching 225 12 times. I also started to smell a bit like fish. High protein diets are stupid.

Tomorrow, we pick up with college, where I went to Columbia to play football. How did I get to the point where I was the Duathlon National Champion U-25? Haha, trust me, it gets funnier. 

Running: 18.64 miles on Rock Creek Park single-track. It was an adventure, so it was okay :) You all are amazing!

Friday, January 17, 2014


I peaked.

I peaked at 24 years and 2 months, on a day I ran with unquenchable anger. That anger is not coming back, and that peak is not coming back.

In August 2012, I won the U.S. Trail 10k National Championships, setting a course record and beating Bobby Mack--U.S. Cross-Country champion and top-20 finisher at World Cross--by 1:20 (in a time that was 4 minutes faster than this year's winner, Mario Mendoza). What the hell? Looking back, I don't know how that happened. I think for a few minutes that day, I hated everyone and everything, including myself. Self hatred is a powerful performance enhancer when climbing a 20% grade.

So, as a runner, it is both factual and fair to say that I peaked. I could win another national championship, and I might. I will not win a world championship. And, either way, it doesn't really matter, does it?

I peaked at 24, and it doesn't matter.

That is a refreshing thought. It certainly removes a lot of self-imposed pressure. Some Most Every single competitive endurance athlete I know is motivated by compulsion. The compulsion to get out on a run, or on a second run, or to eat a salad, or to eat a gallon of EPO. They'll say it's love of the sport, or self-betterment, or even experiencing nature's beauty (and it's almost certainly a bit of those things), but mixed into the noble goals is always a dash of compulsion.

Fuck compulsion.

And while we're at it, fuck being a "competitive endurance athlete."

Trust me, I've peaked at both compulsion and competitiveness. In college, training for duathlons, I used to have the weirdest diet and social life, all in the name of pushing out a few more watts on the next day's bike ride. Have you ever set an alarm at 2 AM to drink a pre-made protein shake? I did. For 2 years. That strangeness definitely got better in law school after I met MD, but then I was back and more compulsive than ever last October (while living 3000 miles away from MD), running 120-mile weeks and aiming for a 4-minute mile.

I'm not that good anyway.

That is not meant as a sad statement. If anything, it's liberating. Galen Rupp ran a 13 minute 5k indoors yesterday. I ain't touching that, and I wouldn't want to live that life anyway. Could I beat him on epic, extremely technical mountain trails? Maybe. But he'll always be a better "runner."

So I have peaked and am not that good anyway.

Fuck compulsion, let's have some adventures.

Athletics is a small part of my life that structures my day, which is the way I want it to be. I want to wake up in the morning next to my partner-in-crime and our puppy, go for a run, or a bike, or a mountain climb, then eat a little too much ice cream, maybe help some people when I can, and do it all over again the next day. And the next year. And onward until the adventures are extreme hammock Olympics with great-grandchildren. From here on out, it's adventuring, with less compulsion and less competitiveness (though those things will always be lurking in the background). From here on out, I hope to have one athletic goal.

I never want to reach my adventure peak.

Today: 14.3 miles on trails. Hip is feeling soooooo good! With (possibly) healing on the horizon, I wanted to write down an exercising manifesto before I get too much better. You all are awesome! Thanks for everything :)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jan 16--Still kickin

Torn labrums seem pretty terrible. Basically, they are absolutely horrible when they make an appearance and never go away, even when they're not around for a while. If you substituted "Torn labrums" for "Donald Trump," those 2 sentences would still work. That is a bad injury.

Had a good 3 days of training! 

Tuesday: AM-10 miles, PM-5 miles (I know, how stupid is that? My decision-making skillz may lead directly to a political appointment with the Port Authority)

Wednesday: 13 miles in 1:25 with 6 x 150m strides (I have been in a habit of finishing runs with 5 or 10 minutes barefoot around the block where I work. I work in Downtown DC. I sometimes do this jog in dress clothes after taking a shower at Gold's Gym. I am virtually unemployable)

Thursday: 1 hour stationary bike, 24.2 miles 

As they say in Donald Trump and Chris Christie's New Jersey, "Heeey bada bing cheesesteak Jimmy Hoffa." 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jan 13--Sugar Sugar Sugar Sugar SUGAR

Today, I rested. And ate. I ate a lot. It is very cruel to put cereal in a box, because there is no denying that I have eaten 12 servings of Froot Loops when those last few crumbs are poured onto my spoon as if I were a crack addict getting one last hit. 

The plan is to use the Froot as the proverbial hydrogen in my blimpy body to fuel a run tomorrow. Call me Hindenburg! Or Ishmael. My hip doesn't feel wonderful and I ate lots of children's cereal, so you probably couldn't go wrong analogizing me to a catastrophic blimp explosion or a 20 ton whale.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jan 12--No Place Like Home

I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Life is simple on the Shore. When I wanted to show Megan what it was like growing up here, I took her to the nearest convenience store (5 miles away). They sold single cigarettes. That may be illegal, but it was okay because all of the buyers were wearing camouflage, which probably makes them invisible to both deer and cops.

It was a 30 minute drive to my public high school. Traffic jams were solely caused by tractors driving down the main road. The stars-and-bars routinely flew next to (or, sometimes even above) the stars-and-stripes. I don't think either of those flags mean what those people thought they meant. If Mount Rushmore were erected down the street, my guess is the sculptors would be given a photo of the cast of Duck Dynasty.

Anyway, the main thing I am aware of when I come back is hunting season. When venison is on the menu, I refuse to wear my radio headphones, lest the antenna be confused with a mal-adapted antler.

Luckily, the hunting season ended yesterday. I feel safer, and I am less worried that letting Addie off-leash will lead to filet-of-puppy being served at the next firehouse barbecue.

Had a great run today! 11.6 miles at 6:13 pace, with a couple below 6 near the end. Hip is holding up, and I am going to give it a day of rest tomorrow. It's a bit weak tonight. Fortunately it's not hunting season, because my slight limp would make me the obvious choice for a mercy kill.

Y'all are awesome!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jan 11--Don't Call it a Comeback

Am I cool if I quote 90s rap in the blog post title? Because today was a good day. Yo homes to Bel Air!

(unfortunately, I did not f**k around and get a triple double)

Hmmm...LL Cool J, Ice Cube, and Will Smith references. It seems like I only know rappers with cross-over success in movies about oversized aquatic predators. Though in those movies (Deep Blue Sea, Anaconda, and Shark Tale), the first two were eaten by a massive Great White and a massive anaconda, respectively. Will Smith, meanwhile, made it out of the animated movie "Shark Tale" alive . . . so far. I'm not making any predictions, but Will should probably watch his back during the next Shark Week.

I will hold you accountable Addie.

Had a solid run today as a warm-up for 90 min of physical therapy. Did 11 miles total with a 5:13 mile thrown in just to see if the hip would explode. It didn't! . . . so far. The torn labrum is the vengeful animated shark of human anatomy. Will Smith should understand that.

Unless . . . it's already too late.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Jan 10--Coming in like a Wrecking Ball

Today, I decided smart with my training. This new-found, new-fangled intelligence led to a day of PT. The chemical symbol for platinum? The abbreviation for pint? The British prog-rock group Porcupine Tree? Guess. And don't you dare try to deny that "Baby Dream in Cellophane" is not the greatest song OF ALL TIME.

I clearly had too many pints. Of beer? Of ice cream? Don't guess. Please gosh don't guess and make me confront my lacto-shame.

Don't judge me Addie. You eat poop.

Anyway, did 2 hours of Physical Therapy, focusing on core exercises and hip mobility. Basically, I try to do that one thing Shakira does with a band between my legs, then I try to do that one thing Beyonce does while sitting on a medicine ball. But I don't try to sit on a medicine ball and do that one thing Miley Cyrus does. Gold's Gym might find that unhygenic.

The plan is to push the hip a bit tomorrow to see if I can get this charade over with and make the final decision on surgery. It was so amazing to see some of the comments yesterday! Gosh I miss that. Your awesomeness sustains me. Well, your awesomeness and 4 pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream consumed in one sitting while swinging naked on a medicine ball.