Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ultra Running: an addendum

The sport is leaving the dusty, single-track margins of our media lathered world. At least where I'm from and go on a occasion, the discussion is constant, it's tethers reaching further and further socially in a world becoming defined by networks and clicking links.

Having said that, what happens in these big races becomes part of bigger discussions. With the aforementioned omnipresence of social media, sharing, linking, etc., the lives leading up to these big races have become fodder for the fan and for the fans' discussions. Race winnings are and/or will increase, sponsorships will likewise increase in volume and size all because of this rise in popularity, due in part to these discussions. In the context of this sport becoming more main stream than it ever has been, those discussions I mentioned, that will begin to flourish (that already have), will include a critique of athletic performance.

Is my analysis overbearing? Does it seem like my take on one runner is too intimate? Perhaps the points of my analysis give some people a sense that I care too much. Those who read only that miss my main claim: The guy's DNF was totally predictable (or the accompanying claim that he is uber talented). The DNF was waving it's flabby arms on a punctured Goodyear blimp float on fire rolling down 5th Avenue in parade procession.

Didn't you see it? Aren't you paying attention?

Are we critiquing the mid-packer? No. We're looking at the elite, for obvious reasons (modeling, professionalism, culture of expectations, hell: gambling!). With that, the analysis is warranted. These athletes represent a lot more than brothers and sisters in sneakers.

Granted, I could leave a benign, throw-away comment that simply adds to the long yawn of indifference, say something like: "Oh well, better luck next time." "Don't worry about it, dude, you'll come back stronger than ever."

In the end, this is a study of character. The more attention a sport gets, the more critique and analysis that comes its way towards the entire affair (events, people, equipment, etc). People who love the sport, and who appreciate the variety of elements that coexist along with the people and stories that dramatize the narrative like to share that appreciation.

That's how people like Michael Jordan and Matt Carpenter have become history, legend, and myth (Tolkien). Their ethos, their respective sport's ethos, is partly product of the discourse.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Western States and Geoff Roes

I actually paid a lot of attention to this race, at least early-on. I got up around 6:00 and found myself on the couch, watching Wimbledon, eating home-made granola and refreshing the twitter/WS100 update page, etc. It was too early for anything other than the cereal. I went back to bed and went in and out of consciousness for the next few hours tired and sore from playing tag with a bunch of 6-8 year-olds the night before, I guess.

As the race progressed Saturday morning, any inspiration I'd hoped to get from following WS100 (and subsequently getting excited about getting my day started) failed to materialize. I had a bad feeling about the day and the race. As my last post suggested, I pretty much figured Killian would win, ho hum. Any drama that seemed built-in to last year's show-down (even before the start) wasn't there. Like I said in that previous post, last year was LOADED with hype-worthy energy. And Geoff Roes had an epic come-from-behind win, in CR fashion.

Since getting into trail running a couple of years ago, it has been great watching Geoff Roes ascend to become an elite ultra distance runner and maintain a cool, casual demeanor about the whole thing, despite his success. I really like Roes' style both in terms of racing and training, not to mention his blog (and from what I hear his in-run chatting) can be quite an interesting read.

But he got too interesting this year. That's the critic in me. The arm-chair quarterback/ultra runner (of which i am neither: quarter back or ultra runner). But I am a sports fan. I love the competition. I love the build-up to a race like WS100 2011 like I do the prospects of watching a big tennis match, or basketball game (admittedly, my love for American television sports is waning). The sports fan in me couldn't wait to see the players lay it all on the line. And Roes didn't have it that day. As I said in my previous post and comments, there was a lot of evidence to suggest it wouldn't be his day. To my surprise, Anton graciously contributed to the discussion and said I had it wrong, that Geoff was fine, and in fact Killian was in for some trouble. Fantastic insight. He knows Geoff well. I am very grateful for the insight.

But my gut was right. I didn't feel Roes' competitive juices bubbling for this one. Whether it was illness or over-training, he wasn't there. We could say the same about Mackey. He just didn't seem 100% (hell, if that guy was 100%, and got to mile 70-80 in tact, with cooler temps, perhaps no one could've touched him with a late surge of which he's capable). Although Clark seemed poised, I still had him as a dark horse. A favorite dark horse, sure, but I didn't see him breaking through against Killian.

I mentioned Roes' possible illness or over-training that could have kept him from going big this year at WS100. I didn't mention lack of focus, which many readers may suggest was the problem. Many of us remember "Cloud" making an ass out of himself on Roes' blog. Despite being somewhat validated, s/he is still an ass. More troubling perhaps are Roes' own terribly ominous words regarding his "approach" to this race, which will become part of American ultrarunning lore: (to paraphrase) I'm more interested in my next run, tomorrow, than I am in WS100, which is _______ away (use "X months," "X days"). He finally became interested (focused) when his "next" run was in fact WS100. Many of us are critical of this. Some of us are jerks, and some just let down. We love when these athletes perform. See the recent Lebron James discourse as an example of how fans' enthusiastic support can become vitriolic when reality contradicts their lofty expectations.

I'm not so sure the lack of focus criticism is justified. I think it's pretty natural for an athlete to be somewhat excited for a race (I'm sure he was, but I mentioned this too in my previous post), but since he dominated so the year before (dramatic win and incredible CR), he therefore might have other goals now, such as UTMB, or the newly designed championship coming this fall. Remember, UTMB was canceled last year literally while the athletes stood on the starting line. His thoughts are, perhaps, simply else where. And perhaps they should be.

For those who care, like I, what do we make of this poor showing at WS100? Even though Roes has had a solid year (CR win at Chukanut in a deep field, win at Zane Grey and other solid efforts), for some reason this year I think is a little sub-par (I know, what the hell do I know). The Bandera 100k DNF stands-out because he was not feeling well, and I do remember how there was a period of time when he was not adapting to his move to CO. He wasn't sure what it was. Elevation? Homesickness? All I know is this 2011 is following his move to CO and we all know how much he loves AK and how a big move like that can affect people in a variety of ways. So that caught my eye. Has he just not had the depth of training early on in the year that translates to mid to late season domination we've seen in the past? The early season illness, and the DNF at Bandera just stand-out.

In addition, there's his growth as a human being (sound philosophical enough?). As we grow and mature, we change our focus, find different priorities. Based on how much he talks about his girlfriend now, that relationship naturally and fortunately has become a bigger part of this life (if you're talking sports and athletes, better-halves/significant others/marriage play fairly big roles in how the athlete performs on the field. Other sports, like tennis, have documented the dramatic drop in performance. It's life. The bottom-line is people develop more interests in things away from the sport.

His narrative underscores this change. Go back and read his blog, read/watch interviews.

And along with that kind of relationship absorbing an athlete's time and energy, his/her professional relationships can affect performance. How? Why? We can surmise reasonably on the reputation/results dynamic, but let's just say there are many examples of athlete's struggling for whatever specific reasons once they have found "success." Training is secondary, complacency, etc. etc.

All I know is I have noticed a change in Geoff Roes and I witnessed on Saturday a completely different kind of result.


Nonetheless, I saw it coming. For whatever reason, I'm not surprised. And for that I'm disappointed. But. Who. Really. Cares. Does. It. Really. Matter.

Congrats to Nick Clark. He is a model of consistency and grit. No question. MVP.

AJW is a gamer. He walks the walk. And his pre-race interview while drinking a beer is classic. Another model of consistency. Huge props.

I don't follow the women in the sport and shame on me, but that race was pretty dramatic. I think irunfar tweeted early in the race (mile ~30ish?) that Greenwood was thrashed and the whole scene was "sad." Her comeback is pretty remarkable. Roes does a nice job with some perspective on that.

And Roes finding Killian at the finish is very cool to see. No question about Roes' character.

If only Mackey could have laid the wood to the front and won this thing. That would have been greeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaat (out-loud in the voice of Tony the Tiger).

And congrats to Mr. Jornet (although that's not even his late name is it?). He's a young giant. Will be fun to watch him grow and dominate the sport.

I can't wait for UTMB. Time to reassert yourself, Mr. Roes.
For what it's worth (I know, nothing) I still think he's the best in the business. When he's on.

Despite this overly interested bullshit on my part, I am in awe of all 100 milers. I am full of aspiration not to mention inspiration (but I'm past that). As one commenter said on a friend's blog, "I have no idea why, but there seems to be something out there you guys/gals find. I'm in."

I would only hope that all you WS100ers are drinkin an ice cold beer right about now (after the several you've already had). Cheers.

I wish every trail/mountain race with that much leverage has that good a coverage. Fantastic.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My WS100 Turd

Last year I posted about this race; I was psyched. And I was right about my pick (And about the twilight comment with regards to Jurek. I can't believe I actually took the time to explain that to GZ. Jesus).

I'm not sure what to make of this year. I had a good read on how 2010 would play-out. Funny to think that many of those guys (the top 4) were WS100 virgins. That made it even more of a gamble. If I was a betting man, I would have done okay.

This year is different. I feel less excitement from some of these top runners. From reading blogs, I think it was Roes and Clark who have expressed less excitement and more a kind of sense of obligation to run it again though this was an undertone certainly. I'm sure there's some excitement on their part. For Roes, he's defending champ and probably had a blast last year. For Clark, I would bet he wants to take another big stab at it since he was pretty close to really shocking the world (outside of CO). But I don't sense the giddiness. The recent video of Roes and his girlfriend along with his recent posts on his blog solidify his lack of real excitement. Again, sure he's stoked to run the race, but I don't sense the butterflies. If you compete, and you don't feel butterflies, go back to bed.

Anton, of course, is out.

Hal is running, but I sense last year he, despite the ankle injury, realized on some level, how tough these newbies are, how difficult it would be to win with this kind of star quality in the race. As a two-time winner and veteran of the event, he's probably always got the end of June circled on his calendar. For him, it might be like a family summer getaway. I bet he's excited.

The fifth of my "Gimme Five" post last year is the Spaniard. I nailed that pick too. I said we wouldn't be surprised if he won, nor if he peed coffee at the finish. A little too much glitter for me.

So, last year I nailed it. Roes for the win, Anton to run really smart and maybe win, Clark as a dark horse, Hal not healthy enough, and then Kilian just too unpredictable and flashy.

As for this year, I ought to pick Roes. I have liked his story, his voice and his running style. But something tells me he's not ready to do this. Apparently, he's been fighting a cold and lacks the heat training. That along with his tangible indifference makes a fan a little indifferent, too.

Clark seems poised for a solid race. Sure, he's a favorite. But I think considering Roes could run really well (and win again) and Kilian is really hungry, I say Clark is still somewhat of a dark horse. I'm certainly rooting for him to win. No question. That's my heart picking.

Hal, I'm afraid, is just out-classed here. I would love to see him throw-down and show people who's the boss, the real veteran of this race. I still think that was pretty nails how he, according to people on the course in 2009, blew-up the race going characteristically hard off the front.

I am rooting for Hal and Nick. Maybe they hold hands crossing the finish line.

But I think Kilian is the guy. The way Roes and Krupicka described him sprinting out front, up a very steep climb nonetheless, makes anyone think this is just his race to win or lose, especially since he's a year older here. So in his case I don't sens the excitement either. He's here to claim what he thinks is his. He has unfinished business.

But I say this mainly because I don't think Roes has prepared for this thing (I hope I'm terribly wrong). And I think Kilian (as well as a 100% Roes) out classes the rest of the field.

Would it be cool to see Ryan Burch, or Jez Bragg, or Ian Sharman do some damage and even win? Absolutely.

But I think this is just a reshuffling of the podium with a new face, maybe two, to keep things interesting.

Oh, and this makes me a little uncomfortable.
Is anyone paying attention to this frightening development!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Refresh II

There were a couple of more things I wanted to say about last weekend. I guess mainly that meeting Tim for the first time was outstanding. Nice to see that what you see SOMETIMES with the way someone comes across online is pretty close to how they actually come across in person. That was Tim. We're very similar in some of our fundamental views. Best of all, he's laid back. So, not only was it a great experience helping him in whatever way I could to take part in and finish that race, but I got to know a pretty good guy. I'm stoked to do some more big trails and recovery with him in the future.

Tim, a couple of times, which just seems fucking crazy, suggested I run a 100. Why wouldn't he. He's running about 23 ultras this year, he came into town and I kinda crewed/paced him, so the topic has to come-up. I think later in an email he suggested that I do SD100 next year since he's probably coming back. I mean really? I haven't run a 50K yet or even an official marathon, yet I'm going to even exchange words in that direction. . .

Last weekend is still weighing on me. I love the trails out there and don't even get out there as much as I'd like. Running the SD100 would be huge. I almost feel like I'm at a crossroads in my life, not just running and I have this crazy idea that investing in something as consuming as ultra running is a great idea. In fact, although the evidence is certainly not there, I have been rather consumed by the long distance trail run for a few years now, only I have opted to run shorter, more easily manageable commitments. I have been wrong all along.

I get cc'ed on almost every email that comes from a huge San Diego ultra crowd, pretty much the crowd. I could be running up there (in the Lagunas) several times a month if I wanted with company (which is key by the way). Those kinds of relationships can be pretty rich for life and leisure. I did run with a few of those folks a few years back, trained in the Lagunas amongst other places, ran the World of Hurt 25k near Vegas with them (camped with the kids, etc.) and basically got into great shape. I was on the verge. And then I flatted. No idea why other than the proverbial I'm a pussy excuse. But here's the thing, the benefits of that lifestyle are huge, life changing huge.

The fellowship and the suffering are exactly what I'm talking about.

I was watching Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King yesterday, snoozing on the couch. I love those films. Always have. I was never really into the literature of Tolkien, but the films blew me away. I own all three. Early in my blogging daze (in fact it might be in my Blogger profile where it mentions my favorite films) I alluded to those films having such great scenes of trail running. The Twin Towers (sequel) consists of some serious cross-country with Aragorn, Gimili and Legolas footing it in pursuit of the Orcs who have snatched the little Shire folk.

Well, yesterday while watching the final installment, where Sam and Frodo are trying to get to Mordor to destroy the ring and the rest of Middle Earth doing whatever they can to indirectly assist in this kind of coup de grace, I was stunned at how the drama of this final leg of the journey was similar to some of the stuff I have heard and did hear and see last weekend with regards to ultra running.

The scene where Sam and Frodo are on the foot of Mordor (Sam is pacing Frodo by the way), Frodo is near death, wasted, adios and Sam is trying to get him to recall the Shire, the flowers blooming that time of year, the taste of strawberries, etc. Frodo is beyond memory of sense. But he endures. They get through the event and how fucking satisfying it is, in fact deadly, in fact beyond reason, but they did it. And part of me thinks that finishing is secondary to the journey, to the purpose of the journey, which can be many things. This we can all agree on: suffering is good for the soul.

To be continued. . .

A little note on Tim's and my recovery.

Night 1: went to a pub and each had some Pliny and Pure Hoppiness.
Night 2: Pliny, Pure Hoppiness and Green Flash Le Freak.
After the race and a nap, we headed back out to the race site to get Tim's drop bags and then stopped at Alpine. Tim: Duet. Me: The Ugly.
Night 3: Green Flash Imperial, Firestone Union Jack and Stone IPA.

So much good beer it's kinda silly.
Very good times indeed.

Friday, June 17, 2011


The newest blog title, Yo, Feet! maintains my sexy white chocolatey vibe, but we're getting back to the feet ala my url matt-feet.blogspot.com. This all means I love my feet. They've been the target of tickling and scratching since I was a boy. I remember being obsessed as a young boy with a picture from a National Geographic photo essay involving some sherpas, and this one guy's feet (the picture was of just the bottoms) had some weeds growing out of them. My first experience with foot porn. I loved it. So, I love my feet (not your feet by God, just mine).

Running involves feet quite a bit. And shoes come into play to protect our feet, attempt to maintain some comfort during running bouts, among other things. I have a similar obsession with shoes, particularly trail running shoes.

So what about my running. I've underachieved a great deal in the last few years. I've been fairly steady running the trail half marathons, but my lifestyle has devolved, so I just haven't been the best training partner for my feet or my cardiovascular and musculo-skeletal systems. I have been trying to get my running in order for an ultra like a 50k. I figure I have to start somewhere. This past spring Tim (Footfeathers) and I were planning to run the Grand Canyon's R2R2R. He's got a nutty ultra schedule, yet was somehow going to fit that in. I was preparing to join him.

The training for this, which I developed with the help of my go-to team of Footfeathers and James Walsh along with every other damn ultra/trail running blog I fondle on a weekly basis, was plugging right along. But the bigger days started to take their toll, especially since I was running on the road often, for my longer runs (20+ miles). I remember running on grass down in Mission Bay early in the spring/late winter and turning my foot/ankle on an insidious clump of grass. That happens all the time, the ankle turn; on a technical trail run it can happen 5-10 times depending on the length of the run. Well, this little grass ouchy didn't go away. That, along with the general wear and tear, started to add-up.

But I trained through it all. Tim is a big fan of speed hiking. I am now a big fan of speed hiking. It's a great workout, really engages the steeper or volume climbing trips, and doesn't ruin a runner. So, that helped with some of the training. One week I did about 11,000ft of vert (a lot for this city boy) with a lot of speed hiking up and running down. Great stuff. I was coming into "form" for the R2R2R. I figured since I'd hiked the Canyon a few times and was being pretty consistent on the prep, and have a fairly solid game "face" that I'd be fine.

I have to mention the feet, of course. They were really hurting, especially after my longer runs. The toe joints, my metatarsals, my ankle, the tops, you name it. The only thing I didn't seem to have was any plantar issues. My feet just felt OLD. The doctor looked at them, but the pain description just didn't seem to warrant an x-ray. So I endured.

And then Tim decided he couldn't make the trip, which was totally understandable given his schedule. At that point, I was done. I stopped running, was sick of the pain and wanted a break. I resorted to some anti-running rhetoric, but it was superficial. I was just tired. I resorted to hanging around more, sitting on the couch, drinking beers, eating some f-ing crap, doing more things with my family, etc. I loved it. There was no pressure to run, go to the gym, find some clothes that didn't stink, etc. Sigh.

I then started to hike and lift weights. This was a consistent routine. This felt good. I was sorta maintaining. This felt good.

And then Tim came into town last weekend to run the SD100. Read his race report to see how it went down for him. A very very gutty performance that probably will turn-out to make him deadly on the mountain ultra scene for years to come, at least for a guy consistently reaching the top 5-10. He's going to "age" well.

I wanted to pace him for the final 20+ miles, but I was not "there." First of all, I didn't have the endurance due to my aforementioned recent lifestyle. But worse, I hurt my knee playing soccer about a week before the race, so I was sorta limping around (I had been playing soccer most weekends too, so that helped with the maintenance some).

We went for a little run on the Friday before the race; he just wanted to do an easy 30min run. We hit Mission Trails and ran the 5k trail that rolls around the ranger station there. I felt okay. We chatted the whole time. It was good.

And then the plan was set for me to pick him up at the last main aid station (mile 91) and run-in with him to the finish line. That whole experience is another post all together that I won't actually write, but will most likely refer to for the rest of my life. In the end, I finally found him in the dark out on the PCT heading towards the Big Laguna trail at ~4:00am. We finished, speed hiking some climbs and running people down. He was firing on all cylinders at the end of a brutal 100 miler. I hung-on for dear life. But I hung-on. Not too bad. My knee hurt the next day (the advil wore off) and still hurts, but I'm rebounding. Tim said we ran the last section hard, respectably. Thanks, Tim. Funny how he was the one pacing me. Tis what it is.

It's time to start thinking about running again. A lot. For the record, hopefully we (Tim and I and whoever else shows-up) run the R2R2R this fall. Other than that, same ole. It's just nice to be back, my feet in great shape (come'on knee!) and getting hungry again for some rough trails.

Chances are you'll see me hiking and jogging a lot this summer on Mission Trails and Mt. Laguna. Other than missing my feet during this running hiatus, I missed the trail, the big trail with all of its bigness (beauty, distance, snakes and mt. lions, and thirst for IPA, etc.).

It's good to be back on my feet.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I'm definitely in a state of yo. Stopped running (for the sake of running) for a few weeks and really stopped, it seems, everything. I ate a few doughnuts, stopped in-haling IPA, didn't worry about anything other than my family and professional prospects (my family) and watching some TV, and following some very interesting folk on twitter (not the kind that say "I'm wiping my ass" but rather the kind that say before anyone else says it "Bin Laden is toast," or my recent favorite line going something like this: Bin Laden's replacement has been whacked; I hope they have some depth on that roster).

About 3 weeks ago I started doing some short hikes to go along with the light squatting and lunging and various upper body "presses" I've been doing. In the last week I've started to jog a little and am getting that itch again.

Best of all, I've been playing soccer on weekends with some "veterans" who still have some handle. It's been nice getting out and pushing some fellas around, dusting-off some of my collegial moves and so on. My son having joined an Under 8 traveling team is fairly cool, as well. Last weekend, spent the day at a tournament (2 full-days). Much more competitive then the juniors teams I have coached this past year. My boy is in great company and has a lot to learn.

Then, to celebrate my running itch return, I tweaked my leg in yesterday's match, so I need a few days before I can get back to the trail.

Some thoughts on some things. . .

This NBA post-season has left me with a few thoughts:

Kobe Bryant's lengthy and tumultuous attempt at GREATNESS went thud. Of course, his bid for a three-peat with the second most talented team in the league went disasterously bad by getting swept badly out of the playoffs. But for the keen observer, it's The End. It's clear that his game has gone dead south, so much that I am seriously wondering why beyond the prospects of continuing to collect a check he will continue to play, especially since the demise of such a high-level talent can be intolerable, mostly for the one with the talent (Granted, I am aware that his "pursuit of greatness" will continue as he wants merely to add to his all-time scoring total so he can continue to climb that list certainly to eclipse some of those greats, especially ONE in particular). But, can he really continue to play without Phil Jackson on a team that has run-out of gas, mainly because he himself is running on empty? I could find the stats, but the point is he may only be in his lower to mid thirties, but has late 30's wear and tear on that body. He came into the league when he was 12 (or 18) and has played a lot of ball. But style plays into this math, as well. For the keen observer, he, UNLIKE JORDAN, has always had to work much harder for his production. He's not too pretty. He's done. And the league, as evidenced by this post-season play, has accepted its youth movement: there are new kids in town (see Chicago, Miami, OK City, Memphis).

The Miami Heat are on the verge of winning a championship. I am actually surprised they have been able to pull this off in their first season together as the Big Three and (bargain role player) Company. So, kudos to them. They have two of the best players in the league. A few things on that dynamic.

Fascinating watching the back and forth concerning who is the leader of the team. At this point, D.Wade appears the winner, but has been the natural leader all along. He's won a championship and finals MVP (2006), he's older, he has tremendous big game talent, and Lebron signed-on to join him (Wade), meaning despite Lebron winning two league MVPs recently, and many people already anointing him best player in the league, he chose to join Wade in Miami. In other words, it was Wade's team and still is his team.

But to complicate matters, Lebron, the anointed one, has taken over several games this season and more importantly in the playoffs. Taken over means this is my team and I am going to will this team to victory. If that kind of transaction happens enough, a player like Lebron ends-up with enough currency to take ownership of the team. He was really dominant in the Eastern Conference Finals against Chicago. His multiple fourth quarter masterpieces have complicated the leadership dynamic.

Furthermore, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan's second in command during their massive and indelible reign, said recently (during the aforementioned Chicago series) that Lebron will be the greatest of all time (if not now) someday. For pretty much anyone who knows the NBA, this was blasphemous.

But my point is that he's NOT THE BEST on his own team. I think his style is more commercial, bigger in the sense that he "looks" so dominant. At 6'8" 260 Lbs., he's a beast with a lot of versatility, a lot of power on both ends of the floor. He took the league by storm coming out of high school and leading his hometown Cavaliers to the playoffs, to the NBA finals (where they were swept by the Spurs in 2007). He's the next great one.

But these playoffs have for me realized that Dwayne Wade is the best player on the Miami Heat. He's been overshadowed and I'm not sure how. He won a championship, but then that team was broken-up. He didn't return to the finals ala Kobe and the Lakers. Wade didn't have the team to do that.

And now he does. In this post-MJ league, Wade is the best two-way 2 guard in the NBA. He defends and scores better than anyone. Lebron might be his superior someday, but right now, James can't close consistently like Wade. He's not as clutch.

But as Miami closes in on its first of several championships, Lebron James may have an opportunity to develop this story in his own light. For now, however, it's all about D. Wade, the best player in the league. Believe it or not.