Thursday, August 9, 2012

Worth The Hurt 52.4 Mile Ultramarathon - Race Recap

"A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for."
- William G.T. Shedd**

My name's Dan Czerwonka, and on Sunday I ran my first ever ultramarathon (any running race over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles) - the inaugural running of the San Francisco Ultramarathon (the "SFU") 52.4 miles.  And I ran it barefoot (yes, barefoot; no not with "those barefoot shoes"FN1;).  I'm one of 6 athletes sponsored for a year to run the SFU and then enter other crazy races of our choosing to raise money for a charity of our choice.  This is my account of the race, the preparation, and the discoveries I've made through it all.

(At the finish with my lil sis Amy.  She ran her first marathon!)

First, check us WTH athletes out and please donate at - every one of our chosen charities makes a real, concrete difference in the lives of other human beings that struggle significantly more every day than you or I may ever struggle.  They are all truly "Worthy."

I'm raising money for Godparents Youth Organization (  Empowering others (especially the underdogs that everyone else has given up on) to understand the great things they're capable of as human beings, and helping them to fully realize that potential, is my most passionate cause.  It is also the mission of GYO.  And they focus on helping the hardest of the hard-luck cases.  So running for the kids of GYO was a no-brainer.

(The WTH Team. From left - Jason, Ashley, Brian, Kevin, Meredith and Me.  Saturday before the Race.  Photo courtesy of Worth The Hurt.)

Now, race reports are usually a cure for insomnia for me, and the last thing I want to read about is how long somebody spent in zone 4 when they were trying to stay in zone 2, or how they forgot to rubber band their shoes to their bike in T1 blah blah blah... But this race was brand new territory for me, and I ran it with a purpose, so I have lots to write about it.  I will remember the inaugural San Francisco Ultramarathon forever.


People think I do a lot of crazy things because I have no fear.  The funny part is, it's actually the opposite.  My dad always used to say "Do the thing you fear, and the fear goes away."  Well, turns out there was a lot of stuff I was afraid of, growin' up.  ;)  In a weird way, the unfamiliar, the scary - it's now my comfort zone.  It's where I shine.  And its what reminds me that I'm alive.  Don't get me wrong - I still get plenty-scared of lots of stuff, especially when it comes to important life decisions.  But there is great power in fear, if you use it properly.  It can force you to attain new levels of focus.  Focus that you can use to your advantage to then conquer those fears.

"Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all 
is to see life as it is and not as it should be."
- Don Quixote

Any girlfriend I've ever had can tell you I'm not an easy guy to date.  I screw up or completely forget "the little things", constantly.  (Brace yourself for the ridiculously cheesy analogy...) I like to think of myself as an F1 race car - I know I'm an absolutely terrible option for city traffic - the most inconvenient vehicle made for commuting to a cubicle or hauling groceries; in other words, not so good at all the day-to-day little things in life (although I'm really workin' on it...) - and I know it.  

But if you want to suit up, do battle on the fastest racetracks in the world at 220mph with the engine screaming like thunder, the throttle wide open, destroyin' your competition, nothin' else even comes close to the shit I can handle.  In other words, I see myself as being much more suited to slaying dragons (or maybe windmills, granted) than sitting at a desk job, or keeping the fridge stocked.  Harsh conditions and life-or-death stakes are my "happy place," where I'm most focused; where I function best; like I said - where I shine (or so I like to think...).

(Yep, ready to slay dragons.)

All that said, this Ultramarathon is the first thing I've done in a long time that legitimately scared me.  Hitting Willow Springs' turn 8 at 165 miles-an-hour at full lean on racebike for the first time got my blood flowing and gave me the "man, I could actually kill myself doing this if I don't pay complete attention" focus I seem to constantly seek, but it's for a much shorter duration of time.  Preparing to run this race kept that feeling running, at a lower intensity level, for several months without end.  In addition to the fear of the unknown, perhaps part of the fear came from wondering if I was going to let down the kids at GYO, my WTH sponsors, or if I was finally going to find my limit.  And part of the fear came from not knowing if I had prepared enough (I basically compiled my own training plan, cobbled together from internet research and heavily modified to fit my shortened timeframe and crazy life schedule).

On a mountainbike, I used to think that if I didn't wreck and bleed at least once on a ride or in a race, I didn't push hard enough.  But while intentionally exceeding your limits in order to find them does work (I've wrecked more than a few motorcycles with that attitude too...), it's not always the best approach for a long, ambulatory life.  And I've learned quickly that in the ultramarathon world, havin' big brass balls will only get you so far before you're just intentionally harming yourself.  There is NO substitute for proper preparation, before game day.  Period.  And then, once you're prepared, adding in the big brass balls can make you invincible.  But this has been a hectic, and in some ways pivotal last 6 months for me, so my actual training varied heavily from the initial plan and I wasn't sure if it would be enough to get me through.  

(It don't hurt til the bone shows.)

For you veteran ultra runners out there, I'm sure you'll laugh at all this, because yeah, a double marathon's not a big deal to you.  You've done plenty of ultras, probably much longer and faster than me and it ain't no thang but a chicken wang.  But I'm not you, and that's okay.  I'm just an average guy with no special talents, who's had to make life up as he goes, who just has a burning desire to see what he's really made of and who wants to help some kids he really admires.  So to me, it's a BFD (you can figure out that acronym;).


Now, to the question everybody asks me, after first telling me I'm crazy: Why barefoot?  Well, I originally started running barefoot - yes BAREFOOT, without shoes of any kind - b/c, well, I just couldn't find a shoe or brace or athletic tape that could make a dent in my plantar fasciitis in both feet, IT band pain shooting out the sides of my knees, or my back problems (helped not at all by my scoliosis, I'm sure).  

(52.4 miles.  100% pavement.  0% shoes.)

I'm 6'2" and I weigh 200lbs - not exactly an ideal distance-runner body.  But I refused to believe people that said running is terrible for your body.  I started to think, "I KNOW running's good for us.  Maybe we're just doing it wrong."  But I had no proof.  Only a gut feeling.  And I was constantly torn between the "conventional wisdom" and my own insticts.

So I finally decided to just lose the shoes.  And guess what - I lost all my [running injury-related] problems.  Go figure.  To be fair, this was before the introduction of all the great new minimalist-style running shoes, which, in my opinion, are long overdue.  I used to harbor a strong disdain for big running shoe makers that simply dictated runners' needs to them and sought to improve their own bottom lines over the well-being of their customers.  With the surge in popularity of minimalist/barefoot-style running, those companies responded quickly, and I think, effectively, and I applaud them for that.  Newton Running was the first company I found that seemed to really care about making life better for runners, and their popularity today is evidence of that.  

Oddly enough, until I suggested it to my sister 2 years ago, I never thought to just buy a properly-sized pair of $30 cross country flats - the architecture of which contains a thin sole with very little heel elevation - a design that really hasn't changed much since the inception of shod running (ooopsie).  I never said I was a genius.  ;p

(Post-race pic of the kicks.  Photo courtesy of Laura Kulsik Yasso.)

Anyway, several years of running barefoot (originally just on beaches in Del Mar starting in 2006, then everywhere) literally cured all those problems.  I even ran the SFM course in the single-marathon serving size a year ago and never felt better in my whole life after running a marathon.  It felt like validation of my methods and it was nice.  I even thought, "man that felt great!  I could do another lap!"  Little did I know that that was exactly what I'd be doing this year.  And while I was confident after the marathon distance with no shoes, it was the double-distance thing though that started to make me question EVERYTHING:

"Was this a bad idea?  Am I totally crazy to think I could do something like this?  Yeah, regular marathons are fine, but will 50+ miles do some kind of irreversible damage to my feet?  I really want to be able to continue to walk for the rest of my life.  Am I in good enough shape?  Am I gonna give myself a heart attack or collapse my lungs?  What if I don't drink enough fluids?  Will ibuprofen during a race kill me?  How long after your pee turns brown does kidney failure start?  Will anyone even care that I'm doing this?  Why do I constantly search for crazy challenges that no one else cares about?"

On top of it all, I was sick for a good 7 days the week before the race, so I hadn't run at all in the 2 weeks before the race and I was worried I was going to be seriously weakened by race day.  I lost 5lbs while I was sick too (which I was happy and scared about at the same time). But luckily I got my strength back and felt normal again with just days to spare.

(Snoozin with Angel while sick... Notice SFM Ambassador Shirt ;)

Anyway, without further ado, here's the Ultramarathon play-by-play:


The San Francisco Marathon ("SFM") starts at 5:30am on Sunday.  The Ultramarathon starts a few hours earlier - at midnight on Saturday.  We do one lap of the marathon course in reverse before everyone else wakes up, then start the Marathon with 7,000 more people at 5:30am.

(2011 Marathon Promo Video.  I'm at 0:19,
and those are my feet at the end;)

Now, we, the Worth The Hurt ("WTH") -sponsored athletes, had a whole day of PR/Media stuff (facilitated in big part by Gordon, Jenny and the awesome peeps at Outside PR & Sports Marketing) including individual seminar presentations on the "why's" and "for-who's" of what we're undertaking on Saturday starting at 8 am, so I had to wake up at 6am.  We finished at 3pm after being on our feet all day.  I didn't eat or drink anything during that time, and I was worried that I might have tired myself out.  But I was so excited from the energy in the air, and so inspired by my fellow WTH athletes and moved by their stories and motivations, that I didn't even care.  I was so amped to be there, in that moment, I soaked it all up like a sponge.

(Seminar Speeches about why we're doing what we're doing.  
From left, Jason Bernstein, Me, Meredith Dolhare.
Photo courtesy myTEAM Triumph.)

So I finally went back to the room at the Hyatt and tried to eat the crap out of the great vegan food I brought up from LA with me, prepared by Casey Erlanson at GOT Catering ( - she makes these kick-ass "energy balls", she calls 'em, (they're a tad bigger than golf balls) with all kinds of grains, seeds, oats, cacao, coconut, unicorn poop, leprechaun pubes, etc. and they are F-ing delicious!  I ate so many of those things I thought I was gonna cement my colon shut before the race.  I also ate 2 small grilled shrimp tacos from across the street (I'm not vegan btw, I just like healthy food, and Casey's been doing an amazing job over the last 6 weeks of helping me change my eating habits from poor to great).  Not quite the 6,000 calories I was planning to take down that day, but I didn't have much of an appetite in the hours before the start.

(Mouth-watering no-meat treats from Casey Erlanson and - my awesome training nutritionist-chefs)

Then I finally laid down and tried sleep at around 7pm, but that was just not happening.  I was too damn juiced up with nerves...  I think I did manage to doze off a few times b/c my lil sis, Amy (who, by the way (!), ran her first full marathon this weekend at age 18, with Crohn's disease - go Aim!!) said I snored a few times, so that's good, I guess.

Then I got up at 10:30pm, showered, got my shit together, and headed to the start for a midnight gun.  The energy was seriously electrifying.  38 other crazy people all amped up to run a marathon before the marathon.  Woohoo!!!  In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose there were really only 2 of us complete nut-jobs - Tim Cunningham, of Clowns Without Borders, and I were the only 2 people attempting the whole 52.4 miles of 100% asphalt and concrete hills completely BAREFOOT.  Tim was one of the nicest guys I met there, but I was a tad jealous - I think I was carrying at least 70lbs more weight than him on my body that I wished I could leave in my hotel room.  

But I kept reminding myself that "we MUST do the things we fear", so I stood fast, ready to jam it!

(Pre-race meeting.  WTH Staff from Left, Allison Falk,
Tim Borland, Wendi Chapman.)


We took off promptly at 12 midnight into the dark of night with hydration packs, head and tail lights strapped to our bodies.  Alot of people wore shoes too.  ;)

(Minutes before the start of the Inaugural
San Francisco "Worth the Hurt" 52.4 mile Ultramarathon.)

I tried to resist succumbing to the "herd mentality" at the start, especially since I was one of the few runners of the 38 doing his first ultra.  Buuuut, that was kind of impossible...  So I rolled out faster than I should have, but I made a conscious decision to stay at the back at least.  It was great too, because I got to spend a few hours talking to bike marshall and all-around awesome human being Tim Borland (who himself ran 63 marathons in 63 days to raise money for the A-T Children's Project.  That dude has plumb got it right.  The whole "life" thing, I mean.  Someday I hope I can hold a candle to that guy.  Not in running, but in how well he understands what really matters.

Then I got lost near Guerrero Street (which I'm pretty sure there's 2 of in one area) when the pack started segmenting, but then some guys that stopped for a pee break rolled up behind me and I was back on track.

Golden Gate Park was pitch black and really cold,  wet and misty.  The Great Highway stretch was really really cold, windy, misty and wet.  And the pavement was aweful - super rough.  All the other runners I saw were like, "Man, I can even feel that stuff through my shoes, how are you running on it?"  I saw Tim C. running it and he looked like he was running on hot coals.  I'm sure I did too.  In my head I was like, "awe crap how long is this stretch gonna be?" I was worried it might wear my feet out prematurely.

(Cold, dark and wet in the middle of the night.  Just the way
I like it!  Photo courtesy of myTEAM TRIUMPH.)

I ran the last half of the first lap with one amazingly cool dude - Jim Schroeder.  Jim's older than me, and much, much tougher.  At one point, we're running along and we start chatting and one of the first things I remember of our conversations was the phrase "I did a hundred-miler 2 weeks ago, and..."  Whatever he said after that was lost b/c I was like "What?!"  Jim is one heck of a great guy and I really look forward to running another ultra alongside him some day.  He actually has a book coming out soon called Zen Track Rambling, and he was kind enough to share a copy of the manuscript with me.  Really great read, so I urge you to check it out at
(Jim's book "Zen Track Rambling" just came out yesterday.
Grab a copy today!)

Anyway, I was having so much fun I forgot to worry about pace, and with about 7 miles left, a sag car rolled up and said we had 25 min to make the last 7 miles.  Shit!  I decided to kick it into overdrive right as we started up the looooooong-ass last hill.  I made up some serious time, but then I missed the small-ass cardboard sign for Mason or Old Mason or whatever it was we were supposed to be looking for, and ended up going off the grid again, this time getting reeeeeaal good and lost.  I had to stop, pull out my map and my iPhone, and finally figured out that I had to backtrack and loop around by the Bay.  With about 3 miles left, after all that hustling, it was all for naught.  I saw Jim ahead in the distance and I slowly caught back up to him. My first words were, "Man, I shoulda just stayed with you the whole time.  I'm an idiot."

(Super Wild Man Jim Schroeder refueling at an aid station 
on the course around 3:00 am.  Photo courtesy of Sierra Hartman).

So, we came in to the transition tent just after the eiltes in Wave 1 of the marathon came blazing past us.  And we were escorted in the last half-mile by sexy bike Marshall Meredith Hall in a dress and gold Nike high-tops on a mountain bike.  VIP treatment baby!

(Jim Schroeder and I just after Lap 1 of the SFM Ultramarathon.  
Photo courtesy of myTEAM TRIUMPH.)

I made it into the WTH transition tent, dropped the headlight and battery, changed my wet hat and traded my wet shirt for a sick-ass Meredith-designed running jacket made of energy-returning Celliant fabric and with a cool flexible LED lightstrip sewn into the back.  I stretched for a few minutes and tried to lay down on one of the cots for a sec, but Meredith Dolhare (the super-hardcore (and good-lookin';) woman attempting to set a world record for a woman completing the most Ironman's in a year, and who just had all kinds of back and neck surgery) was like "Unh uh!  Don't lay down or you'll lock up!"  Enh, sitting was good enough. ;)  So I ate 1/4 of a bagel with cream cheese, a banana, a few Excedrine, and I was ready to start lap 2 - the official San Francisco Marathon - with my sister, Amy, who had been there since 4am and was sooooo ready to rock-n-roll by this point.

(In the transition tent with tutu-wearing fellow SFM Ambassador
 and ultra runner, Peter Rabover.)


My lil sis Amy is a pretty amazing kid.  Until 2 years ago, she was largely sidelined from an active lifestyle.  Before she was diagnosed and began treatment for Crohn's Disease (which afflicts our brother, Joe, as well), she was severely underweight and couldn't even walk from one end of a grocery story aisle to the other without having to stop and rest...  But now, 2 years later, she's strong, and she's fast.  In fact, she starts college next week on a cycling scholarship, riding for a top D1 cycling program.  On Sunday, she ran her first full marathon.  Talk about tough.  She makes me look like a cupcake.

(Amy and her well-deserved trophy SFM medal.  Way to go, Aim!)

We rolled out for the next 26.2 miles nice and slow, goofing off through the start chute.  But 2 miles in Amy was like "You're soo slow!  I wanna RUN!"  I originally hoped she would pace me and keep me going through the harder, later miles of the course, but it was her first marathon, so I really just wanted her to have fun and see what she could do, so I told her to go ahead and run her race.  She hopped off like a jackrabbit and that was the last I saw of her.  She had a freakin' blast and I'm SO ridiculously proud of her!

(Aim and I struttin' our stuff through the start line of the SF Marathon, 
and my second lap.  Photo courtesy of myTEAM TRIUMPH.)

Miles 28 to about 40 were all by myself, so I threw the headphones in and started cruising.  It was super-cold and wet going out and back over the Golden Gate and by that point I was out of solid food, which I was now craving.  Supposedly there were GU Energy Gels at the turn-around across the bridge, so at least I had that to look forward to.  (I secretly hoped they might also have some blueberry-pomegranate GU Chomps, which are the freakin' bee's knees...)

Once I made it to the GU tables, I was talking to the volunteers and I mentioned that I would kill for solid food and one of the ladies said, "Oh, you want a cookie?" and she flashed a chocolate cookie.  I was like, "Uh, HELL YES!!!" and I basically inhaled it from her hand and left her with a bloddy stump.  Then she said, I have a Promax bar too if you want that.  I actually said "SERIOUSLY?!  I WILL MAKE OUT WITH YOU FOR THAT BAR."  She was like, "um, it's cool, you can just have it." and looked at me like I might have a windowless van parked nearby.  To be honest, I was smellin' pretty ripe at that point, so I can't say I blame her for turning down the return offer.

I remember looking at the wrapper of the Promax bar as I came back over the bridge and seeing "18g protein, 300 calories" and I was like "YESSSSSSSS!!!!"  It tasted like crap but at that moment it was as delicious as french fries covered in gypsie tears...  mmmmmm....

As I neared the park again, I rolled up on my new friend Norma, also running the Ultra.  She very politely asked if she could accompany me for a while.  Does anybody ever say no to hot chicks that want to hang out with you?  I doubt it.

We started getting a little lost but found our way quickly for a few turns, and then we rolled up on an aid station in the park where we met up with my other new friend, Dexter, also running the Ultra.  Dexter revealed a small box of food stuff for Ultra runners only - bananas, Coca Colas, M&M's, grapes and pretzels.  There were also a few chairs.  I sat down and ate the SHIT out of that stuff.  We also took some pics together.  It had to be a good sign that we're all still having fun and capable of smiling, this far in.

(Finally!  We found actual food at an aid station in Golden Gate Park.  
Whew!  From left, Norma, me and Dexter.)

Then we started going again, and Dexter, I thought, was going slower than us and I didn't want him to go it alone so I hung back and roll with him, since Norma had another new woman friend to run with now too.  Little did I know, Dexter would be the one pulling me through the last 10 miles of the race...

We had trouble finding signs toward the end of the park segment and we all got good and lost.  Norma and the other lady were ahead of us, but we caught up to them at a fork in the road, and we made some calls to WTH staff, but without road signs, we had no way of telling them where we were for a referenec point.  So we went to maps and iphones and after a few missed turns and backtracking, we found our way once more.

Haight-Ashbury once again got us even good-er and lost-er.  Dexter and I were now separated from Norma and the other lady and we didn't see them again.  From this point to the finish, the last 10 miles, I felt like Moses wondering the desert for 40 years...  So frustrated, dehydrated, confused and just wanting to be home eating solid food.  At this point, the tops of my feet - the bones and tendons, started hurting and kept getting worse.

Thankfully, I had Dexter.  I was now out of water and food and was getting dizzy.  Being a nurse, Dexter was now in his "zone" - helping people with medical problems.  He kept making me talk, to assess how I was holding up.  He said, if you're lightheaded, you're entering Stage 1 - dizziness.  Once you hit Stage 1, the cascade through Stages 2 and 3 is not far behind.  Stage 2 he said was nausea.  Stage 3, vomiting.  Once I hit stage 3, it would be impossible to go on and I would have to pull the ripcord and request med evac.  Like hell I would.  ;)  Big brass balls, now's the time to do your thing.

(About the size I thought I'd need to finish this race.)

Then we stopped at a convenience store and he bought me a 32oz Gatorade and made me drink.  The cashier even gave me a banana.  Whoever you are - thank you! - that was a deee-licious 'nanner!  After a little bit, I was back on my feet and ready to go.  To go to the bathroom, that is.  The next, say, 5 miles are what I now call "the liquid miles."  Shortly after drinking the Gatorade, I got massive cramps and began a tour of all the restrooms I could find.  The first was an art gallery, I think.  The guy working there saw the look on my face (picture a little kid holding his crotch, grimmacing) and let me use it, no problem.  Whew.  I punished that guy's toilet.  If you've every sprayed 100 gallons of chocolate milkshake out of a firehose, you know what I'm talkin' about.

(You get the idea...)

The last bathroom stop was this Canine Barbershop (my first time at one of those).  Dexter had to beg the guys to let me use their can while they were shaving a bunch of dogs (you ever notice how on detective shows on tv, people never seem to stop working while the cops are interviewing them?), but I played sick real good (bein' an actor and whatnot;) and they took pity on me.  I had to walk through the shaving area so my dirty bare feet picked up all the dog hair, and I remember sittin' on the pot thinking, "Huh. My feet look like E-Wok feet... It's weird that all their dog cages are in the bathroom... And that all the dogs in these cages are just staring at me while I take a deuce." and then thinking, "Well, that's cool. At least I can blame the smell on the dogs."  Who's never done that at a party?  Come on, you know you have.

By this point, the sun was up and my feet were DONE.  My whole body was fine.  The bottoms of my feet never felt better, even.  But the tops... the tops of my feet hurt like hell - really weird.  

So I kept thinking "What about the kids?  You said you were gonna do this for them, so DO IT, dammit!  One foot in front of the other!" and I kept thinking of that old Marines saying that "pain is just the feeling of weakness leaving the body."  I also remember thinking to myself, "man...I must still have a shitload of weakness to get rid of..."  

I also kept chanting in my head a quote I read recently in Scott Jurek's wonderful book Eat & Run - "not all pain is significant."  I love that quote.  "Not all pain is significant.  Your brain's tricking you.  Not all pain is significant....Not all pain is significant..."  And I was able to tune out the noise of the pain (well, to turn the volume down at least) and it actually allowed me to look up, look around, and enjoy being exactly where I was at that particular point; to just be present, rather than constantly worrying about, and obsessively planning for, what I thought would lie on the road ahead. 

(Great and quick read.  Super-inspiring.)

Oh, and we were lost as SHIT.  Dexter didn't have his glasses, so I had to navigate with the map and get us the rest of the way home.  It was like Clark Griswold looking for Wallyworld... I'm pretty sure our 52.4 miles was more like 55 when it was all said and done, but whatever.  I wasn't trying to score a fast time, I just wanted to finish.  Plus, Dexter was cool as hell, so it was great hangin' and gettin' to know him as we went.  (Wonder around downtown San Francisco barefoot for a few hours in spandex with someone while you're begging to use private bathrooms and you'll get to know alot about their character if they stick with you. ;)

Annnnnnyway, as we finally made it to the Embarcadero once again for the final stretch home, we came up on Mack, also runnin' the Ultra, and the 3 of us strode in to the finish line together.  FINALLY!!!

HOLY CRAP I JUST RAN AN ULTRAMARATHON!!!  BAREFOOT!!!  It wasn't pretty, but I did it!!!  And I didn't die!!!  Woohoo!!!!

(Me and my new buddy Dexter at the finish line.  Finally!  
Thanks for pullin' me through, Dex!)


Afterward, I felt like I could have physically run a good deal longer even, but for the tops of my feet, which were completely toast.  Really weird.  My body and leg muscles were all totally fine - knees, hips and back were great, the bottoms of my feet felt great - no blisters, nothin; but the tops - the bones and tendons on the tops of my feet - all swollen and hurting.  Almost what a sprained ankle would look like, but on the tops of my feet.  Did I say weird?  So immediately one of my new Ultra-Bros brought me a big-ass bag of ice (ps - THANK YOU!) and I iced them down for 20min or so, and again later that night, which really helped a TON.  

And I got 2 of the coolest surprises at the finish - (1) my sister Amy and lots of the fast guys that finished the ultra were STILL there at the finish tent waiting for us stragglers!  And they were as pumped to see us come in as we were to finish!  I can't describe what a great feeling that was.

Then, just when I thought the fanfare was about to wrap up, just as I sat down under the tent to put my feet on ice, ALL THE KIDS from GYO rolled up to congratulate me and give me "way to go, crazy guy!" hugs!  Oh man, I thought I was going to cry.  The charity bussed all the kids to San Fran for race day, and a bunch of them ran the 5k (go GYO and Audubon School runners!!! You guys are my heros!!!).  Then they hung around to see me at the finish of the Ultra.  What an amazing feeling.  It made the run that much more incredible to actually have the kids there with me - at that moment, I fully realized what I was fighting for; why I struggled for months, and why I will continue to struggle, to raise money, to train, and to live with purpose, to realize my human potential.

(Finish Line Surprise - Tanya Walters and all the kids from GYO came 
to meet me at the finish!  And Aim stuck around to wait for me too ;)

(Video clip at finish.  Running for GYO IS Worth the Hurt!)

Then, I took it nice and easy the rest of the day.  Amy and I had a great early dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants with my dear friend Wendi Chapman and the amazing SFM Staff, Bart Yasso and his wife Laura (neither of whom need any introduction in the running world, and who are two of the most joyful and interesting people you'll ever hang out with).  

(Post-race dinner with the SFM Gang.  Thanks for everything!
Photo courtesy of Laura Kulsik Yasso.)

Special thanks to Wendi Chapman, Allison Falk and Maddie Hand for everything they did to make this happen and to make me a part of it!  And also big thanks to JoJo Reuland for putting on a fantastic Marathon Ambassadors program, which I am honored to be a part of, and great Ambassadors dinner Friday night.  JoJo also ran the Ultramarathon with us - she's an animal!

(SFM Ambassadors Dinner Friday night.  Jojo's in her sweet 
neon yellow WTH jacket.  Photo courtesy of Nancy E. Peck-Cook)

Then after the race, we crashed out at 7pm for a solid 12 hours and thus began the delicious recovery phase... Ahhhhh....


After conducting a post-mortem analysis last week about why the tops of my feet got so blasted, I've come up with the following conclusions: 

I think physical conditioning-wise, I was totally ready for the distance (which validated my mish-mashed training plan), but foot-strength-wise, I was not.  I did over 3/4 of my training preparation on trails.  This race, however, was 100% pavement.  At marathon distance, that's totally fine.  Hell, up to 40 miles I was totally fine.  But the last 10 miles, the tendons/muscles in my feet were simply all used up (having had no rest in the form of trails or grass).  

(Swollen feet after race.  Weird when you can't 
see the tendons or veins, or ankle...;)

Unfortunately due to the fact that I only had a few months to get ramped up for the race, and I was increasing training volume well beyond what I was used to, I was simply unable to incorporate more pavement into my training runs without prematurely wearing out my feet in the process.  If I had trained for 9 months instead of 4, I could have eased up to much more pavement, but I did the best I could with the feet and time I had to work with and it came out alright.  I also wonder if rotating in some running with flat-soled shoes here and there would have helped...


"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."
- William James

I found it.  I finally found it.  In the course of my journey, I found that ease and power I always suspected, but never beheld.  At one point, there was pain like I've never felt or imagined, for hours.  At another point, my mind tried to play tricks on me by slipping in doubts and thoughts of "I still have to run how many more hours??"  But there was no way in hell I was not gonna finish.  Period.  It was simply never an option.  So I focused.  I concentrated.  And I made it past "the wall."  The wall of doubt that loomed on my horizon for so long.  The wall of uncertainty.  The wall of pain.  

(Stopping for a stretch near the Observatory 
in Griffith Park - my local stomping ground.)

And then I even kind of enjoyed it all; not the pain sensation itself (I'm not a TOTAL freak), but the realization that how much I could take was way beyond what I imagined would be my limit.  And it gave me a really weird serenity about things.  A subtle, but game-changing new perspective of the true potential in all of us to accomplish far more than we believe ourselves capable of achieving.  This new realization of life and limits; of what's important and what's not, is simply sublime.  Elegant in its simplicity.  Incredible in its power.

"This is what you came for!" - another quote from Eat & Run, it was exclaimed by Scott Jurek's coach in a 24hr race in France in regard to his record-setting race.  Whether you're an ultra-running legend, or an everyday hero in the eyes of a child you take time from your busy life to be present with, it applies to all of us.  It applies to life.  Your's.  And mine.  Strive to reach your goals in life, whatever they are.  And when the going gets the toughest, that's the time that it's most important that you press on.  Remember - "This is what you came for!"

All in all, a pretty incredible experience...  As a small reward for reading this far, allow me to leave you with one a beautiful gem of a song, and one of my personal life anthems:  

It may be weeks or months before I have fully processed everything I glimpsed as a result of this race, but I am open, and I am excited.  This life - my life, your life - is going to be an amazing adventure and I am ready for it.  Are you?!  In the immortal words of my running partner Phil Mix, "Let's f@#%ing DO this!!!"



If you're curious about the nerdy stuff, here's the training schedule I tried to follow in order to prepare:


My training schedule, if you can call it that, was pretty choppy due to a lot of other time commitments during most of it, but the basic idea was supposed to be:

Mon - Always Rest, maybe easy cross-training
Tues - 5-9 miles
Wed - 6-11 miles (or shorter if doing mile repeats)
Thurs - 5-9 miles
Fri - Always Rest
Sat - Medium Run - 7-15 miles
Sun - Long Run - 13-30 miles

The bigger numbers were only toward the peak of the training schedule, with the highest mileage week being 75 miles, about a month before the race.  The plan itself was about 6 mos and had a step-back week every 3rd week for recovery, and it had about a 1 month buildup and 1 month taper period.

I, of course, missed the buildup month, and was rarely able to get out for all the runs every week, but I stuck to it as much as possible and dialed it back when my body was like "screw this."  Then 12 days before the race, I got really sick - flu or something - and literally couldn't get out of bed for about 7 days, which really worried me.  I lost 5 lbs as a result though, and got my strength back just in time!

One of the interesting things I noticed was the heavy toll the cummulative training effect had on me - I never had those "man I just had a hard workout and I'm out of breath" feelings after a run.  Instead, I had this constant tired/sleepiness all the time.  Granted, I'd only been sleeping maybe 4hrs a night for the last 8mos, and eating garbage all along the way, so it's no surprise my recovery periods were awful, but still...

Then I said enough already, and 2/3 of the way through training, I started taking Pro Complex Protein supplement in the morning, and then right after workouts I'd take it again with a generic Maltodextrin carbohydrate for calories.  I also enlisted my friend and vegan chef-wizard to start making me vegetarian weekly meals (sponsoring me through her catering company,  It made a huge difference.  Only thing is, I'm up to 200lbs from 185lbs (I think because of the protein?), so that's an extra 15lbs to be running around with vs. the other guys who are all like 130... ;p  It was a necessity though, I think.

By race day, I felt excellent.  Conditioning-wise, I was ready to keep on running longer than 52.  My feet, on the other hand, were not, as I mentioned at length above. I am fairly confident that (a) if it were a trail run or I had trained all pavement, I would not have suffered that soreness (although, I was not in yet in the right shape to make most of my mileage road miles, so that wasn't really an option), and (b) I probably won't do another all-pavement ultramarathon.  (I'm looking forward to more on trails though!)...

(Nice!  Caught me shiftin' the cargo...;)


FN1  Yes, I think "minimalist style" shoes are great, as long as they have little or no heel elevation and are big enough for your foot to spread and swell up to a size while running.  I just think the term "barefoot shoes" is oxymoronic.  Shoes are shoes.  Barefoot is barefoot.  End of story.

**There is a dispute as to whether the quote originated from William G.T. Shedd, John A. Shedd, or Grace Hopper.


Michael F. said...

Dude, in my life I'm normally the one inspiring the people around me, but YOU seriously inspire ME! I feel like you and I are very similar. 2 years ago I ran my first marathon. Since then I've not completed 6 full marathons, 2 Tough Mudders, countless half marathons, 1 Olympic Distance Triathlon, and on the 2 year anniversary of my first marathon, I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman! People like you show me how much more I'm still capable of! Thank you for being so awesome and doing all the amazing things you're doing!

road less traveled said...

Michael, hey thanks for reading and glad you liked it. Huge congrats on finishing your first Ironman! Feels great, don't it?! It sounds like you're already on the right path, so keep it up! Remember to do what you can to help others realize their dreams as you travel along your own road to personal success and you will never fail. And remember, our only limits are those we place upon ourselves!

*Casey* said...

Congratulations!!! Your story is amazing and we are all so freakin' proud of you!!! :)

Nancy E said...

Just love it -- love it all --- you are a F#*%&)ing Rockstar! :) Inspiring, giving & phenomenal! ;)
Cheers my friend & fellow SF Ambassador -- proud to know you and have met you in SF.
Best always

road less traveled said...

Thanks Case! Couldn't've done it without your food magic!!!

road less traveled said...

Thanks so much, Nancy - it's an honor to be counted among your ranks with our fellow ambad-ass-adors! :). Thanks for taking the time to read my ramble and hope to run with you guys again sometime. Cheers,

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