Wednesday, September 12, 2018

IAU 100 km 2018 World Championships Race Report

Frankly, I don’t really want to talk about the race because it didn’t go so well for myself or particularly well for the American team. Once again as a men’s team we were fourth as Germany was in 3rd by a small margin, similar to what happened in 2015 at the 24 hour world championships. I DNF’d (did not finish) at 40 km. Leading up to that I spent about four hours and 20 minutes with an average heart rate of 180 and a high of 202 basically hyperventilating and taking a lot of walking breaks because there is something wrong with me. All of the people there (competing athletes and support staff) recognized that something is wrong. A guy who 16 months ago ran 6:56 pace for seven hours with an average heart rate in the upper 160s does not in the space of a few months turn into a guy who averages 10:15 miles in a road marathon with a heart rate of 180 when the temperature is 65F. 

Way more fun to talk about would be the four days we spent in and around Sveti Martin, Croatia. Due to bad weather, especially around Chicago seven people from team USA, about a third of our group, was delayed a day getting to Croatia. So I slept in a hotel in Kansas City Monday night, flew over on Tuesday and arrived on Wednesday. I drove by myself to Sveti Martin. (The pronunciation is pretty similar to “sweaty martin” so it’s a little fun to say, and totally appropriate because it was pretty humid.)

I’m pretty sure that north eastern Croatia is the midwest of Croatia. There were tons of corn fields. Pork is one of the major products of the area, although I didn’t see or smell any obvious pig operations, then again, as the driver on 1.5 lane wide roads I was concentrating on the driving not the scenery. I was even stuck behind two different tractors after I left the highway and drove on the back roads. The highway driving was great! Not much traffic, speed limit of 130 kph (nearly 80 mph) and people were blowing by me. Pretty sure I hit 90 mph at one point in my diesel Alfa Romeo following an Audi.

Wednesday night I was exhausted when I reached the hotel. I checked in, and then laid in my room for two hours until the restaurant opened. I actually ate alone Wednesday night and then went to sleep by 8 PM. Jesse my first roommate showed up around 9 PM, and I briefly woke to say “hi”, and then back to sleep for another 11 hours. 

Thursday after breakfast we went for run and I huffed and puffed, but not as bad as it has been. We had a team meeting at 10 AM, and afterward the gurgling in my left lung was happening so I had the doctor take a listen, and he said I probably need a CT scan because it didn’t sound like my stomach or intestines, as he had suggested over email and as my chiropractor had suggested too. After that little check up one of our team was staying four miles away at a Air BNB for 1/6th the cost of staying at the hotel, yet he didn’t rent a car or make plans for how he was going to get back and forth from the house to our hotel and the race. Oh kids! So I gave him a ride back to his farm house and then Jesse and I went to Slovenia and walked around in a little town for a bit. When it was time to return and pick up our young friend for the second team meeting of the day the GPS said there are “two border crossings in this route”. After driving through a little construction we ended up at a poorly marked border crossing. To his credit Jesse was 90% sure that the flags at the border meant we were driving back into Croatia, but it was a different crossing then we entered Slovenia. We debated asking the border guards what country we were entering, but decided that’s probably not something you want to ask at a border crossing. Turns out it was Croatia. After our team meeting and dinner we sat around talking about dating and dating apps, which was pretty entertaining.

Friday was pretty standard. A few more meals, some more team meetings, a soak in the hotel hot springs pool and laying around reading about the craziness that is the news in the USA. The hotel we were at is part of a sports resort so there was a hot springs, a small water park, a driving range, frisbee golf, and a number of other activities possible within a quarter mile walking distance. The hot springs advertised a lithium salt bath, and it was definitely salty. I felt like I had a slime on me in the pools. In the evening we had the opening ceremony which was nice and short, probably less than an hour. After the ceremony and a quick dinner we were in bed by 8:15 PM. 

I slept for three hours, was solidly awake for three hours, and then slept for another three hours. In the morning breakfast started at 5 AM and let me tell you, two of those European coffee machines were not really enough for 50 anxious runners, although everyone did seem to get some coffee. We leisurely used the bathroom, changed, stretched and walked down to the lobby of the hotel 30 feet from the start of the race. AT 7 AM, on the dot, we were off! I think there were about 300 people total in the race. You can read the play by play of the front action at irunfar.com. On the men’s side there was a very clear Japan vs South Africa battle with the top four at least on each team dueling it out from 30k to at least 60k. Geoff from the US was basically the only person in that lead group not from those two countries. After I DNF’d and took a shower and changed I walked back out onto the course and cheered all of the Team USA runners to the finish and a number of the other runners that I thought would understand English (sorry mainland Europeans and Asians). In total on the men’s side three of the six team USA men DNF, and one of six woman DNF. Both the men’s and women’s team came in 4th. The women’s team by 20 minutes the men’s by 3 minutes. Scoring is the times of the top three people on your team is added together, so the team scores where like 20 hours on the men’s side.

At 4:15 PM when everyone on our team had finished most of us went into the dining hall and ate, and started drinking the adult beverages. Everyone did something different until about 7:30 when we went to the closing ceremony where Japan stole the show winning both the men’s and women’s team competition and the men’s individual competition. A Croatian woman won the women’s individual competition with a strong time on not a very easy course in warm and humid conditions, I thought her performance was the most impressive of the day, and I told her and her twin sister so at the after party.

After the medals were given out and national anthems played, and the Krampi (plural of Krampus?) performed, we had some pizza and adult drinks for maybe an hour talking to the two irunfar.com guys and some of the other countries team members. Everyone was pretty tired so we headed back to the hotel around 10:45, I traded national team shirts with a South African, because none of them wanted their yellow long sleeve shirt, which is really nice and I will wear in training plenty. 

Sunday I rolled out of bed at 5:45 AM and at 6 PM drove Devon, Emily and her dad to the airport for them to catch a flight, and after refueling and returning the car, checked in and boarded my on time flight. 

Not at all the racing experience I wanted. I am excited to someday figure out what is aerobically wrong with me. Yet overall it was definitely a good fun experience I am grateful to have had!


Food for thought, I’m not sure what the future holds. Part of me wants to be back on the 100k team because I know it is possible for me to be top 10 in at this championship, yet I am also confident that I could actually win the 24 hour world championship, and without a qualifier for either one at the moment, and some sort of serious aerobic problem, I have to pick and choose my goals. I can’t do everything. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Crying

Apparently men don’t express their emotions very well. I was dating a woman last year and she asked me how in touch I thought I was with my emotions, and I told her I thought I was pretty in touch with them, and she didn’t seem impressed. Her reaction was more as if she knew I wasn’t in touch with my emotions. Personally I think you would have to ask my sister and my parents how well they think I am in touch with my emotions. Especially as a new friend, I’m not going to open up to you the same way I would for a more established friend, because I don’t want you to rip out my heart and crush it.

Saturday at the 100 km world championships less than 10 miles into the race, I was choking up as the emotion consumed me. I was actually choking up. I am 90% sure that whatever problem I am having it is not asthma. That being said, I have to breathe like a race horse just to jog 9:00 miles and when I allow myself to succumb to the emotion of crying my throat constricts and I can’t get nearly as much air in and out. So I was actually choking a bit while trying to fight off the tears as I jogged and walked. 

The tears came because I have wanted for years to be on the 100k Team USA. I know that I have what it takes to be top 10 in the world in the 100k. I was the third alternate this year (last person with a chance to be on the team), and with all of the talent in the US, I’m not sure I will ever be on this team again. It wasn’t how I imagined it. It wasn’t how I wanted my experience to be. It’s like being in the front line of the first landing craft storming Omaha beach on D-Day, you know how it’s going to go, and that's not good for you. I thought there was only about a 5% chance I finish the race, and I dropped out at 40 km.

After the race I walked out about 1 km into the loop to cheer on our team and others that I thought might understand some of my English. Multiple times the emotions overwhelmed me and more tears came as I sat tired and hungry in the shade watching the race progress as I sat on the sideline. Watching the more marathoner than ultra marathoner men slow down in the end and knowing I have the strength to close well after 90 km was frustrating. Watching the women on our team who were out on the course up to 90 minutes later than the men as the temperature rose to a reported 86F was emotional. How do you watch someone willfully suffer? Finally, I cried for the people, and especially women who live a life so foreign from mine.

One of the Mexican men had serious leg spasms and cramps 30 feet from me and so I walked over so he could hold onto me and attempt a stretch. He hasn’t had the same opportunities I have had. There was the first ever Indian ultra running team of four men and one woman at these championships. India has so much potential to be a distance running powerhouse with their combinations of more than billion people, poverty, rural areas, and high altitude, that it was great to see them in their first international ultra competition. Also, my heart went out to the Indian woman. Women in India, with it’s lingering caste system and more defined class hierarchy simply don’t have anywhere close to the opportunities (on the average or at the median) that I have had as a white American male. Similarly, there was a woman from Lebanon at the race, and no men from Lebanon. What she has probably had to go through to get to the point of racing this is probably far more than I have had to push for or deal with. 

Instead of a white American male born to parents who are still married after 35 years who value education and hard work I could have been born a woman in poverty in a part of the world where I would never get much education, married off as a child, and really never be valued like the human every one of us is. It breaks my heart, and four hours of running with an average heart rate of 180 leading up to a DNF at a race I have dreamt of for years will accelerate those emotions right to the surface. 

Sure, I can describe why I cried on Saturday, but words don’t fully communicate the emotions I felt. In between runners in rural Croatia on Saturday I laid down in the grass on the side of the road. The movie Inside Out well described the complexities of emotions as we age, but it failed to differentiate between the depths of emotion. Sure I was sad enough to cry about my dream of a top 10 finish at the 100k world championships being shattered due to what I think is a lung infection of some kind. But what the Indian woman who ran on Saturday represents is even more powerful. Laying there on the side of the road I felt positive and negative all at once. (I did watch Star Wars last week…) The amazingness of the day in Sveti Martin, Croatia, of my 32 years of life, my many enormous opportunities, and yet my failure on the day, which is my second world championships failure, the difficult plight of people and especially women around the world.


In summary, men do have emotions. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Not Ready to Quit

Tomorrow morning I will run the IAU 100 km 2018 world championships. It's not going to go great. Well, okay, it could, there could be a miracle and I could have a good day. But all signs point to hyperventilating, a racing heart rate, and ultimately walking.

I've been thinking for awhile, the last few months, as this illness has affected me that maybe this is it. Maybe I'll retire from serious semiprofessional running after this race. I've accomplished so much. I haven't had the enthusiasm for training in 2018 that I have had in the past. Really, most of the fun of running is the day to day training. The thrill of a great workout when you fly and it feels easy. The confidence that comes from plugging away at a tough double the day after a hard workout. When you look at a mirror and see a muscle that you don't remember. When you laugh and cry with your friends who have suffered the trials of miles with you. When you see what is possible. Those are the things that keep me coming back and there have been precious few of those moments in 2018.

I was reading yesterday about Meb Keflezighi in 2007 and 2008 when he was 33 and didn't make the 2008 Olympics, after getting a silver medal in 2004. He thought about retirement at that point too. How can you not think about it? We race the clock for minutes, hours or days, but really there is a clock of years and months counting down until for whatever reason, it ends. I'm not ready to quit. I don't know what the future holds, it doesn't look the same as the past, that's for sure. It probably has more mountains in it and more training partners. Whatever the case, I'm not ready to quit.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Athletics is Life Compressed

I'm ready to quit. Okay not really, but maybe. I'm maybe ready to throw in the running shoes and never race again. However, I'm running the 100 km world championships in two and a half weeks. It might be my last serious race.

In March I started to have trouble running. I was breathing harder and my heart rate went up, and I've been on a long gradual downhill slide. I ran 28.0 miles in July. I've been to doctors seven times, plus plenty of emails. I don't have anemia, although my ferritin and B12 was never checked. I've had two chest x-rays that came back clear despite some sort of gurgling that happens when I lie down near my back lower rib cage. I have a prescription for an albuterol inhaler, which I'll admit makes about a 5% different when pushing uphill, but does not at all take my 9:00 miles down to 7:00. I've done a stress test, and ran to the end of level four, farther than anyone else at Coffeyville has, with no issues in the EKG. Last week I had an echocardiogram and it's not serious enough that anyone has called me about it. I don't have any of the standard tick borne diseases. It's not lead poisoning. I've had mono (which was news to me) but it was sometime in the past and is not active now. My sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are all great. My TSH is 2.09, which is consistent with the last few years of my measurements. I'm even five days into taking Prilosec because it could be acid reflux, but that hasn't solved it. The only thing out of the reference range in blood tests was Eosinophils, 5.7% in May and 3.1% in June. And the reference range is 0-3 or 0-6 depending on your source.

I keep offering stress as a reason, but none of the doctors seem to think I stressed myself out to make this kind of difference. I can walk and talk, and function, even bicycle all right, but I can't run a 24 minute 5k at this point. Sure I'm getting older, I'm 32, and I'm probably 10 pounds over ideal racing weight, partly due to rock climbing and some upper body strength. In March I ran 20 miles at 7:20 pace, Saturday I did 3 at 9:00 pace.

Right now I'm laying in my bed, two hours after coming home from work too tired to go out and exercise. Is this the end? Is this the hospice of my running career? In December I tried to set the American 24 hour record, because it is possible for me. I haven't run a single race this year, nothing. Was it the business trip in March to Mexico? Was it the skiing trip in March to Aspen and way too long sitting in my car? Why am I sick? I'm more than willing to go to doctors and get more tests, but I'm tired of advocating for myself when test after test comes back showing I'm in great health. I'm not in great health.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Crying on the Mountain

I just went to the memorial service for Tim Valentine, a strong Christian who died last Saturday when his Extra 400 (N13EP) crashed shortly after take off. He was flying with another pilot and three passengers to the Ponca City pancake breakfast fly in, which happens the first Saturday morning of every month. The coworker friend of mine who owns a Cessna 150 and I have flown there twice for breakfast on a Saturday. Plus, Tim's parents in law sit beside me in church every Sunday. And he was involved with Boy Scouts, where another friend and coworker is the scoutmaster. So it hits close to home despite the fact I never met him.

As I sat there and they talked about his adventure taking, flying, scuba diving, travels, and even mentioned his view from the mountain top, I cried. I realized that a lot of crying happens in the mountains, but it rarely gets talked about back on the plains. The mountains push us mentally, emotionally, and physically to our breaking point. There is a lot of joy there, because it's a difficult accomplishment, but there are also a fair amount of tears. Tears because you are tired, hungry, thirsty, bleeding, scared. Tears when an avalanche kills 16 people and you see the bodies. Tears because you just went through something mind blowing that you know you won't totally be able to describe to people. How do you describe the hanging belay at the top of the 5.10 pitch on the Casual Route on Longs Peak?

Point being, take the lows with the highs. Don't just cry for the person who died in a plane crash or on a mountain, also celebrate that person being in the airplane and on the mountain.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Insecurity

I won't lie, running isn't going stellar, and I'm running the 100 km IAU world championships in Croatia September 8th! But I'm not really going to talk about that today. Instead, I'm going to touch on motivation.

This is my second USA Track and Field world championship team. The first was the 24 hour world championships in 2015. This means a lot to me! Not only does it show that I'm more than a one-good-race wonder, I also have some range, I'm not just good at one event. I am (or at least have been) at least national class over seven hours, and 24 hours, two rather different events with few cross over successes. I was never in the military or the Peace Corp so I have felt guilty for all of the luxury and wealth I enjoy simply being a USA citizen despite never being in public service. So being a representative of our country with USA across my chest is a huge honor and opportunity to represent this diverse nation.

I have never been a very physically talented person, except maybe in the mountains. In high school I never went to state athletics competition of my own independent doing. In college I never went to nationals. After college, working at the shorter races my performances were no where close to national level. On top of that, I was the shortest person in my kindergarten class, and more or less held that status until late in high school. Also, from years 9 through 18 of my life, I lived in rural areas, and that tends to mean that athletics takes on more importance than it might in an urban setting.

That's a long way of saying, there is some insecurity inside me that I am not "good enough" from an athletic or physical point of view. This would be part of the negative side of motivation, the thing I am fleeing, my inadequacy, my need to prove something.

Now that I have achieved this, there is a calming and humbling aspect. It's a lot like landing a plane, it's the best moment in flight training when you bring that plane down safely alone!

This part of motivation is much smaller than the positive "what is possible?" aspect of motivation where I love pushing myself to see what is possible. Yet I realize now that I'm far from alone with this feeling. Many successful athletes are trying to prove something. Mostly it's prove it to ourselves, but there is a definite external factor, like Michael Jordan not being on his varsity high school basketball team his sophomore year, and wanting to prove his mettle.

I'm not encouraging people to go out and get insecure, just consume some media for a few hours and you will get some insecurity. I am trying to recognize the fact that this athletic insecurity of mine has contributed to my success. I mean, mountain ultra running is more competitive and if I really had a good range I would make the USATF mountain ultra trail team, or win a medal at the world championships too...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Love Your Neighbor

I haven’t blogged in quite a while. I’ve been doing a lot, and staying in hotels with wifi, so I could be blogging. There are things I could write about, but I just haven’t. Part of it is a fear, post-Everest, that I have a visibility that is going to get me in trouble with my employer. But it pains me not to express myself, and not share my experiences with others, because I know that people learn by reading about my experiences. So here we go.

First, a note on dating at age 32. It’s actually better than when I was younger. Women in their 30s, my peers, seem to be more attracted to me now that I’m established and have some accomplishments to speak of. Before it was just goals and expectations, but now it’s the past and the present. Similarly, women in their 20s seem more interested in me in the same way that women in their 20s are often attracted to men in their 30s. So dating is going okay. I don’t have a mutually exclusive romantic lady partner to speak of, but that’s okay. Everything in it’s time.

Who knows why person A is attracted to person B?! I’ve been trying to quantify, not simply articulate, my own romantic feelings and it’s been interesting. One of the situations I’ve run into is a woman who I find attractive, either isn’t attracted to me or at least not very much, yet likes spending time with me. I’m sure I fall into the “nice guy” category and thus get friend zoned. Which isn't necessarily bad. However, one of the things I have learned is that many women have little to no support, so maybe that’s why I’m kept around.

What I mean is, I can call up my parents, announce I’m going to return to Pakistan for two months to climb a mountain, and they will be supportive. It isn’t their idea of a vacation, but they are still supportive. Some of these women I have gotten to know are up against huge barriers where their parents don’t support their dreams and they have very few friends who understand or are supportive. And they are dealing with all of this very calmly and discretely while making way less money than me (money = options to direct your life). I’ve half joked for years that I would happily date an olympian. In really good shape, great at being dedicated to a goal, lots of travel, and typically women’s sports are not supported as highly as men’s sports, so she might be interested in a little more support than a male olympian would be. Similarly I would be interested in M.Ds and Ph.Ds while I am sure many other men are intimidated. 

Point being, while chances are low that I end up marrying any of the nice ladies I have spent one on one time with this year, I am happy to show them some caring and support (because love is a super strong word I won’t use it in this sentence, but love is the idea). Because I am Christian and have great parents and a family support system, I’ve got support to spare. I don’t believe in good people. I believe we’re all broken sinners. So if I miss out on a little romance, it’s totally fine. 

After the 2016 US presidential election, and then my house being burglarized in 2017, and living far away from family, and being single, I’ve felt a bit of a lack of love in the world. It’s like the world has gone and gotten self-centered. For example, I lived in the same house in Dubuque for five and a half years, and never actually met a couple of my neighbors. I’ll admit my hobbies can be selfish, but between coaching and giving presentations and talking about my adventures with people I do feel a some sense of community from my hobbies. But I don't feel the overall sense of community that I did when I was much younger.

I watched July 4th fireworks with my next door neighbor, who is in his upper 50s and on social security disability. I went home and cried that night after he shared his finances with me. I paid more in taxes last year than he received through social security. I am so blessed. Hopefully, somehow, I can pay it forward to those without all of the support that I have.


This isn’t really about me. I want to encourage you to love your neighbor, who ever that may be. Love is a strong word, so perhaps you just support someone a little more. Get out there and do it! Pay it forward! If we all care for our neighbors more, this world is going to be a little less dark and dreary.