Thursday, March 19, 2015

Marin Ultra Challenge 50K: That One Time I Slipped On A Crab (And Everything Else That Happened)

I registered for the Marin Ultra Challenge 50K in San Francisco for three main reasons: 1) My training plan for the Leona Divide 50 called for a 30 mile run with decent elevation gain that weekend, 2) The course looked gorgeous (and hard!), and 3) After telling my boyfriend about the race, I convinced him to sign up as well (he chose the 50-mile option). Triple-win!

With a little more than a month left to train for Leona, I approached the MUC 50K as training run rather than a race. My intention was to finish with enough left in me so that I would still be able to reach my goal mileage for the next week. This was the first of two week of my highest mileage for my training plan.. The goal was to hit 50-55 miles for the first week, and hit 60-65 the next week. That's a lot of miles and time to iron out the kinks for my nutrition and gear. And for breaking in my new Luna Sandals (the Gordos).

The night before the race, I laid out the contents of my hydration pack, course map and gear on the table in front of me.

I made sure my Garmin was fully-charged. Double-checked that I had my heart-rate monitor and Salt Stick Tabs. Counted the safety pins attached to my race bib. I considered the relative benefits of carrying two handhelds versus a hydration pack. Rearranged the order of my gels, from least-favorite to most favorite. 

To a non-runner, it must have looked strange to see me stuff several small gels into a pocket of my pack, only to pull them out again moments later, contemplating the order of which I may or may not want to eat them during my race. Espresso gel first thing in the race with no nearby bathrooms? Maybe not the greatest of ideas...

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself to be the type of person who is overly attentive to detail, but with racing, I'm downright OCD at times. I find this stage of race preparation oddly therapeutic and calming. It makes me feel better have everything ready to go and organized the night before the race. That left me with more brain-space to dwell over other important things like whether or not the ice in the cooler will keep the beers cold until the end of the race. 

For my nutrition, I planned on using Tailwind (a sensitive-stomach friendly electrolyte / nutrition powder you put into your water-- think of it as Gatorade on crack), a Bison EPIC bar, Salt Stick Tabs as needed, three  or four gels (some with caffeine, some not), five Medjool Dates, and a chocolate-covered marshmallow egg (because things like that make me really happy in the middle of a race). I figured I'd also be picking at the food at the aid stations, but in general, I liked to be fully-prepared by myself. I also had my headlamp (we would be starting in the dark), sunglasses and my trusty Dirtbag Runners trucker hat.

Even with my obsessive packing and scanning over the map, I still I went to bed that night feeling restless. I wanted to run.

Race Day Morning - A Crab-tastic Beginning 

Peter woke up early the morning of our race (around 3:30 am!) and went into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. After a few minutes, I dragged myself out of bed, still sleepy-eyed and feeling like I didn't really sleep at all.

After a cup of coffee each and a few bites of food, we filled our thermoses with the leftover coffee and drove to the starting line of the race.

The event start and finish was set up just below the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. We arrived forty-five minutes early to give ourselves plenty of time to finish our coffees and handle business. As we wandered around killing time before the start, we walked to the shore's edge, taking in the sparkling reflection of the bridge in the water. It was beautiful.

As with every race start, I found myself observing other runners and their gear. What kinds of hydration packs they had, what types of headlamps they used, the shoes (or lack thereof). I looked down and realized I was probably the only person running in Luna Sandals. While at the Born To Run Ultramarathon my feet would disappear among a sea of Lunas, in the Marin Headlands of San Francisco, I looked mildly out-of-place.

Regardless, I felt confident that the model I was wearing / testing out / breaking in -- The Gordo-- would hold up well on the terrain. It was thicker and burlier than the typical Lunas I ran in, and had a sole that was specifically designed for trail running. I was also planning on wearing them for the Leona Divide 50, so this was the perfect setting to put them to the test.

The race director called for the runners to head to the starting line --the 50 mile and 50K would both start shortly after 6 am.

Peter and I wished each other good luck, and soon we were all off running into the darkness.

Peter happily bounded towards the front of the pack, and I hung back a little (okay, a lot), finding a comfortable pace and making sure I kept a reasonable heart-rate. 

It was still pretty dark out, and my headlamp was doing a bad job of lighting up the ground in front of me. I tried to carefully watch where I was stepping.

I was only maybe half a mile out when my right foot landed on something large that crunch-SMASH-squished and I felt my center of gravity change drastically. It happened so quickly that my arms didn't even have a chance to brace my fall.

My left shin hit the ground first, dragging against the pavement to stop my forward momentum.

I hadn't even made it to the trailhead yet.

I'm technically running on the road right now.

Running down a steep single-track whilst channeling your inner Kilian Jornet? Worthy of a wipe-out.

Flat paved road? Nope.

A nearby runner stopped for a moment to make sure I was alright.

"I'm fine! Just a little scrape!" I said, quickly standing up and brushing the rocks off my legs.

I inspected my now stinging shin and saw dark red streaks run down my leg. 

The scrapes looked more like an animal had slashed the front of my shin. 

Thankfully, it didn't hurt too bad.

I pointed my headlamp in the direction of where I slipped, and I couldn't believe what had taken me out:

A fucking crab.

Like, the kind of crab with big claws you might find steamed and served alongside melted butter at a seafood restaurant. The back of its shell was cracked down the middle and it's insides were spilling out through the sides.

Brutal way to go out, little dude.

It made my scratched-up leg look like a paper-cut in comparison.

I thought about taking a photo, but the mob of runners was still pretty dense and I figured it was better just to keep moving forward. I had an important task at hand: running. Far.

The Marin Headlands 

The next few miles passed like a blur.

Up up up, down down down.

Up down, up down.

I watched as the twinkling headlamps bobbed in the darkness of the valley in front of me. 

As the sun started to peak it's way out from the mountains behind me, I was able to finally see the surrounding mountain ranges. It was gorgeous.

Everything was green and vibrant. Spring was in full bloom and I was grateful to be able to run during such a perfect day. The weather was set to be the low 70s during the day with some clouds, so needless to say, I couldn't ask for better conditions!

At around mile 8 we began to climb along the coast and I couldn't help but stop and take a few photos.

The rolling single-track ran along the coast for a few more miles, and then drifted back into the mountains. I found myself running down a path that led alongside a farm. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two figures swoop down from a nearby fence and position themselves in the middle of the trail ahead of me.

I stopped running, startled.

The two birds ruffled their feathers and gobbled menacingly at me.

This has got to be a joke...right?


...Do I try to scare them away? Should I attempt to run by?

I didn't really know what to do.

I took a few tentative steps forward, and one of the turkeys lunged at me. 

The thoughts raced through my mind:

Are turkey beaks sharp? Can a turkey bite draw blood?

Is this some sort of retribution for all the turkey I've eaten in my life?

How fast do turkeys run?

...Can I run faster than a turkey?

Why do these turkeys hate me so much?

Feeling anxious about how long a stand-off with two turkeys could take, I decided to take a chance and just run for it. 

I barely got by as one of the turkeys stumbled over its own feet to reach me.

Now the bigger turkey was angry-- and he ran after me-- gaining speed as I pushed hard towards the aid station in the distance.

I glanced behind me and saw with horror that the turkey was actually getting closer. It was like something out of a cartoon and I wished that I had taken those martial arts lessons as a kid, so maybe I could have just kung-fued the turkey as a last resort. 

The aid station volunteers looked over and realized what was happening.

Instead of rushing to my defense, they did what any other self-respecting group of people with smart phones would do -- they started taking photos and video-taping.

The turkey chased me all the way to the aid station, where I quickly ran behind the table. One of the volunteers shook a jacket at the bird and it scurried off back to its perch, waiting for the next runner to torment. The volunteers were doubled-over and laughing.

An older volunteer came up to me, giggling to herself. 

"They've been doing that to the poor runners all morning! Just sitting on the fence and jumping down when they see the next one coming!"

"Today has been more eventful than I could have anticipated," I said, grabbing a gel from the table. 

"One of the birds ripped a guys shorts earlier! You got out lucky," she told me. 

Then she noticed my leg. 

"Nevermind! It looks like something already got to you!" She said, eyebrows raised a little. "Want us to clean that up?"

"No!" I said a little too quickly. "Thanks, though." 

I really didn't want to mess with it until after the race, fearing it would just make it hurt more.

"Okay..." She said, with a look of disapproval that reviled my Grandmother's. I knew the look well. It said: You young kids these days think you're so invincible... 

I grabbed half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "I'll take care of it after I'm done. Promise!"

I smiled and left before she had a chance to talk me into a bandaid. I ran up the trail, eating my sandwich and attempting to pick up the pace a bit.

As I made my way up the biggest climb of the day, I felt my legs slowly loosen up. I felt strong. It was strange to think about the fact that I started to feel my best around the four hour mark. Talk about a long warm-up period!

After an exhilarating descent into the next valley, the trail twisted and led to an expansive grassy field where the grass grew higher than my head. It felt like wonderland and I could barely see more than a few yards ahead of me. 

Suddenly, I was climbing again, and the trail had become a thick canopy of trees covered with vines and flowers. It reminded me more of a jungle in the Amazon than in the mountains above San Francisco. The quickly changing settings was a little shocking but amazingly entertaining. 

I lost track of time between miles twenty and twenty-nine. At some point, I do remember looking down at my watch around mile twenty-five, and thinking to myself that this was the half-way mark for Leona. I wondered what another twenty-five miles on my legs in a month would feel like.

I was nearing the end of the race when my hips started to feel pretty tight and a few hot spots started burning on the bottoms of my feet. I saw the San Francisco bay in the distance, and I felt a pull towards it. 

I thought of a saying of my Grandpa's in this moment: 

"Nothing to do but do it."

Nothing to do but do it.

The remaining miles passed by in what seemed like seconds.

The course ended up finishing at a little over 32 miles (thanks for the bonus mile, guys!). I ran through the finish line, elated. My legs felt trashed but relatively good considering the seven thousand feet of climbing I had just done. I hobbled to the nearest grassy patch on the ground and sat down. I looked over at the mountains I had just ran through.

I felt nothing but pure satisfaction. 

Post-race entertainment

I slowly made my way to the finish line aid station, and marveled over an assortment of snacks, food and drinks. 

"We have soda, gatorade,," One volunteer told me, perking up a bit at the end.

"What kind of beer?" I asked, hopeful for something other than a Coors Lite or Budweiser.

"Sierra Nevada and Laguanitas IPA," She told me.

I smiled.

"An IPA would be amazing, thank you!" I said.

She pulled the beer out of a cooler filled with ice, popped off the top and handed it to me.

I took a long drink. It tasted amazing. 

I stood there in a daze, eating a couple of slices of watermelon and trying to gain motivation to do anything other than just stand there and stare at the food.

My left leg stung a bit and I looked down at it. Having been mentally separating myself from the cut for the majority of the day, the reality of the situation suddenly came into seriousness. My whole left leg was covered with dried blood and dirt. It looked pretty gross and looked like the perfect breeding ground for a serious infection. If someone was going to get sick from not cleaning out a cut well enough, that person would probably be me. 

So I figured I should probably run some water over it at the very least. 

I asked one of the volunteers if they had access to a hose.

"What for?" He asked.

"Oh, I just want to wash off my leg," I said, pointing to my battle wounds. 

His eyes widened, "Why don't you just go to the medical tent?" He suggested, pointing to a little tent a couple yards away.

I grimaced, already knowing what was in store for me. 

The only thing worse than cleaning out a cut is letting another person do it for you.

I drank the rest of my beer, hoping it would help curb the pain I was about to endure. 

I walked over, hesitantly.

A small old woman with a large straw hat sat in a lawn chair reading a book.

As I approached, she looked up and then put the book down in her lap. It had a picture of a shirtless man with long hair, riding a horse on the beach. I tried not to laugh.

"Are you the medic?" I asked.

"Sure am! What do you--" She said, eyes trailing downward to my leg. "Oh! Want me to clean that up?"

"Yes, please," I said. 

"Sit right here! I'll get you put back together in no time."

I sat down in the chair and watched as she rummaged through a box of supplies, pulling out a pair of latex gloves. After putting them on, she then gabbed a bottle of soap and a cloth, wetting it slightly. She pulled out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and alcohol and set them on the small table next to us.

"This is going to sting a little," She said, holding the cloth above my leg. She held onto the back of my calf, securing my leg in place.

That made me worried.

I took a deep breath and nodded and--


I couldn't stop myself from yelling. 


So. Much. Pain.

The old lady scrubbed at my leg like it was an old dish that hadn't been washed in years. The cloth felt like a brillo pad, and I looked down in horror as the blood started pouring down my leg again, the cut looking fresher and deeper than it they had originally looked. 

"I'm sorry, I have to get all the little rocks out!" She said, scrubbing harder.

I felt nauseous. 

She held a paper towel to my leg and then reached for the hydrogen peroxide.

No! No that! I don't need tha-AAHHH!

She was in full-Grandma mode, ignoring my pleas and continuing to scrub deeper into my leg. 

It hurt worse than getting a teeth cleaning from an angry dentist. It hurt worse than any tattoo I'd ever gotten. It hurt worse than getting my nose pierced or ankle broken. It made ultrarunning feel like a casual stroll through the park.

"If it makes you feel any better, I made an old man cry earlier," The old lady said, smiling wider than I would have liked. 

I wasn't a bit surprised. 

I couldn't even talk back. I could hardly breath. 

I stared in the direction of the race start and finish, hoping to distract myself as she scrubbed and dabbed and rinsed.

"Almost done!" She said.

I then saw Peter coming through the finish line, a mere hour after I came in. Taking into consideration that I was slowly running the 50K and he was racing the 50, I wasn't completely surprised. 

Dude is fast. 

"My boyfriend just finished, I'm all good now, thank you, I gotta go!" I said, trying to get away from her as fast as possible.

"Hold on, I gotta put something on that!"

"I'm good! I want it to air dry, please!"

I got my second look of disapproval that day. 

"Just be careful!" She said, frowning. 

"Thank youuuu! I really appreciate it!" I told her, slinking out from her grasp. 

I tried my best to walk as normally as possible over to Peter, who was standing in the shade of the finish line aid station.

"Dude! Good job!" I said, giving him a high-five. "How was your race?"

I could tell by the look on his face that he was feeling the same pure joy I felt at the end of my race. 

He told me that he pushed hard the entire time and hit a PR for the 50 mile distance by a little under an hour. It was a challenging course and I was happy to see him so pumped about his finishing time. 

He noticed my leg. "What happened?"

"It's a funny story..." I started, wondering if I should just tell him that I wiped out, Kilian-style while running down one of the descents.

"I slipped on a crab."

He didn't look surprised. 

We shared our stories from the day and sat in the shade of the finish line tent. We talked to few other runners and enjoyed a couple beers. It was a rad ending to a pretty rad day. 

I think I earned my stripes on this one.

T-minus thirty days until the Leona Divide 50!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Terrible And Wonderful Story Of How I Won A 50-Mile Race Entry Fee (And Subsequently Decided To Finally Start Training)

Mid-training run in Yosemite. So epic! (Photo cred: Peter Brennen).

The last time I really trained for a race was three years ago for my first half-marathon. I religiously followed a training plan that I tore out of Trail Running Magazine and on race day, I felt pretty prepared. I ran within five minutes of my goal time, and I felt great during my entire race. After that, however, my running routine turned into a "I'll Run When I Feel Like It' approach, which for me, ended up being 2-3 times a week. If that.

Most runners can agree that it's pretty hard to build endurance and train for a long-distance race only running a couple times a week. Attempting to squeezing in big miles in those few days can result in injury, feeling overtrained and under prepared.

I felt like I was playing an on-going game with myself of, "How far can I run with little to no training?"

This approach lasted about three years.

I'd managed to run three 50Ks, several half-marathons and slugged through more group runs than I could count on the least amount of training as possible. Although I toyed with the idea of following a plan, I always resolved that if I just ran every day and pushed myself, it would be enough. The Lazy Runner inside of me, however, had different plans. It wanted to take a day off. It wanted to take two days off. It wanted to only run three miles. It wanted comfort, easy runs, and to avoid big climbs. It wanted to cut runs short, turn around early and pretty much always take the easy road.

There is really no other way to say it other than this-- I was giving in completely to my inner Lazy Runner.

If anyone has ever read The Oatmeal (which I highly recommend), I would argue that my inner Lazy Runner is a cousin of the Blerch.

The Blerch and the Lazy Runner do not want to go out for a run. They think it sounds like a nice idea, but in reality, would rather sit back and think about running. They'd rather read stories of other runners. They'd rather live vicariously through their friends. They'd pretty much rather do anything other than running. My inner Lazy Runner had become comfortable inside my mind and settled in for the long haul.

Needless to say, I had been hanging out on a plateau of "I'm A Runner But I Hardly Run" for a long time, and was not exactly thrilled about it. Deep down I wanted to improve, set bigger goals for myself and actually race -- not just focus on finishing. I wanted to get into the flow every day during my runs, feel the wind against my face and break through the walls I had build around myself. I wanted to step up to the starting line of a race, confident in my training.

I watched many of my friends effortlessly run every day, improve over time, sign up for races that they felt prepared for at the time and have no struggle to get in their weekly mileage goals.

My first step in change was accepting that not all runners approach training the same. Some thrive on a lack of structure. Some need it.

What I really needed was a goal and something to hold me accountable. I needed a plan and structure. I needed to know exactly how much I should run each week to effectively prepare. I needed a lot more than, "Just throw on your shoes and run every day!"

Two months ago, I went to a trail running film presentation and entered my name into a raffle for a free race entry into the Leona Divide 50. I'd never ran a 50 before and I'd heard that Leona was a really, really hard race. 10,000ft of elevation gain, unpredictable weather, 15-20 miles further than I'd ever gone before....

Seeing as how there was a large amount of people entering their names into the raffle, I remember thinking to myself, "There is no way I'll win this."

Fate decided to make a mockery of my internal dialogue.

Right before they announced the winner, I turned to my boyfriend Peter and said, "I really hope they don't call my name, because then I'd actually have to train!"

That was the Lazy Runner speaking.

I didn't realize at the time how much it had hard-wired itself into my brain.

I knew deep down that I couldn't use my wing-it approach to training with Leona.

Two seconds later, they called my name over the loud speaker. I saw several familiar faces turn around in the rows in front of me and give me thumbs-up.

I sunk down into my seat and turned to Peter, saying, "Oh shit. Fuck!"....Quickly followed by another series of "Shit! Fuck! Oh. My. God."

I don't know what was more horrifying to me in that moment-- hearing my name over the loud speaker in a room of 200+ ultrarunners, having a large amount of people suddenly turn around and look at me, or the idea of running a brutal 50-mile race coming into reality.

Peter looked elated.

"You're doing it!" He told me flat-out. "Time to start training!"

I stared ahead, visions of climbing up impossibly-large mountains flooding my mind.

I'm fucking running a 50-Mile race.

Up until this point, my inner Lazy Runner had been relaxing on the couch, minding it's own business, when I simply walked up, tipped the couch over and knocked it onto the ground.

It was a rude awakening.

"It's time to fucking get serious!" I told it, prying the copy of Ultrarunning Magazine out of it's hands. "No more couch-potato! No more skipping runs! No more 'just winging it! Opportunities don't last forever, and the time is now."

My inner Lazy Runner looked distraught.

"But! But!" It tried to argue, digging into it's memory banks for quick excuses. "I bet you can still do it without training! You can wing anything! Please, don't make me run every day!"

"Out!" I commanded it, pointing to the front door.

The Lazy Runner inside of me hung its head, and silently walked out the front door.

I wasn't a bit sorry to see it go.

I looked at Peter, eyes wide with a mixture of fear and excitement. "I'm going to fucking train."

* * *

A few years back, a friend once told me that if something both terrifies and excites you, you should probably do it.

Training for the Leona Divide 50 has been exactly that.

The first week or so, I existed in a state of mild shock.

Can I do it? Is 50 miles too far? Am I absolutely crazy?

The only way I could see myself having a fighting chance against the climbs in Leona is to follow a plan that prepares me. Knowing that Peter had written himself several training plans in Excel, I casually asked if he could make one for me, too (yay for dating an Ultrarunner who likes structure and is detail-oriented!).

The next day, I had an eleven week training plan mapped out for me waiting in my inbox.

It has now been six weeks of following a pretty structured plan highlighted with long runs, hill work, tempo runs, recovery weeks and a slow build of weekly mileage. It's been a huge change, but I'm thankful for the support of Peter and a pretty rad community of ultrarunners. I pick their brains on a daily basis and have been learning a lot about myself as a runner, along with my potential (which I had been neglecting for far too long). I had been selling myself short in more ways than I could count. Looking back, I think it was mostly out of fear. As in, what if I train for a race and still do not succeed? In some ways, I felt like holding myself back from training was also holding myself back from letting myself down.

The only thing I was truly letting myself down from was not believing in myself.

I'm not worrying so much about failing anymore. If I fail, at least I know that I put in a lot of hard work and I'm 99.9% closer than I would have been without it.

Now, I'm keeping myself accountable on all levels-- I'm using my Garmin, tracking my runs on Strava and utilizing an amazing thing called a heart-rate monitor.

When I first bought my Garmin a few years back and pulled the heart-rate monitor out of the box, I tossed it aside thinking it was useless and far too much information for me to process while running. It's going to disrupt my flow, I had thought to myself. Yeah, okay.

What really disrupted my flow was my lack of running and giving in to the inner Lazy Runner.

Learning how to train using a heart-rate monitor has been a huge help, and I now know how hard to push myself and when to ease up. I thought I knew my body pretty well, and my heart-rate monitor proved me wrong. It's been an important tool which I'm going to keep using in my training.

I've learned three important things in the last two months: I need structure. I need goals. And most of all, I need to believe in myself.

And get this-- I can actually feel myself getting better. I'm getting stronger. Climbs which felt miserable a few weeks back are getting easier. My heart-rate, although at times still alarmingly high compared to my well-trained friends, is improving.

I'm grateful to have re-learned how much I love running. I now look forward to getting out on my runs every single day. There is no more desire to avoid it. I've become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Leona Divide is less than two months away now (on April 18th).

It seems like in a blink of an eye it will be race morning, and I'll be gearing up to run all day long.

Yes, I'm still a little terrified.

More than anything, though, is I'm really, really fucking excited.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Salt Stick Caps Plus Review & Give Away

Have you ever finished a particularly hard run and found yourself covered in a fine layer of salt? Ever wonder what's up with that?

Sweat is made up of mostly water and sodium. The more you sweat, the more you lose. When your body is low in sodium, you are more likely to experience muscle cramping. This gets exponentially worse as your levels get lower, and things like heat, intensity of the activity, and total caloric loss all impact your performance.

According to Salt Stick's FAQ, "Proper electrolyte supplementation prior to, and throughout your event, along with appropriate fluid intake, is key to avoiding cramps and performing your best. A balanced supply of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium is your best weapon against cramping. With those electrolytes lost in a 220-63-16-8 ratio for the average athlete, it is in the athlete's best interest to endure that replacement of the full spectrum of electrolytes is replaces, and in a form and quantity the body can absorb, such as that provided conveniently in a SaltStick capsule."

SaltStick carries two types of capsules: SaltSticks Caps & SaltSticks Caps Plus. The biggest difference between the two is the added Caffeine boost in the SaltSticks Caps Plus, along with sodium citrate which can help settle an upset stomach.

My personal favorite are the SaltStick Caps Plus, because I am a huge fan of the added caffeine! I have been using SaltSticks Caps during my long runs for two years now, and have noticed a huge difference in comparison to when I didn't take them. I find that SaltStick Caps reduce headaches and that "bonk" feeling I get towards the end of a hard run. Most Ultrarunners I know also use SaltSticks in both training and racing. There are even some running vests that are designed with a small pocket especially for the SaltStick Caps!

Here are a list of the ingredients for the SaltSticks Caps:

Sodium (215 mg)
Potassium (63 mg)
Calcium (22 mg)
Choride (11 mg)
Vitamin D (350 mg)
Caffeine (30 mg)

The capsules contain no gluten, soy or nuts.

Fun Fact: SaltSticks can also help prevent a hangover! Because hangovers tend to be caused primarily from dehydration, taking a SaltStick Cap will help your body rehydrate.

If you're planning on running an ultramarathon or endurance event, using SaltSticks Caps as a part of your nutrition regimen is essential!

SaltStick was also nice enough to give me a bottle of the SaltSticks Caps Plus to giveaway!

It's really simple-- All you have to do is share this post on Facebook or Twitter and leave a comment below saying what your favorite way to get drenched in sweat is! Winner will be picked by November 1st.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

6 Reasons Why You Should Not Go To College (And 4 Why You Should)

Before anyone goes and assumes I'm saying this because I didn't get an education, let me say this:

I have my Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Psychology. I have three academic publications and have attended several Psychology conferences showcasing my research from the last six years. I have been very successful in academia. I feel very fortunate to have an education in a field that I am passionate about and love.

And, unfortunately, I've also been out of school for over a year and realized that no, I don't want to be a Psychologist, and no, I don't want to be a professor (at this point, at least). Although I don't regret it one single bit, I can admit at this point that it's made finding a job a challenge. I'm over-qualified for most jobs, and under-qualified for any that would actually help me pay off my loans. Experience in the field is an important factor that schooling often doesn't provide. When you are out of college and can no longer use the "I'm going to school" excuse, you can't exactly be picky with your choices.

I'm in a lot of debt, and look to some of my friends who skipped college (and thus, debt) with envy. I am stuck in the limbo between deciding on getting my Ph.D anyway just so I can get a job to pay off my loans, or enter the job field and take anything that strikes my interest, even if my degree isn't necessary for it. Our parent's generation probably had several different jobs over the course of their lifetime. Which is completely normal. The problem with our approach now is that going to college puts you on a single-track. It doesn't give you much room for flexibility. Many students decide on their majors when they were only 17 or 18 years old. Who really knows what they want to do with the rest of their lives at that age? You can't exactly skip around and explore jobs in different fields when you paid 80K for a degree in one particular area.

Our generation is divided between those who went to college and are in an obscene amount of debt, and those who skipped college and started working...and have little to no debt.

In the last 8 years, I have learned a few important things about education. The most important being, not everyone should go to college. 

Our parents told us that we had to get good grades in high school so we could get into a good college. That a good college would help us get into a good graduate school. After graduate school we would have a nice shiny job waiting for us at the exit, like a limo driver holding a sign for someone at the airport.

Sorry to burst everyone's bubble but...the plane has landed and nobody is at the exit waiting for you.

The only thing standing at the end of college is the federal government, holding a sign letting you know that you now have six months until you have to start paying back the money you borrowed. Unless, of course, you happened to be a Computer Science or Biology major in which case, you probably will get a job right away.

Here are six important reasons why you shouldn't go to college:

1) You have nothing better to do and you figure you "might as well".
This is probably the worst reason of them all. If you are using college as a temporary fix for not knowing what you want to do with your life, you're in for a tough surprise. Your confusion will probably be there when you get out (along with some student loans to pay back, too). Of course, there will always be those who discover their passions and figure it out when they are in college. There are exceptions to every rule. But generally speaking, 10-30K a year for "discovering" your passions is a very risky gamble you'll be dealing with the rest of your life. You're better off taking a few classes at the community college level for a year or two if you want to play the college field.

2) Your parents tell you to.
Unless they are paying for your schooling, letting your parents tell you what to do after you turn 18 is a straight-shot to regret. Yes, some parents may know their child's strengths and encourage them to pursue a passion that they would be successful at. However, if it's not a choice that you make for yourself, you are risking becoming unhappy with your degree, and debt, later down the line. In graduate school, there are numerous instances when passion becomes vitally important in having the emotional strength to persevere. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have dropped out mid-way through my Master's Degree if I wasn't absolutely in love with what I was studying.

3) You don't want to start paying back your school loans so you enroll in more school to delay them.
This is a sick cycle that unfortunately many people are stuck in. Don't do it.

4) You think it's the only way to become successful.
Wrong. This list of the most successful college drop-outs will change your mind. Or maybe the fact that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were all college drop-outs. The creator of Tumblr, the 9th most visited website in the world to date, didn't even graduate high school. If you have a passion and want to start your business, do it! Invest that 50-70K into your business rather than an education that you don't necessarily need.

5) If you want to go to school for art.
Before any of you art majors throw your paint brushes at me in disgust, let me say this: your talent can be cultivated in ways that don't cost you an obscene amount of money. Yes, of course, you will learn skills in art school that may help you land a job. The reality is, there are a large amount of artists who never went to college and are just as successful, if not more, than those who spent money on an education. Nowadays, you can learn almost anything through tutorials on YouTube. Don't pay money for something you can learn for free or through a mentor. I have yet to hear about any art galleries or exibits that require a college education. Did Picasso, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Michaelangelo or Monet pay money to learn about art? No. And neither should you.

6) If you have no idea what kind of job you want afterwards.
I made the mistake of spending about six years studying Psychology before I even once thought about what kind of job it would help me get in the end. I know plenty of people who did the same. "Professional Student" is not a job title and will not pay money. Remember that college isn't just a "thing" that everyone does. It's intended on helping you learn skills so you can become qualified for a job you want.

And here are four GOOD reasons why you should go to college:

1) You know exactly what kind of job you want, and a degree is necessary to get that job.

2) You are extremely passionate about the subject matter and the debt is worth it even if it doesn't provide you with a job right away.

3) Someone else is paying for it (i.e., scholarship, your parents, your job).

4) You are going to school for Computer Science, Biology or Math. These fields have an extremely low un-employment rate.

College has turned into something that the average high schooler thinks he or she has to do. I'm here to dispel that truth. College is a choice, and it should never be taken lightly. Explore the world, take a few classes at a community college level, look at the job force and think about what kind of job you actually want.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

6 Reasons To Run In Luna Sandals

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

Let me start this post off by saying I am extremely biased when it comes to running in sandals.

Over the last few years, I have transitioned from running in regular running shoes, to minimalist running shoes, and now 100% in sandals.

People are always shocked when I say I run in sandals, which makes my day because then I can take it a step further by telling them that I don't just run a few miles a day in them-- I run ultramarathons in them. I run through rivers in them. I hike in them. I walk around town in them. The only place I don't wear them is in the gym (because I'm not allowed to). It's safe to say at this point that Luna Sandals have set a standard for a new type of footwear: Adventure Sandal.

My Luna Sandals have become a second skin for my feet, molded perfectly and I forget that anything is on my feet at all. I don't think twice about wearing my sandals on technical trails, muddy trails, at the beach or on the road. They work fantastic in all conditions and I have yet to regret wearing them on a run.

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

Needless to say, I could go on for hours about how much I love them. Instead, I'll give you guys a brief run-down of my top 6 reasons to run in Luna Sandals:

1) Luna Sandals will mold to your feet and fit like a glove. They actually get better as they break in. Instead of tossing your running shoes after 500 miles (like many shoe companies suggest)-- your Luna's will last three times as long. Fact: My first pair of Luna Leadville Pacers have at least a thousand trail miles on them and still have plenty of wear to go. I recently invested in a few pairs and am looking forward to a couple of good years out of them.

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

The Luna Mono, your "Everything" Sandal, good on trails, in water, on the road...everywhere! (Picture Credit: Luna Sandals)

2) Black toenails and epic blisters? A thing of the past if you switch to Luna Sandals! No more need to worry about a big enough toe box or packing extra moleskins in your pack to protect your battered heels. Since I started running in Luna's, I have had maybe one or two small blisters. My last pair of running shoes left me with blisters so bad I actually had to stop running for two weeks to let them heal. One of my good friends, Jess Soco, recently ran the Western States 100 in a pair of Luna's and didn't have a single blister. I watched a few miserable runners pull their shoes off at the finish line-- needless to say, it confirmed my belief that many shoe companies are destroying our feet. I have yet to hear about someone returning a pair of Luna's because they didn't like them or that they caused problems for their feet.

The Traditional Luna Mono (Photo Credit: Luna Sandals)

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

3) You'll save a TON of money. Luna Sandals range in price from $36 (DIY Assembly Kit) to $125 (for the premium versions), which is on average much cheaper than the typical running shoe, which range from $85-$150+. You won't need to spend extra money on running socks, moleskins, inserts, and replacing your shoes once they wear out, ect. You get the most out of your money when you invest in a pair of Luna's.

 The Luna Venado, your perfect street sandal! (Picture credit: Luna Sandals)

4) You'll be supporting a small company instead of a large corporation. Luna has grown in the last several years from a couple of guys making sandals in a garage, to a small company selling sandals all over the world. Unlike bigger companies, locally owned businesses like Luna invest right back into the local economy, which overall helps to enrich the whole community. Small companies have a closer connection to their customers and the market place-- if you ever have a problem with your sandals or need help figuring out how to lace them up, you know they are only a phone call or e-mail away and will happily assist you.

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

5) Luna Sandals are handmade in Seattle-- they are built to last and high quality. The owners of Luna have spent countless hours testing out different styles of laces, footbeds, soles, and lacing styles to achieve the most comfort, style and durability as possible. Instead of choosing the cheapest options to maximize revenue, Luna focuses on quality. Buying handmade items is also better for the environment-- Luna does not require a large production facility to make the sandals. The majority of the sandal-making is done by hand by a small team of Luna cobblers.

The Milk Chocolate Mono, your ultimate luxury sandal! (Picture Credit: Luna Sandals)

6) They look awesome and have several different models to choose from. Check it out!

Photo credit: Tom Norwood.

So what are you waiting for?! Click here to get yourself a pair of Luna Sandals. You'll thank me later :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

10 Reasons To Run A 50K Instead Of A Marathon

Photo Credit: Samantha Lovett Photography

Marathons are an entirely different ball game than ultras. Although a few miles difference doesn't seem like that much, marathons have several major differences than ultras.

Here are ten reasons to run a 50K instead of a marathon:

1. It's only a couple more miles and you get some serious bragging rights.
A 50K (31 miles) is only a mere five miles longer than a marathon. Go those extra few miles. I promise it'll be worth it.

2. The aid stations (and volunteers) are WAY better.

This is me at the aid station of the Red Rock 50 a couple of years ago. I'm wearing a German beer-maid costume. Salted potatoes, anyone??

Tyler and Stephanie looking happy to be at the aid station for the Nine Trails 35-Mile Ultra!

Look at that SPREAD! (Photo cred:

I apologize in advance if this offends anyone who has volunteered at a marathon. While I can't speak for those hardworking volunteers who do their job right, I have had my fair share of shorter-distance races where the volunteers had absolutely no idea what they are doing. Instead of the local high school track team awkwardly handing you cups of water, you'll find actual ultrarunners volunteering at the aid stations of Ultras. They will treat you like royalty; ask you what they can get for you and bring it to you. They will place towels that have been soaking in ice cold water on your back, give you endless words of encouragement, and lift your spirits. They know what they are doing. I cannot tell you how many times I've walked into an aid station dead-set on quitting and been completely revitalized thanks to the volunteers. The food options at ultras are also incredible. I have seen sushi, pizza, candy, homemade cookies, name it-- it's been at an aid station in an Ultra. I double-dare you to find an aid station at a marathon that has fireball whiskey and cupcakes.

3. Trails are more beautiful than running on the road.

Where would you rather run?

I'll never forget my first 5K-- it was around an airport hanger and every single step was misery. There was no beautiful backdrop to distract myself with; it was just me and the pavement. The repetitiveness of the race drove me mad, I couldn't imagine 26.2 miles of it. I struggled to push myself and wondered why I was even running in the first place.

I didn't run again for several months, let alone try to run any longer.

Ultras, on the other hand, are often designed specifically with the location in mind. The majority of Ultras happen on trail-- most of which are beautiful. When you are pushing yourself through the miles, nothing is more rewarding than an expansive view of a valley at sunrise. Or seeing animals scurrying through the forest. Many ultras give you an excuse to travel to parts of the world and see trails that you'd never get a chance to visit otherwise.

4. You get a more supportive community filled with friendlier people.
In my research, I compared marathon runners with ultrarunners on their personality types and competitiveness. I found that marathon runners were more introverted and much more competitive than ultrarunners. If you have toed the line at a marathon, you'd notice that most people have their headphones in and aren't talking to anyone. In ultras, it's the opposite. I have made countless friends in the middle of ultras. I almost never listen to music when I run with other ultrarunners. Try and make friends during your next marathon and see how hard it is; you'll probably get some weird looks if you try to strike up a conversation with another runner during a marathon. Also, unlike with marathons where you tend to go home right after, Ultras usually are an all weekend affair complete with camping, socializing and all-around FUN!

Maggie and I ran into eachother during the last section of our 50K and finished together. Those miles went by so much faster as we laughed and chatted about life!

5. Dollar per mile, Ultras tend to be cheaper. 
$300 for 26.2 miles? You've-Got-To-Be-KIDDING-Me. While you will surely find some 100-Mile ultramarathons that have a hefty price-tag, you can at least assure yourself that it makes sense given the distance and amount of work required to put on such a long race. Marathons with a $300 price tag just make me scratch my head. I'd rather get the most out of my dollar, thank you.

6. You're supporting locals rather than corporations.
The majority of Ultramarathons are directed by Ultrarunners themselves. They rely on volunteers and local running groups to support their races. I have several friends who are race directors and trust me, there is just something magical about having a race director who knows what they are doing from experience. Making sure the aid stations are well-stocked with food you actually want, accurately marking the courses, finish-line parties....Ultras just do it better. You never know what to expect when you go to an Ultramarathon. Especially if it's put on by Luis Escobar ( See examples below:

Have you ever been to a marathon that had an epic after-party with a metal-meets-mariatchi band? I bet not. (Photo credit: Larry Gassan)

Or how about an Ultra with a beer mile the day before?
(Photo credit: Samantha Lovett Photography)

7. Better chances of placing in your age divisions.
Ultras tend to be much smaller than marathons in terms of people signed up. 20,000 people in one marathon?! Not only is it going to be congested as hell, but the chances of you placing in your age division (or overall...) are much much harder. In Ultras, the playing field is leveled out more. The average Ultra has between 100-300 participants.

The NYC marathon....what do you think your chances are in this one? (Photo Cred: Kaftan Bikini Photography).

8. You'll be happier and healthier.
There are numerous studies which show that immersion in nature makes you happier. It lowers your blood cortisol levels (stress hormones), it improves your mood, and it is more challenging (which gives you more endorphins!). After a couple of hours on the trail, you are guaranteed to be in a better mood than if you were doing the same amount of miles on the road.

Look at all those happy runners! You'd never think we all just ran 31 miles.

9. The playing field is leveled out between genders.
New research suggests that in distances lasting several hours or more, the gender gap is significantly reduced. Not only are more women able to compete against men in ultras, but some are actually beating them. Women, rejoice!

10. There is room for growth.
Unlike the marathon, which is always going to be 26.2 miles, in ultras, you have room for growth. There is actually a big variance of distance in ultramarathons. They range from 50K (which is the shortest distance to be considered an ultramarathon), to 50-miles, 100K, 100-Miles and beyond. This gives you numerous areas for goal-setting and growth.

These are just some of the various reasons I came up with to run an ultra instead of a marathon. I'm sure there are countless more. What are other reasons to run an ultramarathon instead of an ultra?