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?

Monday, August 25, 2014

10 Signs You're A Dirt-Bag Trail-Runner

Tyler and Cat channeling their inner dirtbags in Bryce Canyon. (Photo Credit: Molly Nugent).

Chances are, if you're reading this, you are or suspect someone you know to be a dirtbag trail-runner.

I'm here to set the record straight and throw some of my awesome dirt-bag friends under the bus a bit (sorry guys, it's for the greater good of the dirtbag community).

We've all read the article that compares ultrarunners to hipsters. And loved it.

However, I'm not sure that hipster is the right word for us. We simply aren't that clean. Or trendy.

I think dirtbag is more appropriate. It's like a hybrid of hipster, homeless person and adventure junkie.

Photo credit: The New York Times

If you wonder about your own (or want to determine someone else's) dirtbag status, here are ten signs:

1. You are nomadic. You either a) Live in your car/ RV/ tent , b) Are planning on living in your car/ RV/ tent , or c) Are couch-crashing long-term. Traveling is a must for every dirtbag trail runner (unless you live in Boulder, Colorado, in which case I hate you. ....can I sleep on your couch?)

Tyler Tomasello's epic tent set-up in Colorado (Photo cred: Tyler).

Shacky and Vanessa's awesome RV, affectionally named The Summit Seeker. (Photo cred: Shacky)

Another fellow dirtbag, Flint, in his "Flintmobile". Living the hobo life like a PRO! (Photo credit: Mike Miller).

Cat Bradley and I on one of our adventures to Seattle, in full-dirtbag mode.

2. Showering is a complete and total luxury. If you've found that even after home from an adventure that you still take a shower only when completely necessary, chances are you're a dirtbag. Double-points if you have ever worn your running clothes straight into the shower, because it just. Makes. Sense. 

3. Flannel is worn all-year-round (even on your runs) and preferably in a disheveled manner. Patagonia Houdini jacket? Puh-leasseee.

Cat Bradley rocking her flannel and Luna Sandals like a true dirtbag.

4. Buffs are basically another name for the Dirtbag Hair Whisperer. In fact, you can't imagine life before buffs. They keep your hair where it should be, are stylish as hell, and in a bind can be used as TP (note: never touch an abandoned buff in the wilderness). Second to buffs are trucker hats. Every dirtbag must own a trucker hat. Race t-shirts are another must for the dirtbag trail-runner.

Tyler and Sean in full dirtbag attire. (Photo credit: Molly Nugent).

The Dirtbag King and Queen....Jenn Shelton and Anton Krupicka (Photo cred: Luis Escobar).

5. You rarely (or never...) wash your handhelds, hydration packs, ect. Because that takes entirely too much effort. Black mold? Who cares! If you're going to get sick from something it's going to be that sketchy pool of murky water you drank from on your last trail run.

6. You have a love affair with craft beer (or PBR-- the gauntlet tends to swing in both directions). Double-points if you have a cooler in your trunk that is literally just for beer. (And always filled with beer to look forward to at the end of your longer trail runs. Sometimes you wonder if that's the reason you trail run at all.)

Double-points if you drink your beer out of a cozy. 

Budweiser in the back of a truck, total dirtbags.

7. Speaking of beer....You've also done a beer mile.

Post-Born To Run Ultra Beer Mile. (Photo cred: Nancy Kaplan).

Beers are ready! (Photo cred: Traci Asaurus).

The beer mile Master, Pat Sweeney (Photo credit: Abby Dunne).

8. You have a beard (or mustache). Ladies, for us this means pretty much not shaving anything and giving absolutely no fucks.

Beards, Beers and Buffs....the dirtbag trifecta. 

9. You've wandered into a public place post-long run and wondered why the hell everyone is staring. Because, I mean, salt caked on your face and dirty legs are totally normal. It's not like you're walking around naked or something. Double-points if you have ever taken a hobo shower in the bathroom of a public place.

Tyler Tomasello and his dirty post-Western States 100 feet. Photo credit: Luis Escobar

10. All of your friends also fall into the above categories. This is called your dirt-bag trail running posse. Double-points if you guys already have a nickname for your group. Oftentimes also referred to as your running tribe.

This is my dirtbag trail-running posse. Oh wait, why do we look so clean?! (It's because our dirtbag leader, Luis Escobar, made us all take showers. Have you noticed I mentioned not-showering three times already?)

What are other sure-signs that you might be a dirtbag trail runner?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The 2014 Born To Run Ultramarathon: Stories Of My Dirtbag Trail-Running Posse

The 2014 Born To Run Beer Mile 
Photo Credit: Samantha Lovett

When most people hear the name Born To Run, they think of the best-selling book by Christopher McDougall. 

When I hear it, I think of an ultramarathon directed by Luis Escobar, held on a cattle ranch in Los Olivos, California. 

Born To Run, for many, now brings to mind images of rolling hills and large sycamore trees. Cowboy hats and loud country musicThe hot summer sun and ice cold beer straight out of the cooler. Clusters of tents, camping vans and cars. Colorful flags blowing in the breeze. A meeting ground for a close-knit community of runners and Mas Locos from all around the world. 

Photo Credit: Samantha Lovett

Luis has created a new genre of trail and ultra racing by putting the focus on celebration rather than competition. 

People are not signing up for the Born To Run Ultramarathon because they hear you get a cool buckle (nope), they want to earn some serious bragging rights (double-nope), or they found it randomly on UltraSignUp (I highly doubt it). If someone did actually manage to sign up for this race at random-- not knowing what they were getting themselves into-- chances are they would turn around right at the gate. They'd see the Welcome Veterinarians! sign and think to themselves,  "Must be in the wrong place..."

First lesson: You never know what to expect at the Born To Run Ultramarathon.

Luis mentioned once that Born To Run was just an idea in the beginning, discussed between him and a couple of friends around a campfire. In the last three years I've attended, I've seen it almost triple in size. There is something special about Born To Run compared to other races, and people are starting to notice.

"I'd trust these people with my life" -Luis Escobar, Race Director Extraordinaire
Photo Cred: Pat Sweeney

Luis asked on the group’s Facebook wall to describe the event in ten words or less.

The ones that stood out to me were:

It’s a three day festival that celebrates the culture and community of ultra running.” –Darkling Thrush

A gathering of the tribal spirit within us all. Where deep friendships are made through the passion of enduring.” – Michelle Evans

A runner's retreat for the heart, mind, and body.” –Kevin Wolf

Runapalooza. A Burning Man-like experience for people those who like to run far. ” –Mark Warren

For a running publication, the answer should be ‘no comment’." –Bo Mavity

Luis Escobar hugging Billy Barnett
 Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

There is no way I could give you a ten-word summary of the 2014 Born To Run Ultramarathon. What I can give you is my story, and it starts on May 16th, a Thursday afternoon.

Pat Sweeney's Beer Half-Marathon, the Mas Locos & Luna Sandals

Pat Sweeney, going in for the kill on his beer half-marathon! Darkling Thrush and Chris Clemens on his tail.
Photo Cred: Tom Norwood

I drove up early on Thursday afternoon for the sole purpose of witnessing Patrick Sweeney attempt a beer half-marathon.

At first I thought it was impossible. One beer mile was hard enough for me to stomach (literally). A beer half-marathon?  Is it even possible to burn off the alcohol every mile? Can you finish a beer half-marathon without getting completely hammered? What's your running form like after that many drinks? Isn't this similar to what 'hashing' is? Was Pat going to be drinking Stone Ale or would he drink a cheap light beer? So many questions.

I figured, if anyone can do it, it's Pat!

He said he was going to do it sometime in the afternoon at the ranch. A simple out-and-back from the center of the camp and starting line. Thirteen times. Thirteen beers.

I drove through the campground and parked in an open area near the starting line.

I walked over to a group of people cheering on a masked runner. I couldn't see the runner's face but I could tell from his Luna's and dark tan that it was Pat Sweeney. 

He was in the middle of his beer half-marathon.

Oh, hell yeah! I thought to myself.

Maria Walton spotted me as I was walking over and a giant grin spread across her face. 

I threw my arms around her in a big bear hug.

"Maria! I've missed you!" I said, squeezing her a little too tight. Even though I was just with her only a few weeks before in the Grand Canyon, I already missed her. Her endless amounts of love and compassion was intoxicating to be around, and I cherished every second with her.

Her smile grew, "And I've missed you!" 

I looked over at Pat, who was fishing out another beer from his cooler.

"What mile is he on?" I asked Maria.

"TEN!" She said, grinning. "And he's still kicking everyone's asses."

Of course he is! I shook my head and laughed, "I bet he's going to get another world record with this...I hope someone is recording it!"

"I think they are!" She said. She glanced back at my car under the tree.

"Have you set up your tent yet? Mine is over there, with the Mas Locos. You're welcome to camp with us!"

That solved my first order of business: getting everything set up.

"I haven't set up yet! I think I'll camp over there with you guys for sure, thanks!" I said. "I'm gunna go do that now, and try to finish before Pat is done!"

"He's been averaging eight or nine minute miles," She said, smiling.

Holy shit!

I quickly hugged her again and went to go move my car.

I drove around the campsite until I found Maria's car, and then parked next to it.

Looking around, I debated where to set up my tent. I started to set up in an open area nearby.

"It'll probably suck being in the sun like that," I heard a voice say from behind.

I turned around and recognized him instantly. 

"Josue'!" I said, hugging him hello. "It's so nice to finally meet you! Maria has told me a lot about you. Are you camping here, too?"

"Yup, I'm right here!" He said, pointing to a small blue tent nearby. 

"Awesome!" I said, and looked at a spot under the shade of a nearby tree. "I think that is a good place to set up!"

"You'll thank yourself later when your tent isn't a hundred degrees inside in the middle of the day," he said.

Josue Stephens is Maria's co-race director for the Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon in the Copper Canyons, as well as a race director for two other survival ultramarathons. His races make mud runs look like a casual strolls through the park-- they are so brutal that just reading the race reports gives you serious anxiety. I had some legitimate sympathy pains for one runner who wrote about Josue's Survival Ultramarathon in Nicaragua last year. Create your own huarache sandals, run an ultra in them, make your own bow and arrow, summit an active volcano? Josue has got you covered. (You can find out more at

For being such a hardcore race director, I was surprised to see how laid back and friendly he was in person. 

We chatted a bit about Austin, Texas (where he lives) and how Torchy's is basically the best taco shack, ever. 

We were talking about how amazing Gordough's Gourmet Doughnuts is when Maria returned to the campsite with Guadajuko at her heel.

"Pat is going to be finishing up soon, let's go over there and cheer him on!" She said.

I grabbed a beer from my cooler and we all made our way back to the starting line.

Pat was running back towards the start, quickly gaining speed. His smile was stretched ear-to-ear. I've seen Pat happy before, but I don't think I'd ever seen him as happy as he was at that moment.

Darkling Thrush (in his full Treebeard costume) and Chris Clemens chased after Pat while he closed in on his twelfth mile. 

"I can't even keep up with Pat when he's twelve beers in!" Darkling joked as he passed me by.

Pat grabbed the last beer of out his cooler, and braced one hand against the fence as he struggled to open it. 

Luis helped Pat with the beer and gave him a costume to wear for his last mile, complete with a red (pink?) cape. 

Sweeney and Sheriff Escobar
Photo cred: Tom Norwood

Tyler Tomasello, Mike Miller, Chris Clemens and the Incredible Masked Sweeney!
Photo cred: Tom Norwood

I had barely finished my beer before Pat was already heading in for the end of his beer half-marathon.

The group started simultaneously cheering him on and laughing.

A couple people pulled out their cameras and started taking photos.

A few things:

1) He was running in a straight line.

2) He was running fast. 

and 3) He finished two packs of beers and was only five minutes shy of beating my half-marathon time.

My fastest half time? Two hours, ten minutes.

His time? Two hours, fifteen minutes! 

That has to be a Guinness World Record.

I think Pat is doing his Stone Ale sponsorship proud.

And then, the aftermath:

Pat Sweeney relishes in his victory. Krista Cavender, Mike Rose, Scott Smuin, Mike Miller and I watch on in amusement.
Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

Tom said, "Let's see em, Vegan abs vs. Abs of bacon!"
Photo cred: Tom Norwood

* * *

While Luis Escobar was busy creating the Born To Run Ultramarathon, Barefoot Ted was busy creating a sandal company in Seattle called Luna Sandals. 

A large amount of the people at the Born To Run Ultramarathon were wearing Luna Sandals.

No, they weren't paid to wear them.

No, it wasn't planned.

And this is just the beginning.

Also, it's safe to say that Luna Sandals make people happy, look at all those smiles!

From left to right: Benedict Duggar, Cat Bradley, Sean Garbutt, Bobby Walpole, Michelle Evans, Myself, Odin Hedley & Tyler Clemens
Photo Cred: Tom Norwood

Luna Sandals everywhere! This photo was NOT staged!

Photo cred: Tom Norwood

I finally got to meet Barefoot Ted!

Run Archery With Tom Norwood

Tom Norwood
Photo Cred: Jeffrey Genova

"So, as Bobby and I were driving into the campground, we suddenly see a guy in Luna's running up the trail with a bow and arrow in his hands..." Michelle Evans told me. "We just shrugged and said to ourselves, 'We've made it!' I feel like that was a pretty accurate foreshadowing of what the rest of the weekend would be like."

We later figured out the person they saw was Tom Norwood.

Not only is Tom the lead Sales Monkey for Luna Sandals, but he is also one badass Ultrarunner and a master of archery! He decided to blend his love of running and archery with Born To Run's first Archery Run.

An up to 10K run filled with bows, arrows, and some serious coordination requirements.

"I feel like I've finally found a sport obscure enough to be competitive!" He said.

Ultrarunners or warriors?....both!
Photo Cred: Jeffrey Genova

Scott Smuin showing us how it's done!
Photo Cred: Vanessa Runs

While Tom was practicing by our tents on Thursday afternoon, I cautiously approached.

"So...I want to do the archery run but.... I have absolutely zero hand-eye coordination," I told him, staring at a bow laying in the grass. I wondered if I could actually manage to hit a target. "If I have to hit a target to finish, I'll be running all day."

"Want to practice right now?" He said, eyes lighting up. "You can try it without the leather arm-strap, but it would probably hurt."

I laughed and held my arm up. "I'm not that badass yet!"

He tied on the leather strap around my forearm and laced it on.

"The only time I've ever shot a bow and arrow was at summer camp as a kid," I said.

"That's more than most people!" He said, and handed me a large bow and arrow.

He demonstrated with another bow how to hold it.

I tried to mimic him. It felt a little awkward but I had to admit it also felt pretty cool.

He rested an arrow against a notch in the middle of the bow, and I held the end of the arrow against the string.

I instinctively tried to line up my eyesight with the arrow. 

I  aimed at a tree trunk in the distance, and let go with the wrong hand. The arrow fell to my feet. I looked down at the arrow, unsure as to what happened.

I gave Tom an 'I told you so!' look.

"Maybe let's move a little closer," He said, trying to not laugh. I admired his poker face.

I moved forward a couple feet and after a few tries, managed to shoot one single arrow into the trunk.

"WOO!" I yelled, holding the bow up in the air. "I'm gunna go ahead and call it a day while I'm still on the winning streak..."

I handed Tom the bow and thanked him for the lesson. Baby steps!

Photographer Jeffrey Genova was able to capture the image below, making me appear as if I actually knew what I was doing. Thanks Jeffrey!

I ended up missing the actual Archery Run (I was out marking the trail), but I hear it was EPIC. This is definitely a tradition in the making at Born To Run. I have a year to practice, so hopefully next year I'll be able to join in on the arrow-shooting shenanigans. 

Training for my next Obstacle Race!
Photo Cred: Jeffrey Genova

Darkling Thrush Playing a Flute,Trail Marking,& Plastic Skeletons

Darkling Thrush as Treebeard, wearing Luna's!
Photo cred: Tom Norwood

I woke up Friday morning to the soft melody of a flute. It was incredibly peaceful, and a nice change from the usual shotguns and mariachi music wake-up call.

I climbed out of my tent and saw Darkling Thrush, happily strolling through the campsite with a flute in his hands. It reminded me of a bird's song-- soft and flowing like the wind.

I could listen to him play for hours.

Coffee suddenly sounded incredible. I went to my car in search of my french press, and myself a cup. I sipped it gingerly, relishing in it's bold flavor.

There was something special about watching the camp slowly wake up-- people emerging from their tents, sleepy-eyed and saying quiet hello's. Offering to make each other coffee and sharing food. It made me realize how much we needed these sorts of experiences. It's not really about the race or the camping. It's about the primal aspect of community. It's the closest thing any of us will have to re-living our ancestral history. We have to make the effort to get out into nature and spend time together. There was an energy in the campground-- it was like a golden current, washing over all of us. We each brought a different hue to the spectrum, blending together in harmony.

* * *

I had barely finished my coffee when I saw a familiar red truck coming back into the camp. I put my coffee mug down, and slowly walked over to see what my friends were up to.

Brothers Chris and Tyler Clemens rode upfront, while their dad, Jim ("Papa Clemens"), and Maggie Akyuz sat in the back. Chris was blasting country music and Tyler's hand was in the air, rocking to the music.

Pretty standard for those two. 

Two of my other friends, Cat Bradley and Sean Garbutt, were waiting in the shade of a nearby tree. I walked up to them.

"Are they course marking?" I asked Sean.

"I think so," He said, watching the group as they approached.

Chris pulled the truck to a stop a couple of yards away and a cloud of dirt billowed out from under it.

Chris rolled down the window, "Luis is having us mark the course," He said. 

He swung open the door of the truck and jumped down. He went to a nearby pile of water bottles and ice chests. "We also have to drop some stuff off at the aid stations. Do you guys wanna come?"

Cat, Sean, and I quickly nodded, knowing that we wouldn't want to miss trail-marking with these guys.

Tyler got out from the other side of the truck. He walked up to the pile of stuff we were told to load up and picked up a plastic skeleton, still in the box.

"Chris, is this the skeleton we are hanging on the yellow loop?" He asked.

"I think it's the pink loop," Chris said.

Tyler looked at me and shrugged, tossing it into the back of the truck.

Once we had everything loaded up, Chris closed the tailgate and we all piled into the truck.

I climbed into the back seat next to Maggie and Jim.

Maggie and I were ready to go!
Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

"We gotta go!" Chris said, lifting himself back into the driver's seat. He started the truck.

Ethan Brown appeared at the window, holding on to the frame of the truck and standing on the step. He held on with one hand, large grin spread across his face.

"It's course-marking time, bitches!"

Cat and Sean jumped on the other side, holding on with both hands.

Sean and Cat hanging on for dear life!
Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

Within minutes, we were all off-- down the pink loop and kicking up a cloud of dirt behind us. 

Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

We started marking the course the only way we knew how: To stand around every half mile or so, pondering how the hell to mark a course.

  Working hard or hardly working?
Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

"So it's on the pink loop that we hang the skeleton?" Tyler asked Chris.

"Yeah, but not here, it's later on, where there is that grass hill." He said.

"Are you sure?"



"Wait, no, we definitely hang it from the tree. On the pink loop."

A half an hour later or so, we pulled around the trail and saw a large overhanging tree-branch.

"That's the one!" Tyler said to Chris.

Chris nodded, "Yeah, that's it!"

"We're gunna have to stand on the car," Ethan said, doing the mental math of how high the branch was. He shot one hand into the air, "I volunteer!"

Chris pulled the truck to a stop right under the tree, and they all climbed out.

I heard Ethan climb on to the roof.

I ducked down in my seat as the metal sheet above me warped in from their feet.

It takes a team to put a skeleton in a tree!
Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

"You guys are gunna dent the truck!" I yelled out from the window. 

A second later, I saw the skeleton's head pop off and bounce off the hood of the car.

"Get it's head!" 


It took them a three or four tries, but they eventually got it to stay up in the tree.

Ethan, Tyler, Chris and Papa Clemens
Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

We continued on marking the trail and blasting country music. We eventually turned a corner and Chris slowed down, eyeing an opening in the valley ahead. 

"I think that's where the bone pit is!" Chris said, pulling the truck over to the side of the trail.

"Like...a real bone pit?" I asked.

"It's where they put the cows when they die, the ones that are old or sick and can't use." He said.

We all got out and walked towards the clearing.

The smell hit me first-- the hot summer sun was literally baking the aging cow bones.

We saw the skeletons of the cows in the distance, some still intact and others scattered into several piles.

"This is kind of gross," Sean said, with a smile on his face. He stepped down on a broken cow jaw and it crunched under his foot.

"I don't know if I'm more grossed out or think this is the coolest thing ever..." I said, staring down at the rib-cage by my feet. "I kind of want to take one with me...but I bet it's super unsanitary."

"I should probably be wearing shoes," Cat said, looking down at her mis-matched socks. "Oh well!"

"You know what would be really funny?" Chris said, looking back at the truck.

"What?" Tyler said, a slight worry in his voice.

"If we put some flags from the trail leading up to here," He said with a huge smile on his face. 

"That would be AWESOME!" Cat said jumping up and down. The bones crunched under her feet and she stopped jumping, inspecting the bottom of each foot for signs of damage. 

"Wait, you guys," Ethan said, in a tone of complete seriousness, which surprised me. "Luis would KILL us."

We looked at him, wondering what the worst that could happen would be.

"Some Vegan would get pissed, try to sue and it would create a shit storm for the ranchers. We don't want the bad ju-ju for Luis because of cow bones," He said.

We all looked at each other-- shit.

Ethan had a good point.

We walked back to the truck, slightly disappointed in not being able to trick an entire group of runners into seeing a pit of cow bones. 

We found a pit of cow bones!
Photo cred: Kelly Maggie Akyuz

We found the only clean Port-A-Potty left on the ranch so naturally we had to take a picture in it!
Photo Cred: Chris Clemens

Towards the end of marking the yellow loop, the branches started to hang a bit lower from the sycamore trees.

I moved up to the front of the car next to Chris, and we both talked to Ethan, who was hanging on outside the passenger door.

His animated expressions and general enthusiasm for life made him extremely entertaining to talk to. That and the fact he was a shocking wealth of knowledge for everything medical injury related. It made me want to pick his brain about the perils of trail-running.

"I'm an EMT," He said, glancing up the road as he talked to us. "I see lots of shit."

"Educate me. What happens if I eat shit running on a trail?"

"If you break you leg, for example," He said, grinning ear to ear. "You have to stabilize it-- above and below the break, here and here." He pointed to his out-stretched leg. 

"Also, you might have to--"

A large branch approached and he swung himself under it, popping back up again, mid-sentence.

"-- pull the bottom of your foot to release the muscle. Or, Pull out the .9mm and fight off those damned wolves until you're out of ammo and good sized rocks."

I considered for a brief moment actually having to defend myself against a pack of wolves.

"I'd be screwed either way," I said, laughing.

I looked over at Tyler, who was holding on to the side of the truck. He was leaning out a little too far and a small branch caught him by surprise-- whipping him right across the face. Somehow unharmed yet still wide-eyed in shock, he quickly moved in closer to the truck. "I'm okay, I'm okay" He said, shaking his head. "That was just really close."

"Tyler get in the truck!" Chris yelled, trying to make eye-contact with his brother through the window. Tyler ignored Chris and protested by hanging on tighter.

Soon, dodge the tree branch became a game for Tyler, Ethan, Cat and Sean.

I watched with mixed anxiety and amusement as they anticipated their next obstacle ahead, while still trying to have a conversation with us.

"What about snake bites?" I asked Ethan, still digging into his wilderness survival skills.

"Get out of the trail as efficiently as possible," He said. "If you have cell phone service, call an ambulance. If you don't, walk back to your car and hope you run into someone."

Another tree-branch approached.

Ethan waited a few seconds too long and didn't move out of the way quickly enough-- the branch whipped him right across the back.

"Owwwww!" He yelled out, rubbing his back with his hand. "That one hurt...ugh...."

He did a little shake, and pulled a leaf from out of his shirt collar.

"You okay?" I asked, slightly afraid of the idea of blood.

"I'm fine, just bitch-slapped by a tree is all," Ethan said. "...anyway, what I was saying.... Snake bites! Whatever you do, don't try to suck the venom out. It just gets in your mouth and that's yucky."

I imagined myself pondering sucking venom out of a snakebite.

"Nope," I said, shaking my head. "I don't think I'd do that."

Two hours, half a bag of chalk, endless amounts of yellow and pink ribbons later, we finally made our way back to camp just in time for the Bola racing and beer mile. 

Maybe it's time to head back into camp....things are getting weird out here.
Photo Cred: Chris Clemens

Bola Racing With The Raramuri

 Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

One of the most exciting things to happen at Born To Run this year was the fact that three Raramuri runners traveled all the way from the Copper Canyons to run with us.

We also were able to raise the funds to sponsor them. Now, each of the Raramuri has their own visa for ten years. It was an honor to be able to run with them and participate in the Bola racing alongside them.

Thanks again to Samantha Lovett for capturing such a perfect weekend.

Jenn Shelton lines up for some bola racing!
Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

For the first time ever, Luis is the one looking slightly worried. Me on the other hand? Can't take my eyes off the ball!
Photo cred: Chris Rios

The 2014 Born To Run Beer Mile

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

A few things I learned from doing this beer mile:

1) Warm beer is way harder to chug than cold beer.
2) Burping makes everything better.
3) Whiskey Jerry is shockingly fast at the Beer Mile.
4) Chugging a Gatorade and eating a burrito within an hour of a beer mile is something you will really, really, regret.
5) A beer mile is the best way to prepare yourself for Metalachi. 

I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story for this one.

A special thanks to Samantha Lovett for capturing all of the beautiful images below of the beer mile (and bola racing!). You made our debauchery look captivating. 

One Night With Metalachi

Photo cred: Maggie Akyuz

A few months back, Caleb Wilson posted about a crazy metal-meets-mariachi tribute band on the group’s Facebook wall.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we got them to play at Born To Run?” He said.

In the common tradition of Born To Run, the group took the idea and literally ran with it. 

Within a week the funds were raised (with special thanks to Caity McCartell for setting up the GoFundMe account!) and the band was booked.

I could go into details about how awesome it was...but some things that happen at Born To Run, should probably stay at Born To Run.

Let's just say that we danced the night away, and there may be a chance that Maria, Cat and I got on the stage at some point. That's all I'm saying about that.

One thing I do remember is thinking to myself was, "Is this really an ultramarathon?"

Maria Walton & Myself during Metalachi
Photo Cred: Larry Gassan

Three cheers for Metalachi!
Photo Cred: Larry Gassan

An Unexpected PR: The Born To Run 50K

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett

The sound of a shotgun being fired into the quiet night sky dragged me from a restless and uncomfortable sleep. The echo of the shots traveled across the campground, and there was a soft groan of disapproval from other people their tents. I moved my hip out of the gopher hole I had wedged it into, and tried in vain to find the zipper of my sleeping bag.

My body felt like it was spinning. My muscles ached. 

Memories of Metalachi, dancing on a small stage and pancake-flavored whiskey filled my mind.

I rubbed my face with both of my hands.

I have to run thirty-one miles in less than an hour... 

I fantasized about crawling back into my sleeping bag, skipping the race entirely and sleeping all afternoon. I wonder if anyone would notice, I thought to myself. I bet they wouldn't....

"You have fifteen minutes to get dressed, make it to the starting line and look like a runner!" I heard Luis call out from the loud speaker.

More groans from people in their tents.

I heard my friends Alexis Grenner and Adrienne Tomkinson start whispering to each other in the tent next to mine.


I found my headlamp, and slowly pulled on my running clothes. 

After getting dressed and waiting in line for twenty minutes at the port-a-potty, I made my way to the starting line /finish. I ran into  a fresh-looking Alexis and Adrienne. I wondered how the hell they both looked so damn perky at six in the morning. They were both running the ten miler, and I was completely jealous.

We snapped a quick picture.

I took a deep breath and looked around at the crowd that had begun to collect. Five hundred runners. It felt so different compared to the first two years. A misty haze hung above the campground.

"You know what I'm looking forward to?" I said to Alexis.


"The doughnuts!" 

Her eyes lit up,"doughnuts!"

I had planned on buying a box as a mid-race treat, and as I was driving through the font gate, I realized I forgot to buy them.

I quickly texted Alexis before I lost cell phone reception. 'I forgot the doughnuts! I'll love you forever if you pick me up a box!'

She responded with, 'One dozen or two?'

Seriously, I have the best friends in the world.

As I pondered which doughnut I would eat first, I heard Luis call out from the speakers.

"Five minutes!"

People started moving to their respective running groups and sucking down energy gels.

"I gotta go!" I said, and hugged the girls goodbye. I went to look for Bobby and Michelle.

Before I had a chance to find anyone, I heard the oath start.

Photo Cred: Samantha Lovett


Hundreds of hands shot into the air.

"If I get hurt, lost, or die!"

The crowd chanted the phrase together.

"It's my own damn fault!"

Within seconds, the 50K started, and the massive group of runners started moving forward down the trail.


I  ran through the crowd and finally spotted Michelle's yellow shirt and caught up to her. Chris, Tyler, Manley Klassen, Tiffany Guerra, Bobby, Michelle and myself all ran in a large group for about half of the first loop. We soon drifted off into pairs, and I found myself somehow keeping up pace with Chris, who is usually much faster than me.

Chris was still in full-on Steve Prefontaine-mode.

Chris or Prefontaine, reincarnate?

Despite his smirk, I knew he was feeling the aftermath of Metalachi, too.

"That orange juice is sure catching up with you now, huh?" I joked, prodding him on his side.

"Ugghhh," He jerked away. "I've got to stop drinking. And after this weekend I'm going back Vegan."

I rolled my eyes. "Sure you are!"

He ignored my lack of belief in his Vegan and non-drinking abilities.

"I feel great!" I lied, trying to suppress the feeling of nausea. I was surprised to find that I had a large amount of energy. 

Chris, Manley and Tiffany

We ran the first loop in an hour and forty minutes, which was my fastest 10-mile loop I'd ever done on the course.

After eating some food at the aid station, the rest of the group and I continued on to the second loop.

The miles passed under our feet, and we kept up a speedy pace.

Jess Soco and Shacky were our white rabbits for a while-- constantly ahead of us, almost within reach, but just little too fast to catch or pass.

Jess Soco and Robert Shackelford

Towards the end of the second loop, we stopped at Beverly Escobar's "luxury" aid station -- an oasis in the middle of a desert. The majority of the group went to wait in line for the only Port-A-Potty. As I forced myself to suck down an energy gel, I eyeballed a blender filled with ice, coconut and juice. 

"Is there alcohol in that?" I asked Beverly, who gave me a 'You've got to be KIDDING me' look.

"No, no -- no alcohol-- I don't want to drink, I'm just making sure," I blurted out. The idea of drinking anything made me feel sick. 

"It's like a pina colada without the alcohol. The guys broke open fresh coconut with a hammer and used juice and fresh coconut for it," She told me.

My eyes widened.

I. Need.

She poured me a small cup full and handed it to me. I swear, it was like liquid heaven. I couldn't believe that they went through all that work to make it happen. I was grateful, and it was exactly what I needed.

After waiting for a couple minutes, I started getting anxious to keep going.

I looked over at the group, still standing in line.

Tyler finished filling up his handheld, and looked at the group with an expression that said he wanted to get going, too.

"They will catch up with us, let's go," I said to him, tapping him on the arm and taking off up the trail.

We soon caught up with Bobby, who was running alone. The three of us continued on for another five minutes or so. 

Bobby and Tyler

It wasn't long before Michelle and Chris appeared from behind us.

For a while, we all ran in a group, and then, like before, Chris and I found ourselves running side-by-side at a comfortable pace.

"Hey guess what," I said, jumping over a small tree root. 


"It's almost mile seventeen and I'm totally keeping up with you."

He laughed and shook his head. "I know, I'm surprised!"

I tried not to feel insulted, "You're either doing really shitty or I'm doing really good!" I laughed.

I went to jab him in the ribs again and he quickly dodged my hand.

Ah, the learning curve.

He pushed forward to pick up the pace, and I dug deep to keep up.

Chris climbing up one of the hills.

"You better be careful, the next thing you know, I'm going to be faster than you!" I yelled out from behind as we ran down a steep and technical section of the trail. I tried my best to channel my inner Kilian Jornet, but all I could think to myself was don't trip, don't trip, don't trip. 

The whole valley expanded on the downward ridge, and it took everything in me not to stare off into the distance. You could see the rolling green countryside hills for miles in each direction. By far the most beautiful part of the whole course, and also the easiest to lose your footing and to take a serious tumble.

I noticed a photographer at the bottom of the descent taking pictures.

Chris effortlessly scooted down the side and I anxiously picked my way down.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

"Just run down it!" I heard the photographer call out.

Hell no, dude. Hell. No.

As I got about halfway down, I realized the photographer was Akabill, the creator of the Akabill Finisher's Amulets and founder of the HURT 100.

"Akabill, you just want good wipe-out photos!" I yelled. I couldn't see his face but I knew he was grinning to himself.

I reached the bottom, somehow unscathed, and brushed the dirt off from my legs a little.

"Not a scratch on me!" I said, and flashed Akabill a smile.

I took off to catch up with Chris.

Just before the end of the second loop, at the third aid station, Chris and I ran into my friend Adrienne. She was sitting in a chair in the shade and looked miserable. She stood up when she saw me.

"I was hoping to see you!" She said.

I told Chris to go on without me and I walked with Adrienne for a little bit.

She told me that she had been puking her brains out for over an hour, and at that point, she had gone the furthest she ever had. Ever.

"Seven miles! Can you believe it!" She said, bubbling up a little bit. Then her face fell, "you know....minus the whole getting sick part."

After ten minutes or so of walking with her, I saw my favorite French-Canadian, Flint Bourdeau, appear from from behind us. He waved hello and happily ran by at a quick pace.

"Flint!" I yelled out. I felt the urge to run.

I turned to Adrienne, "You don't mind if I go run with him now, do you?" I asked.

"Of course not, go go!" She said, motioning for me to go ahead.

"Hey, Flint! Can I run with you?" I asked, running to catch up with him.

He stopped running and wrapped his arms around me in a big hug.

"I'd be honored, darlin'," He smiled ear to ear.

We ran at a pretty quick pace, and re-lived our memories of the Grand Canyon we visited with a group a few weeks before. We talked about our love of writing, travel and the importance of community. Most importantly, as we talked, the miles passed without even thinking about them.

I was grateful for that.

Running with Flint always had it's way of expanding my heart and mind.

Before we knew it, we were closing in on the second loop.

I started yelling out as we ran through the start/ finish, and when I looked at the clock, I was shocked by what I saw.

Three hours, forty-five minutes.

"Awesome!" I said, giving him a high-five. "That's way better than I expected!"

I noticed that the sun was breaking through the mist, and the temperatures started to rise. I wanted to throw on a pair of shorts and change into a lighter shirt.

I turned to Flint, who was re-filling his water-bottle, "I'm gunna go to my tent and change. And eat a doughnut. Go on ahead without me!"

He smiled, gave me a quick hug and continued on up the trail.

I saw Alexis a couple yards away, who was taking photos. I gingerly walked up to her, starting to feel the strain in my hip.

"Did you see Adrienne?" She asked.

"Yeah, she was looking better but said she felt sick," I told her.

"Oh, good," Alexis said, looking relieved. "She told me to leave her at the aid station."

"Yeah...she will be okay. She only has a few miles left..." I said, opening up my pack and pulling out some energy gels. "How was your run?" 

"Awesome!" Alexis said, and she pulled her Akabill Amulet out from under her shirt. "Check it out!"

It was beautiful-- white with a slight hint of grey. She grinned.

"Ugh, I can't eat a gel right now," I said, looking down at the gel in my hand. "It's doughnut time!" 

She walked with me to our tents, and I told her about my run so far.

"You're going really fast, dude!" She said.

"Way faster than last year, at least!" I said,

I changed into a sports bra and shorts, which made me feel like a new person entirely. The sun was out in full-force and I knew that too many layers would make me overheat easily. Overheating = bad news in the middle of a race. I took off my shoes and put on my Luna Sandals. 

For the last loop I wanted to feel cool, fresh and light.

I noticed I had a large blister on the bottom of my right foot, so I wrapped white tape around it. I wiggled my toes, satisfied.

Doughnuts, doughnuts!

I opened the trunk of my car and found the box of doughnuts. I sat on the bumper with the box in my lap, staring down into the beauty of sprinkles and icing.

I picked a chocolate glazed doughnut with white sprinkles, and pretty much inhaled half of it in one bite.

"This. Is. AMAZING!" I yelled, mouth full of food.

Tom Norwood, standing a couple of yards away, burst into laughter.

I gave him a thumbs-up, and then reached in for another doughnut.

"Actually," I said, stopping and putting the box to the side. "I wonder if I remembered to pack..."

I rummaged through a couple of bags in the trunk of my car. I pulled out a Target bag and found a pack of sour gummy worms.

I did a fist-pump in the air.

"BEST. DAY. EVER." I said, tearing the package open and shoveling a handful of gummy worms into my mouth.

Tom's mouth fell open in disbelief. The look on his face told me that I might get a photo taken of me, and soon.

"It's Paleo!" I joked, shoveling another handful into my mouth.

"I'm going to tell everyone your secrets!" He said.

"Pshh...everyone knows I eat this stuff!" I laughed.

He walked over and looked at my feet.

"Right on! You changed into the Luna's!" He said.

I pointed to my bandaged foot, "Does it make me look badass?" I asked.

"Totally badass!" He said, and gave me a high-five.

I looked at my shoulder, and noticed it looked a little red.

Tom read my mind and said, "Do you need sunblock?"

"Yeah...that's probably a good idea," I said, glancing up at the sun that was breaking through the morning fog.

He brought me back some sunblock.

"I'm so used to being helped by other people during my races," He said. "It feels good to help someone else for a change."

We were talking for a while about the new velcro strips I had sewn onto my sandals when I realized I had completely forgotten that I was in the middle of a race.

I checked my Garmin: thirty minutes had passed.


"I've got to go!" I said, suddenly feeling panic rising in me. "Gotta go, gotta go!"

I gave Tom and Alexis a thumbs-up and took off back to the starting line, doughnut in hand.

As I continued on down the trail by myself, I wondered how long I'd be running solo. After a mile or so, the tape on my foot started to unravel. I sighed and sat down in the dirt on the side of the trail.

I took off my sandal and pulled the extra tape out of my pack.

As I was wrapping my foot, Maggie appeared in the distance.

"Hey!" I said as I finished up and put my sandal back on. I stood up and brushed the dirt off my feet.

As she approached, she pulled out her headphones and flashed me a smile.

"Hey girl! What loop are you on?" She asked. 

"Last one!" I told her, standing to my feet and buckling my pack.

"Me too!"

So we ran together, talked about our bucket-list races, how much we both wanted to travel to the Copper Canyons, and how epic the trail marking was. 

Larry Gassan was on our heels for a large majority of the last loop, and we both thoroughly enjoyed heckling him about our lack in forward progression.

"Don't worry," He said, adjusting his fanny-pack. "This old guy won't be passing you two youngins' anytime soon."

We laughed and continued to run at an easy pace, chit-chatting and trying to distract ourselves from the strain in our muscles. 

The sun was out in full force, and I felt my skin start to burn. I was thankful for the sunscreen Tom made me put on.

I was also grateful to have Maggie with me on the last loop. She motivated me to keep going when I wanted to walk and I guarantee I ran it faster with her than I would have on my own.

Before we knew it, we were closing in on our last mile. We both felt solid, full of energy and pretty excited to be done! I was looking forward to a beer and a burrito from Luis' sister's food truck.

At the finish line, my gorgeous friend Trisha Reeves came up to me and handed me an ice-cold beer.

It's like magic.

"I love you! This is exactly what I wanted!" I said to her as I read the label of the can.

A craft IPA. Oh, hell yeah. 

"Oh, it's not from me, it's from my friend," She said, winking at me. "He said you're beautiful."

I'd say my face turned red, but I was already really sunburned.

Alexis appeared and gave me a high-five.

"Dude!" She said, look of shock on her face. "You PR-ed by almost three hours!"

I looked at the clock and it read 7:15. That was with the thirty minute doughnut break. 

My time last year was a slow 8:59. I hiked a lot of it, had fun and wasn't even trying for a specific time.

This year, I was actually able to run the majority of the time, and felt like I was racing rather than just trying to finish. 

Alexis and I walked back to campsite, arguing about who could eat the last glazed doughnut.

Post-Race Celebration & The Drive-In Romeos

Photo cred: Scott Smuin

On Saturday evening, not long after many of us had finished our races, The Drive-In Romeo's came on.

At first I felt pretty sore from the run-- my hips were tight and my feet ached. Somehow, some way, I found myself jumping around and smiling ear to ear.

The music was upbeat, full of energy, and somehow turned a bunch of tired runners into dancing machines.

Chris Rios demonstrating his charms on Odin Hedley!
Photo cred: Tom Norwood

For a video of our awesome dance skills, thanks to the video-taping skills of Scott Smuin, click here.

Sean & Cat

Alexis, Adrienne and I!

Cat drinking a beer out of a ram's horn. 

Adrienne, Alexis, Trisha and I

Tom and I

Cat & I

Bobby and Michelle

The After-Party at Luis & Beverly's 

The after-party at Luis & Beverly's house.
Clockwise from left to right: Patrick Sweeney, Chris Clemens, Cat Bradley, Sean Garbutt, Tyler Tomasello, Darkling Thrush, Tony Russ, Samantha O'Brien, Scott Smuin, Jess Soco, Tom Norwood, Me (Crista Scott), Bobby Walpole, Michelle Evans, Maria Walton, Luis Escobar, Tuff Tuff, Beverly Escobar, Flint Bourdeau, David Valenzuela and Guadajuko. 

On Sunday afternoon, a large group of us helped Luis load up boxes, leftover aid station supplies and tables into a few trucks. 

"If I do this by myself," Luis said, "It will take me days. If you guys help me, it'll be done in less than an hour. Let's load everything up, drive up to my place, unload it and then grill some food. Sound good?"

It sounded more than good.

We happily agreed to his offer, and went to work.

After we had everything packed up and ready to go, we piled into our cars.

Tom Norwood and I drove up together, talking about our love of classic rock, acoustic guitars and plotted Luna's take-over of the world. 

"I'm telling you," I said, wiggling my toes in my new and improved custom Luna's. "Velcro is the way to go!"

"I know, I know!" He said. I had probably told him eight or nine times at that point.


* * *

Once at Luis and Beverly's, we all sprawled out across the concrete floor of their backyard. The hot afternoon sun had warmed the stone up, and it felt good against my legs. 

I massaged my quads. They felt pretty good considering how hard I had ran the day before. 

I looked around and felt pretty fortunate to know so many individually amazing people. As much as I loved being at the ranch, there was something magical about being in a smaller group in Luis' backyard. I was able to connect with everyone better and really soak in long conversations. It's rare to be surrounded by such a diverse group of people, yet feel like you are among family, where everyone is on the same page. A tribe, filled with people from all age groups, races, genders and backgrounds. We were a mix-matched, hodge-podge group of minimalists, adventurers, writers and explorers. Most of all, we were all friends, and nothing in that moment meant more to any of us than being with each other. 

From left to right: Cat Bradley, Michelle Evans, Bobby Walpole, Scott Smuin, Tom Norwood, Pat Sweeney, Tony Russ and Samantha O'Brien

We listened to Apache Tony lay down some seriously impressive beats. He captivated us with his words and rhythm. 

We talked about our future plans for races and adventures.

Tyler Tomasello cooked us up some delicious tacos-- for both the meat-eaters and Vegans! 

Luis, Tom and I had a jam session with our acoustic guitars.

Photo cred: Michelle Evans

With the strong support from his family and amazing wife Beverly, in addition to countless others, it's safe to say that Luis has just begun to make his mark in a new genre of trail and ultra racing. Words can hardly express my gratitude to Luis and Beverly for all their hard work in creating this amazing experience for all of us. 

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it again and again: I love these people. I love trail and ultrarunning. And I love being able to wake up each morning and know I'm living the life that I've always dreamed of. 

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