Friday, February 24, 2012

In Defense of Ultrarunning: When Our Sport is Attacked

Until I read Tim Tollefson’s recent blog post on, “CrossFit vs Ultrarunning. Which is more nauseating?,” I’d never encountered any published anti-ultrarunning epistles. But, alas, I do feel obligated to respond to Tollefson’s unfair and unprovoked attack on my beloved sport and especially his comparison of ultrarunners to CrossFitters, both of whom he calls “annoying” and “self-righteous.”  He also tacitly attacks organized religion and politics (as well as Fox News in his follow-up post--more on that below), just for good measure.
First off, let’s get this little fact out there: Tollefson is an elite road runner, but not in the Ryan Hall class. I respect his talent and I’m sure he works his tail off. Not that he cares what I think—especially since I’m a lowly ultrarunner, right? Secondly, I don’t know much at all about CrossFit, except for what I’ve seen on TV. Not long ago I watched about 30 seconds of the CrossFit Games—I think it was on ESPN. Look, CrossFit isn’t my thing. I think it’s more exercise than sport, but I’m not going to attack it, because I admire the dedication of its participants. So my concern in this post isn’t with defending CrossFit; it’s with defending ultrarunning against an incredibly unfair attack, which has published for the world to see. And it's because Tollefson's attack is on that a response is needed.
Tollefson, who has since published an equally obnoxious, arrogant follow-up mea culpa (“Round 2: Ultrarunning vs Fox News"), attacks ultrarunners as gloryhounds who go around bragging and wearing clothing that says dorky things like, “Marathons are my warm-up,” “Black toenails are my friend,” etc. Ultrarunners as braggers? Nothing could be further from the truth. Ultrarunners are among the most humble group of folks I know. How else to explain the fact that most of our races are unknown to the masses and all we get for finishing a 100-miler is a damned belt buckle? Most ultrarunners I know (me included) would actually prefer that our sport operate in the darkness rather than be in the limelight thanks to the overdramatized, yet highly entertaining, best-selling books by Christopher McDougall and Dean Karnazes.
Tollefson then goes on to say ultrarunners “failed at” their sport and turned to super-long distances to mask their average abilities. Um, to this accusation, I ask Tollefson: Have you ever seen Nick Clark descend a mountain trail? Have you ever seen Matt Carpenter (who may or may not identify himself as an ultrarunner but has nonetheless excelled in the sport) attack 14,115-foot Pikes Peak? Have you ever seen Mike Morton run for 24 hours? Have you ever seen Kilian Jornet, Geoff Roes, Dave Mackey and Anton Krupicka in action at an ultra? What about Max King, who ran in the Olympic Trials Marathon, and Michael Wardian, who is a sub-2:20 guy like Tollefson and eats marathons, 50Ks and 100Ks for breakfast?
Those guys are not only great ultrarunners, but also supremely gifted athletes.  Carpenter and Jornet’s VO2 maxes are as high, if not higher, than Lance Armstrong’s—and probably higher than many elite marathoners. And yet they are as humble as the back of the packers who run the same trails that they run in a race. It’s the crushingly difficult process of training for and completing an ultramarathon that makes our sport’s participants a humble lot. Sure, a few of us might get cowboyish at times (I’m guilty of it, but it’s all fun and games), but never will you see us exerting some kind of false superiority in public. That’s not who we are, OK?
Make no mistake about it; ultrarunning is a sport. Runners line up at a starting line and then race a given distance—50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers or 100 or more miles. There are winners in ultrarunning, just as there are winners in more “traditional” track and field events.
(That said, racing a marathon is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s insanely difficult from a pacing standpoint and in the final 10K, and so my hat goes off to Tollefson and others who do it so well. By the same token, his hat should go off to ultrarunners, especially our sport’s elite.)
Finally, Tollefson’s attack is severely undermined by the fact that he bases it almost entirely on McDougall’s book, which he says is littered with inaccuracies, half-truths and exaggerations. I won’t dispute that McDougall stretched things a little here and there, but it’s preposterous to use that admittedly over-the-top book as the basis for attacking the sport of ultrarunning (hence his follow-up mea culpa). Has Tollefson ever raced an ultra? Has he ever volunteered at a 100-miler? Has he ever been at the Placer High School track during the finish of the Western States 100? What Tollefson has done is pick apart a few unfortunate sections of the McDougall book and then draw a series of absurd conclusions. It’s that kind of flawed, unfair and narrow thinking that leads to hateful things.
In closing, I’d like to offer my services as a writer and ultrarunner to since it clearly needs a more fair and balanced approach :-). And I also hope Josh Cox, Michael Wardian and/or Max King will take Tollefson on in a 50K or 100K, especially since those guys--you know, dudes you turned to ultrarunning since they "failed" at their sport, according to Tollefson's thinking--already beat him in the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are You Badass Enough?

Due to a minor mail snafu, it took a while for me to get my Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run finisher's jacket. After much anticipation, it finally arrived today. You gotta be a badass to earn this badass jacket! Are you badass enough?

FYI, this jacket is a huge improvement over the old finishers' pullover sweatshirts, though I'm sure the vets and old timers would disagree. The pullovers had charm, but they weren't badass like the jacket.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Youth is Over-Rated!

Note to Reader: This is the second article in a series that challenges various assumptions in ultrarunning. In some cases, we may find that certain assumptions are correct; while in others we may find a new and better viewpoint. Please contribute your insights in the comments section. Enjoy!

Youth is over-rated!

Species go extinct when they are unable to adapt to new conditions (think dinosaurs). We humans are for the most part very adaptive, though certainly not immune from extinction. Short of the sun burning out, a great flood, a meteor hitting the Earth and other catastrophes, we posses a unique ability to evolve to conditions and find a way toward survival.
In the world of running, the ability to adapt is critical to longevity. Especially when you enter your late thirties, the body starts to age and the benefits of youth become fewer, requiring some adaptation. And yet many choose not to adapt. How many of us know a runner who won't change his or her practices despite what the aging process is doing to their body? "I don't care if I'm 40 and my body feels like I got run over by a Mack truck. I'm running 110 miles this week come hell or high water!" It's usually these types of runners who eventually find themselves constantly injured, unable to run and and relegated to cycling for the rest of their lives (nothing against cycling, but it's not nearly as fun as running). Or, worse yet, they have to do CrossFit :-)

I think I began to feel the years when I turned 37. One day--I don't remember when exactly--it hit me that I wasn't recovering the way I used to and injuries seemed to happen more frequently and last longer. Back in my younger days, if I had a muscle pull or tendon issue, I could slap some ice on the effected area and be good to go in almost no time. No more. (Fortunately, age hasn't yet robbed me of speed; I'm pretty sure I haven't lost a step...yet). Then it hit me that, at my age, pro athletes are considered way over the hill and many are forced into retirement. At 38 years of age, I'd be a geezer if I were a pro athlete. They might call me gramps.

Every year, people spend billions trying to fight the aging process, mostly because they refuse to adapt to what's happening and see aging as a new stage of life with many unique opportunities. Fighting the years is a waste of time and money. Aging is natural and inevitable; better to embrace and adjust to it than fight what cannot be stopped. For me, changing some of my practices as a runner, recognizing that a little pain here or there might be a call for rest, focusing more on recovery, incorporating cross-training, seeing the benefits of strength-training and investing in things like Hokas have been ways to adjust to the aging process and keep doing what I love. But I'm still figuring this aging thing out. The good news is that I'm not stupid enough to actually think I can outrun Father Time. (Click here for a fantastic book by Ironman legend Chris McCormack, who writes at length about how he adapted to Father Time and enjoyed even more success in his demanding sport.)

What if I said Father Time can be our friend? More on that below (or read Macca's book linked above for a more information).

Don't get me wrong; youth is wonderful. It is indeed true that "youth is wasted on the young." One of my great regrets is not taking full advantage of my youth when I had it. I didn't start running seriously until I was 31 (though I started running cross-country at age 12). I had a a few good years in 2008 and 2009 and they were, indeed, fun. But at the time it never hit me that this wouldn't last. I wish I'd taken advantage of my youth when I had it--ah, the 20s--and really gone for it in this sport. I often look at the young pups all around me at races and I wonder if they really know what they have and what they can do.

But youth is over-rated! Did I just that? Yes! Why? Because, at least in the sport of ultrarunning, experience usually is an advantage (and maybe in running in general--back in September I out-kicked a 16-year-old track star at a local 5K, beating him by a half-second). Racing 100 milers is almost all about experience. The young pup explodes out of the gate and runs recklessly, finding around mile 60 that things have turned bad. But he lacks the experience to battle through the bad patch. Meanwhile, the older, more mature runner, running a patient race from step one, is just starting to get into a groove at mile 60 as he/she passes the exhausted, discouraged young runner. Of course, it doesn't always happen that way; sometimes the young pup possesses that special combination of youth and patience. But it seems to me that ultrarunning is a sport that rewards those with discipline and experience.

So, at least in the sport of ultrarunning, maybe aging isn't all that bad!?!?!?!

Do you consider yourself an aging athlete? If so, have you taken any steps to adjust your approach to the sport?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Are You Wearing Too Much Damned Gear?

Note to Reader: I'm starting a short series of articles that seeks to challenge certain assumptions in ultrarunning. In some cases, we may find that certain assumptions are correct; while in others we may find a new and better viewpoint. This is the first article in the series. Enjoy!

Running has gotten too damned complicated.

Nine years ago I ran in cotton--from head to toe--and in shoes I bought from Famous Footwear.

Today, I have all the latest stuff. In the morning, after I put on my compression shorts, tights, socks, base layer, mid layer, vest, mittens and skull cap (my winter apparel, all of which is super-expensive), I attach my blinking red light and head lamp (so I can see and be seen in the pre-dawn hours), iPhone and iPod. Oh, and then I strap on my RoadID and Garmin GPS watch, along with my Timex Ironman so I know what time it is. Damn, I haven't put on my shoes yet. What should I wear today...this pair of Hokas, that pair of Hokas, or maybe my Kayanos or DS Trainers? Hmmmm. And where are my orthotics? While we're at it, my calves are a little sore today--maybe I should also wear my calf sleeves.

In the time I spend screwing around with my gadgets, I could have run an extra mile that might just pay off at the Leadville 100 in August. If that's a mile a day I'm missing because I'm screwing around with my gadgets, we're talking about 7 additional miles a week. Some weeks that could be the difference between 90 and 100 miles.

Yeah, running has gotten way too damned complicated (and expensive). I've gone soft and gotten too reliant on crap that has nothing to do with why I run: the pure love of it.

Memo to self: I don't need all this crap. Yeah, I need to stay warm, and I do like my GPS, but is all this other extra stuff really necessary? No. It's a distraction.

I think I enjoyed running the most back in the day when I didn't wear a GPS or iPod, and a cell phone was so small I barely knew it was there.

Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us play right into the hands of advertisers and marketers. We get a RoadID because we're scared of getting hit by a car and being found by someone who doesn't know who we are. This is fear-based marketing at its best (or worst?). Then you have the iPod. We're told iPods help pass the time and get us focused. But have you ever listened to nature in all her beauty (her beauty sometimes being silence)? Isn't that the best music of all? Don't get me wrong; I LOVE my iPod. But do I need Eminem on every single run?

Now let's get dawn to the GPS watch, shall we? I know I'm on hallowed ground here. Many of us like to know how far we went, what our pace was, how much vertical we did, etc. But is that info really important? Granted, knowing how long you ran is pretty important, but why do we need to know exact pace, mileage and climb? We're not professionals, and so we shouldn't get caught in the trap of taking what we love to do in our free time so seriously when there's not a paycheck involved.

Last time I checked, I judge a great run not necessarily by the numbers on my watch, but by how I felt. There's such a thing as an awesome 6:00 mile and a crappy 6:00 mile, a strong 1,500-foot climb and a feel-like-death 1,500-foot climb. A GPS watch can't distinguish between the two, though maybe a heart rate monitor can. While we're on the subject of heart rate monitors, that's one gadget I've never gotten into. I don't see the point. I guess my heart's not in it.

Geez, how did the greats back in the day ever do it? All they had were a pair of shoes and cotton clothing and a stop watch! I'm surprised they could even walk, let alone set records. Imagine what Billy Mills or Roger Bannister could have done if they only had a Garmin on their wrists! Calf sleeves might have made them faster, too.

One of the most popular, followed ultrarunners in the world today is a guy who frequently runs shirtless, without socks and in super minimal shoes--and who sometimes lives for days in his truck up in the mountains living on little more than Nutella, gels and creek water. People follow what he's doing like he's some kind of a prophet. And yet, while we admire how he lives and runs (I admit I greatly admire him), we're strapping on gear out the wazoo that costs us money (that we could be saving or even donating to a worthy cause, such as the local track or cross country team) and has nothing to do with our passion for running. Maybe I'm missing something, but there seems to be a disconnect.

I don't want to keep ranting . What I do want to do is lay down the gauntlet. Next week I'm going to leave my iPhone at home. My iPod also will stay home. I'll keep wearing my RoadID and lights for my own safety since I do have a family to think about when I'm out there in the dark. I think I might also refrain from wearing my GPS on a few runs and instead just wear my good old fashioned Timex Ironman and estimate my mileage like I used to do back in the day.

While we're at it, do I really need to enter all my damned runs into a freaking website when my paper-based logs (which I've been keeping for several years) will suffice just fine?

Maybe simplifying will help me get in some extra mileage and time on my feet and remove some distractions that only take me away from the spiritual, meditative aspects of running--aspects that make me a better endurance athlete and person.

Are you willing to give anything up, even temporarily? If so, what?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mike Morton Feature Article for Ultrarunning Magazine

I was honored to write a feature-length story about Mike Morton for the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning Magazine, the longest-running provider and gatherer of news about our sport.

This photo was taken back in the day (mid 1990s).
Pictured are (L-R) Courtney Campbell, Dave Horton
and Morton.
Morton is no stranger to the sport of ultrarunning. He previously held the course record for the Western States Endurance Run, running a scorching 15:40 at the 1997 race, and, with Eric Clifton and Courtney Campbell, was a dominant force in the mid-1990s. Just when it seemed he was on top of the ultrarunning world, Morton, a member of the Special Forces, suffered a devastating hip injury and essentially walked away from the sport for over 10 years, losing touch with many old friends, like Campbell and Clifton.

Now 40 years old, Morton has made a remarkable comeback, running 163.9 miles at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour in 2011 and recently winning the Long Haul 100M in Florida with a fast 13:18. Yesterday, my story about Morton went live on the Ultrarunning Magazine web site and it will also appear--with many more photos--in the March issue.

Mike is too humble to tell his own story. I felt it had to be told. See, I believe in our society today we don't know who the real heroes are. We confuse people like overpaid pro athletes, singers (except Bob Seger--see below), actors, politicians, trust fund babies, rich people and reality TV "stars" as heroes when the real heroes are folks like Mike Morton, who put their lives on the line every day to protect the American Way. Mike is a true hero whose story needs to be told. It was an honor working with him to tell it. So here you go. Enjoy and be sure to check out the story in the magazine, too!

Additional reading: Click here for an interview I did with Morton back in the fall.

In that spirit, Bob Seger will always be among my all-time favorite singers. Here's a tune of his I love--"I've Been Working." Seger sang this song live "for all you workin' people in the house tonight" during his Silver Bullet tour back in the 70s when he was trying to make it. I consider myself a "workin' man's runner," kind of like how Seger sung to workin' folks like truck drivers. Where's Bob Seger today?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Manitou Incline/Barr Trail Run in Photos

Last Friday I took the day off and drove down to Manitou Springs to "run" the famously challenging Incline and also enjoy some time on the beautiful, peaceful Barr Trail on Pikes Peak. The conditions were perfect and the snow on the Barr Trail up above 8,000 feet was powdery and light. I had a great time. Here are some photos from my adventure:

The Incline is a ~1.3-mile, ~2,000 foot climb up to 8,550 feet. It connects to the Barr Trail, creating many awesome options once you're at the top.

I took this photo about midway up the Incline. There was snow in the shady spots. The top was mostly all snow.

One of the great things about big climbs is looking back every so often to see how much vertical you've done.

The Incline is technically on private property (as of now), making maintenance a dicey issue. Hopefully soon the Incline will be publicly-owned and -maintained. But I have to say that the rough areas add charm and challenge.

Looking down from the top. I made it to the top in 30:04. I've been told that's a solid time, especially for my first Incline ascent. Actually, this was my first decent climb since the Boulder "Basic" last fall.

Pikes Peak looking beautiful. I can't wait to summit Pikes this summer--my third time up there. This photo was taken from the Barr Trail at about 9,000 feet.

The entrance to Barr Camp, which is at about 10,200 feet. Barr Camp is midway up Pikes Peak and is a frequent stopping point for runners and hikers going both ways.

Looking down toward Manitou Springs on my descent.

Pikes is right behind me.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Your Guide to Finishing the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run (Part II: Mile 51-Finish)

Continued from Part I

Winfield (50) - Twin Lakes (60.5)
A lot of runners drop at Winfield either because they're out of gas or because they've missed the cut-off time. My biggest advice as you leave Winfield is to stay positive and not think too far ahead. If you fixate on the super-steep, crowded climb up the backside of Hope Pass, you're liable to get really discouraged and never get out of Winfield. Take it one step at a time. Enjoy the gradual descent on the trail connecting to the Hope Pass climb. Talk to your pacer. Be sure he/she understands your needs. Leadville allows muling, so give all or most of your stuff to your pacer. Sorry, but that's what he/she signed up for!

Buckles from 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014.
I'm not going to bullshit you: The climb up the backside of Hope Pass is an ass kicker. It is very steep especially in the "lower" section, and it's difficult to get into a groove because of the busy two-way traffic. Once you get above treeline, it seems like it's never going to end. I usually take a few breathers here, and I always tell my pacer not to worry about me. I may look like hell going up the backside of Hope, but I know from experience that once we're at the top and descending again I'll come back from the dead. Hope Pass is about refusing to give up.

Once at the top of the pass, give yourself a pat on the back. You just accomplished something pretty impressive. You may feel inches from death--that's likely because you're at 12,600 feet! Believe me when I say you'll feel better as get "lower." Now get going! The descent can be treacherous in sections, mostly because of the altitude's effects on your mind. Little things become big things. A small rock looks like a jagged boulder. A gentle descent may look like a cliff. Be patient and have confidence in yourself. Above all, stay upright! The view of Twin Lakes from the top of Hope Pass is spectacular. That's where you're going!

You'll come upon the Hopeless aid station at about mile 55.5. Again, get what you need, but don't take too much, and then get going! You have five more miles until Twin Lakes. It's usually here that I see a lot of carnage. I've seen outbound runners (as I'm going inbound) sprawled out on rocks, exhausted. I've seen runners in tears. I've seen runners who have given it their all, but who know they've missed or will miss the cut-off. Encourage them, but focus on yourself. You have to get down this mountain. Run as much as you can, but don't be hard on yourself if you need to walk a few sections to save your quads. Just get 'er done.

Coming into Twin Lakes inbound with Mark T., 2014
Ah, you're down the mountain and back on the meadow again, with those water crossings ahead. Relish the water. Take a quick soak in the river if you're hot. Give yourself some relief. The meadow trail is soft and flat. I can usually cruise here and my spirits are high because I know my crew is just ahead.

Before you know it, there's the Twin Lakes aid station. Here's something to think about: In the last 20 miles, you've climbed and descended a hefty ~12,000 feet. Multiply all of that by 5 and you get 60,000 feet of gain/loss over 100 miles. That's still less gain/loss than Hardrock! I say that for perspective's sake--it could be much worse (or better, depending on your perspective)!

But I digress.

Entering Twin Lakes, you're now a little over 60 miles into the race. A lot of runners have already DNF'd, and more will drop at Twin Lakes. But not you. At Twin Lakes, get what you need, refuel and get out of there without a thought. Let me say that again: get out of there without a thought. If the letters D-N-F enter your mind, simply turn off your brain and run! It's not supposed to be easy; yes, you're supposed to be hurting after 60 miles. The finish line in all her glory comes to those who are tough enough to withstand the pain.

Another note: If it's cloudy, keep that emergency poncho on you as you leave Twin Lakes. If it's late afternoon or early evening, take a headlamp as a precaution. Remember to get your pacer to mule for you (they'll need their headlamp, too). If you don't have a pacer, keep it light leaving Twin Lakes; you have a long, gradual climb in front of you.

Training tip for this section: Practice in the mountains by running up and back down the biggest peaks you can find. Also do some weight training to strengthen your leg muscles for the descents.

Twin Lakes (60.5) - Half Pipe (70.9)
Those who make it out of Twin Lakes now have a very good chance of finishing the Leadville 100. I love the climb out of Twin Lakes, maybe because the aid station is so hopping and I leave really pumped (for me, miles 60-80 are usually my best). The climb is gradual but long. You're on that same rocky road, and then trail, that you flew down on the outbound. If you keep it light and use your pacer as a mule, the climb isn't too bad.

Finally, when you reach the top of the climb, you can top off your bottles at the Mount Elbert water stop and then cruise into the Half Pipe aid station. At the 2011 race, this was without doubt my best section. I ran every step (except for when I had to make a pitstop) at a pretty good clip and made up lots of time lost on Hope Pass, where I'd struggled a bit. The trail is gentle and there are no bad climbs that slow you down. This is a section to run! Just crank it and Half Pipe will be there before you know it.

Training tip for this section: Practice your hills and be sure to run some flats, too. Leadville isn't all mountains!

Half Pipe (70.9) - Fish Hatchery (76.5)
If you didn't take a headlamp with you at Twin Lakes, take one now at Half Pipe (definitely stash one there). The road entering Fish Hatchery can be busy with cars and you want to be seen. But first, you need to get to Pipeline, where your crew is waiting for you. It's an easy couple miles to Pipeline--no real hills to speak of. I ran this section at about 7:50-8:30 pace during the 2011 race.

After Pipeline, it's all road into the Fish Hatchery. This is a mentally tough section for many, as it's dark and the stretches of road seem to go on forever. Jog if you can. If you can't jog, power-hike (I do both). Whatever you do, move forward. Think relentless forward progress.

Fish Hatchery inbound is where things can start to get interesting. You're now a little more than three-quarters done with the race. Your legs might be trashed and you might be feeling nauseous and woozy. If you're in a world of hell at the hatchery, welcome to Leadville! Most people feel like hell at the hatchery inbound. Focus on refueling and regrouping. Eat some soup and be sure to get your electrolytes back up. Take in some caffeine! Get a new headlamp and a back-up light, too. Consider adding a layer or two, as the temperature drops fast at night in the mountains. The last thing you want is to be out there in the Colorado high county exhausted and cold--a recipe for disaster.

Training tip for this section: There are no secrets to this section, except toughing out the miles. This is what you trained for.

Fish Hatchery (76.5) - Mayqueen (86.5)
I use the road out of the hatchery to regroup. At the 2011 race, I power-hiked this section while eating some potato soup my mom made for me. It's a good idea to get yourself mentally focused and physically dialed back in on the road out of the hatchery. Caffeine from here on out is critical. I didn't take in enough caffeine late in the 2011 race (in part because I had trouble keeping anything down) and it cost me at least an hour.

About a mile up the road, you'll come upon a marker telling you to turn left into the trail leading up to Powerline. This turn wasn't well-marked during the 2010 race and I missed it, adding 2 miles onto my race that ultimately cost be about 2 hours (I was mentally crushed from the extra 2 miles and also experienced some hypothermia and bonking at Mayqueen inbound). So whatever you do, be on the lookout for this turn!

OK, you're now on the Powerline trail. This "little" section may test your resolve. Remember how I said the key to Hope Pass is not giving up? Well, that's also the key to Powerline. It's a 1,500-foot climb of a few miles up to 11,100-foot Sugarloaf Pass, with many false summits. Few run Powerline inbound, instead power-hiking it. I'll be honest; Powerline has mentally gotten to me the two times I've done Leadville. This is where the race's motto really hits home with me: "You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can." Climbing Powerline, you have to really believe in those words--and in yourself.

Once atop Sugarloaf Pass, you're at about 82 miles and a little more than 4 miles to Mayqueen. For the most part, it's all downhill from here! The road here is rocky and, this late in the race, pretty technical. Eventually, you'll dump out on the rolling Hagerman Pass Road. Once on Hagerman, go a mile or so and then start looking for a left turn into the Colorado Trail. The trail will bring you down to Mayqueen. Again, you do not want to miss this turn. It was well-marked at the 2011 race.

Ah, the neverending Colorado Trail section connecting Hagerman Pass to Mayqueen. I love this section of trail on the outbound, but totally hate it on the inbound. This late at night, and in my exhausted state, the trail seems super technical, slowing me down a lot. What feels like a 10-mile trek is really more like 3 miles on the trail. By now your world is so small that everything, such as that little rock in front of you, might seem overwhelming. Relentless forward progress....

Once you leave the Colorado trail via a bridge and are on a road, you're only a few steps from the Mayqueen aid station. Depending on how fast you've gone, it could be dusk, the middle of the night, or dawn. Whatever the case, it's probably cold. You want to layer up at Mayqueen, even if you're comfortable going in. It's cold enough along Turquoise Lake that you can go hypothermic, which will end your race. Bundle up from here to the finish.

A word on puking: I'd never puked in a race until the Leadville 100 in 2010. I came into Mayqueen in bad shape and started puking after eating some burned soup. Then I started shaking uncontrollably. After an hour or so in a cot, bundled up in a sleeping bag with the medical volunteers attending to me, I finally got some food down. I was sure this was the end of the road for me, but somehow I came back from the dead and left Mayqueen determined to finish. I say all of that because it seems like Leadville has a way of making almost everyone puke. It's probably the altitude. Yeah, I puked at the 2011 race, too--but it was one of those pukes where I ralphed while running and never stopped, amusing my pacer, Lance. Here's a great clip of Andy Jones-Wilkins puking at the 2009 race after leaving the Fish Hatchery:

Training tip for this section: All those hills and mountain runs/hikes will pay off on the Powerline climb. As part of your training, be sure to work on your uphill hiking. Hiking is a hugely overlooked, neglected facet of training for a 100-mile mountain race.

Mayqueen (86.5) - Finish
Leaving Mayqueen, quickly take stock of where you are in this epic race. You have 13.5 miles until the finish, much of it flat but technical. It's probably going to be cold (and keep getting colder), so hopefully you've bundled up. Your pacer should be carrying everything you need. Did you get enough caffeine back at Mayqueen? You're going to need the extra jolt.

At this point, 13.5 miles might seem like an eternity to you. Hundreds have a way of totally messing with your mind late in the game. Rather than look at it as 13.5 miles, or a little over half-marathon distance, just put one foot in front of the other. If you can run, go for it. If you can't run, try to jog. If you can't jog, hike. What you have to do between here and the finish isn't rocket science--just put one foot in front of the other.

At about mile 93 you'll come to the Tabor Boat Ramp. It's probably a good thing that your crew is here waiting for you. Are you properly dressed? Do you need more caffeine? Take care of any issues at Tabor Boat Ramp since this is the last stop before the finish, but don't take a long time. If you stop here, it should be for no more than a minute. If you're racing against the clock, maybe don't stop at all.

(Note on Tabor Boat Ramp: It can be challenging to find in the wee hours of the night. My advice is to mark it with your crew vehicle's GPS unit during a daytime visit. For that matter, mark ALL of the aid stations with your GPS unit the day before the race. If you don't have a GPS unit and it's not doable budget-wise [you can get a decent one for under $150], see if you can borrow one from a friend.)

The last 7 miles is a game of persistence and watching for course markers. The markers can sometimes be a little sparse toward the end, so keep your eyes open. The lake may seem like it goes on forever, but it'll end soon enough and you'll find yourself walking up a fairly hefty hill and making a few turns here and there as you make your way to the Boulevard. The Boulevard leads you into town, where you'll finish this sucker. There's a street light at the end of the Boulevard that's hard not to notice--that's where you turn before making a right onto 6th Street. The good news about the Boulevard is that it's very runnable. Run here if you can. If you can't, power hike it.
LT100, 2011. Coming in with a 22:35.

Once you make the left turn after the Boulevard, you are home free. The finish line is literally just around the corner and up 6th Street. When you make that turn onto 6th Street, you will see the finish. Go for it! Run your heart out. Those cheers are for you, and this is your moment. You're mere minutes from finishing the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run!

When you cross the line via the red carpet, Merilee, who directed the race for years with founder Ken Chlouber, will be there to give you a hug and your medal. If you need assistance, the medical tent is right there at the finish. It's heated and it also has lots of food and fluids.

This is a special moment--one you'll never forget. Take it all in, because days like this don't happen often.

  • The Leadville Trail 100 is a hard race. It's not the total gain/loss (32,000 feet) that makes it hard. It's not the course itself that's super hard, either, though certainly the course is challenging in sections (e.g., Hope Pass and Powerline inbound). What makes the LT100 hard, beyond the distance involved and varying conditions, is the altitude. You're running 100 miles between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet. That's tough.
  • The inbound is much harder than the outbound. While it's possible to negative-split the LT100, few runners have actually done that. The fact of the matter is that the inbound/return trip is a hell of a lot harder than the outbound, in part because your legs are fatigued by then but mostly because the climbs involved are challenging (Hope Pass inbound and Powerline inbound being chief among them). What this means is that you need to run with patience on the outbound so you have gas in the tank for the return trip. There is very little margin for error.
  • Hope Pass is where dreams can die. I can run 80 of the 100 miles at the LT100 at sub-20 and maybe sub-19-hour pace. Where I've missed my sub-20 goal is on Hope Pass. Until I figure out how to cover the Hope Pass double-crossing in 5:30 or at least sub-6 hours, sub-20 at Leadville is never going to happen.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Your Guide to Finishing the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run (Part I: Miles 1-50)

Note to reader: I wish I had more information to go on before my first Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run in 2010. Here I've provided a two-part aid station-by-aid station overview, intended to help you prepare for this epic race. If you're an LT100 veteran, please let me know if I've missed anything or if there are any inaccuracies in my overview. If you're an aspiring first-timer and have a question, fire away in the comments section and I or someone else will respond. Whatever the case, I would never pretend to be an expert, and so please consult other sources, too, such as "Dana's Strategy" on A final note: I've estimated mileage and elevation in a few areas. Enjoy!

The Challenge: A 100 mile-run in the Rocky Mountains, all between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet. Double-crossing of 12,600-foot Hope Pass. 35,000 feet of combined elevation change.

Start - Mayqueen (13.5)
The race starts at 4:00 AM at the corner of 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville. Parking downtown for the entire race is very limited, so get someone to drop you off. At the start, you stand at about 10,200 feet--a little less than two miles above sea level--in a town with an extraordinary, "Wild West" history. The atmosphere is festive and you can feel the electricity in the air. The temperature usually drops to the 20s or 30s overnight and the air is dry. Everyone is stoked...and most are nervous. But you wouldn't know it after the gun goes off (yes, a real gun fired by LT100 founder Ken Chlouber, who you'll hear from at the pre-race meeting on Friday), as everyone is upbeat for good reason: This is one of the 2 or 3 most legendary 100-mile races in the world, and now you're a part of the tradition and Leadville family. One day you'll tell your grandkids about this race. Savor every moment.

(Note to reader: That's me in the green shirt taking off at the start of the 2011 race!)
Even with 13.5 miles to the Mayqueen aid station, you won't need many fluids with you and maybe just a few calories unless you're one of those runners who likes to load up early. The first five miles are pretty easy as you make your way out of town and down to Turquoise Lake via some dirt roads and the infamous "Boulevard" (the Boulevard outbound may not seem like much, but on the inbound it seems to go on forever). Be sure to power-hike the rocky "mini Powerline" climb, which you'll know when you see it--it's very steep and rocky but pretty short. Don't make the mistake of going out too fast--an easy trap to fall into during the first five miles. I went out fast in the 2011 race, running with the leaders for the first 12 miles, and paid for it in the final 20 miles. Go out at a relaxed pace, understanding that, once you enter the single track trail along Turquoise Lake, it's hard to adjust your positioning as there are 600+ runners with you on the crowded lakeside trail. Be patient here. There is plenty of time to make your move.

The trail along Turquoise Lake is fairly technical but has no big climbs. You'll pass a number of campers as you make your way along the lake. The trick is staying upright, as it's still pitch-black dark and there are lots of roots and rocks to navigate as you make your way toward Mayqueen. It's probably a good idea to wear trail shoes along this section. Also, be on the lookout for trail markers. I sometimes find that staying on the course along the lake can be difficult, but it's hard to stray far so don't worry too much. You'll have runners around you for most, if not all, of this section.

At about mile 7.5 you'll come upon the Tabor Boat Ramp, which offers crew access. I've never taken aid at Tabor outbound, but it's a great place to meet up with your crew on the inbound at ~mile 93. If your crew isn't there on the outbound, don't sweat it; I'm pretty sure most runners bag Tabor this early in the race. Just keep going and remember not to go too fast and stay upright!

At about mile 13, you'll dump out onto the paved road leading into the Mayqueen camp area and will be greeted by a good amount of spectators and crew members. Mayqueen is a full-service aid station housed in a big tent. Take advantage of it. By now, the sun is coming up, and so you can probably ditch your headlamp for a while. Be sure you refuel at Mayqueen. Mayqueen is at about 10,100 feet. Bottom line: The 13.5 miles between the start and Mayqueen is pretty flat and fast but technical in spots.

Training tip for this section: Work on your technical running by running on trails with lots of roots and rocks. Better yet, do this at night!
Mayqueen (13.5) - Fish Outward Bound (24)
Mayqueen to Outward Bound is where the terrain starts to get more challenging. From Mayqueen, you'll be on a paved road for just a short bit before entering a trail, crossing a few bridges and starting a technical climb of a few miles up to Hagerman Pass Road, which will eventually lead you up and over Sugarloaf Pass. Welcome to the Colorado Trail! You'll cross two bridges and run on some pretty rocky trail. At this point in the race, don't try to be a hero. I usually run this section, but it's probably a good idea to shift down into a power-hike. If there's one lesson to Leadville, it's that success in this high-altitude race is about being patient. Many of those who go out guns blazing are going to suffer badly later on as the effects of the altitude set in.

LT100, 2011. Near Sugarloaf Pass outbound.
Once you dump out onto Hagerman Pass Road, you can either power-hike or run. The grade is fairly gentle, but it's pretty much all uphill for the next few miles. I mostly run this section, with a few hiking breaks mixed in just to conserve energy. The road winds all over and offers some *spectacular* views, especially of Turquoise Lake at dawn. Hagerman is fairly smooth and, after a mile or so, connects to a technical jeep road that takes you up and over Sugarloaf Pass, situated at ~mile 20, 11,100 feet and roughly four miles before the next aid station (Outward Bound). Welcome to one of the more notorious sections of the course--Powerline! It's called Powerline for a reason--there are powerlines all around you!

Powerline outbound is a fairly steep, uneven descent of about 1,500 feet that is laced with eroded ditches. It offers a few short, flat stretches. Unless you are elite and/or have insane downhill skills, do not hammer it down Powerline. You will destroy your quads. Descend Powerline at a relaxed pace and don't worry if you get passed by a bunch of runners. Run your own race and remember to be patient. Take a few mental notes because you'll be climbing this sucker later in the race.

Powerline eventually levels off for a short bit before you dump out onto a paved road at about 9,600 feet. There will probably be volunteers here. Turn RIGHT onto the paved road (can't remember the name) and follow the gently rolling road for a mile or so, passing the Leadville National Fish Hatchery (formerly an aid station) and eventually coming to the Outward Bound aid station, where you'll be greeted by throngs of spectators and crew members. Located at mile 24 (and 9,600 feet), Outward Bound is a full-service aid station situated on a grassy field. Take advantage of it. You might also need to shed a layer or two. The next few miles will be on exposed cross-country trail, paved road and jeep road, all of which can get a tad warm depending on when you're coming through. Wear sunglasses as the sun is very strong at this elevation.

Training tip for this section: Practice your downhill running. If you can, get familiar with Powerline firsthand.

Outward Bound (24) - Half Pipe (29)
View of Mt. Elbert from Outward Bound.
Lots of people hate this section. But, as a road runner at heart, I love the next ~10 miles, which are road shoe-friendly. This is where I can gain on those in front of me without expending too much energy. If you have a crew, just take maybe one bottle and a gel or two with you, as you'll be connecting up with your compatriots in a few short miles at the Pipeline area (not to be confused with Half Pipe).

From the Outward Bound aid area, you'll run though a grassy field that is owned by Outward Bound. In 2014, the field was laced with holes, so watch your step, especially when taking a drink and your eyes are off the field! The good news is that it's flat as a pancake so it's a nice opportunity to chill. Enjoy the long, flat stretches and the incredible views all around you--including Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the two highest peaks in Colorado (Elbert being the highest).

You're on the field for about an hour and then dump out on a road, which you'll be on for a very short while, before hanging a right onto a jeep road that will take you up to the Pipeline area. This jeep road is pretty much flat, with maybe a slight uphill grade. It's pretty smooth, too.

Coming into Pipeline with my son, 2014.
At about mile 27, you'll hang a left from the jeep road and enter the Pipeline area via a dirt/gravel road. To your left is a big parking lot (of sorts) where your crew will be awaiting you. Situated at about 9,600 feet, Pipeline is a crew-access point, but not an aid station. You have only 2 more miles until Half Pipe, a full-service aid station. Do what you need to do at Pipeline--get a new bottle, change into a new pair of shoes, etc.--and then get going! The next place you'll see your crew is Twin Lakes.

The section from Pipeline to Half Pipe is on relatively flat and fast jeep road. Run as much as you can, but don't press too hard. Take some hiking breaks. Half Pipe is at 9,800 feet and is closed to crews, so it's just you and the aid station workers. This is a good place to have a drop bag with extra shoes, socks and other items, and to shed a layer or two, just as a precaution. It's also a good place to completely refuel on stuff like soup, bananas, pop, sports drink, etc. You have 10 miles to go until the next aid station except for a water stop at the Mount Elbert trailhead.

Training tip for this section: This section doesn't really require special training. Just make sure some of your training is on the road.

Half Pipe (30) - Twin Lakes (39.5)
Coming into Twin Lakes, 2014. Credit: Lifetime Fitness.
Half Pipe to Twin Lakes is probably my favorite section for a few reasons. First off, it's just awesome trail running. You're mostly on sweet single track in the woods, with a few decent climbs here and there but nothing freakishly hard. You gain about 800 feet, topping out at 10,600 feet, before dropping 1,400 feet into Twin Lakes. I can crush it here. The descent is gentle enough not to kill your quads. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself....

So at about 36.5 miles, or approximately 7 miles after Half Pipe, you'll cross a little bridge and come upon a water stop at the Mount Elbert trailhead (yes, you are at the base of Colorado's highest peak). This water stop was introduced at the 2011 race and it truly just has water. It might be a good idea to top off your fluid. You have about 2.5 miles until Twin Lakes, when the race *really* begins (yeah, everything up until Twin Lakes is just an easy warm-up).

From the Mount Elbert water stop to Twin Lakes you are on a long, tree-lined descent with a few rocky sections. Again, I love to amp up the pace here. You're dropping 1,400 feet to the lowest point of the race--9,200 feet. Don't be afraid to stretch it out on the descent and definitely make a point to enjoy the beautiful, majestic view of the lakes. Once you're on a rocky jeep road you're getting close to the aid station. Watch your step; you could easily turn an ankle here. Finally, you'll come upon a well-marked turn into a spur that quickly and steeply drops into the aid station at Twin Lakes. In my opinion, this is the best aid station of all. The place is lined with spectators and crew and the energy is through the roof.

Twin Lakes is a full-service aid station housed in a shelter. This is a critical aid station. You are about to embark on a 3,400-foot climb (that's vertical feet) up Hope Pass. Be sure you have on breathable trail shoes (or road shoes if you prefer) that are NOT waterproof. Also, if it's past noon, it's probably a good idea to carry an emergency poncho as the weather in the Rocky Mountains during the afternoon hours can turn dangerously nasty in a matter of minutes. Totally refuel at Twin Lakes and take some calories with you. If you're good with trekking poles, you could take them with you (I'm not a huge fan of trekking poles). Take what you need, but try to go as light as possible. The more stuff you carry, the more weight you have to lug up the mountain. Keep it simple; that's the mountain way. Get ready for fun!

Training tip for this section: Practice your downhill trail running on the longest drop you can find.

Twin Lakes (39.5) - Winfield (50.0)
At Hopeless outbound, 2013 race.
The next 60 miles are the essence of the Leadville Trail 100. But let's not yet concern ourselves with those 60 miles. Leaving Twin Lakes, you're going to cross a swampy meadow (it'll be wet in many areas) with several water crossings. Don't even concern yourself with keeping your feet dry; it ain't gonna happen. Just go with it. This is why you don't want to have waterproof shoes here. The water will enter your shoes but not be able to get out, and so you'll have water-logged feet going up the mountain--a recipe for disaster. The last crossing is a river that will have a rope line running across it to help you safely navigate to the other side. There may be some volunteers and a photographer here. Again, don't stress about the river. Instead, look at the river as a way to bring some relief to your feet--and be sure to smile for the photo! Be ready for ice-cold water. This is from snow melt. My feet are often numb after the crossing, but invariably the cold helps them feel better.

After the river, you begin the epic 3,400-vertical-foot climb up Mount Hope, taking the trail that will lead you over the famous pass. Again, you're going from 9,200 feet (at Twin Lakes) up to 12,600 feet, which is above treeline. Unless you're elite or a mountain goat, I'd suggest power-hiking the climb. Bottom line: 3,400 feet is significant vertical and if you expend too much energy here your race may be over. Be smart on the Hope Pass climbs.

Me? I run some of the climb but for the most part I'm in power-hiking mode. The frontside isn't that steep though there are a few steep switchbacks, and occasionally I take a few breathers. When you're on a big climb, it's important to stay positive--I can fail at this. Believe in yourself. Take inventory of what's around you--spectacular nature and awesome views. You'll be able to hear and see a creek. But above all, just put one foot in front of the other.

At about 12,000 feet you enter a zone you may have never before visited. You're now above treeline. The first time I was above treeline (June 2010 when I summitted Pikes Peak) it felt like Mars. Being above treeline is a surreal and amazingly awesome experience. Up here it's you, big sky, awe-inspiring views...and thin air! Oh, a bunch of rocks! Yeah, you're going to be huffing and puffing and going slow above treeline. No worries. Just put one foot in front of the other and try to appreciate what's around you.

LT100, 2011. The llamas at Hopeless.
Speaking of surreal, not long after you're above treeline on Mount Hope you'll see something that may make you think you're hallucinating. Yes, indeed, those are llamas! The dedicated folks who man the Hopeless aid station use llamas to carry their supplies up the mountain so that they can help YOU finish this race. So be sure to shower your friends at Hopeless with thanks. Hell, even hug a few of them if you want. In that one moment in time, they're your best friends and this is your whole world. Get what you need--maybe some soup, perhaps some more water or pop--but don't take too much, as supplies up here are limited. Above all, use no more than one cup at Hopeless and waste nothing.

OK, now that you've left Hopeless, you still have some climbing to do--about 800 feet to the top of the pass. You can see the pass but there are some switchbacks to navigate, and it's not going to be easy. Again, stay positive and put one foot in front of the other. You're going to be OK and soon you'll be descending. Be sure to watch for runners who are descending as you're ascending. At this point, you'll probably see some of the leaders coming down on the inbound trip.

Finally, you've made it to the top of Hope Pass. You're 12,600 feet above sea level. Take in the view. To your right is the summit of Mount Hope, a 13'er (damn close to a 14'er), and in front of you is La Plata Peak, a 14'er. This is Colorado in all her beauty. But don't take too much time here, especially if you're up against the cut-off. Get going down the mountain!

I've yet to really figure out the descent into Winfield, as I'm not a very good descender. The trail is smooth in places and rocky in others. You go over a boulder field. It's gradual in areas and very steep elsewhere. The greatest challenge, though, is the amount of traffic in this section. Inbound runners have their pacer with them, and in areas the trail is narrow. Be careful here and yield to the inbounders. Cheer on those who are struggling.

Descending Hope Pass, 2011.
Toward the bottom of the Hope Pass trail, you'll come to a well-marked junction. If you go left, you're off course as this is the old way into Winfield. In 2012, this section changed (for the better), taking you right and onto the up and down Continental Divide Trail, which more or less runs parallel to Winfield Road. By this time, the mercury is likely in the mid 70s and it's a bit warm. It's easy to get dehydrated coming into Winfield.

The Continental Divide Trail has some up and down (probably 500 feet of vertical), with a nice little climb right before you drop into Winfield. You're on the CDT for about two miles, and then you drop into Winfield via a short trail of about 1/4 mile or so. Be sure not to miss that left-hand turn that dumps you out onto Winfield Road. It should be well-marked but Rob Krar missed it during the 2014 race due to sabotage.

You're on Winfield Road for only 1/3 mile or so, approaching the old ghost town. You hang a left and then another left and you're in the aid station. No worries--there's lots of activity here so you won't get lost. This section of the race can be tough for many runners who find themselves discouraged by the thought of having to climb Hope Pass again. Winfield is at about 10,200 feet. So by the time you enter the aid station, you've just climbed 3,400 feet and descended about 2,600 feet all in the last 10.5 miles.

At Winfield getting my mangled feet attended to, 2011.
A bustling aid station, Winfield is where you can pick up a pacer for the first time in the race. It is critical to refuel at Winfield. If you're to take a little extra time at any aid station, this is the place to do it--provided you're well ahead of the cut-off. Change into a new pair of shoes and/or socks if you need. If you see dark clouds forming, carry an emergency poncho back over the mountain. Even if you don't see clouds, it might not be a bad idea to carry that poncho. Do what you need to do to get out of there in good spirits and prepared for what's ahead.

Training tip for this section: Practice in the mountains by running up and back down the biggest peaks you can find. If you don't have mountains nearby, practice on stairs in an office or high-rise apartment building.

Continue to Part II

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Elephant vs. the Rider and How to Change

I recently read a book about change that told the story of the elephant versus the rider. The elephant is our emotional side and has great influence over how we think and act. The rider is our rational, reasonable side. Our elephant and rider both need each other, but too often they're mired in conflict. Imagine for a second your rider trying to use reason to control your powerful elephant, who has its own emotional agenda. Probably 9 times out of 10 the elephant is going to win this battle--because often our emotions are the ultimate driver. But what if your rider were able to somehow convince your elephant to do as he/she commands in a way that both work harmoniously together? How would the rider do this? Well, he/she would need to appeal to the elephant's emotion in a way that convinces the elephant to do what's asked. In other words, there would need to be alignment between the rider's reason and the elephant's emotion. This is hard to achieve, but it's ultimately how positive change happens.

Change happens when you're emotionally and intellectually engaged.

Each of us knows, thanks to our internal rider, that we should eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. But too few of us actually live a healthy life because our elephant is constantly in control of our rider. The price we pay for giving into our elephant (emotions) is not only a constantly guilty conscience as we stand in the all-you-can-eat buffet line, but also excess weight, poor self-esteem and, eventually, chronic health problems. There is a great conflict here--the rider says "No!" to that third, fourth or fifth slice of pizza, and yet the elephant is begging for it. Too often we fall victim to the whims of the elephant, even as we know we're doing the wrong thing, and then are mired in guilt as our internal rider scolds us and makes us feel like a failure. It's a seemingly neverending cycle that just flat-out makes us feel like a failure.

Often, it's the dawn of a new year that temporarily motivates our rider, a la the "New Year's Resolution," to tell us to get off our butt, get to the gym and eat salad instead of that fat-slathered Philly cheesesteak hogie we've come to love. And for a while we actually walk the walk and see results. Those jeans fit better, we have more energy and, by golly, a lunchtime salad is indeed good stuff! But over time our elephant grows lazy and we lose emotional engagement in doing what we know is right. The cycle of guilt then restarts and there we are once again falling on the sofa instead of going for a run, and standing in line for that Philly cheesesteak--salad be damned.

Ah, the $60,000 question: How to keep our internal elephant and rider in constant harmony so that we can stay on the right course? That's a question only you can answer by first figuring out what motivates YOU. We're all motivated by different things:

Some people go to the gym and eat salads because they are motivated by the fear of poor health. They might have seen a loved one succumb to a heart attack, stroke or cancer--or struggle with joint problems because of excess weight--and are motivated to NOT let that happen to them by living a healthy life. Fear is a huge motivator.

Others might be motivated by shame/peer pressure. Everyone in their family or circle of friends is skinny and here they are struggling with their over-powering elephant who won't quit nagging them to eat that half-gallon of Ben & Jerry's. Or they may feel shame when they try to fit into their favorite pair of jeans but can't. So they exercise and try to eat right because they want to fit in and avoid shame.

Some are motivated by incentive. We've all met the dude who does 1,000 crunches a day and benches 300 pounds because he wants to be appealing. Making himself look better than the "competition" motivates him to work out and eat his Wheaties. It's as simple as that. Incentive can be virtuous, too. You run every day because you want to finish that marathon and feel the pride of completing 26.2 miles.

Then there are those who are naturally passionate about physical activity and, maybe by sheer luck of the draw, find greater pleasure in a good salad than an artery-clogging plate of fettuccine alfredo. These folks are motivated to work out and eat right just because it's in their nature--it's what makes them tick.

There are other motivators; those are just a few of the more common ones.

Me? I don't really "exercise." I run and race because I love it and I'm hardwired to do it (passion). I do make a conscious effort to eat the right foods, in part because eating right helps me perform and feel better (incentive). I'm also motivated by fear--fear of not having the stamina to finish a race and run somewhat competitively. And so I train hard because I'm scared of the feelings of failure and inadequacy.

I know there are many folks who read my blog who are struggling with their weight and trying to get their rider and elephant to work together. I know this because I get a lot of e-mails from folks asking for advice--e-mails that I feel honored to receive. If you're struggling with your weight and find that that your elephant is dominating your rider--to your own detriment--consider taking a good, hard look at yourself and figure out what motivates YOU. Is it shame? Maybe fear? Incentive? Something else? Figure out what motivates you and then come up with a plan to hold yourself accountable day in and day out. Maybe you can hold yourself accountable by announcing every morning on Facebook that you're going to the gym and then, later in the day, report back on how your workout went. Or you could find a workout and diet partner and hold each other accountable. Journaling also helps people hold themselves accountable.

So, here's your plan:
  1. Figure out what motivates you. We're all different. Whereas passion and incentive may motivate me, fear may be your biggest motivator. And that's OK. Allow the fear to motivate you every day and eventually you may find new motivators, like incentive.
  2. Hold yourself accountable. Accountability will keep you on track. Very little in life is achieved without accountability.
  3. Make the change now. Once you figure out what motivates you and how you can hold yourself accountable, get started and don't delay!
Just remember that true change comes when your rider and elephant act as one and see the benefits of teamwork.