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Josue Stephens is a promoter for running and survival races the way Don King used to promote boxing, but Josue gives back to the communities in a way that inspires me.  Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua with two huge volcanos that are so tall they create their own weather pattern.  Volcano Maderas and Volcano Conception were two of the biggest toughest climbs I have ever raced.  Throw in a long, dry, hot, shade less dirt road in between and the 11:06 I spent at the Fuego Y Aqua 100K challenged me in a way few races ever have.

Coming from a solid base building week in Costa Rica where I successfully defending my title at The Costal Challenge Rain Forest Run I was a little tired but confident I would give Nick Clark a good race and sure we would both dip under Javier Montero’s course record.  I was adapted to the heat and only had to run one hard day in Costa Rica on the first day to secure my win there.

Pre race favorites

Pre race favorites

Josue had done an amazing job of securing an elite field of runners including my former INOV8 teammate Yassine Diboun of Animal Athletics, Costa Rican legend Kurt Lindermuller of Altra , Irunfar.com’s Sean Messiner of Montrail, and Scott’s Ian Sharman of Talk Ultra.  Salomon’s Jorge M. and Anna Frost were supposed to race but did not make the trip.  Throw in my Team Aravaipa Arizona based training partners Nick and Jamil Coury and I knew this would be a fast race and a fun week.

The trip to Ometepe was long and tiring for me.  Jamil and Nick flew into Costa Rica and joined The North Face’s Felipe Guardia, Talk Ultra’s Ian Corless, and some great Tico friends to celebrate my successful defense of my title at the Coastal Challenge Rain Forest Run.   Because of limitations with United Airlines’ sponsorship of Fuego Y Agua I had to return to the states in order not to forfeit my return flight.

Tona Girls & FYA Racers

Tona Girls & FYA Racers

Sean, Ian, Jamil , and Nick Coury  arrived early on the island after a day with the Tona girls.  I always miss the fun ;)  They had hiked part of the course and looked tired when Nick Clark, Yassine, Trail Runner Magazine’s Alex Kurt, and I arrived.  Ian pulled from the race with a knee issue but was very supportive in organizing the first ever Ometepe Beer Mile where Luna Sandal’s Patrick Sweeny of Stone Brewery beat Trail Runner Magazine’s Alex Kurt in a close race.  Alex and I had begun our carbo load with a Tona at lunch after a short run not aware that there was to be a beer mile.  Nick Clark and I chose not to participate but rather helped clean up the empties and cheer on the runners.  I could tell Nick meant business on Ometepe so I decided to blow off some stress and continue my carbo load Thursday night while supporting Tona.

Tona, the official beer sponsor of Fuego Y Agua

Tona, the official beer sponsor of Fuego Y Agua

The day before the race was pretty low key.  I woke early and ran off my headache.  While Yassine was saving drowning survival runners, I spent the rest of the morning eating mangos in a hammock at the hotel as they fell from the huge tree which provided some wonderfully refreshing shade.  Packet pickup was well organized, and later we were all jammed into an old school bus and shuttled down to the shore resort for a prerace dinner.  Pasta and Tona Beer to a gorgeous sunset was a nice relaxing way to spend the evening.  Nick and I joked that when we were offered “accommodation” we kind of assumed that it would be at a place similar to the resort and not the hostel like setting that was race headquarters.

100K runners felt left out without a chicken

100K runners felt left out without a chicken to hug

After a short night we awoke at 3am for the 4am start.  Fresh delicious coffee and a super ripe banana was all I could stomach for breakfast, but I had eaten enough leading up to the race start that I knew my glycogen stores would hold me for a couple hours and I began my gel diet.  The logistics of using GENr8 Vitargo without a crew was tricky so I relied on the aid stations.  The 4am start was quite comical as no one seemed to care about the 100K and 50K Ultras about to begin.  The survival runners were starting their race with us and had to run 8K with a live chicken.  A fast survival runner and his chicken took the lead early and after Nick, Yassine, and I stopped laughing we quickly overtook him.

The glow sticks and reflective tape that were to be used to mark the dark portion of the course had either been stolen or not made it to the island so navigation was a disaster early on.  At dawn Nick and I realized that we were off course and must have lost at least fifteen minutes trying to get back on track.  For such an organized and professional event,  I was very disappointed in the early course markings.  Race day logistics improved but only a little for me.  After our early detour I pressed on catching the lead pack of Sean, Yassine, and the Courys at the base of Volcano Maderas.  I had a very strong climb and was surprised how cold it was in the cloud forest near the summit.  Nick Coury and I piggybacked a little near the top and I had run enough downhill with him to know that I would not be trying to keep up with him on the descent off the first volcano without Hokas.  I raced in a modified La Sportiva Vertical K I had taken a knife to in Costa Rica.

Pura Vida = Pure Life, a Tico greeting.  A Tico is a Costa RIcan

Nick Coury was first to the 50K in what would have been a new course record.  I was a few minutes back running much easier knowing that the heat of the day would take its toll on us all soon enough.  Yassine and Nick Clark were a few minutes back close to the 50K turn.  I caught and passed Nick Coury on a stretch of dirt road at the base of Volcano Maderas.  Nick had stopped to buy a cold drink in a road side store.  Power Aid had not been able to get its product to the aid stations so our options were warm water and even warmer red Tang.  I was sick of the Tang but knew I needed the calories and sugar to keep moving so I drank it.  I pretended it was GENr8 Vitargo to get it down into my stomach, but it did not digest the way my sponsor’s nutrition does L  I didn’t bring money with me because I didn’t want to be tempted to stop in a store for a cold beverage.  I had raced enough in Costa Rica to know that the period of discomfort would pass, but 100K was a lot further than the 50K-80K stages I had raced before at The Costal Challenge on any single day.

A police officer on a moped stopped me to ask for money, where I was going, and what I was doing.  I pretended to not understand him and just pointed to my bib.  He didn’t shoot me so I pressed on.   I was turned around by survival run race officials who did not know the ultra course.  The volunteer would later apologize to me and admit he was caught up in the other race, ironic.  I had lost my lead and was even more upset when Yassine and the Nicks caught me.  The most gorgeous section of the run at sunrise in the morning down the beach was hot and slow on the way back.  Nick Coury was falling off the back paying for his downhill, but Yassine and Nick Clark were surging for the lead on the sand.  I was pissed off and knew there was a long way to go so I sat back in third figuring one of them would break or get stopped by local law enforcement.  The few times I had comfortably surged to take the lead had ended up going wrong and I knew I would not be surging anymore in the heat of the day at 10am nearly 70K into the race.

Ojo de Agua, a cool soak on a hot day

Ojo de Agua, a cool soak on a hot day

Nick Clark, Yassine, and I took a break to soak in the cold water at Ojo de Aqua.  I would have been happy to call it a day in the cold water and was not excited that we had to run more.  It was 10:30am and very hot.  The sun was overhead and we had a long stretch of cobble stone road sans shade to the next volcano.  I kept Yassine and Nick in view until Yassine slowed to a walk and Clarkey started to pull ahead.  I ran past Yassine knowing that to walk in the direct sun was suicide.  I walked some of the few and far between shaded uphill sections of dirt road to the last aid station before the climb up Volcano Conception.  I was miserable and so hot I took watermelon grinds after I ate the fruit to cool myself by rubbing them on my neck and head.  Gross, I know but the effect was amazing as I worked my way up into the shade and began the miserable long climb up Volcano Conception.

2nd to Nick Clark, upset, but free cold Tona would improve my mood :)

2nd to Nick Clark, upset, but free cold Tona would improve my mood :)

I didn’t have a watch on, I don’t race with one anymore since my third marathon in 2002 when I tried and failed to qualify for Boston missing it by seconds.  I knew I was losing time and the five minuets I was back of Nick at the last aid station would increase because I could not bring myself to stomach any more Tang or warm Power Gels.  I started to feel light headed on the climb and dreamed of cold mangos.  It was cold at the summit camp where the aid station workers gave me water and an orange.  The wind was blowing and I knew I would not be catching Nick.  I started down the steep descent overlooking the finish in town miles below and the Lake.  It was still hot toward the bottom and I began to come to grips with a second place finish as I jogged in under the old course record.

I learned a lot on Ometepe that February day.  Course markings in third world settings sometimes get stolen or left on the main land.  Race officials will sometimes turn you around.  Police will ask you for money.  Tang will be interchangeable for Powerade.  The most important lesson I learned however is that on any given day anyone can win.  Nick Clark is an amazing athlete.  He is patient and wise.  He beat me fair and square and I have tremendous respect for the man.  I look forward to racing him again in the future.  Second is the first loser so I did win something.

FYA kids race

FYA kids race

I met some amazing people including Amy Perez and her brothers.  Amy had given me a beer in Steamboat after the all night frozen suffer-athon that was Run Rabbit Run.   The Perez family took Nick and I back to the springs at Ojo de Agua after the race to soak our legs, drove us back to our lodging from the pre race dinner so we could skip the packed school bus transport, and spent the day after the race at the beach at Punta Jesus Maria with us celebrating Nick’s win.  The volunteers and staff at Fuego Y Agua were amazing and the locals were very friendly.  I even had a chance to tour the medical clinic with Dr. Adam of NDI.  I am very grateful to have had the chance to race Fuego Y Agua.

FYA 100K Podium Finishers, RDs, & our "cat" mask awards!

FYA 100K Podium Finishers, RDs, & our “cat” mask awards!

Josue did a wonderful  job with the award ceremony giving those on the podium masks.  Instead of prize money he invested in a kids race where the locals received medals, t-shirts, and sneakers.   Thanks to Tona for the beer;  United Airlines for the flights; and Josue for all his hard work and effort to try and make his race a world class event.  After the race the winds picked up and some runners had to reschedule their flights back.  Luckily I was traveling with the RD and when we left on the ferry  it was calm.  We spent our last afternoon at an amazing eco resort.  I got to run up some trails on the side of Volcano Maderas through coffee plantations the next morning before our departure.  The food and fresh fruit smoothies at the Cornerhouse café in town were incredible!  I look forward to returning to Ometepe someday to race again and also to volunteer for NDI at their clinic.

An Eco-Friendly Paradise on Ometepe

An Eco-Friendly Paradise on Ometepe

Team RWB Denver with a crew of Army Rangers took Old Glory over the Continential Divide

Monarch Pass

Can two months on the road traveling across the United States of America with Old Glory for Team Red, White, & Blue change a person?

Enriching Lives with a World Champion!

Enriching Lives with a World Champion!

The tremendous honor of leading a project where one single American Flag would be carried on foot from the Pacific Ocean to the White House was bestowed upon me by the founder and chairman of the board of this incredible Veterans’ service organization a couple weeks after my father was laid to rest with a full military service.

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above 100F in the shade in California!

 

The chance to honor my dad’s memory and the legacy of his parents who both served in World War Two and connecting with veterans across the United States of America was perhaps the greatest single honor I was ever given. I had no idea when I landed in California this Relay would also prove to be one of the most challenging periods of my life.

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Leaving the Rockies with A Purple Heart Marine

 

Every day was an adventure. The mission started with early mornings, hot days, and late nights. My body was called upon more than I ever imagined to simply carry Old Glory across California. I withdrew from UTMB with an injury and a week into this Old Glory Coast to Coast Relay I found myself in a tub of ice screaming with sciatic pain. I kept telling myself, it’s only a 5K! Repeat. My teammates were looking to me for motivation so I had to remain strong and just suck up the pain.

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Eagle Nation stepped up and folks came to help us move Old Glory across America’s loneliest Highway in Nevada. High desert sunrises dominated the second week as we moved into the majestic Utah landscapes. Wind, hail, rain, and sun exposure made for long days but our RePatriot American Flag continued her journey East. After two weeks of high mileage my body was tired but my mind was sharp and focused on the task at hand.

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Finish of a Day in Utah!

 

Folks from around the country came to help us move Old Glory into Colorado. We missed the fires in California by a day and were a day behind the snow storm that blanketed the San Juan Mountains. Teamwork brought us over the Colorado River and up Monarch Pass over the Continental Divide. The run off the Rockies onto the Great Plains was bittersweet and hail, lightening, and high winds continued to make our journey a challenge.

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Crossing the Colorado River with Old Glory on a Monday morning!

 

In the heartland of our amazing country people started to show up ready to run and my body was given some time to heal. Somewhere in Kansas after a storm it occurred to me we would finish this project, but the mental and physical effects of a month of incredible stress on my mind and body took their toll.

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Texans carrying Old Glory on the Great Plains of Kansas with a Floridian!

Logistics proved to be a challenge as we moved east. More runners meant more interaction with awesome folks looking to honor Old Glory and what she meant to them, but it also meant more time on the road each day.

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Sometimes I had to move Old Glory fast in the $16 Walmart Starters!

 

In Missouri I stopped taking care of my body along the Katy Trail, and after we crossed the Mississippi River I was physically sick. Pre-dawn alarms seemed to come earlier ever day, and as the day light shortened the stress of finishing high miles before dark increased. America is where they farm corn but the history along the roads was amazing and the local people so friendly as we crossed into Illinois and Kentucky.

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Crossing the Mississippi River into the home of Popeye with Team RWB Fort Lenoard Wood, Missouri!

 

The Land of Lincoln was coined the “home of the penny” in one of my Facebook videos and I was now on a diet of coffee and Day Quill followed by NyQuil and whatever local brewery I could find before bed each night. Kentucky was beautiful as the autumn colors changed before our eyes on the trees. Unbridled spirit came to mind as the horses along the road would try to Run with Old Glory.

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My niece, our youngest Flag Bearer!

 

Our couple days in Indiana were special to me as my Uncle, a Navy Veteran, came out to join us to retire the colors one afternoon. As we moved up the Ohio River into the Buckeye State the leaves had fallen and children and factory workers no longer lined our route. Snow was falling as Old Glory headed north towards West Virginia. The Great Allegheny Passage was a welcome change to asphalt and vehicular traffic and when we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland the historic C & O canal picked up as we pushed east towards Washington DC.

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Guess what I dressed up as on Halloween?!

 

Many times along this journey I thought of the men and woman who have served to keep us free, but I also thought of the settlers that centuries ago traveled the country west on a very similar route to Old Glory’s path. When we reached our finish I was overcome with pride and joy, but above all an incredible sense of duty and honor had been fulfilled inside of me. When I watched Team RWB’s Executive Director, who I shared a week with in Kansas, carry Old Glory into the White House on Veterans Day it hit me like a ton of bricks. Mission Accomplished! When I woke from my marathon nap I had this sense that I had just dreamed of this beautiful piece of cloth woven with red, white, and blue that I had just lead across the entire United States of America from sea to shinning sea.

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Old Glory in the White House with the VP on Veterans Day!

 

Listening to Mr. Woodward introduce Team RWB before the Boss came on stage at the Concert for Valor brought the last decade of my life full circle. I remember meeting Bob back in NY after his injuries and having grown up listening to the music of Springsteen. I felt I was part of something much larger than I had ever imagined 13 months earlier when on the Bear Mountain Bridge headed back to West Point at sunrise after a run in the dark I was asked to lead the Old Glory Coast to Coast Relay.

Madison, Indiana

Uncle Larry, a US Navy Veteran with Old Glory

So, yes, two months on the road traveling with Old Glory across the United States of America for Team Red, White and Blue did change my life in a positive way. The great Americans I met who helped this epic journey have inspired me to continue to follow my dreams. Looking back now, I especially enjoyed the early mornings where I had the honor to describe what Old Glory means to me. I am gracious to the men and women like my grandparents, father, uncle, and cousin whose service allowed me to freely wear “USA” on my vest when I represent this great country in athletic competition abroad. I am tired sure, but I am blessed by the work of veterans of the United States Armed Forces! America!

 

with Team RWB Founder and Chairman of the Board

Post Old Glory Cost to Coast Relay Celebration in DC

Team RWB

Team RWB

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Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Fortress is the largest and best preserved citadel in all of Europe. The Castle towers over Austria’s lush green, farm filled landscape and old cobblestone streets where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756. If these city walls could talk they would tell tales as far back as 1077 when construction began. Perched high above the Salzach River the view for kilometers around is dominated by this royal mythical structure giving us insight into past Bavarian culture.

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Perhaps more famous in western culture is the song a nun named Maria sang in the movie the Sound of Music which was filmed in the countryside where the Mozart 100 course tours. The hills were indeed alive with the sound of music and some bizarre looks from locals when I won the premier edition of the race in 2012 sans top.

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Mozart 100 / Salzburg Running Festival is the brainchild of managing director Josef Mayerhofer and his ultra marathon & European Speed Golf Champion friend Michael Fried. The two developed the idea on a flight back from the Rain Forrest Run in Costa Rica where we first met in 2011. Their goal was to showcase the beauty of the Austrian countryside filled with deep lakes and mountains that mark the eastern edge of the alps while including the rich culture and history of old town Salzburg. They also ambitiously sought to create a world class competitive race with an international field of ultra marathoners. With the help of an incredible staff including Elisabeth Mayerhofer, Josef Gruber, and Claudia Kolussi the Mozart 100 is now very much on the international map of the endurance sports community.

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With runners from 33 nations represented the 3rd edition on June 22nd 2014 went off without a hitch to the sound of Mozart’s classical music played by a symphony of violinists. Registration for the 4th edition of the Mozart 100 / Salzburg Running Festival scheduled for Mid June 2015 will open in September 2014. Expect nothing less than a marketing campaign the likes of my next European race, UTMB, with an event next Summer Solstice that will be sure to leave a lasting impression on the hearts of all Nordic walkers and runners. Thankfully the course is manageable enough that participants’ soles will heal but their souls will forever be changed in a positive way.

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The 2014 edition included a 100 kilometer race, a scenic 55 kilometer run around Fuschl Lake, a 25 km trek from the lake to Mozartplatz, multiple relays, and a new City Trail Run presented by Smart Car with a distance of around 11 kilometers. The 2015 edition promises to included a distance for every participant of any ability.

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My decision to return to the 2014 Mozart 100 as a competitor was solidified in late 2013 when my father passed away. He was not only a big fan of classical music but enjoyed hearing the stories about my first European win at the pinnacle of my career in 2012 at the Salzburg Running Festival. As an international businessman in his prime my pops worked for the French & Japanese. Dad instilled a respect and love of experiencing different cultures in us from an early age.

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My left sciatica nerve was over firing neurochemical synapses via my spinothalamic tract throughout the 2014 Mozart 100. The biomechanical impact caused an imbalance in my stride. As my right leg over compensated it became clear I was not going to regain my title in Salzburg. I wanted to quit so badly at the turn in Residenzplatz. I day dreamed of curling up in my hotel room bed and watching the World Cup, anything excepting continuing the journey causing the stabbing pain in my lower back. I gazed to the statue of Mozart. I knew my dad would want me to finish the task at hand. How bad could a few more hours in the Bavarian countryside really be on a perfect cool, sunny day which started summer? I channeled my memory back to Mozartplatz on another pleasant summer afternoon as I pressed on. 1400 hours on June 23rd 2012, finishers tape broken, a smile on my face, a giant beer stein handed to me to hoist in victory.

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It got dismal for me as a competitor especially as I would pass aid stations where folks recognized me from my previous win. It was very emotional and physically difficult for me to finish the Mozart 100 this year. I enjoyed the new trek that included two tough climbs and quad pounding descents of the Salzburg city mountain Kapuzinerberg. I endured the anguish and did not stop to overlook the Alps during the race from the top as I had enjoyed earlier in the week as I reckied the course. Time and place were inconsequential to me as anything less than a win was a huge personal disappointment. I had failed, but I finished collapsing on the church square where ages ago bodies had been buried.

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I didn’t feel much better than a corpse when the gracious champion of the 2013 and now 2014 Mozart 100, Csaba Nemeth from Hungary, approached me with kind words of inquiry into my condition the morning after the race in our hotel before his family joined him for breakfast. My first proper 100K finish of the calendar year yet I had to toy with myself mentally dealing away any thoughts of racing again in the last marathon of the trek. It is ironic that perhaps my greatest athletic achievement and most embarrassing moment as a runner are now one in the same geographical local, on the cobblestones between Mozartplatz and the Cathedral.

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Pre race at Mozart 100 was again a phenomenal experience. From the airport pickup thanks to Salzburg Airport & Mercedes, to a beer overlooking the lake thanks to Stiegl, to a tour of an island castle thanks to Michael & Salzburgland.com, to the elite athlete dinner in the beer gardens, to the press conference thanks to Austrian television ORF, and newspapers Salzburger Nachrichten and Kronon Zeitung, to being called on stage at the race briefing session thanks to Austrian Bussiness Lawyers & Wilheim Muller, I was treated like a returning king to his empire.

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Post race was amazing thanks to Duracell’s funny bunny costumes, some proper draught pilsner, and an amazing race staff. Stories were shared like those of a 12 year old who trekked the 25K with her father and the gentleman who was running for a children’s charity donating a euro per kilometer which the race matched. New friends from across Austria, Europe, and the world were made. Old friendships, like the Czech Republic’s Daniel who toed the line with me at the 2011 IAU World Trail Championship in my first European race, were rekindled. The award ceremony was again professional and first class with music, medals, & roses. It was bittersweet to not make the overall podium but I was excited for local star Andreas Pfandlbauer and new Mozart 100 Champion Maria Vrajic of Kroatia. The Bad Ischl baker and 24 Hour World Championship competitor, Andreas and I shared a hug on the age group podium as I was introduced in a mixture of German and English by an enthusiastic DJ. It was an honor to share time with Salameh Al Aqra, the Jordanian running legend who won the 2012 Marathon Des Sables, as well as my old friends from Kenya who swept the 25 km race podium.

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After the race stage was taken down, sponsor banners put into storage, the promotional vehicles returned, press releases written, and a good nights rest had following a traditional meal of schnitzel it was refreshing to return to the small lakeside village of Mondsee with the race management.
As we soaked in the chilly lake my muscles healing as much as my soul I started to relax again. I will always have a special place in my heart for the Mozart 100 and hope to return someday soon to see the growth of the event.

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Josef was born in the village of Mondaee in the province of Salzburg. On my last morning in the rain after we ran the golf course for my first run back Josef took me to pay my respect to his family’s burial place. His parents and brother are laid to rest in a catholic cemetery that reminds me of my families’ in Poland. Josef, his wife, and son holiday at the bed and breakfast his family has owned for generations. Bedrooms are themed in one single color; Pink, Orange, Green, and Blue. The logistical offices of the Salzburg Running Festival take up the ground floor now. I took a lot of pride in the success of my dear friends much the way I imagine they were excited for my premier win just two years prior.

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Claudia served as my very beautiful and extremely knowledgable tour guide up Schafberg Mountain where we overlooked the lakes and alps after a strenuous vertical kilometer hike up. The Cog train down the hill to Wolfgansee was a bumpy ride on the coal powered, steam driven engine but the views were amazing. A “boat” taxi on the lake took us to St. Gilgen where Mozart’s sister had her house. I got to meet Josef’s uncle in his traditional attire of lederhosen. The women in dirndl, the smell of the farms, the sounds of the birds singing, the cows mooing, the church bells ringing, there are so many memories from Austria that will forever remain in my heart as I return home.

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There is a mystery and myth to this region where time seems to stand still or just move slower. When you walk through the narrow passageways in Salzburg or along the open footpaths between the farm villages you just feel as if Mozart is leading you somewhere very mystical and special. If he were alive today there is no doubt the legendary composer would dedicate a piece of music to the world class Mozart 100 in his hometown.

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2013 is just a memory now, my dad is in heaven, and my divorce almost final. I am back in the San Francisco Peaks I love so much here in Flagstaff happy about what 2014 has to offer. While I could go on about the disappointment I am feeling as an invited runner writing this as my flight for the Hong Kong Vibram 100K leaves without me I will instead focus on the positives that lie ahead in my journey. I was so excited and honored to be asked to race at the inaugural Ultra Trail World Tour event in Asia that I didn’t read my Polar t shirt and “listen to my body“. I pushed too hard, too much, too fast and I broke.

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Ice, hydrotherapy, massage, stretching, cross training, yoga, core work, medical care, anti inflammatory herbs, a healthier plant based diet sans alcohol, and lots of rest are in my immediate future as I nurse my body back in line with my soul’s desire to race trail ultras competitively again. My left leg will heal and I will take joy in following races on my original schedule like this past Saturday’s USATF 100K Trail National Championships presented by Montrail and Tejas Trails in Texas’ Cowboy Hill Country. A weekend around runners and friends at Bandera taught me I don’t have to always race to win and try to set records to stay connected to our sport. Helping Joe give out medals, cheering others on, filing up Liza’s water bottle, serving as a safety runner for Meghan, and a solo sunrise hobble hike to clear the final miles of the course markings have left me grateful to be alive and moving. Both my feet are equally sore and I love it! Problem is my left ankle is the size of a grapefruit so I don’t have my speed or stability to move in the biomechanicaly efficient manner I enjoy most.

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At the first day of Aravaipa Running’s Across The Years after an all night journey from LA’s Operation Jack Marathon and a ride from Connecticut on Christmas Eve on Santa’s Sleigh my left leg gave out. I am not sure when the exact moment I over did it was but when we got home to Flagstaff I could not walk. That next morning I hobbled to town to watch football and breath in the fresh mountain air thinking of my friends looping the course at Camelback Ranch. Their determination was contagious and I was excited to run real mountains again.

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I was sad because after nearly a year on the road I was home but unable to run. I slept a lot, like double digit hours of solid REM sleep. When I woke that Monday morning I still had no ability to put any pressure on the medial portion of my left foot. I hobbled back to ATY to do a lap with Anthony Culpepper of Western Circle Hike fame on day three of his six day journey before I met some old classmates from medical school to diagnosis my foot issue and catch up on our adventures over some medicinal beverages.

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New Year’s Eve took me back across the country to Florida for fresh mango guacamole and fireworks over the Gulf of Mexico. We hiked a little in the Everglades but I still had zero ability to stand straight. After a magical night sleeping on the beach under the stars we ran the Lovers Key trails. I was able to run a little but not fast and decided to bird watch instead of chase Danielle and risk further injury. After a Florida State Park Ranger led Eco Hike and a visit to see some baby gators we soaked in the warm gulf salt water. I was moving as fast as the Tortoises we saw but I was happy to be in motion! Danielle especially enjoy when I splashed her with the warm salt water but I am not sure why she ran away with a mean look on her face. Maybe it was a seagull or sand piper attack?

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January second was another day of rest and ice as I prepared to crew Danielle for her second ultra. She took me to Yoga but my entire left leg had zero ability to adduct or lift from a supine position. The look of concern on the instructors face was priceless as I had to use my ram to move my leg into place at times. Somehow by compensating for my ankle and foot pain I had managed to pull my left gracialis muscle in my hamstring compartment. Fitting that I was in Florida as I felt older than the population around me. I even started asking the silver foxes for advice about geriatric care. I felt like I was in the body of a hundred year old.

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I took another easy day in the pool and hot tub on Friday before we drove up to the Tampa Races’ Croom Zoom. I wanted to race fast and show off my skill as a trail runner in front of Danielle but instead I took photos and videos and could barely even walk. I lost her keys but after rummaging through her car I found them in the grass. Danielle set a ninety minute personal best for the 50K which I attribute entirely to her new coach. Well, ok maybe just a little kudos to her amazing guts and determination, but certainly not to her fueling strategy of Dr. Pepper and Twizzlers. Danielle runs with such pure joy and enjoyment for being on the trails that even I am learning about the correct way to run from her. She is like a child out there! Never shy or quiet you could always hear her before you saw her run into the aid stations. It was great to meet some Team RWB members from Orlando and Tampa too running the 25K.

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The next day I was able to hike a bit and take some more photos as Zemola ran the River, Roots and Ruts Trail Half Marathon in the same park where we first met. Danielle ran great giving it her all and dropping her blood sugar from the point where I got a kiss on the lips at mile five to a punch in the chest at mile thirteen. She forgave me though for provoking her with the video camera in her face by letting me massage her beautiful feet, vomit, later that evening as we watched football after mass.

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I tried to jog on the beach Monday but could barely walk so I limped back across the bridge for more ice and hot tube therapy. Tuesday the weather cooled into the 40s with sun and a breeze so I bundled up in tights and took to the trails at Prairie Pines. I never thought I would run in tights in Florida but ninety slow minutes later I had jogged my way back into the land of the trail runners Wednesday’s run with Caloosahatchee Trail Ultra RD Justin Radley on pavement over the bridges was pure agony.

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I took a zero on Thursday as I flew to Austin and jogged a little Friday morning but didn’t feel good. Steve Moore and I took to the trails of Bandera for an afternoon run which extended a few miles in a successful search party mission for some lost children’s mile participants. Saturday morning I decided to see how fast the left leg could go and was disappointed to find it had no fast gear as Erik pulled away from me minutes into his 25K win. I iced up and took some vitamin I so by noon I was able to serve as Meghan’s safety runner for about a marathon into the Last Chance Aid Station where I sent her on her way with five hilly miles to go for the win. John Sharp graciously shared a beer with me.

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The running community is part of my family now. Most of my near and dear friends are runners or connected to athletics somehow. I am blessed and grateful for the support they give me and love to give it back at races I don’t run. As I post this I will hobble over to the track this evening to cheer on Team Run Flagstaff. I will pray tonight that the invitation for Hong Kong might someday be extended again if I can get healthy and strong enough again to perform at the levels that first peaked other’s interest in my ability as a runner.

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Watching Meghan run for the overall win Saturday from thirty feet behind at all times in accordance with USATF safety runner guidelines proves to me that age is just a number and I am confident that God willing after a little tender loving care and laughter with Gary at home in the mountains I will be back stronger and hungrier than ever to race fast again. Yesterday as Gary patiently jogged along next to me for two hours on a beautiful sunny warm day we saw Elk and ran through piles of snow and mud I realized that having good friends is my greatest gift in life. Happy and Healthy 2014! Keep Running Strong! #CoachDJ

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In 2011 I was closing out what to me was my best year as an Ultrarunner although I received more headlines and press in 2009 when Ultrarunner Magazine voted me 4th in their Ultra Runner of the Year Voting. Rachel and I found a puppy sitter for Manny after a fun Christmas Eve at her boss’ house in Scottsdale. We slept in, took a family jog and drove the five hours to Manhattan Beach to celebrate our first Christmas without snow. I won the Operation Jack Marathon on December 26th, 2011 in a still standing course record time.

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I returned in 2012 taking the pace out with my lead biker at sub six minute miles before I blew up and lost bad. As much as I wanted a repeat of my 2011 race performance I woke up on December 26th with a fever, sore throat, inflamed ankle, and painful lower back. If it was race day for anything else besides the Operation Jack Marathon or a Team USA appearance at a World Championship I would have just gone back to bed. I knew as I drank my coffee and ate Jake Rome’s banana that I wasn’t going to break my own course record and would struggle just to finish.

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An attorney from Iowa in Vibram Five Fingers took out the pace fast but it felt easy to me as the 2013 Operation Jack Half Marathon Champion ran with us. At the first turn, a little over four miles in, I felt lightheaded so I took some water and calories. I kept the two guys ahead of me in view and took it down a notch so I could cheer on the other oncoming runners. The course is designed so that you are almost always running against other athletes. I knew it was going to heat up and I normally would red line from the start given a hot forecast but I made a conscious decision to try to enjoy the view of the mountains and Pacific Ocean.

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I held second place for the marathon through the half when a young kid surprised me and kept running! I was sure he was a half marathon runner but to his credit he ran a very smart race holding back at the start to finish strong. I ran the second half with him in view but just had no killer instinct in me to push hard for a second place finish as I knew by the 18 mile mark I wasn’t catching the Iowa attorney.

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I struggled with the heat as it pushed eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Running into the sun and the final turn I noticed the guy in fourth was closing on me. He caught me with two tenths of a mile to go and I was able to surge a bit to hold him off a little but I just didn’t care that much given the physical pain I was in with my back and ankle causing an altered stride. Jerry Garcia passed me for the final podium spot with one tenth of a mile to go and won our age division. He also ran a smart race.

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As I mature as a runner I am coming to grips a bit with loss. 2013 has been a year filled with loss in my life so it was fitting after two fourth place off the podium finishes as a member of Team USA at World Championships I finish fourth at Operation Jack Marathon. The pain hurts a lot worst when I lose. After I finished I collapsed. I have never collapsed after a race in such agony but I feel physical ailments are connected to mental stress. Losing my dad and closing out the divorce with Rachel in 2013 were landmarks in my life I am processing through healthy outlets like running.

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I am super excited for the close of 2013 as I will be helping set up for Aravaipa Running’s Across the Years in Phoenix, before a trip up to Flagstaff to get some fresh mountain air. I am even more pumped up to end 2013 and begin 2014 on one of my favorite beaches in America with one of my favorite people as I run a trail 5K at Lovers Key State Park on the Gulf Coast in Florida.

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Thank you to all who support my running goals and Happy New Year! If my back and ankle heal quick enough I will likely toe the line again at the USATF 100K Trail Championships in Bandera, Texas on January 11th where in 2011 I won the Silver behind my Vitargo Teammate Dave Mackey.

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For any of you that wish to donate to Operation Jack, a matching pledge of $5 USD will be added to your donation at this link by a gracious anonymous supporter. My fundraising page will be open through the end of the year if you are in the holiday spirit. Autism is a spectrum disease that impacts the lives of many families. What Sam is doing through his running to raise funds for awareness and research is an absolutely inspiring project named after his son Jack who is afflicted with Autism. Sam ran 61 marathons in 2010 with his last that year being the first Operation Jack Marathon. Here is an awesome short video clip recapping his 2010 project.

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6am alarm rings and I try to crawl back under the covers on a chilly cold morning in New York. The temperature is in the teens but the sun is rising bright as I lace up my sneakers for a quick run before my flight to Florida’s Gulf Coast for a week of warmth and reflection.

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Christmas is coming fast. The white powder that coats the leaves in the woods and green grass in the backyard adds to the excitement for my nieces. Tights replace shorts. Ski gloves warm the fingers. The frosty air is fresh and crisp. The crunch of the snow under foot is pleasantly relaxing.

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Co Race Director Justin Radley of Gulf Coast Ultra Runners LLC met me at the airport hours later after the bright sun hid itself behind the salt water to the west of the Fort Myers. Watching a sunset from a jet is an incredible experience.

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I hadn’t seen Justin since Fort Clinch. We had a nice meal at a cozy place with a fire and called it an early night. The next morning I dropped Justin at work and ran in the fog at Caloosahatchee Regional Park in Alva in Lee County, Florida. As the sky cleared I found myself along the Caloosahatchee River that drains the sunshine state’s largest freshwater lake into the Gulf of Mexico. The clay that makes up the mountain bike trails we would race on came from dredging.

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Late afternoon the sun broke through I caught another run in the gorgeous neighborhoods of Gateway. Birds were chirping, flowers were in full bloom, and golfers were out. I found it hard to believe a day earlier I was shoveling snow so I could run.

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Taco Thursday prepared by Jill was delicious. I hit the sack early again trying to get good rest for Saturday’s race. Friday we marked the trails and I strategically placed a ceramic panther I found on the Far East trail that scared me for some fun on Saturday. Friday afternoon we got the aid station supplies together, had some pasta and salad with Caleb & Brad, got awards from Fit2Run and made it in time to the Fort Myers Brewery for an IPA.

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Friday night I boiled the potatoes and peeled the eggs before I took a pre race nap. Saturday morning I awoke tired with a sore throat but excited to run and work on my tan. The forecast was hot and humid but I was confident I could run about four hours without that much effort for the win.

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Wrong! The 50K would be three 11 plus mile loops to ensure maximum runner enjoyment for happy runners like Danielle Zemola and an overkill of suffer fest for non heat acclimated northern cocky runners like myself.

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I took an early and commanding lead with what Brad told me was a sub six minute opening mile through the winding bike trails in the open meadow as the sun rose to the east. I would grow that lead to near twenty minutes later in the race so the win was never in doubt. On the first loop I pushed hard. I skipped aid stations the way I skipped a proper breakfast. I wanted to run through fatigue to train my body to adapt for early 2014 races. I saw bunnies, raccoons, deer, and the panther.

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When I finished the first loop through tunnels of overgrown swamp vegetation and Florida Oak Forests Justin told me I was 1:19. My split would be the fastest of the day for any runner in the ultra or 25K version but I felt like I had just ran a sub 1:07 effort. Trouble! Not heat adapted. I purposely ran lap two in a lower gear taking fluid in but the motor would not cool. I was overheating.

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The twisty turns of the mountain bike trails required a lot of gear shifting but did not allow for much consistent running at a low RPM. The flat fast straight sections that on the first lap that I was able to increase my lead on became a red lining nightmare on lap two. The end of my second lap was so miserable that I even debated putting a white shirt on to shield myself from the sun and help cool my core. Instead I put a handful of ice down my pants and yelled to the camera guy that Florida should be for beaches not running.

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I blew up bad but was able to keep moving albeit slow. The final lap took about as long as the lap Justin and I did when we marked the course Friday. At the end of the Far East the recon I had was that my comfortable lead was down to less than five minuets with about five miles to got. I stopped being a good for nothing lazy bastard and got up on my toes a little to win the internal boxing match in my head. As I sang the Scripts’ Be a Champion to myself I held on for the win by only a minute although I never saw the guy chasing me.

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Second wasn’t Brad like we all assumed but a local ironman triathlete who obviously had the endurance and heat acclimation to close strong on me. When I finished I collapsed. I was not happy with my first win since March. The winless streak was over but I had run miserable. I raced well but I wasn’t really even relieved. The initial feelings I felt were of disappointment, doubt, and embarrassment. I was invited to Florida to showcase my talents as a runner but I barely won with a pedestrian time.

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After the race and some icing of my sore left ankle and back I cheered in the rest of the finishers. There were a bunch of first time ultra trail runners that ran some impressive races. The aid station folks were incredible and the cold beverages and pizza at the finish hit the spot. I did get over my self pity and laugh at the Prestige Running Club International singlets motto on the backs “Boats & Hoes.” At sunset after the last finisher crossed the line I jogged out a bit to help Justin clean up the course markings.

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Later that night the post race party took us to BurgerQue for a brew and a really fun Ho-Liday party at a house that was decorated like the North Pole. After some Blueberry moonshine my mood brightened even more. Sunday’s run was a bit slow and painful for my head but after a nap and some football we celebrated a successful race over fortune cookies and Dogfish 90 minute IPA.

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Monday I ran the loop in reverse as a victory loop and to clean up whatever garbage was left which wasn’t much thanks to some very responsible runners. I did some children’s store Christmas shopping Monday afternoon before I put my toes in the sand at Fort Myers Beach. The reflection on my barefoot beach run was good for my soul and the tortoise I helped jump a curb became a new friend of mine. A quick dip in the Gulf was refreshing as I shelled a bit for some souvenirs.

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The coastal birds were singing and the pelicans were hungry diving for fish. I thought of my Dad and Jen who I visited the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva many times with. I smiled through the tears thinking of them together walking the beaches of heaven searching for seashells together looking down on me.

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Monday night I joined in on a full moon group trail run at the marsh in Leigh with Danielle. We continued our celebration of her first ultra at World of Beer with her friends playing Trivia enjoying fried pickles and a giant pretzel. In keeping with the Brewery theme we watched Drinking Buddies with Justin and Jill after.

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Tuesday Justin and I did some recon at Prarie Pines Preserve where I saw a family of wild pigs. After a pool fight with a gator I joined Danielle for a run on the beach under the full moon with the sand pipers chasing her. We had and a greasy pizza after in a cozy Chicago Style Beachfront Pub. Wednesday morning after a week on my last Florida run I fell hard thinking of the cold ice I was returning to. Christmas with my family will be fun and I am excited to race in 2014. I hope to return to racing with a passion that I had in my younger years!

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A nasty chest cold at JFK, tooth pain that resulted in a root canal in Costa Rica for La Ruta Run, & now a DNS (Did not Start) in San Francisco for TNF50 due to a bad ankle I twisted covering UTMB for iRunFar.com and sprained again the other day.

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2013 will not go down in the record books for me as a successful racing year, but I am grateful for the people and places I have visited and encountered. Two Team USA appearances, in retrospect, in Poland & Wales were an incredible honor even if scoring fourth, first non medal / podium team, at both still resonates in my soul and soles.

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Yesterday afternoon the sun was shinning and the weather was warm in Connecticut. I suggested to my sister a family hike with her three kids, golden retriever, and her husband. I was tired and a bit bummed out that I would not get to race healthy and injury free in California with all my friends.

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As we were hiking up to the waterfall my nieces began to run, to trail run! They were laughing and smiling! The joy was contagious!

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Kate, the smallest of the twin three years olds, fell a few times but got up and laughed it off. She was trying her best to keep up with her big sister Emma who was running with me. Sara was following behind with her parents hollering “trail marker” at ever blaze on the Michael Ciaiola Conservation Putnam Country nature trail in Patterson, New York.. When we reached the waterfalls the frozen ice from earlier in the week had melted off leaving a glistening turn around point. Emma rock hopped across to the other side with her dad and I carried Kate over. Sara and her mom feasted on animal crackers.

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Old Buddy boy was with us too. He went for a swim. I tied my fluorescent yellow Achilles NYC Marathon Guide shirt to his collar to make him visible to potential lost hunters. Buddy has been in Chrissy & Nick’s family since the beginning. He was a puppy destined for a life as a nursing home service dog at the Jewish Home for the Elderly when I took him for his first trail run. I lost him that day on the trails of Fairfield, Connecticut’s Mohegan Lake. Hours later I would find him across the lake playing with a pack of dogs but happy to return to run more miles with me. Run we did! Buddy would become my main training partner until late 2009 when I left Connecticut for Medical School on St. Kitts.

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Buddy’s first newspaper appearance wasn’t in the article with me in December of 2008 but with Nick in 2005. Buddy taught me how to properly run trails by living in the moment responding to the environment before us. The day after his first newspaper appearance Buddy went back out on that ice to retrieve Nick’s sneaker from the bottom of the lake. Now that is loyalty! We managed to avoid another Fairfield Fire Department rescue by having Buddy swim back toward the stream that fed the lake. Buddy, Nick, and Chrissy continue to be among my best friends. They helped me get through a lot of emotional baggage when Jennifer passed away. I am #soblessed to get to spend time with their family now.

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Some mornings the simple act of lacing up my sneakers to run Buddy was all I could manage as I processed my grief. 2005 was a year I hardly remember. I ran and worked. I worked and ran.

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Without running I don’t think I would have survived. Peter Zander will tell this story in his film soon. I thought it was important to open my soul to him so people would know that obstacles in life are temporary.

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Yesterday, Emma would run as hard as she could trying to surge ahead until she was out of breath. She looked back at me and said: “I need a little break uncle Davey.” I told her I could relate :) Within days of her birth in 2008 I signed my letter of intent to return to finish my degree and run for The University of Bridgeport’s Purple Knights’ Cross Country Team. That decision would be my break from a career I didn’t envision for myself long term and mark the moment of my breakout as a runner.

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I am super excited to get to go participate in my good friend’s trail running festival next weekend in sunny warm south west Florida but I will be training for my early 2014 races these next few weeks in the area I was raised on the NY / CT boarder. I love to share my passion for and experience with trail running with others so please if you are around let’s get together either here or South West Florida and run a little. No distance is to short for me and no pace is to slow.

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My sister and I ran this morning in heavy fog along Candlewood Lake laughing about the fun times we had line dancing with Team RWB the other night and remembering my father’s love for Christmas lights.

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Earlier this week I got to share a couple pleasantly refreshing runs with an old friend who dates back to my Shenorock Shore Club days.

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As we ran through the Blackrock section of Bridgeport ducking bullets and listening to the seagulls on the Long Island Sound overlooking Seaside Park I got excited for my return to Connecticut in 2015.

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I love the holidays and I am thankful for my incredible family, great sponsors, and wonderful friends that have made this wild ride possible. Run Strong!

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“Pack the bags, the taxi will be here in five minutes!”. Half noon at the Best Western Dublin and our RyanAir flight to Pisa / Florence boards in minutes as our jolly laughing taxi driver blows through a red light in front of a police station racing us to the airport.

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“Calm down.” “You are doing great.” “We are going to make it.”. I thought I was talking to myself like I do in workouts and when I race, but Lost Worlds Racing Media Director & Athlete Coordinator Erik Lundstrom laughs at me in the cab saying my self talk was audible as we were rushing to pack. Tim remembers hearing me mutter: “relax. stay calm. do the right thing.”

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What had started as a leisurely morning in overcast rainy Dublin had turned into the Lost Worlds “Race to the Gate!”. With three heavy bags and slippery dress shoes Gate 102 at Dublin Airport seemed like it would never appear. With sweat dripping from my head, and my heart pounding I raced to the gate just minuets before Erik, himself a 2:47 marathoner, and Lost Worlds Racing Founder Tim Holstrom who can always hold his own on trail runs in the hour range with me. Erik and Tim had to explain to the Irish security personal that race medals were not a threat and could be carried on so I did have a little head start. I smiled at the RyanAir gate attendant and said “top o’ the morning to you, did I make it?” She laughed and asked me how many Guiness I had last night. I told her I didn’t count as she checked us in and allowed us to board the flight a few minuets after the scheduled departure time. We made it! Next stop: Lost Worlds Racing Tuscany Crossing!

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What makes The Lost Worlds Racing Series stand out as special for me are the experiences like this afternoon. Culture, laughter, and friendships for life. I first met Tim before the 2nd Coastal Challenge Rain Forest Run as I was looking for an adventure to push my body and satisfy my soul. Almost a decade and half a dozen Coastal Challenges later Tim and I departed the Trumbull Marriott on that April Tuesday after noon for a journey into the “lost worlds” of Europe. For years Tim and I would run the Trumbull trails on and off as I would visit my sister, finish college, and visit my nieces. We had always dreamed of the day when we would plunge into a great adventure together and now here we were driving down the Merritt Parkway leaving the comforts of home and family behind to follow our dreams and passions.

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Tim had picked Dublin as the base of operations for Lost Worlds Racing for these three weeks as the next weekend’s race was in Northern Ireland and the week after in Sweden.

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We flew a red eye cross Atlantic flight to Dublin and Wednesday morning we loaded over 300 pounds of luggage and gear into our hotel room. Erik was delayed in Chicago and his 24 hour adventure from Minnesota to London wouldn’t put him into Dublin until late afternoon so Tim and I laced up our sneakers to hit the streets of Dublin. We found a beautiful public green space we circled and as we were heading up a driveway to what we thought was a church Irish security personnel informed us that we were trespassing on a “military instillation.” Whoops! Lost Worlds! We finished our run with an out and back along the Royal Canal.

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After showers we headed out to Fagan’s Pub for some lunch. Tim had Cider, carrots, chef carved beef, & roasters. I decided for the liquid lunch of vegetable soup and a Guinness. Fagan’s is a beautiful traditional Irish pub circa 1907 with copper air ducts, gorgeous polished wooden bars, plush couches, and pictures of stars, dignitaries, and Irish art on it’s walls. President Clinton had a pint here in 2000!

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After lunch we decided to get some work done over another beverage before we headed back to the hotel. Tim sorted gear for his races and I took a nap. I woke as Eric arrived a few hours later refreshed and cured of any lingering jet lag. It was raining so I went to the lobby for a coffee. I was admiring the pictures of decades worth if Irish Football Team photos when the owner and her blonde sister pointed out their father with pride in a 1960s era team shot. The hotel has been in the family for years only recently taking on the Best Western umbrella. Their Irish hospitality made me feel right at home.

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After a walk in the rain to loosen my legs and to buy some groceries Eric woke and Tim returned from his business meeting downtown. We decided to head out for a meal. In keeping with our Lost Worlds theme we apparently lost track of time as we caught up and watched the Champion’s League football semi final match. Real Madrid lost. When we tried to order Fish and Chips our waitress Aisling told us the kitchen closed at 9pm as she grinned with her Irish eyes smiling but we could have another round of drinks. She was a good sales person for a young religion and music education major from a small farm town. After we finished our beverages and bid Aisling farewell we headed out to grab a bite to eat before bed. Walking to dinner Eric proudly announced to an Irish lad that asked that we were from “The United States of America.”. The guy chuckled and said he figured that.

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Eric and Tim were asleep when I started and ended my workout so I went for coffee and a late breakfast. I ran down to the Port O’ Dublin and along the water past the Royal Dublin Golf Club’s Links. I explored the jetty rock hopping slippery surfaces and strides out on the soft sandy beach before I looped back through the cozy neighborhoods of Dublin past the Rugby stadium and universities.

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When I got out of the shower the guys were awake and Erik told me Tim was checking our options since our flight left in 40 minutes! We were on code red! Apparently Erik and I had neglected to check our email and Tim saw the 1305 and interpreted it at a 3pm flight or looked at the car rental time, return flight time, or arrival time because when we went to bed we thought we could sleep in, and enjoy a leisurely morning in Dublin.

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Our 24 Hours O’ Dublin were a fun adventure and great way to start the Lost Worlds Racing tour. Laughter, culture, and good friends coupled with the most amazing views of the snow covered Alps from the Boeing 737-800 series window seat I lucked out with have made this trip start with nothing but fun & great memories!

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My niece, Emma, is four and wants to be an explorer like Dora. I think she also might get some of that sense of adventure from her Godfather and the post cards I send her from my trips. I am very blessed to get to run in so many amazing places with such awesome people. Stay tuned for more from Europe and the Lost Worlds!

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