Public Speaker / Elite Athlete / Coach
Contact Dave James for information on his public speaking engagements, event appearances, or private coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Speaker / Elite Athlete / Coach
Contact Dave James for information on his public speaking engagements, event appearances, or private coaching at email@example.com
The groundhog predicts another six weeks of winter, but I have ran the last two days back home in Flagstaff sans shirt, so I am not sold on the Pennsylvania rodent’s attempt to take up meteorology.
Since Asia, my recovery and workouts have been going very well so on the biggest betting weekend of the year I decided to roll the dice on myself and gamble on my fitness in Texas.
I came away with a sore back but confidence that 2015 will be a comeback year for me as an athlete. The almost effortless and pain-free 20 mile loop at Joe & Joyce’s Rocky Raccoon I ran in 2:25 and change was head over heels an improvement from a year previous for me even if the weather was ideal. I didn’t have to tape my ankle! Although some NCAA Division One stud blew me up by dropping some sub 6 minute-hurdle over an armadillo-trail miles on me, I came away from the weekend pleasantly optimistic and very excited to race again.
The weekend before, Amy, her giant puppy, and I ventured down from the Ponderosa Pines and snow to help at Aravaipa Running‘s Coldwater Rumble. The drive to the Pedersen aid station under the sacred Maracopia Mountain in Esterlla Mountain Regional Park near Goodyear, Arizona was bumpy, sandy, and fun. We set up camp for the night to the sounds of coyotes and the company of ring cats. We didn’t sleep much; after a few hours of work, the cowbell employed by the graveyard shift to encourage the amazing runners grew ever louder. However, the Great Dane spent her first night ever in a tent.
That last Sunday morning in January, as the last handful of endurance athletes were approaching, I left the ladies to fend for themselves in the desert and got a nice hard run in on the same trails where I won the 50K in 2011, days after moving to the Grand Canyon State. In 2013 I also won the 50 miler. Someday soon I think it will be just fitting to win the Hundred. What was really cool is the same 65 year old runner ran both Coldwater and Rocky, and I got to work an aid station in Texas on an overnight shift with his wife this past Sunday morning.
This week, in Costa Rica, is also one of the events that molded my competitive racing career. While two consecutive wins in my last two attempts proved enough for me, I am happy some other elites are getting to experience the costal rain forest and mountains. You can follow Ian Corless from Talk Ultra as he covers the stage race. Speaking of Ians from England, Sharman’s win in Texas was very impressive to say the least!
As to what’s next for me, I have my eyes on the entrants list for the Montrail Ultra Cup‘s Black Canyon race as my next race back to health and fitness. I hope there will be a solid regional, if not national field, as before I travel abroad to race again I would like to get a solid run in under my belt close to home. A special thanks to Vitargo Nutrition for allowing me to spend a quick 36 hours in Texas at the USATF National Championship event I am proud to have won twice. Big shout out to Nicole and Paul, fellow RWB Eagles on their Championships!
It was amazing to see so many Team RWB folks running, crewing, & volunteering. We encourage everyone that reads this to give back in some way, shape, or form to this community. Thank you.
The Asian island of Hong Kong has a rich history of culture. The Hong Kong 100 presented by Vibram has established itself as the first major trail ultra marathon of each year with its partnership with Ultra Trail World Tour. The race takes place in the New Territories on some of the most scenic “urban trails” and single-track I have ever run on. The course is diverse; juggling road running, concrete paths in jungle, stone steps that would make any mason proud, and some steep rocky coastal volcanic trail.
I was slated to race the 2014 edition of the Vibram Hong Kong 100 as part of the inaugural race on the UTWT but a week before the race I wasn’t walking pain free so the idea of forty hours on an airplane in a week before and after a run was not appealing. I bowed out of the race, but this year I was fit and my training was going great, albeit mostly at high elevation on soft snow. I arrived in Hong Kong the Thursday before the race rested and excited. The room key the hotel gave me didn’t work so I had to wake up my roommate Sondre, who would go on to run an incredible race. I laced up my Montrail Fluid Flex’s and had a nice shake-out run on the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s infield and up above the sky scrappers of Hong Kong Island. Think Manhattan with Mountains!
Thursday afternoon Sondre and I had a bland Chinese food meal at a local eatery in the Causeway Bay neighborhood, but that night Bryon from irunfar.com joined us and we had an incredible Thai dinner. Jet lag caught up to me and my full belly and I retired to sleep like a rockstar while my roommate went down to listen to the French W A A (sorry could not find a link online to the 3 guys) team speak at packet pickup at Racing the Planet. I made an effort to sleep in on Friday morning but was awake early, as my body was 15 hours behind and my circadian rhythms were all out of whack.
Friday was a mellow day spent resting in the hotel room. Saturday morning we had to catch a bus at 0530 to get us to the start two hours early, so we sat around and waited. Culturally, I experienced my first toilet sans seat which was unique to say the least. By 0730 I was warmed up, loose and ready to run, so I made my way to the elite start coral. I was excited and because everything was running smoothly, I got to chat with race directors Steve and Janet and pose for pictures with local athletes. The countdown was in a language I did not understand and at 0800 local we were off on a flat road section headed toward the trail. I knew the course was back-loaded with hills, so when we hit the single track I kept the leaders in view but held back.
By the first water stop the leaders had pulled away on a flat paved road section in between what looked to be water reservoirs, but I felt good with my pace and was running in the top 15. My first shock was the short stone steps down to the beach shortly after getting refilled on water. They were so steep and there were so many of them. The human brain is programed to run steps one at a time and I had not been training to bypass that reaction to patterns so I lost tons of time.
My race blew up when after a steep climb we hit another downhill section with steps and a long steep concrete path. A bunch of runners passed me, but I remained calm, enjoying my time on the next beach running with the guys from Nepal.
By the second or third place for snacks and water I was shocked to hear that we were running in 20th place about ten minutes back. The Canadian runner in front of me was happy with that news, but I wasn’t, as my lower left back and left ankle were starting to bother me. I kept on for some time, finally sitting down around 65K for some soup as I began to catch a chill and really have trouble with my stride.
I met so many great folks on the trail and volunteers at the water stops. I cannot begin to mention them all here and I was fighting through so much pain that I apologize if I forgot to properly thank and acknowledge everyone. I wish I would have kept on going but I was not prepared for night running save my mandatory gear items and was advised it would be much harder to get me off course after dark. What Janet and Steve have done with the Hong Kong 100 is incredible and I was truly honored to be invited back. I race to do my best, but I also race against my competition, so in my heart I knew it was time to heed the advice of the aid station captain and medics and hand in bib 17.
I am back home in the cold snowy Northern Arizona winter, still unsure of what day it is and when I am supposed to sleep. The great staff at HYPO2 has already taped my ankle and given me a back-to-basics rehab routine. My loving girlfriend, Amy, has not only put up with me being up all night but taken the time to massage my injured muscles. Asia was an incredible experience, and until I properly wake up from this jet lag, it will continue to feel like a dream. Just not one that came true. Stay tuned for my next adventure here. Thank you to the incredible sponsors and for all for your support.
Can two months on the road traveling across the United States of America with Old Glory for Team Red, White, & Blue change a person?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!