Sunday, March 31, 2013

7 Lessons from Our First Ultra: Lesson 6

by Matt Gray   

Mile 49: The atmosphere of this lap is completely different . . . dusk has passed, stars are out, and the bobbing headlamps of my fellow runners glow across the entirety of the course.  The air is crisp and cool compared to the earlier heat. And my second wind is in full force, at least as far as my energy level goes. I attempt to run the entirety of the final lap, but my legs are so sore at this point I must slow to a walk for a little bit.

I pick up my speed when the meadow comes into view . . . the course goes around the perimeter of this meadow, loops around a small lake, and crosses the finish line.  At each 90 degree turn, my stride increases.  For having run 50 miles, I'm in a sprint by the time I reach the lake.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

7 Lessons from Our First Ultra: Lessons 4 & 5

by Matt Gray

Mile 39: A man wearing a tuxedo running shirt catches up to me and starts asking me how I'm doing. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I'm sure I explained to him my dehydration earlier in the race, my ups and downs of completing the 50 mile distance for the first time, the growing soreness in my feet, and the beautiful little reason my brother and I are running, (Juniper).

I'm accustomed to this conversation, since several times throughout the day other runners, complete strangers, have run with me for a 100 yards, a quarter of a mile, half a lap.  We talk and share stories, laugh over some inside runner's joke (usually something about how good pain feels), and then part ways with words of encouragement and smiles.  Let me be quite clear, this is happening during a race.  Ultrarunners have redefined the meaning of competition . . .

Friday, March 29, 2013

7 Lessons from Our First Ultra: Lessons 2 & 3

by Matt Gray

Mile 28: Remember that tight feeling in my legs from Mile 23?  Well, as I complete lap 15, the pain is still there, and it's even more intense.

"Your calves and your quads are tight? Are they cramping?" Todd Carpenter asks with both compassion and concern.  I nod.

Todd is an ultra-distance bicyclists (I'm talking 508 miles through Death Valley and the Mojave Desert of California in 30 hours), so I trust whatever advice he's about to give me.

7 Lessons from Our First Ultra: Lesson 1

by Matt Gray

Mile 23:  The sun beats down on us at 75 degrees and I realize that most of my training took place in sub-50 temperatures, not this kind of weather.  The floppy brimmed hat protects my skin from the solar beams, but the heat intensifies with every lap. I feel a tightness in my quads that I don't remember experiencing in training runs.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Lymphedema Awareness Team

The Runners
It's hard to believe a week has already passed since the big Beyond Limits Ultra.  It's taken this long to "come down" from the high of running 50 consecutive miles.  Daniel finished 8th in the 50, Matt finished 10th and also won his age-group for the race!  Matt will be by later this week with a race break-down for those of you who are interested, but it was an epic experience, good vibes all-around, and definitely would not have been possible without our friends at Pathfinder Ranch.  Right now though, we just wanted to stop by an express our extreme gratitude for those of you who donated.  We had no idea that we would be able to raise over $1600 dollars, so thank you, thank you, thank you. Many thanks also to the race organizers for helping us raise money for our cause.    Thanks also to Lynne Cao Photography for the race day photos.  Any of you who didn't get around to donating this time around, don't feel bad, there will be more races to come in the future!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Palm Canyon: What A Training Run Is All About

Text by Matt Gray
Photos by Gary Gray

We move slowly away from the truck, waving good-bye to our dad and the crew vehicle just two weeks after the Joshua Tree 50k.  It's early January and the temperature hovers around 33, but the sky is crystal blue. "You're wearing too many layers," my brother points out, "you're going to be warm in about twenty minutes."

He has run this trail a few times and is probably most definitely right. I scoff anyway, and go back to eating my breakfast: a granola bar that I smother with a packet of caffeinated gu and then wash down with a few sips of electrolyte water. Really, quite a delicious morning treat.

We descend (an up and down, rocky descent) into Palm Canyon, a stunning desert landscape that will eventually lead us to our dad waiting for us on the other end. Our destination today is the Trading Post in the Indian Canyons (a particularly special place for our family), just sixteen miles away, near Palm Springs. These canyons are full of childhood memories . . . it's here that we did some of our first hiking and nature explorations with our parents, so I'm excited to be jogging into such nostalgia.

Thirty minutes later, I stuff food wrappers into my pockets and take off several layers of clothing. Daniel was absolutely right.  As soon as we dropped a bit in elevation, the temperature rose significantly, and I'm trying to find a comfortable balance. I clearly don't have this running thing all figured out. Which is congruent to my inability to answer a question that many people ask when I shyly mention that I'm going to run an ultra marathon. "How do you train for that?"

*  *  *  *  *

With just 60 hours until the race, I'm asking myself a similar question: "have I trained for it?" As my ipod charges and loads with music, NPR Jazz Profiles and TED Talks (I've found a real enjoyment in listening to podcasts during the long slow distances), I look over my running journal for answers.

In early March of last year, Lindsay and I made plans to travel to the Himalaya.  I began exercising regularly, going on more walks, taking yoga classes, drinking fresh squeezed juices, and treating my body better overall.  While Everest Base Camp became the goal, a healthy and fit body as I neared my thirtieth birthday was the ultimate destination.  When the summer rolled around, I decided that instead of shuddering at my thirties, I was going to sprint into them, (okay, maybe a fast shuffle).

The plans for high-altitude trekking and cross-the-world traveled slipped away into that strange void travel plans so often disappear. But with my obsession for running growing, and with my brother dangling a new adventure in front of me as soon as we finished the last one, I found myself in a training rhythm. Though we didn't make it to Nepal, I stuck with the healthier lifestyle.

There are definitely many philosophies about how to train for an ultra: various mileage plans, different considerations for how many hours you spend on your feet, varying perspectives on how to fuel and nourish your body, and a rather large and lengthy debate about footwear (ask anyone close to me and they'll tell you I've never cared too much about shoes . . . I have six pairs packed for the race).

I won't know if I've trained properly for the run on Saturday until a couple weeks from now.  I do know that I've put in well over twelve hundred miles of hiking and running in the last year.  I've spent a few hundred hours practicing yoga. And I managed to drink 100 cups of Kambucha and 89 sixteen-ounce glasses of carrot and beet juice to cleanse my liver without my skin turning orange.

I also found a way to train in the middle of a Colorado winter.  Sometimes this meant running 14th of a mile laps on indoor tracks for an hour or more (eventually you do get dizzy). But fortunately, most of the time was spent out on the trails, running through wilderness much more similar to the Indian Canyons than the muggy confines of an enclosed running path.

* * * * *

Up ahead, I see the first palm trees of the canyon, a lovely oasis.  I'm still messing around with my clothing, counting the calories I've taken in, and scanning my body for signs of fatigue. But before this all becomes too stressful, I focus on my breath and remember to enjoy the moment.  I'm in an incredible place, doing something I love, and hanging out with one of my best friends.  In all the miles I've put into training, none of them matter unless I'm enjoying as many as possible.

The answer to people's question then, "how do you train for that?" continues to evade me.  I have no clue. If I had to take a guess, experience matters.  The more you do it, the longer you run, the more you figure out things like food, clothing, good posture, and the correct form for the mid-foot strike. Most importantly, you figure out how to smile. And as we climb the last hill up to the Trading Post, I'm doing plenty of that.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Our First 50k: Joshua Tree

In 5 Parts

Photos: Daniel Gray
Text: Matt Gray
Crew Chief: Gary Gray

1. The Waking                           

Most people probably don't land in California to find themselves just a couple hours later camping out in the desert, preparing for a 50 kilometer run. I stare up at the intricate silhouette of a Joshua Tree and ponder.  The first light stirs. We'll soon be stretching, eating what our stomachs will accept, and then heading out across the mystical landscape of Joshua Tree National Park. I climb, stumble, pretty much fall from our crew vehicle (my Dad's Ford truck), where I decided to hunker down for the night. My feet hit the ground with a thud, the cold air knocks against my skin, my tight muscles scream at me, and I too wonder why I crammed myself into the backseat to sleep . . . I suppose it was warm.
                         2. Running

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Nine Peaks of the Desert Divide

Photos by Daniel Gray
Text by Matt Gray

Fog down in the valley turns the landmass to sea.  Calm, wispy, gray.  First light ends the eerie pre-dawn hour, awakens my mind, and hides the shadows and ghosts that taunted me up the trail. Steinbeck called this "the Hour of the Pearl."  He had a knack for being exactly right about such common, everyday beauty that most of us race through life and miss.

We started up South Ridge Trail from Idyllwild before 5 am.  Our destination, Highway 74, lay 35 miles ahead of us, with mellow rock scrambling and cross-country travel to nine peaks in between. This would be both mine and Daniel's longest one-day push on a trail. And with the two-lane road as our final stopping point, we knew from the beginning that the journey had to be the destination.

Though we didn't run a single step, this hike taught our legs how to keep moving for 14 hours, strengthened the resolve in our feet to hold us up for the duration, and revealed our minds ability to overcome "the wall," a notorious mental hurtle that drops even Iron Man and Triathlon athletes to their knees. With the Beyond Limits 50-mile Ultra less than ten days away, I hope all the lessons I learned out there on that Desert Divide adventure remain sharp in the forefront of my run.

In keeping with Daniel's theme of meditation from his Tuesday post, here are some reflections and photos from that day, when by 10 am we were traveling together as a blackhole, drawing even rattlesnakes into our movement. We were on the loose, and loving every moment . . .

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Long-distance runner what you standing there for?
Get up, get off, get out of the door.

Robert Hunter

Long, Slow Distance, not lysergic acid diethyl-amide. Though a psychological study of a prolonged derangement of the senses from long, slow, distance runs might have some similarities to those produced by Albert Hoffman's acid.  Today was the last long run in my training cycle.  I was a little down this morning because I really enjoy the continuos hours on my feet, calm meditative state and sharpened perception of the world that these runs have provided over the last several months.  I milked it for all it was worth, trying not to complete a mile in less than 11 minutes.  There is a pace, a zone where just the right amount of effort can keep you moving without too much exertion.  My goal was to find this zone, balance it with an extremely low rate of perceived effort and stay there for the duration of my run.  While using my big wall mantra: slow is smooth, smooth is fast, taking deep breaths, maintaing a "yogic" posture and softening my vision I was able to tap into the zone.  It was around mile 14 when things got a little weird. The blue sky, green pines and golden willows became more vibrant.  The wind crisper, louder and more consistent .  The mud and damp soil more pungent.  My body lighter, smoother, stronger.  Waves of pulsing energy roll through my body.  I am a moving black hole, pulling my surroundings toward me, connected to everything I can see, feel, smell, hear and taste.

It's over.  I'm at my car.  What happened?  Where'd the last thirty minutes go?  I look at my watch, trying to make sense of running sub 9 minute miles for the last thirty minutes: slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Up and Down Above Boulder

by Matt Gray

Sometimes my runs are squeezed between a long to-do list.  I often push the amount of time I have and the miles I can accomplish. Today, I need to complete this run in about two hours.  Despite the time pressure I've given myself, I jog slowly over the crest of a familiar hill. Jogging slowly?  Yes, a redundancy indeed.  I should call it a shuffle . . .

I shuffle over the crest of a familiar hill, well-aware that a nice descent awaits me on the other side.  In long-distance trail running you look forward to changes in direction, inclines, declines, and variations in scenery. What I didn't think through is that at this time of year, the next section of trail will be covered in snow.