Thursday, March 29, 2012

Almost Time to Chase the Lion

                  My 6-year-old daughter Emily's photo of my Mom watching me run from heaven.

Chasing the Lion

I always have a thought before I step off on a long run. It's usually the words that leave my mouth before I settle into that place in my mind where I feel like I am half awake and half dreaming mile after mile.  The thought is: It's time to chase the lion. I read a book once called In a Pit with a Lion.  It's about Benaiah from the Bible and how he chased a lion (II Samuel 23:20). The book in a nutshell is about how at the end of your life you will regret the lions you didn't chase. It's also about how anything is possible, overcoming your fears and taking risks. When I think about chasing my own lion I think about it differently. Chasing my lion isn't so much about overcoming. I never dwell much on victories in the arena that for me are the trails where I love to run. For me, my lion is my relationship with God and my desire to know Him on a deeper level.  When I am chasing my lion I am simply running toward a deeper more meaningful existence. For me, this is found in my friendship with God. I use the word friendship instead of relationship because it's the friendship aspect of our relationship that excites me most.  Sometimes I feel this friendship, which brings on indescribable inspiration, and at times can be overwhelming, is the reason I am alive. If you have ever felt God smile there is nothing that compares. If you haven't, it's worth chasing.  As the month of March winds down and we get ready to step off into April I realize it has been one of the greatest months of my life. It will end with the seventh birthday of my daughter and a wonderful party. It will be a fitting finale to celebrate her birth and a new beginning into another chapter of her life.  I love watching her grow and become more beautiful each day. At the end of March I find myself in the best physical shape of my life. My mind is clear and open. I feel my spirit is open and accepting to the challenge I have chosen. June will be here in a blink of an eye and I will be caught up in the whirlwind of the greatest challenge of my life - the Midwest Grand Slam of Ultra Running. I am running to honor my mother who died of breast cancer at the age of 40. She had a hard life. I have no memory of it ever being easy for her. She was a fighter. Her greatest love in life was her children. I have thought about her so much in the last few months. I've told my wife I feel I have already healed so much from past regrets. I know there is much more healing to do. I believe, the more we love the deeper we are allowed to go. When I began training for the challenge of running four 100 mile races (I've since added Oil Creek 100 to the mix making it five 100 mile races in five months) I thought I might find a fitting way to finally say goodbye to my mother. I failed to say it before she died. I'm beginning to feel there may not be a reason for goodbyes. I'm beginning to believe that nothing ever dies. Everything just always is. The ones we love are always with us. If we search deep enough we can feel their smiles upon us. Those smiles we remember can fuel any fire. They are inspiration and happiness. They can make any dream possible.

If you would like to donate to the National Breast Cancer Foundation in honor of my mother and to support my Grandslam Against Breast Cancer please visit this link:

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oil Creek 100 Mile Trail Run - Race Report


                                                      Photo courtesy of Charlie Houpt


The Oil Creek 100 Mile Train Run in 2011 began for me in May. I remember it as a blur. It began with my wife Jen and I drinking too much wine on our couch and getting into some seriously deep conversations. I remember Jen telling me that I was different when I was running. I had stopped for eight months. Eight long months that were spent doing a lot of soul searching and can best be described as depressing. Somewhere in our conversation Jen told me what I needed to hear, “You need to run Oil Creek, again.” I had dropped last year at mile 62 and for several reasons had not started running again after the race. We decided I would run again and Jen had encouraged me and motivated me to a place that had me in tears. Try to remember Adrian telling ROCKY to “WIN” after having ROCKY Jr. in the hospital. Then Mickey yells, “WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?! TAKE THIS!” That’s how I felt. Game on. Time to get to work. It was a decision I could not make on my own. We made it together and that meant we were in it together and that’s what made all the difference. I registered for the race right then and there on the couch and we both got a good laugh when I got a message from Katie Hoban Peterson the next morning that I had registered as a 90-year-old. It was one of those nights and the last one I would have for four months. I ran the next day because I said I would. I was training for the Oil Creek 100 again. I was dreaming again. It was time to hit the trails.


I have trained on the beautiful trails at Merrill Creek Reservoir near my home a lot in the past. What I did not know was that I had only seen a small portion of what those trails have to offer. On the other side of the reservoir I found a climb that reminds me of the ski slope at Virgil Crest. I would become intimately acquainted with this section of my favorite training ground. Not long after deciding to run Oil Creek again I teamed back up with my coach Lisa Smith Batchen. Lisa is one of my favorite people in the world. Not just because she is an amazing coach who has the ability to get the best out of you, but because her heart is bigger than any mountain she will ever help you face. It felt like old times. Jen, Lisa and I were realistic about Oil Creek. I had jumped into training very late and I was very out of shape. I had difficulty getting to 10 miles on my early long runs. We had all decided that if Oil Creek doesn’t happen this year there will always be next year and other races. A lot of my training runs were spent thinking about Oil Creek in 2012. I was just happy to be running again.  I had a three race plan in my training – Mahalon Mayhem 50K, Labor Pains 12 Hour and the Virgil Crest 50 Mile. Oil Creek would depend on the outcome of each of these races. Each one of those races changed me in some way. After completing Virgil Crest faster than last year in some of the worst mud I have ever run in, I knew we were headed back to Oil Creek. When my family was sleeping that night in our hotel after Virgil Crest I sat alone on the bathroom floor and I cried. I never expected to be back in the place I was. I was overwhelmed with the thought of where I was going. Oil Creek isn’t just a race for me. It’s my reminder that if you seek God He will find you. You just need to face in the right direction and get moving.  

Problems on the Trail
 The first loop (31 miles) was the best of my race. I felt really good and I completed it in 7:58. This is a faster pace than I am use to but Lisa and I had decided on a faster start since I am a runner who is often chasing cut offs. This first loop made all the difference as I soon ran into problems that slowed me down significantly. First came the blisters on the balls of both of my feet under calluses and on both heels. The balls of my feet felt like I was stepping on knives for 40 miles. Next came the worst chafing I can ever remember on my legs. I had run the skin off my legs and it was a mess on both sides for the entire second half of the run. I felt like I was on fire. Next came awful stomach problems and I was wretching on the trail and unable to keep any food down for the last 20 miles. I completed the second loop in 10:02 and the third in 10:35. Both loops much slower than I had hoped for but considering the blisters, chafing and stomach issues I was glad to still be moving forward. If I would have taken it easier on the first loop I would not have finished the race.

Night on the Trail

 I spent the dark hours running with an amazing ultra runner named Farouk Elkassed. I spent the night behind him and getting lost in the rhythm of our breathing and our movement. I remember a time when I felt like I was floating along and I no longer felt any pain at all. We were moving at a very good pace and I felt like I had run very far inside myself – if that makes any sense. I was comfortably floating along. This was also the time for my favorite hallucination of the race. I looked up at the sky and I saw a gigantic jack o’ lantern. It was HUGE. I couldn’t believe someone had somehow brought a Batman signal and set it up to put this giant jack O’ lantern in the sky. I remember saying. “Farouk! Check it out! It’s a GIGANTIC Jack O’ Lantern!” It’s amazing!” Farouk looked at it for a good two minutes before responding. “Dude, that’s the moon.” I wasn’t fully convinced but one thing is for sure. It was beautiful.

Seven Miles with Tom Lane – Redemption Run
 Farouk and I had run together right through the sunrise and when morning fully arrived he was energized and I was finding it hard to keep up. At this part of the race I was dreaming of porta johns and stopping at everyone to empty out my stomach that refused food and now water. Farouk was soon way ahead of me and I was alone on the trail. I finally made it back to the school and Jen was waiting at the bridge for me at mile 93. I don’t remember much of this arrival. Jen says I didn’t acknowledge her at all and was blindly staring into space. I took more time at this aid station than any other. I changed my socks, used the bathroom (again) and tried to eat a bit but my stomach wasn’t having it. I was dreading the last seven miles especially knowing that the last climb called “the Truth” was awaiting me. Tom Lane walked with me a bit out of the aid station and then decided to pace me for the last seven miles. This was the best part of my race. Tom is “that guy” you want to know. He is kind to everyone and makes you look at yourself and reevaluate how you treat others. I hardly thought about the last seven miles running with Tom – and yes, he had me RUNNING again. It reminded me of Jimmy Dean Freeman coming out to run with me at the end of the Brazil 135 when I was barely hanging on and wearing Crocs for the last 30 miles since me feet were no longer recognizable. People like these guys find ways to motivate you when you are at your lowest and get you moving and smiling again.  When we got to the hill called “The Truth” I told him how much that name moves me as we moved up it. If I have one regret from my race, it’s not sharing how I really felt with Tom climbing up that mountain at mile 96 with tears in my eyes. I knew exactly what I would be thinking about if I made it to “The Truth.” These words:

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Matthew 17:20

I had once again lived those words and a few short miles later I crossed the finish line at 31:39:39 and Race Director Tom Jennings handed me my redemption buckle. I turned to Jen and said, “Where’s your hat?” Without her I would never be standing there battered but indescribably happy. Without her I would not be the man I am today and I am proud to say I like who I am. I am a seeker. I am a dreamer. I am a lion chaser. I am a man not afraid to love. I am a friend of God.

Final Thoughts

Oil Creek is not just a race. It’s become a family reunion in three short years. The volunteers aren’t just there to feed you they truly care about you. This race touches so many lives you don’t need to be a runner to experience the love this run creates. For me, it’s an example of everything that is right in the world. It’s not just about running. For me, running is way down the list. It’s about living in the moment. It’s about chasing dreams. It’s about loving your neighbors and caring for others and helping others be the best they can be.

Thanks for stopping by. 

                                                     Photo by Jen Sperduto

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Virgil Crest 50 Mile Race Report

                                                        Mile 36. Photo by Jen Sperduto

Running the Virgil Crest 50Mile felt like coming home. It’s hard to describe how I feel about completing this race again this year. It’s truly an amazing race. The aid stations, volunteers and race director are all incredible. The course will challenge any runner. It’s beautiful beyond a doubt. The first 36 miles were a slow painful and doubtful experience. The mud was everywhere. Up to my ankles for a lot of the day. I tried to lose myself in the beauty that abounds on this course but it was hard to look at anything but where to successfully put my next step without falling on my ass. Fall on my ass I did. Six times. Not painful falls. More like a little kid sliding down a soft, slippery mud hill.  I had the normal thought I get on a difficult run of “why I am doing this again?” I felt from the get go I would be battling the cut off times all day. I had doubts of finishing the race early on. Everything changed for me at mile 36. I think the best way to explain it is acceptance. I decided right after a hot cup of soup and a nice chat with my awesome, supportive wife that I was going to run the remaining miles with a different attitude. I stopped worrying about cut offs. I stopped bitching to myself about mud and how much better I would be doing on firmer ground. I just stayed in the moment and I ran. A dominate thought in my mind was this is who I am. This is who I chose to be.  For all the pain and discomfort that can come from the experience of an ultra marathon it doesn’t hold a candle to the quite moments alone climbing a monster hill when you really find out who you are. It’s in those moments my mind becomes clear and I feel an unexplainable closeness to God. I like to remind myself in those moments why I chose this wonderful way of life.  I am a seeker. In those moments I am defined. I was overwhelmed with this feeling at Virgil Crest. I describe the feeling to my wife as God punching me in the stomach. I swear I can FEEL Him smile. I had that at mile 36 and it stayed with me the rest of the race right to the finish line.
I completed the Virgil Crest 50 faster than I did last year with a time of 15:47. I crossed the finish line in a dead sprint and I felt strong. I wished I was running the 100 miler. A wonderful thought to bring with me to the starting line of the Oil Creek 100 in eight days. The feeling I had at Virgil Crest has stayed. It feels almost like a state of half dreaming and awake. I am bursting out of my skin waiting to toe the line at Oil Creek. I know it will be challenging. I know I will have my down moments and like every ultra I have ever run something will go wrong. But I also know I am going back to the trails where my dream began. The place and the race I chose to challenge myself with an impossible run in the hopes of knowing God again while teaching my mind and body what it means to go beyond what I thought possible. I’m going back to Oil Creek and I am running 100 miles. When the moment comes, and I’ll know it when it comes, I am leaving everything on those trails.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Return to Virgil Crest

With my daughter Emily after the Mahlyon Mahem 50K.

I'm on my way back to beautiful upstate NY today to run the Virgil Crest 50 Mile Ultra Marathon tomorrow. I completed this race last year and I remember it as one of the most difficult races I have ever done. The course has 10,000 feet of elevation for 50 miles and the most difficult section goes up and down a black diamond ski slope twice. Many of the climbs remind me of my adventure running the Brazil 135 Mile Ultra Marathon.  I've thought a lot about this race during the last few months. I’m registered for the Oil Creek 100 Mile Trail Run in 15 days and I promised myself I would only return to Oil Creek if I complete Virgil Crest with no major issues. I’ve lost around 17 pounds and though it’s a slow go the weight IS coming off. I haven’t had bread, wheat, flour or sugar for three months and I’m losing about five pounds a month. I’ve been back training with my amazing coach Lisa Smith Batchen for the last few months and my perspective on running has changed a lot this time around. I feel in many ways I am a more mature runner. Less stressed for sure. I don’t feel like my training is all about one race. I see myself in it for the long haul. I’m taking it as it comes and if I’m not ready for one race there will be another. I honestly did not think I would run Virgil Crest or Oil Creek this year and I was OK with that. But … here I am. Mentally, I am just beginning to feel ready and that’s exciting. I have hopes that I will continue to run ultra marathons for the rest of my life. I still find myself feeling like a little kid as I am out there for a race or dreaming about one on a long run. There are so many amazing experiences to be found out there on the trails. I recently ran the Labor Pains 12 Hour Run and completed 40 miles on a very hot and humid day. I contemplated stopping several times. But I gutted it out. When I told my wife I was going out for one more loop after 35 miles the pride I saw her in eyes gave me goose bumps.  It was a moment hard to describe.  I looked like hell and I was hurting BAD. The humidity was brutal and I just wasn’t having a great day. But I told myself if I do not finish the run I would not run Virgil Crest. So I kept on moving. Few things in life can ever compare to making the woman you love proud. Especially when you feel like a battered gladiator doing it.  I did not listen to music until the last loop of the race. I was saving my favorite running music for the last loop. It’s the songs I listened to in Brazil and at Oil Creek. It’s very special music to me that brings me to another place in my mind. In between the songs my daughter speaks to me and encourages me. When I heard the songs I have run too for so many miles my heart and my spirit soared. I turned a corner and a runner heading in to complete the race raised his water bottle to me in a salute. The look in his eyes I have seen before. It said we are still here. We are different and today we are special. Today we are finishers. I picked up the pace and I began to cry. I hit the trail to the woods and I lifted my own bottle to the sky and looked up. I saluted my Friend who I spend most of my time thinking about when I run. I yelled as loud as I could and I felt completely free. Connected. Loved. I finished that race in a full out dead sprint and almost puked at the end. But all I could think about was the salute I received from a fellow warrior on the trail and my own.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What I Learned from a Fish

                                                              A fish called Walter

I first met Walter about three months ago in one of my favorite fishing holes on the Pequest River.  The first time I saw him he launched out of the air like a rocket and I thought my heart skipped a beat. He took off down river and my reel was singing as the line went straight to the backing. He broke the fly off my tippet and I was left staring at the river with my mouth open wondering what just happened. Like a bad addiction, I kept coming back to the river conveniently a mile from my home to hunt for Walter. Trout have a tendency to return to the same place and they rarely wander far from home. I hooked and lost Walter four times over the last three months. The last time he launched into the air and I swear he smiled at me before he spit the hook from his mouth. Each time I would ceremoniously lose Walter I would come home and tell my wife and daughter the story of another epic battle where Walter was the victor.  I believe even my family had grown fond of this fish. After a fight for the ages I finally landed Walter today and got to hold the beautiful fish. He flew out of the air three times and it took me 30 minutes to finally bring him to hand. He was too big to fit in my net so I had to bring him to the shore. When Walter and I finally met face to face I felt as if I was looking at an old friend. Like my fly fishing buddy and NJ fishing Guide John Heaney said, when I finally landed him I had a whole new respect for the fish. I took my pictures, of course, and gently got him back in the water and swimming again. I tipped my hat to Walter waved goodbye and thanked him for the experience. It’s one I will never forget. There is something very special about that fish. The pictures of him leaping out of the air are etched in my mind. Though I likely woke up sleepy neighbors with my screams of frustration the times I lost him I’m glad I did. Nothing easy has ever felt truly earned and Walter is a reminder that perseverance brings rewards and if you keep trying eventually you may land the fish, the job, the next great picture and maybe even finish the race.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Coming Back to Life

                                                                Photo by Jeremy Lock

It's hard to stay away from the things you love. Especially when those things teach you how to live, love, hope and dream. I've missed running terribly. I didn't realize how it has such a profound effect on my life until I stopped. I always felt guilty when my running would take me away from my family. It wasn't until I stopped running that I realized how running made me a better husband and father. When I was running I was happier. I was more relaxed. More focused. I was more in the moment when around my family and others. Running made me an all around better person. When I was running I had faith. I believed. With each passing day that I was not running I would look back on my running adventures as some of the greatest moments of my life. They were adventures completely fueled for my love and friendship with God. That relationship becomes difficult for me when I am not running. It's just one more reason I stopped. I became confused and frustrated that a feeling so strong was confined to the trails. I began to doubt.
I have begun to run again and I am signed up to run the Oil Creek 100 Mile Trail Run Oct 08. Right now, it feels impossible. Hopeless. However, I know from experience that anything is possible. All you have to do is keep moving forward. You have to want the dream so bad that you can taste the finish line months before you step to the starting line. You have to enjoy the journey. Expect the difficult days and push through them. Cherish the moments when you feel so damn good you start dancing on the trail. Possibly screaming to the clouds because you are all alone in the middle of nowhere. Looking up and remembering. Dreaming. Feeling completely and wonderfully alive.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taking a step back before stepping forward

                        My daughter Emily and I before the Oil Creek 100.

It’s been a month since I have tied on my running shoes and there is part of me that misses it terribly. It’s the seeking part of me. The Oil Creek 100 ended for me at mile 62 and I still haven’t processed the experience. I have attempted to update this blog on many occasions and have been left staring at the white of my Microsoft word doc or deleting a long rambling. I have decided to take a break from training and long distance running and cleared my calendar of any ultras I had scheduled for 2011 including the McNaughton 200 mile in March. I’m not sure what my future as an ultra runner holds for me. Training for Oil Creek the second time around and my inability to lose one pound no matter how many miles I ran or how strict I stayed on my diet was terribly disappointing. Many people run to lose weight. I was stuck in an endless rut of not being able to lose weight so I could be a better runner. In four months of intense training and dieting I was one pound heavier. I began to no longer look forward to my long runs. I was always hungry.  Running became a chore and the only reason I was doing it was because I made a commitment and I had to follow through.  Everything I did revolved around my running and losing weight and what I needed to do to lose it. I tried everything I could think of. Cleanses, diet pills, 1,500 calories a day diet, 3,000 calorie a day diet, Weight Watchers, appointments with doctors and nutritionists, metabolism checks (I apparently don’t have a metabolism) it all became tiresome and nothing worked. I was eating to much or I was not eating enough. I was going in circles. Terribly frustrated. The simple reality for me was that burning more calories than I put in my body resulted in no weight loss. Running was once a way I could lift myself out of any depression I was feeling but now I was depressed just thinking about running. I ran Oil Creek 30 pounds heavier than I’d hoped and I was 17 pounds heavier than the year before. Why my body now refused to lose one pound, I have no idea. I wasn’t disappointed when my run ended at mile 62. The run started off amazing but eventually my stomach couldn’t keep anything down. My pace slowed so much I could not have made the next cut off time. To be perfectly honest, I was just glad it was over. Instead of feeling disappointed, I was now glad I could take a break from being disappointed.  Feeling healthy and running should go hand in hand and I was terribly tired of running so long and so far and no longer feeling healthy doing it. I was tired of seeing the scale say I was one or two pounds heavier two days after a 20 or 30 mile trail run. I was tired of stepping on the scale and having it ruin my day or my week. I know this post is not terribly inspirational and if you are still reading I’m surprised. In a way I’m writing just to get these thoughts down and move on from the race. Maybe move on from running. I enjoy overcoming challenges and I love doing the impossible. That was once running 50, 100 or 135 miles. Today, it’s simply learning how or why I can’t lose five pounds. When and if I can figure that one out I hope to try again. Someone said to me this week that I accomplished goals and dreams with my running that are hard to fathom and for some hard to even believe. Those adventures were all about believing. No matter what the future brings, those times, those dreams will always shape my life.
Thanks for stopping by.