Jemez Mountain 50

Mile 10ish of the Jemez Mountain 50 mile course. Still feeling good... Elizabeth Riley photo.

Mile 10ish of the Jemez Mountain 50 mile course. Still feeling good… Elizabeth Riley photo.

“Go toward your fears.”Dean Potter

“The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.” – Chogyam Trungpa, Shambhala

After twenty miles of technical, rocky trail running at the Jemez Mountain 50 mile race in Los Alamos, New Mexico, this past Memorial Day weekend, I realized that this race was probably not going to end the way that I wanted it to. Although at that time I still felt relatively good, I was obviously slowing down. This fact wasn’t observed by marking split times on my watch, but instead by the steady stream of runners passing me one-by-one and slowly pulling away into the distance. For the first four hours I had run fast and strong near the front of the pack, but with my position continually declining and over 30 miles of running left to go, I could see that this race had all the makings of a classic death-march.

A “Death-March” in an ultra-running race is the very unpleasant effect of having not correctly paced yourself for the distance you are trying to cover, and thus reaching a point of physical degeneration that is exquisitely painful and can seem to persist just about forever. It is a condition from which there is no recovery, until you choose to quit moving and sit down, that is. Running long distances inevitably causes muscular damage, and running faster causes the damage to happen sooner. Muscles break down and begin to tighten up. Tight muscles cause limited mobility, ruining proper running form. A heap of accumulated miles induces pain – in the joints, in the connective tissue, and in the muscles themselves if they start to cramp. Add the pain and the limited mobility together and you get an ever-decreasing running speed, until running stops being an option and you are simply walking. But even at a walk the pain doesn’t leave, it persists as strongly as ever, and the amount of time you must endure to the finish only increases as your pace gets slower and slower. Staring down a trail that is twenty miles long, that will take a seeming eternity to finish, with jolts of pain at every step and smarter runners jogging past making you look silly… This is the Death-March.

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The Dream is to be Healthy and Balanced so that I can Run

Pumori, Khumbu, Nepal

“The first step of the dream-change process…is to define what we want, to make certain that it is a dream, not a fantasy… An essential next step is to give the dream energy. Constantly bring your dream out into the light of day. Think about it, meditate and journey on it. Talk about it with everyone you meet. Shout it out. Share it with the Earth, the sky, the clouds, the sun and moon, and with all the plants, animals, and minerals of the Earth. Give it voice and song!” – the shaman Manco, from The World is as You Dream It, by John Perkins
“The energy created by our dreaming is like air. It travels everywhere. Your ability to use this energy is limited only by your dream of its power. Your faith. Our dreams can affect everyone and everything else–if we energize them with enough power.” – the shaman Manco 

There was a specific moment which occurred this past year while trekking in Nepal when I truly came to realize what running means to me. My brother Paulo and I walked downhill in the morning sun along the main trail through the Khumbu region, the trail leading away from Everest Base Camp, which we had left that morning. As we strolled along we talked–musing, dreaming, contemplating–as we usually did. We were essentially ‘homeward bound’ as we were now headed out of the mountains on our final trek of the long three-month trip, so our thoughts naturally journeyed forward to what we would do next and where we were going. Within a few short weeks we would split and continue on following our own individual paths. Both of us intended to keep on traveling for many months. I had an entire itinerary planned for the next many months: the beaches of Thailand, then the northern mountains, on to the Indian Himalaya, Sri Lanka, then New Zealand… It was a dream trip that anyone would be envious of, but instead of looking forward to all the amazing sights and places I would see, I was instead pre-occupied with a dream of heading home and spending the summer in the mountains of Colorado, simply running.

Paulo walking down the trail where this story takes place, between the towns of Gorak Shep and Chhukung in the Khumbu

It didn’t make much sense, and I voiced my confusion to my brother in what I thought was a rhetorical question. “Why can I only think about running when I have so many amazing travels to partake in?”

By his immediate and pointed response, it seemed that he knew exactly why: “You need running to be who you are.” Continue reading

The Experience that was Meant to Be – DNF at the UROC 100k

“Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now. As you become more deeply aware of this one step, you realize that it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination. This one step then becomes transformed into an expression of perfection, an act of great beauty and quality. It will have taken you into Being, and the light of Being will shine through it. This is both the purpose and fulfillment of your inner journey, the journey into yourself.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now


“YOU SHOULD ALWAYS GO FUTHER THAN YOU SHOULD GO” – painting on the wall at Cafe Mobius in Silverton

I walked slowly and gingerly through the mud and melted snow which made up the Grand Traverse trail along the top of Vail Mountain, pain and stiffness torturing me with my every movement. The late afternoon light was exquisite–warm, yellow, comforting. The wind blew gently from the snow covered Mount of the Holy Cross on the horizon to my left, over my head, and on to the similarly adorned and equally as beautiful Gore Range across the valley to my right. I was somewhere around 45 miles and 8 hours into the UROC 100k trail race and I had just decided to give it up, I was walking to the next aid station where I would drop from the race. Surprisingly I felt totally at peace with the decision and knew that this was exactly what was meant to be on this day. I happily plodded along in the sun, watching the hawks soar overhead, and trying to understand all the lessons that this experience was supposed to teach me…

I had entered the Ultra Race of Champions about seven weeks prior after a lengthy discussion with a newly made friend, Edward Sandor, at a table in Cafe Mobius in Silverton, on a dreadful day where it was pouring rain outside. We had started up a conversation after noticing that we were each runners, something which was pretty obvious as we were both wearing running clothes. He hails from Minnesota and is a seasoned ultra-runner, touring the mountain west with his wife Alicia and their dog, running crazy long mountain trail races along the way. I took the opportunity to try to glean any nuggets of wisdom I possibly could from someone who runs much further than I typically do. The most prescient of these nuggets was that if you wait until you feel you are ready to run crazy long ultra races, you will never do it, cause really you are never ready. You just have to pull the trigger and jump into the deep end, and as far as he was concerned, a person couldn’t possibly do so soon enough. The conversation eventually ended with him telling me, “I will be extremely disappointed if I hear you didn’t end up running UROC!” So, buoyed by his belief in me and suckered by his “wisdom,” I registered a few days later.

ready?

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Solo in the Weminuche

“Mountain peaks are special places that can build energy in whomever sits on them.” – James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy
“The eternal present is the space within which your whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant. Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Power

Living your life completely in the present moment is a lot easier said than done. To dwell constantly on the details or events of the past, or to look forward relentlessly towards the future seems to be the pretty common human condition. It seems that either the present moment is not how we wish it was because something happened in the past that made it the way it is, or that the past was so much brighter than this moment, we just wish we could have those times back. Or on the flip-side, we can’t wait for what will happen to us, we just wish it was the future already, christmas can’t come soon enough, and this moment is just one to be endured on the way towards that rosy future. Then again, perhaps we are anxiously worrying about the future because we don’t know what will happen and don’t feel like we have enough control, and so can’t be happy right now because of our self-induced stress and tension. But to be present in the now is the teaching of virtually all the spiritual traditions, and it makes perfect sense, because it is indeed true that nothing ever happens any other time but right now, so why not embrace the only time which actually is?

For the past few weeks I have been trying to find a place to live in Silverton while camping out of my car in a nearby valley. With the constant logistical challenges of daily afternoon and evening rain, trying to store food in a cooler, cook stoves breaking, varmint invasions, and not enough money for the amount of eating out and drinking I found myself doing just for the luxury of being indoors, I slowly began to lose my acceptance of the present moment, which I found more and more uncomfortable by the day. I found myself yearning for a future in which I had a roof over my head and a kitchen in which I could cook food, or sometimes spent time dreaming about the past, when I actually had a home and all the material possessions which make our little human nests so comfortable and convenient. The blissful joy of not having a true care in the world, no matter what was actually happening to me, which I carried within myself upon coming back from Asia slowly evaporated, but I was not present enough to watch it happen, rather, it just happened, and I was left frustrated.

But then I did find a home, a large and comfortable home which is exceedingly cheap to rent, does not have a leaky roof, and has a plentiful kitchen and even a refrigerator. The inconveniences of weeks past were now solved, but the undiscriminating joy and bliss had not returned, because I did not realize that they had even left. Granted, I was not unhappy, had not reverted to my old mr. grumpy pants ways, it’s just that something minor had been misplaced without knowing it. Luckily I have learned to listen well enough to the voice in my head which often seems, and very likely is not, my own voice, which was pretty emphatically saying, “Go backpacking!” So into the wild I went…

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The Silverton Alpine Marathon

“Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.” Don Juan, The Teachings of Don Juan

 

“Set a goal to achieve something that is so big, so exhilarating that it excites you and scares you at the same time. It must be a goal that is so appealing, so much in line with your spiritual core, that you can’t get it out of your mind. If you do not get chills when you set a goal, you are not setting big enough goals.” Bob Proctor 

The beautiful San Juans

For a while now, I have been living my life in a mode where only one thing matters above all else: personal growth and self-betterment. After sampling spiritual practices from all over the world and trying to integrate what I like into my own practice, while also realizing that any true path to self-betterment will include a spiritual aspect, I have come to the conclusion that the path which will lead me to the most personal growth is one of committing myself to being the very best that I can possibly be. Nothing less than actually knowing that I have realized every ounce of my potential is good enough. I don’t think it matters what activity or discipline I choose to pursue, it is the intent that matters. Whether or not there is money to be gained from this path is also irrelevant, as the true wealth I gain will be experienced in the opportunities, friendships, and realizations made, the higher vibrations attained, while running this disciplined and committed path. Only once in my life do I ever remember committing all my energy for an extended period of time towards something that I knew I could eventually accomplish, yet was never-the-less very difficult to stay committed to, and I often look back at it as one of my most rewarding lessons. This time I plan to go way beyond that, because this time I have no idea what I might be able to accomplish…

I want to know just how far I can go, how high I can fly, how much inspiration I can disseminate into this world, what it feels like to actually know that I could not have possibly tried harder! I am going to follow this path as long as it takes! I don’t have to eventually be the very best, I just have to eventually be MY very best. It seems to me that in order to accomplish the most that you actually can, then you may need to set goals for yourself that may frankly seem totally ludicrous. I have set such goals for myself, and indeed they are so ludicrous that I do not even feel comfortable sharing them yet. I still laugh at myself when I think of these goals, “what a crazy nut!” These goals are so big that they simultaneously “excite and scare” me. It may in fact be possible to accomplish these goals, we shall have to wait and see how this mystery develops, but if in fact they prove to be impossible for me, at least they are big enough that I will end up at my limit trying to reach them! “Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars!”

If you know anything at all about me, and I am guessing you do, then you may be able to guess that my path of choice is mountain running. That’s the path with heart for me, and so I happily and blindly follow it! I can surrender everything to the mountains, and trust in them absolutely to teach me everything that I will need to know, and so I will…

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The Mobius Strip

“The Möbius strip … can easily be created by taking a paper strip and giving it a half-twist, and then joining the ends of the strip together to form a loop. The Möbius strip has several curious properties. A line drawn starting from the seam down the middle will meet back at the seam but at the “other side”. If continued the line will meet the starting point and will be double the length of the original strip.” Wikipedia

Arrow Peak reflected in the surface of a pond along the Colorado Trail.

Meditations, visions, yearnings, intuitions – all conspired to draw me here to Silverton, Colorado. Forces pulled me here from the other side of the world in a series of events that made no logical sense and ended up costing me almost all of the money I had saved for traveling. And yet, in my moments of greatest clarity I realized that logic has nothing to do with making the decisions that really matter, or it shouldn’t anyway. Lists of pros and cons, factors weighed against each other in some mathematical formula which will somehow lead to the “correct” decision should be discarded completely. This is the old way of thinking about what we are doing, where we are going, or what we should do – the new way needs none of these things, and is not bound or contained by any meticulousness or “reason.” The new way knows what needs to happen, where needs to happen, who needs to be met, and the only true action that needs to be taken is to be sure to stay in the current, not to get dragged off into a swirling, stagnating eddy. Bumping down the river, rock to rock, being mindful to pay attention to where the current bends and twists so as to keep moving forward, progressing, learning. An open heart is the guide…This is the new way, my new way…

Vestal Peak and the Wham Ridge bathed in sunlight.

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