Christmas Music…The Gift That Keeps on Giving.

26 Dec

Well, it’s the 26th of December. Like many of you, I woke up knowing it was time to burn some of the eggnog, smoked salmon, tamales, and God knows whatever else delicious food we’ve devoured over the past two days of non-stop noshing. Oh, and beer.

It finally warmed up a bit here in AK, so I didn’t have to get too nuts with the apparel, which was nice. I harnessed up Bonnaroo, threw on the studded Adidas Adizero XTs, and rolled out the door. As I’ve mentioned before, we live conveniently close to the Anchorage trail system. The city grooms the main trails in the winter for cross-country skiing, but the trails are considered multi-use. Normally, trying to run on cross country trails isn’t really my cup of tea, but the trails here are quickly packed down by a multitude of dogs, walkers, hikers, cyclists, fat-bikers, and runners. Conditions this morning were downright pleasant. The trails were nice and firm, temps around 10F, and I waited until around 9:30 so I wouldn’t have to run with my headlamp.

As usual, I began the run chilled, but quickly warmed up with the effort. Bonnaroo was psyched to get out, and it felt good to elevate my heart rate. But something was amiss…not physically – I am considerably out of shape right now, so the slow pace came as no surprise. Plus, all I saved all my sympathy weight gain for after the marathon, so I’ve packed on 6-7lbs since Oct 27th (yay!).

No. Something else was wrong. In my mind. Something sinister was looping continuously. Timing itself to the cadence of my run.

Christmas music.

And not just any Christmas music; the most insipid, rote, and simple tune. “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

I blame Pandora, really. We had a bunch of folks over on Christmas Eve and Pandora’s Christmas channel was the soundtrack to a night of jubilation. It was lovely. But, as anyone can attest, Pandora is just like any other radio station. There are only so many songs to choose from once you thumbs-down Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller. After four hours, I’m pretty sure we heard “Here Comes Santa Claus” crooned by Bing Crosby, Harry Connick, Jr., and maybe even Mariah Carey at least a dozen times.

Anyone who has gone on more than one run in their lifetime will tell you that nothing is worse than having one song stuck in your head for an entire run.  This morning was beyond cruel. Surely, even Bonnaroo could hear the song on maniacal repeat. And it would be one thing if, when it happened, you could hear the whole song. Maybe a little chorus to break it up? Some instrumental introduction to lighten the mood? But that just isn’t how the mental tape-recorder works, evidently. No, I was instead treated to an hour of one line, over and over and over and over and over:

“Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus lane.”

I tried to recall different songs. Ever do that while running? It’s like trying to do circles on your stomach with one hand while patting your head with the other. I also tried to just zen out and focus on the sound of my feet crunching the snow. But it was all useless. Try as I might, Santa Claus just kept trotting down his damn lane, evidently content to never get wherever the hell he was headed. This, I thought, was the reason headphones and music players were invented.

Happy Trails!

Happy Trails!

After an hour, I was mercifully released from my stay in Christmas music hell.  A little over eight miles in the bank, and a happy pup in tow, I took off my shoes, and walked into the house. My Pandora will be tuned to death metal and gangster rap for the next 364 days. Enjoy your brief respite between Christmas and New Year’s parties, and for the love of all that’s holy, don’t even mention Christmas music the next time you see me.



Catching Up with Megs Lederer, R4V ED

13 Aug
Megs (+1!) at "The Office"

Megs (+1!) at “The Office”

Last year, I ran a blog post interview of Meghan (Megs) Lederer, the Executive Director or Team Race for Veterans. At the time, R4V was just getting going, and I’ve witnessed tremendous growth over the past year as an R4V Ambassador. I thought it was high time to catch back up with Megs and share what’s been going on over the past year. It’s easy to forget about the harsh realities of NPOs – long hours, low pay, and often, not much concrete to show for your efforts. But as you will read below, Megs and team have a ton to show for the past year. Bravo to Megs, R4V and all who support!

Q: What has happened in the year since our last email interview?

Megs: GROWTH! Team R4V has more than tripled our monthly applicants since our last interview and established three programs:

  • R4V’s Warrior Athlete Program – Provides wounded warriors/service members with the tools they need to be an athlete and compete once again. It is the cornerstone program of R4V, providing veterans with a one‐stop shop for all of their athletic needs. Examples include: Coaching/Mentoring, Funding for races/events, grants for adaptive sports equipment, etc.
  • R4V’s Warrior CrossFit ProgramCrossFit is the principal strengthening and conditioning program for most of the military branches, thus many veterans and service members feel a deep sense of connection to the sport. Team R4V was thrilled to launch its Warrior CrossFit Program in June of 2012, in which R4V provides: Ongoing support to CrossFit Walter Reed, sponsors a CrossFit Walter Reed Athlete of the Month, supports wounded veterans and service members pursuing their CrossFit coaching certification, provides scholarships for CrossFit gym memberships, and funded the Working Wounded Games.
  • R4V’s Heroes & Family Healing Program – When veterans are wounded or sick, it’s not just the warrior who is affected, but the entire family unit; thus, the entire family often needs support. Through this program, Team R4V provides gym memberships for the entire family, club memberships, swimming memberships, etc. Our philosophy is that families that play together stay together.

Q: What kind of strides has R4V made in finding and serving veterans who could use your help?

Megs: Since last year was our first full year in operation, we did not do much outreach as we did not want to grow too fast, but that did not stop the growth! Beginning this year, we began with our outreach slowly, reaching out to VA Adaptive Sports Coordinators, contacts at the Paralympics, and published a few articles in magazines, but our most successful outreach to date has been word of mouth.

We will begin more robust outreach toward the end of 2013 to let more wounded veterans know about our programs now that we have our infrastructure set and feel ready to handle more applicants.

Q: How much does it cost?

Megs: The cost of supporting a wounded veteran and his/her family varies greatly from one veteran to the next. Some examples include:

  • Family gym memberships and CrossFit gym memberships average between $75-$200/monthly
  • Personalized coaching costs approximately $175/month
  • Equipment can range anywhere from a $30 abs mat for CrossFit Walter Reed to $1,000+ adaptive cycling equipment
  • CrossFit Coaching Certifications (which provides veterans with a steady source of income and a free membership to a CrossFit gym) cost $800
  • Travel/competition entry fees vary greatly depending on the competition (entry costs between $20-$150) and travel depends on if the veteran needs/wants a family member there for support, if the veteran needs to fly or drive, if the veteran needs to ship equipment, etc.

Team R4V works with each veteran through the application process to cater programs/services to his/her needs and wants. It is very individualized, so the costs from one grantee to the next can vary greatly.

Q: You’re a new non-profit – what have been the challenges of establishing R4V and what have you learned as an ED over the past year?

Megs: I have learned a lot about the nonprofit world and also about myself through this journey. Starting a nonprofit is no easy task. You rely heavily on the generosity of others both financially and for their expertise and time. You have to ensure folks that you are not only going to use the resources bestowed to your organization in a prudent manner, but also that their time/money IS going to make a DIFFERENCE. After all, this is why we give, right? This is difficult to do right out of the gate when you literally have no success stories to share. However, after you get those first couple of success stories and people hear/read about the impact that their time/money is making, you gain momentum!

On a personal note, I have had to learn the beauty of boundaries. As an ED (and the only employee of Team R4V who works from home), I can work 80 hours a week and still feel like the job is not done. This is very difficult for someone who is not only incredibly passionate about the cause, but also is Type A. I am still working on those boundaries, but I am getting there.

I’ve always believed people are generally good hearted, but I have experienced incredible acts of generosity time and time again since the founding of R4V. Since the media often inundates society with the more desolate and hopeless stories about mankind, it is easy to become cynical. On a daily basis, this job renews my sense of the goodness of mankind.

Q: What can we expect to see out of R4V in the future?

Megs: More of the same: Growth and expansion while staying lean and changing lives. Our goal is to become a highly effective and efficient nonprofit. This means keeping overhead costs low and relying heavily on volunteers and “ambassadors” as we continue to serve additional veterans and their families. I expect 2014 will be a booming year for R4V.  We are ready and excited to continue giving back to our nation’s heroes!

The Human Performance Bubble

15 Jul

When I trained for Grandma’s Marathon in 2010, I did so while dealing with a pretty intense work schedule. I traveled a lot, usually a couple weeks out of the month, and trips were often short-notice. My training was intense – lots of high volume and long marathon-pace workouts, which took a lot of time out of the day. On top of this, I was commuting 45 minutes each way, every day. Time, in short, became a precious commodity. Somehow I managed to make it all happen, but I made a lot of sacrifices along the way; time with my new bride, focus at work, and hobbies all kind of fell by the wayside for the six months leading up to the race. I pushed my body to its absolute limits during that time, but two months out, things began falling apart. I got injured after making a foolish decision to run a fast 24M in my racing flats at around 2:54 marathon pace, then followed it up with three weeks working nights at work. It was a radical schedule shift that severely affected my sleep and recovery. Then, Pedro 66 went down and I went into a mental and spiritual freefall. In one month, I went from a fitness state that made me truly believe I was capable of a sub-2:40 marathon, to wondering if I could race at all. I had to make some tough decisions, but it all worked out well. I PR’d, ran 2:48, and felt that I competed in a way that honored my fallen comrades.

I like to think of human performance as a bubble that will only stretch so far, and stress is what causes the bubble to shift, shake, and grow. The ultimate goal of any training cycle is to ensure that the bubble is as big as it can be at the conclusion of the cycle, without rupturing it completely. And when I say “stress,” I don’t just mean stress as we think of it in our normal lives. Training is the process of applying stressors to the body in order to force adaption. Speed, endurance, strength: these are the specific stressors we apply through long runs, intervals, hill work, and tempo runs in order to force our bodies to endure more at faster speeds. But it’s also imperative to account for the other stressors that influence the bubble. Mental and spiritual stress affect the human performance bubble in a fashion just as tangible as the physical stressors.

As an example, let’s say you’re training for a marathon. You’re just beginning to hit your highest weekly mileage you’ll hit before the big race. You’re healthy, been responding well to training, and life is good. You have a plan, and you’re sticking to it. Then Life steps in and tosses a monkey wrench into the works. The kiddo gets sick and you’re only sleeping a couple of hours a night. A family member dies. The boss slams you with a short-notice project that has to be finished by the end of the week.

Ka-boom goes the plan.

You have a couple of choices in this scenario:

1. Drive on, life be damned. You stay on your training schedule, verbatim, despite the two hours of sleep you’re getting a night and the long days at the office. Your significant other pissed off at you, the boss still isn’t happy, and you’re generally pissed off at everyone. Not to mention tired beyond comprehension. An old injury flares up, but still you press. You press, that is, until everything comes to a grinding halt. The old injury turns you into a hobbling mess, you’re going to counseling to repair your broken relationship, the kiddo hates you because you’re such a grump these days, and your boss gives your project to someone who can actually work a full day without falling asleep at his desk. Is that race fee refundable?

2. You stop running completely, and focus on getting through the challenges at hand. You work things out at work and at home, but completely miss out on a full week’s worth of training. Now you’re freaking out because you know you didn’t do the work required to meet your goals. Everybody but you is completely happy.

3. Stop, collaborate, and listen. You look at the training plan for the week and take a realistic look at what you can and can’t do. You juggle some workouts around, cut out mileage to account for time you need to spend with the fam and at the office, all the while ensuring that you at least achieve your hard workouts for the week, and maybe that long run if you can get enough rest later on in the week. You spread yourself just as thin as you possibly can without shortchanging what you can’t. A week later, the kid is healthy, Momma is happy, and the boss wants to promote you. You go on to run a PR, score a shoe contract, and at your first interview, shout “I want Rupp!”

OK, maybe a bit hyperbolic and fanciful, but you get the general idea. Everybody has limits, and what happens in our athletic lives can not be divorced from what goes on the other 22 hours of the day. The smart athlete, smart coach for that matter, understands when to push and when to rein things in so the wheels don’t come off the bus. The bubble is only so big, can only take so much; it’s up to you to figure out how to make sure you don’t push it past its breaking point.

Bottom Line:

1. Approach your training holistically. Having a bad day at work or a big fight with Sweety can be just as detrimental to an afternoon track session as overdoing it on your “easy” run the day before.

2. Know your body. Deep down, every athlete has the ability to monitor his or her corpus and understand the body’s messages. You have to learn when you’re body is simply whining (c’mon, another 10 miler? How about we watch another episode of Mad Men and just think about running?) vs. when the body is sending you an important email (Hey dude, just thought you’d like to know that your right achilles is tender to the touch and swelling…maybe back it off for a few days.)

3. Be flexible, and above all, patient. No one ever won a race because of one awesome workout, and nobody ever lost one for having missed one awesome workout. Human performance is all about maximizing your potential given all the other factors that affect it. There will be times when you have to prioritize other things above your training, times when it’s just not a good idea to stick to the schedule. Keep an eraser handy when it comes to the training log, and be creative if required. There are more ways than one to get fit.

Five Things I Hate About Pete Magill’s RT Article “Ten Things I Hate”

26 Jun

“I could complain, but who would listen?” – Marcus Truman responding to my question “How are you?”

Oscar knows the deal with Michael Jackson.

Oscar knows the deal with Michael Jackson.

A couple of issues ago, Pete Magill’s regular column featured what amounted to a rant. Pete Magill is a national-class master’s runner, age-group record holder in the 5k, well-regarded coach, and until now, not someone I’d lump into the “grumplestiltskin” runner category. You know the type – always griping about poor race management, inconsiderate drivers, track etiquette, or some niggling injury. Kind of like, well…me, I guess.

The column really rubbed me the wrong way, on numerous levels. In fact, the latest issue of RT included one response telling Pete to stop whining. Of course, there were two other responses applauding Pete for airing common common complaints, illustrating that Magill’s gripes were far from groundless. Still, in the spirit of discourse, I feel the need to respond with my own list of gripes. My gripes with his gripes. That’s a lot of gripes.

Gripe #1: Mr. Magill’s hatred of dogs off-leash. Look, I’ve been charged by dogs off-leash, dodged more than one bite with a swift boot to a pup, and engaged in verbal altercations with irresponsible pet owners. But sniffing? Seriously? How can you possibly be afraid or annoyed with a dog who sniffs you. Everybody knows that a dog’s nose is the same as a human’s eyes. Little guy’s just checking you out, figuring out what your deal is. These days, when I run past dogs off leash, I simply give them a wide berth, and approach cautiously. Maybe even use that handy stop button on my watch while I suss things out.

Gripe #2: Mr. Magill’s fear of colds. Seriously? Hey, I get that having 2% body fat means you’re vulnerable to infection. But really, the world is a giant germ. Eat more bacon, carry hand sanitizer, and roll around in the dirt once in a while.

Gripe #3: Mr. Magill’s refusal to run against traffic. OK, I get this is more of a rhetorical debate than anything supported by statistical data. Running with traffic is one of two methods, and I guess counting on a driver *never* swerving out of his or her lane while approaching you from behind will work. It’s not like there are teenagers out there who talk, text, Twitter, and Facebook, all at the same time as driving? Right? And those same distracted drivers have never run over pedestrians they never even saw. Yeah, thing is, I’ve been hit by oncoming traffic, and the only reason I didn’t break a bone or worse is because I saw it coming and had a fraction of a second to prepare. As we say in my business, the best way to avoid an accident is to see it coming and avoid it. “See” would be the critical function in this debate…

Gripe #4: Mr. Magill’s inability to do anything not on his running schedule. This was just straight up whining, pure and simple. As I’ve been told numerous times, “we all make choices.” In this case, Mr. Magill has chosen an ascetic, and apparently really boring (no impromptu bike rides? oh, the humanity!) lifestyle. Anything worth achieving requires sacrifice, so suck it up and keep your complaints to yourself. Which leads me to my fifth and final gripe.

Gripe #5: Mr. Magill’s list of ten things he hates about running. Pete, you have a (usually) great column, chock-full of great wisdom regarding training. Stick with what works.

So, that’s it. I guess the answer to the quote at beginning of this post is, “whoever hears me,” or in this case, the lucky three people who will read this post.

The Burden of Command

23 Jun

20120914-125426.jpgTwo weeks ago was the third anniversary of Pedro 66. Mike Flores, Ben White, and Joel Gentz are still gone but never forgotten. In the past weeks, as I anticipated the day, I reminisced about a couple things – doing a “backcountry” travel day with Flo and the guys up on Mt Lemmon in some truly awful snow conditions; Ben showing up at the 48th with a busted leg and me telling him to heal up because the unit needed him; and driving in to Shaw AFB the morning of June 9th, 2010, and hearing an NPR report about a helicopter shot down in Afghanistan.

But what’s been most on my mind is how something like Pedro 66 begins to fit into the narrative of my life and career. I’ve been in this business for 14 years now, and all my career I heard other officers talk about this thing called “the burden of command.” As it was explained to me, it meant all or some of the following:

– You’re the first to show up to work and the last to leave

– You’re the guy who takes the blame when things go bad, but get none of the credit when things go right

– A commander is aloof from his men and lives a solitary existence due to the distance required by professionalism

– It’s your tail on the line, so you do whatever it takes to protect your career

– The decisions you make could be the difference between life and death for your subordinates

To be fair, I’m in the Air Force, so that last bullet was always delivered in a fighter jock-specific fashion, and always received with a high level of skepticism. After all, the Air Force I joined in 1999 wasn’t doing anything dangerous but a few patrols over northern and southern Iraq. As a young officer, it seemed to me that this whole “burden” thing was more about sucking up extra office work.

Then came 9/11, and with it, a whole litany of experiences I could not have foreseen on 2 Jun 99, when I threw my cap in the air at the Thunderbirds overhead. I began to find myself on the ground, outside the wire, in strange places where someone might be inclined to kill me or my men. I was a leader, but never a commander, and it’s one thing to make a call that end your own life; it’s another thing altogether to stay behind and send your people to do something that might kill them all.

When I left the 48th in 2009, I had a talk with the men in the unit theater. Flo and Ben were definitely there. On the wall, to my left, was the Rescue Creed, and it ends with “These Things We Do, That Others May Live.” I reminded them of that last bit, which implies the possibility of a trade. Our lives for the lives of those in need. It’s not “Maybe we do these things, if it’s safe, not scary, and only if no one dies.” I wanted them to remember that last part, since the Air Force does a great job of reinforcing decisions made solely on CYA. But I’m not sure I fully grasped the whole idea. It is, after all, one thing to say, and another to do.

When Pedro 66 went down, my real education began. Obviously, they were not under my command, seeing as I was at a headquarters job and they were downrange. But the pain I felt when those men died was a reminder that this idea of sending men into a fight, this business of leading them; held consequences of a nature that must be felt to be understood. I was sobered. The Rescue Creed moved from a quote we used to shout when we were cold, wet, tired and hungry in training; to a sharp-edged reality resting in a cold light. That’s right, these things I will do. And the consequences will be mine to bear.

Last year, my education continued. While downrange, one of my men was wounded in action under my command. To the rest of the maneuver military, this might seem a “so what?” kind of deal. Happens all the time, right? But the rest of the maneuver military typically command their own; infantry officers command infantry, armor officers command armor, and special ops officers command their own operators. Due to our incredibly small footprint, Pararescuemen and Combat Rescue Officers have always worked for Rescue helicopter and Hercules pilots. Until a few years ago, no Combat Rescue Officer ever commanded a deployed squadron.

I’d sent out the men on a risky mission, a long ways away, to help Afghans hit by a suicide bomber. They were finally on their way home, two hours away still, when a call came on the radio from one of our helicopters that one of my men was a “Category A” or urgent surgical patient. No names, no further info. Let me tell you something. I’ve perched solo in some precarious spots across the globe. Hung it out there more than a few times on my own. But the loneliest place I’ve ever been was the seat I occupied for the next hour, agonizing over who it might be and what might happen.

Since that night, as my friend and team mate has undergone months painful surgery and rehabilitation, I feel like I finally understand the true burden of command. The true burden is the harsh reality that you, as a commander, are the end of the line. And not just for stupid, meaningless things like whether or not your troops are accomplishing yet another mandated web-training module or taking fitness tests on time. Their lives literally hang in your hands. The decisions you make might take the lives or limbs of those who look to your decisions. These things might happen on a successful mission, let alone what might happen on a poorly executed operation. And you need to understand that when bad things happen, you will carry that weight for a good long while.

Race Report: Kal’s Knoya Ridge (Mountain Run)

31 May

When I was a junior at the Front Range School for Boys, I tried out the 3000m steeplechase. I ran the 300m hurdles in high school, so my form was decent, and I figured with my endurance as a collegiate miler, I’d probably be decent.

I was not.

My first steeple, I laughed after the first lap. I think we clocked around 74s for 400m. As a miler, I was used to going out no slower than 64s, and hanging on for dear life from there. This was going to be a piece of cake. But right around lap eight or so, the horrible realization dawned on me that unlike hurdles, steeple barriers can’t be knocked over. They felt so…permanent. 3000m of this became Sisyphean, and I slipped into a gloom. I contemplated simply running headlong into a barrier and knocking myself out cold. Each barrier grew harder and harder until the gun lap, during which I felt like flopping  myself over the barriers. The pain was unlike the mile, or even that blessed two lap acid bath, the 800m. This was borderline madness. I finished in a mediocre time, gave the race maybe one more shot, then decided the mile was a better fit.

Fast forward 16 years, and on Thursday, I entered my first mountain run trail race. Kal’s Knoya Ridge. I had a glimmer of what to expect, based on my experience with the Bonny Sosa trail series. But let’s be clear: this is my first week of running since getting off Denali last Sunday. I am out of (running) shape, and putting in the mileage this week has not been painless. I ran doubles Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, on the track Tuesday with Peak Performers…you get the idea.

Here’s what I knew: 1) The course would climb 2900′ of trail over 3-4 miles, giving it an average grade of around 20% (11ish degrees).  2) “Trail” can be a very subjective word up here in Alaska. Sometimes, it’s a legitimate trail, down which you might pleasantly occupy yourself. Other times, it’s simply an open expanse of bog, through which you are free to choose your own awful adventure. 3) I was not in any kind shape to truly race this thing. I approached it as a nice, long, hard, uphill workout. It would hurt, but not too badly, I thought.

Once again, I was wrong.

It was basically like running the steeple for around an hour straight, instead of 10:00. In case you’re wondering, that’s painful. It was a day for firsts, to be sure. My first full week of training; my first mountain run; first time I’ve split 10:00 at 1M and been red-lined; and the first time I’ve walked in a race. The course was muddy as hell, 45 degrees steep in places, and included some snow at the finish.

I ended up finishing 19th. I was probably 9th or 10th at 2M, but got destroyed in the last mile. I can’t tell you how surreal it was to be totally tapped out, walking up a steep portion and watching somebody walk faster past me, completely incapable of producing any response beyond a gasped, “goodjob.”


Remembering how to suffer.

After I finished and ensured my heart wasn’t going to explode, I stood up, turned around, and ran back down the course (the only other option was to walk and I was way too hungry to wait that long). It was a solid day, a great workout, and a totally humbling experience. As one of my bro’s says, I’m not a mountain runner (yet). But I’ll also say that with some fitness and some race experience, I could probably be pretty decent.

Gear Reviews That Don’t Suck: DC Rainmaker

4 Mar

I decided it’s time to get a new GPS watch, as my foray into cheapies was pretty disastrous. It’s a big investment to drop a couple hundred bucks on a watch, so I like to do my homework before I plunk down my coin. While the Interwebz is full of useful info, it’s also full of a lot of crap. So, when I come across useful info, I like to share it.

Last night I found DC Rainmaker’s website and boy was I blown away. The dude does his homework, and shares all the information. And I do mean “all.” While I could do without the blow-by-blow photo sequence of how a particular watch unboxes, his reviews are methodical, detailed, and imaged to provide as much information as possible about the item in question.

I think it’s safe to say he’s a techie. According to his blog, he owns five smartphones, just so he can test out any fitness app he desires. Wow. Anyway, if you’re looking at a new running watch, check out the link above. I guarantee you’ll get as much info as you can process. While I think my reviews definitely Don’t Suck, DC Rainmaker might just be the Original Gangster of Gear Reviews…


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