Photo taken by Randall Levensaler

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Life Coach

There are some people in this world that just “get it.” They see things differently, or have a perspective that doesn’t seem to lend itself to the masses. Whatever they say always seems to be the right thing, or the answer that you were looking for all along. Blair Speed is one of those people. 
Blair and Char-char on the Bridgers.

Headed North from the Tetons, my next stop was Bozeman, MT. I had never been in “big sky” country before and was excited to see what it was all about. I was meeting up with Blair to do some trail running and catch up.

I first heard about Blair when my trail sister, Ashley Arnold, spoke about their childhood memories together. They have been best friends ever since they were three feet tall. I finally met Blair in person while pacing Ashley at the 2013 Leadville 100. Ashley went on to win the race in a speedy time of 20:25. 
Ashley and Blair before the start of the L100.

Blair was the perfect crew captain. Besides knowing the in’s and out’s of the course, she constructed a binder with color-coded tabs and more excel spreadsheets than a college stats class. We appointed her as the “rock” for our crew. When things got hectic, we all looked to Blair for the answer. Sure enough, she had an uplifting and logical response every time. As for her council with Ashley during the race, I had no idea what advice she would whisper, but Ashley left each aid station smiling and with a renewed sense of determination. 
Blair and Catsby.

Exhausted, I arrived at Blair’s quaint yellow condo around 2pm. I parked the Xterra and grabbed a bag from my back seat. I didn’t go more than two feet before I heard the backdoor open, followed by a cheerful “yayyyyyy you made it!” There stood Blair, wildly waving her hands in excitement while gusts of wind playfully tossed her long red hair. She looked like the poster child for an Eddie Bauer fall clothing campaign with her red plaid shirt and dark gray cords. By her side was Catsby, a regal orange and white long-haired meow.

After a big hug and lots of laughter, we headed to the Bridgers for our run (local rolling mountain range). 
Prepping for the Bridgers.

Overcast day = no blue skies.
Blair asked me about my life, knowing that I had recently quit my job, and what my next steps were going to be. I responded that I just hoped to train full time and see where my legs could take me. I didn’t have a long-term plan; I just knew that I wanted to give myself the opportunity that I had always dreamed of. Blair seemed impressed that I was taking control of what I wanted and was going for it.
Snapping photos of the incoming storm.

We continued to talk about my road trip, which I referred to as a vacation. “Wait, why does your road trip have to be a vacation?” Blair asked. “Why can’t this be a normal part of your lifestyle? It doesn’t really have to end unless you want it to. You are in control.” She was right. Why couldn’t this be normal, or an everyday thing? Why was I treating it as a reward, or something that I was only supposed to do a few times a year? It parallels the idea of special occasions. Sure they are nice, but why do people reserve only certain times to do something special? If the celebration, reward, or occasion is that important or “near and dear,” then why not try to obtain or embrace it every day?

Blair “life coach” Speed had just blown my mind with a simple question. She had just triggered a “reboot” to my brain, and had me looking at my life and choices from a whole new perspective. Blair gave me the ability to rewrite the book on how I had previously assumed life should be, and empowered me to become more aware of my control over my own life.

Thanks, Blair. 
Blair and I at the Ale House, post run :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Perseverance: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty (some dictionary on my mac).

Every day people go through rough patches. Situations both big and small, important and trivial. Sometimes you are lucky and know when the trouble is coming – and sometimes, it’s a surprise.

All in all, you have two choices:. fight back, or give up.

It had been a head-nodding eight-hour drive across the state of Wyoming. No shortage of lonely dry plains to stare at. As I was getting closer to the Tetons, I started to perk up.

Top: Park entrance. Bottom: Teton Massif.
I couldn’t wait to crest the pass that would give me my first glimpse of the Teton Massif. Ten minutes later, there it was, in all of its glory. The cold gray rock pierced through the smooth blue sky, cutting right through the clouds like a hot knife through butter. It was breathtaking, just like I hoped it would be.

My plan was to do the Paintbrush/Cascade Canyon loop as my final long run in preparation for the Stump Jump 50k on October 5. This loop is an approx. 20 miles long and reaches a high point of 10,700 ft.

Normally, I do long runs with training partners, mainly my trail sister, Ashley Arnold. I would be on my own for this run and in an area that I was unfamiliar with. Expectedly, I was nervous. What if I get lost? What I feel lousy and want to quit? What if I twist my ankle? What if there is bad weather? Oh, and what about the bears?!

I grabbed an americano and a veggie grilled cheese at a local café called Dolce, and began combating my fears.
I told myself to quit being a sissy. I mean, I’m a trail runner darn it! I live in backcountry Colorado and have dealt with most of these issues already. The difference was that I would be running in a new place and the only legitimate issues I would have to worry about were weather and wildlife. So, I decided to eliminate at least one of those problems.

I walked into Teton Mountaineering and searched for an employee who had time to chat. Long story short, I walked out of the store with a can of bear spray and was fairly certain I was going to meet my maker on the mountain the following day. So much for achieving piece of mind. 
$50 dollar piece of mind.

Morning came. I glanced out of my car window to see a sky filled with clouds...gray, unhappy clouds. Ugh! I was hoping for a bluebird day filled with amazing views. Well, I was in the Tetons and determined to give it a shot. 
Car camping. Actually quite comfy.

With a bright red can of bear spray in hand and a full Salomon S-lab pack of gear, I headed into the damp woods, boxed in by thick clouds. I began yelling YOLO, as in “you only live once,” when approaching blind corners so that I wouldn’t surprise any wildlife. I thought it was an appropriate phrase.

Deeper into the woods I ventured. The clouds weren’t burning off, and the wind was picking up. I hadn’t seen a sole the entire time. My mind started to get the best of me.
I began to manifest a grizzly chasing me down the trail, or the skies opening up with thunder and lightening, dumping buckets of cold water. I thought, maybe I’ll just turn when I hit an hour…make a good two-hour run instead. I knew if I did that, I would have given up, and let my ridiculous thoughts get the best of me.
Looking towards the divide. Boxed in by clouds.

I pushed on, yelling YOLO a bit louder. All of a sudden I noticed tree branches shaking ahead on the trail. I froze. This was it. Here comes the trail monster I was dreading. Nope…it was just Anton Krupicka. Go figure that Anton was in the Tetons and ironically running the same loop, just from the opposite direction.

It was great to see a friend at such an unexpected time. We chatted for a bit and he eased my mind about the wildlife. I asked him about weather on the divide (high point), and he said it was sketchy. Of course Anton had limited supplies and minimal clothing, so I figured I had enough gear to handle the conditions up high. We said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.

Salomon pack filled with goodies and gear.

With a half mile to go, I scrambled up the snow-covered talus trail. The wind was howling, pushing me around with its strong gusts. I felt like the elements were telling me I had no business up on the divide, but I could see the marker and wasn’t going to stop now. 
Last stretch until the divide maker. Not very pleasant.

A few minutes later, I reached the top. Success! An instead feeling of excitement passed through me. I had battled through mental and physical obstacles, and had reached my goal.  

Granted, I was literally only half way and still had to get down, but in my mind, the hard part was over. The snow and wind would lessen the more I descended, and I would be sure to run into more and more people now that it was later in the day.
Looking towards the back side of the loop. 
Selfie taken shortly below the divide. Less wind and much warmer.

I finished my run pleased with myself. I had accomplished what I had originally set out to do. I persevered through my demons, which has now made me stronger for the next time they rear their ugly heads. In the end, it’s about believing in yourself and your abilities – and not giving up
A happy me...with some sun, finally.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Memories can be lost, forgotten, or tucked away to a spot where they can’t be remembered. Is it intentional? Bad experiences and poor choices are obvious examples of things we consciously want to bury deep down inside of us so that it’s nearly impossible to recall.  The Mariana Trench of the mind, if you will.  

Unfortunately, positive memories, feelings and experiences can also be lost in the abyss of the “forgotten.” It may not be intentional, but sometimes things get buried in your subconscious. Once these memories have disappeared, it can feel like they never happened, never existed in the first place.

Custer, South Dakota. I pulled into Custer Mountain Cabins and Campground and parked my car in the front of a slightly weathered cabin labeled #2.
Painted bison street art in downtown Custer.
Salomon athletes, Cassie Scallon - expert mushroom hunter, and Matt Flaherty - musical genius, pulled up along side of me. After an approximately nine hour drive from Carbondale, CO, I had finally made it.

Our ring leader and master chef Dan Gorman had arrived earlier in the week. He was accompanied by Vincent Powell and Matt Matz, both mountain biking gurus. French speaking Canadian and guitarist, Vincent Marceau rounded out the rest of our group. They greeted us with Dan’s homemade surprise hot pepper pizza, and, of course, a cold beer. There isn’t any better way to be greeted upon arrival than that.
Dan making his famous pizza. YUM!

I felt like I was at summer camp as we tossed around stories, painting a picture of our unique personalities. We were all here to have a good time playing in the outdoors, and also to relax as deeply as possible. This was just what I was looking for after the past few stressful days tying loose ends at Trail Runner magazine.

The trip started with a moonlight hike, which turned out to be more of a 500-foot scramble up a granite spire. Our summit reward was a moonlit view of the sleepy town of Custer and a few celebration howls to honor the atmosphere’s amazing headlamp. Already, I was experiencing a degree of fun that I had forgotten was possible.

It was 6:45am, and I was lying wide-awake on the pullout couch. You couldn’t blink without this thing making a loud, creaky noise. Being the antsy early riser that I am, I made it a point to shift positions every 30 seconds to ensure a lively house in the next 10 minutes.

After an energizing breakfast of Quaker Real Medleys, I was out the door and headed towards Custer State Park. Matt Flaherty, Dan Gorman and I decided to tackle South Dakota’s high point – Harney Peak, 7,242 ft. We took the Willow Creek route, which made the out and back trip a total of 11 miles, with an approximately 2,700 ft. in vertical gain, one way.
Necessities for Harney Peak.

The trail reminded me of a combo of terrains. There was the obvious high desert feel that I experienced every day in CO, but also some thick, forest-like sections that reminded me of where I grew up in the Northeast.
View from the Willow Creek trail, heading towards the summit.
I had to remind myself to stay in the present as my mind began drifting to memories of running in Jacobsburg State Park (my favorite place to run in PA).

Our trio made it to the summit by our goal time of high noon.  We snapped a few photos to capture the adventure and fueled up with chocolate chip Quaker Chewy granola bars, along with Jalapeno Lay’s potato chips –  a great combo of sweet and spicy! The breeze picked up, chilling me to the bone. It was time to head back down.
Group shot at Harney Peak summit.

Our evening was spent listening to bluegrass artist Doc Watson, while each of us played a roll in our communal-style dinner. Teamwork sometimes lacks in the running world because it is mainly a solo sport. Even though it was just dinner, it was really great to be reminded of the positive energy that can result from a group effort.

We had one more day to go and had yet to see Mount Rushmore. We could drive there and pay the $11 for parking, or we could connect some trails and get there by foot. I know…easy guess.

It would be a rolling course totaling 10 miles with an overall vertical gain of 2,000 ft. Cassie led the entire way, holding a solid pace. Only one week ago she completed a 100-mile race (can you say bada**?). 
Filling my Salomon hyrdo flask with Gatorade's Endurance Formula.

After winding on some single tracks and jumping over streams, we arrived at our destination. There they were: four famous Presidents sculpted on a beautiful white rock on the side of a mountain. I had seen this view a thousand times, but only from pictures and textbooks. It almost felt surreal to be there in person. 
Look Ma and Pa! I'm at Mount Rushmore!

We were quite proud of our accomplishment of running to the monument instead of driving, so we decided to reward ourselves with Thomas Jefferson’s famous ice cream. Fun fact: apparently Tommy J invented the first recipe for ice cream. 
Team awesome with Tommy J's icy cream!

Normally I run my workout as one entire piece, meaning no breaks except for laces or the bathroom. I had a hard time digesting the idea of getting ice cream, going for a scenic walk, and then resuming the run.  All I could think about was heart rate, consistent mileage, and effort. In a race you don’t stop, so why should one stop during a training run? 

As we walked around the monument, I noticed how relaxed everyone was. They were joking around, laughing, taking their time to enjoy the moment. It finally hit me – they weren’t running for the sake of running. The running was just one piece of this amazing experience. The whole point was to enjoy every aspect of the adventure, not to make it an ‘out and back’ run for time.

I realized that I had let myself get too stressed out over something that was supposed to, ironically, eliminate stress. I had turned my passion into a job. I was too wrapped up in the thought of having to perform in order for my running to count.

So, I surrendered my thoughts and allowed myself the freedom to partake in the fun. All of a sudden, I began to remember why I enjoy running in the first place. How did I allow myself to drift so far?

We ended our trip with one more night around the campfire. Matt and Dan played the guitar and violin, creating their own song called “Rhubarb Wine.” Cassie and I played with s’mores and discovered they are so much better when you substitute chocolate chip peanut butter cookies for graham crackers. 
Dan and Matt jamming out around the campfire.

As I was driving out of Custer down 89 South, I began to replay the previous few days through my mind. It was one of the best trips I have ever had. I found myself chuckling at the fact that one of my best trips was in a place I would have never previously considered visiting.

Although the Black Hills turned out to be an amazing place (yes, put it on the bucket list), what really made the trip stand out was my friends. They are a stellar group of individuals. Each one of them helped me rediscover a feeling and an experience that I had lost. Their help with resurfacing these memories means more to me then they will ever know. Thanks to the great people of cabin #2 for helping me recalibrate my outlook on life and running.