White River 50 Mile Ultramarathon 2011 Race Report

The White River 50 Miler was totally awesome. I signed up for the race many months ago, but the week prior if you asked me if I was going to run it, I would have laughed at you. I was dealing with a few injuries and still not recovered from Ironman CDA. However, a subtle but important mental shift made all the difference.

Instead of thinking about this as a race or some kind of extreme endurance event. I simply though about it as “just a fun day in the mountains.” I literally told myself this out loud. Good thing I live alone or my roommate would have thought I was psycho! Eventually, I came to truly believe what I was saying and I totally realized that doing the event was not only possible, but it could actually be sorta fun.

Our playground for the White River 50! Yes - that is Mt. Rainier.

I also managed to give my friend Sean a little prodding…and he decided to run it as well (on practically no training!). It also helped that two good friends Charles and Jenny were also signed up to run. My game plan was to just go as far as I can without risking any major damage to my body. I was fully prepared to drop out if I thought I would injure myself.

The course was 44 miles of single-track trail (the other 6 miles are on a dirt fire road) in the pristine White River wilderness near Mount Rainier (in the hills surrounding Crystal Mountain Ski Resort). The views from the course are mind-boggling good. Many times I caught myself just staring off to the right or left – with epic views of Mt. Rainer and the Cascades.

Besides being gorgeous, the course is gnarly. In terms of sheer elevation gain and general course difficulty, it rivals the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon in my opinion. What makes CCUM a little tougher is not so much the course, but the weather (it was over 100 degrees in some parts of CCUM) and the general remoteness of the race and travel involved in getting there.

White River has ~10,000 feet of climbing split into two MASSIVE CLIMBS followed by crazy long descents.

I can’t overestimate these climbs. It felt like running up Mt Si (for those of you in Seattle you will know what I mean) and then some….and then running down about the same distance…then repeating that effort! For veteran ultra trail runners this might not seem like a ton, but for me it was.

Sean’s blog has a great image comparing the White River course to the Boston Marathon with its infamous “Heartbreak Hill” that is worth checking out.

I’ll break down the race into Pre-Race, Race, Post Race and Lessons Learned.

Pre Race

  • Found a last minute room for the race at the Crystal Mountain resort. It was a few miles from the start line, and right where race registration and other pre-race stuff was happening. Very convenient!
  • My gear (pictured below) was pretty basic. With weather predicted in the mid-70’s to low-80’s and sunny, I was planning to wear a t-shirt (North Face Flight Series) and shorts (Nike running shorts) along with a visor and sunglasses (they sat on top of my head most of the day since the course was mostly shaded).  I wore my Inov-8 Roclite 295’s for the first 37 miles (hilly and gnarly trail) and Brooks GTS Racers for the final 13 miles (downhill and flat/smooth trail).
Gear
  • Fueling Strategy (250 calories per hour). I wanted to stick to simple food and get most of my calories in via gel to prevent any stomach issues and maximize absorption. Some people want sandwiches and real food (cookies, chips, etc) during these race (and the aid stations are stocked with this stuff!) but I try to stick to simple sugars. I fueled on:
  1. Hammer Gel (in flasks, run with 1 flask and the rest in drop bags). I went through 15 servings of Hammer Gel along with 3 GU packs from aid stations.
  2. GU Chomps (in drop bags). I went through 6 bags of chomps.
  3. Hammer Endurolytes (2 per hour – more if sunny/hot)
  4. Cola (after 37 miles – provided on course). I consumed about 32 oz of cola in the last 2 hours.
  5. Coconut water (in drop bag at 32 mile point). I consumed an entire 32 oz Zico container.
  6. Banana pieces (at aid stations). I consumed 4-5 pieces.
  • The course has a ton of aid stations, with the options for dropbags at a bunch (like 6-8 places) along the course. Still, it was recommend that runners use two handheld bottles (or the equivalent) to get them through longer stretched. I wore an Amphipod 22oz handheld and a waist-belt with two 10oz Amphipod bottles and a pouch to carry GU Chomps and Endurolyte tablets. I was very happy with this approach.
Sean made this handy cheat sheet that we each carried. I circled the aid stations where I placed drop bags. Took this photo post-race, it is soaked with sweat, coke and god knows what else.
  • I used three drop bags. In each I placed 2 packs of GU Chomps, in 2 of them I had spare socks (only ended up changing socks once),  and in the last drop bag I had a different pair of shoes (a pair with more cushion for the long 6 mile descent after the second climb – around 37 miles in). I also had a liter of coconut water in a drop bag…that I snagged at around 32 miles in (halfway up the second climb).
  • The race featured all kinds of cool (and random) swag….in addition to a t-shirt and socks, we got a drink “cozie,” a pen, an umbrella and a trucker hat (at the finish)! Much of the swag was provided by SCOTT sports, who sponsored the event.
  • The pre-race meeting was held in a small bar right in the little lodge/hotel we were staying at. Pretty cool vibe. A lot of people seemed to have already run the course at least a few times. With around 300 entrants (240-something actually ran), this was the biggest field yet.
  • Ate a massive pasta dinner at the pre-race carbo load and hit the sack early to prepare for the 6:30am start. Both Sean and I decided to forgo the “early start”..convinced that we wouldn’t need to worry about hitting the time cut-offs…we had 13 hours to finish the course officially (14 hours with an early start). I ended up regretting this decision later on during the day. More on this later!
  • After hitting the porta potty and getting drop bags in their appropriate spots, I headed to the race start – a dirt road along a flat mid-forest airstrip for small aircraft (a giant grass field). I positioned myself towards the middle of the pack, along with my friends.

The Race

Somewhere on the course. Looks pretty...I don't remember it at all..must have been zone out! Photo by http://www.nwtrailruns.com/
  • Miles 1-4 to Aid Station #1 @ Camp Sheppard: I trotted along with my friends, and the whole field was just running in a giant pace-line it seemed. I kept my eyes on the trail and the shoes in front of my as we meandered along pretty flat and winding trail. The pace was totally slow and comfortable – on purpose! In one spot there was a downed tree to climb up and over, but overall this trail was pretty straightforward. I almost tripped about a dozen times….and realized I needed to really pay attention to the trail and not zone out. We rolled through the first aid station around 4 miles in – I topped off a water bottle and carried on. The whole time I focused on taking in Hammer Gel and staying relaxed.
  • Miles 4-12 to Aid Station #2 @ Ranger Creek: This stretch of trail begins flatish…then the first mountain climb of the course begins! Over a six-mile stretch we climb almost 3000 feet! If you aren’t sure if that is a lot or not…let me just say that it is. It’s like climbing more than the height of Mt. Si (Seattle-ites will know what I mean). I focused on nutrition and hydration, power hiking any of the uphill portions and running short stretches of flatish trail throughout the climb. I was right next to Sean for most of this portion of the run and he kept me entertained (as well as another runner) a very long joke that took like an hour to tell 🙂 .
That mountain in the distance is the first climb...we started at the base at the left hand side, and run up to the top and then along the ridgeline to the right hand side of the picture.
  • Miles 12-17 to Aid Station #3 @ Corral Pass: Think the first climb was done? No way! The first couple miles of this stretch continue climbing for another 400 feet, then it flattens out to a rolling section along Corral Pass. Epic views of Mt Rainier and lush valleys almost make the pain go away. There is an out and back section here where you get to see where the competition is. During this stretch I felt quite good, running most of it. I saw some more friends, including Barefoot Ted during the out-and-back portion. There was some snow on the course, but they did such a great job building snow steps and putting in some fixed lines that it wasn’t much of an issue. My Inov-8 Roclite 295’s did an amazing job keeping me firmly grounded.
  • Miles 17-22 Aid Station #4 @ Ranger Creek: We continue the out-and-back portion of the trail, and then begin a long descent…6.8 miles on a single track trail! At first it was a relief to be running downhill. After a mile this thought changed as my legs were starting to totally fry. I took a few short walk breaks on the downhill to let my feet/quads recover.
Sean looking strong. He trained all of 4 days to prep for this race (no joke) and finished in under 12 hours.
  • Miles 22-27 Aid Station #5 @ Buck Creek: The downhill continues and at times Sean and I wonder if we are off trail or something. There aren’t many other runners around and it seemed crazy to run downhill this long. Well, it is crazy to run downhill this long, but we were not off trail! Eventually…..we hit flat ground, thank goodness, and emerged near the race start area to take on more aid. I felt better after a few miles of flat ground, and Sean pulled ahead of me a bit so I was pretty much on my own here. Felt fine overall and started to mentally prepare for the second mountain climb to come – which is over 8 miles long!
  • Miles 27-32: Aid Station #6 @ Fawn Ridge: After a few miles of flat terrain, we began to climb. I caught up with Sean and my friends Charles and Jenny also caught us. We power hiked together up the mountain. This mountain was a little shorter than the last one, but steeper! After taking aid – and refilling my water bottles with coconut water from my drop bag (it’s amazing stuff…need to do this again next time, and at my next Ironman race) I powered through and kept climbing. I felt good and decided to push a little harder, breaking away from my friends and pushing up the climb. At this point time-wise I was a little nervous of the aid station cut-offs. We were about 1 hour ahead of the aid station cutoff time at this point….this race really had a pretty aggressive required pace to avoid being pulled from the course. Maybe I should have taking the early start after all? This would have given an extra hour of cushion to finish. Oh well…nothing I can do about that right now.
  • Miles 32-37 Aid Station #7 @ SunTop: Does this climb ever end? It went on and on and on and on. At one point some mountain bikers passed me and I asked how much further and they said “you’re almost there…maybe a mile at most.” Total Liars!!!! 🙂  That climb kept going for eons. I powered through, eventually emerging on Sun Top, enjoying the epic views of the mountains and downing some watermelon, filling my shirt and hat with ice and changing my shoes into a more cushioned road shoe (Brooks GT Racers). I was still over an hour ahead of the aid station cut-off. The next 6 miles would feature a long downhill on a dirt road. At this point, I really did feel relieved since I knew that I would finish the race no matter what.
  • Miles 37-43 Aid Station #8 @ Skookum Flats: I knew this part of the course would be challenging for me. I’ve been battling Plantar Fasciitis since CCUM and while it wasn’t affecting me so far, this long downhill on a dirt road was scary. I started running down the hill, and after half a mile had to stop. My feet felt like they were going to explode. Over the course of the next few miles I did more walking than running, and tons of people passed me. Fitness really didn’t mean anything at this point….my feet just couldn’t handle the pounding. At points I was walking backwards to take the pressure off my feet. Sean caught up with me and we made it down to the end of this segment together, as he was also battling some IT band issues.I again started to worry about missing the cut-off time for the next aid station.
  • Miles 43-50 TO THE FINISH! Once we hit the aid station at Skookum flat, Sean waved goodbye and hammered the final stretch in a successful attempt to break 12 hours. I loaded up my water bottles with Coke, and walked the first 1/2 mile along the flat and well cushioned trail. By this time my feet had recovered and stopped throbbing, so I started running. I felt better and better every mile so I picked up the pace, reeling in many runners that passed me during the long downhill. After a seemingly endless 7 miles, I emerged onto a road and gave it everything I had for the last quarter-mile into the finish.
  • Final Time =12hrs 13mins 54secs (201/244 runners).
Me = DONE!

Post Race

What I love about ultras is the everyone just seems to hang around for a long time at the finish. Even with my late finish, all the athletes were still there, including the top finishers (many of whom congratulated me and the other finishers!). This kind vibe is unique to the sport. There was a great potato bar with tons of toppings and other food for refueling.

The first thing I did upon finishing was take off my shoes and sit down. My feet were so sore I could hardly walk, but the rest of me (my legs in general) felt surprisingly good! I’m looking forward to getting this plantar fascia problem solved. Even the next day, my feet were the most sore part of my body. My legs recovered surprisingly quickly – though I still feel like am a little more tired than normal during hard training sessions – and it has been a couple of weeks since the race. It will probably take a full month to feel 100% normal.

Back at the hotel, in a post race coma.

Lessons Learned

Barefoot Ted once told me that running 100 mile is like living a lifetime in a single day – with all of its ups and downs. I’ve never done a 100 miler, but I can say 50 miles of running/power hiking has that kind of feeling and definitely takes you to places you don’t go in typical daily life. All kind of emotions come up unexpectedly. I went from feeling pretty darn depressed at mile 38 to feeling re-energized and ready to rock and roll by mile 45. Things go from bad to good to worse to amazing – sometimes in the course of 10 miles! Knowing that things will get better when you feel like crap is powerful knowledge and can power you through some really tough times. This great quote I blogged a few weeks ago came to mind several times during the run:

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn -Harriet Beecher Stowe

I witnessed the power of staying present to what was around me, and not getting caught in any kind of negative self-talk. Staying positive is absolutely critical. At one point in the race (around mile 32), I was hiking with a man who had done the race several times and was a veteran ultra-runner. He was talking constantly, and often just complaining about stuff and generally not being positive. After 10 minutes I had enough, and pushed ahead fast to get away from him and his negativity! Staying upbeat when positive is that important when you are pushing that hard.

In terms of nutrition and fueling, when all else fails – really nailing nutrition is so important and can help you finish a race that you have no business finishing 🙂 . I made a nutrition plan, stuck to it – and had no issues with digestion or hydration. I also learned that coconut water is like liquid gold during a hot race and coke is jet fuel and worth drinking plentifully during the final couple hours of a long event.

My last lesson is that conventional wisdom – the kind that says you need to run a lot and be super healthy to run an ultra – is totally wrong. I came into the race with a bum knee and feet, but did what I could to get healthy before the race and approached it with the attitude of just enjoying the day in the mountains and seeing what would happen. Things ended up working out for the best – but I was fully prepared to drop out if my health was at risk.

I think a lot of people can complete these kind of events – and they should not let someone else tell them they haven’t trained enough or aren’t ready for it. If you really want it bad enough you can do it. I am totally convinced that any reasonably fit human being can complete a 50 miler with a marginal amount of training. Just go into the challenge with a positive mindset.

Breakfast stop at "Waipiti Woolies" coffee shop and store on the way back from White River the day after the race..

Ironman CDA: Done!

It’s done!

I really had to dig deep this time. The swim went well and I didn’t push too hard given the length of the day ahead. With almost 2,500 athletes in the water it was VERY aggressive and I was getting punched, kicked and dunked every few minutes. I came out of the water 5-10 minutes slower than expected.

The bike ride was OK, and again had to keep the pace slow to keep my knee from flaring up. I was really concerned about even being able to finish the race. After 50 miles on the bike I really didn’t think I would finish, as my knee was really hurting and I just focused on pedaling with my right (pain-free) leg.

Since there was nothing I could do about in the moment, I just stopped thinking about it and after another 20 miles it sorta became numb and the pain was just a dull ache instead of a short-stabbing pain that usually happens, totally bearable.

The run was humbling. Normally my strong suit, after having not put in many miles running or biking in the past 10 weeks on account of injury, I was only able to slowly jog the first 13 miles (around 9:30 min/mile pace) before walking/shuffling the last 13 miles. My knee didn’t cause me too much trouble during the run, my legs were just totally dead overall.

Finishing, however, made me happy and accomplished my goal!

I can’t believe that not even 6 weeks ago I wrote this, essentially giving up all hope of being able to race. At the time it was painful to walk and the thought of doing an Ironman was laughable. My lesson in all this is that sometimes listening to your body’s aches and pains and giving yourself a total rest is the right thing, and other times it’s about getting the FULL STORY on what is actually going on.

In my case, some amazing doctors, a great coach and knowledgeable friends helped me pin-point the issue, treat it and come up with a plan that had a good chance of working…and it did work!

More detailed race report to come later.

Change Your Approach

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

– I first heard this from Tony Robbins at a training in 2005  (original source is Rita Mae Brown and others).

Dealing with a few injuries over the past couple months I’ve had to change-up my approach to training.

An issue with my hip and low back led my to question how I spend most of my waking hours working at a desk, prompting the use of a motorized sit/stand desk. Just a couple of hours a day of standing at work and my hip pain vanished.

An issue with my feet (plantar fascia pain following copper canyon) has me using shoes with a bit more cushioning – Brooks Racer ST’s –  until my feet heal completely.

As issue with my knee (medial knee strain) has me changing my bike position and equipment. Turns out my road bike and older pedals with less float don’t cause me pain, while my new Time Trial bike hurts like hell, despite having it professionally fit by two different bike fitters. Even though the pedals on my new bike (Speedplay Zero’s) are supposed to be great for people with knee issues (and actually prevent issues from developing), for me, these pedals don’t make my knees happy!

My point in all this is that if you are not getting the results you expect, try talking to as many informed people as you can, assess ALL the options and change-up your approach. You never know what little detail could be the missing link.

Dealing With Setbacks

I’m dropping out of Ironman Coeur D Alene.

It’s a really tough thing to say and harder to write out. Many months of training are already in the bank. However, after attempting to ride and run over the past few days, my knee pain has returned in full force.

Walking is painful, biking is uncomfortable and running is impossible right now.

I am going to work with my coach to sort out the right racing plan for later in the summer and fall. For now, my number one priority is to get healthy and build strength and appropriate flexibility to keep my body that way.

The right thing to do is to allow 4-6wks for my knee to heal. I’ll be swimming up a storm in the meantime.

Below is a pic from the ferry as I type this post on the way to Whidbey Island. 

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Who are You?

Ramana Maharishi (1879 – 1950)
Sri Ramana Maharishi. Image via Wikipedia

The mind will subside only by means of the enquiry ‘Who am I?’. The thought ‘Who am I?’, destroying all other thoughts, will itself finally be destroyed like the stick used for stirring the funeral pyre.

– Sri Ramana Maharishi

The most powerful question that you can ever ask in your life  – is one that you must ask of yourself.

Who are you?

How to Run 50 Miles: Part IV – Proper Biomechanics

Read first: Part I, Part II, Part III

I had my running form analyzed last year to debug the cause of a nagging pain in my hip. This photo clearly shows a "hip sway" probably caused by weak glutes that comprises my hip, knee and foot movement. It also puts undue pressure on my lumbar spine. Not a good thing! I never would have known this was happening had I not had video analysis done. Obviously you should get this done by a professional, but you can also have a friend videotape you running on a treadmill and play it back in slow mo to see what is going on.

The third principle I adhere to is that bio-mechanical efficiency is absolutely key. You can fake it for shorter distances, but the longer you run (both in terms of distance and number of years) – your mechanics will either wear you out or build you up. Hopefully it is the later and not the former that happens! Small inefficiencies in form are greatly magnified over long distances.

Research shows that 2 out of 3 runners are injured at any given time. This is ridiculous. The injury may be a nagging thing like knee pain or a severe thing like a tibial stress fracture (I’ve had one!) that sidelines an athlete for months. I truly believe that we were born to run. Each and every one of us. Doesn’t matter if you are 7 feet tall or 4 feet tall. 300 pounds or 90 pounds. Humans were made to move long distances. It has been necessary for our survival and we’re finally tuned endurance machines. Somehow in the modern time we’ve  forgotten this birthright and been duped into thinking we can’t run far and need all kinds of fancy shoes and supports to be health. It isn’t true.

With the assertion that we were born to run, one would then assume that we should not see the majority of runners suffering from injuries. I know ultra marathoners that run 100+ mile weeks and seem to never get injured, they just get stronger with more training! I also know weekend warriors that are constantly injured and running with all kinds of knee braces, orthotic shoes and other sorts of crutches. Personally…I’ve suffered tons of injuries in my past 15+ years of running and racing (2 stress fractures, shin splints, hip pain, knee pain, etc.) despite not doing super high mileage and spending lots of time on soft running surfaces like trails. Why is this the case? It’s almost like some people are naturally gifted to run and others are not. This is a myth, as we are all gifted as runners.

There are some great articles written about biomechanical efficiency, and for any runner (weekend warrior to competitive athlete) they are worth the time to study. I’ve spend the past couple years re-learning how to run. It’s been a long road and taken effort, but I now enjoy running more than I ever have, and my nagging injuries are starting to heal and I’m feeling stronger than ever. In fact, after coming back to running after a year-long hiatus, I ran a marathon and two 50K trail ultra-marathons…with just a month gap between each event. Most people would think I am crazy to run distance events that close together….but  I recovered pretty quickly and never got injured, in fact I felt stronger with each race.

How did I start learning how to run? A few years ago I started running in Vibram FiveFingers a few times a week (just a mile or two) and walking around at work in Nike Free’s to strengthen my feet. I focused on landing more towards the middle of my foot and less on my heel. That was pretty much all the running I did, with most of my other exercise coming in the form of yoga and hiking. Just wearing more minimal shoes helped a lot.

Vibram FiveFinger "Sprint's"

After re-starting run training late last summer, I ditched my old training shoes that I used for most of my mileage in favor of Brook’s Green Silence shoes – that are ultra-light with a fairly low “drop” from heel to forefoot. I rotated using them with a pair of more built-up cushioned running shoes (Mizuno Waverider’s). I built up to the point where running 20+ miles on pavement in my Green Silence is no big deal! The low heel drop helped my feet to naturally land more towards my mid-foot and forefoot. From there…I progressed to track workouts and consistent awareness on landing light and keeping a higher stride cadence (as Barefoot Ted teaches!).

My advice for improving your biomechanics is to:

  1. Study: Read voraciously….spend time on youtube….read blogs…educate yourself. So many people have “seen the light” and rediscovered the joy of running over the past few years. A lot of the learning is posted online…spend some time on Bing and learn what works and what doesn’t…then do try for yourself! If you haven’t read the book “Born to Run“…do it and a lot of what I am talking about will make sense 🙂
  2. Diagnose: I had my form video-taped and analyzed by a sports doctor (as per the image above). This was incredibly useful! I learned that my hips were “swaying” from side to side, causing all sorts of issues with my knees and hips and feet, even through my foot strike itself was OK. The cause? A weak butt! The solution? Building a super strong ass with one-legged squats and kettlebell swings.
  3. Transition: Take your time to transition. It may be a year-long process. Start by alternating new shoes (if you decide to go the minimal route) with your regular running shoes until your feet get strong. Changing things too radically can cause injury. If you don’t practice yoga, I recommend 2-3 power yoga classes per week, it will greatly improve flexibility in your achilles tendon, hips and hamstrings. This will help you run more effectively.

Here are a two other resources that I’ve found super helpful:

How to Run: Running with Proper Biomechanics by Runblogger: Steve is one of the all-time fastest high school milers and takes a scientific approach to analyzing running mechanics. This post is a great read and you can continue reading his other posts to learn more tips about how to run well.

Pose TV: POSE is a method or learning functional movement. I’ve watched all these videos and they are incredibly helpful. In fact, the way Dr. Romanov teaches running technique is so simple, that within minutes of watching the videos I went out for a run and felt instantly faster. One of the best tips was not to focus too much on landing on your mid or fore-foot but instead focus on pulling your heel quickly up to your butt once it passes under your hips, while keeping your stride cadence high. I’m doing a POSE running clinic next week and will write up my experience then.

Happy running!

How to Run 50 Miles: Part III – Muscular Strength

Read Part I and Part II first.

The second principle I mentioned in my first post is that aerobic fitness is rarely the limiter of speed. Again, I’m not a scientist but just stating what I learn through my own experience. If you happen to know of scientific evidence for anything I’m talking about (refuting or confirming) make note in the comments. Aerobic fitness does matter, it is just isn’t the be all end all.

In the past few months I’ve run the Portland Marathon (flat and on paved roads) and two 50K ultra-marathons (hilly and mostly off road). In these three outings, despite running them after just a few months of training after a long hiatus from running, I was never out of breath. There were a few times during the 50K’s when I was breathing super hard during steep climbs, but those were just a few isolated incidents. The majority of the time my lungs were not the limiter in any way. I was breathing fine, but still my perceived exertion was very high.

In the case of my Portland Marathon experience, after about 16 miles my legs just stopped working normally. I wasn’t aerobically fatigued in any way, but it felt like I just finished a billion reps of squats and my leg muscles just wouldn’t fire. During my 50K’s, I had a similar experience. My muscles were just exhausted, as if I finished a really demanding weight workout, but my cardiovascular system and lungs seemed fine. During The North Face 50K, there were plenty of long climbs on single-track trails. They took a lot of power to muscle up.

I wish I had worn a heart rate monitor during my races to prove this point. I bet my heart rate was right around 140 or so. Not super high. What also happened later in the races was that my form went to hell. I would slouch over and everything would just sag. My core and low back would tire. This would affect my stride and breathing.

My take away from these events is that muscular strength (across the whole body, not just legs) plays a massive part in endurance events. When I say strength I really mean power/weight ratio. Strength with a fairly lean overall mass. Strong core and strong back to support proper form over long distances. Strong posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, low-back) to support overall running form and power. Once a reasonable aerobic base is developed, it makes intuitive sense that working the other energetic and power-building pathways in the body is a smart thing to do.

The North Face Endurance 50K @ SanFran Race Report

Mission Accomplished! Finished The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K in San Francisco (Marin Headlands)

The race description lived up to it’s billing as a ridiculously challenging but beautiful course. I didn’t wear my GPS, but roughly plotted the course on runkeeper. You won’t find more incredible terrain than the Marin Headlands, site for The North Face Endurance Challenge. They had a 50 mile, 50K, Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, 10k and 5k race. I did the 50K event. Having just done a 50K last month, and the Portland Marathon the month prior, I was a little tired from training and racing but decided it would be a good day of training and a chance to see the Headlands and visit my brother who lives nearby.

In short, I totally crashed and burned. I had similar issues as my previous two races. I bonked hardcore. I went out too fast. I wasn’t wearing the proper gear. All rookie mistakes but that is sort of why I wanted to do this race, to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

At the same time I’ve learned first-hand through the past few races that training is also only part of the story. Mental focus and toughness is at least 50% (and maybe closer to 80%) of the game. All kinds of people were passing me after I bonked (after about 16 miles of running). Older women. Young men. People who looked super fit and people who looked like they just started running. People wearing highly technical gear and people wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Being able to just tough it out and not let your mind get the best of you is a big part of these races.

I arrived at the Headlands on Friday afternoon, and quickly checked into a Hostel, which is conveniently situated within the Headlands. This was an awesome place to stay. $20 a night. It was literally 200 yards from the race start and full of athletes (including a bunch of pro/elite runners)! It was super clean and comfortable. I am already thinking of going back and staying for a few days to explore the Headlands some more. After checking into the place, I headed down to Sausalito to eat dinner. This is a cool little town with very expensive homes and some nice places to eat and epic views of San Fran and the Golden Gate Bridge. I gorged on Indian food and then headed back to the Hostel.

Dinner the night before the race in Sausalito. Indian food!

At the Hostel I spent some time in the living room talking with other runners. Most folks were running the 50 miler, including a few young girls who were just planning to “power hike” the whole 50 miles! I don’t think they had even done a marathon before! Whoa.

I hit the sack fairly early, and proceeded to wake up every 20 minutes throughout the night, looking at my clock and wondering if it was time to get up! The 50 milers started at 5am and 50k racers started at 7am. Around 4am I started to hear some sounds as other runners got up and ready for a 50mile start in the cold and pitch black! These runners spend the first few hours running with headlamps on. Luckily, by the time the 50k started the sun had started to rise so there was no problem seeing the course. Check out the video further below for an idea of what this crazy course is like.

Start/finish area - after the race.

I made my way to the race start area and met up with a few friends from Seattle that were also running. We traded some notes on what gear everyone was going to wear. Was it going to rain? How many layers do we need? I decided to run with a standard pair of running shorts, regular road running shoes, a lululemon running shirt, a The North Face gore-tex running jacket and a hat. I carried a 20 oz water bottle the whole way, and kept 1 Hammer Gel in my jacket pocket. This last part turned out to be a big mistake. I was way short on fuel and aid stations were further apart (time-wise, not distance-wise) than I thought given how long it took to travel a few miles given all the hills.

With 2 minutes to start I gathered towards the front and got ready to go. I had no specific time goal, but thought it would be nice to run faster than my last 50k a month ago – which took me about 6 hours 44 minutes after bonking very bad and having some other issues (the course was long too!). I thought a sub 6-hour time was totally reasonable.

Here is how the race went down:

Mile 1: People went out very fast. This always amazes me for long races! I settled into an easy rhythm and went along the flat course following a paved road and then onto a dirt path. Every minute I would pass someone as they slowed down and I kept my steady pace.

Miles 2-4: The dirt single-track path led to a dirt road that went up a very large climb. This serious climb really woke me up given how early in the morning it was! A bunch of runners who started out too fast started to drop back at this point. I kept running even.

Miles 4-16: The race proceeded through a variety of single-track routes, with some epic views of the Pacific Ocean while running along some high bluffs and plenty of light rain in the cool air. We climbed up and down some pretty large hills. At one point running tight switchbacks along a mud-soaked trail. There were also some up and downhill sections along steps build into the trails. I felt good the whole time, and didn’t stop to walk one bit. There were aid stations roughly every 4-5 miles and I would refill my water bottle and grab an energy gel stuff some banana in my mouth (and some boiled potato with salt).

Miles 16-18: Around mile 16 we hit an aid station, I refueled and kept running. I then started to proceed down a several mile trail downhill. The trail was really twisty and through the woods. It was pretty tough running since I was not super used to running trails like this…I normally just hike them! I was having a hard time maintaining a good pace and people started passing me. At some point I just felt too tired to run and stopped. I was bonking hardcore!

Miles 18-25: All I can say is bonking sucks. I clearly didn’t eat enough early in the race. I walked about 80% of the time between miles 18-25 or so. Sometimes even walking was tough. The climbs were super ridiculous. Long sweeping climbs along muddy and slick trails. I just did my best and kept moving forward. I started drinking coke at each aid station and filling my entire water bottle with coke as well. Coke is amazing when you are late in an endurance race. The thing is, once you start drinking coke, you need to keep it up – or your blood sugar will crash again.

Miles 25-29: I started to feel a little better. There were a few long hills prior to the finish (each climb was a few miles long followed by a long downhill). I run/walked the uphills and ran the downhills. The climbs were super muddy and at one point just getting enough traction on the trail to walk it took a supreme effort.

Miles 29-31: The last few miles were downhill and flat. By this time I actually felt OK and approaching the finish felt quite good.

Finish time = 7:14:28

50 feet from the finish line!

Here is a great video of the course (it follows elite runners doing the 50 miler)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTMcv5rIzl4]

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I learned a ton from the race. It was not at all the finish I expected. I expected to run most of it. I expected to run about 1.5 hours faster than I did. I did not expect to bonk. I also didn’t expect it to be so mentally tough to finish, given that I have just run a 50K and a Marathon in the past few months! I also learned that preparation matters a lot. Nutrition strategy (carry more water and gels than you think you need!) and the proper gear (footwear with traction for a muddy course and proper breathable rain gear).

I’m already looking forward to training again – and getting in more super long runs. I need more 4-5 hour running efforts to get my body used to dealing with that level of stress. I’ll be looking to run another 50K in late January or early February (not sure where yet) and have already signed up for the Copper Canyon 50 Mile Ultra-marathon on March 6th, 2011. Just a few months to get ready for it!

Men's 50 Mile Champions! Miguel Heras (1st), Geoff Roes (2nd), Dave Mackey (3rd)
Women's 50 Mile Champions! Anna Frost (1st), Lizzy Hawker (2nd), Kami Semick (3rd)

Ron Herzog 50K Race Report

Where it all went down at Masonic Park outside Granite Falls, WA

Yesterday I did my longest and toughest run ever, the Ron Herzog 50K (which ended up being around 32 miles, a little more than 50K). I stumbled upon it a week ago while looking for trail runs online and decided to give it a shot. This is a small race and when I showed up it seemed like a lot of the participants knew each other. I think around 50 people were there. The race FREE….with  suggested $25 donation to support the ALS association in honor of Ron Herzog, an ultra runner who died of the disease.

Continue reading Ron Herzog 50K Race Report

Your Best Investment

A great investment: traveling to India and visiting the Vivekananda Memorial at the southernmost point

The financial markets work in ridiculous ways. It’s impossible to predict what is going to happen in the markets, and I think that age-old wisdom to “buy and hold” is completely ineffective in today’s economy. I wholeheartedly think that investing in the traditional equities market is a sucker’s game, and I’ve put my money where my mouth is.  I started investing when I was a kid (really) and stopped a few years ago after realizing that investing in stocks was no different from gambling.

There are people  – who are far smarter than me, with more  money and more powerful computers and better mathematical models – that are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to game the market and make a quick (and sizeable) buck. How to compete with that? Do I even want to?

100% of my assets are in cash-like assets (CDs, short-term bonds).

If you see what is happening to the stock market over the past week you’ll see a seeming return to bull-market glory over the past year peter-out and head south in a hurry. I think we have yet to see the real market correction, despite the massive drop we saw a while back (requiring a massive trillion-dollar bailout).

I do believe that there are other investments that make sense. For example, investing as an angel investor or in some other capacity where you actually have a say in the company direction. There are also cash or cash-like investments like CD’s, treasury bonds or annuities that can make sense (corporate bonds do not count, they can crash just like stocks!).

A  no-brainer way to earn a solid return on your money – that most people totally overlook – is to cut spending. Cut your expenses by 10% and you guarantee yourself a solid bump up in your savings. It’s totally within your control. Do it.

However, the most powerful long-term investment is to invest in yourself. Put your money into your own education and personal development – through training seminars or other skills development programs. Attend a TED Conference, a Tony Robbins seminar or a night class at a local university. Buy books by the truckload (or Kindle them) and actually read them! Explore the world and learn about historical monuments and locales by actually visiting them. Your most powerful investment is to invest in yourself.

Setting an Intention

In yoga classes I often ask students to “set and intention” for the class as we begin. This intention, or purpose, can set the tone of the entire class. An empowering intention can make be the difference between moving through class with “the wind at your back” and struggling through in a hope that it will come to an end quickly! Intention setting is not some esoteric principle. It is something that we do every day whether you know it or not.

Today my intention was to "tip-toe through the tulips" - mission accomplished!

Think about your own day (pick a day, like today). If you went to work or school or on a trip somewhere, when you walked out your door to start your day, you had an intention with regards to where you were going. Whenever I put the keys in the ignition of my car, I have a point to why I am turning on the car. Either it is to get to work, go to the store, visit a friend or do something else with a purpose. There is always a reason, even if the reason if to just go for a joy-ride!

In the same way, when students roll-out their yoga mat they are their for a reason, be it conscious or not. In making a conscious and directed purpose for practice there is an opportunity to create a positive meaning for the time and effort spent. It is also a chance to anchor a practice to something positive. After all, it is a lot easier to push through a physically challenging asana if there is a motivating reason for it! In the same reason, it is easier to deal with a challenging situation at work or while traveling if you have a motivating force behind your actions.

Red, red and more red! These tulips are incredible!

As with yoga class, there is power in setting an intention for your day. When I get up every morning, I  set an intention for how I intend to be to be during the day. The intention is never based on an outcome (which is impossible to control) but always centered on my own way of being (which is completely within my control!). Here are a few examples of empowering intentions – in the form of “Today my intention is to….”

  • …be an outstanding example for others
  • …see the humor in every situation
  • …stay present
  • …relax and have fun
  • …see the best in everyone
  • …focus on doing what matters
  • …serve without expectation
  • …to give it my best effort, nothing more and nothing less

Try this practice out for the next few days. When you wake up in the morning (perhaps after a meditation) make it a point to set an intention. Come back to it on a regular basis (perhaps every time you have something to eat or drink), and watch your days take on a whole new meaning.

Empowering intentions can indeed add some color to your life!

30-Day Meditation Challenge Complete!

“Cool Buddha” from my visit to the Relational Yoga Mandiram in Colorado

Two days ago I completed a 30-day meditation challenge. You can read my posts during the challenge here. The challenge was as follows:

I commit to, starting today and for the next 30 days, meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each. Once in the morning and once in the evening.

The challenge began simply enough, and became progressively more challenging as life seemed to get in the way of my attempts to sit still and focus. First allergies, then a cold, then several late nights and busy work meetings made sitting still a challenging task! Despite the challenges I persisted and eventually found my time sitting to be easier and more fulfilling. By the 10 days of my 30-day challenge my meditations took on a whole new shape. I was no longer having to force myself to sit. It became more enjoyable and I began to notice more profound benefits.

I’ll share my approach to meditation, the challenges I faced and the benefits received as a guide for those of you that want to take up a similar challenge yourself. Suffice it to say, that at the end of my 30-days, I took 1 day off and did not meditate at all (even though I wanted to!) simply to keep myself from getting in the trap of trying to “keep a streak alive.” However, this morning I did sit for 20 minutes again and will do so again this evening. This is no longer a challenge for me but a way of life. I’m going to keep this up.

My approach

  • Sat still in silent meditation for 20 minutes, every morning and evening
  • Often meditated after exercise or yoga practice (makes it easier to sit still and focus)
  • Chose the same place every time, mostly in a dark room (without tons of light shining on my) and away from noise
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes (I use my iPhone, it has a built-in count-down timer and the alarm is soothing!)
  • When cold, I draped a shawl over me (including my head) just leaving room around my mouth to breathe
  • Sat on the floor (light carpet or yoga mat), and avoided using excessive props and pillows (if you need props or pillar, or even a chair to start, no problem, if you can sit cross-legged on the floor, do that)
  • Rested my hands, palms faced down, on my knees
  • Kept my spine straight, but with its natural curves
  • Imagined an apple balancing on my head to keep from slouching (just initially)
  • Kept eyes closed no matter what
  • Breathed in and out through my nose (not loud or with “ujayii” breath as in yoga asana practice, but with a normal breath)
  • Focused on my breath to start (in fact, you could spend the entire 20 minutes just noticing your breath, I would often do this)
  • If you know a mantra or empowering phrase, you can  repeat that, often I would do this, but it is not necessary. You can also focus on an emotion or idea like peace, love, harmony, etc…
  • No matter how much my mind wandered, I brought it back to my single point of focus (breath, mantra or whatever you are using for that)
  • No matter how badly I wanted to see how much time I have left, I did not open my eyes! (it helps to keep any clocks out of sight so you aren’t tempted to look)
  • When finished, I ended in namaste (with hands in prayer at heart center) and that is it!

My challenges (all avoidable with practice and care!)

  • Felt sleepy while meditating if I didn’t get to bed early enough
  • Had trouble concentrating if I would eat right before meditation or ate heavy foods or overate (or ate late in the evening and then meditated before sleep)
  • Tempted to look at a clock or timer to see how much time was remaining. In many cases, I would open my eyes and look right before the time was up!
  • Legs sometimes felt ancy…..not pins and needles, but ancy like I wanted to get up and do something
  • Mind would wander incredibly, especially if I was late for work or had other important matters to do
  • Allergies made it very challenging at times, with constant sneezing and a runny nose, I persisted through this
  • Was extremely tired a few times, due to a cold and late work days, made meditation incredibly challenging
  • Listening to music or watching a movie (especially action movies) would make meditation more challenging

My benefits

  • Less attachment to other people’s actions towards me – especially words and things they say or do that would normally tick me off. Things would just have a far more neutral effect on me
  • Incredibly enhanced ability to concentrate on single tasks – especially creative tasks and challenging work that requires focus. I wouldn’t be joking to say that my productivity at work doubled in the past month on a per-hour basis. Not in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality of work.
  • Better connections with people. I noticed a better connection with people in yoga classes I teach, and also in several personal relationships and also in the workplace.
  • Easier control over what I eat – size of portions, type of food, etc. I’ve noticed that I’ve become far more away of what I eat and have noticed having to eat less or just moderate my food intake in a more natural way. I think this is due to less impulsive feelings which let me notice when I am really full and stop eating at the proper time, and also make smarter choices about what to eat.
  • Overall feeling of happiness and well-being. This is perhaps the single biggest benefit. I generally just feel happier. I feel like there is a purpose and direction for what I am doing and things don’t get to me like they used to.

That’s it, if you decide to take up a meditation challenge of your own, please let me know in the comments. It is very well worth it!!!

How to Make Powerful and Fast Decisions

Bridge outside the Summer Palace in Beijing, China. I went to this place on a spur of the moment, a quick decision I was happy to have made!
Bridge outside the Summer Palace in Beijing, China. I went to this place on a spur of the moment, a quick decision I was happy to have made!

Decision making can be tough. At the end of the day our time and energy are our most valuable resources. The ability to make clear and powerful decisions is therefore a gateway to reducing wasted energy on unimportant things and providing a focus towards those things that really matter. Even just the act of decision making can itself suck the life out of you if you let it. Just think about the last time you deliberated over what to eat for dinner, what movie to see, what shirt to buy, what job to take!

I was reading Derek Sivers blog (he’s the founder of CD Baby and a great writer) and he illustrated a powerful tool for decision making. Here is his advice:

Those of you who often over-commit or feel too scattered may appreciate a new philosophy I’m trying:

If I’m not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, then say no.

Meaning: When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” – then my answer is no.

I tried this advice out over the last few days and it has been incredibly powerful. In fact, you can apply this philosophy too all sorts of things. From figuring out what to eat for dinner, what activities to do or even who to hire. As an example of the latter, I was recently having a conversation with a co-worker about a potential candidate for a position on my team.

The co-worker was wondering if a recent interviewee would be a good fit. I simply said to consider if having the person on the team would get you excited and make you say ‘hell yeah, I want to work with this person.” If no, then there probably isn’t a good fit. The co-worker was clearly not super enthusiastic about the candidate, and this simple question just made his answer more clear to himself.

I also used this philosophy to decide on whether to go out last night. It was already 10pm and I was pretty tired from a long week of work, but I also wanted to see some friends I had not connected with in a while. They were all meeting up and it was sure to be a late night. I asked myself if I would have fun reconnecting with these folks…and of course the answer was “hell yeah.” My decision was made, even though my body was pretty tired. I am glad I went.

Try this little tool out for a week and see how it improved your own ability to make powerful and clear decisions in your own life.

Find a Spring for the Best Water Ever

Lynnwood Aretesian Well - at 164th Street
Lynnwood Artesian Well - at 164th Street

I have been reading up on water. First a great book, “Your Bodies Many Cries for Water” by Dr. B. Then a bunch of videos from Daniel Vitalis about the importance of finding good and clean sources. Our bodies are over 70% water. While many of us spend plenty of time worrying about what we eat, we are far better off first thinking about getting access to and drinking the best water ever!

I am lucky to live in Bellevue, WA (near Seattle) which is home to some of the cleanest water around. In fact, our tap water is rated to be among the best municipal water in the country. I also live in a fairly modern urban environment – so don’t worry too much about rusty and old pipes or other potential issues in getting water from source to tap.

However, the water is treated with Chlorine and other things, and there is also the potential structural impact that overt processing has on water. If you have not checked our Masaru Emoto’s work, you must. His book “Messages from Water” will transform the way you think about water – and your own way of being. Water that has been processed, stored and taken out of its natural environment is spiritually and energetically dead. If you don’t buy the whole “spiritually dead thing,” that is OK…the scientifically proven health benefits of fresh and clean water is enough of a reason to care.

Water from Fujiwara Dam   before offering a prayer
Water from Fujiwara Dam before offering a prayer. From www.wellnessgoods.com
Water from Fujiwara Dam   after offering a prayer!!!
Water from Fujiwara Dam after offering a prayer!!! From www.wellnessgoods.com

There is also the reality that Chlorine and Fluoride can kill off beneficial bacteria in our body, and cause other long-term health effects. I think that in most cases clean city water is OK, but this blog is all about finding even better ways of being and improving our standards of living – so seeking out an even better water source just makes sense to me.

I also think that consuming water that is more natural and less processed just makes common sense, so I decided to seek out the best way of doing so. There are of course so many different types of water out there, which made my search more complicated than one would think for a substance as simple as water. The following are some of the types of water you can find (according to DS Waters, one of the largest home and commercial water distributors):

Artesian Water: Water from a well that taps a confined aquifer (a water-bearing underground layer of rock or sand) in which the water level stands at some height above the top of the aquifer.

Spring Water: Water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth.

Purified Water: Water that has been produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, or other suitable processes.

Distilled Water: Water that has been vaporized into steam, then cooled to re-condense it back into water. The water’s minerals are left behind, leaving only pure tasting steam-distilled water.

Mineral Water: Water that contains no less than 250 parts per million (ppm) total dissolved solids (TDS).

Sterile Water: Water, also known as sterilized water, that meets the requirements under Sterility Tests, in the United States Pharmacopeia, 23d revision.

Carbonated water products (soda water, seltzer water, sparkling water, and tonic water) are considered soft drinks and are not regulated as bottled water.

I started going to Whole Foods and my local Co-Op and purchasing filtered (reverse osmosis) water. I figured that was a good place to start – at least the stuff is free from contaminants and Chlorine. There is some debate over distilled water. Some think it is healthy, while others think it actually strips the body of minerals…so I have decided not to consume distilled water. It is really meant for teas and other medicinal purposes (or potentially for a cleans/detox program).

What I really wanted was natural spring water…but didn’t want to pay and arm and a leg for bottled spring water (which sits around for a long time in plastic bottles on store shelves). I also wasn’t sure where to find a good local spring.

Just today, however, I discovered a fantastic site – Find a Spring.com. This site lists public springs where you can fill up on totally natural and unprocessed water, for free! There was only one spring listed near Seattle, so I headed to the store, bought a massive 5 gallon jug and headed up there. I really wanted to use some large glass jugs, but didn’t have any available (I’ll need to hit up a recycling center and find some large house wine bottles to use).

Several others had the same idea as me!
Several others had the same idea as me!

The spring was super-easy to find (in Lynwood, just 10 minutes north of the city). There were about 6 cars there when I showed up (on a sunny Saturday at noon). Looks like my secret discovery is no secret to those that live in this area outside Seattle.

At this spring, the Lynwood 164th Street Well, there are two spouts, each flowing 5 gallons per minute of crystal clear and ice cold natural artesian well water! This well is tested several times a month and is completely clean and open to the public (there is a little parking lot and a shelter over the well spouts. This particular well is 400 feet deep and tops out at 120 feet. The city drilled down to 200 feet to access the water.

I strap the jug in like a passenger to keep it from moving around. Just make a loop with your seatbelt over the spout!
I strap the jug in like a passenger to keep it from moving around. Just pull your belt so it locks into place and make a loop over the spout!

The water tastes really good and I’m so lucky to have finally stumbled upon such a find so close to the city! I highly recommend that you check out Find a Spring.com and look for a spring near you.

My spring water setup at home. I bought the ceramic base and polycarbonate 5-gallon jug from Whole Foods. Total cost was $50. Water was free though :) .
My spring water setup at home. I bought the ceramic base and polycarbonate 5-gallon jug from Whole Foods. Total cost was $50. Water was free though 🙂 .

Raw Food Challenge – Completed After 30 Days!

(Breakfast! 1 Whole Organic Honeydew Melon)

I’ve reached the final point in my Raw Food 30 Day Challenge. It has been a great adventure. While I experienced some incredible increases in my overall health and wellness, I was also happy to break the 30-day streak with a dinner at a favorite vegan restaurant of mine with some friends last night!

In my previous updates, I wrote about the benefits I was experiencing through this way of eating. Those benefits continued, and if anything became even more pronounced throughout the last 10 days of the challenge. I feel incredibly light. I think clearly. My skin is clear and I really feel great overall.

In terms of body composition, here is where that ended up. Keep in mind that throughout this entire challenge I had no intention to lose weight. I am already fit and slim enough. I also made a point to eat a significant number of calories (mostly through fresh, organic, ripe fruits!). My goal was to try to keep my caloric intake similar to what my previous diet was (roughly 2300 calories per day). I think I struggled to do this for the first 10 days or so, but then got the routine down and was eating plenty.

While I lost over 6 pounds in my first week of the Raw Food Challenge (I wasn’t eating enough), my weight stabilized for a few weeks and then started to rise a bit in the final 10 days. Overall, my bodyfat change shows a 2% drop. Given that I was already very lean at 11% to start, this is a big deal. To put this into perspective, this 2% drop in bodyfat means that I lost about 20% of the total fat on my body in only 30 days!

(Ingredients for my 100% Raw Sundried-Tomato Pasta Sauce)

This is staggering. Aside from the numbers, it is blatantly obvious to me that my body is far healthier. I am slimmer in the right places, my flexibility is far better than before and my skin is so much clearer. I have even noticed small scars on my skin, from long ago, starting to heal.

Perhaps the biggest shift for me has been around food in general. This Raw Food Challenge really gave my body and a mind a reset in terms of what I consider to be real nourishing food. I am now accustomed to eating large meals of just fruit or greens. I don’t need lots of grains or breads or other proteins to feel like I’ve had a meal. I’ve moved away from cravings for fried or spicy foods and my taste buds have become so much more sensitive. I am just so much more aware of what I am putting into my body.

(100% Raw Kelp Noodles w/ Almond-Cilantro Pesto)

Another thing I’ve gained from this experiment is that I’ve started to care less about what other people think about what I do. I’m far more comfortable to just be the way I am, and serve as an example for others – as opposed to trying to fit in. I guess when you sit down at a lunch table with a half-dozen bananas, you learn to stop paying too much attention to what other people think about you, and just do what you have to do! After all, which is better – a few bananas or a Big Mac? Why then do people gawk at someone eating a bunch of bananas but think nothing of eating half a cow? You just gotta laugh!

So, with all these benefits – Why am I not going to continue the 100% Raw Food Diet? Well, first of all I am convinced that eating a large amount of water rich, fresh, ripe and organic fruits and veggies is the way to go. I will absolutely continue to eat a very high percentage of raw foods.

(More 100% Raw Kelp Noodles w/ Sesame-Pepper-Ginger-Turmeric Pesto)

However, I do also enjoy the social aspects that food has to offer. I enjoy the vegan meals that my family will make on occasion and I do enjoy the occasional cup of hot tea or a vegan donut every now and then! I don’t feel like foregoing those things.

I am also aware of the stress that comes with trying to be 100% anything. That takes a toll on the body just as much as a poor diet or lack of exercise does. I don’t want to fall into another trap of trying to be an absolutist. Going forward, I’m going to enjoy as much raw food as I can – probably 50% or so of my diet – focusing on fresh fruits and veggies (as opposed to high fat raw foods), and see where that takes me.

Raw Food 30-Day Challenge

Starting tomorrow morning I will be embarking on a 30-Day Raw Food Challenge. I’ve done the raw food thing before, most recently as part of a 3-day fruit feast and also for a few months last year as well.

The issue is, last year I wasn’t 100% raw, I did cooked food meals now and then – usually at dinner time. I also wasn’t nearly as educated in terms of what to eat, and such ended up not eating enough calories or nutrient dense superfoods (like goji berries, cacao, maca root, acai, etc.).

This time I am more educated, more motivated and have experience at my side from past successful and not-so-successful experiments with my diet.

I’ll also note a few of the reasons why I am doing this challenge. At the end of the day, I am a big believer that the motivations for doing something are the true driving force for any positive and lasting change.

So why am I doing this 30-day Raw Food Challenge?

  1. There are numerous studies and articles that point to raw or mostly raw food diets as a key factor in positively impacting overall human health and longevity.
  2. I personally know several raw foodists that are not only surviving, but thriving on a raw food diet.
  3. During my last raw food experiment, while I had some breakthrough and positive experiences – right now I am much more well-informed and better prepared to not fall into some of the traps/issues I ran into last time.
  4. Primarily raw and water-rich foods are important factors in helping the body naturally cleanse and detoxify.
  5. My diet right now features a high percentage of raw foods – about 30-50% on most days. Moving to 100% will be a big challenge but is doable – and will help me dislodge some unhealthy eating habits that I have developed lately (eating too late, eating fried foods, eating too large meals, etc.).
  6. During past experiences with fasting or eating raw foods, I experienced a profound heightened sense of mental performance and a deeper ability to meditate and connect to the present moment. I am interested to see how the 30-Day Raw Food Challenge impacts my meditation practice.
  7. I am curious to see how my yoga practice is impacted through a Raw Food diet. In past experiences, I’ve noticed increased flexibility and a higher strength-to-weight ratio when eating a raw or mostly raw diet.

For reference, my current body weight is 142.0lbs and body fat is 11% (as measured by a Tanita-brand body fat measurement scale). I’ll be tracking this throughout the challenge.

So there it is. The journey starts tomorrow. If you have walked down this path before and have any tips, please do share in the comments! If you are willing to take this journey with me (even for a few days, a week or the full month) – that would be cool as well!

3-Day Fruit Fast Recap

Earlier this week, as part of the 40 Days to Personal Revolution program, I did a 3-day fruit fast. As I love to eat fruits, I was really looking forward to this. I considered it more of a fruit feast than a fruit fast!

The picture above shows the entire array of fruits that I picked up for these 3 days. In fact, there was more than enough fruit here to last me over a week! I still have a few mangoes and oranges left in fact.

You might be wondering what I broke my fast with? After teaching a yoga class in the morning, I enjoyed some Idli that my mom made before going to work!

So how did I do on the fruit fast? Here is the scoop. Keep in mind that I entered this 3-day fast after having gone without caffeine or any processed sugar for over 3 weeks. I also have been practicing yoga 6-7 days a week for quite a while and have been following a 100% plant-based diet for many years. As a result of this, I think my detoxing symptoms were a little less severe than others. Your mileage will vary!

Continue reading 3-Day Fruit Fast Recap

My Morning Smoothie

I’m a big fan of smoothies in the morning. A while ago I wrote about my Raw Power Smoothie, an all vegan and mostly raw concoction that would keep me going most of the day.

Nowadays, I’m in the groove of doing more fruits, mostly bananas, with some maca powder and a heaping tablespoon of vitamineral green. I forgo the protein powder and other things. I find that sticking with more of a fruit base and going lighter on the protein actually feels better in the morning.

The key to making this smoothie work and taste great is to get high quality organic bananas. Most people eat bananas when they are still “raw” and green and totally spot-free. Eating bananas like this will give you problems….gas and other digestive issues. They also don’t taste as sweet!

I like my bananas nice and spotty, there might be a touch of green near the stems, but the rest is deep yellow with plenty of brown spots on the peel. The peel should also come off very easily. If you have to hack away to open your banana, it isn’t ready yet!

Note: if you need to ripen bananas, stick them in a closed bag in a warm place.

Now I am off to drink my post yoga class smoothie! (4 large organic bananas, 20 ounces water, vitamineral green powder and maca powder).

What is your favorite smoothie? Let me know in the comments!

Happiness is a Choice

It is a choice we make. Perhaps the single most important choice in our lives. It is not something that happens to us, or a situation we stumble upon.

Consider that people can be happy in all sorts of situations. Subsistence farmers in rural India can be happy despite having few material possessions. Billionaires can be happy while riding private jets. Children can be happy playing with the silliest of toys. I often find myself happy just by watching animals.

If happiness is not predicated upon a specific event or situation, then it must be something that is chosen, consciously or unconsciously.

As such, if the ultimate pursuit of life is happiness….then we can all get exactly what we are here to get. We just need to decide.

David Goggins – The Long Run

“When you think you are about ready to quit….you’re only at 40% of your potential” – David Goggins

If you like this video short by L-Studio, you can read more David at his website. He is an active member of the  Navy Seals and avid ultra-marathon runner and triathlete.

He took up endurance running fairly recently and as his first triathlon completed the grueling Ultra-Man (more than a double Ironman!). I love to see stories about people like David, who are shattering our limiting beliefs about the human potential.