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Taking it all in

I was recently asked to explain what a novus runner should focus on while training for an upcoming endurance race.  There really is a lot to think about, a lot of means to distract oneself from the task at hand, and even ways of all but removing oneself from the race.  Personally, I believe in gaining energy from the elements and ones thoughts.  I admit to indulging in podcasts and playslists when I run or bike alone for hours at a time, but heartily confess that the most enjoyable training runs and races are those in which one engages in such casual conversation before, after, and sometimes even during the run that the time and distance seem much less than they actually are, new friendships are forged, and the challenges are overcome through the collective efforts of each individual.  So if I were to have a chance to get re-interviewed, I would say that the best thing a novus runner could do to prepare for an upcoming race is to find others with similar goals and train with them.

As I trained for the recent US 50K Trail Championships in Bend, OR I was greatly benefited by the company of others.  I am fortunate to have a fellow coach and friend with whom I run and coach on a daily basis in Marty Beauchamp.  I am also fortunate to have some highly motivated high school runners who get me up early to run with them before the sun comes up so that they can be at their best when it counts.  I am doubly blessed to have other highly motivated athletes who let me train with them after school and remind me regularly that I am not 16 anymore and can't hang like I used to.I have a strong network of friends, family, competitors, and even a few fans who support my hobby/addiction to running and enable me to pursue my dreams.

My family and I returned to Bend, OR for the Flagline 50K - the USATF 50K Trail National Championships.  We had such a good time last year that my wife, Jen, decided to sign up and attempt her first 50K and first trail run.  We were both excited about the relative proximity of the course (about 5 hours from our home in northeastern Oregon), the level of competition, the runability of the course (this is important for flatlanders) and the fact that Bend is such a active community that we could make a fun family vacation out of it.
We decided to visit Bend over Labor Day weekend to preview the course.  I missed the first turn of the course last year and spent the rest of the race trying to get back into a podium position, so we wanted to be sure we knew the course well enough to recognize if by chance we inadvertently took a detour.  Jen ran two loops of 16 and 20 miles and felt pretty confident going into the race.  I was fortunate to have Bend resident and trail running extraordinaire, Max King, show me the course.  Although he was kind enough to guide me the year before, I foolishly took the early lead and sent he and Ryan Bak on a chase of a phantom runner.  I was determined to carry my own weight this year and run with the pack as long as I could.

When I was done with my runs I had the luxury of jumping in the pool or soaking in the hot tub while Max went back to work or went home to finish building his deck.  Though I haven't known him for too long, and tend to see a lot more of him from behind than I'd prefer, I have truly come to admire Max's humble confidence.  Between flying from race to race (where he is usually on top), being a husband, father, actively participating in his church, Max works part time at the local running store and is an excellent ambassador of the sport in Bend and around the world.  Somewhere between all of this, he manages to amass high volume and intensity in training and still finds time to join me, or the local high school guys, or other aspiring runners on the trails.  Just about every person we pass on the trail either knows him or knows of him and giddily greets him with, "Hi Max! Great job at .....!"  To which he usually responds, genuinely and often times thanks them by name.  Pretty classy if you ask me.

As the date of Flagline grew nearer, Jen began craving all sorts of foods that she normally wouldn't even think of eating: SPAM musubi (think sushi w/ SPAM), bacon and eggs, sashimi (raw Ahi tuna), etc.  She was also feeling sick, but we figured that maybe she just wasn't getting enough salt and/or wasn't recovering from her long runs.  However, after weeks of vomiting and dizziness, we decided to finally test to see if after years and years of trying she might actually be pregnant again.  To our relief and surprise the tests came back positive.  She spoke to her doctor and was still planning to attempt the 50K, but the dizziness and vomiting and fatigue just got worse and she wasn't able to build up as she had hoped.  While we were pleased with the news of a long awaited new addition to our family, I was a bit concerned because we both knew that Jen's chances of representing the family well in this type of race were far greater than mine.  But I figured I should enjoy it since she wasn't going to be able to herself.

We (my mom, my son, and I) made our way down to Bend the night before and met our friends, Dale, Marilyn, and Riley Smith at Jackson's Corner for Dinner.  We were soon joined by a literal whose who of trail running, Max King and his family, Mario Mendoza and his wife, and Derek Schultz and his fiance.  Recent Wasatch 100 winner and San Diego champion, Jeff Browning stopped by for good measure.  We enjoyed great food and brews (Ginger Brew for me) as our kids chased each other through the play area.

My mom bought enough desserts (organic of course) for us to share that I thought that perhaps the other guys might be slowed down and my chances of hanging might increase.  The Smiths generously offered us a place to stay in their beautiful new home at the base of Mt. Bachelor.   Before the race I was able to get reacquainted with some former friends and competitors as well as meeting new ones.  The field appeared to be deeper than the previous year and I knew that if I were to have any chance of placing I would need to to go with  the leaders.  Mario took it our hard with Max quickly in tow.  Run Bak and I ran stride for stride right in their wake.  We were having fun, teasing one another and challenging each other, almost in a game of chicken, but unfortunately, after the first four or five miles of descent into the smoky mountain air, I fell off the pace and allowed Ryan Bak to go by and join his fellow Bendites, Max and Mario.  I'll blame that on Mario for kicking up so much dust, or maybe Max for making us laugh so hard as he chased Mario down the hill while wielding good sized branches...

Start of the Flagline 50K.  Jacob Puzey, Max King, Ryan Bak, Jeremy Tolman, Mario Mendoza
To be honest, these times to be a little kid again - running through the woods, throwing sticks, chasing one another, cracking jokes  - are part of what appeals to me so much about the sport.  The other part is that I don't feel guilty spending so much time away from my family because I know that while I am running, they are busy doing the same thing.  They get to be in the woods too - enjoying the scenery, the smells, the other people, and the sense of adventure.  My son, Cairo, is looking for sticks and having his own little battles, conquering new mountains with the kids of my comrades and competitors.  He and Micah, Max's son, certainly ran the roost at Jackson's Corner playground and will hopefully carry the torch when their dads can't do much more than crew for them, but I'm betting Max and I will still be having stick wars as we await our boys coming into the aid stations.

I ended up running the rest of the race alone - with my thoughts.  We had broken away so much early on that I knew that if I could just hold it together I probably wouldn't get caught.  I knew that Max was fit as ever.  He had just PRed in the 3,000m steeple chase at the Olympic Trials a few months after running 2:14 at the Olympic Marathon Trials.  Mario had just run a fast first 50K a few weeks prior and Ryan was coming back from an injury, but he is also a tried and true 2:14 marathoner so barring a major blowup I wasn't going to be catching any of them any time soon.  This gave me the time I needed to dial in my nutrition.  I wanted to be sure I got at least one salt cap, one PowerBar Energy Gel, and about 8 oz of PowerBar Perform per hour.  I was trying to run with a hydration pack on my back for the first time in a race (we had actually bought it for Jen to use, but figured I might as well give it a shot).  I had the 70 oz bladder filled with PowerBar Perform and just drank water at each of the aid stations for good measure.

I liked the hydration pack and the accessibility to all my nutrition needs and will probably use it more in the future.  I also enjoyed having time to think.

Rather than a podcast or playlist, I allowed the setting to inspire me and remind me of the good things I have read that have kept me going in the past.   The past year has been a challenge for me, personally, professionally, competitively, and politically.  These words, by Rudyard Kipling, have become my mantra.  Some of them even apply to running.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son! 
As I ran between barren, sun parched valleys and darkly wooded hilltops, my eyes delayed in dilating and the shadows added a new element of technicality.  On some descents it wasn't clear whether the dark areas were wet and slippery, rocky, or simply shadows.  In these instances, the following hymn, written by one of my forebears, Parley P. Pratt, kept running through my mind:

The morning breaks; the shadows flee; 

Lo, Zion's standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day,
Majestic rises on the world.

The clouds of error disappear
Before the rays of truth divine;
The glory bursting from afar,
Wide o'er the nations soon will shine.

Granted, the lyrics had nothing to do with the race at hand, nor did they necessarily inspire me to want to crush my competition, but they served as a means of meditation and remembering.  I was brought back to my roots (literally and figuratively) and I actually had the time to think about those connections and recognize the beauty of the morning breaking as I ran through the woods with friends.  In my minds eye I was able to see, perhaps, what he saw as he wrote these spirited lines and made the comparison between the light of truth and the light of a bright, new day appearing through the darkened clouds of shadows and smoke.

When I'm asked what to think about or focus on when I'm running, as a coach I usually say form, rhythm, technique, pace, or sticking with the pack.  Each of these has their place and the shorter and more competitive the race/run, the greater the emphasis should be on these elements.  However, the longer I go, the more I feel the need to not only allow my legs and my eyes explore new horizons and possibilities, but I also find it necessary and quite fulfilling to allow one's mind to do the same.  Let it meander along the winding rivers and search out distant words and worlds that may be new and foreign, yet intimately safe and familiar. Let it remember former challenges and triumphs and prior lessons and letdowns.  Let it wander and then when you need it, it will be stretched out and ready to focus.

I didn't see anyone (other than the much appreciated, and ever helpful aid station volunteers) for hours, so I had a lot of time to think.  I figured it was best this way because it would be my last race/hard long effort for the fall because all the other weekends would be dedicated to high school/middle school cross country meets.

I was kindly greeted by my friend Michael Lebowitz of Long Run Picture Company as he and his crew were busy shooting around mile 20.  I later ran into Mike Blackmore ( a formidable runner at any distance and someone I had anticipated running with) who was having a rough day and decided to pull out.  Rather than pouting and complaining he cheered me on and let me know where I stood relative to the next guys in the race.

The run ended up being a bit longer than 50K due to the need to move the finish down the road a bit so that helicopters could fight the fire on the other side of the mountain (so if you think about it we got a discount - an extra 2K for the price of only 50).

Top 10 at USATF 50k Trail National Championships
The race was well organized by Dave Thomason.  The race volunteers were knowledgeable, energetic, and very helpful!  The post race meal was amazing - salmon tacos with mounds of guacamole.  The swag provided by SCOTT, the title sponsor for the event, made the event an even better bargain.  My entry fee cost less than then shoes I won:)  And as always, the race photography was very professional.  Thank you Long Run Picture Company!  The post race compression therapy was amazing and made me want to buy one for my wife (so that I can use it myself).

Many thanks to my mom, my son, our long-time family friends, the Smiths, and Max and Dory King for your hospitality and for making the weekend and buildup to it such fun.  Thank you, Michael Lebowitz, for capturing it on film.

Cairo and I after a long day for both of us.  Photo by Michael Lebowitz.