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Two years and looking forward

As I prepare for the upcoming Hagg Lake 50K, it is hard to believe that I am entering my third year of ultra running.  Hagg Lake was my first attempt at a distance over 26.2 miles two years ago and I have been hooked ever since.

Since that time, I have often been asked what is so appealing about the distances and races that go beyond the traditional 26.2, often over challenging terrain. While I still consider myself a neophyte to the sport of trail, mountain and ultra marathoning, I've concluded that there are some overriding traits to the sport that appeal so much to me and a burgeoning bunch of newbies seeking the next challenge:
  • Community - While I don't have a large pool of people to train with on a regular basis, I have felt a part of something bigger than my small-town self each time I have participated in an ultra.  From check-in to take-down I have felt the embrace of an eclectic group of people who love what they do and enjoy sharing it with others.  
Energetic volunteers at the first Aid Station at Trail Factor 50K 2012.  Photo by Micheal Lebowitz.
Aid stations and finishing chutes are managed by energetic volunteers, many of whom are runners themselves, who give up a couple weekend long runs to do trail maintenance and share their local trails with guests visiting their stomping grounds.  Times and places fade away as participants, photographers, volunteers, race directors, crew members, and spectators relate tales from the trails and bask in the sense of fulfillment that only comes when people approach and exceed the perceived limits of human potential.
Finish line crew from Trail Factor 50K 2012.  Photo by Michael Lebowitz of Long Run Picture Company
  • Variety - My 20s were spent on the roads.  While I don't mind long straight-aways as much as some, I have certainly enjoyed the change in scenery, surface, and speed.  Technical terrain poses a definite challenge to me.  My feet are huge and I am much more accustomed to running on flat, even terrain.  The variety in race terrain has forced me to seek out more varied terrain in training and has helped me find greater fulfillment as I work toward strengthening my weaknesses.
The only single track within an hours drive of me in Echo, Oregon.  I've spent every minute of the winter that I could running and biking these trails. 
  • Comradery - Some of my most treasured relationships have been forged on the trails.  Yet what is so unique about these relationships is that they are not limited to an inner circle of early starters, elites, or old timers.  In fact, one of the most refreshing parts of the sport is the sense of communitas shared at the finish line when those who have finished await and cheer for those who are finishing. 
Start of the Flagline 50K led by Max King, Ryan Bak, and Mario Mendoza.  Ate dinner the night before with them and their families and then played in the woods for a few hours together the next day.  Photo by Michael Lebowitz
  • Tranquility - While training for ultras definitely requires discipline, the variety in courses and weather conditions all but eliminate the unhealthy obsession with splits on every training run and workout.  This enables the runner to be more in tune with his/her environment and body.  This holistic approach enables training to be adapted to the way the body feels and the way the winds, rains, and temps affect the body.
Climbing Mt. Chirripo, the highest peak in Costa Rica, with my brother, Thomas Rivers Puzey.  This was part of his two month stint as a volunteer porter and national park ranger.
  • Responsibility - Perhaps the most appealing thing about the ultra community is the sense of responsibility that so many who spend long hours in the woods and on mountains feel toward the environment and fellow runners. Sure they want to bag peaks to kick off their mornings or weekends, but they also want that same experience to be available to them and countless others time and time again.  They feel a responsibility toward their surroundings.  They want to care for it.  They want to eat responsibly and advocate for responsible stewardship of the land and waters that produce healthy foods, breathtaking views, and endless adventures.  They also want to share the sport with the next generation of endorphin junkies.
I've met some great friends on the trails including Max King and Ryan Bak.  They help coach the teams and athletes my XC team competes against.  When we compete on those terms it seems even more competitive than when we race ourselves.  Photo by Riley Smith
Flanked by two of the most passionate guys I know, Nick Triolo and Yassine Diboun.
Photo by Micheal Lebowitz

I look forward to greeting the friends I have met over the last few years and meeting new ones on the trails, at the aid stations, and at the finish line of the races I'll be doing in 2013.  I'm particularly looking forward to doing so many races I have always wanted to do throughout the NorthWest that will let me get to know new places I've never been before.

2013 Race Calendar

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