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8,000 Meter Challenge – More Than a Day of Trails

I know I need to write something here but I’m honestly not sure how to begin or where to go. If you would like to see the data and specifics of the 8,000 meter challenge, check out the write up on the Off Road Pursuits blog, here I’d rather just talk about what it meant to me personally.

When I originally asked Jess, Dax, and Carlyn if I could join them during their attempt at the 8,000 meter challenge the idea was simple. I’ve never attempted to summit Baldy, Gorgonio, or Jacinto so I wanted to find out if I could do them all in one day. It’s been too long since I put myself in a solid position to fail and I needed to get out there and test myself again. I would be joining Jess for his last big training day before Leadville 100, hopefully do as much as I could and if all else failed I would act as support for the group while they finished what I couldn’t.

Then on Thursday, while I was spending the week alone in Idyllwild, I got the terrible news that our good friend, Ben, and his climbing partner, Gil, had gone missing in Peru. I spent all day and night wandering aimlessly around the cabin praying for the best case outcome while trying to get a signal on my cell phone to keep updated on the progress of the search. While I know that these types of situations rarely end well, I also know that Ben is one of the strongest and most determined people I have ever met and if anyone could get themselves out of a bad situation it would be him.

While I spent all day Friday trying to keep updated on the search I debated on whether I even wanted to go out and do the challenge and I wasn’t the only one. Dax sent out a fantastic email that summed up what we were all thinking. We all were hesitant to go out in the mountains with a friend missing but it would be the only true way to honor his spirit and the best way we could find to send our positive energy to Peru. To finish the email Dax had a great suggestion, keeping with Ben’s belief in Naked Wrist Racing he asked that we all take on the day with out our watches and GPS. It turned out to the one of the best ideas of the weekend.

While my concern was going in to my biggest challenge in terms of mileage, time and elevation that I have ever done, it has always been my watch that kept me on track with my calories. How would I do without knowing how often to take in my food. Well, as it turns out Ben addressed this with a great Nietzsche quote early on in his post about it: “Necessity is not a fact then, but an interpretation.” It turned out that if I just stop thinking and let my body do what it needs to do, I’ll be fine. That would turn out to be an overwhelming theme later in the day.

So with the following in mind, “if a fulfilling run is part of the game, and especially if the time is not too important, the Naked Wrist can be a good option,” we met up on Saturday morning to start on an adventure that would turn out to be more than I even imagined.

Goal #1

With a start just before 6am, we set our sights on the summit of Mt. Baldy knowing it would be a warmup for the big climbs later in the day. Ben was immediately on my mind and would remain there throughout the day. Baldy is the shortest and steepest climb of the day but a good one. Never having done it before the time seemed to fly by and we were able to summit and get back to the car on Jess’ “warp speed” time projections.

Taking a moment to reflect at the summit

Stashing a memento of Ben’s unusual fashion sense at the summit

After getting back to the car we made a quick change and got on our way to San Gorgonio. As we were driving I did the math and was surprised to realize I had taken in exactly as many calories on the mountain as I would have if I had a watch and was keeping track of time. It looks like maybe my body does know what is best for it, another lesson from Ben.

By the time we got to the parking lot for Gorgonio it was already starting to get warm so we through on the layers of sunscreen, prepped the packs and hit the trail. Gorgonio is the longest of the three climbs but, despite a brutal steep switchback start to the trail, it’s incredible beautiful. The combination of the scenery, the ridiculous music accompaniment which would include Ace of Base, Carly Jepsen, Sir Mix-a-Lot among others, and the great company the mountain went surprisingly quickly. I hit a brief low point on the ascent which I recovered from quickly and again on the descent that a small piece of Dax’s beef jerky saved me from. Other than these two instances I really enjoyed this climb. Ben couldn’t have been more right, without a watch to worry about I was able to take in so much more of the beautiful nature I was surrounded by and enjoy the company I had out there. The final push to the summit was a long, exposed effort but it was completely worth it to just put my head down and charge to the top. The views from the top were amazing and I immediately understood why Ben thrived when he was in the mountains.

Final push to the summit

San Jacinto (peak #3) in the distance

After a long descent which featured all of us starting to battle a little bit with various stages of soreness, stomach issues, and fatigue, we made it to the cars to start the drive to Jacinto and our final climb of the day. We jumped in the car and less than a mile down the road Jess pulled over and we pulled in behind him. Expecting Carlyn was about to succumb to the stomach issues she was having Dax and I waited for the passenger door to open and see her leap out. It was Jess that stepped out of the car and headed in our direction and I immediately felt something was wrong, then he gave us the news that Ben and Gil’s bodies had been found on the mountain in Peru. I was speechless, it was like getting punched in the stomach while in a headlock. All the air was completely out of my body. Dax and I sat there silent for a while trying to process what Jess had just said. How the hell could Ben be gone? There has to be a mistake! He’s one of the strongest people I have ever met he can survive anything. He’s told me about things he’s done that I don’t even understand until I go home and look it up and realize just how amazing the accomplishment was. There is no way he won’t be joining us for the R2R2R run in the fall that he was organizing.

Finally when I couldn’t take it any more I put the car in drive and pulled out. I had to do something to try to stop thinking. The drive to Jacinto was a mix of silent thought, Dax and I trying to find the right words to help ourselves come to terms with the news, and an overwhelming sense of loss that turned to inspiration and finally determination. There was no way I wasn’t completing this climb of Jacinto. Ben was a huge inspiration to me, not just his physical ability and the things he accomplished but the way he lived his life. He was one of the most passionate people I met and without question one of the most well rounded. Some of the best parts of running with him were listening to his ramblings on everything from 90’s Hip-Hop, to climbing, to the Dalai Lama. It never ceased to amaze me how many topics he knew intimately and how passionate he was about each. However, the thing that left the biggest impact on me was Ben’s complete intolerance of anyone not pushing themselves. He surrounded himself with people that strived for greatness and in turn he pushed all of us to be better and stronger as well. He didn’t have time for people that made excuses, were afraid or too caught up in what other’s thought to put themselves on the line. Ben truly lived by the Prefotaine quote, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

On one of my earliest runs with Ben we discussed this philosophy and how much he hated people telling him how “amazing” something he had done was. At first I thought it was a harsh way of thinking, that the everyday jogger wasn’t as good as those that could do more, go longer and do it faster. But then I realized, it wasn’t the jogger that Ben had a problem with. It was the jogger that never wanted to be anything more than that. It was in him to desire more out of himself and those around him and he couldn’t afford to spend his time wanting more for you than you wanted for yourself. He had great things to accomplish and he wanted you along for the ride.

It was with all of this in mind that when we got to Humber Park to start our climb of San Jacinto I was reinvigorated and ready to tackle the mountain.The group had a swap of women as Carrie joined us for Jacinto and Carlyn stayed in town due to her stomach problems and constantly rolling her ankles. There was no need for her to keep pushing, she has an Ironman soon and can’t afford to get hurt. Unfortunately, my mind and legs being ready to go wasn’t enough to convince my stomach. While I was staying on top of my calories all day this was the first time I had done anything that woud take this amount of time and all the gels, chews, and waffles I took were catching up to me and I had no desire to eat anything sweet. I was able to get in a few hundred calories on the way up the mountain but once we hit the summit I had a fig newton and a couple sips of water on the entire descent. It wasn’t enough…or even close to enough. We were all hurting on the climb but we were able to pass the time with stories of Ben, recounting our favorite runs (unanimously the JTree Traverse), and generally doing our best to honor Ben the way he lived his life, by pushing ourselves to be better and stronger than we were when we started the day.

My lack of calories was causing me to crash badly on the way down but one constant thought kept me moving forward, Ben wouldn’t quit. It hurts? Who cares? Keep moving! Summiting Jacinto was tough but getting back to the car was probably the hardest thing I have ever done mentally and emotionally. There is no question I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of Dax, Jess, and Carrie and especially the constant thought of Ben in my heart and mind.

Tahquitz Rock, one of Ben’s playgrounds

I felt just like this picture looks

While I was typing post this I got a call from Toby, who was very good friends with not only Ben but Gil too. Toby was on his honeymoon when this happened and I wasn’t able to talk to him until today. Honestly, one of my biggest concerns was how he was doing with the loss. Of course, Toby was way ahead of me on this and was able to put in to words what I wasn’t. We didn’t lose two friends on the mountains in Peru, they will never be lost because of the impact they have had on our lives. We may not be able to make new memories with them going forward but they will always be there with us. Every time I step on the trails I know Ben is out there in the mountains ready for the adventure.

Much like Ben found a renewed sense of determination since the passing of Tim, it is now on to us to find our purpose and drive in this world. What is it that we will do to make ourselves and those around us better people? It’s up to us to live our lives to the fullest, we can no longer be happy just knowing someone that pushed themselves to the edge and live vicariously through them. Ben would never want us to live that way.

Rest in Peace Ben and know that your legacy is in good hands. We will all continue to Pullharder in your honor!

Small Events, Big Results, Bigger Lessons

This was a great weekend for personal challenges for both Carrie and I. We’ve both been doing better with keeping a consistent training schedule and this weekend we finally got to test out our fitness levels.

Hike UP to the start line!

It started on Saturday with a very early morning drive to San Marcos for the Inaugural San Elijo Hills Trail Marathon. This isn’t something you’ll find on a race calendar, it was the heinous concoction of Dax Ross (make sure to check out his recap and pics) and was promised to be the “slowest marathon of your life.” The total distance was just under a marathon but the 5,100 feet of climbing more than made up for it. The course was awesome with a great mix of every type of terrain: fire road, beautiful single track, paved road, and at no point were we ever running  on flat ground.

Going in to the weekend I was a little concerned simply because I hadn’t run long since the JTree Traverse at the beginning of May. However, like I said I’ve been training well and I was feeling really fit so figured I would give it a go. I wasn’t familiar with the majority of the group I would be joining but I knew through reputation most of them were very strong runners so I decided to try to hang back throughout the day and run a comfortable pace. Thank God I did because I was surrounded by absolute beasts! There were things being talked about such as Ultraman (that’s a double Ironman), a 9 hr 50 miler in a first attempt, Leadville 100 preparations, Triple Crown attempts (summit Gorgonio, Bernardino, and Jacinto in one day), and these were just a few of the 18 different people that were out there. I was in awe of this group and just hoped I could hang.

As for the run itself, it was an absolute blast! The group while incredibly strong didn’t have an ounce of arrogance to it (another one of the great attributes of the majority of trail runners). The combination of the banter and the terrain made what could have been a brutally long day in to a marathon that flew by (if a marathon can fly by in 5+ hours). The weather was with us and it stayed cloudy until about mile 18 when the sun came out just in time for our biggest climb of the day. It made the climb a little harder but nothing too terrible. In fact, I felt pretty good all day until a couple stupid mistakes caught up to me. For the first time in a very long while, I forgot to take salt pills with me and sure enough, my calf started seizing at mile 20. Dax saved me with a couple tablets and I was able to keep it at bay through the end. The only other problem I had was another dumb mistake. I had plenty of calories with me and the extravagant aid stations put together by some of the amazing wives, girlfriends, kids, and families of the runners had us more well stocked than I could have imagined. Unfortunately, I just didn’t take in enough and when we hit the last couple hundred yards of steep, scramble climbing to the finish I started hitting the wall pretty hard. I hadn’t hit the wall like that in a very long time and it sucked! I chalk both of these up to simply not doing any long runs the past two months and getting out of practice with my nutrition.

What I lacked in nutrition, my training made up for. I took a huge lesson out of Saturday; consistency and trust in your training can greatly amplify what you are able to accomplish. I know this may sound pretty basic but it’s something I, and a lot of people, struggle with. If you have a training plan, stick to it and trust in it, especially when you have seen success before. Carrie and her coaching, have gotten me through some incredibly tough races and runs and each time I have followed her guidance I have been successful! She has gotten me to a top-10 o’all/2nd place AG finish in one of the hardest IM distance races in North America, 12th o’all in my first 50K, completed a 3 mile OW swim that had only 163 of 500 starters finish the race, a strong run at the JTree Traverse and now a tough marathon on no long runs. These stats would never be possible without expert guidance and trusting in what I am being given to do. Knowing I can fully rely on my coach eliminates a huge deal of worry and allows me to focus on getting the job done.

The final climb that ate my legs for lunch!

That’s right, we even had paper towel finish tape!

Sunday it was time to recover from Saturday’s effort and pay it back. I was on hand for support while Carrie was reentering the racing world with the Self Transcendence Swim-Run. This 1 mile swim, 10K run begins at the La Jolla cove. Swimmers take off and head for the LJ Shores where they run 10-1mile loops on the beach. I love the concept of the race and would have liked to do it but there was no way my legs would allow it. Instead, I got to watch Carrie go from a confident coach, to a nervous pre-race athlete, to the fierce competitor I know she is. With only a hand full of solid training weeks under her belt, Carrie crushed it to take 5 o’all female and 1st in her age group! I can’t even begin to say how proud of her I am. I know how hard it has been for her not being able to race because of limited time over the past year so seeing her go out there and reassert herself in the competitive world was better than anything I could have gotten from a race of my own.

O yea…1st AG wins a pie! Love this race!!!

This was a great weekend for the Jesse crew and it will be one of many!

The Lake Hodges Trail Fest: One more step towards realizing dreams

Friends and Family,

As most, if not all, of you know by now this year has held some huge changes for me. At the end of 2011, I put in my notice at the San Diego Running Institute and by the end of January I was officially without a job and heading in to full on self-employment or bust mode. My mission was to realize a dream of mine to be able to support Carrie and myself while meeting three very important goals I have set for myself:

  1. Do something I truly enjoy.
  2. Be free from the constraints of a boss and work schedule.
  3. Give back to the community around me.

The first step towards realizing my goals is almost here. On June 23rd I will host my first event, the SoCal Wine Country Women’s Half Marathon and 5K, in Temecula, CA. The response to this event has been more than I dreamed of when I first put the idea together and it has been a very reassuring sign that I am on the right path. With the race coming up I’m getting more and more nervous and excited about race day.

The second step towards realizing these three goals is the one that I am the most passionate about. With the introduction of the Lake Hodges Trail Fest coming this October I am able to not only do something I love but, more importantly help give back to the community that has given me so much. The Lake Hodges Trail Fest serves as a fundraiser for Outdoor Outreach, an amazing non-profit based here in San Diego. Outdoor Outreach’s mission is to empower at-risk and underprivileged youth to make positive lasting changes in their lives through comprehensive outdoor programming.

Imagine growing up within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean and never having seen the beach. What would it be like to have no idea what the world holds beyond the few block radius around your neighborhood? When I was introduced to endurance sports it began a transformation in who I am as a person. Through my continued exploration of the outdoors, I not only learn more about the environment and world around me, but more about myself as a human being. There is nothing I want more than to be able to share that feeling and inspire that continued growth in others.

So the Lake Hodges Trail Fest is more than just another step towards me realizing my dreams it’s a starting point for others to begin realizing their’s as well.

Want to make a small donation to help Outdoor Outreach? You don’t have to run the race, just stop over at our fundraising page and donate whatever you can afford. Even a couple dollars can be what it takes to help someone gain an greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.

Excuses

I know it’s nothing new but it’s something that, for one reason or another, has been popping up more frequently in my observable life (I guess if I can’t observe it then it’s not really part of my life, but anyway). There are constant excuses being thrown around for accepting the way things are and not doing what you can to change an undesirable situation. I’m not talking about on a global scale or even in the community, there is no point in discussing things of that nature because people continue to refuse to take responsibility for themselves and do what needs to be done to better their own life. So I threw a few things down and figured I would share the thoughts here, that’s what this is for right?

Everyday we arise with a million excuses in our mind that prevent us from living. Some are small; “It’s cold outside,” and some are more significant; “I have to work,” but they are all the same when they prevent us from truly living our lives.

There is going to come a day when it will be too late and there will be only one excuse for why we aren’t doing what we truly want. I pray that when that day comes you can say, “I had my excuses, but I was the master of them and not the servant to their desires. I lived my life to the fullest, with no regrets, and welcome this day like all those that came before it.”

The JTree Traverse

As you saw with my last post, I took some time off from blogging. There was a lot going on, primarily another career change, and I needed to be focused on that. However, this past weekend I was fortunate enough to take part in something that I am very excited to share and it’s time to get back to some semi-regular blogging. I know, I know, you are all VERY excited to get more of me back in to your lives just try to contain yourselves and not get to carried away. On to the run…

This weekend a small group of incredible runners (Toby, Jess, Ben, Dax and Carlyn), and myself, assembled in Joshua Tree National Park to bring to life something that has been in the works for almost a year. The brainchild of Toby Guillette, “The JTree Traverse” is 37.3 miles along the California Riding and Hiking Trail that navigates it’s way from one end of the park to the other. This was the 3rd attempt to get the run together but because of delays last fall and sickness and injuries earlier this year we had to push it back. Fortunately, the 3rd time was definitely the charm and this run was an epic. While there are many accounts of multi-day hikes along the trail and people running it in sections, we haven’t been able to track down a documented single effort run across the entire distance. However, after this weekend I have no doubt this is going to become one of the staples to the Ultrarunners checklist of runs that need to be done.

For those of you that are interested in putting this on your list, I’ll spare you the personal details in favor of the logistics from the day with the exception of this brief note. This was my longest run to date and I couldn’t have asked for anything more than what I got out of it. The dynamic of the group was outstanding and made the miles fly by. Between the views, the weather, the people, and this being my first time in Joshua Tree it’s hard to put in to words the feelings I have after this day. It was an outstanding experience to be a part of and I hope to use it to grow as a runner and outdoor enthusiast.

Now for what you really want, the details and the pictures. (Almost all of these pictures came from the rest of the crew so I highly recommend checking out their pages for more great shots!)

We got the run started at 5:15 AM and depending on the time of year I would strongly encourage you not get started any later than this. We had great weather and a good wind that kept the temps in check all morning but it starts to get real hot, real quick once the early afternoon hits.

0 dark thirty and 37.3 miles to go

As you can see, the trail is broken in to sections by road crossings which gives you a good way to break up the run mentally and also multiple options to stash hydration/nutrition if you need to do so. We were fortunate enough to have Dax, despite a shoulder separation, offer to come out and still do a portion of the run with us and make our logistics much easier. The night before a car was dropped at Keys View Rd with our fuel and post-run equipment. Dax joined us for the run to Keys View, and a few extra miles, then drove the car to the finish to pick us up. This was awesome and made for much less driving the night before. The original plan was to stash a cooler at Keys View Rd, park the car at the finish then have to drive all the way back to the start. It would have been a lot of driving the night before an early run.

Yup, 20+ in a sling. Bad ass!

As for the trail, it’s got a little bit of everything. It starts and ends with a few miles of loose sand that makes footing difficult but it doesn’t last too long. The biggest problem with the sand in the beginning is that you are also doing most of your climbing here so it can be tough. Focusing on not fighting it and lifting the legs instead of pushing off seemed to help mentally. The nice thing is you hit your highest point of the day around mile 5, from there until the last few miles you are on quality solid trail the entire time. The loose sand during the final few miles are actually not bad at all because it softens the gradual downhill running you’ll be doing.

The views are really quite impressive the entire time. With the trail being so far removed from the roads/cars/exhaust the Joshua Trees are so healthy and grow to be much larger than I saw in the main part of the park and you are running through fields of them as far as you can see. The second half loses a lot of the trees but makes up for it with rock formations that will make you want to leave the trail to try some climbing. The highlight for me was a section around mile 13 (I think?) after a short climb we were looking at the trail coming up and it was a gradual descent that traced the spine of a ridge. Standing there looking at the trail I was like a kid on Christmas and this was by far the biggest box under the tree. It was such a beautiful stretch of trail that I couldn’t help but completely zone out while running it and get lost a bit in the moment.

Jess happened to catch it on camera.

“Soaring” down the trail

The trail truly is something to behold and being able to see parts of the park that most people never encounter on my first trip to JTree made it that much more memorable.

Route Map

Route Topo

I’ll leave you with a collaboration of pictures from the crew. Like I said almost all of these came from them so check out their sites for more pics and recaps of the day.

Thanks to Toby, Jess, Dax, Ben and Carlyn for making this happen!

Leave of Absence

As I’m sure you have noticed, I haven’t updated in a while. There are a lot of reasons for this but mostly just that I’ve been too busy with work, training, and life in general and this has become a significantly lower priority.

I’ve got some massive life changes in the works so it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to get back to regular posting in the near future but if I can, I will. Unfortunately, this blog is going to have to be put on the back burner for a while til I can roll out some new and exciting things.

If you want to follow what I’m up to (Joshua Tree 37 mile traverse in March & PCT50 in May on the schedule so far) and keep in touch the best way is probably Facebook. I use Twitter sporadically so you can catch me on there once in a while too.

If you want to get me on either of those platforms, here are the links:
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535039406
https://twitter.com/pauldjesse

Thanks to all of you that read this blog and support me in my endeavors.

Solid Training and heading to St. Louis

I just got back from a 13 mile run at Lake Hodges to cap off a solid week of training.

After my longest and one of my best rides so far on Monday, I was scheduled for my typical Tuesday morning run but the poison oak came back with a vengeance and I couldn’t handle the itching let alone what I knew it would feel like once I started sweating. I took the day off from running and worked from home while trying to keep from ripping my skin off.

Despite missing my Tuesday run I was able to pick back up on the routine with a swim Wednesday morning. My sets and overall workouts are starting to get longer and I’m feeling good. I’m going to need to get Carrie to the pool with me though because I know my form isn’t where it should be. The evening brought Carrie’s Wednesday Night Strength class which kicked my butt like usual. This time it was the box jumps that worked me over.

Thursday was a great 9+ miles with some of the Dirt Devils in Tecolote Canyon. We had a good turnout and the current temps are perfect for runs in the canyons, chilly but not cold.

Friday I substituted my 2nd ride of the week with a trip to spin class with Carrie. She’s been going and has really liked it so I decided it was time to see what I was missing. Apparently what I was missing was sweating a small lake around a stationary bike while trying to block out the intense burning in my legs. This was my first spin class in a LONG time and sweet baby Jesus did I feel it. I think I’m going to start adding one of these a week because there is no question that I need it!

Saturday morning I went out for a short run to make up some of the miles I missed on Tuesday. Since I would be running longer on Sunday this was going to be the first time I’ve done consecutive days of running since before I started with the injury nonsense a while back. I was a little nervous but I’ve been feeling good so I went for it. I headed down in to the canyon and went for an easy 6 in Tecolote Canyons 2 & 3 and it was a perfect way to get the body moving before work.

And that brings us back to today. I was at Lake Hodges to time an 5K event that was put on in memory of Officer Jeremy Henwood. It was a great event that brought out 200 people to raise money. After the race I went out to run the Foxy Run (formerly Painted Rocks) Half Marathon course. I love this course and it’s part of the ride we did on Monday. The trails around Lake Hodges are a great mix of single track and double track and there are a ton of options to get a lot of distance. I let myself push the pace for the second half because I won’t be getting a lot of training in so I wanted to make sure I felt it during this session. I did, and it felt great!

Here are a few pics from today’s run:

Carrie and I are headed to St Louis tomorrow morning to spend Thanksgiving with her family. I’m looking forward to spending some time with her family and seeing her nephew, Isaac. He’s a cool little guy and just turned 4 this week. Not only that but they’re gonna try to culture me up a little bit with my first ever trip to the symphony. I’ll do my best not to embarrass Carrie (too much).

Have a great week everyone and Happy Thanksgiving! It’s my favorite holiday of the year and I hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I do.

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