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2012 In Music, Part Two

January 5, 2013

2012 In Music

Song Of The Year

2012 had quite a few good songs. However, for me, there was a clear group of standouts at the top. These are my nominees for Song Of The Year

  • Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall Soundtrack)
  • I Won’t Give Up On You – Jason Mraz (Love Is A Four Letter Word)
  • Country Girl – Carolina Chocolate Drops (Leaving Eden)
  • Like Comedy – The Proclaimers (Like Comedy)
  • Bright Moon Pearls – Bonny Getz (Bright Moon Pearls)
  • Madness – Muse (The 2nd Law)

And the winner………

I Won’t Give Up On You -Jason Mraz

Album Of The Year

There were some outstanding albums this year as well. Here are my nominees for Album Of The Year.

  • ¡Uno! – Green Day
  • Love Is A Four Letter Word – Jason Mraz
  • The 2nd Law – (Muse)
  • Leaving Eden – Carolina Chocolate Drops
  • California 37 – Train
  • Like Comedy – The Proclaimers

And the winner………

The 2nd Law -Muse

Worst Song Of The Year

And on to my favorite category… The nominees for Worst Song Of The Year.

  • Gangnam – PSY
  • We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
  • Too Close – Alex Clare

And the winner………

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together -Taylor Swift


2012 In Music

December 26, 2012

2012 In Music

Song Of The Year

2012 had quite a few good songs. However, for me, there was a clear group of standouts at the top. These are my nominees for Song Of The Year

  • Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall Soundtrack)
  • I Won’t Give Up On You – Jason Mraz (Love Is A Four Letter Word)
  • Country Girl – Carolina Chocolate Drops (Leaving Eden)
  • Like Comedy – The Proclaimers (Like Comedy)
  • Bright Moon Pearls – Bonny Getz (Bright Moon Pearls)
  • Madness – Muse (The 2nd Law)

Album Of The Year

There were some outstanding albums this year as well. Here are my nominees for Album Of The Year.

  • ¡Uno! – Green Day
  • Love Is A Four Letter Word – Jason Mraz
  • The 2nd Law – (Muse
  • Leaving Eden – Carolina Chocolate Drops
  • California 37 – Train
  • Like Comedy – The Proclaimers

Worst Song Of The Year

And on to my favorite category… The nominees for Worst Song Of The Year.

  • Gangnam – PSY
  • We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
  • Too Close – Alex Clare

Ultraman World Championships

November 29, 2012

Why on earth would someone want to do something like the Ultraman World Championships? On the surface, it seems to be a completely crazy race; a three-day triathlon in the heat of of the island of Hawaii. There are complex answers, and there are simple answers. The simple one is just that it’s a challenge, something worthy to shoot for and distract oneself from (for at least a little while) the tedium and “saneness” of everyday life. The complex one is the one that I hope shows through in the story of my race on Thanksgiving Weekend 2012 (November 23-25).

Day One consists of a 6.2 mile (10km) open ocean swim from the Kailua-Kona Pier south along the coast to Keahou Bay; followed by a 90 mile bike ride from the swim exit to the town of Volcano. Day Two consists on a 171.4 mile ride from Volcano down to the southeast corner of the island for a loop and then up through Hilo and Waimea and over the Kohalas to finish in the town of Hawi. Day Three consists of a run from Hawi to the old Kona Airport for a total of 52.4 miles (84.3) -a double marathon on the hot and “dry” side of the island.

Background and Lead-up

In 2011, I completed Ultraman Canada; which at the time was the second hardest race that I had every completed (after the Hoodoo 500 bicycle race). My race there was fraught with problems: stomach issues during the swim, and then heat and wind for the rest of the race. But the exercise in suffering had a point – I made it through and proved to myself that I had what it took to be an Ultraman.

Going back even further to when I was a kid, I always dreamed of one day competing in three events: the Ironman, the Western States 100 Mile Trail Run and the Race Across America. I ticked off my first Ironman in 2009 in New Zealand, and finished another one in 2010 in Canada. I also have completed two 500 mile bike races solo (Hoodoo 500 and The Furnace Creek 508), a 50-Mile Run (American River 50 Miler), and 20+ rides longer than 200 miles. I’ve been interested in endurance and ultra-endurance sports for as long as I can remember. Some of my early childhood memories revolve around traveling with my family when my dad would compete in marathons around the state of California. So you might blame my dad that I ended up on a starting line by the Kailua-Kona Pier at 6:30AM on a Friday. Or you might, even more directly blame Steve King.

Steve King was the announcer at Ironman Canada (he will now be doing the announcing at Challenge Penticton since WTC moved the Ironman Canada race to Whistler, BC) when I did the race. At the post-race banquet, he mentioned something while talking about something called Ultraman. As I recall, he mentioned that someone who was there racing had done Ultraman a month prior. My interest was piqued and the hook was set – I was on the path to becoming an Ultraman.

When it came time to decide whether to apply for the World Championships in 2012, my wife Joan encouraged me to, saying something to the effect of “You’ve qualified for a World Championship race, you should go do it!”. I sent in my application, and awaited word as to whether I’d been accepted. It felt a bit like leaping off into the deep end of the pool did when I was seven. The field is limited to 35 racers – always has been, and hopefully always will be. The intent of the organizers is to keep the field small in order to keep the family spirit (the Ohana) alive and well. Ultraman athletes tend to know a good chunk of the field, at least after they have raced one. Some of the most genuinely nice and wonderful people compete at this distance. There are a few athletes there who look and race the part of hardened and seasoned athletes, but without fault, everyone there is there for the love of the sport and for each other. You race with a crew, and a good crew can make or break your race – it can lead to the most miserable experience of your life or to the most wonderful and enlightening experience of your life. Of course, the race can bring these both to you, and often does – even a few minutes apart sometimes.

Finding crew for the race really was not even close to challenging. The moment any of my ultra-geek friends heard what I was going to race, many of them offered to come crew for me. The selection was based on a very important factor – who could we share a single room with two beds with? It had to be a couple. The first people asked were already committed to racing Ironman Arizona the previous weekend, so they were out (that means you, Erin and Jimmy!). When I asked our good friends Diana and Jeff next, their immediate response was “YES!” – not, “Let me ask the boss about it.” or, “Let me check my schedule.”. They were all over a “free” vacation in Hawaii. Of course, that meant that they would have to be my pacers during the double marathon since Joan doesn’t run any more. The only thing left was to figure out the paddler for the swim. We quickly decided to let the race organizers pick someone from the rowing club in Kona to paddle for me.

Training for the race was going really well right up through mid-October. My first race of the year was the Big Kahuna Half Ironman in September, which I finished with a respectable 5:27 clocking. My second race was the Furnace Creek 508, which Joan and I did as a 2-person mixed team (we came in 2nd mixed team and 8th overall 2X team of 36 which started). I also completed a longtime goal by swimming the Golden Gate, without a wetsuit. Though painfully slow, it was a good exercise in suffering that would help me tremendously during the swim portion at Ultraman.

On the last weekend of October, we visited Joan’s family in Canada and went to the Banff Mountain Film Festival (another longtime dream). After sitting in the Hot Spring at Banff for a while, I got out and went in to shower and change. I sat down to put my shoes on and when I stood up, something in my low back/hip seized on me. My first thought was, “There goes my chances of finishing Ultraman!”. After hobbling around for the rest of our trip and getting home, I did what I could. I laid off the running for a while and visited my chiropractor every week until we left for Kona. Dr Brad Schmidt of Excel Sports Therapy does an outstanding job at ART and Graston Technique. I highly recommend him!

The last week before leaving was of course a flurry of activity: picking up a bike case from the triathlon club, borrowing triathlon tops from a friend and making sure I packed what I needed to bring. Explaining to the “normal” people at work why I was going to Hawaii was perhaps the source of greatest levity during the week. “You’re doing what?” more than one person asked me. Yes, I’m crazy; but I’m also determined, and I know that my body is fully capable of completing the race. And finally the day to leave comes!

To Hawaii!

The morning of November 21 found Joan and me loading up the van for the trip to the San Jose Airport. With two bike cases and two checked duffel bags, we provided some entertainment for other travelers. We were off to Hawaii! Jeff had arrived the previous evening, coming in from Guam, where he’d been working for six weeks. He had been looking forward to the cooler and dryer weather of Hawaii. Diana (Jeff’s girlfriend) was flying in from Seattle, where she’s been working for most of the year – she was looking forward to the warmer and dryer weather of Hawaii.

When we arrived at the Kona Airport, we picked up our rental van and headed off to pickup Jeff at a Denny’s near town, and then back to the airport to pickup Diana. The crew was assembled in paradise. We went off to our rental condo on Ali’i Drive and began to settle in. Joan and I assembled our bikes, and she went off for a moderately long ride. I went for a short spin to make sure that I’d reassembled the bike properly. The first cup of coffee from Island Lava Java made me remember partly why I’d loved the island so much on our prior visit (Joan and I honeymooned in Kona in March 2010). Such good coffee! Jeff and Diana and I also went for a short swim by the Pier to enjoy the water and loosen up muscles stiff from our flights. The first dinner was, of course, at the Kona Brewing Company! Nothing welcomes you to Kona like a Lavaman Red Ale…

In the morning, Joan headed off the ride to the Punalu’u Bakery near the southern end of the island. They bill themselves as the “Southernmost Bakery In the US”. And they’re darn good. While she was doing that, the rest of us went off to registration and enjoyed our first full day in paradise.

Walking into registration at an Ultra race always feels like a family reunion. Hugs and people calling out greetings and basking in each other’s company was all around. The spirit of Ohana enveloped me from the moment I walked through that door. These may be amazing athletes, but they are also my family. It was good to be there. Jane Bockus (race director) and Sheryl Cobb (assistant race director) greeted me as part of the family, as did everyone else there. Friends from Ultraman Canada 2011 were there: it was good to see Ingrid Hillhouse, Roberto Parseghian, and Joni Moore. Tracey McQuair was there as well; and when you’ve spent 12 days cramped into a van following a Race Across America at an under 10mph pace, you either become friends or mortal enemies. Fortunately, our shared love of “corny” jokes made us fast friends. After checkin, we went for a swim in Keahou Bay and then went off the farmer’s market for produce and souvenirs. For dinner that night, Diana cooked up an awesome meal of local fruits and veggies and tuna and bread.

On Thanksgiving Morning, we went to the pre-race briefing and breakfast. More familiar faces, more reunions of the Ultraman Ohana. More stories and tall-tales and instructions. The group photo by Rick Kent is always a good time, with him rearranging us up on stage for about 10 minutes before taking pictures. But it’s part of the experience and part of the fun. After the meeting, we headed off for last-minute shopping and preparations. The fun was to start at 6:30 the following morning!

Day One

When the alarm went off, I’d slept for an hour – perhaps 1.5 hours. My mind was racing the entire night, and I headed into what was to be a very hard day on very little sleep. It’s a good thing that with all the ultra cycling I have grown accustomed to sleep deprivation and making the best of whatever life throws at me. After breakfast, I grabbed my coffee and we headed off to the Pier for the start. I put on my wetsuit and applied Bodyglide generously where needed. Fifteen minutes before the race, my paddler (Jen) and I went over strategy and how the swim was to go. I was to stop every half hour for food, water and/or Gatorade. With the sound of a conch, the swimmers began to make their way into the water. I got/gave big hugs from/to Ingrid, Tracey and Juan. We were ready to rock and roll for sure! A nervous excitement filled the legendary beach (also home to Ironman World Championships swim). At ten seconds out, the countdown began: 10 -What are we doing here?, 9 -What have I gotten myself into, 8 -I hope this day goes well, 7-What have I gotten myself into?, 6- I hope I don’t see any man-o-wars, 5-What am I doing?, 4-Why am I standing among these hardcore athletes on this beach?, 3-Am I worthy?, 2-Of course I am, 1-Let’s get this thing done. Go-Pure madness envelopes me. My every thought turns towards swimming one stroke at a time. And then the Muse song “Madness” starts looping through my mind.

After finding Jen, we set our course towards the distant landmark that signifies the final turn into Keahou Bay. My right shoulder is stiff, but what can I do, I carry on and keep as calm as I can. The water is so clear in Kona that you can see the Yellow Tang and humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa and other colorful exotic fish from 40-50 feet above. The swim became a blur of swallowing salt water when the choppy waves would hit my face, getting rolled over nearly onto my black, little walnut-sized jellyfish (yes, I got stung a couple of times -on my shoulder and my foot), Jen telling me to alter my course a bit, watching the current pushing me in the wrong direction. After far too long, I could see the turn buoy in the distance, but the current was against me until I made the turn. When I finally made the turn, I could see another swimmer a bit ahead of me. I made a beeline for the finish, passing him in the process. After showering and changing, I was onto the bike course. The swim took over 5:15, more than an hour behind my time from Canada.

The beginning of the Bike One course is rather tough. You immediately start climbing, and continue climbing for about three miles up into the coffee-growing district of Kona. Since I’d been this way before, the scenery was familiar, but I enjoyed seeing the area. All the flowering trees, mac nut trees and coffee trees make for a pleasant aroma. It was gorgeous out there! Through nice rolling hills, orchards and lava fields I rode out around the southernmost part of the course, and back down to the coast where some of the finest black sand beaches are located. No stopping today though!

The Day One course finishes with a long gradual climb up to 4000 feet at the town of Volcano. At first it was hot, and my crew was concerned about my pace. The higher we got, the more gradual and cooler it got, my pace got faster and faster as I went and by the top I blew past another racer and to the finish at 11:49, just eleven minutes before the cutoff. But I’d made it through an incredibly tough day. In fact, Steve King told me that the swim was the roughest that he’s seen it in the six years he’s been coming to Hawaii for the race. The bike course is tough, but fun. Jeff, Diana and Joan had to goad me to go faster, and it worked. I was not about to DNF on Day One (or two or three for that matter!). The hardest part was rehydrating after the swim. It took a lot of water and gatorade before I felt close to normal. My tongue would remain swollen and irritated for a few days from the salt water.

After the race, we headed into the national park for dinner and massage. The massage was heavenly after the struggles of the day. Then we headed off to our hotel for the night. In the morning, it was to be another early start!

On To Day Two!

At 6:20, the conch blew and the racers awaited instructions. For some, this was to be the hardest day, for me it was to be the easiest, and most fun day on a bike in my entire life. But I’m getting a bit ahead of the story. When we reached one in the countdown, the pedals started turning. The course starts off with a 26 mile descent on nice straight roads. It was cool and humid, but I took my vest off after about ten miles. We were headed for a little corner of paradise south of Hilo called Red Road. The terrain played into my hand quite nicely, as I thrive on short rollers, and the scenery kept my mind off the effort I was putting into pushing my pedals.

By the time I got to Hilo, I knew I was having a good day. When I got to the Ironman Distance mark at 5:46, I knew I was having an outstanding day. When Tracey caught me, I sped up and used her as carrot to goad myself into a faster time. It worked very well. She stayed in my sights for about 50 miles until she pulled away on the climb over the Kohalas. Tracey’s crew was wonderful too, since I was only 10-20 yards behind her, they would squirt water on me too. It was nice to share the experience. Thanks for the “legspiration”, Tracey!

Joni passed me and Tracey as well. After going through Waimea, the course made its way into the Kohalas. The climb was stunning, as were the views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Such a beautiful place to ride! In the back of my mind, I could hear Juan telling me about the crosswind on the descent, playing tricks on you and causing bad wobbles. It turned out to be one of the best weather years on the descent and I flew down it as well. I ended up with a time on the day of just under 9:08, a personal best for the distance. After a shower, I went in for an epic massage. My crew called it the “Two Hour Massage”, but I think it was only an hour (it was supposed to be 30 minutes). Maggie worked her magic, and I felt ready to go for a run afterward. Good thing, because that’s what I had to do in the morning! Ingrid voiced her displeasure over not being able to catch me on the bike, but she was assured that she would have that chance the next day!

After dinner at a Thai place in Waimea, we headed to our hotel and I was out by 8:30.

Day Three!

When the alarm sounded, I was up like a bolt; fully aware of what I had to do that day. This was to be my third 50+ mile run, and they just don’t get easier (just faster, apparently). I’m not built like a distance runner, but my determination and willpower makes up for that.

We drove up to the start line just inside the Hawi town limit. Next thing, the conch is blowing, and we are giving thanks as an Ohana for the blessing of life and the opportunity to run down the coast to Kona. This was to be the most rewarding and the most painful day of the journey; and perhaps the toughest single day of my life.

To overcome adversity takes not only willpower and desire, it takes love. Love of suffering, I believe, is what separates the finishers from the DNFs. And I don’t mean that in a sadistic sense. You really do have to embrace the suffering. Take it in and learn from it, and come out of the grinder on the other end as a better person fully aware of your place in the world. Don’t back down from the challenge unless continuing on becomes a life-threatening proposition.

When the countdown began, I cleared my mind of all doubts; and when it ended I started to jog. The early miles always become an exercise in holding yourself back from going too hard. When I picked up my pacer (Jeff) about 1.5 miles in, we settled into a pace around a nine minute mile. That may not seem like much, but that pace over the full distance would be good for a 7:51 time and a high place in the standings. I knew I couldn’t maintain it for the whole race, especially in the weather I knew was coming. But I had to get some miles in before the suffering began in earnest!

As the sun came up, the heat went up with it. It quickly became obvious that the day was going to be a sufferfest for everyone out there. I saw other runners walking early on. Tracey was suffering, and gave her words of encouragement as she walked along the highway suffering in the heat. I can’t imagine what’s like to go from sub-freezing weather to Hawaii and run a double marathon!

As we settled into a rhythm, I actually began to enjoy the run. Jeff and Diana were taking two mile turns pacing me, and they did an outstanding job of keeping me motivated and humored and goading me on when I began to suffer in the heat. I passed Amy Palmeiro-Winters early on as she changed the sock on her prosthetic leg. She was attempting to become the first amputee to finish Ultraman, but had DNF’d due to missing a turn on Day Two and going 20km down the road before realizing the mistake. She has finished other things like Badwater and Western States, so she’s clearly no slouch when it comes to running. It really was THAT bad out there. As she put it, the day took her to a place she’d never been before within her head. I ran for bits with the Scotsman Alan Macpherson and got to know him a little along with enjoying the mutual suffering.

Getting to know the other athletes around you is definitely part of the spirit of the race. Other crews were offering me spray downs or cold water-soaked sponges (so awesome!), my crew was entertaining me with their roadside antics including dancing and pushups. When I got “gridded” (passed by Ingrid – her crew kept a tally on the window of their van (I was number 9)), I was in a place of suffering that I’ve never really been. It was hot, really hot for about six miles or so. I later found that the temperatures topped out at at least 88 degrees. I later told Ingrid that the temperature went up about ten degrees when she was about to pass me. You have to watch out for those women from Texas! Fortunately, once she got far enough ahead of me, the temperatures cooled down a bit and the breeze picked up. Tracey also passed me somewhere in there – it was good to see her back to her normal cheerful self powering on down the course.

My marathon split was 4:35, good enough for a new personal best (my old best was 4:40 for the first 26.2 miles of the American River 50). Don’t laugh, I’ve never done one on it’s own! This was 26 minutes faster than my halfway split at Ultraman Canada.

One of the things that kept me going (actually it helped to keep my mind off the pain) was to think about what I wanted to eat after the race. I think all athletes do this during their races, but I was consumed by the thought of getting a pizza and beer from the Kona Brewing Company. A cold beer seemed like a little piece of heaven, and pizza is always an excellent recovery food.

The long road continued on. I ran down the Queen Kaahumanu Highway, hallowed ground amongst triathletes – it forms a large chunk of the bike course at the Ironman World Championships. Since I’ve been following endurance sports for most of my life, this was a rather cool experience for me – running down the Queen K in the World Championships of a triathlon. This is the stuff that legends are made of.

I got the incredible pleasure to run for a good stretch with Suzy Degazon (this was her 15th “and last” Ultraman race – she’s the queen of the distance). She’s an absolute riot to be around, and it was fun to play “Letters” with her and her step-daughters who were her pacers (say a letter and the other person says a country (or whatever chosen category) which starts with that letter. I got them out of jams on ‘Q’ (Qatar) and ‘R’ (Rwanda). Fun times.

Fun times, that is, until I crossed the entrance to the airport 7.1 miles out from the finish. I stepped down and felt a distinct tearing on the second toe on my right foot. I’d ripped a blister open. I had to hobble for a bit until the van caught back up with us. My crew worked some surgical miracles with first aid tape and moleskin. After ten minutes of sitting, I got back to my feet and hobbled onward. I eventually was able to start jogging again, and began making fairly decent time again.

I caught back up with Suzy and passed her while she was stretching on the side of the road. When I saw the 99 mile marker, I knew the end was close. From the final turn just past it, the finish is .9 miles away. Suzy had, earlier in the day told me and Jeff that she starts singing 99 Red Balloons. Since I didn’t know the lyrics to the song (though I do admit that we often sang the German version (99 Luftballoons) during German class in high school – I don’t remember very many of the words) I skipped singing it. I could see another runner a couple of hundred yards ahead of me, but he was too far up to catch. This turned out to be Nino Cokan, who was 4th overall last year, and 11th this year. He had a rough time on the run this year. It was good to be fast enough on the run to be in the middle of the field and to see some of the fast ultra crazies out there on the road!

Coming down the finish chute I was overwhelmed. I felt gratitude for the people that helped to get me there: my crew of Joan, Jeff and Diana; all of the other crews I encountered along the way (I’m right now picturing Steve Brown cheering despite having lost his voice – he was on “Tracey’s Crew”, but he (and everyone else out there) genuinely wanted everyone else to surpass their goals and expectations. I felt an overwhelming family love for all of the competitors out there, from the people who DNF’d to the people who finished to the people who won. We were all in this together, and we all left a little piece of our spirit on the highways and in the ocean of the island of Hawai’i.

After getting lei’d by Jane and getting a hug from Sheryl (and from Joan and my crew), I made a beeline for the ocean and stumbled into the water with some help from Jeff. I sat down in the shallow water in the rocks and let the waves crash over me. The cool water felt good after running all those miles in the heat. After showering I got my massage from Lisa, who worked her magic on my sore muscles. I also had the fun of comparing toenail damage with Ingrid. Nothing screams Ultrarunner like the sight of mangle toes and toenails. We’re absolutely crazy to do these things (but hey, I love crazy people!), and we certainly don’t do them to get sexy feet!

After hanging around and chatting with some of the other athletes and crews, we headed off to get the pizza, but not after watching the final finisher for the run stage (Trung Lively). A lot of people were there waiting to see him home from his journey. This simple act, to me, speaks volumes about the camaraderie and respect for each other that the community holds. We’re all in this together!

We headed off to grab a bite and then back to the condo. I’d finished Ultraman in a respectable time (31:10:48 -22nd overall of 27 finishers and 35 starters), on a tough course and in a fairly tough year at least for the swim stage. My feet were (and still are as I write this two days later) a mess, but the pain is worth it. The harder the achievement, the more worth your while it is.

The Day After

The morning after the race, I was up early and sore all over. I lounged around the condo for quite some time before finally growing bored and deciding to wander down to the beach. Given that the Pier was a little over two miles away, it was to be a long hobble! Jeff and Diana had taken the van to visit her brother on the other side of the island, and Joan had headed off to ride to Mauna Kea Visitor Center and back, so I was on my own. It took a while, but I got there. I stopped at Lava Java and ran into some of the Ultraman Ohana sitting around sharing stories. I swam for a bit, soaking in the chance to be still and relax. I wandered around a few of the shops and ended up getting coffee and an ice cream from the Kope Lani Coffee Shop. I sat there for a couple of hours reading until Jeff and Diana came to pick me up so we could head off to the post-race banquet and awards ceremony. I missed out on seeing Kevin and Kat renew their wedding vows at the chapel by the hotel, but I had seen them earlier by the Pier. It was kind of amazing how many of the Ultraman athletes were out and about the day after the race. I guess you can’t keep crazy down for long.

The awards banquet is always a good time: new friendships bloom and old friendships grow. I loved hearing the stories from the other athletes, but how do you condense something like Ultraman into a three minute speech? I tried to write something down earlier that day to say when my turn came. But I couldn’t get what I wanted to come out. I figured it out later, but of course it was too late. I just made a lame joke about being sore after hobbling up onto stage, briefly mentioned my childhood dream of racing Ironman Hawaii and thanked my crew. I’m not big on talking about myself on stage, but here’s what I meant to say in that speech:

“When I was a kid, I dreamed of one day racing in Kona. Of racing at the Ironman World Championships. Little did I know that I would surpass even that craziness and come here to race in the World Championships of Ultraman. I had an amazing time this weekend. Despite an incredibly hard swim – over an hour slower than Canada last year, I made the cutoff on Day One. Being a cyclist has its advantage. Day two was probably my best day ever on a bike during a race. I’d like to thank Tracey for the “Legspiration” as a I followed her at 10-50 yards for almost 50 miles after she passed me at about mile 105. Day three started out well, and I was doing really well until someone turned up the heat out on the Queen K. But then Ingrid passed me. Once she got far enough ahead of me, the breeze picked back up and I was fine. I enjoyed the suffering immensely, and was glad to get to meet Michael Brown and his crew and to run with Suzy for a while. This experience has been amazing – thank you to Jane and Sheryl and to everyone who helps put this race on. Does anyone need crew for next year? Mahalo.”

After chatting with friends. The party ended with the promise of outrigger canoeing in the morning, the “4th event” at Ultraman.

You really cannot ask for a better race experience than an Ultraman. The Furnace Creek 508 has a family feel as well – a friend’s daughter referred to it a reunion of “the crazy family”, but Ultraman feels more real in the sense perhaps because the race organizers emphasize it. A big part of this comes from Hawaiian culture itself. The Aloha Spirit is indeed alive and well on the islands. I was heartened to see that not a single middle finger was extended out of a window by anyone. I saw a lot of shakas and people waving and yelling encouragement. But no angry people. They know what they have in Hawai’i. And they want to share it. Ultraman brings this together with a race that is a worthy challenge.

Weight Loss Saga, Day 92

February 15, 2012

I’m now 92 days into my efforts to get down to 12% body fat. I’ve lost roughly 24 pounds, and am currently at 180.8 pounds (roughly 13.5%). My original target weight was 179.9, so I am very close. I did lose two pounds of muscle mass, so my target has changed. My new goal is 177; which should only be a couple of weeks away!

It’s been a hard road, but most certainly worthwhile. I’m aiming to make 2012 my best race season ever. I haven’t set my full schedule yet, but am making those choices now.

Joan and I did our first brevet of the season this past Sunday, the Two Rock 200k put on by the San Francisco Randonneurs. The ride went really well, and felt much easier than last year! More about that in my next post…

2012 In Sports: Week 1

January 9, 2012

Joan and I started out 2012 in the proper fashion for two ultra-endurance athletes. New Year’s Day found us riding out on the east side of the valley. We parked near the bottom of Mount Hamilton Road (at James Lick High School), and headed south. Our first climb of the day was Quimby, followed by the rest of Mount Hamilton and then headed down and did the out and back on Kincaid Road. All in all, this was a fabulous ride, and we got to explore some new territory.

On Wednesday, I ran to and from the pool and did a nice 4200 yard workout mostly with the Podium program at Fremont High School. I don’t think there’s a finer way to get a run/swim brick than by using the running as a commute.

On Friday, I ran from Campbell Park for the first time since spring of last year. It was a simple run, just around the percolation ponds and back. But it was a 6 miler that wasn’t far off my pace from when I was running there consistently a few years ago

On Saturday, Joan and I did another crazy cycling workout that really worked our quads. We drove out to Lexington Reservoir and started off with Soda Springs Road (#6 on my list of the hardest local climbs). This was my third time riding that hill, and Joan’s first going all the way to the top. The views from near the top are quite nice. After Soda Springs, we rode the rest of the way around the reservoir and then headed up Montevina Road (#7 on the list). Montevina isn’t bad until you hit that steep stuff at the top! But we made it… Then we headed down and then up Black Road and Gist Road (#9). The climb wasn’t as hard as it had seemed when I last did it on December 29th. The climb up Gist is rather pleasant if you don’t mind a steady grade of near 9%. From the top we rode north on Skyline and descended Black Road to to get back to the car (though we did add a little by climbing from Lakeside School up part of the way up Gist again to get the total climbing for the day over 7000 feet.

Totals for the week.

  • Cycling – 90.1 miles, 14,400 feet of climbing.
  • Running – 9.3 miles
  • Swimming – 4200 yards
  • Walking – 3.5 miles
  • bodyweight/weight training – 2 hours
  • Rock Climbing – 2.5 hours

Today’s weight: 188.4 pounds (down ~17 pounds since October)

A Year In The Life – 2011

December 31, 2011

2011 was an outstanding year in my life. Of course, it had it’s ups and downs, but that’s what life is: a collection of ups and downs. Fortunately the ups usually outweigh the downs, and life is completely worth the living. This was another year spent with my wonderful wife, Joan; it brought me another year closer to finishing my bachelor’s degree in Web Design and Interactive Media (only nine months to go!); I finally succeeded at one of my longtime goals; got closer to another childhood dream; started climbing again after a two year absence from the sport; became a multi-sport ultra-distance athlete; and hopefully became a better person through it all. We lost two of our ultra-cycling friends: one in a senseless late-night collision with a driver and the other to natural causes. Those losses were tough, but helped to bring a focus to remind me of why I do the things I do. And I’m learning to appreciate things more deeply than I did before.

The last sunset of 2010 and the first sunrise of 2011 were witnessed from the South Rim of The Grand Canyon; in the frozen tundra of northern Arizona. Yes, we had Canada-like conditions for the trip. But it was a wonderful way to celebrate the new year. We got to hike in sub-zero conditions to start off the year in style. The photo above was taken at sunset; December 31, 2010. The photo to the right is from a training run at Point Reyes National Seashore in February.

Going into the year, I was ramping up my training for three major events which I hoped to successfully complete: The American River 50 Mile Run in April, Ultraman Canada in July/August, and the Furnace Creek 508 in October. This was going to require more training and dedication that anything I had ever done before, to say the least.

I settled into a training pattern of doing long bike rides on Saturdays followed by a long swim and a long run on Sundays. My long training session began to seem absurd to most of my friends: I’d do 100+ miles on Saturday and then a 3 mile swim and 20 mile run on Sunday. It was certainly challenging! I had also intended to do a Super Randonneur series (200km, 300km, 400km and 600km rides). That plan ended up getting scrapped due to an injury, but more on that in a moment. I ran my first half marathon as a training run and did 200km and 400km brevets. My training swim were quickly approaching four miles in the chilly waters at Redwood Shores.

Going into the AR50, I was feeling fairly confident that I had what it would take to finish. But one thing I didn’t foresee became the cause of much of my frustrations throughout the year. After about 18 miles of running, I got a cramp in my left calf. And this was one of those cramps that just wouldn’t go away. But I pressed on, hobbling along for the rest of the race. I finished within the time cutoff, but not within the cutoff for qualifying for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. This race has been a dream of mine since I first watched it on Wide World Of Sports when I was a kid. But still, I had arrived as an ultrarunner! I was doing things that a few years back I would have not thought possible. And there was much more to come! A few days after the race, I went for a short bike ride to loosen up my stiff muscles. I felt reasonably good while doing so, but after I got home I sat on the couch for a while to finish up some homework for the next day’s class. When I got up after an hour or so, my back seized up and I couldn’t move very well for the next few weeks. And even after that period, getting up from a seated position was agonizing for another couple of months. During that time, I discovered that I could swim just fine (though with weak pushes off the walls of the pool), so I upped my training mileage in that sport and tried to stay focused on preparing for Ultraman. Once my back loosened up, I carried on with cycling almost like nothing had happened, though my back still bugged me there too; I just pushed through it while trying not to do any lasting damage. The photo to the right is at the One Mile To Go marker during the American River 50, April 9.

On March 20, Joan and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. When I was younger, I never imagined that it would be possible to find someone like Joan in this crazy world. That she is every bit as crazy as me certainly helps! The best times in this life are those that I’ve spent with her.

In April, our friend Jim Swarzman, who we’d only really gotten to know at the Central Coast 400k brevet in March was killed during the Temecula 600k brevet. We all know that our sport is dangerous, but when someone who you know is an experienced cyclist can have his life snuffed out in the blink of an eye, you gain a sudden new appreciation for what you have. I dedicated the rest of the season to Jim’s memory, and think about why I do the things I do. I ride, swim, bike and climb for fun; and to be with people who I value as family and friends. When I was hurting late in the run on the third day at Ultraman, I thought of Jim, and was thankful that I could at least be out there doing what I love. When I saw the hawk/falcon late in the Furnace Creek 508, I felt that Jim was watching over me and the rest of the racers out there.

In June, Joan became the first woman to completely Race Across The West solo. Spending a week or so supporting her quest to do so also made me appreciate even more having a wife who is determined, focused and just plane awesome. She set a course record that will undoubtedly be broken one year, but she set the mark high enough that it will take a strong rider to overcome. And of course, spending time with the crew that she handpicked for the race was great as well. Our friendships were all made stronger by that journey through the western United States. The photo at right is Joan at the finish in Durango, Colorado.

At Ultraman, we got to meet tons of great people; and I got to swim, bike and run through some pretty cool places. Without Joan’s support, there’s no way I could have done something like this event. The 10k swim across Skaha Lake was amazing in a good way and interesting in a bad way. You’ll have to read the race report if you don’t know the story! I survived thanks to

some Immodium that Joan picked up in Osoyoos during the Stage One bike. The first day was an ordeal, but I made it. Day Two had some struggles with the wind, but I survived. Which meant of course that I now had to do that pesky double marathon run! With much prodding from Joan and Lisa (the awesome crewperson we got thanks to her knowing the race organizer of Ultraman), I made it through the run. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be called Ultraman! At right is me crossing the finish line with Joan and Lisa.

After the race events were finished, I supported Joan on a multi-day ride from Penticton out towards her hometown, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. Getting to see Banff and Jasper National Parks again was nice, even if I didn’t get to ride through there this time. And of course all the trips to Tim Horton’s made the pain in my muscles fade to a memory!

And of course, there was no rest for the weary for too long after Ultraman! I had another big race to train for: the Furnace Creek 508. The 508 had stymied me the previous two year; and Joan laid down the ultimatum of “three strikes and you’re out!”. I was determined to finish this time. My bike training hadn’t really been where I wanted it to be, but I knew I had to go and give it everything I had. Since the race was dedicated to Jim Swarzman’s memory (and his fiancee Nicole was also riding solo), I felt his presence very strongly during the race. Unlike the prior two years, the weather was rather tame, never getting above 81 degrees for me. This of course was a welcome relief after last year when the high temps were close to 100. I thoroughly enjoyed my journey along the course, and finished in a not-too-blistering 42 hours and 32 minutes. But the monkey is off my back, so next year I can do the race as a two-person team with Joan. That should be fun! Look for a possibly Monty Python themed totem in the 2x mixed roster in 2012! At right is me after the finish with my crew (Rama, Marie and Joan).

In October, we lost another ultra-cycling friend. His life was tragically cut short by an apparently genetic heart condition. Matt Wilson collapsed and died on October 14th at the top of one of his favorite climbs. It was his 23rd birthday, and he was out celebrating, doing what he loved doing when he died. This was another reminder to savor all that we can in life. You will be missed, Matt! Article at

For the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to cut my body fat down to a better percentage. I spent the 2011 season at a bit higher weight than I would have liked, and I think that contributed to some of the problems I had with running. Currently, I’m down 9 pounds from when I did the AR50 and 13 pounds from when I did the 508. Hopefully I can cut the weight down another 10 pounds or so. I think if I can get below 180, I can have a more awesome race season next year. I can certainly tell it’s been working, as climbing on the bike and running have become much easier. I’ve also begun going to strength training classes at Integrate Performance Fitness in Mountain View. I think that that will also play a huge role in making for a successful 2012. At right is me a few minutes ago…

Top 5 Athletic Achievements of 2011

  1. Finishing the Furnace Creek 508
  2. Finishing Ultraman Canada
  3. Finishing the American River 50
  4. Half Marathon PR of 1:49 at the Kaiser Half in San Francisco
  5. My first 5+ mile swim. At Lake Del Valle in May, supported by Joan (she was in a kayak)

Top 5 Moments Of 2011

  1. Celebrating our first anniversary, March 20
  2. Watching Joan finish Race Across The West, June 18
  3. Watching the sunrise/sunset over the Grand Canyon. December 31/January 1
  4. Playoff hockey game between the Sharks and Redwings (and the Sharks won!)
  5. Riding around Crater Lake with Joan, September 5

Goals For 2012

  1. Graduate in September from AI -Sunnyvale.
  2. Get Joan to the finish line of Race Across America.
  3. Finish the Ultraman World Championships.
  4. Qualify for the Western States 100.
  5. Get my weight down to 179 and keep it there.

2011 RAAM Route Mapped

December 28, 2011

2011 Race Acros America Route

Using the official route sheet from this year’s Race Across America, I drew the maps of the route using Gmap-Pedometer, an online app that allows you to draw routes. I wanted to draw the entire route in one piece, but Gmap seems to have a built-in limit somewhere around 500 miles. So I decided to keep the maps broken up by state, or 300 miles or so.

Complete route picture, borrowed from the RAAM website

2011 RAAM Route

California Section

RAAM starts off in Oceanside, CA; just north of San Diego. The route climbs out of the coastal plain and into the mountains near Mount Palomar. From there, it’s off into the southern California desert; through Anza-Borrego State Park, down the famed Glass Elevator descent, past the Salton Sea, around the Chocolate Mountains and north through Blythe before turning east to cross into Arizona near Parker, AZ. The photo to the right is Joan in the southern California desert near the Salton Sea during the 2011 Race Across The West.

Here’s the route map:

California (273.8 miles to Arizona State Line)

Arizona Section

After crossing the Colorado River and entering Arizona, the route goes through agricultural land near Parker before returning to the arid Mojave Desert. This section can be brutally hot. When Joan went through Congress during the 2011 Race Across The West, it was 105 degrees. From Congress, the route climbs into the high desert up the Yarnell Grade. The course goes through Cottonwood, Sedona, Flagstaff and then into the open high desert. Nearing Utah, the route goes through Monument Valley and lots of Native American land.

Here’s the route map:

Arizona (431.1 miles to the Utah State Line)

Utah Section

After crossing into Utah in Monument Valley, the route follows the Green River as it meanders between Mexican Hat and Aneth before turning northeast again to enter Colorado.

Here’s the route map:

Utah (80.8 miles to the Colorado State Line)

Colorado Section

Crossing into Colorado on backroads, you pass through classic western ranchland before coming into the more mountainous areas past Cortez and Mancos. From the mountain biking mecca of Durango, the route enters the high Rockies cresting at Wolf Creek Pass and more climbing ensues before emerging onto the Great Plains at La Veta, CO. In eastern Colorado, the route passes through Comanche National Grasslands before moving on into Kansas.

Here are the route maps:

Colorado Part 1 (282.25 miles to La Veta)
Colorado Part 2 (219.4 miles to the Kansas State Line)

Kansas Section

Tons of cornfields, that’s about all I know about the RAAM route through Kansas. The route skirts the north side of Wichita before continuing on and eventually crossing into Missouri. Picture to the right is Randy Mouri entering Kansas during the 2011 RAAM.

Here are the route maps:

Kansas Part 1 (274.7 miles to Maize)
Kansas Part 2 (163.1 miles to the Missouri State Line)

Missouri Section

The route in Missouri travels through the northern reaches of the Ozark mountains and across Lake Of The Ozarks before following the Missouri River nearly to Saint Louis before turning north to cross the Mississippi River just north of the confluence of those two great rivers.

Here’s the route map:

Missouri (317.5 miles to the Illinois State Line)

Illinois Section

After crossing the Mississippi River into Alton, IL; the route travels through farmland and rolling hills across the state before entering Indiana just past Hutsonville.

Here’s the route map:

Illinois (155.3 miles to the Indiana State Line)

Indiana Section

The route through Indiana looks a lot like the Illinois section on paper. One of the highlights might be riding through Bloomington, where the classic cycling film Breaking Away was filmed. Will riders get bonus time if they don a Cutters jersey while riding through town? The route then enters Ohio just after the town of Mixerville.

Here’s the route map:

Indiana (189.6 miles to the Ohio State Line)

Ohio Section

The RAAM route travels through the suburbs north of Cincinatti before entering the hills of southeastern Ohio at Chillicothe. The mountains continue leading into the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia.

Here’s the route map:

Ohio (201.5 miles to the West Virginia State Line)

West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland Section

After entering West Virginia, the climbing is perhaps the most challenging on the entire route. There are short steep hills constantly as the course meanders through the mountains. After leaving Pennsylvania, the route travels south through the suburbs between Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC before finishing in historic Annapolis at the City Dock.

Here are the route maps:

Part 1 (200.6 miles to Cumberland, MD)
Part 2 (217.8 miles to Annapolis, MD)

And of course, the ultimate goal! The finish line in Annapolis… The photo below is of Michele Santilhano at the finish of the 2010 Race Across America.