Wednesday, January 23, 2008

90lb. Weakling to a 135lb. Pillar of Determination

The beginnings of putting one foot in front of the other

Unlike many athletes I was never inherently good at sports, nor did I participate while in High School or College. It was not until I turned 30 that I really got started. Previous to that I had done several 5K races and soon after realized what a great personal sense of accomplishment I got. I’m the happiest and most fit I’ve ever been since running has become a part of me.

Running is a very personal and emotional part of what makes me who I am today and I kind of’ like that person. It takes me away from reality, stress, and many times is where I come up with new ideas and solutions to other parts of my life. It does not matter if I finish first or last, it only matters that the courage and determination was there to start, and for that I can be proud of myself and walk a little taller.

Once I began running as a regular method of exercise, it was with the intent to someday complete a Marathon, which is something I have accomplished…again…and again… When I started running with the goal of a marathon, those 26.2 miles seemed almost unrealistic for a person who was just barely able to run a 5K. To finish a marathon I knew would mean a new milestone in my life and it was a personal accomplishment I knew had to be done. When I started reading, researching, and sharing running stories and information with others I was surprised to learn of many other people who wanted to work towards the same goal. What I leaned in this exercise is that many of these people fell into two categories; the one’s who said “that’s impossible I could never do it”, and those who said “I think I can”. Those who could not even challenge themselves with the vision of running a marathon had given up before they even started. The other camp of people, the ones who said “I think I can” fell into yet two more groups; those with the will power and determination to make a commitment to themselves and actually take action, against those who simply just kept saying “someday”. All my childhood and early adult life felt like a “someday” that never seemed to arrive. Finally here was something in front of me that no one could alter or take away; it was completely up to me to finish what I started. So I knew that “someday” was actually ‘Right Here, Right Now’. No longer would I wait for something to happen I had to make it happen!

Once I started running a few miles and seeing the weekly and monthly gains in distance I continued to become more inspired that my personal challenge of a marathon was absolutely and unequivocally possible. It was only a few short weeks of doing some alternating days of running that I was sleeping better, eating better, and seemed to be generating more positive ideas and influences in my life. I continued reading inspirational words of other runners and athletes, and marvel at the intense inspiration that disabled athletes exude. How can we possibly be negative in the presence of such greatness? With each day closer to my goal I got my self confidence was also gaining momentum and I began to openly share my personal commitment of the marathon to others. When I was met with looks and comments of awe and “you can do it!” I knew now that I was headed somewhere special. As the little train that could, I was also singing “I know I can, I know I can” and set to lay out a calendar and seek more people like me, and if your reading this, people like you. Whether or not someone was interested in running, if they took on a positive attitude then I found myself eating that up like energy bars and getting stronger mentally and physically.

As the 5K race bibs began to collect on my “running wall” I found myself consistently wanting to take the next challenge. To find more support I surrounded myself with people like me who also desired more of themselves and were prepared to make the commitment of time and effort. Soon I found West Coast Road Runners, who quickly took me in and adapted me to better running through demonstration and communication.

The completion of my first marathon was more than just an event; it took on an emotional level in me that I get with each new distance challenge. It’s a moment I will never forget just as you will never forget your first marathon, no matter how long it takes you to get there. Just know that you will do it, and you will have earned it.

Not long after that first marathon I was still on a runner's high, which does not come frequently but when you are in the zone, you’ll know it and want more of it. It’s been a few years now since I got started and because I am still inspired by watching and teaching others, I have continued to accumulate marathon medals. After hitting double digit marathons I took up the personal challenge of an Ironman 70.3. Yet another goal which at the time seemed very difficult to obtain but don’t forget that I also said “any real goal is obtainable if you desire to challenge yourself”. I challenged myself and stuck to the program and made sure to get good advice along the way. One trick that I try to always remember is that with the abundance of information out there not everything you see, read, or are told will apply to what you want to do. It’s up to you to listen to not just the information but your body as well, but if you got this far chances are you know what I’m talking about and have already started to tweak your own recipes of success.

The challenge of the Ironman 70.3 has come and gone and it was again opportunity for me to see myself reach new heights in physical fitness and mental strength of commitment. That’s when I began this year with the commitment to begin running Ultras (that which is anything beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles).

With each new race or milestone completed I continually look for the new challenge to keep me inspired. One thing that really keeps me going is being able to see and help others reach their goals. True inspiration really does come from regular people doing extraordinary things.

I guess my motto of all this is that ‘You can never give up and no matter what anyone thinks or says, it’s never too late’.

2007 Races
1/21 Carlsbad Marathon
2/11 San Dieguito Half Marathon
3/31 California Ironman 70.3
4/21 Santa Cruz Half Marathon
4/28 Wild Miles Relay (5 man team 179 Miles)
6/03 Rock & Roll Marathon San Diego
8/11 Mt. Disappointment 50K Ultra
9/03 Disneyland Half Marathon
9/29 Noble Canyon 50K Ultra
12/02 Cal International Marathon

2008 Races so far…
1/12 Avalon 50 Miler Ultra
1/20 Carlsbad Half Marathon

Until next time Happy Trails and may you find the trail that goes nowhere,


Monday, January 14, 2008

Avalon 50 CONQUERED!

Shock and Surprise fill my mind right now. I'm pretty well recovered mentally from this jaunt around the island, but still find the thought that I just ran 50 miles to be a bit surreal.

A few months ago I had decided that after running three 50K's it was time to take on the 50 mile distance. It was kind of a scary decision but one which I committed to by paying my race fees!

We left Dana Point for Avalon on Friday morning. As you can imagine the nerves were sensitive and anxiety levels high, and as we neared the Island and you could see the shadow of the mountains... it also got very silent. Our conversations kind of halted as we stood in awe at the helm of the boat watching the mountain get bigger and bigger with each nautical mile closer we got. The great part was that our very experienced guide/part-time resident and Ultra runner Jenny, showed us a couple of course highlights which came in handy especially the last ten miles or so.
After the typical pasta dinner and large stein of Hefenweizen the night before, it was time to go back to the hotel and try to lie out and coordinate all the race junk we would need. Even I was surprised at how much thought I needed to put in for preparation. Somehow I managed to get my gear all ready where I felt confident nothing was forgotten... except for my potatoes still sitting on the counter back at home, oh well, I could not worry about it now it was time to try and get some sleep. Like most other runners I'm sure, my actual sleep time the night before was about four hours and very restless at that.

The race start was hilarious. About 160 of us all decked out in bottles of this and that type elixirs and flashlights and headlamps a-glo were congregating their at the beach front. The RD pretty much looked around and hollered "OK, all set... 3... 2... 1... GO!" and off we went. All you saw were a bunch lights bouncing on up the hill past the Wrigley Memorial (which also happens to be where Leslie and I got engaged 10 years ago). It was completely dark out but we knew the hill was step by the ascending elevation of headlamps you could see as you looked skyward. Maybe it was a good thing that it was dark :)
Once towards the top of the hill the sun started to rise and the serenity and painted like images below us were breathtaking. At this point we pretty much ditched our headlamps and extra clothing and at least for me, the race was ON. I settled into my pace and felt great the entire day. Of the 9 1/2 hours I was out there I sighted 9 buffaloes with two of them being close enough I could of hand fed them, but wisely decided to give me them all the room I could as I quietly toed myself around them allowing them all the space they wanted. To see something that big and graceful in the wild habitat sure makes you humble and something you can never ever match at a zoo, but only in something like the Avalon 50 race. In fact this alone almost makes it worth doing.

The course was incredibly beautiful in every single mile that passed. I was solo for the majority of the race and since I don't believe in running with tunes the sounds of the mountain were music to me. I could hear all the sways of trees, the ocean way below me and of course the munching of leaves and wild brush by the buffaloes. Towards the 25 mile turnaround was an out and back section through Two Harbors. Again this was an incredible sight to see from the top of the mountain as you descend for an up close look at the fishing boats and small beach. At this point I also saw all my friends and fellow ultra nuts. The camaraderie is never ending and regardless of whom you are or where you are in the race, everyone cheers and roots each other, it's a great "family". On ward back across the mountain tops to Avalon we go. The way back was just as pretty and scenic but I was becoming extremely focused on my race against the clock, so to be honest I was not really taking the time to smell the roses or party at the incredible aid stations along the way.
Once descending the North side of the hill into town you run through a few residential streets before turning the corner and seeing the banner and your adoring fans and the finish line tape! Funny how all of a sudden you forget that you have just gone 50 miles and can almost sprint the finish line. Once crossing and feeling totally happy with my 39th overall finish I went straight to the oceans to give my feet and legs a well deserved ice bath in the ocean... AHHHHHhhhhh.

After the post race repair of fuel and hydration it was already time to get ready for the Awards Banquet, this was our first 50 miler so we decided to go along with all the basics, not expecting anything of course. After dinner they began the awards ceremony where Kristen got 3rd place in her age group, as the age groups went on I was not even paying attention because though happy with my time I was not prepared for it to be a competing time against others in my division. Oh how wrong I was as they announced "Joey Bryan 3rd place in 30-39 age group". I was shocked and in fact Leslie had to tell me that they just called my name as I was in disbelief. I happily went up for my picture and Award which is an appropriate Beer Stein. First thing I did was walk back to my table and fill it with beer to begin the evenings libations, Mmmm yummy!
After the Awards we hung out at El Galleon and continued to drink and celebrate. We also met there Evan, Mark and his wife, all who also ran the event. As it turns out, Evan took the 1st place in my age group (his beer stein was much larger but he earned it) and Mark and I were battling for the 3rd place. The night was a fun finish to an exhausting day.

The next day's boat ride to Dana Point was also quite eventful. Twice our boat had stopped mid-way because the Whale Sensors were going off. The first one was a false alarm but the second one turned out to be a school of Dolphins, what a treat! We stopped in the midst of them for several minutes before proceeding slowly right in the middle. What a sight to see with hundreds of them swimming around, jumping and surfing the wake of the boat. Something that I don't think any picture or video could capture with all it's beauty.

The whole trip was worth every second of training and preparation and with luck and confidence I will be back next year. I did try to capture some pictures along the way and some of them goofy self portraits... what can I say my mind was exhausted and I was running for over 9 hours so anything goes. You can check a few of the Avalon pics HERE.

Thanks to Leslie for putting up with me and always being there at the finish no matter how smelly and out of sorts I am... you not only ROCK but you are the ROCK.

Yes, in case you are wondering I am planning to do another Ultra and by the way, this race happens to qualify me for Western States ... Hmmmm how crazy am I?


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Off to meet the challenge of my first 50 miler run

Well.. it's due time I hit the distance of which the Ultra community finally considers a race to be an Ultra, 50 miles in one shot.

I've worked hard to get here, especially emotionally, but feel more than ready at this point. In fact I'm downright anxious. In less than 24 hours I will be heading out on a boat to Catalina where I will take on the Avalon50.
The traning has been ok but since the minor foot injury from CIM I did fall off my mileage charts for a while, but I am not to be dettered because I also believe that the mental and emotional challenge is just as hard as the physical training. I'm not going to talk about my goals here because one thing we all know is that it takes guts and determination to just toe the starting line of an adventure such as this; I must be honest that yes, I have other finishing goals but the only one I will mention is that I want to "Finish" and do so on my own two legs, everything else is a bonus.

Of note I will be running this with my running partner Kristen "Malibu". It will also be her first transcending to the world of Ultra running, though she will be leaving us for an undetermined amount of time to see the world Down Under as she will be traveling/living in Australia for a while... perhaps she will find both some Ultras and Aussie Rugby Players who look like Matt Damon and surf! Also aside from Kristen I will be running this with my new Ultra friends Jenny Henderson and Norm Haines who'm I met at Noble Canyon and worked the SD100 Sunrise Aid station with.
Joining us at the finish will be my numero uno cheerleader and favorite person.. My wife Leslie. She is coming out on the boat with Kristen's mom on Saturday morning to cheer us on and then join in the after party at the Casino.

I'm also realizing that I still need to pack all my gear but one thing for sure is that the "Green Lantern" from Wild Miles will be going with me on the first few miles until the sun-rises. And in case you're wondering what's on my iPod before a race like this it's Speed Metal, Acid Punk, and old school bronx style Rap.

Until next time Happy Trails friends and remember, we do this because we CAN.. and it's FUN