Saturday, September 29, 2012

Are Ultrarunners Masochists or Hedonists?

Running long is one of my favorite things to do, but I will be the first to admit that after a certain point it turns into sheer torture. In fact, nearly every time I finish an especially long run I find myself wondering why I do these things to myself. The question of when (and how) I became such a masochist has puzzled me for a while, especially since everything else in my life suggests that I am anything but. I mean, I take hot showers (I don't think I would want to live in a world without hot water), I intentionally moved to a place without humid summers, and I never watch Glee.
I was going to post a picture from Glee, but, again, not a masochist. Here's a puppy. 
The answer finally dawned on me today as I was driving home after a 27 mile training run and trying to keep my spasming legs from causing a wreck. I was trying to remember why running 27 miles had ever seemed like a good way to spend a Saturday morning when I suddenly realized that I go through the same thought process when I plan long runs as when I eat an entire cake by myself:
Before: "Wow, I'm really enjoying this. I want more. If this much is this good, then surely 8 times as much would be 8 times better. That sounds like a great idea." 
After: "THAT sounded like a good idea? Good call, genius. What the *&%# is wrong with you, anyway? You know you're about to throw up, right? From now on, why don't you have someone else make these decisions. Like, for example, someone who isn't an idiot." 
My epiphany was that I'm not a masochist at all--I'm a hedonist, a glutton. I'm the guy who can't turn down that 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th) slice of pie. I don't go on long runs because I want the pain, I do it because I keep wanting more and more fun and don't have enough self-control to say no until after I feel terrible and am still 9 miles from my car (like today).
So now I can't help wondering: are other ultrarunners a bunch of cold shower-taking, cinnamon challenge-performing, Glee-watching masochists? Or are there others like me out there who just aren't sharp enough to remember how miserable they felt the last time?
"Another 50k?  Six weeks after the last one?  That sounds fun!"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Quote of the Day

"Jogging is very beneficial. It's good for your legs and your feet. It's also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed."
   ~ Charles Schulz

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is Disney Secretly Pro-Barefoot?

Although I never noticed this when I was younger, I recently read something pointing out that Disney has a long history of depicting their heroes, heroines and princesses barefoot. And you know what, it's true. Let's go through some of their protagonists:


Original subtitle: "The Erwan Le Corre Story"

Esmeralda (Hunchback of Notre Dame)

Kida (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
No, no one else remembers this one either


Sleeping Beauty

Giselle (Enchanted--the animated part at the beginning)

Ariel (The Little Mermaid)

Lilo (Lilo and Stitch)

Rapunzel (Tangled)

Mowgli (The Jungle Book)

Man, does Disney have some sort of barefoot agenda? That's a lot of movies. And we haven't even mentioned this one yet:
"The Luna Sandals Story"

...Which makes it all the more ironic that Disney is known for zealously enforcing its requirement that visitors to its theme parks wear shoes at all times. I mean, their mascot is a mouse, for crying out loud. And mice don't wear...


Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Running, Working, Playing

After a two day rest, last Tuesday I went for my first run since my 50k the previous weekend (race report coming, I promise). As I was heading out the door the phrase "back to the grind" drifted through my head. As soon as my mind formed the words, though, it struck me that it wasn't true. That just isn't how I run.

It was still dark outside. I left our apartment complex and began running down the unlit road toward the first hints of a sunrise. The air felt cool and clean and the night was quiet, peaceful. I took my earbuds out of my ears and put them in my pocket along with my iPod, still turned off. This wasn't the grind. This was as far from the grind as a man could get. Like most of my runs, especially my pre-sunrise runs, this was a joyful experience.
Not where I was running, but you get the idea
I thought about the conversation I had had with Barefoot Ted that weekend and his theory that play is the chief goal of both humans and animals. His idea was based on the observation that humans and animals alike work to survive, but once our needs are met we tend to look for ways to have fun. He took it a step further and asserted that ultimately we work so that we can play.
"Whoa--mind blown, dude."
I'm not sure if that sums up the meaning of life for me, but that morning it struck me that it certainly sums up my running. I run because for me it is a form of play. The term workout has little meaning for me in the context of running. I don't run to work out; I work out so I can run more.
That isn't me, but that is my gym equipment (I'm doing the ABC90X program)
That being said, it took an awful lot of work to get to the point where running was fun. When I first started, it was torture, worse than just about anything I'd put myself through, and I had to force myself to do it. Only later it became play. Later, short runs were easy but long runs were painful, and I had to force myself through the first few before they became fun. Even this morning, it took work to get out of bed before dawn.

When it comes to running, work and play are intrinsically linked, the same way they are for most fun activities. If I had never worked at running, if I had insisted on only running until the point at which it stopped being 100 percent fun, I would never had had the experiences I've enjoy so much. On the other hand, if you lose sight of the joy of running and focus completely on working to improve, all your running becomes work and you miss out on the point of it all.

The great little wildcard in all of this is that if you enjoy something enough, even the hard parts can become play. Nowadays, when I prepare for a long run and I'm packing supplies and snacks into my backpack, I feel like a kid, because I'm doing exactly the same the type of thing I would do as a kid. Long runs are hard, but they're not workouts anymore--they're adventures.

This is literally how I feel when I'm on a long run

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Song of the Ultrarunner

I'm an ultrarunner; an ultrarunner I am.
I dreamt I saw doughnuts and I hallucinated ham.

I poured what I thought was ketchup on a long-suffering dog
And tried to shake pepper from an exasperated frog.

I ran until people who saw me felt queasy,
Then went home and told everyone I met that it was easy.

On my wife's birthday I ran an easy 11,
Bought her a nice dinner, and then fell asleep at seven.

But, inexplicable as it is, in her mind it must be fine
Because 8 (or 30) hours later, she's always waiting at the finish line.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Huaraches are Delicious

Okay, maybe a little clarification is in order. As previously discussed, the word "huarache" means sandal in Spanish and can refer to this:
...or this:

Well, it turns out the it can also refer to this:
...a delicious Mexican dish consisting of a thick, oblong piece of grilled or fried masa with any of a variety of toppings, such as salsa, cilantro, peppers, meat, beans, or potato. According to the standard repository for all knowledge and wisdom, the huarache was invented in Mexico City in the 1930s and received its name because it's sort of shaped like a sandal.

I'd heard of the dish before so I couldn't resist when I saw these at a Mexican supermarket in Tucson:

After finishing my first ultra in huaraches (race report coming soon), now seemed like the perfect time to have huaraches for dinner. We lightly fried them in an iron skillet with a little oil and topped them with refried beans, cherry tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cilantro. With some pickled jalapenos, radishes, and Cholula, they made a delicious meal. This will be a new dinner staple at our place.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Runners You Should Know: The Hopi

Hopi Snake Priests, 1907
The Hopi are a Native American pueblo tribe who for the past thousand years or so have lived on and around three mesas in what is now northeastern Arizona. During that time, the tribe has produced many of the world's best runners.
Walpi, 1920
Hopi culture has always been intrinsically tied to running. In Hopi tradition, the people learned running from their ancestors and animals, and mythical footraces between spirits helped shape the world. In recent centuries, the Hopi have run for hunting, war, travel, sport, communication, health, religious purposes, and to foster bonds between villages. In lieu of rain dances, the Hopi often run races to bring rain. One traditional race, the Snake-Antelope race, involves carrying water from a sacred spring in a gourd, with the leading running runner taking the gourd from the runner he has passed. Although a runner is declared the winner, the race is ultimately for the benefit of all. As one runner of the 1906 race recalled, "We were doing it because we were the clouds. The people were the clouds, do you see? We were the clouds coming to give us rain." (Paatuwaqatsi ("Water is Life"), the 50k I'm running this weekend, is in a way a continuation of this tradition.)
Antelope dance
Hopi runners competed with neighboring villages in kick-ball races similar to those of the Tarahumara of Mexico, except that for the Hopi the races always held a strong connection to the spiritual world. The cloud gods were believed to rejoice to see Hopi youth run, and so, even though each runner competed for his clan, the running helped the community as a whole by allowing the prayers for rain to be heard. The young runners often went barefoot, even through cactus and thorny bushes.

In addition to aiding the community, "Hopis believe that running banishes unhappiness, strengthens the body, and rejuvenates a person’s energy."
Oraibi c.1872-81
Running took on a more practical and sinister role in the 1680 pueblo revolt. After 80 years of Spanish rule, the pueblo peoples of current day eastern Arizona and western New Mexico (numerous tribes, including those of Hopi, Zuni, and Taos) were tired of the brutality of their rulers and decided to band together and force the Spanish from their land once and for all. In order to coordinate their attack, runners left from Taos (in western New Mexico) and traveled west to each of the pueblos, ending 300 miles later at Oraibi on the western edge of the Hopi land. The messengers carried knotted cords which told how many days were left until the time to attack. When the day came, the revolt was bloody but effective. The Spanish were completely swept from the land, and although they eventually returned, they never exerted the same level of control over the area.
This church, near Oraibi, was burned down in the 1680 revolt
After the U.S. acquired the territory, many who interacted with the Hopi were dumb-founded by the speed of Hopi messengers. Soldiers would frequently hire Hopi runners to carry messages for them since the runners were faster than horses over long distances and rough terrain. One army officer tells of a runner leaving Oraibi at 4pm and delivering the message in Winslow (65 miles away) at midnight. (That's 65 miles at a 7:22 average pace, mostly in the dark.) After delivering the message, the runner turned around and ran back home. Another account (from a different army officer) relates how a Hopi runner named Letayu carried a message from Keams Canyon to Fort Wingate, NM and back in three days, a round trip of 200 miles. Letayu ran the entire 100 mile return trip on the third day, arriving in the afternoon. Around 1909, when some renegade Navajo were causing trouble, the local Indian agent at Tuba City summoned Charlie Talawepi at 3am and gave him a message to take to Flagstaff, over 75 miles away. Talawepi delivered the message around noon, fueling on piki bread along the way, and started the return trip after a half hour break. He got back to Tuba City around 10 or 11pm, having covered over 150 miles in 19-20 hours, averaging around a 7:30 pace.  Years later, Talawepi's grandson remembers him saying that it was the longest distance he had ever run and that he was sore for several days afterward, but that "he didn't think that it was a big deal."
San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff
In the early twentieth century, the U.S. government's policy of forcibly removing Native American children from the reservation and placing them in government-run boarding schools had the collateral effect of introducing an influx of Hopi running talent into the international track and field scene. The most famous of this generation was Lewis Tewanima (I previously wrote about Tewanima here).
A classmate of Jim Thorpe at Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian School, Tewanima competed in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics. At the 1912 games he won silver in the 10,000 meters and set a U.S. record that stood for 52 years.

Another Hopi who made the Olympic team that year was Philip Zeyouma. He ran for the Sherman Institute, another Indian boarding school in Riverside, CA. He secured a place on the 1912 Olympic marathon team by winning the L.A. Times Modified Marathon, a 12 mile race that functioned as the west coast Olympic trials. He attracted notice by running in traditional Hopi moccasins and wearing a shirt which depicted the flying snake of Hopi folklore.
Philip Zeyouma (notice the winged snake on his shirt)
Zeyouma's victory meant that the U.S. had selected not one but two Hopi runners to compete in the marathon at the Stockholm Olympics. Unfortunately for those hoping to see a showdown between the two, Zeyouma ultimately decided not to compete, honoring the wishes of his father who disapproved of his participation in the games.

Nonetheless, the showdown between the two runners did occur that September when Tewanima (fresh from medaling in Sweden) and Zeyouma decided to challenge each other to a 12 mile race on the Hopi reservation. When the two showed up for the race in their school track uniforms, some of the older men made fun of them for not looking like Hopis. Tewanima responded by challenging them to race as well. The men promptly agreed and the race began, with the older men running barefoot. Only six miles in, neither of the Olympians could keep up and both dropped out of the race. According to an observer, the winner was around fifty years old and looked like he was "dying of consumption." Apparently, the track and field world had only gotten a taste of Hopi running talent.

[To read more about Hopi running, check out Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert's articles]
Read my other posts about Runners You Should Know

Runners You Should Know: Lewis Tewanima

Lewis Tewanima was born in 1888 in the Hopi village of Shongopovi, Second Mesa, Arizona Territory.

As a young Hopi boy, Lewis grew up immersed in the centuries-old running culture of his people. For fun, he and his friends would sometimes run the 50-60 miles to Winslow to watch the trains which passed through the town. After they were done watching, they would then run the 50-60 miles back home. This wasn't a big deal for him since "it was summertime; the days were long." 
Winslow c.1890, a few years before Lewis and his friends came to watch the trains
A train arriving at Winslow c.1913 
In 1907 Lewis was sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania as part of a federal program which required that Native American children be sent to government-run schools. One extracurricular activity immediately appealed to him. He approached the track coach, Glenn Warner, about running for the school. When Warner told the 110 pound teenager that he didn't think he was built to be an athlete, Lewis reportedly responded “Me run fast good! All my people run fast good.” Warner relented and let him join the team, which included Jim Thorpe.
Tewanima is seated on the far right; Thorpe is center back row
Apparently Tewanima was right, because the next year he was selected for the U.S. Olympic team for the 1908 London games, finishing ninth in the marathon. The next Olympics, the 1912 Stockholm games, he ran the 10,000 meters, winning the silver medal and setting a U.S. record which stood for 52 years. (Appropriately enough, the man who finally broke Tewanima's record was another Native American, the Lakota Sioux Billy Mills).
Tewanima (in white) winning silver at the 1912 Olympics
After the 1912 Olympics Tewanima returned to his home on Second Mesa on the Hopi reservation, now within the newly admitted state of Arizona. He lived there the rest of his life, herding sheep and growing corn,  beans, and melon until his death in 1969. 

Today the Hopi still honor their most celebrated runner with an annual 10k through Tewanima's hometown on Second Mesa

Read my other posts about Runners You Should Know