Saturday, December 19, 2009

New podcast interview - Running with Ghosts

Hey gang, a new interview with me has been posted to iTunes. It's with the very informative and entertaining podcast, Running with Ghosts, by quotidianlight. This interview is a bit different than the last. We certainly talk about next year's crazy goal of running every event in the Rock & Roll Endurance Series, talk a bit about my sponsor PowerBar, and how I got into Team in Training and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for which my fundraising goal is $10,000.
What's different this time is that we focus on running and nutrition and the fact that both I and the interviewer believe in a diet that is low in carbohydrates. We both share our nutrition routines a bit but also talk about preparing for feats of endurance. I highly recommend giving it a listen.
After my interview, keep listening as our host talks through her ultramarathon in the Marin headlands. This is where I did my first ultra, too, so it was great hearing someone talk through this event.
A big reason to listen though, is that she talks through her nervousness before the race, her nutrition planning and gear selections. Then as she describes her time during the event, she relays how core training (like walking lunges) and cross training played a crucial role in completing her event.
Its really quite interesting to hear her diary of running and I highly recommend subscribing in iTunes today.
Have a great holiday!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

And "Spark"-y Makes 20!

Just finished my 20th career marathon and it was a great way to finish the year. My work sent me to Europe here in mid-December for some engagements with clients and I couldn't help myself; I had to see if there was a marathon in the vicinity.

The one I found was in a small suburb of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, called Spijkenisse. It was the 4th running of this event, nicknamed, "Spark," and I would be the only person from North America.

After a hard work of meetings, speeches, consultations and writing where I traveled back and forth from Paris to Munich and Milan, it was time to get out of town and relax before the marathon. I took the Friday night train from Paris to Rotterdam. Some of my colleagues questioned my choice of staying in Rotterdam when Amsterdam was only about 20 minutes further away and had much more history and culture. But I had been to Amsterdam a few times and had never been to Rotterdam. Part of their skepticism lied in the fact that Rotterdam was completely destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. But since then, the city has returned to its roots as the busiest and most important port in Europe.

Many important Dutch architects took up the challenge to rebuild Rotterdam and give it a new unique appeal and I have to say, they succeeded. The city has some totally gorgeous architecture, most especially the Erastmus bridge.

It's pretty similar to the new bridge in Boston but predates it and supports a curving bridge. It's amazingly gorgeous at night.
The city also has a very robust shopping district that was gussied up for Christmas shopping and drew the crowds in droves. Several important designers have shops here along with some lesser known brands from France, Belgium and Italy that you can't get in the US. Women, if you go, check out Kookai a line of clothes from Paris that are definitely worth the trip.

There are many good restaurants in Rotterdam as well and I wanted to partake for my pre-marathon dinner. Unfortunately, being just three weeks before Christmas and a Saturday night, the best restaurants were booked up with holiday parties and post-shopping dinners. Rather than have an Argentinian dinner in Rotterdam (seemed wrong), I was staying at the Rotterdam Westin and I decided to see if the hotel concierge was sincere in recommending the hotel's restaurant, VIS. Oh she certainly was. Its executive chef Jos de Groot, doesn't play around. Instead of set menu that normally features the cheapest items on the menu (I try to avoid these in most European restaurants, especially if they have an English language menu) de Groot's was a set of special items selected by the chef from the freshest ingredients bought that day. None of the items were from the regular menu and all were out of this world.

Pardon my indulgement here - I don't normally blog about food but in this case, I just have to.

The mean started with fresh baked bread and fresh olive tapenade that contained corn, Tuscan tomatoes and other ingredients that made it truly succulent - you didn't even need the bread.
Then came a special appetizer prepared that evening by the chef that wasn't on the menu. It was a light dish combining fresh beets, mozzarella cheese and homemade pesto. The combination was perfect. Also before the appetizer they brought a small plate with 4 smaller containers on it, holding freshly roasted mixed nuts, green olives, radishes and tiny puff pastries (and mayonnaise, a Dutch staple). Then came the menu appetizer which had a combination of tiny spring rolls containing freshly made ricotta mixed with seafood, wrapped in - get this - fresh pumpkin, sliced super thin. Next to these were two other items I couldn't recognize that tasted wonderful as well.

The main course, I was kind of unsure about when the waiter described it. It was tortelli stuffed with shell fish and when he described it he said it was in a heavy cream sauce. My standard eating habits are a maintenance mode South Beach Diet and so I typically shun anything that sounds loaded with carbs but I was running the marathon the next day so said, "why not."
When the dish arrived there was no cream. What I received instead (impeccable presentation of all the dishes, BTW) was four small, hand formed tortelli with shell fish surrounding a collection of capers, grilled sweet onions and other shelfish mixed together and crowned by muscles in the shell. Very interesting and completely succulent. A perfect compliment to my glass of Montepulciano wine from Tuscany.

Dessert kept the hits coming. In a very long rectangular tray came a homemade hazelnut ice cream, next to a very light pastry filled with cinnamon mousse and a coconut fried plantain. Yum, yum, yum (I passed on the pastry but the rest were amazing!).
If you come to Rotterdam in the future, definitely stay at the Westin or at least try this fantastic restaurant.

Note: If you are thinking about coming to Rotterdam, wait until 2011. They are remodeling the Central train station to turn it into another of the city's architectural wonders, but right now it's just a big construction site.

I got back to my room, rested and full. I dressed my chair for the morning, looked over the logistics for getting to Spijkenisse and tried to get some sleep. This trip to Europe had been a rough one sleepwise. I suffered my usual up at 3am and can't get back to sleep evening on teh second day but struggled to sleep every other night that week too. I finally got a full night's sleep Friday and hoped Saturday night would be a repeat. Ah, no.
I feel asleep at 10pm no problem but woke up at 11:30 and couldn't get back to sleep until 2am. Thankfully marathons on Northern Europe are typically later in the day. This one started at 11am, so I was able to sleep until 8am. I'll take it; 6 hours is better than nothing.

Normally the morning before a marathon is all about dressing, preparing and traveling to the marathon start. This time, I had time to shower, eat a nice leisurely breakfast at the hotel before my train to Spijkenisse. It was only a 30 minute trip plus a 15 minute walk to the sports field.
Spijkenisse was the last stop from Rotterdam Centrum so I couldn't miss it.

The morning temperature was a nippy 2 degrees Celsius so I arrived wearing 3 layers of clothing. I shed one layer in prep for the run, stashed my stuff in the locker room and headed out for a warm up lap on the track. I can't speak Dutch and there was no translation. There were only 3 participants from outside Western Europe, two from Great Britian and me, so I guess they didn't see any point in translating the announcements.
The Dutch were kind enough to tell me what was being said but one joker decided to play with the stupid American and tried to convince me that the marathon didn't start until 12. I double-checked with the help desk and made my way across the track to the start line in time to reset my Timex Ironman watch and make my way through the crowd a bit.

We started with a half lap around the local track then out and around the sports complex. Then it was up to the bike trail along the canal where a flock of sheep cheered us on with a few "ba-ah-ahs." The sheep were in full coat due to the cold - something I would be wishing for later in the run.

It was sunny at the start and the wind was nearly non-existent for the first 12K. Gorgeous countryside scenery was everywhere you looked. You also got a look at the ubiquitous Dutch windmills. Not the quaint farm staples but the large white power generating kind. They are everywhere in the Netherlands.

Perhaps the most glorious moment came at 15K. We were running along a bike path that split two wide open fields. To our left lay a massive flock of birds who at this moment decided to cast themselves aloft and cross over head to the field on the right. They rose in v-shaped order the leader and lieutenants shrieking their orders as a thousand wings took flight and briefly darkened the skies as they moved as a featherweight and porous sheet over us. The sound of their calls and the flapping of so very many wings created a symphonic cacophony that I will long remember.

Around the 18K mark I came to a fork in the road. To the left the sign said "Helf Marathon." To the right, "1/2 Marathon." Huh? Where was the full marathon. Asked the course monitor standing between the two paths and learned that "Helf" must mean full. I guess that makes the Dutch, optimists.

Off I went to the left along with the very few of my compatriots as we said goodbye to nearly everyone who went to the right. That's pretty typical of an event that starts the half and full marathoners at the same time. I felt this event reminded me of the inaugural Santa Rosa marathon. Both had less than 150 full marathoners, were both small suburban marathons and both wound along waterways and past a lot of beautiful pastoral settings.

As we crossed the half-way point at 21K the clouds moved in and darkened. The temperature dropped nearly immediately and a vicious headwind carrying lots of chilling moisture slapped me in the face. It would remain this way for the next 12-15 km. I had stripped off my second layer of dri-fit clothing -- the long sleeve Big Sur marathon shirt -- around the 5K mark and was carrying it around my waste but the chill didn't seem bad enough to warrant pulling it out.
We passed several more sheep (who looked very warm, thank you) along with goats and horses. Strangely every time we passed a horse it was accompanied by a miniature horse. These stocky, full coated animals are very different than ponies. They have the build of a full horse just in smaller form. Very beautiful.

The sun finally peaked around the 32K mark and by this time we had returned the main town of Spijkenisse but were along the main waterway through town so the headwinds were back and more than able to offset any warmth the sun planned to provide.
I'm always filled with excitement when I see the 25 mile marker in a marathon. The equivalent in this one (the European marathons are, of course, marked in kilometers, not miles) was the 40K sign which was perched facing the main bridge from Spijkenisse to Hoogvleit. We wouldn't have to cross it (thank goodness) but would follow a bike trail that went just beneath it and then head back the way we started to the sport park. I felt a surge of energy that didn't do much for my speed but lifted my spirits.

I finished in 3:38:47, which is pretty much par for me.

I kind of have to call this event the silent marathon as there were very, very few spectators and nearly no one cheered. The best you got was the faint clapping of mittened hands and the occasional "you can do it" (at least that's what I think it was, since I speak no Dutch) from a course volunteer.
That was true as well when you rounded the corner and entered the sports park track. The only sound you could hear was the course announcer saying everyone's name as they hit the final straightaway. His voice had a lilt that conveyed excitement for you but he had few compatriots.

Despite this minor nit, the marathon was a true joy. It was dead flat, had gorgeous scenery, was very well supported and had a very cool medal in the shape of an "X." I should have requested two medals as this was XX for me.

And of course, I had to finish it with my usual reward:

Now its time for a week's rest, then the training begins again for the Rock & Roll Marathon campaign of 2010.

Thanks for reading and for supporting my fundraising efforts for the LLS.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A new PR at Run Wild for a Child!

The Thanksgiving weekend finished up extra special for me -- I got a new PR, taking 2 minutes of my previous best!
It happened at the annual Run Wild for a Child race in San Francisco on Sunday, November 29th. And it couldn't have been on a better day. It was a perfectly clear day with temperatures in the low 50s, perfect for a good day.

Big congrats to Miriam who also set a new PR and to Chris and Bob who also had great days!

Sadly the event attendance has been declining for years and it felt much lighter this year than last. Normally those that register on the day of the event have to stand in line for 10 minutes or so, but this time you walked right up to registration. We were also able to walk right up the starting line as well. Usually you'd have to line up early or push your way through the crowd to get there. Sad, because this is a very nice event. It used to be a go-to event when it was called Run to the Far Side. It supported the Academy of Sciences at that time and the finisher shirt featured an original Gary Larson The Far Side comic. Larson and the Academy stepped away from this prime Thanksgiving weekend date and Run Wild for a Child stepped in.

I hope more people find this great event and help make it a personal tradition.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Make that 14 Rock n Roll events

Remember how I succumbed to the news that the Competitor Group's 2010 Rock & Roll Endurance Series was adding a 12th and 13th event? Well now the number is up to 14 with the addition of the Rock & Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon. Ohh kay then.

As you know, I've set my goal for 2010 to be the first person to complete every event in this newly expanded series of races. Well, I'm committed and can officially announce that I've signed up for R&R Los Angeles.
This newly named event was previously the City of Angels Half Marathon held annually in December since 2006. In 2010 it will be moved up to October 24th so as not to conflict with the Rock & Roll Las Vegas Marathon. And under its new name, the race will still benefit Grove of Hope a foundation committed to providing science and technology education to children so they can understand, protect and manage the earth and the world around them. A very worthy cause given that our current generation of politicians will be leaving this generation with a rather disturbing mess to clean up.
The course looks pretty fantastic. It starts at historic Griffith Park near the Los Angeles Zoo, then heads down along the Los Angeles River (yes, there really is one), down Sunset Boulevard, past Echo Park Lake and finishes with a scenic view of downtown. If you haven't been to downtown LA in a while because you don't work downtown and wouldn't frequent it at night without an entourage of bodyguards, you might want to give it a chance. Since the Staples Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall and many other attractions have moved in the city center has been revitalized.
I'm really looking forward to this new event (and am secretly glad they didn't add another marathon - I think 8 marathons in one year, is plenty!)
Come join me for this fantastic event. Competitor has a special offer for the first 500 runners - register for just $55 with the coupon code LAROCKS.

Thanks also to my early supporters who have helped me raise the first $1,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. You are the best! If you haven't made a contribution yet, donate today!

I'm still seeking corporations that want to join PowerBar in sponsoring me for this campaign. Details are here!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Listen to my interview on podcast

Hey gang! After the NYC Marathon I was interviewed about the race and my 2010 quest to be the first person to complete the entire expanded Rock and Roll Endurance Series. Take a listen. Big thanks to Zoran for putting this together. If you are looking for a good listen on running tips and race summaries, subscribe to today.

Thank you New York!

My 19th marathon was a tremendous treat as it was the largest US marathon - the ING New York City Marathon. It took me four years to make it to New York because I chose the lottery route and was a three-time loser. You see to get into NY you have to either qualify - it's harder than Boston; join a charity team; or win a spot in the lottery. It was a serious challenge qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which I did at Cal International Marathon in 2007 with a time of 3:19 (1 minute to spare) but my NY qualifying time was 7 minutes faster. Yikes.
I could have raised money to get in but I am devoted to helping the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and they weren't an official charity for NYM so my best route was the lottery. NYM's lottery favors people from NYC and the state of NY so my chances of getting in as Californian weren't so great. But they have a great policy that if you don't get in through the lottery three years in a row, you are automatic the fourth year. Hello 2009.
I travel a lot for work so we were able to use Hilton Honor points to secure free nights at the Waldorf-Astoria for the weekend and were off to Manhattan.
The weekend started with a trip to the Marathon Expo at the Javits Center, a massive convention center on the East side. Here I learned that more runners from outside the US participate in this event than those from within our own borders. This was very apparent as the corrals for international participants were packed and a million different languages could be heard. It was quite an experience.
Once inside the expo the Asics NYM official merchandise area was enormous and flooded with athletes wielding credit cards like ninja throwing stars.
I quickly made my way to the booth to officially sign up for the 2010 Rock and Roll Endurance Series - the whole series. As you can imagine, the folks working the booth were a bit surprised at my request but quickly pulled out the form and off I went checking off every single box. Yep, it's official. No backing out now!
The Competitor crew were great. They showered me with 2010 event t-shirts and wished me well. See y'all in Arizona in January!
There was an extra special treat in the Competitor booth - super star triathlete Sarah Reinertsen. She's an amazing challenged athlete who completed the Ironman Championships in Hawaii and was later a contestant on the CBS reality show, The Amazing Race. I so admire, Sarah, as she lets nothing get her down and proves every day that we can overcome any adversity through perseverance and heart. She was a delight to talk to and I picked up a signed copy of her autobiography. What a story.
Next up with saying hello to the PowerBar crew, especially the Team Elite managers. I'm very proud to support this organization who has been such a big supporter of Team in Training. They invited me to a victory party the night after the race. Sweet!
Next up was a quick visit to's booth where actor Anthony Edwards was spreading the word about Shoe4Africa, a great charity to help the youth of Africa.

It was a real thrill for my wife to meet him and he couldn't have been more humble and personable. Chatting with him was more like sharing experiences with another runner rather than being in the presence of an Emmy winning actor with an incredible resume. What a guy!
We took the next two days to see Manhattan and rest up for the race.
Race day started with a subway ride followed by the Staten Island ferry. It was pitch black out and as we crossed the water, the Statue of Liberty stood out from the darkness in majestic blue and white.
I think the ferry listed a little to the side and everyone rushed out to take a picture of Lady Liberty. Wish I had my real camera that day. The Blackberry camera just didn't do it justice.
After we docked we all made our way to warm buses that took us to the runner's village to await the start. It was drizzling a bit as the sun rose and Dunkin Donuts served as savior for us all by providing lots of warm coffee and pink and orange knit caps that were just the trick to keep the cold out.
The wait wasn't too long before we were in our corrals and listening to the national anthem.
NYM did a fantastic job with the start line. There were 42,000 runners this year and they split us into three waves of 15,000 each (that's the entire San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon per corral). These waves were further split into three color groups who each took off down a separate path for the first 8 or so miles. This start really kept the crowding to a manageable level and allowed us in Wave 1 to start running within the first 100 yards.
We crossed into Brooklyn which I didn't know from Newark until I got a patented experience. About half way through town out of the throngs of cheering supporters came a man with classically Italian looks and a cross expression who barked, "Hey, look what you're doin' to our streets. Get outtaheah!" He said it in jest (I think).
The crowds kept coming through Queens, over into the upper west side and on through to Harlem. Huge kudos to the Harlem crowd who provided the best music of the day (of course). It started with a killer gospel choir who were belting out inspirationals and ended with classic funk tunes from The Gap Band and Kool in the Gang. I think I logged my fastest miles in Harlem. Thanks, all!
We only got a brief encounter with The Bronx as took a quick left turn going from one bridge to the next and back into Harlem. Would have liked to see more but had a date with Central Park ahead.
As I waited in the corral for the start, I met a fellow Texan who was running his third marathon and first NYM, a woman from Anchorage running NY as her first marathon and a veteran NYMer from Connecticut named Amy who was hoping for a personal best. As the gun went off we all separated but weren't far apart most of the way. At about mile 17 I caught back up with Amy and we fueled each other for the remaining 9 miles. We were stride for stride through manhattan as we ran along the west side and into Central Park.
It helped a lot to have someone to pace with as we both held faster and stronger paces than we would have alone.
We turned the corner at the south end of Central Park as the crowds grew thicker and just as my energy was running low, there way my lovely wife leaning over the railings cheering for me. That was the boost I needed at mile 25.
Like most marathoners I am usually just holding on at mile 25 but Reesa gave me the lift I needed to pick up the pace and with Amy shortly ahead I was able to catch her with 0.2 to go as wel crossed the line under 3:30 - a PR for Amy, a third best for me.
Heat sheets and bottles of water were my usual solace as we worked our way up the long finisher's shoot and out. It was a fantastic run. The weather was ideal - in the low 50s all day an overcast.
To top off the experience, I popped over to the PowerBar party that night, after dinner with friends and got the rare opportunity to congratulate NYM winner Meb Keflezighi who finally returned a NYM victory to a US runner. I'm definitely patriotic about this but this win was all Meb.
He is an incredible runner, inspiration and role model for many of us runners. He was very gracious in his victory and even mentioned how those of us who run for Team in Training - beating up our bodies to help fight blood cancers -- are an inspiration to him. What a guy.

Run the ING New York City Marathon next year by entering the lottery today!

Big Kahuna Silver...again!

In October of this year, Patxi and I chased away a demon from 2008 but not in the way you may think. That year, we entered the Big Kahuna Triathlon as a relay team with Joel Rinsky. We went into the event knowing we were a strong team and thought there might be a chance we could place as a relay team. We're all competitive but didn't have this as our expectation. Joel took us out with a powerful swim, Patxi killed it on the bike and I had a relatively good day on the run. But each of us thought we could do better and we didn't think we had a chance of placing...until we saw the results. We had finished second and podiumed that day. We were excited but also crushed because we had lost by a mere two minutes! Ugh!

We all felt we could each have made up that two minute margin had we known how close the winner team was to us. But none of us knew who that team was. We vowed that 2009 would be our chance to take the crown.

A lot can change in 12 months and along the way, Joel had to drop out and Patxi found a replacement swimmer, who then, the week before the event, had to drop due to a stomach illness. Patxi recruited another stud swimmer friend, Matt, and we were again on our quest for gold.

Then the morning came. Patxi quickly found the other relay teams and this time we knew who our competition was. The team that had beaten us was just 10 feet away prepping for the race. The other relay teams had clearly identifiable numbers so we would be able to track them and ensure they stayed behind us.

It was foggy as Matt and Patxi prepped the transition area and the fog stayed in place as the expected start time came...and went. After an hour after the expected start time had passed, the race organizers were forced to cancel the swim. It was just too dangerous to stage the swim in that thick fog. It was heartbreaking for all but the right call.

So our triathlon started with Matt running from the beachhead to the transition area - as if he had just finished the swim, and passing the baton to Patxi who rode off. He set a blistering pace with very few cyclists able to match him. What a stud on the bike. He averaged over 24 mph the whole way.

As I waited for Patxi to return I kept my eye on the runner for the relay team that had beaten us in 2008. As Patxi came in with the second fastest relay time and passed the baton to me our competition was still waiting for his cyclist.

I quickly ran up the starting ramp and was off. Started out a bit too fast but was able to settle into a comfortable pace by mile 2. I was looking for relay participants and checked to make I wasn't being caught from behind by the younger and much taller runner from the competition.

The half marathon run is an out and back course and as I approached the turnaround point, manned by a 6 foot wooden tiki doll, I saw two relay runners coming back towards me. We were behind. And yikes, their runners were flying.

As I looped around the Tiki and began the return run I kept an eye ahead to the two relay participants I now had to chase down and another on approaching runners to see how much margin I had on last year's winner.

The two relay runners ahead of me kept up their blistering pace and seemed to distance themselves from me as we returned to the shoreline. Last year's winner finally went by heading to the turnaround point about a mile behind me. Yes!

When I finally crossed the finish line, Patxi and I high fived for a great effort but both knew our goal of first place had eluded us. We took solace in the fact that we had blown away the team that beat us the prior year, though, and left Santa Cruz satisfied with our day - and who wouldn't be having just finished a tremendous athletic effort in a gorgeous place on a nearly perfect day (other than that morning fog thing, that is).

When we got home and saw the posted final results we got a positive surprise however. The two relay runners who kept me at bay were not both in the men's event. One was part of a co-ed team and we had once again finished in second place. And to make this surprise even easier to take, we hadn't lost by a mere two minutes but were totally crushed by an incredible team who beat us by 4 minutes on the bike (anyone who can beat Patxi on the bike by that margin deserves to win) and me on the run by...gulp...15 minutes. My hat goes off to Richard Pego. He finished the 13.1 in 1:23 at a blistering 6:21/mile pace. Yow.

While we were sort of disappointed we didn't win the event we couldn't be happier with our performance especially since we vanquished our opponent from 2008 and clearly watched the mantle pass to a superior team.

Thanks to Reesa, Maha, Marga, Marie and the Uriz clan for coming out to support us on this day. You all made it so special for us.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And now there are 13

Just found out that the Competitor Group's Rock and Roll Endurance Series has added two more events to the 2010 series raising the number of events to 13. To most people this is just an interesting fact but to me its a bit more. That's because I plan to run every event in the series in a single year.

The events they added are the Denver Marathon on Sunday, October 17, 2010 and the ING Rock and Roll Philadelphia 1/2 Marathon on Sunday, September 19, 2010. The Phillie event has somewhat been part of the endurance family as the event was part of their Heavy Medal series the last couple years (at least). But now it's been officially added to the series.

Its this escalating list of events that makes running the entire series so intriguing for me:
  • No one has ever done it. That in itself holds perhaps the most appeal and I love crossing and setting milestones. It's perhaps a bit of a technicality since 2010 is the first time there have been 13 events in the series. So while other runners might have run all the events in a prior year, there haven't been 13 before. Thus it's a new milestone.
  • I've never run a Rock and Roll marathon before. I completed their inaugural half marathon on San Jose and found the support, organization and bands every mile to make the event pretty fun and special. As a coach for TNT I've had many friends run the Rock and Roll that started it all - San Diego, and raved about it. So I'm excited to hear all the bands all across the country.
  • I love destination runs. Let's face it. Running marathons is tough on your body. You have to burn lots of hour training, sacrifice time with the family and push yourself to the brink nearly every time. I still hit mile 22 cursing myself an wondering why I put myself through this. I figure that if I'm going to put myself through this much torture I ought to do it in a pretty place and make a short vacation out of it. And the R&R series has some great cities: Phoenix, New Orleans, Chicago, Nashville, Virginia Beach, Seattle, San Antonio and more.
  • It's a great platform to help raise awareness for cancer research. I've been an active supporters of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since 2003 and can't think of a better way to raise the awareness of this cause than to dedicate my life to it. In 2007 I became a running coach for the society's Team in Training program and have found it extremely rewarding to help people train for their first endurance event while raising valuable funds for the society. It is such a thrill to help someone cross that finish line for the first time. has been a consistent supporter of TNT through its R&R events so running every event allows me to help raise awareness and funds for the society throughout the entire year and on a national stage.
  • I'm crazy about running and want to share the love. There are few other ways you can get such incredible cardiovascular exercise in such a short time as through running. And what sport is more accessible. All you need are a pair of good shoes, shorts and a T-shirt. You can do it year round, in any weather. And even if you can only get out for 30 minutes you can get in a really good workout. I started running as a way to stay fit while traveling a ton for work. It also gave me a chance to see all the cities I was flying too (rather than just the inside of a conference room). Staying healthy for life is its own reward.
  • But honestly, I'm all about the bling! Come on, let's face it. We can all run anywhere. We can even run 26 miles on the weekends on our own. But we don't. We run in organized events for the camaraderie, great support, excitement of running with so many others who share our passion and for the medals. There are no other marathon series anywhere in the world that come close to the bling factor R&R delivers. Sure, you can run all the World Majors (I plan to do all those, too) and compete for big prize money but realistically you probably won't see any of that money and even if you did, you probably wouldn't be proudly displaying the check - you'd cash it!'s Rock and Roll Series has progressing medals in what it calls the Heavy Medal program. You, of course, get a medal for each event you complete but if you complete multiple events in the same calendar year R&R rewards you with extra medals commemorating your accomplishments. In 2009, had 8 of these special medals which peaked with their Rock Legend medal for anyone of finished 7 of their events in a single year. Can't wait to see what they add to the Heavy Medal series now that there are 13 events!
But running them all next year also instills a sense of urgency in me. While I consider myself an avid marathoner and have 18 under my belt to date, the most I've completed in a single year is 5. Rock and Roll 2010 ups that number to 8. The rest of the 13 events are all half marathons (whew!). So I figure I better run them all now before there are too many events to complete is a single year - or my body can't rise the challenge anymore. I'm not a young guy at 41, but I'm not a spring chicken either.

It's going to be expensive registering for and competing in 13 events next year which is why I am seeking sponsors to help cover some of these costs - just registering for all 13 events costs over $1,200!! So if you work for a company looking to get some national exposure and association with the great causes of fitness, life-long health, and fighting cancer, I want you.

If you are simply a fan of running but believe in the need for funds to support cancer research, I encourage you to visit my donation page and show your support.

And if you will also be at any of these events, let me know by following me on Twitter (RnRJames). I look forward to meeting you, running with you and together finding a cure.

Have a great run today, will ya!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Disneyland makes Five!

Just got back from SoCal where 18 SMSers completed the Disneyland Half Marathon. We got really lucky with the weather - cool and overcast at the start and it stayed that way until around 10am. This is a really fun event. Mostly flat course that starts with a quick tour through the Magic Kingdom, them heads out into the city of Anaheim. It wonders through the city streets before heading over to the Anaheim sports complex. This starts with the Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team, then down to the Big A - Angels Stadium. This was a real treat because this year we ran through the stadium, skirting the outfield which was lined with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who cheered us on passionately, holding out their hands for a high five. I think I ran this mile in 6 minutes, it was so energizing. To make it even better everyone got their mugs on the jumbotron and had their names announced over the PA system - very cool!

This was my third Disney event of the year, following the Goofy Challenge in January and upon finishing I picked up my 5th Disney Racing medal. From DisneyWorld I picked up the prestigious Donald medal for the Half Marathon, the Mickey medal for the full Marathon and the Goofy for completing both in the same weekend - quite an experience. Disneyland provided the Magic Kingdom medal for its Half Marathon, followed by the Coast to Coast medal which features Walt hand in hand with his signature creation - Mickey. It's a beautiful and heavy medal. Well worth the effort.

These events are pretty special, due to the crowds, the passion Disney throws into them and all the costumed participants. Very cool to see so many Tinkerbells, Tiggers, Minnies, Mickeys, Peter Pans and Pocohantas runners. Best costume went to the woman who ran as Pooh in a teddy bear costume covering her torso. Looked like a hot costume to do 13 miles in, but she crossed the line smiling.

Kudos too to all the TNT runners who finished the event. Was surprising and exciting to the see the El Paso Chapter represented - that's my home town.

Next up:
Nike Women's Marathon in October - I'll be coaching for all the northern California TNTers. This is a killer event. Gorgeous course and usually great weather. The event in whole supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and has raised millions for the cause in past years. This will be no exception.

In 2010, I'll be raising $10,000 for the LLS through my efforts to be the first person to finish all 11 events in's Rock and Roll Endurance Series. Follow my efforts on Twitter at RnRJames.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

If you wonder if run-walk works...

At today's Inaugural Santa Rosa (CA) Marathon I got a very strong reminder of how effective the run-walk race method can be, as I was beaten to the finish line by a woman in my age group doing a 10:1. She averaged about a 7:40 mile when running and benefitted from the walk breaks to recover some energy. I talk to a lot of runners who don't want to do run-walk because they think it really isn't running or that you can't go fast or get a good time. Well this woman finished 26.2 in 3:36 and has a PR of 3:30. That's just 10 minutes behind my PR which got me into the Boston Marathon.
There's a lot of benefit to the run-walk method and many of the top marathon coaches including Jeff Galloway are fans. The very biggest being the recovery time you get in the walk breaks.
Our TNT program encourages new runners to start with run-walk as it lets you really determine what level of endurance you can sustain. You can adjust your run-walk ratio as your endurance increases. There's no need to move to full-time running unless you feel up to it and want to.
I've never been a run-walker, myself, but may need to revisit this method after today.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Santa Rosa's going to be hot!

Tomorrow is the inaugural Santa Rosa (CA) Marathon and we've been having unseasonably warm weather here in the SF Bay Area. The forecast is a high of 78 this Sunday and I hope the weatherman is right because it was 104 here in Redwood City yesterday and is expected to top 100 again today.

Some quick tips for the 499 other runners joining me for this event, or anyone else planning to run a hot weather marathon:

* Bring your own hydration - while most marathons are well supported with water and sports drinks at water stations every mile or so, you really don't want to rely on this service. First off, you may need a drink well before the next water stop and second, as people who ran Chicago in 2007 learned, on a hot day, they may just run out of water. I run with an Amphipod Hydraform. It slips over your hand so don't have to grip it throughout the run and is form fitted, rather than round like other bottles, so it is much more comfortable to carry.

* Eat regulary - If you have a routine of taking in nutrition every 30-40 minutes or so, such as Gu Energy Gels or PowerGels, stick with it. The heat will drain your body of nutrients and you'll need this replenishment, even if you aren't hungry. Definitely don't wait until you are hungry; by then it's too late.

* Extra protection against chafing - If you are prone to chafing in certain areas take extra protection because the heat raises your level of sweat and increases your risk of rashes and rubbing in these areas. It goes without saying that you should be running in wicking technical fabrics like quality Sugoi Ts andshorts. Take the extra step of applying Body Glide to your sensitive areas and nip guards.

* Keep your heat releases uncovered - During exercise your body releases heat through the top of your head, cheeks and hands (among other places) so consider a visor instead of a hat. If you do wear a hat be sure it is a light-colored (or white) running hat made from a wicking technical fabric and is porous throughout the top so it lets your head breathe.

During hot runs, they often pass out cool wet sponges in the latter 10 or so miles. These can really help bring your core temperature down so take one if you are feeling really hot. I like to press them to the top of my head so the cool water runs down my head in all directions and gets down my back a bit. These sponges are preferable to running through sprinklers or having someone hose you down because you don't want to get your feet wet. This can lead to chafing and blisters.

Hope this is helpful and that you have successful hot-weather runs. Got other tips? Share them here.

-- James

James is a Sugoi Brand Champion, serial marathoner and running coach for Team in Training. He's attempting to be the first person to complete all the Rock n Roll Endurance Series events in 2010 - 7 marathons and 4 halfs. Follow him on Twitter at RnRJames.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Way to go Survivors!!

What a wonderful morning for a little challenge. Today was the first ever Coach James' Survivor Challenge and we had some serious competition. We couldn't have asked for better conditions at the
CSM Cross-country course
. If you haven't been here for a run, I highly recommend it. It's nearly a perfect 3 miles with hills and incredible views overlooking the Crystal Springs Reservior and 280.
Since we'll be doing this event again next year I can't give away the challenges but we had some very creative participants.

Hats off to our winners:

Kat took first place with some very creative thinking and mad skillz!
Krissy was right behind her having mastered the challenging games in no time.
Steph & Bob tied for third when they climbed the hill together all smiles and three bands showing.

On this figure eight course contestants could yield their competitors for 5 minutes and the board saw a lot of action. Poor Gia was the biggest victim getting two back-to-back yields costing her 10 minutes. "Thanks, guys!"
Big thanks to the volunteers who helped run the challenges and keep the challenge humming: Santi, David, Riya, Reesa and Alan.

Thanks also to PowerBar for the great prizes.

More great photos from the event here:
Survivor Challenge

Be sure and join us in December for Coach James' Scavenger Hunt, this annual favorite takes on a new city. You won't want to miss it!

Follow all the action and lock in all the runs at

- Coach James

Monday, August 3, 2009

Getting the most out of running

I hated running when I was growing up. Nothing was more boring than running track during PE. Now I run 3-4 days a week, have finished seventeen marathons and live for the incredible gains running provides.
I got the joy through Team in Training, an incredible endurance training program that benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They took me from the work-travel runner (only way to see the cities I was in, since the rest of the time was in conference rooms) to marathon finisher in 5 months. Now I'm addicted.
TNT taught me three very important lessons which I think are the key to getting the most out of running.

1. Friendship. Nothing beats running with friends. Turn off the iPod and tune into the people around you. I've made the most incredible friends through the program - friends I still run with to this day and hope are with me the rest of my life.

2. Cadence. If you think the key to running is long strides, think again. The key to distance running, endurance running, is a high cadence, or number of foot strides per minute. The higher your cadence the shorter your stride, the more you conserve energy and the less impact on your body. Elite runners average close to 95 strides per minute (that's a left and a right footstrike). It took me about three days of training to get it, but once I got it, I got faster, stronger and more efficient.

3. Get the right equipment. I learned all the equipment lessons the hard way. Big mistakes: cotton underwear, socks, shirts, shorts and hats (cotton seems to be the enemy), fashion running shoes, the wrong food, the wrong hydration. You name it, I've made the mistake with equipment. If you only plan to run 1-3 miles you can do fine with just about any equipment, but up it to 10-26, forget about it. Now I'm very particular about my equipment and it makes a world of difference.

Why is there such a dearth of good, objective running advice and product reviews on the Internet? Why is there such a dearth of good advice on where to run?
Enough. Do something about it. That's the goal of this blog. Hope it helps a few of you out there.

I don't work for any company affiliated with running and have no bias. I'm just an enthusiastic amateur runner hoping to help others enjoy the sport that has brought so much joy to my life.

My favorite equipment (right now):
Shoes: Asics Gel Culumus - An excellent cushioned running shoe that is great for long distance training. Highly recommend them if you have a neutral strike. Go at least a full size up from your usual dress shoe size so you avoid black toes.
Socks: Adidas UltraTech Cusion No Show. Breathable, skin tight, no blister, no sweat socks. Socks are crucial to running. Don't skimp here. Nearly all the Adidas running socks are good. These have a nice feel and last many washings.
Shorts and Shirts: Anything Dri-Fit or ClimaCool or from a similar fabric. Nike has some cool looks and wild colors. Adidas is more neutral and its styles are pretty consistent from season to season. Asics and Brooks are nice too, but harder to find. Sugoi is a bit pricier but has some nice features like wicking patterns, iPod pockets and other features you may like. Pick up Sub4 gear if you can find it. They used to be huge in running gear but have faded badly. For shorts make sure they are real running short, with the built in underwear. Another alternative is to get compression shorts and wear them underneath a DriFit-style short that doesn't have the built in underwear (but not advisable in hot weather).
Underwear: Forget it. Don't even bother with the sports underwear from UnderArmor and others. You don't need it.
Sensitive Area Protection: BodyGlide. This is a must, people. If you run more than 6 miles without it, its your funeral. This stuff protects your sensitive areas from rubbing and creating a rash. It is essential stuff.
Hydration: Accelerade Lemon Lime. You can run short distances with water and go a bit longer with Gatorade, but if you plan to do 15miles or longer get a solution that keeps the carbs up, helps you manage sodium and tastes good. This is my favorite. I store it in an ingenious bottle called the Hydraform from Amphipod that is shaped to fit your hand and has a comfortable strap that goes over your hand so you don't have to grip the bottle the whole way. Very nice.
Food: GU Energy Gel Plain or Vanilla Bean. Forget the PowerBars, Granola Bars, and other foods, when you are running you need nutrition that gets to your muscles fast and nothing is faster than energy gel. There are lots of makers of this kind of stuff. For me, GU is the right amount, the right taste and right consistency. When it's really hot out I switch to their Sublime Lemon flavor which is easier on the stomach.
When selecting a running food, try as many different varieties as you can, until you find one you really like, then stick with it. Carrying energy gels can be an issue. Some shorts have pockets on the side where it flops around, others have a pocket in the back and others have no pockets at all. So I store my GU in a small clip-on pouch from Amphipod. It's lightweight, comfortable and stores up to 4 GUs at a time - perfect for a marathon.
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 305. Killer app for the distance runner. It's a bit bulky but doesn't weight very much and for the features, totally worth it. It's a GPS watch that tracks (and maps) where you go, gives you distance, pace, heart rate, calories burned, time, splits, elevation and more and stores up to 6 months of runs at a time. You can download the runs to a PC with some good software called Training Center. My favorite feature is the virtual partner where you can set a pace you want to hit for a certain run and a virtual runner on the watch will run with you. The watch alerts you if you are ahead or behind this pace runner. Very valuable.

I'm kind of a sucker for running equipment so will share my reviews and thoughts on some of this equipment in this blog from time to time. If you have favorite equipment or comments on the equipment mentioned here, let me know.

See you on the trails!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Goal for 2010 - The entire Rock n Roll Endurance Series

It's time to announce my running goal for 2010. I plan to be the first person to complete the entire Rock n Roll Endurance Series in a single year. This popular series of marathon and half marathon events has expanded to a total of 11 events for 2010 including 7 marathons and 4 more halfs and I plan to run them all.

I know this sounds crazy but I'm confident I can do it. This year I will complete 7 marathons and 3 halfs so I know it is doable. Even for a 42 year old masters runner like me.

But what might be the biggest challenge is covering all the costs, so I'm seeking sponsors to help me through this quest. Sponsoring me represents a unique marketing opportunity for your company as this is a full year sponsorship covering 11 major cities, training throughout the year and media and new media exposure opportunities. If you sponsor me, I will wear your corporate logo, use your products and promote healthier lifestyles to your constituents especially those in the important 25-55 year age groups. Having completed 17 marathons thus far and shooting to complete 50 marathons by my 50th birthday, I am a living example of staying healthy for life and how you can to; because I only took up endurance running six years ago.

Won't you sponsor me and help me achieve this incredible goal?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The path to my first marathon

Back in 2007, a month before my 40th birthday I achieved a significant goal in my life. I finished my 10th marathon. Having only started running three years prior I thought that was a pretty significant goal. Here's how I did it.

I have to confess that I was one of those kids that hated running. In school, running was a punishment and I had gotten my fair share. I was on the basketball team and played a lot of tennis and both chose this fine form of exercise as the proverbial whip on the back. The worst was running lines - a frequent occurrence in basketball practice. I was a fairly good runner but just couldn't enjoy it.

During high school, when I became more of a regular kid, I started running for fun but never anything long. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, you had to be an early riser if you wanted to get in some time before it got just too hot. I don't think I ever ran more than once a week.

I stepped this up when I got into the working world because I began traveling a lot. And as most of you know, business travel isn't as glamourous as many like to portray it. More often than not you see the airport, the hotel room, and a conference room and that's it. For the first few years, I'd go down to the hotel gym on occasion but it got boring really fast. So one day I said, "you know, you really ought to get out and see these towns you keep traveling to." And there's no better way than on an early morning run.

I never ran more than five or six miles until a friend, Amanda, told me I was a strong runner and should try a half marathon. She challenged me to come out to the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon and I figured, what the heck. I'll try it. I had run about six miles, this was double that but how hard could it be.

Hard. I was a wreck by ten miles and really starting to hate life. What made it worse was that it seemed like every other person in the race was getting cheered for and I wasn't. Most of the cheers were "Go Team!" and came from a horde of purple-clad fans. They were shouting encouragement to their teammates, also in purple and just sort of smiled at me when I huffed by. This purple army was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training group and about mile eleven I certainly could have used that kind of encouragement.

I finished badly and told myself I'll never do that again. Not that I'd never run a half marathon again. I'd never run one when I wasn't properly trained. It's a pretty amazing feeling to cross the finish line. Despite my pain and agony during the last three miles, I immediately was overcome with a sense of accomplishment that I wanted to experience again. But not with as much suffering hopefully.

The following spring, I was ready to take on that challenge again but this time I'd have help. I joined the purple-clad cult with my wife and we both signed up for the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon and Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. I figured if we were going to beat up our bodies for another 13.1, we should at least make a vacation out of it.

Team in Training turned out to be much more than a crazy bunch of purple-wearing cheerleaders. The program had professional coaches, an incredibly dedicated staff, wonderful mentors to help show us the way through both the fundraising and the life change we'd go through in training for this event. in fact the training was so good, that I decided to switch to the full marathon - half-thinking I was out of my mind.

I met some wonderful people that year, many of which have become lifelong friends and learned how to properly train for an endurance event.

I also learned that I had done just about everything wrong the first time.
Rule #1: Cotton kills. I ran my first half marathon with cotton underwear over cotton shorts, a cotton t-shirt, and 100% cotton socks. If you really like chafing, overheating and dragging around your sweat for 13.1 miles, this is the way to go. If you want to avoid all those, avoid cotton and find yourself some dri-fit materials.
Rule #2: Good running shoes. I, like a lot of people, went to Big 5, hit the clearance aisles, looked for shoes labeled as running and picked a pair that felt good but looked better. I picked up a pair of Adidas for $40 bucks and was ready to take on the running world. Big mistake. First off, the shoes were for casual runners at best and didn't have the support, construction or cushioning necessary to handle 40 miles a week and an eventual 26.2. I suffered blisters, IT Band syndrome, aches in my knees and quads and a minor case of shin splints.
Rule #3: Nutrition and hydration. Like many new comers to running I thought all you needed for a long run was shorts, shirt and shoes. The course would have water, Gatorade and other stuff that I would need - and on this count I was right. But they didn't have it when I necessarily needed it. On at least three occasions, I was between water stations desperately in need of fluids. It wasn't a particularly hot day but I was drained from exertion. I skipped most of the food they supplied. Gu? PowerGels? Yuck. What were these alien foods?

TNT helped me understand the importance of these things but I was still relatively stubborn and had to learn it all my way. Throughout that spring training season I slowly took to heart everything they were telling me - and they were right.

When May came around, Reesa and I, along with a small contingent from the team, flew up to Anchorage for our event. We arrived around 11pm on Friday night and it was as light as midafternoon. As we pulled into downtown we saw some college-aged kids stumbling out of a bar and it looked really strange to see them emerge into daylight when it was clearly night.

Our coach had told us to spend the day prior to our marathon, relaxing in our hotel rooms, resting our bodies for the marathon before us, but we were in Alaska for the first time and weren't about to sit in our rooms. So we went out, saw downtown, stood against the railings during a two hour cruise of the bay, hiked all over one of the ski resorts and then decided to trek across a glacier. It was during this hike that Coach Vince's words came back to us and we decided, maybe we had seen enough and really should rest.

The following morning, the buses picked us up at what seemed like an ungodly hour. We had maybe slept for two hours; we were way too keyed up about the following day's race. It drove us out to a high school where we used the port a potties, warmed up, stretched and rested until the starting gun. We gathered at the far end of the practice field under a small banner labeled "Start" and waited for the gun to go off.

I was rather nervous, not only for the reason you would expect, but throughout the season I had run with a guy from a neighboring TNT group who was exactly my pace and we had planned to pace each other through this event. I really wanted his support but this morning he was nowhere to be found. One of our team captain's was a short bit ahead of me, looked back, smiled and wished me luck. I calmed down and prepared to run.

While Alaska is a certainly gorgeous place, the Anchorage course left a lot to be desired. It ran through the backside of an army base, up and over a freeway overpass, and through a few strip mall parts of town. There were some gorgeous neighborhoods as well and a great view of the snowcapped mountains at the end. Unfortunately around mile ten it started to heat up and eventually reached 85 degrees. There was a bit of humidity as well which made this a very tough run.

About mile eighteen, my IT band was really talking to me and a volunteer was handing out bags of ice to help cool us down. I grabbed two and stuffed them both down the sides of my running shorts, right on my hips, where the IT band connects. A few yards later volunteers were handing out sponges and I put one under my hat and pressed down on it as cool water rushed all around my face and neck. A life saver.

While most of this marathon is relatively flat it ends with an uphill and with 25 miles behind me, a screaming IT band on the left side and aching feet, I was done. This was the most painful 1.2 miles of my life - or so I thought until I saw that same team captain half way up the hill. He had finished the marathon and run back onto the course to help his teammates with the final climb. I don't think I had ever been so glad to see someone. He told me I could do this, slowed his pace and stuck with me as I labored up that hill. My feet were barely moving faster than a walking pace but thankfully they were still moving. He offered me a drink of water and loads of encouraging words. That meant everything to me. If he hadn't been there, I don't think I would have made it to the top of the hill.

When the hill ended I could see the high school track which marked the finish and picked up the pace just a little as I knew the end was near. The captain, dropped off with a final bit of encouragement as it was all up to me now. I struggled across the line and pain was immediately replaced with elation and relief. I'd done it. I'd completed a marathon.

Then as I stood before a volunteer who was removing the timing chip from my shoe, all the remaining energy I had left me. I could barely move. Exhaustion hit the extreme and the heat was still coming.

I staggered to the medical tent where they had a kiddie pool filled with snowmelt and gingerly took off my shoes, freed my aching feet from the nylon socks that covered them and sat down fully into the pool. The cold water was shocking at first but massively relieving after about 30 seconds. I have no idea how long I stayed in there. It was heaven.

After a while I got up, ate some food and crashed near the medical tent, completely exhausted. I was asleep in five minutes.

The following day, my wife and I were in rough shape. We did the marathon shuffle through the tiny Anchorage Mall. Everything ached and movement was slow and agonizing. It felt like we walked the Mall of America and stairs were my total enemy.

The pain subsided with time, but the feeling of elation and sense of accomplishment that came with crossing that finish line trumped it all. The next week I was ready to sign up to do another marathon.

50 by 50

My life, like many of yours, has always been about setting goals and working hard to achieve them, then setting new ones. In running, this started for me with a half marathon, then a full, then a full after which I could actually walk the next day. Once I got to this point I was fully hooked on marathoning and set the next goal for myself - to complete 10 marathons by my 40th birthday. In the fall of 2007 I hit that goal with the Portland Marathon.
Then the craziness began. At my birthday party several people asked what my next goal would be and provided lots of suggestions. Should it be to run a marathon on each of the seven continents? To step up to ultramarathons? Triathlons? Do 10 more by 50?
I jokingly responded to this one, "how about 50 by age 50?" and it stuck.
As I thought about it more, I realized this was what I wanted to do. You see, marathoning for me isn't just about accumulating medals and bib numbers (although that's pretty cool, too). But about lifelong fitness and health and that's what made this goal so appealing. There are few people at races that I admire more than the people I see crossing the line who are in their seventies, eighties and occasionally 90s. That's what I want; to be able to stay fit, healthy and strong for life. And that is why my goal is to complete fifty marathons by my fiftieth birthday.
As I write this, I have completed 17 marathons and am beginning to ramp up the mileage for #18 - the inaugural Santa Rosa Marathon.
Later this year I will finally have the chance to run the New York City Marathon which will be a real thrill.
It's also a goal of mine to not run the same marathon twice. I figure there are so many events to choose from, why not experience as many as possible.
Maybe I'll see you at one of my goal events.

To a Great Man

Robert “Buck” Edmondson IV

1927 - 2005

(reposted from winter 2005)

Last month, just four months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my father-in-law passed away at his home with his family around him. He was 78. I knew Buck for 15 years as a farmer, husband, father and shrewd, conservative investor. I learned a lot from him over those years and will miss him greatly.

Buck grew up in Riverside, California during The Depression when the value of a dollar was cemented into his generation in ways today’s children in America cannot possibly relate. For him, you respected a hard days work and earned everything you had and therefore it meant more to you. You fixed what was broken and reused everything. You didn’t throw things out as is the common practice in today’s society where this year’s products are obsoleted in 12 months or less. His 1940’s Ford Tractor still runs and is occasionally used to free a modern truck or two from the mud or snow.

He grew up in a time where you respected your elders, the government and most importantly, if you grew up in the agricultural belt of Orange County at the time, the land and all it bore. Buck was a thin athletic man who lied to joined the Navy at the age of 16, like so many others of his generation, because the world was calling and World War II was “the good fight.” After losing more friends than could be counted and seeing his brother come home with a Purple Heart, Buck returned from the war and again respected the land, but through eyes that had seen atrocities thrust upon them that were far removed from the care he and his family had shown to the orange trees around them at home.

Those orange trees grounded Buck. His greatest peace was achieved walking through the rows upon rows of Valencias he and his brother inherited and climbing and repairing wind machines that seemed constantly in need of care. The wind machines seemed to need so much of his time we often wondered if it was the trees or the wind machines, that kept them from freezing in winter, that needed him most. Buck also spent countless hours in winter tending to a series of old-world smudge pots that delivered heat to the trees and fighting snails and “political snakes” over precious water rights. To say Buck had a green thumb was far shy of an understatement. If it came from the soil and needed water, Buck could make it grow.

Shortly after I met him, he and his wife Bobbie moved from Riverside to escape the encroaching LA smog and settled in the small Gold Rush town of West Point, California. About an hour outside of Sacramento, West Point was a long drive from Buck’s orange groves and he diligently made the over 9 hour drive to tend his trees. It was only after he had planted every tree the Bureau of Land Management could spare that West Point began to feel like home for him. The BLM, fighting the ever-ending battle to keep California green, supplied anyone who wanted them with saplings. Buck’s son Bob told me that the BLM only expects a 10-20 percent survival rate for the saplings it distributes -- over 90 percent of Buck’s are still growing on his 10 acre ranch.

I think there were only three other things Buck really loved in this world -- bowling, stocks and most importantly, his family. Sure, he grumbled and rolled his eyes at the menagerie of dogs, horses and cats, and the constant stream of knickknacks, family squabbles and silly whims nearly every family experiences, but he cherished his wife Bobbie who was the only thing in this world that meant more to him than his trees. He was her wall of strength and reason. She showed Buck that love, spontaneity and frivolity were the rewards of a good life and not to take them for granted. Sure he would grumble about going as Raggedy Ann and Andy at an annual Halloween party, but then be the host with the most until the last guest had left, ensuring everyone had a good time.

Buck was good at just about everything, especially sports. One time my wife and I took 6 weeks of golf lessons, then went with Buck and Bobbie up to the links near West Point and watched him school us both with dead on straight shots, perfect putts and a humbleness that simply should not be allowed in someone who hadn’t picked up a club in over twenty years. Nearly everyone in West Point can attest to Buck’s bowling skills. You didn’t want to play against him and you definitely didn’t want to get ahead of him with three frames remaining.

While he probably would never have said he lived a charmed life, from most people’s vantage point, he had it all - happy, committed marriage; loving children; a great career that had allowed him a comfortable retirement; the looks, confidence and charisma that turned every head (yep, even women half his age looked), and his health. I never saw a day go by that Buck wasn’t working and in his seventies he took on tasks most men in their forties couldn’t finish. Yet cancer got him anyway.

Cancer got my mother too. She was in her fifties and had been a professional dancer and dance teacher her entire life. A picture of health and I miss her terribly. My wife never got to meet her and for that I am very sad as I think they would have been the best of friends.

You see cancer doesn’t care if you are in peak physical condition. It doesn’t care if you have a perfect diet. No supplements, herbal remedies or fad diets or exercise programs can keep it away. Yes, taking care of yourself can help lessen your risk of getting it, but genetics you can’t control. And if it wants you, it’s going to come calling. Thankfully a lot of us will reap the rewards of the incredible medical and genetic breakthroughs that are being developed and will be among the cancer survivors. But many will not. And those like me and my wife’s family outnumber both groups. We’re their survivors and we have a great responsibility. It is our job to keep fighting this disease and use the memories of our loved ones to drive us on in this fight. Some of us fight with our dollars, others with our time and others as our profession. I run and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a proud member of their Team in Training endurance athletic program that funds cancer research, and patient care and education. However you choose to fight, remember that we fight not for those the disease has taken but to prevent others from succumbing. And so I thank all of you who contribute in whatever way you can.

We miss you Buck.