Sunday, June 23, 2013

Finding Ultra

Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.
Rejecting middle age, becoming one of the World's fittest men and discovering myself.

OK, now that the blog is back, I'm catching up on the books I have read. I got this one a while ago and didn't get to it until recently. Crown Publishing Group sent it to me for free. No money exchanged hands and I never agreed to write a favorable post but I did enjoy the book.

Rich Roll is an entertainment lawyer, father of 4 and an ultra-endurance athlete. He was a top finisher at the 2008 and 2009 Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii. It's an invitation only race. Day 1 is a 6.2 mile ocean swim followed by a 90 mile cross-country cycle race. Day 2 is a 170 mile cycling race. Day 3 ends with an easy 52 mile double marathon. If that's not enough for you, he and a friend completed something they nicknamed the Epic 5 Challenge. It was 5 ironman-distance triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26 mile run) on 5 islands of Hawaii in under a week.

The book ends with the Rich Roll I just introduced but doesn't start that way. Rich is a kid who comes from a loving home but was completely uncomfortable in his introverted, nerdy skin. In fact, he was bullied and tormented by other kids. He found a window of peace when he discovered that he was a talented swimmer. This talent got him into a top university and he just managed to graduate and become a lawyer before his ghosts caught-up with him and he plummeted into terrible addiction. He hit bottom (eventually), got clean, started a new life with a new partner and one day began to drastically change. He became a vegan and transformed his overweight and out of conditioned 40 year old self into a triathlete.

This book is not a piece of prose. In fact, the writing sometimes stumbles over itself. But it's not the writing skill that made this an interesting read for me. It was the humility and honesty. I read Eat and Run and that was honest but private. Finding Ultra gives you a much deeper and real taste of Rich's pain, fears, shame, etc. He doesn't lay it on too thick but when he talks excitedly about his climb back and his eventual transformation (like only a recovering addict can), you know where that "born again" feeling comes from and you are more inclined to celebrate it with him than criticize him for it. He credits his wife with a lot but it's very clear from reading the book that she is a pretty amazing woman who is incredibly supportive and unselfish. His knowledge of vegan whole foods stems from her and I found that side of the book interesting too. Eating whole foods is one thing. Eating to sustain a body for insane endurance is another. Personally speaking, it was so nice to read a book about the physical transformation of a man in his 40's not 20's or 30's. But, I have to admit, there were times when I was like "Rich... dude... you swam with Olympic hopefuls. You were an athlete before you became a slob! You didn't go from 0 to 10. You went from 6 to 0 to 10." I'm not trying to take anything away from his achievements, it's just that most people who do start from 0 can't have the same aspirations. And that's OK. The book is inspiring enough – even before Rich competes in his first race. Having said that, it was fun to read the details of his events. At that point, you really want him to succeed. And like the rest of the book, when he documents the details of something like the Epic 5, it's well rounded - not just romanticized. I love that he can one minute talk about something spiritual or some inner strength that fuels endurance but then admit to being horrible to one of the support team and feeling terribly remorseful. He seems like a well rounded man.

A before and after of Rich
My conclusion. If you are interested in endurance sports at all, I'd definitely recommend reading this book. Like Eat and Run (a book I just posted about), you don't have to be a vegetarian or vegan to be inspired by it. It kept me interested and when I was done, I couldn't help but feel thankful to Rich for sharing so openly and respect him for his accomplishments. And when I say accomplishments, I tend to feel more strongly about him finding himself and family than finding ultra. Sadly, not everyone gets a result like this but man... it feels good to hear that some do. Good luck to you Rich!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Eat & Run

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman.

“Sometimes you just do things!” - Scott Jurek (and his dad)

I read the book at a wedding in Puerto Rico and had plenty of time to enjoy it without the kids being around. It kept me interested all the way through and I was sad when it ended. I guess that's the mark of a satisfying read.

If you've read Born to Run or if you are at least semi-interested in ultra-running, you know Scott Jurek. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a book release event in Chicago. Christopher McDougal was MCing the event and we all got to go on a fun run with them. Some of you may remember my post about it. Well, this was the book that I got signed at that event by both men and here are my thoughts without going into any major spoilers.

Scott Jurek is a rockstar among ultra-runners. As you can read in Wikipedia, he has won many of the sport's most prestigious races multiple times, including the Hardrock Hundred (2007), the Badwater Ultramarathon (2005, 2006), the Spartathlon (2006, 2007, 2008), and the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (1999-2005). In 2010, at the 24-Hour World Championships in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France, Jurek won a silver medal and set a new US record for distance run in 24 hours with 165.7 miles. He is now 40 and still going.

As well as his great wins, Scott Jurek has a great brand. He comes across as the boy next door. He seems kind and humble. He is known for waiting at finish lines to congratulate people. But, that is never the whole picture of a person and I like that Scott lets you have a little glimpse into his pain, his ghosts and his darker sides in the book. He doesn't expose everything but you walk away feeling that you got a taste of something more than the Scott Jurek in the media. Even with some of these warts, he is still a very likable person.

The theme that goes all through the book is diet. For me, it wasn't a huge ah ha because I eat a very similar diet. For others who know nothing about being a vegan, it's probably more educational. The term vegan isn't actually accurate. Scott's diet is more about whole foods (not the store). Let's face it, some vegan food can be unhealthy too. Over the years, Scott has gone into diet in great detail and has become knowledgeable. He approaches the subject in a way that I think even steadfast meat eaters can respect. I didn't find him to be that preachy but he is excited about what his diet has done for him. The recipes that are sprinkled in with the storytelling are good and I have tried some of them. My only complaint is that they aren't removable to keep in the kitchen after you have finished the book.

The book gives you a sense of Scott growing up in the countryside near Proctor, Minnesota (not far from Duluth). You learn about Scott's struggle to understand his father and his "sometimes you just do things" philosophy and you feel his heartbreak with the on-set of his mothers debilitating disease. You learn about the fun characters that shape his life, especially his best friend Dusty Olsen who helped him discover distance running as training for their competitive nordic skiing. Scott is honest about how he has used running to deal with issues (not necessarily hide or run away from them). One dark moment in his life is when his wife leaves him for a friend (I believe it was Barefoot Ted but I haven't seen that confirmed anywhere). He shares some interesting behind the scenes stories about his races and you even get to hear about the new love in his life. All of these topics are touched upon but the book is too short to go into them in detail. I would love to have gone deeper but maybe this is what Scott was comfortable with. The area he gets into most is his relationship with Dusty. For many years, Dusty gave up on his own hopes and dreams to help Scott win races through his pacing and his friendship. Who else could say "get up Jerker" when Scott was face down on the ground at Badwater? Scott needed him and asked too much of him. Remember, there are no huge monetary awards for ultra, so Dusty didn't get anything out of it other than the satisfaction of helping someone he loves. In this article on, you get a sense of Dusty's complaints. It's clear that their bond is beyond friendship. They are brothers, so they cross boundaries with each other. In the book, you see the relationship struggle and you find yourself wishing Scott would just make things right again. Dusty is an amazing character. You could write a book on Dusty.

If you are curious about how the gentlemen signed my book, I'm happy to share. Scott said "Simon, be somebody." This is very Jurek. It's not about status. It's more about goals and achievements - doing things that matter to you, to others or to the world. Chris signed it with "Simon - Run Wild" which is strategically vague I think.

I'd definitely recommend this book. It's an interesting read for anyone who is fascinated by ultra-running. It's worth reading even if you aren't interested in the diet aspect of it. Jurek is a pretty amazing runner and it's worth hearing about some of the feelings, events and people who shape him. I was really surprised to see the confidence, ego and drive that are inherent in a fierce competitor and winner. I feel like this side of Scott Jurek is often hidden in the media but you instinctively know it has to be there. You can buy Eat and Run here:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Running with the Mind of Meditation

"Movement is good for the body; stillness is good for the mind." – Sakyong Mipham

I actually started writing this post a while back but never finished it. For the sake of transparency, I want to let you know that I was contacted by Crown Publishing Group who asked if I would read a new book by Sakyong Mipham. It's called Running with the Mind of meditation: Lessons for training body and mind. Sakyong is an author of a national bestseller called Turning the mind into an ally. He is also the author of the prize winning Ruling your World.  Crown mailed me the book for free and asked me to read it and blog about it if I felt that I wanted to share it with my readers. I agreed to read it because if you have read posts of mine like... Rain running is rejuvenating or Running toward my problems, you'll already know that I have a connection to running that goes much deeper than exercise. I have never really meditated in the crossed legged stereotypical way but I know I use running for meditation purposes. When I run, I connect, I center, I think, I process, I heal, etc.

Just to give myself a sense of Sakyong's perspective, I found some factoids on him. He is a Tibetan Lama and the leader of of Shambhala, a "global community of meditation and retreat centers." He is from a very strong Tibetan lineage and has studied with some of the most enlightened meditation masters of Tibet. He is also uniquely connected to the West because his father wanted him to be educated in Europe and North America. He is a speaker, teacher, poet, artist and obviously a writer. He is a runner and has completed 9 marathons to raise money for Tibet. He is clearly a family man because this book is a dedicated to his wife and daughter. Did I mention that his wife is a Tibetan Princess? If that's not enough for you, he has been called "one of the 30 global visionaries of our time." He teaches and preaches about the wisdom, compassion and courage of all beings. He sees his role as "Earth protector." Phew! I need to step up my life!
Sakyong Mipham
There's a lovely little moment in this book where Sakyong talks about running with some other young monks near their temple and the danger of wild animals in the jungle. It created such vivid images for me and I wish he had gone into spaces like this a little more throughout. I feel like he has experienced running in a way that I have not and I'm always fascinated by that.

The book gets pretty deep into meditation. I think I found it a little difficult to take it in easily because although I am open to the concepts, I knew nothing about meditation before reading this book. Sakyong really is a master and it can get very deep and intelectual in places. For those who are either in the process of learning meditation or have meditated for many years, I think you'll find it very interesting. The connection with meditation and running is definitely a fascinating subject.

Maybe Sakyong should connect with Budd Coates. Recently, I have been trying out some of the breathing techniques that are recommended by Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter, by Budd Coates, M.S., and Claire Kowalchik (Rodale, 2013). You can read about it at Runners World here. I love the way the 3/2 technique encourages you to breath on alternate foot strikes and I'm starting to see some performance benefits. I have noticed that practicing this breathing technique is hypnotic because of the reoccurring pattern. I could quite easily see it be combined with some form of meditation.

For anyone who connects with running on another level (like most of us do) and is curious about the connection of running and meditation, I'd definitely consider giving this a read. But remember, it's not a story, it's instruction and insight from a master. Just setting your expectations. The book can be purchased here:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I'm back!

OK, it's been a while but here is The Fool in full effect. Life got super busy there for a while and it just wasn't practical to be blogging. Life is still pretty busy but I have promised myself that as long as I keep things pretty short form, I can keep doing this. You'll notice that my logo changed to an homage of the Skechers Performance logo. It's been NB and Adidas in the past. More on why Skechers in a bit...

What's new with me? Well... let's see...

I had a stress fracture in my tibia, gained a little weight and recovered. I am now leaner than I was before the injury and running 30 miles a week and feeling really good. I haven't gained my pace back but for right now, I'll take the consistency, the recovery and general love of running.

I signed up for a Half Marathon. I'll be running the Chicago Half in September. I'm really looking forward to that. Officially, I want to just get a baseline run in under 2 hours. Unofficially, I want to shoot for 1:50. I'm honestly not sure where my fitness will be by then but we'll see how it goes. I want to enjoy running it - that's the over-riding objective.

I read a couple of books that I wanted to share with folks. I read Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. I read the Hanson's Marathon Method by Luke Humphrey and the Hanson's which influenced me running a half based on their training philosophies. I just finished Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. Maybe I'll do a brief post on each to share a few thoughts.

Charlie (7) just ran his first 5K with me at the Humboldt Park Dream Run and somehow managed to win 3rd in the under 19's division. I'll definitely make a post about that specifically.

I started volunteering at the Chicago Marathon and Shamrock Shuffle as a starting line coordinator. A friend of mine is the Operations Director for those races. It was a little nerve racking at first but it's a great experience and quite rewarding.

You may remember that I hadn't got that far making connections with the running industry. I got a free shoe from Mizuno and Adidas sent me some samples to check-out. Finally, I made a connection with Skechers. I am now testing shoes for them and loving the experience and the shoes. I'll definitely talk more about that but I have to be careful because I'm under an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). I'll ask them about the process of releasing information in a controlled and sanctioned way. I know Pete Larson (Runblogger) tests and releases info before shoes hit the stores.

That's about it as a first post but I just want to say that it's good to be back and I am as passionate about running as I was when I left off - maybe more so.

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