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Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Ultra Training in the White Mountains

Mountains and body; two temples where less is more. The first couple days always hurt. Lactic acid builds and I wake up sore. By day three, the stress and cravings begin to melt off. I sweat out the toxins and forget about work. My skin rejoices and my cardio vascular system begins to work better. My breaths get deeper. My muscles strengthen & posture straightens; dopamine releases, and my metabolism kicks into a higher gear. I forget about junk food; rather, I crave only what is good for my body - smaller portions of simple, healthy foods and more water. By the end of the week, my whole system feels balanced and efficient. Brain fog turns into clarity and I’m full of energy. Companies are so good at selling us things in excess that don’t work as well. Gym memberships, meditation apps, supplements, new diets, medicine and self-help books. The mountains are free, and our bodies provide everything we need. 

Last week, I took a nice trip up to the white mountains to car camp and train after a busy year. Alpine wildflowers were ablaze amongst a chorus of migrating bird songs including Bicknell’s and Grey-cheeked Thrushes, several vireos and a host of warblers. The rivers provided the perfect natural cold plunges for recovery. And I feel 5-years younger. You should try a dose sometime - I highly recommend!

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Maine’s Bold Coast

 Less is more in Downeast Maine, where Dirigo (Latin for “I Lead”) is the state motto - a testament to the rugged individualism that runs deep there. For the first week of spring vacation, I built a bed in my SUV and ventured north to explore the Bold Coast up close. Lots of new plants and birds, geology, clamming, lobsters, ancient petroglyphs, jasper beaches, kayaking, hiking & blueberry pancakes right before the big rush of seasonal travelers. I love the minimalistic spirit of Downeast. Simple beauty in all directions. “It’s the way life should be,” as they say in the Pine state - I’d have to agree.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Exploring the Catskills

Every northeastern mountain range has its own charm. The Catskills are unique for not actually being true mountains. They’re remnants of an ancient plateau with deep valleys and canyons carved by water over millennia. They hold an incredible amount of rare virgin forest, and boast the title of being the fly fishing capital of America with endless trout streams. This week, a bundled up MaryLiz and I explored a few hikes where we saw giant hemlocks, balsam fir, sugar maple, wild black cherry and white ash. We traversed an ancient meteorite crater and saw perigrine falcons, ravens and a bald eagle. What a beautiful week in the foothills of New York.

Friday, October 21, 2022

100-Mile Ghost Train Rail Trail Race (Ultra Marathon)

    About a month ago, my pal Dane Holloway asked me to register for the Ghost Train Rail Trail Race to support him on his first 50k (31-miles) - I emphatically said yes! I had planned to run only the 50k until I noticed there was a 100-mile ultra marathon option. Oh my! I had always wanted to run a big boy race like that but had never run more than 31-miles in one go. I thought... could I run an additional 69 untrained miles with only a month to prepare? Why not. So I signed up with the intention of running alongside Dane and then continuing on past 31-miles if I felt up to it. That month for training I did one large Pemigewasset Wilderness loop in the White Mountains (31-miles and 9,000 ft in elevation gain), a half-marathon once per week, and a 100-mile bike ride the week before the race. Typically training for a 100-mile race would require much more but I also had the advantage of being injury-free with fresh legs. On race day, I was feeling great. Dane and I stuck together for the first 50k as planned and I continued on running into the night. I was struck by the level of community and positivity along the trail, with scores of helpful volunteers handing out food and drink. I've never consumed so much pickle juice, sugar water and bananas! 

    After Dane had finished, it was understood that he and his wife, Sarah, would leave to go home. But at 9:00pm while I was on trail, I got a text saying they would camp throughout the night to make sure I was well taken care of. To be honest, I chocked up a bit. Words can't express the level of physical and emotional challenges a person faces when they run non-stop into the cold night alone for 100-miles. Although I was prepared to go to battle alone, their support lifted me up in a big way. Dane and Sarah had provisions ready for me at every check-in. Their support lifted my spirits long enough for the sun to come up, which lifted me up even more! By 10am, I was around 90-miles in when I texted Dane and Sarah to hike the final 10-miles with me. Together, we crossed the finish line at around the 28-hour mark. I couldn't have done it without their support!

    Some may think ultra-marathon's are crazy - they're not wrong. Then why do them? There's no other experience I've come across that tests your mental and physical fortitude in such an extreme but healthy way. Picture having your back against the wall in a stressful situation while in excruciating pain for hours. You are constantly reminded of easy ways out all along the way and you're left with two options: stop or go. This experience made me much stronger upstairs, which I know will pay dividends in my life going forward. I'm so grateful for the experience, the resilience built and the support from good friends.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Martha’s Vineyard Perimeter Run

This weekend for my birthday, I decided to do a 68-mile ultramarathon (biathlon) around the island to bring awareness and funding to Big Brothers Big Sisters on Martha's Vineyard. If you would still like to donate, please visit this GoFundMe site. I had planned to start the run at 10pm on Friday and end Saturday evening but Saturday was calling for constant rain and strong winds, so I started early on Friday instead. As a result, some of my support team would not be able to make it.

Despite over 6-hours of waiting for safe conditions to swim some channels, and near constant rain and wind on Saturday, I pulled it out in just under 30-hours total (18h 49m moving time) to beat Paul Burton's record by over 10-hours. A big thank you to Paul for creating such a challenging route which includes swimming the channels, and for taking the time to speak on the phone to give me tips - much respect. I hope my run inspires others to experience what I did, and to soon beat my record.

In retrospect, it's crazy to think that a15-mile run seemed so daunting only 3-months ago when I began long-distance running for the first time in years. It's even crazier to think that I was hooked up to an IV 3-weeks ago with Lyme disease & arthritis shortly after setting my sights on this endeavor. But despite the adversity, the thought of cancelling never crossed my mind simply because of the why: to help a great organization out, and to experience the vast and beautiful shoreline of the island.

At 5:15am on Friday, I started my trek. My friend Dane Holloway would be driving in from NH after work later in the day to be the core of my support team, and my first checkpoint would be in 10-hours and over 30-miles away at Lambert's Cove beach. I packed my vest to the brim and headed west toward Aquinnah.

After some miles on the south shore past frost bottoms, sandplains and ponds, I was in my element in the midst of what felt like wilderness all to myself. Terns were diving, and half-eaten herring were beached - life is returning to the Vineyard and I was here for it. The bright sun rose behind me, and I knew it'd be the last time I would see it for the next two days of constant movement. I love how every beach on the vineyard has its own charm. The south shore seems never ending with soft, clean sand and the waves make pearl white suds. 

My first water crossing was Tisbury Great Pond where the manmade cut was still open. The spit is cut to replenish the pond naturally with saltwater to keep the saline level high for oysters, eelgrass and other brackish plants and animals. I took my boots and socks off, crossed, and cleaned my sandy feet off with freshwater and a small towel I had packed. These fly fishermen and women would be the first humans I'd see all day. We traded quick nods before I was off.

Along the south shore, wildlife abounds. I found whale bones, otter tracks, and seals. I began taking note of all the bird species I encountered - living and dead. Oyster catchers, piping plovers, willets, scoters, and sanderlings dancing along the water break. Later on I would see red knots - a life bird for me. As I passed a grassy area near Quansoo, a northern harrier took off flying. Least terns and tree swallows, too.

Sometimes, the best opportunities to view wildlife are when they're deceased. I lost count of all the washed up birds along the shore, like this sea duck which I believe is a white-winged scoter. 

Or this gorgeous red-throated loon. I was reminded of seeing this species for the first time along Chappy during a Christmas bird count a couple years ago. Tony Lima - the lead counter - taught me that they typically stay in closer to shore than common loons.

Perhaps some of these birds died of natural causes. I can't say the same for this cormorant, who seemed to have bitten off more than he could chew!

As I made it past Lucy Vincent beach, I quickly realized the soft sandy stretch of the south shore was quickly running out. From Stonewall Beach thru much of the north shore, I would be hiking carefully on rocks and boulders. Stonewall beach was a real challenge and certainly un-runnable. A good reason to slow down to take it all in.

Due to constant ankle-breaking rocks, this would be one of the slowest stretches of the day, but I eventually made it to Squibnocket. I stopped at the old shack for a snack. A young couple popped over to ask what I was doing? They hung out for a few minutes, snapped this photo, then left.

I could see the cliffs in sight made up of debris left over from the last glacier, spilling out from the dunes along the terminal moraine. I was fascinated with many rocks I came about: granite, gneiss, basalt, conglomerate sandstone, metamorphized rock from the Appalachian mountain orogenies. Greens, blues, browns, reds, and all the rest. I was a student and this was my classroom for the day.

Along this run, I barely saw anybody I didn't know. I saw much more wildlife than people, including this washed up shark which I believe is a sand shark. I saw skates, deer and skunks too.

Right before noon - so 6.5 hours in - I reached Aquinnah cliffs. The contrast of clay colors, and ancient green sands geology, never ceases to amaze me. The only people I saw along this stretch were a couple visiting from India. The man stopped me and asked if I was Mike? he must've read the article Big Brothers Big Sisters put together about the run in the MV Times. It was cool to encounter supporters that I didn't know. Along this stretch, I thought of the Wampanoag tribe and thanked them inside for letting me visit their land on this day.

After I rounded Aquinnah, the rocks began to dissipate - a sight for sore eyes - so I picked up the pace on Lobsterville Beach toward the Menemsha channel. My friend and fellow Big Brother, Jim Fiener, called and said he would be there. I told him I needed water. Derek, his mom Deb, daughter Addie and friends surprised me at Lobsterville Beach with some moral support. As I made it to Menemsha, I was surprised to see Derek and crew again. I'm thankful they were there because my pack was too heavy to carry over my head so Derek got a hold of trash bags for me to wrap it. As I crossed, the harbor master aggressively approached me and blocked me from passing. People on both sides of the channel were yelling at him explaining what I was doing. He eventually gave in and let me pass, but my body was much colder than anticipated as a result of waiting. Without supporters there, I would not have made it accross.

From there, I came to the north shore wilderness. I passed the brickyard, seven gates farm and all the rest. The wind was calm, the rain was drizzling - it was the calm before the storm. I had to stop in the bolder field to listen to the prairie warblers and take in the Elizabeth islands across the sound. This is what got me up in the morning. Complete Zen.

Approximately 12-hours into the run, I made it over halfway to Lamberts Cove beach where I met Dane who had just driven from the ferry. I left my car stashed with clothes, spare shoes, supplies, fuel and hydration. I was excited to eat those homemade burritos and turkey stroganoff I had made the night before. The halfway point is when it started raining and would only increase for the rest of the race. I knew it would only get more difficult from here, but I was prepared for it.

I had developed some serious blisters by this point on both feet, so I put bandages on. I was not expecting this as I hardly get blisters ever. I think it was due to having recently taken two weeks of Doxycycline for Lyme disease which softened my skin. I was already down to only 7 toenails from training this season and now my two big toenails were on their way out. Despite how raw my feet were, my muscles, joints, and spirit were in great shape. After this point, I decided to not pay attention to the pain. I would be finishing no matter what, and that was my mindset. After a hike with Dane to split rock, he turned back and I kept going. We would meet next at Tashmoo where I would swim the channel.

After I crossed Tashmoo, I asked Dan to drive to the other side to pick up my wetsuit and towel. I wouldn't see him until Eastville Beach when it would be dark. I turned on my headlamp, turned up my music, and headed for Vineyard Haven. Derek texted me asking where I was. I gave him an approximate location. About 20-minutes later, he and David popped out of the tree-line with a cooler full of beer. What a moral boost to see them at that stage! And I couldn't pass up the carbs. I hung out for 10-minutes before moving on. I left feeling grateful for knowing these two guys.

From there, I met Dane at Eastville Beach and then continued to State Beach. Even though I had packed a lot of clothes, I had run through most of my shorts, 6-pairs of socks and liners already. So I asked Dane to run home and dry my used socks. I then met him at the bend in the road in Oak Bluffs to change my soaked clothes and refuel. I was feeling very strong at that point despite the conditions. Coincidentally, Derek had been driving that road with David and saw our car - what a coincidence! We hung out for a few minutes before I set off for Chappy. I came upon an oyster catcher nest and heard long-tail ducks in the sound. I took waypoints of every piping plover and oyster catcher I saw along the way, and will share the information with BiodiversityWorks.

I swam the channel to Chappy at around 2am and got to the gut at 3am. If I could cross the dangerous gut, I would be able to make my goal of completing the race in under 24-hours. But it was too dark to see the other side with my headlamp, and the current was ripping. I was upset but didn't panic. Dane was still in Edgartown and would have to wait until 6am to take the Chappy ferry over. It was pouring and my body temperature was getting low, so I found shelter until 6:30am when Dane would arrive. I thawed out in the car for an hour before putting on the wetsuit and swimming the channel. I was dehydrated and loopy by this point, but Dane was really patient and supportive. I was back in business.

When I passed Wasque, Dane had met me from where he parked at the end point (Katama) and ran the rest of the stretch with me. We saw seals and the conditions were great for running. The rain had let up for the first time in 12-hours.

Finally, around 11am, the end was in site. I looked up and saw a small group of people. It was Derek and friends cheering me on! Unbeknownst to me, he had been connecting with Dane to find out where I was. At the end, I was greeted with Derek lighting off big fireworks with a blow torch haha. I'm not one to ever ask for support like that, but I must say, it was a giant boost every time I saw them and others I knew around the bend.

At the start of this dream, I couldn’t have foreseen the outpouring of support I received from start to finish. Thank you to those who gave gear, wetsuits, supplements, fuel, hydration, cheers, laughs, Epsom salt, and fireworks at the end. This island isn’t only second to none in beauty, but also character & community. I also wanted to give a big thank you to my good friend Dane for being my support team. He drove down from NH a day earlier than expected on a workday so I could beat some weather, and was selflessly there for me every step of the way at all hours of the day. I couldn’t have done it with out you.

Lastly, a giant thank you to the 26 compassionate donors who supported this cause - many of whom are reading this post. Y’all are the best! Together, we were able to raise over $6,500 for Big Brothers Big Sisters on Martha's Vineyard - a cause I care deeply about. Thank you!

I’m not one to give advice. But if this experience reinforced anything for me, it is that we are many times more resilient than we think when we have a strong purpose and a careful plan.  #staytrue