Mud Month Has Arrived

Wow, it has been a while. The last time I posted a trail running related post was more than a year ago. Yeah, sure, there have been a number about running in general, but nothing about me actually running.

Bummer I know, but hey, there is good news. I’m back out on the trail again. Late at the end of 2013 two friends I ran with last back in 2009 compelled me (by the power of the Sun Sword) to get my ticket for the Canyon de Chelly Ultra. This has been one of a couple I’ve really wanted to run for a long time now, so it’s little wonder that I nabbed my place in the starting pack.

With all the moving and travel lately I’ve been hard pressed to get back into training mode. Everything has become measurably harder since about the middle of January. Worse it has been wearing me down from time to time too, but on Wednesday Aral and I packed the last of our stuff up in Ootek and left Boulder. We spent Thursday unpacking and organizing and then by Friday I was able to leverage enough time to take my first training run in a long, long while.

Aral still rides along in the Chariot like a champ, which makes any of this possible.

Right now we’re up on Glade Park house sitting for my parents. Yesterday I loaded us up at about nap time and hit the road intending a longer run along pavers and jeep roads on the Park. It was windy and chilly, but the sun was out and had warmed the snow cover that remains up top.

Click for detailed rundown on Strava

I wasn’t really thinking ahead like I should have been when I turned off on Holloway Lane pushing the buggy along at a reasonable clip into a head wind. The Lane was pretty squishy despite county maintenance and yet I trotted along to Black Mesa like a complete boob intending to traverse the lower road and then follow it down to the McInnis Canyon parking lot.

Not much past the second switchback I realized two things. First, I was already too far down Black Ridge Road to turn around. And second, mud month has begun here in ernest.

My new Brooks TrueGrit 2 trail shoes got tested in a profound and meaningful way. And at times, the build up of bentonite clay clinging to the buggy wheels weighed more than my child and gear stowed inside. I really had to huff it hardcore to clear this short-ish stretch of “road”.

And when I got back to 161/2 Rd I was beat. The next two miles I could only manage a jog at best and my pace suffered.

Incidentally, mud makes an excellent training tool. You’ve got to be very careful of your foot placement and drive your legs much harder than you would have to even in a pool. The resistance is amazing and the instability in the surface demands mindfulness.

Everything is cleaned and drying today. I’m really hoping to get out for a shorter run this afternoon (I will accidentally-maliciously schedule during nap time), but I’m going to stick to pavers for a while.

And Glane and Josh, if you read this be afraid for I have the power of bentonite getting me ready for CdCU.

Of Beards and Doping

Sometimes I take the long way around. So bear with me on this one because, I promise, if you have any interest in any of the following topics you will ultimately be entertained. At least a little. But, you should know, this trail is a long one, with steep climbs and slippery descents. So, make sure you have plenty of calories in your ruck, double check that you remembered your blister kit, and let us begin.


This afternoon, after successfully getting my little one to take a much needed nap, I started looking for something to write. I’m feeling a little stuck on the couple of projects I have open at the moment and frankly I did not want anything challenging. So, I headed over to Trail Runner magazine ostensibly to see what the January symposium topic might be and to find out that my December contribution actually got mentioned (which is pretty darn cool).

“Meh,” I said when I realized the topic. But then an audible “Oh,” issued from my lips when I noticed the add in the right hand side bar. “Dude has an impressive beard.” Funnily enough both beards and drugs have been on my mind alternatively all day long.

Perhaps, in the interest of full disclosure, now would be an excellent time to divulge one of the many bones in my closet. I say this standing before you as a proud, competent, and comparably masculine person of penis. I have always wanted to grow a big, thick, lustrous beard. But all attempts at achieving such facial follicle fulfillment have been thwarted by a genetic heritage which leaves my face little more than scruffy and pokey. I can grow facial hair, even a fair approximation of a meaningful mustache (the “State trooper” is a favorite), but a big bushy beard? Not a capacity I possess. Each and every time I have tried the result has been that I look positively deranged, about twenty years older, and often end up sleeping alone.

My beard fascination has been getting front burner treatment lately because of all the attention that the young hipster set has been receiving the result of their enviable male facial growth patterns and preening habits. Start with this article by Nicki Daniels. Arguably I am in possession of many of the attributes she associates with bearded men, but I am none of the things she derides. I don’t wear horn rimmed glasses or bow ties and I own and know how to use, and regularly employ two full sets of Allen wrenches. But I fear, she will never find a clean shorn guy, such as I, any sort of “looker.”

Then there was this video, posted by the Pacific Crest Trail Association on Facebook this morning, in which Kolby Kirk takes selfies of his summer traverse of the PCT set to music.

As if completing all 1,700 miles of the trek from Southern California to Canada weren’t enough Kirk rubs my face in his many other accomplishments at about 2:06. Yep “Epic Beard Gained.” And good on ya Condor; I’ll die a little death of envy right now.

Mostly, I have become comfortable with the facts of my situation. Unless braided nose hair, Gandalf styled eyebrows, and the cultivation of unusually long ear hair become the fashion I will be a fashion failure. I have come to accept this fact, I’ve gotten good with it over time. I can appreciate the luscious facial growth of other’s, but I cannot obtain this for myself.

And so, now let’s talk about drugs for a minute. Drugs have been occupying the other front burner of my attention of late. Colorado just made possession and personal use of up to an ounce of pot legal. Washington State is soon to follow suite. John Stewart of Daily Show fame does and admirable job of covering this latest development.

And while I applaud Colorado for following the will of the populous and completing decriminalization I think its important to note that there are a lot of competing interests out there intent on overturning these kinds of progressive social endeavors. If you watch the entirety of the two segment Daily Show piece you’ll see what I mean.

However, the fear mongering and histrionics of Fox News talking heads highlighted by Stewart is merely the frost on the top of the iceberg. There are ill-meaning and malicious efforts by socially corrupt organizations such as the Koch funded Foundation for Government Accountability who are systematically manipulating both the system and you and me in an effort to line the pockets of oligarchs. That’s right, I know, you read that and thought “oh, he’s a conspiracy theorist,” but no, I’m not. There’s nothing hidden or conspiratorial about this situation.

My opinion is that people, you and me, should be free to make up our own minds about how we live our lives. Want to marry your best bud, I believe it is your right to be able to. Like to smoke a bowl after a long day at work? Strike a match and inhale deeply. In my opinion, these are activities that should not be thwarted by policy or law. You may suffer consequences, but you should not be denied equal treatment or access to services under the law. Ever.

An excellent example of what I’m talking about occurred last year when Florida tried to drug test Welfare recipients. Backed by the Foundation for Government Accountability a legislative effort to make social services contingent on testing negative for use of illegal substances was pushed through the state legislature.

Lets ignore the fact that it cost the State of Florida spent an alarming amount of money discovering that their poorest citizens were “clean” and focus for a moment on why this State and others are pursing this policy as a means for denying social services. These sorts of policies, while lauded as a means to achieve government efficiencies, are not much more than a means to enforce an economic prejudice. From the “Myth of Welfare and Drug Use“.

“If stopping waste is your goal, then drug screening should be mandatory for anyone receiving cash from the government, which—in one way or another—is most people. But Republicans haven’t proposed testing for church clergy or oil executives. Instead, they’re focused on the vulnerable, with schemes that would embarrass a Bond villain.”

And, at least in the case of Florida, the courts have ruled that everyone, even poor people, have Constitutionally guaranteed rights. From the December 31st ruling from Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando which struck down the law in that state.

“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”

So how does drug testing of welfare recipients tie back in with my beard fixation, sports in general, or trail running in particular? Let us begin with the generalities that lead to this kind of scrutiny. Be they broad testing of the economically disadvantaged or high performing athletes. The assumption, at least in my mind, seems much the same: the poor are tested because of the persistent myth that they are caught in a “hammock of dependency” which often includes heavy and detrimental use of narcotics and other controlled substances. The implication is that these people are poor because of their use of drugs.

The implication that performant athletes must necessarily be using performance enhancing drugs is similarly applied in all sorts of sports. If baseball players and pro cyclists get their chemical pump on than obviously we must assume that anyone who is excelling in other demanding sports must likewise inject to win, dope to climb, and will likely be hiding some secret leverage that gives them the win each and every time.

But in both assumptions the idea that there are economic barriers preventing access to these substances/procedures or their use never seems to play into the belief. The material fact of most poor people’s lives prevents them from ever obtaining narcotics. They’re trying to meet much more basic needs, and that is why the discovery rate for illegal substance abuse is always lower than the norm within this population.

The economics of trail racing are not conducive to performance enhancing drugs either. If race sponsors offer anything more than a certificate, belt buckle or bottle opener medallion, most trail races have very small cash purses for winners. You can get legal blood doping, or Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy used to help an athlete repair damaged tissue, for around $2000 a treatment. At three to six treatments before you can expect to see any sort of improvement at the site of an injury you’re going to spend $6k to $10k on something your insurance likely won’t pitch in for. So if you’re hoping to recoup costs by winning your next trail race you’re going to be sad holding that $250 check, a box of energy drink in a flavor that no one likes, and a six pack of beer from the local brewery when you’re standing on the winner’s podium.

Illegal blood doping? Oh man, you’d better be independently wealthy and have a serious running fettish because your shoe sponsor and that ultra successful vegan diet book aren’t going to cover it. From David Walsh’s book, “From Lance to Landis“.

“Though no one disputed the performance-enhancing effects of transfusing blood, it wasn’t as straightforward as injecting r-EPO. Because the process was labour intensive and involved trained medical people in a time-consuming, unethical, and illegitimate practice, it was also far more expensive.

“Over the last five years, doping in cycling has become sophisticated and the preserve of those with the financial wherewithal to spend anything between $60,000 and $100,000 on a season long program. That constitutes the annual salary of a regular equiper and stops him from even considering blood-transfusions. Doping became a rich man’s sport.”

So what about beards? Well currently poor people cannot be tested unless they do something suspicious. They have to “appear” to be using something. Again from the New York Times article cited earlier.

“For example, some states are now screening applicants and require drug tests only of those who appear to be drug users. ‘The decision is not that you can’t drug test applicants,” Mr. Bragdon said. “It’s that you can’t blanket drug test all of them.’”

Well, let us apply a similar “appearance” based litmus test to the field of racers to see who we should be tested.

Trail running, at least in my book, has never been about speed. Let me say that again, trail racing is not a test of speed. Rather, it is a test of discipline and you ability to prioritize your mania above many other things in your life. On any given weekend I can drive over to Green Mountain and I will likely get passed by Tony Krupicka. If you walk through the parking lot you’re likely to see how he sacrifices other things in his life for his passion. His truck, for example, is a hooptie at best. But the dude has both passion and in ample amounts. Amounts I will never posses.

Drug testing at trail races is a sure fire way to do two things. First, much like Florida, trial head drug testing will unnecessarily inconvenience racers while simultaneously failing to find any significant positive test results. What are race officials going to find, a couple of pot heads at the cost of stereotyping in the most insidious of ways? Second, and perhaps more importantly, it will likely push the passion and the beards out of competition. Why would anyone pay for the privilege of competing while enduring such a blatant and unnecessary intrusion?

Yep, this is a Trail Running Blog Symposium post

Trail Aesthetic

What’s the hurry?

I’m going to start this post by affirming how much I enjoy racing. I’ve been competing since middle school, and there has not been a race that, at least in part, I did not enjoy for the simple competitive rush that each one provides. I like going. I like going fast.

But I came to trail running from a different direction. And, as I have gotten older and subsequently slower, the excitement of racing has become such a minor concern compared to that part which I really love. The part that keeps me coming back.

A response to Trail Runner magazine’s December symposium topic: Is too much emphasis being placed on competitive results in the sport?

When I was a kid we ran along dirt tracks and canals in my home town. If my parents took us hiking we were likely to hear the words “Stay where I can see you” as much as anything because my brothers and I were often trotting ahead down the trail.

As a young man I worked as a ranger on the White River National Forest. I showed up for my first summer with a mountaineering ruck that could haul two complete bodies if you stuffed them well. I learned, the hard way, that weight was in and of itself a distraction from the beauty of the trail. And so I began trimming pounds and leaving crap at home. Soon enough, I was trotting across the Flat Tops with little more than repurposed, light-weight backcountry ski pack and a pair of cheap running shoes.

Descending in the early morning, Cascades run

Had I not run through the night under the foot of Triangle mountain pausing to bivouac on a tundra plain, for instance, I would never have awoken to a herd of one-hundred and fifty elk stepping around my camp. A race would have spoiled that moment or simply made it impossible in the first place.

Of those days, the ones I remember most clearly are the ones where I moved across the land “light, easy and smooth.” And I’ve got a long list of memories — running with a pack of coyotes, seeing the sun rise from atop many fourteeners, trotting along under a meteor shower completely feeling my way through twisted roots and random stones, or just that simple, contemplative quiet you can only find somewhere after the wilderness sign — these are way more important to me than a stack of numbers pinned to a peg board on a wall.

Wilderness Boundary

There is a trail aesthetic that you cannot appreciate when you are focused on a finish line or your personal best. I cannot at any rate. These arbitrary, internal goals are also distractions from my mindful trail meditations.

Every time I glance down at my GPS to check my average pace I am also closing down my ability to appreciate my surroundings. When I pay more attention to the footfalls of the guy catching me up, I am also paying less attention to the summer blossoms or fall colors that line both sides of my trail.

Emphasis is an individual thing, a single person can chose to enter a trail race, yet still focus on the trail. That person is not, however, likely to place. In fact, it’s a whole lot more difficult to be surrounded by those distractions, race distractions, and still be able to acknowledge the reasons we come to the backcountry, to lonely places in the wind and rain, to the trail in the first place.

I will not say that “too much emphasis” is placed on the competitive aspects of this sport because ultimately that’s each individual runner’s decision. I’m never going to take home prize money and I would not know what to do with a trophy if I earned one, so those will never be motivating factors for me. But I also know that I’m watching what really matters, what will get me out on the trail, and keep me there.

Ants in Pants

It is a delicate balance that we all maintain, but somewhere between a life of pure adventure and the one with dishes and dirty diapers in it is the path I’m walking. Last weekend, in an attempt more to give Tess some time alone, I took Aral for a run along the front range. He was in the jogger, which he is increasingly ok with, and I ran and pushed him.

At one point, while heading up around Wonderland Lake I noticed a bunch of students making their way up the foothills with wings and harnesses and watched as one after another they brought their wings overhead and stepped out into thin air. I knew they were students because one after another they would hit a house thermal out in front of their launch site and go bumping right over it like it wasn’t even there.

Oh was i jealous. It was a hot, dry day and the potential for overdevelopment in the afternoon was extreme (in fact there were tornado warnings in Boulder county and elsewhere), but I imagined what I might do if I had a wing, reserve and harness of my own. Cloud streets went all the way to Wyoming and I sat there imagining the sunburn I would unavoidably need to deal with because of my epic flight.

Too bad I’m not flying right now, don’t even have a wing. But the fire has was lit again and has been smoldering since. Today some schmuck on FB stoked up the embers with this.

Sierra Safari from C Hilliard on Vimeo.

Now I’ve got a swarm of fire ants in my pants. I’m coo-coo for going and its a wonder I’m able to sit here and mash these thoughts out into coherent sentences. Man do I want to go. But that would require a major departure from this path that’s been working oh so well of late.

So I make deals with myself: stay right here, do the laundry and make sure everyone is happy and well taken care of and maybe in a bit you can head out for an evening of trail running some place new. The bags are packed, my GPS and headlamp are right here on the desk with me. Its just a matter of carving out that reward time.

Its not teaching some bright eyed kid to soar in Africa. It is not even a late afternoon of glassy air on Tiger mountain with a beer waiting as soon as the sun sets. But it is enough, its enough because I know this path is a long one and deviation from it means a whole lot of cross country running and no real guarantee I’ll be able to return.

Ultrarunning and the Trail Running Media

I’m putting together a ruck for a trail run along the Front Range this evening.  In goes a little dried mango.  Two bottles of water: one of which I’ll probably drink, the other is there just in case.  A light sweater.  My phone.  And where are my truck keys?  Check my head lamp, are the batteries good?

Cascades in Smoke

I’m thinking about each of these things as I put them in my bag.  Thinking about them as if I were going to be running up and over a pass or beyond the horizon, even though I know that this is just a recreational run and most likely it wont exceed six or seven miles.  I’ll be in full view of the lights of down-town Denver the whole time.  I’ll probably start counting cars as they make their way along Highway 36.  This run will be about as far apart from an running an ultra as one can get.  But its still going to happen on a trail.

For me, there isn’t a lot that separates a “trail run” from an “ultra”.  Very little other than distance or time, take your pick.  If I had more time, I’d run more distance.  When I read about someone else’s epic journey, in a race or just along some trail the mile markers just serve as a reference points to anchor some segment of the story.

If there are pictures included I’d rather know what I’m looking at than the distance from the trail head or the start.  Is that a view of the mountain pass you’ll be running up today?  Yep, well that’s cool, I want to run it too.

Distance is a function of time regardless of event; if you’re racing an ultra, fast packing a trail, or just going out for a jog a story can happen.  Yes, there are people who can pack more distance in less time than I, and I say good for them.  Speed is important, but never as important as the story.  Distance can happen anywhere, but its not that impressive if its nothing much more than an odometer ticking away miles.  Don’t believe me, then ask yourself where are the epic ultra accounts from Kansas.

That’s why I run.  For the story.  Each footstep forward is another sentence in the story of that run.  Maybe it will never be told, but it unfolds nevertheless, inside my head as I make my way along any trail or path.  And just like any story, if the author places too much emphasis on one element over the others, the story itself will become unbalanced and much less compelling.

Running for a cause, along the PCT for the WTA

Do I think there is too much emphasis being placed on ultrarunning in the trail running media?  I don’t know, does it sell?  If by “ultrarunning” one means racing on trails over long distances from the sole perspective of the sport’s minority elite, well then my answer might be “yes”.  There are a few good story tellers in that bunch, but most of them are just good runners.

Trip reports, race reports, gear reviews from the hopelessly normal, even the perspective of mindful trail walkers — these are things I wouldn’t mind reading.  Share your story, share your joy in running.  You can write about that ultra race you just completed, but if it isn’t a good story than forgive me while if I glance over the first couple of lines and move onto something enjoyable.  Adding the word “ultra” to a piece of writing and expecting it to shine only works for cleaning detergents.

Health Goals

After the Blue’s Clues post I resolved to do my best to go back (to 2009). There are a bunch of changes being made in my life right now. I’ve once again given up animal protein and as I’ve worked it out of my system some components are once again working a little better.

I’ve been digging deeper into both meditation and Buddhist practices. I’m not very good at or knowledgeable of either, but the more I read and learn (even though I still forget plenty) the more I can see how this may help me moderate some of the highs and lows I’ve experienced over the last year or so. Perhaps more importantly, I’m building a part of myself that has largely been neglected for ages.

This resolve also includes some health goals with a physical component, mental strength building exercise, and self-discipline. I’ve decided to start running again, sort of like I did in ’09 but without working toward a milage goal for the WTA. Instead my goal is to be able to run 100 miles again sometime around the middle of the year.

The 100 mile plan

Running, specifically trail running, has been my outlet, my practice, my sanctuary, and my passion for a long time. When I lost the ability to do it in the past it devastated me. So maybe there’s a little of that going on right now. I think it would be good for me to jump up and smack some wilderness signs once again.

What color hats to Saguache’s wear in the wilderness?


Physically, this is great for me too. First, I’ll have a reason for all the weight loss (ha ha). Second, because I’ll start to self regulate for sleep again — no more insomnia and no threat of sleep medication. Finally, because running people live longer and who knows what all the other medications might be doing to me right now.

While its still deep snow and winter conditions I plan on using my XC and AT skis plenty, but that’s just gear that allows you to run on the snow. And as I did in ’09 I’m extending the invitation to anyone who’s interested, come run with me! The weekday outings will probably include Aral, and the weekend long runs I’ll probably be very lonely. My target pace for the next 26 weeks is 10 minute miles on short days to 12 on long, but I’ll happily kick my own ass if you run faster or slow down to accommodate if you’re not up to that range.

And don’t worry, the meds are working. Now that I’ve reduced the wellbutrin to nil my seizure threshold is much higher. I’ve even been given permission to drive again.