Archive for July, 2011

Unfinished Business Finished At The Reggae Marathon

Chris "That Runnin Guy" Morales

That Runnin Guy

For 18 years the ‘small matter’ of having dropped out of my one and only marathon attempt had been nagging at me.  It was my unfinished business and was something I was compelled to rectify in Negril, Jamaica at the Reggae Marathon in December 2009. 

But it was a long and circuitous route to get there. My Father’s death in 2009 gave me the inspiration and motivation to ‘get it done’.  And I learned a few important things along the way

But first some background.

I was a couch potato as a kid.  Potato chips, salted peanuts and various other salty snacks were, and still are my weakness.  Growing up in Jamaica with a doting Grandmother who always insisted on second helpings was the recipe for uncontrolled weight gain.  I never really thought about it but I have no pictures of me as a kid without a shirt!  And when I look back at pictures of myself as a pre-teen, I can’t believe I was that…FAT!

High School was a nightmare.  Not only because I was new to Canada and desperately trying to fit in but there was mandatory Phys Ed that included weekly mixed swimming classes.  I have no greater horror than walking out of the boys change room to the pool in from of the girls in my class. It is still unbearable to recall those 25 steps.  I was actually a very good swimmer but that short walk from the change room to the pool seemed to take forever. 

At university I successfully emulated binge eating as demonstrated in Animal House by Blotto.  My weight finally topped out at 240 lbs with a size 42” waist.  My after class meal routine was sugar pop and a bag of chips in front of the TV.  I hated cooking and relied on snacks and take out.  When my Mother visited and left her care package I usually devoured the ‘week’s worth of meals’ in a couple of days.  I was a total health disaster.  All the while I observed the health issues that my Dad was dealing with, primarily high blood pressure that played a major part in his decline into diabetes and a multitude of related health issues.

The motivation to change my bad eating habits and start exercising finally came about 5 years after university.  The first shock occurred when I attended the wedding of a friend from university and saw that he had successfully shed over 100 lbs.  He actually weighed less than I did!  The second shock happened shortly after at my annual physical when my doctor asked me if I planned to follow my Dad down the hypertension road.  Those two were enough to start me down the road of running.  I DID NOT want to go down that path of ignorance and medication!

It wasn’t easy.  The years of stop/start, walk/run efforts only paid off when I went shopping for new pants and saw that my waist size had dropped 2”.  “Hmmm…maybe I’ll stick to this jogging thing after all”. What got me hooked on running and has kept me there all these years was my first 10K race

Looking back it was funny but at the time I felt I had gone to hell and back.  At that first 10K race I did everything wrong. I had the wrong running gear:  cotton socks and T-shirt and worn out running shoes.  I hadn’t trained properly and had never completed the full 10 K distance in training.  But worst of all I had the wrong attitude:  I cockily thought I could tough it out.  And tough it out I did.  I finished in 65 minutes of ‘running’.  I would have finished faster if I had walked!

But a funny thing happened when I crossed that finish line:  I liked it!  I liked the crowds cheering me on and I really liked the feeling of accomplishment of completing my first 10 K. 

Over the next few years as work and family grew busier I became an even more avid runner.  I found that running balanced out the stress and pressure of career and family.  Early morning runs were and still are my favourite…no wonder I loved the 5:15 am start of the Reggae Marathon.  Early morning running is my ‘quiet time’ and watching the sun rise is still one of my special treats.  And the health benefits were tangible:  weight down to the 180 range, waist around 34” and no high blood pressure.  Unfortunately I couldn’t convince my Dad to take up walking to help in his increasingly serious battle with his hypertension.

Over the next few years I ran every day and competed in numerous 10 K races and even a few longer distance ones.  I worked up to the ½ Marathon but stayed away from the full Marathon.  That was for serious elite runners…I felt I could never successfully run 26.2 miles. 

The Toronto Marathon that I signed up for was to unfortunately prove that feeling to be correct.  After a good start and comfortable early race pace, I fell apart just short of the ½ way point.  The miserable feeling of being bussed back to the start/finish line with the other non-finishers was seared into my brain.  Hugely disappointed I kept that “Unfinished business” with me until the Reggae Marathon.

Fast forward to 2008.  I turned 50 in February of that year which I found challenging.  But it was only in July when I lost my job at the start of that deep recession that things took a turn for the worst.  A few months later I lost my Dad. 

I’d love to say that what happened next was through great brilliance on my part.  In reality I just stumbled into it and got a lot of support from my family (especially my wife Sally and my kids) and friends. 

I was pissed off with Dad for ignoring his declining health and depending on medicine to ‘fix it’.  Sally challenged me to do something about it.  I blogged about it and that helped.  But the real catharsis happened when I decided to run to raise funds for a charity, the Canadian Diabetes Association (Diabetes brought on by hypertension was a major contributing factor in my Dad’s declining health). Deciding on the Reggae Marathon seemed to fit perfectly given my heritage.  We were off and running (bad pun I know).

I spent 2009 training hard.  I ran with the Wasaga Beach Road Runners running group who provided a ton of support.  In particular Eric who reminded me to ‘have respect for the heat’.  I went running in the noon day heat of the summer wearing fleece tops and got some crazy looks.  I even scared Sally one Sunday morning after a particularly gruelling training run when my muscles went into spasm.

Chris Morales at the Reggae Marathon Finish

That Runnin Guy - Reggae Marathon Finish 2009

But it all paid off in Negril that December.  Unfinished business finished at last.  With tears in my eyes I ran down the finish chute toward Sally who was anxiously waiting for me.  5 hours 26 minutes was my time and I’ll never forget every step of the way.  We raised over $5,000 for the Canadian Diabetes Association and I got to run in Negril, Jamaica.

18 years was a long time to live with the burden of my unfinished business.  And while it took a major life altering experience for me to finish it, I learned some things about life and living: 

  1. You can achieve anything in life with clear goals and objectives
  2. Ask for help and advice
  3. Never, ever give up
  4. Laughing is the key to optimism
  5. Do it now!  Life is NOT a dress rehearsal.
Runnin Guy takes a rest

That Runnin Guy takes a well deserved rest.

Until next time…


[EDITOR’S NOTE:  “That Runnin Guy” is Chris Morales, the official blogger for the Reggae Marathon and author of his own blog on running and life.  If you like what you see here, be sure to check out and follow his That Runnin Guy blog site.

This contribution is another story that fits right in with the ideas behind Running in the Zone and I am thrilled to have Chris provide us with this great contribution.]



Finish Line WS100

Mike Palichuk nears the WS100 Finish


This account is a personal reflection of WS100 competitor, Mike Palichuk.  With his permission it has been cadged almost without alteration from the KINTEC blog site.  What follows is so much in the spirit of what the original Running in the Zone book was about, that it just seems to have to be reproduced here.  Enjoy.]

 Preliminary, important background material.

Information from the Western States Endurance Run website:

The Western States Endurance Run is one of the oldest ultra trail events in the world and certainly one of the most challenging.

The Run is conducted along the Western States Trail starting at Squaw Valley, California, and ending in Auburn, California, a total of 100 miles. The trail ascends from the Squaw Valley floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet), a climb of 2,550 vertical feet in the first 4½ miles. From the pass, following the original trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850’s, runners travel west, climbing another 15,540 feet and descending 22,970 feet before reaching Auburn.

Information from the highly respected and scholarly website  

An altered state of consciousness is a brain state wherein one loses the sense of identity with one’s body or with one’s normal sense perceptions. A person may enter an altered state of consciousness through such things as sensory deprivation or overload, neurochemical imbalance, fever, or trauma. One may also achieve an altered state by chanting, meditating, entering a trance state, or ingesting psychedelic drugs. (Or, in my case…entering to compete in the Western States Endurance Run)

The reflective, or self-conscious, states of consciousness are:

  1. Pragmatic consciousness, the everyday, waking conscious state, characterized by alertness, logic, and rationality, cause-and-effect thinking, goal-directedness. In this level of consciousness, one has the feeling that he or she is in control and has the ability to move at will from perceptual activity to conceptual thinking to idea formation to motor activity.
  2. Lethargic consciousness, characterized by sluggish mental activity that has been induced by fatigue, sleep deprivation, feelings of depression, or certain drugs.
  3. Hyperalert consciousness, brought about by a period of heightened vigilance, such as sentry duty, watching over a sick child, or by certain drugs, such as amphetamines.

Information from my good friend and Western States pacer, Ran, upon hearing at the last minute that his good friend, Gil, would not be able to join us as a crew member at the run:

Mike: It’s you and me baby, and we’ll do just fine!         Ran

And so it began – My quest to complete the challenge of running the 38th edition of the Western States Endurance Run. I really had no idea what to expect from myself as I had never competed in a one hundred mile race before. So I trained, but not much differently than I had in the past. I did not embark upon a crazy mileage counting schedule, although I considered it. I did a little bit of research, but could not find much meaning in the experiences of others simply because they were just that, the experiences of others, not mine. They were very interesting stories and experiences, but they were not mine. So I stopped researching the thoughts of others and instead engaged in more introspective thought. I tried to answer such questions as:

  1. Why do I want to run this race?
  2. What will I accomplish, personally, by completing this challenge?
  3. What will my perception of the challenges set forth by this experience be?
  4. How will I be able to deal with the problem solving tasks this run throws at me?
  5. What will I find out about myself by competing in this race…and will I be able to accept my findings?

As you can see, my reasoning for taking on this challenge is entirely personal. In fact it is selfish and quite irrational in a social sense. I admit that and I am comfortable with that. Some things you need to do for yourself. I think the better you understand yourself the better you will be able to interact with others and, therefore, the better you will be able to help others in your life. Is there anything more important?

Race objective #1: Stay within the realm of pragmatic consciousness for as long as possible.

From the start of the race at Squaw Valley to the Mosquito Ridge Aid Station at mile 31 I believe I was able to do this well. I, like almost all the other runners, powerhiked/ran the section up to Emigrant Pass in relative silence in the cool morning darkness. One of the grandest ultramarathons in the world had begun, it was a beautiful day, and a multitude of personal challenges lay ahead for all of us. What more could we ask for?

The snow and ice that was on the course up until around the Talbot Aid Station provided me with some of the most enjoyable trail running that I have ever done. While the conditions were treacherous in places they offered ample amounts of exhilaration and challenge. Running/bounding/skiing/crawling across this section was simply thrilling.

Looking strong at Duncan Canyon

Looking strong at Duncan Canyon - photo by Glenn Tachiyama

From miles 15 to 31 I was required to settle into a steady running groove that could be deemed neither too quick nor too slow. This was difficult, especially as the field of runners evened out in this section with lots of skilled runners making up time they lost in the snow. It would have been easy to pick up the pace here and burn lots of energy that would be needed later. I don’t believe I did that, I believe I stayed alert, rational and goal-directed. I believe I stayed pragmatically conscious.

Race Objective #2: AVOID lethargic consciousness.

When I look at my split time from Mosquito Ridge to Miller’s Defeat, a distance of 3.4 miles, I see a big fat 52 minutes! I remember disliking this section immensely and now I know why. It seemed to take forever. If I recall correctly it was a gravel roadish out and back section that seemed to be purposeless. Or maybe it just made me feel like I had no purpose. Possibly, I dipped into a state of lethargic consciousness here.

Race Objective #3: Be wary of hyperalert consciousness (even if it sounds like fun).

From Miller’s Defeat at mile 34 to Devil’s Thumb at mile 47.8 I ran predominantly solo with good conviction. The steep descent into Deadwood Canyon was spectacular! I became revitalized here and ventured near hyperalert consciousness as I felt like I could run those downhill switchbacks forever. I ran pretty hard here thinking only of how much fun I was having. On the first or second switchback UP and out of the canyon it occurred to me that I hadn’t stopped for a dousing of water at the bottom. In fact I couldn’t remember if there was a stream or not. And now I was going up. For how long? Looking at my altimeter I remember wishing that I remembered the elevation at Devil’s Thumb. I was not sure how much I had to climb. My hyperalertness instantly disappeared and I found myself powerhiking as best I could. For how long, I really didn’t know.

Upon reaching the Devil’s Thumb (and seeing the devil – really – no hallucinations here) I had returned to a rational state and was looking forward to running steady to meet Ran at Foresthill. It was not far now – a little over fourteen miles. So I did. I ran easily and steadily to El Dorado Creek at mile 52. 9 and then suffered the climb up to Michigan Bluff. This was a tough section. Lethargically tough. It took some slow running into Volcano Canyon before I was able to renew some energy and run to Bath Road and, soon after, Foresthill with an acceptable cadence.

Running from Bath Road to Foresthill I remember thinking “How great is it that there is an aid station 1.4 miles from another aid station? Only at Western States. Woohoo!” At that moment I happened upon the legendary Ferg Hawke who instantly cheered me up with a “Hi Mike, I’m waiting for David, but mind if I run with you a bit?” Are you kidding? You don’t know how great it is to see you Ferg!! Thanks for the little chat. See you in Auburn.

Entering the Foresthill aid station I was really really revitalized. But I was wary too. Really wary. Just before the aid station a guy said to me, “Heaven is just a few hundred metres ahead.” He was trying to be nice and cheer me up, of course but it backfired. I became angry instead, thinking, that’s not effin heaven, there is still thirty-eight miles to go. I’m not stopping here!!!

Race Objective #4 – Run with Ran like I always run with Ran

I have been running with Ran Katzman a lot in the last couple of years. He is a very wise and purposeful runner and I enjoy running with him and chatting with him and not chatting with him and running and maybe stopping for a lake swim mid-run and maybe not and, well, you get the picture. We are very comfortable running trails together. I was extremely happy to see him at Foresthill. It almost felt like home. All I wanted now was simply to run with Ran for the last thirty-eight miles as if it was a typical weekend run.

Returning to a state of pragmatic consciousness, Ran and I ran the sixteen miles to the Rucky Chucky river crossing relatively well. I was able to keep his pace, mostly, and we had some good laughs along the way. Everything was good. Could it stay this good? I hoped so. Three times I jokingly asked the river crew if I could row the boat across. Three times they ignored me. I guess it wasn’t really that funny.

As the ascent to Green Gate at mile 79.8 began I could feel myself altering states again. Oh no! Back to a lethargic feeling and, this time, with a stomach that decided to start doing somersaults. Ugh. We plodded on to Green Gate and then to Auburn Lake Trails and then to Brown’s Bar without any real sense of fun. These were difficult sections that saw my intake of Tums at each aid station increase with the hopes that they would allow my bloated mid-section some relief. No such luck – and I wasn’t interested in talking about it.

Reaching the Highway 49 aid station at mile 93.5 I do not recall much. Reaching the No Hands Bridge aid station at 96.8 miles I do not recall much. Making the ascent to Robie Point I remember Ran saying, “Only one mile left from those lights up there.” And I remember him picking up the pace. Man, he is really a great pacer. As we almost reached the Robie Point aid station I also remember passing a guy and a gal running together. The gal was struggling and the guy was waiting for her. As we passed the guy, he said to us, “Great work. I am very proud of you. Very proud of you.” It was dark and I don’t know who this fellow was, (Ran recently informed me that the gal was Helen Cospolich and the guy was her pacer, Roch Horton), but man I really want to thank him for that. I mean I didn’t even know him and he was saying that he was proud of me while he waited for his gal friend. Western States is the only race where I have ever had a fellow runner say something like that. My guess is that he is a veteran of this race and he knows very well that it is more a personal soul searching expedition than a running race. Those few words hit me hard at mile 98.9. I have to thank him for that. Thank you Mr. Horton.

Race Objective #5 – Finish the race. Just finish the race.

From Robie Point at mile 98.9 to Placer High School at mile 100.2 Ran would not let me walk. I did a little bit, but he wouldn’t let me, but I did, and he wouldn’t let me. It went something like that. Ran really was the greatest friend and pacer at that moment – he wanted to celebrate as much or more than I did and he was going to make sure I was going to run! I wanted to and I did, but I also wanted to finish the run upright. With half a mile left, as he encouraged me to run, I said, “We’ve got a long way to go.” It was dark. I am sure he shook his head at me and wondered what kind of state I was in. At that moment we saw the stadium lights, heard the announcer, and picked up the pace. We were in Western States – the only states that mattered at that point.

Very special thanks to Ran Katzman the most caring, thoughtful, and prepared pacer in the world – a true gentleman in every sense of the word, Kintec, the WSER Board of Directors, the WSER organizers, the race volunteers (wow, you people are good) and all of the tremendous athletes who participated in the Western States Endurance Run this year.

[FINAL EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike clearly wrote this from a very personal challenge perspective and you will notice, did not mention his time or placing as these were not the focus of his participation or achievement.  However, as an outside observer, I think it is OK for me to share with readers that Mike finished with a time of 20:42:12, placing him in the Top 50 OA, and earning him the coveted silver belt buckle which is awarded to all who complete the demanding 100 mile course in less than 24 Hours.  Congratulations Mike, and thank you for a wonderful account of your adventure!]



Reggae MarathonSomething new for Running in the Zone: your intrepid editor has been invited to be a regular guest blogger at the Reggae Marathon web site (Negril, Jamaica).  As of July 5, I am “on the job” with the first introductory post explaining how it will all work.  Basically, it will be a feature known as “Ask Dan”.  That is kind of daunting!  Am I supposed to know everything about running?  Hope not.  I do know a lot of people who know a lot about running, so I guess it will be OK.  It is all explained at the blog site.  However, I would suggest that rather than linking directly to the blog, I’m going to send you to the event site, where you can easily find the blog tab.

I have been looking at the Reggae Marathon for several years.  Negril has a kind of special and historic place in my life.  My practically new wife, Judi, and I visited there just one year after getting married. The day the accompanying

Negril Beach 1969

picture was taken, Judi and I and her friend, Ann (who took the picture) were the ONLY people on that amazing stretch of beach.  I think it may be a little different now.  OK, I’m a little different today, too!  It happens.

For several years now personal aspirations revolving around nailing that ever elusive Boston qualifying time saw me heading down to California for the California International Marathon – which is precisely on the same weekend as the Reggae Marathon!  Now, technically I guess that isn’t really an excuse because the Reggae Marathon is Saturday and CIM is Sunday, so……………………….. Exactly! 

How did I get mixed up with the Reggae Marathon when I come from the frozen north?  OK, I come from Vancouver, which is hardly ever frozen, but on the first weekend of December when average temperatures in Negril range from a low of 23C to a high of 28C, even Vancouver comes close to qualifying as the “frozen north”.  And, from time to time it could be below freezing, even snow some years.  Well, the answer, since my new gig is “Ask Dan” is that I rashly posted the accompanying picture into a comment section on the race web site, with a few words of how it came to be taken and that the date was 1969.  Before I knew it, I was e-mailing with the blog master and he was checking out the Running in the Zone blog, and bingo, he asked me to take a regular (monthly) turn on the Reggae Marathon Blog.

It is a bit lazy to just call it the Reggae Marathon because it is also a Half Marathon and 10K – a virtual running festival in a tropical paradise.   I must warn readers to use the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K web site with caution.  As little as a single visit could cause readers to go directly to the registration page and sign up.  But, how bad would that be?  Jamaica, early December, running, reggae, Red Stripe – yes!