Friday, October 12, 2012

Reflecting On Two Seasons Of Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp

Things came at me so quickly in August and September this year: the combination of moving from Juneau back to Boulder for the school year and coming down with health problems at this same time didn't allow me the time to reflect on the second season of Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp. With my life slowly seeming to come back to "normal" I finally feel like I have the space to recap what was another incredible summer of camps.

When I came up with the idea for these camps I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know if this would be something that people would want to do, and if they did choose to do it I had no idea if/what they would get out of the experience. I still feel like there are some things about camp that fall into the "unknown" category, but after having now completed 6 sessions I have been amazed at how satisfying, worthwhile, and valuable these camps have been - both to me and seemingly to everyone who has come to take part.

It's actually hard for me to find the words to describe what the experience of these camps has been. Each camp has been very different from the others, but the one common theme of all the sessions has been that there have always been so many great people with very open minds. Running in Juneau is very different than running almost anywhere else in the world. For virtually every participant the unique aspects about running in Juneau have been challenging. I don't think there has been a participant yet who has ever run somewhere quite like the running we do during camp. This could of course go really badly. People tend to like things that they understand. However though, people tend to learn the most when they step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves. To some degree I think this kind of growth has occurred in everyone who has come to camp. Seeing the smiles on people's faces when they complete a run that they never thought they could do has been one of my favorite things about these camps.

Another thing that has been more enjoyable then I ever expected about these camps has been all of the non-running moments. Getting to know so many new people and spending time at the cabin sharing stories, recounting the days run, playing games, eating and drinking. In short, just getting to know so many unique people has been such a pleasant "side effect" of these camps. I've always been a firm believer that people are inherently interesting, intelligent, and fun to be around - and that when they don't come across in this way it's usually a result of the specific circumstance under which we're interacting. I feel like these camps have done so much to solidify this notion as every person who has been at camp has been interesting, intelligent, and fun to be around.

There are of course aspects of these camps which feel a little bit like work, but for the most part doing these camps feels like being on vacation. It's basically the greatest job in the world and I can't wait to do it again 3 more times in 2013. Check out the camp website if you're interested in joining the fun.

Also, if you are interested in coming to camp in 2013, but are hesitant to sign up now because of the health issues that I've been dealing with, I recommend signing up now to guarantee yourself a spot. I am feeling better and better each day, and am more confident than ever that I will be back and running strong well before next summer. However, should my health necessitate the cancellation of any camps you would receive a 100% refund of all fees paid, including the deposit. In other words, if you want a spot for next summer I suggest signing up soon, as nearly one third of the spaces are already filled up for next summer.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Looking For A New Pack?

If you've read my blog for awhile you're probably already aware that I'm not much of a gear junkie. Certainly I talk about gear on here a few times a year, but for the most part I don't get to know the technical aspects of any gear enough to really say all that much about it. I like things that work, but I don't really care why they work, I just want them to do what they are intended to do, and I want them to do it well. When I find a piece of gear that does this I stick with it. It's really that simple for me. More than three years ago I found a pair of shoes that works really well for me and I've worn them on almost every run I've been on since then: Montrail Mountain Masochist. I don't really even know (or care about) all the technical aspects of these shoes, I just know that they perform really well.

On the flip side to this, if I don't like a piece of gear I keep trying something new until I find the piece that I like. An example of this for me would be running packs. In the past 5 years I have probably used a couple dozen different running packs. There are some that I liked a lot more than others, but never one that I felt like I wanted to use on every run. Not until this year anyway. Mountain Hardwear has made huge strides in their running specific clothing and gear in the past two years, and I think their biggest contribution to this point has been their new running packs. The Fluid 6 is a pretty awesome pack if you're looking for something with a high carrying volume for overnight runs or extremely poor weather runs when you need lots of extra gear. However, for those day in and day out 1-8 hour runs, the Fluid Race Vest is the best pack I have ever used! Again, I'm not enough of a gear junkie to go into many of the technical aspects, except that this pack is a close to perfect as anything I've ever used. There are a few very minor things that could use a little tweaking, but the good thing is that the great folks at Mountain Hardwear have already made most of these adjustments and you will see these changes coming to market very soon, if not already. I literally ran a few hundred hours in this vest this summer and can't see myself running in an other pack for a long time (except on runs when I need larger volume). It really is WAY BETTER than anything else I've used.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Lovely Walk

As the weather turns over to autumn here in Colorado, I've been stuck in pretty much the same holding pattern with my health. The good news is that I'm feeling gradually better and better, but I still have had no luck in pinning down any kind of definitive answer as to what has been ailing me. It has now been almost 3 months since the first symptoms began to appear and in that time I have had more odd sensations, pains, and fears than the rest of my life combined. The past 6 weeks has pretty much felt like a never ending bad dream.  The reality though is that it hasn't really been that bad, and as I've begun to feel a little better, I've been able to start living a somewhat normal life again. I even have some good days now in which I feel almost completely healthy. The problem is that after one or two of these days I seem to almost always relapse back into a bad patch. This past weekend was without question the most I've done active since early August. I even went for a 15 minute run on Friday! First run in nearly 6 weeks. We then had a birthday party for the little one on Saturday and went camping Saturday night and Sunday night. I would've been excited about having the energy to do this much under any circumstance as of late, but considering that I also had a Lumbar Puncture on Friday afternoon I was pretty stoked to be able to do much of anything at all. This coming weekend I'm hoping to take a trip out to Utah if I'm feeling up to it.

I've noticed in the past week or two that my mindset has shifted in all of this. For awhile I was more scared than anything. So much so that I was probably being too patient with seeking advice, care, and testing. Now though I have moved much more to a place of just wanting to heal in all ways possible. I don't feel scared anymore of what I might find out, or that I might not ever find anything out. I've also been fortunate enough to be accepted into a financial assistance program through the local hospital so I can afford to be much more aggressive in terms of testing and/or procedures. I've already had an MRI, the lumbar puncture, and a few thousand dollars worth of blood work (all out of pocket), but at least going forward I know that if I have any more major expenses I won't be footing 100% of the bill. This combined with having a few really good doctors trying their best to help me figure this out, has me now not feeling so helpless, the way that I did 6 weeks ago. I've also come to a better understanding of how important it is to integrate numerous approaches to medicine/healing when dealing with something like this. I truly believe 100% that I have some kind of specific biological condition which is causing my health to be compromised, but it's been cool to realize that western medicine might not be the only way to approach this kind of situation.

At any rate, this is a running blog. Where am I at in terms of my running? Well, of course, I want to run. I miss it dearly at this point, but just being able to get outside quite a bit in the past few weeks has been so helpful in all of this. I've been going out fishing a little bit lately, something I haven't done in a few years, but which has been a large part of my life in the past. I've also been really enjoying the simple act of riding my bike a few blocks to the market or to school to pick up/drop off the little one. One thing I do dearly miss here in Boulder (as compared to being in Juneau), is being always positioned right up against nature. On some of my bad days I hardly have enough energy to go out for a 10 minute walk. If I do that here I am only walking through the city. In Juneau, no matter where one lives you can go out for a 10 minute walk and 8 or 9 of those 10 minutes can be in the natural world. In this sense I have been cherishing our weekend trips to the mountains. I've always loved the feeling of waking up in a tent out in the natural world, but never has this had as much of an impact on my life as it has in the past two months. This past Sunday I spent the entire day outside in nature, and it was without question the best day I've had in several weeks.

It's been fun to observe things going on in the "running world": Run Rabbit Run, Wasatch, UROC, Cavalls, Bear, etc. It seems like there's been so much going on. I've been content to keep most of my focus in my little world here at home and trying to keep moving forward toward better health, but I'd by lying if I said it wasn't really hard to not even be able to do something as simple as go out for a short run. I miss the racing, and the culture of the races for sure. Each time I follow one of these races online I find myself imagining what it might be like to be there. Who I might have the opportunity to meet, and what landscapes I might have the opportunity to run through. Much more often than this though, I find myself missing the remote landscapes that I haven't been able to take myself out to on a daily basis at home. There are dozens of places in Juneau, and a few here in Colorado, that I can't even think about without crying. There are a lot of things that I value very highly in this world, but somewhere right near the very top of that list are all the amazing places I've traveled over the years under my own power. Whether it's been on bike, canoe, raft, or foot I can't possible find the words to describe how lucky I feel to have passed through all the places that I have. The views and the splendor in these places has been beyond anything imaginable, but even much larger has been the impact that these experiences have had internally. The list of ways in which I am in part defined by these experiences could fill numerous pages on this blog. Through some of the most difficult times in the past several weeks, I have felt like my strength has been lower than ever in my life, but never once have I not felt an intense desire to endure, to heal, and to get back into my strength. Without question this optimism and forward thinking has been hugely fueled by my running- past; present; and future, and by my vast experiences in nature over the years.

Today is a near perfect autumn day here in Boulder. I'm not feeling very good today, but I have the energy and the excitement to walk to Elle's school to pick her up from school. Never would I have imagined that I could experience so much and look so forward to walking 4 blocks, but right now I'm really excited for this walk. It's not quite the same thing as running for several hours in the mountains, but when your perspective shifts the way that mine has right now, it's not actually that much different. And I need to find the magic and value in these short walks before I can even begin to imagine running for several hours in the mountains again, something which I have every intention of doing thousands of times again in my life.