Sunday, February 28, 2010

Long Run Revelations, Part II - Want A Fulfilled Life? Embrace Death.

(Photo courtesy of poet Ollie Lind)

Have you ever noticed that half of the stories in endurance magazines sound like Mad Libs for people in recovery? Sometimes I swear they just plug in the facts:
"[Name] got into running after recovering from [near-fatal disease or accident] just [random number] years ago. "I was in bed, feeling sorry for myself, [another random number] pounds overweight, and my [body part] looked like [bad food or construction analogy]. I decided the best way to beat [near-fatal disease or accident] was to celebrate the health I had one day at a time. I trained for months and completed [major race]. I'm not embarrassed about my [body part] since it gives me a chance to educate others about [near-fatal disease or accident]. I've now hooked up with [charity of near-fatal disease or accident] to run more, and hope to inspire others with [near-fatal disease or accident] and be living proof it is possible to overcome."
Unfortunately it's easy to gloss over the message in these formulaic summaries. In truth, there is something very powerful at the heart of these tales. This is Part II of my long run revelations:

"To lead a fulfilled life, embrace death."

I've had the good fortune of losing some friends and family in the last six months. I know that sounds backwards, since the pain and loss that immediately accompanies such devastation is soul-crushing. But by embracing loss and authentically internalizing the myriad of feelings that surround it, life feels more precious. Life IS more precious. If we are living, we are survivors. We should all embrace life as fully as our formulaic heroes.

It's such a shame that most of us can easily avoid our own finality in day-to-day routine, distracting media, and pharmacologically-enhanced lives. Comfort is good, and probably necessary for some level of sanity, but it's important to regularly remind yourself not to take it all for granted. I often feel this is the reason many of us enter endurance events and push our personal limits - we surround ourselves in pain and adventure so thick that we can't escape asking ourselves the very basic questions of what makes us happy, what makes us tick, and what gives life meaning. Through the pain, we grow, and for days afterward, we cherish every breath, every sunset, and every laugh.

At the 2009 Western States, I got so deep it got scary. But the serenity that followed lasted for weeks, even months, and was nothing short of life-changing. If 27+ hours on the trail is all it takes to reach that level of enlightenment and peace, it may very well have been the easiest thing I have ever done.

Embrace your finality. Treasure the moments you have. See life in its fullest hue. It's the best way to honor those who left before you, and makes for MUCH better stories.

- SD

[You can also read Long Run Revelations, Part I - There Is No Such Thing As Work/Life Balance, Only Life Balance]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blogger Tips - Analytics, LinkWithin, Bring On The Pics

I've recently seen a large increase in traffic to this blog from, meaning more and more bloggers are following me. Great to have you! Just in case it's helpful, I thought I would share a few tips picked up from analyzing traffic over the last few months.

We all have different goals for blogging, and it's totally fine if you don't ever analyze your traffic or try to boost your readership. But I will say once you start looking into it, you will be surprised how many people are connecting to your insights. Here a few quick and simple ways to boost your traffic:

1) Use an analytics service. Wonder how I knew about the increase in traffic from My analytics service helped me track it. If you aren't using one, I would suggest you do. Most of these services are free - StatCounter and Google Analytics being two of my favorites - and will start giving you fascinating data immediately after you add a few lines of code to your template or add a widget. Imagine being able to see who sends the most traffic, which search words bring people to your site, and how folks navigate your blog. This week my top referral sites were (Stan Jensen's encyclopedic site on ultrarunning), wikipedia (largely on Dean Karnazes inquiries), and (from a forum conversation that linked to toenail removal), and my top search terms were "caballo blanco", "coconut water", and "cross country championships". It's a fascinating time suck. ;-) Once you get some analytics, a few of these other suggestions will make sense.

2) Add the LinkWithin widget. If you look at the bottom of my blog entry, you'll see a thing that suggests other blog posts you might like. That's LinkWithin, and it's a very simple free widget to add. On average, it has increased my traffic 18% without having to do a thing. But more importantly, it helps convert a lot of first time visitors into reading 2-3 pages. Odds are a few of them will be more regular readers.

3) Bring on the pics! Behind Google, my #2 contributor of traffic is This is from people looking for pictures of trail running, parks, people, etc., and has continuously been one of the big attractors of new readers to my blog. You can help Google figure out what your pictures are about with some clever image naming, such as "2009_xterra_trail_running_world_championship_hawaii_max_king_winning.jpg". Think about how many image searches might hit that - xterra, max king, hawaii trail running, etc. - especially over time. I've found a direct correlation to the number of pictures in a blog entry, and the number of visitors over time. Basically you can't ever have too many and if you name the images correctly, they will pull readers in for years to come.

On the flip side, I recently tried out "Snapshots", a widget that popped up a pre-link window that did not do much for traffic so I turned it off. I've also added "recent comments" on the right, but haven't seen a noticeable change in traffic. But I find it useful, so I will leave it up a bit longer.

Got a great tip? Let me hear it! It's how we all get better.

Thx, SD

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dathan Ritzenhein, Shalane Flanagan Win USA Cross Country Championships

Olympians and all-around running superstars Dathan Ritzenheim and Shalane Flanagan dominated the USA Cross Country Championships in Spokane, WA, this weekend. This was Dathan's third and Shalane's fourth national cross country title.

 (Dathan Ritzenhein, photo courtesy of

Joining Dathan (34:34 for 12k) on the national team are Minnesotan Patrick Smyth (34:52), Chico, CA's Scott Bauhs (35:01), fellow Eugene, OR runner Ben Bruce (35:16), Admore, PA's Bobby Curtis (35:22), and Gresham, OR's Ryan Vail (35:25).

 (Shalane Flanagan, photo courtesy of

Shalane (25:10 for 8k) led by 51 seconds, with 10k superstar Molly Huddle (26:01), Flagstaff, AZ's Amy Hastings (26:09), Olympian Magdelena Lewy Boulet (26:09), Boulder's Rene Metivier Baillie (26:26), and Mammoth Lake, CA's Sara Hall (26:27) rounding out the team.

RunOhio does an awesome job recapping the races if you would like to read more.

- SD

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

PR at the Kaiser San Francisco Half Marathon

Last Sunday, I joined 10,000 runners for a slice of San Francisco sunshine at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon through Golden Gate Park. This race was the RRCA Western Region Championships, and had a history of bringing runners and walkers alike to enjoy the point-to-point course that included a downhill tour of the Park and an out-and-back section on The Great Highway along the beach. It was a perfect way to get a checkpoint on my speed work and burn some calories before the Super Bowl.

The sunshine was a stark contrast to the cold downpour at the Woodside 50k the previous day, where I volunteered at the first aid station to help out the 650 brave souls making their way through the mud. It sure was fun to see a race from the aid station perspective – you can go through three loaves of bread, two jars each of peanut butter and jelly, and two pounds of M&M’s in less than 30 minutes! Plus I learned how to open Payday bars when your fingers are numb to the bone. Plenty of adventure, and we all had a great time.

The Sunday coastal air in SF was unusually still as I parked my car and took the shuttle to the start. There were lots of eager runners and walkers packed into the bus, and we were all excited for this sunny break in an otherwise rainy month. Kaiser Permanente employees were everywhere in their special colored bibs, meeting and greeting each other at every turn. I loved seeing so many new faces ready to get some exercise, and was a bit surprised to not see some of the usual Bay Area trail runners lurking around.

(At the start, photo courtesy of Anthony Goto)

That ended quickly when I jumped into the front pack a few minutes before the start, and brushed up against Caitlin Smith. She was testing out her road legs, setting her eyes on qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials after concluding an amazing 2009 season on the trails. I let her know I was shooting for a 1:16:30 today – a 2-minute PR, but the training says I should be ready for it. I would even be running without a camera – this is serious! She gave me that look of “that’s fast!”, but I had a feeling she would be running 1:16’s by summer. Today, she would be happy with 1:20.

The gun went off, and the 5k and Half Marathon runners filled the streets. In what I thought was a sea of strangers along Fell St, I was surprised to be surrounded by trail runners! Chikara Omine was back from his semi-injured (but successful) run at the Bandera 100k, Gary Gellin was getting fast for the Way Too Cool 50k, and even my training twin Jon Kroll joined me for a mile. We hit the two mile mark in 11:10, much in thanks to the downhill grade, and charged back up the hill back to the Park.

(Everyone is going fast! Photo courtesy of Anthony Goto)

All of my internal alarms were screaming MAYDAY! from the wicked speed, but I’ve learned to ignore these ultramarathon-tempered signals that have become reflex from years of distance running. The mantra for today is burn, baby, burn. If your legs aren’t on fire, then kick harder. I hit mile 5 in 28:10, right on track.
The downhill through Golden Gate Park was glorious, and we soon connected back with the 5k runners and walkers who were pulling into their finish. Thousands of cheering runners were more than enough to push us through to the Great Highway (mile 8, 46 minutes), and a pleasant tail wind guided us down towards the San Francisco Zoo. A woman and her two running pals went by me like I was standing still, but my shame was short-lived when I saw the Olympic rings on her shirt (Magdalena Lewy Boulet, member of the 2008 Olympic Marathon team). Wow! Now that’s fast!

As the runners hit the turnaround and returned, I could tell I was a good two miles behind Crosby Freeman (defending champion) and it looked like the front four runners were on a sub-1:10 pace. I couldn’t figure out why they were all grimacing until I hit the turn around and caught the headwind like a left hook. The tailwinds and downhill were so nice, I had forgotten we had to come back! I hit mile 10 in 57:35, and desperately looked for someone to draft off of to no avail. Best to just tuck in and try and catch the guy in front of me.

(Lego Man was awesome, photo courtesy of Anthony Goto)

I could make out a tall runner about 200 yards ahead, but like a runners mirage, he always seemed just out of reach. I hit mile 11 in 1:04:24, realizing I had slipped to a 6:10 minute/mile in the headwind. I HAD to catch this guy! I leaned forward, swinging my arms, and missile locked my target. I caught him at mile 12 (1:11:10), but he was slowing too much for me to draft off of him, so I swung around and kept pushing into the wind. We soon traded the wind for a slight uphill to the finish. Before long we had the finish in sight, and I kicked past one more guy to finish in 1:16:40.

Wow. Did that just happen? I sure felt good, considering how hard I went in the last few miles. I guess that’s how PR's are supposed to work. You train smart, you race hard, and be open to the possibility that it will all come together. Past the finishers chute, I caught up with Chikara (1:16:10), Gary Gellin (smokin’ 1:14:50 for a M40-44 age group win), Kevin McGinnis (1:14:29, first Master), Jon Kroll (1:19:02), Caitlin Smith (1:19:30), and Will Gotthardt who correctly exclaimed that the ultra runners had a great showing today. Five of us under 1:20!

(Golden Gate Park is gorgeous)

My time was good enough for 3rd in the 40-44 age group, so I had some hardware to bring back to Sophie (she LOVES the medals). Crosby Freeman (1:06:08) had successfully defended his title, and Magdalena Lewy Boulet (1:15:08) won the Women’s division, and the RRCA handed out some nice trophies, plaques, and goodies to the overall, masters, and grand masters winners.

My thanks to Pamakids and all the great volunteers for putting on a flawless race. Especially for ordering the great weather! It was a great day, and I’m feeling stoked that the training is producing some undisputable results. Sometimes it’s fun to just go fast!

- SD

Saturday, February 06, 2010

DVD Review - Bicycle Dreams

You know a DVD is good when you immediately hit "play" as soon as the end credits are rolling. That's exactly what I did with Bicycle Dreams, a new documentary film by Stephen Auerbach that chronicles the 2008 Race Across America (RAAM). The footage and editing are brilliant, providing a unique view into the minds and souls of those crazy enough to try and ride 3,000 miles across the US in 12 days. I think it's interesting to any athlete, but for endurance athletes this movie is a "must see".

What drives a person to want to sleep one hour every 2-3 days and ride straight through from San Diego to Atlantic City? To push themselves so hard that they can't envision the faces of their wife and kid just one car back? And what happens when tragedy strikes half way through the race and forces crew and riders alike to question the very core of why they engage in such risk? This has it all, with plenty of quotables that you can take with you. Just check out the trailer and see for yourself.

I've watched it three times now, and it just keeps getting better. You can pick up a copy of one from their Web site,