Tolkien and Me


Ron Heerkens Jr. recently interviewed me as part of his Cultural Stew podcast. He has a mini series called "Moments of Influence", in which people talk about how the media have changed us. I chose to talk about JRR Tolkien.

Ron did an excellent job guiding the conversation, editing, maintaining what was said. I still came away wanting to say more. It will not be 100%, it'll not even convey a portion of what I want to. But we try.

Legends of the Fall

When I first read the Ainulindalë, Tolkien presents his creation myth. In it, Eru (God) creates the Valar (gods) and teaches them to sing. At first they sing alone about what they care about, but slowly they learn to sing duets and small groups and

Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

Finally, Eru gathers then and teaches them his Great Song. And they sing together. During this, one of the Valar tries to impose his own visions and there is strife in the music, and Eru changes plans, and more strife, and more changes

And it (Melkor's imposed vision) essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other (Eru's) and woven into its own solemn pattern

He then "Behold your Music!" gives them glimpses of the world that their song patterned. Taught them that many things would emerge that they hadn't planned but were right. But, not everything, and the advent of man and their agency hid more from them. Eru then spoke "Eä! Let these things be", and the world was created.

There was so much more that I just skipped, but I immediately adopted this as my creation myth. Everything in my religious thoughts about this world is tinged by this story. How councils and empathy work. The nature of the Enemy's fall. Agency versus foreknowledge. Being comfortable using the word "myth" for something I believe.

Beren and Lúthien

This is one of the first stories Tolkien told. I just got another volume attempting to make this story coherent. I can't wait to read it. It ties in to the early stories of the Wars of the Jewels. It is reflected through a glass, daily in the story of Aragorn and Arwen. Fundamentally, it is a love story. Tolkien had those names engraved on his tombstone, as here identified with himself and his wife. It is a story of love, pain, loss, joy, change.

As the defining love story of my chosen mythology, it has informed my relationship with Elnora and colors how I view others. I'm still annoyed by the lyric in Frozen about how people don't really change, because Lúthien did, and I am. I recognize the danger of expecting change in your partner, but denying it's possibility... I have much to learn about love and passion and people.

Gandalf and the Eagles

I guess if we were to talk passion, this would be a topic that elicits it. In the books, Gandalf (and Radagast, and Saruman, and two others) are angels that have been sent by the Valar (let's go with gods) to support and succor those that oppose Sauron. In the books, the giant eagles are the spies and messengers of Manwë (the chief god).

The eagles work to counter the mistakes the gods have made, they work to keep the danger presented by the Enemy down to levels that can by overcome by those willing to fight. They're the reason there aren't dragons everywhere. They rescued Beren and Lúthien, and Bilbo and the Dwarves, and Frodo and Sam. But they didn't solve our problems. They didn't just carry the ring to the volcano. The eagles provided salvation after all Frodo et al. could do.

The mission of Gandalf and the other four Istari was to provide support and encouragement and succor to those fighting Sauron. He didn't force the council to fight the Necromancer, he didn't take the ring and destroy it himself, he didn't just shoot firebolts at every obstacle. Saruman tried to take the ring and win the war himself and fell. Radagast found something worthy and cared for it, abandoning his mission.

The eagles and Gandalf teach me about the nature of salvation and power and the limitations of righteous living and agency.


With purposeful capitalization

I've used a bunch of language of christianity in this post because that is my native language. I hope that that does not drive you away from Tolkien. He felt that the way to teach christianity was through example rather than allegory. Love and kindness and care for mankind (hi humanists!) rather than retelling the Christian stories with Lions. He understood that the world was complicated and not subject to trite rote answers. I'm still trying to learn those lessons.

Short Conclusion

There is so much more, and what I've written is inadequate to convey my thoughts. Let's go out and eat or run or picnic or whatever and chat.

Nai tiruvantel ar varyuvantel i Valar tielyanna nu vilya

Ossian Mountain 2017


I'm sitting here the night beforem a bundle of nerves. I only signed up for this race this week. In my inadequate defense, I was riding high on endorphins from last week and the bad advice of good friends. Tomorrow, myself and my 13-yo boy are running up and down a mountain. I haven't climbed nearly enough for this, but I'm an addict, and so I run. I don't know what my boy was thinking when he agreed to go. In a spate of silliness, I went to the gym this morning, and we really beat up the legs, I can feel the tiredness even now, and they're starting to cramp a bit. Great for evidence of muscle usage, not so great for running in the morning. But, tomorrow should still be fun. Fingers crossed.


We're at Swain Resort an hour early. It is cold, and I only packed a water bottle to carry and the clothes I'm wearing. This year long hiatus from races has really destroyed my ability to be prepared at these things. I have a rhythm stuck in my head that I can't get out. It is catchy. I finally figure out what it is, discover WiFi at the lodge, buy and download the music (sorry Ron, I didn't already own that album). People I know start arriving, and so I distract myself by standing around them and listening-to/analyzing their interactions. My kids quickly retreat back into the van and hide, and race time cometh.

The Route

For your following along pleasure, I've included a map/profile of the course. This is linking to the Strava segment and not my run, because technology; so ignore the date.

The first climb

Eventually, we get the usual nonchalant you-can-leave-now, and I'm relieved to be leaving. Almost immediately, my left foot seizes up. I slow down to give it a chance to stretch, and the entire field leaves me. Eldest bounds ahead in the front quarter of the race. I know he can't sustain it, but I have hope that he actually tries his hardest. Heckling from behind me about how slow I'm going, and I respond uncharacteristically by scratching the back of my head with only one finger, and next thing you know, we're into the woods with me in last.

I feel good moving up the hill, but I cannot get that beat out of my head, so I resort to the headphones much sooner than I had any intention. The bass line of Seven Nation Army fills my head, and I cannot just walk up this hill any more. So, I run. Well, Jeff run. It is enough, and I pass someone. No more DFL. The rocks and roots are omni present, but not irksome. If anything, they are a welcome distraction from the climbing. There are moment, where I'm hands on knees and wishing for poles, but the weather and the terrain are a delight. There is a moment that the trails pass near each other, and I stop and grab pictures of a couple of my friends as they run by. My camera can't keep up, and I don't see Eldest, so I abandon the excuse for going slow and try to catch some more people. My glasses fog up, and I take them off and stow them away.

All these trails are yours -- Except the obstacles

All these trails are yours -- Except the obstacles

The only flat part

So, at the top, you finally hit a long flat area. I speed up, but with my glasses off, I struggle to distinguish the flags for the race and the ribbons for next week's race. Over all, I know I could have pushed this bit harder.

Movie Titanic

If you've ever watch a movie or Mythbuster, you'd know that one of the sinking modes of a ship is a slow settling that accelerates until the ship starts disappearing unbelievability fast. Well, that describes my impression of the descent. This first one is vaugely downhill that becomes less and less vaguely and after a bit, you're muscles start pointing out you've been going down for a while, and isn't there a bottom soon? This was a lot of fun. I feel it today around the stabilization muscles in the knees and hips, but man this was great.

The second climb

Eldest proving what a boss he can be

Eldest proving what a boss he can be

Me, wobbling up yet another hill

Me, wobbling up yet another hill

Elnora meets me on the bottom and asks how I'm doing. I reply with a vague answer, 'cause I don't want to do a body check right now and dislike what I find. I see people ahead of me on the hill, and I was to catch them. The start of this is straight up a grass hill, and I almost fail my morale check. But, once into the woods again, I'm happy again, and just keep climbing. Up ahead I see a grey shape with long hair on top of a rock. I don't recognize the satuesque figure, so I keep listening to my headphones that have taken me from the White Stripes, to a documentary on the life of Jane Fonda, to a discussion of why so many languages share parental name sounds and pronoun sounds (mama, papa; me, you). I hear my name shouted and take off the 'phones and discover that the figure was Sheila Eagan, who had climbed the hill to spectate and cheer and that I've just missed a five minute conversation with her. Chagrined, I apologize and move on, not learning my lesson. As I leave the woods, she informs me that Eldest is not far ahead of me now, "Why did Mom think that this was a good idea?". I have a new goal. I get lapped. I had so much wanted to not be lapped. I knew that the likelihood was low, as I haven't run/raced/hill climbed in so long, but I had made it so far.

The second descent

Up ahead of me, I spot Eldest. Much closer than I would have guessed, I start pushing just a little bit harder. He suddenly starts running up a hill, and I'm sure he's spotted me. I redouble my efforts. Just about then, I'm startled as Scottie Jacobs dances past me. Stupid headphones. I apologize profusely and take them off. If I had been on any narrower ground, I would have been slowing him down, and I hate being rude. I don't need the headphones. I haven't needed them since the first climb, but I got lazy. I have to chase my boy.

Every once in a while I catch sight of him. He is taking the downhills slowly (I'm a better downhiller anyway). Each downhill I get close, each flat he pulls away. I push harder (risking in my head, injury, as I've really not tried out these muscles in a long time). I finally catch him, with momentum, on the flat, and he glances behind him. Sees me. "Oh crap! Daddy", and lays on the speed I knew he had. We hit the last descent, and I'm moving from fast to bombing, my long legs and shoe confidence gobbling up the distance between us. We pass several people, who look at us in horror. We narrow down to single track, right at the finish line, and he's in front.

I could have had him

I could have had him

We probably terrified her

We probably terrified her

I want to run again.


While I'm sure the race with my boy is part of it, I cannot recall a time that I've transitioned from "wow that's hard" to "I want to do this again" so quickly. Andy puts on a great event (duh), and it is a cry in shame that this thing is not better attended. This being the second time I've fallen in immediate love with a mountain running event, as I type this, I wonder if I have some deep hidden desire to do those more. I may need to find some way to get over my fear of heights so I can do some of the iconic mountain runs.

If you haven't run Ossian Mountain before, go run it next year, you won't regret it.

If you've run Ossian Mountain before, and didn't this year; what's wrong with you?!?


The Lion Ate Me

Great Expectations

Today was the result of a delusional plan back in December. I had a great year planned. Ontario Summit, Many on the Genny, a six hour ROGAINE. Then I would cap it off with my first double. In the morning, I would do my first triathlon in three years and the new MedVed Midsummer Madness in the evening. I was finally recovering from 9 months of Plantar Fasciitis, which really was the continuation of a year and a half of lower leg injuries. I'd start strength training again, work through more miles on the trails, and get back to the life I love. If you scroll down this blog, you'll see my dreams. Today was to serve two purposes, the capstone to a tough year, and a gut check for my bigger goals next year.

Except my life didn't work out that way. The lower leg injuries continued, and I dropped one race after another. While the strength training has gone great (thanks Rossi & 4Performance), and the PT has gone great (thanks Sherry Kessler), I could not shake the pain. So with a week to go, MedVed sent out "Hey you can defer" and "Hey uyo can drop to a relay" emails and my faith (not for the first time) faltered.

I was wrong to doubt, and right to run. At least until the endorphins wear off and I feel what I've done to myself...

We tell the story backwards

There was a great after-party, the food was wonderful (I was a bit of a glutton, though), and the high point of my night was watching my astounding wife sprint to the finish line, with all our trail family cheering for her. A close second was the moments of conversation and laughter I got to share with my trail family tonight. Thank you for the acceptance of us into your ranks and lives.

The last time I ran a triathlon, I had posted to Facebook that I was experiencing the ultimate first world problem. That I was paying someone to let me swim/bike/run a bunch of miles for fun, instead of because a lion was after me; as nature intended. Well, in the end, the lion caught me. I had been planning on dropping partway through the MedVed race for a couple weeks, as it became clear that I wouldn't be healed and wouldn't get my training done. In fact, I had gone so far as to contact the race director and warned him that I would be dropping early. But, early in the second loop, while I was bonking hard, the gentleman in last place passed me. And, try as I might, I never quite caught him. I had run the preview version of the second loop last week, but the sneaky twerps swapped the chirality of the run. But, that skips the delightful first loop, I came in fourth from last after spending some time with the other three and the sweep wandering West Esker, trying to find flags for the course. I had caught them around mile 1.5, after passing the sweep around mile 1. Yes, I passed the sweep. As I was driving down to Mendon Ponds, I looked at the clock and saw that I was going to be eight minutes late for start. Elnora went and talked to the Race Directors and they all decided to let me start late, with verbal directions for the start of the race, in the hopes that I would catch the sweep quickly. Who does that? I made their volunteer's life harder, their life harder, raised the possibility that they would lose a racer, and ruin their evening. I am deeply grateful to the RDs and Volunteers for MedVed's Midsummer Night's Madness for their generosity and for believing in me.

Rochester Sprint Triathlon 2017

You get told that you shouldn't try anything new on a run. That makes lots of sense, but today wasn't about sense. One of the things that I've been doing to try to get healed has been switching up my shoes. This has gone remarkably well, I have some Xero sandals that get me through casual time, some Vibrobarefoot dress shoes that get me through formal time, and my trail shoes have been zero drop. All in all, I'm in so much less pain than I had been previously. I you notice that there is a shoe type missing from the list. I didn't have any road shoes that didn't send my feet into paroxysms of pain. So, off to MedVed, a special order ('cause my feet are boats), and I had some shoes. A couple days before the race. In the end, I didn't get a chance to try them before today. Sure enough, before a tenth of a mile had passed, I was limping, but then I saw Shea Coleman and I faked it. And the feet loosened up and I got shin splints instead. Until this couple, trying to distract themselves from what they were doing were singing a full throated duet of Bohemian Rhapsody. Instrument solos and all. I joined in, and ran to make it last longer, and all of a sudden, I'm in the shade, on more varied terrain, and I'm happy again. I danced and swiveled my hips at the turn around in time to the music, and busted back singing the theme song to "New York, New York" as I crossed the finish line. My jaw didn't work, and I couldn't get food down, and I ran out of water quickly. As previously noted, this burned me later in the day at Mendon Ponds.

Prior to the run is a bike ride. Gary, Danielle, Jaime, HBO were all out there cheering me on, and helping keep me safe. Which at one moment became vital. Half way through the second lap, a police officer, decided to pull out into the (closed) road directly in front of me. It was only the frantic waving and yelling by Jaime and John Strossman that kept me from getting clobbered. The hill up Log Cabin road seemed, insignificant, and if I had had my gears on the current bike in my mental model (don't try new things on race day, folks, you might drop the chain off several times while trying to climb a hill), I could have done better with less energy. There were two disabled athletes on the course this year. I admire the dedication of these parents in participating in such a difficult sport with them. I wish we had something equivalent in trail running.

Prior to the bike ride is a swim. Todd Beverly was in charge of making sure I didn't drown, and he did not fail. I think I swam well. Like, passing people well. It wasn't an amazing swim, but I comported myself well. I continually skewed left during the swim, which was annoying, and you can see in my tracks me noticing and trying to fix.

Prior to the swim is a lot of rules and preparation and waiting around. I hate that part. And yet, this year... Shortly after I started running with #TrailsRoc on Wednesday morning, the Triathlon came around, and at the top of the hill was HBO, cheering at the top of her lungs. It made that part of the course for me. I've been hanging out with the trail running community a lot more since then, and today was. Amazing. I'm pretty sure that 75% of the volunteers were members of the trail running community. People that were helping a sport outside their primary love. People that know me and love me. I walked into the triathlon area uncomfortable and stressed and ill prepared, and was surrounded by friends.


That protective blanket was there the whole day. At the tri, I was never more than five minutes away from a friend cheering for me, by name. Knowing what I've experienced, and was trying to do, and being my help where and when I needed it. This afternoon, I ran in a race that I had no business being allowed to start. I was cheered and paced and congratulated and conversed with by people that knew me, and cared, and shared my love for this crazy hobby, the outdoors that allow it. Mormon scripture (right near some great bits that talking about not running too fast :) ) talks about our relationship with God and says because all that we receive from Him, even if we served him with our whole souls all our days, we would still be unprofitable servants. Today, I saw that demonstrated on a smaller scale by the people that I run with. I've volunteered at most of the races that I've had to drop this year, and tried to help where I could. But, it cannot compare to the magnitude and scope of what I receive in return from all of you. I've been paid back an hundred fold today, and my heart is full of love for all of you and your generosity and kindness and care that you have for both me and my family.

Thank you!


Twisted Branch 2017

In which I don't know how to start this

I've struggled on how to start this report, as my heart is full.
Allow me to presume a bit and tell you how to live. Have multiple social circles.
I've long conceptually understood the dangers of living in a monoculture, but I hadn't fully grasped the joys of the inverse.

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away

So long ago, that the month has been lost to me in the mists of time, MedVed held a Conversation about running trails and ultra distances. It would have had to have been in 2014 some time. Anyway, I only remember two of the panelists (sorry all the other awesome people that spoke): Ron Heerkens and Scott Magee. Ron because, I was ascendant in my running, and his excitement and joy convinced me that I could someday run an ultra myself. Scott's because he laid out for the community a vision of a race that he had fought for years to make happen. The Finger Lakes Trail complex was known to me, almost exclusively by looking at the maps dreaming of hikes. As he described the ineffable beauty of the course he laid out, I could see in my minds eye the topographic contours, the fields, and roads, and trees. I heard the enthusiasm that Scott had for his dream, the anticipation of my newfound friends, we had the weekend free, and I didn't want to miss out.

Now this is camping

My kids were young and so we picked the aid station that allowed onsite camping and had a playground and a pool. We promised to stay until noon, figuring our kids would be done and we could slink off back home.

Up at the crack of dawn, setting things up, and anticipating the arrival of the runners; the trail ahead and behind me were both hypothetical concepts. The runners were recently met, with names already forgotten, only the vague knowledge that they were mine. Those next several hours were transformative. As a family, we finally, served together, with all five pitching in to help the needy as they straggled into our station. Elnora and I learned to lead and guide and diagnose and scold. My children watched and learned and helped and grew.

Last year we rinsed and repeated, confident that we knew what we were doing. And the weather changed the experience completely. We were no longer cranky helpers pushing people out of our station, but rather lady liberty crying

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,"

We watched as our before acquaintances, now friends crashed one by one against their ambitions. All we could do was smile and hug and help.

This year, we rinsed and repeated confident we knew what we doing. And, my family had to be away. Once friends, now boon companions, my trail family, stepped up to help fill the gap and we had a phenomenal year. Several of our volunteers were first time aid-stationers, and by the end could have run the place; so smooth with their help and kindness. I took some time to take pictures, and got to capture smiles and grimaces and power that will stick with me. This family that I've found by opening my social circles to a new group, made all the difference.

Vague Summary

Again, I don't have a narrative for this event. People were faster than I would have deemed possible. Others were crushed by the course, then rose up phoenix-like to support and give and allow others to supersede themselves. I'm inspired by and in love with this community. I have previously said that Twisted Branch is the capstone of our running community. I stand by that assessment. Remote hugs to all of you


For the Strength Of The Hills

I'm sitting here atop the mountain that was at the end of a hike that precipitated my spiritual reawakening, and not coincidentally the precursor to my fitness awakening. I had not been back since, and had no intention of returning ever. The years have twisted and distorted my memories of the trail, but as I got to various points, the old emotions come flooding back. I can recognize now that strong cross winds and exhaustion contributed to the existential dread I felt while climbing this. My friends and a base understanding lifted me up. Today I am sharing the beauty of these hills with my family. Previously, I had wrapped myself in the comforting lie that all was well. Now I know I'm broken, that I know how to get better, and that I am surrounded with help every step of the way. I stand all amazed at the love proffered me by my friends, by my family, and by my Lord. Thank you


Mount Tammany 2017

I woke before my alarm this morning. That was a good thing, because it was set for 1:20 am, and waking my family was not a desirable result. Especially since was about to abandon them for the day.

I wrote before my alarm this morning. That was a minor miracle, as it has been​ a week. Long work hours, and commitments had me putting down three workouts a day plus overtime. By Friday, I was sore everywhere. I've said that before, and I was wrong. Did you know that the muscles that keep your skull upright can get sore? I do now (thanks, Rossi). I suspect that I'll learn all sorts of new muscles to have sore this year.

I woke before my alarm this morning. That was important to me. I despise being late, and in spite of my best intentions, I some times look down on those that are. A fine friend of mine, and mentor in insanity was coming to pick me up; and I didn't wish to disappoint. Ron Heerkens Jr. is the reason I fell into trail running so hard. I was looking for resources on how to do better at the next Spring Classic Duathlon (a defunct duathlon that had you running on grass for half a mile or so) and stumbled across this group of runners called #TrailsRoc, and one of its founding members was Ron. I had known him since 2004ish and I was intrigued. Ron is the reason I started considering trying an ultra, as I listened to him talking about his experiences at a MedVed panel. Ron is the reason that I stumbled into my first 50k, as I went down to Palmer's Pond to crew him and ended up running the whole thing. This morning, Ron was coming again to pick me up so I could help him carry gear around one of the courses that makes up his (to me) iconic race reports.

I woke before my alarm this morning. I was that excited. Before me was a chance to see Mt Tammany. The race itself (of which I'd be a mere spectator) consists of 10 3.5ish mile loops (there's some check-in road run nightmares that turns it into a 40ish mile race). Each loop climbs 1300 feet in a mile of rock, then a quarter mile of flat grapefruit sized sharp rocks and ends in a long washout across golfball sized rocks. The view at the top is stunning, the view at the bottom is gobsmacking. I knew about the elevation change before I went down (that's the famous feature). I was so worried about disappointing. That's a lot of climb and I've not been the most cardio trained guy as of late.

Let's break narrative tradition (and my parallelism) and just say, I shouldn't have worried. We were filming and therefore moving slow. I was fine. I probably had at least one more loop in me, but wasn't displeased to stop at one. That trail is no joke, you need to be confident in your ankles and feet. You know how on runs you can often power through a rolled ankle? I sure wouldn't on this one. But, I digress.

I woke up before my alarm this morning, because the race started at 6, and it is a four hour drive, and we wanted to catch the start. The drive was, uncomfortable, we're both tired, it is raining, fog everywhere. We were saved by mutual? admiration, cool podcasts, and a love of life. We arrived just after we thought the race was supposed to start, and saw the race setting up and a couple of runners milling around. Some quick conversations verified that our timing was off by half an hour, but in return we got to talk to the RD, and Sean Storie (Mike and Mark had taken an early departure option), and watch the land slowly illuminate as the sun rose obscured by thick clouds.

Foothill before Mt Tammany

Not Mt Tammany

Just a quick word about the RD. He appears to be the kind I love. A bit of a goof, dedicated to what he's created, and clearly more in love with the trails and people than himself. The usual ultra few words from the RD, a quiet "you can go", and people started sauntering down the road to the trail head. We grabbed our gear (Ron with a heavy gimbal/camera/phone Rube Goldberg machine, I with a light pack) and prepped for our own climb. I don't know how to compare what we went up. It went up and up, the temperature was perfect, with me in a long sleeve and shorts, quickly shedding the light gloves and cap that the start line had necessitated. We'd strain our ears and eyes and try to capture each runner as the came up the hill. The route was the usual mix of military crests, false summits, and eyes down scrambles that makes trail climbing so interesting (and at times dispiriting, although I was unquenchable). You looked for the next red dot, oggled the terrain that was between you and it, and went. There were 35 foolhardy crazies with bibs, and we saw about half of them on that climb. But, searching always for our friends. Near one of the false summits, we caught Sean, happily chatting and running up the hill (running!). Near the top, we saw Mark also cheerily running (I swear we had had a conversation on Wednesday about how broken his feet were). A bit past the top before you drop back down, we saw Mike with his microspikes about to descend. When you finally get to the top, on the right, you are blessed with a view of the valley below. The river has carved a sheer cliff and all 1300 feet are at your feet. I stayed away and breathed in the delight of being outdoors and in love.

I woke up before my alarm this morning, full of dread, and worry, and some pain. I knew ahead of me was a long descent that manages to twist the ankles of the most goat footed of my friends and causes them all to fall. Being the north side of the mountain, the sun rarely gets much exposure, and the snow cover was complete. The warmth of the day turned it into the ideal for us. It was a soft slush instead of hard ice or gooshy mud. I suspect by time the bibbed crazies were finishing their last laps it actually was a muddy slippery mess. Ron's plan was to find scenic spots, wait for runners, then follow. What followed was the most fun I've had on trails since right beforeI rolled my ankle at a Snow Cheap two years ago and precipiatated my collapse. With speed only mitigated by the fear of falling backward and crushing Ron's camera gear, we ran down that hill, keeping pace with runners, Ron somehow holding up his heavy rig and aiming it at his targets, and not following, me in his wake, blissfully only needing to make sure I fall forward. When you are running downhill over crazy terrain for more than a mile, your mind quickly tires, and your body takes over, and things just work. While I wasn't at the time, as I type this I am reminded of the time I ran down the side of an erupting volcano, hopping from sharp rock to sharp rock, marvelling at my own unexpected dexterity. That back side was my chance to sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world (when I was sure Ron wasn't trying to get audio :) ).

I woke up before my alarm this morning, expecting to be tired, and hurt, and sad by time the loop was through. Coming around a corner at the bottom of the mountain, before you opens up a stream valley with waterfalls, and pools, and bridges, and majestic trees. A place pixies would have put their own little Last Homely House before the humans invaded. The traffic of muggles was up significantly as the day warmed, and there were day packers everywhere. By time we hit the pavement, we had spent so much time dealing with uneven terrain, the asphault felt wrong and we had to regain our urban legs. How the runners do the road section is beyond my understanding. I did suddenly understand how you could haul yourself up that hill again. I silently wanted to. I could feel the little addiction/love levers in my head twist and fall into place. I'll definitely be back. Hopefully to film, definitely with my family, unlikely some day to run. That last is years out, as I have to be strong enough to be within self delusion range. When my powerful friends that do burpees at the top of hills to pass the time while others catch up are defeated by this mountain; you know that this is a tough wonder worthy of respect.

And now, personal pictures (crappy phone pictures, sorry)

Foothill before Mt Tammany

Foothill before Mt Tammany

That's Mt Tammany

Mount Tammany from the Start/Aid/Finish

Goin' Up

Goin' Up

Still Goin' Up

Still Goin' Up

Made it!

Race You to the Top of the Morning

Mark Going Down

Mark Going Down

Pixie in Paradise

Pixie in Paradise

More Bucolic Beauty

More Bucolic Beauty

One last look

One last look

Cast a Shadow 2017

Won't you help me sing, this song of freedom

This race was made possible by first and foremost the best wife on the planet; but also Matt Webster, HBO, Eric Eagan, Ben Murphy, Sherry Kessler, Josh Rossi, Ron Heerkens Jr., Laura Howard, Dan Lopata, Mike Valone, Chris O'Brien, Jason Vidmar, and countless others of this community.

History you can skip

Whew, that is a list. But first, a flashback that none of you care about other than myself. A year ago, running up a hill on compromised legs, I tore my left calf. My darling wife had signed up for Cast a Shadow with Matt Webster, and their third didn't show up. As I stood at the start/finish line crewing them and cheering on people I loved, the desire to run anyway overcame me, and I stepped in as "third" on a two man relay team. I hobbled and limped my way through a solitary lap and gave them time to rest, and set for myself a benchmark.

Those that follow my life more than decency should allow know that I had a pretty big year last year. I knocked out two 50ks and clocked over 1024 miles. Those that follow my life more than propriety should allow know that I did that on top of deteriorating legs and balooning weight. While I exceeded my expectations on distances, my abilities were deteriorating until I had to just give up on running if I wanted to keep being able to walk to the next meeting at work.

Finally, the race

So, PT with Sherry (the best ever), Strength with Rossi (I love/hate you), stupidity encouragement from oh so many, and I'm back to Cast a Shadow as a paid entrant for the first time.

I have an abiding love for Black Creek Park due to #TrailsRoc's Mess the Dress, and a deep respect for the abilities of Goose Adventure Racing to make you feel loved while they push you to push yourself makes Cast a Shadow an amazing party of suffering and laughter.

I toed the line with HBO (thank you so much) and Matt Webster (you're the best) behind me and we began a six hours in the snow.

I should lay out my expectations. After a Chris suggestion, I've been writing them down pre-race. I've not been able to run more than a mile or so since last July, and so I set my sights on stubborn. My hope was to run half of a lap, then fast walk everything until the race end. I had delusions that we might be in an empty category and win despite my slowness, but that was just lusting after an awesome blanket rather than an expectation.

I've been trying to practice stride counting as part of my orienteering skills, and I discovered something important for now. Between stride counting, not tripping, and momentary thoughts on life, the universe, and everything, I didn't have time for thinking about being tired. Before I realized it, I was back at the start to hand off to HBO, and I had run the whole way. New 7 month record.

The loops ticked off quickly. Too quickly, as the runs were hard, and the rests felt short. Everything melded toether. I swear Shea and I chased each other on several laps, I was passed and passed Valone, I saw Olga for thirty seconds she ran by so fast.

Some of my favorite moments were running with Jamie Peca and marvelling at the beauty of the half moon, sitting silently with Dan as I fought self doubt and rose for another lap, laughing and befriending the Ohio team from around Akron, shivering with HBO and Matt as we waited for handoffs. Sean Storie showing up, saying the perfect words, then disappearing back to work.

I was inspired by the strength, self resolve, and power of Jamie Hobbs, Laura Rekkerth, Scott Magee, Michael Valone, and Dan Lopata.

In the end, I was buoyed up by so many people and ran five laps as part of my team's epic efforts. No air quotes. I went further than expected to, and more important to me, I went faster than I expected to. While I surprised myself with resolve a year ago in Almond, I surprised myself with power yesterday.

The future is alive

I have so very much to do before I attempt to conquer several miles along a river often given a female nickname; I have hope. I need to get stronger, but I have plans for that. I need to get lighter, but I have plans for that. I need to get better, but I have community for that. Truly the Trails do Rock.

Fitness and Me

Live Wire

I remember the moment I first sipped from a bottle of Mountain Dew Live Wire. I could feel all the little addiction switches fusing on in my head. It was glorious. Those of you passingly aware of Mormons and me may be surprised to hear that. We don't drink coffee, black/green tea, alcohol, smoke (who drinks smoke?), etc. This particular dietary oddity comes from a chapter of scripture known as "The Word of Wisdom" or Doctrine and Covenants 89. A quick summary is: To protect the weak among you, don't drink wine or alcohol, don't ingest tobacco, don't drink coffee/tea, eat good natural foods in season, don't be a glutton with meat, remember and you will be wise, discover hidden treasures, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.

We get all snooty about how good we are about the first bit (the alcohol/coffee/tobacco) and often forget all the later bits. But I digress.

Bald Mountain Fire Tower

I long lied to myself that I was strong and healthy. It was just hidden beneath a bunch of nature's insulation. I remember climbing a piece of the Finger Lakes trail in Camp Cutler with my scouts and having to stop every couple of steps, and still lying to myself that I was okay.

Then, one Saturday I was hiking with my scouts along ridges to the east of Bald Mountain Fire Tower in the Adirondacks, and I was not in a good place. And so I start having a Tevye conversation with God. Basically, I'm saying "I do all that you tell me to, and yet here I am walking and fainting". And, I do not exaggerate, the words come in to my mind "What about those two liters of Mountain Dew in your truck?"

I gave away the two liters and haven't touched the stuff since. The addiction is not gone, not by a long shot, but I ignore it.

The Lie Continues

A couple of years later, I start training for a Triathlon. The pounds (130) melted off of me, my fitness improved, and I accomplished what for me was the impossible. I ran and was not weary. I discovered wisdom and hidden treasure in this wonderful world of ours.

I didn't think it at the time, but I in some completely wrong sense proved myself right, that I was healthy underneath it all. And so I allowed myself to slip (60). I dropped the good natural foods in season bit, and here I am with two ultra marathons under my belt this year in the worst shape of my fiveish years of trying. Let me put it another way: This year I'll run twice as far as I ran two years ago, and will be in much much worse shape than I was then.

Where do I go from here?

Well, my hope is that I'm learning my lesson. Back to the good foods. Back to strength training. Back to pushing for improvement and discovering my potential rather than my current limits. Honestly track what I eat. I don't truly know how/if it'll happen. I do know I am not alone. Not in faith, not in family, not in friends.

Dreaded Isolation

Standing on the corner, watching all the runners go by

I stopped running back in July after an accumulation of foot/ankle/calf injuries gathered over the last two years finally started interfering with my ability to work and be a father. Prior to that I had things to get done, access to advil, and a willingness to be stupid.

And so a week or so ago, I was standing in Dryer Road Park at the finish line of the best short trail race of the year surrounded by friends and family laughing and smiling and totally alone. I think of Sonia Grondin and her stuggles since Ontario Summit a year and a half ago (so long...), and wonder if she feels the same. I know Eric Eagan does.

A week later, and maybe I'm starting to learn things

A long title describing a long introduction to something I learned last night that you all probably already knew

Several years ago, I was sitting in the Bishop's office (a Mormon bishop is the poor soul that is volunteered to lead a local congregation for a few years), and we were talking about friendship. We had a long earnest conversation about how Mormons were unusual in that we form such strong fast friendships without the usual friend things like bars and alcohol and hours watching football and other hang-out type activities. We both concluded the conversation as befuddled as ever. He is a hospital administrator, I'm a computer nerd guy, we barely even exchange a sentence once a month, but I would drop everything and rush to his help if he asked, and I know he would do the same (and has).

Mike Welden is... not my type. If you wanted to paint a portrait of boring fake 50s white upper middle class cisgendered normalcy, I may not be the first pick, but I wouldn't be out of place. He would. We've exchanged words several times, months apart. Neither of us remember the contents of really any of those conversations, we've been on the same track of dirt several times, and yet he was recently verbally assaulted by an internet troll and I didn't hesitate to break my normal silence to leap to his defense, and I know he would do the same (and has).

I could go on for ever with similar examples of people, but I think that these two are adequate for my point. I don't think friendship is forged by hanging out. I suspect friendship is forged by stepping outside your comfort zone together for a common cause.

And so, standing at a finish line of a race and cheering people, while distracting was simply some hang out time reaffirming that I still can stand the #TrailsRoc board. Yesterday, I spend some time on a roof (I hate hate hate hights) with a friend, and I came away feeling more whole and better about my self and the world.

Summary (finally)

Joseph Smith taught that "a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation". We mormons often see that word sacrifice and think tithing or some other triviality; but my friendship with God started when I was lost in the high Uintahs and we worked together to get me found. My friendship with Elnora strengthens every day as we try and fail and try again to raise three beautiful children. My fast friends in the trail running community came from tripping over roots and hitting heads and rolling ankles and pushing our bodies to their respective extremes. In each of these cases, I and the people I'm with are in the process of stepping outside our comfort zones, sacrificing who we perceive ourselves to be, binding ourselves together by loving ties.

Banned Book Week 2016 Summary


I try to be a religious man. Part of my devotion is "seeking out the best books." During that exploration, I have read several of the holy texts of other religions, and also come across much philosophy of men with scripture mixed in. Through this exploration; I have gained a deeper appreciation for my own faith, and some of my richest spiritual experiences have come from those espousing differing views than mine.

From my point of view, trying to ban a book because it has a character with a different faith tradition than yours weakens you and denies the power of your belief.


I try learn constantly. Part of that learning is figuring how not to be arrogant and recognizing that I don't know everything. Another part of that learning is trying to never rejoice in my ignorance. One example of many in my life follows. In highschool and college, I made fun of those that had chosen the family sciences for their educational career (see arrogance and rejoicing). Years later, as eldest began his own education in preschool; my own ignorance delayed us getting him the help he needed. It took dedicated and wildly intelligent people that had chosen the family sciences for their career to correct the trajectory of my son and teach me how to help him. I am forever indebted to them. Having said all that, I am deeply aware that my privileged position affords me space to learn.

Political swerve for a moment: I'm disturbed that at least since two presidents back, ignorance has been cast as a benefit and knowledge as a detriment. The current president consistently gets "accused" of being "professorial", when I think they mean "aloof". The same dynamics are happening now in the current election. Whether they mean it or not, these complaints carry racist and sexist overtones due to their demographics being traditionally denied access to education.

"A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read." -- Not Mark Twain, maybe a southern librarian in 1910.


Early in high school, I ran into the Icelandic poet/historian/politician Snorri Sturluson. I had already fallen in love with the writings of Tolkien; and in my explorations of his influences, Snorri is the obvious first stop (the dwarf names in the hobbit are lifted straight out of the Poetic Edda. Snorri wrote the Prose Edda, which in text is different, but intent the same.) His story, as I understood it then was that he used his political power and popularity to save the pre-Christian writings and myths from the pyres that are so popular when one culture defeats another. I found a hero.

I clearly remember the moments when I first learned about the burning of Alexandria, the rampages of Bishop Diego de Landa across the Yucatan, British using the Library of Congress to burn down the US Capitol building, the rampages of Comstock across the United States, Nazis across Europe, Pinochet across Chile.

The moment when I turned the corner in Sam Weller's basement in SLC and saw the first edition cover to Farenheight 451 and knew I had to own it. From there I fell in love with Don Quixote and Picasso, but that's another story. Written during McCarthyism, it was an astoundingly brave book for its time, and immensely relevant now.

As I pondered banned book week last night and this morning, I ran into a stupor of thought and so pithy conclusions must wait. Do yourself a favor, go read a new book outside your comfort zone.


I try to be sociable. This isn't something that comes easy to me. Books, for me was a low danger way to find out what other people thought and felt and did. I learned about people wildly different than me, and possible motivations for their actions. I learned about people I could identify with and how they were able to become strong and good people.

I learned about love from Beren and Luthien (luckily, I learned about in-law relations from my father :) ). I learned about human depravity from Dickens and Hardy and Allende and... I learned about compassion from Christ (and found a kindred spirit as he tries to flee to the mountains for solitude).

I had to mature a lot before I was able to put any of the book knowledge to practice (as I'm sure my entire high school co-student contingent can attest, they got the worst of me). But, books got me on the right path, so when I was finally forced to confront humanity on its terms halfway through my LDS Mission in Costa Rica; I was able to land on my feet and begin to become a decent human being.

That isn't to imply that I'm done. Far from it. It was only a month ago that I finally figured out that during small talk situations, when someone asks you a generic question you should answer and ask turn the question about.


I try to be a cockeyed optimist. This actually comes pretty easy to me, but there have been moments where this was in danger.

This is the quick story of how Monty Python and Comic Books (two things often banned) saved my life and made me a better person.

I was introduced to Monty Python at high school as we sat in a back closet that we pretended was a lounge and giggled our way through the Holy Grail while sipping what I hope was just Dr Pepper. Absurdist humor appeals to me (why I love Shakespeare so much), so it was a perfect fit.

A few words about Helaman Delgado. Shortly after my Awakening (something that didn't end up with me walking into the ocean and dying (most annoying book ending ever, Kate Chopin)), I moved to a little town in Costa Rica called "Rio Claro". It is between Golfito and Ciudad Neily. Which won't help any of you find it. Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia, but while I had been in the north Hurricane Cesar (short anecdotes skipped here) came through and destroyed the Pan American Highway. So, I became involved in endless interminable long bus rides between San Jose and Rio Claro.

During those bus rides, I would sit and listen as Delgado regaled me with the music he loved and stories from the comics he had previously read.

Flash forward to me being back home, I was obsessed with the writings of Philip K Dick (source of most of the best science fiction movies of the 80s, 90s, and 00s). Dangerously obsessed. Probably should be visiting a professional levels.

Anyway, in the midst of this I heard that Terry Gilliam was working on making a movie based on "Good Omens". A book cowritten by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. From there, desperate to read more I found "Colour of Magic" and thanks to Delgado, the comic book series "Sandman". Gaiman breathed fresh air into my world, brushed away the cobwebs, and introduced me to so many other wonderful writiers (Gene Wolfe helped me complete the stitching of philosophy, science, and religion into one whole) and musicians (Ani DiFranco helped me stitch the female experience into my world view). Through Gaiman I was better introduced to the humanity and pain of those with differing gender, race, sexuality, and social class.

All this from late night bus conversations about Psylocke and Spawn and Pink Floyd.