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March 31, 2011

Pre-Weekend Ramblings

This probably shouldn’t surprise me, but I have to confess to still being a little bit mentally discombobulated after last weekend’s race. I had originally planned a product review for today, but didn’t set aside quite enough time to roll it out – so that one’s on deck for next Monday. In the meantime, I’m throwing a handful of updates and bullet points up against the wall, in hopes that something will stick for long enough to be of interest to somebody. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.

* The first point is a quickie: if you haven’t done so already, you’ve still got one day left to enter my Rokit Fuel giveaway contest. I’ll announce the winners over the weekend.

* The Charlie Engle media blitz has shifted into high gear this week, with a feature-length article in the May 2011 issue of Trail Runner magazine that will probably stand as the most comprehensive account of Charlie’s background and the convoluted circumstances that led to his recent felony convictions. Regarding the legal issues, the Trail Runner piece echoes that of a recent New York Times article which questions the logic of the government flexing its muscles to put Charlie in jail while simultaneously allowing far more egregious financial criminals to walk away unscathed. I’ve updated my original Monterey Herald post about Charlie to include both of these recent pieces.

I can’t say that I’m ready to completely exonerate Charlie; both of the recent articles relied heavily on information provided by Charlie and his family, and I still suspect there may be some details of the case that prosecutors haven’t shared publicly. It’s hard for me to believe that somebody can be tried and convicted on 12 separate felony counts without at least doing something questionable enough to warrant investigation. But crazier things have happened, I suppose. I will say that the whole affair is one of the most intriguing sagas I’ve heard this year, and the Trail Runner piece should be required reading for anyone who’s even remotely following the case. Unfortunately, it’s not available online, so you’ll have to look for the magazine on newsstands.

* A couple of months ago I plugged Merrell’s barefoot running education page, and applauded it for providing training advice and a guided activity progression for those who were new to minimalist running. In that same piece I mentioned that VIVOBAREFOOT had some basic instruction from famed barefoot coach Lee Saxby – and now that company has completely raised its game to create perhaps the most comprehensive barefoot running guide available online.

From VIVOBAREFOOT e-book

Earlier this week the company released Proprioception: Making Sense Of Barefoot Running, featuring forewords from Christopher McDougall and Daniel Lieberman, along with some cool illustrations that help bring the concepts to life. It’s basically a step-by-step guide to starting barefoot activity, reducing your risk of injury, and improving your awareness of the innate skill of running. Even though I’ve been running barefoot for a couple of years now, there were still plenty of items in the book that I found new or interesting, so it’s definitely not just for newbies. The best part is, it’s absolutely free – so check the link above and download your own copy.

* Finally, there’s this: like many other people, I sometimes get caught up in the goofy little game of typing a single word into Google to see what suggestions populate the drop-down bar. Apparently it’s designed to anticipate your next keystrokes, based on the number of people who have started their own searches with that same word. Or something like that.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is because I typed in the words "running and" the other day, and was a bit perplexed about one of the entries above my own website:

(click to enlarge)

Obviously, the top three make sense as being popular search topics. But … running and howling? I’m totally curious as to what I’m missing there. It kind of sounds like something the paleo workout folks would practice, or maybe something that drunk fraternity guys do en route to crashing a sorority party across campus. Or maybe there’s a running blogger who’s also a werewolf? The mind wonders.

I stopped short of actually continuing my Google search on running and howling, thus restraining myself from exploring that particular cyber road – but if anyone out there has some first-hand experience to tell me what's happening, I’d love to hear it.



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March 29, 2011

Going the Distance: Woodside 50K (and 35K) Race Report

“The arena is empty except for one man,
Still driving and striving as fast as he can -

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
And long ago somebody left with the cup –
But he's driving and striving and hugging the turns,
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns -


He's going the distance ... ”
-Cake, “The Distance” (video after post)


In last year's race calendar post, I made a specific point of saying that I didn’t like doing 50K races. Between financial considerations, family commitments, and the fact that I can typically do 30-mile training runs on my own, I tend to be selective about which races I enter – and when the grand design is to make it through 100 miles this summer, I need to reach beyond my 50K comfort zone at every opportunity possible.

Unfortunately, there aren’t exactly a plethora of 50-mile or 100K races to choose from – even in Northern California – and my favorite of all time, the Diablo 50, disappeared from the race calendar a couple of years ago due to park permit problems. For the few races that remain, the timing doesn’t always work out, which kind of left me scrambling to find an early-season 50-mile tuneup.

This brings us to the Woodside 50K, which was ideally situated on the calendar and was geographically convenient, and which is hosted by Pacific Coast Trail Runs, the best trail race organization in California if not the whole country. The only way it didn’t seem to work out was the distance … until I took a close look at the course map.

In addition to the 50K, there were 35K, 17K, and 10K options to choose from, all of which would be clearly marked on race day. The courses traversed a couple of different parks so there wasn’t excessive repetition of the same trails. And some simple math told me that the 50K plus 35K would equal … well, how about that? A little more than 52 miles, with over 7500’ of climbing.

At that point, the plan was hatched – but just to make sure everything was kosher from the event’s standpoint, I sent race director Sarah Spelt an e-mail asking if she’d have any objection to me running two different courses, and offered to sign away any liability or pay a higher race fee under those circumstances. Not only did she not have a problem with it, but she didn’t charge me anything extra, said I was welcome to help myself to aid station support as long as they were still open, and (along with Woodside's resident trail rat Scott Dunlap) helped me work out the logistics for how to best take advantage of the course support while also having periodic access to my car. And then she told me to have fun.

In a related story, Sarah’s one of the coolest RDs you’ll ever meet. And I was practically getting two races for the price of one. How could I let that kind of opportunity pass me by?

(Incidentally, if you’re interested, here’s my wife’s three-word synopsis of the whole little OCD-fueled scheme I’ve just described: “You’re an idiot.”)

So my intention was to arrive early and run the last 4.5-mile leg of the 35K course, then do the 50K, and then double back through the entire 35K course until I reached my car at the point where I started. Therefore, instead of parking at the start/finish area, my day started here:


The Kings Mountain aid station that runners passed through twice for both the 50K and the 35K. In other words, I’d be there 4 times, which came in handy to stash fluid bottles and energy gels in case I missed the aid station cutoffs the second time around. And by not using the main lot at the start area, I also saved myself five bucks in parking fees. Who’s the idiot now? (Wait … nevermind. Don’t answer that.)

You’ll also notice that it was raining, which would prove to be a theme for the day. Running in the rain isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do, but I can usually work up the courage when there’s no other option - so I only spent a few minutes second-guessing my brilliant plan before heading off into the wet darkness.

Worse than the rain was the muddy trail conditions that resulted from two solid weeks of heavy rainfall throughout Northern California. Back home in Monterey County, multiple roads were closed due to landslides, and rivers were approaching flood stage – but thankfully, the only impact on these Bay Area trails was a healthy dose of mud, as I’ll describe in a minute.


Another complication of the morning rain was an increased degree of difficulty for my photographic exploits. Anytime I wanted to take a picture, here’s what I had to do: take off my waterproof glove, pull my jacket up over my waist pack, unzip a pocket on the pack, take my camera out of the Ziploc baggie keeping it dry, then try to protect the lens from getting rained on before reversing the whole process. And as you can see, it didn’t always work too well. Consequently, most of the course pictures in this report are actually from my second tour of the course, when the rain had thinned to a light drizzle and I wasn’t as concerned about wasting time at the side of the trail.


A little under an hour after leaving my car, I reached the start area of the 50K, and joined the other brave souls reluctantly crouched at the starting line.


Most of the first 10K is spent climbing – a total of about 2000’ – but it’s fairly gradual, either on wide fire roads …


… or pretty single track, until we reached the first aid station (and my parking spot) at King’s Mountain, still under a constant downpour.


Leaving King’s Mountain, the course traverses the Skyline Trail which connects Huddart and Wunderlich Parks. It’s a beautiful stretch of single track, which I tried my best to enjoy when I wasn’t slipping and sliding in the mud.

Speaking of that, here’s a question: How do you prefer your mud?


Do you like it thick, goopy and shoe-sucking? …


Or shallow and slick and slimy? …


Or completely submerged at various unpredictable depths? Whatever your answer, the Woodside course had plenty of varieties to keep you happy. You know how Eskimos have several different words for snow? I’m thinking the native peoples of this area probably had different descriptions of mud, since various types all present slightly different challenges to navigate. Or maybe they were smart enough to just stay home in their caves on rainy days like this.


There was also a fair amount of debris on the trail from high winds that accompanied our recent storms. Fortunately, it wasn’t very windy on race day, so the fallen branches were simply a neat temporary addition to the trail, rather than a threat to our safety from above.


By the time we bottomed out in Wunderlich Park after a roughly 1500’ descent, the rain had slowed to a drizzle, and I was able to take my first real-time photo of the race. I also skipped the Ziploc portion of my camera routine, and just tucked it into my waist pocket and under my jacket. It’s amazing, the small things we celebrate sometimes.


Shortly after making the turn to start the return trip home, there was a period of about 30 seconds when I thought the sun might finally make an appearance for the day. Unfortunately, this was about as close as it ever got. However …


… the rain stopped long enough for me to actually take a timer photo, which I figured I had better do, since I might not get another chance. So there you go.


You know who really deserved a medal? The folks working the aid stations all day long, such as this lonely guy at the Bear Gulch outpost. At least when you’re running, you’re generating some body heat and you’ve got a task to keep you mentally focused; the volunteers are just standing out in the cold and rain for several hours or more, trying to unscrew and refill water bottles with gloves on, and listening to runners ask them why the CLIF Bloks are soggy (Yes, I overheard that). My gratitude to volunteers grows more with every passing race.


I don’t know if it was the strange light of the rain and fog or the result of 2 weeks of nonstop rainfall, but the colors of the trail on the return trip were truly eye-popping.


The deep reds and greens combined with the wonderfully gentle (click to enlarge the above photo to see the long, meandering switchbacks) single track made the return stretch from Bear Gulch to Kings Mountain probably my favorite part of the course …


… only to be topped by the breathtaking single track of Huddart Park a bit later.


By this point, we were less than 5 miles from the 50K finish, and the course sloped almost entirely downhill. I felt good enough to run hard, but I consciously tried to restrain myself a bit, knowing I still had another 18 miles or so to go afterward. Needless to say, it was extremely hard to dial back my effort …


… especially when I got passed by this guy less than one mile from the finish line. Grrr.


I came through the finish area with a time of just over 6 hours; between the muddy conditions and my plan to run extra miles, I wasn’t expecting to go super fast here, but … sheesh. That looks pretty bad for me. Fortunately, it didn’t occur to me until later that my official time will be on Google forever. I think I’m going to tell people I was sick that day.

From past experience, I knew enough to not hang around the finish line too long, so it was probably less than two minutes before I left the shelter and started making the journey back to my car and beyond.


My second trip through Huddart was completely serene; the same trails and streams I had shared with 50 other people at the beginning of the day were now mine alone. The steady rainfall of morning had faded to an intermittent drizzle, and I had nothing else to do but crank out some beautiful bonus miles.


At this point I was basically on my own for nutrition; I knew the Kings Mountain aid station would close at 4PM, but I wasn’t certain if I could cover the 6 uphill miles to get there in enough time. As a backup plan, I started hitting the GU Roctanes pretty hard, which turned out to be a great decision in light of what was coming.


Here’s the main reason I was so bent on doing 50 miles instead of 50K: during these tune-up races for my 100-miler, I think it’s important to struggle for a while. You have to go through stretches where you question what you’re doing, wonder if you have enough strength and willpower to finish the job, and start to suffer some physical pains that you know you have to carry for several more hours.

For whatever reason, 50Ks don’t always give me that feeling – but doing 50 miles or more inflicts those periods of struggle and suffering on me every single time. And that, even more than the physical training, is where I draw the most benefit from these build-up races. I said a while back that I was looking for strength in pain – and this long uphill climb after more than 36 miles was where I first started to find it. All of a sudden, the miles began to get very tough.


One more thing: I enjoy mud as much as the next guy; I like stomping around in it and I don’t mind when my legs and clothes get all dirty after biking or running in it. But there’s mud, and then there’s 40 miles of mud – which is a whole different thing. Beyond a certain point, I just wasn’t feeling the mud love anymore.

(In case you're wondering about the shoes: they're from Soft Star, and they're prototypes. And I think that's all I want to say for now - but there's definitely more to come later.)


Here’s the King’s Mountain aid station at mile 40, and that’s my beige car parked in the background. At this point, the rain had started again, and I was looking at another 12 miles that included the muddiest, sloppiest portions of the course. Or I could have just called it a big mileage day, climbed in my car and gone home. I know I was looking for a mental challenge out here, but at this juncture I came very close to overmatching myself.

The volunteer there helped lift my spirits; his name was Leonard, and he had enough CLIF drink left in the tank to top off my bottles, and even gave me a leftover potato to munch on. We talked for a couple of minutes, and to his credit, he didn’t think the idea of me running extra miles was crazy at all. I briefly thought about asking him to call my wife and tell her so, but he seemed in a hurry to break down the rest of the station and get out of the rain. So he went his way, and I went mine – and the arena was completely empty.


Once I left him, I was facing the out-and-back stretch of the Skyline trail that was roughly 6 miles to the 35K turnaround point at Bear Gulch. The trail was just as beautiful as the first time through …


… but there was also a sort of darkness to the whole area, as the temperature was getting cold again, and the minimal light that had filtered in through the trees at midday was long since swallowed up in the tall canopy.

Perhaps the hardest part of this stretch is that it was a total honor system situation, since I had the trail entirely to myself. I knew that every cold, muddy step I took away from my car was adding another one that I’d have to make on the way back; I knew that my pace was slowing down to the point where I was looking at a few more hours on an increasingly dark early evening; and I knew that if I just turned around early, there was no way anybody would know. The thought of doing precisely that was WAY more tempting than I thought it would be.


That’s the significance of this Bear Gulch photo, where I finally reached the turnaround point.


I’d like to say I caught a second wind over the 6-mile return trip to the car, but those miles weren’t a whole lot faster than the ones that preceded them. I did a lot of walking and wanting the whole thing to just be done with, and trying to remember things what it was like to be warm and have dry feet.


At long last, I returned to the King’s Mountain aid station, which was now simply Kings Mountain Road. I hadn’t noticed it during the final stretch of trail, but somewhere along the way from Bear Gulch to here it had stopped raining – which meant it was picture time again!


This is me trying to put on a happy face after nearly 12 hours of slogging through the mud. Looks can be deceiving, though …


… because this is the first take I attempted, when my leg muscles seized up on me just from taking a couple of backward steps after pressing the timer button. You could say I was a little bit sore.

Fittingly, about 2 minutes after this photo was taken, the skies opened up and it began to rain again. By this point it seemed like an appropriate way to end the whole adventure as it had started, and for the first time all day, I didn’t mind the downpour. I was already in the warmth and comfort of my car, and I had managed to go the distance.


Cake, "The Distance" (click to play):



*See other race reports under tab at top of page.



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March 27, 2011

Rokit Fuel Review and Giveaway

Before I even tried the product, there were a few things I really liked about Rokit Fuel:

1) Their products offer wholesome, portable nutrition options that are intended for post-workout or mid-trail refueling,

2) They were more than willing to provide sample packs as giveaways for my readers (always a plus), and …

3) They have an official blogger/outdoor enthusiast on the payroll, which provides a glimmer of hope for all of us other blogger/outdoor enthusiasts toiling in poverty and/or anonymity.

Truthfully, as far as the review is concerned, only the first point above is immediately pertinent – so before getting to the giveaway, allow me to tell you a bit about the product.

All photos from Rokit Fuel website

Rokit Fuel is the creation of Bernell Taylor, a Utah native and lifelong outdoorsman who began experimenting with different cereal concoctions in his kitchen as a hobby before the demand for his product from friends and relatives prompted him to market his products in larger quantities. He began marketing to like-minded outdoor enthusiasts, putting samples in goodie bags at endurance events such as the St George Marathon, Breckenridge 100 Mountain Bike Race, and the Leadville 100, whose race director Ken Chlouber eventually became a spokesperson.


The appeal of the product is its back-to-basics simplicity. Rokit Fuel is made with all natural products that were the nutritional building blocks of a few generations ago: simple ingredients such as grains, nuts, seeds and fruit, with no additives and minimal processing, in a variety of flavors that appeal to different tastes.

There are two types of products the company offers: a 2.3-oz energy mix that comes in a soft rectangular packet, and 2.7-oz cereal cups with a sealed lid for portability. Each product comes in 4 flavors, and can be mixed with either water, juice, or milk. Complete ingredient lists for each product are available on the company's nutrition page.

I honestly wasn’t terribly impressed by the energy packs – mainly because of their relative user-unfriendliness, and partially due to taste. I found a few problems with using the packs: the tops tear off with kind of a ragged seam, and it’s fairly difficult to actually mix water or milk together inside the packet without some spilling out of the top. I also found it awkward to eat the mix directly from the packet; it’s a much wider opening than an energy gel or other products that you squeeze directly into your mouth. And one of the flavors, spice cookie, I really didn’t like – but that’s probably just a personal preference.

After some trial and error, I found that I like the energy mix much better when I just cut the top with a scissors, pour the contents into a bowl, and mix with some milk instead of water. Of course, that’s much easier to do when you’re at home, so you lose the portability appeal. So I guess I’d recommend that they tinker with this product just a bit.


On the other hand, the cereal cups were pretty tasty, easy to use, and all four flavors taste great – especially the cherry almond, which is my favorite. These aren’t as easily packable as the mix packets, but I got into the habit of stuffing one in my workout bag for whenever I stopped into Starbucks, where all I needed was a plastic spoon and some nonfat milk to have a convenient healthy breakfast. Like the mix packets, all of the cereal cups can be mixed with plain water, but I found that they all tasted much better with milk.

So my experience with Rokit Fuel was something of a split decision: I’d give a definite thumbs up to the cereal cups, but I’m not quite as crazy about the mix packets until they improve the convenience of use. The cereal cups are offered in a 4-cup sampler pack for $12.99, or in single-flavor six-packs for $17.94. Energy mix packs are also sold in sampler packs for $8.99, or single-flavor six-packs for $11.94. All of these are available on the Rokit Fuel product page – but if you’re feeling lucky, you can take a stab at winning some sampler packs for free.

Leave a comment below this post, and I’ll select three winners at random to receive the same Rokit Fuel sampler packs that I tested for this review (well, not the exact same, because those are empty now. You know what I mean.). Check back this weekend to find out if you won, and very big thanks to Rokit Fuel for providing this giveaway.

*Products provided by Rokit Fuel
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.




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March 26, 2011

Random Shots of Beauty

A belated RSOB this weekend, as I had a rather long day today. Part of it was spent here:

The Bear Gulch aid station spot on the Woodside 50K course.

Notice that there's nobody and nothing around. That's significant. As to why ... you'll have to wait to read the race report next week.


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March 24, 2011

Charlie Engle: Running In Place

From a journalistic standpoint, this is one of those situations that got a little bit out of control. What’s worse is that I pretty much knew it would happen, but decided to tiptoe through the minefield anyway.

The story of adventure runner Charlie Engle is well documented across the Internet, but full details of the story may not be entirely known for certain yet. My fellow ultra-blogger Scott Dunlap created a bit of a beehive with this topic a few months ago, so when my writing partner Mike suggested an article about Charlie for the Monterey Herald, I was more than a bit reluctant. Mike happened to be a longtime friend of Charlie, and I was concerned that our retelling of the story would come across as overly compassionate for someone we knew personally.

Our version of Charlie’s story follows below as it appeared in the newspaper – but I’m the first to admit that there’s some discrepancy as to what Charlie is guilty of. For our column, we worded the accusation exactly as federal prosecutors did on the record during Charlie’s trial, but the claim that Charlie financed his movie with money that was fraudulently obtained is quite likely false. The documentary was funded by Matt Damon’s production company, which makes you wonder why Charlie would need another $150,000 or so to add to the project. [UPDATED: See end of column for a New York Times article describing the strange circumstances that led to Charlie's imprisonment.]

It turns out that our concern for being overcompassionate was unfounded; in fact, as soon as the article was published on the Herald website, we received an angry e-mail from Charlie’s father, which he’s given me permission to reprint here below the original article. I also told him that I would direct readers to the upcoming article that he mentions (which Charlie also referred to on Scott’s website in January) that promises to clear up some of the facts. Through his father, I reached out to Charlie for direct comment as well, and I’ll include that in this post if and when I receive it.

As for me, I have very mixed feelings about Charlie’s plight. There’s no question that he’s a remarkable athlete and humanitarian who has done far more good for the world than most of us put together. But I’ve also seen firsthand how endurance or adrenaline junkies can be so focused on their next great adventure that they’re tempted to bend the rules to fuel their passion, sometimes with tragic consequences. (I wrote a somewhat meandering three-part series about this very experience a few years ago if you’re interested.) Whether the money in question went to his movie or not, if Charlie acquired it by breaking the laws that the rest of us abide by, he deserves a sentence that’s appropriate to the crime. But I sincerely hope that’s not the end of his story.

**
Running Life 3/24/11 “Running In Place”

It’s never easy to watch a friend go to prison – but that’s exactly what we experienced last month with a training partner named Charlie Engle, a former Salinas resident who began his running career as a member of the famous Big Sur Marathon “centipede” team in 1991, before becoming one of the most admired and accomplished adventure racers in the world.

Last month, Charlie was sentenced to a 21-month prison term after being found guilty on 12 counts of bank and mail fraud, and possibly using that money to help fund his ambitious adventures. The story of how Charlie went from that first marathon to running in place inside a jail cell is a cautionary tale about how our passions can sometimes overwhelm us.

Charlie always had an intense fire burning inside him; his ongoing struggle was how to channel that fire into something constructive rather than destructive. Although he was seemingly healthy during that Big Sur centipede run, he was battling a 10-year addiction to drugs and alcohol that started when he was only 17. He went “cold turkey” on July 23, 1992 and has been clean ever since – he simply found a more legitimate outlet for his energy and compulsive behavior. He traded in his drug use for excessive adventure running.

He eventually moved to North Carolina and immersed himself in the world of ultrarunning, continually looking for harder and harder challenges. He did the Badwater race, 135 miles from Death Valley to Mount Whitney, where it is common for the soles of your running shoes to melt from the heat. He ran the 130-mile Amazon Jungle Marathon in Brazil, and won the 155-mile Gobi Desert Marathon in 2006. He competed in several Eco-Challenges, involving running, hiking, canoeing, swimming, climbing, and lots of all-around suffering, and became a charismatic star when those events were regularly televised.

Along the way, Charlie also became a very sought-after public speaker, using his life as an example of overcoming challenges and living life to its fullest potential. Anyone who’s heard him will tell you that Charlie lights up a room: he’s charismatic, funny, entertaining, self-deprecating, and above all else, inspiring to listen to.

Charlie’s next ambition was to be the first person to run across the Sahara Desert. He dreamed of the run serving a humanitarian mission to raise awareness and money for the clean water crisis in Africa. Part of his outreach effort was creating a movie called Running The Sahara, which documented the journey of Charlie and two other ultrarunners as they successfully ran for 111 days across 4,300 miles of the African continent in 2007. Although it was an extremely noble accomplishment, this is also where Charlie’s ambition apparently began to get the best of him.

According to federal prosecutors, Charlie partially financed his movie by money obtained from real estate loans and mortgage fraud involving properties in Virginia, as well as exaggerating his income to become eligible for these loans. When the financial downturn hit, no matter how far he ran, Charlie could no longer stay one step ahead of his collectors and prosecutors.

Charlie tells his version of the events and describes his life in prison on his personal website at www.charlieengle.com – a fascinating blog fittingly called “Running in Place.” He views his situation as just another physical and psychological challenge to overcome, and vows to get through it and back to serving the public as he did before. For everyone’s sake, we hope he’s able to succeed.


**

Here’s the e-mail we received from the senior Mr Engle in reply:

I am Charlie's father. I am sure you meant well with your article today, however, you have done a great disservice to Charlie and you have become another journalist goon who simply doesn't fact check. Matt Damon's production company put up $3 Million to make the documentary, Running the Sahara. Charlie did not put up one dollar. In fact, he was paid money by the foundation to make the movie. To imply that Charlie lied to get loans to make the movie is totally false and even the federal prosecutors have retreated from that position. You do an injustice to the Foundation that put up the money for the movie in an effort to raise money for water for Africa. So far, they have raised over $6 million. And you do an injustice to Charlie.

Charlie pled not guilty to the fraud charges and he still maintains his innocence. I will not waste my time with you on that front. You know nothing about it. There will be a major article in a major publication in the next two weeks that actually will report his story in an accurate and fact filled manner. You will see it if you are remotely current. You owe Charlie an apology, or please publish your facts relating to any money he used for the making of the movie. Being spoon fed information from federal prosecutors, wouldn't make you much of a reporter anyway. I am sure you had no contact with them either.


[**UPDATED: Here's the New York Times article that makes a strong case for Charlie's innocence]

[**Also check out the May 2011 issue of Trail Runner magazine for a full-length feature on Charlie, and the strange circumstances of his prosecution. Unfortunately, it's not online, so you have to get it from the newsstand.]



I'll continue to post further updates here, including any word from Charlie, as I receive them.



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March 22, 2011

S.W.A.

Remember back in school, when you used to come back from summer vacation and renew acquaintances with everybody that you hadn’t seen for a few months? And how every now and then, somebody showed up with a different sort of look to them that was more than just getting taller or wearing a new wardrobe; it was more of a sense that they were a slightly different person now – like they’d done something since you last saw them which impacted their attitude or personality in some small way that you couldn’t quite put your finger on yet?

That’s exactly the feeling I got when seeing all my sheep friends again for the first time this spring.


(click to enlarge any of these)

I’ve previously written about how it’s always a pleasant surprise to see the herd of sheep roaming the fields of Fort Ord for grass control, and for the past few weeks, I’ve encountered them in various locations on the open space. Sometimes you see them meandering across a hillside …



… or drifting across a wide valley as you crest the nearby hill. Other times you can hear them (or worse, smell them) before actually seeing them, but that’s neither here nor there. However, during each of my last few encounters there’s been something of a different look to the sheep this year. In particular, I’ve noticed …


… that they’re pretty well spread out all over the place, and they don’t hesitate to station themselves right in the middle of the trail on which you’re approaching. It’s a noticeable contrast from last year, when the herd typically looked like this:


Because they were tightly managed by a group of three sheepdogs on a regular basis. This year, although I’ve seen the sheep several times already, I’ve only seen the sheepdogs once – and that was when they were hanging around in the shade underneath the shepherd’s trailer, very passively observing their charges on a nearby hillside.



Consequently, the sheep are free to spread out wherever the heck they want, and it’s almost like they’ve had a taste of empowerment now. They always give up the trail once I get close enough, but lately they seem to actually consider the possibility of holding their ground. It’s like they've got a slightly different attitude this year - and while they can’t completely overcome their timid nature, they’re clearly a little bit less … sheepish, I guess.



This is the first year I’ve had the distinct sense that as I’m standing there checking the sheep out, they’re equally interested in checking me out as well. And this could just be my paranoia talking … but I get the distinct sense that they’re comparing notes with each other. Or maybe plotting something for the next time we cross paths. Who really knows?

As to what any of this actually means, I have no Earthly idea. Maybe the sheep are doing what all sheep do if left unattended for a while, like kids acting a little crazier at recess when they know the playground monitor is off duty. Maybe they attended some sort of self-help seminar since the last time I saw them. Or maybe these are Limitless sheep who got access to some sort of illicit drug that gives them supernatural abilities. (OK … that last one’s just my paranoia again.)


One thing it means for sure is that I’m already looking forward to running across them again, to see how they’re going to surprise me next. That means, of course, that I need to spend some more miles out here in the near future – which works out great, since that’s just what I was planning anyway. And anything my wooly companions can do to keep things interesting out there will always be appreciated.

So if these sheep really are concocting some ingenious plan to spring on me the next time I come across them … so much the better for both of us.





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March 20, 2011

Big Sur Marathon Re-Route; Book Review: Long May You Run

Admin note: two separate topics today, with no relation to each other except that the timing seemed right. Sometimes that's the way it goes.

*

Over the weekend, a few people asked me to comment on a local breaking news item that’s had ripple effects across the running community: the status of this year’s Big Sur International Marathon.

If you haven’t yet heard, here’s the short version: the marathon normally traverses 26 miles of what’s perhaps the most ruggedly beautiful stretch of road in the world on California’s Highway 1. Unfortunately for runners and drivers alike, as of last week a 60-foot chunk of that road now sits in the Pacific Ocean after unexpectedly crashing down the face of a coastal cliff.

Highway 1 landslide; photo from AP

With the race less than 6 weeks away, the race committee had no choice but to come up with an alternate route, most likely a down and back affair starting from Carmel, similar to what was done in the wake of yet another landslide just before the event in 1998. Truthfully, with Highway 1, the surprise isn’t that landslides happen frequently – it’s that they can even maintain a road there at all. When people say this coastline is rugged and unpredictable, they mean it.

(For more details, this video from our local TV news station has good coverage of the landslide and its implications for the race.)

Almost immediately, discussion reached fever pitch on the marathon’s Facebook page. Initially there was a fair amount of questioning about whether the race might offer refunds, as well as griping from folks who were disappointed to not do the “official” course, before cooler heads prevailed with the vast majority of people seemingly trying to make the best of it.

Since I’m not personally involved in this year’s race, I’m not emotionally invested one way or the other, so I’ll refrain from weighing in on what the right way to handle the situation should be. I do know what it’s like to have your dream race go up in smoke at a moment’s notice by the fickle hand of Mother Nature, and that feeling pretty much sucks. And for all those runners traveling here from very far away (including many from overseas) who have just found out that they’ll only see half of the scenery they’ve heard so much about, I can definitely sympathize.

However, I know that if I had an option to do a full-length race using an alternate route that still included half of the original course when my goal race was cancelled 72 hours prior to start time, I would have jumped at the chance. I also happened to run the Big Sur Marathon in the one other modified course year, and the experience was as memorable and rewarding as any of my other BSIMs. The race board is a first-class organization that will do everything in their power to ensure that runners have the best experience possible under the circumstances. Whether that’s enough to ultimately satisfy thousands of disappointed marathoners remains to be seen.

**

This winter I was contacted by Chris Cooper to do a review of his book, Long May You Run, which was published last October by Simon and Schuster. It actually turned out to be kind of a strange experience – because in reading Chris’s background and going through his book, I was struck by a lot of similarities between the two of us.


Chris is a lifelong amateur runner with some pretty-good-but-not-fantastic accomplishments on his athletic resume. He’s been a writer for many years and has a blog where he writes on a variety of running-related topics. His book is a collection of essays, stories, and observations generally written in a lighthearted tone with ample bits of humor thrown in. And every single one of those descriptions could just as easily apply to me.

So I was more than a little bit curious to see what his book had to offer. Long May You Run is an informative and well-researched overview of virtually every aspect of running you can think of. It’s an extensive advice manual for new runners looking for ways to improve, energize or revamp their running. The format is such that it doesn’t need to be read from start to finish; the 200 various subjects each stand alone as separate articles, so you can pick and choose subjects from the table of contents that look interesting and jump right in. The articles are also interspersed with snippets of training advice from 19 world-class runners that can be applied to everyday runners.

One main characteristic of Chris’s writing is brevity: none of the articles here exceed three pages in length, and several are nothing more than lists such as favorite running songs or famous quotes about running. It’s almost designed as a coffee table book that you can pick up and thumb through for a few minutes at a time until you eventually manage to see every page. His subject matter is historical – with brief profiles of many of the most famous runners through the years – as well as timely, even including a brief assessment of the barefoot running movement.

Taken on the whole, Long May You Run is a quick and easy read, and makes a very useful guide for beginning runners, with a few items that experienced runners may learn from as well. It retails for $16.39 from Amazon.com as well as other online vendors.


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March 19, 2011

ZYM Tablet Winners; Random Shots of Beauty

Before our usual weekend photo, let's take care of business for the ZYM electrolyte tablet winners:

Mikey, Andy, and Captain Suburbia: E-mail me your address - you've each won a tube of ZYM Rival tablets. To everyone else: thanks for playing, and stay tuned for my GU Brew tablet review and giveaway within the next few weeks.

**

In honor of the recent St. Patrick's holiday, I decided to make this weekend's offering a random shot of greenness:

(click to enlarge)

The hills of Toro Park, where I've been spending an awful lot of miles lately. This time of year, when winter rains turn the normally brown and yellow landscape into an emerald Eden, is probably the second prettiest season in Monterey County.

So what, you ask, is the first? That would be wildflower season, which is right around the corner.

It's a wonderful time to be an ultrarunner.


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