Friday, October 28, 2011


One came out with a new famine video today, thought I'd promote it with a quick post:

Quick comment on the video; why does the cool edgy guitar music represent famine, death and destruction, and the piano music represent redemption, peace, and hope?  So typical.  I'd like to see that reversed, because, you now, pianos are inherently evil, right?  j/k.  One is a funny sort of organization, I don't think they take donations directly, but they act as a sort of message-driven outreach voice for African development issues. They're sort of a "celebrity" organization, with Bono from U2 being their most visible supporter, and they spend a lot of time making slick and flashy videos and what not.  This can be a little off-putting for some but I think it's fine to use a little star power to get your message across, and I like what they are trying to accomplish.  Here is One's mission statement from their web site:

"ONE is a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa, by raising public awareness and pressuring political leaders to support smart and effective policies and programs that are saving lives, helping to put kids in school and improving futures. Cofounded by Bono and other campaigners, ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African activists and policy makers."

That sounds fine.  So One isn't really on the front lines administering aid.  Rather, One works with and supports several dozen aid organizations, including notably (RED), Oxafam, Bill & Meninda Gates Foundation,, and CARE, US Doctors For Africa, and several dozen others.  Ideally this allows One to focus on getting the message out to people like me, and to politicians, and allows the aid organizations to focus on solving the problems on the ground.  Of course this can also cause problems, particularly when and if One's messages don't align with their partner's aims and goals.  But One tends to keep things pretty generic and simple, by design likely, so there's probably less of a chance of that happening.

The full list of One's aid partners is impressive and comprehensive, indeed.  But notably absent from One's list?  Doctors Without Borders, baby!  Why?  I doubt there is any serious schism between One and DWB, I rather suspect it is because DWB strives very hard to maintain absolute neutrality, and therefore can not align themselves with any umbrella organization.  Respect.  But a quick glance at all of the One partner organizations reveals many worthy aid organizations who are trying to do the right thing. 

Just for Bono:

"One life, but we're not the same, we get to carry each other, carry each other, One"
-- One, U2

Johnny got it right:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What's Going On?

The latest from Somalia:

So what's going on in Somalia, you ask?  Ahh, you don't want to know.  There's trouble over in the horn of Africa, some of it involving our dear Doctors Without Borders.  As you probably know, we got together and raised over $4,000 for DWB at the Runners Without Borders event last weekend.  I requested that the money go to Somalia if possible (DWB does critical work all over the world so I'm sure it could be put to good use in many places, but Somalia seems to need assistance the most right now).  One of the super-critical and time-sensitive tasks DWB is trying to accomplish in Somalia right now is a massive measles vaccination campaign for children.  Yup, that measles shot we all got as babies in the USA, well, they don't get those shots over in Somalia.  And measles is actually a nasty and virulent little disease with a very high fatality rate among small children, particularly children who are already malnourished.

So DWB took it upon themselves to try to vaccinate as many high-risk children as they could, focusing efforts on the capital, Mogadishu.  But last week heavy fighting erupted (side note, does "heavy fighting" ever do anything besides "erupt"?) in Mogadishu, forcing the DWB doctors to abandon the campaign for the time being.  Read DWB's press release here: Somalia: Vaccination campaign Suspended Due to Fighting in Daynile.

Some thoughts from the press release; Daynile is on the outskirts of Mogadishu, and I'm assuming this is where a lot of the refugees are coming from the famine-striken areas.  So it's an important base of operations for DWB, since this is likely as close as they can get to the people that are the worst off.  Although they have suspended the measles program, they are still at the hospital, providing medical assistance and nutritional assistance as much as they can.  I take two things from this.  One, the DWB doctors are total bad-asses and I am more proud than ever to support them, and you should be too.  Two, the Somalians really need to put down their guns, even for just a little while, so these doctors can save the lives of their children.  Priorities, people.  It's all very irritating. 

The other bit of news from DWB in Somalia is the news of a kidnapping of two DWB staff members from a refugee camp in Dabaab, Kanya, which is serving as a Somalian refugee camp.  This happened on October 13th, and as of yet I believe the two staffers are still being held by their kidnappers.  You can read this article here:
Kenya: Two MSF Staff Abducted in Kenya (Updated).  Dangerous indeed.  You can read the article, but the effect of the kidnapping is that DWB has suspended much of their operations in the Kenyan refugee camps until they can get the situation resolved.  Maybe the refugee camps need more protection, but DWB tries very hard to distance themselves from the conflicts that cause these refugee crises, and not take sides, but as you can see it's difficult not to get into trouble.  Trouble has a way of finding you, I suspect, in places such as these.

What is also interesting to note is that DWB does not want this kidnapping to be publicized, as publicity is not helping their efforts to get the staffers returned.  So, uh, I'm not totally sure I should be writing about this, but the story went out on much larger news organizations already, so it's probably ok that I'm bringing it to your attention today, since I expect about, you know, 23 people to read this.

What's my point besides being full of rather depressing news today?  I wanted to give you all a greater appreciation of the dangers that the men and women of DWB face in trying to help people in the worst places in the world.  Major props to them.  Hopefully the money we raised last week will do some good there, hopefully they can get back to working at full-capacity soon. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Runners Without Borders: Recap

Where do I start?  The stats?  The donations?  The idea?  The need?  How about the people!  At some point during the day Saturday it dawned on me with amazement that whatever the motivation, 97 other people came out to run and do something good.  I knew my wife would be there, she helped come up with this plan, and she was the most supportive of my idea, and she was out there running over 30 miles herself on the trails, earning money and generally going way above and beyond.  I knew my crazy trail running friends would be there, heck they would have been there anyway, I just gave them a wonderful excuse to do something they wanted to do anyway!  And they came out in force.  Heck, a few of them just happened to stop by on their regular run and got involved on the spur of the moment.  But right away at 8:00 am when the first runners showed up to run 5 and 7 mile trail loops through Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Park for Doctors Without Borders I realized something cool was happening: people whom I didn't even know decided to show up and run.  39 out of 96 by my rough count, 39 people who didn't know me, but heard about the event somehow or through someone, and wanted to participate, wanted to run, wanted to do something good.  It was one of those days where I felt that people generally want to do something good; it's just sometimes they need a reason, a little push out the door.  I was so happy and proud to help provide that reason, even if just for a day.

And what a day it turned out to be!  Apparently it is supposed to snow here on Wednesday, so we may have enjoyed the last beautiful weekend for a while.  A thin veneer of clouds kept the sun a bay just enough to keep the temperatures warm but not baking hot.  There was just a whisper of wind in the valley, and the cottonwoods along the creeks were in full color.  Up in the trees the smell of pine filled the air, as the evergreens seemed to stretch their limbs one last time in the warm sun before donning their white winter cloaks for another season.

I'm not going to lie, if you missed this event, you missed out on one special day.  It was a sustaining sort of day, not only realizing that people want to do something good, but also being reminded that what we do matters, what we do can make a difference.  And it doesn't really take much to make a difference, not when you have your friends out there helping you out.  But don't worry, I think we're going to do this again next year, so you'll have another chance to run without borders.

98 people (including myself) came and ran at least 1 loop, with many running more than one loop.  A special mention to 6 runners who ran at least 4 loops:  Celeste and Kristel each ran 4 loops, Cat, Mindy and Pete each ran 5 loops, and Shannon ran 7 loops!  All told the 98 participants ran a total of 168 loops.  We had 50 women and 48 men participate.  I was able to sneak out and run 1 loop myself, and enjoyed sharing my loop with Celeste.  Also we had 7 dogs run a total of 11 loops!

And we raised a lot of money.  $3986.78 at this point, with apparently a few more pledges yet to come.  We had 82 people pledge money, at least a dozen of which were not even at the event, and they were some of our biggest contributors!  A heartfelt thanks to all of you who contributed, and special thanks to those of you who believed in my vision enough to pledge even though you were not able to participate.  Anyway I'll go ahead and call it $4,000 raised for Doctors Without Borders, and it looks like the total will exceed that amount.  And that entire amount is going to be matched by Audrey Steele Burnand, so basically what I'm saying is that we were responsible for sending $8,000 to Doctors Without Borders on Saturday.

Even though it was only about two months ago, it seems like a long time ago when I thought I should "do something for Somalia" and thought about going on line and sending them a couple hundred bucks.  It could have stopped there, and that would have been great, but I felt so strongly about what I was doing that I knew I had to try to do more.  I drew inspiration from my wife and my mom and my friends, who help keep my moral compass pointing North, so to speak.  I drew courage from the unwavering support of my best friends, who stepped up with pledges right away, and were always there with encouraging words, and there to assist me in planning and implementing the event.  I literally could not have done this without you all -- I certainly could not have ran 168 loops on my own! -- so thanks again.  I think this was a pretty neat idea and I'm happy to see so many people participate.  And yes, I think we'll crank it up again next year, so stay tuned! 




Thursday, October 20, 2011


I have hesitated posting this, because the subject is unpleasant for me to write about, much less for you to read about.  But in the end I feel that it is important to write a little bit about why I have put so much effort into the upcoming Runners Without Borders event scheduled for this Saturday.  I am so very grateful for the tremendous support that everyone has provided up to this point, and I know the event will be a fun, joyous occasion for all, and that is the intent of this fund-raising exercise.  And maybe it is best in the end to simply focus on that; the camaraderie, the joie de vivre of the occasion.  But some sober reflection is in order as well, for the reason we celebrate life with so much passion is partly because we know that is it precious, and that we are lucky to enjoy it as a precious thing.

If you don't want to get into the heavy stuff today, then stop right here.  I will think nothing less of you.  Otherwise, brave reader, read on.

I don't want to get too over the top with the pulling of heartstrings and such, because I find that approach manipulative and ultimately condescending.  But I do want to express how I feel about famine and why the work that Doctors Without Borders (DWB) does is so important.  Famine is a horrible thing.  And in this day and age famine is a man-made thing, and should be completely preventable.  Say what you will about drought, overpopulation and overgrazing, and climate change and water issues.  Those are all contributors to conditions that can cause a famine.  And many if not all of those are man-made conditions.  But ultimately there is enough food to feed everyone.  Famine is inexcusable.  So why does it happen?  Sometimes we just can't get food to the people who need it.  And sometimes people are actually prevented from getting the food they need.  Sometimes intentionally.

Голодомор is a word I hope you will never see again after today.  I'm not even going to link that word to a web site, for I don't want to encourage you to look too closely into the hollow eyes of famine.  I'm not even going to tell you how to pronounce that word.  It is a sacred, terrible word.  Голодомор means "Killing by Hunger", and it is the word for a devastating famine in the Ukraine that occurred about 80 years ago.  The truth will never be known, but is it estimated that somewhere between 2.4 million and 10 million people died of famine -- starvation and attendant disease -- in the Ukraine between 1932 and 1933.  Aside from the huge number of people who died, what I find striking is that the death estimates vary so widely.  I presume this is because entire towns starved to death and were depopulated, and the town records were subsequently altered or destroyed by the Soviet regime, who were both the cause and the amplifiers of this famine.  In my opinion Голодомор represents Josef Stalin's worst crime against humanity, and that is saying something.  It was his Holocaust, with comparably grim statistics to boot.

When I read about this famine I shook my head and wondered why this was allowed to happen, as would anyone to comes to know about such horrible things.  The causes of this famine are still debated, but the prevailing thought is that the famine was caused largely due to the failures of the Soviet food collectivization programs of the 1930s.  Many also believe that the Ukrainians were intentionally starved by the Soviets.  Of course in 1932 in the USSR it was rather difficult to obtain credible information about what was happening, much less why it was happening.  But for whatever reason, whether because of malice or pride or something else, Stalin and the Soviets denied that the famine happened.  They wanted to keep the news of the famine quiet.  Голодомор was a man-made famine, entirely preventable, but ultimately preventable only by the Soviets.  And Голодомор isn't even the worst famine in history.  I use it as an example here to reinforce my statement that famine is ultimately a man-made problem, and requires a man-made solution, and also to illustrate the usefulness of unbiased and credible reporting of famines.

Why is this relevant and how does this compare with what is happening in Somalia right now?  In Somalia, a drought in the southern part of the country has created conditions that have led to a famine.  The drought alone would have caused hardships, but a civil war and a jihadist militia called Al-Shabaab have essentially amplified the drought into a famine.  Furthermore, Al-Shabaab is accused of preventing aid from reaching the most distressed areas, and is also accused of preventing people under their control from leaving the famine zone for the capital or fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.  Even still, many thousands of desperate Somalis have been able to leave the most affected and closed-off areas, and are now able to receive aid from organizations such as DWB.  But many others are stuck in circumstances most dire, and even for those who have fled survival is no guarantee; only a possibility.

This famine in Somalia differs from the Ukrainian famine in one minor and two major aspects.  First the minor difference; in Somalia the famine appears to have been precipitated by a drought.  In the Ukraine it appears to have been precipitated by the Soviet policy of collectivization.  But both situations, combined with tyrannical and repressive governments, have resulted in famines.

The first major difference between the two famines is in terms of information and access, and our collective ability to react to the disaster.  In the Ukraine, foreign journalists were not permitted to access or report on the famine.  One reporter did in fact try to report on the famine but his reports were discredited by the Soviets and by Communist sympathizers and Soviet appeasers in the free world.  The reports became rumors and were ultimately ignored, with the result that the famine was allowed to continue uninhibited.

In 1932 Doctors Without Borders didn't exist.  Would DWB have been allowed to go to the Ukraine in 1932?  Sadly probably not, but it's difficult to speculate.  It is a different world now, a world still in crisis, but a world that now contains organizations like DWB that can fight against famine, or at least mitigate their effects.  DWB is on the ground in Somalia, reporting on what they see to a world that listens, because they are viewed as an independent organization with no political or religious agenda.  And of course DWB is actively administering aid and saving lives in this most dangerous country.  Ultimately DWB can't solve the problem on their own, but they can save lives and bring the issues to our collective attention.  They are helping the world realize that there is a problem that needs to be solved.  As much as the actual tangible aid helps, so too does the flow of information.  Clearly many Somalians would die if DWB wasn't administering vaccines and treating malnutrition right now.  And many more would die if no one outside of Somalia knew about this famine, a la the Ukraine in 1932.  The work that DWB is doing is both timely and important, and the world is a better place for it.

And the second major difference between the famine in the Ukraine and the famine in Somalia?  The famine in the Ukraine happened almost 80 years ago.  The famine in Somalia is happening right now.  That's a sobering yet galvanizing thought.  It is true that Somalians right now are in desperate straits and need help.  But it is also true that unlike 80 years ago, we have the ability to help.  And luckily and ironically enough, it is easy and even fun to help.  All we have to do is get together, run some trails, and raise some money.  Thankfully we don't have to look into the eyes of famine to help defeat it.  And even if we contribute just a little bit of money, heck, even if all we do is continue to raise awareness about the famine, we're doing something good.  It really doesn't take much.  Consider that a measles vaccine costs about $1.  That may be the difference in saving a life of a severely malnourished child who otherwise may lack the strength to overcome the disease.  What we do this weekend matters.  So run, laugh, and enjoy the day, and know that with every loop you complete you are doing something good.  The work that DWB does is so very important, and the support we give them makes a huge difference.  Thank you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Runners Without Borders: Last Minute Information

Some last minute questions and answers about RWB this Saturday:

How do I get there?

The official host location of this event is Lory State Park, and we will be at the Arthurs Rock trailhead, which is the parking lot at the farthest end of the dirt road that travels the length of the park.  There is a $7 entrance fee so I strongly encourage you to carpool and save money and space!

Also many of you have Larimer County Parks passes, you can park at the Sodeberg trailhead and access the trail from that location.  Again, please carpool to save parking space and ease congestion and pollution.  You will have to run an extra 0.4 miles to access the loop via Soderberg, and obviously your loops will be offset since you're not starting at the "official" start, so just sign in when you reach the truck at the halfway point of your loop.  I'll assume you made it back to Soderberg!

Where do I check in?

It is important that you check in at the big white truck at the Arthur's Rock trailhead at each loop.  I or someone else (if I'm running) will have you sign your name and note the time on a log sheet.  We need you to log each loop so we can get an accurate count for those people who have made "global-dynamic" pledges.

How do I actually give money?

Someone, usually me, will be at the truck signing in participants and collecting and logging pledges.  I prefer checks made out to "Doctors Without Borders" but we will accept cash if necessary.  I will bundle up all donations and send them in to DWB on Monday.  Also you can go on line and donate directly to Doctors Without Borders if you prefer.  Those of you who are pledging based on "dynamic" formulas may not know your pledge commitment until after 4 pm.  For those people I will contact you shortly after the event, and post on my blog with your final pledge amount.

What sort of aid are you providing?

In short; not much!  I'm not promising any aid in the way of food or drink, I'm going to try to round up some coolers and fill them with water, and I'll get some snacks from the store, but please assume that this is a self-supported event.  Bring your own water and food!  We will have limited first aid at the truck as well.  And massages for $1/minute, with half the proceeds going to DWB!  Now that's my kind of aid.

Do I need to start at 8?

No; Unless you're planning on running for 8 hours, you do not need to start at 8 am Saturday.  The weather forecast calls for a sunny day with lows in the 30s and highs in the 60s.  I expect the temperature at 8 am on Saturday to be in the lower 30s, so if you want to wait for the temperature to warm up a bit, try coming at 10 am or so!  It looks like the weather will be really nice Saturday so we have that going for us, which is nice.

Do I need to finish by 4?

I suggest that you do try to finish your last loop by 4 pm, which means you should probably be starting your final  loop before 3 pm (see below for loop time estimates).  I'll need to sweep the course and take down the signs, and it will start getting dark pretty quickly up there after 4 pm, so please try to finish by then.

How long will it take to complete a loop?

Obviously it is difficult to answer that question for everyone, but I have ran the "grande" loop 4 or 5 times in the past two months, and it takes me between 1:10 and 1:30 to complete the loop, going at a moderate (medium effort) (1:10) to easy (walking the steep bits) (1:30) pace.  The "petite" loop is both shorter and easier so I suspect it would take me about 50 minutes at a moderate to easy effort.  So if you have ran with me and know what constitutes a "moderate" effort for me, then you should be able to estimate accordingly.

Do I need trail shoes?

I recommend trail shoes for the grande loop, as sections of it are loose and rocky.  The petite loop can be ran in regular shoes.

Will the loops be marked?

I am planning on going up Friday afternoon and marking the loops with little tags, particularly the grande loop since it contains many turns.

Will it be fun?

Nope.  It will be ultra-mega-dank-fun, and you will all be super-stoked to be there.  Your support means a lot to me, and you all can congratulate yourselves on doing something that really matters this Saturday.  Not to get too over the top, but your actions are literally saving lives.  Feel good about that!

Loop maps:

Le grande loop:

Le petite loop:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Runners Without Borders Update: On Pledging

Hello everyone!  Only 10 days until Runners Without Borders kicks off on Saturday, October 22nd.  I'm very pleased to announce that we have 51 people who have RSVP'd to run for Doctors Without Borders on the 22nd.  And I suspect there will be even more who show up, I'm hopeful that we will have over 75 participants next Saturday.

Also we have collected 28 pledges of various types to donate to DWB/MSF on behalf of the runners, and again, I think we will get some additional pledges on the day of the event.  I think we have a chance to raise in excess of $3,000 for Doctors Without Borders!

Some of you have mentioned that you're not sure just how this pledge thing works.  As you can tell, I'm not charging an entry fee for this event.  Also, I'm not providing really anything in the way of support, so, you know, you get what you pay for!  What I'm asking everyone to do is show up and run, and also to pledge to give something to Doctors Without Borders.  At the end of the day you're on your honor to give the money; if you want to bring a check with you to the event I will mail them all en masse after the event, so you can save some money on postage.  Another option is to donate on line from this link:  Also if you want to donate cash (I prefer checks), we will accept that as well and donate the funds on your behalf.  Someone will be at the loop start/end area from 8:00 am until 4:00 pm to collect and log donations, and log loops.

Logging loops is very important because several pledges are based on the number of loops ran by participants.  For example, I am pledging to donate $1 for every runner who completes a loop, up to $250 total.  So quite frankly even if you can't pledge to donate any money of your own, simply by showing up and running one loop you are raising $1 for Doctors Without Borders.  And much to my pleasant surprise, a bunch of you have stepped up with similar pledges.  So much so that as of this point, the first 50 loops are each worth $13.50 for Runners Without Borders.  So simply by showing up and running a loop you are earning as much as $13.50 for DWB, and this number is likely to go higher as we get some more pledges leading up to the event.  So when you finish a loop, make sure you get it logged! 

So how do you pledge?  You can email me at to pledge, or just show up and pledge on the day of the event.  If you want to keep your pledge anonymous let me know and I will honor your request.

So how much should you pledge?  What kind of pledge can you make?  Well in general, you can pledge whatever you like. 

But pledges have roughly broken down into 4 basic categories, which I will explain here.  The categories are; fixed-amount, dynamic-self, dynamic-other, and dynamic-globalfixed-dynamic-what-huh?

Let's review:


This is easy.  Just pledge a fixed amount to DWB.  $5.  $20.  $50.  $8.71.  Whatever.  If you run one lap, if you run 10 laps, if 1,000 people show up, if no one shows up (I'll be there), you contribute a fixed amount.


This is a little more exciting; pledge a certain amount of money for each lap you run, or each mile you run, or even how many vertical feet you climb for the day (yes, one creative participant is pledging a penny for each vertical foot gained).  Want to challenge yourself to run 4 loops and pledge $20 all told?  Pledge $5/loop.  It adds a little excitement to the day.  Believe me, I know some of you who have pledged on a per-loop basis, and you will be sorely tempted to run one more loop than the next guy.  I encourage this sort of competition!


Want to encourage one of your friends to run a lot, or even show up at all?  Pledge 'em.  Pledge 'em good.  Pledge the hell out of 'em.  One person has actually pledged to give DWB $10 for each loop I run.  Talk about pressure!!


This is quite exciting indeed!  My pledge fits in this category.  I'm pledging $1/person/loop, essentially.  If 10 people show up and each run one loop, I give $10 to DWB.  If 70 people show up and each run 3 loops, I'm in for $210.  If one runner leaves Lory at 8:00 traveling South at a rate of 9:00/miles, and another runner leaves Soderberg at 8:45 am traveling North at a rate of 9:45/miles, I will pledge a maximum of $250.  I was never that good at practical algebra.  At any rate, I won't know my final pledge until 4:01 pm on Saturday 10/22.  And neither will 6 other fellow pledgers who have made similar pledges!  And one very wealthy lady whom I don't know and who doesn't know me and isn't even showing up but I am including on my list anyway is pledging to match all contributions to DWB regardless of reason between now and November 15th, up to one million dollars all told.  Now that's global.

Slush figuring out how much he owes (circa 1993)

Incidentally for those of you doing dynamic pledges, I will post final results on my blog as soon as possible after the event, and will let you know personally what your pledge turns out to be, so you don't have to stick around until 4:01 to find out.  But it might be fun to see who cuts it the closest to the cut off time!

Now if you want to see the current list of pledges and participants, avail yourselves to the spreadsheets below.  If you don't see your name on the list, let me know and I'll add you!  If you are ready to announce your pledge, and/or your intention to run, email me at

Thanks and see you in 10 days!!!




More information:

Runners Without Borders

And finally, appropo of nothing; Tegan and Sara just kick ass:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Million Dollars

Well this is odd; I got a letter in the mail from Doctors Without Borders today.  As you may know, I’m attempting to raise money for DWB on October 22nd at the Runners Without Borders event (click the link for more info).  I have donated to this organization at times in the past, and for their part they, like everyone else who wants your disposable income, periodically send me letters exhorting me to send them even more money.  I’m working on it, I think, as I open the letter which states in red bold letters, MATCHING GIFT OPPORTUNITY.  Usually this means that they want you to hit up your place of employment for matching contributions from them.  That’s all well and good for some, but I happen to know my employer won’t do that for me.  So I almost don’t even bother opening the letter, since I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to say.

But the envelope seems thicker than usual, so I open it.  And they’ve included a cool map of the world, and a letter that contains a pleasant surprise for all of us Runners Without Borders participants and donators.  Apparently I don’t have to hit up my employer, because a nice lady named Audrey Steele Burnand will be matching all donations to Doctors Without Borders between now and November 15th, up to one million dollarsSo that includes us!
And yes, feel free to say that in a Dr. Evil voice.  It may not be appropriate but it sure is fun.  Is it wrong that the first thing I think of when I read about this incredible act of generosity from Ms. Burnand is Sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads?

In all seriousness, now that is generous.  Wow.  And you know what?  I am including Audrey Steele Burnand as a pledger (seriously is that a word?) to my Runners Without Borders event!  Basically we just doubled this whole thing thanks to Ms. Burnand.  I suspect she, like I, is motivated by the seriousness of the situation in Somalia and the need to get medicine and help there quickly.  A tip of the cap to the generous lady, and we will try to do our part to make her write a check with 7 digits.

Now as of today in our fine event we have 5 pledgers who are donating one dollar for each person who runs a lap at RWB, up to varying amounts.  Which means simply by showing up on October 22nd and running a loop you are raising $5 for DWB.  And now with Ms. Burnand’s matching gift, you are earning $10 per loop.  And if you’re pledging a dollar per mile that you run, which is another popular pledge, well, now  DWB is getting $2 per mile for your efforts.  A $10 flat pledge just became $20.  Easy money.  Nice.

So if you’re on the fence about joining in and running, please come out, even if you can’t pledge anything.  Last Saturday when I started this thing you were worth $1 to DWB.  Now you are worth $10.  And if we get some more pledges, well, you do the math.  This is pretty freaking cool.

The older post contains a list of current participants and pledges.  To add your name to the list, please email me at or click “attending, yo” (or whatever the button says) to the facebook event page.  And if you have worked out a pledge and care to share it with me, also please let me know that as well, thanks!

I’m attaching a scan of the letter for your perusal:

No word on the sharks with laser beams though.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Runners Without Borders 10/22/2011

Update: check out the event recap here!

Update: as of October 12th, we have 51 RSVPs, and 28 pledges!

Update:  as of September 26th, we have 21 confirmed RSVPs, and 9 pledges!  

This is so on!  Come one, come all, to Lory State Park on Saturday, October 22nd, 2011 for the inaugural "Runners Without Borders"! I've decided to host a trail running event to get all of us runners to together to enjoy our spectacular trails and raise some money for Doctors Without Borders.  For a few months now I've read with growing concern about the famine and attendant humanitarian crisis in Somalia.  I thought maybe there was something I could do to raise awareness about the issue, and maybe help out a bit.  At first I figured I would just write a check to Doctors Without Borders and be done with it, and I still aim to do that of course, but Celeste helped me come up with an even better idea, and that idea became Runners Without Borders!

Here's the plan, and I'll need your help to execute it:

On Saturday, October 22nd, 2011, anytime between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, for every runner (or hiker or biker!) who completes either of two trail loops (designated  below) that span Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Park, I pledge to donate one dollar to Doctors Without Borders!  If you complete both loops, I'll donate two dollars (cash) to DWB.  If you complete one loop 2 times, that's two dollars.  10 loops, 10 dollars.  You get the idea.  Sadly I probably need to put an upper limit on my contributions so I'll cap it at $250.  And I would very much like to donate $250, so if 250 of you fine folks come out and run one loop each, then we're all set.  Or if I can get 25 of you to run 10 loops each, then, well, you're going to need to run pretty fast, because the loops are 6.7 miles long and 5.2 miles long!  I'll describe the loops momentarily, but suffice to say the longer loop is more difficult and sports about 1,000 feet of climbing, and the shorter loop is easier and has about 200 or 300 feet of climbing.

Now I'm throwing out a lot of stuff you might find at a normal running event.  For starters, there is no entry fee.  Instead I encourage you to make a DWB pledge of your own!  You don't have to match my pledge of course.  You can pledge a flat amount, say $10 or $20.  You can pledge a certain amount for each loop you complete, or each loop I complete, or each loop Alex or Ashley or Alene or Mindy or Mike or Nick or Dakota or Brian or Ean completes (you all better show up!).  You can get your family or coworkers or neighbors to pledge for you.  You can pledge a certain amount if Pete runs a loop in his new red-man suit.  You an pledge a certain amount if Pete does not run in his red-man suit.  The possibilities are limitless.  Too confusing or expensive?  You can simply show up and run.  I'll donate a dollar on your behalf, and so will some others (see the bottom of this page for current pledges)!  Although obviously I encourage you to make a pledge, don't stay away simply because you can't donate any money of your own.

Additionally there is no mass start and there are no prizes for completing the fastest loop or the most loops.  You all have from 8:00 am until 4:00 pm to complete your loop or loops.  Come for the day, come whenever, enjoy the company, and do your thing.  I will have an official log book at the start/finish/aid station at the Arthur's trail-head parking lot in Lory, so we will be keeping count of participants and the number of loops completed for pledging purposes, but we will not be handing out any prizes, except maybe to Pete.  And although Mary Boyts has created an awesome logo for the event (thanks Mary!), I'm not planning on doing shirts this year.  Though they would look amazing.  Hummmm.

As mentioned earlier in passing, I will have a limited aid station at the Arthur's trail-head parking lot with some water and some snacks, and some limited first aid supplies, but please bring your own water and food for the event.  There is no water at the Arthur's trail-head parking lot, although there is water available at the Soderberg trail-head, which is only about 0.5 miles from the southern end of the loops, so with about one mile extra of running you can refill there.

Speaking of Soderberg, I know that many of you, myself included, have parking passes for Larimer county / Horsetooth Mountain park, and not Lory.  Although the event is officially a Lory State Park event, if you want to park at Soderberg and save the $7 Lory State Park daily fee, I understand completely.  Save your $7 and pledge it to DWB instead!  You'll have to run an additional 0.5 (easy) miles to get to the southern end of the loop, but just start your loop at the south end of the route and sign in when you reach the parking lot in Lory.  I trust that you'll complete the loop, you'll have to in order to get back to your car!

Which brings me to another point; you will have to pay a fee to park at Lory (or Horsetooth).  I believe the fee is $7 for Lory.  So be sure to carpool!  I encourage you to carpool anyway in order to save parking spaces.  If this thing goes straight-up-viral, parking will become an issue.

And now, the routes:

La grande route, 6.7 miles, 1,000 feet up/down

The standard route is a 6.7 mile loop featuring about 1,000 feet of climbing.  This is a lovely loop that features a flatter eastern side along Lory's West Valley trail, and Horsetooth's Nomad trail, and a decidedly less flat western side featuring a section of Towers Road, Stout trail, Sawmill trail, Loggers trail, and Mill Creek Trail.  Mary Boyts has created an amazing map of the loop which you can peruse and download here:

The route can be completed in either direction.  I have ran it in both directions recently and I do prefer running it in a clockwise direction, mostly because the majority of the uphill is accomplished on Towers, which is steep but not technical.  But both directions are a lot of fun.

La petite route, 5.2 miles, 250 feet up/down (approx.)

The shorter route is a 5.2 mile loop that features the lovely West Valley / Nomad trails just like the grande route, but opts to run back to Lory along the Shoreline and East Valley trails instead of tackling Towers etc.  This is a great option for those of you who maybe have not done much trail running as this loop is far less technical and can easily be run in regular running shoes.

As with the other route this can be run in either direction.  Mary's map indicates a counterclockwise direction as the standard here, and that is probably the best option but it really doesn't matter. 

Weather, safety, mishaps, etc.

In the event of inclement weather, and I mean really inclement, like the October blizzard of 1997, Lory state park and I reserve the right to postpone the date of the event.  The likely makeup date would be the following Saturday, October 29th.  Also, I should state that although I firmly believe that trail running is less damaging to runner's bodies than road running long-term, there always exists the possibility of acute injuries while running trails.  We will have some limited aid available at the Arthur's trail-head parking lot, but if you are seriously injured, wait for help, and someone will come by to assist.  We will have course sweepers making sure everyone is off the trails at the end of the day.  Having said that, your participation in this event is voluntary, and I, Lory State Park, Horsetooth Mountain Park, Doctors Without Borders, and even Pete are not responsible for your health and well being.  Now having said that, let's all watch out for each other out there and take extra water and jackets and hats, etc.  If you see a runner in need, please offer them your help.

Getting lost, i.e. alternate routes

I wasn't planning on marking the course just to cut down on trash, but I've since reconsidered, and I will mark the loops somehow.  Participants are welcome to execute extended loops.  I imagine a trip up to Arthur's rock or Horsetooth Rock or both might be a lot of fun for some participants, and that is great.  Ultimately as long as the loop hits the Arthur's trail-head in Lory so you can sign in, and you make it to Towers road / nomad trail junction in Horsetooth mountain park, then I will approve it as an official loop.  I encourage you to run the standard loops because I think it will be more fun to see more people on the trails, and quite frankly that is the loop that I will be sweeping at the end of the day!

ok you've made it this far, you're obviously still interested in participating.  May I request an RSVP?  Please email me at to declare your intent to participate.  You don't need to tell me when you plan on showing up or how many loops you plan to run, or where you plan to park (Lory or Soderberg), but if you can tell me that info that would be helpful.  This allows me to give the Lory/Horsetooth guys some idea about how many people to expect, and also I and fellow pledgers (is that a word) will have some idea about how much money they're going to have to donate!

And if you're going to pledge something, I would like to know that as well; I am interested to know if this event will be successful from a fund raising perspective, and I think all the participants will enjoy knowing how much money we collectively raised for DWB.

I will track RSVPs and Pledges on these spreadsheets below, and they will update themselves as we get closer to the event.

After the event I will post the "loop log" here as well and total up the pledges.

My goodness, I had no idea running an event required so much writing!  For all that, please come out and enjoy the day.  Let's keep our fingers crossed for good weather!

Thanks, Slush




Monday, September 19, 2011



What’s the first thing that came to your mind upon reading the word “Somalia”?  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Somalia lately, so I’m not even certain I know how to answer that question for myself anymore.  My answer is probably “Runners Without Borders”, of which I’ll speak more about later.  Let’s get back to you.  When you read “Somalia”, perhaps you first thought about Johnny Depp?

You know, Somalian pirates.  No?  Maybe not rakishly handsome pirates with a hearts of gold and an insatiable lust for the same, but actual real pirates?  Apparently the real ones aren't at all like Johnny Depp.  We’re talking legitimate bad guys, hijacking unarmed freighters, stealing their cargos, and kidnapping, terrorizing and murdering their crews.  Yes, piracy still exists.  And Somalia, you may know, is the base for most modern-day pirates that roam the Gulf of Aden, and serve as a gauntlet of trouble for commercial fleets travelling between Europe and Asia.  Like I said, from all accounts I can read these are not long-haired, fun-loving, cutlass-brandishing Disneyesque animatronic stereotypes brought to life, but extremely dangerous people. 

I don’t claim to be an expert on the issue of Somali prates, but I suspect they exist because a) although the risk is great, the rewards are tremendous, b) the opportunities to earn a legitimate living in Somalia proper are few and far between, and c) there is very little internal Somali governance and punishment of pirates.

I’m sure we’ll revisit the pirates, but I’m off track here.  Maybe pirates aren’t the first thing you thought of when you read “Somalia”.  Maybe you visualized the shape of the country itself.  It has a funny sort of shape, like a triangle of cheese with a smaller triangle bitten out of it.  It is one of several oddly shaped countries in Africa (I’m looking at you, Zambia and Senegal).  It is also one of only two predominantly contiguous countries whose geographic centroid is (probably) not actually located within the boundaries of the country itself (Croatia being the other “predominantly contiguous” country.  Yes, I’m looking at you, Indonesia and the Philippines.  I’m looking at a lot of places, apparently). 

In the case of Somalia, I believe its “centroid” is actually in Ethiopia, in a place called the Ogaden.  The Ogaden used to be part of Somalia, but Ethiopia successfully lobbied to keep it after World War II.  And the remaining part of the triangle, so to speak, was for a time separated into two European colonies, British Somaliland in the North, and Italian Somaliland along the East and South.  I like to think of Somalia as having three bits; the former British bit in the North, currently called Somaliland, the larger bit in in the east and South, the former Italian colony which is divided into Puntland, and Central and Southern Somalia, and finally the “missing bit”, that is, Ogaden, where apparently most of the people speak Somali, but is technically part of Ethiopia. 

But once again I’m off subject.  Perhaps upon reading “Somalia”, you thought neither of Jonny Depp, nor triangles of delicious cheese, but of “Blackhawk Down”.  In late 1992 The United States military assumed command of a United Nations peacekeeping effort in Somalia.  The UN was in Somalia to help deal with the effects of a terrible civil war, which started in 1990 or so, and by late 1992 had helped lead to a massive famine, and the attendant deaths and displacement of millions of Somalis.  Originally the United States provided logistical support and food and medicine, but gradually as the effects of the war became worse, and conditions more dangerous for the peacekeepers, the United States assumed a more militaristic role in the operation.

At some point it would appear that the UN and the US took sides in the civil war, and this led to an attempt to capture the head of one of the rival militias, Omar Salad Elmi, and his deputy, Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdiid.  On October 3, 1993, the US led a military operation into the heart of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, to do just that.  But as chronicled in the book/movie “Blackhawk Down”, the operation did not go well.  The operation was supposed to take only 30 minutes, but it lasted for about a day, and the bulk of the operation was concerned with rescuing soldiers who became trapped behind enemy lines.  At the end of the battle the Somali targets were not captured, two US black hawk helicopters were shot down (hence the book/movie title), and 18 US soldiers were killed.  The Somali belligerents, for their part, did not treat the few captured dead US soldiers with respect, dragging their bodies through the streets of the capital.  As a result, bilateral appeal for staying in Somalia and helping to mitigate the effects of or even help solve the civil war were quite diminished, and by early 1994 the US pulled out of Somalia.

 I must note that I never read the book nor saw the movie (though I have heard both are very good), but I do remember the failed military mission, which coincidentally happened while I was living in Africa myself, teaching high school in Ghana for the Peace Corps.  It seemed to me to be an embarrassment for the United States along the lines of the failed Iran hostage rescue mission in 1980, and I was in favor of leaving a country that did not seem to want us there, even if the original intent of the mission was to help, not harm.  

Now if black hawk down was your first thought, and you are an American, you may not have a very good impression of Somalia and Somalis.  Fair enough.  But I'm guessing most of you didn't think of pirates, or helicopters, or cheese.

Maybe you thought of this:

or this:

or this:

And this is why I'm writing about Somalia today.  This is famine, and not to understate things too terribly, it's bad news.  Somalia has endured famine before.  In fact famine was one of the reasons the United States got involved in Somalia in the early 1990's.  And in 2011 famine has returned to Somalia, and believe it or not the United States is starting to get involved again, and more importantly the situation looks pretty bleak for many thousands if not millions of people.

In an article from September 15th, Jeffrey Gettleman from the New York Times reports via the United Nations that is it possible that 750,000 Somalians may run out of food completely in the next few months, because of a failed harvest due to drought, and also due to bad governance and outright malevolent behavior by the various militias currently in charge (read here):

It's bad, and many thousands of Somalis have already died and many thousands more have fled the country into Kenya.  And it is about to get worse.  The article goes on to state that Somalia is very soon going to enter it's rainy season.  At first blush one (like me) would think that the advent of the rains is a good thing.  Rain means food means famine over, right?  Actually this is not the case.  Apparently the onset of the rainy season will spread diseases like malaria, cholera and typhoid, diseases that will cause many more deaths before crops can grow to fruition.  So in order to save lives at this point it is important to administer aid in the form of emergency food, but also medicine and disease control.

Jeffrey also reports that even though this is a bad crisis and much emergency aid is needed, that the international aid community is not "stepping up" they way it did back in the early 90's.  I suspect this reluctance may stem from the "Black Hawk Down" experience of 1993.  Then as now, Somalia was for the most part controlled by militias who answered to no government, prevented aid from reaching recipients, and took aid for themselves.  This perhaps is causing some reluctance to provide aid to Somalia.  Why give money to help Somalians if the money is simply going to end up in the hands of militias, and not in the hands of the starving and the sick? 

And it gets more troublesome.  Apparently the largest and most feared militia is "Al Shabab".  According to state-side accounts, this militia is disturbingly similar to the Taliban.  They are accused of blocking international aid to Somalia, and also accused of preventing Somalians from leaving the country in order to seek aid in Kenya.  Again, this tends to give would-be donors pause when thinking about assisting Somalia, and for two reasons;  One, the likelihood that aid will be misused seems high, and Two, there is an understandable reluctance to provide assistance to a country that is in part controlled by people that are on the official United States Foreign Terrorist Organization list

And yet for all that, I can not shake the feeling that innocent people are literally starving to death, and that there may be something that I can do to help.  One of the few aid agencies that is being allowed into Somalia right now is an organization called "Doctors Without Borders".  Well actually they're called "Medecins Sans Frontieres", but no matter how you say it, these guys are in Somalia right now trying to help.  They won't be able to save everyone, in fact their task is darn near impossible, but I applaud them for trying.

And I want to do more than just applaud, I want to send them some money so they can try to save more lives in Somalia this year.  And I want you to help me.  So I've come up with a fund-raising idea I am calling "Runners Without Borders".  I will post the details in a couple of days, but the general idea is that on October 22nd, 2011 (date pending), for every person who runs a 6.7 mile trail loop I have measured out in Lory State Park and Horsetooth Mountain Park (west of Fort Collins) I will donate a dollar to Doctors Without Borders.  If you run two loops, I'll donate two dollars.  10 loops, 10 dollars (there are several of you who could do that). I will pledge up to $250 total.  All you have to do is show up and run, or hike, or ride your bike, and you will earn money for Doctors Without Borders.  And if you want to do more than just show up, make a pledge of your own!  You can pledge a dollar for each loop I run.  You can pledge 10 dollars for each loop I run.  (I will probably run two loops).  You can pledge a dollar for each loop you run yourself.  You can get your family and your coworkers to pledge a dollar for each loop you run. You can get creative with it.  And if you're shy and don't like asking people for money, or poor and can't afford to give money to a charity right now, just show up and run.  I'll chip in a buck for you.

I hope to get official approval from Lory in the next few days.  At that time I will post the details of the route.  At this point I can tell you that there is no entry fee, this is not a timed event and there are no "winners". You have from 8 am until 4 pm to complete your loop or loops.  You will have to pay to park (or use your pass), we will have one basic aid station, and the route encompasses both border crossings between Lory and Horsetooth.  The official loop start and end is at the south lot of Lory State park but the loop passes very near the Soderberg lot at Horsetooth so that is a viable place to park for those of you who have Larimer Country passes.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you on the trails next month!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Leadville 100: Judgement of the Stars and Moon

A Pacer's Report:

“Alex left Winfield at 4:45.”  Finally, some communication from the mAy Team!  It is 6:00 pm, and I am standing on a quiet street in Leadville, Colorado.  It’s raining ever-so-slightly.  My friend Alex May is running the Leadville100 trail race today.  My wife Celeste is his crew chief, and his family including his wife Ean and our friends are also here helping him out and pacing, including Mindy, Cat, and Kyle.  In fact dozens of my trail running friends are up here this weekend, racing, pacing and crewing, including my friend Lindsey, who was pacing her friend Danny.  And that’s what I’m doing here as well; I’m standing in front of Mike Hinterberg HQ in Leadville, preparing to pace Mike for the final 24 miles of his attempt at the Leadville 100.  Mike has been out on course now for 14 hours and over 60 miles.  At this moment my friend Dan is pacing him from twin Lakes to Fish Hatchery and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they are keeping dry.  30 minutes ago I left Dan and Mike at the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 60 of the course, and soon I will meet the two of them and take over pacing duties from Dan at the Fish Hatchery aid station at mile 76 of the course, and hopefully bring Mike the rest of the way to the finish line.  But I have a couple of hours to wait, so right now it is time for dinner, a nap, and most importantly a good hot shower.

I needed a shower because although I was getting ready to pace Mike these last 24 miles, Dan and I had already ran a race of our own that very morning; the Pike Peak Ascent.  So we had 13 miles and 7,300 feet of climbing and a lot of accumulated dirt and sweat and drool in the books already.  Dan and I woke up in Colorado Springs that morning at 5:00 am, one hour after Mike and Alex and Danny and more than 600 other participants began their “Leadvillian” quests to run 100 miles in less than 30 hours.  When the gun sounded for our race in Manitou Springs at 7:00 am, they were all ripping through the first aid station at May Queen and making their way up the north shoulder of Sugarloaf Mountain in the cool misty morning air.  At 10:00 am I was climbing the famous “16 golden stairs” at 14,000 feet with less than a mile from the finish of my race, which incidentally featured exploding electrolyte tablets, vomiting, general wooziness, and a nip of lukewarm PBR just below the summit.  It was fun, I assure you.  More on that later.  But while I soaked up the always inspirational view from the summit of Pikes Peak at 10:07 am, Mike, Danny, Alex, et al, were making their way from Fish Hatchery to the village of Twin Lakes, running along the east flanks of two other 14ers, Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.  And while Dan and I drove from Manitou to Leadville Saturday afternoon to meet up with Mike, they were all hoisting themselves 3,000 feet up and over Hope Pass to the turnaround at Winfield, in order to turn right around and come back over that same ironically named pass to Twin Lakes, and back to Leadville.

Quite honestly Dan and I thought we had no business trying to pace an ultra-runner after racing to the top of Pikes Peak, but we wanted to be part of the excitement.  I would have been up at Leadville anyway, just to cheer on Alex and hang out with Celeste, so when Mike asked if I wanted to pace him about a month prior to the actual event, I agreed.  And then I drug Dan into the fray as well, although he didn’t really require much convincing, suffering as he does from the same sort of mental illness as I.

That’s how we found ourselves in Twin Lakes at 3:00 pm that day, waiting for Mike to come back over hope pass so Dan could start running with him.  Dan was getting much less rest than I, having to pace Mike first, but I had to run farther.  I couldn't decide which of us drew the shorter straw, but I wanted to run the later sections to get more experience with night running, in the event I ever decide to do one of these myself someday (that wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no either).

It was hot at twin lakes, hot for 9,000 feet anyway, and I speculated that our runners and indeed all the runners would be having a tough time in the heat.  Some clouds were building in the west, and the shade would be welcome so long as it didn’t develop into anything more serious.  The previous night Leadville got raked by a nasty thunderstorm that lasted several hours.  No one would benefit from a repeat of that tonight, so I kept my fingers crossed and wandered around Twin Lakes in search of a cup of coffee.  I was going to be up late tonight.

Mike arrived at the twin lakes aid station, 60 miles into his race, at about 5:00 pm.  His shoes and socks were soaked from several stream crossings so he decided to sit down and change his socks, which was a wise move.  Barring any deluges from above the rest of the course would be dry, and keeping one’s feet dry is an under-appreciated and important part of long-distance running.  Blisters can ruin your day.  Mike looked really good, particularly considering he’d already ran farther than I have ever run in a single day, and Dan and he trudged up the short sharp slope leading out of Twin Lakes in fine form.

I was really hoping to see Celeste and the mAy team arrive in Twin Lakes before I left, but as it turns out they were still in Winfield at the time, having paced Alex to the turnaround at 4:45 pm.  Although dozens of friends of mine were out on the course, racing, pacing and crewing, I was not able to see them for the most part.  I considered waiting around Twin Lakes until they showed up, but I had to make sure I would be ready to run with Mike later, so I left Twin Lakes on my own and headed back to Team Hinterberg HQ in Leadville for a shower, a burrito, another burrito, and a quick stretch and nap on the floor.  We thought Mike would make it to Fish Hatchery by 9:00 pm so I left Leadville a little before 8:00 pm just to make sure I would be there on time.  Mike’s crew skipped this aid station so I would fulfill crewing duties as well as begin my pacing duties at this point.

Mike was ahead of the teeming masses at this point, probably running in about 30th place overall, so the Fish Hatchery aid station was pretty quiet and un-crowded when I arrived.  I got to see a pretty impressive duel between two of the top female runners, both of whom came in within a minute of each other, and some of the other top male runners came through while I laid out all of the clothing and lights I thought Mike and I would need for our journey.  While I waited, dusk settled into the hatchery.  The trees began to whisper and the crews got quiet and started putting on their jackets in nervous anticipation of the arrival of their runners.  The little rainbow trout and cutthroat trout in the hatchery pens turned from silver and pink into little blurs of grey, their energy, if not their colors, undiminished.

I felt more like a trout and less like a tree, walking back and forth along the aid station in anticipation as well.  Finally I’d had enough and started jogging down the road to where Mike and Dan would be arriving from Twin Lakes.  I brought along a couple of headlamps because I knew that Dan did not have one, and Mike may have forgotten his as well.  That was a mistake on our part, since those two did have to travel about 30 minutes in the dark on the paved road leading up to the aid station.  I jogged only about one quarter of a mile before I saw them coming up the road, as silent dark shadows cast against the forest gloom.  Arrival at last, and now it was time to get to work.  Dan and I got Mike all geared up for the evening and he drank some fluids and had a couple of snacks, and we were off.

Now it was me and Mike, and the night, and 24 miles of road and trail separating us from Leadville and the successful conclusion of his 100 mile adventure.  My job was to keep him moving and motivated, distracted and entertained.  I love a stage!  Right way I started with the exciting and improbable tale of my Pike Peak Ascent race from earlier that same morning.  I now present it to you as I presented it to Mike, so please enjoy,

The Tale of the Exploding Salt Tablet, as told to Mike by Slush:

     “So I'm running well, probably in 25th place, heading into the Barr camp aid station [roughly half way up Pikes Peak], when all of a sudden I feel like I'm having an asthma attack on the trail.  I'm having trouble breathing, my heart rate shoots way up, and I'm beginning to see stars and get dizzy.  I've never had asthma or had anything like this happen to me before so I'm kind of freaking out!  I know my effort having just ran this at the Barr trail race in July, so I know I wasn't pushing it too hard, but I don't know what the problem is.  I make it to Barr camp, walk a bit, take some Gatorade and eat some grapes and slow down for a minute to see if it gets better.  I feel a little better so I start up again, and as soon as I do I start hacking and coughing, and lo and behold I heave a mighty hack, and forcibly expunge a mostly-intact salt tablet that I had ingested a little before Barr camp!  And hey, now I can breathe again!  Aaah.  I ate a salt tablet a little before Barr, but instead of swallowing it as recommended by most runners I must have lodged it in my windpipe!

     “Well, I thought, that could have been a lot worse, as in not being able to breathe at all and what not.  So I was happy to breathe again but the salt tablet had mostly exploded on the way out of my mouth, so my throat, mouth and even my sinuses and nasal cavities were now coated with salts, which really stung!  Also as you know one way to make people vomit is to force-feed them a tablespoon of salt.  So I now quite involuntarily proceeded to go to the side of the trail and puke; the first time I've ever puked while running!  Isn’t it nice to get that rite of passage over with?  All the while I'm losing time, and position, of course, and now quite frankly I'm freaked out and off my game.  But at least I can breathe again!

     “So I start back up again but the fire just wasn't there anymore, sadly.  But I made a decent show of it until about one mile to go, and then I started getting dizzy from the altitude and couldn't run without feeling like I was going to fall over, so I power-hiked to the end, and came in at 3:07.  I don't think I had 2:45 in me Saturday but I think 2:55 would have been possible without the choking, wheezing and vomiting.  But for all that I'm happy with my time and it's something to build on for next year or whenever I do it again.  Also I had a nasty headache after I summited, but I think that was due to the fact that I did not get my normal cup of coffee this morning; as soon as I got back to Manitou and got a cup the headache went away.  Yes, it could have been the altitude as well but I know the lack of caffeine didn’t help any.”

Well that took up a cozy 5 minutes.  All I had to do now is keep Mike entertained for another 5 hours and 55 minutes or so, depending on how long it took us to scale the heights of sugarloaf, wind around the north shore of Turquoise Lake, and trudge back to Leadville.

I quickly learned that at this point, 76 miles into his race, the Mike-machine was equipped with two useful gears; “slow jog” and “purposeful hike”.  I idly wondered what sort of shape I might be in after traveling 76 miles.  I knew that “stumble about” and “crawl” were also in the gearbox, but I hoped we wouldn’t have to shift into those.  We were quietly moving along the flat road towards the steeps of sugarloaf when through the forest I heard the unmistakable sounds of Enya.  “Is that Enya?” I somewhat stupidly asked Mike, completely blowing my man-cred.  “Yup,” came the reply (utterly blowing his man-cred).  Now that headphones are mostly frowned upon during races, some runners like to carry little speakers with them while they run.  But this sound was clearly too loud and all-consuming to be coming from portable speakers.  Up ahead we saw bands of soft yellow light coming from the source of the music, highlighting the tree trunks at the edge of the road.  It was as if the music was actually flowing to us on these bands of light, it was a very eerie and otherworldly scene.  And it was so loud!  Enya’s music always sounds louder than it actually is, because she overdubs her voice so many times on her songs and creates a huge wall of sound.  The juxtaposition of this ethereal music and strange light in an otherwise pin-drop quiet forest was distracting and disorienting.  This was a good thing, incidentally.  As we approached the source of light and sound, I discovered that we were passing a cabin in the woods, and the music was coming from two very large amplified monitors on stilts, situated in front of a house.  The speakers and stands reminded me of little Baba Yaga huts.  I could see Enya as a witch.  The Enya song ended as we passed by the house, and a familiar guitar melody started up.  “I know this, what is this?” I asked Mike.  He answered right away; it was David Gray, Babylon.  I was encouraged that Mike was still coherent enough to recognize the song that quickly.  More than 75 miles into his race and he was still totally in the game.

“If you want it, come and get it, crying out loud.
-David Gray, Babylon

Soon after that we left the road and turned up towards the climb to sugarloaf.  The road was deeply rutted at the beginning, and fairly steep.  We made slow but steady progress and picked our way up the road in good spirits.  I assumed the role of “pacemaker” and route-finder for Mike, staying a few paces ahead of him on the long climb up.

Lindsey, who paced Cat on this section the previous year, had told me to be wary of false summits on Sugarloaf, so every time the trail began to flatten out I guarded against celebrating and particularly against telling Mike that we had “made it”.  But as we reached yet another flat bit I could just sense that we had arrived at the rounded summit of sugarloaf.  Even in mid-summer, on these windswept heights I already felt the chill of winter here.  I thought that winter probably never really leaves this place, and thought that it was smart that I brought gloves along for the run.

At the summit I briefly turned off my headlamp and my hand-held light, and tilted my head up to the sky.  The sky was clear, and since the moon was not yet up I was greeted by panoply of brilliant stars.  I looked north to find Polaris, to get my bearings.  Above and to the south I could even see the Milky Way, awesome in its mystery.  Just then my eyes were drawn to a shooting star, knifing through the Swan of Cygnus, which was making its slow summer nightly flight from east to west above our heads.  I realized that while I was pacing Mike, the stars had been pacing me.  It was a comfort to know that a graceful Swan had been my faithful guide up the south face of sugarloaf.  But we were heading away from Cygnus now.  Perhaps the shooting star indicated that Cygnus was handing over pacing duties to the Wolf of Polaris.  This seemed less comforting but was maybe necessary, for we had a long and potentially grim journey still ahead of us.  The moment was brief but altogether wondrous.  I considered that moments like this, moments that maybe last only five seconds, are why I seek out silly adventures such as pacing Mike 24 miles through the night.  There are few things more fulfilling than cresting a mountain pass under your own power in the middle of the night and finding yourself bathed in silence and starlight.

The world is a funny place.  At my exact moment of bliss, under the same stars, rebel fighters were pouring into Tripoli to unseat Muammar Gaddafi, ready to lay down their lives for freedom. Starving refugees were clambering into Kenya to escape Somalia, in a desperate bid to save their own lives.  And closer to me, hundreds of tired and increasingly desperate competitors were scaling the heights of sugarloaf behind us, in pairs of runner and pacer.  Danny and Lindsey were back there somewhere, and Alex and Cat, too, perhaps, or maybe Alex and Kyle yet.

It was a nice moment of contemplation, but I did have work to do, so I turned my lights back on, blabbered on about the beautiful stars to Mike for a spell, and led him down the north side of sugarloaf in wide switchbacks to the valley below.

Mike was able to jog a bit on this stretch so we made good time towards the next aid station at May Queen, on the far western corner of Turquoise Lake.  As we descended, the waning moon ascended as if we were actually pushing up the moon with each step down towards the valley floor.  I briefly marveled at its orange hue before it hid itself behind a band of clouds.  I couldn’t decide if the newly noticed clouds were a portent of good or ill.  Benign cloud cover helps keep the temperatures warmer, but they can also turn malevolent and rude, like they did the previous night.

At midnight we arrived at the May Queen aid station.  After a quick stop, where Mike and I filled up on hot noodle soup and coffee, and stashed some cookies and mini chocolate bars in my pockets, we turned our attention to the final lonely stretch of the Leadville 100.  May Queen is the final aid station on the course, and there are still 13 miles of trail separating participants from their goal at this point, with no assistance in the intervening miles.  It’s a long dark road ahead, and best not to tarry at May Queen any longer than necessary.
The bulk of the final section winds its way around the north shore of Turquoise Lake, which was relatively flat, but the tail was faint.  I had been warned that the trail was difficult to navigate through this section.  Now that the moon was up, and the clouds were beginning to build, I had lost my guide, the dog star Polaris.  And my swan star Cygnus was long gone, having descended over the mountains to the west for the night.  It was up to me to navigate Mike through the old forest on the edge of the lake.  A long trudge ensued.  We were both quieter now, and colder.  I slipped on my gloves, and pulled my hat down tight.  On we marched, in “purposeful hike” mode, and periodically I offered Mike cookies and chocolate.  Mike was impressive in his quiet resolve and determination.

We finally began to round the eastern shore of the lake, from which vantage point I could look in brief intervals over my right shoulder and spy dozens of lights behind us spread out along the shoreline.  The lights, in pairs of two, faded softly into the long dark north shore of the lake, from where we had come. And higher, and across the lake, the lights of racers and pacers descending sugarloaf cascaded down in a serpentine pattern as if someone had set a pinprick to the stars themselves, and let loose a thin stream of lights from the heavens into the lake.  It was difficult to tell where the lights ended and the stars began.  I knew that somewhere back there one of those lights, probably on the shoreline, belonged to my friend and fellow pacer Lindsey, who was running her friend Danny to the finish. And farther back, winding down the mountain, a twin pair of lights surely represented my friends Cat and Alex, one pacing the other patiently down to the lake.

As I picked my way through the slumbering campgrounds and led Mike on the faintest of trails towards the dam, I thought about Lindsey, and Cat, my fellow pacers, and Danny and Alex, their runners.  I thought about Lindsey and Cat in particular though, since the three of us were comrades in arms this night.  We were together alone, each going through the exact same experience on the same night, but with different runners to pace, and separated from each other by time and distance, but not by heart.  I hoped they were doing well, and I cast one last glance into the gloom over the now-moonlit surface of the lake and sent them all best wishes from the shore.  I hoped that their runners were doing well, that they were dressed warmly enough in the rapidly chilling air, and wondered if they were thinking of me too, as Mike and I quite unexpectedly arrived at the dam, and therefore now at the end of our seemingly endless lake excursion.  A Crowded House song came to mind, which is not unusual for me:

“Together alone, shallow and deep
holding our breath, paying death no heed
I'm still your friend, when you are in need
as is once, will always be

earth and sky, moon and sea”
-          Crowded House, Together Alone

As we approached the road over the dam, a solitary race volunteer, a vigil of the night, sitting in a folding chair by the side of the road and dressed in multiple jackets to fend off the chill, and an orange safety vest to fend off inattentive drivers, motioned Mike and I across to the continuation of the trail on the other side of the road.  I knew that we were now close to the finish.  I asked her how much farther, and she replied “5 more miles”.  Wow.  Deep in the night, and all that separates Mike from completing the Leadville 100 is “5 more miles”.  I congratulated Mike on this milestone and exhorted him to push the pace and get this race over and done with.  I may have used several swear-words in the process of giving my pep talk.

We descended a tricky bit of “trail” that mimicked the length and pitch of the dam to which it was adjacent, and found ourselves on a flat, even runnable stretch of dirt county road.  With renewed vigor and a sense that the barn door was ajar and waiting, Mike and I picked up the pace.  The finish line is wonderful, but this is probably the moment I savor most of all; when the realization sets in that your runner is really going to make it.  I have paced several friends to successful races, Lindsey, Kerry, Dan, and Nick come to mind, and now Mike, and each time my favorite moment comes before the finish.  Maybe because in that moment it is still just the two of us, sharing in the struggle for accomplishment.  The finish line always fades into soft white, almost out of time and place.  The pacer’s work is done, and the runner is wrapped in glory. Whereas the miles right before, when success is all-but-guaranteed but for now nothing else exists but the determined footfalls and the bond between runner and pacer, those moments seem to stand out for me in sharp detailed relief.

But don’t get me wrong, I was elated to watch Mike cross the finish line in Leadville, at 4:11 am, in the dead of the night just over 24 hours after he started.  His cheering fans consisted of his family, his pacers, the race organizers, and a couple of foul-mouthed and drunk spectators.  I had the distinct pleasure of spending 7 hours with Mike on the trail, and his spirit never flagged.  He provided me an example of how to comport myself with both the determination of Polaris, and the grace of Cygnus, should I ever gird up enough courage to try this race or this distance myself.  The moon and stars judged in our favor tonight.

“Show them you won't expire
Not till you burn up every passion
Not even when you die
Come on now
You've got to try”
-Joni Mitchell, Judgment of the Moon and Stars

We took pictures, and then Mike wandered off into the medical tent to get warm, and immediately my attention turned back to Lindsey and Danny, Cat and Alex.  They were out there somewhere and more than anything now I wanted to bring them home as well.  Tired as I was, it was all I could do not to run back down the course to meet them!  But runners are really only allowed one pacer at a time, so I would have to leave them to their own judgments, and bide my time at the finish line in the cold and dark.  I started to get really cold myself, standing in the 40 degree chill at 10,000 feet in naught but running shorts and a thin jacket, so I decided to trudge the two blocks up to Hinterberg HQ to put on some clothes.

But when I checked the voice mail on my phone from HQ, elation and satisfaction and nervous anticipation gave way to sadness. The call was my wife; the time of the call was 3:18 am.  She was calling to tell me that Alex had dropped out of the race at Fish Hatchery at 3:00 am.  Leadville, like most all ultra-races, imposes cut off times at various points along the course. Alex had made it to Fish Hatchery just under the cut off at a couple minutes before 3:00, so he was eligible to continue on to May Queen and hopefully to the finish, but Alex made a tough and courageous choice at Fish Hatchery, and decided to end his race there. My wife was his crew chief, and the emotion in her voice on the phone belied just how much she was invested in Alex and his journey.  Runners who do these races really rely on their crew and pacers to keep them going, and they are always very appreciative of the efforts other people give to help them to their goals.  But less noted is the emotional investment that crew and pacers place in the success of their runner.  They are all in, so to speak.  And since the finish rate at Leadville usually hovers around 50%, there were a lot of broken hearts out there in the dead of the night.  Even runners who achieve their goals and finish, with arms in the air and all that, will do so with a touch of sadness for their friends who invested just as much into the race as they, but were not able to finish that day.  And this emotional intensity lies at the core of what draws me to the sport.  Witnessing this first-hand I came away with an enormous respect for everyone who was courageous enough to line up at the start, and put everything on the line.

Deflated, I went back to the finish line to wait for Lindsey and Danny, who I thought were about two hours behind Mike, but the cold and dark seemed colder and darker now, and the disappointed tone of my wife’s voice kept echoing in my head as I paced up and down the final stretch.  I made the decision to head to Alex May HQ and go to sleep and be with my wife, whom I had not seen all day.  But I wished I had stuck it out at the finish line a bit longer.  I missed Danny finishing by about 20 minutes is all, ironically adding just a bit more disappointment to my evening.  Not because Danny finished of course, I was really impressed with his performance and happy for both him and Lindsey.  It’s just that I could have used another good memory in store as I crawled into bed next to my wife, fully clothed and ice cold, and slept for the first time in over 24 hours.  Almost at the exact moment my head hit the pillow, Danny crossed the finish line with his pacer and my friend Lindsey in tow.

No one at May HQ had heard Dan and me come in at 5:30 am, so they were a little surprised when they woke up and we were there.  After a huge breakfast and balloon animal festival featuring hearty pancakes and a really impressive balloon monkey with a working prehensile tail, it was time to bid adieu to Leadville and head back home, until next year.  I will be back for certain, probably to pace, maybe to run, you never know.