Monday, March 31, 2008

Stage 1 in the Desert

What an epic start! The race organizers didn't make it easy on the runners, setting the route so that there were big sand dunes to cross early on the first day. The dunes have been described as "incredibly tall" and the day was "very hot". Not much of a chance for a gradual warm-up there!

The Stage 1 results show that Jeff came in 81st out of 801 competitors, so in the top 10%! I don't think he even planned to place that high - he was just focused on completing this journey in one piece (minus a few toenails possibly) - so this is an added bonus.

Don't forget you can send Jeff a quick message to say hello and offer any "words of wisdom" to help push him through each sand-filled step... You can do it by clicking here and choosing competitor number 493.

A friend of ours has included the story about Jeff's "Mission Possible" on her blog site (she is too nice!!). There are many great stories on that site about biking, and even more they describe very vividly how it is to push yourself through obstacles and challenges and how very rewarding it all it is in the end. This of course all applies to biking as well as running and life in general.

Jeff and I do a lot of biking together in the summertime, and now after this run across the desert he probably will have lost some weight and will be an even faster biking up the hills - I am going to have to work harder just to keep up this year! He always loves the hills, the steeper the better (notice the smile)...

As a final note for today, congratulations to our friends and all who competed in the ING Atlanta Marathon and Half Marathon yesterday!!!! That is a very impressive accomplishment. Hopefully you had a memorable and enjoyable experience!

Thanks for staying tuned-in... I'll keep providing updates as I get them. Now go out there and conquer all your hills and challenges for today!


Friday, March 28, 2008

Off to the desert

Here's some updates straight from Jeff, as they're on their way to the desert...

Hard to get out of bed when I won't see another one for 8 days! So comfy. Just got the road book, which announces the no longer secret route. We start in Erg Chebbi and hit the dunes within the first mile.
Race ends in Tazzarine. Waiting on bus for 2 hrs now to depart OZZ. Everyone is studying the road book. In a convoy of 20 buses and lots of safari type trucks heading into the desert. Seeing palm trees and interesting structures as we leave OZZ.

Buses stopped to take on water and supplies. Daily race distances in km: 32, 38, 41, 76, 42, and 18.

The long day includes multiple dune sections, a 25-percent incline climb, and salt flats. Sounds like a fun run, doesn't it?

Summitted Everest, swam the English Channel, surgeon, CEO, grandparents, ex-military, mothers of 4 - just a tiny sampling of the group.

After a long drive on a rought and very twisty road, we just stopped for lunch - not at any of the several oasises we passed, but in the sun.

After 8 hours, just left the road. Driving on dirt toward the big dunes we'll run over on Sunday. Should reach the bivouac soon!

We're at the bivuoac getting settled, it all seems surreal. We can see big dunes from camp. An ABC news crew is following our group.

Just finished dinner in the desert. We're all ready for some sleep (in the Berber tents tonight) Admin checks tomorrow - 1 more day to go!

Watching beautiful stars over the Sahara. G'nite from Tent 77 in Maroc. Last SMS updates in the A.M. before we check our non-race gear. Seeing sunrise over the Sahara - nice. Restless sleep getting used to the minimalist gear, anxious to start running!

Sahara Sands

For more info, including the actual distances for each day which were announced today, be sure to check out Lisa's blog.

Thanks for checking in... Stay tuned!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Updates from Morocco

Hello to all of Jeff's loyal followers, from Becky - I will be updating his blog while he is away from the computer this next week and a half, providing updates as I receive them...

Today Jeff called from Ouarzazate, and said it has been a very busy day there for him and the others getting ready for the race. He and other Dreamchasers (the group led by Jeff's online coach Lisa and her husband Jay) did a short (and warm) leg-stretcher run of around 30 minutes, and then sorted through all their gear to make sure they weren't going to be carrying any excess items that they really didn't need. Even after all the years of backpacking in Colorado and Alaska, where he learned a ton (no pun intended!) about how to determine the necessities and to adjust things to be lighter, Jeff still got a lot of invaluable guidance from Jay on how to lighten his load, including tips on cutting off any excess straps, buckles, or even buttons. Every little bit adds up! So I'm sure that advice will especially be appreciated as the days go on and the miles add up.

Jeff has been able to send short updates on the service called "Twitter", and will be at least until tomorrow when they head to the desert. You can sign up on that website for free if you'd like to receive these updates as soon as he sends them, or you can also view them on the lower right side of his blog (under his second picture), and I'll post them every so often. Here's some of the updates he's sent the past couple days:

Had to sprint for the train to Geneva! Barely made it, but officially Maroc-bound now. We'll always have Paris, but I just boarded my flight to Casablanca. Fundraising effort has reached sending 100 kids to school! Just landed in Casablanca. Perfect temperature for running, at 10 at night! Play it again Sam. Arrived in Ouarzazate at midnight, now in a taxi with long shag carpeting on the dashboard, speaking in my limited french to the driver. Just did a warm-up run through Ouarzazate: it's hot and my running outfit sure stands out in Moroccon culture (awkward!). All is well. Meeting great fellow MDSers now, there's an anxiety in the air though. We all want - need - to get this thing started. We depart for the desert in the morning. Good night from Maroc. We head off into the desert by bus in the morning. Took all day to pack and repack my race kit!
Yes, Running Can Make You High

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Race Updates

Want to follow the race without tracking sand through your house or having to check your shoes for scorpions every morning?! If so, please check my blog for daily updates. The race starts Sunday, March 30th. Becky will be monitoring several sources and will post daily updates right here on the blog. The race organizers set up a telecommunications area at the end of each stage and send/receive updates from the Internet via satellite overnight. If I can send an update from the race, I will - and Becky will post it on the blog.

You can also visit the official MDS site for news on the race. My race number is 493. Starting Saturday the 29th, you can send messages to me in the Sahara by following the instructions here. The race organizers will deliver the messages each night to the bivouac. I welcome any and all encouraging messages!

This is my last posting before starting my travels to the Moroccan Sahara. It’s time to set down my electronic pen and ... run ... starting with a run to catch a train to the airport!

Warm greetings from a snowy Zurich,


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chances for Children on the MDS Official Site!

Great news -- we're on the official Marathon des Sables website! The link went up on their homepage tonight. The stories rotate across the homepage and the story above links to another page for more info. This is great coverage for the fund raising efforts!


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Calm before the ... fun?

It's hard to believe that a year has passed since I mustered up the courage to commit to a race I've wanted to do for a decade. I remember asking Coach Lisa with trepidation if it was possible for me to train for the race through a Swiss winter -- if I would have to run some "crazy" distances per week -- if she thought I was up to the event. Within an hour of hearing her three yeses, I signed up without further thought, but admittedly with a modicum of healthy fear. A year later and I'm making my final gear checks, scrutinizing daily race food and calorie selections, and preparing to depart in only three days for Ouarzazate, Morocco. As my favorite mug reads ....

On Saturday, I set out on a two hour taper run -- the last training run with my fully-weighted backpack. I passed up a beautiful morning (focusing on the ING Chances for Children project, general gear-sorting tasks, and a smidgen of procrastination) and waited until the skies darkened, the winds swept over the hills, and the snow started ...

Sometimes it's worth setting out into a storm -- an hour in, when I entered one of my favorite forests, the snow paused and the sun pierced the recently covered canopy.

The beauty of trail running and inventing your route on the fly -- I discovered a hidden lake right at sunset.

In other pre-race news, my long-awaited Nuun shipment arrived and we finally got my shoes correctly sewn to handle the sand gaiters. This was a huge relief and hopefully the last stressful pre-race experience -- knock on wood! Now all that's left is making the final choices for what goes into my race pack. My only luxury items are my iPod Nano and an ultra-light solar charger. I'm tempted to sacrifice them both for the weight savings, but music can be such a powerful motivator that I think the tunes could prove very helpful when the going gets tough. Maybe I'll just take the iPod instead of the anti-venom pump -- would much rather listen to Mahler's Fifth Symphony or some hot jazz in the moments after a scorpion string than fuss about with an anti-venom pump! Maybe I should give this one some further thought -- for some reason, the anti-venom pump is listed as mandatory equipment. Perhaps it's best used in conjunction with the iPod.

I have just two runs and one gym session to complete before I hop a train to Geneva, flight to Casablanca, and flight to Ouarzazate on Wednesday. I'll also be logging more time in the sauna -- an experience that bores me to tears, but that I trust is introducing my body to the heat-inspired fun it will have to endure ... I mean get to enjoy ... soon. I've also begun to regularly apologize to my feet for what is about to happen to them - I think they're pretty clueless about the gravity of their upcoming mission.

I wanted to close today's post by offering my heartfelt gratitude to you for your great words of encouragement during the past months. You have no idea how inspiring and helpful your notes are to me — when it’s cold, dark, and rainy/snowy and I’m running alone, I draw on your energy and thoughtfulness. I'm also very appreciative of your quick support of the ING Chances for Children/UNICEF fundraising project. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.

My next posting will include details on receiving race updates and even sending messages to me in the desert.

All the best from Easter morning in Zürich,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Final preparations: What have I gotten myself into?

This week marked my first week of taper -- although I'm still struggling to get my mind around that concept of a taper week that involves two 90 minutes runs and one 3-hour run with my fully loaded backpack -- plus a session at the gym and a few heat acclimatization sessions in the sauna! I was envisioning taper to involve a couple 20-minute casual walks through the country-side followed by ice cream and napping in the sun. Little did I know!

With just over a week left before I leave for Morocco, I'm now faced with finalizing all the nitty-gritty details that have been occupying spreadsheets, emails, lists, and my sub-consciousness for months now. The first of which was to close out my medical testing. The MDS organizers are quite serious that competitors enter the race healthy, so I have to bring with me a signed clearance form from my doctor, as well as an EKG print-out. My Swiss doctor took this all very seriously -- rather than a rushed 5 minute visit (which I would have expected in the U.S.), my doctor took the time to understand the conditions I would face in the race, ran both sedentary and at-exercise heart tests, and performed a series of additional tests. Following my fourth appointment, I received my EKG printouts and clearance - albeit with several words of caution regarding the heat and risks of what I would term "over-perseverance".

The next big logistical challenge has been finding a cobbler in Zürich to glue and sew Velcro strips onto my running shoes. You see, it's highly recommended to use special gaiters to cover your shoes -- it prevents sand from entering, as sand can pretty much destroy your feet, spirits, and race experience. From what I've read, it's very, very important to have the gaiters attached the right way -- first glued, and then sewn into the running shoes. Few Swiss cobblers apparently speak English (well, none that we've found) or have ever been asked to sew Velcro onto running shoes, so my wife Becky volunteered for the huge task of finding a cobbler who would take on this task -- all the while explaining this very unusual request in her budding German skills. After half a dozen attempts, she finally found a cobbler who would give it a go. We were thrilled to get the shoes back with the Velcro in the right place, but then disheartened to see that he sewed straight through the footbed insert! The shoes are unusable at this point, so this one is going down to the wire, as we have to get the shoes re-done the week before I leave!

The next step is to finalize my food selections. All the food I'll consume for 7 days will be toted on my back and I have to pass an inspection by the race organizers to show that I have a minimum of 2,000 calories a day. The race organizers will inspect my food to ensure that I have the minimums. The minimum isn't the problem -- the fact is that I'd love to have about 5,000 calories a day, but I also want to have a lightweight backpack. There's the rub -- it's either lots of calories or lots of weight! I've been working on this for months, ordering lots of typical endurance racing foods from the U.S. and France (and having friends cart them over to Switzerland). I've also decided to forgo a stove and just cook my freeze-dried dinners in the sun. Today, the moment of decision, I piled about 50,000 calories of food on my dining room table (no kidding) and started the process of making final choices to reach the 20,000 calorie mark that I'm aiming to have for the entire race.

Now I just need to sort out my medical kit (focused on treating inevitable blisters and desert boo-boos: needles, alcohol and iodine pads, New Skin, medical tape, pain killers) and my remaining gear (knife, compass, iPod, solar charger, survival blanket, anti-venom pump, twisted sense of reality) -- you know, standard marathon stuff. :-)

Proof that MDS training can make you a little crazy, I delayed today's run, passing up a gorgeous morning, until the very moment that a storm struck. I set out as the winds kicked up and skies darkened, smiling and thinking that it was a fitting intro to the sand storms I'll be treated to in a couple weeks.

Speaking of, the race starts on March 29. Believe it or not, the race organization sets up a mobile telecommunications hub in the desert each night -- complete with a satellite Internet connection. This means that I may be able to send updates at times during the week. I'm limited to only one outgoing message a day, so it'll be a quick update -- hopefully to let you know that I'm having fun in the sun -- or something like that. You'll also be able to send messages to me (and I'd love to hear from you!). I'll post my race number and other details later this week. In addition, just in case I can't get an update sent out, Becky will be monitoring daily race news items and posts from other blogs. She'll post updates on my blog during the event, so please feel free to check in.

Thanks for being part of this journey!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why is Jeff running MDS for ING Chances for Children?

I’ve been drawn to attempt this event for years and I’ve felt an equal pull to help with ING’s Chances for Children program. I’m so proud to work in a corporate culture that values giving back to the world. This is one of many things that sets ING apart and creates such a positive global work environment. Through my job I’ve been fortunate to experience the immense power, benefit, and fulfillment that global collaboration brings. It’s inspiring to see what can be accomplished when people from all parts of the world with different cultures, languages, and backgrounds join together in a positive spirit.

I’m hopeful that the ingredients of this athletic pursuit, ING’s Chances for Children program and my global network will come together in a perfect recipe to raise awareness and funds to provide an education to impoverished children.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Charity Announcement

I've been working the past few months with ING Chances for Children and UNICEF to dedicate my run to the support of a great cause.
ING Chances for Children is a corporate partnership program with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) that aims to give 120,000 children access to education in 2008. According to UNICEF, more than 115 million children in the world do not have access to education. This program advocates quality basic education for all children — girls and boys — with an emphasis on gender equality and eliminating disparities of all kinds.

ING Chances for Children sponsors three UNICEF projects in Brazil, India and Ethiopia. On average, it costs 30 Euros/45 USD to send a child to school for a year.

Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders

By supporting educational programs, ING Chances for Children aims to empower children worldwide to discover their own potential and enable them to build a better future for themselves and for society.

Education: Every Child’s Right

Education is power. It strengthens families, communities and nations in more ways than one. From a community perspective, education fosters peace, tolerance and social progress. In economical terms, it is one of the most powerful tools for reducing poverty and laying the basis for sustained economic growth. Education is paramount in constructing democratic societies and building dynamic, globally competitive economies. For families, education entails a better life as it provides individuals with the means to generate an income.

Beyond all these reasons, education is the foundation of a rich life. Without it, individuals, families and communities become slaves to their illiteracy, which serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

For more information on the program please click the icon below.

I'd love any support that you can offer to this cause and in turn, to these wonderful and deserving children. If you would like to make a donation, please visit my online donations site.

With kind regards,

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The big lean

After months of progressive increase to the challenge of my training, this weekend marked a peak in volume and intensity with another 3-days of long runs. The MDS starting gun fires in less than 3 weeks, so with 12+ hours of running completed over the weekend, I'll start a tapering process to ensure that I arrive in Morocco healthy and fit. Rather than risk another Friday midnight finish, I chose to start my first run just after sunrise.

I believe that athletic challenges can serve a key role in balancing an intense professional workload with fitness, happiness, and personal fulfillment. Rather than cut back on work intensity OR life intensity, I find that when I elevate both of them together, each delivers a higher bounty and equilibrium is reached. Sometimes to reach this balance though, you have to make a big lean. This is what happened after I worked until midnight Friday night and knew that I needed to go back into the office on Saturday -- while still running four hours and having some semblance of weekend relaxation. It required a really big lean to find some balance, but in the end I leaned the other direction and ultimately found that balance.

Saturday's run was a great adventure -- a duathlon (run-work-run), running through Zurich's posh shopping district in my full adventure racing kit, nighttime running in the forest with only a Blackberry screen as a light source, a surprise valley full of waterfalls, and a sprint finish to jump on a ferry for the ride back across Lake Zürich.

I was very happy to have no injuries after the first 7 hours of my weekend running. Ice bath #2, a great pizza, and some celebratory brownies and I had no problem sleeping Saturday night.

On Sunday morning I spent some time finalizing the details on the charity project that I'm just about to announce and then decided on having a bit of a runabout, as Dean Karnazes would call it. I took a train 30 minutes away to the town of Pfäffikon (on the far end of Lake Zürich from the city of Zürich itself). With my fully-weighted MDS backpack and a map, I set off uphill (yes, always uphill) toward a range that I'd seen by car and train, but never explored on foot. I made a very rough estimate that it would be a 5-6 hour run back home and wisely packed a headlamp, but forgot to factor in the snow line and steepness of this range.

As you can see from the video, the 6-hour run was a great success and also full of adventure. The opening act (climbing straight up for more than an hour) felt more like mountaineering than running as I got lost for a while and battled roots and then a really steep, snowy, and icy wood and dirt staircase climb to the summit of a minor peak.

The lack of predictability is a major reason I make up most of my running routes on the fly. It usually works out great and as long as you're prepared for the times that it doesn't (e.g. warm clothes, mobile phone, first aid kit, etc.), then the risk is worth the likely reward. My reward on today's detour - a stunning view!

The last couple hours of today's run were in the dark through the forest. Trail running at night is very special -- at times challenging (considering roots and rocks), but the solitude and peacefulness of the nighttime forest brings real joy.

My night-time conclusion to today's 6 hour run marks nearly 13 hours of running the past three days. Remarkably, I felt better the last two hours of running tonight than the first two hours of running two days ago! Quite amazing how the human body adapts, reacts, and repairs itself.

As always, thanks for checking in and offering your great support! Have a great week!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Catching my breath

Just finished a well-needed recovery week following the prior week's madness. The biggest shocker was how quickly I recovered from the long weekend of running. Despite little sleep and a business trip that started early Monday morning, I felt great. I had zero soreness during the days following my weekend of back-to-back-to-back long runs -- the only side effect I noticed was swollen feet (and air travel sure didn't help that). As I marveled in the benefits of ice baths, good hydration, sports massage, and well-structured training to aid in recovery, I got a great laugh at the following video on typical marathon recovery:

For this week, I set a record in number of massages per week (with two) and managed to run less than 4 hours total. I also did a couple gym sessions with cross-training cardio, strength and core work, and heat training. Ok, to be honest, my heat training hasn't been more than running with extra clothes on and sitting in the sauna! I'm confident that it's the right approach for now though -- plus, I'll be upping my sauna time in the weeks leading up to the race. If anything, I'm certainly acclimated to modesty-averse European saunas now! My long-run on Sunday was an incredibly short two hours -- which actually does feel like a short-run these days! It was very, very hilly though. I climbed up the Albisberg, my favorite hill near Zürich and ran along the range to the famous Uetliberg. This makes for a nice 90 minutes of mostly up and I couldn't resists capping it off with a run up the tower.

Great views of Zürich from the top ...

The final shot shows the range where I do nearly all of my trail running -- from left center to right center (and then off-screen). This is the Albisberg -- it runs parallel to Lake Zürich on the western shore.
Next week, I have to up the volume knob to "11" as I'm building up to my final long weekend of running. Another big one is on tap, with 12+ hours of weekend running planned for the mountains surrounding Zürich. To make things interesting, the weather in Switzerland is finally becoming seasonal and snow is in the forecast for the next 10 days. Looks like I'll need to pull out the ice spikes again and prepare for one last round of arctic training before being welcomed to the furnace air of the desert. While I'm in love with the scenery of the Alps, I can't wait to be immersed in the magic of the desert! I actually got chill bumps during my run today (despite the pre-storm warm weather) when I thought about desert flowers and the beauty of sand dunes.

In one month I'll be running through the Sahara. It hardly seems possible. My training and form is close, but not there yet. Every night I study list after list of things that I need to pack, to calculate (calories per day), to buy, to remember, and to do. I'm still not sure which shoes I'll run in, when and how I'll find someone to sew the gaiters on (in German!), how I'll fit everything in my backpack, if I have purchased enough food and sports supplements, if I can find my compass, etc. All I know is that on March 26th I'll catch a train to Geneva, where I'll board a flight to Ouarzazate, Morocco. Before that, I'll surely have sorted the rest out. The beautiful moment will be when I've completed my sign-in the day before the race and it'll just be me, my new comrades, and the desert -- no lists, no Blackberry, no action items or to-dos, no pressing decisions to make -- just the result of months of preparation, a strong will, and a great sense of support from those afar and with me in the desert.

Thanks for your great comments and emails after my last post. Your support has been amazing and really helps me at those tough moments when I'm alone in the mountains facing tough conditions and looking for inspiration to push me along.

I hope your March is off to a great start and that you're finding equal bliss in your pursuits.

All the best,