there's a hole in my bucket.

All the damn rain this week had me keeping a watchful eye on my aging roof.

Keeping an eye on my aging roof made me thinking about buckets.

Thinking about buckets prompted me to reassess my bucket list.

I'm not sure I actually have one.  Or, more truthfully I suppose, I'm pretty sure there is more ground I want to cover and more adventures I hope to have than any one bucket could possibly contain.

So, in fairness to the bucket, I've decided to dump out its contents save one teeny-tiny list item, the North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc:

I turn 40 in the summer of 2014 and Chamonix and the Alps seem a fitting pilgrimmage to mark the occassion.  Maybe I should establish my Kickstarter account now and see if I get any takers.  Hmmm.

Is it a worthy cause?  Noble?

No, I suppose not, but a dream is a dream is a dream and well worth chasing.



4,226 feet high and rising.

I last boarded an airplane back in August and, despite the economic gloom the news would have me believe, the parking lot outside the airport was packed, the hallways were flooded with bodies hurrying from gate to gate and there was not a single unoccupied seat on board.  Looked just like it did in the salad days of the late 90's and early millennium by my eyes.

But Cincinnati in early 2012 had room, room, lots of room to spare.  My mind conjured up the foretelling of the rapture but I couldn't recall if Cincy fell in the ol' Bible belt or not and my instincts told me no.

Nope, not a single soul had ascended to heaven but some of the hell had been taken out of flying.  The flight in from Philadelphia found me enjoying a row of seats all to my lonesome and I'd landed in Ohio without any need to unfold myself from a cramped position.  The doors flung open and there waiting in the airport was...nobody.  Glorious.

There was another spare seat waiting on the connection from Cincinnati to Salt Lake City and clear, obstacle-free skies delivered me blissfully to the Wasatch Front.  Back again and ready to run.

Yes, there was work (much work) to be done and as much as I'd like to "cool guy" you into believing I don't give a crap about work, I'd be bluffing and you'd be right to call me on it.  I toil away like my Germanic father before me, wearing a work ethic like its the only pair of pants I own.

But I do leave room for my vice and, in a world of R-rated vices, mine is downright Disney with a capital G.

The clock strikes 4:30 AM Mountain Time and I am out the door.  Fifteen minutes later, I'm a thousand feet above downtown and Salt Lake City sleeps below like the slumbering lion of The Tokens' song.

I only covered about 5 miles but the thin, crisp (and impossibly clean in comparison to home) air and the meandering singletrack put me in the right headspace for a day of business-ing in the climate-controlled environs of the Salt Palace and the Winter Outdoor Retailer trade show.

I did take a pretty big digger on a patch of black (brown?) ice that surprised me on the otherwise soft, sandy trail and deposited on my, er, um...ass.  Which is where being in my line of work comes in rather handy.  In between appointments, I ducked into the Kahtoola booth and bummed a pair of MICROspikes from Danny Giovale, the very man who built the damn things.

What are MICROspikes?  Glad you asked.  They are one of those startlingly simple engineering marvels, a set of low-profile crampons integrated into a durable rubber housing that slips easily over whatever footwear you got.  You might be more familiar with Yaktrax, but they are truly pedestrian in comparison to the adventure ready MICROspikes.

Where can you get them?  Glad you asked.  Try here:

So, I'd secured traction but needed advice on how to get up higher.  Danny began saying something about Grandeur Peak but then got pulled in another direction, leaving me with an imagination-inspiring name but no idea how to get there.

Lucky for me, those-in-the-know were milling all around me, including Piep. 

Piep (John Pieper by birth, but, take it from me--a Steven known to many/most as Leon--he is and shall ever be Piep) had been living with his lovely family in Durango, Colorado for the past several years but had returned home to Salt Lake about a year ago, taking a Director of Sales and Markeing position at Gregory Mountain Products.  He was well familiar with the area trails and he seemed to agree with Danny that Grandeur Peak was well worth visiting.  After dinner, he grabbed a topo map, outlined the approach options and then insisted that I take the map along with me when I headed back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep.

Thanks, Piep.

I just realized that I've failed to touch on the fact that the daytime temperatures in town had been hovering in the upper 40's and low 50's even though Salt Lake City sits at an elevation of 4,226 feet, a good 3,800 feet higher than my Manheim home.  In other words, winter hadn't come to the Great Basin any more than it had come to the Susquehanna Valley.

And, so, the next morning I awoke to precipitation, but not the fluffy white stuff that I'd hoped to find.  I drove up above town, hung a right on Wasatch Boulevard and then took a left up Millcreek Canyon in the dark.  The moisture in the air still qualified as rain but just barely.  A good sign.

As soon as I stepped from the car, I was headed uphill through a National Forest picnic area.  The lungs were immediately heaving despite the fact that I was creeping along at a rate well shy of my normal pace.

A sign came into focus in the beam of my headlamp and confirmed that I was headed in the right direction.

That was fractions of a mile farther than I expected which immediately illuminated the fact that I'd forgotten to bring my Garmin.  Who cares right?  I know, I know, BUT it meant that I was going to be ascending in the dark with no real idea of what time it was or how far I'd gone which could be problematic since I needed to eventually to get back to the hotel before returning to the Salt Palace for another day of work.

The effort required in the climb and my love of running in the dark combined to back burner those concerns.  Per the topo map, I was looking at well over 2,500 feet of climb in those 3 miles and my legs and lungs were busy confirming that reading.  I cycled between running, power hiking and straight-up trudging, all with an oh-so-happy grin.  You know the kind...shit-eating some call it, though that phrase has always been lost on me.

Periodically, I'd peek to my right or my left depending on the turn of the switchback and ponder the void, wondering at the invisible drop.  I was so captivated by the darkness, it took me longer than it should have to realize that I was ankle deep in snow and more was falling.  A look back over my shoulder confirmed that I'd been plowing through snow for quite some time.

Such is the power of the MICROspikes.

Long (too long already) story short, I ended up turning back before the top out, a decision I'll probably always question, but the appropriate call given my not being able to confirm the time but being conscious of my going pretty darn slow given the conditions and my flatlander lung capacity.

Thanks to the short hours of winter daylight, I didn't see a single drop of sun on my morning runs but I loved everything I could see in the tunnel of light that I carried with me.  I look forward to getting back up to Grandeur (or anywhere else Piep or other locals can point me toward) in August and getting in a run or two ahead of taking another shot at the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase up in Park City (just confirmed today as again being part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup series!) on the Saturday of Summer OR.

Then, if the body holds up, I'll be back through Salt Lake in October for the drive down to Moab for the SlickRock 100.  Pretty stoked.

And, just to return to the good omen of the empty flights, Salt Lake sent me off in style with an unexpected meet-and-greet (a run-in...get it?) at the airport with the iconically-mustachioed Nick Offerman.

Who?  You know who.

Pretty random, I know, but good times nonetheless.  Don't let the scowl fool you (his, not mine), he was a sweetheart.

If I hadn't alreay returned Piep's map and Danny's MICROspikes, I might have clued him in on Grandeur Peak.

Next time.


like you've done before....

I haven't run with my iPod in a long time and expect I won't anytime soon.

Got nothing against it in practice, but the reality tends to get me in trouble, coaxing me to an unrealistic pace in one instance and lulling me into too slow an amble in another.  Worse yet, it drowns out the birdsing, leafrustle, windwhistle and other ambient soundscapes that make the outdoors so irresistably inviting in the first place.

Music is already playing and running with headphones is liking arriving at the dance club only to pop in soundproof earplugs.

Drowns out the rhythm.

And even on days like today when circumstance makes running on the road a necessary evil and the provided sounds are anything but appealing, my jukebox of a brain always manages to serve up an interesting record.

Here's what a mental quarter bought me today as I dodged traffic and pounded away in the freezing rain, icy fog and puddles of slush:

Can't wait to lace up the sneaks tomorrow, hit shuffle and see where the music takes me next.


this must be the place...right?

Standing high above Salt Lake City with the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Wasatch Mountains and the sweeping valley below, it's easy to understand Brigham Young's famed "this is the place" utterance when he and his fellow Mormon pioneers reached the end of their long journey west.

Over 160 years later, Salt Lake City has become the place for something other than an escape from religious persecution and a new and bountiful home.

It is the now the twice annual host of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, a head-spinning gathering of various manufacturers of backpacking, climbing, paddling, trail running (all the shoes down in shoeville!!!) and other outdoor adventure gear.  Each January and August, vendors unveil the innovations bound for store shelves 6 months later.

For a gear junkie, it's a sight to behold.

But, for a retailer trying to carve out a greater niche in the marketplace, it also plays host to a lot of hard work compressed into a short amount of time.  At this point, after several years of attendance, I can barely imagine not going to OR, as it's commonly referred to within the industry.  The shows mark the year with far greater reliability than the temperamental passing of the seasons.  It may or may not snow, but, dammit, the Winter Outdoor Retailer show WILL happen in late January.  Count on it.

So, this IS the place and, lest I sound like I'm complaining, attending OR also means easy access to buttery singletrack and the advantage of still being on Eastern time so I can bag 5-10 miles each morning before "work" on trails like this perched 5,000+ feet above sea level (note SLC way down below):

Makes punching the clock a whole lot more palatable.


confession and plea.

Last Saturday, January 7th, I ran the PHUNT 25K, a Fat Ass (that pretty much just means it's free...and casual) put on by the Trail Dawgs at the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area in Elkton, Maryland.

Who are the Trail Dawgs?  Glad you asked.  Go here and find out more about these fine fellows and what they're scheming up next:  http://traildawgs.org/

Now where was I?

Ah, yes, I ran the PHUNT 25K and did it in a pretty pleasing 2:30, especially considering the continuous roll of the course and the muddy footing.  Problem is I was intending to do the PHUNT 50K and here's photographic evidence of how that turned out.

No, it didn't take me an hour to run another 3 miles, but it did take me that long to get back out on the loop a second time, fear what my non-responding arches (especially my left) had to tell me and then walk back to the start/finish/mid-way point.

Even after more than a decade of running and several years of trail/ultra-running, I still don't know my body well enough to be certain when I'm being alerted simply to pain or receiving an emergency cry to bail out before real, lasting damage befalls me.  Wish I did know the difference.

The Trail Dawgs were kind enough and the event low-key enough, that I was encouraged to log my 25K time which I eventually did.  The unbelievably beautiful January weather and fine company made for a wonderful day in spite of the abrupt end to actual running, but, a week later, I feel like a cheater and know that, regardless of how the results might read, I actually logged my second ever DNF.

The short term good news, sort of, is that my arch has proven touchy all week long and I feel quite certain that I made the right decision by calling it a day.  The longer term good news is that a few days of not-running (as I like to call it) and working out on the bosu ball (miracle invention...do your research) has me feeling vastly improved if not all the way back to normal.

Which brings me to a quick mention of the highlights on my upcoming race calendar.  I'm signed up for the HAT Run 50K in March, the sure-to-be epic Hyner View Trail Challenge 50K (my first DNF was at the 25K version of this race at a time when I already knew I was nursing and injury and I couldn't resist the chance to take part in the inaugural 50K this year) and the Laurel Highlands Ultra 70-miler in June.  With all of that on the docket, all of which is meant as a build toward the Slickrock 100 in October, remaining healthy is as important as logging miles.

So, that takes care of my DNF confession and its back story.  Here is the plea.  I'm not sure it's a plea so much as a call for opinions and I know you've got 'em.

Yes, you.

Years of destruction from basketball (believe it or not, I was a pretty decent...or at least quick/pesky...point guard back in (sigh) the day) have laid waste to my ankles, especially my left one.

Every now and then I pull out the x-ray taken back 2004-ish that shows floating fragments and two bones grinding against one another in a manner that still makes me question why I bother moving at all.  I didn't have the time or money to justify surgery then and less so now.

I steered clear of trail running for far longer than I wish I had because of fear of falling, twisting, breaking, etc.  It was also only a couple of years ago that my left foot was still going completely numb after about 10 miles or so of running, leaving me feeling as though I was actually landing with each step on a stub located a few inches up my leg.

Not good.

And, trust me, I tried every shoe under the sun to try and correct the problem.  No dice.

Not good.

Eventually (obviously) I made my way to the trail, endured the early predicted falls and twists but managed to avoid any breaks.  Slowly, surely unengaged muscles and new types of flexion gained endurance and strengthened.  Bulky shoes went out the window as my feet sent word that they were better up to the task than was rumored.  Even on the road, I eschewed the gimmicky corrective structures I'd come to believe I needed and turned toward lower profile shoes that stayed out of the way of my feet and let them attend to their prescribed purpose.

And then, in time, I started covering longer and longer distances.  Pain and discomfort, except among the most anatomically blessed, is inevitable when you start pushing out beyond marathon distance.  It's part of the fun or, at the very least, an acceptable side effect of the fun to be had when going long.

Still, I kept seeking out the perfect shoe.

Lest you're still holding out hope for that very same thing, I'm here to tell you that that shoe does NOT exist.  Perhaps if you are gifted enough athlete in the first place to be lured into the laboratory by a shoe company that lends you its scientists and molds a shoe to your very specifications, perfection may be obtainable.  Perhaps, but, even then, unlikely.

I do, however, enjoy daydreams and "what ifs", so I'm giving you and anyone you know the forum to tell me that I'm wrong.  To hold up THE shoe (cue the beam of light shining down upon it from the heavens) that is sure to solve all my problems, keep me pain and distraction free and deliver me to the finish line in personal-record establishing time.

I'm not looking to replace the MT101 (unless the 110 stays true to the design AND improves on durability) as my everyday shoe for up to 15+ miles, but I am seeking a reliable go-to for extended races and/or gnarlier terrain.

To improve the chances of success, I'm lowering my expectations to finding a low-to-medium profile shoe, preferably with little or no medial support, with traction enough to not be utterly useless in mud but not so burly as to be pointless in anything but mud.  That still sounds like a tall order, but I'm all ears.

All ears and bone fragments.


opening weekend.

Two-thousand eleven was slipping away with each tick and every tock.

Despite the mild temperature, I saw few people outdoors on my drive to Holtwood Park.  New Years festivities may have been well under way but they were either happening elsewhere or behind closed doors.

Fine by me.

The first face I saw was a friendly one.

Gary climbed out of his truck, delivered a proper hug and introduced me to Charlie who, along with a few other members of the Lancaster Road Runners Club, would be accompanying us down into Kelly's Run and up to the overlook at Pinnacle to greet the new year.

After watching the venerable Bill Smith sweet talk a couple of State Police officers into turning a blind eye and letting us venture off into the darkness, the crew assembled for a quick group picture.

Photo courtesy of Evan Sandt
Down, down, down we dropped into Kelly's Run, picking our way over the debris that has collected in the lower portions of the ravine in the wake of the rough weather earlier in the year.  My camera refused to play nice in the dark and left me without evidence of the frequent creek crossings and the bouldery climb up to Pinnacle.

"Running" was limited by a lack of light, tricky footing and the steep clamber up to high ground, but the company and conversation were top notch.  Being on the Conestoga again with Gary, Cassie and Steve was a nice reminder of our day of adventure back in September.

The lead pack arrived at the Pinnacle just moments ahead of midnight and gathered at the rail high above the Susquehanna to soak in the view of far off fireworks displays over Red Lion, Wrightsville and more rural outposts.

The remaining members of our pack arrived shortly thereafter and we gathered above the cliffs to break open a bottle of celebratory champagne.  Bill offered up short-and-sweet best wishes and we hoisted and "clinked" our plastic cups to another year of shared experiences on the trail. 

Photo courtesy of Evan Sandt

On the return trip, the group split into two, one following the more direct white blazes back to Holtwood Park and a few others doing a true "back" on the Conestoga.  Feeling frisky, I charged up and out of Kelly's Run, catching a few of the others just before the trail dumps out into the open at the top of the climb.  With a little luck, one of these days I'll actually finish the Conestoga Trail Run with a push this hard.  Could take lot of luck, now that I think about, but what better time to dream than New Years.

After a blissfully uneventful drive home to Manheim, I caught a couple of hours of sleep, woke up to play with the kids and then headed to Marietta to meet an entirely different crew for the first (annual?) Fancyfeet DiSanto New Years Day Half Marathon.

I had enthusiastically invited myself to join in the event, having stumbled on the announcement for the event on Facebook and, as is my habit, assuming that I was more than welcome.  Only after posting my "I'm in!" did I read a bit further and realize that this was initially established as a friends and family outing by Leo DiSanto in celebration of a recent return to running and a kickoff to another year.  Leo, quite graciously and never having met me, didn't just let me tag along but offered a warm reception.  Good man.

Leo did offer some warning that this was a pretty ambitious undertaking and seemed to suggest that we may not be moving along very quickly.  My gut told me that good times were to be had, regardless of pace and my lukewarm feelings for road running, and for once my gut was to be trusted.

I met Leo, his brother Nick (the only person in the group that I actually knew), Josh and Katie in the square at Marietta and we hopped on the ribbon of trail that parallels the old railbeds along the Susquehanna River. 

We passed beneath the picturesque face of towering Chiques Rock and then followed the tracks through the old rail yard and into the town of Columbia.  That first mile or two of trail was a nice surprise but was soon left behind as we headed south toward Washington Boro.

Thankfully, traffic was pretty light and we were probably passed by as many bicycles as four-wheeled vehicles.  When we hung a left in Washington Boro, we'd covered half the route and had a rolling 6 miles left on Route 999 before reaching our destination in the borough of Millersville.

The weather was again unseasonably warm, but not unpleasantly so.  A cold rain and accompanying wind descended with just a mile or two left in the run, too late to do much more than motivate us to the finish.

I was super impressed by the effort on everyone's part and really enjoyed the camaraderie.  New friends lurk everywhere, I sometimes forget, and this day unearthed a few more.  Katie even passed along a fresh pitted dates filled with peanut butter and cayenne recipe that I look forward to utilizing both on trail and off.  As it did when she first shared the concept, my mouth is again watering as I type this paragraph.

I slept like a log on Sunday night and awoke Monday morning to don a rare shirt and tie.  I drove a somber hour-and-a-half to Ambler, Pennsylvania where the family of Debora L. Schultz was gathering to pay their final respects.  An extended running family, of which I feel proud and blessed to be part, was also in attendance to support Debora's son, Derek, and husband, Randy, two of the finest individuals anyone could possibly hope to meet who just happen to also be runners. 

Both seemed surprised to see so many people who had never even met Debora, but it was an honor and a privilege to be given the direct opportunity to let them know how deep is the affection that many of us have for the two of them.  I hope our presence was of some comfort.  Having been in Derek's shoes when my father passed, I suspect that it may mean more upon reflection than it can possibly mean on the actual day of farewell.

In spite of the unfortunate circumstances of our gathering, it was nice to see Derek, Randy, Jo, Jason, Paul and other familiar faces.

Needing to get back to Manheim, I said farewell and headed back toward the Turnpike.  As I neared home, I touched base with Lindsay and learned that she and the girls were headed out on adventure of their own and the afternoon was mine to do what I wanted with it.

So, what do you think I did?

It's been a while, or feels like it has been, since I've run at Governor Dick Park near Mount Gretna.  A surprisingly extensive network of trails crisses and crosses through the 1105 acre park and offers a wide variety of terrain and demands.  I parked just off of Route 72 and jumped immediately on loop trail #13 and followed it to #12 which meanders westward and climbs to a high point in the park, passing by the still-standing fire tower that stands as the most striking landmark in the park.

It was significantly colder than the previous two days but still not nearly as cold as one might expect in early January.  I still felt comfortably warm and sported fairly fresh legs when I reached the environmental center and gave the trail map a close look (hence my being able to quote the trail #'s above that I've never managed before to retain knowledge of).

Here I learned that the trail I've enjoyed the most is trail #15, a winding, technical 2.6 mile trail that traversing rolling slopes on its way back to the eastern side of the park.  I also discovered that an intersecting path, trail #4, was the only one with a "difficult" designation, despite appearing to be rather short in length.  I decided to keep my eyes peeled.

I'm going to come right out and say it.  Trail #4, I love you.

Steep and technical, this is the kind of trail that most cries out to me and, at least in short duration, plays to my strengths.  With some tweaks in my technique and building of endurance over the last few years, I now climb well and, most importantly, absolutely enjoy the hell out of it.  Despite beginning to feel the creep of fatigue from the preceding miles of the last couple of days, I attacked #4 and reveled in the exertion.

As I neared the top, I also understood that the morning visit to the Ciavarelli Funeral Home had me revisiting a deep well of emotions and what might have otherwise been darkness was transferred into celebration of all the things I love most about being "here" now and retaining possession of wonderful, vivid memories of those who are not.

Some "sads" are good sads and this was one of those.

As is the case after my favorite days (or consecutive days) of running, I found myself ready to get back home to my beautiful family.  My melancholy had washed away and I had nothing but genuine smiles and laughter to share with a wife and children who deserve as much of that as I can provide.

I'd bagged 25+ miles in two days to kick off the new year and cherished the exercise, the conversations and the time spent NOT inside.

With the Phunt 50K coming up on January 7th and all kinds of other challenging opportunities materializing in the months ahead, I'm as excited about my upcoming race calendar as I've ever been, but I'll trade each and every potential race for sustained health for me and my family.

2012?  Let's do this.