May 19, 2016

Born To Run 2016. Breathe. Love. Run.

In the event like in the picture, the amount of awesome is off the charts.


In my mind, I pictured the customs officer at the airport, opening up my bag with a puzzled look.

“You said you’re a runner. What’s the cowboy hat for?”

“It’s mandatory.”

“Do you always travel with a flag?”

“Everytime I go to the ranch.”

“You’re also bringing a Hawaiian shirt and a tie?”

“Yes. For prom night.”

“Sir. Where the hell are you going?”

“Dude. Born to Run!”

Born to Run Planet

No other event in the world gathers more goofy, drunken, crazy oddballs than the Born to Run Ultras, held every year on the Chamberlain Ranch in Los Olivos by the craziest of us all, the diva-basher himself, The Sheriff - Luis Escobar.

"Ask me again
where the microwave is"
The rules of engagement are as simple as they get. “Be nice or go home”.  Pack whatever stuff you feel appropriate, including a couple changes of running clothes, and you’re good to go. You can camp out in your car, pitch a tent, rent an RV, crash somebody else’s setup, hang your hammock or probably even find yourself a consenting BTR citizen willing to share their sleeping bag. It’s all good.

Happy Hour starts early morning Wednesday and usually lasts until late Monday night. You can have breakfast with your morning beer and brush your teeth with Fireball. That’s what the cinnamon’s for, right?

While at the ranch, you can choose from a wide range of activities, spanning from fuck-all to a wrestling match with US Marines, with anything from bola racing to the no-talent show in-between. Simple tasks such as going to your tent to get a t-shirt can take from several hours all the way up to never, including shit-I-forgot-what-I-came-here-for.

See what I'm sayin' ?
You will hang out with people named Wild Bill, Whiskey Jerry, The Marshmallow Man, Tarzan, The Skirt Guy or  Barefoot Ted while listening to mariachi music and watching the Copper Canyons Raramuris challenge some gringos to a ball game.

You will need an unspeakable quantity of your beverage(s) of choice, which will be abundantly shared with everyone to make sure no one ever runs out. Make sure to keep 4 cans of cold brew for the infamous beer mile, which keeps growing bigger every year. Matter of fact, we might just have ran the largest beer mile ever held. Be ready to get a swig of anything that’s passed around, with frequent encounters being tequila, whiskey and Fireball. Hydrate profusely or live the next-morning consequences… which might be unavoidable anyway.

BTR - Best enjoyed with buddies.
Whether you bring buddies or not, you will be surrounded with all your best running friends, making the whole event feel like a huge dirtbag family reunion. No one will remain a stranger and you will live many “I finally get to meet you” moments with very, very cool people. The age ranges from a couple months old to venerable, but no one ever acts their age anyway.

The 100-mile winner, getting ready
for her mandatory butt-slap run
You won’t eat a proper meal and get a decent night’s sleep the whole time and you will be extremely surprised to see how well you run when the time comes. You will know that moment has arrived when blaring norteƱo music and shotgun shots ruin the only two hours of sleep you thought you might scrape.

You will get to do anything you want, from cross-dressing to dancing like an imbecile and everything – and I mean everything – in between. Your cheeks will be sore from grinning, your voice might run out from the whooping and hollering and your arms will hurt from all the hugs you gave and got.

You might end up naked posing for a calendar or dressed as a Mexican luchador, running around getting your butt slapped. You might run up a hill as fast as you can for absolutely no reason. You might have a beer with a guy dressed like a tree or relax in a multi-hammock tangle under the oaks. You might also be served a side of rattlesnake.

Whatever you do at Born to Run doesn’t really matter, however. What does is, you will get to be a careless kid hanging out with some of the absolute coolest people on the planet. You will witness amazing feats of endurance and discover what an amazing machine your body is. You will fill your heart with laughter, friendship and love. You will breathe life with every pore.

And you will never, ever want to leave.

May 10, 2016

Cycling in Montreal

There are numerous theoretical good reasons to use a bicycle for commuting and moving around in a big city. It’s healthy, it’s an excellent cross-training for a runner and it’s a surprisingly quick and nimble vehicle.

After about two weeks of daily commutes, however, the day-to-day reality of urban cycling is catching up to me. And the news isn’t very good. Although some of my points are pretty specific to the situation in Montreal, I compiled a short list of things you should really consider before venturing out in traffic on a bicycle. I hope this helps.

1. You’re in danger.
As soon as you head out, basically everything wants to kill you. Clueless pedestrians with their eyes glued to their smartphone. Stressed out, oblivious drivers. Huge trucks which can’t even see you. Cracks, gravel patches and potholes the size of a basketball. The random car coming out of a blind corner. That dad who’s taking his clumsy, ADD five-year-old along on a micro-bike. And, last but not least, the plague of urban cycling, BIXIs (Montreal’s rental bike service).

In a nutshell, you’re a hard-to-spot target, moving around at fairly high speeds (30-35 km/h) on a flimsy little aluminum frame with little-to-no protection. There’s stuff that requires your full attention in front of you, on both your sides and behind as well. The law’s not on your side and no one gives much of a crap about you. My recommendation? Pay serious attention.

2. You’re going really fast.
If you’re on a decent bike with road tires and you’re in good shape, you’ll be surprised how fast you can actually go. I don’t have a multi-thousand-dollar bike myself and can often match or exceed the cars’ speed over a short distance (say, a block and a half). The faster you go, the shorter your reaction time is to anything that happens around you. Speed can be as much of an advantage as it can be a problem, so be aware of your surroundings and learn how to recognize when it’s time to go slow. And spend the extra minute.

3. You’re going really slow.
Compared to motorcycles, speeding vehicles or even bicycle couriers, you’re an obstacle to avoid as they pass by. You need to be aware that you are never the fastest vehicle and you need to pay a lot of attention to what happens behind you. Never swerve out of line without checking, because you can’t assume that whatever’s behind you is going to move or give way accordingly.

4. Beware the tunnel effect.
After some minutes of moderate-to-intense pedaling, you’ll get into physical effort, which will naturally tend to make you focus, to concentrate. Don’t. Stay fully aware of everything and remind yourself that effort will narrow your field of vision and make you focus on what’s immediately ahead of you, which can lead to very bad decisions.

5. No one knows you’re there.
If you’re not dressed in super-reflective or flashy gear, you’re not easy to differentiate, visually, from anything else that’s going on in a busy urban environment. You’re basically making no sound, either, and even if you are, most cars have their windows rolled up and most pedestrians have earphones on. Hell, even the other cyclists ahead of you can’t hear you coming. You can never assume that any person around you even knows you’re coming.

Is urban cycling for you?

So, are you doomed? Should you just store your bike and never ride it again? Probably not, but I think it’s healthy to give all this an objective, serious thought to evaluate if urban cycling, more so in Montreal, is the right thing for you. Among other things, here are some points I think are worth your consideration:

1. Can you tolerate the risk?
It’s safe to assume that your biking season will include close calls, falls and possibly some collisions. I’m not a doomsayer; I’m just trying to be realistic. If you’re going to be traumatized at the first sign of danger, keep biking as a recreational activity in controlled environments, which means nice open bike paths outside of busy cities.

2. Do you enjoy a challenge?
Every day, your commute to and back from work promises to keep you on your toes. The adrenaline rush of an urban commute on a bike, for me, is brought by the elevated awareness, the physical effort and the perceived danger of everything else I have to weave around. Cycling in Montreal is a bit of an extreme sport.

3. Do you have the attitude?
Can you work around obstacles, both moving and not? Do you have good enough reflexes to react to whatever the urban environment throws at you? Can you bend the rules to nudge the odds in your favor? Will you tolerate the stress and the cussing from other users of the road?

If you answered “yes” to these 3 questions, you’re probably a good candidate for day-to-day urban cycling. If not, that doesn’t mean you should never do it, but I think it might be best for you to use your bicycle in a leisure perspective and not so much as a vehicle.

Finally, for your sake and my own, if you cycle in Montreal or in any other urban area for that matter, pay attention, be as visible as you can and please stay out of harm's way. Seriously.

April 25, 2016

The Leatherman's Loop 2016

There are running events that have inspired me and spurred me on as a runner. And then, there are running events that have changed me as a person.

When I ran my first Leatherman’s Loop, in 2012, times couldn’t be any harder. Micah had just died, my life was in ruins and I had kindly asked the Leatherman runners to please excuse me for not coming. They had none of it and requested instead that I and Olaf come present our recent running footage with Micah and honor our friend’s memory.

This would be the start of an amazing friendship and a lasting relationship with a group of beautiful people I now consider family.

Little Wings and two dweebs
I got to meet Christy Little Wings first. Instant love ensued. Then Dean, of course, who can make me burst into laughter at any given moment with a witty joke. El Copadre Tony, who welcomed me with the warmest of open arms, and Judy soon after. Born-Mas-Loco Kurt and his crazy homemade sandals. Jugglin’ Joe Cloidt, Karen, Gerry and his lightning bolt of a son Aemonn, Rob Cummings, Smilin’ Mike Poletta, Dave, Danny The Lion and the list goes on and on…

Every single one of these people reminds me why I run. All of them are beautiful, quirky, genuine, honest humans with colorful spirits. If your friends are a mirror of your soul, these people make me a beautiful person.

Pre-mud shot
The run itself is its own thing; a mudfest with waist-high river crossings, which begins each year by a prayer to Beauty. A wild rumble in the woods with yodlers and bagpipes to keep you smiling. An event that is nothing else than a huge party of runners who’ve been waiting for this as the starting gun to spring and to a new season of running happy, healthy and free. It’s nothing short of the best 10k you’ll ever run.

This year was extra fun because Rob surprised my good friend El Kodiak with an impromptu invite to join the fun as “The Stowaway” (that’s even what his bib said). We packed our stuff into my little truck and drove down together, taking every chance to be the happy idiots that we are. After having to show our passports to buy beer, making a wrong turn into back roads and off-roading with Dust-E in the back of a camping area, we finally arrived at the race site at sundown, just in time to see the awesome “Circle of peace”.

The top 2 on my podium in the girl + awesome divison
See, where other races will put up sponsor booths or podiums or a stage with music, the Leatherman’s Loop will always do something to inspire, to bring together and to make life a little better. This year, El Copadre’s family gathered to create an enormous “peace” sign with trail marker flags on the lawn of the Pound Ridge Reservation where the run takes place. Before the start was given, Tony addressed the crowd and, among other things, invited all runners to take some of these flags back home, saying “Take home a piece of peace”.

So we woke up to a gorgeous, sunny day, brewed some coffee and joined our friends at the starting line. We laughed and prayed and hugged and smiled and took off and splashed and splattered and sunk and rolled and sprinted and huffed and laughed some more. Simply, we lived one of these perfect moments that make life wonderful.

Beauty all around me as I run

I don’t know what I ever did to deserve being adopted by such an awesome family, but every April, my heart sings and my spirit dances with some of the best, craziest, authentic Human beings I have had the privilege to encounter.

Leatherman People, I love all of you!

El Copadre Tony, and the tribe.
(credit: Closer North)