Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 + Reviews

2011 introduced changes and challenges to my life. In April, after facing an increasingly problematic situation at work, I left my job of 17 years, and (with my friend and co-worker, Marisa) went to create a national sales network and distribution channels for a new company with some great products. Working for a start-up is not an easy chore to undertake. And, I will confess, it has been the single most difficult position I have ever held.

But coupled with the trials of a new company come the rewards. The first of the rewards was that I suddenly (over night, actually) had a new group of friends. The company is small enough that we all got to know each other very well, very quickly. And our new co-workers turned out to be a smart, interesting, and supportive group of people. It was a truly refreshing change. The second reward is, what I would refer to as, 'the house-painting' reward. That is: with a new company, you can actually see your achievements and feel a sense of accomplishment and progress as a new store chain or distributor adds your line, or a magazine or blogger gives you a great review. Since April, Marisa and I, along with a stunningly smart and dedicated small team (trust me, I'm the stupidest person in the room on many occasions), have been able to get our products placed in stores stretching from Florida to Washington State, and New York to California. Have the rewards offset all of the day to day stress? I'll tell you next year. (Hey I've got to have a bit of a cliff-hanger or no one would ever read this;-)

Running was alternately awesome and disturbing. 2011 was the first year that I decided to enter no races. It was a decision with which I struggled as I thought several times about doing 50k races in the region. I felt, and still do feel every now and then, the urge to have an official ultra under my belt, rather than simply having the satisfaction of knowing that I had done one on my own. I upped my mileage as the year progressed. By late Summer and continuing into the Fall, I had the distance capability to run a marathon any day I had the urge.

But there was a growing issue that was building in my knees. Too much tennis and raquetball had quickened the pace of some cartilage issues in my right knee. I took care of increasing pain with a series of hyaluronic acid shots in the afflicted joint. But as the year passed, my doctors recommended a micro-fracture procedure that would include a 3 month recovery time. Very reluctantly, I agreed to the procedure for late November. I figured that I would take the Winter off.

When the day of the surgery arrived, I was incredibly unhappy and stressed. I honestly could not imagine my life without running. But when I awoke after surgery and was informed that it had gone better than expected, and that my recovery time would be 3 weeks rather than 3 months, I was ecstatic. Don't misunderstand, the recovery process really sucked. I think I had underestimated just how much it would suck. The running road to recovery, once the knee had strengthened was baby steps. 2 miles, then 3, then 5 - all spread out over a few weeks. My quads had evaporated, and my hamstrings were seriously taxed. The after effects of the initial runs felt like those awful growing pains I had in my legs as a kid. The never-ending dull ache that simply couldn't be addressed sufficiently. But, I'm happy to report, a month and a week after surgery, I was back up to 8.5 miles with no strain at all. I still can't knock out miles at full speed without feeling a bit of pressure on the knee. But distance doesn't seem to be a limiting factor anymore.

About the time I was getting mentally prepared for the operation, I hired a swim coach to get my form under control. I figured that while I was off of running (for 3 months, I thought), I might as well learn to swim well. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. In the past month I have fallen in love with the sport. I am no Mark Spitz (wow, does that date me), but I am getting better at form and increasing distance. Swimming will never usurp running, but will rather, compliment it.

Running highlights for me in 2011 included helping out at a couple of races. Eric Henry and I got up at 3 a.m. one day and were clearing crazy scary spider webs off of the trails by 4 a.m. ahead of the inaugural Hawk 100 race. The eerie nature of the Clinton North Shore trails in pitch blackness is something you just have to experience, because any description I'd give wouldn't convey the surreal vibe that envelops you in that place and time. The second race that I assisted was the Heartland 100. The race took 20 hours out of my day (including travel time), and was a lot of hard work. But the joy of being in the middle of the Flint Hills superseded all other emotions. It was windy,with intermittent rain, but stark and beautiful. During a lull in runners coming through our station, another Trail Hawk and I took off on a 5 mile run that was one of the great runs of the year. It was truly big sky country. I loved it.

Other memorable runs of the year:

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL - daily runs to the beach (and a spectacular beach it was).

Running with Scott Jurek in Anaheim and Brendan Brazier in Baltimore - a nice fringe benefit of being in the natural products industry.

Tucson, AZ - 7 and 10 mile runs along a dry riverbed. Deserts are my favorite places to be.

LA, CA - Always my top run - Hollywood Hills to Griffith Park Observatory and back. A run that cannot be beaten - mainly wilderness in the heart of LA.

Lawrence, KS - A run that began as a 5 miler along a pretty country road near my home, but with an exuberant burst of energy expanded to 18 miles, and included the SLT trail and Bunker Hill at Clinton before all was said and done.

Olathe, KS - Colleen's Sweaty Ass Run - I decided at the very last minute that I would drive over and run for a spell (as they say). I think it was 12 miles later before I thought I ought to head home in order to beat the weekend bar crowds driving home on K-10 between Lawrence and KC. Great run in the country.

River Trails, Lawrence, KS - Chris Ford and I ran the trails on a snowy day. It was stupid and shockingly brutal, because the snow came up to our knees in places. Once the run was complete it was great. Until then, it sucked. Just kidding, we had an awesome time confronting the challenges that the conditions presented.

Clinton, KS - Woodbridge - Honestly, the 8.5 miles we did on the (new-to-me) trails there yesterday were a relief. They provided ample evidence of my return to form since surgery. The trails are also alternately smooth and technical.

Total Mileage for 2011 - @ 1,150 mi

In other news

2011 was the year I rediscovered Albert Camus. For months I could not stop reading works by, or about him. He replaced Hemingway as my favorite writer. I wrote a lot about him in previous blogs, so I'll forego additional comments here.

The top book on running for me was Once a Runner. It is a classic. I'm reading the sequel, Again to Carthage, now.

Other top reads: As God Commands - a brilliant novel by Niccolo Ammaniti - translated from Italian. Just Kids - Patti Smith's book about her life with RObert Mapplethorpe (I might've had this on last year's list as well - it was a Christmas present). I read a lot of other books, and almost included The Taqwacores, but nothing else really jumped out at me, quite honestly.

Movies and TV

Breaking Bad - nothing beats this crazy, spectacular series.
Bold Native - interesting movie.
Win Win - an odd and sweet movie about a wrestler and his coach.

Most listened to song of 2011

Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend - I know, I know. Trust me, I know....

I'm going to think about these abbreviated lists a bit more, and maybe have additional posts later.


Overall, 2011 was not a great year. I felt way too much stress, and was unhappy for large chunks of it. I don't feel right going into all of the complex feelings and machinations that brought it all about. However, as noted in this blog, there were some tremendous bright spots. My friends and family all are well. I'm happy to be mobile and once again creating new personal goals for intellectual and athletic growth.

My plans for 2012 are to run and swim more; do a few 50K-type runs with friends; go back to Europe or South/Central America; drink a bit less; and try to be a more 'present' and compassionate person. I want it all to lead, eventually, to a life that is driven by a greater sense of purpose, and much less by money (and the baggage that accompanies that type of life).

Ciao for now.


  1. Here's to an adventurous 2012!!

  2. Have you read BORN TO RUN? I'm in the early chapters, it seems pretty good.

  3. Yes. Born to Run is a great book. I've written about it many times. It also makes a great gift.

  4. I'm struck by how well you write, Al. Often, reading your blog is like sitting at lunch and hearing you speak. Do you occasionally knock out a short story at home or have a few chapters of the great American novel on your hard drive? Great post and year-end summary!

  5. I've written the great American novel (in my head). I'm waiting to publish posthumously, but it will be a bit hard to find an agent when I am posthumed (or wrong-side-of-the-grass). The answer, truthfully, is that I go through spurts of writing, but have never really put anything like a story successfully together. I would love to, though.