Trails of Glory

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pre-Flight Adventure in the Oregon Wilderness

After a long week spent in Salem, Oregon evaluating the Army National Guard Support Facility we relocated to Portland Sunday night in order to more easily catch our flights home Monday morning. I had an 11:30am departure so I would have a couple hours to kill Monday morning. Originally I searched the local area map and decided I would battle rush hour traffic and drive through downtown and across the Willamette River to Forest Park.
Another interesting option was suggested by a longtime friend of mine, Chris Winson, who lives in Southwest Portland. I stopped by his house on the way to the airport hotel Sunday night and we enjoyed a bratwurst and a brew. I told him my plan to run Forest Park the next morning and he quickly suggested driving 40 minutes east of Portland on I-84 to the Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls trail. He had hiked the trail previously and emphasized that to get the most out of it you really should make the 6.5 mile effort to the tunnel. His description of the awesomeness of this trail became tantalizing. I had to come up with a time plan.

Backward Plan
1130 - plane leaves Portland
1045 - check-in and get through security
1030 - return rental car 
1000 - shower, pack bags, and load up car 
0945 - refuel rental car
0910 - leave trailhead after uploading Strava and texting Trish my safe return from the wilderness
0900 - finish route (actual run time 1 hour 59 minutes 55 seconds)
0655 - begin running (plan to average 10 minute miles up and 8 minute miles down with photos)
0645 - pull in to parking lot and pay $5 for the park fee
0610 - leave hotel
0600 - free breakfast starts in hotel lobby (muffin and apple; I still have the apple)
0530 - wake up

So this is how it works, at least for me anyway; and it timed out perfectly. I guess in retrospect I never accounted for any wiggle room except for about 10 minutes of photo taking.
I began my trek up the river gorge just before 7am. The temperature was 50 degrees so I wrapped a light jacket around my waist in case it got cooler on the way up or began raining. I never used it and it never rained although all of the vegetation was wet from last evening's showers. The first half-mile is paved as I didn't realize that I could have driven further into the park. The Eagle Creek trail advertises approximately 1600 feet ascent over 6 miles which is about a 5% average grade. This is very runnable albeit at a reduced pace. Except for stops to take pictures and a couple of rocky sections I rarely slowed to a walk and managed exactly 10 minute miles reaching the falls at 1:05.


The greenery, moss covered everything, and the sound of cascading waterfalls is never-ending. The trail is mostly on a somewhat even surface rather than sloping toward the edge. This is good because like the website states there are several steep drop-offs and recommends neither dogs or kids. I know my dogs would be fine as most dogs have common sense; they generally seem smart enough not to go jumping off of cliffs. That being said, I would not take children under the age of 13; well considering today's mindset maybe up that to the age of 16.
After only a mile and a half there is a diversion trail to go down to Punch Bowl Falls. You can get a great view of it from above along the main route. At the 5-mile mark I found a slippery log crossing and managed to carefully get to the other side without dropping my phone into the rushing stream below. At mile 6 it was eerily quiet as I expected to hear the sought after Tunnel waterfall. I could hear the river below but no thundering falls so I began to think that the trail was longer than advertised. After another 5 minutes all of a sudden I rounded a bend and there was Tunnel Falls, a plunge type of waterfall ever so gradually retreating over the millennia of time.

I stashed my water bottle on the side of the trail and put my phone on video mode while I entered the tunnel behind the fall. The experience of being so close to a roaring cascade of water and mist is quite simply breathtaking and awesome! Droplets of water fell on my head as I entered the tunnel and immediately I spied light at the other end. Once through the dynamite-bIasted tunnel I found the trail continuing up and around another bend. I was at my pre-planned time limit and after testing my wits and peering into the plunge pool I backtracked through the tunnel back to my water bottle.

I was completely chilled and wet from the mist and now ready to accelerate my pace on the 5% downgrade of the trail. I hand carried one of those flimsy free water bottles from the hotel and had not even taken a sip until I turned around. I would only drink half of it by the end. I guess the humid environment, adrenaline, and excitement of a solo wilderness adventure led to no concern for my hydration. The sun began to break through the clouds on the return trip and illuminated the mossy covered forest and hillsides in a different manner than on the way up. About a mile down the trail I encountered another trail runner near the slippery log crossing and another half-mile further seen another trail runner on his way up. I increased my stride and pace trying to see if I could beat the 2-hour clock. I did it by 5 seconds and called Trish to tell her I was ok.

Being able to do this is trail on a Monday due to a travel day was a blessing. According to reviews the Eagle Creek trail is very popular and crowded on weekends. I began to see small groups of hikers during the last two mile as it was now approaching 9am.

Needless to say, if you are ever in the Portland area I highly recommend taking the 35-minute diversion east of town on I-84 to exit 41 and experience the trail magic for yourself.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Message to Friends About Leaving Tucson and Career Change

Initially I planned to post a quick message to FB and let all of you know that I have been afforded a career opportunity which involves relocation to Washington, DC. Well, that turned into a blogpost because some of what I have to say is for those who really are interested and make the effort to read the blog and my message is a bit longer than the typical 100 word FB post.

I have been accepted to fill a Maintenance Officer position on the Army Resource Management Survey team based out of the DC region at National Guard Bureau. This is a start-up program so I will be stepping in at the ground level. The position is an Active Duty Operational Support tour for up to 3 years. My wife Trish, the dogs, cats, and I are moving March 1st. I will have the option to return to my current employment upon completion of the tour.

It's interesting that it is has taken 30 years of ascending the same career path ladder to finally have an opportunity to showcase my knowledge, skills, and abilities. You would think that after 12-18 years a person should have almost every qualification needed to be an expert in their field. For many in the civilian sector that may be the case. The typical person that joins the military comes from a blue-collar, lower to middle-class background with very little financial ability to seek advanced education. We typically are underachievers during our high school years, enlist in the military, gain a technical specialty, serve our country, start families, fight wars; and then maybe attend some college courses in our precious spare time taking 10-15 years attaining a Bachelor's Degree. All of this pretty much describes me.

I can recall back to basic training every step taken during my military career. I wasn't always careful about early choices especially the ones that got me in trouble or ended in divorce. After the Marine Corps and into my later 20's I gained a better awareness of the importance of military education and professional accomplishments. Before every seemingly meaningless school or absence from home I explained to Trish that each certificate or deployment created a building block. Over time all of these blocks can be assembled into a solid foundation that strengthens a Soldier and furthers their career. Becoming an Army Warrant Officer is the strongest part of my foundation and was initially built by leadership schools I attended as a younger enlisted person. You can't just stack a bunch of blocks on top of each other though; you need mortar to hold them in place.

The mortar that holds all of my blocks together has been my love of running. Yes, this is a running blog and we've finally arrived at the subject. When I re-discovered the joy and benefits of running and fitness in my mid-20's I didn't have a life-plan; I just went out and ran. Mostly I was replacing bad habits with good habits. Once I found I had a knack for running I started competing in marathons; I scored the maximum of 300 points on the Army Physical Fitness Test every time I took it; I became a member of the National Guard Marathon Team for over 20 years eventually. I received fitness related comments on evaluation report comments that went in front of promotion boards; I attained awards based on running accomplishments as well as my technical abilities. My running helped me exceed standards at every level of military leadership schooling I attended – combined with excellent academic test scores. Running has not only helped me physically but also strengthened me mentally. I think you get the point; running is the mortar that holds my foundation together.

Over the years I have dealt with superiors, peers, and subordinates who have questioned me about my dedication to running. Some have called me selfish; some said I wasn't properly focused; some were jealous; most said I was crazy; a few admired what I did and supported me. I have had to explain and defend myself countless times. I took advantage of physical training time afforded to us at work and did training runs during lunch breaks. For the most part I ran on my own time spending several hours on weekends preparing for 50 and 100-mile races. Running has helped me to meditate on how to deal with problems at work; family issues; career choices; and plain just made me feel alive.

I had a superior complain once, "There is a perception that Chase Duarte gets paid to run marathons; he doesn't know his job." "Very perceptive," I said, "But you're missing a couple things." I have gone on fitness related orders 81 times over 22 years using my earned vacation time and at the same time excelled at my job. The part my superiors never recognized was that I was responsible for influencing dozens of people to enlist in the military that were searching for direction in life and wanted to accomplish something meaningful. I also spent countless hours giving advice, mentoring, and making training plans for hundreds of Soldiers who needed help maintaining their eligibility just to stay in the military. I've influenced many Soldiers to seek a higher rank and accept challenging positions as aviators and maintenance officers. It's called recruiting, retention, and most importantly – mentorship. It's also setting the example and leading the way.

On the subject of leadership, if you are a leader then get to know your people. Have some fun at work. Don't be an asshole and don't allow assholes in the workplace. I once had a supervisor who told me, "You don't come to work to have fun; you're paid to do your job and nothing else." He was an asshole. I allow my employees to have fun. They rarely let me down. They always accomplish the mission and clean-up priorities with a sense of urgency. They're basically making me look good. I reward them often even if it is slightly under the table.  Learn from this; turn negatives into positives. It can be difficult and take time but perseverance pays off.

The last thing I want to mention here is some tidbits of advice. Take care of yourself and your career. No one will do this for you. Some people think they know what is best for you and will make decisions on your behalf without talking to you first. Don't ever allow this. When someone does talk to you, shows interest in who and what you are, and empowers you to do what you do best…recognize this as mentorship. Mentorship is a good thing but unfortunately it has become a rarity; too many people are self-serving and only concerned about their evaluation reports. Don't act self-righteous or become hypocritical in your actions. Strive to be fair and objective but also defend your morals. Improve yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually. Learn from life's experiences and develop some common sense. Learn from your mistakes and then quit repeating them. Set goals; short, mid, and long-term. It's ok if they seem unattainable at the time. I was good at goal-setting awhile back but I failed to make the long-term goals challenging enough, like writing and publishing a book. Now I'm in the process of doing it. Live life with a sense of adventure, get outside and soak up the sun. Don't let haters bring you down. Use experience to evaluate situations and take decisive action. Pave your own path.

The bottom line out of this rant is that you need to take care of yourself in all areas of your life. Prepare yourself for success. It may take awhile for opportunities to present themselves but when they do; you will be prepared to accept any challenge. Trish and I are looking forward to this new adventure and chapter in our lives. We're excited about the opportunity and eager to see what new experiences life has to offer.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Hardrock Quandary

I had planned to spend a light summer of trail running while cross-training on the bike and focusing on corework. You know, all the stuff that most of us ultra-runners seem to ignore. Around mid-July the realization that I no longer have a Hardrock qualifier for next year's lottery means that my quest to run Hardrock 100 has come to an end. After talking with my long time friend and equally unsuccessful HR entrant Chris Fall, he convinced me to reconsider. Here is my thought process about the possibility of pulling off a 100-mile trail race in time to qualify for the Hardrock 100 lottery for 2015.
I have entered the lottery the past four years. I had 8 tickets in the 2014 lottery and next year would have 16 if I had a valid qualifying race. I could have started trying sooner and bettered my chances of getting selected to the point that I probably would have been drawn by now. My first 100-mile finish was Western States in 2006 which was considered a qualifier at that time. I was afraid of Hardrock in 2007 and 2008. I only had two hundreds under my belt, the second one being Wasatch in 2007. Hardrock is considered a post-graduate run and I was only in my second year of school preceded by an early dropout at Angeles Crest in 2003. I couldn't fathom trying something that difficult that early in my 100-mile career. Then I read some race reports and eventually traveled to Silverton, Colorado to help Bob Bachani with his race in 2009. Last year I paced him for the last 40 miles during his third finish whcih awarded him his Post-Doctorate of Distance. I've also trained on many of the trails and seen about 65% of the course. I'm not afraid anymore.
After last year's Leadville finish I should have had two years of eligibility in the lottery good through 2015. The HR Board determined that Leadville would no longer be a qualifier and allowed those of us who finished in 2013 to use it for only one year. Kind of a bullshit move if you ask me. I don't have a problem with removing Leadville but to take away a year of lottery eligibility was unnecessary. My quandary is that I would need another qualifier this year instead of backing off for a year and taking it easy; which is what I've been doing so far this summer. I basically had written off the HR post-graduate accomplishment and decided to move on although it still bothered my soul.
Now as Hardrock weekend approaches and I am sitting it out in Tucson it has occurred to me that I have put too much effort and sacrifice into making this happen to let it go. To throw it away just to start over with one ticket a couple of years from now makes no sense. How can I accomplish the seemingly impossible task of running an HR qualifier between now and December 1st?
First of all, there are very few qualifying runs left. My only two options are on the same weekend of September 27th. Bear 100 traverses the Northern Wasatch Range near the border of Utah and Idaho north of Salt Lake City starting in Logan. I finished Bear in 2009 coming off a torn hamstring four months earlier. I power hiked all of my training and had a goal of 34 hours, 2 hours under the 36 hour cut-off. I managed some light running on downhills but stuck mainly to the hiking plan and finished in just over 30 hours including a 30-minute nap. Bear is a beautiful course especially in the fall when the leaves are turning color and only one state away from Arizona for travel purposes.
The other race is much closer to home and starts in Pine, Arizona north of Payson. The Mogollon Monster is run along many of the Mogollon Rim trails and is actually 106 miles in length. A good portion of the route is on trails that I have run during my 5 Zane Grey 50-mile finishes. The race cost is $235 and I would have to complete 8 hours of volunteer work between now and then. The major plus to this option is that I can drive up there and not incur nearly the travel costs of going to Utah. Plus I could more easily get a pacer to go with me. I believe the obvious answer is to stay nearer to home and hug the Monster.
My biggest conundrum is how I get ready to attempt this feat in two and a half months with some level of confidence that I can finish in the 36-hour cutoff. Another problem is convincing my wife Trish that this is something that makes any sense at all. We've had some recent discussions and determined that running 100 miles maybe isn't the best thing for one's health. I can't deny that I have looked like death warmed over for up to a week after some of my 100-mile finishes. I think that after learning some lessons about taking care of myself during the event I have fared much better afterwards. I believe that being realistic about my current ability and accepting that 3 miles an hour from the start is the proper thing to do will lead to a successful finish.
For now I am going to plan a couple of longish (30-40 miles) mountainous trail run/hikes between now and Labor Day weekend. That gives me 3 available training weekends. I have National Guard drill on two other weekends between now and then so those are out. I could go back-to-back days on a couple of weekends and plan one overnighter. The whole goal here is to finish the 106 miles with no time goals except meeting the cut-offs and gaining my qualifier. I would have to try and not only stay awake all night but for another 12 hours the next day; excellent Hardrock training by the way.
I have to admit that the mountains are a part of who I am. The challenge of getting out there all day and night in the weather and amongst the natural beauty is something I cannot just walk away from. I am going to give myself until after Labor Day weekend to make my decision on this. Any thoughts…encouragement…stupid…crazy…impossible...are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The 2014 trip to Boston would be my first.  I had never been to New England or run the famous Boston Marathon. I have completed over 50 marathons and ran Boston qualifying times in almost everyone of them. I had been continually asked over the years by fellow runners, family, and co-workers, "Are you going to run Boston?"

"No...why would I?" The travel costs and logistics of finding a place to stay, and the horror stories of standing around in corralled waiting areas for hours prior to the start of the race; none of this sounded fun to me. Another major factor against running Boston for me and my Guard team running compatriots is the fact that the National Guard trials marathon is only two weeks after the Boston race. Who would run Boston and expect to run a fast enough time 13 days later at Lincoln, risking not making the team for the upcoming year?

Well, after the tragedy of the Boston Marathon finish line 2013, I and every other marathoner that could qualify wanted to be in Boston April 21, 2014 to help support the event and community by displaying our presence in defiance of terrible acts of wrongdoing. I ran a minus 20 minute Boston qualifier and was reasonably certain I could attain a spot in this year's expanded field of 36,000 runners. The Guard team was also eager to represent so I traveled with a small contingent of the team. I showed up for the first time in 24 years of running marathon races.

Trish and I flew out of Phoenix on Saturday two days before the Monday race. We found a non-stop 5 plus hour flight into Logan Airport. As soon as we boarded the plane I recognized Shalane Flanagan sitting in the first row of first class. She is currently the best female marathoner in the U.S. and was heading to Boston to run her own amazing race (7th place and 3-minute PR in 2:22). The flight was filled with runners all making their own pilgrimage to the running Mecca of Beantown. The entire flight experienced abnormal turbulence. The flight attendants had their hands full trying to keep a hundred hydrating runners in their seats and out of the aisles standing in bathroom lines.

We stayed at the Constitution Inn in Charlestown, northeast of downtown Boston. The Freedom Trail right outside our door led us past the USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill Monument. Saturday evening we walked over to Warren Tavern and enjoyed a pint of Harpoon IPA. The tavern dates back to 1780 and is known for George Washington's visits for "refreshments."

On Sunday I went over to the race expo to get my race number and packet. Luckily this was the third day of the expo and many runners had already been there. It was still very busy and was abuzz with excitement and energy. Later that afternoon we stopped for lunch at a brewpub downtown next to TD Garden where the Bruins and Celtics play. There happened to be a hockey playoff game that afternoon and downtown was filled with fans wearing jerseys and pre-lubing for the game.

Finally the day of the race arrived. Boston Marathon starts unusually late in the morning compared to other races. This year they developed a 4-wave start, each 25 minutes apart with the first wave starting at 10am. Each wave was separated into 9 corrals all according to your qualifying time. I was in wave 1, corral 7, number 6433. We got dropped off by our support people at the final bus transport to Hopkinton Village. At 9am the first wave was allowed to leave for the .7 mile stretch to the start line. I spent a long time waiting in line at the port-o-johns and eventually jogged to the start around 9:30. Plans were made the previous week to meet my friend Tim Vandervlugt at the start so we could run together. He had the same wave and corral as me and with only 1,000 people in each corral I didn't think it would be that hard to find him. We agreed to meet one-third of the way back on the left hand side. I got there and looked around until less than one minute before the start when he showed up.

The weather turned out to be perfect. It was a sunny day in the low 50s with a light tailwind and a predicted high of 65 degrees. There were already hundreds of people outside of the corrals cheering for runners and offering last minute support in the form of Vaseline, band-aids, and water. There was even a group of college students offering beer, cigarettes, and donuts. A vibration of excitement filled the air as the Star Spangled Banner was sung followed by a 4-ship Blackhawk helicopter flyover. The start-gun went off and we began to walk toward the start line. It would take 5 minutes to reach the actual start before we clicked on our watches and the chip on our race bibs gave proof we had crossed the line.

My plan was to run 7:15 mile pace with Tim for 13-16 miles. Tim expressed that from there he wanted to pick-up the pace and see what he could do. I knew that I needed to purposely slow the pace after the halfway mark in order to save some energy for Lincoln in two weeks. We started out easily amongst a throng of screaming spectators. Shortly the course was lined in trees instead of people and many runners peeled off to relieve themselves after standing in line too long holding their water. This looked like a good idea and was the perfect time to take care of business. With the pit stop our first mile clocked 7:41.

Our pace quickly settled in around 7 minutes as the first part of the race course is slightly downhill. The pack did not thin out as we ran elbow to elbow and had to keep an eye out not to step on heels. The spectators along the course were like nothing I had ever witnessed. The entire route was lined with cheering and screaming fans. They were shouting, "U..S..A.., U..S..A..," and singing "Sweet Caroline," by Neil Diamond. The runners joined in on the chants and sang along with the chorus. It was incredible! I have never experienced this before, it was spiritual and motivational.  

After 8 miles the pack had still not thinned out very much. My right ankle was aching a bit probably from wearing lightweight trainers instead of the Hokas I had been training in. Occasionally it seemed that the temperature was getting warmer and it might become hot but then we ran through a shady stretch and a light breeze cooled us off again. Tim and I decided to keep up the 7 minute pace until after the famous Wellesley College section of screaming female fanatics at mile 13. Around mile 12 I could hear the girls from a half-mile away. Many of them were holding signs describing their ethnicity or special talents that could be transferred to a runner by giving them a kiss. I watched many male runners zip over to the side and get a smooch. I ran by low-fiving their outstretched hands and grinning ear to ear as the high pitch of frenzied excitement continued for almost 2 miles.

After Wellesley Tim kept up the pace and I slowed to 7:30 miles. My feet and ankles were feeling the effect of pavement pounding so I lessened my pace to that of a comfortable long run. This would last until Heartbreak Hill. Never running the course before and hearing stories I could only visualize Heartbreak Hill on an elevation map. It didn't look like much but then again you have to run 20 miles to get to it. There was a hill right after the 19-mile marker that I thought was Heartbreak but it was too short. Shortly after the 20-mile marker I experienced the Heartbreak. Due to the hill it turned out to be my slowest mile split of the race at 7:50. I managed to run every step and not give into the temptation to take a walk break. At this point in the race there were dozens of people walking on the sides of the street. Whenever the desire to slow down to a walk occurred I moved over to the right side of the road and slapped hands with the multitudes of children waving their hands out for high-fives. The influx of energy and emotion from the crowd kept me moving.

With 10K to the finish my legs were tired and I searched for each mile marker. The crowds lining the course were three to five rows deep and the cheering was deafening. There were people standing on mailboxes and milk crates. At mile 24 it began to sink in that my journey on the historic Boston Marathon course would be over in 15 minutes. Part of me didn't want the race to end but physically I was aching to cross the finish line and stop and find my wife Trish.

I passed the "1K to go" marker which is just over half of a mile and then shortly after that made a left turn onto Boylston Street where last year's tragic events unfolded in the form of a terrorist bomb. Last year's horrific human-caused tragedy resulting in hundreds of injuries and three deaths would be transformed this year into a determined celebration of life. At this time the thoughts and scenes from last year did not surface as I went by mile 26 and surged for 2 tenths of a mile in order to cross the finish line amidst a screaming mob of cheers. Shortly after I stopped and walked a couple hundred feet on painful feet, ankles, and knees I collected my finisher's medal. I finally found and captured the elusive unicorn.

My finish time of 3:11:51 hopefully would prove that I saved a little for the trials in two weeks. At the 13.1 mark I was at 1:33 so my second half was 8 minutes slower than the first half. This is typical but the closer the gap is for the better. It indicates a more even paced race throughout. When the difference is over 10 minutes it usually means that you crashed and burned somewhere after 16 miles and much suffering took place. This wasn't the case for me as I managed to run every step of the way. Every finisher was provided with a lightweight poncho to keep warm and then walked through a gamut of food and drink giveaways.

The pain of running 26.2 miles slowly dissipated as I found Trish and other friends who had already finished their race. It turned out to be a beautiful afternoon in Boston on Victory Day. As we walked the 2 miles back to our hotel we noticed all of the pubs and restaurants were filled with people watching the marathon on television and enjoying libations. For the Boston Marathon, community, spectators, and runners around the world, they got their city and their marathon back. This is one day that I will never forget.