Month: December 2006

I Love Hooters

Beer, chicken wings, curly fries, bacon cheeseburger, and girls in orange Dolfin shorts — yup, that would be Hooters. Oh yeah, they happened to be showing the big UFC 66 fight between Chuck Liddel and Tito Ortiz as well that drew a capacity crowd of 14,607 at MGM, with a $5.4M live gate, a record for martial arts.

If you’re wondering…Liddel kicked his ass (as predicted)! TKO with about a minute left in the 3rd round. There were some good undercard fights as well — the biggest upset was Forest Griffin losing to Keith Jardine.

Next up — Georges St Pierre vs Matt Serra in UFC 67 on Feb 3 at Mandalay Bay.

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Just Another Day in Vegas

It’s business as usual in Sin City…Christmas Day, and there’s the mass of tourists and shoppers along the Strip. The only indication that it’s a holiday are some dealers and staff are wearing Santa hats — no sign of Santa himself though, or most anything else associated with Christmas. No songs about reindeers with red noses, dancing snowmen, or silent nights. No trees, lights, presents. Thank goodness — only the cheesy, over-the-top, gambling mecca that we all know and love (to hate). Where else is an obnoxious replica of the Eiffel Tower more appropriate than on Las Vegas Blvd.

According to the cabby who took me to the airport, he was surprised as to the number of people in town this year — I agreed with him. Two years ago, when I went at the same time of year, I remember it being more subdued — not empty, but much less chaotic than normal.

Vegas doesn’t know the time of day or the day of the week, including holidays such as Christmas — it knows only one thing….to keep you entertained. Of course that definition varies depending on who you talk to, but for most, that is gambling.

On the other hand, there is more to Vegas than just throwing money away — there are some fine shows, spas, and dining. I particularly have had good luck with food there recently, actually, a lot more luck especially compared to my attempts at hitting the jackpot.

This year, I ended up staying at the Hardrock — couldn’t pass on the $69/night rate they offered. It was unusual to see an empty pool on Sunday though, which during the summer becomes a giant orgy, full of near naked people partying it up at Rehab — the only casino to open their pool to the public.

I’ve become accustomed to bad food there until recently when I first discovered a great steakhouse called Del Frisco’s, which ranks up there with Mastro’s, Ruth’s Chris, and Morton’s — the latter two being within walking distance of each other.

On this trip, I got more adventurous and tried a Vietnamese Noodle place called Pho Hoa — who would expect to find one in Vegas of all places. The first time I tried going (on Christmas Day), it was packed, so I went to a Japanese restaurant next door called Yokohama Kaigenro instead, which turned out to be a great experience as well. It was very authentic — a place where you’d expect to find in a small remote village outside Tokyo. They had dishes like natto in fried tofu, grilled yellowtail cheek, and more typical entrees like shio ramen with fried rice. The clientele was mostly Japanese, along with the entire staff and cooks.

So I went to Pho Hoa the following day — surprisingly, it was a fairly large place, and it was packed, mostly with Vietnamese customers. I got the beef brisket noodles and fried egg rolls, and was pleasantly surprised — it definitely ranked as one of the better pho I’ve had. Turns out that this was one of several in a chain, the closest one in SoCal being in Westminster, which didn’t surprise me. The rest of the ones in California were located up north in the Bay area and Silicon Valley, along with several more scattered throughout the US, Canada, and overseas as well.

On Christmas day, I decided to take a walk down to the Strip, expecting it to be relatively quiet, but was proven wrong — it looked no different than any other day in Vegas. The streets were jammed packed with tourists and locals, not to mention all of the casinos and stores. The shops at Caesars were packed wall-to-wall with people, and some stores had lines out front for those wanting to go in because it was too full.

I made my way over to Casa Fuente, my usual stop when I’m there, and had a Fuente Anejo #77 (Shark), and a glass of Pisco sour (a Peruvian cocktail). After a couple cigars and drinks, I made my way back to the Hardrock where I deposited some more cash at the casino.

All in all, I had a good time, although I ended up spending more money than I would’ve liked. I flew back home before the massive amounts of people start heading in for the New Year’s celebration — can’t imagine how that is, and don’t think I want to find out though.

Maybe next year…

Former Nike ACG/Balance Bar Athlete Injured

Those who are familiar with adventure racing will know who Danelle Ballengee is — one of the most accomplished female athletes in the world, and a former Nike/ACG teammate, that consisted of Mike Kloser, Michael Tobin, and Ian Adamson. Currently, she is racing with Team Spyder, who is made up of Travis Macy, Dave Mackey and John Jacoby. I was fortunate enough to see her team when we were in Moab during the Primal Quest — she had just come off a ropes section at the Priests and Nuns (see photo below), a few days into the race.

I honestly believe that her background in multi-day expedition races, which involves extreme mental and physical challenges helped her survive two sub-zero nights.

Let’s all wish her a speedy recovery, and if you would like to contact and/or contribute to her fund, you’ll find it listed below.

Here’s an article in the Summit Daily News.

A bedside interview on the Today S how.

From the SCARABS e-mail list:

Some of you may have heard about Danelle and her accident. I just spoke with Gary, her dad, and got some details. She is okay, but is in pain and has a long recovery ahead of her. Danelle was trail running with her dog Taz in Moab and took a fall on black ice near the Amasaback trail. She broke her pelvis and was basically immobilized. Some lucky factors came into place for her though, as she was where someone wouldn’t normally go. She had a couple of gels and some water and was able to get to a puddle for more hydration. Her neighbor called Gary when she happened to notice the lights on at Danelle’s house and Gary called the Moab police. Rescuers found her truck immediately but not her. They searched for her on foot and ATV’s and came closr to not immediately finding her. Danelle ended up spending two nights out in sub zero temperatures and was found on the third day by rescuers who were led to Nellie by Taz. She came close to spending a third night out, which Gary thinks may have been the end of her. She was transported to Grand Junction and is now at Denver General Hospital, where she will have surgery on Tuesday. Obviously, the positive side is that she is okay and alive, but Gary says it will be a long emotional, physical, and financial recovery. She may need help down the road in many ways, so keep your ears open and feel free send a card, give a call, etc. The hardest part may be after surgery when she needs friends most. I hope you are all well.
Dave

She is receiving mail through her friend Michelle:

Michelle Lyons
PO Box 1590
Dillon, CO 80435

Here is the address for contributions to Danelle’s recovery fund:

Mail checks in her name to :
FirstBank,
PO Box 347
Silverthorne, CO 80498
marked “for Ballengee recovery fund”

This is OC?

Jeff and I drove together for the Twin Peaks 50 training run in OC Saturday — a 14 mile loop (although it was argued to be a tad longer) starting from Trabuco Creek Rd off the 241 toll road in Rancho Santa Margarita. The trailhead is about 4.5 miles east of here on dirt road, accessible by high clearance vehicles, although Kyle managed to (barely) make it in his car.

When we drove up to the parking area, there was a bunch (20+?) of people there for the run, but didn’t really recognize anyone other than Xy and Hwa Ja. After we parked (note — the forest service requires an Adventure Pass), I introduced myself to Jessica, waited for the run to start, and for Kyle to arrive. After a brief announcement, primarily directions for the route, we were off.

Jessica was pretty clear as to which way to turn at the junctions, but people still did end up getting lost unfortunately — I know at least one person who turned the wrong way on Main Divide, and according to some bikers we ran into, there were several more he had to give directions to.

We were basically going in a clockwise loop starting up Holy Jim, then east on the Main Divide, and finally down West Horsethief back to the trailhead — some may be familiar with parts of the area from doing the Saddleback Marathon and the WTRS starting out in Blue Jay. I was with Jeff and Kyle at first, then after Kyle went ahead, I ran with Jeff and a friend of his, Jonathan, plus a few others we leap frogged with up to the fireroad. The weather was cloudy and cold, then as we neared the top of the ridge, it became foggy and windy. It never really warmed up, and started to rain off and on — always enough to get wet, but not soaked. I had two layers on, plus a light shell, but wish I took my gloves with me too. I also took a 50oz bladder and an additional 20oz bottle, which was just enough for the 3+ hours we were out there, and I think we managed to do about 3000′ of climbing during that time.

Here’s a short mountain bike video going down Holy Jim.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to find trails like that in OC, but with the San Gabriels in my backyard, it’s hard to justify driving 4 hours for a 3 hour run, although it was nice to have a lot of company, and Jeff to drive the rest of the way from his house.

Best Beer in the World?

The Westvleteren 12 is currently ranked #1 on both beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com. But wait — before you rush out to BevMo for a six-pack, let me just say that you will not find it there, or any other store for that matter. The beer is only made in Belgium at the Westvleteren Brewery (Brouwerij Westvleteren), near the town of Poperinge, in the municipality of Westvleteren.

Along with the Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap), a 10.2% ABV quadrupel introduced in 1940, the brewery has two others, which are also highly rated. The Westvleteren Blonde (green cap), a 5.8% ABV pale ale introduced in 1999, and the Westvleteren 8 (blue cap), an 8% ABV Dubbel. All bottles have been sold without labels since 1945, so all legally required info is written on the tops. They are also the only beer which do not have the Trappist logo displayed on the bottle — instead, they are printed on the wooden crates.

The brewing at Westvleteren started in 1838, and is the only one to retain the copper vessels through the wars. It is also the only brewery where all the brewing is done by monks — five monks run the brewery, and an additional five assist during bottling.

Like all other Trappist breweries, the beer is sold to support the monastery, and does not exist for profit motives. The monks have stated they will only brew enough beer to run the monastery, regardless of demand. During WWII, the brewery stopped supplying wholesalers, and only sell to individual buyers.

Originally, buyers were limited to ten 24-bottle creates of beer per car, but after increased popularity, the limit has been reduced to two or three cases, depending on the variety. The yearly production is 4750 hL, which is 125400 gallons, according to my calculations, and there is no plan to increase it.

The only way you can acquire this legally is by visiting the monastery in person, or at the abbey-owned inn In de Vrede. Or, you can choose to buy it online via the grey market — ebay currently has an auction for a case sold by someone residing in Belgium.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one after my friend Bill and I met at BJ’s for our occasional beer get-together, and gave me a bottle that he managed to find somewhere. I’ve not had it yet, and am waiting for a special occasion — perhaps I’ll accompany it with a Cohiba Siglo VI.

Should I Become a Monk?

If you thought Sam Thompson or Dean Karnazes’ 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days achievement blew your mind, then read or watch what some buddhist monks do in Japan to reach enlightenment below.

Summary:

Location: Mt Hiei, near Kyoto Japan; 5 main peaks (highest at 2782′); rain, high humidity, snow
Footwear: straw sandals (couple spare pairs)
Equipment: cord of death (for hanging) and knife (to commit suicide), secret holy book, candles, matches, food offerings, and rosary; paper lantern
Clothing: short kimono undershirt, pants, hand/leg covers, outer robe (same as funeral attire)
Food: miso soup, rice balls
Start time: midnight with finish time around 7:30-9:30am
Rules: allowed to sit once for 2 minutes; 250 prayer stops
When: end of March to mid-October
Total Duration: 1000 days over 7 years
Year 1: 100 days @ 18-25M/day
Year 2: 100 days @ 18-25M/day
Year 3: 100 days @ 18-25M/day
Year 4: 200 days @ 18-25M/day (allowed to wear socks w/ sandals and carry walking stick)
Year 5: 200 days @ 18-25M/day (7.5 days w/o food/water/sleep)
Year 6: 100 days @ 37.5M/day (finish times in 14-15 hours)
Year 7: 100 days @ 52.5M/day (consume only 1450 calories/day)
Year 7: 100 days @ 18M/day (6 day fire ceremony; 100,000 mantras)
Total Miles: 24000-27000 Miles (distance around equator)
Finishing Rate: 46 men since 1885; 2 completed 2 full terms; 1 died by suicide after 2500 days for an attempt at 3 terms; average age in 30s, oldest at 61 who completed 2 terms
Finsher award: Enlightenment

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei

By Dave Ganci

It is March. It is midnight. Snow still covers the trails of Mount Hiei, which lies just northeast of the ancient city of Kyoto, in central Japan. Kakudo Suzuki, an aspiring Japanese Buddhist spiritual athlete or gyoja, attends an hour-long service in the Buddha Hall. He sips a bowl of miso soup and chews on a couple of rice balls. Then he dresses. His outfit is pure white — the color of death — the same thing he would be dressed in at his own funeral. It is cotton and consists of a short kimono undershirt, pants, hand and leg covers, a long outer robe and a priest’s outer vestment.

He wraps a white “cord of death”, around his waist with a sheathed knife tucked inside. Tendai Buddhist tradition dictates that if Kakudo does not complete his prescribed marathon runs and walks, and all the accompanying tasks, he must take his own life by either hanging or disemboweling himself. He also carries a small bag that holds his secret holy book, which will guide him on his journey and help him remember the 250 prayer stops to make along his 18-mile trip around Mount Hiei. Some of those stops will be to honor monks of the past who did not make it and died by suicide. Kakudo also carries candles, matches, a small bag of food offerings to the deities, and a rosary.

Mount Hiei has five main peaks, the highest being O-bie-dake at 2782 feet. It is a lush landscape of rain, high humidity and winter snows. The mountain is located in temperate western Japan, but the combination of relatively high altitude, trees that block out the sunlight and frigid air masses that move in from Siberia turns Mount Hiei into the “frozen peak” during the cold months. The mountain is a wildlife preserve full of forest animals — fox, rabbit, deer, badger, bear, boar, and the famous Hiei monkey.

Kakudo puts a pair of handmade straw sandals on his bare feet, and carries a couple of spare pairs. He also carries a straw raincoat and paper lantern. In stormy weather, the rain destroys the sandals in a couple of hours, extinguishes the lanterns, washes out the routes and soaks the spiritual trail runner to the bone.

Kakudo is one of the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei, and this will be only the first of 100 successive nights that he will get up at midnight, attend the service and start his marathon run/walk (kaihogyo) around Mount Hiei, completing the route between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. He will then attend an hour-long service, followed by bathing and the midday meal. After lunch, Kakudo will rest, then attend to temple chores. The last meal is taken around 6 p.m., and Kakudo gets to sleep around 8 or 9. The only variation in the 100-day ordeal will be a special 33-mile run through Kyoto, robbing him of one night’s sleep altogether.

During the route, Kakudo will sit down only once — beneath a giant sacred cedar for two minutes — to pray for the protection of the imperial family. After a first run with a master, Kakudo will be on his own. He may suffer cuts, sprains, stone bruises and punctures to his feet and ankles. He may run a fever, experience back and hip pain, develop hemorrhoids and diarrhea, suffer from frostbite, dehydration and hunger. But by about the 30th day, according to predecessors’ accounts, his discomfort will lessen as his body adapts to the pain and strain. By the 70th day he is run/walking with a smooth gait, head and shoulders erect, back straight, nose and navel aligned. He will continually chant mantras to the god, Fudo Myo-o. His spiritual goal is to become completely absorbed in the mountain and its surroundings, so that the pain and discomfort of the physical ritual will not be noticed, or at least be ignored. Kakudo hopes to achieve a state of Enlightenment– the pure spiritual joy of feeling one with the universe. As rugged as it appears, however, this test is merely a warmup in the ultimate spiritual quest of the Marathon Monks — the complete process entails seven more years and becomes progressively and unfathomably more difficult.

It is not clear exactly how these spiritual mountain marathons began, but records show that Chinese and Indian Buddhist texts of the eighth century stated that, “Mountain pilgrimages on sacred peaks is the best of practices.” From about 830 to 1130, pilgrimages took place to mounts Hira, Kimpu and Hiei. Kaihogyo‚ as the rituals are known today, evolved from 1310 to the present..

Since 1885, 46 marathon monks have completed the 1000-day journey — an ordeal that is an option for the gyoja who passes the 100-day test. Two monks completed two full terms; another died by suicide on his 2500th day, trying to complete three terms. The majority of monks who complete these odysseys have been in their 30s. The oldest completed his 2000th day when he was 61 years old. The number of monks who actually died or committed suicide along the path is not known, but the route on Mount Hiei is lined with many unmarked gyoja graves.

When he finishes the 100 days, Kakudo can petition Hiei Headquarters to be allowed to undertake the 1000-day spiritual challenge (sennichi kaihogyo). If his petition is accepted, he must free himself from all family ties and observe a seven-year retreat on Mount Hiei. Kakudo will then commit himself to 900 more marathons over a seven-year period. The first 300 are 18- to 25-mile runs undertaken 100 days in a row, from the end of March to mid-October over three years. Starting in the fourth year, Kakudo will be allowed to wear socks with the sandals. During the fourth and fifth years, he will run 200 consecutive marathons each year and will be allowed to carry a walking stick. At the completion of the 700th marathon, Kakudo will face the greatest trial of all, called doiri — seven and half days without food, water or sleep, sitting in an upright position and chanting mantras day and night. If he lives through this trial, which brings him to the brink of death and therefore to the ultimate appreciation of life, he will have attained the Buddhist level of Saintly Master of the Severe Practice (ogyoman jari).

Doiri begins several weeks prior to the actual fast. Kakudo will taper down his food and water intake to prepare himself for this near-death experience, eating simple meals of noodles, potatoes and soup up to the time of his fast. But hunger is the least of the suffering. Thirst, lack of sleep and the agony of sitting upright are much greater challenges. Working in 24-hour shifts, two fellow monks will attend to make sure Kakudo stays erect and awake. By the fifth day, Kakudo will be so dehydrated, he will taste blood. He will be able to rinse his mouth out but cannot swallow any water. Defecation stops by the third or fourth day, but urination continues — if ever so slightly — right up to the end. Kakudo’s only respite from the sitting position will be the 2 a.m. trip to the holy well to draw water and offer it to Fudo Myo-o — the principal godhead the marathon monks come to embody. The principle of Fudo Myo-o is that you must let nothing deter you from the appointed task. It takes Kakudo about 15 minutes to walk to the well on the first night. On the last day, the trip will take him over an hour, aided by his fellow monks. Doiri is no longer undertaken during the hot, humid summer months because dehydration causes permanent damage to the monks’ internal organs. Two monks perished this way.

According to what predecessors have experienced, Kakudo may become so sensitive to life that he will feel himself absorbing mist through his pores, hear ashes falling from incense sticks and smell food being prepared miles away. He will feel transparent, and experience existence in a state of crystal clarity. He will lose one quarter of his body weight.

Following the “700 hundred days of moving and the seven and a half days of stillness,” the next stage towards Enlightenment is the Sekisan Marathon (sekisan kugyo), which takes place the sixth year and consists of 100 consecutive days of 37.5 mile run/walks that require 14 to 15 hours to complete. The seventh and final year, Kakudo will run two 100-day terms. The first 100 days — considered by some to be the ultimate athletic challenge — consists of a daily 52.5 mile run/walk through Kyoto. That’s two Olympic marathons a day — for 100 days in a row!

An attendant will carry a folding chair for Kakudo to sit on at traffic lights and other obstructions. He will have learned to catch a few seconds of sleep at these stops. A monk saying goes: “Ten minutes of sleep for a marathon monk is worth five hours of ordinary rest.” Kakudo will actually get about two hours sleep in each 24 hours. While on his double marathons, he will bless followers along the route in Kyoto, pausing to touch their heads with his rosary. He will consume only 1450 calories a day. Physiologists says he should lose 15 to 20 pounds each month — but Kakudo will maintain his weight and stamina. How can he do this? Nobody knows for sure.

The final 100-day marathon test, during the seventh year, comes easily for Kakudo considering what he has been through. He will finish off his 1000-day odyssey with 18-mile daily runs. When he takes his final steps up to the temple on Mount Hiei, he will have traveled — on foot between 24,000 and 27,000 miles — a distance equal to one trip around the equator.

Finally, Kakudo will undertake the prayer, fast and fire ceremony (jumanmai diagoma). He will live on root vegetables, boiled pine needles, nuts and water. This fast dries him out, almost mummifying him, in order to keep him from perspiring excessively during the fire ceremony, when he will sit before a roaring blaze, casting patrons’ prayer sticks onto the flames, and chanting 100,000 mantras to Fudo Myo-o. This fire ceremony is one day shorter than doiri, and allows Kakudo some sitting-up sleep. Some monks have felt that this exercise is the greatest trial of all, greater than doiri.

How can the human body endure such trials? For 20 years, I worked as a trainer in Desert and Mountain Survival tactics for U.S. Military Special Warfare Groups (U.S. Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force and Special Forces), evaluating their physical and psychological adaptations to desert and mountain heat, cold, fatigue, hunger and sleep deprivation. The testing involved simulated worse-case scenarios where teams were separated from their gear and had to adapt to the rigors of the landscape and weather with what they had in their pockets — with aggressor forces searching for them. That experience taught me that it was simply mental determination — athletic ability, size or physical strength attributes counted for little — that separated the “survivors” from the “non-survivors.” As Scott Jurek has said (see Trail Runner No. 17): “When it comes down to it on race day, it’s a matter of who wants it more and who’s ready to work for it.” Mental stamina is what determines top finishers.

What can trail runners learn from the Marathon Monks? We can try to emulate their positive attitudes toward adversity and awareness principles to push us into a more spiritual realm. That means opening our senses to the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding environment. It does not mean coming in first or running the longest. We can enjoy another dimension — one of pure joy in the moment. We don’t need the special blessings of the athletically gifted. We don’t need to feel we must compete or race the clock. It means we can simply enjoy the experience, and learn to flow with the natural world.

In his book, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei, John Stevens sums up the greatest contributions of these spiritual adventurers: “The most admirable thing about the Hiei gyoja is their warmth, open-heartedness and humanity … Facing death over and over, the marathon monks become alive to each moment, full of gratitude, joy and grace. … [they] have much to teach us …: always aim for the ultimate, never look back, be mindful of others at all times, and keep the mind forever set on the Way.”

Dave Ganci, the Rogue Senior, trains Navy and Army Special Warfare troops on desert survival. He describes himself as “a middle-aged desert rat whose skin is hard and wrinkled from too much time running, climbing, and drinking cheap beer under the sun.”

Island Magic

Who can forget the images of Julie Moss crawling to the finish line in the 1982 Ironman.

Almost 25 years later, I watched this year’s Ironman Hawaii on TV this afternoon — I always look forward to it since it’s so nicely produced, and it’s also the closest I’m going to get to participating in this race. It’s so inspiring to see everyone from the pros who come in in about 8 hours, to the very last finisher this year, Sister Madonna Buder, completing her 21st Ironman at the age of 76, with only a minute to spare before the cutoff. It was heartbreaking to see Jonathan Blais, who in 2005, completed his first and only Ironman after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and seeing him this year confined to a wheelchair — next year, he will likely not be with us anymore. There was also Team Hoyt — the father and son team, whose son Rick is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Dick Hoyt towed his son the entire 2.4 miles, but unfortunately did not make the 2:20 hour swim cutoff.

I was actually in Kona during the 20th anniversary a few years ago, and it was just phenomenal — the race, the people, the volunteers, the athletes…truly magic. It’s hard to accurately describe to anyone who has never been there, but below is a story I’ve kept from an old issue of Triathlete magazine that comes close.

NO MEDAL — by Mitch Thrower (Triathlete #189)

I don’t remember his name, but I do remember his face. He was from Japan, and it was the night before the Ironman two years ago. I was walking back to the King Kamehameha Hotel after a pre-race dinner when I saw him running down Ali’i Drive. It was dark and he seemed to be in some trouble, though smiling in his pain.

At first glance, I thought he was on a training run, but then I noticed a woman crying and a family waiting nearby. As he stumbled down Ali’i to the finish, the whole family broke down. Amidst the hammering and the yelling of the finish line construction crew, his family cheered as he approached the small road sign marking the finish. They caught him as he crossed the line and I realized what was happening.

With a hint of disbelief, I asked one of his relatives, “Why are you crying?” She looked at me and said, “He just did the Ironman today. Because he did not qualify, he did it the day before the race, when everything was marked. We were following him all day.” Tears streamed down this woman’s cheek and she turned and rejoined his finish line crowd of five. I approached the gentleman and shook his hand. Looking me straight in the eye, he bowed. I bowed in return with respect, admiration, and a bit of astonishment. Sunburned and exhausted, his arms hung on the shoulders of his wife and daughter — the “catchers”. There was no massage table to relax on, no chicken soup, no loud cheering crowd, no finishers’ T-shirt, no medal to take home. There was only the satisfaction in knowing that he had just spent the entire day completing the Ironman distance for himself and for his family.

What kind of race can motivate athletes to compete — even when there is no race? What intense energy lies under the lava in Kona, behind the WTC, and in the hearts of the athletes who lead the way on the Kona coast of dreams?

It is the same energy Rea’l Andrews experienced, pushing to the finish line where his brother who is fighting cancer awaited his hug. It is the strength that Judy Molnar found to return and face this race again — and finish. It is the energy that flows through 8000 volunteers to the 1470 competitors in the Hawaiian Ironman. It’s the energy of the announcers that scream and rally the spectators all day long. It is the energy that allows athletes to crush their doubts and fears, to do
everything in their power to tour the west coast of the Big Island as quickly as they can, realizing a dream along the way.

This year, just like my Japanese friend who came to Hawaii to finish the Ironman course on the day before the race, I came home without a medal. I met a six-year-old girl named Paige at the finish line who has cancer. She was part of the Rea’l Andrews support crew. She reminded me of my sister Stacey, who lost her life to cancer at age 16. I met her mom and the group that brought her to the race for its inspirational powers. She ran across the finish line right behind Andrews, laughing and smiling. I leaned over and gave her my medal and finisher’s shirt. The beam in her smile as she looked down at the shining medal around her neck, now that’s the energy of Kona, the strength of the Ironman.

New Discoveries in an Old Town…

Last night (only a few hours ago), we went to a new wine bar called Vertical in Old Town Pasadena — it is where the Burning Leaf used to be, upstairs on Raymond, just north of Union on the east side of the street. The interior is very nicely done — a mix of couches, leather seats, tables, and the bar with a big screen TV mounted on the wall. The dining area is separated from the lounge, and looked like it was laid out well also.

There is no shortage of wine there — over 400, including 20 flights, and numerous glasses available for your choosing. I had the Australian Shiraz, the Cotes-du-Rhone, and the Spanish Tempranillo as my flights for the evening. We also sampled some of the food, which was excellent — the pulled pork (recommend), grilled salmon, and the charcuterie (salami, sopressata, and lomo). I’m looking forward to trying some other items next time that looked good — beef brisket, braised pork ribs, fried risotto, etc.

Afterwards, we walked over to the new Barney’s Beanery, where Classic Q’s used to be. I’ve been to the one in W Hollywood many years ago, but never to this one. It was actually quite nice inside — large bar and seating area, 2 small pool tables, a foosball table, and some arcade games were on the first floor. I don’t know what they have upstairs or downstairs, since it was closed, but imagine more of the same. They have a huge alcohol menu — many bottled beer from around the world, not to mention the usual hard liquor selection. I had the Windhoek, which I don’t recall having since I had one in S Africa several years ago.

After playing pool, having some Patron, and engaging in stimulating conversation, we closed down the place — don’t remember the last time I did that, especially on a Thursday night.

New Discoveries in an Old Town…

Last night (only a few hours ago), we went to a new wine bar called Vertical in Old Town Pasadena — it is where the Burning Leaf used to be, upstairs on Raymond, just north of Union on the east side of the street. The interior is very nicely done — a mix of couches, leather seats, tables, and the bar with a big screen TV mounted on the wall. The dining area is separated from the lounge, and looked like it was laid out well also.

There is no shortage of wine there — over 400, including 20 flights, and numerous glasses available for your choosing. I had the Australian Shiraz, the Cotes-du-Rhone, and the Spanish Tempranillo as my flights for the evening. We also sampled some of the food, which was excellent — the pulled pork (recommend), grilled salmon, and the charcuterie (salami, sopressata, and lomo). I’m looking forward to trying some other items next time that looked good — beef brisket, braised pork ribs, fried risotto, etc.

Afterwards, we walked over to the new Barney’s Beanery, where Classic Q’s used to be. I’ve been to the one in W Hollywood many years ago, but never to this one. It was actually quite nice inside — large bar and seating area, 2 small pool tables, a foosball table, and some arcade games were on the first floor. I don’t know what they have upstairs or downstairs, since it was closed, but imagine more of the same. They have a huge alcohol menu — many bottled beer from around the world, not to mention the usual hard liquor selection. I had the Windhoek, which I don’t recall having since I had one in S Africa several years ago.

After playing pool, having some Patron, and engaging in stimulating conversation, we closed down the place — don’t remember the last time I did that, especially on a Thursday night.

The Grand Slam…or the Last Great Race?

So I’ve been stressing about the Wasatch lottery for a while, since that would’ve determined whether I would be able to do the Grand Slam or not…so I thought. It seems that they’ve made a provision recently, and as long as I get my app in on time, and finish the first three races, I’ll be able to run Wasatch.

Ok, now the question is, do I want to do the Last Great Race instead?

What is that you ask?

The Last Great Race consists of the first 6 100-mile races (Old Dominion, Vermont, Western States, Leadville, Wasatch, and Angeles Crest) in the US which was first run by the legendary Marshall Ulrich, and another gentleman Gordon Hardman back in 1989. The difficulty lies in the fact that they all occur between June and September, with an average of about 3 weeks between races, with the last two (most difficult?) on consecutive weekends. Since it was established, there has only been 33 people who completed the series successfully.