Failure en route to success

Nelson Mandela said, “there is no passion in playing small.”  His point was that you must take a trajectory that is outside of your current life to achieve greatness.  I committed to this behavior years ago, leaving home at an early age to go to places that no one in my family had ever been, and I traveled without even an acquaintance.  This blog is a continuation of that commitment to not playing small.

I feel a sincere drive to set the example for others to follow.  Yet, sometimes leading by example creates some intermediate failure. This story connects intermediate failure with the success that follows, if you stick it out.

20180331_090533A week before Duathlon Nationals, I signed my son and me up to compete in an organized bike ride in the foothills of the Smokies, about 2 hours from our home.  The weather was beautiful that day, and it represented our last real workout before tapering and leaving for Greenville, SC.  We were excited to get to travel to Nationals without a plane flight or a long car ride.  Greenville is about 2 hours from the house, and this bike race was the last “thing” we would do before finishing our packing and leaving a few days later.  Alex had just started his Spring Break, and he was looking forward to spending time with friends over his time off.

Alas, my son only completed 7 miles before crashing out.

Alex Gaura, after his crash, being inspected by a paramedic for broken bones

How he crashed, I can only speculate.  I was in front, and I told him to follow me.  We both had some mechanical problems early on, so we had to stop and fix them before proceeding.  Even though we were in the back of the group for the first 10 minutes, we started passing people once we corrected our brakes/chains/power meter/heart rate monitor issues.  We did a couple of climbs with some shorter descents before entering a roadway that Alex will never forget.

A minute after reaching the bottom of the hill, I slowed down, thinking that Alex was coming any moment.  After a couple of minutes of soft pedaling, I pulled over and waited for him on a bridge over a small clear stream.  The views from the valley floor were gorgeous-trees were in full bloom, with new leaves forming on nearly all the hardwoods in the valley.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the humidity was low.  I thought, “this is what parts of heaven must be like.”

Alex never showed.  I decided that I needed to pedal back to the bottom the hill that we had descended and look for him there.  Perhaps he pulled over with another mechanical problem?  He had already pulled over once today.  Who is to say he didn’t pull over again?

At the bottom of the hill, I saw no sign of him and knew that the next step was to climb back to the top of the hill and see if he stopped on the way down.  After getting more than halfway up, I saw a couple of bikes on the side of the road, with a woman standing over the top of someone, talking on her cell phone.  As I got closer, I saw that it was Alex who was on the ground, and he wasn’t moving.  As I walked up to him and saw that he was conscious and able to talk and move, I took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.  For sure, his clothing was torn, and he had lots of road rash on his body.  His fingertips were torn up from sliding on the asphalt, and he tried to use his hands to break his slide.  The neighbors had come out to see what all the commotion was, and everyone slowed to ask if everything was OK.  One cyclist stopped only a minute after I arrived and announced that he was a medic.  He did a once over on Alex and felt confident that he had no broken bones and needed only to be treated for road burns.

Once the support vehicle showed up and Alex was taken back to the YMCA to shower and clean up, one of the riders who had done the short course arrived and told me that he was a local doctor.  He went into the shower where Alex was cleaning up and assessed Alex’s condition. He took out his phone and called the local pharmacy, calling in a prescription for burn cream.  He sent me to get it.  The pharmacist was expecting me when I walked in, and I was in and out in less than 5 minutes.  When I got back to the YMCA, Alex was out of the shower, the doc was ready to put the cream and bandages on his wounds.

Alex Gaura with Road Rash and a not-so-happy face

Alex walked out of the Y, got in the truck and took a serious nap to address the shock that he had been through.  Over the next couple of days, my wife and I changed his bandages and watched him begin the healing.  Thank goodness that there was no school, as he was too immobile to attend school.

He had band-aids of many of his fingertips, and his hip and knee required the biggest size non-stick pads we could find, as he slid on the asphalt until he stopped.  When he returned to school a week later, he was still wearing lots of bandages and had limited mobility.  Yet, as soon as he could, he got back on the bike and kept up his training regimen with his Coach, Glen Thompson.  He returned to swimming in the pool, and within 2 weeks, he was able to “jog” up and down the driveway.

By the end of week 3, Alex was ready to compete with his not-quite-healed body.  He competed in the White Lake Sprint Triathlon, his first open water triathlon, wearing a wet suit over some serious scabs. He had a long first transition, yanking the wetsuit off over those wounds, yet he got on the bike and covered 14 miles without any pain.  A week later, he did the Cary Duathlon Classic, a race that is harder and longer than the upcoming World Championship.  In both these races, he won his age group, handily.  No “just squeaking it out” sort of wins but he won by several minutes each time.  Tonight, he does his first-time trial of the season, yet another cycling event.  I suspect that he will break his personal record tonight, even though 4 weeks ago, he was lying in bed, nearly motionless.

As I watched Alex step up to the podium to be recognized as the winner in each event, he had a traditional smile of pride on his face that any kid would wear when he gets positive recognition.  Yet I questioned how much he “changed” from his accident.  For sure, when a person, teenager or adult, experiences a grand failure that they knew was their misdoing, the temptation is to overreact, or perhaps go so far as to quit the sport in its entirety.  I am blessed to have a son tough enough to keep fighting.

20180422_102637Last night, he told me that he feared the upcoming series of Gran Fondo bike races this weekend.  I was proud of him for confessing that he knows that his bike handling skills are not good.  That fear should help him put out extra effort to remain in control as we descend though the mountains in and around Chattanooga, TN, on Saturday and North Georgia, on Sunday.  That said, I won’t be shocked for a heart beat if he comes home with some more hardware and cool Instagram photos from success.

Or he might come home with some more scabs.  Either way, it’s all good.  Failure is a part of our trajectory.  In fact, it is the act of failing that represents the litmus test as to whether or not you are even ON a trajectory or just trying to maintain.  Trying to maintain inspires no one.  Trying to overcome adversity…now that is the stuff that stories are made.

What adversity are you trying to overcome?



Badwater Cape Fear Race Report

The Badwater labels itself as the world’s toughest footrace-Death Valley to Whitney Portal, in the middle of summer.  It is 135 miles of tough running, and you have to finish it in 48 hours.  Do the math…that is more than 5 back to back marathons.

Until Friday afternoon, Badwater was nothing more than a “what’s next” race.  When I scheduled the East Coast version called Badwater Cape Fear, I did so as a response to winning the Weymouth Woods Ultra-marathon, and I picked this Badwater for the challenge of it.  Thought it was the next logical progression.  The Badwater Cape Fear edition starts with a “quick 12 mile warm-up” on the scenic roads of Bald Head Island before heading down to the beach to run 20 miles (or 40 miles) in the sand to Fort Fisher and back.  Running on roads vs. running in sand is like trying to find something in common between standing in an igloo with walking through a jungle.  The position is the same; the surrounding conditions are not.

It isn’t the statistics, but the people make that race unique.  At pre-race check-in, awkwardness associated with meeting new people migrated to “very cool” first impressions in a matter of a minute or two. Conversation with other runners about their path to the Badwater never generated the same answer twice.  Former triathletes, college track stars, marathon runners, women with two kids, etc, were all excited about lining up the next day.  For many, their spouses were there supporting their athlete.  I got to hear stories both from Badwater veterans and support staff who have been there as these extreme endurance athletes ran though the desert all night long, in the middle of summer.  I had dinner with a multi-time Badwater finisher who gave stories about the depths of despair that are a part of running in the desert for that long.

I asked one guy why he signed up for Badwater Cape Fear, and he said, “I was in a funk, and I knew that I needed to suffer to get out of it (the funk), so I signed up and now I am here.”  What the heck….

First feelings after finishing.  

About 2 hours into the race, I stopped wondering what all the other athletes were thinking.  “What was I thinking?”  consumed my thoughts.  Heading down to the beach, seeing 10 miles of sand ahead me, knowing that once I started the 10 miles each way, there was no quitting.  Running on Cape Fear, with Frying Pan Shoals to my right and nothing but undeveloped dunes to my left put me in a funk that I had never been in.

Here is a sample of the comments that went through my mind:


  • Oh, that man just got attacked by a dog. OK, he got up and is still running….
  • That was a pretty fast puke!  That girl just kept on running.
  • That old man looks good in a tutu and pink high tops.  NOT!
  • Profanity isn’t helping, here.  But it does feel good…
  • Why don’t they have better choices at the aid station?  No chicken, beef or pork tacos?  I really want a taco right now.
  • I am never doing one of these races EVER again.  What was I thinking?
  • Who in the hell invented high tide? Stupid.
  • Who thought that running in high tide would be “loads of fun?”  Idiot.
  • I wonder when they are having the next Badwater?  This is kind of cool, and I might like to do another one.
  • How did I get sand up my butt? I have stayed away from that body part, most intentionally!
  • Profanity doesn’t feel good anymore, yet it keeps coming.
  • That guy is fast!
  • Was that a boy or a girl?
  • Why did that other girl get all those body parts pierced?
  • Can I ride with the beach patrol in their truck, just for 5 minutes?
  • How are the two of those women talking and laughing?
  • Why aren’t I talking and laughing?
  • I have a 3-hour drive home after I this race. That isn’t happening.  My hip flexors are somewhere out to sea.  WTF?
  • The people working these aids stations are great! I could not keep going without their help!
  • Profanity is working again.
  • I am sure that those who don’t believe that Jesus is their savior will have to run this thing.

At the finish line, I felt blessed that not only could I do this race but be successful at it.  Dave Krupski came up to me at the finish line and started some fun/casual chat.  He DNF the race, as he got hurt and never made it down to the beach.  He said that he had a couple of athletes that he coaches out on the run, and he was there only for them, now.  I had no idea who he was, until I started writing this blog piece.  He is a crazy successful Ultra Marathoner who personifies the ultra-running community well.  No concern for awards or accolades.  He had a focus on what races he had just done and what he has coming up…we could all learn from that sort of approach to living.

The joy of completing my first Badwater!  Got a chance to wear my TeamUSA windbreaker, and I needed it today!

Will I do another Badwater Ultra?  Maybe.  Will I do the Badwater 135?  Not a chance.  At least, I got my steps in.

There is a Badwater 508 cycling event that has my attention, though…anyone want to do it with me?




Because boys will be men

In society, when a boys fails to be focused, a quick-to-throw-out comment we say is, “boys will be boys.”  The incorrectness of that comment is that it uses future tense (will be) to describe the present.  The truth is that in the future, boys will be men.  As an athlete and parent, I have a role to play in making sure that my boys become men.

The most blatant problem with men who are assisting today’s boys in their path to manhood is that they are quick to tell boys what to do and often are too time stretched to show them how to do it.  To further complicate it, they don’t lead by example.  We tell our kids that schoolwork is important, but we ourselves spend very little time learning new things that are mandated upon us.  We make poor food choices, right before their eyes, then we harp on them for being picky eaters. From my perspective, the reason men aren’t helping boys become men is that they aren’t practicing what they preach.

My youngest son is now 16 years old and is making the migration from boy to man.  If I parallel his path to that of a wildebeest, he is commencing on his first journey across the Serengeti as the monsoons of adolescence creep into his life.  My intentional response is not that of the traditional talkative dad who tells anecdotal stories to his son from his recliner and the dinner table at the end of a work day.  The use of words (or lack of action, whatever you want to call it) are known dysfunctional strategies that I actively discredit. He yearns for an example to emulate.  He needs not just a hero but a hero who is also focused on improving.  He needs another wildebeest.

Lead wildebeest is one of my jobs. As an athlete, I take responsibility over a regimen that makes me competitive.  My workouts, nutrition plan, recovery strategy and use of my downtime are all important to my success on the field of competition and in life. He sees me create and update training plans both for myself and other athletes every week.  He watches and helps me and his mom cook healthy meals for the whole family on Sundays, so we have great leftover/snack choices before we get hungry.

My son is also working with a private running coach and runs for his school teams.  Over the fall and winter, my son logged his miles running both Cross Country and Track. He got better, every month, from those efforts, but his school couldn’t provide enough of the elements that make the difference between good and great.  He and the other kids weren’t getting examples of how to put it all together-nutrition and recovery needed to be taught and on display as much as the workouts/training.

Now that he is in his “off” season from school practices, my youngest son is doing workouts that I am designing for him.  We use to create and log all of our efforts, and he is improving quickly.  In our house, my wife and I both eat real food, nearly all the time.  I have a nightly stretching regimen that is combined with core strengthening and stability exercises. He sees us, and he follows our lead.

Alex, my son

What is different?  To begin, he is sore a lot.  Too many mornings he walks down the hall looking like he has recently been stabbed in the thigh.  Second, he ends his workouts winded for more than a moment or two, as hard days are now really hard.  Third, he is getting more rest days.  During his sports seasons at school, he would end up with no more than one day off a week.  Now, he gets at least two and sometimes three days off a week.

I take him to the weight room with me and show him what a max effort bench press looks like before I tell him to do one on his own.  He sees me do an all-out 2 minute effort on the bike trainer before he is told to do one.


He is getting better, faster than he otherwise would at school.

Behind his success is simplicity of watching mom and dad lead by example and doing as matter of factual the stuff that makes us faster.

On to the punch line.  Two weeks ago, there was a local 10 mile race that I signed up for.  He and one of the top runners at his school also decided to sign up.  On race morning, conditions were great for a fast run-cold with no wind in the forecast.  Even though I had only run an organized race at that distance one time before, I was able to set a personal best, even after celebrating my 51st birthday.  It felt good to see that getting faster as I age into my 50s is not just possible but reasonable with a focus on holistic training.

My effort wasn’t nearly as great as seeing my son cross the finish line ahead of me. We ran within 50 feet of each other the entire race.  He pushed hard during his last mile and separated from me.  He can in 68th out of 1133 men.  I got 75th.

During some quiet time after the event, my wife asked me if she thought I could have beaten him if I had tried harder.  Perhaps.  But perhaps not.  I was pleased with how well I did.  I was elated to see how well he did.


Where we fail to lead by example, we create a future that isn’t as good as the present. Let’s leave the future better than we find the present and invest in the next generation by doing the right thing, in front of their eyes, first.

Jeff Gaura at the finish line of Powerman Zofingen

ITU World Championships 2015 – My Story

When I first got into Duathlon three years ago, finishing strong at Zofingen was more than 1000 miles away from my mind.  Sure, I’d heard of the race and how hard it was (see previous post as I address the myths and truths of Zofingen).  That said, I thought the only way I would ever “do” that race was to put it on my schedule, spend money and commit to going.

So, I did just that, about a year ago.

Then, the year went by, and I found myself, in a hotel room, the night before the race, wondering if that decision to commit by spending money was a good idea…or was this the same thing as paying for a gym membership for a whole year, hoping that would motivate me to get into shape.

Prayer overcomes all fears.  God tells us repeatedly, “do not be afraid.”  This race was no reason to start becoming overwhelmed with fear.  Sharon reminded me over email that I had done all the distances in my training, and I had just finished a week in the Pyrenees, getting my legs ready to ride through the “rolling hills” of Switzerland against the best duathlete folks in the world.

Truth overcame fear, and I slept like a rock.  I was ready.

I had race goals.  I wanted to finish the race; considering that typically a quarter of the starters don’t finish the course.  I wanted to be the fastest American in my age category.  There were three of us, so that seemed both reasonable and possible.  Lastly, I wanted to get on the podium and earn an ITU medal.  Considering that I still had no experience on the course, or with this distance, I placed this last goal as a “one of these days,” sort of goals.

Entering transition the next morning, though, I saw that others had been overcome by fear, and the onus was to be there for them.  My problems were few.  The temperatures at race start were predicted to be in the upper 40s, and the forecast had the temperatures rising to near 70, by late afternoon.  There was also rain in the forecast.  “What do I wear,” consumed me for a bit, before I eventually concluded that I needed to be flexible.  I got a pair of arm warmers from Jackie Miller, another athlete, and decided that I would wear them as long as I needed to.  I didn’t know what kind of food hankerings I would have after the 150km bike ride, so I went for comfort foods.  I opened a can red bull and made myself a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, and I put both in my ITU provided bin, along with a different pair of shoes in case the rain came down and a change of uniform in case I wrecked and needed to replace either the top or the bottoms.

All of that took a whopping 5 minutes, and I had another hour to use.  How to use my time was an easy decision…apply WWJD.  I decided to walk around transition, praying for athletes who appeared anxious to find peace.  There were a whole lot of nervous athletes, and most of them were, like me, in Zofingen racing for the first time.  5467580_orig

Food Station, full of sugars, fluids and almost nothing else!
Food Station, full of sugars, fluids and almost nothing else!

Eric, another TeamUSA guy, obviously had a poor nights’ sleep, and I asked to pray with him.  He smiled for perhaps the first time that day and he closed his eyes to receive prayer.  When I looked up at the end of the prayer, there were two most noticeable points.  Eric was crying, and a cameraman was recording us.  Beautiful.  There was also a Dutch gentleman whom I’d met a few days before, and I sought him out.  I placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed for him, as well.  I walked by the elite athletes and looked at their readiness strategies.  The woman who eventually won the race had a water container the size of Lake Erie and had brought along clif bars as her source of carbs during the 4-hour ordeal of riding the Swiss terrain.  The elite men were all looking at one another but not speaking much.  Sizing up their opponents in that moment would provide no competitive edge, nor would add any confidence.  They needed to race the best race of their lives, regardless of how those around them raced.  Before the race started, I knew that many athletes were having positive energy sucked from them by their worrying.  My fix?  Hang out with TeamUSA girls!  They were happy just to be there, and they were quick to laugh.  Nearly all the guys were overtly serious and a far cry from loose.

Jeff Gaura, praying
Jeff Gaura and Eric….right after some prayer.

As the race got built up by the announcers, I knew that the first run is nearly irrelevant in determining whether or not I was going to meet my goals.  As such, I knew I needed to make that first 10km as low impact as possible.  So, I set my watch up to beep at me if I let my heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute.  As Sharon has repeatedly told me, “Keep your heart rate down.”  By the end of the run, the strategy of keeping my heart rate down added a few minutes to my time.  So what?  There was a 4-5 hour bike ride ahead as well as a couple of hours of running to add on top of that.  I hit transition 1 with a controlled heart and lots of energy for the bike ride.

Leaving transition on my bike, I quickly got into a groove with many other cyclists who were at my level.  One specific group of guys kept my attention for the whole 5 hours:  Fortun (Belgium), Schmidt (Germany), Hernandez (Spain), Jennaud (France) and Monacchini (Italy).  For sure, we were similar in pace, but I felt that I was stronger on the hills than they were, c/o my time in the Pyrenees.  That said, my inattentiveness to details got me in trouble.

As part of the pre-race briefing, we were all told about the rules with regards to drafting.  Specifically, we were to stay 6 bike lengths behind any other rider, so as to not have an unfair advantage while riding.  However, during the climbing portion of the race, when we are all going at speeds of less than 10 mph, drafting isn’t a factor, and we were informally told that the ITU doesn’t enforce the rules as much then as they do on otherwise flat surfaces.

Jeff Gaura, cycling at the Powerman Zofingen World Championships
Getting the attention of a driver while cycling.

Boy, what I wrong about that translation!  About 15 minutes into the bike ride, I was whistled for drafting Fortun and was told to proceed to the next penalty box.  I went through a battery of emotions. I was mad that I was caught (typical criminal response), when there were a pack of cyclists concurrently ahead of me, all doing the same thing.  They didn’t get a penalty, and that hurt my feelings.  I was upset in that the penalty would cause me to give away time on my group and might get overwhelmed by anxiety to catch up with them.  I lost confidence and questioned, albeit only briefly, whether or not I could even finish the darn race.

As Heather M. reminded me just a day or two before I left, my strength is my mental game.  I needed to deploy that now to get an edge.  I was one hour away from the penalty box and having to sit down for 5 minutes, and I didn’t know how to turn that into an advantage.  I needed to make some lemonade from my newfound lemons.

I decided to convert this race over to a tortoise and the hare event.  I exerted extra effort to ride directly next to the others in the group of 6, look them in the eye, and yell out, “let’s go” hoping to get them to go harder than they otherwise would.  If perhaps they exerted extra effort on the first lap, I might be able to catch them on lap 2 and 3, when I was more rested than they might otherwise be.

I, too, went hard on the first lap, but I most definitely held back in places where there was no intrinsic value in going fast.  For example, after the descent of the highest point on the race, there is a 10 km section at a -3% grade, and I spun out.  My bike was in its largest gearing, and I was putting out over 200 watts of power, when I realized I could drop to 100 watts and lose only 1 mph for the effort. I let the group get ahead of me, knowing that at the end of this downhill run was a 4 km climb.  The strategy worked perfectly. I was the first one to the top of the climb, alongside Monacchini, and looking back, I could see that the rest in our group was winded.  I wasn’t even close to zapped. I yelled out from the top, “Let’s go!” again, hoping to get them to go up the hill, that much harder.

Within 10 minutes, we approached the end of the first lap, and I let myself drift into the back of the pack.  When the penalty box approached, I slid into the box, undetected, and let them go ahead.  My plan, now, was to eat, hydrate, practice my German with the penalty box staff, then to go out and be steady Eddie, until I caught those guys.  I got about 500 calories in my body and nearly a full bottle of liquid in those 5 minutes.

Leaving the box, I had no anxiety. I knew what I could do, physically, and I had a new goal….actually, I had 5 goals.  Catch those five Europeans.

The plan worked to perfection.  An hour out of the penalty box, I caught up to the first rider, and before I finished the last lap, I had accounted for all of the riders but Monacchini.  None were in front of me, and I passed each one with eye contact and a “let’s go!” As I turned into transition, I thought, “damn, I wish there were 4 laps to this race,” as I was feeling strong and felt that another 50k of bike racing would have worked in my favor.

Running through transition was most interesting.  The women started a full hour before the men, to prevent us from crossing paths.”  The World Champion was finishing the race as I was leaving, and the crowds were cheering and clapping for her.  I had to slip out through the pageantry and begin an 18-mile trail run and leave a stadium full of very happy people.

Jeff Gaura, racing against Europeans at the Powerman World Championships
The final run, against my peers from Europe.

Too bad I wasn’t happy in that moment.  The run was on a combination of trail and paved paths, comprised of a blend of uphill, downhills and flat surfaces.  My legs were hammered, and I ran much slower than I anticipated.  The trail runs that I had done at the US National Whitewater center were not nearly as difficult as the Zofingen trails, and I gave up nearly 2 minutes per mile as I pushed up and down the hills.   I quickly concluded that my brick runs after long bike rides weren’t enough to adequately prepare me for this race.  On the steepest of hills, I did what nearly everyone else, including the world champion did,  I walked up the steep hills and ran everything else.

I was not fatigued, even as I neared the end of the race.  However, my legs were not as strong running as they needed to be, and I could tell that I was not going to be on the podium.  However, even before I entered the stadium, I knew that I had beaten the two other Americans in my category and was about to finish the race.  My joy trickled through to my finish line behavior-I literally jumped over the finish line, tapping my heels together in the air, before landing. Two of my three goals were met!

After receiving my post-race goodies and getting a shower, I headed to the chow hall to get some nutrition.  In the tent, still stinky and wearing their national team uniforms, were Schmidt and Fortun.  I greeted Fortun.  I told him that I got a drafting penalty riding behind him, and he smiled.  I reached out to shake his hand and said,

“See you next year?” He looked back at his coach, then to me, and he took my hand and said, “Yes, I think so.  Let’s go.”

Oh, the irony.

A few hours later, as I sat in the airport hotel, waiting to go to sleep and fly home, the finality of the experiences caught up with me.  I really missed my family, perhaps more than at any other time over those 19 days.  I missed my dog, my job, my chickens and the sunsets with my wife over a glass of wine on the side porch of our house.  It was hard to add up what I had done in the last 18 days.  I had cycled the Pyrenees, Coast to Coast, and had competed in the World Championships, at the highest of levels, and I did well.  I finished 12th in my category and 97th, overall.

Three years ago, I was between 190 and 200 lbs.  Now, I weigh 162.  Before I started, I could not run for an hour.  Now, I can run for 3 hours after a 5 hour bike ride and still not be fatigued.  I am in my element.

To reach my last listed goal, I need to lose 8-10 lbs. to have a better power to weight ratio on the climbs.  I will need a few days in the Alps to get my climbing legs ready, too.

And, I have a commitment to race Fortun again, next year.

And there is still a podium to stand on.

So, Sharon, Susan, Ellen, Isabel, Heather, Laura, and, above all, my wonderful wife Linda, let’s prepare to do this again!

Running in the New Mexico Sun…with my son.

Running takes up a lot of my training time…partly because it is a big part of my sport and partly because I like what it does to me.  Pilates and Cycling can take lots of expensive equipment, but running has no such requirements.  Shorts, shirt, shoes and a place to go…that is all that is necessary.  During those runs, your body gets toned and your head gets clear.  Running puts me in my element.

The Entrance to Philmont
The Entrance to Philmont

But it hasn’t always been that way.  Philmont Scout Ranch was my summer home in 1981, ’83 and ’84, and it changed my life for the better.  The leadership skills and ability to interact with people from diverse backgrounds continues to play a huge role in my business success.  Last week, I went back to Philmont, this time, with the next generation of scouts, as an adult leader.  This summer’s return to Philmont was a commitment that our Boy Scout troop made 2 years ago.  At the time of commitment, I had yet to compete in any National or World Championships, let alone be preparing for a 2nd World Championship.  Yet, with only a month from perhaps the hardest race of my life, I found myself in a scout uniform, trekking in the high desert of New Mexico, across some of the most beautiful countryside in the world.

In uniform!
In uniform!

While at Philmont, I knew that the high altitude hiking would toughen up both my legs and my lung capacity, but it would not be enough just to hike up and down hills all day.  Hiking does not crank my heart rate up to mad scientist levels required to race for 8 to 9 hours.  I needed more than a casual 12-mile stroll on a mountain trail wearing a backpack to further my preparation for the World Championship in Zofingen, Switzerland.

So, I chose to bring my running shoes, shorts and a T-shirt.  I played the TeamUSA card with Philmont management, and I got permission from the camp management to go off running on the property.  I ran perhaps 5 of 6 times during the two weeks at Philmont, but I will only discuss three of those times.  Each one could be a blog post, but time for blogging is at a premium these days.

Never Knew What You Did to Me

Back in 1983, I was 17 and worked in the kitchen, serving food and cleaning up after others.  The job was not interesting, but the people and their life stories were.  One guy from Kansas suggested that we all go running into “town” after work for some pizza/ice cream/whatever.  I was not a runner at the time, but most of us took him up on the offer.  A farm boy from Pennsylvania, a girl from Nebraska, a guy from Brownsville, TX, and others, all put our shoes on and headed out the Philmont gates towards town.  Town, as we called Cimarron, was 4 miles away, and the path to get there was rolling hills on paved roads, and the terrain was very dry.  Even the grasshoppers were thirsty!  Mr. Kansas took off ahead of everyone else, as we later discovered he ran Cross Country in High School.  I pushed as hard as I could, going perhaps a mile at a time before I would need to stop to walk and take a break.  After a minute of walking and positive self-talk, I would push myself to start running again.  The combination of altitude, lack of conditioning and dry conditions pushed me to walking nearly half of the experience.  When we reached town, Mr. Kansas had already finished his ice cream, and he was ready to hitch hike back to Philmont.  I don’t have good memories of that day, as I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, and others could.  In fact, it sucked to remember that day.

Upon arrival at Philmont this summer, the first thing I did with my free time was to recreate that moment and beat my past’s failure.  Once our check-in at base camp was complete and we had some free time, I put on my running shoes and headed into town.  In 30 minutes, I saw the sign, “Welcome to Cimarron,” and I teared up.  The last time I saw this sign, on foot, I was failing.  Now, this same person, with a much older and better-conditioned body, was succeeding. I went up to the sign, touched it and wiped a tear from my face and said, under my breath, “I had no idea that you were doing this to me.”  I turned around and ran back, telling no one at camp of that event from my past.  I did marvel at the staff members who gave me kudos upon hearing that an adult advisor had ran to town and back while waiting for opening campfire to start.  Those 8 miles weren’t difficult to complete, but the effect of putting that moment of failure behind me made the whole trip out there, worth it.

Wish Mr. Kansas was here to savor this moment with me.  Perhaps we could run it again…

Mt Baldy and the boys.

I took a bit of liberty with the special permission given to me by asking if there were any scouts in the troop who might want to get up and leave early with me to run/walk to the summit of Mt Baldy.  Being the highest point on the ranch at 12K+ feet at the peak, summiting Baldy is one of the top attractions at Philmont.  Many people who attempt it don’t reach the summit early enough and are forced to turn around to avoid bad weather that comes most afternoons.

The troop, with Mt Baldy in the background
The troop, with Mt Baldy in the background

Three boys took me up on my offer to cruise with me to the top, but one turned around within 5 minutes.  The remaining two boys (my son Alex and Blake, another scout from our area) took to a pattern of running and walking all the way to the bottom of the scree/scramble that takes place over the last 400 vertical feet of climbing.  We covered over 6 miles and passed several groups on our way to the top.  We started in shorts and T-shirts but we all had put on an extra layer or two by the time we reached the summit.

Alex, on the summit of Mt Baldy
Alex, on the summit of Mt Baldy

We hit the summit a little after 8 am and were back down to Copper Park, the camping area nearest to the base of Baldy by 9:30, safe and sound.  As we sat near the water source that fed the camp, we rested after 10 miles of running and walking at greater than 10K feet.  As we sat on the ground, rejoicing in our success and resting our weary bodies, the remainder of our troop came up the trail, just now starting their ascent.  We told them that from our current location, our Garmin watch indicated that they were 3.74 miles from the summit and that they needed to pick up their pace a lot if they wanted to summit and get back down before afternoon weather moved in.  Alas, the other adults confided in me that one of the boys did not have the conditioning to keep going and we had to pull him from the trail and ask him to come back with the three of us.  Seeing the disappointment in the eyes of that boy as heard that he needed to go back and try again another day broke my heart, as he was older than either of the other two kids who reached the summit.  He walked in silence as the other two boys chatted for the next hour back to camp.  About 4 hours later, our troop returned from the summit, with no stories of joy.  One of the adult leaders also failed to condition properly before the trip, and the whole troop turned around about a mile from the summit.  Big bummer.

Off to the races, with a Racer.

When we reached our final camp of the trip, I took a seat on the porch and immediately got told that Dallas Elmore, a staff member at that camp, was a professional runner.  That perked my attention, and I sought the guy out.  Within a minute, I saw him run out of the camp, in 1980s running shorts and a T-shirt, heading up the trail.  When he returned an hour later, we struck up a conversation about running and agreed to hit the trails together the next day.

Dallas Elmore and me
Dallas Elmore and me

Dallas Elmore is not a pro, but the staff there idolized him as if he was!  Turns out he is a Cross Country runner at the University of Tulsa, and he recently migrated from running shorter distances to running 8k and 10k.  He was getting in 60-70 miles a week running at Philmont, and I was jealous. His “day job” at Philmont was that of the camp cook, and after each meal, he could make time to hit the trails to strengthen his aerobic systems and keep his legs strong.  The following am, we agreed to go for a run, together, after breakfast.

The air was so nice and cool when we started….wish NC air was like Philmont air in August!  We passed lots of kids carrying full packs, huffing it up and down the trails that we were running.  For the first two miles, we talked and went up and over everything in our way.  We saw deer and jumped over and around boulders and roots.  I was amazed at the beauty in front of us as we descended into Hidden Valley.  The views of the sunlight first touching the valley was like a Van Gogh painting.  However, what I thought was a good workout turned out to be a warm up for Dallas.  Somewhere in the middle of Hidden Valley, he decided that he was ready to really run.  For the next 25 or so minutes, I would only see him for a few seconds at a time.  Dallas would race ahead, turn around and come back for me, only to race ahead again.  After nearly 50 minutes of running, we made it back to the camp cabin. I was more than quick to call that a great workout.  Dallas, on the other hand, took off to finish his workout, which included another 20 to 30 minutes of running.

Oh, the joys of youth.  Sure, he was young enough to be my son, but I thought that my time on the trails, running by myself and with my boys would have prepped me enough to stay with him the whole time.


When a return visit to a familiar place creates new experiences like this, that familiar place becomes even more special.  As a Philmont Ranger, we would always gather before meals and sing a song that starts with the words, “I wanna go back to Philmont!”

I am so glad that I went back to Philmont.  Thanks go out to Dallas, Philmont administration, Alex, Blake and Mr. Kansas for making my workouts at Philmont most memorable.

Once we arrived back home, I started in on the hardest part of my race preparation, as I prepare to peak for Worlds.  Philmont did good things for me.  I dropped 6 lbs and now weigh 162 lbs.  This is the lightest I have been since I got married 21 years ago.  Since returning home, I am running long distances faster than I ever have, as well.  Alas, my cycling is NOT as good as when I left…the subject of another post, another time.

Alex Gaura Running at the University City Duathlon

What makes a good day?

What makes a good day?  Today, I figured out that it s a good day when your “better luck next time” turns into a good next time.  However, this was not the case for my posse.

Running through transition in toe socks.  Dutch uniform!
Running through transition in toe socks. Dutch uniform!

Today was the University City Duathlon, and all of the people that I work with had this day on the schedules as our only local race of the year.  We had high expectations of a great day, a great race and positive outcomes.

Each of the three people that I work with had a showing today that included unexpected events, unexpected emotion, and a unique response to the craziness that ensued.

My son found himself on the bike course only to discover that his front brakes were sticking.  He was slow.  A course that should have taken him 35-40 minutes took him nearly an hour.  Sticky brakes sounds like an irritant, but sticky brakes often create an emotional response in the rider, they are when the brakes wont disengage.  Folks who ride bikes in races expect their bikes to work, and even if something happens, like a flat tire, they realize quickly that it wasn’t their fault.  Sticky brakes, though, can be prevented.  He didn’t know how to fix the problem, and he got upset.

Many people would have quit.  He didn’t.  He finished the ride and started on the run with gusto.   I was more than impressed with his perseverance.  At the duathlon’s end, we realized that if his brakes hadn’t stuck, he would have won his age group.  Maybe next time.

The ladies of today's race:  Paul, Ursula and Danielle
The ladies of today’s race: Paul, Ursula and Danielle

Each of the two women that I work with had their day of unique circumstances.  One to them still wears wearing a walking boot, due to an injury.  She can’t run, but she can still ride the bike.  She remembers me telling her that this race is easier than the Grandover race we did a month ago.  I claimed it to be easier, since it was shorter and it uses far less calories than the Grandover.  She was rightfully lit up that today’s course had lots of hills and required more effort, per mile, than the previous race.  To her, shorter meant easier.  I didn’t tell her about the hills.  Her emotional chains got yanked, and she had no problems at all sharing her opinion about it.

Good for her.  It is great to get mad at the course, the coach, the bike and yourself.  The loaded question is what are you going to do about it, next time?  The more we race, the more we are able to handle the uncertainties that seem to show their heads only on race day.  Maybe next time, this won’t be a problem.

The last story, though, involves the most drama.  The other woman whom I work with got into an accident on the bike as she didn’t see an object in the road.  The object happened to be another person, and in her efforts to avoid big impact, she wrecked her bike.  Her chain came off, and one of the race volunteers suggested that she see the race medic immediately and abandon the race.  She was very comfortable with the feelings that go with a fast heart rate and high epinephrine levels.  However, she also added a big dose of adrenaline and fight or flight response took over.  She wasn’t about to bail out on the race and quit.  Indeed, she squashed those feelings and responded with the opposite choice.  She put her chain on and got back on her bike to finish the race.

Ursula Paula and Jeff
Me and the relay team of Paula and Ursula

When she made her way back to transition, she acted just as if she was ready to go, minus the effects of the adrenaline surge.  She started out of Transition 2 and chose to do the run, using the bike course.  She did a 10k run to close out the race.  The rest of us, some 250 strong, did a 3k run back to the finish line.

When we saw her at the end of the race, we didn’t have time to get in a single, “what happened?” before she started a commentary on her bad luck for the day.  She had some non-incidental road rash and some bloody skin on her arms, legs and torso.  I felt pain looking at her.  As she migrated her story to what happened after the wreck, I wasn’t shocked. Her strength is the running side of Duathlon, and when the going got tough, she ran and ran and ran.  Better luck next time!

All three of them had some bad things happen to them today.  Yet, all I could see was a good day.  We had great weather.  We had group times.  We have powerful memories, none of which any of us will forget, and we have a bunch of races coming up that will help us forget all of these things.  Had any of us been seriously injured, or if we had no chances the rest of the year to make up for today’s bad luck, perhaps it would have been a bad day.  Maybe next time.

Alex cloud care less about sticky brakes now...
Alex could not care less about sticky brakes now…

Is the glass half full or half empty?  My son had a dance this afternoon, after today’s race.  I had help back at the house to help me cut down 5 trees and cut them up into firewood as soon as we got home.  The help I got after the race saved me and my family a couple of days of work!  The woman in the boot had recruited a girlfriend to do the run for her, so she could enjoy the bike ride.  The woman who wrecked still had a functioning bike and appeared to have no broken bones.  That would have been bad, as she is going with us to the National Championship in a month.

I have empathy.  I have lost chains during a race.  I have competed while injured.  And, I am not just still hanging around, but I am passing on my passion to others.  Today is my next time.

A vacation or a workout?

Family travel is meant to be a time of connecting, resetting and just getting back to the person you were made to be.  We have been planning this trip to Hawaii for more than a year, and those recipes were and are a part of our formula for a vacation.

However, those items are not the end all for this family. We are all exercising with earnest.

I am running a lot, and who wouldn’t, with these views?

Views of the Big Island
Views of the Big Island

I am up before the rest of the condo is moving and have set expectations about distance, course, pace and even nutrition before and during the event.  We are at the halfway point of the trip, and I already have three runs in.  I even competed in and won a race the first full day we got here.

In addition, both of the boys have found gyms and have gone to work out.  They are dressed the part, as they look like gym rats, and will have stories to tell of the gym on the real other side of the country.

My wife has found yoga and Pilates classes that she is doing, and she is doing a lot of walking as we visit remote places.

This fitness mentality changes what your eyes see as you view the island.  Most families see volcanos, sea turtles, whales and sunsets.  Those are all beautiful, but incomplete in their ability to make good extended memories for this bunch.  I see a community addicted to cycling and a community where long distance running is as common as Key Lime Pie is in the Keys.

“Ahhh, I could live here!” my wife says.  Our condo has no AC unit, and it doesn’t really need one, either.  She loves pineapples, fresh fish and the laid back life.

I see the pineapple, but I see the bike lanes everywhere.  I see all the long climbs and crazy descents available to me in the middle of the island.  I see the ability to run with a group of people, my age, with similar drives.

Before deep sea fishing, yesterday AM, I did a run on Alii drive, home of the final run of the famous Ironman race.  I am not a swimmer, and my desire to get into swimming is near zero, but lots of folks who ARE preparing for the Ironman are visible up and down that road.

The kids see snorkeling and ice cream on one side of the road.  I see beautiful trail runs on the other to go along with their sightings.

For souvenirs for the kids, I buy Alex a running singlet that says, “Run.  Big.”  It references this location’s fame as the Big Island.  We are all taking pictures and throwing them up on Facebook, like the social family we are.  We are all on the phone with friends, talking about the trip and enjoying our time here.

Just look at what I see, as I type this!

View of a meal, out of our Lanai, on the Big Island
View of a meal, out of our Lanai, on the Big Island

Beautiful, even if you don’t include the scenery!