Coaching Services

Friday, July 4, 2014

Living the Journey

Rock Hopping
Recently our family went on a thoroughly enjoyable hike up Snowmass Creek, the snowmelt drainage that is formed by the runoff from the aptly named fourteener, Snowmass Mountain, not to be confused with the nearby ski resort of the same name. The late snows of spring have created abundant greenery in our oft parched central Colorado mountains, making for an inspiring and pleasant jaunt up the fast flowing creek. But, while the physical environment created a beautiful backdrop for our walk, it was my three year old daughter Jude, who revealed the beauty of exploring our mountain playground. She did so by reminding me of an all too often overlooked maxim, "it's about the journey, not the destination." Jude sauntered along the path in a state of wonder and curiosity, completely engrossed in the moment, picking up sticks that had the power to straighten crooked saplings, collecting magical dandelions and pine cones, hopping from shadow to shadow, running and singing, chatting all the way. I had to continually check my desire to move quickly, so as to get to a non-existent destination, instead pausing to enjoy the precious moments with my family. Jude was totally living the journey and it was amazing to see.

"Can you see me daddy?"
Watching my daughter was a powerful reminder that even as I aspire to reach a personal running destination, a strong performance at the Leadville 100, the true value in my preparation is the experiences I have had along the way. With that idea in mind, this post is a recollection of a few memorable recent runs. And while these runs certainly stack the proverbial, "hay in the barn," they are also valuable in their own right for the joy they bring. I spend too much of my thought life engrossed in fantasies of 100 mile triumphs, and not enough time living in the moment like my daughter does so freely and happily. However, when I look back at even just my recent adventures, there has been much pleasure derived from simply running in the mountains and it sure makes me glad I live where I do and that my body can carry me to these incredible places.

Pumped for the Adventure
Forty Six Miles of Fun
After a mediocre performance at a great race, Nick Clark's Quad Rock 50, I decided to forgo my next 50, The San Juan Solstice 50, and do a 50 mile training run instead. The route I choose would take me from my parents' back porch in Aspen to my front porch in Basalt, along 43 miles of dirt and a scant 3 miles of asphalt. I ran solo for the first 33 miles, only seeing one solitary camper who was enjoying some morning brew with a stellar view, before meeting my brother for the final half marathon. The solitude allowed for much reflection and I was able to take in the sights, smells and sounds of the wild country I was running through.
Alex Tiernan Cresting a Climb on Arbaney
Arbaney Kittle Trail with Mt. Sopris in the Background

Me with the West Elk Range in the Distance

Let's Get this Party Started!
Sometime this winter, my dear friend and former college teammate, Carrie Vickers, proposed the idea of running in the Ragnar Snowmass Trail Relay. It sounded like, and turned out to be, a total blast. We put together a team that included: Carrie, former nationally and world ranked steeplechaser, Carrie's husband, Art Gallery owner, standout hockey player and my long time friend, Matt Vickers, Robin Severy, of the illustrious Aspen Severy family, renowned for their endurance prowess, Mike Friedberg, former CU standout with a 2:21 marathon PR, Jeason Murphy, the 6th place finisher at the Bear 100 last fall, Jeremy Duncan, Carbondale, CO shredder and TrailRunner Magazine employee with several ultra wins and top finishes, my brother Alex Tiernan, a former all-conference 400 meter hurdler turned ultra runner, and myself a middle aged dad and history teacher. Needless to say, with a lineup like that, it is not surprising that we bested the field, taking home sweet wooden neck trophies; more importantly, we had way too much fun. Dubbing ourselves the Elk Mountain Goats, we doned goat horns and even had a real mountain goat skull to adorn our camp. The weekend was about companionship, camaraderie and having a good time!

The Elk Mountain Goats

The Friedberg Ultra Experiment
Mike Friedberg

Selfie of Two Old Buffs
When I met Mike Friedberg, he was, what our college coach called all freshmen runners, a "peach fuzz baby," while I was a worldly senior. This meant that while Mike was suffering through countless tortuous ten mile tempo runs, I was off at Stanford and Mount Sac racing. Mike's efforts as a layman frosh paid great dividends and he became an All-American runner, breaking 29 minutes in the 10,000 meters. With credentials like this, I am excited to see what Mike can do next month in Leadville when he attempts his first 100. Our mutual Leadville goal has provided the perfect excuse to renew an old training partnership. Our most memorable recent run consisted of a tour of the Aspen backcountry, allowing us to catch up and soak in the amazing trails that surround Aspen. Watch out for this guy on August 16th!

Cruising Along Side an Impressive Aspen Grove
Thompson Divided
Tucked away on the west side of the Crystal River Valley outside of Carbondale, CO is a hidden gem of a wild trail network called the Thompson Divide. The area consists of multi-use forest service land, a regular paradise for hunters, mountain bikers, campers, hikers and us trail runner folks. Despite the fact that it lies only a short drive from my house, I had never explored the area until recently. A group of us decided to tackle a big loop through the Divide, but unfortunately for us, after many miles of pristine wilderness, much of which that few people explore, our loop was not actually a loop. The loop failed to connect, forcing us into a major bushwhack; we eventually found our way back to the cars. It was a true mountain adventure.
Which Way Do We Go?

The Hoffmeister
Noah Hoffman
Perhaps the best ultra runner I have had the privilege of sharing miles with isn't even an ultra runner by trade; rather he is a nordic skier. I coached Noah Hoffman as a high school cross-country runner, when we would regularly go on four and five hour runs. He was the Colorado 3A state champ in cross, but his true calling was nordic skiing, his most recent achievement being his participation in the Sochi Olympics. Noah trains as hard as anyone in the world to be as good at his craft as he can! Due to this, he will certainly be a podium threat in South Korea in 2018. Yet, as talented as he is on skinny skis, when he laces his Brooks Adrenaline road shoes to go on long runs with me, he could very well be the toughest runner I know. Over the years Noah and I have enjoyed many adventure runs chock full of down timber, rushing streams, massive fields of snow and every other type of obstacle nature could throw at us. And, ever since he was fifteen, he has pushed me to my limits, no matter how fit I think I am.
Traversing an Alpine Meadow
Yesterday Noah and I mapped out a 38 mile point to point route that took us from the Frying Pan valley to Aspen, completely on dirt, save the half mile of road from the last trailhead to the house where Noah was staying. I was confident that my run fitness was finally sufficient enough to at least hang with Noah, as he runs maybe three days a week. But, the other days he trains by double poling for five hours or other similarly tortuous workouts. Alas, he crushed me yet again, but the crushing was still an awesome run that took us through stellar backcountry and gave us the opportunity to catch up. I am always amazed at Noah's fitness and durability and hope he jumps in an ultra or two when his nordic career comes to a close, because he will undoubtedly turns some heads. Noah inspires me to work harder as an athlete and his professional manner is an example of true sportsmanship. I am sure that my 38 mile sufferfest, trying to keep up with Noah will help me run faster in August, but the run was a awesome even it I didn't gain any fitness.  
Noah Crossing Woody Creek
Running is a blast when I let myself be captivated by the moment. The sites and companionship feed my soul and make the hard moments worth the suffering. But, if I get stuck in my head, worrying about my next race, I lose sight of this truth and running becomes a means to an end. The journey is far too fun to only focus on results, yet the irony of it is, when I stop thinking about training and focus on running for the experience, I get pretty darn fit. I have every confidence that the more I engage in the journey the better the destination will be!