Footnotes 1/16-1/22/14

» Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in Blog | 21 comments

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I went to see The Armstrong Lie at the theater in Denver with Geoff, Tony and Tim. I have to say that I have never been much of an Armstrong fan. Growing up in France during the height of his Tour domination, the arrogant, brash, defiant Texan wasn’t appreciated by many. There is so much national pride wrapped up in the Tour that it never went down too well seeing an American steal the race year after year. Strangely and for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve began to like Armstrong more after his cheating confession. Of course the lies, bullying and ruthless methods he employed to cover up his scam are nothing short of despicable. Yet, professional cycling has been endemically corrupt for decades now and Armstrong simply played the game better and harder than anyone ever had. Again, this doesn’t justify his behavior in any way, but in a game rampant with deceit and hypocrisy, the status-quo becomes so flawed, that it’s hard to define what cheating even means. At the end of the day, maybe all we want to do is hold on to the dream, turn a blind eye to all the bullshit and be fed the inspiration of a cancer survivor racing bicycles like a legend.


During last year’s ITI 350, I used trekking poles for nearly the entire race. I was reminded today, slogging through heavy drifts of sugary snow in my snowshoes of the marvelous utility poles have in the snow. With good technique, I can match my running or hiking stride perfectly with my arms, aiding forward propulsion dramatically. Much like with scrambling, when all four limbs are working simultaneously, I get immense satisfaction from the primal feeling of full body engagement. I love dropping to my knees at the top of a climb, breathing heavily, feeling every part of my body pulsating with the effort.
They say that drinking IPAs will ruin your beer palette. Who they are I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve found myself recently straying from the darker ales in favor of hoppy bitterness. Maybe it’s an acquired taste, much like black coffee and once converted there’s no going back. I mean, why wouldn’t you drink your coffee black? Unless, it’s 4 p.m. and time for a cappuccino, wouldn’t you want to taste and savor all that the the bean has to offer without the softness of milk, the sweetness of sugar or the spice of peppermint?

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Some days you flow in the mountains, other days you fight. Today was more of a fight. I started at Beaver Reservoir, heading west to Coney flats with the intention to climb Sawtooth mountain. At the start, my stomach feels a little queasy, my energy flat. I work my way around skiers sinking each time into the trail side powder. I don’t really get backcountry nordic skiing. Unless you can skate or really glide, tight, rolling trails just seem to make the whole process highly frustrating and inefficient. Past Coney flats, the hardpack trail ends, giving place to a mix of deep, drifted snow and frozen swamps. The swamp sections are actually quite fun and easy to run on with good purchase on the ice from the snowshoe crampons. At treeline, the mile long east ridge of Sawtooth mountain comes into sight. The terrain is challenging as the scree is laced with ice and riddled with deep snow pockets. I go back and forth using my snowshoes, but neither with or without them feels very efficient. A large, packed snow slab leads up the last 500 feet to the summit. Kicking steps proves difficult as the surface underfoot is extremely hard. I notice a metal clinking sound coming from my snowshoes and realize I have lost a screw attaching the binding to the cleat. I sit there in the shade and wind a few hundred feet below the summit, fixing the unit with a small piece of cordelette from my coat zipper. Not ideal, but it’s enough to hold it in place to reach the summit, where I linger for about 3 seconds. I’m cold and feel slightly sketched coming back down the slab on a wonky snowshoe. Once I reach the valley, I run hard all the way back to my truck in the waning evening light.
I’m done with my Dion snowshoes and going back to the Northernlites, which are virtually indestructible. The Dion’s run really well, but the durability is too unreliable for extended mountain use. I rarely run groomers which is what I think they are best suited for. Luckily, my wife really likes them and given that she’s lighter and gentler than I am on equipment, they will still get some good use.


I did a short, glorious run with dog before heading to Eldora for some downhill ski practice.  Deanne got some cheap day passes that included a meal voucher through CU so it’s a great opportunity to practice some turns without breaking the bank. Deanne is renting a snowboard for the day, but I have a hard time waiting in the crowded line at the ski lodge. In recent years, I’ve started to get anxious and claustrophobic in crowded areas, perhaps due to the contrast of living in a fairly secluded mountain town. Waiting isn’t really the issue, but with all the people it gets a bit overwhelming for me. Airports and big cities tend to have the same effect although when I’m travelling a lot, I seem to be able to relax more and not let it bother me as much.
We spend a couple of hours on the beginner hill, before heading to lunch after which I move on to the more advanced terrain. Much like when I started snowboarding 10 years ago, I remember a distinct moment when things started to click. Today, I had such a moment. I felt more at ease and controlled with the 4 edges and two separate planks under my feet. It seems strange to me that a resort like Eldora doesn’t allow uphill ski access. There’s plenty of terrain that could easily be marked off for uphill use with little to no disturbance to other users. Much like OSMP’s trail management style, there appears to be a large divide between those in charge and actual trail users. You’d think that in a place like Boulder, close uphill ski access or allowing racing (even minimal) on the trails would be a given, but it’s quite the opposite.


Woke up with a headache and a stuffy nose. I’m not sick, but it’s always difficult to maintain optimum health when building up a good running base. Balancing enough rest and recovery based on training output can be challenging. The fitter I get, the more excited I am to get out in the mountains as the prospect for a good experience is high. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having boundless energy and that no matter how hard you push, it never really appears difficult. It’s an addictive feeling though and good, balanced training soon gives place to excess. This winter, I’ve been cognizant to really switch things up and stress the mind and body with different activities to stave off injury or burnout. Snowshoeing and skiing have been my prefered options, with some cycling (when weather permits) and climbing thrown in there too. Beyond the cross-training aspect, I genuinely enjoy these activities and continue to acquire a more diverse skill set to be efficient in moving in the mountains. I hope this will translate into some good racing this spring and summer, but regardless the diversity of activities has been a welcome change.


Went out to Rollinsville to check out the Moffat Tunnel, East Portal trailhead for skinning. I’ve never been up this way, but have seen photos of a lot of top marathoners running Tolland road to the trailhead. With 8 miles on gradual uphill dirt from Rollinsville, I could see this being a quality place to get some faster road miles in, in preparation for UTMF. The skinning from the trailhead is good with approximately 1,500 feet of climbing to Crater Lake in a little under 3 miles and an extra 500 feet of vert. up to Roger Pass. The uphill isn’t continuous with some flat and rolling sections, nor is it very steep, but it’s a satisfying ascent coupled with rewarding views above treeline. The downhill is reasonably engaging through the trees for my limited ability and icy spots or quick, tight bridge crossings add a little spice to the outing. I find that when I’m confident in my ability to wheeled the planks, the descent goes a lot smoother. When I start to hesitate or doubt, I tend to lose coordination, tense my quads and make mistakes. Faster downhilling through the trees requires a lot of focus and presence, which is something I also enjoy tapping into when I’m running.


Brad, a friend and coaching client of mine, proposed a project idea to me a few months ago. He’s a life coach and thought it would be interesting to put together a small group of people who would be interested in using the transformative power of running as a way to overcome life challenges. He would focus on the life coaching aspect, me on the running. Our group met up for the first time tonight for a run up Bear Peak followed by food and beer. Everyone is eager to train for an ultra this summer. I do believe that the process in preparing for such an endeavor will truly be transformative. I like to make connections in my regular coaching sessions between how running impacts our lives and vis-versa.  I see this as a great opportunity to more thoroughly investigate this aspect of the sport, rather than solely focusing on the fitness benefits of training.






  1. “…or the spice of peppermint?” Too much, too much…

    • just for you buddy…

  2. Gr8 articulation of feelings around Armstrong – well said, balanced perspective.

  3. Joe,
    Came across your website because I have an ultrarunner friend. Love your photos and your posts! My dog who is a cattle dog/lab mix looks very similar to yours and loves running/hiking/snowshoeing with me. I can totally relate to your comments re skiing at Eldora. I don’t ski resorts anymore, prefer the back country. Cannot understand the resistence of the resorts to uphill skiing.

  4. Your dog looks fast .

  5. Dog is loving the snow, shots are great… particularly like #2.

    Don’t know if you’ve gone up to the upper Crater Lake in summer, but it’s a nice short climb above the big lake.

    I think people have a right to be disappointed when someone lies, but there is one take on stories like that of Lance that I don’t usually see mentioned, and that’s that the government really has no business actively policing sports. It’s a SPORT. Yes, it’s done for money, but we already have laws to handle breach of contract if someone dopes when they promised an organization they wouldn’t. The organization can sue them.

    Plus, making it illegal merely creates a black market and increases the chances that someone will lie to avoid penalties including jail time and large fines, like with all drugs.

  6. Enjoyed your take on The Armstrong Lie. I saw it too and found it to be a roller coaster ride of feelings toward the guy. I was first a fan of Armstrong long before he became well known to most, then a competitor of his (well, we lined up together at the same races) and then continued to be a fan, giving him the benefit of doubt, up until just a few years ago when the writing on the wall became very clear and undeniable.

    While watching the movie, I went from despising the guy, to feeling sorry for him, to admiring his work in the cancer community, to relating to him as a father of twins, to being in awe of his dominance in the sport (a sport where ALL of the top competitors were doing the same things). Repeat.

    It is easy to forget during all of the revelations and subsequent downfall, that he still did overcome terminal cancer, to come back and win the Tour 7 times. It was a level field (between himself, Ulrich, Basso, Pantani, Tyler, Zulle, Beloki, etc…) and he worked the hardest of them all, was most prepared, disciplined and wanted it more than anyone.

    Conversely though, I continue to have mixed feelings on the “he was only cheating other cheaters” argument, as by using banned substances, they were all cheating those who opted not to use banned substances and thus either walked away from the sport, or were cheated out of results and thus lucrative contracts.

    On the other hand, it was only the best of the best who were put in the position to have to make that decision and the top results would have been contested between a relatively small percentage of riders anyways.

    Like most though, it hard to reconcile his behavior toward the people whose lives he trashed for his own personal benefit. For better or worse though, he is a compelling and complicated individual

    • I pretty much agree. I accepted that he was a doper back in 2004 (?) when his 1999 urine samples tested positive, but despite that I still enjoyed following his antics on the bike and then a few years later was inexplicably compelled by his brief foray into 70.3 triathlons. He’s a (largely) unapologetic asshole, definitely a liar and cheat, but somehow still extremely charismatic and obviously an absolute competitive fiend. Which, oddly, I still find super inspiring. Like in The Armstrong Lie at the 2009 Tour and they’re all grinding their way up Ventoux and you know that Armstrong has specifically doped for that stage I still found myself rooting for him in that stage. Really odd. (But, somewhat understandable, I suppose, as Contador and the Schlecks were/are all dopers, too.)

      Mtnrunner2 – I suspect you know this, but the reason the government became involved was because of all the years they sponsored the USPS team. Sure, going after Armstrong was a witch hunt to a certain degree, but the U.S. gov’t definitely had/has some legal standing in the issue.

      Also, I’m not sure how labeling something a “sport” means it should be free of policing…I imagine this is probably based on a deeper disagreement we would likely have about regulations and oversight in general.

  7. Personally, I think once a certain level of physical fitness is acquired, the beneficial mental impact of running becomes much more important. Great to see you back at your blog Joe.

  8. The attitude of many elite ultra runners on the Lance Armstrong subject continues to disappoint me:
    “…Armstrong simply played the game better and harder than anyone ever had.”
    “…the status quo becomes so flawed, that it’s hard to define what cheating even means.”
    “still extremely charismatic and obviously an absolute competitive fiend. Which, oddly, I still find super inspiring.” (presuming TK is Anton)

    There are/were rules against the use of PED’s in the TdF. It’s very easy for me to define cheating. The biggest fraud in the history of endurance sports we find “super inspiring?” Since, for the most part, ultra races have no rules in regards to PED’s, are you saying it’s cool to use PED’s in ultra trail races? I’m looking for the next Pre and Shorter who faught the AAU and in Shorter’s case later started USADA. It will take visionaries like these two to keep PED’s out of ultra running.

    • Rob – no one here is endorsing PEDs or think they are cool. Quite the contrary. While the rules against the use of PEDs were in place, corruption and deceit on all fronts were rampant from the cyclists to their managers to UCI to brands involved (you can’t tell me that anyone, but the cyclists knew what was going on). So yes, it is difficult to define what cheating even means when the very system you are operating in is so flawed. The status-quo was that everyone at the head of the peloton was doping. We know that now, but in the moment you give riders the benefit of the doubt since they are passing tests clean (or covering it up very well) and just look at the racing which was in and of itself inspiring.
      Of course I think ultras should have testing particularly for events that award prize money or that are very high profile. That being said, race day testing is largely inconsequential since the benefits of using PEDs are largely training related (faster recovery for higher training loads). The Tour is unique being that it’s a 3 week event so good recovery during the race is critical (hence the use of PEDs during the race), not so much for a single day ultra race. The only way to truly police this would be to have top competitors on “where abouts” which I believe the IAU already does for runners performing at a high level on world championship events (track and road mainly). The cost for this type of testing is extremely high and I’m not sure many events are willing or able to support that type of expense, at least not right now. The scope and reach of ultrarunning is very different from cycling as is the competitive culture. At this point, I doubt that but a few top athletes in ultrarunning have the money, desire or knowhow to use PEDs. Track and Field is a different story…

    • Rob – Absolutely in no way do I condone PED use or cheating of any kind. Rules or no rules, I have personal ethics that I answer to first and have stated several times that if I ever felt mountain running had gotten to the point where PED use was required to remain competitive that I would simply stop competing.

      In fact, I think you would find that my stance on drug use is fairly extreme compared to probably 90% of the rest of the current field. For instance, I think taking even ibuprofen in an ultra (something that is completely accepted in the community) is an unfair use of drugs as it has been shown time and again to affect kidney function (a risk I don’t want to subject myself to) while offering obvious performance-enhancing effects.

      On top of that, I think the current insider-secrecy that seems to be allowed in endurance sport is complete bullshit. If I ever have firsthand knowledge of a fellow competitor doping, I’m calling them out, whether that makes me a rat or not. Obviously–despite his complicity in the culture at the time–Floyd Landis eventually became the true hero in the whole Armstrong situation, because he finally broke the silence that had been allowing it all to go on for so long.

      Finally, I absolutely never said that ” it’s cool to use PED’s in ultra trail races” (your words), and definitely don’t hold that opinion (I think it should now be clear). No need to make inflammatory inferences. I guess, if I were to summarize my feelings on the whole Armstrong situation, I was merely musing at the paradoxical fact that despite Armstrong being such a despicable character there was/is still something about him that piques my interest. Maybe it’s nothing more than train wreck rubber-necking. Because I think we can both agree, his whole story is one giant train wreck.

  9. I appreciate both your responses and clarifications as I think highly of both of you. Your positions are now clear to me and I feel it’s really important that leaders in the sport take a clear, strong and forceful position on this issue. Which you now have both done (probably did before as well). My use of the word “cool” was unfortunate, should have used “okay.” Obviously neither of you think it is “okay” or “cool” to use PED’s. I do apologize if it sounded like I was making inflammatory references. That was not my intent. (I guess my point was if we can’t define cheating in the TdF, how can we consider PED use in a sport with by and large no rules on PED’s cheating?… maybe I’m offbase on this). I literally lose sleep over this issue and I know it may be expensive, logistically impossible but the sport will never stay clean if we are all silent. Thanks again for clarifying.

  10. Just listened to this excellent interview with David Walsh. I particularly enjoyed the conversation as to whom was really being cheated (guys like Bassons as one example).

  11. Thanks for the link Jeff. Great interview with David Walsh. Walsh was pretty clear on defining cheating and who was being cheated.

    Joe- you are probably right that not many ultra runners have the money, desire or know how to use PEDs. With some top ultra runners being coached by Carmichael Training Systems (Armstrong cronies that likely do have the know how) this may be just the time to advocate for a system of keeping it this way.

    And again, Joe and Anton- I wasn’t trying to make any inflammatory inferences by voicing disappointment and asking a question using a poor choice of words…or by mentioning Carmichael.

    • No harm done, Rob. It’s a touchy, complex subject and I appreciate people’s thoughts and contributions.
      Jeff – thanks for sharing the interesting interview.

  12. If you look at the sums of money that were being paid to Ferrari, Fuentes and the like by the pro cyclists (and top athletes from other sports), I have to doubt highly that it is going on in ultrarunning. Perhaps I am naive, but the thought of spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars just sounds nuts, for what, to maybe take home $10,000 at a few of the higher paying races? Compromise your health? Risk the public shame and ridicule if caught? Banishment from the sport? I am sure there are a handful of wealthy guys out there willing to spend anything for a shot at glory, as I have heard can be the case with age group triathletes, but I would be shocked to learn of any of the top guys here doing it.

  13. Sir Lancelot continues to be a compelling story, for changing reasons.

    He was held up as a hero by many, who projected their own needs for a hero onto him. The same people who loved him the most then hated him the most, as they felt cheated when their projections were found to be incorrect.

    I find this process fascinating. I always thought Lance was one of the best bike racers ever, nothing more or less, so don’t feel real bent out of shape by this, as there’s no doubt that aspect remains true. As for Lance himself, the old saying, “Those who live by the sword (in this case, public adulation); die by the sword” was also proven true.

    I also like another old saying, “You get what you pay for.” We paid Lance. If he hadn’t doped he wouldn’t have won and we wouldn’t have watched so the networks race and sponsors wouldn’t have been paid so he wouldn’t make money so he wouldn’t have doped and we wouldn’t have watched.

    Sorry to be such a douche bag, but Walt Kelly gets the last word: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

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