In Celebration of the Awesome


Celebrating the bottom of the Grand Canyon

I have an awesome life. Simply in the basic comforts of health, food, shelter, clothes, I am richer than most in the world. But for me, in my American plenty, there are plenty of other aspects of my life that are awesome! What are they? Glad you asked!

  • Coffee every morning. I can even go somewhere and pay someone to make my coffee! And buy fancy coffee! Awesome!
  • Living on 500 acres, with room to run, hike, camp, bike, swim, play, and so much else. Awesome!
  • Starlit nights. Awesome!
  • Sunrises (with coffee, it’s early man). Awesome!
  • 12 Bones BBQ, only get the ribs man, and corn pudding. Awesome!
  • Pad Thai is freakin’ epic. Awesome!
  • American Apparel Track T’s. Awesome!
  • A long, un-timed hike/run/bike in the woods. Awesome!
  • Any time I laugh. Awesome!
  • Rockin’ out with Mumford and Sons. Awesome!
  • Vacations, and that I make enough money to not have to work for a couple weeks and go just go do stuff hundreds of miles away! Awesome!
  • National, state, county, city, community parks. Awesome!
  • Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Awesome!
  • Snow (except this winter). Awesome!
  • Fall colors, spring colors, and winter’s absence of color. Awesome!
  • Ice cream. Awesome!
  • Waking up today. Awesome!

I encourage you to take a moment (or several) during your day to appreciate the awesomeness of life. Our lives are pretty amazing, even the bad parts, meaning white-american bad. Times when Sunny Pointe is out of biscuits (AHHHHHHHHH!), my phone takes 15 seconds to upload a picture (the humanity!), or the ATM is out of order (why are you punishing me God!), everything is still ok.

Don’t take your awesomeness or happiness for granted, and don’t let jerks get in the way of it. They want to downplay your first 5k? Screw them. That arrogant music “expert” wants to tell you that the Avett Brothers have sold out to the man? Not friends anymore! Someone trying to tell you that your favorite restaurant is over-rated? You know they can do? STICK IT!

Your enthusiasm will rub off on others. Spending time with you and your happiness with the awesomeness of life will be awesome! I’m not saying you should be a pie-in-the-sky crazy person, but if we all can’t kick back and realize how good life is, then shame on us. Give someone a hug, a high-five, call a buddy and reminisce about your epically epic road trip, or plan a new adventure. There is a lot of awesomeness in the world!

You can find plenty of posts on this site about giving back and caring for others, but I wanted to celebrate the awesomeness that is day-to-day life and adventures.

Please join me in the comments and share what is awesome in your life! If you are a twitter user, tweet @mattragland and use the hashtag #awareofawesome.

[To feel even more aware of the awesomeness of life, go read Neil Pasricha's blog 1000 Awesome Things]

Disclaimer: This essay was hugely inspired by Brendan Leonard’s post in Adventure Journal. High five! Also, Brendan curses in his post.

What Is Your Morning Ritual?


I had a great morning. I slept a full night, woke up, let the dog out, and made coffee. I read the daily C.S. Lewis while the coffee was brewing. Once fixed, I sat down and read Mark 5:21-43, taking notes. Then I prayed through my list, and read aloud Psalm 1-2. To finish, I went through a couple yoga sequences to wake my body up. The entire ritual took me less than 45 minutes. If you don’t count coffee prep and caring for the dog, less than 30. Good morning.

This is a rare example for me. Like many of us, I tend to stay up late, sleep late, rush through my morning, leaving no room to center myself through ritual practice. The days I am able follow a ritual, I feel more alert, patient, and peaceful. Days starting at a frantic pace stay frantic. I snap at people, am hard on myself, and feel listless. When I consider the components of what makes a morning ritual important, I realize I am leaving space to awaken in mind, body, and spirit.

When I make coffee, certainly the caffeine does its bit of magic, but grinding the beans, the smell, waiting for the brew, and the warmth of the cup all help awaken my senses.

Alternatives: Hot tea, a quick breakfast, juice.

Reading C.S. Lewis begins allowing the gears to turn in my mind. The passages are short, and give me something tangible to consider for the day. It is also easier than jumping directly in to scripture.

Alternatives: Book of poetry, daily practice or devotional book. Simply a short, digestible reading to begin. 

Reading scripture and praying centers my soul. It reminds me of the presence of a God and a mission greater than myself. It keeps me from thinking too highly of my own talents and gifts. Or, I re-align my talent with how it can serve others.

Alternatives: A different book of faith, a novel, poetry. Instead of prayer, then time to meditate, and be thankful for what you have. 

Yoga and physical challenges get my blood flowing and finish the job of waking up my body and mind. Most days I prefer yoga, because it allows me to stay in an even flow. Running or lifting weights requires more time to warm up, and complete. Running in the mornings is great, but usually I have to sacrifice part of the ritual in order to run. Sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s not. I go with what I’m feeling. Since I have begun the Thousand Cuts program, I don’t get as stressed over not working out in the morning.

I want to re-iterate this ritual does not occur every morning. It’s a hope. I also have a stripped down version of coffee, scripture, and praying on my way to the office. I’m a work in progress. But giving movements to a ritual will help create space for it to happen. It likely won’t happen every day for you either, and don’t beat yourself up over those days. But I guarantee waking up 30 minutes earlier to be alone and center will make a huge difference in your day.

What is your morning ritual? If it’s not what you hope, what would it look like?

What To Do Next Time You’re Wronged


Creative Commons via Dustin and Jenae

We’ve all been wronged, sometimes by people close to us, people we work with, and by strangers. What is our initial response? Surprise, hurt, thoughts (or actions) of vengeance. I know I do. How about instead, we take these 5 steps:

  1. Forgive them
  2. Take them out to dinner
  3. Apologize for your wrongs
  4. Consider ways you’ve neglected them
  5. Ask how you can help

Consider September 11th. Instead of war (which I was in favor of at the time, hooray patriotism), what if George W. Bush had personally flown over to the Middle East and tried to have dinner with Osama. He then proceeded to apologize, on behalf of the American people, for turning a blind eye to the suffering and conflict in their countries, and offer aid. Then the American people volunteered in droves to fly over and provide assistance to the Afghani, Iraqi, and Irani people (they shall beat their swords in to plowshares… nation shall not lift up swords against nation… neither shall they learn war anymore – Isaiah 2:3-5). They would give food, help with farming, provide training and education, medical care, and all the while saying, “I’m sorry it took me so long to do this”.

How would that have changed the past 10 years? If we continue to answer violence with more violence, there is no end in sight. Martin Luther King, Jr saw this in the 60s, and organized a non-violent movement, saying “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”. Ghandi did the same in India, gaining independence from Britain where years of revolts had not. At the beginning there was Jesus, speaking radical, life-altering words.

  • Forgive them not just 7 times, but 70 times 7! (Matthew 18:21-22)
  • If someone wrongs you, turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • If someone asks for your shirt, do this and give them your jacket as well (Matthew 5:40-42)
  • Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45)

I am not saying that doing any of this condones injustice or violence, quite the opposite. We should actively seek to end them! But not through more guns, bombs, and soldiers. We should fight through love, sacrifice, and courage. To stand up to the oppressor and fight with weapons they know nothing about takes courage that only God can provide. Could we die? Perhaps, but soldiers die every day (God rest them), gun in hand. Matthew 7:1-2 says that judgement is not ours, but belongs to God. When we go to war, even in “God’s name”, we are attempting to secure a peace that we do not believe God can or has already secured for us.

How does this change all of the conflicts, wars, and tension in relationships? What does this mean for Kony? I’m still learning about the situation that has helped form the man that is wreaking havoc in his country, and cannot speak knowledgeably about it. But is military action the answer? I can’t find anything in the Gospels that says violence begets violence. The enduring message is love, love, love.

This is not simply a essay on war, because there are pressing issues in our own homes, communities, and work places. What if you did this next time you were in conflict with another person?  When someone cheats you, insults you, harms you, what if you took the radical step of forgiveness? Not only that, but turned the other cheek, or bought them lunch? That is the really crazy part! Sure forgiveness, fine. But to actively seek them out and improve the relationship? Often our response is to cling to our hurt, and allow that to seep its way in to our soul.

Christians do this, even after verbally forgiving a person, will neglect them and not be a part of relationship healing. We will not let go of our hurt, because it gives us a reason to ignore them. By the way, I am not any better at this than anyone else. I hold grudges, I ignore people, I was for the war in the Middle East, and seek my own comfort first.

But this is not what we’re called to do. We are called to love, forgive, and seek wholeness each day. It is not through our own actions that this is accomplished, but by our openness to having God work in and through us. I woke up this morning with this topic on my mind. I don’t take credit for the essay, God placed it on my heart. I’m stopping here because I feel like everything he wanted me to say has been said, and I don’t need to dress it up anymore with my own words, SEO search terms, or minimum word counts. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. I am a cup that has been filled, and poured out.

What do you think about all of this? Sounds crazy, right? It is. But so is the rest of the Gospel. Let’s talk about it.

Happy Birthday Mom, 15 Reasons Why You’re Awesome


Today is my Mom’s birthday, she is a wonderful lady and has been a great influence on me. Allow me to celebrate her a little with everyone.

15 Reasons Why my Mom is Awesome 

My Mom and I at Johns Rock, in Pisgah National Forest

  1. She had 5 kids. That’s a lot. I don’t have any kids yet, but I’m sure all 5 of us was no picnic!
  2. She home schooled each of us until at least 7th grade. Her degree is in education, so she has training in teaching, but not in all subjects while varying grades between 9th, 7th, 3rd, Kindergarden, while caring for a 3 year old. Oh, 1999 must have been a challenging year! Besides that, she taught us well, academically we all transitioned well to school and eventually college.
  3. My Mom is patient. See above.
  4. She is a great cook, and while growing up was emphatic that we all ate together. As society has changed and family dinners became less of a priority, she held ground in keeping us around the table. And the food was great.
  5. She made us eat vegetables. Cooking vegetables, chopping fruit, and cooking fresh food is more time-consuming than set it and forget it, but the benefits to our early health were significant. I’m glad she didn’t take the easy way of TV dinners to provide our nutrition.
  6. My Mom loves coffee. ‘Nuff said.
  7. She is willing to let me go. I went to summer camp at age 10, flew alone at 13, attended college out of town, and we’re now living 500 miles apart. Throughout life, she has shown the wisdom to allow me to leave. This is also growing increasingly rare, as parents try to control everything in their kid’s lives. I’m not saying there were no rules, but what I could do and take responsibility for, I did.
  8. She insisted I make phone calls. Mentioned above, she didn’t do things for me that I was capable of handling myself, like making a phone call. Little by little, this built up the belief that I was capable of handling my life. When I went to college, I knew I would be ok.
  9. She loves sports. My siblings and I have been playing sports since I was 6, giving her 22 years of near-perfect attendance at various football, basketball, baseball, track, cross-country, volleyball, and lacrosse games. She also listens to sports radio on a regular basis and has a working knowledge of the Florida & Florida State football rosters. What a gal.
  10. She is active. We are a very active family, and she hikes, bikes, plays and runs with all of us. She’s run a couple half-marathons, the River Run 15k several times, and a sprint triathlon. We used to joke that the kids received all of our athletic skill from our Dad, who’s a great athlete, but it’s true that she had a genetic hand in that as well.
  11. She encouraged my development away from sports. I took music lessons, a little art training, read voraciously, and of course my writing.
  12. She loves our family, and all other people, very much. She also is open to admitting her mistakes and growing edges, bringing a great wholeness to her life.
  13. She is present. When you’re talking to her, she doesn’t become distracted. She’ll look you in the eye and listen. However long it takes, she’ll give you the time. Since she only has 1 kid left at home now, my Mom spends a lot of time building relationships with women in the area. We joke that she only has friends under 35 years old, but part of that is because a lot of these younger women look to her for the wisdom that can only be accumulated through 31 years of marriage, 29 years of motherhood, and today 54 years of straight-up life.
  14. She provided a solid spiritual foundation for me. We grew up in a Christian home, and she emphasized the gospel messages of love, unselfishness, caring for others, and living a life that is for God’s glory. That has continued to evolve throughout her life, and she told me about Tullian’s sermons, which inspired last week’s post.
  15. She practices her faith in tangible ways. In 2010 she went to Haiti for a week, gettin’ in the mess for God. She works with a local ministry that supports women in the seedier areas of Jacksonville, especially those who struggle with drug addiction and/or prostitution (read more here). She felt convicted about being the change of God in the area, and not simply praying for it.

See, told you she was awesome!

Happy Birthday Mom, I love you,

Matt

p.s. My Dad is a great man, and my parents were incredible partners and leaders for me. But I’ll write about him at a different time, today is Mom’s day.

We Are All Being Used


Today, you will be used. It may be in ways that are productive and healthy, or ways that are destructive to ourselves and others. We are used by family, friends, co-workers, people on the street, and over the internet. This is not entirely good or bad news, it is how the world works!

We are used in relationships to help affirm, love, and challenge each other. We can also be used as a crutch, or use others as a dominating and controlling presence that feeds off a spouse, children, or friends. We are being used at our jobs, to create revenue, and hopefully to enrich the lives of customers.

God uses people too. The bible is full of stories about how people were used to glorify him. I think that most people feel that God only uses good people, those who have it all together or don’t have any major blemishes in their past. For the past several decades, the loudest voices in Christianity have perpetuated a story that says you have to be good enough, you can’t make mistakes, and God only wants you at your best. If you’re not, we’ll still take you, but we don’t want to talk about it.

People who have been turned off by Christians feel that God can’t use them, and this is simply not the case. The are many people in the bible who had a checkered past, and even made gigantic mistakes as followers of God! We are all broken, and I’m sorry that the current view of Christianity is the belief that we have it all together (or feel we do). No, we don’t, and we continue to live broken lives. We just believe we have found the answer that is bigger than ourselves.

Returning to the bible characters who were messed up. It has always struck me as amazing to read about the kind of screw-ups that God used. I mean, if he was running ads for people in the classifieds, the righteous people of the age would not have applied. Well, that got me to thinking, “What would that look like?”

Here is a series of ads that may have been run by God.

The Conversion of Saul - Acts 9

Peter denies Jesus - Luke 22:54-62

David & Bathsheba - 2 Samuel 11

The Calling of Moses - Exodus 2-4

As you can see, God is waiting to use us for his glory, which in turn will make our own lives more fulfilling and rich. I think that God uses our brokenness and mistakes to allow his light to shine brighter through us. When we have filled up our lives with our own stuff and good deeds, when we are handling everything, “Thanks God, but I’ve got this life thing under control”, he will go find someone else. He doesn’t need much, he is God after all.

Whether you are a Christian or not, how do you feel you are being used? A more reflective question is, how do you use others? It is not simply a question of faith, but of how we interact with people on a daily basis. I would love to hear what you think! Especially if you are not a Christian, or have a different faith, what does the sacred text say about what kind of people God(s) uses?

Have a great day being used.

Take 5: Simple Tasks that Make Life Better


A recent challenge I’ve taken on is to take 5 minutes to accomplish simple tasks. Doing this improves my mood, health, relationships (including marriage), and organization. The challenge is to follow through and complete the simple tasks that present themselves during your day.

My Examples:

  • Washing my dish after each meal (inspired by Joshua)
  • Making the bed
  • Putting away clothes after changing
  • Going for a walk
  • Pushups, Pullups, or Situps (see the Thousand Cuts method)
  • Stretch
  • Meditate or pray
  • Show someone I care and send an email or a quick phone call
  • Dance with my wife
  • Play with my dog
  • Pick up around the house
  • Park at the far end of the lot and walk in to the store

You may think “doing this makes my life more difficult, not easier!”

At the time, yes, it is easier to leave my dish in the sink. But I will have to wash it later (along with all the others I left), or load/unload the dishwasher, not to mention pay for the additional water and power to run it!

I’ve grown up thinking a workout has to last an hour, when I can do 10 pushups at a time throughout the day. I don’t consider a quick walk to be helpful, until I feel the sun. I don’t think a quick email or phone call will brighten someone’s day, but it always does. I make up excuses for myself, that I don’t have time to take 5.

I could drop my clothes on the chair, but eventually they need to be picked up, all of them. It’s the accumulation of mess, which is intimidating to me, and so I delay. The absence of clutter is freeing, because you can focus more on the activities I want to do, and passions I want to follow.

When I’m intentional about simple tasks, I’m accepting responsibility for the messes I create. When I can do that for small matters, and follow through to completion, I am ready to accept responsibility for larger matters.

In reality, when I am making excuses and not doing these simple tasks, I’m being undisciplined and passive. It is so easy for me to slip in to this mindset of “It’s not a big deal“. I nearly always have 5 minutes to spare during the day, if I’m intentional about when to use it. There are days that are busier than others, but I believe we can carve out the time. Saying I am too busy is usually a passive lie I tell myself.

What are the simple tasks you want to accomplish during the day? Do you think this is realistic? I will enjoy hearing back from you!

I Don’t Need You, and We All Need Each Other


I don’t need for you to read this, I’m fine thanks.

I don’t need to see my stats climb throughout the day.

I don’t need for the link to be re-tweeted.

At least that’s my hope.

To be honest, often this is not me. As much as I want to write for myself and because I feel as if I need to write, not simply to be read, but it’s not always the case. There is another reason though, for me to not need any of these external affirmations. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus paid for everything on the cross. It is finished! is the banner under which to live. That means I do not have to waste so much time and energy trying to be measure up, to be good looking, to be clever, to have a popular blog. I am free to live without those restraints, to care for others, pursue my passions, and not be shackled to worldly expectations.

Do I always live this way? No, rarely in fact. I want to be liked, for people to think I’m funny, to be popular, and on and on. I stress out if I’m not picked, or if a relationship is in conflict (likely in conflict because I want to be right). Friday, a group of men gathered to bless a friend who is getting married. While the others spoke, I barely listened to their wisdom as I formulated my own words. I thought of what would serve him well, but also how I could sound smart and spiritual. It’s ridiculous for me to feel this way!

It is finished, we are saved, it’s past-tense. Already done. To even say “I’m working on it” is unnecessary, because God doesn’t need that out of me. Stop trying so hard to measure up! You’re good, your life is taken care of, don’t try to be good enough any more and follow Jesus. Pursue your what is in your heart, help others, and don’t let people’s opinions, good or bad, define who you are.

But We Still Need Each Other

We cannot deny though that human beings are social animals, and we all crave that personal touch. I am most fully myself in the company of people I know and love. Everything above was not meant to say that we don’t need family or friends. They are essential. We are made for community, large or small, where we can help one another, keep each other accountable, rebuke and affirm, living together throughout all of life’s joys and sorrows.

The difference is that while we are meant to live together, we should not rely on anyone as our primary source of comfort and purpose. Our identity comes from God alone, in who he calls me to be. Everything else; husband, son, brother, camp director, writer, runner, they are secondary at best.

So mainly I hope this blog and my writings speak to you and help in your daily life. The topics are varied because I’m finding a voice. I’m writing because I enjoy telling stories and sharing my life. I look forward to the time I’m blessed with. If God wills it, I’ll continue to live and do this or that (James 4:15).

But I’m done trying to measure up.

Note: A large part of this post was inspired by a sermon by Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The sermon in a part of his “Gospel of Works” series, part 8. You can find it on the iTunes podcenter if you’re interested.  

If They Can Do It, I Can Do It, and So Can You


I have read on several blogs that a great way to generate more traffic was to be active and comment on the sites and blogs of others. At first, I dismissed this, because I wanted to be known for my writing on it’s own merit. I also didn’t really believe it would help, and I was being greedy and only wanted to do take actions on tasks that would benefit me. Lately though, I have come to realize that the underlying reason behind this was that in essence, I didn’t particularly care to comment, and I was selfish. I was too busy with my own writing and life to spend time on other sites.

I now realize that is a load of crap, both my own reasoning behind it, and my greediness. What was a real kick in the teeth for me was my last week’s post, 22 People Who are Better Than Me (in a good way!). I listed 22 writers, adventurers, community leaders, and creative folks who inspire me with their work. What floored me was getting a response.

The Minimalists (Joshua & Ryan) wrote me, saying thank you for the love. They were also adamant they were not better than me.

Corbett Barr wrote, thanking me for listing him, and encouraging me not to sell myself short.

Brendan Leonard (Semi-Rad) wrote, saying he was not better than me, but that he could probably eat more waffles than I could.

Jeff Goins has responded to nearly every email I’ve written him.

All of these men have experienced far more success than I have, and have lives just as busy as I do. But they all took the time to respond to me, and encourage my writing. What a gift! So for me to be snobby about commenting on other sites is absurd, arrogant, and lazy.

By the way, I want to thank everyone who takes the time to read what I’m putting down, and commenting on it. It’s a tremendous gift to me to receive your thoughts and feedback. I apologize it took some heavy hitters to knock me out of my slumber!

I still don’t believe I’ll go around mass-commenting on posts just to drive up my own brand, but I will certainly be trying to add value or a kind word to the posts I am reading. If we take care of others, I believe we will be taken care of ourselves. Thanks again.

How I can talk for hours, and say nothing at all


I went to a funeral today. As you would imagine, it was a sad day. The family was next to the casket, tearfully thanking those of who paid our respects, and offered our prayers. The death was unexpected, just a regular day. What I thought of the most were the final words to their loved one. What might they have been? It was a regular conversation on a regular day. Likely an “I love you” at the end of it. I thought about what kind of conversations I have on a daily basis, whether I communicate what a person means to me, how they enrich my life. Usually I don’t in the course of daily conversation. The timing is ironic because I had just read an essay by Michael Smith titled “Don’t Wait for the Funeral to Give a Eulogy” (posted on Michael Hyatt’s blog). We usually gather and say nice things about people when they are on their way out, or have already passed on. I resolved to not let this happen anymore in my life.

I began to formulate lists of people who I need to tell how much they mean to me, and lengthy tomes as to how they bless me. Unfortunately, this is normally where I get hung up. 2 things happen at this point:

  1. My list becomes too long, and I am overwhelmed, so I don’t do anything.
  2. I begin to write or speak, but end up rambling on, losing sight of the original message.

Friends and family who know me well know that I can ramble. Brevity is a skill I am acquiring, and work on it each conversation I have. Rockmont folks would call it one of my growing edges. As I was thinking about how I would praise my co-workers at our meeting tomorrow, I was subconsciously turning a 10 second compliment in to a 3 minute mash-up of a compliment, story time, and vision for the future. Unnecessary! On a daily basis, short conversations and notes can be the perfect opportunities to let someone know you value them. Over the past few months, I have been the recipient of a few out-of-the-blue messages that have been very meaningful to me. They were short, meaningful, and didn’t take much time.

I think that many of us spend a lot of our time talking, talking, talking, and say nothing meaningful. The sad and wonderful truth is that to speak a compliment, a truth, or a blessing does not take much from us, and gives so much to another. When we are accustomed to meaningful compliments and truth-speaking, it becomes difficult to turn it off! Our lives are transformed in to fountains of praise and truth for others!

The question today is, who do you need to speak a meaningful word to? If someone close to you wasn’t around anymore, what would you have wanted to tell them? Don’t wait, tell them soon, little by little. It’s worth the time.

If you see fit, share who you would like to eulogize today.

Running an Ultra Marathon: Technical Aspects of Training, Gear, and Nutrition


Training Program

As I stated before, I followed a regiment of training consistently at low intensity. For the first 2 weeks, I ran 3-4 days a week, with a long run of 10 miles. I also trained with weights, and swam twice a week.

In weeks 3 and 4, I ran 4-5 days a week, with long runs of 15 and 22 miles. Even with those long runs, my average distance during the week was only 3-4 miles. Keep in mind that all of the runs were done at heart rate levels of 60-65% of max. Whenever my heart rate went over 165, I stopped running and would walk until it slowed down. My pace was nothing stellar, but I kept running.

Weeks 5 leading up to the race was strange, I traveled that week, stayed up too late, and didn’t run very much. At that point in training, what’s done is done, but I feel better when I can be mildly active.

In review, I can’t be upset about the training because I did meet my goal of finishing the race. I wish I could have run a bit faster and with less pain, but that’s alright. With more time to run extra miles, and especially the long runs, would have remedied that.
I will add that I think this plan is very doable for anyone looking to run 13+ miles. Scale the program to your needs, and stick with consistency over intensity. The miles will come!

Nutrition
I have become a regular user of Hammer Nutrition products. I also like/use Clif shots/blocks, and Honey Stinger chews. But what I like about Hammer is how complete their offerings are. They have a full line of products for the different stages of training, competition, and recovery.

Hammer products I used:

The only “real” food I carried on the run was a ProBar Superfood Slam. ProBars are my favorite energy bars, and their whole food ingredients, high caloric content, and flavor make them great for endurance activities. Read a little about their offerings and food culture on Adventure Journal.

I also ate one for breakfast on race day, which gave me a nice store of energy for the beginning of the race. I am NOT a fan of beginning a race on an empty stomach.

Finally, I did eat some of the aid station food, whatever looked good at the time. Mainly I ate bananas, oranges, m&m’s, potato chips (mmm… salt), and some chicken noodle soup (wonderfully warm). I do not count on these options for my the bulk of race calories, but they are a nice change up.

Gear

I feel very strongly about running gear. It’s important to have quality, lightweight, functional layers on, especially in a winter mess like the Mt Mitchell Challenge. Temps ranged from 30 degrees at start, 45 degrees and sunny at 10 miles, then 10 degrees with 50 mph winds at the summit. Wrap that up with descending back to 55 degrees and sunny at the finish. My gear had to breathe, keep me from overheating, warm me from the cold, and protect me from the wind. A tall order, but I was extremely pleased with the pieces I wore.

Patagonia Houdini Jacket -

I love this jacket, best piece of gear I’ve bought in years. I wore it during a pouring rainstorm, snow, and then 50 mph winds, and it stood up to all of them. The hood is great, and even with the extra ounce it weighs, totally worth it. The Houdini weighs just 4.3 oz, and packs in to it’s own pocket, or stuffs in to a front pocket in most shorts. Patagonia hit a home run with this piece.

Patagonia Speedwork Tights -

My first pair of running pants, and I really like them. Stayed cool or warm in the right conditions, and mesh behind the knees allows them to breath. They don’t wrap muscles as well as Salomon or CWX tights, but they are also cheaper. They fit well, were tough through 2 falls, and kept me moving. Unfortunately this product seems to be in the process of being discontinued, so you can probably grab it on clearance somewhere.

Patagonia Capilene 2 T-Shirt I’m a big fan of Patagonia, as you can tell. The Cap2 shirt is fantastic across a wide range of temps, and paired with arm warmers and the Houdini, I was perfectly comfortable throughout the run. My favorite running shirt.

Smartwool Arm Warmers, Compression Socks, & Running Socks – Wool is a dream fabric to be outdoors in, and I love it for the extremities. In keeping with the theme of lightweight comfort across temps, all of these fit the bill. The arm warmers are on of my favorite pieces no matter what, because they are so easy to strip on and off during a run. They can also be pulled down to cover the hands as makeshift mittens. The compression socks are nice, giving me a little extra warmth, and caring for my calves. A complaint though is that over 18 months they have developed more holes and rips than I expected. The socks are fantastic, and I wore them over the compression socks because of the holes and cold (the compression socks are thin).

REI Stoke 19 Pack -

I probably didn’t even need to carry this, but considering the conditions I knew it would give me some peace of mind. The pack is fine, I wish it was a little more stable, and I don’t need 19 liters of space. It’s more of a day pack, but I’m not going out to buy another pack simply for long-haul running. Yet. I was able to easily fit 50 oz of water, food & gels, my ipod nano (long time in the woods), a wool layer, extra socks, and YakTrax.

Nike Therma-Fit beanie – I picked this up at a Nike outlet, and it’s served me well. Soft shell outer, fleece interior, and wicking headband. I like it, but it’s not a game changer. Most beanies will do, depending on your preference. I would certainly recommend anything that wicks sweat and breathes. No cotton headgear!

Mountain Hardwear Momentum Running Gloves – I appreciate that they are light, and have a windproof shell. However, they do not keep my hands as warm as I expected. I attribute this mainly to “butter jersey” palm fabric. Yes, it’s soft, but the wind goes right through it, and doesn’t not hold heat well. Fine, but not a cold weather glove.

New Balance 101 Shoes (link to updated design) -

The foundation of a run is the choice of footwear. I have been running in these shoes since October 2010, having trained for and completed the Black Mountain Marathon, Stumpjump 50k, and now the Mt Mitchell Challenge. I have run an estimated 1000 miles in these babies, and this race was a fun send-off for them. They are light, breathable, have a 10mm heel-toe drop (which was awesome in October ’10) and a rock plate on the forefoot. Weight is an airy 7.48 oz. New Balance has since updated the model, but if you would like to read my original review, click here.

In Conclusion:

Overall, I did not need most of the stuff I had in my pack, especially the YakTrax. I could have been fine with 2 water bottles with hand jackets, and had a couple too many gels. But I wasn’t out to win, and knew I would be out for a significant amount of time. Better to be safe than sorry in that situation. Next year I will have trained and planned a little better, and even if there was a question of needing YakTrax, I could have holstered them on my elbows (picture to come). But that’s for a future run, and lessons I needed to learn on this one. Let me know if you guys have any questions about a topic I left out, or a fuller review of something.

Happy Running!