A Tale of Two Marathons – Berlin and Pikes Peak

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My previous blog was about running the PIKES PEAK MARATHON LINK
Then five weeks later I ran the BERLIN MARATHON.
And although they’re both marathons
they’re
 OPPOSITES in many ways. 

PIKES PEAK Marathon was a small race with 721 runners   BERLIN Marathon was a huge race with 43,852 runners. Yikes!

PIKES PEAK is the WORLD’S 2ND TOUGHEST MARATHON
and it attracts the fastest Trail Runners

BERLIN is the WORLD’S FASTEST ROAD MARATHON
and it attracts the fastest Road Runners

PIKES PEAK marathoners run up steep mountain trails to 14,000 ft. elevation     

BERLIN marathoners run on flat pavement at 180 ft. elevation  

PIKES PEAK scenery is BIG BOULDERS

BERLIN scenery is BIG BUILDINGS 

BERLIN and PIKES PEAK Marathons do have one thing in common:
11% OF ALL RUNNERS DID NOT FINISH

79 PIKES PEAK RUNNERS DID NOT FINISH (11% of 721 runners)
due to the 14,000 ft. HIGH ALTITUDE, which brought on
 altitude
sickness, nausea, or dizziness and forced them to drop out.

And 4,751 BERLIN RUNNERS DID NOT FINISH (11% of 43,852 runners).
INCLUDING 2 OF THE WORLD’S 3 FASTEST MARATHONERS!
Mainly due to 81% HIGH HUMIDITY that sapped runners energy
and slowed their pace; and if they ignored humidity and ran too fast
the result was often
cramps or exhaustion that ended their run.

I’m happy to say I did finish Berlin. Because a few years ago I learned the
impact of humidity. So on race morning when it was 81% I looked at
my humidity chart and knew I had to run 10 seconds slower per
km than planned. That saved me and I had a pretty good run.
Although the last 5 km were still very tough.

MY RESULTS
Time: 3 hours 54 minutes
Age Place: 14 of 151 Men in the 70-74 Age Category
————————————————————————————————-
Overall Place: I was 12,326 to cross the finish line, which is really depressing.
But 
43,852 runners started the race.
So only 28% (12,325) of runners were FASTER than
 me.
And 72% (31,526) of runners were SLOWER than me.
So at age 70 I was faster than 72% of all Berlin runners.
Gee, now I feel better! 
————————————————————————————————–
And a treat was being awarded this special Abbott Medal at the finish line
for being one of few to finish all of the World’s 6 Major Marathons.

So the PIKES PEAK Marathon is very TOUGH.
And the BERLIN Marathon is very FAST.
Your choice!…or just run both 🙂

 

 

Surviving the Pikes Peak Marathon

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It’s perfect weather for the 2017 Pikes Peak Marathon. A stroke of luck since the Summit is often freezing cold with snow, hail, thunder, lightning, or heavy rain.

At 7am, the gun sounds and 721 runners full of energy start to run the Pikes Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

And we better have energy, because we’ll be running 26 miles (42 km) to the top of Pikes Peak and back, on this notoriously insane course at high altitude. No wonder it’s called “America’s Ultimate Challenge!” And is #2 on the list of the “World’s 15 Toughest Marathons!” 

Below are the fastest runners. And number 72 from Switzerland will win this very tough marathon in 3 hours 38 minutes. The others are from Colorado. No surprise since the fastest mountain runners live and train at high altitude.

Here at Manitou Springs we’re at 6,000 ft. elevation and breathing 21% less oxygen than the 100% oxygen in most races. And later at the 14,000 ft. Summit we’ll be breathing 41% less oxygen. But it won’t affect the lead runners because they’re acclimatized to high altitude.

But what about runners like me and most others who rarely go to high altitude?

Well, the Mountain runners call us “Flatlanders” because we live and train iflat areas with 100% oxygen. So we aren’t acclimatized to high altitude and risk getting altitude sickness.
 
It happened to me long ago when I threw-up for 4 hours climbing to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. And if it happens in this race I won’t be smiling like this!
 

 

Fortunately over the years I’ve learned how NOT to get Altitude Sickness. And the big secret is to start out running/walking much slower than you think you should. It’s the last thing you want to do in a race, but the best way for your body to gradually acclimatize to higher altitude and less oxygen. 

However many runners don’t know much about altitude sickness. So on this first steep hill of the race some are going much too fast. Soon a few will get sick, nauseous, or dizzy and give up in the first couple of miles.

 The first half of the race is uphill on steep dirt trails, and on very narrow parts we have to go single file. So each time someone up ahead yells “Runner” we all stop and quickly move to the right so the fastest runners now speeding downhill can fly past us. The stops slow us down but are also nice breaks on the steep climb.
Running through the forest, the scenery is spectacular! Although I don’t see it very much. Too busy looking down at my feet so I won’t trip over rocks and stumps. 
 
After slogging 10 miles (16km) uphill on dirt trails, we reach the Tree Line. It’s called the “Tree Line” because all the trees joined a union, then drew a line on the ground and said, “We’re not goin’ any higher past this line. There’s not enough air up there and we’ll die.”
So the trees are smart enough NOT to go higher than the Tree Line. But we runners aren’t that smart. So we just keep going higher and higher.  And now instead of trees, there are fields of huge boulders that we have to run, walk, and crawl over. I always thought Boulder Colorado was a city. But it’s really the top of this mountain.
Now there’s “only” 3 miles (5 km) of trudging uphill to reach the Summit and Marathon half-way turnaround point. But those 3-miles will be toughest of the entire race, with the steepest trails, highest altitude, and least oxygen in the air just when you need more!
 
At 12,000 ft. (3,657 m.) there’s 37% less oxygen with each breath I take. And at the Summit there’ll be 41% less oxygen with each breath. That’s what I call really, really BAD BREATH! And possible Altitude Sickness.
 

Here’s how Altitude Sickness affected Jill Parker in the 2013 Pikes Peak Marathon

“Every single step was a decision. Pain. No oxygen. Nauseous. Light-headed. My head was a bowl of mush. I wanted to stop so badly, but couldn’t. I have never felt this miserable…ever!”

It looks like the woman below feels the same way, and many other runners are also hurting. Especially those who went too fast in the beginning. And now, so close the top, quite a few will simply give up and be disqualified.

Now I’m slogging up the last mile to the summit, puffing and panting, going painfully slow, and I just want to give up. But thanks to the slow pace I have no severe Altitude Sickness. Just a bit dizzy at times, so I hug boulders and use them as crutches to stay upright .

Finally I reach the Summit, after a slow 5 hours 40 minutes and uphill for 13 miles (21 km). What a relief! But don’t let the smile fool you. I’m totally trashed! And like the sign says, I’m afraid the organizers will put me in a bag and dump me in that trash can.
Instead they offer me food. But high altitude kills your appetite, so I eat nothing and will regret it later. Just rest for a minute and drink gatorade, then turn around and begin the 13 mile (21 km) run back down to the Marathon Finish Line. And almost instantly I start to feel better thanks to more oxygen with every step down to lower altitude.

Going downhill is faster than coming up, but not as easy as I thought it would be, cause now you have to dodge other runners coming up, and there’s increased risk of leg cramps, or tripping on rocks and taking a tumble.

Luckily I get no cramps and fall only once. Nothing serious but I stop at an aid station where the nice workers put on bandages, and tell me many runners have been falling today.

My big mistake was not eating at the summit. At 5am this morning I had a good breakfast, but for the last 10 hours only a few energy gels that I’m carrying and some M&Ms at aid stations. So now I’m running out of energy, and slowing down.

I stop and reach for my last few energy gels… but don’t have the energy or willpower to open the package and eat them…and worried I’ll finish over 10-hours and be disqualified…so I just keep running. 

Then a nice surprise as I get closer to the finish-line in Manitou Springs. Suddenly I’m running much faster without even trying, cause down here at 6,000 ft. altitude there’s much more oxygen to breathe. 
 
I cross the finish-line in 9 hours 38 minutes. My second slowest marathon ever. But under the 10-hour cut off time, so have survived my 85th Marathon. And surprisingly win 2nd Place out of 5 in the Men 70-74 Age Category.
(1st Place is a high altitude runner from Colorado Springs, 3rd is over the time limit, and 4th, 5th Do Not Finish.)
 
721 runners start the Marathon and 79 drop out before the end. So 11% of all runners Do Not Finish “America’s Ultimate Challenge.”
 
Congratulations to the High Altitude overall winners, and all of us Flatlanders for making the effort. And a big thanks to the helpful Aid Station workers who kept us going.
 
Next is the Berlin Marathon, and it’s totally flat with lots of oxygen. Yippee!!! 
 
Richard St. John
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of San Francisco

Baiba and I love San Francisco and just spent 3 weeks
there. It’s a fascinating city to explore so I always carry
my camera on daily runs. Never know what you’ll see…

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One day we looked out our hotel window and saw hundreds
of Santas. It turned out to be SANTACON an annual
San Francisco mass gathering and pub crawl…

richardstjohn-san-fran-6richardstjohn-san-fran-7richardstjohn-san-fran-8Nice to see they’re all interacting face-to-face
instead of texting on phones…
Oops spoke too soon!

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SFMOMA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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Not far from the business center you can
be completely surrounded by nature…

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OLD- That’s Alcatraz prison on the island in the background
NEW- Container ships are now often bigger than the prison

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And more San Francisco containers neatly stacked…

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Running through Chinatown I saw this accident not long
after it happened and 10 pedestrians were injured

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Wonder if there’s a psychologist and couch in the back?

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This bakery gets 3 Michelin Poops

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If only this garden had a tree I could “bark”

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 Functional  vs  Organic

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Doesn’t he know San Francisco is always cold

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Neil Young sang Helpless Helpless Helpless
IN SF it’s Homeless Homeless Homeless

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Protest Protest Protest

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Ultimate Recycling
Using an old recycled truck to haul recycled stuff

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The AUTODESK GALLERY has terrific exhibits
showing how 3D PRINTERS enable designers
and architects to create innovative shapes
and models for products and buildings

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A full size partial model of a car made on 3D Printers

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Small very fine objects made on 3D Printers

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Soon you could be making your own clothes on a 3D Printer
“Touch my shoulder again buddy and you could lose a finger!”

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My wish…and probably Baiba’s

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Richard St. John


 

 

Something Fishy About My Marathons

Really enjoyed a week in Iceland, and now I’m running the 42 km Reykjavik Marathon. Terrific weather, supportive spectators, beautiful scenery, and we’re running on a nice flat road next to the ocean. But the scenery doesn’t matter, because I’ve already run 39 km, my legs are tired, and I’m only thinking, “Three more kilometers to the finish-line and it’s over.”

Then, unexpectedly, I feel something strange on my leg. Look down and see an almost invisible coil of nylon fishing-line wrapped around my ankle and foot. Thinking, “It will just fall off” I keep running. But suddenly the line also ties up my other foot, and I go crashing down face-first onto the pavement. Lying there more dazed than hurt, I’m thinking, “Is this just a bad dream?” And I curse the fisherman who left a coil of fishing-line on the road.

Try to stand-up, but can’t because my feet are tied together. So roll over and sit up, then struggle to unravel the thin, unbreakable line tightly wrapped around both shoes. Notice a bleeding gash on my leg, but my only concern is, “Other runners are beating me to the finishing-line!” When really it’s a fishing-line that’s beating me.

Finally break free from the bonds, wobble to my feet, and begin running slowly, while the nice spectators give me a round of applause for being stupid enough to keep going. And it seems the sitting gave my legs a short rest. So I pick up speed, pass most of the runners who had just passed me, and finish in 3 hours 48 minutes.

It turns out 3:48 is the fastest of my last five marathons, and I place 2nd in Men 65-69. And who knows, maybe I also set a World Record for being the first runner to ever break through both a finish-line and fish-line in the same marathon.

And here’s the really strange part. This was actually my second fishy marathon. A couple of days before the 2014 Paris Marathon I was enjoying a bowl of good thick fish soup, when suddenly a tiny fish bone injected itself into the underside of my tongue. It really hurt and I tried everything to get it out. But it was too far back and too small to grasp.

By morning there was a big, sore lump on the underside of my tongue and swallowing became very painful. It was the day before the marathon and I should have been carbo-loading and stuffing myself with food, but I could hardly eat or drink. And next day during the race it hurt to swallow energy-gels or water. So eventually I became de-hydrated, had no energy, and agonizingly walked/ran for the last 7-kilometers to the finish.

Why do the world’s fish have a conspiracy to get me? Is it nature’s revenge because I grew up in Nova Scotia, near the ocean, and ate so many delicious fishes? And why do they attack me on land, instead of in the water? Until I find the answers, there’s no way I’ll ever do a triathlon. In the swim part, the fish would finally finish me off.

Dear Robin Williams

I have always been a big fan of yours, because you were so incredibly funny and often did the unexpected – even when I had the chance to interview you. Each question I asked launched you into a hilarious, spontaneous monologue that was the opposite of what I expected. You had me in stitches, laughing the whole time. I wanted you to talk about yourself, but no way were you going to be serious – until the person who took this photo asked you to “Smile!” Then, of course, you did exactly the opposite and looked very serious. It was funny at the time, but now with your final “unexpected” we’re not laughing. We’re crying and deeply saddened. Thank you so much for a lifetime of laughs. You will be missed.

Richard St. John

Robin Williams & Richard St. John

Robin Williams & Richard St. John

Down the Grand Canyon in Dories

Richard St. John – story and photos
Other photographers credited at bottom of photos

Click photos to enlarge
Then Back Button to return to this page
___________________________________

Our friends Paul, Debbie, and Tom ask, “Want to go on a trip?” One of Conde Nast Traveler’s ’32 Trips of a Lifetime’. A seven-day, 87-mile trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. And instead of rubber rafts you ride the rapids in wooden dories.

Wooden dories! Flashback to me growing up in Nova Scotia. Dad and I would sometimes go out to sea with our fishermen friends and watch them haul in nets full of cod and tuna. And the start of the adventure was to always hop into a little wooden dory that only held 5 or 6 people and row out to the big boats. I fondly remember the little dories, and this would be a different adventure with the promise of chills, thrills, spectacular scenery, and an education. So Baiba and I join the trip.

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Turns out to be a nice small group of 16 plus guides.

Group photo

Group photo

Four wooden dories carry us down the Colorado River.

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And two big yellow inflatable luggage carts bring the gear.

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OARS – Outdoor Adventure River Specialists organize the trip.

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And they live up to their name. No motors on these boats. Oars are the engines.

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Our chief river guide Regan Dale has rowed over 35,000 miles in the last 35 years.

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Regan prefers to row standing up. We prefer to sit and watch.

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Our guides won’t let us row. Why not? Because we couldn’t row a dory if our lives depended on it. And our lives do depend on it, as you can see here.

photo montana-riverboats.com coconino

photo montana-riverboats.com coconino

So our guides calculate a safe route through the rapids and skillfully row around the rocks.

photo-www.johnblaustein.com

photo-www.johnblaustein.com

Our job is to hang on for our lives and scream loudly.

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photo colorado-river-rafting

Then, once safely through the rapids we bail out the 5,000 gallons of water now in the bottom of the boat. And talk about cold! The water is 40º and the air 110º. Our feet are in a freezer and our bodies in an oven.

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Grand Canyon rapids are rated on a scale of 1 (wimp) to 10 (killer). On this trip, 19 of the rapids are rated 5 or higher. So when the guides ask us to put on helmets, we brace for a roller coaster ride.

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And we also put on these zippy new lifejackets that double as diapers.

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 For moments like this when we’re scared shitless.

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photo- oars.com

Sometimes the river becomes a brown color. Guess our diapers leaked.

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photo – oars.com

I ask our guides, “What makes dories so great in the big waves?” They answer, “Flat bottoms.” Yes I can tell you, my bottom is as flat as a pancake after bouncing up and down on that hard seat all day.

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photo- oars.com

Dories also have flat bottoms with no keel, which makes them very maneuverable. So to avoid rocks, our guides can row straight into one wave, then turn the boat sideways over the next wave, and go backwards through another, all within seconds.

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photo www.gcex.com:photo:dory:2

Let’s see this big, ugly, motorized rubber raft do that. Ha! Bet you wish you were in agile little dories, don’t you!

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Oops! I spoke too soon. A rock just punctured one of our hulls.

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But it doesn’t take on much water and the experts repair it quickly, thanks to me not helping.

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Whew! it’s absolutely exhausting running the rapids and watching our guides do all the work. Time for a snooze.

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Interspersed between the wild rapids are nice stretches of calm water where we just float down the river.

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 Put your feet up, throw a line off the boat and catch a few trout.

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No roar of engines to scare wildlife along the riverbanks. So deer, bighorn sheep, and little creatures pay no attention to us.

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Look! A California Condor. Wow! Only 72 are still flying in the wild, and they’re on the Endangered Species list. These huge birds are almost as rare as an honest politician, but they’re making a comeback thanks to conservation.

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Ravens, on the other hand, are definitely NOT on the Endangered Species list. Instead, they’re on the Endangered Belongings list, constantly swooping down trying to steal everything we own.

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We watch as this Raven unzips the bag, pulls out the blue pouch, then rejects it and flies away with a tube of Blistex instead. No more dry beak for this bird.

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A short hike up the Little Colorado River is like instantly being transported to the Mediterranean Sea, with vivid turquoise water.

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Unlike the big Colorado River, this Little Colorado is warm enough to swim. If you call this swimming.

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Time to set up camp. We form a chain to pass along the waterproof bags that hold our clothes and sleeping bags.

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The crew unloads cooking gear, widescreen TV’s, the surround-sound system, and Lazy Boy recliners.

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Well, actually the chairs are inclining, not reclining.

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The wide-screen TV’s are sunglasses.

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And the surround-sound system is the river.

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Or an acoustic guitar.

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No phone. No computer. No internet. Why aren’t we bored?

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Instead of Facebook there’s RealFaces.

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Sleep by the river. No rain. No tent. Look up at the stars.

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But watch out for scorpions. They like to crawl under your sleeping bag.

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And watch out for sand. Apparently wind can only blow sand particles 3 feet off the ground. Just high enough to get into everything we have, including ears, noses, and cameras.

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This is our luxury restroom, set up at each camp. The toilet is actually a portable people pooper-scooper, ensuring that all the crap brought into the canyon is also taken out.

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Thanks to this “No stool left behind” conservation policy each campsite is pristine and looks like humans haven’t set foot here before.

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The river is an equal opportunity employer, so all guides, women and men, do guiding, rowing and cooking.

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Of course, men only want to cook if the stove resembles a barbeque. Want your husband to cook more? Put a barbeque and some charcoal on top of your kitchen stove.

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I was expecting meals of dried camping food that tastes like cardboard. Instead we have fresh fruit, veggies, meat, and no two meals alike. Want cilantro for the stir-fry? They have it.

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Eggs to order and fresh trout just pulled from the river.

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And even a birthday cake on the beach.

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On this special Conde Nast trip we’re fortunate to have Dr. Andre Potochnik as our trip guide.

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Here Andre gives us a fascinating talk on the stones.

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No, not the Rolling Stones. Andre is a noted geologist, so this is his idea of a rock band. It’s even older than Mick Jagger, by a few million years. And much prettier.

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Andre has been a canyon expert and guide for over 30 years. He literally knows the Grand Canyon inside out, and on river stops and hikes he explains how it all evolved.

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As our dories glide down the river, we start seeing images in the majestic canyon walls. “Hey, it looks like a face has been chiseled into that rock.”

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“Over there – an awesome castle that looks like it was whittled away by aliens.” And we’re not even on drugs.

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Which begs the question: Back in the 60’s was it somebody floating down this river who looked up at the incredible stone formations in amazement – and for the first time uttered these words: “Hey man, I think I’m stoned?”

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Finally our wonderful ride down the river comes to an end, and we say goodbye to our great guides and little dories.

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A short walk to the famous Phantom Ranch, where we spend the night. This is the first roof over our heads and real beds in a week. But something is missing. Sand. And looking up at the stars.

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What comes down, must eventually go up. So we rise at 4am when it’s cooler, and start the long hike from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top, along the Bright Angel Trail.

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Why that name? Well, the Angels were obviously brighter than us. They had wings and could just fly up the hills. We mortals only have legs. So most of us do a long, steep, uphill hike for 9.7 miles, while others hop on mules and let it them do the walking.

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Finally, after a nice 6-hour hike uphill we stand at the top of the South Rim. Now 5,000 feet higher than the Colorado River, and looking down instead of up at the spectacular Grand Canyon.

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RichardStJohn.com-Canyon - 117

Makes you feel humble doesn’t it?

And a great trip comes to an end.

Happy trails and rivers!

Richard St. John

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To see more photos click here

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I crossed the Boston Finish Line and the world changed

It’s 10:00 am Monday, April 15, 2013 and the Boston marathon starts. At least I think it does. I’m standing in a corral for the 2nd wave of runners, far away from the start. Perfect running conditions. Light wind. Sunny skies. Not too hot for runners, not too cold for spectators. Doesn’t get any better than this. What I don’t know is it will get a lot worse.

After persisting through the 26 miles or 42 kilometers I run down Boylston and cross the finish line in 3 hours 41 minutes. Nine minutes slower than planned due to severe leg cramps, but I’m very happy. I join the throng of finishers, get a medal, and grab snacks and water. Find the bus with my clothes bag, put on a warm jacket and head for the family area to meet my wife Baiba.

Need to go back and cross over Boylston, but can’t push through all the finishers rushing towards me. So I take the long way around and hobble along back streets with other runners. After running 26 miles we’re like the walking wounded, limping along. Suddenly a massive explosion erupts. We look at each other, “That doesn’t sound good.” Then another explosion. The sound bounces around buildings so we have no idea where the blasts come from. Assume it has nothing to do with the run. “Maybe gas explosions.”

Then it’s back to normal, discussing the ups and downs of the run and how we finished. Now we’re back to Boylston and a policeman opens a gate to let us cross. I can’t believe my eyes. The street is empty. No people. Not long ago it was jammed with thousands of finishers on the way to pick up their bags. (When the explosion occurred all runners were stopped. And from here you can’t see the destruction and panic at the finish line area.) I just stand there in disbelief. Nothing makes sense. But that’s par for the course after running 26 miles. So I think, “Well, maybe they just sent the finishers down another street.” (Yeah, sure, for the first time in history.) And why are all these security and medical people running around? “Well, to help tired runners of course.”

Finally I reach the family area where runners who just finished are being reunited with family and friends. Baiba spots me and recounts what a happy, joyous scene this area has been. Until the first explosion, then instantly there was complete silence. You could hear a pin drop. When the second explosion went off there was more tension, but no panic. Now at this point everyone is back to normal, giving high-fives and celebrating. Nobody has a clue about the pain, suffering, and death just a few blocks away. Or how thousands of police, fire, medical, and security have sprung into action and are totally focused on helping the victims and checking for more bombs.

Baiba and I walk to a pub to meet our buddies from the Marathon Dynamics running club and exchange congratulations: “Wow, a personal best!” Or condolences: “I blew up on Heartbreak Hill.” Then on the pub TV we see what really blew up – and the whole mood changes. Suddenly the run is insignificant.

We watch in shock and stunned silence, unable to comprehend the devastation, injuries, and death at the finish line. Baiba sees the location of the explosion on the north side of Boylston Street and says, “I was almost there.” I go “What!!” She tells me her plan was to watch me finish and then meet me at the family area, her normal routine when she’s watching and not running. So she walked up the south side of Boylston, but couldn’t get close to the finish. However the north side (where the bomb later exploded) was less crowded. She asked a security guard, “Can I use the overhead bridge to get over there?”  He said, “No. It’s just for media. You have to walk a mile down, then cross over and walk back up the other side.” She started to walk there, but then stopped, thinking she might be late getting back to the family area to meet me. I can tell you, Baiba is very punctual. She insists we’re 3 hours early for a flight and hates to be late for anything. So she scrapped her plan to stand at the finish line. Perhaps punctuality saved her life.

Others were not so lucky. Our sincerest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who died, and our hearts go out to all those who were seriously injured in this senseless tragedy.

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Note: Previously I wrote that I crossed the finish line six minutes before the bomb exploded, a calculation based on the 4:09:43 time on the finish-line clocks when the explosion occurred. Now I’m told the clocks were showing the time for the third wave of runners, so the six-minute calculation is wrong. The bombs actually went off 42 minutes after I crossed the finish line. My story is still accurate, but I was on a different street when it happened. At the time I didn’t pay any attention to where I was because I thought, “Just gas explosions. Nothing to do with the run.” So there was no reason to remember the exact location. I apologize for the error and it has been corrected in the story above.

 

If you give a talk in a forest and no one hears it…

If you give a talk in a forest and no one hears it, does it make an impact? Only if it’s later seen on TED. Congratulations TED on a billion views and making it possible for so many talks to have a big impact on the world.

I was fortunate, but very scared, to give the first TED 3-minute talk in 2005. I thought the information would never leave the room. But then TED put talks online, took mine out of the forest, and gave the information an opportunity to reach people and perhaps make an impact.

Now millions of people around the world have viewed it and comments like the ones below keep me going. Thank you TED!

Poland
Your “Richard St. John’s 8 secrets of success” short video from TED changed my world. Now I’m happiest guy in whole Poland!

United States
I saw your video on TED and knew instantly I could use your work. I teach English to students who think school is pointless and boring. But they ALL want to succeed. THANK YOU for your work. The ripple that you started continues outward.

Zimbabwe
I’m teaching workshops and empowering women in an African community in the midst of crisis and chaos. I found you on TED and loved your talk. Then I translated your book into a simple workshop that really woke people up. Many thanks for your work.

Tajikstan
Thank you very much, Richard for your inspiring speeches. They help me teach my younger brother how to be successful.

India
I liked your TED talk a lot so I got your book. My wife read it and realized she hated her job, so she went into education research. Now she’s helping children in India and she loves it. You changed her life.

Japan
I learned very much through your TED speech. I had given up hope but came to the realization that it is never too late, and very important to never give up. Thank you very much indeed.

Canada
I watched your TED video and you explained in minutes what I have been trying to figure out for years. I am going to throw the Zoloft away.


The Everest Marathon: And Now for Something Completely Different

or How NOT to Celebrate Your Anniversary

To celebrate our 40th anniversary, Baiba and I decided to do something different. So, we went to Nepal and ran the world’s highest marathon. Are you tired of running the same old humdrum marathons? Looking for a unique run? Here are 12 ways The Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon is completely different.

Click photos to enlarge

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1. DIFFERENT STARTING LINE

Marathon Start -photo EverestMarathon.com

To reach the starting line of most marathons, you simply hop into a car or bus, drive there, and then it’s a short walk to the start. The Everest Marathon is different. You still walk to the starting line, but it takes two weeks to get there. It starts at Everest Base Camp, high in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, and there are no roads, cars, or vehicles. So, you do a grueling trek along mountain paths.

Everest trek – Bruce Macfarlane

Oh, there is another option to get there. Mortgage your house to pay for a helicopter ride. But the trek is actually better, because going slowly gives you time to acclimatize to the extreme high altitude. With the helicopter option, you zoom up quickly, then hop out of the chopper at Base Camp and instantly turn into a vegetable with acute mountain sickness.

Our route to Base Camp followed the same path that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay took in 1953, when they became the first men to summit Everest. As I was climbing up the steep, rocky hills, struggling to breathe, I thought, “This is really cool! I’m walking in the footsteps of those great mountain climbers. I wonder if they felt as miserable as I do?”

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2. DIFFERENT ALTITUDE

Himilayas – Peter Brunning

Many marathons, such as Boston, take place at low altitude. A few are run at high altitude, like the Madison Marathon in Montana, the highest in America (9,000 feet or 3,000 meters). But, the Everest Marathon towers above all the rest. It starts at an altitude of almost 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) making it the highest marathon in the world. It’s also the only one where you’ll run at “extreme” high altitude, which means you can’t breathe and shouldn’t be there.

Everest trek – Michael Phoenix

Another difference is the views. When running most marathons, typical views include the backs of hundreds of runners, police directing traffic, cars backed up for miles, porta-potties, pavement, and skyscrapers. The Everest Marathon is different. It has none of the above. Actually, it does have skyscrapers, but instead of buildings they’re some of the world’s highest mountains.

And they are spectacular. Well, I’m told they are. I was too busy crawling over rocks and trying to breathe to look up.

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3. DIFFERENT HORNS

Yak – Richard St. John

In a typical marathon, roads are often closed to traffic, so drivers are beeping their car horns and yelling, “Get off my road!” The Everest Marathon is different. There’s no problem with car horns, since there are no cars. But there is a problem with yak horns. What’s a yak? Picture a small bull with big sharp horns, wearing a fur coat. And, just like the drivers beeping their horns, these animals are in a hurry to get somewhere. They own the path, so you’d better stand aside or they’ll use their horns to butt you out of their way.

Yaks – Michael Phoenix

Yak – Bruce Macfarlane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yaks are the tractor-trailers of the mountains, carrying heavy loads on their backs. In theory they’re domesticated. In reality, their owners are nowhere to be seen, and suddenly you’re stopped in your tracks by a gang of uncontrollable animals charging towards you like locomotives. (Hence the term “yak trains.”)

Normally, runners in a race won’t stop for anything, but in this free-range “running of the bulls” there’s no choice. So when you hear the dreaded sound of yak bells, you quickly take cover behind a rock and count the precious minutes of time you’re losing until the yak train passes.

But what if you’re running along a mountain ledge and there’s no place to go except over the cliff? Then you should stand very still against the wall side of the ledge. If you stand near the edge, a yak could butt you into space and you’ll fall to your death. I left instructions that if it happened to me I wanted my epitaph to read, “He died on Everest,” and not “He was killed by a small bull wearing a fur coat.”

Note: Yaks do serve one useful purpose for trekkers and runners. The trail wasn’t clearly marked and a GPS (Global Positioning System) won’t always work in the mountains. But there’s always YPS (Yak Positioning Shit). Not sure which direction to go? Just follow the trail of yak dung.

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4. DIFFERENT TAPERING

Everest Trek uphill – Richard St. John

As marathon day approaches, many runners taper – run less and rest, in order to have fresh legs for the big run. But Everest is different. Instead of sitting around tapering, with our feet up having a cold one, we were slogging up high hills with thousands of steps, then struggling through obstacle courses with huge boulders, narrow ledges, and swaying bridges.

Suspension bridge – Richard St. John

Trek Uphill – Richard St. John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought we were going to Base Camp. Really, we were going to Boot Camp. The only thing missing was a Marine Corps sergeant yelling, “Pain is just weakness leaving your body.” My poor little legs were crying out, “Hey, we’re supposed to be tapering! By the time we get to the start line we’ll be dead.”

So Bruce, a good personal trainer in our group, explained to my legs that they just had to hang in there and keep going. He was very motivating. Then he collapsed from diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration and had to rest for a couple of days.

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5. DIFFERENT CARBO-LOADING

Yak cheese pasta – Richard St. John

The week before a marathon many runners carbo-load – consume foods rich in carbohydrates (mainly beer) to build up the energy reserves that will enable them to run 26 miles. But the Everest Marathon is different. Instead of carbo-loading, I carbo-depleted.

The problem at high altitude is there’s not enough oxygen for all your body parts. And for some reason your mind thinks breathing is more important than eating, so it takes away your appetite. And the higher you go, the less you feel like eating. Which is absurd, because the higher the altitude, the harder your body needs to work just to breathe, move, and not freeze to death, so you actually need more food and calories, not less.

But I had no appetite, and just when I should have been going back for seconds of pasta, I was hardly eating. Thanks to carbo-depleting I lost eight pounds, and Baiba started referring to me as “the lollipop” – a head on a stick. I’ll show her when I write my new weight loss book, The Everest Diet: How to Get High and Lose Weight at the Same Time.

On the plus side, the less you weigh, the faster you can run, and suddenly I was eight pounds lighter. Wow! I was ready for a new burst of speed. Then I realized I had no energy to actually move my legs. Carbo-depleting may not make it big in running circles.

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6. DIFFERENT AIR

Runner – EverestMarathon.com

Runners consume great quantities of oxygen, and in a typical marathon there’s plenty to go around. The air is thick with it. But the Everest Marathon is different. It has thin air. The run starts at 18,000 feet, or 3.5 miles up in the air, where there’s only 50% of the oxygen that you breathe in a typical marathon. Usually it feels great to get “50% off,” but not when it comes to oxygen.

As I was running along, it was like having one of those bad guys from the movies on my back weighing me down, and his hands were covering my mouth so I was struggling to breathe. Legs need oxygen to run, so having only 50% meant I was at least 50% slower than normal.

Everest Base Camp- Michael Phoenix

Brains also need oxygen to function, so my IQ dropped by half, and I was 50% more stupid than normal. (Obviously I wasn’t very smart to start with, or I wouldn’t be at extreme high altitude.) The “50% more stupid” factor meant that, even though I took a book all the way up to Base Camp, I gave up trying to read it. I thought it was in Nepalese or some other language. Now I realize I was holding it upside down.

In my tent on marathon morning, the “50% more stupid” factor meant that getting ready to run took at least 50% longer than normal. I was sitting there like a baby, staring at a piece of cloth wondering what it was for. Then I realized it was my sock, and I had to put it on. I was puffing and panting just trying to tie a shoelace, and then needed a ten-minute rest before tackling the other one.

Base Camp – Michael Phoenix

The way to overcome the low oxygen problem is to live at Base Camp for three months before the marathon. Then your body will be fully acclimatized to the high altitude and the 50% slower/stupider factor won’t apply. Although you may have to run the marathon in a straightjacket, put on you by Base Camp doctors telling you, “No sane person stays up in this miserable, cold, desolate hell-hole for three months!”

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7. DIFFERENT HILLS

Running uphill – EverestMarathon.com

Many runners have bathmophobia. No, it’s not a fear of taking baths, although runners fear that too. It’s a fear of slopes or hills. Runners hate them because they really slow you down when you’re trying to run a fast time. That’s why many race organizers try to choose courses without hills, and then use the flatness to attract runners. The Oz marathon in Kansas brags about a “Flat, Wickedly Fast course.” But the Everest Marathon is different. I doubt the Nepalese even have a word for “flat,” and if there were truth in advertising the ad for this marathon would state “Humungous Hills, Excruciatingly Slow Course.”

Hill, 2 hour climb -Richard St. John

Everest trek hill – Richard St. John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, that’s not what runners want to hear. So to attract more participants, the Everest Marathon should brand its hills with names, like the Boston marathon’s legendary “Heartbreak Hill.” Of course, in Nepal a hill as small as Heartbreak would be considered just a little speed bump, so what’s needed are names more suited to the monster hills around Everest. How about TimeBomb, since slogging straight up over thousands of rocks will destroy all hopes of a fast time.

Runner-rough path – EverestMarathon.com

Going downhill can be worse than up, because you fly down the hill to make up time and risk a pulled muscle or bad fall. So appropriate names for these steep, rocky downhills might be KneeWrecker, QuadKiller, CalfPuller, LegBreaker – or how about RunEnder!

During the marathon I caught up with Judith, from Britain, who was limping along with a big gash in her knee, after a nasty fall on a long downhill stretch. No roads or ambulances up there, so she struggled to the nearest aid station a few miles away, and that was the end of her run. Then I saw Peter from New Zealand limping along with trekking poles. He said he was running downhill, jumping from rock to rock, when suddenly he heard his knee crack. Ahhhhh! His partner ran back a few miles and found the trekking poles. Then Peter limped his way to the finish line, arriving in the middle of the night.

Judith and Peter deserve big awards for “Extraordinary Persistence!” Actually, everyone who ran the Everest Marathon should get a persistence award, no matter how fast they finished. Seventy-year-old Isaac from the US crossed the finish-line in 16 hours, as did Signy from Norway, who ran the marathon on her 74th birthday.

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8. DIFFERENT WINNERS

Everest Marathon winners – EverestMarathon.com

Kenyans are the typical marathon champions. But a Kenyan will never win the Everest Marathon. They prefer heat, not cold, and when the temperature drops to 70º they put on warm hats. No way they’re going to run at extreme high altitude, where you freeze and even the animals wear fur coats. So, the winners of the Everest Marathon will continue to be Nepalese. This year there were 153 finishers, roughly half from Nepal and half foreigners (from 18 countries). The first 25 finishers were all from Nepal, and of the first 50 finishers only five were foreigners.

Of course, the Nepal runners have an unfair advantage since they live at high altitude and go up and down mountains with huge loads on their backs. The great runner Emil Zatopek, winner of three Olympic gold medals, used to practice sprinting around a track with his wife on his back. But in Nepal that’s nothing. As we foreigners were trekking along in superlight, high-tech, hiking gear we were continually passed by Nepalese men in beat-up shoes carrying loads heavier than Mrs. Zatopek.

Porter- Base Camp – Peter Brunning

Heavy load – Richard St. John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, those who live and train at high altitude will always have the “altitude advantage.” So to even things out, we low-altitude runners should invite the Nepalese runners to a “Zero-Altitude Marathon” at sea level. Then we’ll be the ones who are fully acclimatized and have the big advantage. The Nepalese won’t know how to handle low altitude. So with 50% more oxygen pouring into their lungs than back home on the mountains, they’ll start coughing and puking just like we do at high altitude. And they’re used to running on steep, rocky paths, so they’ll be tripping and falling all over themselves on our flat, paved roads.

So, come on low-altitude runners, this is our chance to gain back some confidence and self-respect. Sign up for the “Zero-Altitude Marathon” today – and don’t forget to invite all the Nepal runners who finished three hours ahead of you.

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9. DIFFERENT PERSONAL BESTS

My new “Personal Worst” marathon time

In a typical marathon, runners try to achieve a PB: Personal Best fast time. But the Everest Marathon is different. There you’ll achieve a PW: Personal Worst slow time. Yes, with its high-altitude, speed-inhibitors, and obstacles, this marathon will ensure you run a stunningly slow race. You’ll wait for yak trains to pass, make frequent diarrhea stops, crawl up unending hills, hunt for water when aid stations run dry, and backtrack for miles after taking the wrong path. But it will all pay off in the end, as you bask in the glory of achieving a new Personal Worst.

Personal Worsts have three advantages over Personal Bests

1.) Crowds are moved more by PWs than PBs. At the Everest Marathon when you finally drag your debilitated body across the finish line in the middle of the night and achieve a Personal Worst, the crowd will be so moved by your persistence they’ll break down and cry. When you run a Personal Best nobody cries.

Richard achieves a Personal Worst

Finish line – photo Peter Brunning

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.) Another problem with Personal Bests is they have a “best before” date. We get slower as we get older, so now at age 65 I’ll never top the 2-hour, 43-minute PB that I ran when I was 30. But you can always top your Personal Worst, no matter how old you are. And I’m proud to say I just set a new Personal Worst record of  11 hours, 38 minutes, and 2 seconds. Thank you Everest Marathon!

3.) Sickness and injuries will prevent you from running a Personal Best, but actually help you achieve a Personal Worst. Throughout the Everest trek and run I felt tired and had a bad cough. I blamed it on high altitude, but when I got home my doctor said I had severe bronchitis the whole time. So a big thanks to bronchitis for helping me set my new Personal Worst. Hmmm… if pneumonia had set in, I could have run an even better worst time.

 

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10. DIFFERENT FRIENDSHIPS

Everest run friends – Bruce Macfarlane

Running can be a solitary sport, and although you may run with an old friend or team, marathons are not on the list of “Best Places to Meet New Friends.” Sure, during the race you might say a few words to other runners, but if they’re in your age group you’d rather beat them, than meet them. And when it’s over you don’t know people’s names, just numbers, “Hey, congratulations 10,895. Great run!”

But Everest is different. You trek to the start line with the same group of people for two weeks and actually get to know them. You share running stories, laughs, and good times, but also bad times due to the high altitude and thin air. You get sick together, cough together, sneeze together, and freeze together. The website said we would “all get to run together.” It could add, “And all get the runs together.” Just about everyone in our group was feeling bad at some point and a few suffered from Acute Mountain Sickness and had to be flown back to civilization by helicopter.

Australian friends -Richard St. John

Norway friends – Richard St. John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But through it all, complaints were few and spirits were high. It seems the more adversity a group encounters, the more people are drawn together. As the challenge, the struggle, the pain increases, so does the sense of camaraderie. Whether you finish in first place or last, you’re all in the same boat, or running shoes, and that creates mutual respect and lasting friendships.

Everest run friends – Richard St. John

After the trip Norbert in Austria wrote, “The trip was far more about the people I got to know, than about the race itself.” And Michael in the UK said, “After the trip I tried to explain to my wife my sense of ‘bereavement.’ However much you love being home, you definitely do miss the heightened camaraderie of the trail.” So, if you want to make real friends, maybe set Facebook aside and get out and do something tough with a group of strangers.

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11. A DIFFERENT PUSH

Richard pushing himself – photo Jeremy Barber

Marathons are all about pushing yourself. You have to push yourself out the door to train, push through injuries, and on run day push through those last six miles when you hit the wall and your legs just want to stop. Every marathon pushes you out of our comfort zone, but the high altitude of Everest takes discomfort to new heights. There’s the long trek up to base camp, thin air, altitude sickness, no appetite, no heat, freezing nights, fitful sleep, one shower in two weeks (a bucket of water I poured over myself), and a hole in the floor for a toilet. I was so far out of my comfort zone, even Google Maps couldn’t find it.

Baiba and I chose the Everest Marathon to celebrate our 40th anniversary, but on the trek to base camp I said to her, “Why are we doing this? We don’t even like heights and we’re at extreme high altitude. We’re cold, coughing all the time, and there’s no air to breathe. What a miserable way to celebrate our 40th anniversary! Whose idea was this anyway?” She said, “Yours.” Too late to go on a Mediterranean cruise, so we just pushed on.

Then, at last, came marathon day. Finally, we were running and it was great. Sure, it was incredibly tough and long, and you had to push yourself hard. But I was reminded of what Richard Branson said to me when I asked him the secret of his success: “I don’t like to get too comfortable. I like to push and see what I’m capable of, and I think people get more satisfaction if they live their lives in that way.” He’s right. When I pushed myself through it all and crossed the finish line, there was a lot of satisfaction. After I stopped puking.

Richard St. John – photo Jeremy Barber

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12. SHOULD YOU RUN EVEREST, OR CLIMB IT?

If you’re going to travel all the way to Mount Everest, maybe you’re thinking, “Should I run the world’s highest marathon, or instead climb the world’s highest mountain?” Well, I’ve run marathons (more than 60) and also climbed high mountains (two of the world’s seven summits), so here’s my conclusion.

The good thing about running a marathon is you won’t die. In fact, more people die playing golf than running marathons. So, even though the Everest Marathon is extremely tough, and when you’re crawling the last six miles you’ll wish you were dead, the run won’t actually kill you. In fact, it might even help you live longer, since studies show that running can increase your lifespan.

If, on the other hand, you want to decrease your lifespan, then climbing Everest is for you. This year eleven climbers lost their lives on the mountain, and at Base Camp we sadly watched a helicopter bring one of the bodies down. So when you weigh all the factors, which option should you choose: climb the mountain, or run the marathon? There’s no question. Running the marathon wins. Because climbing Everest will cost you about $100,000 and runners are cheapskates.

So, looking for a different marathon, a new challenge that will push you a bit more, but not to your death? Try the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon. Looking for a way to celebrate your anniversary? Go on a cruise.

Wait! On second thought, now that we’ve recovered we’re thinking it really was an extraordinary trip, with wonderful people, and one that we’ll never forget. Hmmm… maybe the Sahara Desert Marathon for our 50th anniversary? As Baiba says, “If it hurts it must be a vacation.”

Happy Trails – photo Satish Neupane

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TO SEE MORE PHOTOS CLICK HERE 

Richard St. John

RichardStJohn.com
richard@richardstjohn.com

 

little vision + small goals + small steps = BIG SUCCESS

Some successful people have big visions, big goals, and take big leaps. But many do the opposite. They don’t look ahead, set small goals, and take small steps.

Issy Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels, said to me, “People ask what my big vision was for Four Seasons Hotels. But I had no vision ­– ever. I didn’t do this to build a business. I did it to build one hotel. I wasn’t even thinking of doing it again.” And with that approach of little vision, small goals, and small steps, Issy built Four Seasons into the world’s top premier hotel chain.

The problem with setting big goals and taking large leaps is they can be very intimidating, and actually discourage us from ever getting starting. The other approach of setting small goals and taking small steps makes it easier to get going and keep going.

Forrest Sawyer told me the small approach is how he went from being an unknown radio announcer to becoming a famous TV news anchor: “I started with 1-minute pieces, and then I would do 3-minute pieces, and I would keep doing them until I got them right. And then I did 10-minute and 13-minute pieces.”

When I first started running, my only goal was to run a few blocks and try to keep up with my wife. But it wasn’t long before I was lying on the ground gasping for air while she kept going. I stayed at it, gradually got better, and a couple of years later thought, “Maybe I’ll try running a 26-mile marathon.” I crossed the finish line, and after I stopped puking I said, “I’ll never do that again.” Then a year later, “Hmmm, maybe I can run a faster marathon”…

Now, at this point in my life, I’ve finished over 50 marathons on all seven continents and run more than 75,000 miles (120,000 km). That’s equal to 3 times around the world, or 25 times across the United States. It’s been a blast, and I did it all with no vision, no big goals, and no big leaps. The same approach led to success in my career.

The bottom line is we can accomplish big things with little vision, small goals, and small steps. So go ahead. Take the first step. What are you waiting for?

Success takes 10 years – capturing Osama bin Laden

PERSIST is the 8th trait for success, and one of the big things we need to persist through is time, because there is no overnight success. The number that keeps coming up in my research is 10 years to succeed at anything.

It takes 10 years for dancers to develop, surgeons to be trained, and surfers to ride the big waves we see on TV. It took 10 years for Einstein to come up with E=mc² and 10 years for the BlackBerry to be developed. Google founder Larry Page told me it took 10 years to make the Google search engine a success. He said, “It takes a long time to do these things and a lot of success is just due to the amount of time you put into it.”

My book shows many more 10-year success stories, and now there’s another one to add to the list. It’s not a person’s success or a company’s success; it’s a country’s success. It took the United States 10 years to succeed at capturing Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks in 2001. To be exact, it took 3454 days. Schoolteacher Gary Weddle knows, because when 911 shook the world he was so upset he forgot to shave – and then he vowed not to shave again until Osama bin Laden was caught.

So a big Persistence Award goes to all those in the U.S. military who hung-in for the 10 years it took to finally track down the world’s most wanted man – and to you Gary for persisting with your vow. Congratulations on finally shaving off your decade-long beard. You look 10 years younger.

More on Gary Weddle

Endorphin outbreak spreads!

When we say, “There’s something going around,” why is it always something bad, like a cold or the flu? Why couldn’t it be something good, like: “Endorphin Outbreak Spreads! Millions of people suddenly springing to life, full of positive vibes and unbelievable energy. Media outlets hoping for a quick cure, and return to bad news.”

Should you put up with CRAP?

One of my definitions of CRAP is Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Prejudice. Here’s an email which touches on the “A” part of CRAP. It’s from Kine Bergseth, following a talk I gave at the Gulltaggen marketing conference in Oslo, Norway.

“Hi Richard. Thank you for making my day. I really enjoyed everything you said. My question is: Should you take crap from someone or leave, even if that ruins your career in the company and everything you have worked for over the last four years?”

Well, Kine, generally, the only time it’s worth taking crap is if you’re getting something good in return. Gardeners put crap (fertilizer) on their gardens and beautiful roses grow. Sometimes the same thing happens when people lay crap on us. It stinks, but out of it we might gain knowledge, insight, opportunities, money, or something else that helps our career. Note: never put up with crap just for the money. There must be some other benefits.

At my company, we once had a client who treated everyone like crap (except his bosses). He was a bully who yelled at people, treated them rudely, and made incredible demands. But he was also a loyal client who gave us challenging projects, supported us, and pushed us to do our best. As a result, we produced good work, won awards, and got new clients. Out of his crap came some roses.

So, Kine, are there any roses to keep you there? If you persist through the crap, will the four years you’ve already invested start to flower? If so, maybe it’s worth staying. But, don’t stay just because of the time you’ve invested. That’s the past. If you look ahead and take your knowledge to another company, it could breathe new life into your career.

The bottom line is, if you’re getting crap from someone ask yourself, “Am I getting any roses out of this?” If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s worth hanging in there. If not, get out and move on. Life stinks if you spend it in a toilet.

Bad Luck – A Springboard for Success

In a previous post about adversity, I talked about how the bad luck of being injured and not able to run fast led me to take some good photos. Here is another story about how bad luck led Finbarr O’Reilly to win World Press Photo of the Year.

A picture can be worth a thousand words when it comes to inspiring people to get involved in foreign aid. Photographer Finbarr O’Reilly was shooting in Africa to show the world the plight of people suffering from famine and starvation. Unlike them, he had food, but it was not good food and he was struck by food poisoning. It made him so sick and weak that he was unable to travel out to villages and take photographs, and he ended up crashing in an emergency-feeding tent. He says, “I spent about 2 or 3 hours in this tent, where there were a dozen women and their infants who were all severely malnourished. I didn’t have the strength to go out, so I sat around in this tent for much longer than I would have otherwise.”

But Finbarr didn’t just sit there feeling sorry for himself. He kept his eyes open, observed the women and children, and empathized with them. A mother sat down across from him, holding her malnourished child. The boy raised his tiny, emaciated fingers to his mother’s lips. Finbarr says, “I felt like there was an interesting moment that was about to happen.” He found enough energy to pick up his camera and click. Later, that image won World Press Photo of the Year, in competition with over 83,000 others. So, the bad luck of getting food poisoning led Finbarr to an award for best in the world – and gave the world a haunting image of the famine to help mobilize relief efforts.

There’s a myth that successful people have good luck. But interestingly, success often results from bad luck, because it can push us to problem solve and take us in new directions. So, when we’re hit in the face by adversity, sure we can sit around complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves. But only for about ten minutes. Then we need to get up, take action, and do something that might turn the bad luck into a springboard for success.

Finbarr O'Reilly © Reuters

SMELL or PUSH? Stop to smell the roses or push yourself hard?

In response to my last blog, Paul Lindsay wrote, “Ah, another example of ‘take time to smell the roses.’ If you were healthy and in full race mode, would you have enjoyed the temples of Angkor Wat as much?”

No, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the scenery and people as much if I was running flat out. Thanks to the slow run that was forced on me by injury, I ended up “smelling the roses,” really enjoying the experience, and getting some good photos. However, there’s also something I didn’t get, and that’s the satisfaction of pushing myself hard and seeing just how fast I could go.

Smelling the roses may bring “enjoyment,” but it doesn’t bring the kind of “fulfillment” that results from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, giving it all we’ve got, and doing our best at something. Richard Branson enjoys smelling the flowers on his private island of Necker, but he also told me, “Whatever you’re doing in life, just push yourself to the limits. I don’t like to get too comfortable. I like to push and see what I’m capable of, and I think people get more satisfaction if they live their lives in that way.”

I think he’s right. So, do both. Sometimes go for the “enjoyment” of stopping and smelling the roses. Other times go for the “fulfillment” of pushing yourself to the limits and knowing, “I did it!”

Running through adversity

I’ve always wanted to see Cambodia and its temples of Angkor Wat, the lost civilization that was rediscovered in the jungle. So, when my wife and I heard there was an Angkor Wat half-marathon, we rushed to sign up. Not only would we see the wonderful old temples, we would get to run around them. And it was for a good cause – artificial limbs for landmine survivors.

But then, two weeks before the race, I pulled a calf muscle on a run and could barely limp home. So, should we cancel the trip and do it next year, or persist and see if I could finish the run, even walking? No brainer. Persist!

Doctors say that runners make terrible patients. They should really call us “impatients,” because we’re so impatient we won’t stop running long enough to heal. And that same impatience also makes us go out too fast at the beginning of a race. I’d done it before with a minor calf injury – didn’t let it heal and went out too fast at the start of the next race – and the minor injury turned into a major one when searing pain brought me to a crashing halt halfway to the finish line.

This time I needed to squelch the desire to run a fast time. But how? The answer was sitting on the table in front of me. My camera! Maybe carrying a camera might shift my mindset from fast-run-mode to photo-mode. So, I tried it on race day and it worked. I kept stopping to take photos, which gave my calf a break, and focusing on the people and scenery took my mind off the pain.

I talked to the local people lining the road and high-fived the kids. My male ego didn’t even get pissed off that other runners were passing me, because now I viewed them as photo subjects rather than competitors. As I hobbled over the finish line, it was one of my slowest times, but I didn’t even care because I had such a great time. And I have some good photos that would not have happened without the injury.

Adversity really sucks, but not being able to do one thing often pushes us to problem solve and try something else that results in a different kind of success. As the great Dale Carnegie once said, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

(Click here to see a few photos of the run, people and temples.)

Running Rio and into The 7-Continents Club

Yesterday my wife Baiba and I ran the Rio de Janeiro marathon (26 miles/42 kilometers) and we are now officially in the 7-Continents Marathon Club. Interestingly, fewer people (338) have run marathons on all seven continents than have gone into space (499), or reached the top of Mt. Everest (2,249). I’m not sure which of these three groups is crazier. Here’s my story and it’s all about PUSH.

The Rio marathon was a beautiful course along the ocean, but very tough due to heat, humidity, and hills. The important thing was to finish and get into the 7-Continents Club, not to run a fast time, so I just cruised along.

Then at the halfway mark a quick calculation told me I might be able to finish in just under 4 hours (a lot slower than my best time of 2 hours, 43 minutes, but those days are over). Suddenly I had a new goal, but it could only be achieved by maintaining my current pace. Even a second slower per mile and I’d finish in over 4 hours.

No sooner had I set the goal, when along came big hills and windy sections and I was losing 15 to 30 seconds a mile. To make up for it, I had to run faster on the downhills, with the risk of pulling a leg muscle and blowing any chance of making it to the finish line and into the Club.

I just kept pushing and with 6 miles (10km) to go, it looked like an under 4-hour finish was still possible, but not easy, because at that point in a marathon all your energy reserves are gone and you “hit the wall.” It’s why cycling champion Lance Armstrong said running a marathon was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

It became a fight between mind and body. My legs kept saying, “This is agony. Slow down you idiot. Who cares if you finish in 3:59 or 4:01?” My mind countered with, “You’ll regret it if your finishing time is 4-something, and if you’d just pushed harder it could have been 3-something.”

My mind won the argument, I threw caution to the wind, pushed as hard as I could, passed hundreds of other runners who were limping or walking, and crossed the finish line in 3:59:56 – 4 seconds under 4 hours. Whew! Then I puked.

Apparently, running coaches used to have a bucket handy during practice and they would tell the runners, “If you don’t puke in the bucket, you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough.” Push is a big key to success at anything in life, including running all seven continents, and I guess I pushed hard enough yesterday.

_____________________________________________________________

Info on 7-Continents Marathon Clubs.
sevencontinentsclub.com
icemarathon.com

It’s Nice to be Successful, and to be Successful be Nice

To be successful, be “nice.” At least, that’s what I’ve found while interviewing many of the world’s most successful people. In my book, there are many examples of how the big names, like Quincy Jones and Martha Stewart, were very nice to me. Yes, even Martha. It’s almost like; the bigger the name, the nicer the person – and it happened again recently.

I was honored to be the only other business speaker chosen by the largest bank in Norway to give a talk along with Richard Branson, at a private VIP event for top CEOs and highest-level government ministers. I was staying in a nice, small boutique hotel in Oslo, and the night before the event I was on my way down to the lobby, in the tiny elevator, when the door opened at another floor. Thinking it was the lobby, I started to rush out – and bumped face-to-face into Richard Branson.

Stepping back, startled, I blurted out “Oh…Hi!” Also surprised, he repeated “Oh, hi!” and laughed. We chatted a bit, I thanked him for the interview he had given me a couple of years ago, and then I said, “I’ll be the speaker before you at the bank event tomorrow.” Now, with the thousands of people he encounters, I’m sure he didn’t remember me, but he quickly replied, “Well, if I’m speaking after you, I hope I don’t disappoint the audience.” I searched for a hint of irony or humor in his face, but there was none. He was very sincere.

I replied, “You’re very kind, but people are coming to hear you, not me,” and as we said goodbye, I suggested that, since we’re both named Richard, the event should have been called, “Two Dicks Speak.” He laughed, and as he was whisked away to a TV interview, I thought about his comment and how it was another example of a big name being “nice.” Are they nice all the time? Probably not. They’re human. But, being nice is all about serving others. And “Serve” is one of the eight traits that lead to their extraordinary success.

Life is an ongoing experiment

Life is more fun if we look at it as an ongoing experiment. We try a lot of stuff. We succeed sometimes. We fail sometimes. One thing leads to another and we just keep learning and moving forward. Then, just when we get it right, we die. But doing the experiment has been a hell of a lot of fun.

Be UN-privileged

These days, some people are under-privileged while others are over-privileged. But if you want to succeed, it’s better to be UN-privileged. In other words, don’t rely on privilege for your success.

If you were born into an over-privileged life, don’t think, “I’ve got it made.” There are too many examples of people who led a privileged life and had everything given to them, but never achieved anything. They sat back in their comfort zones and didn’t learn the 8 traits that really would help them succeed.

On the other hand, if you find yourself in under-privileged circumstances don’t sit back thinking, “I’ll never be able to get anywhere, so there’s no sense even trying.” There are too many examples of successful people who started out under-privileged, with absolutely nothing. But they didn’t let it stop them and they developed the eight traits that took them to the top.

Reaching success is all about doing what will really take you there – and being privileged, whether it’s under-privileged or over-privileged, just gets in the way. So be UN-privileged.

The First Class Seat From Hell

I’ll be giving a talk in England next week and flew over yesterday. The back of the plane arrives at the same time as the front, so I usually book economy class (being frugal is one thing that makes millionaires). However, to my surprise, the airline gave me a free upgrade to first class. Then the dilemma became, how do I explain this one to my wife Baiba? We usually fly economy, and she kids me that I probably go first class when I fly alone. So here’s the email I sent her:

Dear Baiba

A terrible thing has happened. As I boarded the plane, I heard my name being called and they informed me that I was being upgraded to first class. Yes, I tried to fight it, but they insisted.

It’s been horrible. I mean, I’ve wasted so much time with all the gadgets in this private seat pod. It took me half an hour just to figure out how to make the seat recline into a bed, let alone get the back massage function working. Whoops, excuse me, “Yes, more champagne, please. And more exotic nuts!”

They just keep nagging me to eat, eat, eat. First, a hot baguette, herb omelette, and fresh fruit breakfast. Then non-stop bowls of mixed nuts. Then I had to choose between black cod, butter chicken, steak, or wild mushroom lasagna. All these decisions distracting me from work! And I’ve eaten so much I feel totally bloated. I yearn to be back in economy with stale sandwiches and a snarly flight attendant yelling, “No we don’t have peanuts!”

And this damn seat pod has so much room that my stuff is all over the place and I can’t find anything. Wait, I just have to adjust the personal reading light on the wall beside me. There that’s better. With all these interruptions for technology and food, it’s just sooo difficult to work. I’m going to complain about this involuntary upgrading and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Especially if you’re with me. I mean, you would be stuck in your own little seat pod by yourself, playing with all these gadgets, and totally heartbroken that you’re not beside me.

At last the plane is landing! Now I can get out of this hell hole. And to add insult to injury, because I’m a premium passenger I have to go quickly through fast-track customs clearance in seconds, rather than standing in a long lineup and being able to chat for hours with the nice, real people from economy class.

Will it never end!

Love
Richard  hic…burp!

Congratulations Helen Upperton!

Last night I was glued to the Olympic women’s bobsleigh races as Upperton and Brown won silver, and Humphries and Moyse won gold. The two teams made history as the first Canadian women to win Olympic medals in women’s bobsleigh. I cheered for them all as they stood on the podium, and especially Helen Upperton.

Helen’s sister Louise used to work for us, and one day she brought her “little sister” into the office to help out for a few weeks. Helen typed some of my research and interviews about success and we discussed them as she did office chores. She loved athletics, but was still trying to figure out what to do with her life. After she left, Louise kept telling us what she was up to, and one day exclaimed, “Helen is going to try bobsled racing.” She had stumbled into it when a friend suggested it, not even realizing that women participated in the sport. She discovered she loved it, but it has been a long haul with many disappointments. In the last Olympics she came fourth and missed getting a medal by 5 one-hundredths of a second. Imagine! Here’s part of an email Helen sent out at the time, four years ago:

“Helen Upperton”
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2006
Subject: Sigh!!!! It’s over…

Hi everyone,

Well, It’s done. It came and went in a whirlwind of emotion, adrenaline, excitement, fear, disappointment, joy…basically everything you could imagine. At first I was so happy. We just came 4th at the Olympic games. This is so amazing. And then it started to dawn on me…I missed a medal by 5 one-hundredths of a second…I couldn’t believe it. I was so sad. I stood and watched the other teams get their flowers and stand on the podium, and thought that it was almost me. So close… Sigh.

Hels

Well, Hels, now it is you. You persisted through the downtimes, worked hard, practiced like crazy, stood on the podium and made history. Wow!  A big congratulations!

I Passed the Audit

I’d like to thank the Institute of Internal Auditors for their warm reception last week when I gave the opening keynote speech at their All-Star Conference “The Best of the Best,” at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Last year, I spoke at one of their IIA regional conferences in Atlanta, and even though the audience was terrific, I was very nervous. I mean, an auditor’s job is to analyze and evaluate, so I felt like everything I said was being scrutinized and judged by a room full of experts.

When the evaluations came back, I was relieved to see that I not only passed the audit, they rated my presentation 3.93 out of 4 – one of the highest rankings of all the talks at their conferences. And they invited me back to give an encore presentation at last week’s “Best of the Best” event. Thank you again IIA, for the opportunity, the high marks, and the nice comments afterwards.

I usually do a crossword puzzle during the opening speeches, but not this time. Richard St. John’s talk was the best I’ve ever heard.
Robert M. Abisla, VP, Director of Internal Audit, Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston

The debate in the book signing line was whether Richard’s talk should be first or last. I said first, because he woke me up. It was really great. I wouldn’t want to be the speaker following him.
Joseph P. Lynch, Director of Internal Audit, Tetra Technologies

Following Your Passions Pays Off

Passion Pays Off

I just found another example of how following your passions pays off, and it was right under my nose. Thom Rockliff and Elliot Ng, two of my colleagues at The St. John Group, just won a big international award – the Summit Marketing Effectiveness award – and it happened just because they followed their passion for technology.

A couple of years ago Thom and Elliot became interested in RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. I didn’t have a clue what it was, but they explained, “When you pull up to a gas pump and use your speed pass, RFID reads your card and tells the pump to give you gas.” I said, “So what? We do marketing for products like BlackBerry, not gas pumps. Is there a client paying you to work on this stuff?” They said, “No, we’re just curious and interested in RFID, so we’re messing around with it in our spare time.”

I watched as they built some gizmos in the back room and made the RFID technology do cool things. To be honest, I wondered if all the effort was worth it, but I’d worked in Nortel Networks research labs long enough to know that if someone is passionate and excited about doing something, it might pay off someday. That day came a year later when we were working with our Research in Motion clients on a BlackBerry booth for a Las Vegas trade show. One of the clients said, “I wish there was a better way to track what interests visitors to our booth, so we could get them the information they need faster.” Bing! Thom and Elliot immediately saw how RFID could solve the problem and they soon developed a powerful solution.

So, now when you go to the BlackBerry booth you get a card, and when you want the scoop on a product you just touch the card to a tag next to it and the system quickly sends you information on everything that interests you. Customers visiting the booth get information FAST that’s targeted to their needs and BlackBerry staff receive up to the minute data on customers’ interests. The icing on the cake is the solution just won a top international award, and it all happened just because two guys followed their passions and interests. As Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.”