About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Running With Gilbert’s Syndrome

I slacked off on my blogging last year because I hadn’t been running much and didn’t feel there was anything worth writing about. I haven’t done a race since last June, but am getting back on track now that I’m healthier. I’ve been training for a few spring races and am looking forward to the Bataan Memorial Death March (26.2 miler) later this month and the Jemez Mountain 50 Miler in Northern New Mexico in May.

Bataan Death March 2017
Last year was a rough year for me health wise. I began feeling bad last spring and decided to back off on my running in the summer to determine what was going on. I was having a lot of fatigue, dizziness, irritability, insomnia, chills, asthma and brain fog. At the time I thought I was having food sensitivities, but my doctor thought it was acid reflux. Doesn’t every male over 50 have acid reflux? Anyway, he put me on some acid reflux meds and things went downhill from there. By October I became very sick with a low grade fever, chills and high counts of liver enzymes, bilirubin and ammonia. 

Jemez 2017, I barely made the last cut-off time 
After an ultrasound, CT scan, MRCP (a type of MRI) and 50 blood tests, a liver specialist determined that I had suffered a drug induced liver injury. Fortunately the liver is an amazing resilient organ and, unless you bombard it with alcohol, can regenerate and heal itself. In addition, the specialist determined that I have Gilbert’s Syndrome which makes my body more susceptible to adverse drug reactions and less tolerant of toxins. I became allergic to aspirin and other NSAIDs (ibuprofen) when I was around 35 years old so only take acetaminophen for fevers and pain. Of course this is also bad for the liver.

Tibetan Prayer flags on N. Franklin Peak
Gilbert’s is a genetic condition where people are born with less of an enzyme that converts bilirubin to bile. (Bilirubin is a waste product from dead red blood cells.) My bilirubin count is always about twice a normal person’s. Most people don’t know they have the condition and the main symptom is jaundice when they are sick. Unfortunately though, some of us experience many other symptoms including those I mentioned earlier. 

I’ve always suffered hypoglycemic reactions (low blood sugar) to some foods and noticed that I was becoming more sensitive to sports drinks, gels and other sugary foods during races and training. Another problem I've experienced over the years is chills and night sweats following long races. I never knew why, but now believe it's because high levels of ammonia build up in our bodies when we run long and the liver and kidneys are supposed to convert it to urea where it's then excreted through our urine. However, a secondary way to rid ammonia if the organs can't keep up is through sweating. Of course ultra-marathoning puts great strain on the body including the liver so people with Gilbert's Syndrome are supposed to avoid fasting and strenuous exercise as well as get lots of regular sleep. That recommendation doesn’t sound conducive to ultra running does it? Well, I’m going to try anyway!


Medical stuff can be very boring so here are some bird pictures to make this post more enjoyable. (I like to bird watch when I can’t run.)

Thrasher taking a drink
Lesser Goldfinch
Scaled Quail
Northern Shoveler pair
Do you feel calmer now?

Per my doctor’s recommendation, I’ve been on a no grain, no dairy and low sugar diet that you could call quasi paleo. I now totally stay away from processed foods and watch closely what meds I take. I’ve had to rethink my race and training nutrition strategy and have been experimenting with running foods. Gels and sport drinks are out as well as crackers, bread, cookies, etc. I’ve substituted potatoes for grains and have been running with boiled salted potatoes, potato chips (coconut or avocado oil), dried fruit, fresh fruit and almond stuffed dates. My protein comes from hard boiled eggs and a little chicken or turkey.

Franklin Mountains, El Paso, TX
My training is going well and I’ve regularly been going up to the N. Franklin Peak (7192’) including a double ascent. I also ran 26 miles around the Franklin Mountains which is an epic loop that is part of the Franklin Mountain 50K and Lone Star 100 courses. I have several water caches placed strategically along the route that enable me to stay hydrated when I do this run several times a year. I tried out my foods on my run and was able to keep my energy up for most of it. I started to bonk toward the end while climbing up to Mundy’s gap (6000’), but ate some dried apricots and a few dates which carried me the rest of the way home.

The view from N. Franklin Peak
Someone had a lot of time on their hands
Overall, I feel much better now. I was able to bounce back quickly because I was in good shape having run a lot of ultras in the past. I also attribute my success to the low sugar and lower carb diet that I’ve been eating. My wife, Cara has been eating this way for several years and has been a godsend. She cooks wonderful meals for us and has taught me what foods to avoid and what to eat. Our world is full of horrible food choices and we are over medicated so it’s no wonder I had a liver meltdown. Toxins, preservatives and chemicals are in everything so it’s hard to avoid them, but with effort it is possible to eat clean for your health. 

I haven’t planned a very demanding race schedule this year until I see how things go at Bataan and the Jemez 50. These races will be the true test to see if I can continue running ultras. Time will tell if I have any more hundred milers left in me. Regardless, I will keep running in some capacity as long as I can. 

See you on the trail.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Volunteering at Lone Star 100

This past weekend I volunteered at the Lone Star 100 Trail Run, a 100 mile or 100K race run in the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, TX. This is a brutal race, put on by Trail Racing Over Texas, that I attempted last year, but only making it to mile 60. You can read my race report here

Franklin Mountains State Park, TX
The course is a 33 mile loop including an out-and-back trip to the top of N. Franklin Peak at 7192’ elevation. The entire 100 mile course includes around 20,000 feet of elevation gain. (Denali in Alaska is 20,310’). That should give you an idea of the difficulty of this race, but if that isn’t enough to convince you, the course is littered with rocks. Jagged rocks, smooth slippery rocks, razor edged slivers of rock, small annoying rocks that get into your shoes. The vegetation here is pointy, sharp, prickly, barbed, saw-toothed or otherwise covered in thorns. The weather can be anything in February. Last year we had a high of 85 degrees and then the winds came. Strong gusting port-o-potty tipping over gales.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Year in Review 2017

Happy New Year! 2017 was both a good and bad year for me. The first half of this year was epic in many ways. I started the year by running the Bandera 100K in frigid temperatures, ran R2R2R in the Grand Canyon with a great bunch of guys and ran the Lone Star 100 miler only making it to mile 60 before dropping. I finished my third Jemez Mountain 50 miler, but made the last few cutoffs by mere minutes. I finished my 6th consecutive Bataan Memorial Death March and ran the Bighorn 100, but dropped at mile 50 due to a miserable night of rain, cold and soul sucking mud.

Watch slideshow of my favorite photos from 2017:

All my race times were slower this year and I felt something was off. All during the summer I was experiencing fatigue, chills and my vitamin D was very low. After Bighorn, I took it easy for a few months and tried to determine why I was feeling so bad. By October I became very sick with some serious complications and underwent medical testing. I saw quite a few doctors who were not able to determine the cause of my problem, but I recovered all the same. Doctors continue to monitor my health and have ordered further evaluations from specialists.

Per doctor's orders and on my wife's recommendation, I have changed my diet to a lower carb (no grains/legumes), low sugar regimen because I may have leaky gut syndrome. (I guess that's a thing now.) I feel much better and have been running the last month or so. All said, I'm grateful for the accomplishments I made in 2017 and am confident that 2018 will be a good year of running for me. I've already registered for the Bataan Death March and have run 13 miles for my longest run.

See you on the trail.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

McKittrick Canyon (Guadalupe Mountains National Park)

Fall colors are not something you expect to see while living in the desert, but Cara and I were able to take a short day trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX for a saunter through McKittrick Canyon. This trail is very popular in the fall because of the many bigtooth maple trees that show their colors in late October and early November. We arrived early on a Sunday morning to beat the crowds and the weather turned out to be beautiful.

I’ve visited the Guads on several other occasions and experienced near hurricane force winds and freezing cold in the winter and thunderstorms and stifling heat in the summer. The mountains are rugged and boast the highest point in Texas —Guadalupe Peak at 8,751’.

Read my posts: The Top of Texas and Bush Mountain

Texas Madrone Tree

Friday, November 17, 2017

Franklin Mountains Trail Runs 2017

This past weekend I volunteered at the Franklin Mountains Trail Runs, a weekend long trail fest in Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, TX. The Franklins are a rugged gem in the far corner of West Texas where everything bites, stings or otherwise, kicks you in the ass. I was a bit disappointed this year because I haven’t been able to run due to some health issues I’m dealing with right now. In years past, I have manned the Mundy’s Gap aid station, the highest in Texas, but knew It wouldn’t be safe for me to hike up there at this time. I hope to recover quickly and get back to running, but only time will tell how I progress. In the mean time, I’m taking short walks and enjoying time outside with my dogs. 

Spectators waiting for their runners to finish the 50K.
Mike finishing the King/Queen of the Mountain

Monday, October 2, 2017

Running the Forgotten Reach of the Rio Grande

The Forgotten Reach of the Rio Grande, from Ft Quitman, TX to Presidio, is usually dry as a bone year round. Even when water is released from reservoirs upstream, the water is mostly depleted due to irrigation before reaching the Forgotten Reach. The last several years have been different though. Part of this stretch of river near Ft Quitman has actually been flooding. I set out on a rainy morning to explore the Texas-Mexico border to see what I would find.

The ghost town of Banderas, Mexico
Downstream from Fort Quitman (20 miles south of Sierra Blanca), and before it reaches the village of Porvenir… the river enters into what has become known as the Forgotten Reach. At this point, choked with constantly advancing tamarisk trees [salt cedar], it loses force and direction as it multiplies into numerous small streams. It emerges, almost sucked dry, upstream from Candelaria, as a gentle, small stream, ankle-deep as it widens or jumpable at the narrow sections.   —Jim Glendinning, Big Bend Now

America in the foreground. Mexico in the background.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Taking a Step Back

I’ve taken a step back from my long distance training and am focusing on recovery and getting faster at shorter distances. All of my ultras were slower than in previous years and I was beginning to think I was overtraining or burning out (which may be the case). A few things came to light this summer though. Recent blood work showed that my vitamin D level was low while I was also experiencing low energy levels. I finally discovered, after several wheezing episodes, that I am also having food sensitivity or allergy issues which means I have to rework my race nutrition strategy. I will spare you all the boring details, but I’m confident that after some readjustments, I’ll be back in the saddle training for some future ultra trail races