Jenn Shelton’s Outside Voices

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I have been a big fan of Joel Wolpert for the last few years.  His films are things of beauty, to say the least, and whether he’s chasing Anton Krupicka down Green Mountain in the snow in Runner in Winter or flying down the Kabib Trail with a deeply introspective Rob Krar in Depressions, you know you’re watching more than a simple trail running film, you’re viewing a piece of art.  From the spot-on soundtrack choices to the compelling subject matter and the flawless tracking shots, Joel Wolpert is producing quality content.

I was lucky enough to attend the Los Angeles screening of the Wolpertinger’s last Vimeo VOD offering, In the High Country back in late 2014.  This film is essentially Joel’s “ode to the moutains” and follows Tony Krupicka around the Rockies (specifically up Long’s Peak).  I was always amazed at the candor and vulnerability that this film was able to access from its star; most of the others things I had seen or read almost always portrayed Krupicka as this bearded enigma who, if you’re lucky enough, you might catch a glimpse of tearing shirtless down a Boulder-area trail. 

In the High Country did a great job (for me at least) of breaking down some of these barriers and not only showing some of Tony’s personality but also some of his running too.  During the Q&A session the followed the screening, Krupicka was raving about Joel’s technical trail running ability— something that is certainly witnessed in most of his films (just watch how smooth the shots of Rob Krar bombing into the Grand Canyon come out). I love Billy Yang and his running films, but he would need a vehicle of some sort to keep up with TK and it shows in how impersonal a film like 15 Hours with Anton Krupicka comes across. (Note: I’m not trying to knock Billy Yang, his work is awesome, if you haven’t seen his Mont Blanc film, you should definitely check it out.)

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Joel Wolpert seems to be the perfect package for producing this type of film: he has the eye, the skill and acumen to follow athletes through technical, varied terrain and he picks compelling subjects. Or maybe he’s just lucky enough to have awesome friends, but Jenn Shelton certainly does not disappoint in Outside Voices.  The first thing you hear the “Hunter S. Thompson of ultra running” say as she’s about to begin a speed work session on the track is “I just ate a shit-ton of Taco Bell so this could be interesting”. 

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What follows is a gorgeously crafted, black and white film showcasing Jenn Shelton’s eclectic personality, fun-loving attitude and her hard-charging, leave-it-all-on-the-trail approach to running. Shelton might not necessarily be worthy of the HST comparisons but her gonzo approach to her (decent) writing coupled with her hard-partying antics certainly make her the best candidate in the ultra running scene to carry on the flame.  I, for one, would much rather hear Jenn talk about Taco Bell and beer than listen Timothy Olsen tell me how to “run mindful”. 

Some of my favorite moments in the film:

Shelton getting hammered on Mezcal while volunteering at an aid station and attempting to get every runner who comes through to “take a nip” off the bottle. 

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Her story involving $20 of Taco Bell being puked all over her kitchen floor directly in front of her ex-boyfriend and the realization that they probably wouldn’t be together too much longer after that. 

Shelton about to strip off her sports bra and hop into an alpine lake for a mid-run dip when she asks, “Do you think Vimeo is ready for some milky white jugs?” and Joel, who is behind the camera, firing off a super quick “Yeah” without an instant of hesitation.

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The Tony Krupicka cameo where he shows up to crew/pace her to a 3rd place finish at the Bear 100 looking impossibly cool (per usual) in a Sombra Mezcal tank-top and his Fr33ky cap.  The best part is probably when Tony is handing her a bottle of water and she calls him her “fucking cabana boy”.

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For what seems to be her “recovery run” a day or two post-Bear 100, Shelton organizes a beer/shoot a can mile where she has to pound a beer and shoot a can off of a fence with a rifle every lap.  And then proceeds to run it hard and not miss a shot.  Doesn’t get much better. 

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Six Ways to Suck at Strava

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We all love Strava.  Or hate it.  Or spend hours obsessing over it while simultaneously pretending that we don’t care at all.  As has been pointed out exhaustively—it’s a pretty polarizing piece of the social media puzzle.

I personally spend anywhere between five minutes and two hours a day on the site, a time usually determined by how impressive I deem my current activity levels.  If I went on a run that boasts impressive stats, I’ll repeatedly open the page throughout the day at work just to look at the run—check my splits again, memorize my segment goals or simply just stare at mileage totals. 

If I haven’t been doing anything impressive—or anything at all—I am far less likely to open the app throughout the day.  I’m just going to see that Dylan Bowman ran 22 miles in a little over 40 minutes and summited Mt. Tam for the #108 time that week.  Or that Anton Krupicka rode his bike 150 miles to the base of Longs Peak before skipping up the keyhole route and tagging the summit.  Just a bunch of depressing shit mainly.  But you can’t say that it isn’t motivating. 

Strava at it’s best is a statistical catalog that allows you to track and share your endurance activities while giving you a transparent look at the training programs of your friends and some of your favorite athletes.   

Like all social media, however, it can be horribly misused.  Just like you have friends who suck at Facebook or Instagram whose name you dread seeing pop-up in your feed, we all have those people on Strava that we feel obligated to follow even though they suck at using it and perpetually flood your feed with garbage.

If you’re already one of those people who suck at Strava, just keep doing what you’re doing.  If you are using it properly, please stop immediately and follow these six steps:

1. Break your run into as many parts as you possibly can.    You would never want to have a single activity as your run on Strava.  Then you’re just lumping your warm-up, cool-down and actual run into one thing.  This is going to bring your average pace way down.  Not cool. 

If you can, try to break every run into 4 separate activities: pre-warm up, warm-up, run, cool-down, and post-cool down cool down.  That way, we can all see your “real” pace during your workout but you can also flood all of your follower’s feeds with multiple activities. And— perhaps most importantly— you are effectively quadrupling your Kudo potential.  Just think about all of those extra Kudos. They are going to make you feel sooo good.

2.  Put EVERYTHING you do on Strava. Did you walk to the mailbox?  Strava that shit.  Did you walk around Whole Foods for 15 minutes?  Strava the hell out of that shit.  That’s mileage you gotta keep track of.  When you’re looking back at your training log trying to figure out why you performed so well last year, the answer might be in all those walks down to the corner store for beers.  You never know.

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Holy shit bro, you were walking FAST that last mile. 

3. Log your indoor resistance training workouts (with details).  I love it when I’m looking through my feed and I see “Lats and Core Work Today” or “4 x 10 reps of Bicep Curls”.  This is really why I started using Strava. Oh, the motivation!  I think I’m going to drop to floor right now and do 25 pushups so I can log it.  I should probably take a photo too…

4. Sign up for every possible challenge that you can, every month, over and over again.  Sign up for the 10k challenge every month, even though you run a 10k every other day.  And definitely sign up for the open-ended challenges that track your mileage monthly, that way it pops up into feeds each time you run 25 or 50k.  That’s better.  I love when I can’t even see a single activity in my feed because all I can see are someone’s list of 14 current challenges. It’s awesome.

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Nothing against Jorge Maravilla obviously- the guy is a badass- he just sucks at Strava

 5. Create a bunch of segments-within-segments so you can find the perfect section where your time cracks the top ten. I know Strava says they don’t want you doing this but simply ignore all those warnings about your segments being to similar to existing segments.  And definitely do NOT make it private. We all need to see these results and how amazing you are.

6.  If you go running on the treadmill, please take a picture of the treadmill screen after you’re finished.  Otherwise, you could totally be lying.  Plus, when Strava updated their app to give photographs a much bigger role in the interface, this is exactly what they had in mind: treadmill photos.  Just like treadmill runners are their target demographic for Strava Premium Memberships. 

Run Steep, Be Humble

The beads of sweat were pouring off my nose and chin into the dirt with such force, they were actually kicking up dust.  I broke my running cadence for the first time since the trailhead and fell into a hands-on-the-knees power hike, glancing up the looming mountain in front of me and it’s vertical mile still waiting to be gained.  Quickly shifting my focus back to the next few feet to be climbed, I noticed that the beads of sweat hitting the dirt were falling at such a rate that they were blurring the line between bead and stream. 

I was fighting the urge to cease my forward progress with every step.  No matter how strong of a runner I might have thought I was, no matter how many times I had tagged the summit of this mountain before, I was once again being humbled. 

Anton Krupicka wrote a blog entry for Running Times a few years ago about, as he termed it, “Being Real”.  His post was grappling with maintaining authenticity in what he sees as an utterly inauthentic world.  He came to the conclusion that, ultimately, our actions are going to be what defines us as people.  For him, the only way to feel authentic, or like he was truly alive, was to get out of the human construction we call society, and find his place in the natural world. 

I couldn’t agree more.  We’re all living in a world of artificial construction.  The actions that we take within this world lack a certain level of perspective.  We are continually caught in our own little bubbles, trapped by ubiquitous distraction, most of the time viewing the world through the windshield of our cars, or even worse, through the screen of a computer or phone. 

People used to grow all of their food in a garden, spend endless hours caring and nurturing it; pick it, clean it, cook it.  They were actually working to create something.  Now, people go to a restaurant, sit at a table, pick something off of a menu, wait for it to arrive at their table (completely uninterested in the process that brought it there) and then proceed to take a photo of it and post it on Instagram and expect people to be impressed enough with the food they ordered to “like” it. 

Like it or not, all of this is inevitable to a certain extent and we’re all tied into these mechanisms in one way or another.  It can’t be escaped.  It just needs to be placed in the proper context.  We need to realize what is important and what is superfluous.  For me, this understanding is gained through running up mountains.

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It’s hard to be a cocky asshole after climbing a couple thousand feet of vert.  The mountains help you realize how insignificant you really are.  They help you find your true place.  They strip you of false confidence gained through owning things.  They show you what is truly important.  They help keep you sane in a world gone completely nuts. 

I look back at my considerably brief mountain running career and the moment that stands out the most; finishing in the top ten in my first 50 miler.  I was perhaps the most elated I had ever been, a beautiful mix of hard-earned exhaustion, immense relief that I got to stop running, the sincere feeling of accomplishing something I wasn’t sure that I could do and the utter joy of doing it well enough to finish in the top ten.  It was like the perfect storm of emotion, something I may never be able to replicate. 

But even after accomplishing something so (for me) difficult that had cost me gallons of sweat and blood dumped in the dirt, I was completely humbled. I didn’t do a fraction of the celebrating a NFL player does after a mediocre tackle on a play that took less then four seconds.  I just wanted to thank the members of my crew and everyone that had been there to support me.  I wanted to let them know I could never have done it without them.  I wanted to let them know how much it meant to me that they were there. 

I finally reached the top of the steep section I was power hiking and straightened back up into a run, the stream of sweat slowing slightly as a cool breeze came cascading over the peak I had just crested.  I was hurting but I knew I would make the summit.  It would be a struggle, I would have to push myself hard, but I would get there.  I had gained the confidence to know that, to understand what I had to go through to achieve my goal.  It was a confidence born in humility.  It was, and I’m sure Anton Krupicka would agree, an authentic form of confidence.

The Pursuit of Happiness

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”       – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most Monday mornings when I’m attempting to drag my ass out of bed at five to go to work, it’s quotes like the one above that seem to be playing on a loop inside my skull (interspersed with the obligatory Monday morning suicide plotting). I can’t help but wonder what I am doing.

It’s my life. I only get to live it once. So why do I spend so much time doing things that I hate? Is the allure of security really that strong? Do I really need to fit into this perfect little cardboard box of societal norms?

Last week I was at a bar when someone asked me what I “did”. As in, what was my job, how did I make the money I just used to pay for the IPA I was drinking. Always an irksome question, it has been extremely difficult for me to answer lately. Not because I’m ashamed of what I do– but because there are other things I do (without collecting a paycheck) that are far more representative of who I am.

More than anything, I wanted to be able to say something like, “Oh, I’m a dirt-bag trail runner. I work on odd job here and there so I can pay the camping fees at trailheads and purchase an occasional pair of running shoes.” Alas, I don’t have the balls to spend the majority of my time doing what it is I actually love to do… So I just mumbled something into my beer about my day job and tried to change the subject as fast I could.

But the encounter got me thinking… Never before in my life have I been so close to a state of financial security (whatever the hell that means), and never before have I been so unhappy with my professional life.  So what am I doing? It’s my life. I only get one. Why have I resigned to spend it being a total bitch? Living a lie, biding my time until I die, trading excitement and passion for security and longevity?

All of us, in one way or another, are on our own pursuits of happiness. We’re trying to get it. We think we can get it. Yet we slave away, spending the majority of our time miserable, waiting for something to happen, complaining about our situation but never doing anything to change it.  It could be worse, right?  But that type of logic seems to be the root of the problem to begin with.  It’s all so convoluted. Complication after complication to consider.  All I want to do is run.

I want to run all the time.  Running is the simplest, most primal activity that I can possible think of. When I get out on the trail and start charging up the side of a mountain, sweat dripping into the dirt around me, everything else seems to melt away.  Running as hard as I can, blurring the line between control and abandon– this is where I feel alive.  This is my way of revolting against a society that refuses to let me be happy.  To let me be who I am.

Human beings, like all other creatures on this planet, evolved to procreate. To spread our genes. We didn’t evolve to be happy.  Truth be told, happiness is probably a detriment to our general ability to pass our genes to the next generation. We’re probably not going to find this elusive state of happiness we’re all so feverishly pursing. Especially not with our head buried in a screen or our ass stuck in a chair.

I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but it seems to me that, as we were becoming the species we are now– the dominant species on earth, we spent most of our time running.  Running to eat and running to avoid being eaten. In either of these scenarios, success had to be a pretty joyful occasion– possibly the most joyful occasion of our ancestor’s lives– and it was always inexorably linked with running.

I run to be happy.  My ancestors were happy because they ran. Is there a difference?  Isn’t it all the same thing?  Is the bliss they felt after running down an antelope the same thing I experience after finishing a 50 mile race? There’s no way to know for sure.  What I do know is that when I toe the starting line at the Bandit 50k this Saturday, I’ll be on a good, old-fashioned pursuit of happiness, just like my ancestors used to do.IMG_0249

F*&% Breakfast: Running, Fueling and Fat Burning

Mainstream nutrition is slowly starting to catch up to what most intelligent people (and body builders, ha!) have known for years now.  You shouldn’t be eating breakfast.  The whole “breakfast is the most important meal of the day…even though you’re not hungry at all and could likely go three or four hours before you get hungry, you need to force feed yourself a bagel and a bowl of cereal” thing is finally starting to be debunked. 

It makes absolutely no sense from an evolutionary standpoint.  Our ancestors were hunter-gathers; they didn’t wake up and grab a granola bar.  They didn’t grow food.  They didn’t keep animals.  They woke up and they had to go find, hunt, kill and cook their food.  Or, they had to scavenge or dig for veggies and tubers.  Then cook those.  In all likelihood, they didn’t eat until the late afternoon or evening most days.

Why do you think you’re not hungry in the morning?  You’ve been fasting all night.  So, if breakfast is really the most important meal of the day, why aren’t you ravenous for a six egg omelet the second you wake up?  Because that’s how our biochemistry was designed by evolution.  When we wake up, we’re technically already eating breakfast: we’re burning fat.  Fat is the best, most readily available fuel source we have, and something I’m sure all of us would like to be better at utilizing.  On top of that, we get a heavy dose of cortisol upon waking that triggers our liver to start producing and mobilizing glucose to be burned as fuel.  Our bodies know that there’s a chance we won’t be eating for a while and possibly until after vigorous physical activity.

No one with a real life who doesn’t have a live-in chef wakes up and cooks a healthy breakfast.  Most people who regularly consume breakfast are literally eating candy in the form of breakfast cereal or granola bars or Eggo waffles or fruit smoothies.  It makes complete sense that the most popular and widely-consumed breakfast foods in the US are sugary garbage:  We have no appetite because we’re burning fat and so it’s the only thing we can stomach… similar to desert after a big meal. There’s always room for desert, right?  Even in the morning. 

Still, with all of the science pointing toward skipping breakfast, nine out of ten nutritionists will still give you some garbage about how important it is and how you need to “kick start your metabolism”.  If someone is about to go running, it’s basically blasphemy to tell them to skip their morning sugar fix beforehand.   To anyone with half a brain, it should be clear that you DO NOT need breakfast to go sit in front of a computer for four hours before you eat lunch.  With exercise involved, it seems less clear.  I’m here to tell you that not only should you skip breakfast, but that skipping breakfast will make you a better runner as well. 

Burning fat is like anything else, you need to train in order to be good at it.  You need to develop fat burning enzymes.  You need your body to become efficient at accessing your fat stores for fuel.  We’ve all heard people talking about how even the leanest among us—people with less than 10% body fat—still have tens of thousands of calories stored on our bodies.  We’ve all got it.  The more we burn this fat, the better our bodies become at it. These calories become available to us more quickly.  Upon waking up, your body is already burning fat.  This is a good thing.  As soon as you shove a couple spoonfuls of that “healthy” cereal in your mouth, it all stops. 

Just like Dr. Phil Maffetone has made abundantly clear through his research performed on high-level endurance athletes, eating carbohydrates—especially any type of refined carb—has a devastating effect on our ability to burn fat.  As soon as we eat carbs, we lose access to our fat stores. 

So, if I’m about to go running at 10am and I wake up 7am and start eating a bunch of crap to “fuel” for my run, there will be no fat burning going on during my run, I’m not developing my ability to burn fat and I’m stuck being dependent on the glucose in my bloodstream for fuel throughout the run.  If I hold out until after the run, I’ll feel much better during because I don’t have to contend with the food I recently consumed moving through my GI tract, I’ll burn fat as my primary fuel source and I’ll become a better fat burner along the way. 

Then, after the run, when my muscles and liver have been depleted of their glycogen, essentially making them giant sponges to soak up calories, I eat a big meal and replenish.  Breakfast is by no means the most important meal of the day.  The meal after your workout is the most important meal of the day.  And if you can get to that workout before eating (and especially before eating any carbs), you’ll have more energy all the time, never becoming a slave to your blood sugar swings, always utilizing fat as fuel.  

If you’re not going running until 7pm and you’ve got a long day ahead of you, I would still skip breakfast and don’t think about eating until you start to develop an appetite later in the day, but then pay close attention to what you’re eating.  You should primarily be eating good fats: coconut oil, grass-fed butter, almonds, avocado, etc.  Eating good fats not only keeps you satiated for a long period of time (no blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes) but they also help you burn the fat you’ve already got stored. 

One of my favorite things to do if I’m not running soon after waking is to put a teaspoon of coconut oil in my coffee.  That small amount of coconut oil can usually get me to two or three o’clock before I even start to think about food if I haven’t worked out.  I’m just burning fat. 

It’s time to stop being brainwashed.  Forget about breakfast.  It will make you healthier, leaner and a more efficient endurance athlete. 

Chasing the Elusive 100-Mile Week

A lot goes into running 100 miles in a week. I’ve done it a couple times, a little over two years ago when I first stumbled across Tony Krupicka’s blog (he’s since changed his format and stopped logging all his runs).  I probably spent about three hours reading his posts on that first visit—my head (figuratively) exploding the entire time as all my previously held beliefs about running we’re being splattered all over my computer screen.  I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to consistently run 200+ miles a week.  I didn’t even know that people were running two or three times a day.  I was still under the erroneous impression that you should only run once a day.  Needless to say, Krupicka greatly expanded my running consciousness. 

After browsing a through a few of his entries and finally wrapping my head around the astronomical numbers that he was purporting, I decided it was time for me to hang a couple triple digit weeks of my own.  I started running twice and three times a day, and finally built to the point where I could handle the 100-mile load.  It was a solid accomplishment.  I could do it.  The only problem was, I wasn’t having any fun. 

I had managed to take this thing that I loved, that had literally changed my life in the way that few things can, and turned it into an obsessively quantified workload.  Before, I was just getting up in the mountains, ripping up and down gorgeous single-track trails, escaping the artificial, constructed monotony of my everyday life. 

When I started chasing 100 in a week, it became a lot more like work.  I was obsessing over miles, trading a chance to escape into the mountains for a quick, flat 15 miles on the road or the boardwalk  (because I could only get 10 miles in the same amount of time in the mountains).  I was sore all the time; I ignored little nagging injuries that could have used an easy day—or a day off all together.  The miles became the most important thing.  They trumped common sense. I started to lose the passion. 

Running suddenly became a lot less fun.  But I was hanging 100-mile weeks.  I had reached this arbitrary goal that I had imposed upon myself, but it didn’t feel as good as I thought.  Sure, it was fun looking at my Movescount profile and seeing that big number on there.  It was fun to say things like, “I can eat whatever I want tonight, I ran 102 miles this week.”  But that type of fun is fleeting.  It felt wrong.  I realized that what I had done wasn’t a legitimate 100-mile week.  It didn’t happen organically.  It was forced.  I wasn’t Tony Krupicka.  I had to be me. 

So I went back to enjoying myself on my runs.  Sure they were still hard.  I was still sore.  I still ignored nagging injuries (a lot less though) and I still banged out a quick 10k on the roads a couple times a month, but it was because I felt like a needed a shakeout run to dial in my form—not because I just wanted to tack more miles on to my weekly total. 

Now, over a year later, I’m finally honing in on the elusive, legitimate 100-mile week.  All on the trail and in the mountains.  Without running for the sake of mileage.  Just running because it feels right.  Running to have fun.  Running to push my personal limits.  Running to escape. 

Last week, I ran 87 miles with almost 20,000 ft of vertical gain.  It felt great.  I explored new terrain, ran twice a day four times, had two great long runs and never felt like I was doing too much or pushing too hard.  I stayed within myself.  Sure, I could have banged out a half-marathon on Sunday night just to hit the century mark… but it wasn’t about that. 

This week, I’m well on pace to eclipse 100 miles.  And it’s going to be legit.  I’m doing it right.  I’m not worrying about it, just letting it happen.  Organically.  Because it’s time.  

Running – The Cure for Everything

Yesterday I was having a shitty day.  I woke up with all the makings of a head cold—feeling stuffed up, congested and extra drowsy.  My eyes were refusing to open.  Then I went running.  I got up in the mountains, sucked my lungs full of that clean mountain air, blew a couple hundred snot-rockets into the dirt and watched the first few rays of sunlight trickle down onto the Pacific Ocean.  Head cold averted.  Things were looking up. 

Then I got to work and my boss started bitching.  Why was I thirty minutes late?  Did I have a chance to do all that work that he asked me to do even though it was way outside the scope of my job description and he wasn’t paying me for it?  When was I going to cut my hair?  Any chance I could stay late today?  Was I really wearing sweat shorts at work?  I started getting a headache.  My stress levels were rising.  Cortisol began coursing through my veins.  I could literally feel the muscle fibers on the right side of my neck binding themselves together into a gnarly cramp. 

So I went running.  I ran away from everything and everybody.  I charged up the trail listening to the pace of my stride increase with every step.  My heart began pumping, sending large quantities of blood surging into my muscles.  They loosened.  My cramp was gone.   As a topped out on the summit, thoroughly exhausted from the effort, I glanced back down at the city street I had left far behind.  It seemed my problems had stayed down there too.  They couldn’t chase me up the mountain.  Unnecessary stress averted.   Things were looking up again.   

I won’t bore you with all the mundane details of the rest of my day, but by about five o’clock I had accumulated a little IT band tightness, some dry skin, an allergy-induced sniffle and what seemed to be a mild case of constipation.  I needed to go running. 

When I did, it fixed everything (especially the constipation, that was fixed with a vengeance).  And it came with the added bonus of allowing me to witness the sunset from about 2,000 feet higher than anyone else around.  Running had singlehandedly turned my no-good, very bad day into a pretty damn good one. 

Ok, so running may not be the cure for everything.  It’s probably not going to fix a broken toe or help much with a rattlesnake bite, but roughly 99.6% of the time, I choose to prescribe myself a good long run for whatever seems to ail me.  And I’m rarely disappointed. 

Rolled my ankle playing hoops?  If I go running for an hour after the game, the next day I won’t even be able to tell it happened. 

Fighting with my significant other?  After a run I’m ready to admit I was wrong, even if I wasn’t (but let’s face it, I probably was). 

Hung-over?  Just gotta get on the trail and sweat it out.   

The Lakers lost again?  Hill repeats. 

Feeling fat?  Time for a long one. 

Tired?  The mountains have an energizing effect. 

Depressed? Anxious? Broke?  Horny?  You get the picture.  Running; it’s good for… well, everything.