On The Edge

on-the-edge-mountainA regularly occurring blog post from o2fitness athlete and author, Brad Rassler

SO IT’S MARIN COUNTY in the 1960s, see, and there’s this great all-star distance runner by the name of Wes Holman. Wes was the pride of the North Bay; he was hungry and fast and he even qualified for the ’64 Olympics in the 10K.

Holman was poor. He spent all of his time training. Back in those days, there was no prize money, no shoe sponsorship, no endorsement deals. You ran as an amateur, and if you wanted to eat, you worked another job.

Holman loved to race and he liked to eat, so he swallowed his pride and did what everybody did: He cashed in the airline tickets sent to him by race promoters, pocketed the money and drove to races. There was a name for it: shamateurism. Everyone knew what was going on, but no one wanted to name it. Holman saw the hypocrisy in the practice and he tried to organize the running community press for reform.

Holman’s arch rival, fearing that the roof of the fragile “shamateur” house would come crashing in, ratted him out to the amateur athletic commission. Holman was banned from running. He turned tail on the sport, moved far away from his home and tried to forget the past.

Twenty years later — 1984 — Holman returned to Marin to train for the Cielo-Sea, a brutal race from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach by way of the summit of Mt. Tamalpais. Wes badly wanted to win the Cielo-Sea for reasons that had quite a little bit to do with redemption.

So Holman moved into derelict dredge floating in a Marin back bay, and gave it up for the Cielo-Sea.

Sound too plot-riven to be true?

Well, yeah. I’m cribbing from On the Edge, a 1986 film starring Bruce Dern playing Holman. I won’t spoil the film – you’ll have to see the movie to learn how the film ends – but the denouement proves a refreshing twist on the Hollywood comeback trope.

I’m nursing a crapped out achilles tendon and I’m riding a bike when I’d rather be running, so I’m thinking about On the Edge.

Maybe there’s been a time in your life when running served as a kind of sandblaster for the soul. You ran because you had to. You stripped your life to the quick, and your time on track and trail ennobled and enabled. If so, you’ll love the film.


My favorite lines all come from Holman’s coach, Elmo, played beautifully by John Marley:

“I’m going to teach you everything  there is to know about the Cielo-Sea…and that’severything to know. I’m going to take your bloated carcass and teach you how to become a mountain racer.”

“There are three things about the Cielo-Sea. There’s philosophy, strategy and training. Any one without the other two is worthless. You’ve got to be an artist to take on this mountain.”

Elmo on downhill running:

“This is where philosophy ends. This is pure religion.”

“How do you run the downhills? I just put my foot out. As soon as I put my foot out, I’m committed. You see, I have to find a place to land…it’s just like falling. The last possible moment you catch onto something. Now that’s fate. It’s crazy. But that’s how you run the downhill, see?”

Elmo on Holman’s banishment from the sport and his attempts to do the right thing:

“There’s politics in sports. There’s good politics and bad politics. Just like the labor movement and every other goddam movement. You know that Wes threw away his chance to run in the Olympics because he had the balls to stand up and face the whole damn sports establishment and let them know that the rich set up amateurism so the poor couldn’t play?”

Elmo’s last bit of advice to Holman:

“I want you to go out and feel the course. Burn the uphill and soar the downhill. When you burn, you say soar. When you soar, you say burn.”

Great to watch Holman burn while I cool my heels, and wait for a healthier day.

Son of the Circus

Alright, alright, alright.

The body walks, runs and then sits and grumbles. Falls to the chair. Rises to run. Falls. Rises. Falls. Rises. And the consequence of all that standing up and sitting down? Sore glutes. That’s what makes this project compelling: I’m training for my life rather than for a mere event. I’m competing against myself and multifarious priorities rather than against phantom athletes. Welcome to my personal war on slouching and then collapsing into an easy chair and a double serving of an Entenmann’s raspberry danish cake.

Dear reader, forgive me my trespasses. If my motivation has waxed and waned, I’m still here, putting in hours and I’ve now got a plan. More about that later.

For now, let’s look at the tendency toward slouching.

Am I alone in my inclination to recline? Sadly, no. A recent University of Cambridge study, “From athletes to couch potatoes: humans through 6,000 years of farming,”  makes clear that  if were once born to run, we’ve grown accustomed to sitting. It’s no wonder, then, that we middle-age folks, with our comparatively sluggish metabolisms, bog down and go soft. I have empathy for those who have entrapped themselves behind a desk, which seems to have become a national past-time of sorts. Sitting for work was once thought of as the domain of the smart, but turns out sitting is for dummies, because doing so leads to an early death.  Matthew Crawford exquisitely articulated that sentiment in a stunning piece for the New York Times Magazine in 2009, which informed his bestseller, Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. So many of us who have opted for that 90 degree angle of repose would be better off cleaning homes for a living or bailing hay or pounding nails.

The opposite of slouchdom is hyperkineticism, and that’s equally deleterious to one’s sense of balance and flow.

I lived in San Diego at the nascence of the triathlon boom in the mid-80s, and because I was on the periphery of that crowd, I saw the toll all that training took on relationships. One friend packed his 15 hours of weekly running into a marriage. His wife, suspecting he loved the road more than he loved her, asked him to turn pro or to light out. He didn’t have the talent for the former, so he did the latter.

We now know that powerful drugs flood our brainpans when we propel ourselves over distance for an hour or more: beta-endorphins, nor-adrenaline and even anandamide, an endogenous form of the active ingredient of marijuana, THC – so exercise feels good and is honest to goodness addictive, because it activates powerful drugs within. Thus the often irrational behavior that ensues.

Take the Type A Caucasian male who late in his fifth decade hops on a road bike and rediscovers his athleticism, picks up some fitness and begins to take his cycling seriously. He acquires behavioral tics like fretting about body fat, picking at food like an ingenue and shaving his legs. I’ve seen these guys in Europe, hurling themselves at the Stelvio, the Mortirolo, the Giau, as proof of virility and non-deadness. I’ve seen this fellow in, well, my own mirror!

Yes, moving’s far better than basting in one’s own sloth, but the Buddha taught the middle path was the way to happiness, and this breed seems to find personal glory on the most arduous path to Kingdom Come, which he’s happily  sharing with age-group Ironman-distance triathletes, ultra runners, 48-hour obstacle course enthusiasts and hair shirt wearers.

Witness the various custom-animated and scripted depictions of the neurotic tendencies of these animated (literally) endurance athletes. As with most humor, these scenes are funny precisely because of their truthiness. Especially at 1:26.BRKashi

Enough with the homily. Time for a progress report.

Life is good. If I’ve stumbled at times, I’ve also made consistent gains. Two months ago, when Julie Young and Andy Pasternak of Silver Sage Sports got their hands on me, I weighed 162 pounds — 14 percent of which was body fat. Several weeks ago I was 152 and my fat quotient had dropped to single digits. But I’ve been a super slouch these past two weeks — blame it on life — and tonight I weighed in at 155.

At the same time, the training has gone remarkably well, all told and my endurance has improved. I’ve run for 2.5 hours at a crack. I’ve endured three-hour road bike trainer workouts.

And I’ve settled on the culminating adventure, originally suggested by a friend and the only reader of this blog, who recommended a self-propelled circumambulation of Lake Tahoe by bike, foot and paddle, departing from my home and jogging home again, home again, jiggety jig.

And that’s what I’ll do the week of September 15 as I heave-ho around Big Blue.

Day 9-JoBerg2c, Jolivet to Scottburgh. 84km , 1550m down 850m up


2af6b297-f236-4eaf-8c76-fc9959a9af5d2Andy’s Adventure Concludes…

We Rode the Beloved Country!

7am start and we were all excited to get this thing going.  We again were in group G, so we got American and jumped into group E.  2 minute gaps for each group. Today I had the best legs of the week.  I knew in five minutes I had gusto. Caught the back of D in no time, hooked into C (where we should be)

Today we flew.  Josh warmed up and we hammered a constant pace on a mixture of sandy double and singletrack.  We spent much of our day in the sugar cane fields, with the leaves slapping us as we pedaled mostly downhill.

Again the crest top  ores were amazing, but mostly today was about getting to the Indian Ocean at Scottburgh.

As usual the 20km last push in the wind seemed to take forever.  The final segment always comes, this time a 600m floating bridge across the lagoon, 1m wide, and the whole thing moved with the wind.

We were down in about 4hrs 20m

So what to make of this event?  Every part of the experience is hard- from the riding to the cold to the hauling of bags each day, basics like showers and toilets become an art of timing.  Would I do it again? Ask me tomorrow:)

A note on South Africa and the people. What a warm, enthusiastic show for life here, even though there is an underlying sense that not all is well politically or socially.  So much potential, but time will tell how the riches of this country (place and people) are realized.  In every town we were greeted by friendly Afrikaans, Anglos, and tribal people. All showed such warmth and interest in us and our journey. I am pleased to have met all if them.  Even the ones that can’t go downhill, ride tech uphill, cross rivers it ride mud:);

Day 4 into 5 JoBerg2c- Sterkfontein dam to Winterton Country Club


Leaving the Free State to enter KwaZulu Natal. Back on the bike for a frosty 1degree start.  We rode into the valley mist on district roads to find a climb to the escarpment. Terrain that in some ways resembles Zion with singletrack over slick rock. Stunning views into Natal led to an epic descent on real deal trail. (America beats SA on descending skills)

The last climb of the day was about 600 vert of steep technical track with sun beating on your back. Turns out the SA’s can’t climb it either if it’s loose, but to give credit, they are tough and with determination not often seen.

On a day of 121km we spent very little on roads which was great, but pacing on s-track is always slower so 7hrs 17 in the saddle, we came in 195 out of just under 800, 178 overall to date.  But that’s about to change….

After a shower, lunch and comp beers life was good.  By 7pm I was back with the doc with my GI issue, and a new found love for porta johns.  My favorite quote from doc, “what part of don’t eat protein and fat didn’t you understand”.  Spending every other day in the invalid van wasn’t my plan, but now I just need to get better.  Day 5 off.

Day 1 Joberg2c, Heidelberg to Frankfort.

Congratulations to Andy Buckley,  o2fitness athlete, on his South African success! Below the first of several blog posts from Andy’s diary account of the nine, life-changing days…


The Route is King – 99.5% off-road, Subaru track (actually, Jeep track but we cannot say Jeep), tons of single-track, rural secondary roads and very little district road… There’s only about 10km of tar along the entire 900km.

Starting in the south of Johannesburg and finishing nine days later at Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Part race part adventure, the Old Mutual joBerg2c takes competitors through the country, from the heat and dust of the big city to the cool crisp air of the sea via spectacular mountainous passes.

116km today or 72 miles through classic cattle and maize farms. Some fun singletrack , lots of dirt road and segments of the bumpiest, muddy and sandy singletrack I can remember. The highlight of the day, a floating temporary bridge made of shipping pallets allowing is to cross the river Vaal.  400m of precarious bike handling on the 1.1m width. (People did fall in)

Today was a neutral no race day, but we came on 193 of 800, time of 5hrs 48m.  We will race this pace to save energy for days later with more climbing

Onward tomorrow- snow in them mountains apparently

Day 8-JoBerg2c, Ixopo to Jolivet. 98km and 1700m


image_1Andy’s Odyssey Continues…

On day 4 our team GC ranking was 69th, we were actually doing quite well-things change and new opportunities arise.

Today we started in batches of 100.  We were batch G, the last.  Due to splintered team results we now ‘didn’t count’.  And yet three amazing things happened today.

1. Josh Fonner- the legend, my captain, rallied after yesterday’s sickness and got on his bike.  I’m so proud to ride with this guy.

2. Group G (The Gastro group) allocation, allowed us to move forward and lead with a ten minute spread between the group in front. This gave us ample opportunity to feel the fast freedom of some world class singletrack

3. The Umkomass Valley, a spectacle of incredible beauty with a trail named ‘wow’ for good reason.  To be perched on the side of the mountain and travel at speeds non human on this tacky dirt-what a treat.

We descended for 20km to a valley floor of a different climate, after figuring out a technique to avoid  and mitigate the non technical SA’s. The valley nicknamed Death Valley was Hot!  Now all we had to do was reach our flat point water stop at 40km and then climb out for 60km, uphill that is.

I had told Josh that I thought most of the climb was on fire road, actually it was mostly singletrack, and at times a good grind.  In fact about 85% of today was s-track.

Water point two had a great spread of food including hamburgers.  What the heck, my first real red meat!  Then another 1000ft of climbing to the peak before we rolled though the high Forrest toward our camp.

Sometimes things happen that are unexpectedly shocking, or at least for me.  So when in the final 2km, riding aside a sealed road, I saw someone’s pet dog get run over, I felt quite heartbroken for the imagined kid that loved that dog.  It made me cry (perhaps I was just tired), but it reminded me too of our temporary state in this world and how it can change in the skid of a tire.

We made it back to camp in 6hrs 29m, not bad for sick guys.

We can’t wait to be done tomorrow and swim in the Indian Ocean at our final destination.

Day 7- JoBerg2c, Underberg to Ixopo. 81km and 1360m of climbing


image_1-2-1024x768Andy’s Adventure, continues…

A warmer and later start time today, and we were all prepared to hammer hard to get into a good group ready for the S-track at 15km.  However, when it rains, sometimes it pours.  As I’m getting better, Josh had no GO.  (As it turns out he has IT, and in curled up in a ball in the tent tonight).  So this becomes a real test of team, for one as occasionally selfish as I.  So I stuck with my friend, yoyoed a bit, pushed him a bit, talked about random stuff and watched him suffer a brutal slow pedal day to the finish.

Our one exception was the singletrack, with incredible forested smooth to rough red dirt, the overwhelming sensation was TRACTION!  Almost any speed with a top of the bike was rewarded with an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ tree dodge as the tires bit into the dirt like a pit bull with a new bone.

(Did I mention SA’s can’t descend?). We figure they all train on dirt roads around Johannesburg and never really see S-track, so one should really empathize.  However, after lots of polite ‘whenever you’re ready, could I pass’ we have resorted to just going.  A slight touch of the back tire seems to do the trick to make them pull left.  We did fly 22hours.

The country today was a mix of tree and dairy farms, but still with grand vistas mountain to valley.   I am struck by the mass industry of agriculture in this province.

We climbed our last few km’s back to camp, and arrived at a slow pace that puts us to the back of the start tomorrow.  Having said that I am so proud of what Josh pulled off today, he kept pedaling when many would quit.

Tomorrow is a mix of epic singletrack and hot midday climbing . Should be interesting

Day 6- JoBerg2c , Kamberg to Underberg- 91km and a climb day of 2000m

Day 6- JoBerg2c , Kamberg to Underberg- 91km and a climb day of 2000m

Andy, o2fitness athlete’s South African adventure continues…

Well hopefully as I write this my GI issues are behind me (no pun).  Today was a mostly district road traverse of mountain passes with a little tech S-track here and there.  Not a bike ride I would normally choose if it were not for the breathtaking beauty of the Natal province.   It’s big sky, majestic mountains and green valley floors are a sight to see.

This mornings start was again cold at just over freezing, but early climbing warmed the blood.  Unfortunately a diet of white bread, bananas, pasta and rice is not a good prep for powerful legs- racing this day wasn’t really on the cards.  Josh and I labored behind middle of the field for the first part of the day, the legs finally came back to life on the first real climb to water point 1, about a 700m ascent.  Next a chilly 13km high speed descent got us to the 52km mark before 11am. Did I mention SA’s can’t descend?

The up and down terrain drew us through a number of rural villages all with African kids standing by the roadside asking us for chocolate.  We couldn’t figure out why they thought we would be carrying chocolate. An Australian friend explained that in these poor villages the kids use the few words or word they have learned in English to reach out to strangers. The disparity in socio economic groups is striking. The average wage earner in these rural areas could turn the value of my bike in to four years worth of wages.

How lucky I am to have such an adventure.

We finished at picturesque Hazeldean farm in Underberg and I treated myself to some meat for lunch for the first time in 38 hours (fingers crossed)- beer is a gastric insulator I think.

Tomorrow promises the goods- singlestrack in abundance and grippy dirt!! We hope to go faster.


JoBerg South African, nine day, 900K mountain bike stage race

image-11-768x1024Day 2-3 JoBerg2c – well the last 48hours have been eventful. Day 2 was our first day of true racing. High paced start at -2 celsius made for cold hands and feet.  By7:30 it warmed enough to strip layers and settle in for more farm singletrack and backcountry roads. 93km went fast and we were back to Reitz camp by noon.

Felt a bit queezy on the last 10k, little did I know what was in store. A night of stomach cramps and GI issues!! Got a bag of fluids and good cramp drugs, but I knew I was out of day 3.  Me and fifty others got sick from bad water. It’s Africa!

Got a ride to camp at Sterkfontaine dam, and skipped a hard day of 123km

Tomorrow we descend off the escarpment and hopefully to warmer temps