Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jim O'Brien: Pilloried By Fools

1993 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Finish line at Johnson's Field, Altadena, CA.
 L to R: Nancy, Coach Jim O'Brien, Larry Gassan, pacer Ray Deschenes. I repaid Ray by pacing him at WS in 94.

On June 13, 2013, legendary coach Jim O'Brien was fired by the Arcadia High School for unspecified transgressions, despite two national titles and a winning record going back almost thirty years.
...O’Brien, now 60, was abruptly fired from his head coaching position at Arcadia. Runners, students, alumni and parents were shocked. O’Brien was not apparently involved in any scandal and, though his style has been described as intense, had no real detractors, other than the personnel associated at Arcadia High School associated with his firing. [from the TrailRunner article] 

On July 24, 2013, friends, students and supporters of Coach Jim O'Brien came out and spoke directly to the Arcadia Unified School District Supervisors in an open meeting as to why Jim was important to them, the community, the state [yes!] and the lives of others. His job hangs in the balance, and the final outcome is not certain. Anyone who styles themselves a coach and did not attend, you missed a powerful demonstration of what the responsibilities and rewards of being a real coach are all about.

Let's also keep in mind that the AUSD School Board put on a fine theatrical display of unanimity prior to the O'Brien hearing, Every vote was 5-0 in favor of whatever. In case anybody was watching.

I said the following in my 90 seconds in front of a mic:

I've known Jim for 21 years, and studied under him from 1992 - 2002. Thanks to Jim's coaching, I ran my first sub-24 hour finish at the Angeles Crest 100 in 1996. You may know that Jim set the course record at the Angeles Crest 100 in 1989 with a 17hr 35min time, which remains unbroken.  I've been connected to this race since 1990. I've finished it 3 times, crewed and paced friends, and captained aid-stations. I've been the Racebook editor since 1998. I am also the Page Administrators for the AC100 and Ultrarunning  Facebook pages, with a combined membership of over 4,500 people.
But enough about me, lets talk about Jim.

Jim leads by example. He does not tolerate fake.  For years after high school, I avoided coaches, because they all sounded like authority-driven washouts and bullies. Why? Because in high school I was one of those who did not fit the golden norm of football, basketball, baseball. I'd gone into high school as a stoner, but left as an athlete; a 2 mile track letterman. At the Awards Ceremony that year, the coach gave me my letter and told the audience "I never thought I'd be giving one of these to him". Jim would never say that. 

Jim passed his knowledge on to his Boy's Cross-Country Team. I saw it live, during a meet at Griffith Park in 2011. All the same concepts, slightly retooled for a different audience. I envied those boys. These boys, and the girls, are getting the gold that outlasts a medal or a trophy. They are getting what I got—the knowledge that they accomplished far more than they ever thought they could.
I was proud to support my friend Jim O'Brien at this time. To have not done so would be unthinkable.

Let's also keep in mind that the AUSD School Board put on a fine theatrical display of unanimity prior to the O'Brien hearing, Every vote was 5-0 in favor of whatever. In case anybody was watching.

Jim's firing quickly became a national issue—appearing on Yahoo Sports, and TrailRunner did an excellent write-up on the story.

At this time [July 30, 2013] the verdict is uncertain. I am not optimistic about Jim's chances. The school board is bunkered in, and in this siege, time is on their side. Their opponents have to flail and charge, they sit and wait. Updates will be posted when relevant.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Tao Of McLeod

Just below Newcomb's Saddle on the Gabrielino Trail, with Sri Roshi McLeod. Photo courtesy Dominic Grossman
Today was a very good day to set aside the camera, and swing a McLeod with the AC100 Trail Crew. And no, the trail did not get magically shorter.

It took about an hour to realize that I was keeping the McLeod from doing its job. All I really had to do was raise it high overhead, and guide it as it fell towards the brush. The blade severed branches and twigs with far less effort than before. Only problem was that I had about 90 minutes juice left. The memory of what I had been able to do years ago was trumped and punked by ass-time in front of a computer.

The McLeod is a brush-clearing tool of great simplicity. A long ash-handled cutting, raking, and clearing implement, with a 9x9" hoe-blade/coarse tooth rake 1/4" steel plate at the end. Chop with the blade, clear with the rake. The simplicity requires much study and devotion before it reveals itself fully.

Getting There Is All The Fun

The July 20 trail work was the final trail work by the Angeles Crest 100 Trail Volunteers before Race Day, August 3, 2013. This party consisted of 25 runners, led by 82 yr old Hal Winton and Gary Hilliard, AC100 Co-RDs. Hal and Gary are chainsaw-certified by the USFS, so they get to wear the Kevlar butt-cutout chaps while sectioning logs. We provide the help to move things aside. 

The drive in to Newcomb's Pass up the Rincon-Red Box Road was the most challenging of any of the trail work events thus far this year. My Honda Element had the lowest clearance of any of the vehicles thanks to dangly underbits. Therefore all rocks larger than small melons looked like boulders when seen through the windshield. 

All this was not just for the benefit of what Dom Grossman jokingly referred to as my "Little Grey Princess", which she is, dammit; but also the Aid Station crew that is going to be rolling in on Saturday morning Aug 3. The Newcomb's Pass aid station (69.75mi) is more remote in mileage than the Idle Hour aid station (83.75mi), so all lurking rocks and hazards that can be cleared is for the greater good. In addition to the multiple rock clearings, there were several downed tree sections, and in one instance, chainsaw a multi-limbed canyon oak that had crashed down on the roadbed. 

Things were not complete until Hal's rear-wheel found a sharp-edged boulder and ripped a flat. The spare was installed, and we were at the jump-off point by noon. It had been a 3-1/2 hr convoy in.

The Walk In

The lead-in from Newcomb's Saddle. Angeles Crest 100 Trail Volunteer group, Newcomb's Pass & Saddle
area of the Gabielino Trail. Sat, July 20, 2013. Hal Winton, crew boss..

I had originally decided to come along for the ride and document the process. Once on site, things took a different turn. My first discovery was that I had very carefully left my lunch at home. I fossicked around in the back of the car, and dug up a 4oz bottle of dry CarboPro powder, which I tipped into a 2qt water jug. Hello, lunch. I was annoyed at myself for not only leaving lunch, but also not having a Plan B backup in the wagon. Goddamn, I had everything else. 

"Hal, do we need this frame-pack to portage in the chainsaw?" I'd brought a salvaged Kelty frame-pack with its own colorful story as a possible backup.

"No, I think we're good". Done. I locked up.

While Hal finished the final tool-up and orientation, I started down the trail. The file appeared, and  got what I figured would be decent shots of the walk-in and so on. Falling in at the back of the line, with the irrepressible Dom Grossman, who had brought his ever-present iPhone, which was playing Wilson-Phillips' "Hold On". After all, we were on the flanks of Mt Wilson (Phillips).

Hal dropped groups of five at various points along the trail, going down about 2 miles. On the way down we were talking about the history of the trail volunteer program (since 1996 or so), and the aging process. I mentioned my mom is 87, and while being in pretty good shape, there were challenges. Hal then floored me with "Hell, Lar, I was doing great til I hit 80. Then my health fell off a cliff!"

Holy fuck. He must've only fallen 3 feet. Here he was leading trail crews in, bucking a chainsaw, and putting up with all kinds of bullshit to boot. Right after this, he then had to go back, get the chainsaw, and take out a 3' diameter downed tree that had come down in the big wind gusts of 2010 or so.


Now, The Working Part

But once out there, I looked around. The reason for pictures had vanished. I slung the Nikon over my shoulder, set down my lunchy water jug, and went to work with the McLeod. In a very short time I felt sweat coursing down the backs of my legs. My shirt was soaked, the lightweight French milsurp F1 jacket was sodden. Fortunately my Swiss Army alpenflage party-pants concealed all. 

My blue-gumball 1975 model climbing helmet had not been out in the sun for years. I'd brought a bandanna for the back of my neck, and I was grateful. Meantime the leather sweatband in front was dissolving in a red stain. Unbeknownst to me, it had dripped down on my face, prompting someone to mention that I had a bloody nose. "How the fuck did I get that?"

By 2:30pm I was done. Office life had punked my ass. My water was done. I figured I'd ghost back up to the car. Pretty soon I had company. I was moving so slowly that I said "Hey listen, if I'm slowing anybody down, I'll step aside..." Guffaws followed, with assurances that my pace was Zombie Fine.

Another guy said "Christ! I'm sweating so hard it looks like I pissed my pants!" I replied "I was going to say the same thing, but I didn't want you to get jealous!" More guffaws. Guy humor is like that.

This Is The End

As everybody made it back to the top, the cloud cover advanced, a breeze rose, and the first spatters of rainshowers appeared. Conversation turned on whether or not we'd be so lucky on Race Day. We'll soon find out.

Uncle Hal (far right) and the 2013 AC Trailwork Season Final Outing. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why You Didn't Get To Join

A typical bogus candidate profile.
[revised Jan 30, 2015]

When I first wrote this, I was coming to grips with the staggering number of fake profiles in Facebook Landia applying to the ultrarunning Facebook group. Note lower-case U. Since this, I've become ruthless in dealing with this problem.
My first line of inquiry into an ultra-candidate is UltraSignUp.com, a great bullshit detector. And if there's any further doubt, I'll look on RealEndurance.com.

Here's the current ABOUT. It's edited down from the original, and still nobody reads it. Too bad.

This non-commercial site is about ultrarunning only. This growing group of informed ultrarunners is an excellent knowledge base. Please share your ultrarunning stories, adventures, goals, race reports, and questions.

Nothing focuses the mind like a cut-off. Everyone here has passed that simple test.

1] MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS, in effect since April 2013
  • verified completion of at least one [1] 50k via UltraSignUp, and/or RealEndurance.com
  • visible evidence of ultra-capability that may not have been captured above
  • outstanding contribution[s] to the sport
Applicants using a nickname/alias will not be admitted, no exceptions. Ditto for "Dick&Jane LastName", unless that's on your driver's license or UltraSignUp results page.

Posts that are irrelevant to ultrarunning will be deleted immediately.

4] Play nice, or go home.


And now, for some ancient history and colorful photos:

Hello Rejected Applicant:

I understand your irritation as to why you were not admitted to the Facebook ultrarunning Group. I'll explain why I have to do this. 

I look at ALL profiles, to keep spammers off the site. If there's no evidence of ultra-participation, they don't get in, and the membership is spared annoyance. I owe this to every member of this group—from beginner to elite.

Is the applicant using a nickname, or is a commercial venture? Nicknames are problematic, because a lot of times those don't show up in Ultra SignUp. Commercial names: 9 times out of 10, they will immediately post about their commercial interests, even though this is spelled out in the "About This Group"; starting in English, and repeated in 27 other languages including Hungarian and Catalan. Just for the hell of it, have a look:
Welcome to the Facebook Ultrarunning Page! This site is about ultrarunning *only*. This is not about 5ks, 10ks, marathons, triathlons, mud-runs, rogaines, doggy-joggies or any of their variants. All posts that do not have a *direct* and relevant focus on ultrarunning will be deleted immediately without warning.
Pretty cryptic, huh? I mentioned clues. Here you go!


  1. I get bogus applicants all the time with fake and/or swiped pictures. See below for examples. And if I see a kid's photo--its right up there with a picture of a cat, dog, or worse yet, a cartoon character.
  2. Profiles with name and gender mismatches. Ditto Asian names with Anglo faces.
  3. If all I see are public-domain pictures of activities that have nothing to do with ultras in any form, that suggests that the applicant is bored. They need to get a life, which is not my problem.
  4. If there is no sign of running, or they're all about 10ks, rogaining, or any of the exclusions I listed in the FAQ [cited above, and completely visible to the FB public], then they don't get in because they ignored it. And if they passed, and start posting about 10ks, etc, they get deleted. No warning. I owe them nothing. 
All we do here is ultras. Thanks for your understanding in this matter.

Now, let's go to the Portrait Gallery Of Hilariously Bogus Applicants

Fauzia Harry

"Fauzia Harry", who got me thinking about swiped identities and preposterous ambitions. ""She" originally applied to the AC100 page. 

Was from Hong Kong. No mutual friends, a dramatic profile photo [attached], but no number bibs or Camelbak. Googling her picture turned up a Chinese porn site. Deciding that "her" splits were not likely to be from Short Cut to Newcombs, "her" request was denied. 

Then "she" applied here. I'm sure she's legit. Operas have been written about stuff like this.
Ladies and gentlemen—meet "Jessica Wong" As we can tell, "Jessica" has a multi-continental presence.
 An image-search turned up hits in Italy and China. And I'm sure "she" loves Boston too.

"Jessy Wollf",  sent in "her" membership request in the finest raw, minimalist style.
Note that she *is* sporting a hand-held, and is probably about to undertake some WS100-style heat-training.

Henry will refi your house if you finish before cut-offs. See, guys can be douches too.
Just so you won't feel cheated, here are some more:
The European Space Agency is better with this orbiting object.

Watts Nicola wants you to know what he shares with friends. Daylight's burning!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Radio Goddess: Deirdre O'Donoghue

Home-brew dub cassette art, 1990.

July 16 is the late Deirdre's O'Donoghue's birthday. Deirdre hosted "SNAP" (an acronym for "Saturday Night Avante Pop") aired three nights a week on KCRW out of Santa Monica College, in Santa Monica, CA. This is my unabashed fanboy eulogy.

Out of my own selfish memories of her, I revere Deirdre O'Donoghue's amazing forays and discoveries, I re-educated myself. No longer were the blighted wastelands of KROQ and Phil Collins to determine my landmarks.

Yes, I date myself. But holy fuck-fire of art! Did not Deirdre bring amazing music to the ears of those who'd learned that she was passionate and engaged about what she played? And yes, I wasn't ready, but who is? Because if you're pushing, its always out past the comfort zone?

Here's a short list of what she played:

  • The Finn Brothers with their glorious a-capella rendering of "Throw Your Arms Around You"
  • Mary Margaret O'Hara
  • Vinny Rollie's Diazapam 500mg
  • Texas: Prayer for You
  • Bel Canto: Continuum, and The Glass Maker
  • MC 900 Ft Jesus
  • Amr Diab, from "Yalla!"
  • Kipper Jones: Shockwave
  • Cocteau Twins: Wolf In The Breast
  • Ultra Vivid Scene
  • and finally, Kimm Rogers' barn-burning anthem "A Lot On My Mind"
Of course the list is not complete. I got distracted. Before I stopped, I'd made 39 90min tapes of music I edited from her playlists. A narrow slice.

What a complete genius. And then with her show "Breakfast With The Beatles", she'd plow against the furrows of the Beatles catalog on on a succession of other commercial LA FM outlets, yielding new insights.

And that enraged KCRW's General Manager Ruth Hirschmann, later Seymour. Because Deirdre was fearless.

I read that her lupus confined her to recording out of her home. I read that Auntie Ruth had a problem with that. It fit into the larger pattern of Ruth and KCRW's talent—"The Cool & The Crazy", Renee Engel, "African Beat"—all locked horns with Ruth, and Ruth won. She wanted to build an NPR colossus, and she did. Along the way it became a bland, neutered giant. Tom Schnabel gave way to the blandness of Chris Douritas, and thence To Nic Harcourt. All, in my estimation, were pale dwarves to what went before.

God rest her immaculate heart and soul.

Read more about Deirdre from Bill Wilner, here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Topical Relief From Poison Oak and PPDB

AC100 Trail volunteers, between Charlton Flats and Shortcut Saddle in the burned-over Angeles Crest
 of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Purple Poodle-Dog Bush has started to come in—
the creepy sage/reefer-like bushes in bright green. April 16, 2011.

While in the San Gabriels, you will, sooner or later, encounter Poison Oak and Purple Poodle Dog Bush (PPDB). I've been friends with poison oak for over 30 years.  PPDB re-appeared after the 2009 Station Fire. I'd never seen it before.

The PPDB lies dormant for years, until fire conditions burn off chaparral and manzanita. It then reappears, First it looks like a cross between marijuana and sage with oily lime-green leaves. As it grows, it sends up a stalk that can top out at 9' high. Watch out for the pretty purple flowers, which look like lupine, but stink like natural gas or decay. Do not touch. When the flowers die off in late spring, the stalks have dried fibers on them, which will fuck you up, just like the flowers.

PO & PPDB are prevalent from sea-level to 6,500'. PPDB is especially ferocious, and makes PO look like rose-petals. The contact-window seems to be much shorter than PO, approx 4-hrs, based on my experience. Yours may vary.

Now what?

First Defense

Fels-Naptha is possibly the least expensive and least toxic skin cleanser when you come in contact with Poison Oak, or the dreaded Purple Poodle Dog Bush [PPDB]. 

I stopped using Tecnu 20+ yrs ago. One, the price doubled, and two, I realized that as a water-based solvent, it was being absorbed thru the skin—and it goes straight to your liver. I found all this out when I had Hep A back in '76, but that's another story.

In NorCal its at all the Raley's, and here in SoCal I've seen it at Albertson's. Check online, etc.

This and a SunShower and you're set. Plus, you won't smell like Epic Ass®™ after a long day. Your call.

After scrubbing down with Fels-Naptha Soap, hydrogen peroxide is the next line of offense if you get tainted.

Hydrogen Peroxide spray bottle made from swapping pump unit from 99-Cent Store
generic window cleaner. I discovered that the caps are the same diameter/thread count.

I've got it, now what?

You've got it, the rash is spreading. Its catholic misery at this finest. Short of a cortisone shot for seriously severe situations [which carries its own set of problems] here's what worked for me. 
  • I scrubbed 2x daily, standing in the hot shower, I'd scrub with the FN soap.
  • I'd spritz HP on the rash site[s]. Let it rip. The spray-bottle is an economic irrigator, without wasting floods down the drain
  • Let air dry
  • At night, its back to pajamas and socks if necessary. The point is to avoid cross-contamination from sheets to bare skin
  • Symptoms last 7-10 days. 
  • A ferocious application of these techniques will probably* limit the spread of the rash. This all depends on your own body chemistry, etc.

Note: Chain-link fence and plywood sold separately.