When The Founder Of Your Company Dies

(your path is beautiful and difficult)

“I have some bad news. Paul died last night” he said.

Paul was the founder of an early stage entertainment technology company. The call just started. I was supposed to share the final business plan: 5-year financial forecasts, profitability, cash flows, organizational structure and technical strategy I’d been working on.

The business was growing organically. We wanted to put on the afterburners. Investors were interested and this call was to approve the plan so we could build a deck* for them and raise $XMillion.**

But now the founder was dead.

We had been working closely for 3 months. It was Tuesday morning, September 24th 2013 and time stood still.

“What happened?”

I was in Baltimore, Maryland wearing a blue v-neck cotton t-shirt. I was sitting outside in the sun and remember sweat trickling down my back. I noticed the tree leaves holding onto their late summer green, lingering before changing into fall colors. I heard birds chirping and felt a slight warm breeze.

He began telling me what happened.

You know how it feels when the world stops?


“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. -Victor Frankl”

We see the fleeting nature of things. Life in Technicolor. Heightened for a second as we ponder the meaning and grasp the transient nature of life.

Like the last day of your vacation – soaking it in before departing to home.

Like the end of Christmas day when you’re a kid – the presents are open, everyone is sitting around feeling the chemical buildup dissipate as you realize it’s over.

I snapped back to his words on the other end of the line.

“…and then the housekeeper found him.”

Memories of Paul flashed through my head. His wide eyes excited about the possibilities and his passion for his mission in life. A friend gone at 66.

You knew Paul Darbee. At least, you knew his work:

Paul invented the Universal Remote Control in the 1980s, among other things. He cashed out of his company early. UEIC went through tough times and is today a $500M annual business traded as a public company.

His new company, DarbeeVision was his biggest dream. A company dedicated to making the picture on your tv or projector better using image processing via an HDMI-input device sitting between your incoming signal and your tv. It works really well. I thought I could help them put together strategy and get big fast.

But now he was gone leaving his business partner and I alone on the telephone talking about what to do next.

“Can you get to Denver by tomorrow?”

I flew to Denver. CEDIA is the show where all the home AV professionals demo their gadgets and distributors do deals for the next year. All the new hot stuff for your home.

I pressed flesh with the contacts I’d gained over 6 years at RealD and presented the plan to the majority shareholders and their advisors. Everyone was on board with the strategy and I think they were looking for a sense of hope. And a sense of security that the legacy would not die.

It felt like a memorial service: Paul’s last name in graphic design across the banners in the booth.  His widow and son bravely repeating the story of the company, the technology and Paul’s last days. Industry veterans stopping by to express condolences.

DarbeeVision is alive today and will likely keep going.

It can be sad to say goodbye.

It was a little over a year ago (1 year 5 days) that I said goodbye to RealD, went to Beirut for a celebration, moved out of my apartment in Boulder, proposed to someone I loved and had it fail, dated someone but it didn’t work out, drove 700 miles across the midwest to a magical weekend celebration, sold my first home in Portland, Oregon, put my stuff in storage, mourned Paul’s death, took a 9 day trail running trip to Maui, celebrated another birthday, and another Thanksgiving and another Christmas, welcomed a new niece into the world, got UL approval on a product, sold all my old stock options, and last week closed the first big deal of my new company then got hit with new hurdles. Among many other things.

Thankfully every day dies. Some days die quickly. Other days die a slow painful death, impossibly hard to let go of.

But then a new day is born.

People say let go of the past, but the truth is you must let go of the future, because the past happened and is gone. The only thing left of the past is evidence we interpret and emotions we carry. This impacts our thoughts, beliefs and shapes our future by influencing our reality.

When I let go of the future my life becomes magic and time stands still.

Things I never thought would happen become reality.

I was always scared to let go, because what then would I have left? And I only have one conclusion: faith. Faith that if I am healthy and I let go something new will show up to replace the space that’s made from what is gone. And it always happens.

Otherwise we keep missing the moment when all possibilities are endless. And when we miss that moment, we miss all possibilities.

Paul was someone who chose to make his own possibilities and inspired others.

But are you dead or are you alive? Are you missing each moment holding onto the past or are you healthy in your body, heart, mind and soul, with room for your dreams to become real?

I don’t know what works for you, but this is what works for me.  I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from friends both living and passed who continue to be proof that we are what we believe.

And faith that something is on its way is the only way I know of.

I hope you have faith, too.

*a deck is the presentation you give to potential investors
**I’m still under nondisclosure


How A Garbage Man Became Your Broker

(this was not in the truck)

(Cosmo was not in the truck that day)

Raunchy porn magazines littered the dashboard. It smelled like rotting fruit, stale beer and dirty diapers.

“The other driver loves to keep the dirty stuff. He picks it out of people’s trash” he said. “I wouldn’t touch those without gloves on.”

We were 19 sitting in the sweltering cab of a recycling truck in suburban Chicago, in August. The grass was tall in the ditches next to the roads and the humidity held our sweat to our skin beneath our shirts. Something for the stench to cling.

He invited me “On The Route” so I went, now regretful, nose burning.


(what goes around comes around)

My friend confessed “it’s a good job but I don’t want to be doing this my whole life. I just can’t go to school. It’s a waste of time. Who are these teachers? They just throw stuff at you. This is real education.”

(all the gold, guns and girls. is it ever gonna be enough?)

(all the gold, guns and girls. is it ever gonna be enough?)

My friend was the epitome of the James Dean type. Every girl ogled him but he was faithful to his girlfriend, contrarian, reckless but smart (once crashing his Dad’s new Mustang while driving underage, ditching it to avoid the police), questioning authority philosophically, appearing always like he stepped off the pages of a JCrew catalog (the most influential mail order of the time). I was not much like him, but we became best friends. I wanted to start a jazz club in Chicago called “Birdland.” We were obsessed with jazz. We had big plans. Always circling around how we’d leave our mark on the world, not sure how to start. Uncertain when our break would come, chasing.

We’d both dropped out of high school the same year. I tested into college and he went to work driving a recycling truck.

(we wanted to go back in time)

(we wanted to go back in time)

He drove the route every day while I tore through classes, tripling credit hours to graduate early.

But I didn’t have a job plan. I felt like I should. Anxiety was growing.

Sitting in the parlor of the house I shared with 4 girls and another guy, watching ticker symbols stream on CNBC two weeks before graduation, I had a flash: “can someone trade for a living?”

I graduated in December with two interviews at brokerage firms.

“Hey man I’m going downtown Monday to interview. You should come.”

“What are you talking about. I’m not going with you to your job interview.”

“Dude, it’s just an interview. You can introduce yourself and see if they have anything else. Seriously, no big deal. Come with.”

He agreed.

We took an early train from Barrington and met a guy in the office of Eurospread Associates, where some of my cousins un-coincidentally worked. “I didn’t expect two?” he said. We acted dumb and shrugged. He ushered us onto the trading floor. “People are gonna say shit. Just ignore them. Don’t take it personally.”

It was nothing we’d seen before: mass chaos, colored jackets, hands in the air, faces screaming, spitting and sweating. The floor was littered with paper.

Traders & clerks laughed and pointed at us chanting “fresh meat,” flipping trading cards our way like flat paper bullets.

We were overwhelmed by stimulus, captivated. You could feel the money.

“I didn’t know we were hiring two” one broker said.

My friend and I looked at each other “I guess you are” I said.

“Okay, fill out these forms. You can start January 3rd. I’ll put one of you in Yen and the other in the LIBOR pit. You’ll start as runners.” He got Yen, I got LIBOR.

We rolled out of the building laughing, high-fiving. “What just happened?!”

Two weeks later we walked onto the CME floor and started our future.

A year later I was hired at Michael Stoltzner’s Futrex Trading, training with Jeff Goldman (one of the largest EuroOptions traders) on weekends and went on to develop trading systems at Specialists DPM and Edge LLC until I left to pursue my dream on the West Coast.

People will tell you the better path is the path in pursuit of something they can see. The path that looks good on paper and reflects well when you tell your new girlfriend’s parents. They don’t like recycling trucks they like money and power and sophistication and houses in suburbs.

But when you climb the unfamiliar trail in front of you to the top of the first mountain, only then can you find the next mountain beyond.

16 years and witness to suicides, rehabs, parties, stories, more money than God, investigations, lawsuits, lies and fistfights, he’s a successful options broker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. He didn’t need a college degree to get educated but he had to have the guts to hang on.

(this place smells like the cab of a recycling truck on a hot day)

(this place smells like the cab of a recycling truck on a hot day)

And I’ll tell you the secret they don’t want you to know: it’s not the cab of a recycling truck but it’s still filled with raunchy porn, smells like stale beer, rotting fruit and dirty diapers. There’s just more money and more pixels, and looks better on TV.

Me? I just like to watch.

Sell the Sizzle: How to Turn $500 into $Millions With Your Minimum Viable Product

(what $8000 looks like on the web)

(what $8,000 looks like)

I spent $8,000 developing a web based visual media platform in 2011. It’s cool, and it works, and it’s out there on the web behind a password protected portal but it’s wrong. It should be prettier, easier to use and mobile. I lost money and time. I overbuilt the product before I had traction. I didn’t apply the idea of The Minimum Viable Product properly.

(lean and mean)

(lean and mean)

The Minimum Viable Product is a concept written about in Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup. It’s now the de facto standard for startups. Before you waste money and time overbuilding an idea, you create something minimal first. The biggest problem with the concept of “The Minimum Viable Product” is what “Minimum” and “Viable” actually mean.

I’m working on a new product-based company and it has major traction. Starting this company cost $317. I had an idea for something I needed. I made 4 prototypes, each a different color. I posted some photos of it on social media and my friends said “Cool! I want one!”

But I didn’t believe them. You can’t trust your friends.*

So I took the prototypes to 5 stores. If 3 of 5 stores wanted it, I’d move forward with figuring out the details and getting them produced.

Four of the 5 stores wanted it NOW. Everyone said “Yes.” The product worked but wasn’t finished.

We figured out the details, took a few orders launched into 3 stores and sold out in 4 days. We refreshed the inventory and sold out again. Every new store we’ve opened sees a similar trend. We’re validated and now we’re going big.

We even developed a no-lose negotiation strategy that converts stores who say “no” to “yes” instantly and even makes them long-term customers.

We have revenue, demand and our idea is validated. Now we are confidently allocating more capital with a high expected return.

We’ve filed patents and invested in infrastructure. We’re refining our logo and branding. We’re getting better product photography and making promo clips. We’re begging media not to publish anything about us because we’re just a few steps away from being able to fill massive demand. We’re going to blow the doors off of a category that has been stale for 30 years or more.

We had revenue before we had a real product. That’s what matters. Now we can hunt without starving first.

(sell the sizzle)

(sell the sizzle)

The key to the MVP is one goal and one goal only: accelerate the sales cycle. The MVP should get you from concept to traction. If no traction move on immediately.

Don’t waste your time on infrastructure or paperwork or permission or overly ornate packaging or a business entity or lawyers or following “the rules” you think are required. Time is your greatest asset. You don’t even need a business plan. Whatever it takes to get to your customer saying “yes”, or better yet “holy crap I want that” is the point of the MVP. Any business can use the MVP philosophy.

Everything starts small.

Validate first, scale and grow later. Talk, date, marry, have kids.

Sell before you spend, promote before you develop, get users and customers before you dig a hole, don’t overdevelop your MVP. Don’t commit too much too early.

Sell the sizzle.

(lizanne falsetto started ThinkThin products in her kitchen. p.s. they're really good)

(lizanne falsetto started ThinkThin products in her kitchen. p.s. they’re really good)

Want to sell cookies? Bake a batch in your kitchen and sell them. Have a product idea? Prototype it cheaply and get orders with the prototype. Got a great beer recipe? Brew it and get restaurant or bar owners to try it. Mobile app? Design it in MS Word or Photoshop. Think of all the corners you can cut. It’s like speed dating for business. You talk, flirt and if there’s a fit you go on a date. You know very quickly whether or not you’re attracted in the first 6 seconds (aka “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell).

That’s the point of an MVP. If you can’t sell the sizzle, put it to bed and move on. Don’t lose your hard earned cash or your time.

Want more? Read my friend James’ guide to selling anything and the story of how he started stockpickr.com for $500 and sold it for $10mil.

This is how to make $millions with a minimum viable product.

So what’s your idea?

*Unless they are honest or have a solid history of being accurate in their opinions

Faith, Death And Pepperoni Pizza On Lake Michigan

(Jib also goes by the name Genoa sail, nicknamed Genny)

(Jib also goes by the name Genoa sail, nicknamed Genny. Our boat, Faith, is a sloop like this with a full keel)

The wall of black hit our boat.

Winds powered up from 5 to 70 knots. Waves grew from 1 to over 12 feet instantly, breaking upon themselves as frothy whitecaps collapsed down into black troughs and blew water pellets from the crest.

Our boat was bashed as our mother shoved the Genny down the forward hatch where my younger sister and I pulled the sail into the cabin directly on top of ourselves.

Dad held the tiller pointing the bow into the wind as my older brother reefed the mainsail.

(reefer madness. reefing the mainsail exposes less surface to reduce lift)

(reefer madness. reefing the mainsail reduces lift)

Waves came from all directions.

My older brother, Mom and Dad layered on rain gear as they were stung by the pellets like kamikaze wasps. Torrential rain whipped sideways as the boat was heaved about.

My younger sister and I huddled in the cabin, as directed, not scared but aware of urgency.

Temperatures dropped 20 then 30 degrees, soaking and chilling the crew.

The boom was chocked to center by the main sheets.

We were facing north but blowing in reverse at 4 knots. There was little to do except fight and anticipate the next big wave and try.to.hold.steady. Bobbing straight up, then back down and getting hit from the side by cross waves.

(it was like this that day)

(it was like this that day)

Until then it was a warm sunny day on Lake Michigan in 1986.

80 degrees with a light breeze. A boring sail up the West Coast of the Michigan shore. We lounged, making slow progress having left White Lake, Michigan hours earlier and only progressing about 6 miles.

We were convicted in our laziness, waiting for the next port to arrive while watching the shore slip by slowly. Minutes took hours, but it was summer so we didn’t mind. My brother, sister and I played the common deck games we invented while cruising the Lake every summer since birth. At 12, 8 and 6 our games were imaginative.

Off in the distance a wall of dark clouds came from the North, hanging low and moving quickly. We were too far to retreat. The shore offered only danger. We put our guard up and faced what became the worst storm we’d ever encountered on Lake Michigan.

“I think we should take down the Genny and prep the storm jib” Mom said.

She repeated the comment with more emotion, louder.

“Ok” said Dad, releasing the Genny (jib) halyard.

In 5 minutes the storm covered more than 5 miles, bearing down like a train. She ran to the bow and yanked the Genny down. The bow of the boat sprung straight up the first wave.

Mom climbed back to the cockpit, fighting to stay in the boat.

The boat tossed about. In the cabin we bounced like balls from a ping pong paddle.

Occasionally the aft cabin hatch slid open. Rain and a wet crew member poured in for a minute grabbing necessities and climbing back out.

This went on for hours into the darkness.

(been there done that)

(been there done that)

But before darkness it was daylight and we weren’t the only boat to get caught with our sheets out.

The VHF radio was turned up to listen to weather and ships calling for help. Mayday.

We couldn’t help. We were small, slow, distant, and at the mercy of the storm. We could hear and see the victims churning about: a sailboat who lost rudder control (likely a sheared pin), and another inexperienced crew pleading for assistance.

We viewed the boats tossing and drifting out of sight. Hoping that mercy would honor the floating fiberglass bobber. It was a game of time. Whichever ended first – the boats or the weather.

There is a saying, “if you can handle a boat on the Great Lakes, you can handle a boat anywhere.”

Most people make the deadly mistake of thinking Lake Michigan is incapable of harboring some of the worst storms of any sea. It’s a lake, after all.

But songs have been written about the storms that sank unsinkable freighters. Buoys and visible wrecks mark the more notable or dangerous while the most famous “Edmund Fitzgerald” is hidden 500 feet below.

Over 6,000 wrecks can be found throughout the Great Lakes; hundreds known on Lake Michigan.

(the Francisco Morazan is visible from the south end of South Manitou Island where she was bashed onto shore in a storm)

(the Francisco Morazan is visible from the south end of South Manitou Island in northern Lake Michigan where she was bashed ashore in a storm and sits rusting away)

What makes Great Lakes storms such killers?

The Great Lakes are not as large as oceans so the waves have less distance to form. They thus form short, steep waves like alleys between buildings.

The storms start swiftly. Ships are caught unprepared. Wet graves are dug.

(waves like this are the Great Lakes' killers)

(we were in waves like this – short, steep, from all directions)

Large freighters sink on the Great Lakes partly because of midline breaches: vessels caught bow on one peak and stern on the other, splitting in half. Smaller boats – yachts – of 45-60 feet – cannot transition wave to wave, so end up heading down one face as the next buries the bow in water, or swamps her entirely.

But our boat – Faith – was of both size and build fitting for a lake like Michigan.

25′-9″ long with a full leaded keel, perfect to ride steep waves up and down while remaining upright.

Our family was notorious for going out in hard conditions – cruising in seas of 6 ft waves and 20 knot winds wasn’t abnormal. My parents were trained by Great Lakes sailing legend Bill Morgan, once a deckhand on a pirate ship in the caribbean in the early 1900s, and since a master captain who solo-sailed around The Great Lakes for fun.

For a long time we did not have money, but we bought Bill’s boat and set out for two weeks each summer touring Lake Michigan as a family, earning our sea legs.

And there we were.

The battle finally subsided to 6ft seas and 30 knot winds.

Exhausted, we came about and ran south back to White Lake, arriving at nearly 2am.

(this is running with the wind)

(this is running)

We huddled into the yacht club restaurant which the manager held open serving hot drinks to harbor workers. The cooks gone, we ate 6″ pepperoni pizzas from the microwave. The taste of death averted, life given back.



Others were not so lucky.

Off Traverse City, Michigan at least one boat capsized. Four people drowned in the storm, other cruisers were washed ashore as they lost control. Damage was extensive to ports such as White Lake. Boats moored at the harbor were lifted onto docks and run aground on shore. Boats arrived by US Coast Guard tow all night, with harrowing tales of survival. Others had to be salvaged from beaches.

But we survived. Maybe it was the training by Mr. Morgan. Maybe it was the skill by which our parents sailed the boat. Maybe it was right-place-right-time. Maybe it was practice. Maybe it was the boat itself.

Sometimes it’s just your lucky day. And we were glad to take it.

(Faith at her current home in Everett, Washington)

(Faith at her current home in Everett, Washington)

How To Run 50 Miles (part II)

(cliff young is one of my heroes. he was 61 when he won the 544 mile ultra race in Australia and changed the way modern runners run distance)

(cliff young is a hero to me. he was 61 when he won the 544 mile ultra race in Australia and changed the way modern runners run distance races)

Running far means being on your feet for a long time and eating right.

Using the tricks I’ve discovered over years of training I can run about 30 miles any time I want.

The two keys are: Nutrition (what you eat) and Conditioning (how you get and stay fit).

Not all food is the same. Not all conditioning will prepare you the way you need.

Most people overemphasize their training and underemphasize their nutrition. It’s almost better to do the opposite so let’s start with food.

1. no more than 300 calories per hour; avoid sucrose aka Gatorade, Powerade, junk food, and so on
2. no more than 16-20oz water per hour
3. you need electrolyte supplements if you are prone to cramping or are exercising past 2 hours
4. you need to take in protein supplements if you are exercising past 2 hours or your body will cannibalize itself

(I only use hammer products because they keep my stomach calm, taste good and work)

(I only use hammer products because they keep my stomach calm, taste good and work)

Specifically, I use Hammer Nutrition supplements. I use them exclusively because they use long-chain carbohydrates that do not upset my stomach in flavors that are easy to digest, and they explain each of their products so you can tweak your intake to specifically what you need. Everyone has their preference and I’m not compensated by them in any way.
The products I use from Hammer are: HEED carb drink with electrolytes, Perpetuem protein fuel, Endurolytes electrolyte pills, Hammer Gel energy gel (with electrolytes) and Recoverite recovery drink.

This is how I fuel (based on time, not distance):
1. runs up to 1 hour: 1-2 Endurolytes prior, generally nothing while I’m running unless I just feel crappy that day in which case I’ll take 8-10oz water with 1/2-1 scoop HEED mixed in
2. Runs up to 2 hours: 1-2 Endurolyte pills beforehand then a 16-20oz water bottle with 2 scoops HEED; if it’s a tough 2-hour run I’ll take 2 water bottles (each with HEED) and carry 6-9 Endurolyte pills – 3-4 per hour (1 every 15-20 minutes); if it’s hot, I’ll take 12-15 Endurolyte pills (4-7 per hour with a couple extra in case I drop them)
3. Long runs of 2+ hours: 1-2 Endurolytes ahead of the run; 16-20oz/hour in a camelbak or I’ll plan a run past a water source where I can fill up. Along with this I’ll take a multi-hour bottle of Perpetuem: mix 1-2scoops perpetuem + I mix in 1scoop HEED per hour of exercise (3 hours would be 6 scoops Perpetuem + 3 scoops HEED mixed together for me) and add water. This will be my fuel source for long runs – a single thick gooey bottle of running food, then 16-20oz of pure water (48-60 oz for 3 hours) from a Camelbak. On top of this I’ll plan 4-6 Endurolytes per hour or 12-18 Endurolytes for a 3-hour run + a few extra in case I drop some along the way (inevitable when you’re juggling them as you run down a steep trail).

1 hour – 1-2 Endurolytes + 1/2 bottle of water mixed with 1-scoop HEED
2 hours – 1-2 Endurolytes prior + 1 bottle per hour containing 16-20oz water + 2 scoops HEED; 4-6 Endurolytes per hour (1 every 15 minutes, more if it’s hot)
2+ hours – 1-2 Endurolytes prior + 16-20oz water per hour in a Camelbak + a bottle filled with 2 scoops perpetuem + 1 scoop HEED for every hour planned (3 hours = 6 Perpetuem + 3 HEED scoops in the bottle mixed with water to form paste + 48-60oz water in the Camelbak I use to wash the paste down and sip frequently)

This food model is scalable, so just adjust it to the length of your run and your personal needs. Some people can run for two hours without drinking anything. I am not one of those people and you shouldn’t try to be. It’s dangerous, especially when you’re considering ultra-marathons. You might feel good one hour and completely blow up the next.

Also important: as soon as you finish a 2 hour run or longer, you need to take vitamins right away. I used to get sick when I was training hard because my immune system was compromised. Taking vitamins post-run will help recharge your body and protect your immune system. A single big general supplement is good or you can buy vitamins from Hammer.

And I always drink Recoverite after any run. Replaces protein and muscle glycogen that will prep you for the next run. This is critical and shouldn’t ever be skipped. If you skip a recovery meal it’s likely your next run will be harder and more painful.

As for the actual running part…

When was the last time you were on your feet for 10 hours nonstop? It’s probably been awhile. So we have to start small when we’re training for an ultra and this is how we start. Start standing up for 3 or 4 hours. You can start by going for a long walk (time, not distance). Anything to get you on your feet.

Once you can stand for hours at a time start jogging. Walk, jog, walk, jog, walk, jog.

Set the bar low, then build it up once you have a base.

Actually, this is the key to finishing ultramarathons that few people talk about. Until you’re ultra-conditioned to run for 50 straight miles, the way to do an ultra (and any other longest distance run as you’re starting out) is to avoid redlining.

You avoid redlining by jogging flats and downhills and walking uphill or walking any time you feel like you’re starting to overexert. The key to going far is going slow.

As my pro athlete friend Chuck once told me “go slow to go fast.” And I say “go slow to go far.”

Once you can do that, you switch it so you are running while taking walking breaks whenever you need to: jog, walk, jog, walk, jog, and so on.

Once you’ve got that, you start running, slowly, for short then longer runs.

Once you can do this, you start running short and fast, then mixing in really slow long runs. This builds muscle and endurance. The skyscraper on the foundation.

Running short-fast sets followed by running long-slow sets is the training method we’ll use to build your foundation.

After doing this for a few months, you’ll be ready for anything.

So here’s the specific program I follow when I’m training for a long race:

During the week I hate going on pre-planned long training runs. It’s hard to find the time and it’s boring. I’d rather have fun with running, so here is the in-week plan:

Go outside or to a trailhead and just run at a moderate pace (for you) for 15 minutes to wherever you end up. Note exactly where you end up and remember it. You should be working a little bit but not stressing the distance or overexerting. This 15-minute distance point is your new benchmark, and around which your running plan will be built.

Turn around and run back to the start. This should be about 30 minutes of running total.

On weekends, we’re going to do subsequent longer, slower runs consecutively both Saturday and Sunday.

So your plan will look something like:
Tuesday – 30 minute(ish) run
Thursday – 30 minute(ish) run
Saturday – long run
Sunday – long run

That’s it. This is where you start.

Your weekly runs (Tuesday/Thursday) don’t change in length, but they do change.

Once you have your 15-minute benchmark, you are now going to stress yourself on these short runs.

You will run these short runs for speed.

Every Tuesday and Thursday you’re going to do the same run. But you’re going to do it as fast as you can on the way out. On the way back you can run at a slow recovery pace, but try to go a little faster than that.

You will find that your 15-minute mark actually drops to 14 minutes, then 13 and even 12 minutes one-way and your total 30-minute run drops to 25-27 minutes total as you get faster.

Why? This builds strength, power and your VO2 max (lung capacity). And as your weekend distance runs increase you will be going out tired from the weekend run and stressing your body on these short, but hard runs.

Also, this becomes a palatable running program that doesn’t force you to run for 3 hours after a long day at work or when it’s dark. You can run in the morning before work, at lunch or whenever is convenient.

Just be sure you’re running as fast as you can to your original marker along the same route, then back to the start. It will feel very hard.

If you travel a lot, you can still do this program during the week while you travel. Just use the 15/30 minute run as a guide – run as hard as you can for 15 minutes sustained, then turn around and run back at a slower recovery pace.

You can also use  a treadmill with the same program.

As your base builds, you build your weekend distance:
Saturday – 1.5 hour run
Sunday – 1.5 hour run

1 month in:
Saturday – 2 hour run
Sunday – 1.5 hour run

2 months in:
Saturday – 2 hour run
Sunday – 2 hour run

3 months in:
Saturday – 3 hour – 3.5 hour run
Sunday – 2 hour run

4 months in:
Saturday – 5 hour run
Sunday – 2 hour run

By the time you reach a 6 hour run on Saturday you’ll be at about the 60% distance (30-31 miles or so) that is long enough for you to be ready for the Ultra.

It’s important to rest. If a weekend comes and you feel totally destroyed, drop down to consecutive 1-hour runs, do a really slow long run or even take a day off. Recovery is crucial and risking injury can sideline you from your goal.

You’re also allowed to use the run-walk strategy during training. It’s likely the first month that 1.5 hour runs on consecutive days will be very hard for you, especially through the mountains or hills. In that case you jog (slowly) flats and walk anything uphill. OR, you jog until you feel tired, then walk until you feel better. Just keep repeating the jog-walk-run strategy as you progress.

And don’t beat yourself up. The goal is to finish, not to break a record. There are no additional points for suffering.

Put it all together and you get short, fast runs during the week building your power and then long-slow runs on weekends building your endurance and teaching you what your body needs and when it needs it.

You will start “feeling” your muscles craving food and electrolytes and you will see what the effect is of various caloric intakes.

Most importantly, listen to your body. My guide is just a reference. If you’re cramping more than you should, bonking or feeling tight in your legs: increase electrolytes and carbs during your run. If you’re feeling bloated or salty, reduce electrolytes or food. Tweak slowly and look for the response.

Don’t run through injuries and remember why you’re running. It should be fun, not torture (sometimes torture is fun, but be smart).

(overtraining is a serious problem. go slow to go fast. go slow to go far. go slow and have fun. don't overtrain)

(overtraining is a serious problem. go slow to go fast. go slow to go far. go slow and have fun. don’t overtrain)

This plan will get you ready for your first 50-mile ultra marathon and it works for other endurance events too.

Let me know how this works for you and if you have any “tweaks” I’d love to hear about them.

Oh 1 more thing: use sunscreen always, wear a hat with a bill to protect your face, get some arm warmer sleeves that peel away, invest in a good thin running shell and always have a great playlist – those runs can get boring after a couple hours. Email me or add a comment below if you want my gear suggestions.

That’s it. Have fun. Go run. Stay healthy.

(I run in Altra zero-drop shoes exclusively. wide toe box and zero-drop is comfortable and prevents injury. these are not minimal shoes, but they do help you run naturally)

(Lastly: I run in Altra zero-drop shoes exclusively. wide toe box and zero-drop is comfortable and prevents injury. these are not minimal shoes, but they do help you run naturally)

0 to 50

0 to 50*

(50 miles of bliss: this is where you run the Leona Divide)

(50 miles of bliss: this is where you run the Leona Divide)

“Oh shoot.” She yelled.

Mom’s white knuckles twisted the steering wheel violently. Everything went black.

Restrained by the lap belt, my upper body swung forward. My left arm, encased in plaster, swung directly into my face. The cast broke my nose and left shoulder simultaneously. My right arm punched the dashboard and broke instantly above the wrist. My eyeglasses flew off and everything was blurry. Red droplets fell from my nose and popped as they hit the white plaster cast. Red streaked my t-shirt as I went into shock.

We were hit by a drunk driver attempting an illegal pass. It was 5PM, she bar-hopped since 11AM.

I woke and slept unaware of day or night in the intensive care unit of Northern Illinois Medical Center. Everything was hazy. It wasn’t until 5-days later I received a 2-pint blood transfusion (1/3 my body’s capacity) that I woke fully. I was moved to the pediatric ward and spent 6 weeks isolated in my bed..

My left arm fused at the elbow, left humerus stunted from the broken shoulder, and my right arm was thin and weak in its cast. My leg muscles atrophied from all the time prostrate in bed. I could no longer walk.

I was at Zero.

Unaware laying in the hospital bed I never considered that I couldn’t walk. I grew up outside in rural Illinois, rode my bike to school, built half-pipes and climbed trees. Walking was assumed. I did not understand how my legs no longer worked.

Walking became my singular focus. I learned again like a child, one step at a time, every day for weeks in the hospital.

I spent a year in physical therapy , progress kept in a training log. My first results-measured training. It was a long process but I achieved an almost-full physical recovery, though emotional injuries endured.

Struggling in school the next two years having missed so much. I got picked on for my weakness. Replacing low social status in school with adventure, I focused my hyperactive, shy demeanor, into singular goals: earning a black-belt in karate, achieving Eagle-Scout, ski racing, and, skipping two years of high school finishing college at the University of Montana with two degrees before I could legally drink. I trained, obsessively, as a climber and pushed my limits.

I redpointed 5.12’s, a hard rock climbing grade, always pushing harder, at one point leading the Western Montana Mountain Rescue Team on the first successful recovery mission with another teammate. I combined climbing with endurance training, doing peak marathons with my friend Chuck. Each goal got riskier. Success was fleeting, perpetual and elusive.

The impact of decelerating from 50 to 0 reverberated throughout my life. I was changed forever by the Cub Scout den mother who drank too much.

But we were lucky.

More than 47,000 Americans were killed in car wrecks in 1988. 3 million people on average are injured in crashes each year according to the NHTSA.  Almost 341,000 receive permanent, incapacitating injuries, not to mention unmeasured, debilitating psychological inflictions.

In August 2008 I entered the Mt. Baldy Run-to-The-Top, a Southern California race. I was hardly running but trained for 3 weeks and finished a decent 1h38m on the 8 ¾ mile, 4,000 ft elevation gain course.

On the drive home I wondered.

I’d done triathlons, raced XC mountain bikes and adventure-raced, but I could only think of an ultramarathon. I wanted a 50-mile, kick-my-ass ultra. This became a metaphor for the last 21 years: how I faced every goal in my life.

The Leona Divide is a 50 mile race with total elevation of 9,500 feet. I looked at the website daily and studied the elevation profile. Huge spikes and valleys kept me motivated, so I planned.

(this is what a kick-your-ass ultramarathon looks like)

(this is what a kick-your-ass ultramarathon looks like)

An ultra is a mentally and physically demanding journey. It requires constant nutrition and pace calculation.

The 50 mile plan became a symbolic capstone from learning to walk again.

I went from 0 to 50 and it changed my life.

I trained using what I learned alpine climbing: I combined speed running for strength, weekday runs averaging 4.2 miles, with weekend endurance running up to 31 miles in terrain similar to The Leona.

I trained alone.

Previous experience and common sense defined my training:

1. Nutrition
2. Recovery
3. Mileage on terrain
4. Speed & Endurance

My longest organized run prior to the Leona was 8 ¾ miles. My longest personal run was 31 miles.

I focused longer runs in the Santa Monica Mountains. The plan gave me elevation gains/losses similar to race conditions. This strategy paid off by knowing my thresholds and avoiding redlining.

I filled my training runs with constant nutrition calculations and iPod earbuds.

My approach to nutrition was simple:
a. <400 calories per hour intake with no refined sugars (sucrose, glucose)
b. 30% replacement hydration, soy-protein enriched supplements for exercise longer than 2 hours
c. electrolytes to avoid cramping and B6 to prevent exercise-induced depression
d. recovery meals combining whey protein and glycogen. This prevented energy peaks and valleys, and sped recovery.

I let go of my training schedule as a law and used it as a guideline letting my body define its recovery.

By two months prior to the race I ran 30 mile training loops with 6-8K elevation gain/loss improving my speed but I was stuck in training mode. I needed optimal recovery and race day performance. I needed team advice.

I called Tracy and Chuck, two world-class athlete friends that gave me the same advice: taper carefully while running during the week prior to the race. The strategy provided recovery time, optimal muscle glycogen, and kept me race-ready.

The race began at 6AM, about 60 miles from home. I woke up at 4:46 and freaked thinking I’d just blown it.

I arrived just 8 minutes late, I started the race, dead last with feet wrapped, drop bags in place, nutrition loaded and iPod ready. I started the 174-track playlist and started up the first hill – a 700 foot climb over 4 miles, Pink Floyd’s Animals kept me calm and focused.

The sun was at the angle that turns the dry desert valleys into ovens. We ran up and down like broiler chickens roasting. I passed several people suffering heat exhaustion so I leveled my pace to avoid overheating. A blister popped in mile 37. A minor issue and far from hydration, heat stroke, digestive, or structural injuries that can debilitate and cause a DNF or worse. The roughest miles were 42-48, climbing 1,100 feet in a baking valley with a taunting blister. The iPod luckily launched into a favorite Foo Fighters set and I cranked the volume, found solace in the pain and gulped fluid.

I finished the LD 50 in 10:53:10, qualifying for the Western States 100.

The Leona Divide changed me. I’d competed against the clock in a sanctioned event, exceeding my own expectation.

(gratuitous picture of a picture of myself throwing a shaka while running the LD50. hanging on Mom's kitchen wall. thanks MOM)

(gratuitous picture of a picture of myself throwing a shaka while running the LD50. hanging on Mom’s kitchen wall. thanks MOM)

Reflecting on my path over the last 21 years and its relation to my most recent finish, Chuck sent some encouraging words:

“I warn you now – you have started a very crazy cycle where each accomplishment is judged by the previous one.  Each time you have to go bigger and better to see what your body can accomplish.  Welcome to my world… Walk the path grasshopper but know that it never ends for guys like you and me.”

I guess everyone has their own “50”: that one thing they dream of doing that they believe is out of reach. I imagine for most it is anything scary, testing your own capabilities to learn that you’re more capable than you think.

Some of us seek our gifts in the outdoors, pushing our limits in the raw environment to commune more closely with nature’s beauty, and to unlock hidden mysteries within ourselves. I just bought a surfboard and found my new “50” in the waves of the Pacific. Thanks to the Leona, I feel less fear and more calm as I paddle out into the twilight towards my new “50”.

*part of this post appeared in a 2010 issue of UltraRunning Magazine; this is the full, unedited version

What To Do When Your Father Is Murdered

(chicago in 1928 was the site of war between capone and moran)

(chicago in 1928 was the site of a bloody liquor war between capone and moran)

My grandmother begged him to carry a gun but he refused.

My grandfather sat outside in the car. My great uncle Frank went into their store to check on business.

It was warm and humid just before 11:00pm, July 13, 1928 on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago.

A car pulled up from behind. Two men got out. The driver stayed in. The car tailed them from the Union meeting earlier that night.

They approached grandpa’s car, one on each side.

Guns were pointed into open windows.

Frank and grandpa together owned shops in Chicago. Whisky was delivered from Canada to Saugatuck and run into Chicago where it was marketed in their windows as “Ice Cream”. The shops sold a lot of Ice Cream.

(it said "ice cream" but everyone knew it wasn't)

(it said “ice cream” but everyone knew what it was)

At 33 my grandpa was a business owner, and considered running for a position in the Union, a powerful influence in The City. Many thought he was not yet powerful enough. Some thought he could be too powerful if he won.

He was 5’6″ and people said he was “handy with his dukes.”

A couple kids tried robbing one of his stores once. They did not see him behind them as they backed out, guns drawn. He grabbed their necks and cracked their heads together, knocking the bastards out. When they came-to he told them not to mess with his stores. If he heard about them doing it again, he wouldn’t be so nice.

It may have been petty theft, but the mob was shaking down every speakeasy in the city for their cut. “Robbery” was another term for the mob tax. The kids were collectors, but grandpa still believed in people. He let them go.

He believed anything was possible with enough work and enough courage. The fighting Irish attitude. He was a family man with 3 kids and a young, beautiful wife. He may have sold whisky, but he didn’t drink. He was building power. He had everything to live for. But that made him a target and a victim of 1920s Chicago, likely Bugs Moran’s North Side Gang.

(i believe bugs moran ordered the hit on my grandfather because he wouldn't pay the mob tax)

(i believe bugs moran had grandpa killed for not paying the mob tax)

The men fired more than once. A shotgun and a revolver.

Blood sprayed the car interior and soaked the seat.

They fled.

Frank ran out of the store. Without stopping he pushed grandpa off of the steering wheel and across the bench seat, jammed the car into drive and sped to the hospital.

There was little hope, but when you’re Irish and Catholic you live on hope and prayer. Uncle Frank drove and prayed. I’m sure he swore, too.

Only a miracle could save him.

But there were no miracles, just bullets and blood and the heat escaping the sewers, pavement, bricks of the buildings, and the body of my grandfather.

Newspapers across the country carried the story. The young Irishman from Chicago was dead.

As a child, I was always embarrassed of our father. He was older than the other dads. His hair was beaming white and he spoke loud, laughed louder and everyone thought he was our grandfather. He was twenty years older than our mother.

I grew into appreciating him and learning his important lessons.

He taught us to shoot guns, field dress game, chainsaw trees, fix cars, sail The Great Lakes in a squall and have proper manners at dinner. When we reached a certain age he brought out relics of his past and shared stories. The stories helped us understand history, our family, and him.

His stories usually involved Cahill, Murphy or County Mayo.

He was a child of the depression. We knew he grew up without a father. He joined the United States Navy and served in World War II underage. The Navy prepared him for his life ahead and a confrontation with his anger and loss. He had an Irish temper.

(dad was an expert rifleman in wwii)

(dad was an expert rifleman in wwii)

In 1945, my father approached grandpa’s best friend.

“Can you tell me everything you know about my father’s death?”

“What do you want to know?”

“I’ve been to war and I’m a heck of a good shot. I want to get even with the men who killed him.”

The Friend leaned back in his chair and did not blink for a moment.

“I have to go to the safe deposit box. Can you come back tomorrow at the same time?”

The friend was of some judicial power in Chicago and knew things, had connections.

Dad went back the next day and The Friend had an envelope.

The envelope was old. It had my father’s name on it.

“I’ve been waiting for you to come to me, Joe.”

Inside were newspaper clippings from 1928.

One article was about grandpa’s death.

Another was about two bodies found with coins in their hands, dumped in an abandoned neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.

The Friend said “Joe, you don’t have to worry about something like that. Your father had many friends.”

The Friend told him they knew who’d done it. The friends staked out the wake of another hoodlum and picked the two up as they left.

It was the same two grandpa let go.

My father felt anger and relief. Relief that it was handled. Anger for many reasons. It’s hard to let go when you live with hurt.

He would have to live without a father. He would have to pave his own way. He would have to build a new direction: life after death.

(the illinois institute of technology is cutting edge)

(the illinois institute of technology, chicago)

He went to the Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s South Side and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering, going on to a long career as an engineer.

He flew millions of miles in prop planes in the ’50s and ’60s, doing business throughout North and South America and Europe. He built components that helped launch astronauts into space and other things like pitot tubes that measure aircraft speed on every airplane.

He invented products for the ceramic wire industry and founded Equipment Sales Company, still operating today.

He bought a sailboat from an old family friend named Bill Morgan who claimed to have been a deckhand on a pirate vessel in the Caribbean in the early 1900s. Dad learned to sail from Bill and eventually met our mother while sailing.

(our sailboat Faith in ft bragg, ca (a whole other story entirely))

(our sailboat Faith in ft bragg, ca)

He is the father of 7.

He’s an 87 year old bladder cancer survivor.

Get him going and he’ll tell you Irish stories, sing Irish songs or embarrass you with crass jokes that makes NSFW* look like a rated G movie.

He acts like a man 30 years younger and is a wonderful grandfather.

He’s a lover of people who can’t resist a Guinness or a sip of Irish Holy Water.

(irish holy water)

(irish holy water)

So what do you do when your father is murdered and you have to live as a fatherless child, Irishman, older brother, husband, father, WWII veteran, engineer, inventor, cancer survivor and grandfather?

You let it go.

You live.

(grandpa joe, 2013, living every day)

(dad, grandpa, 87 in 2013, living every day)

*nsfw = refers to any image, language or otherwise that is “Not Safe For Work”
(credit to Erin Voss, Sean Faul, and our Dad Joe Faul for helping me wade through all the information and get this story to be accurate. there are a lot of details missing, but we’ll save that for the book)