Wednesday, December 31, 2014


She was the dog that was supposed to live forever.  However, this was the only command she would disobey.

I found “Z” at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Phoenix, Oregon.  Along with her brothers and sisters, she had been left in a cardboard box along a city curb.  It was love at first sight…Wrapped in a pink and white striped knitted blanket, she remained in the back seat of the car on the way back to my home in Ashland, Oregon.  That would be the last time she’d ever ride back seat.

She was named after Zoroaster Temple, a tall rock monolith located just east of Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon.  Anyone who's looked over the Canyon's edge or trampled down its trails has seen it.

I placed Zoroaster in small metal kennel the first night in her new home, but she cried for hours and hours.  I relented, opened the kennel door, and she crawled into bed with me.  That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.  From that day forward Z slept, ate, ran, walked, worked, and drove by my side.  A leash was a seldom-needed tool (to the chagrin of many) and used only to make others who didn’t know Z feel more comfortable.  She was like Velcro to my side.

I worked at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland at the time and Hal Koerner, the running store’s owner, was a true dog lover.  Z came to work with me everyday, even while being potty trained.  And while Hal loved dogs, he also loved a clean store.  I know Z and I tested his patience more than once with the accidents that would occur while I was busy with customers.  This is where I believe Z learned her social skills.  Store employees lauded over her and she greeted every patron with a bark and wag of her tail.  As I plundered the back storage rooms looking for shoes she would keep the customers distracted up front.  We made a good team.

Z and I made the move to Flagstaff together.  She helped pack and unpack our belongings and then patiently watched me develop as a running coach, writer and race director.  She loved Flagstaff and its people.  Before they knew my name or story, people would first come to know me as the guy with that awesome black and white dog. 

Water is a rare commodity in this desert mountain town, but Z knew where all the water holes were.  When we’d run far into the mountains during the monsoon season she knew which rock on which trail would hold the July rains the best in their nooks and crevasses. She had an uncanny way of randomly disappearing and reappearing soaking wet in even the driest of places.  She was a smart one.

Zoroaster logged miles…many, many miles with her father.  We criss-crossed the country on foot.  From the trails below Mt. Ashland, the high Sierra Nevada mountains of California, the rugged paths of Virginia’s Massanutten Mountains, the red rocks of Sedona, the shores of the Missouri River, to the lofty heights of Flagstaff’s Humphreys Peak.  She made her longest journey at this past year’s Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Training Camp when she covered 30 miles with me from Robinson Flat to Foresthill.  She made it look easy. 

She was my biggest and loudest cheerleader.  She was always disappointed that she wasn’t invited on race day and she’d make that perfectly clear at each aid station and finish line with her disapproving howl, “I wanna come with you Daddy!”  Yet she always waited for me.

Anyone who has met Zoroaster and driven with me can attest to this: She was always a front seat dog.  Anyone that rode shotgun was guaranteed to get a lap full of Z.  She was literally my co-pilot.

I guess the lumps started appearing this past July, but at only six years of age I couldn’t believe the turns that would follow. She ran her last real run on October 21st, 2014…a 10-mile loop on Observatory Mesa (one of her favorites due the number of mucky cattle tanks along the route) and we ran fast.  The surgeries and their subsequent recoveries were brutal on Z.  Then the limping started, then the swelling, and the whimpering and the inability to lie down comfortably followed.  She could no longer join me in bed and so I moved to the floor to be with her.  We lost sleep and cried together at night.  She spent Christmas Eve at the vet.  The deal was sealed a few days later after a visit with a dog oncologist in Phoenix, AZ.  I was shown the ultrasound and the tumors that had gained an irremovable hold in her lymph nodes and pressed painfully into her bladder and back.  I bought the chemo meds, but decided that my baby girl had endured enough and set them aside unused.

Yesterday, in the early morning hours, I drove Emily, Super Bee and Z to the Schultz Creek Trailhead, one of Z’s favorite runs, and parked the truck.  Z got out, smelled the base of a ponderosa and a clump of grass, and then laid down.  I coaxed her down the trail a few more feet, but that was all she had.  She was done.  We drove to the vet, the folks that she had always seen for her regular check-ups and the more recent battle with cancer.  You know your dog has left an impression when the receptionist begins to cry and her doctor can’t keep it together.  I held Zoroaster in the same pink and white striped knitted blanket I brought her home in back in Ashland six years earlier.  I thanked her, told her I was sorry and that I love her, and then watched as she took her last breath.  I looked deep into her big wide eyes and watched the light, the light that I loved, leave her body. 

Zoroaster will always be my Moment of Zen.  She will be with me forever, but my life will be eerily silent and lonely without her.  When her cremated remains are returned I’ll stir up a posse of those that enjoyed her company and head to the Dry Hills Lakes or the summit of Mt. Elden, two places that Z frequented a lot, and spread her ashes into the wind.  She’ll become a flower, a ponderosa, or just float on forever.

I am grateful for the support I have received during all of this.  I thank you all.  Friends and family have all come forward to help and, more importantly, to listen, just like you are now.  My good buddy, Justin Lutick, told me yesterday that Z has left me in good hands.  He’s right.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two Decades of Racing - The 2014 JFK 50 Mile

There we were, still parked in front of a coffee shop in Hagerstown, Maryland, at 6:15AM on this very frigid JFK 50 Mile race day morning.  We sat, heat blasting, but still shivering while waiting for the java joint to open its doors.  Had this been a race I'd never run before, had I been solo, or with runners I didn't know I suppose I'd have been worried about getting to the race on time or getting lost on the way to the start.  However, I was at ease.

I was surrounded by guys I'd logged hundreds of training miles with.  Josh Brimhall sat in the driver's seat.  Josh, owner of Red Rock Running Company, traveled from Las Vegas to start his third JFK.  James Bonnett, who flew in from Phoenix, was finally starting a race he's always wanted to run since he began participating in ultras at the age of 9.  I had just met Montanan Jim Walmsley, but after hanging for a night of pizza and beer I knew he was a kindred spirit.  In the adjacent parking spot Eric Senseman had his seat reclined and eyes closed.  Eric had just spent the past few months training in my hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona, and I enjoyed giving him the tour of our local trails as he settled in.

I'm no stranger to the JFK 50 Mile.  It was my first ultra in 1994 and I've returned every year since.  With the exception of a DNF in 2007, I've finished each year.  This year's race would be my 20th finish.  I've amassed 16 sub-7 hour finishes (a JFK record), 10 top-10 finishes, placed 3rd three times and 2nd twice.  Still, my course PR of 6:09:27 continues to be pushed from the top 50 performers list and I fear 61 seconds (the amount of time I was behind 2004 winner Paul South) is as close as I'll get to winning.  It's all good though...I'm honored that I've been able to become a part of this race's deep history.

61 seconds...see the little figure in the background.

So, yeah, I found myself composed and very happy to be here once again, among good friends, and getting ready to roll up South Mountain to the Appalachian Trail.

The race was a success.  Finishing my 20th JFK in under 7 hours was pretty damn sweet.  The adiUltra Team claimed the Team title.  We had come and done what we set out to do.  A special thanks to David and Cheryl Harrison (Emily Harrison's parents) for crewing me along the way and to JFK race director Mike Spinnler who continues to invite me back year after year.

Find the 2014 JFK 50 Mile results here.

Great coverage by Andy Mason in the Hagerstown Herald here.

More coverage on JFK's history by Matt Flaherty and Eric Senseman at Running Times here.

Now for some photos:

The 52nd JFK front line moments before the start in Boonsboro, Maryland.

Passing the miles among the rocks and leaves on the Appalachian Trail.

Running across the grass field at the Gathland Gap aid station (mile 9).

AdiUltra Team runner Jim Sweeney passes through Weverton (mile 15).

AdiUltra Team runner James Bonnett passes through Weverton en route to his first JFK finish. 

Just following the other guys' lead at Weverton aid station.

AdiUltra Team runner Josh Brimhall on the canal.  He'd end his day at mile 34 due to some wickedly painful Achilles tendonitis.

Refueling at Antietam aid station (mile 27) with the help of David Harrison.

Montana's James Walmsley comfortably puts in miles on the canal.

Phoenix, Arizona's James Bonnett finishes in 9th place in 6:22:36.

Walmsley wins his first 50 mile race in 5:56:31.

Getting high fives from adiUltra teammate Jim Sweeney near the finish line.

Just a few more steps to complete #20.

High fives to Bonnett and Walmsley.

20 finishes!

The 2014 JFK 50 Mile top ten.  adiUltra Team members Walmsley (1st), Sweeney (8th) and Bonnett (9th) collect their hardware with the other fast guys.

Team adiUltra wins the men's team title. (left to right: Bonnett, Torrence, Sweeney, Walmsley)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Torrence! Where have you been?

August was a busy month and September will be no different.  However, there is a brief pause in the action. With that, let's go down to the field and get a recap of the month that was.

August 2, 2014 - Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run

Oh sure, this 100 mile story is long, almost as long as the race itself, but let's not go there.  Join me on the trail sometime and we can discuss.  I'm just psyched that I'm a 2014 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run finisher.

In Wrightwood, Hal Winton points the way to Altadena for the 2014 finishers, all 92 of us.

On top of Baden-Powell.

Just running, for now.

Emily Harrison readying my pack at Vincent Gap.

Up and away.  Grinding into a climb I had forgotten about since my last AC100 outing...Mt. Williamson.

Andy Roth (pacer, crew and philosopher) suggests that my nap at Chantry has been long enough.

Emily concurs and dons her pacing vest.  It's time to catch that elusive 20th wind.

Crossing the line with Boise's Pearl Izumi athlete Tony Huff.  After 28+ hours, my 5th AC100 finish.

Larry Gassan's proper finish line photo.

August 12, 2014 - PepsiCo TransRockies Run 6-Day

Is there anything that compares to six days and 120 miles of racing in the Colorado Rockies?  Trust me...the magic wears off on, like, day four or five.  Six days of racing on steep trails at altitude wears you down.  Enter the PepsiCo TransRockies Run.  My second go at the event (2011 with Mr. Timothy Allen Olson), Emily's first...

This was cool for many reasons, but the biggest was:  Running six days with my confidante Emily Harrison.  Here we are finishing stage two over Hope Pass.

Storm clouds brewing over camp and Leadville, CO.

The final minutes before stage three which began on Harrison Street in downtown Leady.

The start of stage four.  From Camp Hale to Red Cliff and...

...Mangos!  IPA's and a breakfast burrito with fellow McMillan Running Coaches Jacob Puzey and Emily Harrison.

Getting stage five into Vail, CO done well.

Finishing stage six in Beaver Creek, CO.  Winners of the Team Open Mixed Division and losing the overall team title by a mere 12 seconds to Magdalena Boulet and Caitlin Smith.

Collecting the leaders jerseys one last time with second place Open Mixed Team Amber Monforte and Ryan Weibel.

Ran into freshly crowned Leadville Trail 100 Mile winner and fellow Flagstaffian Rob Krar at the awards banquet.

Thanks to Carey Martin for capturing me on Hope Pass.  Just an awesome photo!

August 23, 2014 - Gaspin In The Aspen 15K/5K/Kids Kilo

Nope, not racing this time.  I switched gears for the rest of August and pulled on my race directing breeches.  Gaspin In The Aspen was up first.  A special thanks to Kristin Wilson for the Gaspin race day shots you're witnessing below.

What can be said?  New Flagstaff arrival Andrew Benford smashes the Gaspin' course record and finishes in 51:31.

Emily Harrison successfully defends her 2013 title in 2014 and breaks her old CR and finishes in 58:26 and 5th overall.

True single track.

adidas Gazelle Trey Nash churns under the aspens.

300 runners excellent Gaspin' showing.

This is what it's all about.

Yurt aid station crew Justin Lutick and Chris Rennaker keep runners moving.

Jacob Puzey and Benford (wearing his prize Babbitt Ranch Pendleton blanket) at the finish line.

Runners, wearing their new Gaspin shirts, prepare for the course.

So freaking psyched this guy showed up.  2:11 marathoner and second American finisher at this year's Boston Marathon, Nick Arciniaga.

The start of the Kids Kilo.

August 31, 2014 - Arizona Trail Association North Rim Half Marathon and Tator Tot Trot

On to places far more remote and races much lower key.  However, when word gets out this event will surely grow leaps and bounds.

Five miles from Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim entrance station is where the Arizona Trail Association North Rim Half Marathon and Tator Tot Trot begins.  It skirts the east rim and travels across some of the gorgeous sections of the Arizona Trail.  Here Matt Nelsen (AZ Trail Association's Executive Director) and I give last minute instructions to a small but hardy crew.

Aid station volunteer wildlife.

Runners catching a drink at aid station one.

9000', aspen and fir trees.

A lucky rainbow seen from the east rim.

The winners of the seven mile "fun run."

Posing with our final and 15th place finisher Richard Vogt.

Start and finish line scenery.

Your Moment of Zen

Some of my favorite peeps and supporters framed by the remote and awe inspiring Ruby Mountains of Nevada.  My father, Emily, Lilly, Bee and Zoroaster.  You bet we could all fit into one pick-up truck!