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The Unlikely pacer

I was taking a leisurely stroll through the woods minding my own business, when a shirtless man with a white beard wearing a bib that said “pacer,” popped out of nowhere. He looked like the legendary man I had only read about in books. He introduced himself and indeed, it was the father of modern-day ultra-running. How did I get here?


TRT endurance runs 50k and 50 mile start

TRT endurance runs 50k and 50 mile start



After cheering on team mates John and Henri at the start of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Run at 6 AM, I started a solo hike through quiet woods with a plan for a nap and a date with my sandwich among the singing aspen trees and shimmering Marlette Lake. The TRT race is one of the hardest (if not the hardest) area trail race — an ultramarathon mountain race at altitudes of 7000 to 9214 feet, with rocky terrain and lots of climbs.  I had just flown into CA days before, and haven’t had anytime to really chill out since taking care of my dying Mom. No friends were available that weekend, so I started on my last-minute trek to the lake alone. After all the crowds and fanfare, I thought this would be a good place to clear my head.



The crazy period started last fall, when I begged my tough elderly mother to retire from her late night shifts at her urban, private medical practice, and at a mental hospital, respectively. One night she got mugged. Another night her car was stolen from outside of her office. On yet another night she called me while driving home to say that she was being followed. I urged her to drive to the police dept.  Then, the crazy year of 2014 started with a call on New Year’s Eve that she was in the hospital. She was in a car accident — she had hit a police car while having a stroke.

My life has been turned upside down since: her illnesses lead to the discovery of her advanced stage of cancer, taking leave from my work, having a long-distance relationship, my unsuccessful fight to move Mom to a hospice among the trees, the literal loss of my voice, her death soon after diagnosis, and now the great solo task of closing down her business and her home on the opposite coast. The stress has become a part of my daily life. I had stopped running  for over a month (any free time was for a bit of sleep), and just haven’t been running much since starting this insane flying between coasts to take care of my Mom and her business in Feb.

Perhaps the endurance running prepared me for the long, overnight shifts taking care of Mom, who could not rest from her intense pain and awoke every 5-10 mins. though she was on morphine. I took shift turns with my pregnant sister (who flew in with her son from their home in Hawaii). When Mom and I did not sleep the night, I looked forward to her going for her radiation treatments so I could take a nap and she could let go of my hand. The problem was that she never wanted to let go of my hand.

I was in my reverie in the forest for about five minutes, then a shirtless guy wearing a bib that said “pacer,” popped out of nowhere. He looked like the Legend I had only read about in books. He introduced himself and indeed, it was Him. I had no choice but to get off my lazy b___.  The Living Legend insisted on running behind me for a while, so I sucked hard on thin air and nervously complied. Later, I attempted to chase him when he sped up. He stopped occasionally to point out such things as a mountain or a grouse, which allowed me to catch my breath. He regaled me with stories (about counseling addicts,  alcoholism, being a chiropractor, Cowman, horse riding, power to weight ratios, dopamine, his last WS race, etc.) as we ran. His stories reminded me that I was out there battling my family’s addiction. I thought of how that addiction lead to the destruction of my poor mother, formerly a smart and successful person.

My mother was born in the countryside, surrounded by the Cordillera mountains. Her parents, who were part of the Philippine resistance, were on the run from the Japanese military during WWII. She moved to the lowlands as an adult. She generally lead a sedentary lifestyle until her death, despite all her travels, medical missions, and raising her children near the South Mountain Reservation. (However, I imagine an alternate reality in which she became an ultra runner, perhaps trekking the Cordillera Great Traverse.) I tried in her final years to make amends, encourage her to hike, do yoga, eat healthy foods, plan an intervention for her addiction with her friends, but I was too late in her lifetime. Slowly, with time, I will erase the illness from my memory with every footfall and every ascent. Today, I took pictures  on the trail, with my Mom’s camera-phone (which I have been carrying to inform people of her death). The pictures are of some of the places I wanted to take her had she actually lived to retire in CA, and been on the road to recovery.


Marlette Lake


The Legend inspired me to run past Marlette Lake — and beyond. We parted ways on the ascent to Marlette peak (where I walked with an injured runner-racer for a while to make sure she was alright). Before he left, I asked him, what is the lesson to your story? He said simply (something like):

“Keep going.”

Two of the most unlikely trail partners to meet on this earth.

Two of the most unlikely trail partners to meet on this earth.



My plan to hike an easy flat-ish ten miles was foiled. It turned into a ~19 mile trek: from Spooner Lake — Marlette Lake — Marlette campground — Snow Valley Peak* — last aid station (to cheer on John) — Spooner finish to meet and support John, and friends Remi, and Nu.
* This is the peak where I usually suffer from lightheadedness from thin air and altitude sickness.


Marlette Lake with Lake Tahoe in background


On the way to Snow Valley Peak







I couldn’t have dreamed of a more amazing day with great friends and volunteers, awe-inspiring natural beauty, and the Ultimate trail partner. I am so blessed to have my health and the angels around me through my life’s continuing, strange, beautiful and awesome journey. Hope you had a good rest of your run, Doc and thank you for the pep talk!

PS Runners, ask me if you want to know what kind of shoes the Legend was wearing and about the mysterious red drink in his hand bottles.  🙂



to my life partner John (55k), friends Henri (50mi), Remi (100mi)! Crew and ultra pacer Nu! You all rock, bravely meeting and surpassing your goals on a tough course, through heat, higher altitude, lightning, and nightfall. John beat his goal in spite of a sprained ankle from the previous weekend. Our friend Henri was one of the runners, who was stuck at Snow Valley peak huddled with a bunch of other’s in a volunteer’s car, waiting out the loud lightning storm. I’m happy you made it down safely and so very proud of you all. Blessed to know these fine runners and see their training progress over the years. Cheers.



The Legend of Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh and how he started the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run:

(It all started 40 years ago…)


Nuggets of wisdom for ultra runners from Dr. Ainsleigh and WSER veterans panel, 2013:


About Dr. Gordon Ainsleigh

Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance trail runs


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Why Filipino Americans do it better

Why Filipino and Filipino Americans do it better
and other findings on Filipino American health


I recently heard a disturbing story from my aunt, a nurse with a Bariatric surgery team in CA. She recently got injured from holding up the weight of the fatty flesh of a patient undergoing reduction surgery for hours. My aunt was prescribed pain killers, and is on indefinite sick leave. (It sounds like a scene out of a surreal indie film, not reality.) Obesity is an epidemic in the US. I knew that, but I never heard of the field. Bariatics is “a field of medicine encompassing the study of overweight and its causes, prevention, and treatment.”

I noticed many of my relatives had health problems and wanted to learn about the causes and solutions. I found that Filipino Americans as a group are at risk for obesity — along with conditions such as diabetes and cancer. Tita Loreta, my hero and a breast cancer survivor, recently alerted me to the alarmingly high breast cancer rate among Filipina Americans. Tita Loreta is a nurse, manager, and facilitator of a breast cancer support group at UCLA.

Research: The bad news

Here are some research findings regarding Filipino American health issues. Note the interesting comments on Filipino American males and females, respectively.

“Filipinos had the highest incidence and death rate from prostate cancer and the highest death rate from female breast cancer” among Asian American groups in CA, where most Filipino Americans are based.
Source: “Cancer Incidence, Mortality, and Associated Risk Factors Among Asian Americans…,” A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, American Cancer Society

“Filipino adults are 70% more likely to be obese as compared to the overall Asian population.”
Source: “Obesity and Asian Americans,” US Dept. of Health and Human Services

“Filipino immigration to the U.S. is associated with changes in eating patterns and tendency to develop eating pathology. Eating disturbances are important to examine since Filipino Americans show high rates of hypertension and type-2 diabetes relative to other cultural groups. Research on Filipino Americans has indicated a surprising gender difference in risk of eating pathology. Filipino American males show a pattern of eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction similar to that of White American females.”
(footnotes omitted)
Source: “Eating and Acculturation…,” North American Journal of Psychology

To add to this, there is the “colonization” of the Philippine culture by the food and pharmaceutical business. (I have observed that processed white bread, white rice, white milk etc. is often perceived and presented to be superior to the nutritious whole foods of the traditional Philippine diet.) I’ll save this topic for another time, since I’ve already presented an overwhelming amount of information.

Research: The good news

“Working as a plantation doctor between 1973 and 1976 on the Big Island of Hawaii gave me insights that saved my life and the lives of many others. My first generation Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese patients lived on rice and vegetables (foods they learned to love before they moved to Hawaii) – no dairy and little meat – and they were my trimmest and healthiest patients – no diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or prostate, colon or breast cancer. Their children and grandchildren, who were raised from birth in Hawaii, learned the American diet, and as a result became fat and sick.”
Source: “Logan Ginger,” Dr. John A. McDougall

Dr. Mc Dougall observed Filipino men thriving on vegetables, fruits, and rice. They had, what he describes as, “natural Viagra.”

“Men in their 70s and 80s were starting new families and demonstrating physical functions many American men only fantasize about after their 50s. These Filipino septuagenarians also expected to see their young children grow into adults, and they did. This virility and optimism was from their simple diets.”
Source: “Basic Nutrition from My Plantation Patients,” Dr. John A. McDougall

For Filipino Americans (and other populations) to thrive, Dr. McDougall makes a compelling case for nourishment from meals based on vegetable, fruit, and grains.

Related links
FiLipino American Vegetarian Association (FLAVA)

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