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Originally published November 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 13, 2008 at 4:17 PM

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Superathletes share their motivations — and sweet rewards

Seattle outdoor jocks tell why they go to extremes, and share strategies for going the extra mile.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Strategies for goingthat extra mile

Brock Gavery share his tips to stay active:

• Take it step-by-step: If you have been inactive, start slowly and progress slowly in terms of pace and distance. Even if you're somewhat active, you need to find motivation so you can build upon what you're doing and be willing to make sacrifices. The motivation doesn't have to be a tangible distance or time, either.

"When I ran my first marathon I asked myself afterward, 'Why did I like that?' Well, it just felt good. Then I found trail running. I find running meditative."

• Planning trumps excuses: Each night, he puts his workout gear right by the door. It not only reminds him to exercise, but makes the choice that much simpler.

"I don't have to think about where my keys or wallet are. It's all right there. I set the coffee-maker timer so there's a cup of coffee ready and I can get out the door."

He finds it helpful to block a consistent time on his daily calendar and treat exercise time as an appointment as important as any other.

• Know your body clock: He gets up early because he likes to run early and will also take a midday run to clear the mind. He favors the first half of the day because he finds his motivation can wane after work. Try to figure out what works best for you and stick with it.

• Seize opportunities: Gavery often commutes between his home in Ballard to his workplace on Capitol Hill by running or bicycling. He figures the commute can be just as fast human-powered, so why not? It's multi-tasking efficiency.

• Open your senses: He was lured here from the Midwest by the Northwest's outdoor palette. When is the last time you veered from pavement?

Get your climb on

About 200 climbers of all ages will compete at Stone Gardens climbing gym's 13th annual Seattle Bouldering Challenge on Nov. 22.

Prizes will be awarded to first- through third-place finishers in six male and female categories: Youth (10 & under), Masters (35 & older), Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Open/Pro. Competitors may register the day of the event for $40. See www.stonegardens.com for more details.

Get ski and boarding conditions all winter long with webcams, snow alerts and more at seattletimes.com/snowsports

Brock Gavery insists there are times in which he lolls on the couch and zones out on movies and sports on his TV.

"I like being lazy," he says. "But I'm a big proponent of earning the laziness. Earning laziness means that after exercising and taking on challenges, the downtime is all that much sweeter."

Earning laziness for Gavery, a 31-year-old Seattle attorney, often involves long-distance wilderness runs, sometimes as extreme as a 36-hour "suffer-fest" he and his friend Sam Thompson took head-on about a month ago. Wearing headlamps and 20-pound backpacks, they set out to jog an 85-mile loop around Glacier Peak.

Running, as it turned out, was only part of it. Much of the trail had been wiped out by massive floods, so Gavery and Thompson sometimes could run only a quarter of a mile before having to crawl under or climb over downed logs or skirt around downed trees or brambles. Bridges were washed out, so they crossed rivers by tiptoeing across logs.

At one point, they misread a landmark and lost their bearings. Each encountered moments of nodding off while running before deciding a 20-minute nap on the trail was in order. And a bear on the trail stopped them for about 30 minutes.

A week later, Gavery ran, on a lark, the Portland Marathon with his wife, Mackenzie, in 3 hours, 19 minutes. The weekend after that, he climbed Mount David, which overlooks the Glacier Peak run route.

On Nov. 1 he hosted and competed in his second-annual 12-Hour Carkeek Park running event. The winner was the runner to complete the most laps on the 2-mile ravine loop, complete with just under 28,000 feet of total elevation change. He won it again, with 32 laps.

So while he may savor moments of laziness, Gavery, in-house general counsel for Caffe Vita, is part of a subculture we often call extreme athletes. They insist on going farther or higher or steeper or faster or in places most of us never consider.

Why he does it

Gavery sees it more as evolution than extreme. He moved to Seattle 12 years ago because he loves the outdoors. He started slowly, mainly hiking and kayaking, because they got him out in the wild. He joined races, running a marathon, then 50 miles, then 100-mile races. Now he organizes wilderness-running treks because they are harder and less-supported.

"In the typical 100-mile race you will have an aid station about every six or eight or 10 miles. And there typically will be friends and family yelling support, saying, 'You're awesome' and 'We're behind you,' " he says. "You take that for granted until you do something that is self-supported, where it is all on you.

"There is a little sadistic element, I guess," he says. "I went into this (the Glacier Peak run) knowing it was going to be a suffer-fest. I knew we might get lost. I knew we'd have navigation snafus, that there'd be downed trees and the trail would be a mess in places. I knew there'd be times on the run that I wished I wasn't there. But you prepare yourself."

Gavery and his friends who pursue outdoor challenges say they are not driven by risk, but by exploration, of both Mother Nature and their own potential.

Water torture?

Gavery also kayaks Class V rivers — Class V being the wildest. They're the kind of runs in which a mistake could prove fatal. That's how he met Seattle's Shane Robinson, a 35-year-old attorney who tackles extreme and remote rivers (and waterfalls) because they encompass the elements he most loves: scenic, unharnessed wilderness; a test of tactical skill; self-reliance; and full involvement.

Lately, Robinson has gravitated toward longer, more remote trips that require more days on the river after several miles of hiking or helicopter transport.

He describes the trips, as does Gavery, as equal parts adrenaline, effort and taking in whatever is on the horizon.

"I wouldn't say that the element of danger is part of the allure, but the need for focus definitely is," says Robinson, who chronicles his excursions with his partners at www.therangelife.blogspot.com and www.kamchatkaproject.org.

"When I am running hard rivers, the whitewater in front of me is the only thing I am thinking about. No cellphones, e-mails, to-do lists ... not even the drops downstream. I am just focused on the moment and the required tasks at hand."

Problem-solving

Fitz Cahall, 30, also of Seattle, mainly focuses on rock climbing, especially the sheer rock faces like El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite, or Liberty Bell at Washington Pass. Efficiency is paramount, and risk comes with the territory. He also likes how activities such as kayaking and climbing are more problem-solving than innate talent.

"In the outdoors, you don't have to be a great athlete to have a great story, and many of our experiences are quite similar," says Cahill, who maintains an online-radio show called "The Dirtbag Diaries (www.DirtbagDiaries.com), dedicated to stories from the outdoors. "You don't have to be (famed climber) Ed Viesturs to see the sunrise on Rainier. It's what makes us such a strong community here in Seattle."

Potential without limits

All three men savor the "I made it" feeling when the challenge is over, and none of them expects the average person to go to such extremes, especially without passion — or thought.

But Gavery believes people falsely limit themselves. In fact, he's writing a book with the working title of "Cigarettes, Whiskey, Fitness and You." The idea is that you don't have to be a fanatic to explore your potential.

"I'm not an Olympic-caliber athlete. I'm not built like a runner, and I don't have any special athletic gifts," he says. "I don't even see it as running. I see it as jogging. People read about ultra runners or marathoners and people say, 'I could never do that.' Well, you don't have to. You can find satisfaction and accomplishment with any level of exercise."

Inspiration for the book's title came from a woman who watched him, as part of his training, run up and down 300 steps near 10th and Blaine on Capitol Hill in 2001. He calls them "the death stairs," and she told him she could never scale them even once because she smoked. He told her, smoker or not, yes she could. Eventually, she went up and down those steps five times.

He earned a rest

Still, going up and down stairs is not the most fulfilling exercise. He and Thompson are planning a remote, self-supported 100-miler this summer, an unsanctioned Ironman triathlon this winter, a Mount Rainier climb and a 96-mile Wonderland Trail run.

As strange as it seems, Gavery has learned to respect downtime. He wound up with a chronic groin injury after running almost 5,000 miles last year. It forced him to take a few months off and spend more time cross-training.

"It was a result of my unbridled running. I was obnoxiously obsessive about it. Since then I have checked myself with the help of my wife. I do more cross-training, too. And I've learned the power of rest."

In other words, the power of earned laziness.

Richard Seven: 206-464-2241 or rseven@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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