The Pikes Peak Ultra, The Mad Moose, And The Most Biased Race Report You’ll Ever Read

I’ll get to how great the Pikes Peak Ultra was in a minute, but first I have to tell you a story.

I knew something wasn’t right when the world seemed like I was staring down into an industrial-strength washing machine. Everything was spinning, and I certainly wasn’t in a laundry room; I was actually 15 miles into the 18 mile first stage at the 2009 TransRockies Run (TRR). My partner, Justin Ricks, must’ve detected my weirdness well before I did – my steps must’ve seemed off, my micro-route choices strange, and the rapid deceleration put the nail in my coffin. We had been trading second place with another team (the TRR is a partner race, run together, over 6 stages and about 120 miles total) on our first day, and my focus was so complete on running them down that I ignored the cold fact that I was a hot mess. I was dehydrated and flat lining. Quick.

Justin and I came together for the race at the last minute, a marriage of previous divorces, and as with second marriages, some accommodations are commonly made. While I brought plucky optimism and a scrappy spirit to the team, in this case, Justin was the stronger runner, and the local – meaning I’d have to run “up” to him – he’d be forced to exercise some patience, exceptionally difficult for perhaps the most competitive person I’ve ever met. He wanted to win so much he made Patton sound like Stuart Smalley.

And so it happened that with three miles left that day, the hardest charging guy I’ve ever laced up shoes next to forced me to walk to the finish out of concern for my health. And make no mistake, I felt shame and I’m pretty sure in my stupor I tried to talk him out of it. I’ve never asked him specifically, but I’m sure he felt it too – but he still made me walk. We dropped back to seventh place, way off the podium, and if that walk had a movie title, it would’ve been “The NeverEnding Story.” I was embarrassed for the both of us.

But the more important point is that as much as he wanted to win, Justin recognized my medical problem, forced me to walk, then eat, and the precise moment I stumbled across the finish line, pale white and covered with salt – Justin’s better half, his wife Denise, rushed over with salt caps, chips, electrolyte drink, and dumped cold water over my head (which she later admitted she enjoyed, immensely).

By any running measure, Denise and Justin Ricks are competitive, considerate, and compassionate folks that really care about a safe racing environment. And these just happen to be the characteristics that drive them as the race directors that manage Mad Moose Events in general and the Pikes Peak Ultra in specific – these three traits come through in their races and events. Let’s start with the Pikes Peak Ultra’s 30k, which I ran this past Saturday on the western edge of Colorado Springs.

Having just returned from an overseas military assignment in Korea (the south side), I arrived in the Colorado Springs area about two weeks before the race. I was looking for a challenging course and the Pikes Peak Ultra fit the bill as the USA Track and Field 30k Trail Championship. The route was tough but manageable, and while a lot of trail races that start amidst civilization and head into the mountains feature dead spots or long intermissions, the Pikes Peak Ultra has no weak spots. The course was designed with a competitive eye, by someone who knows the right balance between speed and summitry.

On that subject, the course was detailed. Well marked. Organized. Thoughtful. The website was clear and user friendly. The packet pickup was staffed appropriately and there were no lines. The shirt and hat they gave out will not become a giveaway. Every conceivable issue was considerately removed, so I could focus on a great run.

On the run, the competitors saw the Ricks’s compassion in an extension of themselves, via their volunteers (if you’re reading this, and you worked the race, you should know that you were all awesome and I appreciate your time and effort – muchas gracias!) at their well-placed aid stations. Moreover, Justin and Denise set up an extra water station at the last minute because the weather had recently been unseasonably hot (though it turned out to be a perfect weather day and we didn’t need it – as with gifts from toddlers, it’s the thought that counts).

Denise and Justin are exceptional race directors that somehow find the just right blend of competitive, considerate, and compassionate energy required to produce an exciting event. Even the pickiest trail runner will find themselves impressed by the style and substance you get for your dollar at a Mad Moose event. I’ll be back for the Pikes Peak Ultra next year, and the year after that, and continue to chase the Mad Moose beyond the confines of the Colorado Springs city limits.

Biased? Well, yeah. But let’s face it, I was a mess and Justin and Denise fixed me up with band aids and salt caps. And the rest of the story is even better – we recovered from our first stage blowout to finish fifth overall. Justin towed me the rest of that week through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.

Sign up for the next Mad Moose event, and he’ll do the same for you.


ML Cavanaugh is a US Army Strategist, a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and has served in assignments from Iraq to the Pentagon, and Korea to New Zealand. A Contributor at War on the Rocks, he looks forward to connecting via Twitter @MLCavanaugh.

This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.

Bill Gates on Self-Study


Bill Gates: It’s an inspiration that one person [Leonardo da Vinci] off on their own, with no positive feedback, nobody ever told him, you know, it was right or wrong. That he kept pushing himself. You know, found knowledge in itself to be a beautiful thing.
Gates scoffs at any comparison to the great Leonardo, but a look around his private office reveals a man equally obsessed with understanding his world.
Charlie Rose: Can I look at these? [Referring to a shelf full of The Great Courses DVDs and CDs]
Bill Gates: Sure. This is the weather one, “Meteorology.” My very first course that I watched was this geology course.
Charlie Rose: This is a whole series on the joy of science? “Mathematics.” “Philosophy in the Real World.”
Gates’ collection of DVDs contains hundreds of hours of college lectures that this famous Harvard drop-out has watched.
Bill Gates: The more you learn, the more you have a framework that the knowledge fits into.

When he’s on the road, Gates – who’s a speed-reader — lugs around what he calls his “reading bag.” When he finishes a book, he posts his thoughts on his website, “Gates Notes.”
Bill Gates: What I’ll do is, I’m reading these books.
Charlie Rose: Oh, look at that.
Bill Gates: I’ll take notes.
Charlie Rose: Oh these are your notes already?
Bill Gates: Right.
Charlie Rose: Look at this.
Bill Gates: I love to take notes on books. So I just haven’t written it up yet.
Charlie Rose: How long will it take to read all of this?
Bill Gates: Oh, a long time. Thank goodness for vacations. I read a lot.

Free Media Learning Opportunity: Sir Ken Robinson on teaching’s critical components ~ individuality, curiosity, and creativity


Sir Ken Robinson on education… 
There are three principles on which human life flourishes, and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to labor and most students have to endure.
The first is this, that human beings are naturally different and diverse…

The second principle that drives human life flourishing is curiosity. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners. It’s a real achievement to put that particular ability out, or to stifle it. Curiosity is the engine of achievement
The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing. Now, testing is important. Standardized tests have a place. But they should not be the dominant culture of education. They should be diagnostic. They should help.
And the third principle is this: that human life is inherently creative. It’s why we all have different résumés. We create our lives, and we can recreate them as we go through them. It’s the common currency of being a human being. It’s why human culture is so interesting and diverse and dynamic.

Education’s “Death Valley” ~ 

So I think we have to embrace a different metaphor. We have to recognize that it’s a human system, and there are conditions under which people thrive, and conditions under which they don’t. We are after all organic creatures, and the culture of the school is absolutely essential. Culture is an organic term, isn’t it?
Not far from where I live is a place called Death Valley. Death Valley is the hottest, driest place in America, and nothing grows there. Nothing grows there because it doesn’t rain. Hence, Death Valley. In the winter of 2004, it rained in Death Valley. Seven inches of rain fell over a very short period. And in the spring of 2005, there was a phenomenon. The whole floor of Death Valley was carpeted in flowers for a while. What it proved is this: that Death Valley isn’t dead. It’s dormant. Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about, and with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable. It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.
Great leaders know that. The real role of leadership in education — and I think it’s true at the national level, the state level, at the school level — is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility. And if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things that you completely did not anticipate and couldn’t have expected.

To cite: Ken Robinson. “How to escape education’s death valley” TED Talks: Education. April 2013. MP4.  [Note: Also available via audio].

A Marine On Military Leadership

My good friend, roommate and classmate at West Point, Ben Middendorf, was recently awarded the Leftwich Trophy for “outstanding leadership” by the United States Marine Corps.  He’s a Captain in their infantry branch – he cross branched from the Army to the Marine Corps upon graduation.  To be honest, I’m not surprised that Ben would receive such an honor.  He is and likely always will be a great Marine officer – it helps that he truly loves what he does.  But what struck me was what he wrote about receiving the award, which, I think, goes to why he (and his men) earned it.  This ought to be the sentiment of every military leader:
To everyone who has congratulated me on the Leftwich Trophy, I do greatly appreciate it, but I don’t deserve it. This award is not about me. This is about the 157 Marines and Sailors of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines and the other 40 Marines attached to us who fought the Taliban in 2012 in Northern Helmand Province, Afghanistan. 
This is about Lance Corporal Colton Carlson who demonstrated extreme compassion while conducting humanitarian relief in Japan following the 2011 Tsunami. Twelve months later he put on his own tourniquet after losing both of his legs to an IED. On his way to the MEDEVAC bird he said to his fellow Marines, “guys, my life isn’t over, it’s just different.” As we mourned I thought, where do we get such men?
This is about First Lieutenant Michael Rhoads, a Naval Academy graduate and outstanding artillery officer who was shot near the village of Lwar Jiljay during a gunfight with the Taliban. I was convinced he was going to die right in front of me on the field. Only due to the superlative actions of Sergeant Richard Elsie, and three outstanding Navy Corpsman: HM2 Nathan Bracey, HM3 Shane Datugan, and HM3 Eduardo Estrada, that Mike is still with us. He continues to serve the Corps today.
This is about Corporal Jeremy Correa and when he threw himself in the face of withering enemy fire multiple times to keep machine gunners resupplied with ammunition during one particular nasty gunfight, and the proper recognition that eludes him. We are trying to make it right.
This is about Corporal Douglas Corl, my radio operator who never left my side in my two and a half years of command. This is about the time we got stuck in cow pen covered in shit together during a firefight and laughed about it. 
This is about Marine infantryman faking the funk in the hours before a helicopter assault, pretending that you aren’t scared as you try to keep your mind occupied because you know that you are going to be in a gunfight in a few hours. This is about the night movements in areas saturated with IED’s, constantly thinking that your next step could be your last. This is about the sweepers, the point man for every patrol, day and night, who kept the Marines safe because they could read the terrain better than anyone else. This is about being in a gun fight and just having to take it, because the Taliban is trying to get you to take cover in an IED belt. This is about infantryman and tankers slugging it out during 15 days of straight combat in the little known village of Kesh Mesh Khan and getting out of there alive. 
This is about my squad leaders, whose trust means more to me than I could ever explain; they were my center of gravity. This is about the platoon sergeants who did more behind the scenes than I will ever know to keep the company running. This is about Gunnery Sergeant Richard Charley whose heart is even bigger than his gunny’s stash. This is about my officers, who know that it isn’t about the officers. I would follow any of them into hell with a water pistol. This is about a Marine whom I will never be able to repay, First Sergeant James Treadwell, who is simply the best Marine I have ever met. Every Company Commander thinks his First Sergeant is the best in the Marine Corps; the problem is that I’m right. 
This is about all the Lance Corporals and PFC’s, they did all of the work. 
This is about survival, overcoming the adversary of war, and the brotherhood that bonds a Marine Rifle Company in combat. The recognition mustn’t go to me, it must go to the men I was privileged to serve. I was not always nice to them, in fact I was often brutally harsh in training. I had zero tolerance for negligent acts of commission, and demanded what I consider to be the highest standard – to act like something different, better. I demanded that they act like a United States Marine, nothing more, nothing less. I needed smart, tough, compassionate, professionals, and they gave me everything they had. If you could have seen them in action, their selflessness would bring you to tears. I know because I cried.
I am beyond humbled to have led such men in combat. This award goes to them. 
Semper Fidelis, 
Capt Ben Middendorf

Free Media Learning Opportunity: Stephen Biddle on the Study of War and Military Victory

Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations and (at one point) the U.S. Army War College, sat down with Harry Kreisler at UC-Berkeley in 2006 to talk about his work in general and his book Military Victory in specific.  However, in conversation about his career, he gave an interesting response to a question about his intellectual interests:

Biddle:  Intellectually, I study strategy. I study the conduct of war, the outcomes of wars, the role of technology in war, recent combat experience. The difficulty for me is that unlike the workings of an economy, for example, or elections or other complicated social phenomena that have disciplines to study them, war does not have a discipline to study it – it lies on the seams of the way academia is organized. So if you want to study war, you have to either become a political scientist, or historian, or do public policy, and then pick this up as your particular subject matter interest. But there are very few people who approach the study of war as their primary interest, whereas for whatever reason, I have. 

Kreisler: So what are the skills required to do this kind of work? 

Biddle: I think the best skill set is diverse and multi-disciplinary. War is a complicated social phenomenon and to understand it, it helps to be able to approach it from different directions. One of the things that I liked about public policy training, for example, is that rather than teaching you to be good at anything in particular, it teaches you to know a little bit of a lot of different things. 

It helps to have a solid grounding in political science, of course, but it also helps to have an ability to handle mathematical modeling so that you can represent your ideas formally and think at a higher level of abstraction when you need to. It helps to have enough interest in the subject matter to have mastered the historical record involved.  It amazes me the number of people in this field who have no idea of the past record of military events that in many ways resemble those of today. So some combination of mathematics, statistics, political science, history, a certain amount of economics, a very eclectic background enables you to understand a complex multi-dimensional phenomenon better by looking at it from different sides

Kreisler: What about temperament?

Biddle: Certainly an analytical temperament helps. This is a deeply emotional subject matter. I mean, how can it be otherwise when it involves human suffering on a scale that this subject does. So part of just surviving in this job description very long, is an ability to take a subject matter that’s riven with human emotion and approach it in a relatively objective, relatively detached way…One of the great challenges in this field is being objective and analytical without being so bloodless that you lose track of the enormous scale of human suffering associated with the undertaking…[I think this] is important to doing the right thing, as well as reaching the correct findings, in a field like this one.

To cite: Stephen D. Biddle. “Military Victory in the Information Age” Conversations with History, University of California Television. Berkeley, CA. 17 April 2006. MP4.  [Note: Also available via audio].

Free Media Learning Opportunity: Snider on Future Trends in American Civil-Military Relations

Dr. Don Snider, a former professor of mine at West Point, gave a riveting lecture to the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia on 2 April 2011.  To be honest, I got a little carried away with the notes I took – I’m not sure if I’ve ever transcribed so much.  But this was great stuff, so great, in fact, that I might just assign it next semester for my course. The 55 minute lecture makes for a great once-around-the-world on the subject (followed by 20 minutes of Q & A).

(at ~23 minutes)
Professions deal in expert knowledge.  Systematized, scientific body of knowledge theoretical and practical, it takes years to learn, it takes longer to practice. The surgeon is an example. But this is not just for expert surgeons. A platoon leader on patrol in Iraq, with X number of people in their patrol, an immense amount of information. And, a convoy leader, an immense amount of information in her head. Expertise about weapons, logistics, troop leading procedures, medical procedures…

If it’s expert knowledge it takes lifelong learning – practice by humans.  What is the practice of the military professional?  Surgeons cut. What do military professionals do? The practice of the military professional – let me give it to you in one sentence – the repetitive exercise of discretionary judgment. That’s it.  The repetitive exercise of discretionary judgment. How many times will a lieutenant on patrol, a convoy leader, a helicopter pilot, how many times will they see a new situation, reason about it inferentially from the knowledge in their head, surveying a lot of technology all around them, and arrive at a decision? A judgment. Nobody looked over their shoulder, nobody told them what to decide, there was no computer that spit out the answer to them.  The military professional practices their art humanly, and it is the repetitive exercise of judgment, because most of the cases it is not a clear-cut, what should we do, even if it’s a two star general sitting in the Pentagon moving $30 million from this program to this program. Got all sort of print outs on cost-benefit analysis and all sorts of staff people telling them ‘well, you need to do this or this or this.’ And ultimately it’s a judgment. That’s what military professionals do…

And now the hard part folks. What’s the moral content of those judgments? Can you think of a judgment that a military professional will make that is not highly laced with moral content? If we define moral as meaning influencing the life of another human being. Someone who you are leading, the enemy, a non-combatant on the battlefield, or a family back home. Or the citizenry you’re defending. One of the great British writers in this field said there’s one thing a bad person cannot be, and that’s a good soldier.  The morality and the ethics of the military profession is crucial, folks, because of the nature of their professional work. Independent judgments of high moral content. And we need people in the military with the highest possible moral character so that more often than not those decisions come out as morally acceptable decisions.

What’s the measure of a profession?  There’s only one; there’s effectiveness. Of course you want your military to be efficient, but military professions are not concerned primarily or first with efficiency. I wanted the cancer out – I didn’t care what it cost. I would have paid every penny in every account I had to get it out, I wanted it gone. And I wanted assurance it was going to be gone.

The sinner wants absolution. The fearful want security. The sick want a cure. The accused wants justice before a bar. The purpose of a profession is effectiveness, not efficiency…

(at ~32 minutes)
Professions create their own expert knowledge. We have no history, in America, of a bureaucracy or a government occupation creating expert knowledge. If America is going to have the expert knowledge of fighting wars, you’re going to have to have a military that behaves like a profession.

Baghdad 2003, a brilliant campaign…decapitated the capital, occupied the capital. The same kind of expert knowledge displayed in that armor offensive that was displayed in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, when we kicked Iraq out of Kuwait. The same kind – brilliant.
And what happened for the next year and a half? An insurgency developed, and our soldiers on the ground and their uniformed leaders on the ground could not even recognize the insurgency let alone fight it. Why? One of the most embarrassing periods in the United States Army’s history, what happened? The United States Army had lost the expert knowledge of counterinsurgency. It had atrophied. We had no doctrine. We hadn’t been teaching it at our schools. There was not hardly an officer serving in Iraq at that time in the whole corps that had marched that had ever studied seriously counterinsurgency. Folks this an egregious case of the strategic leaders of the profession, failing the profession. What do you pay strategic leaders for? To look out five to ten years and say, ‘what expert knowledge must we have then, ‘ develop the knowledge, and then develop the humans to practice it. The good side of this story is that within the next year and a half, the doctrine was developed, the captains and major were introduced to the doctrine, the new units into theater began to understand it, and within two years we were effectively starting anyway to fight a counterinsurgency.

(at ~40 minutes)
What is the moral foundation of the soldier? See there’s two parts to the moral narrative that we have to create for the soldier. Why are we asking you as a nation to do what you’re doing – and, how may you do it? The why, under the old Just War tradition, just ad bellum, why are we going to war, why is this a just war? And then how are you to proceed? What may you do and what may you not do? What you may not do is offend the sensitivities of us, we are the client, we are the American people – we will tell you how you may fight this war…you cross the American people, your client, and you will get the back of the hand and they will move you mentally from the professional side of that chart to the government occupation side and now treat you just like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior.

Professions exist on the trust of the client.

(at ~48 minutes)
Now in this era of post-heroic warfare, which is what we were discussing at Oxford last week, the cosmopolitan view of civil societies is becoming much more prevalent. And here’s the change: there’s much less tolerance for state violence, greater concern for human rights, the international human right regime is  probably the most significant movement, the international courts of justice being part of it, the multilateralization of adjudication of conflict, greater scrutiny of law of war violations, and in many cases here, as George Lucas at the Naval Academy has argued in recently written so clearly, it is now the case that the behavior of individual soldiers is equated in the public’s mind with the justness of the war. This is the phenomenon of the ‘strategic corporal.’ It only takes a few people to do Abu Ghraib. And the justness of the war is now questioned because of the unjust behavior of the individual.

To cite: Don Snider. “Future Trends in American Civil-Military Relations.” Foreign Policy Research Institute. Philadelphia, PA. 2 April 2011. MP3.

Free Media Learning Opportunity: Journalist Sebastian Junger on Loss in Combat

Author Sebastian Junger gave an interview to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross on 18 April 2013 about Junger’s new film Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Times of Tim Heatherington.

Heatherington, a British photographer, became very close to Junger while they collaborated on the documentary film Restrepo, which Junger turned into a book simply entitled War.  At left, one can see the two at the Academy Awards show – soon after the show the two were to go to Libya together on an assignment for Vanity Fair.  Junger had a last minute change, Heatherington went on his own and was killed by shrapnel from a single (likely errant) 82mm mortar round.  Junger’s film is meant to be a tribute to his lost friend; the interview also holds great insight for anyone who spends their life in a way that touches war and warfare.  Here is a sample of his thoughts:

On war photojournalism (at about 10 minutes into the interview):
“If you’re putting yourself in danger [as a photojournalist] in combat – if you don’t keep recording what’s happening – you’re putting yourself in danger for nothing. It’s utterly stupid. And so it’s actually easier to keep rolling in combat because at least it gives the risk some meaning.”

On fear in combat (at about 11 minutes):
“You go into shock a little bit. You know, combat’s not that scary actually.  It’s scary beforehand. The anticipation is very scary – and, afterwards, the fear catches up with you. But in combat you’re really very calm.  At least I am.”

On war in general and losing his good friend in specific (at 33 minutes):

TERRY GROSS: “You’ve said that it’s not that traumatic to nearly get killed…but you’ve said that deep trauma comes from the pain of others, from losing others. Were you prepared for the trauma of losing Tim, for somebody you had been so close to, because you’d worked in war together..?”

SEBASTIAN JUNGER: “The times that I’ve been in real danger, I don’t think back on with any emotion. They don’t make me sad, they don’t make me upset.  It’s just a memory, right? The things that I think back on and get quite emotional about is when other people were hurt, and other people were suffering.  Tim’s death was a really deep shock and trauma to me. It finally connected in my mind the inescapable tragedy of war. 

And I know it sounds strange to say that, but when you go to war, you’re bombarded by so many different experiences and so many of them are meaningful, and intense, and even pleasurable. I mean, the camaraderie in a small group in combat is very pleasurable, you know the excitement in very intense. It’s a lot of good stuff that happens out there and stuff you can’t get back home. 

So it’s possible to miss the central point, which is: it’s all just actually tragic as well, and, when Tim died, that point was driven home in a way that I couldn’t avoid and ultimately didn’t want to avoid. And within an hour I decided not to cover combat again. I didn’t want to risk traumatizing everyone I loved by getting killed myself. 

I mean you go go war, you think you’re gambling with your own life and I realized that what you’re really gambling with is everyone else’s lives – everyone who cares about you. You’re dead, it doesn’t matter, it’s over, it’s everyone else who has to deal with it. I hadn’t really gotten that either and when Tim died I did and I also just ran headlong into this central tragedy of war which is that good people get killed and I sort of didn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore.”

A sample of Heatherington’s work:

Tim Heatherington did some fantastic work – below are two examples.  Junger describes one day in Afghanistan where Heatherington walked around getting shots of soldiers sleeping.  He had realized that nearly every war photo ever taken was of soldiers in full gear, looking mean, looking angry – and is certainly an important view.  But just as important is to recognize the humanity in these soldiers – that, for example, when they sleep they look as though they’ve reverted to being 10-year old boys at home on a bunk bed.  Amazing shots – what a great photojournalist.