Headlamp Reviews [Petzl, Black Diamond, Fenix]

Running headlamps reviewed - article and video reviews.

[Page Updated: 16 February 2018]

Here are some of our Video and Research Article Reviews for Headlamps runners can use for trail or street running.

At our sis, er site we have a huge 2018 Headlamp Buyer’s Guide covering the best headlamps made in 2017.

  • FENIX HP25 > this headlamp has a very bright center beam that can shine 100m or so. I find it near useless for looking for wildlife because the flood beam is so weak.
  • PETZL TIKKA RXP > this headlamp is great for close-in wildlife hunting, or tasks. The light isn’t bright enough for my taste, but it has a decent beam for walking or jogging at night.
  • PETZL NAO 2 > the best headlamp we’ve reviewed. This one has an update coming in September – the NAO PLUS (NAO+). We’re anxiously awaiting it.
  • BLACK DIAMOND REVOLT > sorry, this headlamp is just for people who need a reading lamp on their head to read a book in a tent. It is not in the same class as the other headlamps reviewed here. We had one and we were not happy with it. Don’t buy it!

Suunto Ambit2 R GPS Running Watch Arrives – Unboxing

Suunto Ambit2 R and Times Ironman

Happiness is replacing your old running watch with a new running watch. Until it all goes horribly wrong.

I bought this a couple years ago. Within the first 8 months I had problems. Here’s all about it:

Through the miracle of international shipping my Suunto Ambit2 R GPS running watch with heart rate monitor, made in Finland, arrived in Krabi, Thailand via United States Postal Service from Newton, Massachusetts this morning after purchase on Ebay nine days ago.

I have had Timex Ironman Triathlon watches since they first came out more than a decade ago. There is no GPS, there is no heart rate monitor, ambient air temperature, etc. It’s basically a stopwatch on my wrist that keeps track of my laps whether running, swimming, or cycling. The Ironman has served me well, but I’m way overdue for a serious upgrade. Lately I’ve been checking out the SUUNTO Ambit2 R running watches and finally I pulled the trigger on one last week when I found it for a good price.

As I write this, it is charging via USB from my notebook computer, and at 63% charge. I’ll do a full review, or a “Vern Review” in the next couple days, but just some initial thoughts, first impressions.

The SUUNTO Ambit2 R is HUGE. It’s a beast. It is a full half-inch wider at the face. The display is 3/8″ wider than the Ironman and about the same in height. The band is much thicker, and the watch sits higher off my wrist by about 1/4″.

The heart rate monitor sensor is HUGE. If you’ve been looking at photos of the Suunto Ambit watches and heart rate monitors, you’ve probably seen a photo of them that looks like this:

Suunto Ambit2 R HRM Strap

It’s a trick. The sensor on the heart rate monitor is NOT a fraction of the size of the face of the watch, it is in reality, BIGGER than the face of the watch at 2″ in diameter.

Comprehensive Review of Suunto Ambit2 R here.

Here’s my photo, minus the hocus-pocus:

Side by side comparison Suunto Ambit2 R heart rate monitor with watch.

So, don’t think you’re getting this little micro-sized sensor. It’s as big as a big piece of pepperoni. Mmm. Speaking of which… tonight is looking like a pizza night.

I digress.

After 25 minutes of charging, I’ve gone from 34% to 68%. I know I need not wait to play with it, but I’m stuck in that late 1990’s mindset where it was taboo to stop the charge before it got to 100% when you first purchase an electronics item. My mind won’t let me set it free from the charger clasp and play with it yet.

The information on the display is easy to read. It isn’t as easy as I hoped it would be. The info is not that dark. It isn’t anything like true black. It’s more like 70% black. One thing I’d hoped in buying this upgrade was that I’d be able to read my time very easily as I ran. With the Ironman watch it was quite difficult. The contrast just wasn’t there. The brightness of the light, just wasn’t there. I’m anxious to try reversing the background to black and the info in light color to see if it’s any better. If the light helps tremendously, I can get along using that. I just need to see the time instantly when I look at my watch, not hold it nine different ways to catch ambient light, or avoid reflections.

73% charged. Tick tock…

I just popped the battery compartment open on the ANT heart rate monitor and was surprised to find a battery in there. Nice.

74%.

Garmin has a very similar product – but probably better made overall.


More on why I chose this watch over some of the others in the Ambit series:

1. It’s black. I like black. I don’t want blue, lime, white, or pink. I don’t want silver on the watch face, I just want black.

2. The Ambit2 R is specifically for running. I don’t need a watch that works in the pool to record my heart rate. If I’m in a pool or the ocean, it’s because I’m trying to recover from a running workout, not trying to work out some more.

3. Cost. Even the older Ambit2’s are still way out of my price range. I couldn’t justify spending $400 on a watch. The Ambit3 Peaks are $500+. They work with iPhones. I don’t have an iPhone. I don’t want one. I love Apple’s MacBook Pro and Air notebook line, but their phones suck IMHO. Give me a Galaxy S3, S4, S5, or Note anything, and I’ll be much happier. And I am.

4. GPS based altimeter readings, not barometer. I saw a great review where a guy in Australia took his Ambit2 to various elevations alongside his other GPS device. The Ambit2 was off GREATLY every time. I couldn’t imagine paying extra money for the Ambit2 or Ambit3 Peak and then having it feed me bad readings one after another. I’d be disappointed in the device and probably return it. The Ambit2 R doesn’t have an internal barometer, so it just goes by map data for elevation. I think that’s good enough for me because that’s what I’ve been using for years.

78%. Man, this wait is killing me. When I started charging the watch, it allowed me to choose English, set the time and date, my weight, and my date of birth, but that’s about it. Right now it’s showing time, date, and percentage of battery charge. It won’t allow me to do anything else while that charger is plugged in I guess. That sucks a bit.

81%.

Reading the PDF manual I found online. It says fully charging the Ambit2 R takes 2-3 hours. Yikes. It also told me the buttons are locked while charging. Bummer.

I just found out I can increase or decrease the display contrast! HA! Perfect. My faith in mankind has been restored. That’s what every electronic device with a screen needs. Really looking forward to tweaking that.

86%. Seems like it is charging quite quickly. I’ve added 50% or so in 48 minutes. Not sure it’s a steady charge, but if it is then it should fully charge from zero to 100% in less than 2 hours.

97%. Just went through the entire PDF manual. Good information there. Can’t wait to play with it.

Full review coming within 2-3 days. Stay tuned.

99%. Now, watch this take like 25 minutes to hit 100%!

It took 10 minutes. Now I’m out the door to try it out.


Comprehensive Review of Suunto Ambit2 R here.

Suunto Ambit4 Speculation HERE!

Here is a video of the unboxing:

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3 Trail Running Shoes [Ideal]

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3 Trail Running Shoes. Grey, charcoal.
Color changed. Even MORE breathable. Snazzy laces. Don’t like the purple.

The new NIKE ZOOM TERRA KIGER 3’s came to our planet on July 15th, 2015. I’ve run in them and I really like them.

I love these for Thailand’s trails more than any other shoe. I bought 3 pair. Will have to do an update to my earlier review of these shoes.

Here they are in the flesh. Well, virtual flesh anyway.

27 Reasons I Love to Go Running [Don’t miss #12, 13, 27]

Boy Running Fast

27 Reasons I love to Go Running…

1. It’s a reward for sitting in the house at the computer for 8-10 hours or doing other things I don’t really want to do. Yes, I said REWARD! If you run just enough to make it fun and don’t run when it’s not fun – then it’s always fun – yes?

2. See wildlife! Over the years I’ve seen (Hawaii, Thailand, Florida, Pennsylvania):

  • Snakes! Thailand has a lot of snakes.
  • Big red, white and blue woodpeckers!
  • Centipedes and millipedes and all manners of crawling insects, some of which go “crunch” under my feet – accidentally.
  • Lizards that change color, and flying lizards, water monitors (7+ feet), Tokay Geckos squawking.
  • Flying insects – some of which get sucked into my mouth and chest if I’m not paying attention to keep my mouth 80% closed!
  • There are these cicada type things in Thailand that make the whole park scream at 6 p.m. every night in the Summer.
  • A large eastern diamondback rattlesnake crossing the road  – it was as thick around as my 15-16 inch neck!
  • Deer, hippos, bear, leopards, peacocks, and vultures (I ran through a small zoo regularly in Thailand that was connected to the park!)

3. I saw 38 guys in dresses running through downtown Honolulu once… It was a run sponsored by the Honolulu Hash House Harriers Hawaii (H5). I can’t remember if I had one on too, but if I did it was something dashing and sophisticated, yet slutty and with a drastically plunging neckline!

4. Speaking of the Hash House Harriers, once on a run at the top of Tantalus mountain on Oahu I was off the trail and on what I figured to be the correct trail… I was running down a small stream full of rocks… turns out I didn’t have much time to catch myself before flying (literally) over a 1,700 feet cliff off the edge of the mountain! Talk about a RUSH!

Petzl – NAO+ Headlamp with BlueTooth

5. I know I’m in the top 1% of the general population by running 3-5 times every week. I like doing as many things as possible to be a 1 percenter!

6. I’m 48 and I can still run. When I was 20, I thought 40 would bring death, or at least no more exercise. I didn’t know anyone that was running at 40 yrs. old. I run because I can still do it – and it makes me think that “The Body” hasn’t changed much. I feel like I’m in my teens when I run, especially during one of those “flow runs” where it’s effortless and fast.

7. It gives me a rush when I run. Not only as I’m doing it, but afterward too. I have this light-headed feeling that lasts for an hour or sometimes more after I’ve finished. I joke that I’m a worthless endorphin addicted junkie for the period of time following my runs. I cannot talk to anyone and make sense. Nor do I feel like talking. I can’t rationalize at all, nor do math of any kind. I’m not creative in the least, and writing after I run is a horror show. I’m on some kind of mind-chemical high, and it’s legal and it’s OK!

8. It’s the only time I can have sopping wet pants in public and it’s socially alright. People are OK with that, even in a mall. At least they don’t say anything.

9. I can practice “no-mind” or a mind without thought while I run. It’s one of the few physical activities I can do it with. (See my other site Jhana8.com).

10. I have time to myself. Nobody on the phone. Nobody on chat. No computer to check email, to read blogs, or to get frustrated at! It’s one activity that I do alone. I don’t understand running with someone except the Hasher group, which isn’t serious running at all. They call it, “A drinking club with a running problem.”

11. I can be completely alone out in public if I want to. I can run through the woods, up a mountain, or on an old country road. There is such a peace about running where nobody else is.

12. Unexpected experience. I was running around a golf course around midnight, as I like to do occasionally, and I heard the most BLOOD-CURDLING scream. It froze me right there like ice. I could not move. I was questioning whether it really happened as it made no sense at all to suddenly hear this piercing scream right in front of me – and there was nothing there. I stood rock solid for more than just a couple minutes. I was looking with my eyes, but I was too afraid to move my head. It was a scream as if a banshee had just escaped from hell right in front of my face. As I had scanned the entire area in front of me and found no reason for it, and was about to doubt my sanity, I started to look upwards a bit. Then a bit more. I saw what must have been the noisemakers, but to this day I don’t know if they can make this noise. There were two very large owls on the high-power lines about 30 feet above. Does anyone know, can an OWL make a scream like a demon possessed? I might have to Wiki that.

13. More unexpected ‘adult’ experience. More than once I’ve had women come out on the porch or second-floor balcony without a top on, when I ran in the early morning before 7 a.m.! GOOD MORNING TAMPA! (happened a lot there)

14. Running through the rain when it’s warm reminds me of being a little kid and going out specifically because it IS raining outside, just to play.

15. Running through the rain when it’s cold reminds me of Air Force basic training, which wasn’t all THAT bad an experience. I think that is probably another 1 percenter experience.

16. I love to sweat. In my mind it means I’ve done something positive. I think growing up I heard many adults say – “Go sweat a little bit, it’s good for you!” I feel good when I start sweating because I’m doing something physical too. Like I’m pushing myself to do something that the body wouldn’t do on its own. I’m showing the body that the mind is in control. If it says “RUN!”, the body runs. I like how that works.

17. I can wear my comfy Nike socks and running shoes. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but living in Florida, Thailand, and Hawaii flip-flops (slippahs, Hawaiians say) are the standard. But, when I run, I can wear the most comfortable shoes I have!

18. I can FARTLEK to my heart’s content. Huh? Yes, you read that right. Fartlek running is a bit like well, running however you want. There are no expectations before you go – except varying the speed of your typical run. You might do some slow running on the street and then move to a track for some sprints, then head out into the woods and back to the track for some steps at the stadium. You might do some short 50 yard sprints in the middle of your run through the woods. You might do some pushes to 95% and see how long you can stand it. You might skip or run backward sometimes. It’s a German word for “have fun” or something. Ok, I won’t be lazy, I’ll Wiki it for you. Ok, it means, ‘speed play’ in Swedish, not German. And it can be any exercise that, while doing it puts stress mainly on the aerobic system. The intensity of the exercise varies – and is basically up to you. It’s a bouncing between the aerobic and anaerobic systems. I don’t know why it’s called fartlek, but I do enjoy fartlekking all over the place when I run, I’ll tell you that.

19. When I’m in a running program it gives me energy all the time. When I’m not running for a few weeks I feel lazy and tired much of the time. Running keeps the energy levels up.

20. It puts me in a good mood. I’m consistently more positive than I already am. I might think that I’m my same old self when I’m not in steady running mode. Then, I’ll go out and run and I realize – wow, I was missing something. There’s a definite difference when I compare “Vern not running” vs. “Vern in running mode going every other day”. A substantial difference.

21. I love to push myself. Though I run mostly by myself, I love to push myself during the run if I’m feeling good. I might crank up the pace and challenge myself to hold that pace until I get to a certain landmark. That might be 200 yards ahead if I’m flying, or it might be 2 miles away if I’m running 80-85%+ of maximum rate. I am my own best motivator. There is little that motivates me externally. I’m ruthless with myself at times, pushing myself to run when I don’t want to run. Pushing myself to run faster up hills, never slower. Pushing myself to hold a 2/2 breathing pattern until I need to slow down to make up the oxygen deficit that is being created from the sustained push. It’s fulfilling to do little challenges throughout each run!

Petzl – NAO+ Headlamp with BlueTooth

22. I run so I can eat a little more of what I like to eat. I love pizza and other bread and pasta products. Because I run, I can eat more of these things than maybe the average person with my same metabolism. I will do nearly anything to be able to eat more pizza. In Thailand when I stayed in a small village in the countryside I would drive an hour each way on the motorcycle to go to the next biggest town to get some pizza! It was a must, not an “extra”.

23. I run because if others see me running, some will also realize that they can do it too. I wish more people would run. When I go to the main park in any town, especially in Honolulu and I see less than 200 people running around the park at night and maybe another 200 running through the streets of Honolulu, I don’t feel so good about mankind. Here we are, probably 70% of us have the physical capability to run and 90% have the capability to walk – and yet less than 1% run and less than 5% walk as exercise on a recurring basis. WHY? I want the world to run because then people will be happier, more secure about themselves. They’ll be more confident and happier and I’ll get to interact with a happier and more well-adjusted populace. Put on your running shoes people!

24. It’s a part of my life and who “Vern” is. When I stop for any length of time, I don’t feel like me anymore. I’ve run my whole life, so when I stop – it’s like I’m just not “being me”. It’s like I must do it to keep being me.

25. It erases all stress for the time I’m running. It’s impossible to feel stressed as I’m running. I don’t know why, the endorphins I guess?

26. I run because I can play fantasy games of passing my competition. I visualize passing successful people. I pass them one by one and yet I always leave some of the top people ahead of me so I can get them next time or next time. I like to have someone that I’m trying to beat ahead of me and I just can’t get to them for a while. Eventually, I pass them all and I’m the winner. I’m always the winner in my mind.

27. The number one reason for why I run is that it makes me feel powerful and in control of my body and my mind. It gives me confidence, strength and energy, and sense of balance. I feel like I’m a much better business person and friendly person. I feel like I’m being proactive and a go-getter by running when others are sitting on the couch watching television. I feel like I have more patience to deal with others and also with myself. I have a lot of frustration at things that don’t go smoothly. Computers for instance. After I run it gives me a better perspective on life and things aren’t as serious anymore.

Best of Life!

Vern

PS: When I’m in Hawaii the most amazing run is along the Ala Wai canal at about 9 pm. with the moon rising over Diamond Head Volcano. Wow.

Why do you run?

Post your reasons in the comments section below!

[Boy running image from Woodleywonderworks at Flickr]

Surfing Tropical Rainforest Trails

Trail Surfing
Here’s something you don’t hear about every day. Well, I don’t think you’ve ever heard of it before now.

If you haven’t already read a lot of articles I’ve written at this site, you might not know, but I have this thing about creating mindgames that make ultra-running, and other endurance exercises like long stair climbs up the side of a mountain, easier.

Since I’ve recently been running longer distances – my mind has been churning out these new running techniques that help athletes push harder and faster. Today, I don’t know how it came about really, but I came up with a new way to look at trail running that makes it even more fun than it was before.

Trail Surfing!

I write about surfing the trail below, or you can just scroll down to the bottom of this page and see the video I did about it right after it happened. The video is probably easier to understand.

I was running up my favorite mountain here in Krabi, Thailand… well, wait, truthfully? It’s my only mountain around here to run up unless I want to run up a paved road in a remote park where I was accosted by a Thai guy grabbing my genitals as he rode by on a motorbike. But, that’s a different story. I will tell that one, but let me get back to this.

I wasn’t feeling well for the first five minutes. It’s a slow climb over the first part and still, I just wasn’t into it. I’ve been ill for the past couple weeks, so I figured OK, no problem, I just won’t run as much today. I definitely didn’t feel like pushing up the 500 meter high climb, but I didn’t feel horrible yet.

Then I got dizzy. Bummer. So, I slowed down even more and guessed I’d hit the peak in about 50 minutes. I figured no worries, I’d just aim for that time because there was no way I’d be running anything like my usual 36 minutes.

Though my head wasn’t right, my legs were not weak and my breathing wasn’t bad, I was just dizzy and felt out of it mentally a bit. I decided to do what ultra-runner recluse Micah True suggested in the “Born to Run” book I read a couple years ago. Here’s the quote…

“Don’t fight the trail. Take what it gives you … Think easy, light, smooth and fast. You start with easy because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a sh*t how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

It’s brilliant. I’ve used this technique many times over the years and I have had some great results. Micah was obviously someone who was in his head quite a bit. He lived alone in some remote part of Mexico for years before anyone found him. I sometimes wonder what other mindgames he used to help himself go further and faster. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because he passed away in April of 2012.

 

So this morning as I ran, I began focusing on running easy, light and smooth. As I do, I notice the usual, just like he claimed – I get faster without feeling like I’m expending more energy or effort to do so. In this case I wasn’t well and yet I was still able to go much faster than I had hoped to. What happened was, the dizziness abated and I was able to really focus on easy, light, and smooth (ELS).

After just a few minutes of this, my breathing became even better. My legs had strength and power in reserve. Finally, my dizziness went away and my mind cleared up. I was excited about the positive changes, and yet I was just enjoying a nice climb up the trail and decided not to push it.

Then, after maybe ten minutes, this idea popped into my head as I was running ELS that was odd, but I let it germinate there until it grew into a full blown mindgame. I began to imagine that I was surfing up the mountain on a surfboard. I didn’t have an actual board, but the feeling was the same as when I surfed in Hawaii. I surfed and bodyboarded for a couple of thousand hours in the amazing waves around the Hawaiian Islands years ago. It’s my favorite physical thing to do.

Anyway, maybe I was missing my wave-riding days and my mind just churned this up. I began looking at the dirt trail as a liquid wave. I picked my line and ran as ESL as possible, which made me feel like climbing the mountain wasn’t even difficult. The mind is such an amazing thing. When focused on some game that takes it away from monitoring the pain of the body during a hard effort, the effort becomes considerably less difficult. Sometimes it goes away entirely.

So I was surfing UP the mountain. I know, it sounds odd, right? I think better to watch the video below so you can understand more clearly how I went about it. I probably explained it better there than I could explain it in words here now, ten hours after the fact.

If you’re still reading, I’ll tell you one more twist on the whole thing. After I ran like I was surfing for a while, and about one kilometer from the top of the hill, I added another element to the game. I pictured that I was riding a virtual surfboard about eight feet long.

The result was that it made me run even more smoothly. Why? Because I had to think more and plan my footsteps to move me in a smoother line. You know an eight foot surfboard cannot turn sharply, so I could only curve long turns. That meant I had to plan it out more so I could carve a smoother line.

The whole experience of surfing up the rainforest trail was pretty phenomenal. I love when these ideas just pop into my head.

At the top of the trail I shot that video that I put below. Then I was eager to try surfing down the mountain! I figured it would be so smooth and really feel even better than it did surfing up.

Though I felt good, I still didn’t want to push hard on the way down. I just wanted to go ESL and surf the trail gently, enjoying the experience more than anything. So as I started out I imagined I was on a board carving my way down the technical path.

I didn’t really go over how technical this trail is. It’s very technical. On a scale of 10, I’d give it an 8. It’s ridiculously full of roots and rocks. So, while coming down I found it harder to get into a good rhythm, but I did notice that I was going smoother than I ever had before. I pushed a little bit. I cranked it up another notch even. I was going as fast as I could and still maintaining my smooth flow as I surfed down the trail.

As a result of using this really efficient style of running, at the bottom I wasn’t all that surprised to find out I had crushed my previous fastest known time (FKT) on the descent by over a minute. As I considered that, it became more astonishing because I honestly wasn’t really running very fast. I wasn’t pushing that hard. I was going about 80% of maximum effort.

Try trail surfing and let me know what you think. I know this is the third time I’ve said it, but, watch the video below to get a better idea what exactly the technique I used was. Feel free to change it as you like, the way I did it might not be the way you do it. Experiment with it. I think it’s a powerful technique. At least it’s a good starting point you can use to create some game of your own that works for you.

I’d love to hear from you if you try it – feel free to share positive or negative experiences.

Best of Life to You!

Vern

 

Trail Surfing Technique Video:

[Cool trail surfing photo at top by Justin Jensen at Flickr]

Rob Krar, Ultra-Runner, Talks About His Depression

Rob Krar - Depression
Depression is something that people from all areas of life succumb to. It is caused often times by a chemical imbalance in the brain, or it could be caused by environment or some nasty combination of both.

Any way you look at it, chronic depression is a devastating affliction to have. I mean, life is hard enough – isn’t it? Could you imagine dealing with negative thoughts and mindset throughout your day? Your week? Your life?

Though I haven’t had any sort of depression over the course of my life, as I get into my late forties, I am noticing that I am not getting as much fun out of life as I have in the past. Something about it being time to really get cranking and make enough money for my family and their lives after I pass that is making this a very serious time in my life. I feel like I have to make a lot of correct decisions that will affect things down the road.

Maybe you’re going through the same thing?

As a result of this time of life I’ve had to re-evaluate my focus again and again lately. I want to be sure I’m going down the right path. These last couple of days have finally given me the answer I needed. I’ve rededicated my focus to this website and positive articles and books. I find nothing else as pleasurable, as satisfying, as helping people get through life a little bit easier.

Here’s Rob Krar talking about depression. I enjoyed this on a number of levels. Rob is one of the top ultra-runners in the entire world. At the moment he is unbeaten at the 100 mile distance on the trails. That is mind-blowing! To think that he’s battling major depression makes what he is doing on the trails all the more amazing.

depressions – a few moments from 30 miles in the canyon. from Joel Wolpert on Vimeo.

Depressions in landscape & emotion.
An unstaged, mid-run, terrestrial-based short with Rob Krar.

Krar, new to ultra running, holds the speed record for the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim and has quickly become a dominant force in American races.

Shot entirely with the Freefly Movi M5 and Canon 5d mk3.

http://www.thewolpertinger.com

The Creative Flow State… OWN IT!

Flow State
Flow is something that is spoken about by aspiring zenists, Feng Shui practitioners, archers, golfers, chess players and those addicted to computer games.

In the flow state time passes without being noticed. Activity is effortless. You may not remember all the details of the state. There’s nothing interfering with your brain and the activity. Quite the opposite, you’re perfectly synced with the activity. You ARE the activity.

Creative flow is when you’re developing something or creating something and it’s a period of very high productivity. You’re in an optimal state where you are accomplishing much more than you usually do per minute, and there’s no boredom or sense of “work” being done. It may be fun, or there may be no sense of fun at all. You can be so focused that you become whatever you’re doing.

This state of optimum creative flow happens often for me as I’m writing, and I’m glad it does. Over the past year I’ve written over a million words at my blogs and web sites, not to mention comments and questions at other blogs and through email. I’ve learned about the creative flow state just by needing to enter it on a daily basis. I’ll do my best to pull everything together that I’ve learned and share it with you here.

Last year I decided to blog full time. Before that I’d always just been happy to have the flow state visit me when it came. I thought I was just a lucky recipient of it. I didn’t think that I could initiate or control it. I played soccer for many years and on occasion I’d have flow occur during a game. During those amazing experiences, it was as if I was two levels beyond everyone else. My passes were crisp and my timing impossibly perfect. This state usually visited me once per game for a few seconds, a minute… or, if I was extremely fortunate it would last most of the game.

I thought the creative flow state was just like that – when it came, it came, and I had no influence on it. Now I know differently. Now I know how to OWN the creative flow state. It’s available when I want it to be. Or, more appropriately, when I need it to be. Gaining entry into the state when it is needed is an almost god-like power. Imagine being able to choose when you enter the state and for how long.

Owning the creative flow state is not as hard as you might think. Like anything, there are antecedents that, once in place help foster the development and then prolong this awesome experience.

How to OWN the creative flow state?

1. Go to your Cave and create the atmosphere conducive to flow. You, like everyone else that creates, have a preferred place to work where you can control the environmental conditions like air, noise, chair, table height, space around you, and the rest of it. Only you know what you need in your cave to make you happy and productive. If you’ll be there for hours you will want to arrange sustenance to keep the energy flowing. For me, pretzel rods, Coffee, Red Bull, cashews or pistachios (no red dye), cold fruit juice,  and a big water bottle does it. My cave has a toilet, air conditioning, fan, stereo and a place on the floor with a thin mattress and pillows in case I need to get cozy with my notebook on the floor for a change of position and perspective.

Ensure you have your creative instruments in supply and close at hand, exactly where they should be. If I’ve got a project that doesn’t require the notebook (rare) I need those thin lined markers (blue, black and red) and a ream of blank white paper so I can draw sketches, write symbols, text or whatever else – color coded in a way that only I could figure out.

Ambiance. Depending on what you’re doing you’ll want to choose the right music. Eighty percent of the time I’m in the cave creating I like to have something on. Other times I want absolute silence as I’m working on a very detailed idea which demands silence.

Ensure everything is exactly as you like it. The purpose of this is reducing the extraneous distractions that can pull you out of the state and into mediocrity. All it takes is one stray thought to germinate in your mind about not having the ruler where you thought it was and all hell could break loose as you systematically fly through every drawer, closet, pocket and puppet to find it. Nothing destroys creative flow faster than thoughts about why something isn’t the way it should be.

Use the restroom before you begin. Take a mental inventory. Anything else that isn’t quite right? Fix it before you sit down. Usually this is when I crank up some Prodigy, English Beat, Beastie Boys, Pixies or Chili Peppers to rev me up. I need to be in a special state of mind to get the creative juices flowing. Nothing less than absolute euphoria works best for me. Upbeat songs rattling the walls works best, but I can be considerate and use headphones when it’s in the interest of social harmony.

2. Inform others that for x number of hours you won’t be available. That means people are in other rooms of the cave, not yours. That means turning your phone ringer off. SMS beeps off. Flash phone messages off. Browser messages off. Instant messengers off. Email notifications off. Close your blinds if you’re in an office. Kick the dog out, and feed the piranha.

3. Label a motive for starting this creative project. It might be very clear, like – if you don’t finish this fifty page paper by five in the morning, you’ll fail Psychoanalytic Theory 6020 and need to repeat the class. Notice how you spontaneously enter the flow when you absolutely MUST get something done and you’re completely out of time and excuses?

A strong motivation is the number one factor for inviting a creative flow session. In college that student mentioned above was me. I left projects to the last minute and then completed them with amazing speed, efficiency and quality.

I did my best work that way, so why change the equation? Now it’s a little different as every night is a mental deadline for some blog article to be written. I enter the creative flow state daily for hours, banging out articles like there was no tomorrow.

If your motivation isn’t so clear, make it crystal clear so you know exactly why you need to create a masterpiece over the next few hours. I keep defining the why until I feel very confident about the need for the project. I like to picture little things that will come later as I blog toward greatness: Dinner with Tim Ferriss, or maybe a playful wrestling match with my favorite NFL cheerleader.

4. Brainstorming. I brainstorm first – scribbling fragments of ideas all over some blank A4 sheets of paper. I am just chicken-scratching what appears to be gibberish to the rest of mankind, and honestly I can barely read it myself – but, it’s part of the process. If I slow down to write it nicely then I lose the speed at which things pour out of my head. Sometimes i use the computer to write because I can type faster than I can write with a pen. But then again, sometimes the strict format of text on a screen is too limiting and I need to see it on paper, diagonally, curving around the edges, in different sizes, shapes and colors.

5. Planning. Plan the chapters of your project or the general outline of what you want to create by choosing from the bits and pieces you just brainstormed. It is a masterpiece and you’ll know after looking through what you’ve written if it’s comparable to Ludwig Van’s glorious 9th, or not. You may need to brainstorm some more. Brainstorming might take ten to thirty minutes. Planning might take another ten minutes. Usually I’m so excited by the time I have half an outline together that I need to either force myself to slow down and finish the complete plan – or, run with it immediately and finish the plan as I go. Sometimes I’m so tweaked about getting started and seeing it come to life that I don’t finish the planning. But, that’s just me.

Flow begins out of this euphoria, this sense of purpose, the confidence in my writing and the manic desire to create something amazing.

Usually I don’t catch myself realizing that I’m in the creative flow state for hours after it begins. At some point inevitably I’ll need to use the restroom or drink a coffee and I’ll notice that a chunk of time passed. When I wrote my first book, I wrote over 10,000 words at one sitting. It was like being on auto-pilot. Time just flies when you’re focused!

For me, the first session is basically a huge right-hemisphere memory dump from my brain in “Vern-logic” digital format. I spill everything at once almost like a brainstorm, but I’m fleshing out details in the general ideas, usually corresponding to paragraphs that will form in the project later. I type like a fiend until my wrists, fingers, elbows and neck hurt.

The first spill is never a completed masterpiece. The left hemisphere needs to make Vern-logic sync logically with a critical mass of readers that will be reading it. Word substitution, spell checks, graphics and page formatting takes place next.

I’m never in a creative flow during any editing process. It’s something that doesn’t come natural to me. Dumping it all in the flow state is easy, it’s just like breathing. Editing it is seriously difficult work that I wish I could call on a flow process to help with.

Anyone have a remedy? Outsourcing, yeah, I know. I know.

Owning and extending the optimal creative flow state is an amazing skill to put in your bag of productivity tricks. It’s simple really, requiring nothing more than an optimal environment, confidence in your skills, and a really strong and lucid purpose and motivation for tackling the project.

When you own the flow, you’ve got it all. Try it and let me know what you think.

Best of Life!

Vern

(Last Updated: 28 December 2016)

Flow while exercising:

Flow, pseudo-flow, and mind-tweaking during exercise >

The Most Motivational Man On the Planet (IMHO)

I met Alfred, a United Kingdom native, a few years back on the stairs leading up a limestone mountain. One thousand two hundred and thirty seven steps up a mountain, to be exact. I was walking fast up, he was running down faster. I had seen him a couple of times before and hadn’t said anything to him. This time I couldn’t resist.

“How fast you get up to the top today?” I asked, almost afraid he’d tell me a time that was faster than I did. I had no idea how old he was, but he was definitely over sixty years of age, and his hair was whiter than the clouds floating above our heads. I had climbed those stairs hundreds of times by then. It was my favorite place to exercise for the previous three years.

“About 17 minutes, not very fast today, just a slow day. I was up yesterday and took it at a good pace,” he answered.

HOLY WHAT? Now I was definitely afraid to ask what a good pace was. Seventeen minutes? My GOD! After I spoke with him, I was sure he was seventy. He was thin as a rail, same height as me – 5’11”, and apparently fitter than any senior citizen I’d ever seen in my life. I’d been walking up the steps for years and I’d finally got down to 12m 25s to the top. It’s a 280 meter vertical climb (about 900 feet). It was super hot the day I saw him. It was 98°F for sure. The humidity was always through the roof – I’ll guess 80%.

He didn’t seem particularly beat that day I first spoke with him. He smiled, joked, laughed, and said we’d talk more next time as he had somewhere to be. As he continued running down the stairs I stared, dumbfounded. I couldn’t help feel like I’d just met the first athletic mentor I’d ever had. I mean, the guy was PURE AMAZING.

Today Alfred is 75 years old. After a bout with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer he is back on the steps and climbing, hitting the heavy bag at the gym, and walking kilometer after kilometer on the beach near where he lives in Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand. Recently he completed a stretch of 7 days out of 8 in a row climbing those same steps.

The guy is a legend.

A couple of years ago he did the Malacca 12-Hour Walking Race in Malaysia. He placed 16th out of 300+ competitors, OVERALL. All age groups. He made it 50 kilometers in under 8 hours, just walking.

Though it isn’t often I have days where I don’t feel like going out to run at the park or mountain trail, or climb the stairs, when I do I think of Alfred and how he’s kicking life in the ass daily.

It’s my long-term goal to be climbing the steps up this mountain when I’m 75… 90. I want to be doing the stair climbing races in Bangkok, and other major metropolitan cities across the globe when I’m his age. Just like he is. He has done the Banyan Tree Vertical Marathon in Bangkok, Thailand for the past six or seven years in a row now. He places higher than many kids in high school, that should be beating him by tens of minutes.

Alfred is really an inspiration. There is something awe-inspiring about someone 70+ years old that can still do things many young adults cannot do.

He’s an inspiration to me and everyone that happens to catch a glimpse of him as he passes them on the stairs going up or down. Some days he runs up the section from step 840 to 925! You should see people’s mouths drop open.

He’s the real deal. He’s had tremendous adversity in his life, and he’s overcome it all. I’ve been shooting video clips of him over the years, and I’m intent on making a video to try to capture a bit of his inspiring life.

Do you know anyone of age that is inspiring?

It’s magical, isn’t it? The idea that, at that age, you too could maybe be accomplishing amazing physical feats. You know what most people his age are doing? Sitting at home watching television and thinking about the days when they ran down the beach or rode their bike a few miles on a sunny day.

Seeing Alfred to it all the time gives me the idea that I can make that happen anytime I choose. I just need to keep it up, keep having fun for the next 30 years and I can be just like that. In 30 years he’ll likely be gone, but I’ll remember him as I’m climbing the hell out of the stairs and the mountain trail we have climbed together up another hill twice as high in elevation as the hill with the stairs.

Thanks Alfred, you’ve been the most amazing inspiration… you have eliminated my fear of the future… of an older Vern that can’t hardly walk. I will be able to walk. I will be able to jog at your age. I will be able to do the things you’re doing now, well into my 80’s. I’m sure of that now.

Cheers my friend!

Vern

20 Reasons Trail Running is More Fun Than Road Running

I’ve run most of my life on the roads. I did running races, triathlons, and all my running pre-2012 has been on the road. I told myself I enjoyed it. Sometimes I did. Recently I began running dirt trails up mountains here in Thailand and Malaysia. I can now say that I love running more than anything, including biking, swimming, or any other sport I used to take part in.

Here are 20 Reasons Trail Running is More Fun!

1. Trails are cooler. No matter what time of day I run, the trail is always cooler than the roads are. In a hot place like Thailand, it’s essential that I take advantage of this fact.

2. Less direct sun cooking cancer on my skin. The last 30 years I’ve spent in Hawaii, Miami, Tampa, and Thailand. I’m not fond of the sun anymore and I don’t want to give it any more time to cook up carcinomas on my skin. Running on the trail with the tree canopy over top of me gives me more protection than I’d otherwise have. PS: I don’t like running with hats or sunblock.

3. It’s easier to talk people into joining me. Try asking your non-running friends (or even your running friends) to join you for twenty laps around the high school running track and see what happens. Nobody is interested. Ask the same group to go 5 miles in the forest and you’ll get more takers.

4. Trails go up and down more than roads. For some reason it’s in my DNA to climb hills. Must have something to do with our high school soccer coach making us run “hills” in front of the school after practice. I was always good at it. Climbing hills on the bike too – I’m made for it. So, anytime I can run up something – I’m much happier than running on the flat.

5. I can talk to myself on the trail. Yeah, I talk to myself sometimes when I’m trying to hash out a solution to something that’s bugging me, or, if I am trying to plan something. It’s funny, but as you get older you start to realize it’s OK to talk to yourself. At least where there is nobody around. Try that as you run down main street and you’re going to lose friends and gain gawkers. I also yell at myself on the trail. “Get your ass up this hill, you didn’t push THAT hard that you can’t bang this out!”

6. I can breathe PURE air – no automobile exhaust! The only bad smells I have to worry about are those foul odors coming from runners and hikers ahead of me.

7. Recovery is much faster! If I run 6 miles on the concrete, the next day I feel it quite a bit. Doesn’t matter if I’ve been running on concrete for the entire year before that, I still feel it at age 47. When I run 6 miles on the dirt and sand trails, I hardly feel anything the next day. I can train more, I can enjoy running a lot more without breaking down as much. I am injured much less since switching over to trails. My ankles, knees, everything is much stronger because the trail stresses everything gradually and strengthens it quickly.

8. I can look the fool. If I want to wear a half shirt just below my nipples, like those that were popular back in 1982, I can. If I want to tie my shirt into a headband and wear it, I can. If I want to jack my shorts up past my belly-button so my waist-pack doesn’t chafe me, I can. If I have to wear one of my running socks inside out because I have two “R” socks and no Left, then I can.

9. If a tree falls in the woods, YOU HEAR IT! I’ve had two big 80-100 foot high trees fall relatively close to me as I was running up the local mountain. The splintering starts, and panic ensues. There’s something about a hundred thousand pound tree flying through the air that will snap you into the present moment real quick. You have to quickly try to guess where that tree is going to fall. You have a couple of seconds. You never do figure it out until it hits the ground, but, the adrenaline rush is good for a couple minutes off your 10K time on the trail. Talk about feeling ALIVE!

10. Does a bear drop mud in the woods? YOU CAN TOO! I wake up early when I run, so I down a couple liters of water, Gatorade, and coffee before I start. Inevitably I’ve eaten a spicy meal at dinner the night before, so I’ve got to do a bear’s share of fertilizing the soil. Running on the streets you’ve gotta duck into stores and restaurants, gas stations, other places there might be peepers lurking. I prefer the trail for obvious reasons.

11. Wildlife. I’ve seen flying lizards, flying snakes, flying squirrels, geckos, mountain lizards, giant monitor lizards, red bugs, blue bugs, purple bugs, and polka-dot bugs, eagles, wild pigs, a deer no higher than my kneecap, a keelback snake, rat snakes, vine snakes, gibbons jumping tree to tree, and two hikers procreating. There is so much more fun stuff to see on the trail than on the city streets.

12. Easy to meet people. How many times have you met someone on your run down the street? It’s easy to meet people on the trail. They inevitably ask – “Are we almost there yet?” I’ve met people from all over the planet on my runs up the mountain.

13. I like not knowing what’s around the bend. There’s something innately exciting about running on a path through the forest that twists and turns a lot. The run is filled with continual surprises. Sometimes it’s a new tree that fell down, sometimes it’s an animal on the path, a spider’s web across the face, a bird that flies in front of your face, or a root that catches your foot and face-plants you. There are lots of surprises on the forest trails.

14. The trail forces me to be in the present moment. When I run on the roads I often drift off into some daydream about something that happened before, or something I hope will happen in the future. Road running almost demands this from my mind because I just don’t enjoy slapping my feet on the pavement tens of thousands of times during a run. On the trail it is much different. My mind stays fresh because it’s always in the present. I run on technical trails for the most part, so I have to watch where every foot-strike is going, or I will fall flat on my face very fast. I’ve proven this numerous times. There is something awesome about not thinking of the past or future.

15. I can bring my Bear Grylls folding knife with serrated edge! And I use it! Trail maintenance, you know. I hack thorn bushes, roots, vines, and these killer tree trunks with strong pointy things coming out of them. Not to mention the remote chance I’ll get attacked by a lynx, bear, or tiger. Once a Boyscout, always a Boyscout. Be prepared!

16. I can rest as long as I want, and nobody sees me slacking! On average I see only 2-4 people on the trail during the two hours I run there. That means I can run naked if I want. I can sleep for an hour at the top if I want. I can fly a kite at the top if I got the urge. Try falling asleep on a bus stop bench after running 10 miles on the road and see what newspaper and blogs you end up featured in.

17. Panoramic views road runners never get to see. There is no road up most of the mountains here, so I get to see these great panoramas that few people get to see. I love summiting, no matter how big the hill. Running up trails gives me many more opportunities than I’d get on a bike or in a vehicle.

18. I drink less water. That means I carry less water. Actually what I do is bring 1 liter of water and a 600ml bottle of Gatorade or some other drink. I hide the small bottle of fluids behind a tree somewhere on the run up the hill. Then, on the way down I grab it. This way I don’t need to carry it the entire trip. You wouldn’t dare put a bottle of Gatorade behind a tree on a city street. You know someone would do something distasteful to your drink – right?

19. No dogs! Though I’ve seen paw prints, I’ve yet to encounter a dog on the trail here in Thailand. I have been chased and nearly bitten on the streets though. Foreigners in Thailand all look like the mailman to dogs here. Be careful if you’re road running in Thailand!

20. I can routinely blow people’s minds. The conversation usually goes something like…

Some 25 year old friend of a friend: “I heard you climb the Ngorn Nak Mountain trail a lot.”
Me: “Yeah…”
Him: “I hammered it to the top with my buddy last week in 3 hours round trip.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s pretty good.”
Him: “How long does it usually take you to get up and down?”
Me: “70 minutes.”
Him: Mouth drops and puzzled look on his face…

No more questions.

Anything else you can think of that makes you love running trails more than the roads?
List ’em in the comments…