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primal quest

What do you get when you combine a guy in a skirt keeping a mid-life promise to himself and the World’s Most Challenging Human Endurance Competition?

You get the exploits of Todd Phillips; medical volunteer from Primal Quest’s adventure race past, chemical weapons inspector, inherent traveler, and the mule of Team Intrepid.

primal questFollow Todd as he documents his training mishaps, travel stories, and anything else that crosses his mind as he prepares to compete in this year’s installment of Primal Quest Badlands presented by SPOT.Week by week you will be able to make your input into Todd’s training, gear choices, and motivation as well as follow his progress as he attempts to transform himself from a debaucherous dilettante into a real live adventure racer. Will he be able to do it? See for yourself as we present his first contribution of the many he will offer from now until adventure race day.

Quest for PQ Adventure Race: The Dream of Major Bull Project

primal questIt’s difficult to be witty when staring at a blank, white computer screen. That level of repartee comes from conversations at cocktail parties and is doled out by political pundits. I’m just not one of those guys. Now if you want me to explain how I came to try and fill these pages, then that is where the story begins.

It was a dark and stormy night. No, seriously…it was. I was sitting in a horse pasture under the medical tent of Primal Quest 2004 in the San Juan Islands, Washington State. I had been working as a medical volunteer for the first time, and I was freezing my proverbial “round, circular orbs of personal affect” off when I thought that for once in my life I would love to switch places with those who were, I thought, less fortunate than me; adventure racers.

The weather had been brutally uncomfortable for the first three or four days and I was sequestered under a leaking canvas tent, watching “Man on Fire” with Denzel Washington on my iMac, wrapped in every stitch of clothing I had borrowed to keep warm and basically doing my best at 2 am to be cheerful to those who wanted band-aids.

It occurred to me that I would actually prefer to be roaming around in the darkness with three strangers of reasonable acquaintance, getting lost, and getting miserably dirty in all the wrong places. It was at that moment I realized that I may have the potential of being one of many things: A) A member of the Donner party, B) a masochist, C) an adventure racer, or D) all of the above.

Since my timing was a little off on the whole Donner party thing, I figured I had to be a little part of the other two. I was 34 years young at the time and like anyone who is delirious from cold, lack of sleep, and too much Ramen noodles, I made myself a promise that seemed to make sense;

primal questI would adventure race Primal Quest to celebrate my 40th birthday.

So here I am, two marriages, two divorces, and 20 kilograms heavier. I am sitting in the frozen tundra in the bowels of Russia for my work, and a nagging voice won’t let me forget that promise to myself. I have been renewing it after each subsequent installment of Primal Quest since that moment. I have maintained my momentum by continuing to volunteer my life to PQ and have never regretted a second of it.

I have always believed that the worst broken promises are to your children and yourself. At the moment my daughter is just fine (thanks for asking), but there is that one thing left unfinished.

On the twenty-third of May, 2009, I will turn 40. The time is now to fulfill that promise to myself. I have the motivation of a collection of people who will nag me to no end if I don’t do this. And then there is always the raging, purulent sore of regret that would fester if not treated. I will adventure race for those who have believed in me along the way. I will adventure race for those who said I couldn’t do it. I will race despite my limitations. I will race for those living vicariously through me. I will race for the competition with friends. I will adventure race for the fun of it. I will adventure race, above all, for myself. And I am taking you with me.

From now until adventure race day, I will document my experience leading up to placing my feet at the starting line. I am looking forward to making mistakes and learning from them. I am hoping that if you have read this far, you will help me get there. I am hoping for the stars to align and the planets to converge and that Elle McPherson will call me one day. But that is a whole other story. Check back for how this “Quest for the Quest” will unfold.

Until next time…..TODD


primal quest

Every great adventure needs an even greater name; at least that is what I think. When considering how I was going to recreate myself as an adventure racer, I really thought that a snappy, meaningful title might go so far as to describe things when I am not doing such a good job at it. Like a product of my generation I looked to popular culture such as movies, music, and television for inspiration. As previously mentioned, I am sequestered in the bowels of the tempestuous Russian Federation with plenty of time on my hands and so it seemed only fitting that I scan through the selection of movies I have with me for some inspiration.

When it comes to cinematic, feel-good stories I first thought of “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner. I’m sure you know the storyline, but let me refresh your memory: a seemingly normal, down-and-out farmer begins hearing voices that tell him to build a baseball park for dead ball players to play and he can’t sleep or do much of anything else until he finishes it. Considering that Costner’s character age during the movie (40-ish) is about the time when latent patterns of schizophrenia begin to develop, I couldn’t help but admire his singular focus towards a seemingly unobtainable goal and the fact that I was close to the same age. It seems we had something in common; the singular focus part. No comments on the state of my mental health for doing so. My second inspiration came from that great iconic, cultish television program “The Six-Million Dollar Man” staring Lee Majors. The whole idea that with enough money, time, and know-how the government can fix something that had apparently been broken beyond repair and make it into something worthwhile with a wry sense of humour, dashing good looks, and all those cool super-human powers. With recent political satire aside, I saw that I was about to do the same except without all the money, plenty of time, and some know-how from friends. I was going to re-create myself with the help of my friends and adventure racers into a person that could accomplish the unthinkable. Time will only tell if I get the other three.

I also like all the major U.S. sports, except baseball - sorry, too much standing and not enough cool injury potential. Lastly, I thought about another Kevin Costner flick, “Bull Durham” where this time Costner plays a washed-up baseball player who gets hooked up with this great woman (Susan Sarandon) who he can’t help but fall for. He tries his best to booze her out of his life and hold onto the only thing that has ever meant anything to him and that was his life as a has-been and wanna-be. He is conflicted in what good he is going to be to someone else when the only thing he has ever known has been taken from him.

Will the love and support of this one woman be enough for him to give it all up? I saw this as me finally giving up my penchant for smoke and drink during my first forty years and give it up for a new and improved back forty.

Now, I do apologise for seeming to be a big Kevin Costner fan (I’m not), but I do deserve to get some credit for Lee Majors. He is kind of like the William Shatner of the current day “Heroes” crowd.

So when you put this all together, you get a common man with the desire and motivation to fulfil the dream and promise he made to himself by combining all of the resources he has to build a bigger, stronger, faster version of himself that will take him, with the help from his friends, family, and others, from the deleterious life of his first forty years into the next half of his life. I call this project “Quest for PQ: The Dream of Major Bull Project”…and there you have it.

The Dream of Major Bull Project #3

primal quest

The plan is coming together for a great adventure: Not only for Primal Quest, but also for my fortieth birthday. I have a snappy name. I have the support of friends and family. I have the support of Primal Quest to share it all with you. Now what is next?

How about tackling the gargantuan task of how I am going to transform myself.

Although I do have some background in the science of physical fitness, I lack much of the motivation and follow-through that it takes to be an elite athlete. That family trait went to my sister Caren.

I am fortunate to have come from good stock. My mother seemed to have a thing for Scotsman and so I am born of primarily Scottish descent with a little German, Irish, and whatever else you want to throw in to the mix. Basically, I am a mutt; but a good mutt. I am loyal, hardworking, honest, and with a feisty energetic spirit. Therein lies the problem; I get bored very easily. I have all the makings of a great case of adult attention deficit disorder, that is, if I thought it were true. In fact, my mother best describes my childhood behavior as “a bull in a china shop”. I guess my project title isn’t too far off. Now why is this important to know? Well, it is just this fact that will have me try just about anything that keeps my attention. The trait (some would say flaw) means that I like change and variety. I like when things go upside-down and backwards all at the same time. I thrive in that environment and can find solace in chaos. It is because of these traits that I believe I will make a fine adventure racer. It is also because of these traits that my training is going to be more fun and interactive than most.

This is where you, kind reader, come into play. I am going to be doing my best to find some of the sports finest athletes and crack open their psyche for the tips and tricks that will make me a good team mate and adventure racer. I also want input from the rest of the adventure racing community as well. I want tips on good gear that you have used. I want tips on how to improve my cardiovascular fitness. I want to know how to better handle my mountain bike. I want to know how to prepare myself for the mental challenges. I want to know if my butt really does look big in lycra. Tell me honestly. I can take it.

So, I am asking for your thoughts on where I should start my training for what will become my greatest physical challenge ever; finishing Primal Quest. Send any feedback and email to Quest4PQ@gmail.com. I will be using your comments to develop a training plan that will get me into my best physical shape ever. I will be sure to give credit where credit is due during my weekly diaries that I will post here. I say the more the merrier. I will also be consulting with some other professionals in the world of sport that can help me: sports psychologist, team builders, sports nutritionist, gear junkies, and many more. So the sooner you help me, the sooner we can get started.

Until next time…..TODD

Quest for PQ: The Dream of Major Bull Project #3

primal quest

One of the other great challenges that I face on my “Quest for PQ: The DMB Project” is the lifestyle of my work. I have always been a big believer that you should not live to work. I believe that your work should fund your lifestyle and after many attempts, I think I have the right combination.Todd Phillips

I am currently living and working in The Hague, Netherlands for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (www.opcw.org) as a chemical weapons inspector and health and safety specialist. This allows me to live in Europe, which has always been a dream of mine, and to travel to the ends of the world for my job. I go to those many great nations and many great locations that once used their powers for evil instead of good in the science of chemistry by developing and producing stockpiles of chemical munitions. In fact, where I am right now is not the end of the world, but I can definitely see it from here.

The question I get a lot is, “What ever possessed you to do that?” and for me the answer is simple: lifestyle. I am on the road at least 70% of the year. When I am not on the road for work, then I am travelling for fun and leisure or making those rare of trips back to my home in the Pacific Northwest. I call Portland, Oregon my “base camp” and return there as often as I can. The rest of the year I keep a flat in Amsterdam which resembles the lost luggage department at the London Heathrow airport rather than a place of quiet, comfortable residence.

This creates many challenges for me when it comes to training for Primal Quest. I am not able to bring my bicycle with me wherever I go and sometimes I am limited in my movements in some countries. The reason I mention this continues with the tread from yesterday about getting creative with my training methods. It also means that I must travel to even newer and stranger locations to find suitable areas to climb, mountain bike, and trek. To say that the Netherlands is flat would be like describing Mt. Everest as just another hill in the woods. Without the variety of places like the Bavaria Region of Germany, the Alps, the hills of Wales, or any number of foreign places, my training would consist of endless hours on the treadmill/stationary bike/rowing machine which would surely kill my spirit for this adventure.

I will be sharing these various travel stories with you along the way. These will not just be travel stories, but a dialog of out-of-the way locations that will serve to provide me the terrain needed to fulfil my goal. I will share these antidotes from time to time and also will be using my SPOT unit to show you where I am in the world each time I write. That way you will know where I am, what I am up to, and how I am using your training tips. Ever since I got my SPOT unit last year, I have taken it everywhere I travel for work and play. I have it programmed through their website (www.findmespot.com) to keep my family in the know of my whereabouts which is important considering the state of some of the internet systems I struggle to use. Unlike the internet in Russia, it works like a charm every time.

So, you know where I am right now and I will be here until the end of January. That means that starting in February keep your eyes open for the link that I will include each Sunday when I post my training plan for the upcoming week. Oh, and Mom, if you are reading this, since the SPOT unit will tell you where I am every week, do I still have to call? Somehow I already know the answer to that one.

Until next time…..TODD

Quest for PQ: The Dream of Major Bull Project #4

primal quest“No successful endeavor begins with doubt.” Todd Phillips

When I woke up this morning, those words were written into a pad I keep on my bedside table. It is a habit I have had for catching those random thoughts that come into my head at any given hour of the night or day. The hardest part about this habit is deciphering the reasoning why my brain has decided to churn out any given thoughts at any given time, not to mention the cryptic nature of my handwriting. It is like a need a secret decoder ring or something.

What makes these words stand out is their clarity of understanding and the clear and concise way in which they were written…and the fact that I don’t remember writing them. I have to admit I was a bit spooked at first. It was if someone else entirely had grabbed my pen and paper and noted this brief, but legible thought. I never had nightmares of monsters under my bed, but I am beginning to. They would be more like Sir Edmund Hillary, Ernest Shackleton, Robert F. Scott, or Richard E. Byrd kind of monsters; the ones who dedicated their lives for the discovery of an unexplored world for the love of their country.

What you may be aware of is that all of these rugged explorers became infamous for their journeys into extreme environments. I think that there is no greater challenge than fighting the elements, and of them, the bitter chill of an unrelenting polar environment is the pinnacle of what many attempt to define as “extreme”. We use the word “extreme” so much nowadays that it has lost its punch. There are only so many words to describe the opposite ends of the environmental spectrum; conditions so bad that they defy logic and belief.

primal questI went running yesterday in -22 degrees Celcius for an hour. My thoughts mingled and roamed, doing their best to distract me from the amount of discomfort I was experiencing after badly rolling my right ankle for the third time in as many months. I figured the cold would sooth the impending swelling and that my mind was strong enough to maintain my pace while forgetting my pain. I kept reminding myself, “You are an adventure racer now. You have to be able to push through this.” I worked harder to concentrate on other things, but each time I came back to the bum ankle. Then I could feel the creeping sensation of doubt and uncertainty wash over me.

During his lifelong obsession in seeking the North Pole, U.S. Naval Officer Robert E. Peary, after losing several toes to frostbite, was quoted as declaring, “A few toes aren’t much to give to achieve the Pole.” Such extremes reveal what is inside a person in the most unusual and unexpected of circumstances. In attempting to achieve our singular goals we may have to reach out to find the nakedness of our own souls to find the muster to keep going. Is that an inane quality that people either do or do not have or is it something that can be taught or trained for? When the chips are down, I ask myself, will I have what it takes to keep going when things are bad?

Then I woke up the next morning to find my subconscious thoughts scrawled on my bedside table. When the time comes to challenge my mind and determination to continue, I will count my fingers and toes and in finding them all accounted for, will proceed with a renewed vigour that I have once again been able to squelch doubt out of the way of success and will push forward, one step at a time.

Until next time…..TODD

Quest for PQ: The Dream of Major Bull Project #5

primal questIt would only be prudent of me before I go any further in this DMB Project to make a complete and thorough assessment of my current physical capabilities. I have done that this week and have come to a rather distressing conclusion; I am in denial.

When it comes to physical ability, I was dealt with the “average” card; average cardiovascular, average agility, average strength, average skills. Now, so far in my life I have been satisfied with that because when you are average and you exceed in anything, then it is considered an exceptional effort or amazing feat. Maybe this was by design that I never chose to excel in the world of sport. I can specifically remember the moment when I was in the sixth grade and I was standing on the sidelines at my junior high school football game. I had been asked by the coach to be a part of the team (I think he was half blind), and instead of saying yes and feeling proud of being asked in the first place, for some reason I was cautious. I once heard that caution is the better side of valor and for some reason at this moment I had no aspirations for valor.

So there I am standing on the sidelines watching the game. It was quite a rush to feel a part of the team atmosphere. As the game progressed, the coach would turn his head to me once in a while and give me that, “Whaddya think” expression with the glimmer of true insanity in his eyes. I suspect anyone who has played organized sports has seen that look in the eyes of their coach. Just then the coach turned his attention to one of his players that had come out of the game due to an injury and was sitting on the bench taking his shoe off. I sneaked a closer peak at the goings on at just the moment when the coach reached down and tore off the players bruised and battered toenail in one swipe and followed it with the words, “Quit being a pansy and get back out there.” After I vomited, I never went back again.


Needless to say, average has been pretty OK with me since that moment; until now. I want to not just put my toes on the line (even though Don Mann tips his hat to those that do), I want to make sure I am no longer average. My team and this effort deserves better than that. I plan on giving everything I have. I will not start average, therefore I will not finish average.

Now this is where things go haywire. I use the Polar RS800sd heart rate monitoring system (www.polar.com). One of the benefits is that it incorporates some very sophisticated tests to see where you are and then helps you to plan and organize your exercises to obtain goals and milestones along the way. I have used their UKK Walking test (www.ukkinstituutti.fi) and have discovered that according to their parameters my physical ability is “considerably below average”. Now for a guy who prides himself on being physically average, this was quite a blow to my psyche. I have trusted this wrist computer on many other occasions and it has never been wrong, so I no reason to believe it is now. So here are the rest of my stats so that we all know how way off target I am. I guess this is a good thing, knowing where I am. I just don’t like it.

Height- 6 feet (183 cm)Weight- 228.8 lbs (104 kg)BMI- 31.1 kg/m²VO² Max- 30.7 ml/min/kgMax HR- 180 bpmRHR- 55 bpm

So it looks like my focus is going to be on cardiovascular conditioning, core training, and functional strength. Now all I have to do is get my Polar RS800 to tell me how to do that, unless someone else has any other suggestions. See you on Wednesday which is when I switch gears and share a travel story I hope you will find interesting.

Until next time…..TODD

Quest for PQ: The Dream of Major Bull Project #6

primal questI was sitting on an airplane fairly recently contemplating the fresh wounds on my legs and the grin on my face as I flagged the flight attendant for an over-priced beer. The thoughts were the unusual way in which I had met Kim Jones through one of those “six degrees of separation” moments that went something like this;

1. Bought new Kona PhD bicycle 2. Registered bike at www.konabikes.com 3. Found that Kona has registered MTB parks worldwide 4. Clicked web link for bike park in Wales 5. Clicked web link local bike shop 6. Clicked web link to Mountain Bike Wales (www.mountainbikewales.co.uk

And that is how I found myself knee deep in a Welsh bog, filling my shoes with all kinds of primordial ooze, bonking hard whilst gasping, head in hands in 2°C (35.6°F) temperatures with clear skies, bright sunshine, and grinning from ear to ear. I never thought it was possible to bonk with a smile on my face. Kim Jones and Wales taught me that.

Kim is a local guy in southern Wales (Swansea) who was sitting in a pub one day with his friends after another day of mud, sweat, and beers who after a few pints of bitter turned to his mates and thought, “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if I could show other people how much fun this is?”. Kim not being a greedy gus when it comes to sharing his favourite local trails and such started Mountain Bike Wales about a year ago and barely a weekend goes by when he does not find foreigners, some stranger than others, at his doorstep to have their brows glazed with the therapeutic dirt that only Wales can claim.

Well, that’s how I see the story anyway. I have asked Kim how this all got started and he just replies, “I don’t know, it just seemed like a good idea.” I could not agree more. I hired a car in November last year and drove from the Netherlands to Wales with my bike and gear stashed in the back. I got to see parts of Belgium, France, and England along the way and used the very cool EuroTunnel (English Channel Tunnel) to get there. I think that everyone should do it once. All of this in order to see what kind of abuse the Welsh countryside could provide.

I told Kim what my plan was for Primal Quest and why I was heading all that way to visit him and partake of his services. As excited as he was to think about the experience, I think he was the first person, besides myself, to see the insanity of what I have chosen to do and to actually say so to my face. Not to be thwarted, he took me out with some other local riders he calls his friends and proceeded to kick my ass into the realisation that when it comes to conditioning on a MTB, I had a lot of work to do. For five days, we rode on two track back trails littered with miniature frozen ponds, rock strewn singletrack, night rides in freezing temperatures, lung busting climbs to see a local quarry, as well as the hilly jeep trails on the way to check out a bothy that they were planning on using the following weekend for a good old fashioned boys weekend out filled with good food, better whiskey, and a plethora of lies; not to mention more MTB riding.

“Hey Todd, it would be great if you could join us next weekend?” Which is how I have found myself on this airplane for a last minute flight from Amsterdam to Cardiff where I will rent a right-hand drive car for the first time (a whole other story) and beat feet to some location pinpointed on my TomTom for a 6 pm departure for, literally, the geographical middle of Wales for the weekend. Now, to tell the whole story would violate the “what happens in…” policy that is an unspoken rule for most guy’s weekends, but lets just say that it included a sideways snow storm, a heart-bursting romp/ride knee deep in several bogs, an uncomfortable thigh-high river crossing, a geocache (www.geocaching.com), brake-squealing downhill, and an unfortunate incident with a pet duck. It was the best time I can remember having with new friends.

Needless to say, I have been sworn to silence about the duck…..QUARK!!!!!

Until next time…..TODD

Quest for PQ: The Dream of Major Bull Project #7

primal questI have fallen off the wagon and wreaked my right ankle in the process.

So the story goes: left Moscow where I had my laptop stolen, got back to Portland, OR after being a day late for my flight, and had to lay my motorbike down to avoid something worse. I have always figured that bad things in life come in three’s and so I should be done for a while.

Had to wait two weeks for the kaleidoscope of symptoms to pass in order for an x-ray to be useful. A little prodding by my friends and my mother had me finally going to the doctor who was kind enough to give me a month off of the foot, saying that the x-rays show no break but I most likely had a very bad combination of ligament and tendon damage that is going to take some time. I told him that I would give it two weeks and I had to get back to training. He said he would then see me again in two weeks. Funny doc, real funny.

It is amazing how much I can not do with a bum foot. I can’t do push-ups, sit-ups, jogging, cycling, or even my rowing machine. So what is left? The only thing I have left is drinking beer, hitting winter festivals around Oregon, entertaining friends from out of town, and promptly ignoring my obligations to my blog and school work feeling sorry for myself. What can I say? I’m an over-achiever.

I have gotten something done though. I have had the privilege of chatting with our friends at SPOT in order to be sure that I was working my SPOT unit properly so that even my mom can follow me. I’m sure she has been wanting this technology ever since I was a kid, where I had the penchant for getting lost in the farmers market. I think it finally got to the point where she would take the same approach as if your pet ran away…I would come home when I got hungry. As usual, she was right. But now we have this great technology that can have you share my life with me as I travel around the world for business and pleasure.

It does have its drawbacks though. One of which being that you can keep tabs on me where ever I am. I guess my point is that I did a test run this weekend when I took some out of town friends to the Oregon Crab and Wine Festival in Newport, Oregon. When you go to my SPOT link below, you will see the road trip I took to get there. In order to get familiar with how it works I will present you with a challenge. I will admit to stopping at a McDonald’s drive through for some cheeseburgers (I told you I fell off the wagon), if you can tell me either which town it was it, or which SPOT track number it was. I don’t have anything you can win except for your name in my next blog and kudos for your ingenuity. Or maybe I can find something.

Check out my SPOT page at:

Where s Todd?

Until next time…..TODD

Going Mental

primal questWhen I read the advice of adventure racing pros, many of them mention the importance of the mental aspect of training and how it translates into better performance; getting the mind to push the body further than it is willing to go.

When I read the advice of adventure racing pros, many of them mention the importance of the mental aspect of training and how it translates into better performance; getting the mind to push the body further than it is willing to go.

Being a mental-based creature and a physical lummox, I started delving into how I could improve my overall performance by building a mental edge in order to compensate for my lack of natural physical prowess. I started by looking into the art of visualization. I have been doing meditation for many years, mainly just to keep my head screwed on straight and to keep from heading to the grassy knoll.

I will say one thing, it has worked so far. I, of course, wanted to go a bit further. I wanted to find a way that I could apply these techniques before my toe hits the line in South Dakota. So I developed a plan.Next Sunday (May 17), I am going to run the Leiden Half Marathon. The reason I have chosen this is two-fold: 1) it is close and easily accessible by train, 2) it is going to be sunny, 3) it is going to be flat, and 4) it is currently beyond my imagination. OK, I guess we can call that 2×2-fold. The way I see it is that, considering how much I abhor running, this will be a great chance for me to work on my visualisation techniques and improving my overall mental stamina.

I actually know I am going to suffer. I know I am not going to like it. I know it will not be enjoyable. I am also aware how it is going to be much more difficult without the support and encouragement of my team by my side.

Now all of this may sound pretty normal for the typical adventure athlete, but most of my friends here think I am nuts. I see that as being the point of this whole exercise. You have to be a bit nutty to want to abuse yourself this much just for the fun of it. I see it as an inherent trait of most endurance athletes, so I know I am in good company. In fact, one of the most common questions I have been getting and I suspect most of you do too is; “Why do this to yourself?”So far, I have been able to come up with one answer that truly makes sense: because I can.

Todd Phillips

Proof that Clydesdales can run

primal questYou may recall from previous postings or from meeting me that I am not a svelte guy. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time I was below 200 pounds (91 kilos). I am currently hovering at 226 pounds (103 kilos) which I suspect is my fighting weight. All of the effort in training, diet, etc. has not caused the scale to budge one iota.

The reason I bring this to light is because I am also not a natural runner. I am an over-glorified slogger. You know what I mean; plod along at a slow and steady pace, just like a Clydesdale horse. I have always been impressed by those creatures; big, beautiful, powerful, and normally hauling a large wagon full of Budweiser beer. Those are at least the most famous Clydesdales that I know of; can’t think of any others.The day started with it being a very typical cold, overcast, and rainy Dutch day. I started the day by waking at 0700 for a cup of coffee and a light breakfast of a well-balanced bowl of muesli and milk. All the articles I had read said to have something for breakfast about three hours before the race and that was pretty much the only thing in the house. Luckily I had laid out all of my kit the night before, so dressing in the dark wasn’t a problem.

There were no last minute preparations or additions to the pack I had decided to carry throughout the race. I figured I should start getting used to running with a pack on during something other than training. My partially rehabbed, broken shoulder didn’t really have much to say. Then again, I wasn’t listening.

One tram, then one train later and I was at the Leiden Central train station and things started to get a bit more interesting. You could start to feel the pulse of any large event as more and more people began milling about in matching track suits. I met up with a friend who is also training for her first half marathon in October, so I had someone to share my excitement with and to also help document the day’s events. As always, you can’t get through these events without the support of others.

Thanks Michelle!!

The race as I remember it went something like this:· find a bathroom

· warm up and stretch very cold and wet muscles

· pee again

· head to start line and find a spot

· pee again (OK, I was a bit nervous)

· race start with LOTS of fanfare from the locals, all in Dutch

· first 10K in a time of 57:11 (personal best)

· 12K marker- start to feel the pinch of two developing blisters

· stop and check shoes and adjust socks.

· 13K- no resolution, must keep going.

· asked spectator at roadside if he had an extra beer (he didn’t)

· 14K thru 18K- don’t remember a thing except the pain

· 18K- I can do another kilometre

· 19K- I can do another kilometre

· 20K- I better do another kilometre

· with 800 meters to go, stopped and “borrowed” a sip of a fine chardonnay from bystander who was cheering me on

· 700 metres- ouch, ouch and more ouch

· 500 metres- feeling the finish and it feels good

· 200 metres- honked at by timing car for the lead marathon racer from Kenya (of course)


· FINISH- hands above head, screaming my fool head off, I think I may have even shed a   tear (could have been sweat too)

· FREE Amstel beer at the finish (not kidding)

All in all, a great experience. Had I known there was free beer at the finish I think I could have broken the two hour mark (Note to Primal Quest staff- free beer is GOOD!).

I guess I have something to look forward to next year.

Ten Squishy Toes, etc.

primal questAs usual, my training comes in many strange and unusual forms.Although I have insisted that my birthday isn’t until I reach the finish at PQ this year, I had decided that I needed to do something fun and interesting (and very Dutch) for my actual birthday weekend (May 23- 24).

Literally translated, wadlopen means mud walking (wad = mud, lopen = walking). This is an activity that is special and unusual to the Dutch culture. Because so much of the land mass of the Netherlands has been reclaimed from the ocean, wadlopen is what happens when the tide of the North Sea retreats to such an extent that you can literally walk on water; or at least what used to be water.

When the tide is in, you can stand at the ferry terminal in the town of Holwerd and watch a raging sea bash against the sea wall. When the tide is out, you can walk from the mainland to the several islands that lay just a few (6-10) kilometres from the mainland. It is an odd and surreal sensation to feel like you are literally walking on water.

The trip started innocently enough with a group of about 35 or so people from all over the world. We get a little talk in Dutch to stay with the group, don’t wander off, and listen to your guide. After that, the whole group just goes from the paved parking lot out into the innocuous landscape of the tidal flats. The uninitiated then promptly sink knee deep into the primordial ooze that is left over when the sea has done its business.

The reaction is beyond description; from “yuck” (my friend Maureen) to “full-belly laughter” (yours truly). I just had a blast when watching the group, one by one, sink so deep in the mud that the retrieval of the loosely tied shoes took two hands. This was only the first hour of our three hour tour (a three hour tour).

It took about the first 35 minutes or so to get your stride and walk a bit like an Egyptian. A small slide in your step has you on top of the sea floor instead of in it. We were then blessed with a water walk that was about waist high, then across some oyster beds, and then back into the brackish swamp sludge.

It was to be a recurring theme over the course of the 10 kilometre walk that ended on the island of Ameland where we then walked across the dunes to the North Sea to wash up and catch our breath in time to catch the tractor ride back to the local town of Nes. A further wash had us celebrating the day’s efforts in typical Todd style- beer in hand. Would you have thought I would celebrate in any other way?

The countdown to race day is fast approaching. A blend of nervousness, excitement and sheer terror visits me each day as I continue to train. I see the unusual experience of wadlopen as a precursor of what is to come in the course of 7 days of Badlands mud and muck. I continue to train by every fun and unusual way I can and yet I still don’t feel ready.

I am beginning to wonder if I ever will be. If my experience this weekend taught me anything, it was to enjoy the pleasure of the unique. That is what being ready means for me at the moment. Take the pain, take the effort, and take the overwhelming physicality of this endeavor and find the pleasure in each moment.

Todd Phillips

The Reason Why We Do

primal questSince I normally travel so much for my work, I am not used to the transparency that comes with working in an office. The various injuries I have suffered (shoulder and ankle) are telegraphed as a source of conversation for my colleagues.

My answer is normally pretty general, but for some reason when my friend Franz saw me hobbling around the office one day after an unusually brutal hill sprint routine, it got me to thinking.His comment was very simple; “Todd, why do you keep putting your body through this?” My response to him came in the form of one of those Wayne’s World flashbacks to when I was a paramedic on the mean streets in Michigan.

I recall getting a “man in distress” call one night to a residential address. The police were already on scene as were the fire department. They looked utterly bemused at the sight before them of a young man in his mid 30’s who was continuously banging his head against the back door to his family’s home. As I approached him, I could see he had been at it a while by the look of the very large contusion on his head and the slight trickle of blood down the side of his face.

The police and fire had done their very best, short of tackling the guy, to get him to stop. He just continued to BANG, BANG, BANG his head against the door. As the senior medic on scene, it was my call as to what to do with this guy. I had been to the house once before on another call. I was familiar with some of his history of mental illness and non-compliance with his medication. He had recently been released from a care home and was not transitioning well to his new, yet familiar surroundings. He wasn’t dangerous, just confused.

I walked up to him so as not to startle him and called out his name.

“Hey Richard, it’s Todd…you know…with the ambulance.”

“Yeah…Todd, ” he said, not missing a beat of BANG, BANG, BANG on the door.

The question I asked him that day in his back yard was as simple as the question my friend Franz asked me just the other day in the office after seeing me favouring my sore feet and legs. It was the simplicity of Richard’s answer that struck me as so profound then and the meaning of it returned to me in my own reply.

“Richard, why are you banging your head against the door?” I asked calmly.

“Cause it feels so good when I stop.” was his casual reply.It has been too long since I have updated you. I would like to say I have been busy (which I have), but mainly it is my self- pity, avoidance behavior that has kept me from writing this post; one that I have dreaded for weeks.

I will not be racing Primal Quest 2009.

primal questSince I was here last, I have traveled to Belgrade, Serbia for work and timed a personal best on the 10K (54:12) while also training hard with my weighted pack on steep hills. Upon my arrival back to Amsterdam, I jumped a flight to Geneva, Switzerland in order to compete in the Solomon Endurance Mountain Cross in Chamonix, France; a race that challenged my physical endurance under sleep deprived conditions.

None of that really seems to matter much compared to the challenge I faced when I returned- evaluation of my separated left AC joint by my physiotherapist. This is what I have been busting my butt for since the accident in April. All of the work that I have done three days a week in organised physio, plus the additional conditioning work I have been doing was leading up to this moment where I would get the hard, statistical numbers to back up my efforts.

I arrived early for my appointment on the Tuesday after my trip to France. I did my requisite ten minutes on the Concept 2 rowing machine to warm up. The look on the face of my physiotherapist, Richard, said it was time. I chatted nervously with Richard. He has been my guide through this rehab process, so he knew exactly what this meant to me. I made idle chit-chat as he strapped me into the machine that was to evaluate my left shoulder for strength and range of motion. It resembled a medieval torture device more than a therapeutic tool, but then again I think most of them do.

The long and short of it is this: if you were to think that my uninjured right arm represents 100% (strength and range of motion), then comparatively my left arm is only 66%. That means that after 8 weeks of intense physical therapy, I am still not close enough to the 80-85% that I needed to race.

I could tell the look on Richards face as he interpreted the results. The furrowed brow, the pursed lips and the look of pity told me everything that I had feared since I began this journey. I would not be racing. I have not found the words over the course of the past two weeks that adequately describes how I felt at that moment.

The next greatest challenge was telling my team. I must say that I have been very fortunate that my team captain Kim Dunkin is not only my leader, but also my dearest friend. I just didn’t know how to tell her, especially through the challenge of the time difference between here and there.

I just knew that if you were to add my will, desire, and an extraordinarily svelte right pinkie finger, by the law of averages I was still 110%. I also know what it takes to do this race after years of watching the level of anguish, determination, and will power each competitor cycles through. I knew that I could not risk the safety and success of my team for my own selfishness. After all, this is a team sport.

So where does that put the outcome of the Quest for PQ- the Dream of Major Bull Project? The goal was to do Primal Quest for my fortieth birthday and as far as I can remember, I get to be forty for a whole year, right?

That should give me that much more time to prepare for the next installment of Primal Quest. Until then, my heart is with my team, my thoughts go out to the volunteers who have sacrificed their own time and efforts for this sport, and my prayers go out to all the race staff, directors, and such for another epic and successful event.


We have more free adventure race stories on our site.

Or try reading this The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of My Feet: Tales from the World of Adventure Racing. It is a great book to read about stories of actual adventure races from Eco-Challenge to Primal Quest.

I really enjoyed reading this book and actually now race against many of the people. From men to women, from newbies to the pros it was very entertaining.


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