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Waking up to my alarm at 5 a.m. isn’t hard these days. In the wee hours, my body knows that a grueling struggle is near triggering an internal wake-up call. Long gone are the days where I lie in the darkness, my mind spinning to justify another hour of sleep instead of getting up to run. This last weekend was no exception, and this time I had friends to hold me accountable.
When I first started running ultras, I was looking to extend the joy I received from running the roads, but without the crush of the urban environment. I saw a photo on the office wall of the director of a sports care center that I had office space in. He was standing in running shorts and a singlet on top of a snow-covered mountain peak. I asked where that was.
We should have known better… The 13 starters were indicative of what would transpire. The fact that Barry Barkley, the race’s namesake, had to work and missed the event. The failure of the temperature to reach above freezing during the race – both the weekends, before and after, it had reached into the 70’s. Most of all, just knowing the nature of the Boundary Trail, we shouldn’t have even tried. But we did.
“I think I might throw up,” I heard Shacky mutter during the steep climb. My friends Vanessa and Shacky and I managed to make it to the top of Gooseberry Mesa without anyone throwing up (or dying). The climb to the top of the mesa ascended more than 1,500 feet in less than a mile, early in the Zion 100.
Races of 24 hours in duration are a yardstick in the sport of ultrarunning, having been contested for decades around the world, dating hack to the 1800s. Athletes in these events are seeking the answer to the question: how far can I go in one full day? In this two-part article, I’ll provide some advice on training, planning, and competing in these one-day races.
Goals are funny. They’re hard to let go of, whether you succeed or fail. A Harvard study suggests, “The sense of competence resulting from successful goal achievement encourages students to set more challenging goals and eventually adopt goal directed mindsets.” Sound familiar? As a runner, my natural inclination was to follow in my father’s footsteps and run a marathon. Once that goal had been checked off, my sights were set on qualifying for, and finishing Boston (like most marathoners).
My first experience with significant overtraining from running occurred during my two years of collegiate running for CU-Boulder. I was a decent, All-State high school runner in Colorado’s second largest school class, but my talent and experience were years behind many of my teammates like Dathan Ritzenhein, Jorge and Eduardo Torres, and Steve Slattery. Totally pumped by the simple fact that I had made the team in the annual tryout for a few walk-ons, I dove enthusiastically into my training.
Most ultrarunners are fueled by a desire to push their limits and explore the boundaries of what is possible. They are drawn to training for and completing ultras because they want to challenge themselves and achieve big goals. The process of committing, training and executing on race day consumes, and ultimately defines, the ultrarunner’s life. The experience and satisfaction of knowing you put everything on the line in an epic test, is what endures.
The pace was hot from the beginning! With Zach Miller leading the way in his usual fashion we blew through the first mile at 5:56 a.m. and didn’t slow from there. Either I thought this pace was sustainable and forgot it was a 50-mile race, or I just felt like running fast and didn’t care what would happen.
“Anish” now holds the Overall Self-Supported (backpacker) records for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the AZT. She stands alone (and ahead of all men too) in her specialty, with her AZT being two days faster than the Men’s Self-Supported FKT, and was on track to be the quickest AZT ever until Michael Versteeg set a quicker faster (Supported) time a few days previous. Anderson covered the 800 mile route in 19 days, 17 hours and 9 minutes.
The best ultrarunner in the US knocked this one out of the park and was recognized for it. Records have been kept on this uber-route for decades, recently including Anton Krupicka, Dave Mackey, and Dakota Jones, with Jim taking 25 minutes off Rob Krar’s 2013 time. In the process he blazed South-North Rim in 2:46 which is an FKT itself. Walmsely covered the 42.2 miles in 5:55:20.