Many comparisons have been made to modern-day ultrarunners and the Pioneers who crossed the continent in covered wagons back in the 1840s and 1850s. The Pioneers risked everything and took on a massively arduous 2,000-mile trek, often for a dream or nebulous “better life” out west. As with ultrarunners, a common question from onlookers was: “why?”
Let’s face it, ultrarunning is a really difficult activity. It requires a huge time and lifestyle commitment. But many people are attracted, like moths to flame, to the opportunity to do something epic. And often once they do a few ultras they realize there is a steep learning curve and they achieve faster, and faster, times. Soon, they are pulled into the drive to reach their highest potential by racing ultras – they are all-in.
It all started when I was a teenager. I would see people out “going for a jog” and it looked so carefree and enjoyable. I wanted to be able to do it.
Get out the door and smile at the thought of the foolish mistakes that are waiting for you.
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.
“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.
We hadn’t attended the Western States lottery in a few years and I was not expecting the spectacle that was ahead of us that morning in the packed auditorium at Placer High School in Auburn, California. I knew it would be flawlessly conducted, high energy and even entertaining.
But to be honest, I had forgotten how life-changing ultramarathons can be in people’s lives, and the visceral emotions that are unleashed when someone’s name is chosen.
The calendar was my first running “tool.” When I began seriously training, a simple wall calendar provided a handy place to record what I had done. These days, the old running calendar has become a part of social media. I think the value still distills down to the same essential ingredients: the numbers and the compulsion to improve them.
We’ve all been heartbroken in love and on the trails. In order to protect ourselves from more heartbreak, we play it safe. We don’t embrace the sweet complexity of the other person; we don’t dance down the technical trails. But what if we did? What if we went for it? It could be a disaster, right? Or it could be a sweet success.
Charlie Sabatini has been running the roads and trails in Rochester, New York for over 63 years. He is so in tune with what has gone on around him that he remembers when some of the trees in these woods were just saplings. One of the pioneers of the local ultra scene, Charlie was part of a group of Rochester runners that ran ultras before most people knew what ultras were.
I’m halfway into a 50k race. I have had the same racer on my shoulder for the last five kilometres. We feel a camaraderie as we jointly conquer the hilly rocks ahead – many times reaching back to help one another. We are feeling grateful for this new-found partnership. And then reality sets in…we are racing against each other.
The Comrades Marathon has been an utterly life-changing event in my life for so many reasons – all of them extremely positive. They say that “life is what happens while you make other plans.” I could never, ever have imagined all those years ago just how huge a part of my life the “Big C” would become.
The San Juans hold a special place in my heart. It was the natural place for me to go for some healing after having miscarried what was to be our third child just one month prior. The Silverton Double Dirty 30 presented the perfect opportunity to enjoy the fall foliage, spend some time on the trail and be humbled by my surroundings. For once I had no agenda, no goals of time or even distance. I wanted to participate and find inner peace.
Is it possible to run across the USA in less than 46 days? That is what I wanted to find out, so I joined Pete Kostelnick and his crew at 8 a.m. on September 12, 2016, at City Hall in San Francisco, California and began my four day photo-odyssey of his transcontinental record attempt. A life-long runner and ultrarunner myself, I thought I had a clue about what a transcon record attempt would be like. I soon found out how little I actually knew.
As Tropical John Medinger astutely observed, ultrarunning is a hard sport for everyone – back of the pack, middle of the pack and those at the front – and it is this shared experience of suffering that brings all ultrarunners together and makes our sport so special. This sense of connectedness is what keeps the first finishers of an ultra cheering for the last finishers, and it’s what makes our community so strong.
The past three weeks I have been riding the high of one of the biggest runs/races I’ve completed. This piece is about what happens after the recovery party is over and what the road down from the high looks like. I call this road “Aftermath Drive.”
Like any runner alone on the trails, you make friends and talk about things runners talk about: shoes, poles, clothing, fuel, food and beer. Those bonds grow and materialize into friends taking care of friends, or so that is my story and very brief introduction to Pearl Izumi.