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.
“You don’t have the grit for the grind.” Those words, uttered over five years ago, still resonate with me today. I decided to run anyway. The more I raced, the quieter the self-doubt became. Then something that would forever change my life happened. Deep in the solace of the trail, I started to hear other voices…and their words were different.
Ultrarunners’ feet take a pounding like no others’. They are the workhorses that allow us to do what we do. But too often, we take them for granted until something goes south down there – usually during a big race. It’s only then that we remember just how crucial their health and happiness is to our ability to perform and get it done mile after mile.
When the physical blow finally fell, and a new sort of running reality had set in, both Chris Jones and Jean Pommier did not know what was happening, or what was next. So much of their existence was ruled by yearly racing calendars overflowing with races. They raced the way others breathe – with a frequency that was needed, and filled them with life.
How we had come to be sharing the intimate moments of a collapsing transcontinental run attempt was quite a story in and of itself. A month earlier, when he began this run in California, Robert Young and his transcon were not even a blip on my radar.
In modern society, with ubiquitous technology making life easier, and media streaming all forms of drama and entertainment 24/7, the opportunity and inclination for us as individuals to do something truly epic is becoming scarcer all the time. In fact recent surveys indicate that Americans average over 10 hours in front of an electronic screen every day
People get into the sport of ultrarunning for various reasons. Some to escape: the roads, the crowds, the noise and the stresses of everyday life. Others, to explore: nature, new places and the limits of both body and mind.
To our delight, what we find out is those limits lie far beyond our wildest dreams. “I went somewhere I never thought possible” is a common refrain of any 100-mile finisher.
On September 10, John Vanderpot will attempt his fifth consecutive completion of the Los Pinos 50K. He currently has the most finishes by a runner for what some consider one of the most badass 50K courses around.
Toeing the line and completing an ultramarathon is a huge accomplishment. But racing an ultra is an entirely different proposition. Both are wonderful and life changing endeavors, but since this is our racing-themed issue, we want to give props to the serious racers out there. We’re not just talking about the elites; we’re talking about anyone trying for their own personal maximum footspeed over a mappable distance.
Maybe you’ve seen the acronym DNF > DNS. Simply put, it means that it is better to attempt and fail than to not try at all. But let’s face it – the harsh reality of a DNF offers little comfort if it happens to you.