When noted poet laureate Carrie Underwood recently crooned about “something in the water,” I’m not sure if she was talking about religion, self-discovery, or something else entirely. Personally, I like to think she is referring to the insane performances some female ultrarunners out here have been throwing down in ultramarathons, particularly at 24-hour events. In the past month alone, four East Coast-based women have run over 140 miles in 24-hour events, all but assuring that they will be the top-4 (out of 6) on the U.S.A. 24-hour team that is competing in Turin, Italy this coming April.So suck it, all you West Coasters, with your fancy “mountains” and “trails” and “altitude.” I know you like to think of Florida as the place where people go to retire and die, where we don’t know how to count ballots. No one can drive, it’s always disgustingly-hot, and our largest population center masquerades as a city but is actually a third-world country (Miami).
Okay, fine; all of that is true. But Florida (and the East Coast) are increasingly-becoming known for something else. I know it’s gone largely-unnoticed: While all of you West Siders in Tupac-Land have been eagerly awaiting Twitter updates from Rob Krar’s beard, Katalin Nagy, Traci Falbo, Maggie Guterl, and Aly Venti have been setting the ultrarunning world on fire this year, both here and abroad.
(“Look, there it is. Okay, this must be a legit ultrarunning article now.”)Seriously, though, those four ladies stand an excellent chance of sweeping the podium at the World Championships next month. So let’s learn a little about each one, in reverse order of their qualifying positions (And I know what you’re thinking. Really, though, it’s true: ultrarunning actually does occur east of Colorado).
Aly Venti: The Heat Index
Aly will qualify for the team in the 4th position after running 140.88 miles at a race in South Florida in mid-November. (Note: the qualifying window for the US team has not yet closed, but with no major races between now and when the team is announced in a few weeks, it is an extremely safe bet that these four women who ran over 140 miles will be on the team). And even though Aly accrued the least amount of miles of the “140-plus” club, she is likely the favorite to take the gold medal in Italy.
A 32-year-old marine biology Ph.D., Aly has entered six races of 100 miles or longer. She won them all. (Don’t believe me? Fine. Click here
.)Aly — a two-time champion of the Keys 100 and this year’s Badwater 135 champion — specializes in long, hot road races. At this year’s Keys 100 (in a race where top 24-hr qualifier Katy Nagy and second-position qualifier Traci Falbo also ran), Aly demolished the field (and her own previous course record) with an unbelievable 14:42. That ranks as the third-fastest 100 ever
on American soil. Only the immortal Ann Trason and Pam Smith (on a track) have run faster.How do I properly articulate just how fast Aly is at ultras? I suppose I have to turn to the most-recognized language in the world. No, not English. No, not Chinese. That’s right . . . the language of Starbucks.Let’s talk to my good friend and coaching partner, Michele Graglia, an Italian living in LA (and a world-class runner in his own right); he has some insight on the subject. (See, West Coasters . . . I acknowledge YOU guys exist . . . 🙂 At any rate, we all know that “Venti” in Starbucks language means “large.” But to welcome Aly to Italy in a few months, Michele (pronounced Mee Kay Lah) — who is politically-connected in Italy — has started a movement so that “Venti,” in Italian, will now officially mean “Really F*@#ing Fast.”As an aside, Michele is a former international model who decided to trade in catwalks for trails. And just so no one accuses me of being gender-biased when it comes to eye-candy, here’s Michele in his former life:
Michele is the type of guy you just want to hate, as he’s (1) faster than you, (2) (obviously) better-looking than you, and (3) he gets more attention than you. But my wife assures me that when we are in our bedroom and she screams out “Mee Kay Lah,” that’s “just how you say ‘Dave’ in Italian.”
(Michele, as an ultrarunner and not a male model / international assassin)But Michele is impossible to hate. . . he’s just too damn nice and humble. Plus he just told me, “Dave, I’m pretty sure there’s more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good-looking, and I intend to find out what that is.”Okay, where were we? Right, Aly is fast. Like stupid-fast. Like “ludicrous-speed” fast.
(“Prepare ship for Light Speed.” “No, no. Light Speed is much too slow. We’re going to have to jump straight to . . . Venti Speed.”)
So how is Aly so fast and so dominant in her races? I’m no rocket surgeon, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that she runs more miles per week than literally any other human being on the planet. And while I may dabble in hyperbole every once in a while (pretty much once per paragraph), I am being completely serious here: the woman averages over 200 miles per week in training, and has for years. Pro marathoners run about 120-140 a week. All you West Coast peeps are too busy chasing Anton Krupicka up and down mountains to log 200 miles a week. So of the 6 billion people on Earth, I think she may be #1 as far as weekly mileage. Well, except for Kim Jong-un. Obviously.Aly’s national team qualifying time of 140.88 miles — at the Icarus Ultrafest 24-hr race in Ft. Lauderdale –places her in the fourth position. But she’s already beaten the two women occupying spots #1 and 2 this year, and she ran her 141 miles on a humid, sunny, and unseasonably-warm day in South Florida). So don’t be surprised if Ms. Really F*@#ing Fast is your World Champion come April. If anyone beats her, it will probably be one of these next three ladies…
Maggie Guterl: The Party-Crasher
Of the four “140-plus” women on the 24-hour team heading off to Italy, Maggie — a Pennsylvania-based ultrarunner — is the only one I don’t know personally. So I did the only thing any respected journalist would do . . . I stalked her on Ultrasignup (here
is her page), as well as on Facebook.What I learned is that up until her breakthrough 24-hour performance at a race in New Jersey a month ago, Maggie was a solid ultrarunner but had not yet exhibited world-class potential. (Her previous high for a 24-hr race was 110 miles, and her 100-mile PR was her 18:34 performance at the Viaduct Trail 100 (another New Jersey race). Those are solid performances, but not exactly indicative of someone who has the potential to run 142 miles in 24 hours. So being the intrepid investigator that I am, I asked her, “Yo, what’s up with that? How did you make ‘the leap'”??Maggie — who is called “Maggietron” by her friends (which is fricking awesome nickname, by the way) — attributes her breakthrough race to two factors: (1) hiring a coach (Michele Yates), and (2) running consistent high mileage. With that increased training base came increased confidence, and with all the hard work she put in before her 24-hour race, it led to her experiencing a “calmness [during the race]that remained the whole time.”While few know too much about Maggie yet on a national/international level, one thing is for certain: the sky is the limit for this wild-card runner who is just starting to hit her stride…
Traci Falbo: Round And Around And Around And Around We Go…
If the International Olympic Committee approves “Putting Your Head On A Bat And Twirling Around It Like A Five-Year-Old And Then Trying To Run” as an official sport for Brazil 2016, Traci Falbo is the undisputed gold-medal front-runner. This woman is the queen of running around in circles. In August, this Indianan (that looks weird but Google tells me it’s correct) traveled all the way to Anchorage, Alaska to run for 48 hours straight . . . in a dome. That’s right, she traveled almost 4,000 miles to experience all the beauty and majesty of Alaska’s Great Indoors.
Here’s a typical picture that someone visiting Alaska in June might snap off
Aaaannnd . . . here’s what Traci’s view was for 48 hours in Anchorage
In all seriousness, the Alaska Dome is one of the only full-sized (quarter-mile) indoor tracks in the country, and the controlled environment/temperature makes it ideal for world and national record attempts for timed events like 24 and 48 hour races. (And the marquee event going on during Traci’s run was actually asix-day nonstop race; the official race name was “Six Days In The Dome.”)Traci took full advantage of those perfect running conditions and set an American — and World Indoor — 48-hour record by amassing 242.35 miles total. That’s 969 — Niiiiiine Hundred and Sixty Nine — laps around that track.
(“Nine [hundred and sixty nine]times?? I don’t remember Traci running around the track that many times.”)After presumably taking the following few months off due to dizziness, all Traci did in November as an encore was set the U.S. 100-mile trail record when she ran a 14:45 at the Tunnel Hill 100 in Illinois, which relegated famed ultrarunner Jenn “La Brujita” Shelton to the number two all-time slot for U.S. trail 100s.And less than a month after that performance — apparently because she can’t get enough of running around in circles — Traci was back at it for the 24-hour Desert Solstice Invitational at Central HS in Phoenix, which just finished this past weekend. Her total: 147.64 miles, which would qualify her for the men’s 24-hr team, and was less than 5 miles shy of the U.S. 24-hr record (152.03 miles).On any other day, Traci’s effort would have been the news of the day. But there was another East Coast woman at Desert Solstice as well…
Katalin Nagy: The Silent Assassin
Katy on her way to a second-place finish at the world’s premier 100+ mile road ultramarathon: the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece
To say Katy Nagy enjoyed an epic 2104 would be an “epic” understatement. In addition to a 15:53 Keys 100, Katy — a native Hungarian who is now an American citizen living in Sarasota, Florida — decided to test her mettle against the very best long-distance road runners in the world at this year’s Spartathlon, a 153-mile race in Greece that retraces the footsteps of legendary messenger Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta. As usual, Katy passed with flying colors.
I was actually in the race with Katy, and, as usual, she passed me right at about the 50k mark. And she kept going. And going. And going, until she crossed the finish line at the statute of Gerard Butler (er, King Leonidas) in under 29 hours, a truly-remarkable feat.
(For my account of the 2014 Spartathlon, click here).
For her second act, Katy — who does not like the spotlight at all — toed the line at Desert Solstice this weekend, and threw down the gauntlet. 151.37 miles. 9:32 per mile average . . . for twenty-four freaking hours. Less than a mile under the U.S. record. Yeah, good luck staying away from the limelight now, Katy… 🙂
This Team Is Built For Gold
With the talent we are sending to Italy this year, the U.S. women are probably going to be the heavy favorites to win the team gold, and it’s possible — given the right conditions — that all four women break the current U.S. record of 152.03 miles. So good luck and kick ass!
PS: Speaking of those conditions, ladies, if I can give you one piece of advice, it’s to make sure you bring face masks with you if there are going to be a lot of Italians standing around on the course:
The news that “smoking is bad for you” apparently has not yet reached Italy. Everyone, and I meaneveryone smokes out there. It’s unreal. It’s like stepping back into the 80’s (which you would also say to yourself if you turned on an Italian radio station; when I was in Italy this past March for the incredible 175-mile UltraMilano-Sanremo, I heard more old-school Madonna, Whitney Houston, etc. than I have in a long time). Back in 2007, I ran the NYC Marathon, and — I swear I am not making this up — at about Mile 12, I ran past two Italians — running in the race — who were smoking. And we were running at a 3:00 marathon pace. Unfortunately, the only person who can vouch for this story is the guy who was running with me at the time, Lance Armstrong. We ran together for about 5 miles, and he and I shared a smile when we saw the Italian smokers. (He would later go on to drop me and beat me by about 15 minutes (he finished in 2:46 that year)). So there you go. Italians smoke during marathons; just ask Lance Armstrong.