Runners, beware, you are about to enter the twilight zone. This is the dimension that exposes long-held beliefs that cause of chronic burn-out. It is a journey into a wondrous land that defies dogma and disposes of the monotonous. A place where mindless, boring exercise goes to die.
Some people can run ultramarathons for years, even decades, and never get a serious injury. Others are very injury-prone, forced into taking extended breaks often. Surely, some runner’s bodies are better suited to the demands of running far than others, but there’s got to be more to it.
Of all the important relationships in life, my relationship with the trails is one of the most complex and profound of all. Some days running the trail is like a magic carpet ride—every step easy and flowing and I’m one with the world. At times like this the trail allows me to connect with nature, know myself and be truly present. But other times the trail is a punishing taskmaster, with every rut, root, rock and impediment a massive hurdle.
What do Michael Wardian, Sage Canaday, Ellie Greenwood, Yassine Diboun, Aliza Lapierre and Adam Chase have in common? Yes, they’re all elite ultra marathon runners who have raced consistently at a world-class level, but they are also all long-term vegetarians.
I decided to examine the question whether women are superior distance runners by consulting the world records. (I assume that the world records give close to the best human performance under ideal conditions.) In order to make comparisons more valid I used records set on the track to eliminate possible uneven performances due to grade (such as the net 490 foot drop at the Boston Marathon) and potential aiding by wind (70% chance at Boston).
The nine volcanic islands that make up the archipelago of the Azores have sprung up from the ocean floor relatively recently. Altogether devoid of human habitation until the adventurous seafarers of 14th century Portugal came to shore and established small settlements, the Azores have ever since served as a key port of call for cross-Atlantic sailors.
How good is Yiannis Kouros? Put it this way: He is the only runner for whom an accusation of cheating eventually became an honor. The quality of his run in the first Spartathlon was so far beyond what anyone thought possible that the only way to put his performance in perspective was to assume that he had cut the course. And so he came to Austria on Easter weekend of 1984 as the object of sincere suspicion.
Summertime means the mountains are open for runners and hikers, and the majority of the high alpine races are during this time of year. However, many runners, especially city slickers, don’t have equivalent climbs where they can train. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for the more mountainous races no matter where you live.
The MMT course is not an easy one, with over 16,000 feet of ascension over 103.7 miles, and the weather conditions (approaching 90 F and humid on race day, followed by an afternoon deluge and off and on showers throughout the night) made it even more interesting. But the hardest part for me was yet to come a few days later from an offhanded comment containing the word “crazy.”
Aid stations are a critical component of ultras. They serve as not only the lifeline for many runners, but are also a telling reflection of a caring community. They are composed of volunteers giving hours and most importantly driving energy to runners intent on achieving what to many may seem ludicrous.
“Since when is running 40 miles in under 6 hours the mark of a failure?” my wife asked me — for about the fifth time. I didn’t respond. I was sitting in our hotel room in a sort of depressed fog, the product of cramped hamstrings, blistered feet, mild heat exhaustion and a strong case of self-commiseration.
“When the race is 50 miles,” I finally answered.
It’s universally understood that there’s nothing easy about running and racing ultra distances. The mastery the headspace is more important to cultivate than the training miles that we put in in pursuit of ultra glory. If we come up short, we sometimes think that had we trained more, or harder, then maybe our outcome might have been better, when what really mattered was our mental and psychological approach to the task.
Long-time RD and Texas ultrarunning insititution Joe Prusaitis recently announced the sale of his well-known and highly regarded ultra races, including the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler and the Bandera 100k to new owners Chris and Krissy McWatters. We asked Joe if he would be willing to share a bit of his story with us.
Four ultramarathoners occupied a $200 /month, rundown apartment. They shared one bathroom and one dream: They loved to run the long ones, the ultras. They pooled every thing they had – food, Nikes, part – time jobs, friends, and trails. Life was simple because there were no non-essential personal possessions to care for or to use.
It was Easter Sunday in March 2008, and he was unable to fit into the restaurant booth at a family gathering. Bill Clements was nearly 30 years old, and this was his wakeup call. He had always enjoyed being in nature and the idea that he was physically fit and able to enjoy himself on various outings and adventures, but now, with 250 pounds on his 5 foot 9 inch frame, he knew that something had to change. Two years later Bill completed his first 50k
What am I doing here? And why did I decide that this was the race to “go for it?” Now I just wish I were at home between my own sheets with hyperactive bladder and bowels and cold sweaty feet and hands. Most of all, I wish that tomorrow held something other than an early rise and a day of exceedingly painful effort. Ah, well. close the eyes, breath deeply, and please, please, go to sleep.