Jul 25, 2007

Is steve an ultrarunner?

somebody at my new job asked me to send him a little blurb about myself as an introduction to him. i can't quote my response verbatim, but it went something like this:

"I am impulsive and a risk taker. I often get in over my head or do something dangerously stupid just for the thrill of it. I will most likely die of hypothermia, exposure, or head/neck trauma about 12,000 on a mountain somewhere. because they won't find my body for 79 years from the date of death, it is not a good idea to rely on me for anything."

it is in that context, that i reflect on the following conversation i had with an ultrarunner who DNF'd (medical reasons, no fault of his own, completed 61 miles anyway) at the vermont 100:

me: "I can't ever see myself running 100 miles. I would love to pace somebody through the last 30 miles of an ultra, do a 50k, or maybe even a 50-miler. but 100? no way."

him: "It's a disease. you start out with the marathon, then it's such a small jump to the 50k. then you think you can do a little more.. so you do a 50 miler. then a 100k. 100 miles then becomes no big deal."


You see, while I can't imagine myself ever attempting, much less completing, a 100-mile foot race, I can very much see myself catching the disease that my friend at the finish line described.

but allow me to back up..

I walked away from that race, simply amazed. these people are incredible. 100 miles is just incomprehensible, and these people were doing it. and doing it well.. but that's not all. personally, i can't think of any occassion where i personally witnessed a more difficult or grueling task. 100 miles. damn. i think about all the emotion and physical/mental stress that people talk about regarding the training and completion of a regular marathon - and it seems so minuscule by comparison. there were pacers at this race who ran 30 miles over a course much more difficult than almost every 26.2 marathon in this country, who received absolutely nothing for it - they just did it to help someone finish their 100-miler.

so, you know, considering the magnitude of the accomplishment, i really thought there would be more fans. the finish line basically had a couple of volunteers (including me), a few DNFs hanging out, maybe a family member or two waiting for their person, the race director and registrar (both came and went) - and those working the coinciding horse race.

no fans, no groupies, nothing.

gives a whole new meaning to the term "all guts no glory."

these people go out and run 100 miles for themselves. and themselves alone. there's no money in it, even for the winners. you are briefly applauded by half-a-dozen volunteers when you cross the finish line. your friends, family and coworkers might be impressed, but there's no envy there, only worried curiosity. in short, there's nothing to gain.. except maybe the knowledge that you can do it, and the satisfaction that you did it.

regular 26.2 mile marathons are "normal." ultramarathons are weird. extreme. hardcore. and slightly dangerous..

and that is what i was reflecting on today after i sent that email to a coworker. he probably thought i was joking. i am, after all, a goofball.

so listen, i am only going to be honest here. what i wrote to him was indeed an exaggeration, but it highlighted an underlying truth. i am impulsive and a risk-taker. if i'm going to put in the time to start running, i am not going to accept mediocrity in doing so - and while i'll probably never be a particularly fast runner - i know i can build my endurance. one thing to remember about people who can complete a 100-mile ultramarathon in the mountains of vermont is that they're normal blokes just like you an me. some people are into flying model airplanes. some are into watching baseball. some are into building ant farms. these people are into endurance. and they are enthusiasts - just like the guy who drops a couple grand on an airplane or baseball tickets or a ginormous ant farm.

enough blathering. will i ever run 100 miles? i honestly don't know. but prior to this last weekend, i would have answered that question with an emphatic 'no.' will i catch a disease? gee, i might already have. i'm planning on running 4 marathons this fall. and none of them seem like a big deal to me anymore. what has me excited is the possibility of participating in an endurance challenge this fall in hartford, CT, sponsored by the north face and hosted dean karnazes. they have a half-marathon option, and a 50k option. i know i could do the half-marathon, it will be safe, and it won't interfere with my marathon plans (it'll actually complement them nicely.) then, i look at 50k.. and I've gotta say, it scares me a bit. I have an intense desire to do it, but I'm not sure about whether I'm ready or not. I'm still fat after all - I've lost 60 lbs, but I have at least another 60 lbs to lose.

and that brings me to my next point. albany is 120 miles from home, yet that is where my job is. I read stories about people with much busier lives who get up at 5:00 am to get their run in, then get the kid off the school , then go to work. wow. could i adopt that kind of lifestyle? wake at 5:30? finish my run by 6:30? shower and get ready for work by 7:30? drop joey off at school and hit the road for 100 minutes for the drive to albany? i have to.. that's all there is to it.

the drive to albany has given me the opportunity to get caught up on my podcasts - and in lieu of an ipod (which was stolen by a TSA agent), i use a laptop with an external speaker. It's great to be hearing endurance planet and the final sprint again. And in searching for other running podcasts, I came across Phedippidations - "thoughts, opinions, dissertations, and rambling diatribes composed during distance long runs." This hour long podcast, intended to be listened to with a portable media player during long runs, might be the most inspiring running-related thing I've ever come across. I can't explain why it is so motivating to me - but I am actually eagerly anticipating my commutes so I could listen to one of the 106 episodes - and I get so much out of it that I listen at 140% speed, which allows me to get 140 minutes of content in a 100-minute drive. It is a crying shame that I listen while driving my car while listening to it, which is just one step above sitting on a couch while listening to it - but that aside, I think the appeal to me is that I want to be like steve runner. His has a goal of running a 4-hour marathon. it inspires him to get out all the time. I have a goal of running a 50-mile ultramarathon. Same thing.

Anyway, the summary of Episode 104 of Phedippidations is as follows: "You owe it to yourself, and to the rest of the running community, to start writing a blog, or producing a podcast. Write about your thoughts, your opinions and share your rambling diatribes…because at some point you’re going to write or record something that will touch another fellow runner, somewhere in this world, in such as way that it will have an important and positive influence in their life." He emphasized that it shouldn't be just a training log (as I already have, generated by motionbased), but that it should contain honest reflections related to running, whether it be my own, my goals, someone else's goals or running, or whatever. So at this point, you might notice a shift in the nature of the posts in my blog. I don't know how it's going to look - it might be overly philosophical, reflective, insightful, stupid, or maybe even vulnerable. I don't know. But I do know this - it will be honest. that's what i owe to myself.. and if anybody is still out there after reading this way-too-long post, then that's what i owe to you, too.