Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jemez Recovery - Am I Onto Something?

Knock on wood, but....

Never could I have imagined that I would feel this good only 10 days after running one of the two or three toughest 50-mile races in North America.

Last week, in the wake of the Jemez 50-miler in Los Alamos, New Mexico, I focused on recovery, getting some much-needed mental and physical rest. Basically, I listened to my body and did only what it wanted. I never forced any mileage or time goals and just did what my legs wanted to do, be it 3 miles at 9:00 pace on Monday and just 2.5 miles at 9:30 pace on Tuesday. Once I felt pain, I stopped. By Wednesday I was a lot better. The recovery process seems to have worked. Though I ran only 46 miles for the week, I managed to get in 15 good miles on Sunday, 5/29 at Deer Creek Canyon, where I logged 2,500 feet of vertical at 7,000+ feet. Deer Creek isn't hardcore, but it's moderately challenging in sections.

This week I'm aiming for 90 miles and am off to a strong start. Yesterday (Memorial Day), I ventured to Mount Falcon (elevation 7,850 feet), getting in a little over 3,000 feet of vertical over 14.25 miles. Mount Falcon is a great place to run. In the first 4 miles alone I gained 1,700 feet, and then during the last 3 miles I dropped about 1,500 feet (return trip was via a different route). When you get to the summit of Falcon, you're treated to a nice (but not quite awe-inspiring) view of Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt, which I look forward to conquering this summer. There are a few fairly technical sections of Mount Falcon Open Space, making it a great place to train and a tad more difficult than Deer Creek Canyon. The one negative to Falcon is that there are quite a few mountain bikers on the trails.


Getting back to recovery, for the past few months I've been using Hammer Recoverite after every run and I think the extra glutamine it delivers is really making a difference. Following the advice of a runner I greatly respect and admire, I took Recoverite within 10 minutes of my Jemez finish and then about an hour later. The stuff seems to work, because never have I recovered this fast from a hard effort like Jemez. I don't think I'm 100% recovered yet, but I'm able to run well and felt pretty good on the trails on Sunday and Monday. I've also heard First Endurance Ultragen is good stuff, but I haven't tried it yet.


Jemez was in many ways a major wakeup call for me. It made me realize that if I want to perform well in mountain races, then I need to train in the mountains. Getting to the mountains everyday isn't possible due to job and family considerations, but I think for the next three months I can get to the mountains 2-3 times a week for some serious vertical. With the Leadville 100 now on the radar screen, I want to build some strength on big climbs and get more comfortable on the long downs and technical terrain commonly found here in Colorado.

Speaking from firsthand experience from my 2010 sub-25-hour finish, the Leadville 100 is actually quite a runnable course with only a few technical sections, but it will definitely benefit me to hone my trail skills. The Hope Pass double-crossing is a critical section of the race for anyone who wants to break 20 hours--a tall task indeed as this 20-mile section brings about 6,000 feet of climb and 6,000 feet of descent, topping out at 12,600 feet. I continue to crunch the numbers on running a 19:59 at Leadville this year and here's what I've come up with as far as tentative goals:

Miles 1-40: 6:15 (last year=6:54)
Miles 41-60/Hope Pass double crossing: 5:45 (last year=6:34)
Miles 61-100:  8:00 (last year=11:21)

Last year, I ran miles 1-40 very conservatively and a bit scared as my foot, which had been stricken with plantar fasciitis, was hurting. By mile 40, it had loosened up, but up to that point I was fearing a DNF. This year, with a healthy foot (knock on wood again), I really think I can get to Twin Lakes (mile 40) in 6:15.

Hope Pass Double Crossing
The Hope Pass section last year was a major weakness for me due to inexperience and faulty strategy, namely carrying trekking poles and a heavy Camelbak. This year, my goal is a somewhat ambitious 5:45 and I'll be the first to admit that it ain't gonna be easy. To be ready, I plan to do 2-3 Hope Pass training runs/hikes this summer, in addition to other high country outings. The key to Hope Pass, as far as I'm concerned, is being able to hike at a strong clip on the long climbs and let gravity work for you on the downs (while not going too hard or else you run the risk of trashing your quads).

Miles 61-100 last year were interesting to say the last. I missed a turn after Fish Hatchery, adding 2 mentally crushing miles to my race, and I also lost about 45 minutes at Mayqueen due a nasty case of altitude sickness. Those two situations alone added on ~70 minutes to my race. This year, if I avoid costly mistakes, keep the calories coming in, avoid altitude sickness and keep my aid station stops brief, I think I can get the last 40 miles done in 8 hours, but it won't be easy with the difficult Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb and other challenges along the way.

Traditionally, a time under 20 hours at Leadville will get you a top-10 finish.

All in.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Jemez Thoughts and the Power of Positive Thinking

Over the past few days I've gotten a lot of thought-provoking feedback regarding my Jemez Mountain 50-Mile race report. My race report struck many, including my beloved wife, as a bit negative. When I re-read the report, I could easily see how it would be viewed as negative and sour-grapes in tone, and perhaps even turn off some folks.

One reader, whose feedback I very much appreciate, suggested I celebrate all that's good in my life--family, health, job, etc.--instead of focusing on negative stuff like what went down at Jemez. I've made a conscious effort to keep my family out of this blog. Occasionally I'll mention my wife, our son and even my job, but rarely do I offer any details on my non-running life because I'm not comfortable bringing them into the public domain. Suffice it to say, I couldn't be more blessed in my non-running life. We'll leave it at that.

Every day I feel lucky to run. When I wasn't able to run like I wanted because of plantar fasciitis, it really hit me how much we take for granted our own health. And this was just a foot injury! In the realm of employment, something similar happened a few years ago. In March 2007, the organization I worked for had a budget shortfall and I was laid off with zero notice. With the love and moral support of family and friends, I quickly got back on the my feet and was gainfully employed within a few months at University Hospitals Health System (UH), where I worked for three great years before we relocated to Denver last spring, and everyday I entered the parking garage at UH to report to work I felt lucky to be there and have a job that paid well, offered super benefits and enabled me to help provide for the family. Sometimes it takes a swift kick in the ass to appreciate what we have.

And so the feedback I've gotten about Jemez has been kind of a kick in the ass, making me realize that I've somehow taken the joy out of running. As I've written on here before, back East I was a competitive ultrarunner who was able to achieve many of the goals I set out for myself. Out West, it's been a different story, especially with mountain races. My pride has been hurt and it's upsetting to me that I've continued to fall well short of my goals in races out here, regardless of the ridiculously deep talent. Through it all, I've racked up miles and convinced myself that this would eventually pay off. But in the wake of Jemez, I now realize that the mileage, while good, is only part of the equation. I have to get to the trails more and get comfortable cruising up and down mountains. Jemez showed me that. So, when you take that into account, Jemez was an overwhelmingly positive experience--it revealed a critical flaw in my training that I'm now eager to address (once my quads return to health!).

I don't mind admitting that several times during Jemez I considered DNF'ing. The only reason I didn't DNF was my son. Never will it be said that I quit because it got tough (only if I got seriously injured), because this would set a terrible example for my son and also let down my wife. In just about every race, they sustain me. How could I ever tell my son to keep going in the face of adversity when I myself had quit?

Oftentimes when I'm in a race I think about my son and imagine one day him doing this same race, maybe with me next to him as his pacer (if I can keep up with him!). For me, I see running as part of my legacy to him. But maybe he won't want to run. I'm OK with that, too. My greatest legacy is love.

With Leadville now three months away, I've more or less decided to put away the past and just move on with focus and passion guiding the way. It's a different ballgame out here and so all I can do is my best and cherish every run I go on, the beauty of the mountains, the relationships I have in the ultrarunning world and my love of running long distances. Forget about expectations and just have fun. Isn't that why we do this sport anyway?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Great Awakening: Jemez Mountain 50-Mile Race Report

Where to begin? How about with a few random thoughts?

My time was 11:57 and I finished 33rd overall out of 118 finishers. I'm pissed.

I saw the winner, Nick Clark, who broke Kyle Skaggs' 2008 course record (about a month later, Kyle became the first person ever to break 24 hours at the Hardrock 100), descending Caballo Mountain (pronounced Ca-buy-yo) and was astonished by how fast he was running.

Seeing Nick and others in action, I realized yet again that I suck at downhill technical trail running. I've known this for about a year now and yet I haven't done anything about it. No more. I haven't always been this bad. I used to be a decent trail runner back when I had trails near my house in Ohio. I even won a 100-mile trail race once, but that was a lifetime ago. I'm rusty on technical trails now, and just plain bad on mountain trails, and it showed on Saturday in a big, big way.

For a while now I've been quietly rationalizing that, while I was pretty good ultrarunner out East, running out in the Mountain West isn't my cup of tea and so I should resign myself to being slightly better than mediocre. No more. While I would never delude myself into believing I can be the next Nick Clark, I do think I can improve as a runner and maybe place top 10 in races like Jemez and even Leadville. I just want my results to align with my desire.

Jemez is without question the hardest 50 miles I've ever run, and just about any Jemez finisher will tell you the same thing (including Nick Clark himself). One guy told me it's Hardrock cut in half. Unless you live and run out in the Mountain West or have done lots of races out here, you couldn't possibly imagine the difficulty of Jemez and its wicked-steep, very technical and scree-laced ascents and descents which take you above 10,000 feet. The race packs 25,000 feet of combined elevation change and is widely considered one of the three hardest 50s in the nation (along with the San Juan Solstice and Zane Grey 50s). Some people say Heartbreak Hill at Boston is hard. Compared to Jemez, Heartbreak Hill is merely a parking lot speed bump or maybe a small pile of dirt you could kick out of your way. We're talking about monster mountains here, about b-line ascents up along double black diamond ski slopes that in many areas are at a 45 degree grade. We're talking about navigating bomber drops that go on for miles, including a 300-vertical-foot drop with scree that is easily 70 degrees. Yes, I said 70 degrees. This is about what 70 degrees looks like: /.

I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow race report. The first 21 miles were great. I did the climbs and descents just fine and loved the very runnable stretch just before the grassy Caldera section. Caldera, with huge clumps of grass in a big-ass field surrounded by big-ass mountains that await you, wasn't that bad, either. It was the back-country, off-trail climb after Caldera that things started getting crazy. I navigated downed trees and an absolutely huge boulder field before climbing up a monster ascent (Cerro Grande) that in many areas was 45 degrees and went on for a few miles. When finally to the top, I gently (read: slowly) coasted down and regrouped.

The section that really finished me off was Pajarito Mountain, home of the double black diamond ski slope I referred to earlier in this post. You're talking about ~5 miles and ~3,000 feet of mostly b-line ascent (versus switchbacks). But that wasn't even the hardest part. Once at the top, you had to get back down by running straight down the damned slope to the ski lodge. My quads were screaming in agony. I felt like a broken man. Actually, I felt like a guy who for the past 6 months has been running roads in comfortable Parker.
After Pajarito, I had a tough stretch, but eventually regrouped for about 4 miles. But at about mile 45, the wheels came off and I started walking a bunch and was plenty pissed off. When I came into the last aid station at about mile 48.1, I was told I was 1.9 miles from the finish and I looked at my watch and realized I had 32 minutes to work with in going sub-12 hours--my Plan B goal (Plan A goal was south of 11 hours and the dream scenario was in the neighborhood of 10-10.5 hours). So I pulled it together and got 'er done. The winning time was 8:07 set by Superman himself, Nick Clark. Yeah, this isn't the JFK 50-Mile Race, where the winning time is around 5:50. This is a hardcore, back-country 50-mile mountain race that will make you see God and scream for your momma if you're not ready for it.


I do want to say that Jemez is a very well-organized race with friendly, supportive and helpful volunteers who are generous with their time. The post-race festivities were awesome and included a cook-out, beer and many other delicious treats. This was a first-class race put on by people who know what they're doing. Also, the city of Los Alamos is beautiful with its surrounding mountains and huge mesas. I loved New Mexico--what an outdoor paradise it is--and thought the drive from Denver to Los Alamos was spectacular, albeit very remote in certain stretches.

Also, after the race I talked for a little while with Nick Clark, who I congratulated on his win. He was one of the many who pointed out that my lack of mountain running is hindering my results. Nick is a great guy and he took a genuine interest in my race and where I thought things may have gone wrong. He'd actually heard of me, probably from this blog. But what a first-class individual he is and a true credit to this sport.


Jemez was an awakening for me. Why?
As a few runners who I greatly respect have told me in the last 2 days, it's clear I'm not running in the mountains enough. If I want results, I need to train as much as I can in the mountains. I knew this before the race but did little to rectify the problem because, in my mind, I was too busy to venture beyond the cushy confines of Parker. No more. For the next 3 months, I'll be making it a point to get to the mountains at least 1-2 times a week. This will be difficult as far as scheduling and family, but I have to get my trail legs back and I need to run some serious vertical and steep drops to develop my mountain skills. I've identified several mountains with at least 1,000 feet of vertical (the ideal amount I'll be after is 1,500 to 2,000 feet of vertical, and preferably more) that I can venture to without spending half a day away from home. I'll find time for big outings to Leadville, Pikes Peak, etc.
My failure at Jemez had nothing to do with toughness. I'm tough. It had nothing to do with mileage. I put in the miles. And it had nothing to do with speed or even lungs. It had everything to do with inexperience on technical mountain trails. As my trusted advisers have told me, the only way to get results in hard mountain races is to train in the mountains. You can't be a road warrior like I've been and expect to do anything decent at Jemez.
So there's my mandate.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ready for Jemez (I Think)

The week of 5/9-5/15 was solid. I ran 81 miles and 10.5 hours, starting a slight taper for the Jemez Mountain 50-Mile Race on 5/21 (a non-taper week would have been about 90-95 miles and 12-14 hours). The week saw hill repeats on Tuesday, a treadmill tempo run on Thursday, 18.25 miles on Saturday and 16 miles on Sunday. All other days were at "easy" pace. I avoided any single long runs over 13 miles and instead doubled up on Saturday and Sunday.

It's hard to say how Jemez is going to go, but I can guarantee I'll be focused and will run a smart race. So far this spring I haven't spent much time in the mountains, mostly because of weather and lack of time. I'm super excited about getting high in the mountains in June, July, and August, as well as into the fall. With Jemez, I think the key is running a smart race and understanding that this is no ordinary 50-miler. It's a long day in the woods. The course is so punishing, with monster climbs, bomber drops and off-trail running, that it can absolutely waste you. So as I see it, the key is to avoid going out too fast, hike the big climbs, run the runnable stretches, and go easy on the descents for the first 40 miles--which should minimize damage to the legs. Then in the last 10 miles, with a long descent back into town, if I run pretty aggressively, maybe, just maybe, I can reel in a few folks and finish with a respectable time. A strong finish at Jemez is as much about running a smart race and ignoring the bad voices in your head telling you that climb up Pajarito is going to kill you as it is about being in good shape. Luck plays a role, too.

Here's the elevation profile for Jemez:

will be lots of talent there on Saturday, along with plenty of regular guys like me looking for a decent finish.

Right now I'm reading Chris McCormack's new book, I'm Here to Win. A review on this blog will soon follow (once I'm done with the book). McCormack, who once won 32 consecutive triathlons and has twice won the legendary Ironman Kona race, is the most decorated athlete his sport has ever seen. In his book, he talks extensively about the mental edge. Racing, he says, is as much about psychological advantage as it is about training. You train to accomplish your goals on race day, always focusing on quality instead of quantity, and you race in a way that gives you advantages (i.e., running smart, nutrition, tactical passes). With that said, I think Jemez is a thinking man's/woman's event that destroys a lot of runners who aren't prepared for the mental and physical challenges of the course. I think in the final 10 miles there are going to be lots of suffering runners. I just hope not to be one of them, but I might be. If the Cheyenne Mountain 50K is any indication, I'll be at my strongest in the final 10 miles. But it comes down to running a smart race.

McCormack's book raises an interesting question for ultrarunners. When training for 100s, what's most important--quality or quantity? For 100-mile training, I've always kind of taken the quantity route but, with my new coach, quality seems to be trumping everything. Hills, tempo running, long runs and races are the bread and butter of the plan. I think when training for a 100 you want maximum strength, but there's a fine line between running tons of junk miles and diminishing returns. Efficiency is the key. I'm still not convinced that junk miles work. But I think a combination of good quality, reasonable volume, adequate recovery and mental training will produce a decent result.


Last week my GPS died on me. I was out in very cold, wet conditions on Wednesday morning when all of a sudden my Gamin 205 starting turning off and then back on. Then the light went on. Finally, after about a half-hour of acting possessed, it died on me. All the while the rain had turned to snow and the temperature had dropped 12 degrees into the low 30s. My quads were cold and wet and fatiguing on me. It wasn't one of my more enjoyable runs. After lots of research, I bought a Garmin 210. It lasts only 8 hours before needing to be recharged. So we can send a space shuttle into orbit (for now, at least) but we can't design a cost-effective battery that lasts more than  8 hours? Wow.

Speaking of lasting more than 8 hours, let's hope on Saturday at Jemez I can get 'er done in around 10-10.5 hours...or better.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Three Laws of Ultrarunning?

After a super-busy stretch at work, I'm just now getting caught up on my blog reading. I came across an interesting comment on Anton Krupicka's excellent blog (see reader comments via this link). Anton has been battling injury and this particular reader cited the following training rules/laws he lives by as an ultrarunner:
  1. It's better to be 20% undertrained than 1% overtrained
  2. When in doubt, leave it out
  3. When you are feeling like Superman, it's time to back off the training and take a rest week
Allow me to offer some observations on these rules. But first I'd like to say I see a lot of merit in these rules.

It's better to be 20% undertrained than 1% overtrained.
I'm going to have to disagree with this rule on the following premise: You don't want to be 20% undertrained or 1% overtrained; you want to be peaking come race time and this comes through strategic build-up, the right level of intensity at various stages in your training, and proper rest, recovery and diet. In other words, keep the needle just below the red! I guess what the reader is saying is that being tired from too much training is going to affect you more in a race than falling about 20% short of optimal fitness. I've never felt 20% undertrained, but I have felt 1% overtrained and I still managed a strong finish. My guess is that I'd prefer the latter. Besides, if you taper right, you can recover a ton over a period of 2-3 weeks before the event and go in fresh and strong. Just make sure your endocrine system isn't stressed--the signs include poor sleep, irritability, diminished sex drive, apathy, depression, etc. It can take several weeks or a few months for the endocrine system to come back.

When in doubt, leave it out.
I agree here. If you wake up in the morning and have an interval session at the track on your schedule but your legs feel like jelly, it's better to skip that workout and maybe go for an easy-pace run or cross-train (note that I didn't say take the day off, but that's an option, too). The track workout can wait until tomorrow. As Ryan Hall has said, let the training come to you--meaning don't force specific mileage or time goals on yourself if you're not feeling it that day. Do what you can. If your legs are toast and you hammer it at the track (been there, done that), you run the risk of injury. Listen to your body and its signals; if your legs are trashed, your body is telling you something. This is a training rule I've only recently fully embraced.

When you are feeling like Superman, it's time to back off the training and take a rest week.
I agree and disagree here. If I'm feeling like Superman, a big part of me will want to play this string out and see where it goes, so long as I--again--keep the needle just below the red. On the other hand, if you're feeling like Superman and push the envelope by running a few extra 1600s or going beyond the 10% rule, thereby going into the red, your risk of injury goes up. It's better, I think, to maintain self-control and know how to handle the good and bad days. But I can't agree that if you feel like Superman you should take a rest week. Great accomplishments almost never come from playing it safe.

Do you have any rules of running? If so, please share!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Training Week 5/2-5/9 - The Ups and Downs of Ultramarathon Training

It's funny how some weeks running is a slog and then the next week you're cruising and feeling good. The week of 4/25-5/1 was one big slog capped off by a nasty bonk on Sunday that kind of shook my confidence. I guess I can chalk it all up to post-Cheyenne Mountain 50K recovery.

But last week, 5/2-5/9, things starting clicking again. I felt strong and the leg turnover was good--clear indications of recovery. The week saw eleven total runs, 90.1 miles and solid quality on Tuesday with fast hill repeats, Thursday with 6 miles at tempo pace (6:10-6:20), Saturday with 21 miles and Sunday with 16.6 miles. All other days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) were "easy."

To sum up the week:
  • Total miles: 90.1
  • Total runs: 11
  • Total time running: 11 hours, 31 minutes
  • Yoga and core strengthening
Total miles for the year: 1,206.85

After the Leadville 100 in 2010, I went back and carefully studied my training for all the 100s I've done (5 in all, including the USA 24-Hour National Championship in 2009), with the hopes of figuring out where I went wrong and why I arrived at the starting line with a serious injury (plantar fasciitis) and depleted endocrine system. My "study" was based on the assumption that I was in my all-time best shape going into the 2009 Mohican 100, a race I won and got through injury-free. So Mohican 2009 was kind of the template for success.

What I determined was that, while I was clicking off 100-mile weeks for the 2009 Mohican, my per-run average mileage was around 9. That is, if I ran 10-12 times a week, each run averaged about 9 miles. For Leadville, again running 100 miles/week, my per-run average mileage was about 11. So with Mohican 2009 and Leadville 2010, you have similiar aggregate mileage but a far different story in terms of total runs and per-run mileage. I think fewer workouts and more miles per run, as with Leadville 2010, over-stressed my body. I seem to better-handle more runs and less per-run mileage, as with Mohican 2009. This approach seems to keep me healthy.

(Parenthetically, I recently read that a well-trained body can handle runs of 9 or fewer miles with minimal recovery. But when you go beyond 9 miles, you have a need for recovery. With my 2010 LT100 training, I was clicking off 11 miles every morning Monday-Friday and then 3-4 each night, in addition to 30+ miles each weekend. Now I keep my mileage to about 9-10 every morning with about 3-4 at night (when I run at night) and the usual 30+ over the weekend.)

There are many reasons why this change in total runs happened--mostly "real life" reasons that are too lengthy for this blog given all the drama of our relocation to Denver last spring. But now that I have a treadmill in my basement for second runs of the day (we were in a temporary apartment last summer and so a treadmill, which I almost always use for my second runs of the day, was hard to come by), have an outstanding coach and have learned from a few mistakes I made (too much pavement; not enough dirt), I think my 2011 LT100 training is poised for success. I also have greater flexibility now and my stress level is way lower than it was a year ago.

Maybe the biggest change, though, is my recognition that high mileage isn't the magic bullet. I will keep my maximum mileage right around 90/week and continue focusing on quality and recovery. I might get up near 100/week every so often, but for the most part 90 will be my cap. Like in 2009, I also have some races on the calendar that will prepare me for my big goal race.


I like where my fitness is with the Leadville 100 now just a little over three months away. But I have so much work to do between now and my taper in early August. A lot of this work will be in the mountains with a few 14'ers, multiple training runs in Leadville and of course three mountain races (Jemez on 5/21, Mt. Evans Ascent on 6/18 and Leadville Marathon on 7/2) on my to-do list. With vacation time now available, it's all possible, whereas last year it wasn't.

Man, I have gone back and forth with my plans for Jemez on 5/21. When I signed up, I was just coming back from my plantar fasciitis and feeling quite defiant. But now that I'm close to 100% and the Leadville Marathon and Leadville 100 are definites, part of me wonders if running 50 miles on one of the hardest courses in the US is wise. I have no doubt I could finish 50 miles at Jemez strong. But will it trash my legs for weeks and derail my training? I keep wondering if I should downgrade to the 50K. Either way, I'm doing the race. My plan will probably be to aim for 50 miles and then when I reach the point where I can downgrade, I'll make a judgement call based on how I'm feeling. My #1 goal right now is to prepare for the Leadville 100--all races on my calendar need to get me to that objective. So at this point whether or not I do 50 miles or 50 kilometers at Jemez is a fluid situation.


With all that said, check out this incredible video. She has the heart of a lion.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What It Takes to be an Ultrarunner

This morning's long run in the hills (elevation 6,100-6,700 feet) was a disaster. I just wasn't feeling it and ultimately bonked. I haven't bonked in a while--a long while. I think the bonk was due to the fact that I didn't have enough calories before the run (just a 150-calorie English muffin) and didn't carry any calories with me on the run--just some water. I also think it was an off day--I'm still not 100% after last Saturday's Cheyenne Mountain 50K, which was actually 32 miles. I guess I simply ran out of gas. Ugh! More info in weekly recap coming soon.


Yesterday I got my Runner's World and Ultrarunning Magazine. If you pay close attention to Runner's World, it's easy to see that ultrarunning is really gaining traction in mainstream circles.

These days, it seems everyone is drawn to and fascinated by the ultramarathon. How else to explain the remarkable success of books by Dean Karnazes, Christopher McDougall and others? But few actually take the plunge into ultrarunning because of the sudden reality of what you're about to get yourself into. And still many others who do register for their first ultra get cold feet or injured, or maybe that once-blazing fire for going beyond 26.2 miles has died, and they never make it to the starting line. Those who make it to the finish of their first ultra often come back for more, for they are among the few who have witnessed the transformative power of going really long.

An ultramarathon is, by definition, any race beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Common ultramarathon distances are 50 kilometers (31 miles), 50 miles, 100 kilometers (62 miles), and 100 miles--run on dirt trails, roads and mountains, as well in the desert. There are timed races, such as 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour races. Ultras can go on for several days, such as the Sri Chimnoy races in New York City. These are called multi-day events. Every year, ultrarunners run across the US, or maybe their state. When you get down to it, because it's so damned hard, ultramarathoning is really a state of mind and a lifestyle requiring an all-in commitment. Anything less and you're not going to make it. It's just that simple.

Ultrarunning has been around a long time, tracing its roots to the "pedestrians" of the 1800s. Early examples include the six-day races held in New York City's Madison Square Garden in the late 1800s and the transcontinental races during the 1920s (an excellent account of one such race is CC Pyle's Amazing Foot Race). Many of the Greek messengers, such as Pheidippides, were ultrarunners. Today, we equate ultrarunning with trail races held all over the country, such as the Western States 100-Mile Run in California, but the truth of the matter is that ultrarunning evolved into a mostly trail sport from an endeavor mostly of the track and road. Perhaps the greatest ultrarunner to ever live is the "Great Greek," Yiannis Kouros, holder of many major records, such as those for 24 hours, 48 hours and the most Spartathlon victories.

Ultrarunning requires extraordinary strength of character, a well-trained mind and body, and plenty of determination. It's an up-before-dawn, day-in-and-day-out, blood-sweat-and-tears, rain-sleet-and-snow endeavor. When I'm training for a 100-miler, it's not leisurely runs on sunny, mild days that get me in condition. It's the 10-mile runs before dawn, the grueling two-a-days, the lonely 30-milers, the 100-mile weeks, the hill repeats and, of course, the back-to-back 20-milers that get me ready. Training for an ultra is hardly glamorous. In fact, it's so hard that if you're doing it for any other reason than you truly desire to go the distance and embrace the sacrifices it requires, then you're probably not going to make it. You can't run 100 miles to impress someone else; it has to be an act of self-transcendence and a spiritual journey.

Marathoners and ultramarathons are often very different. I do both sports, but many ultramarathoners wouldn't step foot on a marathon course unless it's for a training run. Let me illustrates one of the differences between the two. Your average marathoner finishes a race, collects their medal and then basks in the attention they get from family, friends and co-workers. An ultramarathoner finishes a 50- or 100-mile race, gets their medal (a buckle if it's a 100) which will probably wind up in their basement or garage, and tells no one about it except those who were already in the know. While the marathoner is still celebrating their 26.2 finish, the ultrarunner has already registered for their next race...which is tomorrow. This is the way of the ultrarunner, and, truthfully, there are elements of the marathoner and ultrarunner in me. I do love a 26.2-mile road race, but nothing compares to racing 100-milers.

Whereas the marathon is wildly popular, not everyone is cut out to be an ultrarunner--and that's OK. You must believe in yourself when all the chips are down, and you must maintain a serious commitment to your training on a daily basis, or else you will never make it. There is simply no way to fake your way through a 50-miler or 100-miler. You have to pay your dues, and it isn't easy. Let me put it another way. In a marathon, if perhaps you didn't train like you should and hit the wall at mile 18, you just have to jog and maybe power-walk the last 8 miles to get that medal and call yourself a finisher. What's an hour or so of suffering, right? Well, in a 100-miler, if you didn't train physically and mentally like you should and crash at mile 60, you still have 40 miles in front of you. You can finish if you dig deep, but 40 miles may take 10-12+ hours. Are you willing to suffer that long, even if if means you're going to learn more about yourself than probably ever before in your life?

Most wouldn't.