The end of an era. Taking the “ultra” out of running.

My ultrarunning journey has come to an end. At least, for now. A single moment in the Finger Lakes Forest in up-state New York.

There are so many other things I can be ultra with. I don’t need to be an ultra-runner right now.

It’s OK just to be a runner. To run for 10 minutes. Run for an hour.

It’s OK to say no to GPS, and just wear a simple Timex. And it’s also OK not to use it—or run naked, as we call it.

I’ve always loved running for its simplicity, yet there has never been anything simple about running an ultramarathon.

  • you have to plan for everything, and pack tons of stuff just in case
  • figuring out how to stay hydrated has always been a nightmare for me
  • blisters on my feet
  • nipple chafing
  • expensive race fees
  • navigational challenges

The race that changed things

The Finger Lakes 50 in up-state NY changed the way I thought about ultrarunning.

I was running with my new friend, Jeff, from Niagara Falls, NY for a good portion of the 1st loop, and the beginning of the 2nd loop. It was when we separated 2/3 of the way through the 2nd loop where things started running through my head.

See, when you’re running with friends, you get caught in conversation. You concentrate on the topic at hand. In other words, you are distracted from the main activity you are doing — running. Just like being on the phone while driving.

But there isn’t always someone to talk to. And if all you’re looking for is engaging conversation, there are 6.5 billion people in the world & hundreds of thousands of Starbucks. You certainly don’t need 50+ miles to form, or improve upon, a friendship. (It does, however, make the story a bit more interesting)

The nagging question

So once again, I found myself alone, in the middle of the woods, legs burning, sweat dripping down my face, hopelessly swatting gnats, with a slight headache from dehydration. Nothing groundbreaking. This is standard for just about every ultramarathon out there. And once again I found myself asking the same question.

Why am I doing this?

I’ve never had a perfectly scripted, eloquently delivered answer to this question. Usually it was along the lines of, “because I love the experience” or “to see if I can do it” or “to test my limits & inspire others to do the same.”

I still can’t tell you exactly why I’ve been running ultras for the past few years, but I came to a life-changing realization out in the middle of the forest this weekend.

Tunnel vision

I’ve had tunnel vision with this goal to complete a 100 mile race. Somehow I convinced myself that it’s the only goal that matters. That until I complete it, I can’t move on with the next chapter of my life.

It’s like the 9-yr-old boy who wants to be Justin Bieber before he realizes all the stuff that comes with it. That’s his idol. He caught Bieber Fever, and nothing is going to stop him from living that lifestyle. Until…

…the fever breaks. (and yes, even Bieber Fever will eventually break)

Losing sight of goals

That’s pretty much what happened to me—with ultrarunning. I looked up to these guys completing insane acts of endurance, and I set out to achieve nothing short of the same. In fact, my over-achieving, perfectionist attitude had me believing I could one-up these guys. That I could do things even they couldn’t do.

But again… why?

I don’t have anything to prove – to myself, or anyone else. I don’t have to run 100 miles in order to say that I’ve accomplished something. I’ve already run more than twice as far as I ever thought I could. And I’ve even done that on 3 separate occasions.

The other stuff

This stubborn ignorance had me ignoring the other great parts of my life that are happening right now. I run my own successful business, and have for almost 2 years now. I just hired my first employee. I want to travel & explore the world. I’m moving downtown to begin creating the lifestyle that I’ve been aimlessly avoiding for the past 4 years.

I can be ultra in all of these areas. So I can leave the ultra out of running for now.

My future with ultrarunning

It was a little difficult when I first came to the decision to give it up. Anything you pour that much time & effort into, is naturally tough to walk away from. But in less than a week, I’ve come to terms with it.

I don’t know if I’ll do another ultra again. But right now, I’m just not thinking about it. I want to go back to the simplest, most pure form of running. Enjoy each run without worrying about hitting a certain mark or training for an upcoming race.

I can assure you, I still have an enormous amount of respect for the ultrarunning community. It’s an amazing group of people, with a ridiculously high level of determination & grit. Lots of interesting stories. Truly genuine folks.

I’ll still support my friends who run them. I might even run with them—for part of the race 😉

Happiness is

I sat down next to my parents after I quit the 50-miler 2/3 of the way through, and I’ll never forget what I said.

I’ve never been more excited to quit something in my entire life.

There were always bits & pieces of ultrarunning that made me happy. Little things that I enjoyed. But with something as demanding as an ultramarathon, there should be more than just a little. Ultimately, I wasn’t enjoying this enough for it to justify all the things it was depriving me from, not to mention the pain it put me through (each and every time, without fail).

I think I’ll be a happier person without ultrarunning. There will always be things I miss, but if I did everything that had some appeal to me… well… I’d need so many hours in a day you’d have to stop the Earth from rotating for a few years.

Here’s to the next chapter…

2009 JFK 50 Miler – Race Report

This was my 2nd attempt at 50 miles. My goal was under 12 hours because that would qualify me for the Old Dominion 100 in June. I knew I could run it in under 12, but I wasn’t expecting to finish in under 9:40. Photos, video & course description.

Here’s the race report for my 2009 JFK 50-miler experience. Includes a written report & photos.

Jump to: JFK Photos •  JFK Course

JFK 50 Written Report

This was my first official 50-miler. I attempted an unofficial 50-miler at The North Face Endurance Challenge in 2008 during Tropical Storm Hanna, but quit at 40 miles.

I ran much faster than I had planned. About a year ago, I ran 50 miles in the 12 Hours of Momentum race in Goochland, VA in 11:45. I finished JFK in 9:38, shaving over 2 hours off my previous 50-mile time.

Shout outs: My parents, for driving down from Jersey to be my support crew. They had no idea what they were getting into. My buddy Ryan, who ran JFK last year, helped me with the course, and we ran the first 2 miles together. Then he took off because he’s much faster than I am.

The JFK 50-miler Course

The first 4-5 miles of the JFK course were all on road. We were climbing the mountain to get to the trail head. I walked a good portion of this section to save energy for later in the race.

Then we ran along the Appalachian Trail from ~miles 5-9. Mile 9 was the first big aid station. Some random spectator was giving out free hugs. I gladly accepted.

The Appalachian Trail continued until ~mile 16. This is where the trail (and some of the fun) ended. I love trails, and from this point on, I would see no more.

At mile 16 we got on the C&O Canal Towpath — aka, the longest, straightest, most boring crushed gravel road on the East Coast.

There was a stray dog that ran at least 10 miles with us. No one knew who he belonged to, until finally a runner offered to put him on a leash and take him to the next aid station, where his owner was supposedly waiting for him. This dog would have won the race if no one had stopped him.

At mile 25 I met a guy named Sean. He’s in the Marine Corps. We ran, talked & walked the next 6-7 miles together. It was great timing. We both needed someone to talk to at this point in the race.

My favorite part about the JFK 50-miler

Mile 34. Aid Station. The North Pole. It was classic. High schoolers dressed up as Elves. Candy canes & gumdrops for fuel. And of course, Santa. I didn’t sit on his lap, but I did get a picture with him.

Nearing the end

Mile 46. I saw my parents for the last time before the finish. I had an outside shot at breaking 9:30, and I think I pushed a little too hard, too soon. I ended up walking a good portion of the last 2-3 miles… and it hurt.

But I found it in me to sprint — as I typically do — the last hundred yards or so.

After The Race

I drove to Baltimore later that night, met up with a friend for a Thanksgiving feast, and went rock climbing Sunday morning. On Monday, my forearms were more sore than my legs were.

JFK 50-miler Photos

My Results

9:38:51 – a PR
313/1013 – overall
43/93 – M20-29

JFK 50-miler Video Report