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 Bad to the Bone 50k – Race Report

The Bad to the Bone 50k has 8,800 ft. of elevation gain through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It’s a challenging course, but offers some pristine views of the moutainside. One of the most enjoyable races I’ve done so far.

A true ultra

Right from the beginning, this felt like a true ultra. I spent the night in a friend’s condo at Wintergreen Resort (thanks to the Cushnie’s). I woke up at 4:15am to buckets’o’fog. Visibility was zero. A chilly morning, in the low 50s, but great running weather. Overcast. Forecast called for rain later in the day.

Going vertical right from the start

I arrived at check-in, got everything ready to go, and last minute decided to ditch the jacket. I was hoping I’d warm up as soon as I started running. After a 1-mile warmup on the entrance road, we climbed a 2-mile section, straight up, on fairly rough terrain. The 8,800 ft. of elevation gain this race advertised… it was no joke. And it started right away.

Road runner turned trail runner

A half hour in, I witnessed a conversion: road runner to trail runner. I heard a man behind me say, “Wow! This is beautiful. I’m never running another road race again.” Sir, welcome to the club. We’re thrilled to have you.

Ridiculous up-and-down

About 10 miles in, we descended this dirt mountain road… for 4.5 miles. At the bottom, we turned around and ran straight back up. Correction: we walked back up. No hill work can prepare you for something like this. It was ridiculously awesome. I must have passed at least a dozen people with my patented power hike.

We ran along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a mile or two before heading back onto the trails. Stopped at a few more aid stations. I met a nice couple from Illinois. We ascended Bald Mountain, reached 3,500 ft., and I turned around and ran straight back down toward the finish. I ran almost the entire last 5 miles (which is unusual for me), but that’s just how fresh I felt. It just started to rain too, but at that point, it wasn’t a factor.

One of my favorites

This was one of the best races I’ve done, in terms of both performance & fun. I’m looking forward to doing more trail ultras, especially difficult ones with technical terrain & lots of ups and downs.

Course description

It’s challenging. Compared to other 50ks out there, the 8,800 ft. of elevation gain is amongst the most I’ve seen. There are a few 1-2 mile stretches of pretty technical terrain, most of which are on ascents & descents. A majority of the race is on dirt single track, with 5-6 miles on paved road, and ~9 miles on dirt road. There are several beautiful views from the mountainside (if the fog dies down).

What I Learned

  • 8,800 ft. of elevation gain in a 50k is no joke. It’s also a lot of fun.
  • I’ll always get passed on the flat, road sections.
  • I’m slow. And will probably always be slow. (see previous bullet)
  • I love uphills & downhills, basically all the more difficult sections. They’re just more fun.
  • Running downhill on rocky terrain is awesome. Short, quick steps, almost hopping from rock to rock, hips turned one way, then the other, focusing on every step, letting gravity do the work. Ah, it’s paradise.
  • The longer the race, the better I place.
  • Mountains are a) beautiful  b) humbling  c) a bit scary at times  d) my second home

The result

6:24:35
23/82 – overall