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…

It’s OK to walk

My 30-minute walk today was rather enlightening. It helped me realize how walking can play an important role in my training… even for ultramarathon training.

When I ran my first marathon, I told myself I wasn’t allowed to walk. And so I ran the entire way. Sometimes, very slowly, but I ran. I finished in 4 hours, 19 minutes… and my body hated me.

With my recent hamstring injury, I’ve thought a great deal about how I’ve been treating my body these past few years. I must admit, I haven’t been very nice to it.

Since running still appears to be more than my hamstring can handle, I decided to go for a 30-minute walk. 15 minutes forwards and 15 backwards. I covered a little over 2 miles.

Most ultrarunners would argue that a 30-minute walk does little, if anything, for ultramarathon training. Here’s where I disagree.

Walking is great training

Just because we’re used to running everywhere, doesn’t mean that walking loses its value as far as being a worthwhile exercise technique. 30-minutes of walking per day can keep a person healthy for decades.

Walking can be strenuous without being stressful

You can raise your heart rate, burn calories & keep your heart happy, all without putting stress on your body. While it’s true that running provides a greater heart benefit & burns more calories, you can’t deny that its exponentially more stressful on your body.

Where does walking fit into your training?

Here’s an idea: Once or twice a month, instead of going on a long run (20+ miles), go for a 3-hour walk instead.

  • You’ll be on your feet about the same amount of time
  • Your heart will get a workout, while your legs get a rest
  • It’ll feel unbelievably refreshing
  • Walk forwards & backwards, alternating every 10 minutes or so. Keep it interesting… and work both the front & back of your legs.
  • Bring a friend. Enjoy the conversation. No need to worry about pace.
  • Bring a couple 3lbs dumbbells if you want to work your upper body
  • Just take a deep breath and enjoy it. Remember that rest & recovery are just as important as your actual training.

Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner

A collection of my favorite Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner.

Topics include: school vs. running, his high school track coach, fortune cookies, blowing off the President, corporate life, being a champion, pain & suffering, the impossible and more.

This is a collection of my favorite Dean Karnazes’ quotes from his book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an all-night runner.

Many of the Dean Karnazes’ quotes from this book inspired me to run my first ultramarathon. I’ll highlight my favorite quotes and briefly discuss what they mean to me.

Buy the book on Amazon »

Dean Karnazes’ quotes from Ultramarathon Man

The difference between school & running – and why Dean chose running.

School was about sitting still and trying to behave as someone explained what the world was like. Running was about going out and experiencing it firsthand.

School brainwashes you to think certain thoughts, act a certain way, and conform to societal norms. School allows for no freedom, no creativity. Running sets me free.

Dean Karnazes quote on running as inspiration

For a kid my age to do what I had just done was almost unthinkable, and I could feel the power in it, the ability to inspire.

This is in reference to a 40+ mile bike ride – without directions – that Dean rode to his grandparents’ house on his twelfth birthday. Although I’ve never done anything that extreme, I do understand the ability to inspire.

Dean’s track coach on how it feels to run hard

If it felt good, you didn’t push hard enough. It’s supposed to hurt like hell.

We all get motivation from somewhere. Dean got some from his track coach.

A fortune cookie once told me…

He who suffers remembers.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m a firm believer in learning from mistakes, and learning the hard way. Whenever I take the easy path, do things the simple way, and make it through unscathed, it just doesn’t have meaning. When I suffer – when it’s difficult – that’s when I get something from the experience.

Blowing off the President of the United States

When ex-president Nixon would pass Dean & friends on the beach, and ask about the water, Dean would respond, “Good, Mr. President,” and leave it at that. Dean thought:

No need to shoot the breeze with Nixon when the surfing was so great.

When you’d rather do something you love than talk to the President, you have big things of your own to accomplish. This is a great indicator of success.

Karnazes quote on human body vs. human spirit

When Dean Karnazes told his coach his legs felt weird, his coach replied, “Don’t run with your legs. Run with your heart.”

The human body has limitations; the human spirit is boundless.

Most ultrarunners understand this well. For me, running ultramarathons is not just physical & mental, but spiritual as well.

Dean Karnazes on his early corporate lifestyle

I was moving fast, that was for sure, but was I moving forward? I needed a sense of purpose and clarity—and, perhaps, adventure.

I was moving fast at my job for 2.5 years. But when I finally stopped moving forward, I quit. Everyone needs purpose & clarity. Ultrarunners also need adventure.

Karnazes on life’s lessons

As I limped around my office, trying to appear natural, I reminded myself that pain and suffering are often catalysts for life’s most profound lessons.

Dean on being a champion

…that the Western States Endurance Run would be primarily about one thing: not giving up. It really didn’t matter how long it took to get the job done; what mattered was getting it done. This was an exploration into the possibilities of self. Being a champion meant not quitting, no matter how tough the situation became, and no matter how badly the odds seemed stacked against you. If you had the courage, stamina, and persistence to cross the finish line, you were a champion.

Many ultrarunners, myself included, run against the course. Time isn’t important. It’s the journey to the finish that matters.

Dean Karnazes on the simplicity of running

I’d also come to recognize that the simplicity of running was quite liberating…“Things” don’t bring happiness…A runner doesn’t need much…Perhaps in needing less, you’re actually getting more.

This is why I still struggle to get on the bike. The simplicity of running is one of it’s greatest attractions.

Karnazes quote on lifes’ goals being so clearly defined

…at least I knew what was expected of me. There would be a starting line, and 100 miles from that a finish line…the rules of engagement were clear…no hidden meanings or mixed messages. Just run, and don’t stop. If I made it 100 miles, I’d succeed. If I didn’t, I’d fail.

Again with the simplicity. Time isn’t important. Just go out and get a job done.

Dean Karnazes on the moment he became a changed man

It struck me in the space of a few steps that my past as I knew it had suddenly ceased to exist. Nothing would ever be the same to me from this point on. I’d been profoundly transformed by this journey, in ways I had yet to understand…I was more capable than I imagined, better than I ever thought I could be.

Dean Karnazes & his hunger for adventure

If it required strength, stamina, and a lack of better judgment, I was game.

Karnazes on the impossible

When asked what kept him going during the South Pole Marathon, Dean replied:

Easy. It is what I lived for. The adventure. The challenge of pushing the human body beyond reality. Not only had a marathon to the South Pole never been run before, but plenty of people doubted it could be done, said it would be impossible. I was out to prove that it could be done, regardless of how irrational, how improbable, how dangerous the effort was.

Dean truly believes that nothing is impossible. You can’t not respect that.

Dean on pain & suffering

People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. I’ve now come to believe that quite the opposite is the case. Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is magic in misery. Just ask any runner.

Well, he’s asking you. What do you think?

Dean Karnazes on the pursuit of a passion

Running has taught me that the pursuit of a passion matters more than the passion itself. Immerse yourself in something deeply and with heartfelt intensity – continually improve, never give up – this is fulfillment, this is success.

I’m not sure I understand the pursuit mattering more than the passion itself, but there is no better way to find fulfillment than immersing yourself in something deeply. Any passionate runner person can testify.

Why Dean Karnazes runs

I’m not giving it all away. You should buy the book for a more complete answer, but he does say this:

I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path…and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.

If I missed any of your favorite Ultramarathon Man quotes, I’d love to hear them. You can post them in the comments.

Visit Dean’s official site or check him out on Wikipedia.

I don’t know how you do it

I saw someone say to a friend, “I don’t know how you do it,” to the fact that she ran 20+ miles. I think you do know. It’s the same stuff you’ve been doing all along.

Here’s a basic recipe for success no matter what you’re doing with your life – running or otherwise.

Nonsense. Sure you do.

I just saw someone say to a friend on Facebook, “I don’t know how you do it,” to the fact that she had run 20+ miles. Truth is, she probably does know. She is just choosing to be awed by it instead.

Don’t get me wrong. 20+ miles for anyone, even an ultrarunner, is no walk in the park. It’s a solid run, and it deserves respect. But it’s not super-human, and the fact is, you could do it too… if you want to.

So how do we run 20+ miles?

Consistency. Hard work. Persistence. Passion. Training.

It’s all the same stuff that made you good at raising your kids. Playing the piano. Even tying your own shoes (well, maybe except for the passion).

We choose running. You may choose something else. But the things that get us there are very much the same.

You consistently work hard at something. You persevere through the hard times, keep training (repetition & practice). And you absolutely love doing it.

That’s a recipe for success no matter what you choose in life.

Grandmothers of Endurance Video – Ultrarunning into your 80s

A letter to all the nay-sayers & non-believers who tell me that ultrarunning is breaking apart my body. Those who think I’ll need knee replacements by age 35. This video of 2 ultrarunning Grandmothers (age 76 & 67) clearly proves that running ultras only enriches your mind, body & spirit.

To all the nay-sayers, non-believers, critics & the doubtful,

I always knew you were wrong. But now I have proof.

An ultrarunning buddy of mine, Peter, now provides proof (by way of 2 grandmother endurance junkies) that ultrarunning is not destroying my body. It only enriches my mind, body & spirit, and adds energy & excitement to my life.

Barb Macklow (age 76) of Bellingham, WA completed the Umstead 100-mile run at age 74. Her running partner, Vicki Griffiths (age 67), recently completed the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile run in just under 30 hours. Yeah. That’s why they call them the “Grandmothers of Endurance.”

Some of you (especially the personal trainers & physical therapists among you) have told me that my running habits will lead to health problems down the road. More specifically, knee, hip, ankle and other joint issues.

I usually reply, “Well, maybe I will, but I enjoy it now, and I’ll worry about that when I get there.” While this remains true, I now have 2 young ladies I can use as an example. If Barb can complete a 100-mile race on 74-year-old joints, I think I’ve got quite a few miles left on these legs before I need to worry.

Watch this video, and then try to tell me that ultrarunning is bad for my body. I’ll just say, “Look at what it has done for them.”

Grandmothers of Endurance Video

Barb is exactly 50 years older than I am today. Here’s to another 50 years of pure ultrarunning bliss… whether you want to believe it or not.

Running Wild,

P.S. – I know there are more ultrarunning grandmothers (and grandfathers) out there, and when I find them, you’ll be the first to know.

An ultrarunner’s beginning

A 30-second video on how I became an ultrarunner. If I told you Dean Karnazes was in it, would you watch it?

I would normally have something to say about running. A race report from a recent ultra. A new running buddy I just met. Some crazy idea I got while on a trail in the woods.

Since I’m still taking time off to let my hamstring injury heal, I’ve had some time to reflect back.

I stumbled upon this video that I made back in the day (which was a Wednesday). It’s an interesting – yet strikingly accurate – depiction of how I started running, and ultimately became an ultrarunner.

(So technically, I didn’t make it. Google did. It’s a little project they call Search Stories. Create your own search story here. It takes 2 minutes.)

How I Became An Ultrarunner (in 30 seconds)

A letter to my injured hamstring

Dear Hamstring. First off, let me start by saying I’m not mad. For years, you have continued to be amazing, and this past June, you failed… no… I failed you for the first time. I’ve been nothing but selfish, and for that, I apologize. Let’s start over and get it right this time.

Dear Hamstring,

First off, let me start by saying I’m not mad.

I’m a little frustrated… and confused, but I’m not mad.

For the past 3 years, you have continued to impress me. From the first 10k I ran back in October 2006, to my first marathon in 2007, to my first ultra in a tropical-storm-state-of-emergency-declaring-flood run, to my most recent 50-miler where you helped me shave over 2 hours off my previous PR. Truly, you have been amazing.

This past June, you failed me for the first time I failed you for the first time. After all the great things you’ve helped me achieve, I neglected you.

For months, you’ve been trying to get me to listen. You’ve provided all the warning signs, and I ignored every single one.

For 3 years you have put up with my selfishness. I’ve run race after race after race without proper training. Not once have I warmed you up properly. I’ve never cooled you off when you were overheating. And all those years you were trying to impress the ladies, not once did I take you to the gym to hit the weights. I’ve treated you poorly, and for that, I’m sorry.

Let me also tell you, Thank You. Thank you for bringing to light a few important things I didn’t realize until now.

  • I love running even more than I thought
  • Stretching, flexibility & strength training are important
  • You and I must get along. Just like any good relationship, it takes time & commitment.

I’m sure this isn’t fun for you either. Let’s agree on one thing. I don’t want to be sitting on my ass all day, and you don’t want me sitting on you.

I’m sorry I’ve been so selfish these past few years, but I’d like to put those times behind us. I propose a compromise.

I will (finally) give you ample time to recover. However long you need, you just let me know. And when you’re ready, I promise to take you to the gym. I’ll get you in the best shape of your life.

What I’d like from you… is exactly the same as what you’ve been giving me all along. Gutty performances. And a light tap on the shoulder when you need a rest.

As long as we stick together, we’ll make it through this.

So… I think we got off on the wrong foot.

Hamstring: “Hi Dave. Please allow me to introduce myself (again). The name’s Hamstring.”

Dave: “Hi Hamstring. It is nice to (finally) meet you.”

Why I love the ultrarunning community

Here’s a list of 8 reasons why I love the ultrarunning community. I was reminded of just how awesome ultrarunners are when a fellow runner, whom I’ve never met, gave 90 minutes of his time to help me through an injury, and give me advice on how to complete my first 100-miler.

I’m still relatively new to the ultrarunning world (~2 years), but I’ve already noticed the unique appeal of the ultrarunning community.

My hat goes off to David Snipes (aka, Sniper). This guy has been running ultramarathons for years. He’s probably finished every ultra in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, DC & North Carolina… more than once. We were both at Old Dominion 2 weeks ago, although we didn’t say a word to each other. A few days after the race, he friends me on Facebook. I realize we both live in Richmond, VA.

Long story short, he knew I was having an issue with my hamstring, so he gives me his cell number and offers to help. We talk for an hour and a half on the phone. It started with him asking questions, and ended with him giving advice. Not only for how to rehab my hamstring, but how to complete my first 100-mile run.

He called me back tonight, after he talked to his PT friend about my hamstring injury, to give me a test to diagnose it, as well as several exercises to heal it.

… and I don’t even know the guy!

Here’s to Sniper, who reminded me of the many reasons why I love the ultrarunning community.

This is why I love the ultrarunning community

  • Ultrarunners help strangers
  • Ultrarunners don’t run for prize money
  • An ultrarunner’s crew doesn’t always understand why we do it, but they support us anyway
  • Runners, crews, pacers, volunteers & RDs alike… we all respect each other
  • Ultrarunners share stuff (food, drink, headlamps, crazy stories, pain, triumph)
  • Ultrarunners walk-the-walk. We travel many miles to support fellow runners (sometimes even people we’ve never met)
  • We don’t always count the miles. Sometimes we run for time. Or just for the experience.
  • We get beat up. We fail. We succeed. Regardless, we always come back for more.

There are many reasons I’m sure I left out. I’d love to hear why you love the ultrarunning community in the comments.