Years ago my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach made a book recommendation that changed my life. He was becoming interested in long distance running and posted a review of Ultra-Marathon Man by Dean Karnazes. Reading about Dean's 50,100,and 200+ mile runs forever changed my perception of endurance, distance, and human physical potential. (At the time my personal goal was to circle the 3.5 mile Back Bay Loop in Portland twice for what seemed like an epic run of 7 straight miles. Running and racing have since become my passion and I've competed in events ranging from 5k to 50+ miles)
I recently had the honor of joining the Trail Monster Running Team and look forward to flying our flag at a series of races this summer. This will include my longest race to date: The Virgil Crest 100 Mile Ultra-Marathon on September 22nd in Virgil, NY.
What I hope to gain from running the Virgil Crest Ultra:
Aside from the belt buckle (a standard finishers award for completing a 100 mile race) I'm seeking those unforgettable moments that await us on the trails. The spirit of a group run kicking off. The relationships forged and built through pain, sweat, laughter, and the silence of a long run. The solitude of an early morning turned early afternoon on the trails where it's just you, the rhythm of your footfalls, the sound of your breath, and the woods...
Beyond this I'm seeking a test both physical, mental, and emotional. I'm seeking the challenges that we meet when we venture past comfort zones and safe spaces. And perhaps most of all I'm seeking out those moments when all of our social dressing is stripped away and we are confronted with our raw and naked selves; humbled by our weakness, awakened to our vulnerabilities, and more often and than we might expect, impressed with our strength.
Fears: I used to fear pain. I grew up in neighborhood where fist-fights and the fear of getting "jumped" and having your ass kicked for almost no reason was commonplace. Pain was something that could come suddenly and unexpectedly and last for as long as someone chose to inflict it on you. Since becoming competitive in the jui-jitsu, boxing, Cross-Fit, and trail running scene I no longer hide from pain. I've come to recognize it as one of the many markers, along with sacrifice, self-discipline, commitment, and dedication, of any goal worthy enough to take up and pursue.
Running through the woods at night unnerves me. Better said, it scares the hell out of me. With the support of my team I've got several night runs planned for this summer in order to be both mentally and logistically prepared to meet this fear head on by the time that I arrive in Virgil.
Mostly, I fear that I'll loose the gains that I've made since rounding out my running regimen with a strong dose of strength and power training, flexibility and mobility work, and Cross-Fit style metabolic conditioning. I'm healthier, stronger, and happier than when I was running every day and logging 60+ miles a week. I've seen improvements in everything from my race times to my "FRAN" time. And I occasionally spend Saturday mornings doing bear crawls across the grass, practicing handstands, and "playing" with the human movements that combine to form what I view as functional and fulfilling human fitness.
That said, the time that I spend on the trails is now of greater value to me than ever before. I appreciate every minute of it, every stream crossing, hill climb, and quiet stretch of single track trail. This appreciation for trail running is something that I vowed not to lose as my racing and running goals evolved. (There will undeniably be moments during my training when I don't want to run another step, when "appreciation"is the last thing in my mind as I pull into the parking lot at Bradbury Mountain and strap on my Camelback, when I'm sick of the woods. But I want them to be few and far between.)
This is a fear that can be avoided by a smart. periodized, training plan which I'll be developing , testing, and blogging about in the months to come.
Balance: Running a marathon distance every week for several months leading to a body-wrecking 24+hour endurance event is about as healthy as being repeatedly punched in the head during a heavyweight title fight or doing seven straight minutes of burpees at the Crossfit Games. That said, trail running is my passion. It is what I love to do. As ultra-running legend David Horton once said when asked why he runs these seemingly insane distances "I feel most at home and closest to God when I'm out on the trails'. I've never been a religious man but I can relate to the sentiment.
Training Plan: To avoid the ultra-training train wreck of adrenal fatigue, chronic sleep disturbances, sky-high cortisol levels, and a thoroughly trashed immune system I am going to take the same approach that served me well for the Peaks 50: comparatively low volume/well planned/and high quality miles with a focus on my weekly long run of 20-30 miles and a strong dose of general physical conditioning to prepare me for the challenges that await on race day.
The Crossfit Endurance program and athletes like Brian Mackenzie have demonstrated that you can run an Ultra-Marathon, and run it competitively (Brian completed the Western States 100 Mile Endurance run in 26 hours 48 minutes while claiming to have trained no more than 10.5 hours per week and focusing on Crossfit-style strength and metabolic conditioning workouts) with relatively low training miles behind you. Remarkable achievement for sure. But there is a missing element in these efforts...and that element is joy.
Here is clip of Crossfitter Mark Matyazik completing the Javelina Jundred on nothing but Crossfit training http://youtu.be/NQmcYeuqFu8
Remarkable achievement for sure. But whereas Mark seems to have approached this race the same way that many of us approach an insanely tough Crossfit WOD: by gritting his teeth, readying and steadying his mind, and powering through it until he reached the finish line, I am approaching the Virgil Crest Ultra from the opposite end of the spectrum: I want September 22nd to stand among the best days of my life. I want to squeeze my children, hug my teammates, and sink into the satisfaction of a hard fought battle won with a big smile on my face.
I love running long, I love running trails, and I know that I can design a training program that allows me to get a good dose of what I love without completely sacrificing what I need to remain both fit and functional in the other realms of my life in which I perform, compete, and exist in when I'm not running in the woods...
I'll be posting details on my Virgil Crest training in my log from now until race day.