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By Altra Athlete Jacob Puzey
When it comes to race day nutrition just keep it simple.
If your race is less than 90 minutes, you probably don’t need to eat on the run. If it is hot and/or humid you can drink some water or electrolyte drink along the course, but proper training, a balanced breakfast a few hours before the start, and regular hydration leading up to the event should get you through a 15 to 90 minute run or race without the need for additional aid.
After 90 minutes of continuous aerobic activity, your body runs out of glycogen stores (carbohydrates – sugars & starches) and starts relying on available fat and protein to fuel itself. The reason people hit the wall or bonk between 90 and 120 minutes into an aerobic effort is because they have run out of glycogen (sugars & starches) and/or electrolytes (salt, potassium, etc.). The body is trying, but not as efficient at using fats and proteins as its primary fuel source. Essentially, the body is feeding off itself which is why it doesn’t feel good and why your ability to perform diminishes.
Carbohydrates consist of simple sugars and complex starches which basically means that one digests faster than the other. Common sources of sugar while on the run are non-diet electrolyte drinks (sugar-free options defeat the purpose and will inevitably lead to an epic bonk), fruit (bananas, oranges, watermelon), gels, honey, chews, blocks, chomps, gummy bears, hard candy, etc. Sugar sources vary from fructose, to sucrose, glucose/dextrose, and maltodextrin, but many pre-packaged products and mixes include a combination of a variety of sugars.
Common sources of starches while on the run are potatoes, potato chips, breads, bananas (both starches and sugars), and granola bars, etc. Some people pre-make rice balls and other light, starchy items like oatmeal cookies or homemade energy bars to fuel their runs, but such items are not always found at aid stations.
In addition to carbohydrates, electrolytes play an essential role in your body’s performance. The combination and concentration of electrolytes vary from product to product, but one essential electrolyte that works as the spark plug to keep your muscles firing is sodium (i.e. salt). Some companies claim that we already have enough salt in our diets and that we don’t need to add extra salt while exercising, but if you’ve ever found yourself cramping up in your calf or hamstring and seen how almost instantaneously the consumption of salt eliminated the cramp, it’s pretty hard to argue with its efficacy. Common electrolyte sources while on the run can be found in electrolyte drinks, gels, salt caps, and broth. Some races may have potatoes with salt and salty potato chips on course as well.
I have found that the longer the race, the more I need to focus on nutrition early on. When the race is less than 2:00 I typically stick to water and possibly the electrolyte drink on course. If the race is between 2:00 and 3:00 I might add a salt cap or a gel or two. When the race is longer than 3:00, it typically means I will be carrying at least some of my fuel with me, so I focus on sipping an electrolyte drink every 15 minutes, and consuming 200 calories every 30 minutes, and taking a salt cap every hour.
The races in which I have been meticulous about nutrition are the ones in which I have raced the best, particularly in the second half. On the other hand, when I have allowed myself to get caught up in a race too early and neglected regular nutrition, I haven’t had anything left toward the end of the race.
(Photo Credit: Deborah Booker Honololulu Advertiser) (Photo Credit: Animal Athletics)
The pictures above show the difference in performance between fueling poorly and fueling adequately. In the one on the left, as a newbie marathoner, I felt strong through the first two hours, but I didn’t start fueling until my body started telling me it needed it (about mile 22). My hamstring locked up going over the final climb and the last few miles were a death march. Conversely, the picture on the right shows the finish of a 40 mile trail race. After over four hours and 40 miles of regular fueling, I felt good enough to sprint the last 400m around the track and leap over a hurdle that obstructed my way to the finish.
When I run a marathon or shorter, I like to eat something light like oatmeal, toast or granola bars with nut butter, with a banana and orange juice three to four hours before I race. When the race is early enough that I won’t naturally be up hours before the race, I usually bypass a fibrous breakfast, opt for more sleep, and down a tube of Trail Butter on my way to the start.
In races beyond 3:00, I aim to sip an electrolyte drink at least every 15 minutes. If it’s hot outside I will do it naturally, but sometimes when it’s cool I need a reminder so I am that annoying guy with a timer on his watch that sounds every 15 minutes. Lately, I’ve been using a First Endurance prototype cucumber flavored EFS drink which has more electrolytes than any other drink on the market and isn’t overly sweet. I also try to down a flask (400 calories) of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot every 60 to 90 minutes. I use the timer on my watch to remind me when to nurse the flask. I also take one Salt Stick cap per hour to assure I’m getting what I need. If I feel my muscles cramping up or buckling, I increase my salt intake. If I enter an aid station and something looks good I eat it. While I wouldn’t recommend most race foods as part of a regular diet, the reason they work so well during long races is that the nutrients are so refined that they get right into your blood stream, notifying your liver, brain, and muscles that you can keep going at a fast clip because you have enough fuel to get you to the next aid station.
Post-Race nutrition is equally important to long-term success. Post-race refreshments vary, but soup is rather common and it helps me warm up while settling my stomach. Many longer races serve some sort of post-race protein in the form of burritos, quesadillas, burgers, or sandwiches. Regardless of your diet, get some protein in within 30 minutes after your race. This will aid in muscle repair and will decrease the amount of time off post-race. I typically mix up a quart of Ultragen that I sip on after the race to begin repairing muscles as a decide what else to eat.
In addition to protein, be sure to hydrate. Water is always good, but if your stomach is struggling to digest the water, I suggest carbonated water or ginger ale until your stomach settles down.
Practice fueling before the race
Like most things in life, race day nutrition is a very individual thing. It requires practice in training and racing and the willingness to experiment to find what works best for you. My advice – keep it simple. Find the combination of sugars, starches, and salts that works best for you.
Jacob Puzey is a professional runner & USATF certified coach for McMillan Running Company residing in Flagstaff, Arizona. To learn more about training and racing, check out the other articles Jacob has written on his personal blog www.jacobpuzey.com. To begin working with Jacob as a coach visit McMillan Running Company and sign up for personal coaching.
By Athlete Nick Clark
Less Could be More: How Much to Eat During an Ultramarathon?
Figuring out the nutritional side of ultramarathoning has been an ongoing enigma for me over the years, as it is and has been for many others in the sport. When I first started competing in long distance running events, the conventional wisdom that was passed down to me was that one should attempt to consume at least 200-300 calories per hour in order to maintain a decent level of performance.
“Eat early, eat often,” was always the mantra.
Personally, I’ve always struggled to get that much in and have run through many races over the years on much less, usually after trying to cram calories early when my stomach feels fine and then suffering later in the race with nausea.
But my gut’s ability to digest calories while running hard in the latter stages of, say, a 100-mile race has really headed south over the last couple of years. Prior to my most recent 100-miler in September, in beautiful Steamboat Springs, CO, I had emptied the contents of my stomach at least once in the last four attempts at the distance. At Leadville and Wasatch in 2013 I still managed to pull off a podium finish and a win, but at Mount Fuji and then Western States this year the nausea cost me hours and I was thoroughly disappointed with both results.
So much so in fact that I was seriously considering giving up on the 100-mile distance, where I typically perform the most competitively, in favor of much less racing and much more exploring. I still maintain that desire to use my fitness and talents to explore more on foot and focus less on racing, but my joy in the 100-mile distance was rekindled enough at Steamboat that I’m now looking forward to competing in future events, even if more selectively.
The turnaround came as a result of a serious rethinking of my nutrition strategy. The first rule of the new fueling plan was to teach and convince myself that nausea late in races didn’t have to be inevitable. Working closely with local dietician and accomplished ultrarunner Abby McQueeney Penamonte I was able to develop an in-race fueling strategy based on metabolic testing.
After a half hour treadmill test conducted at 100-mile effort, we were able to ascertain a caloric range for what my in-race fueling needs were likely to be. Considerably less than the 200 – 300 calories per hour I’d been trying to cram down my throat in previous races, as it turns out. The results suggested that I burn fat efficiently and as such don’t need much more than 100 calories an hour to maintain respectable energy levels while performing at 100-mile effort.
That’s the equivalent of one gel an hour. Conventional ultrarunning wisdom says to get one of those puppies in every 20 to 30 minutes. For my fueling needs at Steamboat, I used a starch-based carbohydrate product diluted in water, rather than of gels. The taste of the product I was using was fairly benign – far from the sickly sweetness of most gels – with one bottle being equal to about 80 calories.
The other part of the puzzle of the nutrition strategy was to keep effort levels firmly under control. There is a direct correlation between effort level and the amount of blood that is getting to your gut to aid in processing fuel. My gut apparently is more sensitive to effort levels than might be the case for runners less likely to lose their lunch over the course of a long race, so I definitely feel like I have to err on the side of ‘less is more.’
After a fat- and protein-based breakfast of bacon and eggs two hours before the race, I held off on consuming until I was two hours into the race. From there, I pretty much kept things at one bottle – or 80 calories – an hour on the liquid fuel I was using, supplemented by additional water in a second bottle and occasional shots of coke or small bowls of ramen.
The seven hour mark, give or take an hour or two, has traditionally been the tipping point for my stomach in long races (making the 50-mile distance so appealing); the point where nausea typically starts kicking in. Seven hours and 40 miles into Steamboat and my gut was still in great shape, although it must be said that my energy levels were just respectable and not through the roof.
I did end up suffering through a one-hour bout of nausea in the middle of the night after eating too much ramen at an aid station, but was able to turn it around after dropping the effort and staying focused. At the toasty Summit Lake aid station, some 85 miles into the race I was back to consuming and able to maintain a decent clip into the finish, good for fifth overall against a tough field.
By no means was this a perfect race for me, but it was something of a revelation to buck the puking trend of my previous four races. There is tweaking to be done for sure, but I now feel good about the baseline nutrition plan, and look forward to refining it further, perhaps pushing the target to 120 calories per hour to offer the furnace that little extra bit of fuel to burn without overdoing it and losing my gut.
If you’ve suffered through repeated nausea issues during endurance events, give some thought to the amount of calories you are trying to get in and perhaps look to cut it back. Figuring out the balance between caloric intake and your stomach’s ability to process those calories is likely a multi-race proposition but hopefully one that leads to a future of nausea-free racing.
To see Nick’s full Steamboat 100 report and other nuggets related to training and competing in long-distance running events, check out his blog: www.irunmountains.blogspot.com
What a year it was. In 2010 I set out to raise funds and awareness for a local non profit called in Our Own Quiet way. Along the way I ended up breaking the world record for the most 70.3 (half Ironman) triathlons completed in one year. I completed 22 events in 30 weeks landing me in the Guinness book of world records for the first time. The year was a success and we ended up building a few Dam in Africa which will affect the lives of the people there for generations.
My journey continued in 2012 with a new World record attempt but this time in the Full Triathlon distance more commonly known as The Ironman – a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 marathon run. I knew 30 official events in 2012 through 11 countries would be a huge task to complete. I had so many high and lows on the year but the highs way over shadowed the lows. My journey started in January with a win in Naples Florida and concluded with a celebration race at the HITS Championships in Palm Springs California. My journey took me around the world where I got to experience many new people and cultures. I went through Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
A few of my highlights had to be biking and running in the Pyrenees in France and also having the opportunity to pull a boy named Dayton with Cerebral Palsy through an Ironman in Lake Havasu Arizona on my 27th Ironman event of the year. I will cherish this experience for as long a I live. Thank you Dayton for letting me be apart of your day.
Altra shoes saw and supported my vision from day one and all 30 Ironman races were raced in Altra shoes. Although the goal was to just cross 30 finish lines, I managed two Iron Distance victories and 5 second place finishes. When I started this journey I was told “No way you can do this” and “You will get injured”. Well I am happy to announce that I did do it and that I never got injured. One of my biggest fears at the start was a small foot injury or stress fracture which would have halted my journey and ultimately would have ended the quest for my second world record. No foot foot injuries… no foot pain…. no blisters. Pure genius – Thank you Altra!
James Lawrence – aka the IronCowboy
Jan 8, 2012 – HITS Naples (1st overall)
Feb 19, 2012 – HITS Corpus Christi (2nd overall)
Mar 3, 2012 – Ironman New Zealand (changed to 70.3)
Mar 25, 2012 – Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship
Apr 15, 2012 – HITS Napa Valley (2nd overall)
Mar 25, 2012 – Ironman South Africa
Apr 29, 2012 – HITS Marble Falls
May 5, 2012 – Ironman St. George
May 19, 2012 – Ironman Texas
May 27, 2012 – Ironman Brazil
Jun 10, 2012 – HITS Hunter Mtn (2nd overall)
Jun 17, 2012 – Ironman Regensburg
Jun 24, 2012 – Ironman Coeur d’Alene
Jul 1, 2012 – Ironman Austria
Jul 7, 2012 – Altriman France
Jul 15, 2012 – Ironman Switzerland
Jul 22, 2012 – Ironman Lake Placid
Jul 29, 2012 – HITS Sterling (2nd overall)
Aug 11, 2012 – Ironman U.S. Championship
Aug 19, 2012 – Ironman Mont-Tremblant
Aug 26, 2012 – Ironman Louisville
Sep 1, 2012 – The Canadian
Sep 9, 2012 – Rev3 Cedar Point
Sep 15, 2012 – The Grand Columbian (first place)
Sep 23, 2012 – HITS Hunter Mtn (top 10)
Oct 20, 2012 – The Great Floridian (top 10)
Nov 3, 2012 – Ironman Florida
Nov 11, 2012 – HITS Lake Havasu – pull cerabal palsy (Dayton)
Nov 18, 2012 – Ironman Arizona
Nov 25, 2012 – Iornman Cozumel
Dec 2, 2012 – HITS National Championships Palm Springs
I started running 2 1/2 years ago at the age of 60 and 1/2 when my friend and now running partner decided she wanted to run the Ogden half. You have to understand she was overweight, and had never run, and I was always active but more in the way of dance, and had never run either. We got on line and ran a training program. We loved the experience and did our first half in just over 3 hours. We were hooked. We added three other half marathons and a 10K that year, and continued to add new goals. We know for us we have to have a goal to shoot for, or we could find all kinds of excuses not to train.
The following year we did half marathons, a 30K (Red Mountain) in Ivans… our first trail experience (sort of, it was the road part of the Red Mt. 50K). We loved it, and crazy Deanna talked me into doing the Provo marathon just two weeks later. She said, ” we just did 19, what’s 7 more miles”! In October Dee and I ran the a trail 10K in Corner canyon.. Our first time running a trail. WOW. We loved it. It was then we truly became trail runners. I went right out and bought my first pair of Altras. I love the Lone peaks. We have run in mud, slush, snow, rocks and whatever and never felt like I didn’t have great foot support. I then had to get my first Intuitions, so we could winter train on the road. They are so comfortable. We did the Ivans run again this spring. I wore my Intuitions, and boy what a difference in performance, and comfort from the shoes I had worn the year before.
A few weeks before the Ivans run this spring, we ran the Buffalo run 25K on Antelope Island. Again, great comfort and wear from my Lone Peaks. We have registered for the Little Grand Canyon marathon in September, and are waiting for the registration to open for the Antelope Island 50K. I know. I keep thinking… what are we thinking? I am now 63 and love being up on the mountains. It has become a family thing, as my sons Craig and Brent are so good to run with their slow mom. We all did Ivans together this year.
I have shared my shoe stories with my sisters who both have knee and IT band issues and are not runners, but they both have bought Intuitions just to wear. They have told me that the shoes have made a huge difference in their walking and standing. My younger sister bought a pair of Lone Peaks to wear on Trek this week. I will be anxious to hear how they performed for her. She said they would have lots of rocky terrain and up hills.
We are a family of Altra wearers.
Share your thoughts:
When did you truly become a runner?
We’d love to hear your story. Learn how to share it here.
I will never forget my first “run” – February 1, 2010. A Jillian Michaels iFit program greeted me, where “Jillian” is in control of your speed and incline, adjusting one or the other (or both) every minute. It was a meager 30 minutes of jogging and a lot of walking, with the incline changing throughout. While I never manually slowed it down or decreased the incline, a good part of that first run was spent holding on to the sides, and I think I even had to step off onto the rails a time or two. My breathing was heavy, I could feel my heart trying to leap from my chest as sweat poured down my face…it was near torture, but I had made a commitment to myself that today was the day everything would change. When the 30 minute program I was complete I looked down at the distance – a meager 1.65 miles!! I might as well have run 100. I was wrecked. I literally crawled up the stairs from my basement and laid on the floor in my family room until I could actually breath (and move). While this is probably not the “doctor recommended” way to start a workout program, it made me decide then and there that I didn’t want to feel like this ever again.
To assist with the overall determination to make a change in my life and get myself in healthier, happier shape – A friend had convinced me to sign up for a Sprint Triathlon at the beginning of the summer. After a few weeks of training I had made up my mind that the longest distance anyone should ever concern themselves with running was a 5K. I couldn’t think of any reason why anyone would need to run farther than that. I continued with my iFit program which in turn continued to kick my butt every single time. With the addition of swimming and biking, I noticed that I was quickly getting stronger. The programs were getting harder, but I was able to do them. With each drop of sweat the pounds seemed to melt right off my body. Where I had previously been too embarrassed to run outside, I started taking my runs to the outdoors with the friend who had wrangled me into this triathlon to begin with.
I was also lucky enough to be working with a friend (and fellow Altramaniac, Craig Lloyd) who had started running the year before, and was quite a bit further along in his journey. He would often go running 10 miles for his daily run. 10 miles! I just couldn’t understand how you could run that far – and keep running! When he came into work talking about his first 50K, it simply blew my mind. I had honestly never thought about the possibility of running distances like that. I filed that away as something that is cool but something that *I* would probably never be able to do. But the seed had been planted.
My runs started to get longer and longer, I found myself saying “well, if you can run 3 miles, you can run 4…If you can run 4 miles, you can run 5…” I can remember each “First” distance as if it was yesterday, but the first time I ran 7 miles really sticks out. I jumped from 5 miles to 7 (and had gone out only planned on running 5) – but I was feeling so good that I just kept going…and it felt great! I was actually enjoying myself! I ran into Craig’s office with a grin on my face – I now understood (or at least was beginning to) why people do this!
My running took a whole new turn when I was training for a ‘mud run’ and my friend and I decided to head for the mountains to get some ‘harder’ training in. We climbed up part of a mountainside and then came across a trail which we decided we would use to take back down. I hit the trail and took off. All of the sudden I felt like I was home. I had spent my childhood playing in these mountains, and it seemed to strike a chord within me. I stopped and turned to share my elation with my buddy, but he was no where to be seen! A minute or two later he came into view, carefully running down the trail. I bounded off like a deer again and drank in every second on the trail. I was hooked. I immediately signed up for “Utahs toughest 10K” a ‘trail’ 10K that supposedly put all others to shame.
As my mileage increased, I started to notice slight issues in various parts of my body, but mostly my knees. I learned all of the IT band stretches and had a pair of minimal shoes…but would still feel that IT band flare up on my longer runs. When the toughest 10K came around, I laced up the latest and greatest trail shoe and was on my way. By road race terms this race is a beast, 600 feet of elevation gain and an endless supply of ups and downs throughout. Near the end of the race my knees were screaming at me, and afterwards I could barely walk. Going downstairs was a chore for at least the next week. I became extremely discouraged and had decided that maybe I just wasn’t built for running. Several people gave me the “I told you so” that running ruins your knees.
I, however, just couldn’t let it go. I started researching every possible way to improve my situation. I was running more and more with Craig, and through research and lots of discussion, I narrowed in on my running form. I ended up spending several months changing it – literally relearning how to run – getting my body used to using the muscles it should be using to run and not straining the ones that it shouldn’t be. Once I was able to get that dialed in that was it. I was hooked. My mileage started increasing by leaps and bounds. I was running almost exclusively on trails and before I knew it, I was signing up for a 50K – the Antelope Island Buffalo Run! Ten times the distance that I thought I would ever run, and here I was paying money to do it – and just barely a year from when I had started! The 50K was a great learning experience, and I had an amazing time, and even beat the goals that I had set for it.
What was next? Well what else? I set my sights on 50 miles, and signed up for and completed the Pony Express Trail 50 later that year (2011), and loved every mile of it (even the hard ones…). I continued hitting the trails, now running to the tops of mountains and in places that again, made me feel right at home. I had also picked up a pair of Altra Instincts, practically the day they came out. I had high hopes for the shoe, and they didn’t disappoint – becoming my only source of running footwear. I had an amazing group of friends that provided great support and entertainment. We were running in Zion National Park, all over the Wasatch range, the Uintas and more. I was able to take part in 100 mile races by pacing Craig and others as they complete the beastly distance.
As I continue to run and grow and find that I now actually enjoy that exhausted feeling that once so frightened me. I have the amazing support of family and friends that continue to inspire me and keep me going. I am surrounded by the beautiful Rocky Mountains that I can now enjoy for more than just their visual beauty, but for the challenge and adventure they offer. This coming year I’ve got my eye on a few races/runs, including the Buffalo Run 50 (peer pressure may get me into the 100), Kings Peak, Bairgutsman, Pony Express Tail Race, Zion and the Grand Canyon – to name but a few.
The best part is, this journey is more than just running – I meet new people, see new places and hopefully, reach new heights and farther distances!
Share your thoughts:
What are your biggest motivators to keep you running?
Have you ever shattered the limits you set on your body? How did it feel?
We’d love to hear your story. Learn how to share it here.
Earlier this year Braden Thompson began his journey from O to marathon. You can read his earlier entry here. Check out his report after months of hard work and training:
A few weeks ago I was lying on the couch watching college football feeling like absolute crap hardly able to even walk. I knew I needed to eat but that was the last thing my stomach wanted to do. This was my post race celebration. I had just finished the Top of Utah marathon.
When I set out to run a marathon, that’s not anywhere near what I pictured the outcome to be. At first, lying there in pain, I was a little disappointed that reaching my accomplishment was so anticlimactic. After I let it all sink in for a couple days I realized that the race was only a small part of my accomplishment. My real accomplishment was making it through the journey that led up to it.
When I first decided to run a marathon, I had no running shoes. I figured I needed to get a pair if I was serious about this. The shoes I was lucky enough to get my hands on were Altra Instincts. Little did I know they would become some of my best friends over the next five months.
On any hard journey, it’s always better if you have a friend. My Altra Instincts proved to be the friends I needed to make this journey more bearable. I took those little guys everywhere! We ran 50+ miles in the mountains of Logan canyon together. When I tripped on a rock they were the ones whispering, “don’t let that freakin’ rock push you around, you get up and finish your run!” When I would hit the snooze on the alarm clock at 5:30 AM they were right there, looking me in the eye, telling me to quit being a pansy and suck it up. When I was dropped off all alone up a canyon far away from home they were right there with me every step of the way to make sure I got back without dying. When a large rabid dog on mile 10 of 12 in a strange neighborhood attacked me, they were there to kick its mouth and give me an extra burst of speed to get away. On multiple family vacations they were the best behaved of anyone on the trip and even after hours and hours of driving they never once asked if we were there yet.
Not only were they my friends because they motivated me and gave me awesome pep talks, they were comfortable. I never thought I could run in slippers, these guys proved me wrong. Most comfortable pair of running shoes I’ve worn. I owe a lot to those little guys.
Ya, running 26.2 miles is really hard. Comparatively speaking, however, basically getting a part time job training for five months was MUCH more difficult. My goal in running a marathon was to push the limits of what I thought I was capable of. I did it, and I’m glad I did. It was awesome.
When Altra says “Zero Limits”, they’re not kidding. Anything you want to do, you can do it if you set your mind to it. If you want to run a marathon, half-marathon, or any distance for that matter, grab a pair of Altras and make them your two best friends. When you convince yourself that you really have no limits, you’ll be amazed what you can do.
Share your thoughts:
Do you train on vacation? What are some other obstacles that might throw off your training?
What was the most memorable part of your journey training for a race?
We’d love to hear your story. Learn how to share it here.
Most people are afraid to take a chance. Some people are afraid to fail, to look bad in the eyes of others, or to confirm a self doubt that may have been forever in their minds. It doesn’t necessarily have to be running or fitness related, it can be life related. Afraid to take a new job, afraid of a new relationship, afraid of failing. Some people are terrified of change, driven away by the unknown and paralyzed in a state of existence. Some people say existing is good, but why exist if you aren’t moving forward. Existing is FAILURE! This is what separates winners from losers, not defined by the accomplishment of being exceptional, but defined by the passion and effort put into something to try something most people wouldn’t. I’ll never be Scott Jurek, I am not that physically gifted. I’ll never be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, I’m not that smart. But what I will be is someone who tries and takes chances. Win or lose, finish or fall short, but miles ahead of those who are just existing.
Some people say that the distance between who you are, and who you can be is 100 miles. They say that when you are pushed to the absolute limit; vomiting as you run, crawling when you cant walk, talking to people who are just a hallucination, that you truly find out who you are. With a limit so high, fear is the reason some never find out who they can be. But deep inside I have to know, I have to run the 100.
|My Dad Ski Jumping – Suicide Hill in Ishpeming Michigan
He taught me how to suffer, and to never give up.
I grew up in the gym in Negaunee Michigan (Upper Peninsula), most people don’t know that about me. That gym was my house. My fathers fitness backgound was a competitive weight lifter, and Ski Jumper. I owned a 300 pound dead lift when I was in middle school, followed not long after by a 300 pound bench press. I scientifically read books, studied, and learned how to make my body stronger and stronger. My dad had me lift weights according to his workout plans he wrote for me, he was well known in the area for being tough. Not just strong, but a true bad-ass. (I am not exaggerating). Every girl I dated knew who my dad was, they treated me well, I felt like I was in a mafia family. He taught me how to suffer.
As a young kid I learned how to fuel, I learned how to fight. My basement was a gym, and I’m not talking about a Sears weight bench. I’m talking about full blown welded weight bench, custom made, with a squat rack on back. Accompanied by 700 pounds of free weights, a big bag, a speed bag, curling bars, a home made dip rack, dumbbells, lat machine and more. As young as I remember I was punching my dads hand, he was always fond of Sugar Ray Robinson. When I wasn’t lifting weights, I was hauling firewood. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan it gets cold, and very often we see over 210+ inches of snowfall a year. 328 inches of snowfall was recorded one year alone. You get tough skin up there, you haul firewood. Not just into your house to feed the wood stove but out of the woods. I spent many weekends driving 30 miles into the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere to take firewood that had been blown over. We would cut up the firewood and load it into the Gut Wagon. The Gut Wagon was a modified Chevy truck, with a very high box so you could get a ton of firewood in there. I got paid a penny a log as a kid, and whatever treats I wanted from the store.
We built our camp, a log camp, just my dad and I hauling logs and setting them into place. We built our house, garages, we built almost everything we own, including the weight bench. Even the weight tree to hold the plates was hand welded from steel. My dad was really as tough as people said he was, I never get sick of someone telling me a story of something crazy that he did. He would haul bags of cement over his shoulders like it was a small child. He would run a whole roof of shingles up and down a tall ladder before most people could get out of bed. And I was there too. He never got tired, and the work never seemed to really end. He would go all day on a couple sandwhiches my mom would make, Genoa and Salami with cheese on white bread with mustard, no vegetables. We lived on meat, all meat all the time. There wasn’t a meal that didn’t have meat, and we had a lot of Venison, potatoes, spaghetti, and chili.
Our camp has a lot of property, and I remember a time when we had to go blaze a trail around 80 acres through a cedar swamp with a big axe, marking the trees with tape. I didn’t know it at the time but it was preparing me for my first endurance events. Mid November cold, soaking feet, hours of walking around and hauling brush and blazing that trail, that miserable trail. I would follow my dad all over bird hunting, we had 80 acres of land, and we covered it all. My uncle Eino was known for being fast, that guy could go through the woods like a Tarahumara Indian, and that is no joke. My dad always loved and talked about how fast my uncle was, if you could only see them haul a 50 pound bag of corn over a mile to a deer blind, it was magical. I hauled many of those bags of corn, but never with the ease my dad or uncle Eino could.
My dad had long hair in his younger days and looked like Jesus. He had big muscles, (still does I should say), and rode a Harley. I’ve never seen him lose an arm wrestling match. I would arm wrestle him every so often from elementary school all the way through college, I never won. The funny thing is I was never even close, and I was really strong at the time. I had been arm wrestling people since I was in elementary school, its what we did, and my record was excellent. My dad would toy with me, letting me get him to within an inch or two of winning, and then that hydraulic arm would crush me like I was giving him no resistance at all. He wasn’t trying to make me look like a fool, he just wanted me to get stronger, he said it was in my genes. But he never knew that I would turn into a cyclist or runner, or be able to swim. Muscle wasn’t supposed to swim. And I love to prove people wrong.
Everyone has a hero, a lot of people say it’s their dad or mom, or Lance Armstrong. But for me it really is my dad. He taught me what it was like to work for a living, and work really hard. He worked 6 days a week, hard labor in a track press building tracks for the big mining vehicles that are as big as a house. After work he came home and worked some more, built things, and put food on the table. We sure had our moments, he wasn’t the guy you wanted to get angry and I sure did plenty of that. He has a big heart as well. Nobody wants to see me succeed as much as him, and I’m not willing to let him down, or anybody if I can help it. After a while I started to notice things about my dad, he always found projects. I realized the projects never really stopped coming, they grew. He had to work, he had to do things, it was in his blood. He told me, “When a person stops working, they die.” And I believe that to this day.
The difference is this, when I moved away to Petoskey Mi and bought a house I never had the money for a snow machine. My driveway was 185 feet long, I measured it. We had some big snowfalls those years that I was there, and I would shovel the driveway. It became a game. I would come home from my midnight shift and shovel it, and sometimes have to shovel it again before going to work. I’m not talking 4 inches of snow, I am talking 2 feet of snow, often wet and heavy snow. I would make a path up the middle of the driveway, then the left and right side of the driveway. Then I would run back and forth as fast as I could, I wore a heart rate monitor I would average 165 bpm + on a good day maxing out in the high 180′s. People thought I was “Crazy.” I had people stop, and offer to borrow me their snow blower, I would politely decline. It was my game, and nobody was taking it from me. I would shovel till I would nearly collapse, run left throw, run right throw. I would think to myself that there is nobody in the world shoveling as hard as me right now, and it would drive me to do more. My forearms would look like balloons when I was done, then I would follow my fathers ways, lift weights and then have a protein drink. My life as a child in Upper Michigan was paying off already.
I learned to be tough, I learned to do things that most people wouldn’t do, mostly because of my father. I learned to take chances, so I didn’t have to be like him, working a hard labor job. I went to school and got a job in the medical field which made it easier for me to concentrate my tough skin on something outside of a tough life. Somewhere in the middle, a friend got me into cycling, not exactly my fathers plans, he was a Ski Jumper and spent countless hours building me a ski jump off the rock bluff in my back yard. I wadded myself into a ball more times then one can imagine. If anybody is familiar with the sport of ski Jumping, my dad jumped Suicide Hill in his early teens, as well as Pine Mountain Ski Jumps. He flew through the air for years, before giving it up the year I was born. I respect the sport, for it’s one thing that I’ll never have the courage to do. It terrified me. I recall a memory of a nice lady picking me off the ground during ski practice at Suicide Hill, my knee so badly sprained I couldn’t even walk. I remember spending a few days in bed after that.
|Looking down from the top of Suicide Hill Ski Jump.
It will make your hair stand up on the back of your neck.
|I never became a Ski Jumper, but I was still a daredevil.
My dad and I both had some flight in us.
Cycling started out very rough for me, a friend convinced me to do a mountain bike race, and I thought I was in pretty good shape. I never did much biking but I figured 28 miles couldn’t be that hard. I finished the race in 3:23 minutes. At the time it was the hardest thing I had ever done, this whole endurance sports thing was new to me. I was just strong. I lifted weights and ran on a treadmill from time to time, but not too much because a lot of cardio was supposed to lead to muscle catabolim according to some books. It boggled my mind that people who didn’t look in shape, were that much faster then I was. People were finishing in under 2 hours, and I just couldn’t fathom how they were going that fast. It didn’t discourage me, but it created a question: HOW?! So I started to do research, I changed my diet, I learned about heart rate zones and lactate threshold. I learned how much water I needed an hour, how many calories I needed an hour. I figured out how much time the body needed to recover from an hour long effort at lactate threshold. I learned that lifting weights excessively didn’t mean I was healthy. I learned a lot. I learned that my heart needed to be strengthened. I played tennis in high school and I ran, and I was better then a lot of people because I tried hard. My coach told me to never stop running till the ball bounced twice, and I didn’t. I thought that with running from tennis I would be in great shape. So I was back to the drawing board.
I came back to that mountain bike race the following year, I sought out help from some cyclists that I worked with in the medical field to get faster. From all of the information I read, and the better training, I did the race in 2:35 minutes. A lot faster then 3:23, but I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t stop until I got it figured out, my fastest time in that race now is 1:47 minutes and I think I can go a bit faster. I’m not one for excuses but that year I let my brother borrow my race bike and I used his bike which only had a middle chain ring, the front derailleur was broken. Oddly enough it was still my fastest time, and my brother was even faster. He possessed the gift, I had to work for it.
That race was a stepping stone for me into the endurance sports world. How do I get faster? How do I get more fit? I learned that I was strong, and I could get very strong. “It’s in your genes”, my father would say. And that was true, I could get stronger then most people quicker then most. But I struggled with endurance sports. Just when I was finally starting to convert over to an endurance athlete, and was just lifting weights to keep my core strong, and various other muscles, I met my maker.
I worked with a guy who was a serious hunter and fisher. He was an athlete, he trail ran and was a cross country skier, skate skiing. I mentioned how I wanted to go run up Sugarloaf Mountain with him in the middle of winter. We went, and I nearly died, I went deep into the hurt locker and as he made the summit and turned around, I was bent over panting, almost ready to throw up. How in the heck was he able to do this I thought? That year we did some spin classes together in the middle of winter, and he always said. “This is nothing compared to cross country skiing”. I didn’t really believe him, but I didn’t totally discredit him either, after all he did spank me running up and down Sugarloaf Mountain. That winter he borrowed me a pair of skate skis and we went out to Blueberry Ridge to teach me how to cross country ski. I knew some of the technique to skate on skis, I did it on jumping skis as a child, and on downhill skis when I raced on the high school ski team (I was never any good on the ski team, I would strip off my yellow ski jacket so nobody would see me and go find Jumps to hit, Ironic huh?) I took off, immediately in front of him before he could give me any instruction. I thought I was doing really good and then I bonked, I made it a quarter mile. My heart rate had to of been about 190, while his was sitting at a cool 120.
I couldn’t understand how his heart rate could be so low and mine could be so high. I just didn’t get it, but I wasn’t willing to give up. I tracked down the fastest people, got the best advice and tried to learn. It was January 5th and the big Noquemanon Ski Marathon has a ski race at the end of January every year. My friend who was teaching me wasn’t planning on doing the race. After about two weeks of skiing and improving on my technique I told him I was thinking about doing it. He told me I was nuts, and that I just started skiing, how was I going to ski 25km through big hills in some legendary ski country?
I was working with a surgeon. Wally Pearson at the time, one of the best cross country skiers I had ever met, and I told him that I just started skiing and I was thinking of doing the race. Wally was fast, really fast. The stories always come up at work how Wally was chasing down the Italian Ski Team after the Salt Lake City Olympics during the legendary American Birkebeiner race. A race in which 10,000 skiers from all over the world show up, and Wally would place right near the top. Wally looked like Lance Armstrong, and to me was just as iconic. I looked up to him, and he told me to go for it. I wasn’t sure if he believed I could do it, or didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Either way, it pushed me over the edge. After telling my friend who got me into skiing that I was doing, he said. “Well if you’re doing it, then I have to do it!”. He wouldn’t have done that race without me that year, and I wouldn’t have learned to ski without him. Fair trade.
In the two weeks leading up to the race I kept skiing, I kept learning. I showed up at the race with a plan, I wanted to finish in under 2 hours. People told me not to have a plan, and that I should be happy to just finish. I did a few time trials the weeks leading up to the race, some cross over from bike training ideas, putting pace and heart rate into perspective that I had learned. I was calculated. When the gun went off, I suffered. I skied as hard as I could ski, I passed some people, but was passed by many more. I suffered, but I never thought about not finishing, in some sick sense I was enjoying it. With 2 miles to go in the race my triceps were cramping up. I had to start polling with only my right arm, and remain skating. I crossed that finish line in 1:59.59, about as close to 2 hours as a person could get. A monster was born.
As if my life as a child didn’t teach me to embrace pain, cross country skiing taught me more. Being a child I learned how to be cold, sit in a deer blind for hours in 15 degree weather just watching, just waiting. I learned how to haul wood, and walk for hours in the woods, to shovel snow to stratospheric of heights. That was just another stepping stone. Cross country skiing has been the only sport where I have been so far in the red, where the thoughts of passing out or dying going up a hill, was the only way the pain would stop. I been so far in the bonk zone to the point where I didn’t know if I would be able to get out of the upper part of the Noquemanon ski course on an interval training day. You can’t just walk up a hill when you get tired, you have to skate up, or herringbone up. And either way, if you bonk really bad, it can be a nightmare, you can feel helpless.
After that race I kept skiing and started getting to the point where I was decent. I certainly didn’t come in last place in my first race, but I might as well have, my motivation to get faster was just the same. So that spring I started to run, Wally Pearson told me running is the way you get faster Cross Country Skiing. And I listened. I ran Marquette Mountain, Mount Marquette, it was all coming together, cross country skiing gave me the engine. I could run now, before I struggled, but now I could run.
|3/8 inch sheet metal screws, this is how you run
in the winter in Upper Michigan. Tip from Joe Jameson
I denied being a runner for a long time, I never thought I was any good, nor was I ever that fast. I was talked into a few races and ran a couple 5k’s, 10k’s, then started working my way up to the half marathon. I ran because I could, I ran to be able to ski, I ran because in some sick sense I enjoyed it. I was still biking, but I was running as well. After doing another year of cross country skiing I became obsessed, not just with skiing, but everything.
|My Bro and I after the Noquemanon Ski Race. 2nd AG’s
I met this guy, a photographer from National Geographic who has done it all, climbed Kilimanjaro did mission work in Tanzania and various other things most people would think were lies, but weren’t. He had a motto of a true Nike spokesman. “Just do it.” He wasn’t a super athlete, but he had a sense of adventure. He found out I was driving down to Traverse City to race the North American Vasa ski race, so he hitched a ride down to see his family, without even being sure how he would get back. I envied this about him, and so did my brother. My brother then came up with the idea of how he wanted to do something big. And then formed the idea to Bike Across America.
|Vasa 2nd Place AG
I thought he was crazy, why bike across America? Before I knew it I sold everything I had to make the trip happen, I became the National Geographic guy. I took a chance. I sold my guitars, and drums, my car, I was running home 10 miles from work after working an 8 hour shift before the trip started to make ends meet. I planned the logistics, set up sponsors, found a charity to raise money for. We put it together in 3 months, and set out from Yorktown Virginia, 3 guys to cover 4000 miles in 40 days for a various different reasons.
Unfortunately the bike across America trip was cut short, temperatures of 107-110 on the pavement for 13 days and nearly 1000 miles through the Appalachian Mountains were starting to be more of a risk then what it was worth. To put it in perspective they cancel a marathon in the upper 80′s, but we were riding through steep mountains for 8 hours a day, with 60 pound bikes with gear on it, sleeping in tents. When you weren’t being dehydrated while on the bike, you woke up totally parched and empty. I wrote a whole other blog on my Bike Across America trip, called my Biggest Failure. Failure I learned is sometimes disguised as success. We tried to accomplish something many have thought was crazy, and gave up everything for a shot at something simple really, riding a bike a really long ways, to test the human body and mind. Leaving that trip was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
When I got back from the bike trip I was all beside myself, I had failed, I was mad, and angry. I wanted to go back and try again. I needed to do something with myself. And then it happened, I was working and a great opportunity popped up. Joe Jameson a Leadville 100 runner, puts on a race in my hometown every year consisting of a 50 miler and a 50k. Someone asked me if I was running it? Obviously they thought I was more of a runner then I was, but the idea fueled me. I talked to Jameson about the race and he said he thought it was possible for me to finish. Again, I didn’t know if he was just being nice, or really believed I could do it. I had 1 month to get ready for it, and he set me up with a training plan. The plan was very simple, whatever I wanted to run during the week, the first weekend a 15 mile long run, then the next a 4.5 hour “Event”. The event meant that I ran, walked, hiked and simulated 4.5 hours on my feet. The weekend following the 4.5 hour event was a 13 mile trail run, followed the next weekend by the race.
|Finally a shoe that is a natural runner! 0 mm drop, with the
benefit of still having something underfoot! 8.9 ounces FANTASTIC!
Before you knew it, I was toeing the start line of my first 50km race. I was pretty sure I was out of my league. I had never run a marathon before, but I had some of my own training. My training consisted of riding a bicycle for 50 hours in a week, through mountains on a bike that weighed 60 pounds at a pace that was nearly impossible to maintain for 4000 miles. I never knew u could pedal so hard and go so slow, 2.8 mph. I suffered on that trip, climbing up some of those steep Appalachian mountains were some of the hardest things I had ever done. I knew how to suffer from being a child hauling firewood, chopping it in the 20 degree weather and shoveling more snow in one year than most people will in a lifetime. I could withstand, shoveling a 185 foot long driveway with 2 feet of snow multiple times a month. I might have not made it the full 4000 miles on the bike the first time I tried, but I learned something. All of this is just training for what I am about to do next, what I want to do, and where I want to go. I ran my heart out in that 50km race, and I finished when others thought I would fail. I succeeded at running 50km, I suffered, and I enjoyed it.
After the 50k it was more about getting fit, running more, and running longer. I did multiple marathons close enough together to become a Marathon Maniac. I enjoyed the people I met, how I felt. I enjoyed the social outlook on the races. But most of all I enjoyed helping people. I met people through the last few years that were a lot like me. I helped them get faster or stronger, leaner or to just simply believe in themselves. I’m not an elite athlete. I had to work hard to get to where I am, I learned that I can beat people in a race that have more natural talent then me. I’ll never be a great physiological endurance athlete, I was made to be strong. “It’s in your genes”, as my dad would say. But the funny thing is, you can be whoever you want to be, or do whatever you want to do. If you want to run 50 miles or 100 miles you just have to believe in yourself and learn how to suffer enough to get there. You have to learn how to train, you have to be able to listen to other peoples criticism. You have to be able to leave your ego at the door and allow yourself to get passed by people out running who are wearing department store shoes and a cotton shirt sometimes.
My favorite things I have ever done in my life were all about taking chances, I ran the Leadville 50 mile Silver Rush recently and it was tough. The race started at 10,200 feet of altitude and went over 12,000 feet four times. Now I am looking forward to running the Rocky Raccoon 100 followed by the Leadville 100! I know many people who are just as capable to do these things, and can probably do them faster then me. They just need to believe in themselves to make it happen. I have a tattoo on my arm of the number 158, someday I am going to run that many miles.
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Was it person that got you into running? How did they convince you to start?
What is your ultimate goal as a runner?
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Back in 2003, I was a drug addict. I’d been shooting up coke and heroin for awhile, along with multiple 40 oz bottles of malt liquor every night. It never completely swallowed my life and put me on the street, but it made me sick, fat and lazy. I knew I had to change, but didn’t have resources available, let alone any kind of direction.
In a desperate act of self-preservation, I set out to hike Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail from end to end. I didn’t know anything about backpacking, let alone doing it for 1000 miles, and set out with all the wrong gear (including a HUGE backpack and leather boots). Those 52 days were a miserable hike full of blisters and pain….but it sparked something
inside. The high I got from rigorous exercise was so satisfying, and the sense of accomplishment so extreme, I knew my life would never be the same. I would dedicate my life to long distance hiking.
What followed were a series of end to end thru hikes on North America’s long distance trails. I hiked the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails in their entirety…twice each. I also took a quick thru hike on the Colorado Trail one summer, and my current tally is around 17,000 miles or so. All self supported backpacking trips across the
I found the “Lone Peak” last spring and knew from the first hike around the block that these were the shoes for me. I’d been trying to make due with anatomically incorrect footwear my whole life, and Altra was the first to actually make a shoe that fits the human foot while offering an aggressive tread pattern and a zero drop sole. No more blisters or cramped toes! I hiked around 2600 miles from Mexico to Canada this summer, starting May 3rd and ending August 20th.
Every year I try to get out for an epic journey across the continent. I have all winter to think about where my next hike will be, but one thing I don’t have to think about is what shoe I’ll wear.
My advice for anyone interested in changing their lives for the better? The very fact that you’re reading this shows promise. If you want to do it, get off the couch, stop complaining and making excuses, lace up your shoes and make it happen. You only get one spin on this big blue planet, and there are enough unhappy people out there.
Share your thoughts:
What sparked you to become the runner you are today?
Have you ever gone into a race or hike unprepared? What were the consequences?
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