As we’ve tendencies to do during the dark, cold and blustery winter, I log some of my base training for the coming season on the treadmill. It’s an effictive and convenient way to shake off the Tin Man I’ve become while imbibing in the holiday spirit of joy, family and friends and – gluttony!
Treadmill running sucks. So to make it suck-less I select a Netflix or Amazon Prime series I’ve been meaning to watch but never have the time, and power watch end-to-end over the endless days upon the hamster wheel. My sons Patrick and Drew serve as my personal video curators, queuing me up with the best of the best programs. They’ve never steered me wrong and this year was no exception.
The selection was Band of Brothers, HBO’s 2001 American WWII miniseries. It is a whopping 12 hours of non-stop nail biting drama, guaranteed to make treadmill running suck-less.
My takeaway was a better appreciation for the “why” which motivated young American men and women volunteering to put their lives at great risk. The act of putting country and community over one’s self. However, there were many other reasons for volunteering beyond the noble aspect. Some thrusting towards, others fleeing life’s circumstances. Soldiers maintaining family tradition, neophytes seeking to discover themselves, their metal.
It got me thinking about endurance runners, and our “why”. Albeit on a more personal level and minuscule risk, some of the motivations of soldiers are similar to our own. Selfless acts of putting our community; tribe, before our own needs. Craving the welcoming community, camaraderie. Sharing our “war” stories. Running from – or towards aspects of our lives. Self discovery, accomplishment.
So the next time I’m suffering on a long run, I’ll remind myself I volunteered for this, it’s not just about me and it’s not life or death, unlike our veterans. Suck it up Sally, and pass the Tailwind.
And Why YouCan Do It!
“I’m just wrapping my head around ultra running and maybe trying a 50k. 100 miles? Crazy! 200 miles? Insane!”
“It took me a long time to believe I could even attempt running 100 miles. But 200? There’s no way!”
“Why would anyone want to run that far? What’s the point?”
“I can’t ever see myself trying a 200 mile event. Just the time required to train and all that lack of sleep…and the pain – geez!”
After learning about a 200+ mile endurance event, have you or a friend ever thought and said something like this? I know I did!
But I’m going to make the case for you, that might change your mind.
In fact, mountain running(200 miles or more in alpine settings) had such a dramatic impact on me, I’m now devoted to these events, after 30 years of ultrarunning.
The Case For Two Hundys
You will be walking/hiking for 50-75% of the time. An average finish time for a 200 is ~90 hours. That’s 2.2 mph (inclusive of stoppage time); moving time average is closer to 2.5-2.7 mph. Hikers average 3 mph; backpackers 2 mph in mountain terrain. Your training will involve a mixture of LSD (Long Slow Distance) running, efficient walking and hiking, acclimatization (if required) and hill training.
The hours you dedicate to the above can be equal to, even less than you would have done running for an ultra. And…
It’ll Be Kinder To Your Body
Less running = less pounding on the joints, muscles and tendons and less injuries, faster recovery. As a bonus, you’ll be working in the temperate to aerobic heart zone (60-80% max) so burning fat efficiently! Double bonus: you’ll learn to climb like a billy goat. Who doesn’t want to be a GOAT?!
Failure to Plan, is a Plan to Fail
You’ll be confronted with numerous obsticles during a multi-day event. Issues with gear, blisters, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, nutrition, hallucinations, navigation, weather, altitude, hypothermia, hyperthermia – it’s a Rubric of problems to be solved, all while the clock ticks and you ebb and flow from euphoria to despair. However, for those that prepare, many issues can be minimized or eliminated, thus providing a competitive edge to the planner over the swift; tortoise over the hare.
Your friend asks you, “The scenery must be phenomenal on your ultra run?”, and you responded, “Honestly, I really don’t know. I spent all my time looking down so I wouldn’t fall!” Moving slower enables you to enjoy more of your surroundings. And 200s are hosted in some of the most scenic places in the world – so oh boy, will you want to take in the views! You’ll traverse deep into places that few ever get to venture and witness.
Ultra running has been my form of organized community – my ‘tribe’, for decades. I’m as passionate about our culture and it’s benefits as I am about the running. The community in 200s harkens back to my early days of ultrarunning, when it was a relatively unknown niche sport with a tight knit and deeply supportive and loyal community. The highest priority was always our fellow tribe mates. This still exists in ultrarunning, but has been diluted with the tremendous growth in the sport’s participation and associated focus on competition. With 200s there are fewer participants, under long periods of duress spent together and thus, a natural inclination to look out for your fellow runners as a pinnacle priority. That single aspect is most palpable and endearing.
There’s a long list of “whys” for becoming an ultrarunner. But inevitably, we all have takeaways about community, environment and most importantly, ourselves – which benefit us greatly outside the sport. The 200 community is a PhD in all of the above, taking the learning to an entirely different level. It’s in a word – exhilarating.
Sense of Accomplishment
There is this mental, emotional catharsis that takes place. Accomplishment, coupled with life lessons, is a potent one-two punch for feeling alive and living life to the fullest. Go no further than partaking in a two hundy for you to experience this uplifting sensation like never before. Every time I complete an event I feel more able to confront whatever comes my way each day.
Why YouCan Do It
Okay, hopefully I’ve peaked your interest. And yet you’ve a “but”, right? You don’t believe you could ever pull this off, as enticing as it might sound. Read on faithful follower. I’ve a secret to reveal…
Yup. Anyone. Can. Run. A. 200. Miler.
If you’ve a mind or already have run an ultra, then you are already 3/4 of the way towards competing in a 200 miler. What do you have to do to make it a reality?
That’s it. Seriously. Oh, and go find an event that fulfills your dreams here:
Not sure you’re quite ready for a two hundy? Here’s an opportunity to have a go at the sport of mountain running at a shorter distance (Passage au Malatrà®(30k) and Tot Dret® (132k)). I’m offering two free registrations for two lucky sweepstakes winners who will be selected next month. It’s easy and free to participate. Just follow me on my Instagram account at https://linkinprofile.com/dieselsan and you’ll be automatically entered.
Bob Crowley is an entrepreneur and athlete who has been ultra running since 1989. He’s “head yeti” for the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC), one of the largest trail running clubs in the world. He’s competed in the Western States Endurance Run, Hardrock 100 and is approaching 100 ultra event completions. Recently he’s transitioned to mountain running and has run the Tahoe 200 and Moab 240 events and will attempt to complete the Tor des Géants® in the Italian Alps in September. He’ll be sharing his journey of preparing for and participating in the TOR throughout the year via his Instagram account at https://linkinprofile.com/dieselsan
What? This is too good to be true, right? Nope.
As part of the 10thanniversary of the famous Tor des Géants®which takes place in the Italian Alps each year in September, the race organizers have afforded me 2 free entries into: 1) Tot Dret®(a value of $230 US) and 2) The Passage au Malatrà®( a value of $46 US) for two lucky North American runners! The Tot Dret®(132k) runs simultaneously with TdG on September 10th-12thand the newPassage au Malatrà®(30k) runs September 14th– both in the stunning Italian Alps’ Aosta Valley.
All you have to do to enter the Sweepstakes is: 1) be a North American citizen and 2) Follow me on this Instagram account [if you’re already a follower and want to enter just Direct Message (DM) me]
We’ll announce the winners here February 28th. That’s it – KISS!
Oh, if you want to increase your odds of being picked, just find the secret word (it’ll be italicized) in each of my upcoming posts and share it with me via DM. Every time you’re correct I’ll add your name again to the lottery. Schweet. So be on the lookout for future posts for additional chances to win free entry to one of these magnificent events.
More aboutTotDret®: http://www.tordesgeants.it/en/content/tot-dret-130km-gressoney-courmayeurand here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLUb7qs41Hs
More about Passage au Malatrà®: http://www.tordesgeants.it/en/content/new-passage-au-malatrà
For full Sweepstakes Terms & Conditions, please go here: https://temp-trail-animals.com/sweepstakes-terms-and-conditions/
I’ve been listening to Sapiens during my long runs recently.
A pervasive theme is that although Sapiens may have possessed more intelligence than their Neanderthal counterparts, it was our ability to effectively function as a community that sealed our pervasiveness as humans. Turns out, our DNA wires the majority of us to prefer groups rather than live in solitude. Thus, we excel at building and maintaining relationships – and those of us that make it a priority, find inevitable success and happiness in life.
This underpins the good feelings we experience when being part of a community. It’s the feeling of belonging that gives us self worth and satisfaction. So many of us have discovered ultrarunning fulfills a desire to belong, accomplish and contribute. And it’s extremely important we do contribute from time to time to assure our community persists.
Being an ultrarunner rather than doing ultrarunning includes contributing time and effort towards our sport and greater community. We’ve all benefited from a volunteer at an event; who showed us kindness serving us soup and encouragement at an aid station when we were feeling low, who tirelessly marked our course and then swept it clean, who paced us along our first 50 miler, who labored over the trail, removing trees and debris, who changed our sweaty socks and cleaned our gnarly and disgusting feet.
Volunteering in our ultrarunning community is fundamental to belonging. It not only shows you care, it elevates your spirits, makes you feel good. And the best way to become a better volunteer is by doing.
Let’s all make volunteering our #1 priority as we make our ultrarunning plans for 2019 and add days where we give back alongside those races where we take.
This time of year our thoughts turn towards the holidays, family, plans for next year, catching up on the IPA we deprive ourselves from during training (um, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and recovery.
Ultrarunning takes an especially broad toll on our bodies, minds and lives.
Actually performing recovery by shifting our attention to other priorities, allowing for more sleep, changing up our physical and mental activities can be the most difficult part of our plan to accomplish – especially if you’re feeling good and “don’t want to waste” all that fitness you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
That feeling of invincibility that occasionally wanders in and out of our ultra-world is so seductive. But with rare exception, the price we pay for “one more race” inevitably catches up and can wreak havoc with our future. I’ve fallen prey several times to this temptation and it has never turned out well.
I’m a “veteran” ultrarunner – a polite way of saying “old guy”. I can’t speak to speed any longer – maybe never could – but what I do have is perspective, gained from having the privilege of watching our wonderful sport and community form and mature. Those observations are what I hope to impart with this forum.
So on this topic, I’m seeing more and more talented athletes being asked – or asking of themselves – to perform increasingly remarkable feats. More races, longer distances, podium finishes, taking calculated risks. And we mere mortals see this splashed across our social media screens daily. Which in turn leads us to wonder “could we, should we” behave this way too?
Do yourself and those you love a favor. As you finish 2018, take a break. Rest, relax, exchange your trail shoes for snow or cycling shoes, roller skates, flip flops and slippers. Grab your favorite down jacket, comforter or sleeping bag and shut down. There are so many good books and articles to read, favorite podcasts to hear and series power watching to be done!
And before you hit “confirmed” for the plethora of races you are about to register for in 2019, ask yourself what else you want to accomplish? Then pick wisely. You’ll thank yourself for selecting quality over quantity with your ultrarunning and you might surprise yourself at how your performance improves along with the quality of life.
I had another topic in mind for this week but after hanging around the Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run watching and helping out several friends and runners, I was inspired to talk about failure. Thanks to Nic Errol, Donna Ni Cuarta and Todd Larsen for the reminder and lessons learned.
.300 and above is considered a very good to excellent batting average in baseball. That’s approximately one hit in three attempts over a season. That kind of average over a career would make the player a candidate for the Hall of Fame.
In the world of start-ups from which I carved a career, a 1-in-10 “hit rate” for success is considered ‘normal’ and those founders and entrepreneurs that beat those odds are considered savants and fringe exceptions.
In ultrarunning we commonly toe the race line hoping for a PR, break-out race and/or exceeding our goal time. The majority of the time we whiff; I’d guesstimate over a trail running career, we achieve ~25% of our goals. The rest of the time we encounter unplanned obstacles – physical, nutritional, mental and/or emotional – that run us into a ditch. We “fail” – the word we utter directly after the DNF, DNS or less-than-desired time.
But do we really fail, or are we actually gaining something, potentially more valuable than the PR or goal?
In fact, if only 25% of our races end up the way we wanted or expected, isn’t the way we handle the other 75% even more important? What we glean may be THE most beneficial outcome of our sport – for ultrarunning and life.
Introspection, maturity, self confidence, motivation, determination, perseverance, focus, tenacity, humbleness, respect, patience, diligence…
All of the above attributes are what I and many of my ultrarunning friends say they learn from failure. Dang. That’s a stout list. I’ll take a dozen failures to go, please! Seriously, the potential gains from things not going as expected are exponential to those that come with achieving the goal.
The trick – and opportunity – is how we manage the way in which we process the lessons. It requires practice – just like our physical, mental, nutritional and emotional training we do leading up to a race. But, the better we become at absorbing the valuable information we learn about ourselves or how we plan, contend with pain and suffering, frustration, lack of stomach, energy, etc… – the better our odds are that we can improve our ultra-batting average from .250 to .300 or above. And that goes for life too.
So next time you encounter a “failure” with your ultrarunning, take a moment to revel in the privilege, take inventory of the lessons learned and make a pact with yourself that you’ll use the opportunity to make you a better runner…and person. I look forward to seeing you out on the dirt soon – odds are we will be in the midst of another failure. Can’t wait!
I’ve spent the majority of my running career ultrarunning – defined as any endurance events over a marathon. But isn’t ultra running more than races? It’s a way of life, a community – a tribe for so many of us – the lifestyle, people and morays of our sport.
I’ve done my share of running ultras in the mountains. I prefer a trail with plenty of vert, soaring views and thinner air. But recently I’ve been dabbling with longer and longer mountain runs, many over days, where what is asked of our body, mind and soul is exponential. What I’ve discovered about myself has been transformative.
Mountain running isn’t just concentrating on hitting the steeps over long distances. It too is a way of life and after meeting fellow mountain runners from around the world this summer at Tor des Geants, I realized how narrow my perspective had been. I wrote about it recently after my experience at the 2018 TOR in Italy.
So what gives? After 30+ years of ultrarunning what is it I discovered while training for and partaking in mountain running that is so different? Here’s what I’ve got so far – just a beginning. I look forward to exchanging ideas with you fellow mountain peeps.
The amount of composure, calmness… equilibrium – I experience while mountain running is far beyond anything I’ve ever felt during any athletic – for that matter, any other endeavor. Equanimity.
One of ultrarunning’s finest attributes is it’s community; elites mixed with DFLs and where someone is in need there’s no hesitation to stop, put one’s own priorities on hold and attend to a tribe-mate. I’ve spoken about the culture of ultrarunning on a couple of podcasts (here and here) over at the delightful Trail Runner Nation.
But, when you are subjected to days upon days together, under extreme duress, stress and danger, the depth of the connections made, length of lies…er, stories told and rawness of vulnerable exposed – is accelerated. The outcome are lifelong friendships made in days when in “real life” it may take decades, if not a lifetime.
Some mountain runs have aid, others none. USA 200 milers offer crew and pacers, but elsewhere in the world there are no trail companions and minimal assistance. Self reliance is paramount. How you train and prepare – your plan, fitness, gear, knowledge of the course and terrain, diet, care for your feet, knowing where water is available, etc… – it is up to you. If you fuck up, no one is going to clean up your mess. And those helicopter evacs – if even an option – are pretty darn pricey.
When you are out there in the wild for 4, 5 even 6 days – the bad news is it’s inevitable that something is going to go wrong. Who am I kidding? All sorts of poo is hitting the fan. The good news? You’ve got the time to figure it out and fix it. It takes practice, patience and a little ingenuity, but learning how to diagnose and fix issues in real time is satisfying and critical. We become trail MacGyvers.
All this led to my senses awakening, self confidence ascending and overall disposition greatly improved. Who needs therapy? What I do need is more of this. Enough talk. Time to go for a run.
Years ago, when I was living in Boston and running with my New England tribe of trail runners within our Trail Animals Running Club (TARC), someone gave me the trail name “Diesel” after a long winter run in the deep snow at our favorite haunt, the Blue Hills in Milton, MA. I guess my relentless trudging up hill after hill in the snowpack earned me the handle. It stuck, and decades later has proven to be prophetic as now, at age 61, about all I can do is churn, grind and pull across the terrain!
Now, after 30 years of ultrarunning and 100+ races, I’ve turned my attention to “what comes next?” for an old choo-choo train like me. Heck, I’m lucky as a leprechaun to still be able to run. My best guesstimate is I’ve got over 60,000 miles of dirt under my feet since I began trail running in 1988. And my eyes have spied some of the most remarkable scenery Ma Nature has to offer. One lucky Irishman am I.
Well I’ve landed in the world of mountain running – which I’ll distinguish from “ultrarunning” – by the distance traveled, terrain encountered and degree of self-reliance required.
I plan to share my journey and experiences, lessons learned and mistakes made – here in this space from time-to-time, in the hope that you, dear reader, will benefit in some small way; be it a chuckle, “ah-ha” or useful tip.
Topics will range from training, sleep, food and fueling, gear galore, head games, planning, reconnaissance, community, chafing and shear, self-reliance, crew, acclimatization, music and audiobook recommendations, foot care, travel tips, packing, drop bags, race selection, links to resources, safety, dumb things to avoid, tips from the trails and whatever seems interesting or useful. I promise to follow my lifelong guiding principle: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!).
Chugga, chugga, Whoo, Whoo!