Truth is, I am officially already an ultra runner.
Last november after a bad marathon showing in NYC, I ran the NYRR Knickerbocker 60K with Anthony. I already knew that I would run it. Not only had I trained for NYC with the intent of running it as a training run, but I also lined up volunteers to run each lap with Team SANDTHONY. The Knickerbocker (KNICKY60) course is 9 laps of the inner 4 mile loop of Central Park. There is one water stop around West90 and one fuel stop around East90. Since the race started on East90, we were also able to set up our “SANDTHONY PIT CREW”, which consisted of a cardboard box, decorated and filled with our preferred refreshments, extra shoes, socks and would progressively get filed with our discarded items that were too warm or cumbersome. I finished the race in 6:50:59 and enjoyed it immensely.
I wasted no time applying for my Marathon Maniacs number. I am #4578 with a one star standing for doing 2 marathons in 14 days. Being a maniac is in no way on par with being an ultra runner – at least not with my level, but it was fun to register and then be welcomed into the club on Facebook.
It all started with a flight to Chicago to run the marathon with friends. I was reading the Newbie Chronicle: GOOD IDEA in Runner’s World (November 2012). After I read it, I didn’t think much of it. Except to think that I wish I had more GOOD IDEAS on runs. My runs are usually shared and any solo moments are filled with a medley of arguments that I replay so that my words magically become brilliant and the listener hangs on my every word, in full agreement of my point of view. That has been the extent of my GOOD IDEA during a run. And then I ran the Hartford Marathon. This long run distance would be run alone. Rachel was the only person I knew at the race and she would be running at a more brisk pace so I knew I would not have her for company. I had not run a marathon or other long run distance by myself in a few years, but I knew that to train for an ultra distance, I better get in the mileage and get them in solo.
Hartford was amazing for my head, ego and emotional self. I wanted to break 5 hours and I nailed a 4:32. This was by no means a PR, but I gave up my need for speed a long time ago when I unplugged my Garmin’s charger and packed it, along with the beast of a wrist device, in a box and did not look back. These days I record my runs using the Map My Run app on my iPhone and zip it up in a pocket. I don’t wear a watch so I’m not distracted by my performance on any kind of quantitative level. This has been incredibly freeing and on runs with friends, keeps the focus on our conversation and scenery.
During the Hartford Marathon, I spent most of those 4 plus hours brainstorming amazingly GOOD IDEAs, so good in fact that one of them is this blog you’re reading right now. I saw it develop as perfectly as though it already existed and once I got in front of my computer, I started this blog and have not stopped. Where does a GOOD IDEA come from? How does it evolve? How can one create an environment where the next GOOD IDEA evolves without much effort? For me, it was the marathon distance and recognizing my one GOOD IDEA (there were a few others) and allowing it to evolve into something concrete – this feels quite profound to me. I did notice that the more time passed after the end of the race, the less I thought my GOOD IDEA was in fact, actually good. If it were not for having so much time alone in my head, I might not have played out all the details with such vividness. I allowed my thoughts to play out both positive and negative scenarios; “would it feel narcissistic?” “Will it distract me from my real paying work?” “Do I actually have anything to say?” All valid questions and all received my attention, argument and support. Hopefully, my lips weren’t moving when I was having this brainstorming meeting as they are right now while I re-read this post.
I ran Chicago with a well-trained Anthony and a less prepared Janice. My marathon readiness fell somewhere in between and we agreed to stay together. We would walk if we must, but above all we were going to finish and finish smiling.
Before relocating to Chicago for work, Janice was my 5:45am wakeup call. I would run down Adam Clayton Boulevard in the dark of morning, entering the top of Central Park, then down the west side, slowing my pace around the w80’s until I found her. Our morning run took us down the west side, turning at the 72nd Street transverse then up the east side. We always turned at the E102nd street transverse where we spent our final quarter mile buttoning up loose ends to stories not yet finished. I would then turn up the west side retracing my earlier steps, running back to 125th Street, stopping my Garmin to grab a Starbucks and Rachel’s too, if she was still home. The run in total was 7 miles and it was great. And then she moved to Chicago and my routine moved with her.
I had run with Anthony on and off since we met, nothing concrete. If we saw each other at the start of a race, we ran together. I didn’t plan to run with him at the 2011 Pride Run when I walked to the corrals wearing Rachel’s engagement ring tied around my neck, but seeing him calmed me down and got me excited all at once. We ran the race together and chatted up how the proposal was going to happen. How when I saw her cheering near the finish line, I would stop and ask her to be my wife and how he would take photos using my phone to capture the event. Ever since then, we’ve been pretty dependable running partners. I almost don’t remember, which race earned us our name, but one of our teammates with a knack for melding partners’ names, christened us as a running pair on Facebook and ever since, we have been SANDTHONY. We ran the NYC Marathon together, my first ultra (formerly Knickerbocker 60K), his first trail run (Bear Mountain Half) and many countless long runs in between. We’ve never cancelled on each other and if it’s a really early start, I know I have to give him a call (not a text) to make sure he’s up.
In Chicago, we were JANSANDTHONY. Not the greatest name, but we couldn’t agree on anything better for our trio. It was a really great marathon. If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend it. A big city race with loads (and I mean loads) of spectators, but the field felt less crowded than NYC and except for having the charity runners corralled together too close to the front thus causing a lot of swerving to pass, it was really well done.
JANSANDTHONY gabbed the entire time, catching up on everything and anything. I loved every minute of it and it made me miss my morning runs with Janice.
If I felt good post Chicago, I was going to run Hartford, CT the following Saturday.
It took a lot of crazy to get Rachel and I to the expo on the eve of race day (long wait for the first bus that never arrived, finally transferring only to find out that the second bus would make us too late to get to the expo, paying extra to find a train that would get us in with barely 30 minutes before the expo closed and realizing we would miss our carb loading dinner reservations.) Net net, we ate Sparros in the train depot, got to the expo, paid a surcharge for paying with a credit card, got my shirt, my bib and plopped us both in a hot bath to wash away the long and exhausting day. “WOW” I thought would I really be ready to run my second marathon in 6 days, somewhat undertrained, a lot cranky, very tired and still a little sore from being on my feet for almost 6 hours run/walking in Chicago????
This will go against EVERYTHING all of the books, blogs, coaches and experts will tell you… But I use marathons to test out new stuff. I test out new foods and how much or how little to eat on race morning and during the race itself. I will wear new clothes, shoes and paraphernalia for the first time and although I hope things will go smoothly, if it doesn’t, I know there are aid stations for fuel and medical stations for assistance and if I need to, I can actually stop to walk, visit the port-o-john or if I have to, I can not finish (DNF). I am proud to say that I’ve never had to DNF, though I came close last year at the NYC Marathon when a headache that started at mile 9 pounded in my head all the way thru to the end of the race. Now, I can’t train for a headache nor would I want to, but staying in the marathon under those conditions, made me realize that I could push through that kind of pain and be stronger than I thought so that next time, I’m ready. A few years ago, I read Brain Training For Runners (Matt Fitzgerald) and it became my bible. It helped me understand that a lot of my pre-marathon stress was from fearing the unknown. In training for the unknowns, I have become very comfortable introducing other unknowns into races. It’s made me so much more relaxed at the marathon distance that I feel as though I can just settle in and enjoy the party. For Chicago I tested out chewing gum, beef jerky and peanut m&ms, new gloves, a new hat and donuts for breakfast. For Hartford, I started the day with some eggs and potatoes and during the run, I tested out a full crunchy peanut butter with dark cherry jelly sandwich. I smushed it flat and rolled it up, thinking of Dean and his Hawaiian pizza burrito as I washed it down with sips of water. It was perfect.
I become ravenous during longish runs and the sugar-laden junk food and packaged fuels make my stomach ill. It honestly never crossed my mind to eat real food before I read Ultramarathon Man. In the opening chapter, Dean Karnazes describes his consumption of a whole large Hawaiian pizza, rolled up like a burrito and an entire large cheesecake while solely completing a Hood-To-Coast style relay (200 miles). It sounded good enough to me so I tested it out during the Knickerbocker 60K. Many people (mostly spectators) crunched up their noses and “ewwwed” my nutritional choice, but you know what? Other runners who stopped, held their hands out for fries, which I gladly shared (turns out, they’re not as good as you’d think. Although the salt was great, the fries are too thin and get really, really hard in the cold November morning, making them difficult to swallow). The cheeseburger on the other hand, was magical. I even shared one with a teammate at the end. We devoured our cold cheeseburger halves like it was heaven. I am tempted to pack cheeseburgers in the pockets of my hydration pack when I run my first trail ultra in December though I am a bit nervous that the burger fumes will be too tempting for the Tennessee wildlife on Lookout Mountain, making me a target for them to hunt down. Or maybe I can use the predators to test how good my flight or fight response is.
I cannot say it enough, “Listen to your body”. We spend so much time listening to other people’s advice and reading blogs like this one or books by runners to mimic what has worked or not worked for them. I think it’s important to test everything out to see what works for you. I don’t slurp down GU just because it’s in front of me and if I have an intense craving for kale (it’s happened), I do everything possible to find the nearest House of Kale (this does not exist, but it should) otherwise, the cravings go unattended. If I crave super premium ice cream, I am not wasting my calories on low fat sorbet. Period. The cravings need to be satisfied to go away even if that means Ben & Jerry’s Fish Food topped with crumbled bacon, chased with a crispy kale salad. I feel that way during long run distances. By mile 23ish, I could eat a steak the size of my head and GU, pretzels or oranges are not what my body is craving. One year when I’m not running the NYC Marathon, I think I’ll set up a slider aid station and serve mini cheeseburgers and flat coke at around mile 22 just to see how popular my aid station will be.
Since November 2012, I’ve been following a primarily 801010 RAW lifestyle. I still believe in real food, which for me is anything that does not come in a package, but now my real food is uncooked. Follow my journey into 801010 here.