Of late I’ve been running. Something I never thought I would do in my life. Simply a mythical thing random people do on sidewalks. Somehow, and I’ve certainly got people to blame, I’ve got it in my head that I want to run in a 50 mile ultra marathon. Because, you know, a 31 miler just isn’t enough. So what has led to this?
It’s no secret I like to walk far.
In my hiking world I worked hard to increase my daily milage. Sometimes at the cost of my own sanity. Pressing forward despite flooded trail, thunder storms, or temperatures that make most people wince. Great fun in my books, sometimes it’s the challenge that makes the most interesting experience. Spending time on my feet upwards of 9 to 10 hours day after day. Taking in sights, pissing my pants in the face of snakes, and enjoying the great outdoors. At times starting my day before sunrise, and walking to that perfect spot to eat my breakfast, only to be walking again until sunset, at which time I set up my camp in the dark. This style of backpacking is a development I attribute to not having anyone to hike and camp with for a long time. To keep things interesting all I could do was walk, and walk, and walk. Spending serious time at a campsite (and not hiking) is most fun when there’s someone else to shoot the breeze with. So instead I pressed on into the late hours of the day.
A stem off of a love for the show “Survivorman,” and the movie “Into the Wild.” I started out hiking to get away from the day to day life of the world. Walking 20 to 30 miles in a day was far from my mind. Its just how things went, and I ran with it. In my pursuit for backpacking knowledge, and within my solo hiking experiences something inside me was looking for more. One upping myself, and aiming to see what I could do. How far I could feasibly go in a day. First, at the cost of injury. Much injury, and much pain. It got easier, and easier. Much like a machine, made to put one foot in front of the other. I found myself going further than I previously thought possible, but also now on a plateau. One that would be difficult to break while working 40 hours a week. I can only take so many vacations before my wallet is in a bad place!
This had me thinking. How can I continue to push myself?
So I started cycling. Cross training can teach so much, and I figured this would be a good break from what I had been doing. It had been over a year since I touched my bike, and much longer since I had ridden it more than 20 miles. My uncle was in the midst of some yearly cycling challenge inspired by the Tour De France, where he rides some stupid amount of miles every day for a couple of weeks. I liked it. I wanted a piece of the challenge. I got back on my bike, I rode a few slow 20 mile days, and told him I was in for 50. Looking back I had only ridden my bike 5 times before going after that 50.
As always aiming high just hoping to latch on. With his help I did, I got a hold, and slowly finished that day with him. Right before he got caught in a massive electrical storm with a flat, after I had used his only spare tire earlier in the day. So it goes. Sorry Rob.
A new found confidence, a week of walking bow legged, and dreams of repeating that. Not the pain, but the miles. 4 more 20 mile days under my belt, and I felt like I was ready for round two. This time a 100 mile day, and this time with some padded ass chaps. Why not? How hard could it be? With a little know how, stupidity, and a bike I figured I could do it.
That was one of my greatest rides to date. Much like jumping from a 20 mile day max to a 35 in my hiking world. It was endlessly painful, slow, and at the same time a whole lot of fun. I seem to learn the most in these situations.
Those incidents taught me that maybe(just maybe) I should stop hurting myself. More importantly, that I was capable of doing things I previously thought impossible. That if I wanted to do it, one of the most important factors to my success was dedication. A lesson learned before, but once again reinforced. That if I wanted to do it I could. In both my hiking world and my cycling, those two events are monumental to me, and since then I’ve felt like anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
Going for broke, certainly not the smartest method of attack when it comes to progress, but in a training environment, where learning is the goal, it worked for me. When pushing well beyond your limit you really have an opportunity to see where your failings are. All at once. For better or worse.
Sometime before my cycling craze I learned of the L2O 100k ultra marathon. A trail run traversing the 63 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean, in under 18 hours. A trail I love dearly, and hike all the time, done in a whole new fashion from what I was used to. A whole day faster than the quickest I could do it. I thought those guys were nuts. My dad knew one of the runners, and he confirmed… they are nuts. In the midst of our name calling, in the back of my head I thought, “damn that’s cool.”
I had done the same 63 mile path in two days multiple times before, but 63 miles in 1 day? Under 18 hours? Yeesh.
I set up a vacation I was already planning so that I would be on the same trail at the same time that race was taking place, so I could more or less partake in the fun.
After witnessing the race first hand, I went from thinking about how cool it was what they were doing, to wanting to do it myself! I was very inspired you could say. Their athleticism, and kind nature at the beginning of what I was sure would be a lot of suffering is something that stuck with me. A welcoming, and exciting group. I almost felt at home, whereas with most local hikers few are interested in doing what I aim to do. After having the good fortune of meeting a few of these runners, having a chat, and then seeing them do what they do best in this race I knew what I had to do. After this encounter I had one thought on my mind… I have to start running! A far cry from my bewilderment with 5k sidewalk warriors my entire life.
These folk, ultra running folk, are a crazy bunch few understand, I’m sure. Crazy in a good way, or maybe not, that’s still up for debate. Much like the long distance hiker in many ways, but even further removed from the norm. People can walk, hell a lot of people think they walk 15-20 miles during an average work day. They don’t. It’s not even close. On the other hand, not nearly as many people run. Let alone run 30-100+ miles in one go.
Now… after 23 years, running was on my brain.
I asked myself, how hard could it be! I walk 30 miles all the time! It’s totally not a big deal. I gathered the only two people at work willing to run with me, a 40 year old white belt in karate, and a 60 year old military vet with some strange views on life. I quickly found out there was a lot more to running than I thought. 2 days a week my coworkers and I ran. 4 miles overall, sometimes a staggering 6. Hot shit, I know.
The muscles I worked so hard to forge did little for me in this new environment, even running very short distances for that matter. It was a whole new world. Although the mindset is relatively the same, that didn’t yet matter. I was seeing no progress, and being shown up by a 60 year old week after week. Though he is a fast 60 year old.
Apparently 2 runs a week wasn’t enough to show progress, and it became frustrating quick. Although one thing did come out of it. I now knew some basics, I could at least run 2 miles, and 4 miles on a good day!
As they say “The longest journey starts with a single step.” It was a start.
At some point I made friends with a dude named Mike. A local runner who wanted to know more about the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail. I’m a pretty good source you could say. One night he invited me to run with him. Although nervous, I was free, and jumped on the opportunity. He made promises that I could speed walk while he ran. So I did. Although incorporating some running in there to keep up with him. Over the course of 8 miles, averaging a 12 minute mile, I now learned something new.
I can run twice as far, so long as I add some walking in there! A revelation, as all my prior running had been pretty much all out, no idea what pace I was traveling, and no breaks allowed. That 8 miles was a catalyst that instantly set a fire. I now wanted to train more than ever. Mike showed me his slow jog, and I finally understood how I can do this. I needed to go much much slower. More pumped than ever. This is when I’ll truly consider the point in which I started to really run. November 30th. Although I was in pain after those 8 miles, I felt really great, and made a new friend!
Maintaining a small dialog with some of the ultra running crowed from the L2O 100k I managed to resign myself mentally, and verbally to a 50 mile race in April, about 5 months away. Again, why not? I can just hike it right? Wrong. Physically I can’t walk fast enough to make it to the finish in good enough time purely walking, and I’m really fast. Too bad. I guess I have to learn how to run!
So now the training truly begins. As of writing this I’ve put the bike on hold, the wine on hold, and I’ve been running 3 to 5 days a week all month. Showing progress! Assuming I can manage to stop hurting myself at work I think I’ll have a very favorable showing at the JW Corbett 50 miler.
I’m interested in the Corbett race because it’s on the trail I love so very dearly, the Ocean to Lake Hiking Trail. I’ve hiked the 63 miles 13 times, and am extremely familiar with the area. This is the trail I’ve dubbed as my training grounds. The trail I’ve found myself on. The trail I’ve walked time and time again. I think that could give me some sort of small edge as it’s sometimes a very difficult place to navigate. Hunters place claim on the whole area the race takes place in, and are constantly knocking down the trees with trail markers on them, as well as creating trails that are easy to follow off the path you should be on. Two issues I won’t have any problem with! Regardless 50 miles is 50 miles, and if I’m correct I only have 12 or 13 hours to do that in.
In the early stages of my preparation I’ve been running a lot, and finding my groove. In such a short amount of time it’s amazing how quickly I see myself improving. I’m breathing well, I feel more comfortable running, and I’m finding a pace that works for me. At first it was incredibly strange not having some big backpack on. It was even more strange to go beyond that 3mph pace I’ve grown so very accustomed to. Although my daily and weekly miles are low, I’m slowly aiming to increase them. I have a plan set up to run 4 to 5 days a week around my work schedule from now until the race. Depending on how my body feels it’s been really easy, and super fun to stick to the routine. I’m taking it slow but I think my cycling and hiking is really playing a part in my progress.
Mike brought up a great idea in which I had already been thinking about for a long time. How about we do an unofficial version of the Lake 2 Ocean 100k race on our own? Since L2O is very difficult to get into, and rightly I don’t have the training under my feet to deserve running next to those guys. This is an awesome opportunity. It may not make sense but I’ll be doing the 63 mile unofficial race late February before the official 50 miler in April. What better training right?
My coach, partner in swamp walkin’, snake fearin’, crazy idea havin’, runner friend Ariel brought up another great idea. Why not do our own unofficial version of the unofficial L2O. What better way to train! So sometime in January we will tackle the 63 mile OTLHT together, and again as a much larger group in February. Am I ready for this? Was I ready for my first 100 mile ride, or my first 35 mile day? Sometimes you just have to go for it. I’m confident that I can do it, and I’m even more confident that I’m going to learn a whole lot in the process. Hiking this trail in less than 24 hours has always been a goal of mine, and now I have the opportunity to do it twice. See what that entails, and enjoy the experience. Whatever that experience may be.
What draws me to these activities? The feeling of absolute freedom. Hiking, cycling, and running… there’s nothing like it. At your own mercy, under your own power, just you against yourself.
With 6 months in between me and my 4,000 mile thru hike I would spend my time no other way than this.
Loved reading this! Very inspiring, I know you will excel at ultra running just as you do at everything you put your mind to! Btw thanks for bringing me a spare tube when I flatted in a thunderstorm, I finished my 100 that day, and the next.
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I remember obsessing over all your content when I discovered hiking a few years ago. Had to come back and reread this now that I’ve caught the Ultra bug!