I had recently completed my 3rd full season as a triathlete and I was in need of new goals. I had completed 3 half iron distance triathlons over that time, but I was yearning for something different. Just a few months earlier I did a crazy race known as "Survival of the Shawangunks" and had completely fallen in love with trail running.
The book, "Born to Run", written by Christopher McDougall, explores ultra-distance running and whether or not humans were meant to run long distances. It goes from science to hidden Indian tribes to the trails of Leadville, CO. It tells the story of a group of ultra runners that traveled down to the Copper Canyons of Mexico to participate in what is now known as the Caballo Blanco Ultra.
Before reading this book, I thought the idea of ultra running was silly. Since finishing the book, I have wondered how far I can push myself. I soon embarked on my new journey. My first ultra would be just 5 months later (my longest run before reading the book was 18 miles) with a long term goal of going to Leadville and competing in their Silver Rush 50 Miler (Running a 100 miles at 10,000+ ft is just crazy). In the great words of the race founder and director Ken Chlouber, "You are better then you think you are and you can do more then you think you can."
I present you, the road to Leadville. All stops have been checked off.
Stop 1: Crooms 50K April 2011
The first stop was Croom's 50K. This was a fairly flat race just North of Tampa Bay, FL. I peaked at a training week of 43 miles with a long run of 22 miles. I had to push pretty hard through the final 8 miles of the race, but was able to get 3rd over all and win a hat (that I still wear regularly today).
This was also the beginning of when we started combining races and vacations, aka racecation. Our friends Dan and Katie live just south of Tampa and we were able to spend a few days with them following the race.
All and all, I got my feet wet and was ready for some more.
Full Race Report
Stop 2: Vermont 50K September 2011
For my second 50K, I opted for something much more on the hillier side. As luck would have it, I was also treated to a bonus mile (as hurricane Irene had done some damage in the area and parts of the course had to be re-routed).
My running volume was still pretty low and had dropped significantly over the spring and the summer as I was doing quite a bit of cycling (completing the Harpoon Brewery to Brewery ride for my 2nd time -- Amy's first).
I got what I bargained for and more with the 5600' of climbing and a fair amount of mud, but I muscled through.
Even though I averaged nearly 2 minutes per mile slower than my first ultra, I still felt like I was progressing.
Fully Race Report
Stop 3: Bradbury Mountain 50K October 2012
After a failed Boston qualifying attempt at my first marathon (Hyannis in February 2012), and the birth of my son Neil in June, I got back on the horse. With a few 50+ mile weeks under my belt I took on my third ultra, which happened to be the toughest of them yet.
As a self proclaimed "Bad ass ultra run" it had its share of gnarly single track which was only exacerbated by a few days of pouring rain before the race. The course was two laps (with three full ascents of Bradbury Mountain per lap) and you were allowed to pick up a pacer on the second lap (which was really helpful after getting lost the first time around).
Jen ran me in for the last six miles while Neil cheered loudly (this was Neil's first ultra).
My new longest run was 33 miles (due to getting lost). My pace had dropped to just over 11 minutes per mile, which was not reassuring.
Full Race Report
Stop 4: Pineland Farms 50K May 2013
As I approached 2013, I decided it was time to move up in distance (aka get my shit together) if I ever wanted to get to Leadville. I came up with 34 week training plan that spanned over 1500 miles with a new peak week of 75 miles. It was time to get to work.
The first stop of 2013 was Asheville, NC to do the Black Mountain Marathon, a race that literally climbed 3000 ft over the first half and then descended back into town.
The race was recommended by Amy's Aunt Jane that lives in Asheville and since Neil had not yet met that portion of the family it seemed like the perfect marriage.
After a slew of 50-55 mile weeks (with lots of hill work) between December and early February I crushed the race finishing in 3:46 good enough for 9th of the 203 finishers. I felt at this point that I was starting to turn a corner and was eager to see what was next.
Jump ahead three months and I was at my next ultra, the Pineland Farm's 50K. I had run the 25k the previous year so I was already familiar with the course.
I managed to continue to hold mid to upper 50s through April and May and was ready to see where my new found fitness was bringing me.
As luck would have it, it poured for the days before the race and between the races on Saturday and the 50 mile runners on Sunday (who started earlier then us), the course was a giant mud pit. Always up for a challenge, I just tackled the course head on and emerged with a 5 minute PR at the end, taking 1st in my AG and 7th of 206 overall. As my friend Jesse would later put it "God knows what his time would have been on a halfway decent course."
Side Note: The Pineland 50K was my first 60+ mile week ever.
Between Black Mountain and Pineland Farms I now had a new found confidence, which I would definitely need if I was to survive my next ultra. My philosophy of training and racing was also starting to dramatically change. Coming from a track background, I had always put a lot of emphasis on speed, but as I continued to increase my volume, I was getting faster at all distances.
Full Race Report
Stop 5: Virgil Crest 50 Miler September 2013
On September 21st, 2013, I moved up the 50-mile distance. Originally I had planned to do the VT 50, but after receiving an invite to a friends wedding the day before that race (the nerve) I went back to the drawing board. We ended up at Virgil Crest, a race that I had briefly read about years early out near Ithaca, NY.
Amy jumped at the idea as she has relatives near there we could visit and Jen and Keith quickly got on board as they are Cornell alum and it was homecoming weekend.
To say the race was tough was an understatement. It had 10,500 ft of climbing with multiple climbs that included greater then 800 ft in a mile. But, after 10 hours and 39 minutes of running, walking, and complaining, Keith and I persevered, both physically and mentally stronger (Technically this was Keith's first ultra).
One important aspect of tackling a tough event, is the ability to look back and pull from previous experiences. Nearly every race I have done since Virgil has begun with me saying to myself "You got this. You have done worse."
Full Race Report
Stop 6: TARC Spring Classic 50K April 2014
After a solid fall and winter of racing shorter distances and a huge half marathon (6 minutes) PR at New Bedford in March, I started the season with an early ultra.
The TARC Spring Classic was 5 loops on a 10K course in Weston, MA. The course was mostly flat with one good climb and a few rolling hills. Having put in multiple 70+ mile weeks (first last fall going into Virgil and then again beginning in February), I felt really strong and was ready to see what I was now capable of.
I started off running the first 10K at sub 8 minute pace and just kept going. I ended finishing the race in just under 4 hours with a 14 minute PR. The best part was I felt like I could keep going.
Side Note: This race was my first 80 mile week ever.
Full Race Report
Stop 7: Pineland Farms 50 Miler May 2014
The final stop on the road to Leadville was the Pineland Farms 50-Miler (now known as the Salomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms). The race was meant to be a "tune up" or "test" 50 miler in prep for Leadville, if there really is such a thing, but turned out to be a massive PR.
One of the best things about running ultra's is that going into the race, your primarily goal is always just to survive. If you finish the race, you have succeeded. If you PR, it is just a bonus. No two courses can really be compared to each other and weather always plays a major factor.
Pineland Farms was my second 50 miler and had just over half the climbing of Virgil Crest, so as long as I didn't do something completely idiotic, I was setup nicely for a PR.
I felt good for the first 35 miles (I know how silly this sounds), but had to push from there. I emerged victorious in a time of 7:38:35. As I crossed the finish line, all I could think was, "I need to sit down." But once I gathered myself, all I could think was "I'm ready!"
Full Race Report
Goal: Leadville Silver Rush 50 - July 13th, 2014
Since I began training for ultra's (~ January 2011), I have run over 6200 miles. This includes races in 13 states and 2 countries. I have run everyday so far in the 2014 (186 as of today -- July 5th) and do not plan on stopping anytime soon.
In less then eight days I am taking on my long term goal race, the Leadville Silver Rush 50, and could not be more excited. Sure, I am concerned about running 50 miles at 10,000+ ft, but that is why this was a long term multi-year goal. My hope is that with my training and experience that I will have what it takes to persevere.
As I picture myself coming across the finish line all I can see is Amy and Neil cheering for me.
As one journey ends, another will begin, and I am excited to see what it is and how I can share it with my family and friends.