Distance and Discipline: Hills and Heat

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What’s going on Walk and Think Audience?

A here, with a recap of some work in the field.

Yesterday I got a chance to “interview” a local ultra runner.

It wasn’t an interview though, I just ran alongside and pretended not to be winded, while asking questions, and filing away the answers.

This will be along the same format as the first Distance and Discipline, where I write out a conversation I had with other high-performing athletes.

First: What is an Ultra?

An Ultra-marathon is any race which is over 26.219 miles(42.195km), the standard marathon distance.

Anyone who competes in distances longer than the marathon, is considered and “Ultra-Runner”

Now on to the story.

Yesterday I went out for a run with some of the guys. It was a hot day(93F) and we planned to run for around an hour, a loop that goes back to the starting point.

They do this run every couple of weeks, and I don’t usually join them.

I would prefer to train on my own, and during a better time of the day.

There were two reasons to join up with the group this time:

1. The heat outside was brutal(90F-95F), and it was everything anyone talked about. I wanted to go out and challenge myself. See if the heat would actually affect me or not. To prove to myself I was tough.

2. I heard a local ultra-runner would be joining the group for a run that day. I wanted to see him run, and ask a few questions along the way.

So I ended up spending entirely too much energy asking the guy about training and extreme long distance running, instead of focusing on running well.

I’ll write out our conversation, so you guys can see it Q&A style.

We’ll call the ultrarunner “R”

A: I heard you won a 21 mile race a few months ago, what kind of training did you do for that run?

R: I did not train for that race; I did a marathon a month earlier and just went off that training for that run.

A: What kind of training do you usually do?

R: I run around 6 miles every day, and do track work a few times a week, two or three times a week. And just get the long distances in there.

A: What kind of work do you do on the track?

R: I usually do intervals, and some work to open up the stride.

A: Did you run in High school and College? Or did you do your own thing?

R: I did track and CC in High school, my first college didn’t have a distance team, and my second college did not allow me to try out for the team, so I just did my own thing.

A: Their loss.

R: What about you, what’s your background?

A: I did CC in High school, and my background is in 5k’s and 2 milers. After that I just did my own running and don’t compete that often, last being a relay about 6 months ago. I like to read a lot of running books, but that becomes pointless after a while, because if someone is faster than you, doesn’t matter how many books you read.

This is the point where me and the guys realized the heat was brutal, and we were only around 30% into the planned distance. It was rough, and we were going much slower than usual.

R seemed to be unaffected and cruising.

A: What do you think about running form?

R: Well after all the research and time, I am convinced there is no right stride, and there are no right shoes. I tried the Chi-Running, the whole Fore foot vs Heel Striking and read the research, and in the end it’s different for everyone and you should do what will keep you injury free.

A: What did you say about forefoot and heel striking when running?

R: They came out with all this research and the fore foot striking was the best way, and the proper way to run, but then later they looked at all the top runner in the Boston marathon, and half were heel strikers, the other half were not.

A: That’s where I am at as well, the more and more reading I do, and training methods I try, the answer becomes: “It depends“. There’s no one size fits all solution.

R: Exactly, just do what will keep you injury free.

At this point I was getting rally wore out. The heat was killing me and I was talking too much. R seemed unaffected and was moving up the hill just fine. He noticed me struggling.

R: No stopping on a hill. No Hill-Stopping.

A: Alright (clearly struggling)

I picked up the pace anyway, mostly out of pride, and wanting to look like a solid runner. The heat took a serious toll and I was fading fast.

A: What do you think about the mental aspect of distance running?

R: Well, it’s all mental. Sure there is some physical prep, but races are won with mentality.

A: That’s what B was saying as well, that it’s definitely mind over matter.

I spent some time trying to even out my stride and recover a bit.

A: What are some of the longer runs you’ve done? Deal with any crazy weather?

R: I enjoy running in the rain. All of my best runs have been in the rain. I did a 50 mile event a while ago. I enjoy running in bad weather, and It was pouring. There was flooding in the area and some places on the trail had water 4ft deep.

A: Did you wade through?

R: Yep, and kept going. A lot of runners dropped out, and the competition pool really whittled down during the race.

A: They were thinking: “The weather is terrible, I won’t get a PR and no one will blame me for dropping out”

R: Exactly. I ran through it just for fun, and ended up winning the event. I enjoy running in the cold too. One year, when I was living in North Dakota, I wore shorts the whole year. Mostly to prove a point to a local, who said that I would be wear pants real soon. I mean he was right from the beginning, it was damn cold, but I did it just to see the look on his face when I wore shorts the whole year.

A: I hear you. It’s the exact same thing with me and cycling. People keep saying oh, you’ll get a car, soon you’ll get one, and you’ll have to. But it’s been years, and I’m doing fine. When there is some really crappy weather, and people ask if I biked, I enjoy saying I did.

A: When was the first time you ran a marathon distance?

R: I was 22 and it was my birthday. I was sitting in the apartment, and decided to go out for a long run. I covered something like 24 miles that night, and went really slow. Took a long time. The next month I signed up for a local marathon, and it was going to be one of those “I just want to finish” deals, however I ended up qualifying for the Boston marathon, and haven’t looked back since.

A: Impressive! Damn, it’s hot out here.

R: There is a subtle enjoyment to running in the heat. You just have to think: “If I can do this distance in 90F, it will be so much easier in 70.”

After that me and the guys finished our loop, while R split off, tacking on another few miles.

That’s all for this segment,

Until next time, and

All the Best

-A

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P.S. Read Distance and Discipline: Part One(here) and Part Three(here)