I think it’s safe to say that we are still just beginning 2016. Let’s face it: We’re not really in 2016 until we all stop accidentally writing “2015” or “15” at the end of Today’s Date. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly true, but you get what I mean. I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am one to set goals for the new year. One could say that this is just a matter of semantics and they may be right; all I know is that goals work for me. Resolutions generally do not.
One of my many goals for this year is to run my most challenging ultramarathon yet, but this it isn’t necessarily a difficult task to find a race more challenging than anything I’ve done as none of the four ultras I’ve completed this year have been very technical or involved any significant elevation gain. The race that checks this box off could end up being a 100 miler or a 24 hour timed run, or it could be a challenging 50 miler or 100k; whatever the distance, it will be great. And I will be prepared. Part of that preparation is actually one of my other goals for this year which is to take advantage of the trails surrounding me here in Portland, Oregon.
Some of the consquences of trailrunning. It’s not trail running if you don’t get dirty.
Back in New Jersey, I had to drive at least an hour to find a decent trail, and here I am surrounded by them, and I’ve only taken advantage a few times. No more of this! I love the roads and I will run on them a lot as I train for a personal best in the marathon (Eugene Marathon), but I will be incorporating trails into my training and focusing my energy on trails after the marathon in May.
But I’m not the only one with goals. You all have goals too I’m sure and since you’re on this sight, perhaps they are running, food, or health-related. If they are to exercise or run more or to just get started, I encourage you to consider trail running. Committing to trail running may not be as easy lacing up the shoes and running right from your porch (though it could), but you’ll likely find the extra energy to get to the trails worth it. Running with nature under your feet, by your side, and sometimes right in your face can, for many people, have much more to offer than running on the concrete of an urban jungle or the pavement of suburbia.
Speaking of goals, running, trails, and ultras, I recently learned of a local Portland resident, Ryan Good, who completed his first ultramarathon, Deception Pass 50k, just this past December 2015. I reached out to Ryan to ask him some questions I had regarding his motivation, training, and experience. Fair warning, though: His fantastic responses and enthusiasm may result in you getting on Ultrasignup.com and looking for a race.
Enjoy the Q&A!
Q- What was the longest distance you raced before the 50k?
A marathon, but not for a long time. Back in the 90’s I raced a lot and ran some marathons. Unfortunately, I drifted away from running consistently and seriously, for a number of reasons—injuries, career, parenting, other sports, etc. It was only last fall, when I decided to do the 50k that I started training consistently again. It wasn’t exactly off the couch—I’d been hiking, doing ultra-distance cycling, and running occasionally—but then again, it was almost off the couch, and my biggest fear was getting injured and having to bail. So I took it very easy in training and didn’t do any racing. I did run a trail half-marathon and a trail marathon as part of my training, but I didn’t race them.
Q- What made you sign up for your first ultramarathon?
I’ve wanted to run an ultra since I first heard of them which was so long ago that I don’t even remember when it was. And, years ago, I used to run with some “old guys” (they were about the age I am now, haha!) who were ultrarunners. They were just amazing athletes as well as being really quirky and fun to be around and to run with. It was a completely different experience from hanging out with the more serious roadies. I’m still close to a few of those guys today. That was part of it. Also, and probably more importantly, I’ve always been attracted to extreme endurance pursuits, to huge challenges. I’ve done a lot of backpacking, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, ultra-distance cycling, etc. and have always really enjoyed those events—at least in the way that one enjoys extended suffering. There’s a clarity, a purity, a stripping away of excess that I can only find when I push my body and mind as hard as I can. Also, I’m not fast by any means, but I can go and go and go for a really long time. I guess I’m just stubborn, basically.
Q- Why did you choose the 50k (31.068 miles) as your first ultra and is there any reason why you chose Deception Pass 50k as your first experience?
I chose 50k because it seemed like a distance that I could probably tackle, but was longer than anything I’d done before, so it was still enough of a challenge to motivate me. I’d done a marathon before so I knew I could do one again, and I wanted a scary challenge, but I wasn’t quite ready to commit to a 50 miler yet. A 50k seemed like a natural choice. I chose Deception Pass for a couple of reasons. On the practical side, it fit my timeline: I had a 16 week training plan. So I got on Ultrasignup.com to look for 50ks that were roughly 16 weeks out, and there it was: just 16 weeks and two days away. On a more personal side, I have spent a lot of time in that area (Deception Pass, Washington) over the years—bicycling, hiking, kayaking, camping—and it is one of my favorite places in the world. It seemed appropriate that I should fulfill this long-time goal in a place that so resonates with my spirit.
Q- How did you handle the training involved (e.g. nutrition, sleep, the added distance, etc.)?
This whole process has been really interesting, for a number of reasons. I have to remind myself that I’m older, for one thing. I was in my mid-twenties last time I was running seriously, and now, at 44, I constantly find myself being surprised at how differently my body responds to training: weight comes off slower; it takes longer to recover; I need way more sleep; etc. Another thing that made it an interesting learning experience is that I became vegan at the same time I started my training program, so I learned a lot about nutrition. I still have a lot to learn, and I still need to work on it. Running, at least running seriously, is, in my mind at least, less a sport than a lifestyle. I often say, only half-jokingly, that if all it took to be a good runner was to run a lot, I’d be a great runner! Because I love to run, and have no problem making time for running. But I fall short in areas more related to lifestyle: dialing my nutrition, not sleeping enough, not stretching enough, not strength training as much as I should, drinking a little too much, etc. Those are things I’m really working on now. They say in ultrarunning, you’ve got about 7 or 8 years of consistent improvement before you peak. Maybe that’s 8, or 10, or maybe 6, I don’t know exactly. But I do know that I’ve got a lot of room for improvement and I want to really commit to this thing and see how good I can get. Not in a competitive sense except against myself and against that little voice that always tells me to “just back off,” or “sleep in this once,” or “just have another beer,” but just to see what I can do. Watch out midpackers…I’m coming for you! Seriously though, it may sound silly, but getting back to serious (or at least consistent) running has been amazing for me. It’s given me a sense of purpose, focus, and excitement that I was missing before. I’m not saying life wasn’t good—it was—but I didn’t really have any goals that I was focusing on, and now I do. And that’s good for me. So all the changes I’ve had to make have been for the better, and that makes them easier to handle.
Q- Did you train solely on trails, mostly on trails or a combination of trails and road?
I did about half and half. Or maybe 60 roads/40 trails. I wish I could do all of my training on trails, but it’s just not practical living in the city. Also, I am one of those car-free types, who chooses to get around by bike and public transit (for a lot of the same reasons I’m vegan, but that’s a whole other story!), so getting to trailheads takes some planning. But I take the bus or MAX (Portland shuttle transit) to different Forest Park trailheads, and/or run to them on longer runs. I’ll tell you—I’ve gotten very, very familiar with Wildwood Trail (a trail in Forest Park)!
Q- After the long training, the post-race soreness, the somewhat limited socializing, will you run another ultramarathon? Why? What distance do you have in mind?
Oh, absolutely. The ultrarunning lifestyle definitely takes some adjusting to, and I’ve definitely made some sacrifices, but overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I feel way better both physically (despite the soreness!) and mentally. And, as I said earlier, I’m really looking forward to seeing how much I can do, how much I can improve. I’m doing another 50k soon, but my real goal right now is the S.O.B. (Siskiyou Out and Back) 50 Mile in July—I’m already signed up.
Q- Anything else you’d like to add?
I have a few things to add, and they might sound cliché- but I don’t care because they are absolutely true.
First, there is no way I could have done this without my wife. Man, I think she had to work harder than I did! I mean, all I had to do was run, right? She stepped up with all the extra cooking (learning to cook vegan at the same time, no less!); laundry (lots and lots of laundry, as any runner knows!); massaging my feet and legs; not minding that I was basically an absentee husband every weekend because I was gone running all the time, or sleeping when I was home; listening to me drone on endlessly about training strategies, nutrition, shoes, etc.; encouraging me when I was down or had doubts. Really, she deserves as much or more credit than I do. Ultra-spouses are the unsung heroes of the sport- it’s like being a race volunteer 24/7, and not even getting a t-shirt! So seriously, runners- thank your partners.
Second (and I really mean this): If I can do it, anyone can. I am as Average Joe as you can get. I’m not athletically gifted at all, unless you count being healthy enough to run, but that’s it. However, Bill Bowerman said, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete,” and I really believe that. I was only able to do this because I kept putting one foot in front of the other, which you—yes you, reading this!—can do just as well as I can.
Lastly, running, to me, is an act of gratitude, in so many ways. How can I not feel thankful? At some point during almost every run I think of how fortunate I am that I’m healthy enough to run for hours on end; that I have the time to do it; the money to buy shoes, gear, and pay race fees; time and money to travel to races; beautiful places to run; and supportive people around me. And mostly, I’m thankful that I can experience the purity and simplicity of moving slowly through this beautiful world under my own power—to me, that is the essence of running.