Taking the Leap: Training for Your First Ultra

1.  Introduction.

Move Along

As the holiday season is upon us, and the year draws to a close (ever more-rapidly, it always seems), we in the ultra community tend to look back at the year and celebrate our own accomplishments, and those of our peers.  And there will certainly be time for that…

This week’s article, however, is about and for runners at the other end of the spectrum:  people just starting out in the sport.  Judging simply from the number of reported ultra ‘finishes” in 2013 in Florida, I know that the vast majority of Florida ultrarunners have never run a race beyond a 50k.  So how do you make the jump from a marathon/50k to a longer ultra, such as a 50-miler, a 100-miler, or (gasp) even longer?

Note:  Yes, I am aware that anything longer than 26.2 miles is technically an “ultramarathon.”  I have nothing against 50ks.  From a training perspective, however, they are the same as marathons.  If you finish a marathon, you are in good enough shape to finish a 50k.  And those who win competitive 50ks are ALWAYS marathon runners who extend themselves a few extra miles, versus 100-mile specialists who “drop down.”

2.  It’s All About That Bas(e), ‘Bout That Bas(e), No Treble.

Okay, so you’ve decided you want to run a 50- or 100-miler in 2015, even though the longest official race you’ve ever run is a half-marathon.  First, congrats on your audacious goal; it takes some real guts to put yourself out there like that to all your friends, family, and colleagues.  Most will probably call you crazy.  (And perhaps you are a bit . . . it does take a certain amount of irreverence to even attempt such a feat 🙂

But now that you have your goal, how do you reach it?  The answer — especially those who are new to consistent, daily running — is exceedingly simple:  just start running . . . a LOT.  While many ultrarunners made the jump to ultras after years of racing shorter distances (usually marathons) — I for one ran about 30 marathons before my first ultra — today, we are seeing a lot more runners forgo the marathon to jump straight into ultras.  To a certain extent, I get that:  the culture surrounding marathons is vastly different than ultras, and — in many ways — the “ultra” community is much more inviting and less elitist than the marathon community.  Plus, there is definitely something to be said about not having to look at your watch every 20 seconds during a race to make sure you are on pace.  So okay.

But to successfully finish that first ultra — and by “successfully,” I mean finish without having to basically crawl to the finish line — you are going to need to train . . . hard.  In other articles, I discuss the need for varied training for ultras (such as tempo runs, long runs, etc.), but for the ultra newbie, the first order of business really needs to be building up your fitness to the point you can comfortably run about 6 miles every day, with one run of 10-20 miles on the weekend.  At this point, you need not worry about your speed.  Just get your body comfortable with (a) running daily, and (b) that long(er) weekend run.

Once you can comfortably do that, and average 40-50 miles/week for a few months, you’re ready to start really training for your first ultra.

3.  Quality Consistent Training.

Training for an ultra is not that much different than training for a marathon.  I’ve written a lot about the elements that go into a successful ultra training program, so I’m not going to spend time on it here.  Anyway, here is one such article on that subject:  https://davekrupski.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/coachs-corner-the-secret-of-ultrarunning-the-role-of-rational-confidence/

Like lambs to the slaughter, my ass.

4.  Enjoy the Process and Utilize Shorter Races.

I completely understand why some people have no interest in racing marathons and would rather just move up to ultras.  A number of my runners are signed up for their first 100-miler and have never even run a marathon.  I assure you, though, they will have run a marathon (and likely a 50-mile race as well) before toeing the line at the 100.

Here’s why:  In training for an ultra, you are certainly going to run the marathon distance (likely many times), so why not incorporate an actual marathon as part of your training?  Some of the benefits of signing up for a marathon include:

  • You get to practice your “race-day” routine
  • You have the energy of an actual race
  • You practice dealing with all the pre-race jitters that go along with a marathon (and trust me, even when you’ve run races a LOT longer than marathons, those jitters are still there at the beginning of shorter ones)
  • Running alone is great and all, but if you’re going to do a hard long run, it’s more fun doing it while being surrounded by others and spectators encouraging you the whole way
  • You will learn a LOT of lessons about yourself, as well as get experience dealing with success, and, to some degree, perhaps failure as well (as in not meeting a specific time goal, etc…); all of these lessons can be applied to your true goal ultramarathon.

Dave MTCM 2007-009

(Suffering through a very hot Twin Cities Marathon.  Little did I know then that my definition of “hot” for a race would change considerably in a few years…)

5.  No CrossFit . . . or Other “Fast-Twitch” Sports.

Okay, this one is going to hurt a bit for some people.  Look, I like CrossFit too; it’s fun, it’s competitive, and it’s also addictive seeing how much better you can get at the various lifts/challenges.

But while CrossFit has just recently exploded in popularity, any Division I college athlete from the last 20 years immediately recognizes what CrossFit really is:  a set of workouts/routines used by every major Div I program in the country to develop explosiveness and fast-twitch muscles for mainstream team-sport athletes (such as baseball, football, basketball, and hockey players).  Box jumps, Olympic lifts, kettleballs, etc. — often used in rapid succession — are the bread-and-butter tools of strength coaches in college athletic department gyms all across the country.  (I can’t begin to tell you how many 5am Olympic-lifting sessions I had to wake up for while playing baseball in college…) 🙂

Guess what college sports teams as a group never gets put through any of these types of exercises?  That’s right, cross-country teams.  As college strength coaches are well-aware, cross-country runners need to develop their slow-twitch muscle fibers.  Explosiveness and quick lateral movements are simply not a part of distance running.


(I’m pretty sure Bowerman never made Pre do any clean-and-jerks in the weight room…)

The converse is also true:  football and basketball players don’t go for 20-mile runs.  It would take away from all of the explosiveness/quickness they work so hard every day to develop and keep.


(Returning to Florida to sign up for the 2015 Keys 100???  Puh-robably not.)

Again, I have nothing against CrossFit (or basketball for that matter).  Both are great, and training for and participating in them gets and keeps you in awesome shape.  But they — along with any other “explosiveness/fast-twitch” sport — are simply not compatible with distance running, especially the amount of weekly running needed to be successful at ultras.  If you run that much, and at the same time also still do CrossFit, you are burning the candle at both ends and exponentially increasing your risk of injury.

6.  The Glass is Always Full:  Stay Positive.

Running an ultra is hard.  Training for an ultra is even harder.  It is not easy finding the motivation to win that battle with the alarm clock every single day and get out for a run before work.  Or to come home after a long day of work, have family obligations, and still find time to run.  This is a TOUGH sport.

But the great thing about running — at least for me — is that no matter what I am dealing with in my life, no matter how stressed-out I am, going for a run always makes things seem more manageable.  My problems don’t just go away, but they are always a little bit better and my perspective is always greatly improved after running.

That’s the transformative power of our sport.  We don’t often control what happens to us in life, but we certainly control our attitudes.  And ultras — specifically training for ultras — have taught me that an unflinchingly-positive attitude is the ideal one to strive for.  Staying positive in the face of what seems to be insurmountable odds is what this sport is all about, and indeed is one of the true keys to succeeding in the sport.  Things seem hopeless a LOT during an ultra.  It’s the training and staying positive that gets you through, and allows you to accomplish amazing things:

As my buddy Grant Maughan — who is currently sewing up a podium finish at a 150-mile race in Australia as I write this — says, “anything is possible in this sport with hard work and focus.”  Amen, brother.  If you work your ass off, and keep a positive focus, you’ll beat your Drago, cross the finish line, and maybe even get the Soviets to cheer for you as well 🙂

7.  Community.

The ultrarunning community is a GREAT group to be a part of; many of my best friends are people I met through running ultras.  And for you guys just starting, this is an incredibly friendly and inviting group; we just want to see you succeed and meet your goals, just as our mentors once did for us as well!

So welcome, and we’ll see you “out there” 🙂


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Coach’s Corner: Unbroken: Moving Forward When You Fail To Meet a Goal

1.  Introduction.

Maverick Viper

(“Now I’m not going to sit here and blow sunshine up your ass, Lieutenant.  A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what’s happened, so he can apply what he’s learned.  Up there, we gotta push it.  That’s our job.  It’s your option, Lieutenant.  All yours.”)

We are only a few weeks into the Florida ultrarunning season, and already, we’ve been fortunate enough to witness some amazing and inspiring performances, such as Aly Venti running 140.88 miles in 24 hours to (almost surely) secure a spot on the U.S. team, Noelani Taylor introducing herself to Florida ultrarunning with a 7:04 50-miler, and the numerous people who dug deep and gutted their ways to their very first 100-mile finish lines at the deceptively-difficult Wild Sebastian 100 this past weekend (including Jeremiah Hartz, Dave Fausel, and Yvette Yu, to name a few).

But for every runner who reaches his or her goal on race day, there are probably at least two runners that fail to reach theirs.  Because let’s face it, folks, this is a really f#@king tough sport.  So for those runners who came up short in meeting their own goals, how do you turn the page, learn from the quote-unquote “failure,” and become a stronger runner?  (And remember, no outside judgment from the peanut gallery please — let’s all practice the Tao of Taylor Swift and “shake it off” when it comes to judging others and DNFs).

Learning from setbacks and applying those lessons to future training/races is what this article is all about.  And I think the necessary first step after failing to meet a goal is to channel your inner Michael Jackson…

2.  I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror.

Man in the mirror

(“Take a look at yourself and make a . . . change!  Hoo!  Hoo!  Hoo!  Hoo!  Na na na, na na na, na na nah . . . oh yeah!”)

Like any runner who has been in this sport for long enough, I’ve had plenty of experience in failing to reach a goal I set for myself before the race, whether that goal was to win the race, finish within a certain time, or simply finish at all.  And in order to move on and move forward, it is critical to take a hard and brutally-honest look at yourself and your race and objectively diagnose what went wrong.  First, though, I think giving yourself 48-72 hours after the race to let the inevitable range of emotions run their course is a good idea; you need to be thinking completely rationally in order to effectively self-evaluate.

3.  Look Inside, Not Outside:  Pre-Race Considerations.

When we fail to reach a goal — in running and in life — we have a natural tendency to want to place the blame elsewhere, on some outside factor beyond our control.  It’s just human nature.  It was too hot outside.  It was too cold outside.  The course was more technical than advertised.  Etc.  Etc.

There is also the tendency to want to only look at what you did wrong on race day only.  And while you very well may have made some in-race mistakes that helped contribute to failing to meet your goal, I would venture a guess that well over 95% of the reasons for coming up short can be attributed to lack of proper preparation well-before race day.

This is — by far — the hardest part of a “brutally-honest” self-evaluation.  But in order to make sure you learn from your setback and move forward, ask yourself if you were truly as trained and prepared as you could have been when you toed the start line at your race.  Between the day we start training to the day of the race, we have a million opportunities to make choices that will either help us or hurt us on race day, and it starts at the beginning of the day.  Here are 10 questions to ask yourself:

  • Did I routinely wake up early to get in my training run, or did I decide to sleep in?
  • What was my diet like?  A hard tempo run followed by cheesecake, perhaps?
  • Did I have a specific purpose for every training run I ran, or did I just basically run the same pace each run to hit some arbitrary weekly mileage goal?
  • Did I routinely skip/modify workouts or cut them short?
  • Did I make sleep a priority?
  • Did I routinely stay out at happy hour or on a weekend night longer than I should have?
  • Did I do my homework on the race course and the conditions I would encounter, and train accordingly?
  • Did I go into the race with an objectively reasonable goal based upon my training and fitness level?
  • Did I go into the race with a smart pacing plan, or did I run like a bat out of hell from the start, hoping to “bank time” for later in the race?
  • Did I go into the race with a smart hydration/nutrition plan?

In-race considerations, which we will talk about next, are certainly important, but not nearly as important as showing up on race day both (1) well-trained and (2) with a realistic goal and a realistic plan to meet that goal.

While this type of self-evaluation is usually a bit painful — as we are admitting we were not as prepared as we could have been — it is also empowering because it is on us.  In other words, we control our own destinies in this sport; not some outside factor such as weather, course conditions, etc.  (After all, everyone in your race experienced those exact same conditions…)

I say this all the time (because it’s true):  Ultrarunning is the fairest sport on the planet.  The races are just too darn long to rely on natural running talent alone.  I have no doubt I could beat Meb Keflezighi tomorrow at a 100-mile race; any of us who could finish a 100-miler tomorrow would beat him.  Obviously he’s an infinitely-more talented runner than we are, but for long ultras, training, preparation, and mental fortitude are far more important factors than talent alone.  It’s just a question of how bad you want it:  you control the outcome, no one else.

control the outcome

(“So it’s on me?”  “Always has been…”)

4.  “Stopping is not an Option”:  Race-Day Considerations.

Once you have thoroughly evaluated what you may have been able to do better before the race, it’s time to look at what actually happened during it.  As I’ve repeatedly written in the past, there are many, many rational reasons to stop running an ultra that will surface during the race, from your legs locking up, to muscle fatigue/soreness, to having literally no energy, to blister issues, etc. etc.  No one — least of all me — is here to judge any decision to stop based on any reason.  But if your goal is to finish the race (and I think that IS the goal for the vast majority of ultrarunners), then it serves you well to adopt a “stopping is not an option” mindset during the race.  Obviously, acute injury is a totally different story, but acute injury accounts for a very small percentage of all race DNFs.  This past weekend at Wild Sebastian, the runners who would up finishing the 100-miler — to a person — basically all said “I am GOING to finish this race; nothing is getting in my way.”

All that being said, there definitely are some in-race considerations that will exponentially help your chances of succeeding:

  • hydration:  especially in Florida ultras, it is vital to stay hydrated at all times during the race; this is the quickest way for your race to go south here in Florida…
  • nutrition:  if you aren’t consuming 200-300 calories an hour, you will hit a calorie (energy) deficit at some point in the race, and it is very tough to recover from it
  • chafing:  make sure that you are properly lubing/using compression shorts/etc to take care of those areas where the sun don’t shine
  • electrolytes:  as with nutrition, if you get into an electrolyte imbalance, it will significantly slow your pace (basically to a crawl), and it takes a while to get back to normal.  So stay on top of it.
  • blister prevention:  this is always a popular topic in ultrarunning, and everyone seems to have his or her “pet” strategy to prevent blisters (toe socks, powder, pre-taping, etc etc).  For my money, the best blister-prevention strategy is running as many miles as possible under the same conditions you will experience at the race.  Training in Florida — i.e., hot and humid conditions — on a daily basis, I didn’t get a single blister when I ran Badwater last year.  And I had one small pinky toe blister at the 153-mile Spartathlon in September.  Keep in mind that when you are running your first 100-mile race, blisters are pretty much inevitable, as you’ll be running far longer than you ever have before.  Feet don’t tend to like that 🙂

5.  Beware the Rebound Race Mistress.

After falling short in a race goal, people — including myself — often forgo the above self-evaluation, and instead just simply try and “turn the page” on the bad race, and sign up for another ultra in the near future.  The siren song of the Rebound Race Mistress is just too alluring.


Usually, that “rebound” race turns out just about as well as a rebound relationship.  Speaking from experience, believe me, it’s much better to take some time off, and truly address and fix what went wrong at your last race (both regarding training, preparation, and in-race execution), so that you can show up at the next race with the proper training base and necessary attitude so that you reach that finish line!

Remember, it’s on you.

6.  Herb.

Great moments . . .  are borne from great opportunity.  And that’s what you have here today, boys [and girls].  That’s what you’ve earned here today.  One race.  If we ran it ten times, the course might win nine.  But not this race.  Not today.

Today, we run with them.  Today, we stay with them.  And we keep moving forward because we can!  Today, we are the greatest ultrarunners in the world.  You were born to be runners (in both the McDougall and Springsteen sense), 🙂 every one of you.  And you were meant to be here today.

This is your time.  Fear and doubt; their time is done.  It’s over.  I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired about hearing how hard these courses are.  Screw ’em.  This is your time.  Now go out there and take it!!!

Have a great weekend, and if you happen to be at the Azalea 12/24 hour race in Palatka, I’ll see you tomorrow!


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1.21 Gigawatts!! How To Run YOUR Perfect Race: Takeaways from Noelani’s 7-hr 50-miler

1.  Introduction.

1.21 gigawatts

To many, especially those who have run multiple ultras before, the perfect race — that one where you just nail everything and hit all your goals, is as elusive as a goal as Doc Brown faced when trying to figure out how to channel 1.21 gigawatts of energy into Chris Kostman’s, er, Marty McFly’s DeLorean.  (That was an inside joke there:  the Badwater RD, Chris Kostman, actually owns a DeLorean).

Random trivia question:  Anyone know why I’m referencing Back To The Future today of all days?

When viewed from the outside, the perfect race seems effortless, almost as if the runner is some more-evolved being, above such petty concerns as “pain” or “slowing down.”  The Perfect Race gets mystified and glorified to the point that it becomes impossibly out of reach for us mere mortals.  It is like that elusive “perfect blossom” that Tom Cruise’s mentor, Lord Katsumoto, kept blabbing on and on about…

perfect blossom

The reality of the perfect race, though, is that it’s much more like the perfect hamburger than it is the perfect blossom.  While the final product is awe-inspiring, and appears effortless, you don’t really want to know about the process by which that perfect piece of meat arrived at your plate.

Louis lunch

(And if you ARE looking for the perfect hamburger, in your quest, be sure to stop by Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, CT.  They claim to have invented the hamburger, seriously.  The place is a little hole in the wall, they use wonder bread for the buns, and they don’t allow ANY condiments besides onions, tomato, and a flimsy piece of processed cheese.  In other words, it’s ALL about the meat.  And it’s sublime . . . that place has fed many a drunk entitled Yalie over the past 100 years!)

So let’s now delve behind the curtain to the “perfect race” that Noelani Taylor ran on Saturday at the Oceans 50-miler in Palm Coast/Flagler Beach, when she clocked a 7:04 and thrust herself onto the Florida — and national — ultrarunning scene.


First, though, my apologies for the third week in a row for not using this column to discuss the effects of heavy weightlifting on ultrarunning.  (Don’t blame me, I’m just the writer; take it up with the publisher and editorial board) 🙂  Fear not, though:  I’ll give you another hint as to whether weightlifting is good for ultrarunning:

Female IFBB

Traci Falbo

(One of those two is an ultrarunner; can you guess which one?)

Actually, join me in wishing happy birthday today to Traci Falbo (pictured above), not only on her exquisite choice of days to have been born, but also on being the recently-crowned American record holder in the 48-hour race.  (I believe she ran 242 miles, which is also the World Indoor Record for 48-hours).  Happy Birthday Traci!!

Which leads us to the trivia question answer.  Something MUCH more momentous occurred on November 12th (even more so than Traci or myself being born):  November 12, 1955 was the day Marty McFly went back to the future!  Yes, it was the day of the Enchantment Under The Sea dance!!!


(McFly singing “TraciBGoode”)

My sister was born on the day we landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took his “one small step for man…”  I got the Enchantment on the Sea dance.  Awesome.   Whatever, Mom.  No, it’s cool, really.

So let’s delve into how Noelani generated her own 1.21 gigawatts this past Saturday:

2.  How to Get to Carnegie Hall.

The first and most obvious reason for Noelani’s success is the same way you get to Carnegie Hall:  practice (that most un-Allen Iverson of words) 🙂  In ultrarunning, that means quality consistent training.  Noelani consistently runs 80-100 miles a week, and mixes in various tempo runs, long runs, and recovery runs.  Every run has a purpose.

You can have all the goals and ambitions in the world, but if you don’t have the training base necessary for those goals, you’re just wasting your time.  Your level of fitness when you toe the start line sets the ceiling for your possible performance on the course.  How close you come to that ceiling . . . that’s where other factors come into play.  But races are, almost exclusively, won and lost long before race day.

3.  Have a Rational Goal.

The aforementioned training allows for a runner to set a reasonable and rational goal for raceday.  Having only run one previous ultra — and on minimal training — Noelani probably did not realize how her current fitness translated into a projected 50-mile time.  She thought she would be around 8 hours.  I told her that she’d be much closer to 7.  I wasn’t just shooting from the hip with my estimate:  in the weeks prior to the race, I had her run some very specific “litmus test” runs to gauge exactly where she was with her current level of fitness.  The week prior to the Oceans 50, she ran a 50k training run — by herself — in 4:15.  With that type of time under non-race conditions, coupled with her training base, I knew 7 hours was a legitimate goal.  So we planned her pacing accordingly.

4.  Allow for the Possibility of Greatness:  “The New Normal.”  

One of the major things that can derail runners on race day — even someone who is fully trained for a realistic/rational goal — is that their minds get in the way.  They just don’t believe that they can run that fast.

This is why we need to open our minds to the possibility of greatness.  So much of life is about “getting your reps in.”  The more you do something, the better you get at it.  That spans all walks of life, professions, sports, everything.  Ever see a rookie pro athlete talk to the media in his first few months as a pro?  Compare that kid with the guy who’s been in the league for a dozen years.  I don’t care if the rookie went to Harvard and the veteran went to the NBA straight out of high school . . . after enough practice in dealing with the media, they all sound articulate and thoughtful.

It’s the same with running races.  Once you cross a threshold (say, 8:00 for 50 miles), then your mind knows it can accomplish that feat, and it becomes “the new normal.”  The point is that if you have the training base and a sound plan — i.e., your goal is reasonable and rational — then you have to push out that doubt from your mind and allow the possibility that you’ll actually reach that goal, even if you’ve never reached it before.

Most readers of this column know my friend, stud Aussie ultrarunner Grant Maughan, who was a Florida resident until a few months ago.  Grant began running 100’s a few years ago, and steadily progressed from running them in the low 20’s to about 15 hours today.  If you ask him, I bet he’d tell you he got there — among other things –by (a) consistent quality training, guided by his great coach Lisa-Smith Batchen, (b) continually setting the “new normal” for himself (“Okay, now I know I can do that…”), and (c) keeping his mind open to the possibility of greatness.

Grant Maughan

(From a solid ultrarunner to one of the very best in the world . . . in about 2 years!)

With Noelani, she is just starting out in the sport, so she had no real way to measure if she could run a 50-miler in 7 hours or not.  But she kept an open mind, and allowed her training to take over on race day so that she could perform as close to her “ceiling” as possible.  In other words, mentally, she got out of her own way.

5.  A PhD in Pacing.

Our plan was for Noelani to start at 8:30/mile, and hold that as long as possible.  From the prior week’s 50k training run, we knew she could hold 8:00/mile for basically the whole 50k, so we dialed it down a few ticks for the 50-mile distance.

Well, for the 50 miles, Noelani averaged 8:29/mile.  Of the 50 miles, 49 of them were run between 8:00 and 9:00 per mile.  That is an insane statistic right there.  (The only mile not in that range was Mile 46, which she ran in 9:10 and only because she tripped and fell on a tree root on one of the short trail sections of the course).  She ran the first two miles in about 8:20 each, and the last two miles in about 8:20 each.

start line

(Fast at the beginning . . . and the exact same pace at the end)

THAT, folks, is how you pace yourself in an ultra.

6.  Feed the Machine.

Like most fast runners — especially those with little ultra experience — Noelani likes running on an empty stomach.  It’s easy to see why:  running with stuff in your stomach (fluid, food, whatever) just is not very comfortable.  And in a marathon or 50k, you can get away with not consuming calories during the race.

But once you start running 50s and 100s, you absolutely need to keep a constant flow of calories/energy into your system.  The body cannot process more than 200-300 calories per hour, and since Noelani is used to running on little to nothing in her stomach, we kept her towards the lower end of that range.  And when you are running at her speed, solid foods are pretty much the enemy; she could not afford to have resources diverted from her extremities (where they were busy keeping her cool) to help digest food in her stomach.  So it was lots of gels and Gatorade, with the occasional handful of chocolate-covered espresso beans thrown in there for a little jolt.  (Caffeine works especially well if you, like Noelani, don’t normally ingest caffeine in your day-to-day life).

And re the calories, start the “calorie drip” pretty much from the beginning of the race.  Given her splits, Noelani clearly never hit that “energy low” from lack of calories during the race…

7.  Deal With Potential Problems AS SOON AS They Arise.

The ONLY real issue she faced out there with the potential to derail the awesome race she was having was the specter of overheating.  Even though it was only in the 60s for most of the race, when you are working as hard as she was, you can overheat pretty quickly.  (Keep in mind that for most people, the ideal marathon racing temperature is around 40 degrees).  So as soon as she started feeling warm, we continually poured ice water on her and gave her ice to stuff in her shirt.

8.  Have a Crew That is Passionate About Your Success.

Noelani’s crew consisted of her cousin, her boyfriend, and me.  Her cousin and boyfriend were fully invested and very passionate about doing everything in their power to get her to the finish line as soon as possible.  Right from the moment we arrived at the race, it was patently obvious that the two of them were there for the sole purpose of helping Noelani in any way possible.  Which is the exact right attitude for a crew member to have.  Remember, it is your race as a runner, not theirs, so the only “agenda” anyone on the crew should bring to the table is “how to get the runner to the finish line as fast as possible.”

It is also important to have at least one member of the crew who is experienced in ultra running/crewing, so that the operation runs smoothly.  A good crew should pretty much resemble a NASCAR pit crew.  Everyone has defined roles, and the runner comes in, gets what she needs, and is sent off with minimal delay.

Noelani crew

(Celebrating with a beer at the finish line with Dwyn (her cousin) and Christian (her BF))

Finally, it’s a good idea to have one crew member who is more or less “in charge” so that the race progresses in a clear direction from a crewing standpoint.  At this race, that duty fell to me by default, and that was fully expected by the other two crew members.  The point is that I’ve seen far too many crews where personality conflicts/in-fighting within the crew really hampered the race efforts of the runner.  Remember, even with a speedster like Noelani, we spent 7 hours in a car together.  For longer races, you will spend considerably longer.  So make sure that the crew make-up accounts for that, and everyone has their eyes open going into it…

9.  Ditch the Tunes:  Treat Music Like RedBull.

Like many runners, Noelani likes to run with music.  It took some convincing, but she decided to try to run the first 30 or so miles without music.

Why did I ask her not to use music for the majority of the race?  Because it is dissociative:  instead of listening to your heartbeat, taking in the sounds of your race surroundings, and focusing on all of the little signals your body is constantly giving you, you are focusing on the cadence of whatever song you are listening to and — whether you realize it or not — your pace usually shifts (even if only a little) depending on the beats of the songs.

I think music should be treated like any other stimulant you may use during the race.  It can be valuable to get you moving when you are in a low period during the race, but that “high” you feel from listening to music just cannot be sustained over the course of an entire ultra.  You are much better served by using it sparingly as a little energy boost.

Noelani made it over 40 miles without music, and when she needed a little pick-me-up over the last 10 miles to keep her pace going, she had it.

10.  The Perfect Race Mindset.

Last week, I wrote how to reach your maximum potential as a runner, you should run “from a place of love in your heart,” which is an unapologetically-cheesy line.  I’m sure some of you rolled your eyes a bit when reading that.  But after Saturday, I’m more convinced than ever that this is — indeed — the best mindset to have during the race.

LIterally EVERY time we saw Noelani out on the course, she was smiling, waving, and asking how WE were doing.  She would continually kiss her boyfriend as she ran by, give us high-fives, and stay in an unflinchingly-positive mood.


(She looked like that the ENTIRE race)

That attitude had everything to do with her performance on the course.  Instead of allowing herself to think about how much her legs were hurting, she focused on others, and focused on keeping herself in a positive mood.  (Which probably wasn’t too much of a struggle for her, given that being happy/positive/cheerful seems to be her default attitude!)

11.  Conclusion.

So there you have it.  I hope some of the above points can be useful as you prepare for your next ultra (many of which are coming up very soon here in Florida).  Thanks to Noelani, Dwyn, and Christian for a GREAT race experience!  I’d also like to congratulate Dawn Lisenby, a great Florida-based running coach who — along with one of her clients — completed the Oceans 50 as well, as part of a two-person team!

Finally, good luck to everyone who is running this weekend, at both Andrei and Claire Nana’s Icarus Ultrafest (down in Ft. Lauderdale), as well as the Wild Sebastian 100 (in St. Sebastian State Park near Fellsmere).  I’d like to extend a special “good luck” to GFOB (Great Friend Of the Blog) Aly Venti, who is competing in the 24-hr Icarus race on Saturday in hopes of qualifying for the U.S. team (along with Traci Falbo, who has likely already qualified) that will be competing at the 24-hour world championships in Torino, Italy next Spring.

I hope everyone has a great week, and if you’ll be at either Icarus or Wild Sebastian this weekend, I’ll see you out there!


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Coach’s Corner: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.” The Tao of Coach Taylor for Ultras

1.  Introduction.

clear eyes

That line — “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” — was popularized by the book-turned-movie(s)-turned-TV show Friday Night Lights, about life (and a little high school football) in small-town West Texas.  As fans of the show know, football was just a vehicle used in the show to explore small-town life, relationships, and the values/morals we want to see in others and ourselves.

As an aside, I got pulled over in Midland (the heart of West Texas) in 2003 when I was driving across the country to Arizona to start a new job, as I was anxious to get there.  And  for those of you who have not been to West Texas, it is mind-numbingly boring.  There’s a reason Friday Night Lights was set in West Texas:  there is NOTHING to see or do besides high school football.

West Texas

(This is pretty much all you see for hundreds and hundreds of miles.  Just be thankful no one has come up with the Midland 100-mile run yet…)

At any rate, I was driving about 110 in a 75 mph zone.  The sheriff said, “Son, any reason why you are driving so fast through my county?”  “Is that a rhetorical question, officer?” was probably not the answer he was hoping for.  🙂

Okay, I — along with my wallet that was $200 lighter — digress.  As with high school football in West Texas, ultra running is similarly a bit of a microcosm of life itself, as this sport of ours can — if we let it — teach us things that go far beyond becoming more efficient endurance athletes.  The message of the “clear eyes” line is universal and simple:  if you prepare properly and give it your all on game day, you can’t go wrong; you’ve already won.  We’ve all been taught some form of that “prepare and play ‘the right way'” message since the time we were toddlers.

In ultrarunning, though, I like to think of the “clear eyes, full hearts” line even more literally and expansively than just running “the right way.”  Sure, you need to prepare and have realistic goals (“clear eyes”), but to me, “full hearts” means just that:  run with love in your heart.  Yes, that sounds exceedingly-cheesy, but the ability to always retain perspective during an ultra, to always keep your humanity, and to really engage with your surroundings — especially when you are feeling like crap — is one of the great secrets of this sport.

That’s what we are going to talk about today:  the ability to stay positive and not “lose yourself” when the shit hits the proverbial fan during an ultra (which pretty much ALWAYS happens…).  So for the second time in two weeks, it appears I’m going to talk about the “Tao” of someone named Taylor.  While Taylor Swift teaches us to “shake off” all the negativity/acrimony that can surround the sport at times, Coach Taylor reminds us that we need to keep perspective, have our hearts in the right place, and never lose ourselves during the race.  (If anyone knows another “Taylor” for me to use next week, be sure to let me know.  Actually, most readers would probably prefer you didn’t) 🙂

Note:  For the second week in a row, we are delaying the discussion on whether weightlifting helps ultra running   I know everyone is on pins and needles for the answer to be revealed.  For a hint, look at the front-runners of any decent-sized ultra, and ask yourself how much time you think they spend in a gym…


(Is that Mike Morton or Arnold Schwarzenegger?  Hard to tell…)

2.  Clear Eyes.

I have repeatedly discussed the need to show up to a race with a proper training base and a realistic assessment of where you are, fitness-wise, so that you can formulate a rational and achievable goal.

When I toed the line this past weekend at the Javelina 100 (called the Javelina “Jundred” or “JJ” for short), I knew that I wasn’t exactly going to compete for the win, as my legs are still not 100% from Spartathlon a month, and I’ve had a pretty busy race schedule this year already (for me, at least).  But as stated above, I used to live in Arizona, my best friend lives there, and I love the JJ course and the people there every year.  Plus, the scenery doesn’t exactly suck:

JJ sunrise (Sunrise at the Javelina Jundred this past Saturday morning.  This is about Mile 4, looking back at the “Four Peaks” in the McDowell Mountain range.  If that vista at the beginning of the race won’t get you fired up during a run, I don’t know what will).

That’s one of my favorite things about running ultras:  you get to run in some REALLY cool places and see some REALLY cool things.  Here are some on-course views I’ve had at races, just from this year alone:

IMG_9631 (Running through the Italian countryside in the 175-mile Ultra Milano-Sanremo in March)

IMG_9651 (Sunset at UMS in a remote skiing village, around Mile 80)

10171851_838673772814077_1525439339_n (Sunrise along the harbor on the Italian Riviera; Mile 135)

IMG_9680 (Heading into the town of Alassio; Mile 150ish)

07_Seven_Mile_Bridge_in_Florida (The Seven-Mile Bridge at this year’s Keys 100)


(Heading up the Whitney Portal Rd at the end of this year’s Badwater 135 with Eric Spencer (I was crewing for him))

DV sunset

(Sunset on Mt. Whitney at this year’s Badwater 135)

Sparty finish

(The final few hundred yards of this year’s Spartathlon in Greece)

3.  Full Hearts.

For me, “running from a place of love” means that when I get to the actual event weekend, it is MUCH more about the overall experience than about how “well” I do at the race.  Sure, I love to compete, and I want to do as well as possible, but I really try to treat the race as a celebration of what I love to do — run — and celebrate while on great courses and while surrounded by some truly awesome people.

Like I said, there is nothing wrong with competition, but having too much of a “results-oriented” mindset during a race means that you will almost surely be disappointed when things do not go your way.  (And in an ultra, things almost surely will not go exactly as you have planned).  In this sport, I am almost always good friends with the people I’m competing against at the race, and while I want to end up winning, I also want everyone else to have their best race possible.  I want to win when others are at their best, not when they are injured/having a bad day/etc.

I’m hardly unique in this regard in our sport.  While most traditional sports have several competitors who follow the Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods/Lance Armstrong “win at all costs” mantra, that is largely absent from utlrarunning.  I’ve always found it much better to compete like crazy during the race, but after, cheer for the winner (whether it’s me or not) and genuinely be happy for him or her (and here in Florida, the overall winner is quite often a “her.”)  🙂


(If you’re only motivation at the race is “to win” and she’s there too, you’re quite likely going to wind up disappointed…)

The great thing about our sport is that there is not just one “winner” on race day.  We all have different goals, different motivations, different reasons for being out there.  For me, I like to compete, I like to experience new courses in cool places, and I absolutely love to connect with others during a race and share in their energy/passion for the sport.  Running is my “happy place,” and an ultramarathon is — for me — the ultimate celebration of my love of running.  So long as you are true to yourself and your reasons for being out there, and don’t lose sight of those reasons, you can’t lose.

4.  Can’t Lose.

Coach Taylor

(“Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is at the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over.”  –Coach Taylor)

At Javelina last weekend, I had dozens of times when I wanted to stop.  I had no energy, I had no legs (I knew by about Mile 3 that it would be a grind).


(That’s not a good look to have on your face at Mile 20 of a 100-mile race…)

By Mile 80 or so, I was reduced to a crawl so slow I started to become mildly hypothermic (even though it never dipped below the 50s during the race).  The doubts had not only started, but were now taking full-time residence in my mind:

  • “What are we doing out here?”
  • “You’ve raced enough this year.”
  • “You already know you can run 100 miles.  Let’s just stay here at the aid station where it’s warm and call it a day.”
  • “Running around in circles is pointless anyway.”

You get the point.  We can all come up with tons of completely rational reasons to quit during the race.  And — remember the Tao of Taylor Swift — I think judging others on their decisions to quit or not is downright silly.  But for me, on that day, stopping just did not sit well with me.

When I feel like crap, I often picture that scene in The Lion King when young adult Simba is  wandering around looking at the stars, and Darth Vader, er, Mufasa, tells him to “remember who you are”:


We all hit this point in the race.  I was not out at JJ that year to win.  I wasn’t out there because I had anything to prove.  But I did want to fully experience the race, and I didn’t feel like I had done that yet.  So I needed to get up and start moving, and fast.  (By far the best way to combat feeling very cold is to elevate your heart rate.  Warm clothes/warm food/etc. are all helpful, but are only temporary solutions unless you can get your heart rate up to the point where your body warms itself up.  So when cold, force yourself to move faster…)

Bell lap

(Jimmy Dean Freeman helping me get out for my last lap at JJ)

Looking back, I’m glad I kept going and finished the race, even though my time was nowhere near what I expected when I started.  But I allowed myself to be open to experiencing a different type of race than I thought would occur, and I’m very happy I did.  I saw some amazing performances out there on the course over those last few hours.  This sport of ours is filled with amazing people; life’s “super users,” as described by Dean K.

I couldn’t agree more.  As a father of two young children, I often wonder if they are better off growing up today versus in the 70’s and 80’s, when I grew up.  You only need to go to any public place to watch how smart phones, social media, and other technology have virtually eliminated face-to-face interaction.  How many more text messages do we all send per day versus talking on the phone or, gasp, actually meeting someone in person?  There is a lot to be worried about for parents concerned about their kids’ development…

For me, ultras are a tonic for those feelings.  While I can lose my faith in humanity at times, it is always fully restored after a race weekend.  People just exude so much love, positivity, determination, and a true sense of community.

When I look back on this year, I will of course think about all the unbelievable places I’ve been and the successes I’ve had during races.  But most of all, I remember all the amazing people I shared those moments with, from my one-of-a-kind wife to great friends, old and new.  That is what I “remember” when I feel like quitting during a race . . . you guys.


Day before BW


Start of Sparty



So thanks for being such an important part of my life, and when things go bad at your next race, I hope your inner James Earl Jones helps you remember what motivates you too!   Have a great weekend, and see you guys out there…


Coach’s Corner: DDNF . . . How To Ensure You Don’t DNF

1.  Introduction:  Ultrasignup, DNFs, and the Tao of Taylor Swift.

Note #1:  I usually write this weekly article on Thursdays, but I’ll be in Arizona later this week for the Javelina 100.

Note #2:  While originally I was going to write this week about weightlifting and what role — if any — it should play in running, I decided to bump that to next week, due to Ultrasignup’s recent decision to start listing DNFs on each runner’s “results” page, and the buzz that decision has created in the ultrarunning community.

Obviously, the subject of DNFs invites a LOT of strong opinions/judgments, ranging the spectrum from “DNF is a mortal sin,” through “we should finish what we start,” all the way to “it just means ‘Did Nothing Fatal'”.

I have no interest in debating whether some sort of outside judgment/morality should be attached to someone else’s DNF, because to me, that is an easy question with an easy answer:  we all run for our own reasons/motivations, and judging others on their decision to stop running at any particular race seems silly (at best).  Personally, re DNFs, I suggest we adopt the attitude of noted poet laureate Taylor Swift, and simply “shake it off” when dealing with the acrimony that tends to surround the DNF discussion.


(“Just think.  While you’ve been getting down and out about DNFs in ultrarunning, you could’ve been getting down to this. sick. beat.”)

So let the haters hate (hate hate hate hate).  Personally, I’m much more interested in exploring the ideal mindset to ensure that when you toe the line at your next ultra, the only thing “DNF” will stand for is “did not fail.”

This article assumes that you place great value on finishing your next ultra, and want to ensure that you are successful in doing so.  So we are going to discuss what mindset is best suited for that goal.  (Note:  I’m also assuming that you are properly trained physically, which leads to the “rational confidence” necessary to complete the race).

As many of the GFOB’s (“Great Friends Of this Blog”) know, I have a very good friend who has a “no excuses” rule when it comes to races; he considers DNFs to be a “mortal sin.”  To protect his anonymity, let’s call him Flondrei Banana.  For Flondrei, if you break your leg at Mile 5 of a 100-mile race, you are a failure if you do not still finish the race.

Literally-speaking, Flondrei is correct:  you either finish the race or you do not, and if you don’t, you failed in finishing the race.  His core belief, though, is that there are simply no legitimate reasons to stop short of the finish line at an ultra.

church of andrei

(“I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones.  I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan.  I know things.  I believe in the Church of Flondrei.”)

By the way, for any of you living in or near South Florida, the Church of Flondrei meets every Saturday and Sunday morning, all morning long, at the Rickenbacker causeway to Key Biscayne.  BYOT.  (Bring Your Own Tire).

I’m not going to go in-depth into Flondrei’s point about breaking a leg and still continuing, and I don’t really have to, because almost no DNFs are caused by acute physical injury, but rather by the wrong mindset, namely a lack of proper motivation to finish the race, coupled with listening to that very rational voice in your head telling you to stop.

In other words, the best raceday mindset to ensure success has two very simple components:  (1) a strong motivation at the start line to run and finish the race, and (2) a “no excuses” attitude during the race . . . dropping out is just simply not an option open to you.

Let’s now discuss both of those, mainly through the lens of my own past DNFs.  (After all, this is a coaching blog, and one of my primary goals in coaching is to pass along the things I’ve learned/experienced in this sport — both successes AND failures — so that others can hopefully gain a tip or two as well as avoid a pitfall or two).

First, though, as an aside, I really love the mental image of Flondrei at the steps of St. Peter’s Pearly Gates pleading his case to get into heaven despite his “mortal sin” of a DNF 🙂

St. Peters

(“But it was only ONE DNF…”)

2.  DNF Case Study No. 1:  Motivation and “Carnal Knowledge . . . Of a Lady This Time.”

In 2012, I had somewhat of a “breakthrough” year in ultrarunning.  I completed my first race over 100 miles (LOST 118, 2nd overall), I finished in the top 10 in both the Palm 100k and Keys 100, and then a few months later I lowered my 100-mile PR into the “17’s” (at the Beast of Burden 100 in Buffalo, New York, which I jokingly call “Leadville East,” as it’s traditionally run on the same day in August, and is basically the exact opposite of Leadville (BoB is completely flat and run along the Erie Canal Towpath…)

In other words, up through August, I already had a good year by most objective standards.  So why did I find myself at the start line of the Javelina 100 (called the Javelina “Jundred” or “JJ” for short) out in Arizona just two months later, around Halloween?  I didn’t have anything to prove out there, and, to be honest, I wasn’t really all that motivated to run anyway.  But yet, there I was.

Well, the honest reason I was out there is that I lived in Phoenix for six years before moving to Florida, I hadn’t been back for a while, it was Halloween weekend in Scottsdale, and I was excited to see Tony, one of my very best friends in the world.  On top of all of that, my favorite college football team — Notre Dame — was playing in its biggest game in years . . . a road contest against top-10 Oklahoma.  Talk about a great weekend . . . I just thought I’d combine it all with a run as well.

Bad idea.  I made it a grand total of 50k before I decided I’d rather watch the game with my friends at a packed Scottsdale bar . . . in costume of course:

Dave and Tony

(“Daverick” and Tony . . . as a member of the band Lonely Island)

Dave and Alex

(“I don’t know, Tony.  The bet doesn’t seem fair . . . to you, I mean.  But Alex has lost that lovin’ feeling.”)

In addition to hanging out with Alex and Tony, there was that little Notre Dame/Oklahoma game on as well.  In kindness to Oklahoma native and Zwitty runner Jon Kevin Cooper, I’ll just say I don’t remember how that game turned out.

Okay, that’s a lie.  It was a 30-13 drubbing by Notre Dame that catapulted them into the national championship picture while simultaneously wrecking Oklahoma’s chances.  Ah, memories.  Sorry, Kevin 🙂

Here’s my point:  with my true motivation for being out in Arizona — which had ZERO to do with running — I simply had no business signing up for JJ in the first place.

100-mile races are hard enough on their own, folks.  It is absolutely crucial that you show up at the start line with the right mindset.  In other words, you need to be motivated to (a) be there, (b) run that day, and (c) finish the race.  If you lack the motivation, you will likely not “find it” out on the course.

3.  DNF Case Study No. 2:  Badwater Blues and the DNF World Tour.

MC Hammer

(“I’ve DNFd around the world, from London to the Bay…”)

If the first half of 2012 was good to me, the winter and spring of 2013 was even better.  After that JJ DNF, I set course records my next two 100-mile races, ran and placed well in a few others, and then “won” the Keys 100 in May 2013.  (I use quotes because I won the “male” race; Brenda Carawan, a world-class runner from Texas, beat me by 14 minutes . . . which she will never let me forget) :).

All of that was leading up to my main race of the year, Badwater.  I had a good race and a great experience out there on one of the hottest race days ever (it got up to the mid-120s), and I finished in the top-15.


(It was even hotter out there than it looks in that picture…)

The recovery from a race as “big” as Badwater is not nearly as hard physically as it is mentally.  I went “all-in” preparing for the race last year, which not only comprised of a LOT of hard training, but also a huge mental toll of constantly thinking about the race in the months leading up to the race.  When the race was over, I was completely and utterly spent; I had a major case of the Badwater Blues.

Crying at finish

(Yep, I was openly bawling at the finish line; Badwater takes it out of you and strips you to the core!)

So what did I do?  Take some much-needed time off?  Nope, not even close.  I signed up for — and DNF’d — four consecutive races in the next two months, all the while hoping to somehow “recapture my motivation” or “find my passion” for running again during the races themselves.  My performance that year at Leadville East (Beast of Burden) was indicative of those DNFs.  I made it a whopping 25 miles before I said to Alex, “I don’t want to be out here right now.  I feel completely fine; I just don’t feel like running anymore today.”  In other words, I had my Forrest Gump moment.

Forrest Gump running

(“I’m tired . . . I think I’ll go home now.”  Great line for a movie, but not exactly the mindset you want to have during an ultra.)

4.  The Raceday Mindset to Avoid a DNF:  Bright Lines, Not Fifty Shades of Gray.

After my experiences in the fall of 2012 and 2013, I took some time off to regain my motivation for running 100s, and once I found it again, I adopted the stance that I would only start a race when I was fully committed mentally to finishing the race.  Today — having run 14 races of 100 miles or longer (sometimes much longer) — I don’t feel the need to “prove” anything to either myself or others, so that’s not why I’ve adopted the “if I’m not motivated, I won’t race” stance.  Rather, my position is pretty pragmatic in nature:  I have NEVER regretted gutting it out and finishing a 100-miler when I didn’t have my “A-game” that day, but I have ALMOST ALWAYS regretted a DNF to some degree or another.  (Well, except for that Javelina “50k” from 2012 . . . that was just a really fun night) 🙂

Anyway, the point is that in order to have a realistic shot of finishing an ultra — especially a 100-miler — you need to be “all in” from a mental standpoint when you start the race.  Anything less than total motivation/commitment, and you’re facing long odds.

But pre-race motivation is only one-half of the mental game.  What about during the race itself?  Let’s turn back to Flondrei and his “no excuses” mindset during races.  This is what legal scholars would refer to as a “bright-line” rule.  It’s black and white; no room for nuance or interpretation.  Either you finish (which is a success), or you don’t (which is a definitional failure).  His “no excuses” position means just that:  he QUITE LITERALLY sees no excuse or justification for stopping during a race as being legitimate.

In legal jurisprudence, the battle is often between a “bright-line” rule and a “reasonableness” standard, which takes into account all of the surrounding circumstances, the shades of gray, etc., that accompany any situation or decision.  Both schools of thought have obvious drawbacks.  First, bright-line rules, while easy to apply, can lead to absurd results (like calling someone who breaks his leg at Mile 5 a “failure” if he doesn’t finish a 100-mile race).  But the ease in applying a bright-line rule is also its strength:  it takes the guesswork out of all of the “gray” decisions (which, in ultras, are basically ALL in-race decisions).

And that guesswork is the major flaw of the “gray” or “reasonableness” school of thought, as applied to ultras, because we are part of an objectively irrational sport.  Even if you are motivated at the start line of an ultra, you will experience many moments of low motivation, desires to stop, low energy, pains (both real and imagined), etc.  In a race as long as 100 miles (or longer), there are always many, many rational reasons to stop running.

So for runners — especially first-time 100-milers — who want the absolute best shot of finishing the race, adopt the “bright-line” mindset:  simply do not allow yourself to stop; take that option off the table, right from the start of the race.  If you are willing to allow yourself to individually weigh each and every reason for which you feel like stopping during the race — and there will be many — you’ll probably fail.  If you are open to allowing for the possibility of stopping, you will likely eventually come up with a reason that convinces you to stop.  Here are just a few of the actual excuses/justifications I’ve heard over the past few years by people who have DNF’d a race:

  • “I tripped over a dog.” (Presumably the same dog that ate his homework as a kid);
  • “I had to bail my son out of jail.”
  • “I was too cold.”
  • “I got too hot.”
  • “My crew was getting bored” (i.e., the fake altruism reason)
  • “Notre Dame is playing Oklahoma and I want to watch the game while dressed as ‘Daverick'”
  • “I just don’t have ‘it’ today; I’ll just pack it in and do better next time.”

Again, I don’t care to debate whether any particular excuse/justification is “legitimate” or not.  Remember, when it comes to judging others, don’t.  Just practice the Tao of Taylor Swift 🙂

Rather, all I am saying is that if you want to finish the race, the best mindset is the “no excuses,” “bright-line” mindset.  Don’t allow your mind to be open to the possibility of stopping.  Because if you are open to stopping for some really good reason, you will almost surely conjure up that “really good reason” and DNF the race.

Of that list above, the “I just don’t have it today” excuse is one of the most dangerous, for several reasons.  First, everyone feels like shit at some point during the race, and says to himself/herself, “I just don’t have it today.”  Second, there is always another race on the horizon, so it’s easy just to say “I’ll just try it another day.”

Don’t have that mindset.  Instead, be Eminem.  Today — this race — is your “one shot, one opportunity.”  There is nothing else; just this race.

Lose yourself

(“You only get one shot, do not miss your chance . . .”)

The only caveat I would offer for the “no excuses” mindset is the case of acute injury.  Obviously if you break your leg, stop running.  If you tear an ACL, stop running.  If your injury is severe to the point you risk your running future if you finish the race, it is foolish to keep going.  But that being said, the vast, vast, vast majority of all race DNF’s are not because of acute injury.

If you just keep one immutable truth in your head for the entire race — “no matter how bad things get, I can always keep going and I’ll push through and come out on the other side” — you’ll do great.

This is a very hard sport you’ve chosen.  This shit ain’t easy.  It’s not supposed to be easy. (That’s kind of the point, right?)  You will have low points during a race.  Sometimes those lows will be unimaginably low; lower than you’ve ever felt in your life.  Those are the times when you need to focus, recognize that immutable truth up there, and just smile at the absurdity of just how low you are feeling.

At the 152-mile Spartathlon a month ago, I certainly did not have my “A” game.  (I didn’t really even have my “B” game, either.) 🙂  I had heat issues, stomach issues, energy issues, etc. etc.  I had plenty of rational reasons to stop, not the least of which I felt like crap at Mile 30 and still had over 120 miles to go.  And the “lows” just keep on coming in that race.  (There is a fricking MOUNTAIN from Miles 93-100; I mean, seriously?)  But it is precisely at those points in the race — where you are feeling your lowest of lows — that you need to smile at how hard it is, put your head down, and keep moving.  Stopping is not an option.  Even though I felt like crap, I knew I would finish and kiss the foot of King Leonidas because I did not allow myself to entertain quitting as an option.

Finish at foot

(Pilots don’t only fly when it’s sunny outside.  As spent and tired as I look in this picture, I felt 1000% better than if I would have stopped before reaching King Leonidas…)

4.  Conclusion.

Motivation in training and at the start line.  A “no excuses” attitude during the race.  Combine those two and you’ll make it to your King Leonidas at the finish line!

On that note, best of luck to all the runners headed out to the Javelina 100 this weekend, especially those with Florida ties, including local speedster Luke Smelser (running his first 100-miler and being crewed by his lovely wife Lisa), Lauren Hadley (running her first 100k), Tony Portera, Bill Wenner, Jodi Weiss, Mark Mccaslin, and Tracy Connolly (all running the 100-miler), as well as several other FUR-bies that will be there to help, including Michelle Matys, Melissa Middleton, Sergio Radovcic, and many others I’m sure.

As for me, I’ll also be running the 100-miler this weekend, and I like my chances, as Notre Dame is only playing Navy 🙂

Until next time, I hope everyone has a great week of training and racing!


Coach’s Corner: Allen Iverson Would Be a Terrible Ultrarunner (The Need for “Practice” . . . Specifically Speed Training)

1.  Introduction.

“It’s easy to sum it up if you’re just talking about practice.  We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about practice.  I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice.  Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last, but we’re talking about practice man.  How silly is that?”

That, of course, was Allen Iverson’s infamous 2001 rant regarding the (lack of) importance of in-season NBA practices.  He mentions the words “practice” and “not a game” over 20 times to make the eloquent point that practices are, in fact, not as important as the games themselves.

In the NBA, for 82-game seasons, Iverson was almost surely correct.  With frequent back-to-back games (2 games in 2 nights, often in different cities), and sometimes 4-5 games in one week, NBA players and coaches place a premium on rest in those rare periods when they are not playing or traveling to the next city.  In-season practices aren’t used to develop strength, stamina, or even team cohesiveness.  Rather, all of that is primarily done during the games themselves.

So what does all of this have to do with ultrarunning?  Let’s first start with the obvious observation that NBA players are about as different from ultrarunners on the athletic spectrum as one could imagine.  They are the winners of the genetic lottery . . . fast-twiched-muscle super-humans who are much taller than us, possess jaw-dropping levels of athleticism, and stand out in ANY crowd.

Now compare that description to us.  Ultrarunners are all types of different shapes and sizes.  We compete in a sport where genetics play basically no role as to whether or not we succeed (which is one of the great things about our sport; it is as close to a “pure” meritocracy as exists today in sports).  And you can’t pick out 99.9% of ultrarunners from a crowd of people.


(Can YOU find the former NBA player in this picture??)

But genetics aside, one of the biggest differences between the NBA and ultrarunning is that instead of 82 competitions (or more) a year, most of us only race a few times each year.  So we can’t rely upon only races themselves to get us ready for the next one.  (Note:  if you’re name is Liz Bauer, Ed Ettinghausen, or Grant Maughan, and you run 30+ ultras a year, ignore this whole article; your schedule is more like that of an NBA player.  Go hit up Allen Iverson for training advice!)  🙂

For the rest of us, training matters.  “Practice” matters.  A lot.  It cannot be emphasized enough just how much it matters.  Whether you succeed/meet your goals on race day is dictated almost wholly by how prepared you are by the time race day rolls around.  Training sets the “ceiling” for your performance; when you toe the line, you have a maximum physical ability you can give that day; you cannot will yourself above and beyond that reality.  You can only come as close to that line as possible.

2.  The “Need For Speed” And The Great Training Mistake.

Okay, so hopefully we all agree that training, er, “practice” matters.  So what should that training look like?  What elements comprise it?  That bring’s us to today’s topic:  speed training for ultras.  Along with several other types of essential training runs, speed workouts are vital for performing as well as possible on race day . . . even for super-long races of 100 miles and beyond.

Let’s say you are new to ultras and have run a few marathons in around 4 hours, so about 9:00/mile.  Next, you train for a 50- or 100-miler, and you just knew that you couldn’t hold 9:00/mile for the entire ultra (your guess was that it would be closer to 11-12 minutes a mile, so you could hopefully finish in about 9-10 hours for the 50, or 20+ for the 100).  How did you train for that ultra?  When you ran your marathons, I bet you incorporated weekly speed sessions (whether Yasso’s on a track (800-meter repeats), mile repeats, or tempo runs of around 5 miles).  And I bet those speed sessions were run at a pace significantly faster than your marathon pace.

But what did you do when you trained for that 50- or 100-miler?  Did you continue to still run mile repeats on a regular basis?  Did you consistently run tempo runs leading up to your race?  Oooooorrr, alternatively, did these types of workout slowly fade out of your training repertoire?  Did you become more concerned with hitting ever-increasing weekly mileage goals than getting in your speed work because, well, because “oh-my-God 50/100 miles is a really long way and I need to run as many miles per week in training as possible”?


(“The enemy MiGs are how far away?  150 miles?  Wow, that’s a long way.  Screw supersonic.  I’ll get there when I get there.”)

Sound a bit familiar to anyone out there?  The most common training mistake I see in ultrarunners — both newbies and veterans — is becoming a slave to the Weekly Mileage Monster and only being concerned about the total miles run each week, rather than focusing on the quality of each workout.  When that happens, every workout — regardless of the distance — tends to blend in together and they are all run at pretty much the same speed.  In a very real sense, then, you develop one single speed in your legs.  And when race day rolls around, you’re either running at that speed (when you feel good), or walking (when you don’t).  There is no in-between.

Beach cruiser

(Ever see a triathlete use a single-speed beach cruiser on the 110-mile bike portion of the Ironman Kona World Championships?)

3.  Speed Workouts For Ultras.

Obviously, the exact type of speed workouts — and the frequencies they should be run — in training for an ultra depends greatly on the runner, his/her experience, his/her goals, the distance of the race, and the details of the race itself.  In other words, it’s highly individualized, and no two runners’ speed programs will look entirely alike.  That being said, there are some staple speed workouts that I use routinely with my runners to ensure that when they show up on race day, they possess more speed gears in their arsenal than “go” and “stop.”  Here are a few of them:

  • Tempo Runs:  It always baffles me how these workouts are such a staple of marathon running, yet almost wholly ignored in ultramarathon training.  These runs are so popular in marathon training for the simple reason that they work.  You cannot show up on race day expecting to run X minutes per mile comfortably when you never run X-2 minutes per mile in training.  5 to 10 mile runs, at about 2 minutes per mile faster than your goal pace; that’s really all there is to it.  (Note:  I’m often asked how times in tempo runs or shorter races correlates/predicts times for ultras.  While there are plenty of predictive charts, graphs, calculators out there on the internet, none of them are individualized-enough to provide an accurate prediction for any specific runner.  In order to get the best idea possible of a realistic goal for an ultra, it’s best to have someone who knows your running history, your current level of fitness, and your abilities on specific workouts in order to help formulate the most realistic goals possible).
  • Mile Repeats:  This is another marathon staple that is almost completely unused in ultra training.  Why?  Run at a faster pace than the tempo runs (around 2:30-3:00/mile faster than goal pace), these training runs can give your legs added strength on race day to tackle hills (“hills are just speed work in disguise,” as the saying goes), and also teach you how to run on tired legs without wearing you down too much for your other “hard” runs in your training program.
  • Progressive Treadmill Runs:  5-10 mile runs on a treadmill, starting at a challenging pace, and then increasing the pace a bit with each mile.  Yes, this workout sucks.  Yes, treadmills are basically torture devices that go against every reason that many people run in the first place (to be outside, to be “one with nature,” etc, etc.).  But do you know what else sucks?  Mile 80 of the Keys 100, when you have no energy and no earthly idea how your tired-to-the-bone legs are going to carry you those last 20 miles.  Treadmills instill all kinds of mental toughness, and teach you that yes, you can in fact maintain — and even raise — that strenuous pace even though your legs are killing you.


(I know.  I hate treadmills.  We all hate treadmills.  But I hate being unprepared even more…)

Speed work is challenging, for sure.  It’s especially challenging to do when training for an ultra and being ever-watchful of always-increasing weekly mileage.  But beware of the Weekly Mileage Monster.  Quantity matters, sure, but quality matters more.  I tell all my runners that before they lace up their shoes and head out the door, they need to have a specific purpose for their training run.  What is the point of today’s run?  And “feeding the Weekly Mileage Monster” is not an acceptable response 🙂

Speed work prepares us for race day, both physically and mentally.  It develops leg strength, the ability to power through low points, and, gives us more than one “gear” so that our race day pace is manageable, and we can compete to the best of our abilities.  Don’t show up to the start line on a beach cruiser.

4.  Next Week on Coach’s Corner.

Weight Training For Ultras . . . Beneficial For Anything Besides Being a Peacock?  

Dave MTCM 2007-001

(Circa 2007, smack-dab in the middle of running marathons in the 2:40s and 2:50s, despite or because I could bench press 300 pounds???)

Have a great week, everyone!!


Coach’s Corner: The Case For Dean

1.  Introduction.

Dean K

In past postings on this blog, whenever the subject of Dean Karnazes would come up, I’d usually simply just point out that the guy has been a bit of a lightning rod his whole career, but leave it at that.  I would never divulge my feelings on the guy, and my opinion on his place in our sport.  For instance, here is what I said about him — as well as his decision to run the entire Spartathlon this year on only figs and olives — in my preview for this year’s race:

“Shameless self-marketing/publicity stunt, or a neat way to draw more attention to the race from casual observers and maybe entice them to a healthier lifestyle? That’s the line Dean has made a career out of living on, and one that I have no interest in debating.”

Well, I actually DO want to give my opinion on Dean, because — honestly — the “Dean issue” should not be much of a debate at all…

2.  The Typical Dean Vitriol.

The usual narrative that is recited by Dean’s naysayers goes something like this:

“It’s good we get attention for the sport, but sometimes I wonder what kind of attention is good for the sport. At times I think that some of the Dean attention can hurt athletes like myself and other individuals performing well. There are athletes like us doing all kinds of amazing things and somebody else is walking around and actually accepting these titles and awards. You wouldn’t see that in any other sport. I can’t think of a sport where this happens – maybe once in a while somebody a bit lower on the elite status might pop up there for doing something extraordinary.”

“I’m not saying it should be about me, there are runners like Nikki Kimball and Karl Meltzer, there are different distances, and those people deserve their shots too. This is a prime example of how a lot of media is working in this country these days, grabbing onto somebody who has a great publicity machine, great sponsors and media outlets. I would rather earn my titles and the recognition I deserve out on the race course. If you look at other sports, the guys that are finishing mid-pack on the PGA Tour or batting .500, they aren’t getting any publicity. Maybe once in a while they get a shot here and there. Generally, it’s the winners that are getting the attention. It’s just kind of odd that that’s happening in our sport often nowadays, where we’re just seeing one person stealing the show and winning awards. In other sports, that wouldn’t happen.”


The above quote, if you haven’t seen it already or guessed yet, was by Scott Jurek, who, by all accounts — including Dean’s — is a much more talented runner than Dean, yet has not enjoyed anywhere near Dean’s level of fame or fortune.

So is Scott right?  Despite his clear misunderstanding of the game of baseball, he is generally correct that a pro athlete who is not at the very top of his or her sport does not receive the most attention.  (A .500 hitter in the majors would get some tiny level of publicity, I’d imagine).  🙂

But Scott’s point is actually a boring one to me, as it misses the unique nature of our sport.   You cannot really compare ultrarunning to baseball, golf, or any other “traditional” pro sport because ultrarunning is NOT really a “professional” sport at all, as one cannot make a living simply by winning races.  The prize money just isn’t there.  The richest purse of any ultra is the $10,000 that goes to the winner of the North Face 50 in San Francisco every December.  And the very most prestigious races on the planet — Spartathlon, Western States, UTMB, Hardrock, Leadville, Badwater, etc. — have absolutely no prize money at all.

Ultrarunning is therefore only a “profession” for those who can manage to distinguish themselves as runners and as personalities in order to gain sponsors, a fan base, etc.  And Dean has unquestionably done that better than anyone else in the sport’s history.

So for me, the larger — and much-more important — question is whether Dean’s popularity is good for the sport overall.  The emphatic answer to that question is “yes.”

3.  Why This Blog Exists, and (Likely) Why You Are Reading It.

Dean's book

(I’m willing to bet that at least 90% of you got into this sport — in no small part — because of this book.)

I first picked up Dean’s book in 2006/2007, when I was 29-30 years old, and smack-dab in the middle of racing marathons in the 2:40s and 2:50s.  Before reading it, I had never even heard of ultramarathons, let alone Western States or Badwater.  Rather, I was a 20-something year-old who was simply interested in living a fast, work-hard, play-hard lifestyle.  I would work insane hours, then lift weights like crazy, then run like crazy, chase PRs at races, and then chase girls on the weekends.

Put more simply, I was a complete yuppie tool, to which my friends in Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Atlanta would easily attest:


(Halloween 2007 in 20-degree Minneapolis.  Hard to imagine a more toolish and ridiculous costume than Rocky!)

At any rate, along with meeting Alex the next year, Dean’s book introduced a whole new world to me, and while I’m still surely a total goofball at times today, it’s safe to say that my days of dressing up as Rocky are behind me 🙂


(Alex, in 2008, doing her Soup Nazi impression.  “Um, talk to the hand, dude.  I don’t date clowns.  No soup for you.  Come back, one year.”)

I digress.  My point here is that Dean’s book had a big impact on my life, and I’m guessing it did for the majority of people reading this article today as well.

4.  Dean Invented Ultrarunning as a Pro Sport.

Going back to Jurek’s point, is it fair that Dean has become the national — and indeed, international — face of ultrarunning despite not being at the apex of our sport?  (Note:  it’s completely inaccurate and absurd to say that Dean is not a very accomplished ultrarunner.  Complete Western States AND Badwater 10 times each, run Leadville, run Spartathlon, and then run 50 marathons in 50 days.  After doing all of that, then maybe you can question him on his accomplishments…)

I think for all of us who are not on Jurek’s level, the “Dean question” is an easy one.  He has introduced hundreds of thousands — if not more — to running.  His overall impact on the nation’s health is likely immense.

Even for those at the very top of the sport, I just don’t see how they can rightfully criticize Dean, either.  Before Dean came along, NO ONE made a living on just ultrarunning.  In a very real sense, Dean invented the profession.  He wrote a book, it took off beyond his wildest expectations, and the rest, really, is history.

Dean paved the way for others to make a living off of the sport, including Scott Jurek, who as most of you know, has basically followed Dean’s blueprint to success, by writing his own (very good) book, Eat and Run.

So the way I see it, there are only really two reasons one could be mad at Dean about his success.  First — and I think the overwhelming majority of critics fall into this group — is the “why didn’t I think of that” reason.  This group is simply driven by the very real human emotion of jealousy.  “What makes Dean so special that he got to be the one who got famous?”

I think Dean would answer that by saying “nothing.”  He’s just the first one to think of writing a book about our very unique sport.  So getting mad at him is probably akin to being mad at Mark Zuckerberg or the guy who invented putting little umbrellas in fruity cocktails.


(If you don’t like Dean, you probably shouldn’t like this guy either).

The second group of critics are the ones represented by Jurek’s quote at the top of this article.  They aren’t necessarily mad at Dean himself, but rather at the sport, and the fact that simply winning races is not enough to capture the nation’s attention and make a living. This is more a criticism of the system, but ultimately, a criticism that rings hollow.

This may be breaking news to some, but distance running — and ESPECIALLY ultrarunning — is simply not (and probably never will be) a spectator sport.  With today’s generation and 2.4-second attention spans, the general public just is not interested in spending two hours watching a marathon live on TV, let alone spending 15 hours watching the Western States 100 play out.   This is why Dean is probably not just the most famous ultrarunner in the U.S., but likely the most famous distance runner overall in our country.  (I’d be willing to bet that more Americans have heard of Dean than Meb Keflezighi, this year’s Boston Marathon winner).  I think the only distance runner in the U.S. that can rival Dean’s popularity today is Kara Goucher, who, like Dean, has not won ANY major races in her sport (the marathon), but, also like Dean, is camera-friendly and likeable:

Kara Goucher

Dean and his book just came along at the right time.  He simply took advantage of an opportunity, which seems — to me, at least — as a quintessentially American thing to do.  Combined with the fact that he seems like a genuinely-good guy, I just don’t see any legitimate legs for his critics to stand upon.

5.  My Admitted Bias.

I am obviously not an objective commentator here.  I’ve met Dean about 10 times, and two of those times were what I would call “substantial” meetings, during two of the hardest ultramarathons on the planet:  first at last year’s Badwater, and again at this year’s Spartathlon.  (The other meetings were at marathons or briefly at the beginning of other ultras).

In both “substantial” meetings, I ran with Dean for decent chunks of miles (5-10 miles at Badwater, and about 15-20 miles at Spartathlon).  And in both races, he was completely down-to-earth, very positive and friendly, and was much more interested in talking about me than telling stories about himself.  (Many of the most famous ultrarunners LOVE talking about themselves).


(Running some early miles with Dean at Badwater 2013).

2 X DK

(Sharing a laugh at around Mile 35 of the Spartathlon).

In both races, I beat Dean by a few hours, and he was nothing but encouraging the whole time I talked with him.  I came away from those experiences thinking that he is just a really good guy.

That sentiment was only reinforced recently when Dean went out of his way to reach out to me and send his congrats regarding the Spartathlon:

On Oct 3, 2014, at 3:13 PM, Dean Karnazes wrote:

Message for Dave:


I’m trying to leave a message for Dave to congratulate him on his Spartathlon race. I had the privilage of sharing a few footsteps alongside him and I greatly admire his unflinching grit and determination. Respect!

Thanks for passing this note along.

Sincere regards,
Dean Karnazes

On 10/13/14, 3:07 PM, “Dave Krupski” <yalenddave@gmail.com> wrote:

Hey Dean,

Sorry — I just saw your email from a week ago. (For some reason, it never reached my inbox but went straight to the “junk” folder. Weird).

Anyway, thanks for the congrats; right back at you! That race was a bitch, wasn’t it?? :). I can’t imagine how the hell you got through that whole race without any caffeine, sugar, or other stimulant. I probably drank a case of Coke during that race!

See you “out there” soon enough I’m sure!


On Oct 15, 2014, at 1:40 PM, Dean Karnazes wrote:

You put it perfectly, that race was a bitch! There were elements of glory and elements of supreme misery and hideousness (like when a fleet of diesel trucks whizzed by inches away spewing exhaust directly into your nostrils).

Some caffeine would have been nice. For the final 70-miles I subsisted on sips of plain water only. Talk about a death shuffle!

You really pulled together a solid race. Watching your performance and the way you grunted through the tough patches was remarkable. You have a great fan in me Dave (you earned my respect).

Any thoughts on going back? I still have mixed emotions, but would like to attempt it eating something other than figs and olives!

Keep charging bro.


6.  Thank You, Dean.

Obviously, Dean was very kind to reach out to me like that.  But that doesn’t really make me special, as I have a LOT of friends that he goes out of his way to reach out to, connect with, and share common experiences.  I think it really just speaks to his character.

Personally, I don’t think we could ask for a better global ambassador for our sport.  Dean is unflinchingly-positive, even in the face of ever-present criticism.  And I know a LOT of us owe our ultrarunning careers, at least in part, to Dean.  I know I do.

So if you feel the same way I do, next time you see Dean “out there” at an ultra or marathon expo, say “thanks.”  🙂

7.  Next Week on Coach’s Corner.

need for speed

(“I feel the need, the need for speed . . . training!”)

See you all next week!  Have a great week “out there” 🙂


Coach’s Corner: The “Secret” of Ultrarunning: The Role of Rational Confidence

Note:  Starting today, I will be posting a “Coach’s Corner” article every Thursday that discusses, with some degree of depth, an ultrarunning topic for which I tend to receive a lot of questions from clients and other runners.  I hope you enjoy these articles and find them at least a little useful 🙂

1.  Of Lions and Lambs.

masquerading lamb

One of the most common questions I get as a coach is “how do I gain the confidence necessary to run the insane distance that I just signed up for?” (usually 50 or 100 miles).  This is a VITALLY important question, because without confidence, a runner — especially a first-time ultrarunner — might as well not even toe the line.  Simply showing up and “hoping” or “wishing” that “today will be the day” is not exactly the best mindset to ensure success.  You can’t go into these things as a lamb when you need to be a lion.

So, then, how does one simply “turn on” the confidence necessary to ensure success at an endeavor that he or she has NEVER done before?  How do we find that inner lion that lives within all of us?  Anyone can say, “yeah, I’m confident.”  “Yeah, I feel great.”  “Yeah, I’m going to do this.”  But how do we ensure that those words have actual force behind them, and aren’t just empty assurances we make to ourselves, or false promises we make to others through various forms of social media?  How do we transform from a lamb to a lion by race day?  Or how do we go from being a “Facebook Hero” (in the Foreigner sense of the phrase) :), to an actual success at this very hard sport?

Facebook Hero

The only answer to these questions is that we need to develop rational confidence; a sincerely-held belief that we will not only finish the race, but that we will thrive at the race.  The word “belief” isn’t really even strong enough; the feeling needs to be a truth.

So how do we get to the point where we actually know we will do well in the event when we toe the line?  The only real answer is very easy and very challenging at the same time:  CONSISTENT QUALITY TRAINING.  Only by building ourselves up physically can we develop the mental toughness needed to accomplish our lofty goals.  I often hear people talk about how much of the sport is mental versus physical.  I think that is the wrong manner of thinking of it, because the mental and the physical are completely and inexorably intertwined.

2.  The “Trial of Miles.  Miles of Trials.”

'Like lambs to the slaughter, my ass.'

I often have runners that are frustrated at the beginning of their training, because they do not see immediate tangible results after the first few days or even weeks.  The path to ultrarunning success is a process, and one that cannot be shortcutted or cheated.  If you want to be physically-prepared — and in turn develop the rational confidence (grounded in reality, not delusions) needed to succeed — you have to endure what author (and former SEC runner) John L. Parker, Jr. refers to as the “trials of miles.”

Once a Runner

In his book, Once a Runner (which you should check out if you have not read it yet), Parker discusses the training regimen that star cross-country runner Quenton Cassidy puts himself through:

“And too there were questions: What did he eat? Did he believe in isometrics? Isotonics? Ice and heat? How about aerobics, est, ESP, STP? What did he have to say about yoga, yogurt, Yogi Berra? What was his pulse rate, his blood pressure, his time for 100-yard dash? What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. How could they be expected to understand that?”

There is NO magic pill in this sport.  There is no “secret.”  Only consistent training.  Those daily battles with the alarm clock, the daily grind of “removing the very tough rubber” from the bottoms of your shoes, the 6-mile loop around your house that you’ve run 451 times and it’s too hot/cold/whatever outside and you’d rather not run number 452 today.  Fight and win those “trials” on a daily basis, and you’ll show up at the start line ready and able to win the war against the course on race day.

3.  Daniel LaRusso and the Secret of Ultramarathons.

A few days ago, one of my runners said something along the lines of, “I’ve never been this strong physically as a runner; I can just feel myself getting better every day.  I only wish I was growing mentally as well.”  Without trying to channel too much of my inner Mr. Miyagi on her, I said, “You are getting stronger mentally; you just don’t know it yet.”

Consistent quality training is what allows us to have rational confidence that we can face our fear of the great unknown on race day.  All of those little battles we win on a daily basis in training add up, and, over time, allow us to face our own version of that big, bad Cobra Kai kid waiting at the end of the journey.

wax on

(LaRusso demonstrating the secret of ultrarunning).

Despite being unsure of himself on “race day,” Daniel defeated the Cobra Kai, as he realized during the “race” that the consistent training he endured had given him the tools to succeed when it mattered most.

The same will happen for first-time 50- or 100-milers during their own races, BECAUSE their consistent training will allow for growth and discovery of rational confidence.  They will meet their inner lions.

As an aside, with Halloween coming up, for you single guys out there, dressing up as a Cobra Kai villain is a horrible idea, unless your target audience for attention is a bunch of 30 to 40-something year-old dudes shouting “sweep the leg” and “get him a body bag” to you all night long.


(Alex and I on our first date in 2008.  So I guess, in hindsight, that costume worked out okay for me.) 🙂

mean girls

(“Uh, so like what’s that guy in the above pic like supposed to like, be?  A ninja or something?”  “Yeah, so totally not ‘fetch'”).

4.  “Ninety Percent of This Game is Half Mental.”

Former Yankee great, and philosopher extraordinaire Yogi Berra uttered that unintelligible phrase about how much of baseball is physical versus mental.  I think it perfectly sums up how much of ultrarunning is physical versus mental as well:  you cannot separate one from the other, and when people try to, they wind up sounding like Yogi.  Rational confidence is built from wearing down the rubber on your shoes, day in, day out, week in, week out, month in, month out.  This is the only way to gain a sufficient level of mental fortitude to complete an “insane” challenge such as running 100 miles.

Yogi Berra

(Ultrarunning philosopher Yogi Berra).

There is one important caveat to that “no separation between mental and physical” point, however.  No matter how physically prepared you are when raceday comes along, you MUST possess the will to persevere, no matter how bad things get.  Everyone, from a first-time runner to the world’s reigning 24-hour champion, goes through super-low points during an ultra.  And everyone must ultimately make the decision at that lowest-of-the-low moment:  “Do I give in and stop, or do I put my head down, and simply keep putting one foot in front of the other until I start feeling better and I can run again?”

As ultrarunners, we need to keep an immutable truth in our minds at all times during the race:  No matter how bad things get or how badly I feel, if I keep going, I can break through to the other side and things will turn around for the better.

Obviously, I’m not saying that if you break your leg at Mile 5, you should drag it for 95 more miles; there is a difference between acute injury (which accounts for well-under 1% of all DNFs at races), or the general, garden-variety “bonking” that we all will inevitably experience — most likely multiple times — during the race.  We can always overcome that.  Always.

So that’s the secret to ultrarunning:  consistent quality training, which leads to rational confidence on race day, coupled with an unflinching will to succeed.  Then, and only then, will you meet your inner lion.

See you all for next week’s column, and enjoy getting “out there” and winning your trials of miles this week 🙂



Over The Top: 2014 Spartathlon Race Report

1.  Introduction. King Leonidas back It’s been about 36 hours since I’ve gotten back to Florida from my week-long trip to Greece for the Spartathlon.  And the one phrase that keeps coming to mind when I reflect on this trip is “over the top.”  That phrase truly describes everything about the trip: the Greek hospitality, their enthusiasm/passion for the Spartathlon, the course itself, its level of difficulty, the substantial mountain you must pass over at exactly Mile 100, and the pressure of the time cutoffs (36 hours for 152.4 miles, with 75 checkpoints in-between). “Over the top” also describes the ridiculous financial bargain of this race.  What you get for $550 is, quite simply, ridiculous.  (More on that later).

The only thing “Over The Top” really does NOT refer to here is the craptastically-cheesy 1987 Stallone movie about arm-wrestling truck drivers: Over the Top 2 (“Some fight for money . . . Some fight for glory . . . He’s fighting for his son’s love.”  Wow.  Some Hollywood exec actually green-lighted this movie.)

Okay, without further adieu, here’s my view on how Spartathlon 2014 went down:

2.  The Two Days Before the Race.

Like most international athletes, I arrived in Athens on Wednesday, and therefore had two days to relax, adjust (somewhat) to the 7-hour time difference, and prepare for the Friday morning race start. The race officials put the American team up in the Best Western Fenix hotel, which is in Gylfada, a beachside suburb about 10 miles southwest of downtown Athens.  The hotel was modern, clean, and was literally across the street from the sea. beach outside Hotel Fenix 1 (The beach across the street from the hotel was gorgeous.  The water is completely clear and jumping in for a swim a few days after the race was VERY relaxing.) beach outside hotel fenix 2 (One more shot of the beach, at a different time of day.  This was not an ugly place.) 🙂

The USA Spartathlon team consisted of Jon Olsen, the world’s reigning 24-hour champ, Rob Youngren (who has finished Hardrock 4 times and just finished Badwater in the top-10), Bryce Carlson (owner of a 16:30 100-mile PR), Maggie Beach (who has run just about every tough race out there), Ed Aguilar (a chiropractor from LA who has lived in Italy for the past 18 years), my buddy Andrei Nana (who ran the race last year in just under 31 hours), as well as Dean Karnazes, the most famous ultrarunner on the planet who was running Spartathlon for the first time.  I was honored to be included with such a group of accomplished runners and good friends.

For the trip, I roomed with Rob and probably spent the most time with Rob and Bryce.  (Andrei was there with his wife Claire, they got engaged in Greece at this trip last year, and they understandably planned a lot of “alone” time during the trip). Finish with Rob and Bryce (Rob, Bryce, and myself at the finish line statute of Gerard Butler . . . er, King Leonidas, the day after the race) With Bryce at Parthenon (Bryce and I at the Acropolis a few days after the race) Pre-race meeting (Andrei and I relaxing just before the pre-race meeting the day before the race)

After the two days of preparing and relaxing were over, we were ready and anxiously awaited the 6am bus ride from our hotel on Friday morning to the Acropolis, for the 7am start of the race.  With the task in front of us (a challenging 153-mile run with tight cut-offs, as well as the deepest field of international talent at any road ultramarathon on the planet), it was easy to feel a bit anxious.  I usually sleep like a rock the night before the race, but for this one, I was tossing and turning pretty much all night long.  By about 4 am, I just said, “screw it”, and got up…

3.  Race Day:  The First 26 Miles.

We arrived at the Acropolis about 45 minutes before the start, and at exactly 7am, we were off.  It felt good to finally be running.  I quickly settled into my pace of 8 min per mile.  I just planned on running 8’s for the first 30 miles, and then 9’s from 30-50, for a 50-mile split of around 7 hours.  (The 50-mile cutoff is 9:30, which is not terribly hard on a good day, but is a big problem if you are having issues/a bad day). By mile 2, I hooked up with Jon Olsen, one of the serious race favorites.  He also was locked into an 8-min pace, so we just ran together for the first 3-4 hours. running with Olsen (Running with Jon around Mile 10)

The first 25 miles are not particularly scenic, as you have to run out of urban Athens before you hit the sea.  Once the Saronic Gulf is reached, however, the course truly opens up and becomes quite beautiful.  So I was extremely glad not to be alone for this first section, as I generally hate the first few hours of an ultra until I get into a good running rhythm.  Jon was awesome to run with, as he is very easy-going and laughed at all of my jokes.  (Which CLEARLY means he has an impeccable sense of humor!) 🙂 Actually, we had a lot in common, such as playing a Division I sport in college other than running (baseball for me, football for him . . . he was a middle linebacker.  Or a punter.  Look at the picture above and decide for yourself).

We both also have wives who couldn’t make the trip because they just started grade-school teaching jobs at new schools. By the time we reached the marathon point (Megara), I told Jon to continue on without me, as I was starting to develop a bit of a stomach issue.  That was the last time I saw him during the race.  I crossed the marathon point at right around 3:40, so a bit over 8:00/mile.

4.  Megara to Corinth (Miles 26-50).

This section is defined by incredible beauty (of running along cliffs that overlook the sea) and then incredible dullness (of running by a succession of factories).  Once the course crosses the Isthmus of Corinth, you leave Attica and are on the Peloponnese Peninsula, and the course switches quite drastically from urban to agrarian: Sparty course (The Spartathlon course) My small stomach discomfort at the marathon mark turned into a full-blown issue by the 50k (31 mile) mark, at which point Andrei passed me. about 50k mark (Struggling a bit at the 50k mark) This is also the point, however, where we really started to get great views of the sea, which was invigorating. Megara 2 (The race road around the 35 mile mark). Megara (View of the sea from the race road; pretty decent scenery, huh?) 🙂

Andrei passed me after a few miles, and I would not see him for quite a bit later down the race.  It also started lightly raining during this time, which was really nice.  It even got a bit chilly.  A Brit named Sam Robson flew by me at this point and commented that it felt like “a gorgeous summer day in London” during this spell of rain. A few miles up the road, I ran into Dean Karnazes, and we ran together for about the next 10 miles.  He was running the entire race on only olives, figs, and cured meats — to mimic the likely diet of the “original” ultrarunner (Pheidippides) — and, along with me, he was not liking life very much at that point.  It didn’t help that after the quick bout of rain, the skies cleared pretty rapidly and the temperatures soared into the upper 80s with high humidity.

By Mile 40, I was reduced to a run/walk (with a lot more walking than running).  Dean dropped me — as did a TON of people — during this stretch, and I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near my 7-hour goal for the first major checkpoint of the race at Mile 50. With a few miles to go until the big checkpoint, Rob and Bryce both caught up to and passed me.  I was struggling to keep a steady pace.  This was my “low” point in the race; it was just happening really, REALLY early.  With over 100 miles STILL to go, and the cutoffs looming ever more closely with each mile that I walked, I was not in a good place mentally for this stretch of the race.  I just kept telling myself, “just get to Corinth; just get to Corinth.”

5.  Corinth to Nemea (Miles 51-77). Isthmus of Corinth (The man-made Isthmus of Corinth, providing a thru-way of the most narrow part of the Peloponnese Peninsula to the Saronic Gulf and Attica)

When I finally reached the Mile 50 Corinth checkpoint in about 8:15, I was in pretty bad shape, and I was only a little over an hour ahead of the cut-offs.  I decided to sit down for the first time in the race, take 5 minutes (which for me is an eternity at an aid station), restock some supplies (my first drop bag was at Corinth), and, most importantly, “flip the script” mentally. I was not thinking positive thoughts for the past 10 miles, and I was running defensively.  I decided right there that I needed to force myself into a positive mindset, and focus on two things:  building up more of a buffer on the time cutoffs, and passing as many people as possible for the remainder of the race.  (With the unbelievable depth/quality of this field, I was likely not even in the top-150 at this point, so I had PLENTY of “rabbits” out in front of me to catch).

When I got up and left the aid station, I had a tad over an hour on the cutoffs, but I was in a much-better place mentally, and I was going to be in “attack-mode” for the rest of the race.  I was also going to enjoy myself a lot more.  I was in the middle of the greatest international road ultramarathon in the world, after all. I probably repeated “flip the script” about 100 times to myself for the first few miles out of the aid station.  It started to work.  I quickly passed 5, then 10 people in front of me.  I was finally moving like I knew I could.  I still had 100 miles to go, but for the first time in the race, I started to feel comfortable and like I was “taking it” TO the race, not the other way around.

I’m a huge nerd, which goes hand-in-hand with being a Star Wars fan.  In The Empire Strikes Back, there is a scene where Luke tries to use “the force” to lift his X-wing out of the swamp on Degobah.  When he fails, and sees Yoda subsequently succeed, he says “I don’t believe it.”  Yoda replies, “THAT is why you failed.” THAT is ultrarunning in a nutshell.  We run these insane distances, and in races like Spartathlon, are forced to do it pretty quickly.  Self-belief and a positive attitude are the most important ingredients to success.

After I committed myself to always staying positive no matter how shitty I would later feel (which, believe me, was often), my race turned around. Scenery-wise, this section was drastically different than the first 50 miles.  While that first section was urban sprawl, we were now in the Greek countryside, going through olive groves, orchards, wine vineyards, and very small country towns: nemea One of the biggest factors in helping me stay positive throughout the race was the UNBELIEVABLE passion of the Greek people during the race, especially in the small country towns.  Scores of people cheer like crazy when you enter the town.  Hundreds of kids line up to get high-fives, and I was asked for my autograph at least a dozen times in these small cities.  (I obliged every time; while to an American, the situation may seem a bit silly — a Greek kid asking a random American for an autograph — their faces all lit up whenever we obliged, so it was an easy call). The Spartathlon is now a part of Greek history, and one that honors one of the great stories of ancient Greek history (the feats of Pheidippides).  Thus, the race has really become part of the fabric of Greek culture.  I’ve never experienced this in ultrarunning; in most U.S. races, people look at you with mild bemusement at best.  But in Greece, genuine emotion and passion was just pouring out of people.  It was really, really inspiring to be a part of such a powerful event.

6.  The Calm Before the Storm — Nemea to Lykria (Miles 77-92).

I reached the second major checkpoint, Ancient Nemea (Mile 77), approximately 14 hours into the race.  I had run well enough in the previous section to double my buffer on the cutoffs (I was now over 2 hours ahead of them).  Nemea was a party atmosphere with hundreds of spectators, bands, and plenty of warm food.  So, naturally, I high-tailed it out of there as quickly as I possibly could, for fear of getting TOO comfortable there. It was now dark outside, and this 15-mile section ending at Lykria — at the base of the most substantial mountain in the race — is pretty easy from a terrain standpoint; just a lot of rolling hills, followed by a sustained downhill into Lykria.  So I just focused on maintaining a good pace and losing myself in the race and its rhythm.

A few miles into this section, around Mile 80, I caught up to Dean again, who was surprised to see me.  “I was worried about you back there.”   “Yeah,” I replied, “I was in a bit of a rough spot, but I’m back now.”  “I can see that.”  We then hung out for the next 10 miles and traded some war stories, generally joked around, and actually had a pretty good time; despite the fact we were over 80 miles into the race, we pretty much ran that whole section.  He thanked me for “pulling him” through it, and then I pulled ahead of him around Mile 91, about a mile before the third major checkpoint in Lykria.  I was fully “in the zone” now, so to speak, and Dean was still hurting a bit, so I knew that this would probably be the last time I saw him during the race.  So I said “keep it up,” “get ‘er done,” and probably a few equally silly phrases, and was on my way.

Coincidentally, I ran with and passed Dean for good at Mile 91 at Badwater last summer as well.  I’ve said this before; Dean sometimes gets caught up in controversy, as his celebrity status/financial success is the envy of runners everywhere, but in person, he is a VERY down-to-earth and nice guy.  I really enjoyed running with him out in Greece, and look forward to the next time we share the same course (which I’m sure will be soon enough).

7.  Over the Top of the Mountain — Lyrkia to Nestani (Miles 92-108).

After the last five miles of quad-pounding downhill miles, I was actually looking forward to the eight-mile climb up to Sangas Pass from Miles 92-100, which is the highest point and toughest climb of the race.  The final mile of the climb is on a trail of VERY loose rocks and grades so steep you are literally on your hands and knees much of the way up.  Over the course of eight miles, you climb almost 4000 feet, much of it at a 20% grade. Sparty elevation chart (As you can see, the mountain is basically straight up for 8 miles)

For some completely unknown reason, over the past few years, I’ve actually developed into a decent climber during races.  (I say “unknown” because I live in Florida and do virtually no hill training).  At any rate, I was really strong on the 7 mile climb up to the final trail mile, and I hit the Mile 99.1 aid station in about 18:50.  (Originally, I wanted to be about 2 hours faster through 100 miles, but for my first Spartathlon, I’ll take it)  🙂 Start of mountain trail (At Mile 99 and one trail mile to go to the top (Sangas Pass))

The trail itself was just silly.  One mile, and about 1000 feet of vertical climb, so basically straight up.  The footing was loose and terrible, so I just put my head down and tried to get it over with as quickly as possible.  As a lot of people know, I am not at my most comfortable on rough, “technical” trails, so I just really wanted to get it over with.  Perhaps the only person I know who is less comfortable than me on trails is my buddy Andrei, who I caught up with and passed on this mile-long trail.  He looked miserable at the time, but he’s the toughest guy I know, so I was sure he would rebound and finish the race (which he did).

Once I got to the top of the race, the next mile — going DOWN the loose-rock trail on the other side — was absolutely miserable.  My energy levels were great and my legs felt fresh, but I was basically doing baby steps down the other side of the mountain until I got off the trail, for fear of falling and seriously injuring/killing myself.  I must have gotten passed by 10 people on this mile-long down trail.  I happily let them go, knowing that I would be seeing them very soon as soon as the path rejoined the road. Once we did get back on the road, I started running again for the first time since the start of the climb.  It took about a mile to get back into rhythm, but when I did, I was flying.  It felt great — I was running sub-8 minute miles for about 5 miles into the Nestani aid station, and I passed all the people who passed me on that trail, along with a few others.

When I reached Nestani at Mile 108, I had built up a 3-hour buffer from the cutoffs.  This is the point I stopped looking at the cut-off times when I got to each checkpoint; I knew they wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

8.  One Last Energy Low — The Plains of Tripolis, Nestani to Ancient Tegea (Miles 108-122).

The 15 miles from Nestani to Tegea are the flattest of the course, and sunrise occurred during this section.  The 110 miles already run was beginning to take its toll on my legs and on my energy level.  I knew that once I reached the last major checkpoint of Tegea, I would only have a 50k (31 miles) to go until I met King Leonidas in Sparta, so I just put my head down and tried to get the miles done as quickly as possible.

9.  Meeting the King — Tegea to Sparta (Miles 122-152.4)

When I reached Mile 122 and Ancient Tegea — which was visually really cool — it was about 8:15 am, so a little over 25 hours into the race.  I was tired, sure, but the daylight as well as the fact that I was so close invigorated me, and made a point to only stay in Tegea for a few moments until heading out for the final push. ancient tegea (Ancient Tegea)

I unfortunately learned in Tegea that Jon Olsen, the top American in the race, had dropped out with about 20 miles to go, due to thermoregulation issues.  He’s a great guy and super-talented, and I have no doubt he will be back at some point and probably win the race.  The list of Americans who have dropped out during their first attempt at Spartathlon reads like a who’s-who of world-class ultrarunning.  Some absurdly-talented guys have dropped out of this race.  It really is that tough.

After leaving the Tegea aid station, I felt probably the best I had the entire race.  I was FLYING for a mile or so until I hit a rude surprise . . . the final major climb of the race.  It was probably about 1200 feet of vertical over about 5-6 miles, so the grade wasn’t bad, but this climb just seemed to never end. But once that climb is over, the last 22 miles are pretty much all downhill, so while this section will kill your quads, you can move pretty quickly into Sparta for the finish. mt taygetus sparta (View coming into Sparta) hills above sparta (Another gorgeous view heading into town) Sparti, Peloponnese, GreeceJune 2005 (Sparta) 5 miles to go (Last 5 miles…) When I made the final turn on the street with the King Leonidas statute at the end, it was like nothing I have ever seen in ultrarunning.  The street, lined with restaurants, bars, etc., was FILLED with thousands of people who ALL cheer wildly for you when you pass.  They make everyone feel like they won the race; it’s just insane.  And the last 100 yards or so, about a dozen kids join you and run you in to the finish.  It is just spectacular. home stretch (About to pick up my entourage of a bunch of 10-year-olds…) 🙂 Finish at foot (The race is over when you touch the foot of the great King Leonidas; I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a hugely emotional moment, after running over 152 miles…) Finish line with kids (Every finisher is presented with an olive wreath, a VERY cool medal, some water from the Evrotas River, and all sorts of other things).

I finished the race in 32:43.  Bryce, Rob, and I all finished within about 40 minutes of each other, which was awesome.  Andrei was about an hour behind, and Dean finished about an hour behind him.  Ed Aguilar also finished the race.  Of particular note, Hungarian-American runner Katy Nagy had an amazing race and finished as the second female overall, in a little under 29 hours.  (The winner, Szilvia Lubics, won for the third time, setting the course record for women, in a bit under 27 hours.  I met Szilvia at the Ultra-Milano Sanremo course this past March in Italy; there, I beat her by about 7 hours.  Here, not so much.)  🙂

While I’m sure if I run the race again, I can improve my time by several hours, I doubt any subsequent trips will beat this one for me.  Seeing the unbelievable amount of passion that is involved in the race was just really moving for everyone involved.  This is a first-class event all the way; the runners are treated like royalty for the entire week.

10.  Aftermath.

After we crossed the finish line, we were bussed about 10 miles away to a sweet resort right on the beach called the Belle Helene Hotel.  It was easily a 4-5 star resort with unreal views of the Aegean Sea: Belle Helene (Our hotel for the night after the race) Belle Helene balcony (View from our enormous personal balcony) Belle Helene Beach Water Belle Helene Beach Belle Helene (More views of the hotel beach) The next day, we returned to Sparta to pick up our drop bags, and to have lunch with the mayor of Sparta.  It was a great feast/celebration, set in a vineyard’s restaurant: Lunch with mayor (Outside the restaurant for the lunch with the mayor) inside lunch with mayor (Inside the restaurant) with Szony (With Szonyi Fenerc, a super-strong Hungarian runner who beat me — and came in second overall — at Ultra-Milano Sanremo in Italy in March, by SIX minutes!) with Eva (With Eva, one of the many race volunteers.  Eva works as a teacher for special-needs first-graders; she, along with all the other volunteers, happily gave up their entire weekends to be part of this special event)

The Spartathlon represents, to me, the pinnacle of “pure” ultrarunning.  It is run by a non-profit organization, the citizens care DEEPLY about the race, it is a formidable challenge amongst the deepest field in international road ultrarunning, and the value is . . . well, it’s just silly: The race costs $550.  Here’s what that gets you:

-Registration into the race;

-5 nights’ stay at the Fenix Hotel (4 nights) and the Belle Helene Hotel (1 night);

-all meals included; -75 fully-stocked aid stations along the course;

-all transportation to and from all race events;

-THREE post-race celebrations (an awards ceremony the night of the race in Sparta, a lunch with the mayor of Sparta the next day, and the “main” ceremony:  a more formal awards gala back in Athens on Monday after the race); and

-The swag.  As if the above is not WAY over the top, here are all the physical things they bestow upon you as well: Sparty Swag That consists of:

-race bibs;

-a particpation tech shirt;

-a finisher’s tech shirt;

-a race medal (around your neck);

-a really big race medal (in lieu of a buckle);

-an olive wreath;

-a hat;

-a finisher’s certificate with all of your splits listed;

-a celebratory certificate handmade by a local child;

-a CD loaded with pictures of you running during the race;

-a race DVD;

-photographs of your table during the awards gala, which are printed off and given to you before the night is over;

-a polo shirt; and

-shot glasses.

(The only things I had to pay for with my own money were the polo shirt ($5, seriously), and the shot glasses ($1 each)).

Needless to say, the race is by far the best deal in ultrarunning.  As one of my new Brit buddies said the day after the race, “I’d use this as a super-cheap vacation even if I WASN’T running!”

11.  The Final Day in Athens.

We arrived back in Athens late on Sunday night, and had Monday to ourselves before the awards gala at 8pm on Monday.  Bryce, Rob, and I decided to head into town and check out the Acropolis/Pantheon and then take a dip in the sea before the gala.  It was the perfect ending to the trip. at Acropolis (At the Acropolis) Gala (At the awards gala with Rob, Bryce, Andrei, and Claire) awards dinner (Receiving my finisher’s certificate and medal at the gala)

Overall, this was simply an outstanding experience, and, in my view, really represents the pinnacle of what ultrarunning is all about.  I SINCERELY hope that for those of you that are in our sport, as many of you as possible get to experience this race, either as a runner or a supporter of a runner.  It is just such a phenomenal race and experience in general. It’s unfortunate that the time cutoffs are so strict, and those cutoffs — as well as the stringent race qualification requirements — will inevitably mean that a lot of runners will not be able to qualify for the race.  But think of it as our version of the Boston Marathon; it is hard to qualify for, and even harder to finish, but when you do, boy, it sure is worth every effort made to get there. Zwitty Logo-Web To that end, for anyone who sees Spartathlon as a goal in either their short or long-term future, I would be honored to work with you and help devise a plan to help get you there and be the one toeing the line at the Acropolis for this legendary race.

I launched the Zwitty Endurance Training Program about a month ago, and the response has been overwhelming to say the least.  I still have some slots open, though, so go to www.davekrupski.com if you would like more information about my coaching services. Finally, thank you to the literally hundreds of you guys who followed me and cheered me and the rest of our team on out there; I could definitely feel your warm wishes during the race 🙂  I hope you enjoyed reading about this experience even a small fraction of the amount I enjoyed living it!  See you guys “out there”!

2014 Spartathlon Preview

1.  Introduction.

A week from Friday (Sept. 26th), along with 350 others, I will be standing in front of the stunning Acropolis in Athens, Greece at the start line of what is — likely — the most prestigious “long” road ultramarathon in the world:  the Spartathlon, a 153-mile race from Athens to Sparta.

Sparty 2012 start

(The start line of the 2012 race)

Sparty start Morton Carawan

(Three Americans from the 2013 Spartathlon team:  Blake Benke, Brenda Carawan (who won the Keys 100 outright in 2013), and our own Mike Morton (who’s won basically every race out there)).

I’ve never been to Greece, but from what everyone says, this is a “must-do” race, given (a) the history of the course, (b) the immense challenge, (c) the unbelievable support of the race staff and volunteers, (d) the race atmosphere, and (e) the fact that it is — easily — the most competitive international road ultra in the world.  (The other very large international road ultra, the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, isn’t really a traditional “ultra” in my opinion, as it is basically the world’s longest marathon (56 miles), and the front-runners race it as such).

The 2014 Spartathlon is shaping up to be a truly epic event, as basically every podium winner for the past decade in the race is back this year, and there are several world-class rookies running as well (most notably, American Jon Olsen, who is the current 24-hour world champion and has run 100 miles in less than 12 hours).  Including Jon, Team USA is sending a record 13 runners this year.  We are even bringing the circus to town with us, in the form of Dean Karnazes and his decision to run the entire race on figs and olives (more on that in a bit).

First, here’s a little background on the race and how it came into existence:

2.  Pheidippides and the Spartathlon Legend.

Every marathoner — and most people in general — now have heard of the “legend” of Pheidippides, and how after the Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, Pheidippides ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens, proclaimed “Rejoice, we conquer!!” (or some equally inane phrase), and promptly fell down and died.

Pheidippides statute

(The Pheidippides statute, along the Olympic marathon route in Refina, Greece).

That’s ONE legend about Pheidippides.  The OTHER one — and the one believed to be more historically-accurate (by the people who somehow rank Greek fables) — is by Greek writer Herodotus.  His version is that when the Greeks were preparing for the imminent Persian attack on Athens, they sent Pheidippides to Sparta (over 150 miles away) to ask the Spartans for help.  As the legend goes, he left Athens in the morning and arrived in Sparta the next day before nightfall.

(As an aside, the Spartans said “no” because they were in the middle of some religious ceremony, so Pheidippides had to run all the way back to Athens to deliver the bad news.  On the way back, however, he “ran into” (pun intended) the god Pan, who inspired Phedippides, who in turn inspired the rest of the Greeks, and they fought with “legendary resolve” and defeated the Persians at Marathon, even though they were vastly outnumbered.  Aesop couldn’t have written it better himself.)

For centuries, the fable of Pheidippides’ incredible feat and whether it was humanly possible to run from Athens to Sparta in 36 hours was hotly debated.  That all changed in 1960 when four enterprising young lads from Liverpool came together to change the course of rock and roll history…


Oops, wrong British group.  Let’s try again.  That all changed in October 1982 when British Royal Air Force commander John Foden and four of his buddies attempted to recreate the fabled 153-mile Athens to Sparta run.  Three of them, including Foden (in 36 hours), succeeded, and in 1983, the first official Spartathlon race was born.

3.  The Spartathlon.

Since that first running in 1983, the Spartathlon has steadily grown, in terms of participants and in prestige, and today, is widely viewed as the most competitive road ultramarathon in the world.  Each year, 350 athletes toe the line in Athens and attempt to retrace Pheidippides’ footsteps.

With an all-inclusive race fee of $550, the Spartathlon is one of the great bargains in ultrarunning.  That fee covers the registration fee, SEVENTY-FIVE aid stations along the course (so it is entirely possible to run the race uncrewed), transportation to and from the start/finish, . . . and, a FULL WEEK of room and board accommodations!  That deal is obviously very unique in the world of ultrarunning; on the other end of the spectrum, some races cost many hundreds of dollars more for just the race fee alone (with nothing else)…

MANY race directors of ultramarathons around the world employ marketing descriptions such as “world’s toughest footrace,” “ultimate test,” etc.  The people that run the Spartathlon just let the race speak for itself.  It is not the hottest race on the planet.  It is not the hilliest.  And since over 95% of it is on the road, the terrain is certainly not the most “technical.”  Rather, when all the elements are combined, the challenge is nothing less than formidable.  Temps can reach 90 with high humidity, there are rolling hills (and one mountain) to overcome, and, perhaps most challenging, runners must complete the 153 miles in just 36 hours.  And one look at the list of VERY accomplished runners who have DNF’d at Spartathlon over the past few years — including Mike Morton — only confirms that this is a VERY hard race.  The following graph of finishers over the history of the race illustrates the difficulty of the course; many more people finish closer to the 36-hour cutoff than to the race winner (which is usually around 24 hours):

Sparty stats

(Note that only 15% of all Spartathlon finishers have run the race in under 30 hours…)

Sparty course

(The Spartathlon course)

Sparty elevation chart

(The elevation profile:  rolling hills for the first 100k or so, then a few significant climbs, culminating with the mountain at mile 100-ish.  The final 50k into Sparta is downhill…)

Sparty early miles

(The early miles in the race between Athens and Ancient Corinth (Mile 50)).


(Scott Jurek passing Ancient Corinth, sometime in the mid-2000s…)

Sparty mountain

(A runner approaching the mountain section of the course)

Sparty finish

(The finish line in Sparta.  The race is over when the runner touches the feet of the statute of King Leonadis.  Hope he doesn’t mind that I’m a Michigan fan; Go Blue!) 🙂

3.  Team USA Amongst A Ridiculously-Stacked Field.

While the overall quality of the field this year is the highest it has EVER been, the US contingent is also at its strongest ever.  At the top, we are sending two athletes — Jon Olsen and Katy Nagy — who both have legitimate chances to win their races.  Jon, as described above, is currently the top 24-hour runner in the United States, and will undoubtedly look to finish the Spartathlon in around that time.  And Katy lives right here in Florida, where she has already had an amazing year (sub-16 at Keys 100, set the 200k national record in April, won the Everglades 50 outright in Feb, etc.).

Some other noteworthy US runners include Bryce Carlson, who was the second male at this year’s Keys 100, Rob Youngren, who finished in the top-10 at Badwater this year (and even somehow managed to beat Aly Venti), and Andrei Nana, who has finished over 20 races of 100 miles or longer, including Spartathlon last year.

As for me, I’m just looking to run a strong race.  I surprised a few people out at the Milano-Sanremo 175-miler in Italy back in March, so perhaps I’ll be able to do the same in Greece 🙂

One other noteworthy United States runner is none other than the self-dubbed “ultramarathon man,” Dean Karnazes, a runner of Greek heritage who is participating in the Spartathlon for the first time.  In true “Dean” fashion, however, he is adding a twist to his run . . . he is going to attempt the race on the “Pheidippides diet,” meaning that he will only eat the food available to Pheidippides during his historic run (olives, figs, and perhaps cured Minotaur meat) :).  He claims to be doing this because he is “writing a book on” Pheidippides…

Shameless self-marketing/publicity stunt, or a neat way to draw more attention to the race from casual observers and maybe entice them to a healthier lifestyle?  That’s the line Dean has made a career out of living on, and one that I have no interest in debating.  So to the “Dean Show,” I say, Godspeed!  (And I especially wish him good luck in taking a fable of a Greek runner and extrapolating it into an entire book; now THAT will be an accomplishment!)

Seriously, I think Dean is a good guy who catches a lot of flak, and a lot of it is caused by his own doing.  He and I talked a bit during the race at Badwater last year, and he was nothing but positive and encouraging to me, both when he passed me at Mile 5 (everyone is nice when they are the ones doing the passing), and when I passed him at Mile 95 (most people are not in a really good mood when getting passed late in a race, but Dean was just as positive as he was at Mile 5…)

4.  Team Zwitty.

As always, my “ace in the hole” at this race will be the fact I’m representing Team Zwitty out in Greece:


Zoey Witt

Even though the little munchkins won’t be making the trip to Greece, I’ll be thinking about them for 153 miles 🙂

Zwitty Logo-Web

So good luck to everyone running the race this year; I can’t wait to see you all in Athens next week!  And for those of you who back here in the states, the Spartathlon website has an excellent race tracking system to follow along during the race next Friday.  Just go to http://spartathlon.gr to follow!

Finally, if anyone who is dreaming about running Spartathlon — or any other ultra — and would like someone in their corner throughout the journey, check out the Zwitty Endurance Traning Program at www.davekrupski.com .  We are adding an “Endorsements/Testimonials” page in the next day or so!