03 December 2013

taking it too far

december is the perfect time to talk about excess.

aside from being the season for holiday (tr)eating, shopping sprees and the occasional beverage, this is the point in the year that many runners begin to map out their next series of races on the calendar.

having completed a couple of smaller races and three marathons this year, i've already announced (to my running partners at least) my intention to register for my first ultra.  in runner's parlance an "ultra" is any race which exceeds the marathon distance of 42.195km - and in my case, the contest that i'm eyeing is the limberlost challenge which offers 14k, 28k, 42k and 56k options.  the plan is to tackle the four-loop 56k distance, which will make it not only the longest footrace that i will have run to date, but also my first attempt at a trail race.

there's all sorts of talk that is alive and well within running circles as to why certain runners feel the desire/need to press on to longer and longer race distances.  just today i read an article that indicated that registration in ultras has increased as of late perhaps because marathoning doesn't offer the same kind of challenge that it once did. i'm not so sure about that - i still have some marathon distance goals (looming large is the BQ, but also to eventually try to cross the 3-hour barrier) as well as bucket-list races (e.g. Chicago, London, New York, Big Sur).  and it's not that i feel more accomplished if i become an ultramarathoner, either.  kyle kranz, an acquaintance and social media director for skora, posted this on facebook not too long ago:

one of things that i do want to do in 2014 is focus more on speed by running some 5ks and 10ks - maybe even a half marathon or two.  there can be a kind of running snobbery that comes into effect when people progress in distances, where they feel like running a shorter race is somehow 'beneath' them.  make no mistake, an all-out 5k can be even more grueling and taxing than a marathon.  gotta respect athletes at every level.

no, for me the lure of the ultra next year is about something else.  or somethings else.

first off, i feel like taking on the limberlost challenge will help transform my running for me.  i'm still in search of that elusive 'love of running' ... i would identify myself as someone who loves to race.  and so in order to race, i must train, and do so diligently.  with continued envy i read those facebook and twitter posts and books from people who simply find joy in getting out there and propelling themselves by their own two feet.  there's been no runner's high for me, and few moments of transcendence through many miles logged.  perhaps that's been because my focus has been securely on attaining that 3:15 boston qualifying time.  my hope is that by taking on a distance that requires you to think more about endurance than speed, and on a terrain that forces you to be more nimble and adaptive than robotically repetitious i might connect with a purer form of running than i have to date.

secondly, crossing into ultra territory has opened up a whole new sector of the running community.  this has been very cool - once i started following various ultra-running related twitter feeds and blogs, and adding the occasional #ultra or #ultrachat hashtag, i found a brand new tribe reaching out to me.  far from being exclusive, hyper-disciplined elite level runners, what i've experienced so far in the ultra community are people who are not only more connected to running than i am but who are also more connected to their bodies, to beauty, to the environment, and to a sense of harmony.  i'm envious - and excited about this.

thirdly and finally, i have an outstanding commitment to my friend hermann in johannesburg to visit him and run the comrades marathon.  billed as the world's oldest and largest ultramarathon, it is a point-to-point 89km road race that alternates starting and finishing at the cities of pietermaritzburg and durban.  one year it's a net uphill race, the next a net downhill.  when i first met hermann at a conference in detroit in 2010 i was just becoming a runner, but we shared stories of his completions of the comrades and what amazing experiences he had each time.  while we haven't spoken of it much, i feel a bit like red promising andy to come down to zihuatanejo.  it may take time, but what a great thing it will be.

what are your goals?  what do you hope to accomplish in 2014 ... running or otherwise?  and how would you (or i) know if, with respect to running, enough is enough?


  1. Thanks Patrick for your constant encouragement - timely as always. .Seeing how fast I can run interests me less than seeing how far I can run” – Dean Karnazes - has been my motto lately. Going to leave the watch at home for the rest of the month and see what the new year brings!

    1. thanks for feeding back, lewis! if you're going to take cues from anyone, dean karnazes is a pretty good guy to follow. although i haven't read his books, i've seen more than a few interviews with him and he seems like the kind of guy that isn't about the external competition but more concerned with the internal competition - becoming a better dean karnazes than before. that's the kind of comparison that i think can be a helpful motivator.

      happy running - and i hope that we can log some miles together soon!

  2. Thanks for the shout-out Patrick!

    I became very good at running slow for a looong distance. But that was not good enough for me. I decided to go back to the basics and start over at the 5k distance. I had six years of LSD base building on my legs, so it was time to start real training.

    Here's an article I wrote for SKORA's blog that talks about relating a runner's mile PB to their marathon PR and beyond. http://skorarunning.com/blog/mile-to-marathon

    1. hey kyle - my pleasure! you continue to inspire many of us in the running community, so it's great just to be connected to you!

      thanks also for linking to that piece about top-end speed. this past summer i worked with a coach for the first time who helped me to really pick that up, and i think that it was a valuable season for me. i hope that it will translate to the longer distances this coming year!