I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself, about how I am working at going from someone who ran a couple 1/2 marathons last year, in my 3rd year of running, to an ultra marathon runner and survival racer. And since life does not stop, even while we are trying to do incredible things, I will also tell you about the challenges of beginning structured training for the first time at age 45, while managing being a single father, more than full time consulting work, and… just life.
The Regular Semi-active Guy
As of 2012, I had morphed from semi-couchpotatodom to a semi-passionate runner and 1/2 marathoner, over the space of about 3 years. I was doing something like 8-10 road races per year, total, and was feeling and enjoying the benefits of the activity. I occasionally thought about doing a full marathon, but the training required, and what I understood to be the recovery and punishment on my body seemed daunting. It was something I might want to do, but with the required commitment, and what I understood to be my capabilities and limitations, a full marathon seemed beyond reach. It’s funny how much perspective can change given the right people and circumstances…
The Chance Encounter
Over the Christmas holidays I had coffee with an old hometown friend, Johnny Waite. Veteran Death Racer (and Death Race winner), ultra runner, crossfitter, coach, motivational speaker – Johnny is well liked and respected by many people from many walks of life, for good reason. It was great chat- it’s always good to connect with interesting people, and Johnny is definitely interesting. I came away from that chat with some renewed motivation in a couple areas of my life, and some useful new ideas. Which was cool. And that might have been it, which would have been a great outcome from just a coffee chat. But life had other plans for me, based around an off-hand comment from me about wanting to get away, do something different, and a response from Johnny about something he was thinking about doing in Central America in a few months.
Johnny and I kept in touch. The first plan did not pan out, something about a surfing vacation, but the next idea did. Johnny mentioned he was doing a race in Nicaragua. He suggested that volunteering for the race might be a great experience for me. This was the Fuego Y Agua races on Isla d’Ometepe in Nicaragua. Upon looking into it, I found out that I could run the 25k, and do some volunteer work as well. I was intrigued. I’d never run a trail race, let alone one that was mostly up and down the side of a volcano. I was in.
So that’s how, in February 2013 I was fortunate enough to find myself travelling to Nicaragua to experience the Fuego Y Agua 25k trail race, and to experience the enthusiasm and spirit of the adventure racing crowd that were either there doing the 50/100k ultras, or the 70 Survival Race. It was exactly what I was looking for.
This was a group of people for whom hardship in pretty much any form can represent an adventure. Get bounced from your hotel to youth hostel without running water, and sharing a room with 5 other people? Just more fun. Everything becomes another epic story, as opposed to a reason to complain. People were attempting crazy events, but failure was usually just as great a story as a success. Often funnier. Physically, for me, the race was amazing. I did my race, did more vertical than I had every done in my life, and was then lucky enough to have the energy to help the race organizers by running/hiking back up the volcano to mark trails. And experienced an incredible sunset near the aid station at the top. It was breathtaking…
The Epiphany (aka, the Break from Reality)
My sense of what is possible in general, and what is possible for me in particular, was suddenly changed.
I began thinking about the types of races and events I would need to be able to complete in order to do something truly difficult, like the 70 Survival Race: Nicaragua. As this thinking was going on, the truly epic Survival Race: Hunter Gatherer race was announced for Texas in October 2013. It promised to be tougher than the Nicaragua survival race, in which only two entrants officially completed the race. Johnny added me to the Facebook group for people joining the race. We chatted briefly about it, Johnny mentioning how all of the great people from ‘Nica would be there. I said I would think about it. After all, crap, to that point I had run a max 25k race, and never done anything like a survival race. It must have taken me at least all of…. 3 minutes before I messaged back “f@#k it, I’m in!”.
The Race (“If I get hurt, lost, or die it is my own damn fault.”)
While much of the Survival Race: Hunter Gatherer is not known at this point, we do know the following:
we will make our own footwear (Luna Sandal Kits),
we will need to purify our own water on the trail,
learning to climb trees efficiently is recommended,
finally, the race tagline may provide some further clues as to the difficulty
I applied and was accepted, and so began the work toward preparing for this craziness. So far this has included successful completion of 50k and 50 mile ultra marathons, various smaller races, mud and obstacle course races, and daily training. Oh, and somehow making time to do these things while having my children every other week, helping with homework projects, driving to soccer games, commuting to work, and trying to have a social life occasionally. I have to say, it is a set of challenges that I am incredibly grateful to be working through!
The Plan (I Need a Plan?)
There’s a plan?! The plan is to set short term goals via obstacle and ultra events, increasing distance and endurance, resistance training, and finally, incorporate ad hoc training for skills I know will be needed for the Survival Race. And to do this will working more than full time consulting, and fitting in around having my kids 50% of the time. Working with a trainer has been helpful in setting goals, and keeping focused on what needs to be done. But having someone who is an experienced and elite obstacle racer is a huge bonus, and a great motivation (thanks Dave Gluhareff!).
To date, in my first year of ultra running and training, events completed include the following:
- 50k trail race
- 50 mile Peak Ultra race in Vermont
- Several 1/2 marathons
- 2 Tough Mudder runs
- Several small obstacle races
- Misc smaller road races
The path to the Hunter Gatherer includes a lot more events, including one or more Spartan Beast races, hopefully the Ultra Beast, a handful of 50k plus trail races, and a 24 hour races in early August, plus whatever else I can fit in.
No, I’m not referring to 10 foot wall, burning wood, freezing water, wood chopping, or any of the other literal and crazy (fun) obstacles that are involved in these kinds of races. Rather, the obstacles that, either real or perceived, place themselves between me and my training goals. So of these were alluded to earlier in this article. Some will emerge over time, but
- Finding and making time to train, amid the demands of parenthood and career. Time management is not my strong point. Really. I’m feel so bad at this…
- Finding the motivation to push myself as hard in training as I can in an event. Pushing myself hard when know one is watching, or when I am tired, or having a bad day, or sore.
- Learning keep my focus on myself, and not what other are capable of. It is incredibly easy to find examples of people that it seems are light years ahead of me, in terms of age, experience, fitness… Keeping it about my progress and goals is not always easy.
These are just a few of the obstacles I am seeing. Which is AMAZING – I get the chance, week in and week out, to be presented with challenges to overcome. Most of them are completely internal. When I can flip the thinking around, what seems difficult (physically OR mentally) becomes much easier. Even fun! And it is not like these are challenges that only showed themselves because of the training. No, these are some of my pet challenges in life. So how lucky am I that I am not only presented with these in a real way weekly, but solutions are presenting themselves as well. And these solutions are applicable beyond the current context of running and racing.
Whether this ends in success or epic fail, the changes in my life and my health are already amazing. Changes in diet and the way I eat feel great, but are also saving me a ton of money on buying lunches at restaurants. Feeling more energetic is great, but hearing friends and family comment on the change in my appearance is also a nice added bonus. I expect the event will be amazing, but the process of getting there is the real payoff!