Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How to Become an Ultra Runner

What's with the Title?
I thought about naming this post "How to Enjoy Running", but decided on "How to Become an Ultra Runner" instead, because that's what I am today. I plan to talk about my journey and inject little tips along the way for anybody else that want's to start running (for whatever reason). The idea behind this post all started with a quiet and peaceful run today in the woods. While on my run I did a lot of reflecting and thought about how I got to where I was at that moment in time. Ever do that? While I was grinding on that thought, I realized how happy running makes me. I truly can't imagine life without running now. I thought about how I might answer someone who wants to know how (or why) I run so much. The "why" is easy, I do it because it makes me happy. The "how" is a little different, but it all started with a single step.

Why Ultra Running
My outdoor activity of choice is running long distances. However, there are oodles of outdoor activities that are just as addictive as my favorite sport (ie. kayaking, biking, swimming, hiking, or whatever). For me, I truly enjoy being outside and huffing and puffing across the earth. Therefore, my examples all include the sport of running. I would love to hear your journey or "how to" examples of getting into another addictive sport.

The first section of my post will be broken down like this:
  • Starting from Scratch
  • My Mission
  • We are Born to Run
  • How to Enjoy Running
Once that I finish rambling about theory and our purpose, I then get into the "how to" section. Which is more or less just me telling you what I did along my journey, sprinkled with what I would have done differently:
  • Getting Started
  • Sticking With It
  • Challenge Yourself
  • Reap the Rewards
Starting from Scratch
So, I've been "recovering" since my last race, and maybe even recovering a little too much. :) I've basically taken the last 2 weeks off of running and I'm now back to starting from scratch on a training plan. I can't believe how easy it is to gain weight. I know I've gained about around 5 pounds or more just from eating crap food. I've been living on hot dogs, beers, cake, pop, burgers, chips, you name it... I've injected a few healthy choices along the way (fruit smoothies - my fav, salads, yogurts, oreo's... oh wait). However, healthy food simply isn't a major part of my daily routine like it probably should be. I've always offset my eating habits with my running addiction. Honestly, I'm excited about getting back onto an actual training plan now. I get to enjoy the whole process of transforming my body back into running again rather than maintaining a running body. It's more fun when starting from scratch, especially when I have the luxury of time on my hands.

Lucky for me, I can probably pick up and be trained for a marathon a lot quicker than someone who's never ran before. Therefore, I don't recommend going outside and start running 5-7 miles a day with 10 mile long runs on the weekends right away. Doing so would put you down and out for a long time with some nasty injuries. I totally remember my early running addiction days. I remember my first mile was so painful and I literally hated it. I forced myself to stick with it and eventually I started looking forward to them. If I had to do it all over again, I don't know if I would have done it differently. I have always been one to learn from my mistakes. :)

My Mission
While on my run, and pondering all the things that led up to my running addiction. I decided it was only fair to share with others, the series of events that got me there. Perhaps reading my story would influence someone else to take similar steps to a happier life.

I feel that the key to a happy life is knowing that I am in control of what I will and will not do. We are all blessed with the ability to make simple decisions every day. Thousands of them! By making these little choices, you are creating your own reality, or deciding your our own destiny... Wait, this post just got waaaay too deep...? Just bare with me for a few more sentences please.

Begin Deep Thought
Disclaimer: My religious beliefs are just that... my religious beliefs. It's my blog.

Over the years, I've realized that I am in charge of my future. If not "in charge", then I can at least redirect it everyday towards a happier life. I live everyday knowing that today is the first day of the rest of my life... Every single decision counts! If I don't like how something is going, I change it. One decision at a time; it's really that easy. We all are capable of doing this.

Nobody is a victim! If you say "I can't do that because [insert excuse]", then you are absolutely right... [the excuse] has prevented you from even trying. Therefore you can't. However, if you say "Hell, I can do that!", then you are also right! Understand that it is up to you to decide how to react to a challenge; you will always be right.

If you are a person of faith, then you know that you have your God on your side to help you in your new journey. If you are a person of science, then please go watch "What the Bleep Do We Know" to understand that the human body is constructed of an amazing series of circuits (feel good vs. feel bad).
End Deep Thought

Still with me? Good... So, I wondered how I could help others find their knack to get healthy and realize how happy they will (in turn) become. While I'm by no means "healthy"! I can say that I'm much healthier today that I was 3 years ago though and I attribute most of that to running.

We are Born to Run
Human beings are built to walk (and run) on two legs. A vast majority of the human race is born with 2 legs and can walk effortlessly. The best part about running (to me) is that it's as easy as walking. Running requires very little preparation to get started. Just change a walk into a jog and there you go! You're running! Literally. If you can walk with no effort, then you can run with very little effort. I can't think of any other sport that is so convenient and easy to get started as running is.

You can run anywhere. By anywhere I mean... anywhere. Also, by anywhere, I (personally) mean anywhere outdoors. I would definitely suggest running outdoors as opposed to inside. Running inside on a treadmill or around a track is nice in worse case scenario's (ie. storms or late at night). However being outside in nature (including storms and late at night) is what really does it for me, and has kept me motivated to stick with it for these last 3 years. I feel sorry for the people inside the YMCA as I run by the gym and see rows of people running on treadmills staring at a "community television" worrying about how fast the person beside them is going. :( If only they would unplug and get outside!! They too might see that they are missing a lot. I would choose to run 5 miles in the pouring rain outside rather than 5 miles on a treadmill in the air conditioning any day!

How to Enjoy Running
This was the hardest part! I never ran in high school. I literally hated running! The first time I ever ran at my own free will was while I was attending my freshman year at Bowling Green. I only ran as a means to lose weight, but not because I enjoyed it. It worked very well, and I dropped 60 pounds in about 4 months. At that time I was only running 1 mile everyday and I pushed myself to run it faster and faster every day. As the weight came off, running became easier and required a lot less effort. People were starting to notice that my weight was coming off, and I liked that. However, I still didn't look forward to my daily runs.

Three years ago, I was up to a pudgy 230 pounds, and I decided it was time to do something about it. I started running again. It sucked! I hated it! My side hurt, I couldn't breath, and my entire body ached after I was done. In hind sight I should have started off slower, but at the time all I knew to do was tuck my head and pound as fast as I could until I reached 1 mile. The more I did it, I began to realized that I didn't have to go balls out fast. I also discovered that once I slowed down, I was able to go a lot farther and for a longer period of time. Eventually, I was starting to look forward to my runs. I found that after a while I was no longer running to stay fit; I was now running because it was fun, and it genuinely made me happy.

Running had become my own personal time. I let my mind become my sanctuary for meditating and thinking about whatever I wanted to. (Maybe I should have put the 'Deep Thought' brackets around that last sentence? :)) Honestly though, I am able to think about so many things and have solved so many problems while running. I contribute a lot of my sanity to running. I've solved many computer problems in my head while running, I've constructed large computer systems in my head while running, I've made lots of huge decisions while on runs as well. When my household gets stressful (trust me, it does), I put on my running shoes and go run. I find it's best to run in the woods with no iPod for maximum results. :)

I find that I get more joy by running outside in the elements. There is something about being out in the open air (hot, cold, windy, muggy, it doesn't matter) that just makes me happy down to my core. I take in so many sights and I've experienced so many different climates on my runs. I remember running in Novosibirsk (Siberia) in sub-zero temperatures with Scott through the Botanical Gardens. I also remember running in gale force winds here in my home town on a stormy summer night. Running in the rain is my favorite, and sloshing through wet snow in the winter time puts a smile on my face. Day or night doesn't stop me either; I purchased a head lamp and now don't have to rely on the sun to see when running. I've ran in blue jeans before, I've ran barefoot around the back property before too. No outside force can stop me from running. Injuries tend to slow me down, but I'm learning how to prevent them as well as I journey through this sport.

For me, the only way that I was able to enjoy running was to just do it... a lot. Once I figured out how to run, it became fun.

Getting Started
If you are still reading this, then you are thinking one of two things:
  1. Luc is stupid. I should stop reading this.
  2. How could I become a distance runner?
Luckily for you, I thought of a system on my run today that I'd like to share if you are thinking #2. :) If you've never ran a step (on your own free will) in your life then you should do this.
  1. Find a place where you are absolutely comfortable.

    If you would feel totally ridiculous running in public for whatever reason, then I don't recommend running in a crowded area (duh). I know first hand that it was kind of embarrassing for me at first. I would feel like I was jiggling all over the place when I ran. After a while I didn't care (and rightfully so), but being in a private area where I could experiment with my stride, and not worry about what I looked like helped me build my self confidence as a runner a lot.

  2. Go Slooooooow

    This is where I screwed up! I tried to run a fast first mile. For some reason, that is what I thought "running" was all about. Instead I should have done a walk, jog regiment and progressed to a steady "run". Here is what I would recommend having gone through the pain of my first run:

    - Walk for 1 minute
    - Jog for 10 seconds
    - Walk for 1 minute
    - Jog for 15 seconds
    - Walk for 1 minute
    - Jog for 20 seconds
    - Repeat... until I span 1 mile.

    Eventually you'll be able to jog a mile without stopping. When you get to that point, try jogging two miles. Feel free to walk whenever you need to. Don't ever feel like you can't walk. Believe me, there is plenty of walking at ultra running events.

  3. Run every other day. No matter what!

    This will force you to give "running" an honest effort. You will hate running at first; trust me. Your feet will hurt, your body will ache, you will experience side cramps, you will get blisters, you will stink, etc... Stick with it! Soon it will become easier and more enjoyable. I promise!
Sticking With It
This is the last step in my (awesome) Getting Started plan above. It is also the key element to becoming a runner. Whether you start running to get fit, or you just want to see why I like it so much, keep at it! You will get fit, and/or you will see why I like running so much. There is a lot of challenges that get in the way when picking up a new habit. The only way to appreciate running is really to give it an honest attempt. If you run every other day for 2 full months and still hate running, then stop running and try something else. Running is not for you.

However, I know that after 2 full months of sticking with an "every other day" running habit, you will begin to look forward to your run days, and dread your rest days. I did and still do.

Challenge Yourself
If you are one to push yourself in order to make something feel worth while (like me), then it may be a good idea to sign yourself up for a 5k road race (3.1 miles). You don't have to "run" a 5k, but I did. I decided that if I was going to sign up for a running event, then I was going to train for it and run it! My first 5k was an extremely rewarding experience. I will never forget how scared I was at my first road race. I didn't know what to expect. I just showed up with my family and put all of my humility on the line. I'll never forget how proud I was to cross that finish line though! For a measly $25, I attended a public "running" event and finished it. That $25 turned my life around.

After running my first 5k, I was hooked on the sport of running. Just pushing myself into unfamiliar territory is what did it. I wasn't afraid to be known as a runner anymore. I was able to be around other runners and I actually had something in common with them now. Running was no longer something that only "fit people" did, and it took a simple 5k road race to prove that point to me.

Reap the Rewards
As running became easier, I began running more and more. I signed up for more 5k's that first year and they too were becoming easier and easier. Running a 5k on a weekend became a normal thing to me. I was building a collection of running t-shirts, medals, and plaques. I was also beginning to lose a lot of weight and people were starting to notice. My race times got better and better and my energy was through the roof. I had become more happier in 4 months simply by sticking with it.

Eventually I realized that I liked running so much, that I started running longer distances and for longer periods of time. I signed up for a 20k trail run and then a 1/2 marathon road race. Eventually I was running marathons, and now I'm running ultra marathons. What's next? Even I'm not sure...

Please don't let my current distances fool you... I still push myself out the door every time I need to run. I do take comfort knowing that after mile 2, I'm in my element. I still treat my ultra marathons is the same as I would have treated a 5k 2 years ago. It took the same process to get to these distances and I still get the same jitters as I got at my first 5k.

You can't just go out the door and run 50 miles one day. You have to start somewhere. For me, it was a painful 1 mile stretch of blacktop. I would have never guessed it would have put me where I am today. Who knows where you'll end up in 3 years... It is really up to you. If you aren't happy where your at today, start to change it by making your first "change" decision.


Michael Patton said...

Luc, awesome post! I even forwarded it to a few people I know who are starting to run, and having a very difficult time with it. I'm sure they are dealing with the same things you did. I hope they find your article as inspiring as I did.

Luc said...

Thanks Mike! That means a lot to me. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Luc. That part about the trail running made me miss, well, Trail Running!
I need to get back out there PRONTO!

Kim said...

"Luc is stupid. I should stop reading this." LOL!!!!!

No, really, great post!!! You and I are quite alike-running makes us happy!

Tanya said...

Thank you so much for this post, it was great! I found your blog yesterday when googling ultrarunning. I'm a beginner runner myself (started last May, quit smoking, ran my first 10K in Sept) and ever since picking up Dean Karnazes's Ultramarathonman at Barnes & Noble one day, I have been fascinated with ultrarunners. I don't know if I'll ever get to that point, but your post makes me feel like maybe it's not something completely out of my grasp. I have definitely caught the running bug and can't imagine life without it.

Luc said...

Congratulations Tanya! That's great that you are getting into ultra running. Warning: It's addicting! :)

Thanks for reading my post and commenting.

Nina Rich said...

This is a post that runners of any ability can relate to I'm sure.

I've just completed my first marathon and get so excited at the thought of pushing towards ultra distances and going out on day long 'run-abouts'.

I also know that my friends who have never participated in running events will take a lot away from this.

Nice post!

Anonymous said...

thks... one day, i will be doing ultras too!

started to run at 33!.. love it!

fun to read!
ttyl Syl

Travis said...

Hi Luc -

I found your blog through the interwebs. I am going to be in Delaware (visiting from CO) in a couple of weeks and am in need of a good 22 - 26 mi trail run. I am willing to drive a little but probably need to stay within an hour. Do you have any suggestions? Can I put to together a nice run at Alum Creek State Park? Hocking Hills seems a little far, maybe? Maybe Loudville? Any advice would be great.

Luc said...

Travis, thanks for your comment. I'm not familiar with Alum Creek trails, but I would imagine they have some really nice ones. My favorite for any distances over 15 miles is (hands down) Mohican. It's a little over an hour drive from Deleware according to Google Maps, but is worth it in my opinion. Otherwise, I'm sure the country roads around Deleware would make for a nice relaxing run. Enjoy your visit to Ohio and thanks again for finding my blog.

Heather V. said...

My goal is to be an ultra runner. This is a great post, so glad I came across it. :)

Steve said...

Great and inspirational blog Luc. Currently I am just a runner and very far from being ultra but you've made me reconsider what is possible for me in running. Thanks!

Luc said...

Heather V. - Thanks for the comment and good luck on your journey to becoming an Ultra Runner! You've set a great goal!! I'm sure you'll succeed in it...

Steve - Being a runner is enough. I do hope that you try an Ultra Marathon some day. The runners at these events tend to be a bit more relaxed and laid back in my experiences. Note: A 50K would be a great goal, as it is not much farther than a Marathon (ie. ~5 mi) and you'd be able to say "I ran an ultra marathon!". :) Thanks for commenting!

milly said...
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