How I got into this crazy sport….
Twenty years ago, I used to run on the track and cross country teams in high school. But I never fully enjoyed the competitive atmosphere of racing. Perhaps that was because I was (and still am) a slow runner who never had much chance of placing in races. Maybe it was because at the time, I already had more than enough competition in my life such as trying to get good grades, get into college, then medical school, residency and so on.
Back then, success in a race for me was when I finished not last!
I have always loved going out for long and slow runs on trails and quiet country roads. I enjoy the warm feeling of relaxation and increased energy I felt afterwards. I love being out in nature.
Unfortunately for my running and my health, like many folks, my life soon became busy with school, career and family commitments and I gave up running for almost 20 years.
The years of sedentary lifestyle, poor eating habits and long hours at work caught up with me. A family member who had not seen me for awhile commented on how much weight I had put on. Measurement of my percent body fat revealed to my surprise that I was actually overweight. To my dismay, an honest and hard look at myself in the mirror confirmed it.
I had always been the tall, thin kid in school who never had to worry about what I ate or what I weighed. Indeed, in elementary and high school I was quite the opposite. I worried about not being big or muscular enough. Thus, admitting to myself that I was now both overweight and out of shape was difficult.
By profession I am an endocrinologist who is also board certified in the subspecialties of nutrition and lipidology. I devote a large amount of time dealing with the complications of our sedentary lifestyle and the associated conditions of overweight and obesity. It was ironic for me to be out of shape when I spent a large portion of my medical practice advising my patients to eat right, exercise and lose weight.
So I decided to stop making excuses and start running again. I did not want to be a hypocrite for not following my own advice.
At first I could barely make it a half mile without becoming winded. My body ached in places that I did not know could ache. Trying to run the way I had twenty years ago resulted in the typical runner’s overuse injuries such as shin splints and iliotibial band strain. Many times I was frustrated and just wanted to just give up.
Despite the frustrations and set backs, I kept at it and slowly and surely increased my mileage. After a couple of years, I lost thirty pounds and got to the point where I could easily run as far as 20 miles at a time. I loved the feeling of being able to comfortably go for miles and miles. Though I did not go fast, there were times I felt as if I could almost run forever.
Some runners I knew suggested that if I like going so far, I should try a marathon. I declined. I never enjoyed the stress and competition of racing back in high school. I told them I had absolutely no desire to race again. I love running for the sake of running. Beyond being a physical activity useful for maintaining fitness and health, running had become a form of meditation for me, a quiet time to be alone with my thoughts and a time to clear my mind. These were all more than enough rewards for me. I had no need to run in any races again; I had nothing to prove.
Then one day a patient of mine who was an ultramarathon runner suggested that if I like to run for so long and so far, I should consider ultramarathoning.
Like everyone else now asks me when I tell them that I run ultramarathons, I asked him: "What's an ultramarathon?"
He explained to me that ultramarathons are foot races longer than the 26.2 miles of the traditional marathon. Many of them are run over difficult terrain, off-road or in challenging weather or other conditions.
He also made a clear distinction between racing an ultra vs. simply running in one. He explained that “racing” is about competition, fast times and beating your opponents, but on the other hand “running” is all about enjoying yourself and having a good experience.
He assured me that because of the difficulty of finishing, the long hours on the trails, and the small numbers of participants, ultramarathons are much less competitive. In his experience, ultrarunners are much more supportive of each other than are many runners are in the traditional shorter races.
"Hmmm…," I thought to myself, "running ultramarathons sounds totally insane!..That's just perfect for me!"
I decided to see if I might train for and complete at least one race at the ultramarathon distance. After finishing my first 50-k race, I was hooked.
This blog is a collection of stories and thoughts about my experiences ultra and trail running. Thank you for allowing me to share these with you. I sincerely hope that you all get as much satisfaction out in your personal and professional endeavors I have out of mine.
Life is too short for us to do any less!
Run on, friends, run on!