Tag Archives: gut check

The Stereotypical Ultrarunner

zachIn the five or so years I have been running ultras, I have seen quite a few changes.  The first, and most noticeable, is the massive increase in popularity.  In 2010, ultras (in the Midwest anyway) were somewhat few and far between.  A runner might have to travel 6 hours or more to find a race at all, and there were very few options through the course of the year, even ifyou were willing to travel.  In 2014, one must pick and choose based on courses, buckles, distances, course support, and a zillion other factors. It seems as though there are new races popping up all over the place every weekend!  The massive rise in popularity has increased both participation and public exposure – in both traditional media and social media.  Between my runner friends, runner pages, and groups, my Twitter and Facebook feeds read like an AD/HD version of about 12 issues worth of UltraRunning Magazine.

This increased exposure has increased to the point that now even ‘non-runners’ are at least cognizant with the concept of ultrarunning.  Guys like Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, Christopher McDougal, and others have made ultrarunning seem less of a fringe sport for total psychopathic sadomasochists and maybe even somewhat mainstream. Maybe…  Along with this newfound recognition, I have noticed a trend among non-runners beginning to group all ultrarunners into one homogenous group tagged “ultrarunner” – a new stereotype of sorts.  How awesome is that guys!?  We got our own stereotype!  By definition, a stereotype is an oversimplification of the group as a whole, and in a lot of cases, the shoe fits.  But there are a few traits that I feel like are commonly attributed to ALL ultrarunners that I really feel are more often mostly inaccurate.

1.)  All ultrarunners are a bunch of hippies who just bum around and only work the bare minimum to survive. FALSE!  There are a certain number of these ultrarunners living a lifestyle recently coined as “dirbag” who are out there truly living the ultra dream, but they are not the majority.  Nurses, cops, small business owners, stay at home moms, CEO’s, and teachers are professionals you will find at almost every ultra.  Most of the ultrarunners I know have full time jobs, families, and as many or more responsibilities as any non-runner.

2.)   All ultrarunners are health freaks who measure and count every free-range, organic thing they eat and drink. Most are vegans who hang out at whole food stores and plan their next barefoot run across America.  NOPE!  Most of us eat what we like, because we like it, and in whatever quantity we choose.  Fast food is NOT the devil and we don’t mind sucking down the occasional triple cheeseburger and washing it down with a giant butterscotch milkshake.  Yeah, there are a many health conscious ultrarunners out there because better nutrition does make better runners.  However, most of us will never step on a podium and are MORE THAN SATISFIED just to stumble across a finish line – just before cutoffs- to collect our buckle and vanity sticker.

3.)  All ultrarunners suck down tons of craft beers the night before and immediately after every ultra. NADA!  We will drink just about any kind of beer, wine, liquor and sometimes don’t even wait until we have finished the race.  And believe it or not, there are many ultrarunners who don’t drink at all, although I am personally not sure why.

4.)  All ultrarunners hate themselves and are just punishing themselves somehow. INCORRECT!  The pain of running ultras is a beautiful contrast to the Western hemisphere’s push toward achieving absolute comfort in all things.  Feeling the pain lets you know how great you have it in your everyday life.  It is not a punishment…it is a reward!  We aren’t doing it because we hate ourselves, we are doing it because we LOVE ourselves enough to get out of our comfort zones and live life – in spite of the pain.  To push past limits defined by others and sometimes even limits we place on ourselves.

5.)  All ultrarunners are obsessed with running and it is all they do. NOT TRUE.  Ultrarunners by nature have a very wide range of experiences.  Chances are that is what led them to the sport.  Driven by the desire to take on new and exciting challenges can lead to many different activities.  From my experience, ultrarunners excel in a wide variety of activities that take significant commitment – from writing, music, art, and theatre to auto body repair, hunting, gardening and motorcycle riding.  Not stunted by a fear of the unknown, ultrarunners are well prepared to tackle ANY challenge.  Hell I am in a group that meets bi-weekly to play old school, roll the 20 sided die roll playing game Dungeons and Dragons. (My character is a pretty badass level 2 Half-Elf Rogue).  But yeah, we do run a lot – it is pretty necessary when running distances over 26.2 miles.

After all the time and miles I have spent on the trails with ultrarunners, I would argue that the ONLY thing that we ALL truly have in common as the group labeled “Ultrarunners” is the desire to take on the physical challenge of running an ultra as a way to living a highly fulfilled life.  There are similarities among us but just like the case of the “perfect” running shoe, there truly is no one-size-fits-all personality of an ultrarunner.

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

FlatRock Twenty

DSC_9349_s_jpgThis year’s event has rendered me nearly speechless.   Please take note of two specific words in the sentence you just read, with the first being nearly.  I am fairly certain that the only thing that would render me truly speechless would be a dismembered tongue or a traumatic brain injury.  The second word of particular importance is event.  I did not call the 20th annual FlatRock 50/25K’s a race.  It’s not just a race.  It is a full blown family trail running extravaganza for any and all who attend. The race may be the draw and one of the main events, but it is only one piece of an overall experience that truly is much greater than the sum of its parts.   What makes this place so special?  Everything!  After 20 years everything surrounding the FlatRock event has become so intertwined that it has taken on a life of its own.  FlatRock has its own culture, history, mythology, following, traditions, personality, and attitude that is usually only a found in a living and breathing organism! I love it.  No, I love the SHIT out of it!

First, I want to start with a “first” for me at this race.  This was the first ultra that a couple of my kids were able to come and be involved from start to finish.  We all attended the pre-race festivities, camped out with friends, they sent me off with cheers at the start, and they were there when I crossed the finish line!  Slapping the hand and crossing the finish line with my youngest son Mitch while my daughter Molly and Candi’s kids Ranie and Durbie were cheering us in was indescribable and unforgettable.  Unfortunately, my oldest son Max was unable to attend due to his job and school responsibilities – but I imagine he will get more than his fill when he helps crew for Candi and me at the Ozark Trail 100 miler in November!  We all hung out Saturday night to enjoy the traditional post-race bonfire, lots of food and beers, and to swap war stories from the trail.  It was amazing.

As far as the race itself went, I had a stellar day.  The temps were cool at the start and I was more than sufficiently trained and acclimated for the warmer afternoon temperatures thanks to lots of hot miles training for the Honey Badger 100 in July. My fueling and hydration plan was simple – a Hammer gel every 30 minutes on the dot and a supplemental at each aid station.   For water, it was one handheld bottle filled at each aid station.   My race plan was simple; run to the point of discomfort all the way to the finish.  Not hard enough that I would most likely spectacularly crash and fail due to my efforts, but hard enough that it was still a real possibility.  After all, if you don’t fail to hit your goals from time to time you aren’t setting your sights high enough.  I ran with my beautiful girlfriend Candi Paulin and the bandana clad, tattooed Justin Chockley for about 8 miles before pulling away and running solo basically the entire rest of the race.  I pushed hard and made it to the turnaround in about 2:40 passing enough people to go from approximately 20th place when we entered the trail to about 10th place leaving the turn around.  The three falls I took outbound left me with a few scratches and a nice charlie-horse in my left quadricep, but no turned ankles or twisted knees – which is definitely worse, and always a concern when battling “The Rock”.  I passed a few more runners and kept pushing just to the point that I felt like I probably wouldn’t be able to keep it up until the end.  At Dana’s aid station inbound I came upon one Johnny Webb – who crewed and paced for me at Honey Badger.  Remember his name folks, as he will be a guy taking home winners bling once he gains some experience and learns how to train – I am calling that right now.  Johnny had gone out like a bolt of lightning challenging several seriously badass and MUCH MORE EXPERIENCED dudes– in his first official ultra – including eventual sub-5 hour winner Nathan Sicher. Adam Dearing, Aaron Norman, and Ron Micah LaPointe are a group of guys who have WON this race (or the 101K) before and I think 3 of 24 people who have EVER finished the 50k in fewer than 5 hours.  My point is this; 2014 FlatRock was loaded with speedy guys ready to RACE, and Johnny decided to take them on.   Unfortunately, after about 20 fast miles, he told me he had to throw in the towel due to some IT band issues.  After a short, profanity laden pep talk, I convinced Johnny to finish even if he had to walk the remaining 9 miles.  After he promised me that he wouldn’t quit I popped my gel and hit the trail.  At this point I was getting run down by Jeanne Bennett of Tulsa.  We battled all the way to aid station #2 where after a brief chat with Harrison Steele and his video camera, I got around her again.  Another crash in the rocks had my adrenaline pumping and my heart jumping so I backed off and “let” (yeah right!) her pass.  A couple short minutes later, she was out of sight!  When I came pumping in to Max and David’s aid station they told me she was only 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me. I still felt good and decided to try and catch her rather than partake in my traditional shot of whisky with these two awesome knuckleheads.  Blasting out of the final aid station, I fixed my eyes on the trail and told myself that it was faster to fall and get up than run slow and cautiously.  I had already passed some guys that I know can run very strong ALL the way to the end and I did not want to get passed, even if I couldn’t catch Jeanne.  Shortly before I came down off the final steep descent leading to the highway, I heard air horns and plenty of cheering – I decided that I had probably been “chicked” again this year by Jeanne Bennett just like I was last year by Mindy Coolman.  Little did I know, that not only was I “chicked” again, but for the second year in a row, the female that passed me in the last quarter of the race set a new female course record!  Make no mistake; the women that come out to FlatRock are just as badass as (if not more) than any of the guys!  Congrats Jeanne Bennett on an awesome race and new CR!  I figured I would try to add to the time I cut off battling the ladies champ by hauling my ass down the pavement to the finish line as fast as I could.  I turned into the finish area and trucked down the gravel until Mitch jumped in with me and we crossed the finish together, cheesing for the camera the whole time!  Officially, my time was 5:52:28 – roughly an 11 minute FlatRock PR over last year.  As always Eric, Polly, Warren and the rest of the Epic Bridage pulled off a perfectly executed event.  The food and fun were off the charts.   Grooming on the trail was the best I have ever seen it – barely a single eye-poker to be seen.  These folks can definitely deliver on Epic Ultras mission of “co-creating experiences of a lifetime”.  This is not corporate bullshit, but a sincere desire to help make a memory that will last a lifetime – for everyone involved.  No one does it better.  Best race direction in the state of Kansas and very likely the entire Midwest!   I can really look at this race and feel like I used all of my ultrarunning tools, experience, experience on this trail, and training as efficiently as I could have.  No recollections of miles where I felt, looking back, that I should have done more.  For that, I am really happy how my race on “The Rock” went on September 27th 2014. Of course, I feel like there are ALWAYS ways I can improve, but at this race, on this day, I did the best I could.  That is a wonderful feeling.

There are so many inspiring stories out there that I wish I could tell them all.  One that I NEED to share is my friend from Arkansas, Dave Renfro, who changed down to the 25k before race day– just to be SURE that chemotherapy wouldn’t cost him a finish due to not meeting cutoff times.  He never once considered not finishing – just not finishing in time.  Outstanding and inspiring!  I also want to say great job to my co-workers who finished the 50k this year – Jerime Carpenter, Daniel Droessler, Gene Dixon, and former co-worker Ryan Schwatken.  Great job guys!  It was been really cool watching you guys get where you are.  Jerime’s second FlatRock and a 1.5 hour PR, Gene’s first FlatRock finish, and Ryan with a nearly 2 hour PR – and especially Dan who JUST STARTED running in January of THIS year and had never run longer than 16 miles before last Saturday and finished sub-9!  Gutsy my friend!  Another quick but very important side story – this was a reunion of sorts for the “Van Clan” that you might have read about in my Honey Badger blog post.  It was great watching Dave Meeth kick some serious ass,  Johnny Webb suffer and persevere to the finish, while being taken care of once again by recent  (first time) 3rd place Mark Twain 100 mile finisher and all around stud Dave Box. Don’t forget about the wonderful laughs and margaritas provided by our favorite hobbit Shay Caffey – who was only NOT racing because she just finished HER first 100 miler at Hawk a couple weeks ago.  So many friends finished this race that I might as well just word it like this:  Congrats to my friends <insert link to official race results here>!  Congrats especially to my “Epic Family” Reina, Joell, Cory, Sean, and “Chocko” who turned the last half of the race into a pub crawl, hosing back 6 PBR “tall boys” and a shot or two of Crown Royal on the way to the finish.  Chocko may or may not have drank enough the night before to intoxicate a couple of Irishmen.  Chock definitely sets the bar high in a work hard / play hard life – that’s one reason why we are bros!  At least Chocko wasn’t in the a quarter mile from the starting line in the shitter when the race started like my new badass bearded buddy Shawn Walters!  Sorry if I left anybody out.  I really think the world of you all.

Next order of business:  Awards.  This was the second year for the Triple Crown, and this year, and I earned mine.  A golden chalice that represents the successful efforts of finishing all three annual events held on FlatRock.  The Crown was not in the cards for me last year as I was unable to attend WinterRock – so technically I was only 12K away.  This was not the case in 2014 when myself, Candi Paulin, Josh Watson, Carson Galloway, Joseph Galloway, Robert McPherson, Marcus Needham and Mike Rives all took on WinterRock, FlatRock 101k, and FlatRock 50K.  If you think this is an easy task, well, I challenge you to try it yourself next year.  And by the way, Candi – who just so happens to be the love of my life – is the ONLY person who earned the FlatRock Triple Crown for the 2nd year in a row.  Yeah, she is a total rock star!

FlatRock 20 was special in another way, as there was a knighting ceremony rewarding a runner who had amassed 10 CONSECUTIVE 50K finishes on FlatRock.  Prior to this race only nine people had been knighted into the FlatRock “Hall of Pain” earning a retired bib number, cloth bib, and free lifetime entry into the race.  This year marked Scott Hill’s 10th trip across the rock and he was knighted for his efforts – complete with paper crown, an EPIC oath, and a broadsword christening his shoulders.  It was a totally unique and amazing sight to behold.  Congrats Scott!

Last, but CERTAINLY NOT least, Mr. FlatRock himself – Dennis Haig- was awarded a wonderful plaque for completing his 20th FlatRock 50k race.  That’s correct!  Dennis has run the 50K at FlatRock EVERY SINGLE YEAR IT HAS EXISTED.  Simply amazing, Dennis is a true representation of the rugged toughness and tenacity that characterizes FlatRock.

And finally, I want to thank everyone who stuck around to the very end and helped me ice the cake with by descending to one knee and asking Candi to be my bride.  It was one of the most exciting things I have ever been involved in at an ultra, and I am pretty sure by her expression and the unintelligible garbled response that the answer was yes!  To understand the full emotion of the moment, go to www.epicultraphotos.com and check Mile 90’s beautiful pictures of the special moment we shared with our trail running extended family.  I feel pretty fortunate that Epic Ultras covered the cost of professional engagement photos – thanks for the added bonus Eric!  You ALWAYS get your money’s worth and more at FlatRock.

Every year after FlatRock I find myself asking the question, “What could possibly happen next year to make this any MORE EPIC?”  Of course I now fully believe that no matter what it is, SOMETHING will make FlatRock  an even crazier and more epic event next year.  A finish line wedding perhaps?

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

Mind Games

zachWhen you are in the total ass-kicking miles of an ultra, what mental tactics do you use to keep moving?  How do you will yourself through the dark times?  What keeps you from convincing yourself that it is not worth all the pain?  If physical training is the key to running a successful ultra, then mental toughness is the hand that guides the key into the lock and turns it.  If you lack the required strength of mind, there will eventually come a time when bodily endurance and your Greek god physique is not enough to allow you to escape the darkness and emerge into the light of the finish line – where you can bask in your glorious achievement.

What do you do to pass the hard miles?  Of course music or audio books are a popular alternative seen at basically every race 5K and up. Here are a few suggestions taken from my own personal arsenal – the key is finding what works for you.  As an ultrarunner, experienced or aspiring, you should have plenty of opportunities to put it to the test.

Repeat a mantra.  I have had times where I was repeating a chant such as, “Next step. Next Step…” for what seems like forever to keep myself moving.  Once, after almost barfing my guts up on an aid station worker, I gobbled a few Tums and kept telling myself, “I WILL feel better” until I actually did.  I believe this is basically hypnotizing yourself and moving your focus off the pain until the pain subsides – or you finish (which sometimes does come first).

Fantasize!  Use the power of your mind and take yourself somewhere else.  If the “now” freaking sucks, get the hell out!  Fantasize about something so interesting and engaging that it becomes more real than the giant blister on the ball of your foot that just ruptured.  Use your imagination and paint a mental picture of your perfect vacation, winning the lottery, or maybe being stranded in Antarctica.  Think about every detail and then details about details.  It doesn’t matter what you think about… just think about something.  This will pass the time, and once again divert your focus away from your current struggles.

Make a new friend.  Talk to the other runners.  Chances are that unless you are a world-class elite speedster, you will be moving at speeds that will easily allow you the ability to continue speaking.  Use this humanly ability to your advantage.  Ask other runners questions, tell stories, shoot the shit…  This might not work in some ultras (I have been solo for HOURS before), but if and when the opportunity is there – use it.  It is a great way to pass the time and get past a rough point in a race.  I have made some great friends in my time running ultras, and most of them I met WHILE on the trail.

Focus on smaller, more manageable distances.  When the thought of another 20 miles just seems too much, break your run into chunks.  Focus on running to the next aid station, mile section, or electric pole- hell, even just the next step.  These smaller incremental victories will add up and eventually you will be crossing the finish.

Finally, one thing I do when I really struggle is to completely disassociate my mind with my body.  Having a techie background, I think of it as putting my brain in “standby mode”.  I focus on thinking of nothing.  My complete attention goes to listening to my own breathing, my vision on a blurred fixed point about 4 meters in front of me, reducing my body to a biological machine processing oxygen and sending blood to where it is most needed.  There have been times when hours have passed and I realized I had literally thought of nothing.  On a technical course I may try to get myself so hyper focused on my next footfall that it becomes the only reality – figuring out where my next foot should land, noting else.

The key is never letting negative thoughts invade your mind.  If they do, a runner needs ways to immediately cast them out.  You can literally talk yourself into DNF’ing a race that your body was fully capable of completing.  Excuses at the time that seem perfectly reasonable will make you want to punch yourself in the face for quitting the following week.  Don’t let all the time you spend training your body go to waste because you haven’t conditioned your mind.

Until next time…

BE EPIC!

Zach

2013 FlatRock 101K Race Report – Part III – “Finish Line Utopia” or “Final Resting Place”

If you are reading this you either read my last two blogs (PART I and PART II)and just couldn’t get enough , or you a glutton for punishment and enjoy torturing yourself with my excessive and nonsensical ramblings.  Either way, what you are about to read is a short collection of my final thoughts on the entire experience.

“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue.
Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions
independently of logic.”

– Tim Noakes

I used every last drop of my spirit, as well as plenty of Michelle and Joell’s.  But now I was there and I was glad I was done.  Justin Chockley was there at the finish and he had a bottle of whisky at the ready.  We had decided earlier in the week to have a victory shot and he came through as promised.  Although he didn’t get to finish the race as a competitor, he finished as a crewman and I am very grateful to him for the victory jigger and his crewing efforts.  He and Joell are now my great friends –  one of the many benefits of ultrarunning.  As we talked about the race, Epic Ultras logistics mastermind Warren Bushey cooked me a made to order breakfast of sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy.  It was out of this world!  Hot off the stove-top at nearly 3am.  After no real meal for 24 hours, I was like, “FEED ME SEYMOUR!!!”  This was unreal… usually when you are slow like me, the food is cold, nasty, and picked over at the finish – if there is any.  THANK YOU Warren and Epic Ultras!

After the meal, the desire to sleep hit me – HARD. I managed to stay upright until Adam Monaghan and his pacer Zach Bailor came in, and Adam was hilariously exhausted… I’m not sure what in the hell he was talking about!   I wanted to watch my new friend Dave Renfro cross the finish as well as Sir Cargo himself Ken Childress, but I couldn’t fight the urge to  sleep.  Struggling mightily, I bared my muddy white ass to the darkness while changing clothes, warmed up the car, cocooned up in the front seat, and passed the hell out.  Shitty, restless near-sleep followed for the next few hours- until I decided I was rested enough to make the hour-long drive home.  I waved and yelled goodbye to Eric and his crew who were finally breaking things down nearly 26 hours after the start of the race.  I got home, showered, and wallowed in the misery of my destroyed body the rest of the day.  I absently wondered how I was going to pace the Colorado Marathon next weekend when I could barely walk to the bathroom…

So here is a summary:

  • This course is as beautiful as it is difficult.  That is why Justin and I always refer the the Elk City Hiking trail as a her.  She is a total bitch, but one hell of a lover!

  • Epic Ultras puts on the best organized, staffed, freaking-A awesome events on the planet.  Finish line, starting line, communications, EVERYTHING.  The BEST.  Bar None.  I have a $100 dollar bill to anyone who can show me any company that does it better.

  • Ultrarunners is the coolest, most badass, fun, and amazingly crazy bastards in the world.  I love hanging out with them.  A truly supportive community… not some dysfunctional family.

  • With every challenge I take on I find out a little more exactly who I am and how much I am capable of. Completing The FlatRock 101k is my proudest ultrarunning accomplishment.

finish line

 

 I just want to say thanks again to everyone involved.  This truly was an experience of a lifetime.

And…. don’t forget… BE EPIC!!!

Zach

Zach Adams

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Gut Check

DSC_9349_s_jpgGut check.  These are the two simple words I sometimes repeat over and over to myself when I am struggling during a run.  When I am tired, sore,  miserable, and would rather quit than continue,  I set my eyes to the next landmark…hill, pole, post, bridge, mile marker, or whatever else I can see (or hallucinate  and I tell myself that’s all I need to worry about.  Gut check.  Gut Check.  GUT CHECK!  GUT CHECK!! If I take a walk break and start to think that I can’t run anymore, I internally hiss the words.  Gut check.  Then I take a few faster steps and start to jog again.  It is my own special way to kick my ass back into gear or just keep on chugging.

Call it whatever you want.  Call it perseverance, persistence, mental toughness, intestinal fortitude, inner badassery, epicness, or just plain stubbornness.  The will to keep going when most people would just lay down and die.  Ultrarunners have a higher level of this attribute than most normal people, whether it is a natural personality trait or an acquired skill.  This state of mind does ebb and flow however; sometimes an ultrarunner will need to employ some techniques to help them remember their inner tough girl or guy.  Here are a few techniques I have used to help get me across the finish.

1.  Recite Your Mantra – The recitation of a mantra can really help get you though some tough times.  Like I said, I like to repeat, “Gut Check” over and over – sometimes out loud – when I am struggling.  I have also been known to repeat “The only distance that matters is the distance I cover in the next step.”  My military memories usually bring out,  “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, KILL”.  A mantra gives you a cadence and can almost put you in a trance, taking you away from the immediate pain and discomfort.  Before you know it, the food or gel has kicked in and you start feeling better.

2. Always Talk to Strangers – Yes, I know your mama told you not to.  I am telling you to throw that shit out the window.  For me one of the best ways to pass time on a long ultra is to take the time to talk to other ultrarunners.  Most do so more than willingly – even if they may be too shy to initiate the conversation.  We all know how shy ultrarunners can be…yes that’s sarcasm.  The truth is, most of them are just WAITING to tell you about other runs they have done, PRs, or their entire life story.  If someone does not feel like talking, chances are they will either tell you, not respond, or speed away.  I have made some awesome friendships that started just by chatting on the trail.  Miles will melt behind you.

3.  Visualize – If there is no one around to talk to, your mantra has gone stale, you can’t stand to listen to one more Pantera jam, and you are struggling with some pain I have the answer.  I know this sounds weird, but it works for me more often than not.  I visualize my body as some sort of biological factory and dispatch commandos, medics, and engineers to take care of the pain and repair the injury that which is inflicting it.  Yes this is pretend…it is a scenario in my imagination.  I once ‘saw’ the pain as black ooze dripping off the tattered machinery which was working my knee joint as it was being dismantled by slug-looking creatures.  The elite commandos I deployed killed the baddies while the engineers cleaned and repaired the machines.  By the time I thought the scenario through in my mind, my knee felt better.  Don’t call me nuts until you try it.  What else do you have to do during your umpteenth consecutive hour of running?

All ultras require some serious gut-checking.  Looking at the weather forecast for Praire Spirit 100  it is clear that this “beginner level” trail may require even a little more perseverance than you had in mind.  Gut check time.

What techniques do you do to occupy your mind and keep your body moving during an ultra?  I would love to hear them.

See you all at Prairie Spirit!  As always, BE EPIC.

Zach