Ultramarathons not for the faint of heart or lungs

Posted: June 27, 2013 by djfluxus in Race Reports
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By John D. Thomas
FOR THE JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Back in America’s physical fitness dark ages, before long-legged lopers like Frank Shorter and Bill Rogers inspired a distance-running frenzy, marathoners were seen as endorphin-addicted, masochistic kooks. Nowadays housewives and short-order cooks are common on the 26-mile, 385-yard circuit.

Today the kook factor is assigned to ultramarathon runners, true self-infliction aficionados who trot double, triple, 10 times, and even 100 times the marathon distance justfor the pain of it. Or, rather, just to see if they can cross the finish line alive.

Dr. David Martin, a professor of physiology at Georgia State who advised the designers of the Barcelona Olympics marathon course, says an ultramarathon is “more of a survival contest than a race. An Ultramarathoner’s focus is on finishing more than on competing. A race that long is a competition between you and the distance rather than you and your competitors.”

One such well-callused survivalists is Rich Schick, a physician’s assistant at Woodstock Hospital and the former coordinator of the Atlanta Track Club’s ultramarathon team. Schick, 43, ran his first ultra marathon, a 100K race in Switzerland, in the late 1970s after having run close to 100 marathons. He has completed some 60 of the grueling ultra treks.

“One of the things I like is that there is so much variety in the sport,” says Schick. “You can have road events, track events, and trail events, which we call adventure runs. In those events you can race anywhere from the lowest point in the United States, in Deadwater, California, to the top of Mount Whitney as a continuous run, or across the Sahara Desert, or you can go up the Himalayas. No matter where you get in your conditioning, you can always get your guts up to try something bigger.”

Schick says he trains between 60-70 miles a week, which includes one extra long week- end run. “Thirty to 31 miles of that is usually done on Saturday or Sunday,” says Schick. He does his long runs on the trails around Kennesaw Mountain, and says he is happy to have aspiring ultramarathoners tag along, as long as they can hack the distance. “On those runs the person has to have a certain amount of training,” says Schick. “I don’t mind going slower than my normal pace, but I have to have the feeling the person can do the distance safely. If a couple of people wanted to give it a try, the way Kennesaw Mountain is laid out they could drop cars off at a couple of different places so if they burned out they could bail out.”

Dr. Martin says anyone thinking about tackling an ultramarathon should do it gradually. “l think just as a good coach counsels younger runners who are moving up from the high school mile to the 5K or 10K in college not to try a marathon until they’re out of college, I think the same thing applies to someone contemplating an ultramarathon,” he says. “If you find 10K races are too fast for you, but you find it easy to run longer distances, try l marathon. If you find you can finish marathons with no problem but you have trouble trying to run them quickly, then jump into an ultramarathon.

The only local ultramarathon is the Stone Mountain 50-miler, which takes place in January.

Comments
  1. David Warady says:

    It took me about 9 years before I ran my first ultra.

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