Beyond Marathons: Going Ultra, Part 1

Big Tesuque 12, Santa Fe, October 2015 - beyond marathons going ultramarathon

Big Tesuque 12, Santa Fe, October ’15

I’m a life long runner. I’ve run one marathon, multiple ½ marathons, 10Ks, trail runs, and 5Ks. But now I feel like it’s time to go ultra. To go beyond marathons.

What is an ultra? According to elite ultramarathoner Hal Koerner, ultra means “extreme.” Ultramarathoners run monstrously long races-50Ks, 50 milers, 100Ks, and 100 milers. These are races where you are on your feet anywhere from 5, 15, 25, even 35 hours. At the age of 31, I feel like I’ve sufficiently caught the bug. This time last year, I decried anything longer than a half marathon as stupid. Furthermore, I continually reverted to the excuse that my busy work schedule would never allow me the time to sufficiently train for anything longer than a half marathon. Thus the half marathon (13.1 miles) was my signature distance.

In May of 2015, I was selected to run the Air Force half marathon with one of the Major Command (MAJCOM) teams to compete in the MAJCOM challenge. This race is held on the Air Force’s birthday weekend, the third weekend of September, and takes place in Dayton, Ohio at about 700 feet elevation. With an existing personal record of 1:24:35, I decided to focus on chasing a new PR of 1:20 or better. In turn, I worked with a running coach and a strength coach to focus on getting in shape, and because of my work, I spent the summer in southern New Mexico.

The Tularoosa Basin of Southern New Mexico is epic, with a huge desert basin containing the ethereal White Sands. The area has a history of nuclear testing, and lies at the center of mountains offering quick access to high altitude alpine. I felt that being able to train between 4,000 feet and 9,000 feet was going to be an amazing chance to develop altitude lungs and crush it in Ohio. I was running long distances, difficult tempo runs, track intervals, and doing intense strength sessions, and by the end of summer I wasn’t quite sure of my capabilities, but I felt in the best shape in quite a while.

While training, I discovered my joy for trail running. At first I was beaten up. My Mizuno Waverider 17s were too unprotected for my feet, and every time my midsoles bounced off of rocks I could feel my feet screaming a little more, like they were taking jabs in the face. As a training run, I entered an 8.5 mile trail race at Grindstone Lake in Ruidoso with new arsenal-Brooks Pure Grit 2’s with rugged lugs and a much better protected outsole. All of a sudden, trail running was comfortable. A month later, I placed third in a hard 8 mile trail race in Cloudcroft, and I felt great going into the AF ½.

Unfortunately, some old demons came back to torment me in the AF ½. First, I’ve struggled more than once with jitters. In January 2015, I decided to not even start the 3M ½ marathon in Austin, Texas because I slept zero minutes the previous night, entirely induced by my own anxieties. Since then I’ve learned that struggling to sleep the night before a big race is actually normal, and many coaches will preach that it’s important to get good rest at least a few nights out from a race. The next demon was humidity. The problem with running in humidity is that when your body sweats it struggles to stay cool and inevitably you quickly grow tired. Like training at altitude, humidity is also a challenging environmental factor to train with. Race day was also windy, but living in eastern New Mexico where the 40 mph winds will knock people’s porch furniture all over the place, I wasn’t as concerned about wind. But growing anxious about trying to run a perfect ½ (which I think became my unspoken intent) I also struggled with choosing the right shoes. Earlier in the week, I had a great training session with Mizuno Hitogami which are light, low profile racing flats. But that training session was a series of 400 meter intervals on a rubber track. The competing shoes were my favorite cross trainers, Asics DS Trainer 20s. Between the two, I felt that I could run faster in the Hitogami’s, but it was a risk, these are shoes I had never run consecutive miles in. It’s a little embarrassing to admit how my hubris affected my ability to make a good decision and overriding one of the most absolutely critical precepts of distance running-“COMPETE HOW YOU TRAIN!” I chose the Hitogami’s.

Dwight Rabe grew up in Hawaii and Washington State. He’s a runner who loves being outdoors, and is often looking for a new challenge. He loves his wife. He makes a pretty mean cocktail and can cook up a storm.

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