Spotlight

Runner Spotlight – Ian Sharman

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The clock read  12:44:33. Ian Sharman had just run 100 miles faster than anyone ever had on the Rocky Racoon 100 course. That is 100 miles. In 12 hours, 44 minutes, 33 seconds. That’s fast.

How fast? 7:38 per mile. Fast enough that putting any 26.2 of those miles together would have qualified all but the fastest bracket for the Boston Marathon.

How did he get here though? Where did that sort of willpower come from? The mental fortitude to run 100 miles is one thing, to do so in a pace that almost all the road runners in America can only dream of… well, that is another thing. So what is that thing?

Ian first became interested in running ultra distances after watching a documentary on TV about the Marathon des Sables, A stage race across the Sahara Desert . Feeling like he wanted a challenge and wanting a change from the corporate London job and the after hours pints that went with it, endurance running offered what he was looking for.

He left England, the corporate life and flat streets, and moved with his wife to the United States and became one of the sports top performers.

As Ian says “Previously I’d preferred team sports and had never really run unless there was a ball to chase.”  How do we go from a ball sport/team sport guy to one of the top Ultra Runners in the world? It helps that he had a solid background in sport, typically being the player on the pitch who did the most running during a soccer game. It also helps to be able to handle yourself mentally.

There is only so much fitness you can gain and really it comes down to refusing quit

We figure there has to be more to it than just “refusing to quit”. It’s so far, so fast. Just how do you do it? According to Sharman, having a plan is huge. ” The most important thing is to think through potential negatives and problems so you have a plan for a lot of the things that can (and will) go wrong.”

So what happens when things go wrong? What do you do?  “Other than that, dealing with unexpected issues and never giving up is what gets you to the finish” Says Sharman. “The longer you can keep things comfortable, the better and faster you’ll run, so that was my main focus when I ran 12:44. I was in good marathon shape and could have run around a 2:30 on the day so ran at a pace that felt easy then managed it through the day and kept any problems from getting out of hand.”

Many of  us can’t imagine “keeping things comfortable” over that distance, but Sharman explains how it’s about balance.

Running 100 miles is like plate spinning – you have a lot of things to keep under control and can’t take your eye off any of them or the plate drops. That includes nutrition, hydration, fatigue, muscle soreness, heat stroke, cramps and a whole load more.

So we see that you need some serious mental focus, we know that you have to have a plan, but what is the biggest challenge of running this kind of mileage? You can’t just show up and run 100 miles, the training involved is intense. Sharman knows he has been fortunate, staying healthy enough, and hungry enough to keep running. Staying mindful of any signals that suggest over training. He stretches, gets massage, lifts in the gym.
Avoiding injuries is the single most important thing and is difficult as you need to walk a tight-rope between pushing yourself to your boundaries and not over-straining your body..
TrailsROC is a Trail site, first and foremost, and we were surprised to hear that Sharman, who has run some dominating times on trails, doesn’t run trails the majority of the time. In fact, he splits it up all over the place, track, road, trail, montains, deserts, jungles etc.
Why though? Why run all of those different surfaces in order to run fast on crazy trail races? For Sharman it is the variety. He states the variety helps him feel challenged, especially when he is running something that is not his strength (shorter races and steep uphils).
Sharman, like so many of us has been out there on that tough run, asking “why am I doing this.” It it just another challenge endurance athletes face. The inner conversation that happens when you are out on your own.
So when does it happen to Sharman?  When does he say to himself “why”.
In most races I ask myself that, especially the longer ones where the uncomfortable feelings can last a very long time. It’s a certainly that there’ll be low points in any tough race, but the atmosphere surrounding races as well as the satisfaction of completing them makes it worthwhile. Also, the fitness you gain from being able to do extreme distances allows runners to get out into the mountains and see much more than hikers or unfit people ever could.
This conversation is often overheard by endurance runners. If your car broke down, you could run home. If you got stuck out in the woods and it was getting dark, you could run out faster than someone else would hike out. If there was an emergency and a car was not an option, you could run.
What about getting lost though? TrailsROC often hosts “Learn the Trail” events to show people different trail systems, but sometimes, even the pro’s get lost, and off course. Sharman says he has been off course in both races and in training runs, he backtracks, and is starting to use maps, and even garmin routes preloaded. He has  recently planned a 40-mile circumnavigation of Mt. Hood in Oregon using maps and garmin.
Sharmin has dome advice for those who want to play it safe when they hit long trail runs.
  I always make sure that outside of a race I take more liquids and food than I could need, just in case I get lost and it takes a long time to get back to civilization. It’s also good training to carry extra weight that you don’t intend to even use, except in an emergency.
The great question though is how to carry that extra weight? What do you use to train for 100 miles, what do you wear? What do you eat, what do you drink?
I usually prefer a hydration pack like the North Face Enduro Boa pack instead of handhelds since it’s more efficient to carry the weight on my back than swinging it in my hands. But I love the fact running is a simple sport and doesn’t require much kit if you don’t want it. Whatever people choose, they should try it out as much as possible in long runs before a race so any issues are discovered before it counts.
Sharmin says he uses all of the Clif Bar products because he loves the taste. Yet in typical ultra runner fashion, he adds in food like fruit, pretzles, and other aid station food. It also helps a ton that he is able to keep it down…
Luckily my stomach can take almost anything so I don’t have to be too careful.
Be sure to try out gear and nutrition before your races and really long runs. Nothing is worse than trying something new and when you are 10 miles in realizing it wont work and having it ruin your race (and all of your prep).
In addition to nutriton, gear, and focus Ian has some advice for runners interested in joining us out on the trails
Don’t do too much, too soon, especially if you don’t have a long history of playing sport or running – there’s a long time to build up to longer distances (I did ultras in my first year of running but waited 5 years to run a 100 miler, which is a different beast than even a 100k).
Trail running gives access to beautiful courses so pick races based on the scenery being a big factor, whenever possible.
Great advice Ian, and for some photos of the trails check our facebook page here and our Photos from the trail page here 
 After breaking course records, going under 13 hours for a 100 mile race, piling on the miles, we wanted to know what is next for Ian Sharman. What are his plans with running. Will he be around for a long time even though he has accomplished so much already?
I’ll always be a runner as long as my body lets me, which I hope is until I’m 100. I want to run all the biggest and most spectacular races around the world, whether on road, trail or whatever and to hopefully get some really good results along the way.
 We hope so too Ian!
 We also wanted to give Ian a chance to talk about his coaching. With all of his running experience is makes sense he would be able to help other athletes accomplish goals just as he has. Personal one on one time seems to be the key to his success as a coach
I found that over the past few years friends and then even strangers contacted me for advice about ultras so I eventually decided to formalize the arrangement as I enjoyed it. I now coach people via the internet and in person who come from all over the world and really love helping people avoid mistakes and build up to their potential over time. When they get a PR it almost feels like I’m getting one myself and I like passing on information and things I’ve learned over the years from training, racing and research. Everyone is different so it’s essential I get to know my clients well via Skype and email to really understand what works for them and what stumbling blocks they’ve dealt with in the past.
If you would like to keep up with Ian via the web, check the following.
For advice, race reports, and articles about ultras: http://sharmanian.blogspot.com/
His coaching website is http://www.sharmanian.com/.
Twitter as @sharmanian

Runner Spotlight – TrailsRoc crew

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#TrailsROC has been live for a few months now, we have featured races, training programs and runners. We have mapped trails, posted photos, and shared our love of the trails. We have designed and begun to show off shirts, bumperstickers and other product.  But who is the “we”. Who is behind all of this?

You have seen us tweet, use facebook, communicate in the forums and upload photos from the trail, but it is time to introduce ourselves. Ron, Ben, Sean, and Eric. We decided we wanted to share a bit about us. A bit about what makes us tick and why we call the trails home. So we sat down and hammered this out for your “enjoyment”, and information. We realize this comes on the heels of our race reports from Sehgahunda but we wanted it out here. Give us a look, but more importantly join us on the trails!

ERIC EAGAN

AKA “Ber Beer Bear”

@Trails2Brews

 

1. Why TrailsROC? What attracts you to the organization?

The roads just don’t always do it for me. Everything about it feels overdone to me. The traffic, the noise, the advertisements, the road rage, the people. It all feels so corporate to me. The trails are just the opposite. I feel closer to God on a hard trail run or mountain climb than any church service has ever left me. This organization gets that. TrailsROC and the people who are part of it, they love the trails as much as I do. That’s huge.

2. What is your endurance background AND what makes you tick… why do you run? 

I was just like Sean, I ran a lot through high school. was recruited at a bunch of schools and chose to run at SUNY Fredonia. I got hurt, flamed out, gained weight, and running seemed to be over for me. After college, and about 70 lbs heavier, I decided cycling would be my thing. I trained for a Tour De Cure, did 1 century ride and sold my bike the next day. I needed to be running, I love running. It just took me a little while to get back to it.

3. Why should people join TrailsROC? 

Besides the fact that we are 4 totally awesome dudes building a great community? We plan on partaking in trail clean ups, mapping out every trail in Monroe County, offering race previews and recaps, interviewing elites and local runners. IN other words, if you love the trails, you will love us. That should be reason enough!

4. Your favorite Trail Event? 

I love a lot of local races – The Trail Runner of the Year series we put on is awesome. If I had to pick one race though it might be the Muddy Sneaker trail run.

5. Where can we learn more about you? Blogs, twitter handles, etc.. 

My twitter handle is @Trails2Brews, I blog at http://www.trails2brews.com. Many of my blogs are also edited into different versions for the Greece Post. www.GreecePost.com/ericeagan and of course we all utilize the TrailsROC facebook and Twitter Pages. (like us and follow us!!)

6. What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done on a run? 

It was my senior year of XC in high school, we were running down Main Street in West Seneca when I saw a huge pile of leafs. I ran ahead of the team, jumped straight up and landed…. on rocks. A big pile of rocks. If it hadn’t been so funny to everyone else, I would have probably been in a lot more pain. Lesson learned. Do not jump in mysterious piles of anything…

7. What is your DREAM race and why?

Dipsea.  Dipsea is the oldest trail race in America. It is run every year on the second Sunday in June. The scenic 7.4 mile course from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world. The stairs and steep trails make it a grueling and treacherous race. I love that the race is handicapped and pretty much anyone can win, not just the elites. I have never been out west, let alone run out west… this would be a dream come true for me.

BEN MURPHY

AKA “Papa Smurph”

@athletedad


1. Why TrailsROC? What attracts you to the organization?

I’m attracted to it because I helped found it… and the reason is because it was needed. There’s an utterly amazing Trail Running scene out here in the Rochester region of New York. Seriously, we have world class trails here in the Great Lakes/Finger Lakes area as well as world class athletes, but nothing was deliberately pulling it all together as a resource for everyone to share. It was time someone did something about that.

2. What is your endurance background AND what makes you tick… why do you run?

My endurance background is that I don’t really have one. New Year’s 2010 I was obese. Not “Biggest Loser” obese, but I was – by the charts – obese. Earlier in my life I’d always been active having grown up in rural Pennsylvania running and biking around in the woods. Than I went to college, got married, started a career, had kids… and put on a lot of weight.

Since 2010 I’ve lost over 60 pounds, gotten hooked on triathlon and now specialize in long, solo, off road endurance events. I’m currently training for my first off road Ironman this September. Solo. To my knowledge there are fewer than 100 people on the planet who’ve completed an iron-distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run) event off road on trail. If someone had told me a few years back that I’d be doing all this I’d have thought it was hilarious! Skinny, endurance athlete, vegetarian? Wonders never cease.

What makes me tick? Adventure and discovering how much I’m capable of. So off road endurance racing definitely fits the bill. Plus, for me – with a busy family (I have three young kids who I adore) and crazy work schedule – there’s greatly needed tranquility for me in the time I’m out training. I need that peaceful time to function back in the real world. The thing about this whole weight loss -to- athlete journey that’s surprised me the most is getting to spend time telling folks my story. Stories give hope – and people need hope. 2/3 of the American population is overweight or obese. That’s staggering. So, there are a lot of folks out there looking for proof that this can be done. It can absolutely be done! It’s been really humbling seeing other people being positively impacted by my story.

3. Why should people join TrailsROC?

For the community. We literally threw this organization together because it was needed. There’s no pretense, no selfish ambition – it’s just doing our part to help pull together and promote the awesome trail scene here in our region. We’re proud of what’s going on in our region and we want to get new people involved in discovering the beauty of our trails.

4. Your favorite Trail Event?

Well, let’s define “trail” loosely. The 50k Trail Run, the 100 mile Mountain Bike, and Open Water Distance Swimming.

5. Where can we learn more about you? Blogs, twitter handles, etc..

My website is www.AthleteDad.com – folks can connect to all my social media through there.

6. What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done on a run?

Lots of dumb falls and stupid crashes. You know, when you’re hours into a trail run or a mountain bike ride, your brain isn’t quite so alert and quick… All kinds of things happen at that point – which is precisely one reason I enjoy the challenge of ultra so much. But flipping my mountain bike off a switchback into poison ivy had to be the most embarrassing “adding insult to bloody injury” crash I’ve had so far.

7. What is your DREAM race and why?

Well, there are actually 3 “dream races” on my radar that – if all goes according to plan – I’ll have knocked out in the next few years:

-ULTRAMAN –www.UltraManLive.com – a double-Ironman-distance+ triathlon held over 3 days each fall in Hawaii.

-The GRAND2GRAND –www.Grand2Grand.com – which is a brand new, week-long, self-supported trail ultra stage race involving theGrand Canyon.

-The TOUR DIVIDE –www.TourDivide.com which is a 2,700 mile self-supported mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail.

SEAN STORIE

AKA “White Turtle”

 @badmanrunning


1. Why TrailsROC? What attracts you to the organization?

I had thought about starting my own running club for a long time. A group that was trail oriented but was much more about getting more people into running than necessarily winning races. Meeting the other 3 guys, it seemed that they had similar goals in mind.

2. What is your endurance background AND what makes you tick… why do you run?

I ran track and cross country in high school and was recruited to run both at SUNY Geneseo. My Freshman year in college I got hurt and my inner drive to run fell apart. I really rediscovered running at the end of the summer of 2011. I had put on a little weight and was sluggish and lazy. I have 3 young kids and I realized I wanted to be a good role model for them, and wanted to have the energy levels to keep up with them! I love challenging myself, my favorite event in track was the steeplechase because it intimidated so many other people. I love pushing my limits and have always welcomed reaching and breaking through my own percieved thresholds.

3. Why should people join TrailsROC?

With TrailsROC you’ll find a group of people dedicated to getting more people out on trails, enjoying nature. We WANT to see ours trails packed with people hiking/running/biking. Rochester provides us with amazing natural wealth and we will get our community to see the potential!

4. Your favorite Trail Event? 

There’s no doubt that it is the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon. This race is the perfect balance of pain and beauty. Fleet Feet does a great job with the Dirt Cheap series as well, so I’d be amiss not to give them a mention here!

5. Where can we learn more about you? Blogs, twitter handles, etc.

@BadManRunning on Twitter, or check out my training on DailyMile http://www.dailymile.com/people/SeanS632#ref=tophd. I’ll also be posting a monthly blog post on this amazing site called www.TrailsROC.org . Haven’t heard of it? It’s an amazing site!

6. What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done on a run?

Nothing too bad, was on a training run at Seneca Park just cruising along running sub 8 min miles and really having a great time. Hadn’t seen anyone else out that morning, but as I got to the last couple of miles there was a really built dude out running the trail with his shirt off. He was moving along pretty well on the main trail. I moved off to the single track just off the right side of the trail got up on my toes and really put the hammer down, just as I passed him I caught my toe on a root and smashed down with a resounding WOOOOMPH. No injuries, but my pride was stung a little bit as I was showboating for sure.

7. What is your DREAM race and why? 

Leadville 100 The race holds some mystical force over me. The difficulty of the natural course paired with the history of it. Someday… someday…

Ron Heerkens Jr

 AKA “Goat”

 @gfmedia


1. Why TrailsROC? What attracts you to the organization?

Why not? With all the amazing trail systems available and the many races in the area, it seemed invetiable. A way to join the community and be the fiber that weaved the different groups and resources together. I wanted something that was easy for the avg joe but just as valuable if a professional runner stepped off a plane in Rochester, to know where and with whom they could run with.

2.What is your endurance background AND what makes you tick… why do you run?

Don’t have much of a background. Just returned to running last year after a 13+ year hiatus. I pushed myself to finish my first ever marathon 7 months after I picked up running again. Competitively up till last year I was strictly 1000m and shorter. After running a local Mudslog race and participating with a cross country series with my run club, I had been bitten by the trails. On May 26th I completed the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon, in October I plan on running my first 100K at Oil Creek.

3. Why should people join TrailsROC?

If you have even the slightest interest in anything but roads, then this is for you. Trails are good for so much physically/mentally that we at TrailsROC are just trying to promote it. And again, with all that is available in our area…WHY NOT?

4. Your favorite Trail Event?

The Sehgahunda Trail Marathon, but so far the most fun I have had was during the GVH Mudslog, a combo trail and obstacle event that was a blast.

5. Where can we learn more about you? Blogs, twitter handles, etc..

Twitter handle @gmedia , blog: http://www.ronheerkensjr.com . I’m not very interesting, just random thoughts and training/ race reports.

6. what is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done on a run?

Not much “embarrassing” other than constantly tripping or rolling ankles. Sure it’s pretty funny to whomever has run with me.

7. What is your DREAM race and why?

 Dream race hands down is to run Western States 100. I’ve been drawn to it since I learned about it and ultra running. The legend is the biggest draw of all. Coming in a close second would be the Pikes Peak marathon.

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So there you have it. Just 4 guys who love the trails sharing them with you. Spread the word, spread our site… then order a shirt and hang out with us on the trails some time!

Thanks for reading, we hope you are all enjoying our site!

#TrailsROC

 

 

Runner Spotlight – Jerry Armstrong

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Jerry Armstrong once ran 281 miles in 10 days while raising $6,000 for the Iron Andy foundation (which helps pay for camps for children with type 1 diabetes).  But we do not find him out running big miles or climbing rocky terrain today. We instead find him in a room where the temperature is upwards of 100 degrees. He is surrounded  by people of all shapes and sizes, bending, twisting, breathing, but most of all sweating through another round of Bikram Yoga.

Armstrong is in this group making his body stronger, but the focus is likely on his mind. To find out what an ultra runner like Jerry is doing in this yoga studio we have to go back a little ways.

As an ultra runner and a former  Marine, Jerry understands that sometimes the biggest challenge you will ever face is the voice in the back of your head that wants you to quit. The only way to banish that voice back where it belongs is to have mental fortitude.

But yoga for a marine and police officer and mountain runner?  These tough guys don’t need that, do they? Jerry speaks very matter of factly about yoga and how much it helps his running, specifically Bikram Yoga.

Yoga, more specifically, Bikram’s 26 postures, help me prevent and repair overuse injuries. The postures target areas traditionally taxed by distance runners…those being the IT bands, leg muscles, lower back, and shoulders. The benefits also include increased balance, strength, and flexibility. Over time, you also start to experience the 90 minute session as a form of moving meditation, much like a long run. All of this helps one deal with stress and brings greater balance to your life.

Balance comes into play because as you hear Jerry tell it, he has always been “attracted to challenges”. He has always wanted to take on the toughest stuff and impress the hard to impress. This is what pushed him to become a Marine in the first place. The challenge, as well as the want to belong to something big and special. It didn’t end with the Marines though, Jerry eventually became a SWAT team sniper with the police department. He still felt the need for something more, though.

…none of those groups satisfied my personal drive to find like-minded people than the eclectic subculture of ultramarathon. For that reason, I am ever grateful for finding ultrarunning so early in my life.

 

Without this balance, the drive for the edge and the search for thrills, the yearning for a challenge will sometimes drive people in the wrong direction. You see, one thing many ultra runners seem to have in common is an addictive, type A personality. Jerry Armstrong would be no different.

Armstrong, as we said though, has always been driven athletically. His first word was ball, he could throw well before he could walk. In high school after not making the baseball team he took up wrestling. It was his endurance over his strength, however, that helped him win in a way that it was clear he was mentally outlasting his opponents.

When he finished school, Armstrong enlisted as a Marine, learned some machining, then became a police officer, earning the Physical Fitness Award in the academy. It was here that he met Paul Schmidt, an ultrarunning veteran.

 I remember running alongside him in the academy 12 years ago…his legs were like tree trunks and his stride was soft and effortless. I had not yet discovered ultrarunning, but his demonstration of body mechanics and humble attitude toward 100 mile runs planted a seed in my mind.

That type A competitive spirit didn’t stop here, though.  He didn’t feel anyone at the academy had really challenged him for the Physical Fitness Award, and he even felt the same way about the Marines. It came down to one thought.

“You may be the fastest fish in the pond” Armstrong would say, “but how would you do in the ocean?”

Type A personalities.

Competitive overdrive.

Lack of balance.

At this time in his life Armstrong was newly married, had lots of spare time and money on his hands. A void in his time and excess money, as Armstrong put it, “opened the door to bad things.”

I started gambling money. It was legal gambling, of course…but it was unhealthy none-the-less, and it was something like $1,500-2000 month. Yes, I know…ridiculous. It took a toll on my new marriage and Jen asked me to recognize the problem and make change. I loved her with all my heart, and the thought of losing my marriage to a silly thing like that was not acceptable. I immediately took action.

Armstrong realized it was time come to grips with his addictive energy drive. In other words he needed to redirect his addictive type-A personality. He chose the triathalon. Living in San Diego at the time, he was surrounded by top tier triathletes. In typical Armstrong fashion, he made a bold statement.

Within two months, I announced to my family I was going to be an “IronMan” by time I was 30 years old. They didn’t hear the “announcement” I thought I was making. You see, when I say “I’m going to become an IronMan, I’m not messing around. I mean that, without a doubt, I’m going to do whatever it takes to earn that title!”

In a few years, Jerry accomplished his goal, finishing an IronMan (2006) with his wife Jen at his side, carrying their 3 week old son Jalen with him across the line. Jen had supported Jerry through her pregnancy even though family members questioned how he could be training for such an event while his wife was home pregnant.

One of the main challenges endurance runners face is the feeling of selfishness. With a support crew like the one Jerry had, he finished his IronMan and his life was forever changed.

His wife had just given birth after months of pregnancy, his son Jalen was 3 weeks old, this goal had taken him 4 years to reach, he was no longer gambling, and they all crossed the finish line together. That is symbolic in that it took the entire family making sacrifices to get there.

I was forever changed. We now have a picture of that moment in our house and a sign hang beneath which reads, “And they lived happily ever after.” We became the “endurance family.”

There is nothing “quick” about training for Ultrarunning. It takes time. Armstrong is lucky though–his wife is very supportive of this ‘addiction’ rather than one that could be destructive. She, too, is an endurance athlete. His wife is a cyclist. She has a former Olympian as a coach and trains for century rides on her Trek road bike. But why does Armstrong call them “the endurance family”? Surely many families have husband and wife teams that compete in endurance events. The question is, how many have a 6 year old who ran a 1/2 marathon when he was 5? How many have a 3 year old that completes a trail event? As Armstrong puts it,  “He was last to finish, but a huge group of people waited for him at the finish as he shuffled across the finish…barely 2 feet tall.” With the support of his family, Armstrong is capable of tackling huge runs and who knows, maybe one day we will be featuring his son right here on this site!

In the process of prepping for his IronMan, Armstrong read Dean Karnazes’ book “Ultramarathon Man”. In doing so he finally discovered the challenge that he had been looking for. A chance to take on something huge. A chance to do something even more rare than running a marathon.

Ultrarunning.

The “impossible.” From this point forward Armstrong knew there would be no limit. Endurance events became his passion. The longer the better. He thrived for the trails, the mountains and the long run. He slowly but surely began to put in the miles.

The transition from high school athlete, to Marine, to gambler, to ultra endurance athlete was complete. It is not all easy from this point forward though. Becoming a great endurance athlete has it’s challenges. Challenges like training.

Armstrong is really clear about the training, warning would-be newbies that it takes months, perhaps even years of putting in miles before you can go out and run a 100 mile race, or complete an IronMan. You do not just “show up” and run 100 miles.

When you do not feel like training, when you are tired, when you are hungry, angry, happy or sad, you train. To complete these events the mental fortitude of training has to be bigger than the want to sit home, sleep in, watch T.V. Armstrong talks about his self discipline with a kind of quiet pride.

Self-discipline guides your training, your planning, and your ability to manage your “wants” vs “needs”. So, throughout the training process, you fight the struggle to do things that are comfortable or self-gratifying in the immediate, rather than working hard day in and day out so you can be successful months in the future.

We at TrailsROC know that Jerry has found a place where he and his family can succeed, and the feeling that pays off at the end is like no other feeling in the world. There is something that 100 miles on the trail can do for (or is it to?) your mind. Learning the self discipline in running and endurance teaches you self discipline in life. You learn not to let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

This bring us to trails and Jerry’s love for them. In 2008, the Armstrongs moved from San Diego (the mecca of triathalons) to Colorado (where world class trail running calls home). There, in Colorado, Jerry was able to run some of the worlds most famous trail and mountain races. He, like many of us, fell in love with the allure of the trails.

“I run trails 98% of the time,” Armstrong says, and like us, knows very few runners who go from trail running to road running. It seems almost everyone who makes a huge jump goes from roads to trails. Armstrong falls in line with the thinking of many of the world’s great trail runners–that the trails offer so much more psychologically than the roads ever do. There is a reason that trail runners are able to run thousands of miles a year pretty pain free.

 For me, the variances in trail running spread the load through more diverse movement, compared to road running. The body is challenged by the subtle differences in the trail every day due to erosion, weather, etc… So, it is never exactly the “same” trail. On the complete opposite of that, a track is exactly the same as it was yesterday. So, the slight differences we all have in one leg over the other, or the tendency of one of our knees to be stronger than the other, are exaggerated by these sterile “repetitive” surfaces. While, trails are varied and diverse…requiring the body to use its imperfections for advantage.

Jerry has also found a deep connection with nature through trail running. Killin Jornet, the current King of mountain running, always speaks about the “spirit of the mountain.”  Armstrong has always referred to these as his “Conversations with the Trail,” which later became the name of one of his blogs. Everything he ever wrote for ‘Conversations with the Trail’ was syndicated to a larger website he now writes for called www.TrailandUltrarunning.com

Like many of us, the foray into trail running and then the Ultra-Distance is a physical challenge, yet oftentimes moves to something more spiritual. As the author of this piece and a fellow trail runner, I have never felt closer to God than when I am rising a hill at sunrise or coming through the trees at sunset.  As Armstrong says,

Compassion and love are at the core of where my mind goes during all day runs. If I run 50 or 60 miles through the mountains, listening and absorbing the energy of animals and nature, I immediately recognize the lack of peace that exists in the busy world of modern society.

When people talk about trail running events, they use words like “inclusive,” “fun,” “low key,” “laid back.” The connection to nature is obviously helping. Armstrong agrees feeling after these long trail runs he is kinder and more loving than when he is not running. This connection with nature is great, but in order to not end up as a statistic you have to be prepared. Finding himself “off the trail” in a few of his more recent ultras, Armstrong says you have to pay attention, and you have to be prepared.

It is also no coincidnence that a connection to nature such as this attracts many ultra runners to a plant based, vegetarian, and often vegan diet. 7 time winner of the prestigious Western States 100 Scott Jurek is a vegan. Many runners feel that this style of nutrition is exactly what is needed to recover and fuel for long runs. Many of the additives of non-plant based sports nutrition programs cause issues with endurance athletes. There is no real proof as of yet that a plant-based diet will lead to success, and many Ultra-runners eat hamburgers and steak like it’s going out of style, yet Armstrong finds a lot of benefits to more natural eating. He states he enjoyed incredible benefits from excluding dairy from his diet. Excluding dairy, he states, helped him greatly with digestion, sleep, skin clarity, and more. “I think cow’s milk is a perfect food…for baby cows!” Recognizing a benefit does not mean the switch will always be easy (ask someone trying to quit smoking).

I had several ‘starts’ with moving to a plant-based diet. It actually took a few years…and through various modifications, I had an eventual moment where I just knew I had to go all the way. That moment was a terrible “pulled pork” sandwich from a roadside bbq guy. It had knuckles throughout and grease dripping. I threw it in the trash and said, “that’s it…no more meat, no more eating animals.”

While Armstrong has chosen to go plant-based for nutritional and performance based reason he has developed a greater overall respect for both plants AND animals. A compassion for living things has developed, and he has begun to believe in the importance of harmony with the Earth. Long runs have given him clarity and vision that no longer affords him of the luxury of ignoring the selfish and destructive way modern society lives.

Again – It comes back to balance doesn’t it?


So how do you stay prepared for 6 hours in the wilderness? 6 hours of hard running, not just hiking. Is “balance” enough? How do you  find a way to carry enough gear, but not too much gear? It takes experience. When Armstrong was new to the long distance world, he would carry too much. Just to be safe. ( A technique I suggest you follow until you know how you handle distance and terrain.)  He now knows what he can manage (and succeed) with.

He also figures ahead of time whether or not he needs fresh water or if he will come across any on his run. With that said he does use the following.

-Ultimate Direction 24oz handheld bottles (clear plastic, so I can visually est. fluid intake)

-Ultimate Direction WASP pack w/bladder removed- I love the front-access on this pack and I carry this rig for storage of my food, water, filter, S-caps, etc.. I’ve had about 5 of these WASP packs in my running career and they are the best for ultra in my opinion.

-Camelback ceramic water filter attachment: On extensive outings, like 40-60 miles, I attach the filter to a camelback bladder, scoop up river or lake water, and filter the water into our handhelds.

-New Balance 101 and/or 110: I truly enjoy the ‘minimalist’ shoes and the NB101s seem to be my favorite, although they were out-phased for the 110s. I see Krupicka here on a regular basis cranking out mileage in the same treads. If you look inside the heel cup of the New Balance 110, you will see a picture of the Boulder Flatirons, where we run in Boulder. Honestly, the terrain is gnarly here and those New Balance treads are excellent for the trails we love so much.

-Garmin 310xt w/HR monitor: My 305 recently died and the 310xt became my new friend. I love it and enjoy the extended battery life and waterproof qualities.

It’s one thing to have the gear to cover 100 miles or to figure out what works for you in training. It’s one thing to train for the event, to try to get yourself ready for the event. But what does it really take to cover 100 miles in a single event? Every runner has his or her own techniques to these events and his or her own way to take the challenge. For Armstrong, he gains his confidence from his prep. He will actually run rehearsal runs so that he has 100% confidence he will finish the race.

I am racing the Leadville 100 this summer. So, I will train every step of the course throughout the preceding months. My “race rehearsal” will be a 60 mile run, which starts from the actual starting line at 4am just like the race itself. There will be no aid station, no music, no crew. I will have some running partners join me, but it will primarily be a time trial of what I think is possible for me the following month on race day. From that race rehearsal, I will obtain accurate assessments about my possible finish time, and also acquire the 100% complete confidence that I can run the race at the top of my game. I’ll examine my heart rate information and nutritional intake. Not everyone does this type of thing, but this is how I prepare for my key races.

Armstrong has been running/participating in ultra events for 7 years now. He has seen his life balance out from the days of his youth. He has gone from youth athlete to Marine, to Police Officer, to problem gambler, to IronMan and now to Ultra finisher. So what’s next? Armstrong, aware of the balance he has found, has actually been able to train harder and find more success. The drive, though, the type A personality won’t change. The satisfaction from “finishing races” is changing. Is he perhaps ready to “race” to “compete”?

My new challenge was to “race” the ultramarathons I enter. Running these races competitively is a whole new ballgame. It took me years to get to this point…but winning races and competing within myself, but amongst the others at the front of the pack, is what drives me right now. It is higher stakes poker game, in which you must know what is physically possible for yourself, but also ride the edge to the very last step. I don’t think I was ready to do this before now…it took years of experimentation to know what tools I have and how to use them.

Outside of racing and improving Armstrong sees a real future in this sport. The ultra sport is booming and will be in need of coaches and business men with his experience and commitment. Armstrong knows what it takes and has a lot of advice to offer a runner interested in hitting the trails.

The greatest inhibitor to being successful in these races, or life for that matter, is found in the limitations you put on yourself. My advice? Life is very short… you don’t have time to sit around for “someday.” Dream a magical dream, and imagine where you want to be in your life…and then set of on a great journey of personal development that sees you reaching that goal with happy tears! If running 100 miles is your goal, then stop being curious and start the journey. You will learn about yourself and meet great people on that adventure to self-realization. This is what gives me great happiness on a daily basis.

In addition to that, Armstrong is a staff writer for  www.TrailandUltrarunning. To document the Colorado trail running seen Armstrong created the “Colorado Mountain Ninjas,” a hand picked team of trail runners. They document trail runs, you can check them out at  www.FloTrail.com

But still, we come back to Bikram. We come back to the 105 degree room. There has to be more to this than just cleansing the mind and getting bendy? As a Marine, the self discipline in there, the mission first message is hardwired into his brain. Comfort is not a requirement for Armstrong. Yet early in his running career, the high mileage took its tole. As back and knee injuries settled in, Armstrong sought medical help. A doctor informed him his running days were over due to a deteriorating disc problem in his back. A second opinion informed him that the original diagnosis was completely wrong. He slowly began to lose trust in standard western medicine.

So here we sit sweating. Dripping. Steaming. Armstrong believes that with his yoga and plant-based diet, he has found a way to eliminate inflammation caused by long runs, speeding his recovery and keeping him healthy. It is through this sweat induced calm that Armstong has begun to work on a book called “Run with Bodhi.”  The story is about a character named “Bodhi” who is being raised to be a distance runner. He is literally running towards enlightenment.

I believe Armstrong is working on finding himself within this Bodhi character. Finding his balance. Finding his calling. The research in this book has helped give him strength on the trails.

Bodhi’s daily mission is to run from morning until night, learning from nature and reading the daily passages provided by ‘Sentai,’ his adoptive father and teacher. I feel that “Bodhi” is the mindset I develop when I am running, myself. So, I try to capture the purity of thought, the inspiration of the earth, and energy of Bodhi into a character who can teach the reader about what it means to run for enlightenment. The character “Bodhi” is a fictional character, but something tangible that became a catalyst for my deepest thoughts in running meditation. All of this is still evolving.

So here we sit, still sweating. Still dripping. A Marine. An endurance athlete. A father. A former gambling addict. A “Bohdi.”  Searching for balance. Armstrong seems to have found his pathway to balance. It just includes thousands of miles of trails and the steamed out calm of the yoga room.

For more information on Jerry Armstrong please see the following.

Staff writer at www.TrailandUltrarunning.com

Personal Blog/Coaching: www.JerryArmstrong.blogspot.com

Colorado Mountain Ninjas FloTrail Channel: http://www.flotrail.com/coverage/248635-CO-Mountain-Ninjas


Runner Spotlight – Ashley Walsh

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The trails are still dark, there is dew on the fields and the early morning mist is just lifting. That’s when it happens, a burst of blonde energy comes around the corner and in a flash is gone. Just like that, back into the mist. If you were out hiking the Appalachian Trail that early misty morning and you blinked, you may have missed her.

     Ashley Walsh spends hours each week and runs thousands of miles each year so she can be the runner blowing by you as you struggle your way over a hard uphill section of a trail.  Ashley is an ultra runner and was the top overall female (6th overall) in the Ancient Oaks 100 miler  and the top overall Female (2nd overall) in A Stroll in Central Park 12 Hour Race (in which she ran 70.4 miles). She has not always been an Ultra Runner though. In fact, she did not begin crushing it at the over marathon distance until just a few short years ago. It wasn’t until then that she had ever even heard of an ultra.

” My close friend, Beth McCurdy (from BethEats2Run.blogspot.com), introduced me to the idea of ultras when she told me she was running a 100 mile race. Once I became aware of the distances past the marathon, it was an easy step to take towards the ultra direction. I was drawn to the seemingly impossible idea of her 100 miles of nonstop running. Beth inspired me to do the same. I ran my first 100 about 2 years after my first half marathon.”

     We were lucky enough here at TrailsROC to have the opportunity to interview Ashley Walsh. To give her a chance to tell us her story, and to help us figure out what it takes to become one of the top Ultra Runners around.

     Not only has Ashley Walsh become the epitome of fitness and a champion distance runner, she has done so while overcoming a severe drug addiction brought on by a need to fit in and constant grade school teasing that “the new kid”  always seems to endure as her family moved from school to school while a youth. She even failed phys ed 2 times because of her inability (or disinterest) in completing the running component.

      

   So just how did a woman who once called her husband “nuts” for running to the stop sign on their street, (.7 miles) become such a dominant force in the world of ultra running? Why did that woman decide to run 100 miles? She called her husband nuts, and then she realized there must be more out there for them. It was around this time that Ashley decided that to be the mom she wanted to be, and to be the wife she felt her husband deserved that she would get herself in shape. Six months later she ran a 24 minute 5K and the rest as they say, is history.

     For many of us, running, and specifically trail running is a  way to kick back at the demons of our past, to pound them out on the trails and to leave them behind in a stuttering mess of mud and rock, broken and exhausted in our wake. Ashley is no different.

“Ever since I started running, I have always craved to push myself harder: faster, farther, running crazier trails and doing tougher races. No matter the way I choose to do it, I simply like to push myself past the comfort zone.”

     It is leaving this comfort zone that we all can embrace what comes next, and in trail running, what comes next is typically something like a big hill or rocky creek bed to traverse. We wanted to know if what drives Ashley to run trails is the same as what drives many of us. As someone who grew up on a farm, Ashley naturally gravitates to the trails, but it’s what she says about why she does this that is the same reason many city folk do the same.

“I enjoy the sense of rawness I get when I sprint through the trees on a twisty single track. There is nothing quite like it.”

     “Nothing quite like it” may be the best way to define trail running. Asphalt is asphalt. Trails are  never the same, not from one day to the next, not from one season to the next. Trails are alive and it that seems to be one thing that keeps runners like Ashley coming back time and time again.

     But what does it really take? What does a mother of 2 have to do in order to accomplish what Ashley has accomplished at such an early age with toddlers running around the house? The realization as she puts it is that “Family comes first”.

      Many people may roll their eyes and say “there is no way you can run that kind of mileage and still say family comes first”, Ashley disagrees (as do we at trailsROC ). We each find our own ways to fit in our mileage and we each have families, but the question for Ashley is how does she do it. She ran over 6,000 miles last year. How can you do that and be family focused? Some of us literally may not even drive that far this year. So what is the rule? How does it work?

The rule is family first “It is easy to unintentionally forget this rule when you are very focused on achieving a big goal! In the past, I have trained at well over 100 miles a week. I did almost all of my running predawn before my children (6 & 4 year olds) were awake. I will do this again when I amp up my training miles this summer. I find that it is absolutely necessary to make sure that my family knows that while I like to run, I do not value running over time that could be spent with them. My actions should always reflect these feelings”

     Like many of us who love to play around and get dirty on the trails, Ashley realizes we can never do this with a proper support system and in order to have that, we have to support them as much as they support us. When speaking of her family, specifically her husband, Ashley knows these races (and even long training runs) won’t happen without him, so she makes sure to be fair to his interests. Running can often seem like a selfish sport. It can be isolating. It can take hours each day. When not done with that in mind it can be polarizing. So what can you do? How do you find the middle ground?

“It is all about balance and prioritizing the most important things. Running is great, but our loved ones are much much greater! I make sure he gets the same amount of time to enjoy his hobbies in return.”

     But what about the mileage you might ask? How can you be sure to not overdo it and wind up cranky, tired, or injured all taking time away from your family and friends? Ashley admits it can be a challenge, perhaps the biggest challenge ultra runners face. Each runner is different, each runner can handle different amounts of running. It is important to roll the miles up slowly if you are new, and to listen to your body. If you are a new runner or have been at it for years listening to your body will be the most important clue as to just how much you can handle. Trails are also a lot different from roads, so listen closely, and be prepared for changes needed for success.

 “The challenge for me is making sure I do not do more than my body can handle. My mind is always very willing to run fast, far, and hard, but oftentimes my body simply can’t keep up”

     So what about actually getting out on the trails? What do you do? What do you need? What should you know? You  have to stay prepared and at the ready. As for gear there is a fine line between carrying what you need for a long run in the woods and having so much that is weighs you down, Ashley knows this and offers up some advice on what she does. This will be different for each runner, yet her advice is sound, yet we suggest newer runners air on the side of too much over too little. Better safe than sorry. As your experience goes up, your pack list may very well go down. Besides what she packs in, Ashley never hits the trails without her Sole Spikes. You can’t tackle big slippery trails safely without some grip!

“I prefer to run with a women’s Nathan Intensity pack without the bladder. I keep my food, cell phone, and first aid in the pack, and use a handheld bottle for liquids. If I am going out for a really long unsupported run, I will use the pack bladder instead. My thoughts on gear are that it is best to be prepared but not overly prepared. You don’t want to be lugging 10 extra pounds over 100 miles. Plan out exactly what you need pre race and if there are water and aid stations- take note of these and plan your gear accordingly.”

     As for safety; (a big concern, especially among female runners, and especially among female trail runners). Besides clipping a knife to her bra that she runs with at all times (as a sort of last resort protection) being prepared and knowing where you are plays a huge role. Always let someone know where you are going, when you plan to be back and what  you have with you (solid advice for any runner, not just trail runners). Bring a map, bring some water, and have a plan. Even professional runners get off track and get twisted inside out when on the trails. Make sure you know where you are going and how to get back.

“In my last 100 mile attempt, I got badly off course.  Thankfully, I was with several others and we had a map, so we were able to navigate our way back to the right path.  Other than that, there really hasn’t been that many times that I’ve gotten too terribly lost.  When I explore new trails, I always hang a right any time I come to an intersection. This makes it easy to find my way back in case I get a little turned around.”

  

      It’s not all beautiful scenery and happy thoughts out on the trails. Running mileage like this is a challenge, it takes hard work it takes preperation. With the increase in people running longer and attempting longer races it is important to figure out how to safely do it. When we asked what the key to succeeding the way she has was and Ashley agreed with us that it is indeed hard work. She then gave us some tips.

Proper training, an unbreakable spirit, and basically a good day.  100s are becoming pretty popular, and there are many people who just dive in without putting much thought or training into it, and these people rarely have what it takes to actually complete the gig. It may look like a lot of fun, but actually finishing 100 miles hurts like heck. It takes a ton of grit, patience, and pain tolerance to push through to the finish. Yet, even for a well trained ultra athlete, 100 miles isn’t ever a guarantee. It takes so long to cover the distance that pretty much anything can happen-  a blizzard, lightening storms, a broken ankle.. ANYTHING!”

  

     So even if you train your guts out people still do not complete the courses? How, why?  A DNF (did not finish) when you worked so hard? As we said though, rain, snow, wind, animals, stomach issues and most of all out on the trails our emotions can get the better of us. Highs are really high, but the lows can be miserably low. Finding a support system as Ashley has is one key to her success.

     This does not mean she has been without trial in her time as an ultra runner. She admits to having breakdowns. On runs, in races, and everywhere in between. What serious runner has not done this or has not taken themself too seriously? Ashley, like many of us trains because she loves the way it makes her feel, even the emotional lows.

 “My husband and friends always have to remind me that I run for fun, and train because I love the way it feels. I am thankful to have others that support my hobby and help me keep my head on straight.”

      We at TrailsROC think Ashley has a bright future in our sport, she has a few wins under her belt already, a few burnouts to learn from (recently she was forced to take a few months off from training because she had overdone it). She has a support crew to rely on and an understanding of how all the pieces fit together. She accomplished all of this in just a few short years. While she is not currently craving the races as often as she once was, this may keep her fresh and boil her competitive spirit even more. Again, it is about balance, so Ashley sees herself crushing some 100 mile races and enjoying her “downtime” in between.

      For anyone interested in getting involved in trail running, or even more intense into ultra running, Ashley is pretty clear that it takes work.  Hard work.

It takes commitment, it takes support, and it really is not a sport for everyone.  don’t feel bad if your body simply doesn’t agree with longer distances. Some of us are built for short and fast, and others for long and slow. Either way, remember to enjoy yourself and don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Explore your local trails, and mentally get lost in the amazing natural world around you- because if you miss all the beauty you are missing the real rewards!

     

“Explore your local trails”

We at TrailsROC could not agree more.

For more information about Ashley Walsh please see below

 

Though I am a runner, I am also known for my writing. I am the writer at www.ultrachicksunite.com, a website celebrating female ultra athletes. My writing will be featured this year at the legendary Badwater 135 race (www.Badwater.com) as I join the official race staff to provide media coverage for the female racers. This will be a first for me, and for the race. So I am very excited to be a part of this! I also blog daily about the ups and downs of being an obsessive and emotional trail junkie atAshWalsh.wordpress.com