Friday, March 28, 2008

Umstead Updates & Runner's High

The Race Director for the Umstead 100 has released the final roster (w/ number assignments) for next weeks big race. Yours truly has drawn '206' for a number, which is notable because that is exactly how many bones in my body will be hurting by time I finish. For those of you unfamiliar w/ the human form and don't understand that reference, click here and read the first sentence.

I was also able to spot another super-star of the ultra world on the roster. Matt Kirk has come back after a couple years away from the race to set up what should be an amazing showdown with returning champ Serge Arbona. A look at the all-time standings for this race shows Serge has run the 2nd fastest time ever on this course, and Matt has run the 3rd (just a few minutes off Serge's pace). An interesting side note about this match-up of elite 100 milers is the age of the runners: Matt is 27, Serge is 43. One of the truly great aspects of the 100 mile world compared to shorter races is that age is not necessarily a bad thing. It takes a long time to figure out how to properly pace/fuel/train for races of this distance, and aside from a few young guns out there, most elite 100 milers don't peak until their late 30s and 40s. I guess that proves practice does make perfect in this sport...then again, maybe the reason for the success of these older runners is just a result of early-onset Alzheimer's which allows them to more easily forget the horrible pain they put themselves through every race. Either way, I find it quite nice to be considered "young" for my sport.

Speaking of the biological make-up of the body, my buddy C.H. sent me this N.Y. Times link about the mystery of "runners' high". It talks about the link of endorphins in the brain and the euphoric feeling some endurance athletes experience during/after races. Seeing that I head out on 4 to 5+ hour runs every week, I feel I'm experienced enough in this world to add my thoughts here.

I can certainly agree that the endorphins released during a long run help energize me for certain periods, but it's not the fact that I'm running per se that brings me to the level of a euphoric high. Most people agree that running 100 miles requires just as much work mentally as it does physically, and it is the mental aspect of running that I've found to control my endorphin releases more than anything else.

We all need to experience certain "triggers" out there to release endorphins as we run. Listening to music, running w/ others, and experiencing emotionally-charged thoughts are common triggers for most runners. For me, the triggers that work early in a race aren't necessarily those that will be useful for me later on. For example, the first two or three times I run past my crew at an aid station, the excitement of seeing them causes a major spike in my energy level that allows me to glide through the next couple of miles almost effortlessly. ...but after seeing them a few times, the experience is less novel and I no longer feel the same rush (of course it's still nice to see them!).

After 5 or 10 hours of running, I need to find new motivational sources to spike my endorphins. In the Vermont 100 last summer, I picked up my iPod at mile 77 for motivation. Being someone who never runs with music, the excitement of hearing my pre-selected "VT100" playlist helped re-energize my legs for a few miles at a time. When music or seeing friends/family aren't working and I find myself slipping into a runner's fog (the opposite of a high), I search my brain for memories or thoughts that will jump-start my legs again. For me, emotional thoughts of my cancer treatments and my friends who weren't as lucky as me generate tremendous waves of energy that I feed off of for miles and miles.

Maybe the reason so many 100 milers don't blossom until they hit middle-age is because on average younger folks simply haven't experienced as many major emotional events in their lives. Sure, some people have the natural talent to win a 100 mile race without needing to rely on the same type of emotions for energy, but I know there's no way I could run 100 miles (never mind 192!) without the past few years of experiences under my belt. ...and, of course, the iPod clipped ON my belt cranking out punk tunes helps too.


JW said...

That's an interesting look into the head of someone who has to sustain interest, energy, and awakeness for 100+ miles, Merci!

I like that you're a bony 206.

The number is also tied to a tiny french racing car that my euro-friend Giovannibatista drives. So you'll be bone-strong and tres-rapide!

Dan Rose said...


I'll imagine myself flying over the course like the '206' car in that shot.

Maybe I should wear a 'Speed Racer'-style helmet while I run to add to the effect...complete with racing goggles as well. I like it!