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Thread: Ultra marathon(ers) - impressed? page

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    iniQuity's Avatar
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    Ultra marathon(ers) - impressed?

    This link inspired the question: RossTraining.com Blog
    which coincidentally was posted on the same day as this one: How Running a Marathon Can Seriously Harm Your Health

    When I read Born to Run it definitely sparked an interest in me to run more, but in my case that meant going from running daily 5Ks to maybe trying to run a 10k... sometime. I never did it, to date I haven't run a 10k for the sake of a 10k but probably have done that mileage and then some playing soccer - I do plan on it, though.

    Then I discovered MDA/primal lifestyle, etc and decided I wouldn't bother to conquer more miles, since I didn't love to run as much as the people in the book.

    We're all probably well aware of the correlation that most of the world makes: If you can run and cover great distances, you must be very fit and healthy. At least that's how I felt, and though I read the book a very long time ago, I don't recall it ever stating otherwise -- but please correct me if I'm wrong. The purpose of the book was obviously to glorify ultra-marathons.

    I'm not impressed with marathons, and definitely don't care for ultras. I guess I don't see the point in them. The video above is impressive, sure, because of how old the guy is, and I don't take anything away from him at all. At the same time though, if a 75 year old man can finish, is the contest itself still impressive? Does it say anything about the health of the participant, or their fitness level?

    This morning coincidentally I was also reading about the Chasqui, who were men during the time of the Incas that would traverse distances to deliver messages, food and other items across the Inca Empire. They, however, had a relay system, so one chasqui would run to another post where a fresh chasqui would continue the journey. You can read more about it here: The Chasqui - Athlete of the Andes: The Inca Speed Messenger | Suite101.com

    Though they're usually pictured with sandals, this article said:

    Qualities the Chasquis Required

    The training of chasquis involved plenty of running, racing and scaling hills. Their legs had to be particularly strong and their toes, which were slightly splayed, needed to grip well on the uneven surfaces they covered.
    Sounds more like a sprinter type of build and training. Inca males supposedly were much bigger, taller and stronger than current Peruvians (I offer myself as exhibit A) but they were more of a pure race than present day Peruvians which are mixed with Spanish and Africans.

    More,

    The chasquis carried messages knotted onto the string quipus which contained official records and other information along roads cut through the Andes Mountains, running at full speed for nine miles or more. They kept going for around 2.4 miles per hour at a stretch between one tampu (post station) and the next, which meant they had to keep up top speed for as long as fifteen minutes.

    On reaching the tampu, the chasqui handed over his message to another courier who ran with it in his turn to the next tampu. Through this relay system, the chasquis could cover tremendous distances in a relatively short time. A message could be taken as far as 250 miles in a single day and would reach Cuzco, the Inca capital, from Quito (Ecuador) a distance of 1,250 miles in only five days.
    So, it seems as though the purpose of the Chasqui wasn't to run long distances, but to run short distances as fast as he could. The treacherous terrain and the unfriendly weather conditions (cold and thin air) lead me to believe the chasquis were as well built and conditioned as this article makes them out to be. Apparently, Sopa Inca enjoyed fresh fish whenever he wanted thanks to the chasquis, despite the nearest source of fish being 190 miles away.

    General thoughts?
    What's the longest distance you covered? and/or the fastest mile you've ever done?

    Myself, I'm not about to knock people that enjoy running long distances, and don't do it because they think longer=healthier. Personally, it doesn't impress me. Surely their endurance is out of this world, but it's not an activity that I find worthy of praise. Obviously this is only my opinion.

    My longest distance, were I was purely just running for the sake of it is probably ~5 miles. My fastest mile was during my soccer days in high school, I think it was around 6 mins or so, and it wasn't very pleasant because my diet was shit and I didn't properly train for it.

    It goes without saying that I'd rather train like a chasqui, than an ultra marathoner.

    PS: Peru FTW, all your countries were belong to us, Andes.

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    1.5 mi in 11:52 at the end of boot camp (had to finish in 12). I hate running, especially distance running, I'm not built for it. Short bursts of speed is what I was made for, a la baseball, soccer, swimming, water polo. I've never understood the distance running thing. Ultra is just crazy talk Impressive at 75... Yes
    Last edited by befitby40; 08-19-2011 at 08:26 AM.

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    I always like the OP's posts and attitude toward diet/fitness.

    I've ran several marathons before discovering Primal/Paleo in 2009. I now run 1 or 2 12K's per year and 1 half marathon, but don't train by running.

    My only comment is that just becuase a 75 year old can finish - it does not diminish the feat. I would recommend trying some distance before you dismiss the accomplishment. Running a decent marathon is no joke. The distance has been bastardized over the years by out of shape people slogging along who want to say they "ran a marathon". And that's not to take anything away from people to want to run a slow marathon - it's just that there's a BIG gap from 4+ hours as you work your way down to 3 hours or under.

    I'm not suggesting it's healhty or that this guy is "fit" by my standard, but Jesus - covering 135 miles at any pace sure as hell is a long way to go.

    I personally have zero desire to run 135 miles (and probably won't run any more marathons). But may we all be fortunate enough to be able to even consider that at 75 years old.

    Me? I'm impressed.

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    I heard it said somewhere that there's no way running a marathon is good for you, but after you do it, you'll never be the same.

    Yes - I'm impressed too - at 75 (hell at 25), that's an accomplishment.

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    Oh I really don't mean to discredit marathoners, or to say THEY are not impressive. It's almost like competitive eating to me though, sure it's impressive to eat 56 hotdogs, but it's also a silly and unhealthy practice. I view long distance running in the same fashion.

    I don't even like driving 50 miles, for the record. I would rather work up to 10 fast miles than 20 slow ones.

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    I've spent a lot of the last 16 years focused on ultras. I can guarantee that the ultra community doesn't really care whether anyone is impressed with them or not. My ultra days may be behind me, maybe not. I'm running a tenth of the miles I used to run, and when I run now, it's usually hard rather than far.

    It's an interesting sport that really teaches you things about yourself. When you are 75 miles into a 100 miler, you find yourself in a very raw, kind of primitive state. All the pre-race talking and BS is gone. The outside world is gone. Your body wants to quit. Your brain wants to quit. You're reduced to a place where the race is the only thing in the universe. It's an interesting place to hang out - a place most people never get to visit.

    I never had any illusions that I was running ultras for my health. It was for other reasons. After doing a bunch of fifties and hundreds, I feel like I have little left to learn about myself in that sport, so I've moved on, maybe for good, maybe not.

    For the record, I've gone 101.6 miles in the Hardrock 100 miler for my longest run, one of the toughest ultras out there. And, I've also run a 5:18 mile. Two different worlds.

    I will tell you that the people in the sport absolutely love what they are doing and that is why they do it. They don't care at all what others think. And, my ultra friends think my Primal diet and my CrossFit habit are bizarre, just like we might find their diet and exercise habits bizarre.

    Last weekend, I did a 100 mile, six person relay with some friends. Earlier this year, I jogged/hiked a very slow marathon. One thing I can say is that I've much rather have a CrossFitter's physique and strength than that of a typical distance runner.

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    The chasquis carried messages knotted onto the string quipus which contained official records and other information along roads cut through the Andes Mountains, running at full speed for nine miles or more. They kept going for around 2.4 miles per hour at a stretch between one tampu (post station) and the next, which meant they had to keep up top speed for as long as fifteen minutes.
    I think they meant to say "they kept going for around 2.4 miles at a stretch" (omit "per hour"). Otherwise it makes no sense. 2.4mph is a slow walk. On other other hand, 2.4 miles in 15 minutes is about 10mph, which is a decent pace for rough terrain. Add in the super-high altitude and it might make that a very hard pace to maintain.

    Anyway, as to the original topic, I am somewhat impressed by people who can run long distances as fast speed. In my limited experience, it's almost more of a mental thing than physical and the determination to keep pushing yourself to keep running fast mile after mile is somewhat impressive. I'm personally not really interested in it though. Right now I'm focusing on getting as strong as possible.
    Last edited by yodiewan; 08-19-2011 at 08:42 AM.

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    I think people who run long distances fast are impressive. I watched the elites go by at the last Boston marathon and it was nuts-- they're running faster than most people can run one mile anyway. Generally I agree that fastness is more impressive than distance. The furthest I've run is 17 miles, and there was a time when I would run in the teen miles at least once a week, but I have always sucked at speed.

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    My partner is into the marathon thing and wants to do an ultra. I worry about it--he's a big man (6'3", 245 pounds at 8-9% body fat), and long running is even harder on a large body like that. At every race, people are taken away in ambulances, and sometimes, they die. A friend of ours was hospitalized after a race this spring and may have done permanent damage to his heart. This seems like a bad idea to me. He says he knows that it isn't the most healthy thing, but for him, it's about the achievement.

    The longest race I've ever done is the K100 Relay, a 100-mile relay race (10 legs, each about 10 miles) over a mountain pass in southern Alberta. That was definitely long enough in my mind, and looking at the Chasqui thing, it would be a bit more in line with that sort of running. Even then, the training was pretty hard on the body.

    That said, I believe in supporting my partner if he has a dream, so I try to mitigate the harm by making sure he has good primal nutrition support--making up the carb needs with primal choices such as tubers and fruit, ensuring he has enough protein to repair the muscle damage, and getting quality fats in his diet for recovery. I think primal eating can be a good support to make up for the harm that the long running does. Sleep is also essential, as is cross training with weights so that he doesn't end up being "lungs on legs", which is the goal for those aiming to be elite marathoners but isn't the best idea if you want long-term health.

    But yeah, not thrilled with the plan to do an ultra. I sent him info on the Spartan races with the hope that he gets excited about those instead.
    “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” --Audre Lorde

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    A few random thoughts:

    Quote Originally Posted by iniQuity View Post
    We're all probably well aware of the correlation that most of the world makes: If you can run and cover great distances, you must be very fit and healthy.
    Agreed, and that's a general problem IMO. Running long doesn't make one healthy, and being healthy doesn't require the ability to run long. Furthermore, I personally think the healthiest/fittest people on earth rarely (if ever) run long. I think this belief is slowly being turned on its head though, thanks to people like Mark talking about "chronic cardio" and Doug McGuff explaining how "doing cardio" is a completely incorrect concept to begin with. Also, it seems like more and more evidence keeps popping up saying that going long is dangerous in several ways (to the heart and joints mostly, I think). And you're absolutely right, BTR is all about the good side of running, it says nothing of the potential hazards -- in fact, it often implies that running long is the "magic bullet" that people need to be healthy and live forever.

    Quote Originally Posted by iniQuity View Post
    I'm not impressed with marathons, and definitely don't care for ultras. I guess I don't see the point in them. The video above is impressive, sure, because of how old the guy is, and I don't take anything away from him at all. At the same time though, if a 75 year old man can finish, is the contest itself still impressive?
    I don't get this. You're not impressed with marathons basically because they don't interest you? That would be like me saying I'm not impressed by the world's best banjo player because I don't care for banjo music. Ability is ability. If the dude can do something that takes a lot of hard work, practice, dedication, talent, etc, then I'm impressed (personally) -- even if the activity is something I could care less about doing myself.

    However, we may be talking about different things. Don't forget, there's a big difference between finishing a marathon and racing one. So perhaps you're not impressed by someone simply finishing (after all, you could probably walk 26.2 miles all in one go and call yourself a "marathon finisher" without even breaking a sweat), but how about someone finishing in under 4 hours? Under 3 hours? Qualifying for Boston? Running a 2:30:00? At some point, even someone as uninterested as you has to be impressed, no?

    Quote Originally Posted by iniQuity View Post
    Does it say anything about the health of the participant, or their fitness level?
    Health? No. Overall fitness level? No. Mental fortitude, dedication, work ethic, ability to endure? Hell yes. And depending on how fast you're going, there's a talent component in there too (which many people fail to recognize).

    Quote Originally Posted by iniQuity View Post
    "The training of chasquis involved plenty of running, racing and scaling hills. Their legs had to be particularly strong and their toes, which were slightly splayed, needed to grip well on the uneven surfaces they covered."

    Sounds more like a sprinter type of build and training.
    Interesting info on the Chasquis, I'd never heard of them. Go back to BTR and re-read the story about Emil Zatopek (pg 94-99). He trained for distance in a very similar way. The book talks about him doing 90 full-speed 400m repeats. Very unconventional! For a time though, he was the best in the world. In the '52 olympics he won gold in the 5K, 10K, and the marathon. So maybe the Chasquis/Zatopek style is the way to go!

    Quote Originally Posted by iniQuity View Post
    General thoughts?
    What's the longest distance you covered? and/or the fastest mile you've ever done?
    Distance - 36 miles all at once. It was part of a back-to-back where I ran 36 miles on a Saturday, and then 14 miles on Sunday for a 50 mile weekend. I was in training for a 50 mile ultra that I never ended up doing (friends backed out and expenses were too high). I've run several marathons too.

    Fastest mile - 4:34. Always wanted to go sub-4:30, never quite got there. My proudest achievement in running was finishing the Utica Boilermaker last year in 59:37. It's a relatively hilly 15K, always wanted to do it under an hour and finally did!

    Quote Originally Posted by iniQuity View Post
    Myself, I'm not about to knock people that enjoy running long distances, and don't do it because they think longer=healthier. Personally, it doesn't impress me. Surely their endurance is out of this world, but it's not an activity that I find worthy of praise. Obviously this is only my opinion.
    And obviously you have a right to your opinion. It might be fair to point out however that your opinion isn't based on experience (you've never run further than 3 miles), and if you were to spend some time training for and racing in a longer event then you might end up with more respect for the sport. I realize you're more impressed with speed than anything. Try running a 10K in under 40 minutes sometime (a very doable goal for a young, fit person), it may humble you in ways you can't imagine!

    But anyway, in the end I'm totally with you on the point I bolded above. I continue to run (though not quite as much as I used to) -- but not for health, I know better now. I do it because I love it. Running can be unbelievably rewarding, with the right approach and mindset. It's very meditative for me.
    Last edited by ciep; 08-19-2011 at 09:01 AM. Reason: spelling

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