In the first of a five-part series, senior editor Mario Fraioli writes about preparing for his first ultramarathon.
Peer pressure will cause you to do funny things sometimes.
Much like I insisted that I’d never race over 800 meters when I first started running track in high school (my coach spent months trying to convince me I was a 2-miler), or wear split-style running shorts (it took me years to admit that they were way more comfortable than the basketball shorts I used to wear), shave my legs (no comment here), race a steeplechase (stepped on every barrier), race a marathon (I still won’t say that I enjoy them), or run in a pair of oversized shoes (technically it’s part of my job but I resisted for three years), my recent decision to sign up for an ultramarathon fits in well with the list of things I swore I’d never do as a runner.
In a little over six weeks I will take the starting line of the Way Too Cool 50K in Cool, Calif., (yes, that’s really the name of the town!) on March 8 along with about a thousand of my newest friends. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the event (“It’s an awesome first ultra” to “the course is beautiful” and “it’s so well organized,” etc.) and I’m really excited to be making my ultramarathon debut there. I have my friends Tom and Donnie Flahavan (and their two years of gentle but persistent prodding) to thank for getting me to commit to tackling a distance that’s 62 times further than the longest race I said I’d ever run some 16 years ago as a sophomore in high school. As you’ve probably gathered by now, this wasn’t entirely my idea, but I’m officially entered in the race, so wussing out is no longer an option.
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All that said, I’m looking forward to tackling this new challenge and adding something different to my running resume. As I’ve already experienced firsthand, ultrarunners are a welcoming, fun and supportive bunch, regardless of whether it’s someone’s first race longer than a marathon or their fiftieth. There’s a common cause and a different sense of camaraderie that unites this group of ultra-endurance athletes. One of my goals in this journey is to experience and report upon exactly what that is. I’m also a pretty competitive guy. While just finishing the 31-mile course will be a huge deal for me, I also want to put myself in the mix and race well. Looking at past results, Way Too Cool traditionally features a pretty stacked field. Heck, Max King won it last year. While it’s a breathtaking course, the guys at the front aren’t there just to enjoy the amazing scenery.
So where do I stand right now? My training and racing are in an OK place. I ran 1:11:05 for a road half marathon on December 29 a few days before my wife and I moved 500 miles north from San Diego to the Bay Area, where we now live. After a few weeks of spotty training adjusting to our new environs, I’m really hoping to log some solid long runs, quality workouts and even a tune-up race or two over the next month. I recently discovered the San Francisco Running Company, which hosts a Saturday morning group run from their store (and also attracts quite a few fast folks who graciously handed me my butt in a hilly 2-hour run last weekend) that I plan to attend regularly in an effort to improve my fitness level as well as assimilate into my new environment. And there are a number of great trails to tackle just a short drive from where we live, which makes this endeavor all the more exciting. Follow my “Cooling Effect” blog here over the next six weeks as I chronicle the remainder of my journey to become an ultrarunner, sharing my successes, failures and lessons learned along the way. The pressure’s on!