Going Horizontal – Surf the Murph Ultra

The subtitle for my blog boldly declares the following:

A repository for thoughts, reports, pictures, and opinions about going vertical.

However, I haven’t really climbed since my ice climbing adventures to Switzerland and Canada in February and March, unless you count my Memorial Day Weekend misadventures in Washington. Oh, I’ve tied in at the climbing gym a few times, and I have lapped a few familiar pitches at Taylor’s Falls, but the desire just isn’t there right now. I know the reasons – there are two of them, and they’re both personal and likely wouldn’t be considered rational by most. The last few times I’ve thought about packing my rope and rack for a day of jamming and crimping, I either felt nauseous or my eyes starting misting. I know myself well enough not to force it, and I needed a distraction in the meantime…something to keep me busy, un-fat, and something that gives me time and space to think.

BASE jumping was an option, but I don’t have the money for it right now. I’m SCUBA certified and there is some great diving in Lake Superior, but that’s not a great hobby for maintaining physical fitness. Mountain biking would require a financial investment that I don’t want to make at this point, so I settled on training for and running a race. Well, actually a marathon. An ULTRA-marathon. A goddamned thirty-one mile trail run on October 24th.

The course map for the Surf the Murph 50K ultra.

The course map for the Surf the Murph 50K ultra.

Here’s the problem: I’ve never run a race before, and I hate running.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the runner’s high after a long run, and I really appreciate the scenery when I’m running with (and slightly behind) an attractive female partner. I’m in decent shape, and I can fire off six miles without trying too hard. But the act of running itself? I hate it. I get bored easily, and I can’t stand listening to music when I run – it messes with my pace. I have rickety knees already, and I’m not sure what a three month training plan and a fifty kilometer trail run is going to do to them.

I wasn’t going to sign up for it at all, but then I had a bit of an epiphany. Don’t laugh, but this thought came while I was reading The Oatmeal’s excellent comic book The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. He talks in the book about running being a form of practiced stoicism, and how the pain lends perspective to the problems and complications of everyday life. He writes about running to the point where the world seems to stand still and questions of why seem to melt away into insignificance.

The last few months have been wonderful in ways, but completely shitty in others. I lost two people I love dearly, one to death and one for reasons I still can’t understand fully. I could use some perspective, and some silence from the constant internal barrage of self-doubt and questioning. I crave clarity, and when I run the pictures seem a little less fuzzy. Things seem simpler, clearer, more decipherable. Maybe this is a knee-jerk reaction, and maybe I won’t even finish the damn thing. But I’ll pass out on the trail trying, and who knows – maybe I’ll find some answers along the way.

Sidenote: I know some of you are distance runners, and I clearly am not. Any tips or advice on training, pace, nutrition, cross-training, injury prevention, hydration, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

6 thoughts on “Going Horizontal – Surf the Murph Ultra

  1. Pingback: Testing a theory | My Alpine Obsession

  2. Jimmy, I am so impressed and in awe of what you are set out to do. You are a focused person, you are in good physical shape, and I know you will do it. So much of the distance runs are the “mental strength”. What Lee shared in the above comment pretty well covers it. That was an AMAZING well worded comment.

    I am a little bit unorthodox, as I don’t have a training plan. Just way too busy to stick to one, and would feel guilty if I did not stick to one. My mileages are way less than a typical marathon training plan would be, basically because of my own rickety knees. I do a lot of cycling, take a very intense kick box cardio class each week, and attempt to build a strong core. And I run, being aware of my body’s limitation of a 57 year old. Yet, am always very pleased with my results at the events.

    But I do encourage you to use a training plan if you can. There are runners I know who have absolutely excelled with them.

    Was really amazed that you are “going horizontal”. My next event is called The Creemore Vertical, because of the serious changes in elevation! 🙂


    • Carl – thanks for taking the time to write that. I’m rocking the rickety knees too, lingering effects of a nasty bout of Lyme disease when I was a kid. I am using a 3 month training plan I got from another runner’s blog, but I was actually wondering if anyone else adjusted training mileage downward to reduce joint stress and still managed a strong performance on race day. It’s good to know it can be done!

      • You are very welcome Jimmy. And I am very sorry about your childhood experiences with Lyme disease. It only has been the past 5 years that I have more careful and preventative minded when I hike in where is a possibility of a tick infested area. I have been very fortunate, as I could have gotten Lyme disease SO many times.
        But, with the training, it definitely can be done with adjustments with your mileage. It would be good to try and get in at least 1 long run before your Ultra. With the events, I never feel ready enough, am feeling this way with my 25k a week away. On race day, it is a great feeling to be competing, and it seems to push a person harder and stronger! 🙂

  3. I’m not an expert by any means on the subject of running, but I did survive my first race, a 20K in Paris, last October. I learned a lot in the six months or so I spent training for the race.

    First, it’s absolutely imperative that you use a heart rate monitor to make sure most of your training stays under your anaerobic threshold. All of the training you do beneath that threshold creates a base of endurance that you can draw on as you chip away at those 50 km. The main reason, though, is to keep you from overdoing it and injuring yourself, especially if you’re new to running. I injured myself twice – both weird tendon twangs that knocked me off schedule for two weeks at a time – solely by working out too hard. Your muscles and cardiopulmonary system tend to adjust faster than your tendons and ligaments, so keep that in mind as you plan your training.

    Second, be religious about stretching. Warm up for five to ten minutes, and then stretch (at least) your hamstrings, quads, calves, and hips. Then your workout begins. When you’re done, be sure to hydrate and then stretch again. Also consider using a foam roller, which is discussed here in amusing and useful detail (http://journeytoalpinism.com/2015/06/10/recovery-tools-foam-roller/).

    Third, build a reasonable training plan for getting up to race day. There is so much information out there that I’ll leave it up to you to find it. I ended up using a free plan from the Runkeeper App, but I ended up basically doing whatever I felt like doing. I did finish the race in one piece, so I guess it worked.

    Fourth, track your progress. I use Runmeter on my iPhone and share the data to Strava. This allows you to monitor how your actual training is measuring up to your scheduled training. Also, if you’re using a heart rate monitor, it’s fun to watch your heart rate improve. It took me a really long time to see improvement on this score, but it’s different for everyone.

    Fifth, on nutrition, read the relevant chapters in Steve House and Scott Johnston’s Training for the New Alpinism. It’s great basic information on how to feed your endurance engine. And of course it may inspire you to get back to climbing sooner rather than later.

    Sixth and last, go easy on yourself. Three months is a very short time frame for anyone with limited running experience to ramp up to a 50 km performance. Be realistic about your goals: do you want to achieve a state of stoic meditation throughout the race? Do you want to hit a certain pace or time? Do you just want to finish the damn thing? If you can spend a bit more time thinking about why you’re doing this and what you want to achieve, you’re more likely to create a training plan that will get you there. And don’t be ashamed of walking a bit on race day. Better that than face-planting on the side of the trail, which I saw a lot of in Paris.

    In any event, I applaud your courage at taking this on. It reminds me of one of my favorite Goethe quotes: “Whosoever unceasingly strives upwards … him can we save.”

    • Lee – thanks for the thought you put into that! There is a lot of really good information in there that wasn’t even on my radar. To be honest, I’m hoping to finish the damn thing in under 7 hours, and if I can pull that off I’ll be ecstatic. Thanks again for the beta!

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