Still Easier Than Chemo teammate Brian Lamprecht reflects on lessons learned in preparation for his first ultra-marathon:
In October 2013 I decided to start running. After run/walking a 5k here and there I realized weekend running wasn’t going to cut it so I decided to actually become a runner. On December 8, I downloaded an app and started a training program.
At the time I wouldn’t have called myself a runner, but looking back now I guess I kind-of was — I just didn’t know it yet. Before then, I never had even the slightest inclination to do any type of running. In fact, I played goalkeeper in soccer just so I could avoid running.
What changed for me was after a couple years of allergy treatments I found my asthma under control enough to give running a go. With my cleared out sinuses and a newfound lung capacity I decided I was going to go completely crazy and attempt an ultra-marathon within a year. Well, that day is fast approaching. On December 7 I will line up to give the New Guana River 50k Trail Run a go.
Looking back over my first year as a runner here are 13.1 things I learned (or re-learned) along the way. Hopefully it is stuff you already know, too — but sometimes, things just bear repeating.
1. Sometimes tripping over the starting line is the best thing that can happen to you. This one comes courtesy of my eight-year-old son. While I was not there to see this by all accounts he took the most impressive swan dive over the starting line of a 5k race. He slid across the pavement badly scraping both his knees. He could have easily walked off the course at that point and said, “Next time.” Instead, he got up, took off like a shot, and in the process he set a personal record and placed fifth overall! I don’t know if it was that sudden jolt of adrenaline or a strong desire to quickly get away from an embarrassing situation that spurred him on so quickly, but in either case it shows that stumbling at the start doesn’t have to be fatal to exceeding your expectations.
2. Some of the greatest inspiration comes from those in the trenches. They say the war is won in the trenches for a reason. My inspiration this year has come from the ones doing it in the trenches. I have been inspired by other late-in-life runners, by some just finding the strength and the courage to begin undertaking difficult challenges, and by others still who have been given no choice in the battles they face. When you need to dig deep you don’t have to look that far to find real inspiration.
3. There is not a one-size fits all plan. When I began putting a long-run training plan together I started with a marathon training plan for beginners that I got off the internet. That plan didn’t take into account that I had a life so I was constantly forced to re-evaluate and modify the plan. It would have been easy to just take a long run off for the weekend here or there because of this kid’s activity or that work trip. If I had done that then I would never have been ready. At two points during training I had leg injuries that required me to modify the plan to duration based pool running instead of distance running to make sure I was still putting in the same amount of effort. Don’t treat a plan like a prescription if it doesn’t work for you. Create your plan but re-evaluate it constantly.
4. There is a fine line between committed and crazy — just make sure you are not so crazy it gets you committed. Maybe the biggest things you will ever do should just seem plain crazy at first. For me this goal certainly qualified. It would have been easy to say I have no business trying an ultra-marathon and leave it at that. As an overweight, asthmatic ex-smoker with allergies to just about every form of pollen out there, I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. All I can say is getting my allergies under control suddenly opened me up to new possibilities, and I wasn’t going to accept any limits. What I knew was that maybe I would make it and maybe I wouldn’t and I was OK with settling for just completing a marathon if I failed. Aiming for the impossible helps you achieve the improbable.
5. An unshared goal is an uncommitted goal. When I told the first few people what I was planning on doing I had created accountability. Now I knew I had to put the work in. Then the more I worked, the better I felt that I could achieve my goal. This led me to talk about it with more people, which made me want to continue to work harder. It created a virtuous cycle. If I hadn’t told anyone about my goal I could have easily let adversity convince me to set the goal aside or not to work as hard. Who would know? The first step to making your goals real is sharing them with others
6. In a 100-person race there is only one first place, but there are 100 winners. Up until now I resisted even calling myself a runner. I was a guy trying to accomplish a running feat. Looking at last year there’s probably a 25% chance of me coming in last place in the ultra — or not even finishing. Every runner has his or her own motivation or context for what is an accomplishment. For some (myself included), finishing in last place is a stretch goal. Just having the perseverance to be in the race is what makes you a winner.
7. If you really want to get something done, find a group of runners. I never really “got” running before this year but I do now, and I have to say it is infectious. I have really grown to love the running culture. I wish everything we do could be like running. In the end the people I want on my team are a bunch of goal-oriented individuals who aren’t finished just because the race is over and are constantly encouraging others across the finish line. (Of course you don’t have to be an actual runner to have this attitude). Culture is as important to success as drive and talent.
8. A marathon is nothing more than 13 two-mile jogs. When I started running last December the goals were simpler (and easier) although they didn’t seem so easy at the time. First, it was two minutes of continuous running, then seven minutes of continuous running, then a 5k, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, then a marathon, and finally a ultra-marathon. It is hard to focus when a goal seems so distant, so breaking it down into small ones keeps you on target. Similarly, since the Richmond Marathon had water stations every two miles, I wasn’t going 26.2 miles — I was going two miles 13 times. It is hard to focus when a goal seems so distant, so breaking it down into small ones keeps you on target.
9. Too much of a good thing isn’t a great thing. I was so excited when I finally got to the point where I could run 3 miles without stopping to walk that I wanted to run every day (and did so for more than a month). Well, it turns out that isn’t such a great idea; I developed an overuse injury in my knee that nearly knocked me out of my first 10k. Everyone needs some time for rest and reflection.
10. Find something to work hard at in order to become completely average. My best 5k time comes in at an age adjusted score of 51.0%. That’s right, I have run more than 1000 miles this year in order to become completely average at something. It is very humbling to put so much work into something and then watch others, either through natural talent or through years of practice, make something that takes you so much effort seem so effortless. It is easy to work hard at something you are great at; it is rewarding to work hard at something you will never be great at.
11. Put yourself at risk. This is probably a variation of #5, but I am specifically thinking about the November giveaway I put together for my Still Easier Than Chemo Challenge. When I publicly announced I would have items to give away for those who donated to the Massey Cancer Center, I didn’t actually yet have a single committed item. I was 100 percent at risk of having to fund something myself. Boy did that get me moving! Within a week I was able to find over $1,000 worth of donated items to give away. If you have an idea that you can do something and it’s worthwhile, then put yourself at risk. It is a great motivator.
12. Sometimes you can lead from the front, sometimes you can lead from the back and sometimes you just don’t have a choice. This is another one courtesy of my son. When he asked to run his first 5k this past summer I already had six months of near daily running under my belt, and I was feeling good because I had already shaved more than five minutes off my initial 5k runs. Having been in several races watching kids burn themselves out at the start I naively thought I would be able to outrun my son at least a few times until he had built up the stamina to go that distance without stopping to walk. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He just turned out to have a God-given ability, a natural notion of pace and a flow beating me by a full two minutes. When you lead those more talented than you, it is about teaching them what’s secondary to the talent. As a leader it is important to help them find the right motivation and the proper attitude, to identify the resources to help them excel and to put up guardrails to make sure they maintain the right path.
13. Knowing your limitations is not the same as accepting limits. I knew when planning for this ultra it was not going to be fast or pretty. I had only been running for a year, I had asthma and it would be winter before I was ready. That meant I had to find a race with limits I was capable of working within. In this case I started my search to find a run down south where temperature would not be an issue. I also focused my search on trail runs rather than road races because road races usually have time limits because they eventually have to re-open the roads. Eventually I found an ultra in Jacksonville, Florida that fit the bill: not only is it a flat trail run but you run four 8-mile loops, meaning I could have a supply bag at the beginning of the loop in case of disaster. I found a race that was workable within my limitations. Now I just hope I don’t get too embarrassed getting outrun by the armadillos (yes, Florida has armadillos too). Being successful is about figuring out ways to meet your objectives in spite of the obstacles.
13.1 Make sure you have great support. It is much tougher to do something alone. I couldn’t have made it this far without the support of my wife and my family first and foremost. They have suffered through being dragged out to fun-runs in the rain, having me disappear for weekend long runs (which are extremely long when you are as slow as I am), not to mention full days of moaning and groaning around the house. I am 100% sure none of us really knew what I was signing us up for when I started down this path but my wife Ruth, as always, has been a rock. Along the way it was good to find the Colonial Road Runners, the Greater Williamsburg Distance Running Club, Point 2 Running Company, Briana Kirby, Brian Burk, and others who have already been where I am going and have been extremely supportive. Goals can be grander and achievements can be greater when you have the support of others.
If you have read this far I hope that something above has inspired you or encouraged you or given you cause to think. I ask now for you to think about those whose challenges are graver, those who don’t have an option to choose which challenge they face. A small $10 donation here will help many and 100% of your donation goes directly to fund cancer research.
Even if you aren’t a runner (yet?), I hope you join the race in the fight against cancer.