One of the best things about writing this blog is being able to follow other runners on their journeys and adventures. One who really stands out for me is Jeff, an ultrarunner (meaning he regularly participates in races longer than marathon distance) from Chicago. His blog, The Run Factory, showcases his ever-positive attitude toward running, and in turn, his life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of him where he’s not laser-focused or smiling from ear to ear.
You say running changed your life, and you elaborate on that thought in this post, but why running? What was it about the sport that made you decide to pursue it with such fervor?
Running came to me at a time when I was really questioning my purpose here. I had a hard time waking up every day. I felt hopeless and tired. Completely exhausted from all the worries of life, reserved to soak in what I thought was an endless depression, I stumbled on to running and immediately discovered that it calmed me. I found that it gave me much needed relief from the noise and distractions of the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was doing was meditating. Performance-wise, each time I went out, I got better. And I felt better. It was an immediate reward, one that I could control with my own diligence and dedication. It gave me purpose. It literally saved my life.
Finally, I found something to get up for every day — that peace of mind, that absolute agreement with the world, the present tense.
What made you decide to run ultras? Was 26.2 simply not far enough?
When I first got into running I started to wonder if people ran further than 26.2 miles. Surely, no one does. They’d have to be crazy. That’s what I thought. A quick Google search told me to read this book called Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes. From that, I found people did run further than the standard marathon. A lot further. People run 50 miles, 100k, 100 miles and more! I was in complete awe. From there I picked up Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and I was absolutely hooked. I had to do one myself.
What I quickly learned was that ultras are more mental struggle than physical. That’s what intrigued me. That’s what fascinated me the most about running, its affect on the mind.
How far do you train for an ultra? Do you swim or cycle to build more muscle?
When marathon training, I like to get in between 50-80 miles a week, with regular speedwork. If I’m training for a 50 mile race, I’ll do more, like 60-90 miles a week, with hill training mixed in if I can, but no real structured speedwork. For me, it’s more about training the body to accept ascending levels of exhaustion, so I can get used to that. Still, no matter how tired I get, I can never simulate the feeling I have about 40 miles into a race. There’s just no way to do that other than to do that.
As for cross training, I like to box, which is mostly just hitting the heavy and speed bags a couple times a week. And I also do 2-3 strength building workouts in the gym that involve a lot of core, leg and upper body work, mostly using my own body weight.
Do you ever worry about the threat of zombies on your ultras? I mean, you’re out there for hours, sometimes in the woods all by yourself. You’re ripe for picking off, man.
Yes! I have thought about zombies! In June, while pacing a friend of mine overnight during the Mohican Trail 100 Mile Race, I kept looking out into the forest, seeing eyes glaring back at me. Thankfully none of them were undead. Had they been, I was well armed with a handheld water bottle, a few gels and an uncomfortable amount of Vaseline.
With your blazing 3:03 finish at Chicago this year, you are the fastest runner ever to be featured on this blog. What’s your secret? Please don’t say hard work and determination.
Blushing over here, but thanks. I’m pretty transparent about my training so I assure you there’s no secret. Indeed, the principles of hard work and determination definitely help but for me there’s more to it than that. It’s being disciplined and confident in that discipline. It’s getting a lot of sleep. It’s eating a varied, healthy diet with no frivolous sugars or engineered food products. It’s getting up at six in the morning when it’s cold and raining outside. It’s allowing myself at least a good hour of time to unplug, to be away from the weight of technology. It’s the desire to be better and better and better.
But most of all, it’s wanting to really do something. When I ran my first marathon, a 3:52, I told myself I was going to run a sub-3 some day. I knew it was a crazy proclamation at the time, but I committed to it precisely because it was so crazy. I vowed I wouldn’t rest until I made it happen. I told everyone who would listen, so that I could be held accountable.
I am going to do it someday. I’m very close. And when I get there, the moment will be my World Series celebration, my Super Bowl shuffle. I may never hit the game winning three in overtime, but I’m going to have a 2-something marathon time, and I won’t be shy about owning it.
What’s been your favorite race or running moment?
Oh man, this is tough. Let me at least break it into two groups: road and trail. My favorite road race is, hands down, the Chicago Marathon. It’s running through my city, my home. For one day, the marathon world focuses on my little spot of the universe, and I’m part of the action! Also, the crowds and course are hard to beat.
So far, I’ve had a lot of favorite trail race moments, like Clinton Lake 30 and winning my age division at the Earth Day 50k, but none of them have been quite as special as my very first 50 mile race, the Ice Age Trail 50. When I crossed the finish line that day, that was the moment I knew I could do anything. It was quite a powerful experience.
Any plans to run Leadville (or something similar)? It seems like that’s something you would do.
Absolutely! Western States, Hard Rock, Leadville… I wan to run them all! But I have a way to go before I’m ready for those yet. I want to accomplish my sub-3 hour marathon goal first before moving on to the 100 miler, but there really is no limit on what I may try to do in the future. I have a whole life of running left to live.
Any words of advice for our readers thinking about trying an ultra?
Do it! If you’ve run a marathon, sign up for a 50k (31 miles). Most of them are on trails, and are much easier on the body, allowing for quicker recovery. Also, trails are beautiful, especially if you value nature, peace and quiet! If you can run a marathon, you can run a 50k. Once you have accomplished that distance, it’s quite difficult to avoid the “ultra bug”. You’ll start to notice that the people running 50 miles and 100 miles and 200 miles are human beings just like you, and then you’ll start visualizing yourself doing incredible things. Making those visualizations become reality is an awesome and rewarding way to live.
*All photos courtesy of Jeff Lung.