I was never a runner prior to jumping into the world of ultras. I didn't run track or cross country in high school. I did play football, baseball, and wrestled, but I wasn't very good. I liked running, but assumed people did it for conditioning. It never occurred to me that people ran for recreation.
My wife Shelly introduced me to running early in our dating days. We did it mostly to stay in shape. We probably ran about ten miles per week.
The idea of ultras was planted by our friend Doug. We were watching the Superbowl (the Janet Jackson one... I don't remember who was actually playing) at our friends' house. We had a few beers. Doug was training for a 25k and we were asking him a ton of questions. It seemed unfathomable that someone could run that far (15.5 miles).
As the beer flowed, Doug brought up marathons. All of us agreed that these people were crazy and running 26.2 miles was something reserved for super-athletes. At some point the conversation stopped and the room became quiet. In a low, almost secretive voice, Doug said 'You know, there are races even longer than marathons. They're called “ultramarathons.” These people run something like 50 miles.” I was immediately hooked on the idea. It seemed so... impossible.
The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but I do remember getting home later than night and Googling “ultramarathons.” I stayed up until the sun poked through our bedroom window. In my weird hung-over sleep-deprived state, I resolved to run one. In fact, I decided to run one that fall. There was a 50 miler a few hours from our apartment. I read some reviews. It sounded like the perfect race.
The next few weeks were spent obsessively researching everything related to running an ultra. I made a training plan. I started an endless cycle of self-experimentation in an attempt to prepare my body for this challenge. I had some successes. But mostly I had failures. I developed about every injury a runner can experience.
By mid-summer, I had to scrap the idea of running the 50. Instead, I decided to run the marathon option at the same race. It was a struggle, but the experience led me to my then-secret training method- barefoot running.
I managed to finish the race the next season. Then I finished the same race the next year. Over the next few years, I'd continue moving up to farther distances using the same self-experimentation techniques. I continued to learn and run even as my life became more and more hectic.
Shelly and I had three kids. I continued to teach full time, went to graduate school, and started several websites. I wrote a book aboutbarefoot running and started working as a shoe consultant. One opportunity led to more. And I continued to run.
Eventually Shelly and I decided to pursue running full time. We quit our teaching jobs, bought an RV, and started traveling around the country with our three children and niece. It gave us the opportunity to teach others about barefoot running and better running form. It gave us the opportunity to explore trails in every nook and cranny of our country. It gave us the opportunity to run a lot of races and meet a ton of cool runners. It has allowed me to learn even more about ultras.
Since those feeble early days, I've managed to have some degree of success. I'm still a back-of-the-pack runner and each race is a struggle, but I have become exceptionally good at maximizing every element of training. I've finished multiple 100 mile races including a sub-24 hour finish at Western States (the Superbowl of ultras). I attribute most of my success to my endless experimentation that is a direct result of extensive reading and questioning ultrarunning veterans. This book is my opportunity to pass on the knowledge I have accumulated. At the same time, it's also my opportunity to learn even more from all those that participate in this project.