It was just another Tuesday of #KeepingItOnTheLevel when an update from the GBTC popped into my newsfeed:
Is that for real? I can’t even comprehending pulling off a triple like that. This deserves some more attention, so here’s a Q&A with the beast himself, Sam Jurek:
10/14: Mount Desert Island Marathon – 2:38:59
10/28: Cape Cod Marathon – 2:37:37
11/3: Stone Cat 50 Mile Trail Race – 6:13:14
And you broke the previous Stone Cat course record by over 10 minutes, correct? On top of all the other “shorter” marathons? Really?
I have to start by thanking you for showing interest in my recent string of events. Having the support of the running community makes the training and the racing efforts that much more enjoyable and worthwhile.
You have all the information correct; 20 days, three races, fortunately capped off by a PR/CR at Stone Cat. Ben Nephew set the previous course record in 2010 at 6:24; this year there were three of us who dipped under that mark – thanks to ideal weather and dry terrain.
Okay, so…why? How many marathons/ultras do you typically do a year?
Why, you ask? That’s a simple, yet incredibly tough question to answer. In short, I love the sport. I don’t do it to lose weight, impress others, or compete, I do it because it’s enjoyable. Getting on the trails is a different aspect, just as the indoor track and cross country seasons have their own unique vibe. I’m not a creature of habit – I don’t think – so changing race distances and training regimens makes the sport interesting and keeps me from getting in a rut. I average 4-5 marathons a year along with 4-5 ultras; as of today, that means 50-kilometer and 50-mile races. Hopefully next year will afford me enough fitness to attempt a 100K and a 100-miler.
Was this something you’ve done before (and would do again), or was it a new experience (doing so many so close together)?
In the buildup to a 50-mile race, I like to run double long runs over the weekends. Two 20-milers is typical, with my peak training weekend including a 20-miler and a marathon. Until this past month, I never raced anything close to over 100 miles in a 20-day period. I was nervous thinking about it and training for it, but October came quick, and despite the less-than-ideal weather at MDI and Cape Cod, I think the races went well. I always have lofty goals, so coming into MDI I thought 2:30 was within reach. After finishing I realized I don’t have that speed in my legs right now, but sneaking under 2:40 twice within a couple weeks was still a huge confidence builder leading into Stone Cat.
What is the distance you’re training to race for?
I’ve always wanted to run sub-2:30 for the marathon, but I didn’t look at any of the three races as being the “goal” race; having a solid effort whenever toeing the line is typically all I concern myself with.
What did you do in between races? Rest seems like it’d make sense, then three weeks of rest with three big races mixed in might be hard to do.
After MDI I took a single day off, then resumed training. I only ran easy mileage between the marathons with two short speed workouts to keep goal race pace fresh in the mind, though I did still log over 75 miles the week following MDI. After Cape Cod I was pretty spent and could only think about the Stone Cat 50 being 6 days away. I took three of the next five days off, made sure to eat and sleep well, and simply hoped for the best.
What was your peak weekly mileage heading into these races?
Throughout the year I’m not able to sustain high mileage, relatively speaking. I might get 5 weeks a year in around 100 miles, but likely average 60-70 miles/week. I tend to find weaknesses often within myself, so cross- and strength-training have become a large part of my weekly routine.
What’s your marathon PR?
The past three years have been a long lull as far as my running is concerned. I ran my marathon PR in January 2009 at Disney World; 2:34:25 (I think), then didn’t touch sub-2:40 again until MDI this year. It’s good to be back in this range, but 6:13 was my 50-mile PR by 21 minutes, so at least one race distance is improving.
In the two marathons, were you just running those as workouts gearing up for the 50 miler? Your times are so close for those two races that upon first glance it made me think you might’ve just done them for pace work (real serious pace work!).
Haha…the marathons were looked at as more of confidence builders than anything. Since 2009, I haven’t raced frequently until this past summer, so they were needed more for a mental edge than a workout. It was a fluke that they were nearly identical in pace. I blew up in both races, opening up the first half of each in 1:17 and, well, you can do the math from there. I shouldn’t be as disappointed as I am, but as I’m sure you can tell with my redundancy, I really think 2:29 is possible for me, and I want it.
Was the plan to go for the course record in the 50 miler? or were you surprised to find that you felt good and went for it?
I run a lot of miles with Josh Katzman. He’s a popular ultra guy in the New England area and won Stone Cat last year. I picked him up around 4:30am the morning of the race and we chatted about strategy and possibly shooting for the CR. We decided to not be as ambitious as we were in 2011 when we ran the first 25 miles in 2:56. We practically failed in holding ourselves back and ran the first half of this year’s race in 2:59. I thought we would blow up again, but luckily held on for a solid second-half effort in 3:14 for me and 3:19 for him. I really believe that fueling and hydrating well is what keeps you in the game during an ultra; that came together for me at this race and fortunately paid off.
Again, simply incredible. A couple of quick take aways from this:
1.) Sam typically averages 60-70 mi/wk, but in the week following MDI he still logged 75 miles (on six days) when he was only at the beginning of the grueling 20 day stretch.
2.) His emphasis on strength- and cross-training can’t be overlooked. That could be the reason why he recovers so quickly in between races. If you’re not recovering very quickly after a marathon, cross-training could be one area of your training to investigate.
3.) “I do it because it’s enjoyable.” If you really love what you’re doing and are all-in, it’s amazing what you can do.
This interview is a companion piece to the article ‘Pushing the Limits’ in the Nov/Dec issue of Level Renner.
Note: Photo is courtesy of GBTC.