As I mentioned last week, I accomplished a big goal of mine by publishing a post on the lululemon blog. I interviewed Tom Cripps, lululemon ambassador, ultra-marathoner/trail runner/complete badass, as well as a good friend. I credit Tom with introducing me to trail running – something that I’d never done before last fall.
Beyond just being an awesome guy himself, his belief in me as a runner has changed the way I see myself. I told him I wanted to run a sub 2 half, he told me I had a 1:45 in me (I split the difference). On our most recent trail run, he told me I should shoot for a sub 4 hour marathon in November (Tom, I’m still wrapping my head around that one). He’s also convinced that I’m going to be an ultra marathoner myself – and for some reason, I’m thinking about it.
Tom is funny, inspiring, and most of all, just really cool. His interview for the lululemon blog was edited down for length and we had to cut out some of my favorite parts – so here’s a longer version of our interview.
How long have you been a runner? What got you started?
I have been a runner for about 12 years. But to be honest, I have always run. I had a brief stint in cross country when I was about 10 years old, and when I played Australian rules football growing up I was a midfielder which requires a lot of endurance running. When I stopped playing football I started purely running as a misguided attempt to not scare off potential mating partners with the abundance of my waistline. Then I just really started enjoying running
What keeps you going – why do you run?
I love this question, and it continually evolves for me. Sometimes I love the solitude. Sometimes I love the company. Sometimes I love the grit. Sometimes I love nothing about the run at all!
Trails have been an enormously positive influence in my running. Getting out of the city and tearing up a dirt path is awesome. Because of the terrain you are constantly in a world where only the three steps in front of you exist. I don’t meditate, but I guess you could liken it to that. All thoughts about work/life/the latest episode of Gossip Girl just disappear. So it’s a release, and adventure, and a killer workout too.
Describe your best run – either one that really happened, or just the perfect set-up. Place, time, company or solo, distance…
Wow, great question. Ummm, well my best run to date has been the Leadville SilverRush 50 miler. The entire race is above 10,000ft altitude, and the first 10 miles of it are purely uphill, so you’re sucking wind real fast. I hit a beast of a wall really early in this race, and basically had over 2 hours of attrition knowing that I still had to run well over the distance of my furthest run to date. When I got through that wall around mile 17, everything changed. That was a defining moment for me. So I guess that really describes why I run ultras.
As for the perfect set-up, I gotta take snow trails every time. They are just pure fun. You’re going to fall over, and it’s going to be funny. But you just get back up and keep going. It’s also a tough workout on the legs, but the enjoyment factor completely overrides it so you don’t feel it until you’re done. I was really looking forward to a cold winter this past season, but we never got it, so I only got a couple of snow trails in. Fingers crossed for a brutal 2012/2013 winter!
What is an ultra?
Depends who you ask. The actual definition is anything further than a marathon, so if you jog to the beer station after running a marathon, you could technically say you ran an ultra (and congratulations on that extra effort too!). However, some people say it’s got to be at least 50 miles. I think the best definition is 50km (about 32 miles) or more. There’s a lot that goes on between mile 26.2 and mile 32, and I think the mentality for most runner’s switches from speed to survival around here. It does for me at least…
What got you into ultras?
Like a lot of people, I did the ‘I want to run a marathon’ thing. Then I ran one. Then for two weeks after I promised myself I would never do it again. Then I realized I missed the commitment and the feeling of accomplishment. Then I read THE book (Born to Run – Christopher McDougall). I had no idea humans could even run much further than a marathon let alone 135 miles in the middle of Death Valley in the middle of summer. I could still remember the pain after my first marathon, so it didn’t add up to me at all. I was just so intrigued I had to try it myself. I am intrigued today as much as I have ever been.
What do you love about ultras – why do you keep coming back for more?
Ultras to me are pure accomplishment. They’re physical proof that I can do things that not long ago I didn’t think were possible for me. This mentality has spread to other areas of my life too. I set stretch goals for everything and I’m not bothered if I fall short. As a result, I’m way more productive with work. I think I’m a better husband and I think it will make me a better dad one day. Most importantly, my dog happens to love trail running too so I’m his favorite and not my wife!
What advice do you have for a new runner or someone training for their first distance race?
It’s all in the preparation. Whenever someone asks, I always tell people to reverse-engineer their training schedule. Your peak distance workout will be 2-4 weeks before the event. To avoid injury you should try to build up your weekly mileage by 10-15% a week. So what should you be doing now in order to hit that peak training run? There are a lot of other factors that go into it obviously. It’s not always easy with work schedules, social life, tiredness, muscle tweaks (when you’re punching out 50+ miles a week, there’s always something wrong). So you just have to listen to your body, and push it at the same time. It’s not easy, but I guess nothing really worthwhile in life is (I am NOT sitting in the lotus position as I write this). So you commit to it, and you do it. I am pretty sure that when you cross the finish line you will think it was worth it.
What is your motivation – what gets you past your wall?
I was afraid you were going to ask this. Ok, motivation comes from a number of places. The chance of getting a runner’s high, just being out in the wilderness, traveling to new places and seeing them in a unique way, meeting people (the ultra community is great), getting called crazy by family, friends, and some doctors, etc. It’s just a part of my life exactly like going out with friends is to some people and playing tennis on Sunday’s is to others. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it, so it’s all self-fulfilling now.
As for what get’s me past the wall. Ahem, well, ahhhhh… Twosies. There, I said it.
What does your training for an ultra look like?
Depends on injury status. I really am a newbie at this, so my body is getting used to it. With this come injuries, mainly in the form of shin splints. To conquer this, I run trails, trials and more trials. First of all, there is a very distinct difference between how my body pulls up after a training run on trails as compared to roads. I firmly believe that this all comes down to a magical trail pixie that flies along beside me and throws invisible pillows under my feet when I run. Either that, or we all just naturally run lighter on trails to avoid rolling our ankles. If you pick a trail with technical and steep terrain, you can spend a long time out there at a high work rate and not get far. This is fine. It’s not all about mileage. Time on legs is key too. So my training schedule is packed with long weekend trail runs, a bit of bike work during the week, and a LOT of strength stretching before workouts and on rest days.
Logistics –do you run the whole time? How do you eat? Hydrate? Go to the bathroom? Do you get bored?
I never get bored on a run. There’s always so much going on, and I don’t run on roads much anymore, so I’m constantly thinking about my footing. Sometime I listen to music, but not often. I have never actually run 50 miles non-stop either. I have run 32 non-stop, but that was around Manhattan so it was pretty flat. There are a couple of golden rules in ultras. One is if you can’t see the top of the hill, then walk it. The last thing you want is to go into oxygen debt. The byproduct of this is lactic acid, and lactic acid in an ultra is bad news bear. There’s not much coming back from it, so you will either DNF or the remainder of your ultra will really suck.
Eating can be a chore for me as after a certain amount of mileage not everything wants to stay down. I do a lot of ‘spew-burps’. A guy I run with likes to make fun of me for these, so as unexpected and annoying as they can be, they do have some humor value. Hydration is really important too, and getting the sodium levels right is pretty critical. I usually try to take a good sip of water every 10 minutes or so. There is another ultra golden rule that if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Keep this in mind and you probably won’t let yourself get thirsty.
As for bathroom, I guess men are like dogs. The world is our potential urinal. There are laws that tell us not to do our business in public areas, but I don’t think they apply when you’re on a trail in the middle of nowhere. At the very least I have not seen any on duty policemen out there as of yet, so I think the chances of me tarnishing the lululemon brand by getting caught taking a tinkle in the forest is pretty slim! As for women, there seems to be more logistics involved but the concept is exactly the same.
Tell us what you did last weekend.
Last weekend I ran 100km through Beijing to raise money for LearnToLive, a cause focused on providing sustainable health care and resources to areas in North Sulawesi (Indonesia) where there is absolutely zero history of any health care. Think tuberculosis and malaria-type issues – stuff that we just don’t even think about whilst bathing ourselves in alcohol hand sanitizer after taking the subway. LearnToLive sends health workers and engineers to North Sulawesi for one month on an annual basis to diagnose, treat and educate these communities. They set up sustainable drinkable water solutions, and regular visits from nearby physicians to ensure the healthcare solutions are maintained. The other thing that LearnToLive does is it exposes US health workers and students to healthcare in its rawest form. This is kind of an intangible benefit, but I believe this experience affords these workers a unique perspective that will simply make them better at what they do.
So what’s up next for Tom – share your goals!
1. I want to run UTMB in 2013. UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) is THE ultra marathon. 101 miles around Mont Blanc, running through parts of France, Italy and Switzerland with a brutal average gradient. To do this I need to run 100km and 100 miles this year. It’s a good thing my wife understands my passion for running. She will get a trip to Chamonix out of it though (that’s where the race starts and finishes)!
2. I want to run an ultra marathon on all seven continents. I love to travel as much as I love to run, so this should save me some time and give me plenty of ammunition to bore people with when I’m old.
3. I am currently working on kick starting a small venture fund with a buddy of mine. I’d love to get it to the point where we expand and bring on some employees. Start-up businesses are a passion of mine, and something I’m learning more and more about every day now. I love talking about this stuff as much as I love trying out new running shoes.