“Food for the Soul”
We have all heard, and have most likely used this expression, when referring to “food” that contains ingredients other than meat and potatoes. Food is such a necessary part of life, but it is also the word we use to describe activities that “feed” the other part of us that craves sustenance; our soul, our spirit, or our being.
This blog is about my relationship with food, and over the past several years I have come to the conclusion that when I write about food, I hit on every facade of my life. By encompassing the saying, “food for the soul” I have an excuse to write about another passion in my life: RUNNING.
To me, a passion is something you cannot live without, and I couldn’t imagine my life without running. At first I ran because it is what everyone did. You joined the club in your town or village (in Ireland anyway), and ran with them until you left home for work or college. At that point you either gave it up, (perhaps taking it up again later in life to keep the cholesterol at bay!) or you just kept running. I just kept running. Going into detail about how running makes me feel is difficult to sum up, and may border on boring for anyone who prefers to bike, swim, climb mountains or sit on the couch. So, I will refrain from talking about the runner’s high and the being one with the road business. Besides, this post is about someone else’s relationship with running, not mine (I’m getting to it!)
And of course, there are all kinds of runners. I fall somewhere into that general middle category, where I am capable of running 30 miles or so per week but am not interested in races or pushing myself to see how I stack up against my peers (probably too scared!). I get to live that aspect vicariously through my brother, and his kind of running. This leads me to what I want to talk about: my brother and UltraRunning.
It’s like this; I cannot play golf to save my life, but I LOVE watching it on television! I know the rules, am familiar with the various tournament’s and have favorite players I like to follow. I suppose I admire people who can do something I could never do myself. UltraRunning is a little different from golf, but the same thing applies for me. I am like the person who reads a book on how to build a house or a boat and then feel I could actually do it, or at least talk in detail about how I would do it!
Well, my brother Sean is my virtual UltraRunning book, and I have talked to him so many times about so many aspects of this sport, (even managing to pace him for one of his crazy races (Run Rabbit Run) that I feel like I could hold my own if I found myself sitting around with his running friends analyzing races and going over strategies.
Of course I have never built a house, swung a golf club (well once very badly) and I have never run an Ultra. The standard definition of UltraRunning is anything past the marathon, (26.2 miles). The standard distances are the 50 kilometer distance, (31.07 miles), 50 mile, 100 mile, 100 km, and a series of events that last for specified time periods such as 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hour, and 6 days. These races are run on all sorts of courses, but mostly they are run over vast stretches of varying terrains with mega amounts of elevation gain thrown in (let’s not forget snow-packed ground, mud, shale-y trails, river crossings, wind, rain, sleet…)
The people who run these races don’t just strap on a pair of running shoes and grab a bottle of water for when they get thirsty. They have to keep hydrated and take in huge amounts of calories if they don’t want to die during a race. This requires all sorts of planning and a big education in getting to know what your body needs over the course of say 12 hours (12 hours of running!). Let’s not even talk about the training, which is hard, constant, and time-consuming.
Jenna Gruben (no longer with us but still remains a constant inspiration to Sean)
I have described UltraRunning in a way that would make you actually want to run in the opposite direction of the starting line, but that’s just because it is so difficult to see the “soul food” here. I can only picture myself on the side of some mountain shivering to death, too broken to make my way to the Finish Line (you know, 40 or 50 miles ahead!). There has to be something good and deeply satisfying about testing your body and mind to the max?
Well, having had a bird’s-eye view from Sean of what an Ultra Race looks like, I have learned to appreciate why he does it, and have discovered that his need to race is parallel to his need for food. This ultimate test he puts himself through during each and every race is his bread of life and I have to say, it is pretty incredible to watch and to fathom. I run enough to appreciate what it takes and I am mightily impressed with him, and all of the Ultra Runners out there who attempt to feed their souls in this unique way.
Last Saturday when I was getting ready to go to the beach for a week, Sean ran in his 16th Ultra, the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler in Lake City Colorado. As with all of his races, his completely amazing girlfriend, Kristi, kept me posted on his progress (as well as do all the race planning, pack drop bags, clothing and the food Sean requires for each race) via texts and emails. When he runs in a big race like this I always go for a run to mentally keep him company for a few miles (I will admit to occasionally shouting out his name, scaring the odd cow and squirrel, in the hopes it will spur him on). I managed to run for an hour before we jumped into the packed car and then spent the rest of the day waiting for any information on his progress and condition.
Here is what I found out during the course of the race from Kristi via text and email (it’s chronological) and one short remark from Sean when he finished.
KRISTI: “The San Juan Solstice 50 miler in Lake City, CO started about 20 minutes ago. This is an extremely challenging course that starts at 8,600 feet and rises to more than 13,300 feet with more than 12,000 feet of elevation gain throughout. He also has more than 7 river/ creek crossings with deep, swift moving water. He is hoping for a 12 hour finish, but said he would be pleased if he finishes in under 13 hours because it’s such a hard course. I am only allowed to see him at two points throughout the race ( mile 15.7 and mile 40). I expect to see him between 8:30 and 9:15am at mile 15.7; I will send an update as soon as I have reception after seeing him”.
(below is a link to one of the water crossings – the runner who took the video managed to get dunked before he made it across!)
KRISTI: “He came through mile 15.7 at 9:15 this morning. The first section is extremely difficult with a lot of climbing, but he was in great form. He said this course is fantastically beautiful! He should be almost done with all of the river/creek crossings at this point. So far it’s a cloudy day and in the 60s…perfect running weather! Oh, and we saw a young moose on the way out to the aid station. I’ll send another update when I see him next which won’t be until around 3pm or so”.
KRISTI: “He came through mile 40 just before 5pm. Everyone seems to be a lot slower due to far more difficult conditions than anticipated on the top of the Continental Divide. I hope to see him at 7pm, but that’s a rough guess. He still has a 1,700 foot climb before he comes down for the last time. He seemed to be ok and said his body was feeling fine. It sounded like he tanked at mile 30 and is looking forward to finishing this one. His friend Martin also surprised him at this aid station”.
KRISTI: “Waiting at the finish…”
KRISTI: “Taking care of him now!!! 14:45 🙂 He crossed the line with fellow Steamboatian, Amanda G”
SEAN: Toughest course I have ever ever been on. Crazy
river and snow field crossings that were scary in parts.
Love to all,