Charlottesville ultra runners go the distance

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Charlottesville ultra runners go the distance

Before last week, I had no idea there were people out there who run distances longer than traditional marathons. Turns out, as running shorter distances has become more and more popular, the sport of ultra running has also taken off. Ultra runners compete in 50K, 50 mile, 100K, and 100 mile races all over the country.

Next week’s cover story is an up-close and personal look at the sport and its competitors, and I got to sit down with three local ultra runners. Andy Jones-Wilkins, Sophie Speidel, and Neal Gorman are all married with children, full-time jobs, and other hobbies—they just happen to run 100 miles at a time on the weekends. I spent at least an hour chatting with each of them, and here are just a few of the gems they shared with me about their world.

What do you eat during a race?

Sophie: In the beginning I use Hammer Gel products and sport drinks. But I’m basically an eating machine, so late in a 100K, what’s worked really well has been eggs about six hours into the race, and about 40 miles in I’ll have a burger.
Andy: I take some protein early, and my standard at 30 miles is to eat yogurt with some granola in it. About 15 miles later I’ll eat a turkey sandwich with cheese and avocado. But typically after about 10 hours I can’t stomach solid food anymore and I go on all energy stuff—and even then I end up puking a couple times a race.

What’s your favorite distance to race?

Neal: I never put “K” on the end because I always run 50-milers and 100-milers; the 100-milers are my favorite.
Sophie: At the end of a 100-miler it’s like I’ve been run over by a truck, but I love how I feel at the end of a 100K, like I’ve just done a solid day’s work.

Do you listen to music while you run?

Andy:  Only in the dark. I’m really unmotivated to wake up in the morning at 5 and get out in time, so when I have to do that I throw the music in. But most of the time I just zone out, get in a flow, and just run.
Neal: Nope, never.

What types of shoes do you wear?

Sophie:  Once you find a shoe that really works for you, stick with it, and I would say replace them every two to three months. The  one pair that works for me? inov-8, a British trail running company.
Andy: I switch between three to four pairs throughout the week, and now that I’m older, when I compete, I like to have a little more cushion than I used to.

Buckled under pressure

The 100-mile ultra marathon spawned from the Western States 100-Mile One-Day Ride, a horse race across the Sierra Nevada in Northern California. The prize for any rider who completed the race in under 24 hours was a big, shiny rodeo-style belt buckle. In 1974, rider Gordon Ainsleigh thought he’d have to drop out of the race due to a lame horse—until he decided to  tackle the course on foot.

Ainsleigh not only survived running the rough terrain and made it to the finish line, but he did so in just under 24 hours, thus earning the same silver belt buckle his counterparts on horseback won. In the years following his feat on foot, fellow runners began attempting the race sans horse, and the 100-mile trail ultra-marathon was born. To this day, competitors who complete 100-milers before the 24-hour mark receive a belt buckle.

For the full story, pick up a copy of C-VILLE on Tuesday, October 9. 

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