My Interview with an Ultra-Marathoner! A Must Read!-Wednesday January 11th

I like knowing people.

Part of the reason I like knowing people is because I like people.  People are funny.  They make me laugh.

But a large part of the reason that I like knowing people is because it gets me one step closer to Kevin Bacon and, although I think he’s a pretty lousy actor (need I mention Hollow Man?), I crave fame.  Vanity, vanity, all of it is vanity.

So, when I found out that I was not only in the same fraternity as the number 17 ultra-marathon runner in the nation, but also that he was my grand-big (a fraternity term that means he’s about as close in relation to you as the guy sitting next to you on the bus), I knew that I had to interview him for this blog.

In all seriousness, Tad Meyer is a wonderful brother and a stand-up athlete.  He’s the kind of athlete that makes me want to be an athlete…of any kind.  Plus, with a body fat ration hovering in the 1-2%, it also means he can eat anything he wants…another point of inspiration because I, too, want to be able to eat anything I want!

This interview was conducted over Facebook, with me asking the questions and Tad writing back answers (legit answers, too).  Since there was no “back and forth,” I’ll be providing what I would have said after his responses in parenthesis.  Perhaps he’ll read and respond to the responses…at which time I’ll include them in “My Interview with an Ultra-Marathoner Part II: The Second Mile.”

I’m a genius with titles.

Alright, here we go…

1) Tad, How long have you been running in general?

Tad: I’ve been running for about 20 years now, but I didn’t get really serious (read: didn’t start running marathons and ultramarathons) until 7 years ago.

(That is a long time.  Which means, in real terms, that you’ve run farther on foot than I’ve been on plane, train, automobile, foot, and riding lawnmower combined.)

2) What led you to think that running insane distances, sometimes through extreme weather, would be fun/interesting/exciting/a good idea?
Tad: As a teenager, I always enjoyed the challenge that a run in potentially epic conditions could pose, whether those conditions involved subzero or 110 degree temps, rain, sleet, snow, ice, hail (somewhat painful), thunderstorms, tornado watches, hurricanes, or Nor’easters. It was after I ran my first marathon, however, that I fell in love with the idea of pushing myself over long distances. I remember finishing the marathon thinking, “well, that was hard, but I think I can run further.” A year later, as I crossed the finish line of my first 50-miler, I again thought to myself, “well, that was hard, but I think I can go further than that.” The running snowballed from there. I truly enjoy testing my own limits, seeing how I respond to adversity, and testing the limits of human endurance. In a word, I like to see what my body is capable of.

(The dedication that requires is definitely admirable.  I want to wonder out loud what it might look like to push a body the other direction, to see what a body is capable of in slovenly conditions.  Although, looking around me on the Red Line, I can see that that experiment is well underway and probably on its second and third trial.)

3) How many miles do you currently run a week?
Tad: I generally average about 80-100 miles a week, depending on how much cross-training I do and if I have an upcoming race.

(No comment. Just…no comment)

4) How do you prepare for a race? What is most important?
Tad: Training for ultramarathons (any distance longer than 26.2 miles) is truly a labor of love, as building up the endurance and ability to run such long distances takes months to years. I’ve found that the easiest way to train for long races is to run lots of shorter ones. For instance, it’s hard to do long preparatory runs for a 100-mile race that are longer than 40 miles, because it would take so long to recover from such training runs. The best thing to do is to run several 50-milers several months apart in the lead-up to the 100-miler. My current race preparation generally consists of scheduling a preparatory race about 2 months before a longer race and having my maximum weekly mileage peak about a month out. The last week before the race I try to focus on getting a few extra calories, sleeping a little more, and running less

(Interesting!  It’s kind of like when I’m preparing to go to Standard India, the Indian buffet, and I skip breakfast and lunch.  Overeating doesn’t help my body prepare for that food.  I imagine over running is much the same.  Except, well, healthier…but not as tasty.)

And then Tad continued…

Tad: On a related note, I should mention that proper nutrition is also essential in preparing for a race. Running long distances allows you to eat whatever you want, but you’ve got to eat good calories or else you won’t run or train well at all. And while you’ve obviously got to train your legs to run long distances, for me it was actually harder to train my endocrine system to deal with digesting fluids and foods during long training runs and races.

(Disregard the above answer to your first paragraph.  I don’t eat at Indian buffets.  At least not when I’m confronted with 1-2% body fat…)

5) As number 17 in the nation of extreme long-distance running, what is one tip that you would give to an amateur runner who may want to take their runs to the next level?
Tad: Stick with it. Stick with it. Stick with it. Every beginning runner goes through the this-really-sucks stage, and it lasts longer for some than it does for others, but the key is to just.keep.running. At some point, it WILL get easier, and at another point, it will actually become ENJOYABLE. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Many runners experience setbacks early on, whether it be from injury or something else, but you should always remind yourself that you’re strong enough to do it. Finally, take it EASY. Most runners think they need to run fast all the time, when in reality they should be doing the bulk of their mileage (upwards of 80%) at a pace that is comfortable enough to converse at. As you become a stronger, better runner, you’ll be able to do harder, longer, faster runs, but take it easy early on.

(I am hoping that running will become enjoyable one day.  Until then, I suffer.  And suffer.)

6)Are you secretly an agent who does ultra-marathons to train for withstanding torture?
Tad: I can honestly say that a 3000 foot descent at mile 90 of a 100-mile race is far more torturous than waterboarding ever would be.

(You never answered whether or not you’re a secret agent…)

7)As a Pastor’s Kid and Christian, what is the connection that you see (if any) between spirituality and physical health?
Tad: I think there’s a strong relationship between our spiritual and physical health. Just as you cannot expect to become a better runner without, well, running, you can’t expect to nourish your faith without the right kind of spiritual training, i.e. hearing and studying the Word of God and receiving His means of grace. Moreover, in the same way that one might experience physical ups and downs on a run or a period of training (or a lot of ups and downs on a REALLY long run), one can expect to experience spiritual ups and downs throughout life. Just as it’s important, however, to keep putting one foot in front of the other and just keep moving forward, it’s important to remember that God will always be with us as we move forward in life; He will never forsake us through all life’s successes and challenges. (On a related note, I think running can be used as a metaphor for many situations in our lives, and my wife likely sickens when she hears me start off a sentence with, “You know, it’s kind of like running an ultramarathon…”)

(Couldn’t agree more!  And my wife also sickens when she hears me…say anything.)

8)What has been your most memorable long run experience?
I’ve had a lot of great long run experiences, but the most memorable one I’ve had was at the turnaround point of the last 100-miler I ran. As I crested the top of the mountain early in the morning (the race started at 6pm the evening before), the sun had just begun to break the horizon, with sunlight piercing the clouds. It was absolutely breathtaking, and I paused for just a minute to take in the beauty of God’s creation. It also prompted me to scream out to an oncoming runner, “Isn’t this just a great day for a run?!?”

(And had that oncoming runner been me, I would have screamed back.  Nothing in particular, just screamed.)

9)Ultra-runner Dean Karnazes occasionally orders a pizza during a race, and will give the driver GPS coordinates. Comment?
There are times in a race when I can barely stomach a few orange slices and a banana, so it never ceases to amaze me that some people can eat complete junk and keep running. Dean is truly a machine.

(You and I share a similar penchant for puking.  Ah, bonding over bodily fluids…)

10) What would the title of Tad Meyer’s ultra-marathon book be?
It would be “I Just Like Running”. I want the epitaph on my tombstone to read, “He ran the good race of faith…and a lot of other ultras.”

(As a pastor I can probably make that arrangement…)

Thanks to Tad Meyer for providing the responses!  You’re truly a stellar athlete and inspiration for runners (and fast walkers like me) everywhere.

For a nice news story mentioning Tad and his father, Indiana pastor Philip Meyer (props to Terre Haut), check out the Tri-Star reporting on ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes by clicking here.

Keep running, ladies and germs!

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Exercise Soul-Monday, January 2nd

I don’t work out on Sundays.  It’s a spiritual discipline, believe it or not.  After church, I’ve worked out enough for the day.

I think if God rested on the 7th day from creating stinkbugs, aardvarks, and mineral salt deposits, the least I can do is take a break from torturing myself at the gym.  At least, that’s the excuse I’m going with.

It’s good to rest, though.  This, too, is part of living a healthy life.  I know that many of you reading this blog are now snickering to yourself because you know me well enough to know that “time-off” is not a phrase found in my usual vocabulary, but you all can keep your snickers to yourself (and bite me) because this whole endeavor is all about a new start.  And with new starts comes the chance for redemption.

Plus, I’m a religious person, and redemption is half of what we do!  The other half  is apologize.  (I’m sorry for saying “bite me.”)

By the way, if you’re not a religious person, you might want to consider investigating the noumenal side of existence (I’ll pause while you go grab your lexicon).  And if you want a non-religous reason to do so, just consider that at least two bloggers name “practice spirituality” as part of the “12 Things Happy People Do Differently.”*  And those bloggers are named Marc and Angel, so you know you can trust them.  Anyone that replaces the conventional “k” with the unconventional “c” in their name can be trusted.  They’re hip enough to be in the know.

And I am certain that these two bloggers know what they’re talking about because I have been forwarded, tagged, or forced to see this very link in no less than 92 of the Facebook status updates in my news feed over the past three weeks.  The people have spoken: Marc and Angel are an authority.  And if 2000 years of Christian tradition (not to mention 1500 years of Islamic or thousands more of Buddhist tradition) aren’t enough for you to consider looking at what a religious life might bring, then Marc and Angel might just be your tipping point.

We should all congratulate ourselves on the internet-assembled philosophies we’ve cultivated.

I think one of the reasons that people have chosen to disengage from religious life has to do with the campfire/religious/protest songs of the 70’s.  It is well documented (“well” is used loosely here) that Peter, Paul, and Mary had more drugs in their bloodstream than Alaska has salmon, but apparently this made them well suited to use the kinds of metaphors that make the skeleton of campfire/religious/protest song.  And despite the desire of children from that generation to continually sing these songs, I have to tell you that if I “had a hammer” I’d probably put it back where I found it.  I’m no good with tools or tool-based metaphors.

But I digress.

We really must rest.  Especially if you legitimately ran on Saturday, like I did.  On Saturday I told the eliptical to “kiss it,” totally ignored the stair-climber (we’re not on speaking terms), and sauntered up to the treadmill.  I sauntered up to it because I find that I have to act toward a treadmill much like I’d act toward someone in a bar after having too many drinks.  A treadmill behaves like that bar encounter you regret: they keep wanting to move to the next level before you’re ready, and by the end of your time you begin to feel self-conscious being seen there because everyone in the place has realized you’ve made a bad decision.

I step cautiously onto the tread.  I’ve had treadmills start on me before I’ve been ready before.  One time the treadmill began moving before I could untangle my earphones, and I slid right off the back of it.  I decided that the beast had embarrassed me enough for one day, and moved on to the idiot cousin of all exercise machines: the deep-seated exercise bike.  Any machine you can use while knitting (I’ve actually seen this) is not a workout machine.  If knitting was conducive to “workingout” there’d be yarn for sale at the front desk.

After choosing my speed (6.5 in treadmill speed) and time (30 minutes or bust), I turn on the tv and plug in my headphones.

Awesome; the tv is fuzzy.

And not only is it fuzzy, but it’s the kind of fuzzy that shakes every time my foot lands on the tread.  And Judge Judy is much less entertaining when you can only understand every other word of her insults, so I abandon the tv for my ipod and begin the journey to nowhere.

Some people have different running music on their ipod that they intentionally upload before they hit the gym.  I do not.  That would require me actually spending time on itunes and figuring out how to manage my files.  I’d much rather do with my ipod what I do with my chili: dump it all in and see what I get.

Plus, there’s something satisfying about running to Snoop one minute and Hall and Oates the next.  It’s a veritable “tour through the genres” as I’m literally touring nowhere while people stop outside the window the treadmill faces to tap on the glass, much like one might do with a gerbil in the wheel.  I can easily block those jerks out with a healthy audio diet that includes Gin and Juice and Man Eater back to back.  It’s a satisfying melange of music as Sufjan opens for Belinda Carlisle and Tool sings us out.

My favorite artist to run to is Lady Gaga.  Her music has a certain je ne sais quoi (weird techno beat) that is conducive to my pace.  It’s like she wrote Poker Face utilizing a metronome that had a “slightly overweight, bearded but balding, 31 year old” setting.  I swear she’ll be up for sainthood one day, because her music does miracles for my exercising soul.

But while Gaga is the patron saint of my workout, my favorite song to run to is Walk of Life by Dire Straits.  In fact, its so amazing that I included a link, on the off-chance that you’re reading this while running.  You can thank me later.

That song, for some reason, is the best mix of synth/bass beat for the gyrating stumps my doctor has graciously labelled “legs” that I have found.  I’ve been known to play it during a difficult run two or three times in a row.  And it never gets old, at least not for me.  The people running on either side of me probably tire of me audibly singing “Whoohoo” along lead singer Mark Knopfler during the instrumental breaks, but frankly, I’m tired of them not being able to control their bodily functions while we’re running in an already hot gym.  So I say we’re even.

One of the problems with cardio work, as I’ve mentioned before, is that I get bored.  One of the ways that I tackle this boredom on the treadmill is by playing with the incline/decline and level/pace.  I usually start out at 6.5 with a 0 incline, but then after 10 minutes move to 7.0 at an incline of 2.  If I’m ambitious (and want to show off because an especially annoying person is next to me), I may crank it up to level 8.0.  At that speed I imagine it looks as if the treadmill has taken over the workout as elbows and knees go flying, providing some comical relief for the old woman watching me through the glass window eating her fries.  I don’t mind, though.  That scene is probably the highlight of her day, as she goes home to those fries and a solid two hour block of Soaps.  I’ve done my part for humanity in that instance.

As I power down the treadmill, huffing and puffing in such a way that makes the front desk attendant open the box for the defibrillator and begin charging it (it sounds like the Millennium Falcon warming up), I look at my sweat-drenched dashboard.  3.4 miles in 30 minutes.  Not bad for a guy who just wants, as Kevin James has so rightly said, to “brush his teeth without his stomach jiggling.”

So Saturday I ran, legitimately.  Sunday I rested and strengthened my faith-life, legitimately.  Exercise the body, exercise the soul.  Not a bad way to start off the week.

Oh, and I ate a piece of cheesecake.  But we’ll deal with diet next week.  Baby steps, folks.  Baby steps.

*As a side note, I don’t think “happiness” is the point of life.  If I did I would have already purchased a dog because I am certain that a dog would make me very happy…at least for a little while.  And then when it stopped making me happy, I’d have to get rid of it, and thus deal with the subsequent guilt that comes with deciding that the fuzzball that once brought you joy just ate your Italian leather shoes and you have to drive it out to Kankakee to live on a farm.  And then you have to realize that your shoes didn’t really bring you happiness either, which makes you despair further because, if Italian leather can’t bring happiness, what in this world can?  Hence why “happiness” is a crappy goal.  Don’t go for happiness in life…you’ll never be present.