Read about the first edition HERE on Ultrarunning.com
Read about the first edition HERE on Ultrarunning.com
Pete Kostelnick broke the longstanding record for running across the U.S. on October 24th 2016.
Pete linked the City Halls ofSan Francisco and New York in a stunning time of 42-days, 6-hours. The previous record of 46-days, 8-hours was set by Frank Giannino, Jr. in 1980. Kostelnick knocked out 70+ miles day-after-day and only took one complete rest day.
I caught up with Pete to hear all about this incredible journey.
Ian: Okay, you’ve got to be living under a stone not to realize that Peter Kostelnick just smashed the 3100 mile journey of running across America and he’s joining me now, Peter, many congratulations.
Pete Kostelnick: Thank you Ian, it’s great to be here.
Ian: It’s great to have you here, and I’m almost intimidated about talking about somebody who’s just run 3100 miles, it’s such an epic, epic journey. I have got a little bit of history, your Hoka One One team mate called Karl Metzer is a co-host of mine, so I interviewed him recently about his Appalachian Trail. Way back- many years ago, I interviewed Marshall Ulrich about his book, and of course, running across America was involved in that. Before I get down to this incredible journey, I want to just find out a little bit about you and who you are and what brought you on this crazy journey? When did you start to run long distances?
Pete: I really didn’t get into marathons until well I guess I got into marathon’s about exactly eight years ago when I was 21. I did the Marine Corps marathon, really it’s just a test to myself, to get in shape, and drop a few pounds, there was really no competitive aspect to it for me, but that was where it all began. I tell people if I was naturally skinny I probably wouldn’t even be in this sport.
Ian: There’s so many people who’ve got a very very similar story, and I’m one of them. Can you still hear me?
Pete: Yes, yes, and and it’s been quite a journey. The reasons why I run have changed so much over the years, but I just love it, it’s really just been building, I still run so I can eat and drink whatever I want.
Pete: Then, there’s also a social aspect to it, I’ve met so many of my friends and closest friends now really, through running and it’s taking me to some really cool places along the way and that’s another thing I really enjoy about it. Also the competitive nature of it as well, you know, competing against yesterday competing against myself and then, competing against others. It just seems like every year I find another reason why I love Ultra Running.
Ian: Okay, I had a look on Ultra Signp and that goes back to sort of 2011, and you know there’s plenty of good top 10 results in those early days, but when was it for you it switched maybe from being something that burned calories and helped you lose weight, to something far more, something more competitive?
Pete: I think going into 2015 it really just less than two years ago is when I kind of flipped the switch and though that I felt like I had the framework to be a good ultra runner, but that was really when I kind of shifted into, “I want to be as competitive as possible” and I really made some changes. Like dropping 15 to 20 pounds, over the winter.
Pete: Going into 2015, and also increasing my weekly mileage from; I was an 80 to 100 miles a week runner, during my peak training. I wasn’t really that extremely high for an ultra runner, so one thing I did during the 2015 is that I really ramped up my weekly mileage to many 150 plus mile weeks, and even a few 200 mile weeks.
Ian: Wow, wow, and how did your body handle that?
Pete: I think it’s been a progression over the years and luckily five years ago I would have never guessed that I would be running as many miles as I am today, but each year I kind of try to up the bar a little bit up the ante and I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that for much longer. [laughs] My body handled it well, and I think that’s because, over these last five years since I got into Ultra Running, I’ve really very, very slowly progressed my mileage from 50 to 80 miles a week, then maybe 80 to 100 and then 100 to 150 and so on to this year where I just kind of went bananas with the training!
Pete: …and put in a lot of 200 plus mile weeks.
Pete: My body has handled it very well but I would definitely caution anyone thinking about running 200 miles a week.
Ian: For sure.
Pete: It takes a very long time to build up to it.
Ian: Yes, I mean that sort of mileage is huge, and I’d like to put that mileage in perspective of your daily life. What is daily life like and what is weekly life like, that allows you to accumulate that level of mileage?
Pete: Yes, so I work a normal day job from eight to five, but what I would do this year in particular with the 200 mile training weeks was I’d really wake up at 5am, and be running out the door by usually 5:15. I’d put in about two hours of running before work, so I’d get usually about 14 to 16 miles in, nothing crazy paced. I don’t really do really much of any tempo training. Then after work I would go straight to the gym usually, and do two hours of treadmill running, usually about another 14 to 16 miles…
Pete: ….basically every day of the week I would be getting around 30 miles a day, If I could get my two day’s in, and then on the weekend is where I do the longer continuous training where I’ll do a lot of times 30 to 50 miles training runs straight through.
Ian: Right, okay. It’s interesting that you do a treadmill run, is there a reason for that other than variety, or weather, or consistency? What is the reason behind the treadmill run?
Pete: I think there’s a few things that have led me in that direction, one I think it actually does save my legs a little bit. You have a little bit of more give on the treadmill, so I think that’s been one thing that’s helped me recover. Another is just from the pure schedule standpoint, so my wife, she actually– we had to live apart for a few months this year which was probably part of the reason why I got away with training so much. Actually what I- I would usually just use the evening run to really watch TV, and the news and…
Pete: …to keep up because literally, you know what I was doing was I was waking up at 5am and basically straight to run, and straight to work, and straight to run, and then I get home at 8 o’clock at night. There’s, maybe one or two hours that I have before I go to bed and do it all over again.
Ian: [laughs] Yes, yes okay, so I’m sort of imagining you running on the treadmill with a beer, a pizza [laughs], TV on…
Ian: …sort of doing everything at once and thinking, “Yes, this is a great way to save time” [laughs].
Pete: Yes, exactly [laughs].
Ian: In some ways, now that you’re saying this, your run across America is starting to fall into place, there’s a sort of logic that’s clicking, and I can see how it’s forming. The other thing that interests me is this schedule that you have of, 5am start, run, work, run, and particularly you know, two hours on a treadmill, most people call it the dreadmill. I guess it’s helping you focus your mind and work on mind skills, which are obviously integral to what you’ve achieved.
Pete: Yes, without a doubt. I’ve done some training runs on a treadmill, I think the longest I’ve ever done was oh gosh I think it was 80 miles.
Pete: It’s been a while since I’ve gotten that extreme on a treadmill, but yes it definitely helps train the mind. I don’t know if I could do a treadmill run without a TV. Even watching TV for that long, you have to have a very solid mental state that allows you to… I don’t want to call it meditate, but really just kind of zone out and really push through miles and let your mind wander elsewhere from what you’re currently doing.
Ian: Yes. Is that something that you’ve worked on? That ability to zone out, and although the TV may be on, you’re actually maybe not really watching it, it’s just a distraction.
Pete: Yes, definitely, and once you know one thing I tell people a lot of times is I’m very much a rhythm runner. That might be part of my challenge on trail races is it’s hard to get into like a very consistent rhythm with stride and pace on a trail. On the roads, I think that’s one of my biggest strengths is I get into a rhythm and I can just zone out as long as the terrain is very even. Not to get ahead of myself but actually, that’s why Pennsylvania, the last state was probably the most frustrating for me, because it didn’t really lend itself to be much of a good rhythm-running state but we can get into that more later.
Ian: Yes, absolutely. What I want to do before we get into the Run Across America is firstly go back to 2014. From 2011, there was a consistency with your results and some real variables in there. No significance, but I’m just going to pick on Silver Rush 50 where you placed 70th but then you would go to Hawk Hundred 50-miler and place 4th. I guess in these days, was this all a little bit about learning the ropes and figuring out what you were doing?
Pete: Oh, yes, without a doubt. There is a variation too in some of the competitiveness but I think… that’s what I tell a lot of people that are getting into ultra running is a lot of it is really the experience of putting your body through it. Even if you’re not even ready for a race, heck, sign up and put your body through it as long as you’re not injured. I think stomach wise, that’s always been my battle. Nutrition has always plagued me until I started to figure it out and my body started getting used to the high mileage. I would say almost more than anything is my stomach just being able to adapt to turning itself over so many times.
Ian: Okay, so when you entered Badwater 135 in 2014, was that very much a case of throwing yourself in at the deep end and basically just seeing what happens?
Pete: Yes, yes, definitely and there were a lot of nutrition mistakes that I made in that race. I was still testing out a lot of different nutrition methods. I think I was at the point too where my stomach was just — I don’t know. I couldn’t really keep any food down the entire last 40 miles and I kept refusing it, which is definitely a major no, no, in a ultra that long.
Ian: Yes and so how and what made you change within one year to finish 10th or 14th overall at Badwater in 30:38 to then go and win it in 23:27? It’s a phenomenal change and the thing is, is if we look at your results and the buildup to Badwater, there’s a whole string of consistency. You won a 24-hour, you did Cape Fear 50-miler and you were 3rd, you did the Brew to Brew 40-miler, which you won, you did the Flint Hills 40-mile, which you won and then win and 23:27 at Badwater.
Pete: Yes, I think a lot of it is my dropping 20 pounds I think was huge the winter after 2014 and 2015. Then I think also, the weekly mileage was a big shift, really adding about 50% onto what I was doing in previous years, getting up to 150 plus mile training weeks. Then also, as part of that, I had never worn Hokas before that and I switched to Hoka at the beginning of 2015. I think that was a big help not just from a race standpoint but mostly from a training standpoint because I was really not taking any off days and really pushing the mileage up overall.
Ian: Okay and you find that the additional cushioning that Hoka gives you is something that is reducing the impact on your legs and allowing you to run more?
Pete: Yes, yes and definitely, the recovery is huge as well. I feel like that’s been one of the main reasons. I don’t really take any days off each week.
Ian: When 2015 came to an end, you did Desert Solstice 24 and Desert solstice 100-miler, they’re the same race, aren’t they? Was it you got 100-mile time and then the 24 time?
Pete: Yes, yes, exactly.
Ian: Okay, so you won the 24 and you were 2nd in the 100-miler. You started new year really, really well. At that point, did you know what was coming up in 2016? I know that may sound like a silly question but did you know that you planning to Run Across America?
Pete: Yes, after I finished that all in 2015, that was when I started to get serious about doing a transcontinental run in 2016 but I didn’t really have the logistics sorted out until spring of this year.
Ian: Okay and what was the reason for jumping to such an extreme? Obviously, you are in your late 20s so age is on your side. You had the Badwater result, which I suppose is a good set up for something like Running Across America even though it’s only a fraction of the distance and you were racking up big weekly mileage but what was it that lured you to make such a huge decision?
Pete: I think it was just mainly one of those things where I felt like if I didn’t go for it in 2016, I may never get another chance to do it. Because I’d love to keep racing competitively for a number of years but as far as my wife and I’s situation, it seemed like 2016 was maybe the only year I’d have to go taking off that much time from work.
I would have loved to have more multiday experience, but from timing perspective, this was about the only year that might have seemed a fit.
Ian: Okay and I always say with these types of things, you can’t really train for them. It’s about just accumulated time of running. Relatively speaking, you still are quite a young runner. If we think back seven or eight years, to then run across America, which is 3,100 miles, you are still almost in primary school in terms of your running history. What gave you the confidence in thinking that you would have the ability both physically and mentally to take on such a huge challenge?
Pete: Yes, yes, a lot of people ask me that. Even though running 30 miles a day is not even half of where I’m 70 miles a day. I think just the way I was able to efficiently squeeze in 30-mile a day training days really just about every day for an extended period of time gave me confidence that I could jump to this 70-miles a day if nine to ten more hours of time available.
Ian: [laughs] Now the whole Talk Ultra audience are now listening and there’s a lot of people out there who’ve run a 50-miler or a 100K or a 100-miler and that experience was brutal for them and here you are saying doing that every day. They’re all shaking their heads and their earphones are falling off and they’re going, “This guy is nuts.
How can you possibly think that, yes, 30 miles a day, oh, yes, it’s not too bad to jump up to 70. Yes, that will be all right.” I mean it’s making my eyes water even thinking about it.
Now obviously, I understand your thinking, I understand your reasoning and you’ve proved it, you’ve proved that it can be done. I’d love to get into the mindset of what made you think it could be done? What gave you the confidence to think, “Yes, I can do this?”
Pete: I think a lot of it balances on my ability… when I was out there running with people, a lot of them would say, “My goodness, you never, ever, ever stop even when you’re having breakfast. The only time you ever stop is when you’re at lunch,” so I have a very… I call it stubbornness, some people call it something a little more glamorous but…
Pete: …I know that’s one of my best traits is when I’m focused on something, I’m going to try and find the most efficient route possible. I knew that even if I had to walk literally the other 40 miles a day on top of the 30 miles I was running and recovering well from a training perspective, I’m actually a pretty good speed walker so that was one thing. I thought, “well, of course I’m not going to walk 40 miles a day.” If there was a day where I had to do that, I think I could. I think that was one thing. It’s just, the stubbornness I have. Having a good crew that understands my needs and knows that I’m really not going to ever stop during the day, when I’m in motion. I always think through logically the most efficient way to get from point A to point B.
Ian: Okay. Let’s talk about how the build up came about. You ran Western States and you were returning to Badwater. Badwater, obviously, as a defending champion, Badwater directly relates to your run across America. It makes complete logical sense. Western States thrown in there, you’ve already said that you like consistency and although Western States trail is pretty groomed it’s still a trail and it has a lot more variables in it. What was that experience like?
Pete: Yes, it was very encouraging to me. Actually it’s been a lot of the spring overcoming some anemia. It didn’t really impact my training at all but I was very, very low energy especially going up any hills and especially on trail, going up a hill on a trail. That was the point where I felt I had to overcome my anemia. I was feeling pretty good for that reason.
Actually the only thing that bit me on that race was all the down hills. My quads were pretty shot and destroyed by halfway point. Other than that, it was a good experience and it was very encouraging. I’d actually announced that I was doing this tanscontinental run right before that race. I was still nervous, because it was the first race I’d done in all years of really any distance.
Ian: Okay. Now it’s interesting that you say that you announced the tanscontinental run. Obviously, over in Europe, we were interested in Rob Young. We’ll get your viewpoints on Rob Young in a minute about his tanscontinental run. It very much seemed as though your run was a little bit under the radar even Karl Meltzer who’s a Hoka One One teammate said, “It’s relatively under the radar, I didn’t really know too much about it.” Was that partially intentional or do you think that maybe the running media didn’t quite get hold of your intentions?
Pete: I think more of the latter, because I tried broadcasting it out as much as possible. Mostly in an effort to get runners to come out and run with me because that was what I found to be one of the most mentally relieving aspects of the run. I guess, maybe I wasn’t one the top Ultra runners on the list out there. I think maybe in some respects that it got looked over for various reasons.
Ian: You went to Badwater almost a month after Western States. I always say the sign of a true champion is when they go back to race and win it again. You did it in 21:56, which is just an incredible time. At that point, you must have felt really boosted and bolstered for your run across America. You must have felt that everything was starting to click into place.
Pete: Yes. Definitely. I was very excited about it because actually my recovery from Western States was not the best. I even told one of my crew member. We’ve talked about me going to try to repeat or even go for a cross record before Badwater. Then I remember texting him. Maybe two weeks before Badwater, telling him, “Okay, let’s not even talk about anything cross record or winning. Let’s just go finish this race and then get on the tanscontinental run in a couple of months.” It was actually Chuck who joined me for the tanscontinental run as well.
Ian: How did… I was going to say how did Badwater unfold. I mean it unfolded really, really well because you won it. You got an absolutely fantastic time. It would be interesting to maybe just get a little snippet of what that experience was like for you. I mean Badwater has a reputation of being just brutal. Do you find it brutal?
Pete: It really captures a lot of my strengths very well. I could see how it’s the toughest race for just about anyone that does it. It’s really up my alley as far as being on road, being very consistent with both in climbs and on the flat section. It really awards people who are efficient as possible. Going in this year, I knew that there are some times when I actually sat down for short breaks. The prior year I had to walk some… it definitely favors those that are patient, but are also thinking ahead and never wanting to take unnecessary breaks which is the way that I improved my time this year.
Ian: Badwater’s done and dusted it was the perfect scenario for you the perfect boost. Then almost, eight weeks later, September 12th, was the start date for your across America run. What goes on in that period in terms of planning, preparation, getting everything sorted out? You’ve got to run 100 miles a week in training. You’re also working. You don’t really have a great amount of spare time. Were you delegating the organization and the planning to other people?
Pete: Yes. It was great because I had the team of four that joined me in the entire run. They were very helpful in all the planning and logistics behind the run, and then as well as my sister who is really our route planning guru. She is a teacher so she actually had a little bit more time in the summer. She graciously helps with that. Because that was probably one of the biggest obstacles to overcome was the route. To making sure that all the roads that I was going to run on were okay to run on. Then also if there is any construction, be in contact with the local DRT.
Ian: Right. Okay. What did planning break down– I mean how complicated was the planning process? How much of it did you get involved? Or were you able to stand back and just trust people getting everything sorted out for you?
Pete: I like to say involved in it, but for the most part I was able to sit back and let the team take care of a lot it. One of my big things about any race I do, I’m very simple person. I don’t like to make things overly complicated but there were definitely things that were making it more complicated than I first realized, because it is a pretty serious undertaking. You never know how much stuff you need to get done until you actually do it. Yes, I would say for the most part, I was very lucky to have a team that took care of a lot of it for me.
Ian: When you’re planning and your training was going on for your attempt, were you, or were of Rob Young’s planning and attempt?
Pete: Yes. I was following it very closely [laughter]
Ian: Okay. I mean obviously that has turned out to be a real mess and a real fiasco. I don’t want to turn this conversation into the rights and wrongs of what Rob did. I’m assuming that you had enough advance warning to make sure that you didn’t make the mistakes that would prove that you were going to do your attempt and it could be ratified. How helpful was it seeing Rob’s attempt just crumble?
Pete: It was extremely helpful. That was the big thing. I was trying to turn a negative around, a situation like that into a positive for myself. Going in I didn’t really realize… I guess I realized it but I didn’t really think about the scrutiny involved with a run like this. That was definitely very helpful and planning out how are we going to make everything as transparent as possible. Then how we’re going to record and document this as best we can. There was definitely a lot of elements that I learned from by watching that. As well as other runners. I feel I’ve done it the right way over the course of the last few years.
Ian: When you stand in San Francisco on September the 12th, and you know that you have 46 days 8 hours and 36 minutes, or should I say 35 minutes and 59 seconds to break the record. Did you have an idea in your mind what would be your target goal?
Pete: Yes, I had broadcasted to really anyone that wanted to know before the run, that 44 days was the goal, which would be roughly 70 miles per day. Going out my goal was to always hit 70 miles a day, if possible, although I was kind of shooting in the dark the first week.
Ian: The first week was just flying along wasn’t it? I mean, I remember looking and thinking, “Wow, this guy is killing it.” And I thought, “He’s either going to kill it or it’s all going to crumble horrendously.” Then of course very, very early on you took that complete day off. People like myself and, I guess, people all around the world started to look in and go, “He started too fast, it’s all going to fall apart.” What was that like for you physically and mentally because I’ve read lots of things where basically, you said that your body was pretty tired and broken, after that first week?
Pete: I’ll admit I went out way over my head in terms of mileage and it was good because looking back on I’m glad I did that. Because it really taught me a lesson early and I really latched on to that lesson. That is, there’s a monumental exponential difference between 50 miles a day, 60 miles a day, 60 miles a day to 70 miles a day, 70 to 80 in particular for me. I did a couple of 80 miles a day and then I did a very very big elevation net elevation gain day on Thursday, where I still managed to do almost 74 miles. That’s really what started to break me and over the next three days after that, it just kept escalating worse and worse with tendinitis and general fatigue and my body was very weak. It was good to learn that early on, and I had a really good medical advice as well and actually on I think I remember on the fourth day when I started feeling some of that tendinitis. The team doctor, Chris Roman, actually recommended that I cut the day short and actually walk the entire next day and, of course, I didn’t listen to him at the time. By the time I got to day seven, just remembering his advice from a couple days earlier, made the decision pretty easy. To take the day off completely on day seven and regroup. I had a good sense that if, I did just be smart and really aim for 70 rather than 80 miles a day, that I could come back and make it work.
Ian: Now, I’m amazed and Karl sort of confirmed what you are saying, but I’m amazed that just taking one day after racking up 70 plus miles and then continuing to rack up 70 plus miles is enough. It just goes to show and it proves that the body is a remarkable thing, but one of the things Karl said and there’s a lot of precedent with other runners that have done these big multi days. Whether it was Scott Jurek or Jennifer Davis or even Karl, is it seems as though that the body will pay a price at some point. Whether it’s shin splints, or whether it’s sore knees or sore ankle but it happens. The remarkable thing is that there’s this ability to go through it, and although you took a day off you came back. You had just ease yourself back in, but it’s almost as though you’re training the body to absorb the pain, accept the pain, maybe even ignore the pain. What was that process like for you and can you relate to it?
Pete: Oh, yes, without a doubt. I think that was the big thing early on, was training the body to really get used to it and, yes, there was that point where I knew that I had to take a bow, mostly because two-fold. One was that the tendinitis needed a little time to subside because I wasn’t going to be doing any more big climbing for several days. That was one of the benefits of getting out of California, really, but then a lot of it is mental too. The body, a lot of the pain definitely, I was getting used to on a daily basis, and so my mind was much better place to deal with that for an extended amount of time, every day. It was like getting in, jumping in the ocean and you feel the shock of the cold water initially, but after that initial shock you kind of just used to it. From there you can really adapt and that was… it was almost more mental adaptation than anything else.
Ian: Now, what I find interesting is very, very early on in this interview, you explained what a day was like for you. Getting up at five o’clock in the morning, running at 5:15, doing a full day of work and then running for two hours. Your days effectively were 5.00 AM to 7 PM and that was running and working. What you effectively did in running across America was replicate that but you didn’t go to work, you went to work running. Was that part of the mental process that made you believe that 75 or 70 miles a day, was possible?
Pete: Oh, yes, without a doubt. That definitely really helped. Having those days where you… especially just having to be very efficient and always thinking about the clock and always thinking about, how can I get out of bed earlier? “How can I get out of bed quicker?” and started running two minutes quicker each day. That was one thing along the transcontinental run that we really got good at was. A lot of times it would take 30 to 40 minutes to get ready and then out of the door. Eventually we got that down to about 20 to 25 minutes, even with adding some stretching techniques in there. Just things like that are things that are just so monumental and run like this.
Ian: Now, you’ve said it in many interviews that a day would typically start around 4 AM. You’d run around about 40 miles. You’d then take a break for lunch and then you’d get back on the road and aim to finish around about 5.00 PM. Was that a typical day?
Pete: Yes, yes, definitely. Once I got into the the second week, that started to become the routine, and that was another thing that was very appealing to me. Because it was like my pre-run schedules, 5.00 AM run, go to work, then another run after work. That was what it became, on the run was I knew exactly what to expect. Okay, I’m going to run from 4:00 AM, so basically, 10:30 to 11:30 in the morning. I stopped for lunch and I’m then I’m going to run again. Then that took a lot of pressure off because it made me realize that if I can hold about a 10 minute pace all day, through the first 50 or 60 miles, I can start to do some walking later on. That was my personal reward for having a good day of running and really sticking to an efficient schedule was the fact that, I could do some walking later in the day, rather than running all 70 miles.
Ian: Now, you said earlier about it took you a while to learn how to get your nutrition sorted and certainly running for this amount of days and racking up this amounts of mileage, you really need to have your nutrition sorted. So what were you eating out and how did you manage to keep it down?
Pete: It’s funny because, honestly, I felt like I can eat just about anything, on the run. There was never a day or anything I ate, where I had any stomach issues, where I felt like I couldn’t keep it down. For the most part while I was out on the run, we were doing a ton of different protein bars. I was doing a lot of trail mix, lots of banana chips. I really liked those sugar coated pineapple slices, as well. I drink a lot of soda and I think that’s one thing that helps settle my stomach and really just about any type of food you can really think of, or any snack item and I was eating it while I was running.
Ian: Just doing a quick summary of what you’ve said there, you were actually putting in a lot of simple sugars a lot of carbohydrates?
Pete: Yes, yes.
Ian: There wasn’t… I mean obviously you mentioned the protein that tends to become a little bit more important after the run, but it seemed to work so well. How much real food were you throwing in there? I mean I know that it’s difficult to eat real food while you’re running but your lunch break I mean did you go for a more balanced meal? How did that look in comparison to what you were eating while you were on the go?
Pete: Yes, I would usually do about three and a half real meals a day. To start the morning before I start running I’d usually do oat meal with some bread and also a banana. Lunch I would usually do something higher in protein like with eggs and then also maybe some potatoes and maybe some meat as well. Then for dinner. I would usually do something very high in protein like eggs and steak, and also I like to eat a lot of ice cream [laughs] has a little bit of protein in it. Then the other sort of the half meal a lot of times would to be around the marathon point. That’s the only time really during the day where I’d eat something really of any real like meal substance. I’d usually have like a breakfast sandwich with egg and meat. Somewhere between 20 and 30 miles to help me stretch out to the 40 miles in the morning before I stopped get ready for lunch.
Ian: Right. Okay. Then obviously a key element of being able to get up and do what you’re doing every single day is the rest. I think this is what’s so good about your attempts. Is that you weren’t going into the night trying to squeeze miles into the detriments of rest and recovery. For the most time it seems as though you were finishing a good time, you were having a good meal, you were maybe having a massage and some relaxation before probably getting I’m guessing somewhere in the region of seven to eight hours sleep a night?
Pete: Yes, I think that was the key. Was getting to bed by 7 PM just about every night, and then I have until usually 3.30 A.M. to wake up. Like on the last day in particular was a day where I got to bed by seven but I woke up at 11.30 to try to get out the door by midnight to do the last really long stretch which was an abnormal day. Starting that day was the most fatigued I’d felt really the entire run because I didn’t get my rest. I just can’t imagine other runners that have done this whether that’s basically the norm or they’re only getting four or five hours to sleep. Because it was the nights where I had to get less sleep than the seven or eight hours those were the most difficult days.
Ian: Now, it’s obviously Groundhog Day. Repeat, repeat, repeat. How gruesome was it to have to get up each day and get on the road initially knowing that you had 3100 miles to go, and of course it gets less and less as you’re going on. Anything, if you’re doing it day in and day out, it becomes a chore it becomes just not pleasant. How bad was it for you at times?
Pete: It’s funny that you mention Groundhog day so that’s exactly what I was thinking every morning I woke up.
Pete: Especially going out into the dark. It’s like, “Okay, here I am running into the dark. It’s same thing is that yesterday morning just 70 miles further east.” That was very gruesome and there was always the worst part of the day was when I woke up and just thinking about getting started. I did find a way to flip it the other way in and look at it as, “Okay, if I can get through that first mile, the quicker I get up out of bed have breakfast and get to that first mile of the run the happier I’m going to be because that’s going to be the worst part of the day. The quicker I can squeeze that first mile in from when I get up, the better the day is going to be because I’m going just to be thinking about the rest of the miles.” It was very gruesome but gruesome in a good way I guess. It always got me out of bed pretty quickly in the morning to get my first foot out the door.
Ian: How did your body feel every morning? Stiffening up overnight, crawling out of bed feeling probably 56 not 28 [laughs] and easing your body into the first mile and then the second mile and then there comes a point where I guess things start to loosen up, and everything starts to feel a bit better, and then it’s about also pilot. What was it like and how hard was it on some days to get your body to do what you wanted it to do?
Pete: Yes, early on I would describe it as more of a stiff feeling in the morning. At the end of the day it was probably the worst. I could always sit down for about a half hour an hour to eat dinner and talk to the crew before I went to bed. When I got up from eating dinner it was like, “Okay, it’s going to take me about 20 seconds to hobble back to the bed in the back or the R.V.” There’s a lot of… and that’s kind of what made me nervous was the fact that, “Okay, I am going to wake up in eight hours and go run, is tomorrow going to be the day when my legs just finally don’t work?” Then I think as the run went on I was waking up too much less of a stiff feeling too more of just a tight feeling. That was very encouraging because earlier on the run, especially the higher altitudes and maybe the altitude had more to do with it than my body’s adaptation window. To start the first couple miles I was literally just boiling my legs into a shuffle early on in the run, but as the run went on it was less of a shuffle and more of just a warm-up I would call it. The first few miles.
Ian: Okay. The one thing that impressed me is that whenever I looked at photos of you, saw the odd video clip, read reports, got updates from your website, It looked as though you were just killing it. It looked as though the record was going to go. You looked incredible you were always smiling. I’m sure that you weren’t, but it looks as though you were always smiling, and I’m going to really insult you by saying you made it look easy. Was it was as complete as it appears from the outside?
Pete: Once I got to Nebraska especially a lot of it became more of a mental battle than anything. I would think about okay, each individual mile is not that hard to run but just thinking about the entire day and thinking about how many miles I still have left was really the battle each day. I’d also say that when I did have people to run with which is probably the case of a lot of photos and videos, that’s when I really was… actually it really was pretty easy, because when I would run with people that would come out and I get into a conversation with them, the whole mental part goes out the window. I really kind of forget that I’m even running because I’m just so used to it. I would say the biggest battle is just when I was running alone which was quite often, but just thinking, “Oh my gosh I have 52 more miles in the day.” I think that was really the biggest challenge because I really got into I think a good rhythm in my cadence, in my stride once I figured out over the course of the first couple weeks.
Ian: Okay. Now the other thing that impressed me was the route that you took. Because you actually… I think almost did exactly the same route of the original in 1980. Was that intentional?
Pete: Yes, yes. Definitely. I wanted to replicate as much… I didn’t really study his route from a town a town perspective, but I think if you’re going out to break a record you want to make it as comparable as possible to the person that owns the record. I thought that was the respectful thing to do, but also I mean it really worked out to my favor personally too because it allowed me to go through Nebraska and Iowa right when I needed it most, and see a lot of familiar sights and I lived in both of those two states most of my life.
Ian: Now I don’t need to tell you that the record is one of the oldest records in The Guinness Book of Records and there’s a reason for that, is that because it’s so bloody tough. Now that you’ve achieved it, and you’re probably a little bit blown away, now that with the amount of attention that you’ve got, with time to think about it and to look back, what does it feel like now we reflecting on a record breaking run?
Pete: I think it’s going to take a lot time to really sink in, but it’s funny because I’m not necessarily surprised or anything like that about what I did, because I thought that coming in, it was something that I could manage and do in about the time I did. I think the big thing is I just–and I think that’s what I want people to know the most is I did something that may seem superhuman to a lot of people, but at the end of day you look back on my running history and where I’ve come over the last few years. I’m not coached by anyone, a lot of people would probably look at my training and think, what’s the what’s the theme or what’s the what’s the point with some of the running that I do. I think that’s the beauty of all Ultra running is, really anyone can be very competitive ultra runner and there’s so much more of a mental aspect, than a physical one, because I think that’s where I’m much stronger is. I think it’s made me realize that I’m much more stronger mentally than I am physically and I think that’s one of the things that’s really, that I really am proud of.
Ian: Now when a record gets broken, we very often will say by minutes maybe an hour if somebody is very, very lucky. You basically broke this record to all intents and purposes by four days, which is absolutely huge, because we all know the significance that that makes on the daily mileage. Even somebody like Marshall Ulrich who needs no introduction to the Talk Ultra audience is completely blown away as is the whole Ultra running community by what you’ve achieved. What does that mean for you in terms of where you go from here and what you do in the future because as you’ve said taking this amount of time to take on such challenge is a big thing in anybody’s life. Maybe physically and emotionally and mentally, it’s not something that should be done time and time again, maybe it is a one off, where do you go from here?
Pete: That’s a good question. Honestly I’m still trying to search for the answer. I haven’t really done much running since I finished the run. Yes, I’ve been I’ve been thinking a lot lately and my legs have been feeling a lot better. I’ve started to look at races that I might want to do, but I’m really looking forward to what I decide to do next, but if I have an open book at this point.
Ian: Do you think this run will make you slower?
Pete: Yes, I tried to run a three mile as fast as I could literally a few days ago, I think I got I was mostly in eights. I have a lot of work to do and trying to get my speed back that’s for sure.
Ian: Well eights is not bad if you were doing tens running across America.
Many people have said I’ll refer back to Karl Meltzer Scott Jurek, Marshall Ulrich that it takes the body a long time to recover from such an effort. Are you aware of how your body really feels from the efforts that you’ve put in? I know that physically and it’s still relatively early you’re feeling pretty good but I guess it’s only when you try to run a little bit longer or you try to run a little bit faster that you will really know how much impact that this has had. Are you aware of this and if you are or if you aren’t, would you make sure that you have a big chunk of recovery time just to make sure that your’re safe?
Pete: Yes, I think that’s the beauty of the time of year that I did this run is that it gets me to — it really gets me to a point where I can do some downtime. I’ll do some training and I’ll run through the winter eventually, but I think if I need 2/3 months early to get back to my regular running again I’ll be okay. I don’t really have any big races at least planned until hopefully in the spring and summer of 2017. I think that was definitely something I thought about. If I had done this in the spring or even in the summer, I’d probably be just itching to get back out and race again in the fall, but it’s been good to have to really be going into the small months with the finish of this run.
Ian: Before you attempted this Run Across America your day consisted of a five am start, a couple of hours of running a full day at work, couple of hours of running, an hour’s chill time. Now you’ve got a lot of time on your hands is that a tougher battle than actually running across America?
Pete: It is interesting. Yes, it’s something I’m not used to at all, I’ve been I’ve been taking advantage of it and usually sleeping a bit longer. I’ve been doing a lot of 9/10 hour. And I sleep and an hour. I think really helped at the recovery as well but it is it is odd because it’s almost I feel like I actually have time to kill now which was unheard of in these last five or six months.
Ian: Well I’m sure your wife and family are happy to have you around, maybe seeing you chill and relax a little bit more?
Pete: Yes, we’ll find out.
Ian: I’m going to ask you one last question because I’ve taken up enough of your time, but in 42 days and a couple of hours and a few minutes, there must have been one or two really bad moments, what were they?
Pete: I think the biggest shocker, the hardest thing to take was definitely when one of our crew vehicles got demolished, literally just hit from behind and totalled. One of our crew members, Dean, being he was actually in the car at the time and that was something that was just all of the sudden very scary. He was but that was probably one of the hardest times because at that point we were approaching the three forest mark across the country.
It looked like as long as nothing bad happened like that, we would be on pace for the record and thankfully nothing bad did come about. I think that, taking the day off early on and just thinking, am I really, am I even going to make it to Utah? All the work I put into this run and is it only going to be a one week run. I was still confident, but I think that was one of the other big scares and then I think just the whole state of Pennsylvania…
…no offence on the people of Pennsylvania but that state was the most brutal by far, because you feel so close to…. you’re 90% of the way there but you still have three hundred miles to go and you’re just like, “Well, I’m not really that close. I still have a long way to go.” Just the weather was really bad and then also the terrain was just very frustrating for a rhythm runner like me, and so I think was the third really difficult part of the route.
Ian: You just give me another point there, because I guess once you’ve got “just” three hundred miles to go, I guess that’s when it can be the most fearful. That’s when you are really frightened of an injury coming along that you can’t plan for, or something that really stops you in your tracks because that’s when you could really lose it. Whereas, if it happens midway or in the early stages then it’s a different mindset, but in grasp, in touching distance, mentally that must have been very, very difficult.
Pete: Oh yes, I do a lot of calculations upon running, just about everyday I was saying okay I have this many miles left and this is how many miles I have to do. Yes, still if something were to happen or I twist an ankle really wasn’t until I got down to the last day or two that I decide, okay I could walk even I have to, but yes, that was just so mentally tough. Many people are already congratulating me.
Pete: “Don’t congratulate me yet, I still have so much work to do.”
Ian: Was that the reason why you ran 87 miles in the last leg?
Pete: Yes, I wanted to just get it over and get it done. I thought if it was a hundred miles or less I was just going to knock it out in one day and make it happen.
Ian: Yes, well Karl Metzer says a hundred miles is not that far. I think he and you are now saying 3,100 miles is not that far. Needless to say, Peter, this record is absolutely stunning. I think it’s blown the whole ultra-running community apart. The old record stood for a long, long time way back to 1980. I’ve got a feeling that this one could stand for a lot longer. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think there’s anybody coming along in the future that could maybe take this record away?
Pete: I would definitely welcome it. Because one thing I learned from Frank was that he was so gracious to me when he literally handed the baton over to me in New York City. If someone goes, I would love to see people continue to go for it. I think there are people that are definitely qualified, I think the interesting thing about this type of run and the reason I did it now rather than a few years from now is that, it’s a huge undertaking personally and even professionally to get the time off to do it from work. Then if you have a family it can be very difficult. I think that’s one of the difficulties of and maybe part of the reason why a lot of really good ultra runners have not been able to do a run like this. I would definitely love to see someone try to break the record, and I’m sure there will be over the few years to come.
Ian: Awesome. Well thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure to hear a snippet of running for 42 days across America, and I wish you all the best to your recovery and I’m really looking forward to seeing what you got up to in 2017.
Pete: Great. Well thank you. Thank you so much for having me, it was a pleasure.
In a previous life, James Cracknell spent too much time mucking about in a boat with big blokes wearing too much Lycra. He was lucky enough to win gold medals at the Sydney and Athens Olympics. After that he stupidly rowed across the Atlantic and did a race to the South Pole (both filmed by the BBC).
After Antarctica he decided the cold wasn’t for him and entered the Marathon des Sables where he did okay and came 12th. At the time that was the highest place a Briton had ever come until Danny Kendall upstaged the Olympian.
James’s MDS progress was filmed by the Discovery Channel. This was followed with another film documenting a journey from LA to New York: cycling from LA to Death Valley running through Death Valley then remounting and cycling Route 66 to Lake Erie, rowing Lake Erie then cycling to New York and finally swimming to the Statue of Liberty.
Unfortunately James didn’t complete this journey as a fuel truck in Arizona hit him! Placed in a coma and a two-month stay in a Phoenix hospital, James was close to the edge. It’s been a long journey and one that is ongoing.
Read the full (part one) article on RUN ULTRA HERE
Orkney-based ultra marathon runner, William Sichel (60) completed the World’s Longest Certified Footrace – the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race in New York last week, in a time of 50 Days 15 hours 06 minutes and 04 seconds.
A full and in-depth interview with William will be on episode 68 of Talk Ultra available on August 22nd via iTunes or this website.
William has now run further in a single, measured race than any other Scot, any other British athlete, and/or anyone over the age of 60 – ever. In doing this William set over 50 records at the Scottish Over 60, Scottish Overall, British Over 60, British Overall and World Over 60 levels.
Finishing as the 6th male finisher overall, William became the first person over 60 ever to complete this incredible challenge. William struggled early on and by day 19 was 71 miles behind the daily average required to complete the race in time.
He managed to claw his way back, day by day and eventually finished with more than a day in hand. This entailed running the second half of the race 3½ days quicker than the first half, a feat that had never been done before in the 18 year history of the race.
Race Director Sahishnu Szczesiul described William’s run as “the performance of the race”.
“I found the race incredibly hard – far and away the hardest thing I have ever done. I then made it harder for myself by falling behind and having to run a negative split to finish. I had to battle the heat and humidity, the noise, the unreal distance and duration. I was so relieved to finish within the time limit.”
William hopes to have high-lighted the benefits of exercise for the over 60s as well as raise money for the CLAN cancer support charity.
William made the decision 18 months ago to compete in this race as he wanted to mark his 20th year in ultra distance running and his 60th year, by tackling something rather special and this event seemed to fit the bill.
William will now allow time for a full recovery, both mental and physical, before returning to competition next year.
Make sure you tune in to Talk Ultra HERE on August 22nd for a fascinating interview by an inspirational and very humble, pure, ultra runner.
William is raising funds for CLAN Cancer Support and his dedicated web page can be found here: http://www.justgiving.com/William-Sichel
Orkney-based ultra marathon runner, William Sichel (60) will become the first Scot to start the World’s Longest Certified Footrace – the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race – which starts in New York on Sunday June 15th – with a 52 day cut-off.
William hopes to high-light the benefits of exercise for the over 60s as well as raise money for the CLAN cancer support charity.
The 18th edition of this event will, once again, take place on a half mile street circuit in Queens, New York from June 15th to August 6th. A small, invited field of 11 men and 3 women will start this unique event.
For organisational reasons the race is run a bit like a stage race with the runners and organisers having an enforced break between mid-night and 6am every day. The clock doesn’t stop however and competitors must be on the start line at 6 every morning.
So in effect, the runners have 18 hours a day to cover the daily average of 60 miles required to complete the challenge within the time limit.
“That means I must cover almost 2½ marathons a day or the equivalent of 240 laps of a 400m track, every day for 52 days, just to finish inside the time limit! It’s an incredible ask because if I have a bad day then I have to run further in subsequent days to complete the race. Currently no one from Scotland has ever started the event and no one from anywhere, aged over 60, has ever finished it, so there are lots of targets to aim for.”
Sri Chinmoy was an Indian spiritual master and teacher of meditation, who established himself in New York in the 1960’s and who died in 2007. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team organise many running events world-wide, including the UK.
The heat and humidity of summer in New York will have a big bearing on the event and William has prepared diligently in his own home-made heat chamber, mimicking the the 35°C and 90% humidity often experienced in New York during July and August.
“To be honest it would hardly be worth going if I didn’t do this type of specific preparation. The effects of heat and humidity on running performance can be severe and coming from a cool climate it makes perfect sense and is something I can do, relatively conveniently, at home.”
William made the decision 18 months ago to compete in this race as he wanted to mark his 20th year in ultra distance running by tackling something rather special and this event seemed to fit the bill.