When imagining an ideal diet and workout schedule, many picture green smoothies and protein shakes, cutting down on sugars and carbs, hitting the gym a few times a week, and maybe even the weekly three or four mile walk-and-jog. None of these, however, cut it for senior Karissa McCarthy or Associate Professor of Economics Charles Steele.
Over the summer, McCarthy and Steele raced in the Woodstock Festival’s ultra-marathons located in Pinckney, Michigan. McCarthy ran the 50-kilometer ultra-marathon. Steele competed in the 100-mile race, in which he dropped out around the 75-mile mark.
McCarthy, a distance runner since her first year of high school, said she has always loved to push herself to her physical and mental limits. She raced and completed her first marathon one year ago, but she finished the event feeling as if she hadn’t eaten or hydrated enough to support her grueling effort. McCarthy learned from her mistake and came back strong for a 50-kilometer race this year.
“I really focused on getting in a lot of calories and a lot of liquids; I took in roughly 200 to 250 calories per hour,” she said. “That made the race feel a lot better because I didn’t bonk at all.” A runner “bonks” when they feel a sudden onset of fatigue during a race.
McCarthy spent time training over the summer, which prepared her for the longest race of her life so far. When asked what she enjoyed most about ultra-marathons, McCarthy didn’t hesitate.
“Ultra-running has an awesome community,” she said. “You get to talk to these people you’re running with, and it’s really cool to hear their story. They’re just so enthusiastic about pushing their minds and bodies to do something that means a lot to them.”
McCarthy also said she believes anyone, with enough training and the right diet, could run an ultra-marathon. She said it’s just a matter of the right preparation, consistency, and mental fortitude. “Humans are meant to run,” she said.
Freshman Mark Sprague, who currently runs an average of 60 miles per week as a member of Hillsdale’s cross country team, spoke about the long races ultra-marathoners endure.
“It seems crazy to me that they can do all those miles at one time,” he said.
Steele also participated in an ultra-marathon totaling 75 miles.
Steele has been running ultra-marathons since 1983, and he said he loves the sport just as much as the day he started. He appreciates the interesting crowd ultra-marathon running draws, the euphoric experience of running for multiple hours in the wilderness and great outdoors, and the humbled state of being ultra running requires.
“It just kind of changes your definition of fitness,” Steele said. “You have this hope that you can go out and do something for 12 hours, and you can. It doesn’t require you to be superhuman, just really dedicated.”
Steele said “minimalist” training is important for ultra-marathons. For him and many of his friends, shorter interval workouts accompanied by weekly long runs are the optimal way to stay conditioned for long race days without running themselves down.
“I think that’s what keeps you in the game for a long time and prevents you from getting burnt out,” Steele said.
Steele runs with two titanium hips in place of his own, the deterioration of which were congenital, not resulting from overuse in ultra-marathons. Neither replacement has dampened his spirit or passion. Instead, it has only seemed to amplify it.
“I think people should occasionally take on things where they don’t know if they’ll succeed or not,” he said. “When I was driving over for my 100-mile run I was thinking, ‘this is actually scary, I have no idea how far I can get into this thing.’”
Steele said running ultra-marathon is just one way to push oneself.
“It doesn’t have to be running, but whatever you do, you should find stuff to challenge you. I think that’s what makes life exciting.”