Homeo Q&A With Andy Pearson: Ultramarathon Runner
30-year-old Andy Pearson runs 100-mile trail races several times per year. He has a full-time job, a wife (me) and he’s more or less normal. But seriously, 100 miles? WTF? I thought he’d make a good/ accessible subject for the very first Homeo Q&A.
H: What is an ultramarathon runner?
AP: It’s anyone who runs distances longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Races are usually 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles. A few really insane ones are even longer. It really is an extreme sport, just not in the way you think of traditional extreme sports like snowboarding or BASE jumping.
H: That sounds horrible. Why do you do this?
AP: Curiosity. It’s really amazing what the human body is capable of. When you push it to such extremes, that’s where weird stuff starts to happen. It’s also a fantastic way to explore the world. You get out into the wild to see and experience things that 99.9999% of humans never will. Running to the top of a mountain every morning is kind of like an extreme form of meditation. When you go to work after that, nothing phases you.
H: Walk me through a typical race. How does it work? How long does it take? How many people are running in it and what percentage have bionic limbs?
AP: Generally, you’ll gather at a starting line at 5 or 6 in the morning with anywhere from 15 to 400 crazy people. There’s a countdown, then you start running and then don’t stop until you’ve run 100 miles. In between, you’ll probably run up and down a few mountains, have some incredible highs and some terrible, terrible lows and at some point probably eat shit and fall. There are aid stations every 5 to 10 miles where you can grab food and refill your water. And because it’s 100 miles, you’ll likely run through much of the night (with a headlamp for light) and sometimes into the next day. You can have a crew there to help you with supplies and anything else you need during aid station stops. You might also have a pacer who runs the last section of the race with you for safety/ company/ speed. Time-wise, it can really depend on the course. The terrain and elevation are so different depending on whether you’re running in the Rockies, in the Utah desert or in Hawaiian jungle. Sometime a race will have as little as 10,000 feet of elevation gain and as much as 30,000 feet. I just saw a stat the other day in Ultrarunning Magazine that the average finishing time last year was 28:08:04 for men and 28:34:01 for women. I’m towards the faster end of things to my average is about 23 hours. My fastest time was 17:55:12, but my slowest time was 28:05:00. That’s when I wish I had had those bionic limbs.
H: Do you actually run the whole time?
AP: Yes, mostly. You’re pretty much moving the whole time. Mostly it’s running, but sometimes it’s better to power-hike up a steep incline because it’s more efficient. We do stop for a few minutes at the aid stations to eat some food and adjust gear, but other than that you’re running.
H: Do you eat during the race?
AP: Once you bump up to ultra distances, nutrition becomes incredibly integral to your success. That’s because you’re eating almost constantly. Calories = energy. You basically can’t take in as many calories as your body is burning. The goal is to stave off caloric deficiency for as long as you can. But putting too many calories in your stomach can really upset it and knock you out of the race. It’s a constant balance. I eat a gel or chew or something equivalent to 100 calories every 30 minutes all race. And then at aid stations, I grab a few handfuls or something. Usually it’s fruits (watermelon, grapes, oranges) and pretzels during the day. Later on I’ll start drinking Coke (for calories and caffeine). At night, soups and boiled potatoes with salt are good. I never drink soda in my normal life, but having a Coke after at 60 miles is magic.
H: Do you stop to go to the bathroom?
AP: Sure. Just hop off the trail for a minute and do your business. Some guys actually pull their junk out of their shorts and walk-pee, but that seems silly to me. If you’re running for 26 hours straight, you can afford to stop for 20 seconds to have a proper, satisfying pee.
H: Have you ever shit yourself during a race?
AP: No, but I’m pretty sure I did fart out of my mouth once. That was weird.
H: What’s your regular diet like and how do you tweak this before a race?
AP: I eat a plant-based diet. That’s my way of saying I eat mostly vegan, but I’m not super strict about it. Any time I cook, it’s vegan, but if I’m eating a nice meal out, I might break it. Because #food. Either way, my focus is on eating nutritious, whole foods to fuel my body and keep it ready for high performance. A few weeks out from a race I really dial in my diet to only the very healthiest foods. I also cut out beer and coffee. (Beer to cut calories and drop weight, caffeine to lower my tolerance so it will have a greater effect during the race when I’ll need it.) About three days before the race, I’ll up my carbohydrates intake considerably (for energy). And two days before, I’ll cut my fiber intake (for less pooping). Also, I’ll start drinking more water and electrolyte drinks (for hydration).
H: Do you think this is healthy? Don’t answer that. It’s obviously not.
AP: Absolutely. It gives me goals. It pushes me to constantly improve. It makes me get up early every day and use my body. There are some aspects of racing part that probably aren’t super healthy like running through the night without sleeping, ingesting a lot of sodium to replace lost salt, falling and bleeding all over the forest, etc. But all the training I do before racing is very healthy. And the more experience you get, the more you understand how to race responsibly.
H: What’s your shoe of choice?
AP: I love me some New Balance. I prefer to run in lightweight, minimal shoes, and New Balance was one of the first ones to pioneer the category. Lately I’ve been running in their 1400v2 for roads and non-technical trails, and the 1010v2 (now discontinued) for gnarly terrain.
H: What the fuck are you gonna do when you have KIDS??????? Leave me home with babies every weekend while you scamper through the woods?????
AP: Uh, hey, um, I’ve gotta go. So, I’ll just call you later or something…
H: Thanks for being on the blog. I’m a big fan.
You can follow Andy’s running addiction here.