The Birth of a Mountain Ultra Runner

Written by Hank Martin in N. America

This is a guest post by Micah Morgan. While Micah loves outdoor adventures that push the limitations of human fitness, he also is a family man with a wife and 2 year old son. He loves learning new things and has a Masters of Science in Systems Engineering and works in a network engineering job to fund his adventures. You can follow his adventures on his blog at mountainmicah.blogspot.com

On November 12, 2012 the greatest gift in my life, my son Eli, was born. I was happy to be a father, but had realized that I was the fattest of my life at 6’0” and 220 pounds. In the endurance world, that officially qualified me as a Clydesdale. Until that point, I never really thought about my weight much, as an avid technical rock climber always gunning for my next dirt bag style alpine adventure with no idea of the outcome or the ending of each adventure. Most of these adventures included transport and sleep in my red 1970 VW bus named Pabst over mountain passes and 4WD roads. Pabst was a time machine where once you entered, you had no expectations and real time ceased to exist. You were on Pabst time and got to places when you got there.

Three months prior to my son’s birth, I even wrapped up my goal of finishing the last of the Colorado Fourteeners on Mt. Huron with my six months preggers wife and of course a pony keg in celebration. In case you didn’t know, the word “Fourteener” means mountain of fourteen thousand feet in elevation and we have 58 in Colorado (number highly debated by various rule systems). My claim to fame/craziness in mountaineering is the second claimed winter ascent of the Little Bear to Blanca Traverse, hosting knife ridges and over 2,000’ of sheer exposure on either side in many places. I got frost nip in a big toe and lost feeling for several months.

Anyhow, back to the story of running. I was 220 lbs. and not happy about it. I decided I needed to put an end to this, so I started running. My first run was just 3 miles, which was the standard distance back in my Marine Corps days. I used to run it in under 19 minutes. However, this time it took me over 30 minutes. Despicable! I had nowhere to go but towards improvement. So I ran a few times a week at no more than four miles each run. February came around and registration for the Pikes Peak Ascent sparked my interest. What does one do after finishing all of the 14ers? I initially wanted to do the marathon because I have a hard time being bussed off the summit of a mountain, but you have to have a marathon or Pikes Peak Ascent under your belt in the previous three years to qualify. Well, I had done a marathon a few years prior, at which point I decided I would never run that far again and that I hated running. I signed up for the Ascent and immediately began training. After eventually bumping some of my runs as long as 8 miles, I figured I would show up for some club runs with the Incline Club hosted by the Infamous Matt Carpenter, who still holds the course record along with the course record for the Leadville 100 and the Pikes Peak Ascent and other Marathon Records. If I was going to do this, I wanted to learn how the best did it. My first couple of “long” runs with the club were trail runs around 13 miles and they left me worked over each time. After having to walk the final couple miles, I was down for the count for the rest of the day. By late summer with increasing fitness, I was making full training runs from bottom to top on Pikes Peak. Two days before the race, I came down with a mean case of strep and went to the doctor where I informed her that it wasn’t "if" I was going to do this, it was if she was going to help me. I got some strong antibiotics and went for the race. With my fastest training run being just under 3:50 bottom to top on this 13.32 mile 7,815’ elevation gain run ending at 14,115’ above sea level , I was expecting only maybe slightly better. Aside from getting toe curling cramps, I managed a 3:26 ascent time and was ecstatic about my resultant losing 30 lbs in bodyweight from the training.

Riding the wave, I ran my first trail 50k at the Bear Chase Race the following month where I felt like I did spectacular. This was my first true ultra, (a run over marathon distance) and I just craved more, more and more. It is a stronger craving for more than when I got my first tattoo. It is more like a shark that has smelled blood kind of craving. That winter, I learned about Fat Ass Runs where a bunch of people get together for no good reason and run really far just for the sake of community and having a good time. I ran some of the inaugural grass-roots Human Potential Running series Fat Asses put on by Sherpa John LaCroix where my first 27 mile and 7,000’+ elevation gain run kicked me hard. The best part of these runs is that for some reason I have always been a glutton for punishment and just kept wanting more. At around the same time, I discovered the world of Fat Ass running, I was also noticing some runners experiencing heavy and burnout after about five hard years and another crowd of runners older than my parents that had been running for several decades. I wanted to know why some burnout from overtraining and some can last virtually forever. Then I learned about the Maffetone Method where you train specifically in the aerobic zone which is roughly a heart rate of 180 minus your age. Training in this zone drastically reduces injury and fatigue while still making you aerobically fit if you have the discipline to maintain a lower heart-rate range. I found this just in time as I already had plantar fasciitis and IT Band issues while doing lower volume higher intensity training where I would try and beat my best on literally every run. Within a couple of weeks of utilizing this new method I was injury free and feeling great.

This past year marked my first full year as an ultra-runner where I cut my teeth at both the 50 mile distance and the coveted 100 mile. After a solid start to the year with training in the 60-80 miles per week and 8,000’ elevation gain range, I quickly got burnt out and faded. I suppose I didn’t realize it but in a transition of jobs, my training came to almost a complete halt. By the time the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run 50 miler rolled around in May, I found myself severely out of shape. After sand bagging just 14 miles into the race, I was walking and pretty much walked it in to the 25 mile start/finish turnaround point fully content on calling it a day and enjoying Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. Then, something happened. I couldn’t bring myself to drop down to the 25 mile distance. After sitting for a few minutes, I couldn’t bring myself to quit. Part of it was my drive to finish and part of it was that I couldn’t go back to work known as the crazy guy who was going to run 50 miles and told them I was a quitter. I sealed the deal and went through the turnaround where there is no turning back. I had no idea how I was going to complete this seeing as though I had to walk the past 10 miles already. Slowly but surely, I made my way along even running sometimes at a blazing 11 minute per mile pace. At around mile 35, I actually became worried I wouldn’t make the end of the race before the cutoff. Doing the math, I only had to make 20 minutes per mile average to finish in time. Normally, I can easily maintain a clip of 15 min mile or faster while walking, but that day I was struggling to walk at a 22 min pace sometimes. Circling up the last few miles with some new friends I had met at the race, we finished in just over 11 hours but nonetheless we finished. The feeling was great. Although I walked so much I managed to stay focused and finish and it felt good. The feeling of finishing a 50 miler was indescribably better than finishing even a 50k and it was a mountain 50 miler at that...

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