For the Ultra Athlete, Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

Left to right, Rick Ely, Pam Dolan and Laura Ely emerge from a swim at Long Pond in Ledyard and prepare for the running leg of a 6-hour workout.

At 5:40 Thursday morning the sun had yet to poke above the horizon, but Laura Ely of Stonington and Pam Dolan of Mystic already had begun a 20-mile cycle through the hills of southeastern Connecticut.

An hour or so later they hopped off their bikes, laced up running shoes and ran 4 miles to Long Pond in Ledyard, where they were joined by Laura’s husband, Rick for a 3/4-mile swim.

After slurping energy gels the trio then set off on a 7-mile trail run over Lantern Hill to the North Stonington dump and back, at which point I tagged along.

Unfortunately (make that luckily) I had an appointment earlier in the day and missed the first few stages of the fun.

We then swam another 3/4 mile, and finished off the workout with a 4-mile run.

“I feel great!” Pam gushed as we loped along. “Really, I feel like we just started! Laura texted me Tuesday wondering if I wanted to do this crazy training morning with her. I didn’t hesitate. This is just the sort of thing I love. A bunch of great people out all morning on a lovely day running, biking and swimming, talking, laughing, all of that.”

Pam, who has competed in 100- and 50-mile running races, is training for the Ghost Train Rail Trail Ultra Race in Milford, N.H. Oct. 25. The 200 competitors have the option of running the 15-miles out-and-back course as many times as they can or want to over 30 hours, with an option for “bonus miles” over 100.

“I’m not sure how far I’ll go,” Pam said, adding that the distance she covers or her time isn’t important.

“I love the whole ultrarunning scene. The races are typically on hilly or mountainous, technical trails. The races are less competitive than shorter road races, more like a long day out with a bunch of kindred spirits. Other racers are not competitors so much as friends on the trail. You compete against yourself, the voices in your head telling you to stop, the weather and trail conditions. The goal, at least for me, is to finish these things, not to win.”

Laura, who has run marathons and competed in triathlons as well as XTERRA races that consist of swimming, mountain biking and trail running, is training for The Survival of the Shawangunks (SOS) Triathlon Sept. 7 in New Paltz, NY. This eight-stage race starts with a 30-mile bike ride, followed by a 4.5-mile run, a 1.1-mile swim, followed by a 5.5-mile run, then a half-mile swim, then an 8-mile run, then another half-mile swim, then a 3/4-mile climb to a stone tower, then extended vomiting (just kidding about the last part – sort of).

She has been stepping up her mileage and incorporating “combos” and “brick” workouts into her regimen.

The “brick” refers to stacking two or more disciplines into a workout, but Pam jokes that it really stands for “bike-run-ick”

Rick, who has won the Mystic River Valley Triathlon and various other races, has competed in Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Invitational bike race and Wisconsin’s celebrated American Birkebeine “Birkie” cross-country ski marathon, as well as 11 full Ironmans (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) including two in Hawaii, isn’t training for any particular event at the moment but doesn’t need an excuse to go out for a long ride, swim and/or run.

I’ve known all three for years, and have joined Rick and Laura on winter camping trips in the White Mountains and a swim two years ago from Fishers Island to Noank. I’ve also run and swum with Pam and her husband, Brian Chidley. Brian was part of a madcap gathering I organized a few years ago called Summit New England, in which a bunch of friends drove to the base and then hiked to the peaks of all six New England peaks in a nonstop, 40-hour, 20,000-foot-elevation gain expedition.

So all of us subscribe to the philosophy, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”

There are various corollaries to that theory – “Too much is never enough,” “No pain no gain,” “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” – that all make sense up until the point when it doesn’t.

Every long-distance adventurer or athlete eventually runs into a brick wall, which the seasoned ones turn into a learning experience.

Those who have never crashed and burned during a marathon or had to turn back before the summit probably never really pushed themselves. I’ve discovered that you don’t know your limit until you’ve crossed it.

On the other hand, you don’t really need to push yourself to enjoy a workout, or simply to enjoy the outdoors.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper, whose 1968 best-seller, “Aerobics,” helped launch the fitness movement, once commented that if you run more than 3 miles a day you’re doing it for reasons other than exercise.

I think about that sometimes when I’m out for a 10-mile run.

Anyway, I had fun tagging along the other day with Pam, Laura and Rick, as always, and look forward to more “bricks” – hopefully without the “ick.”

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?

My Favorite Kayak Race: The T.I.A.G.A.T.I.N.M.R. In Rangeley, Maine

Paddling like the dickens last Sunday on Maine’s Rangeley Lake, we competitors had two choices: steer clockwise or counter-clockwise around Maneskootuk Island.

Selden Island: Once A Bustling Quarry, Now A Quiet Haven

More than 40 years ago, Dave Wordell of Salem took his then-10-year-old son, Dave Junior, on a boat ride up Selden Creek, a narrow, secluded tributary of the Connecticut River in Lyme.

Life As A Lumbersexual

I can never remember – do you apply facial cleanser before or after the exfoliating scrub, and then finish up with healing balm and moisturizer, or should you start with the scrub, work your way through the cleanser and then top...

R.I.P. Cecil the Lion: Let's Make the Trophy Hunter an Endangered Species

The international outrage sparked by an American trophy hunter’s killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, justifiably vilifies the despicable practice of slaughtering wildlife for sport – but it also exposes the human...

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.

Training For Mystic Sharkfest: The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Swimmer

Among the many benefits of active recreation is hanging out with friends – which of course you can do at a bar, pizza parlor or coffee shop, but since most of my pals prefer to spend their leisure time on the trail or water, we...

Stung By Wasps AND Suffering From Lyme Disease: I Can't Catch A Break

You know that funny, itchy feeling when something is crawling around or worse, lodged where it doesn’t belong?

Which Is Worse: Getting Devoured By A Grizzly Bear Or A Great White Shark?

During years of roaming hither and yon on land and sea, I’ve been chased by a grizzly bear, nearly trampled by stampeding yaks, charged by a bull, attacked by swarms of hornets and almost struck by a copperhead – but what...

A Whitewater Dream Taking Shape in Willimantic

Asked to name the best whitewater kayaking and canoeing stretches in Connecticut, most paddlers would single out a gnarly, 2.6-mile section of Class IV rapids on the Housatonic River from Bulls Bridge Dam to Gaylordville, or Diana's Pool...