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.”

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