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On Ultrarunning, Acupuncture, and Believing
On Ultrarunning, Acupuncture, and Believing
by Claire Nana
Ultrarunning simply defies convention. It seems impossible that two legs can travel 100 miles or more unassisted. Even ultrarunners themselves often report being so tired, so depleted during races that they truly don’t know how they finished them. It seems that in times like those there was something beyond themselves that propelled them forward – all they had to do is continue to put one foot in front of the other.
Yet this is also why injuries can be so hard for ultrarunners. Unlike races where each step converts to measureable progress, trying to fix what is broken physically can sometimes feel like two steps forward and three steps back. And what ultrarunners don’t do well is back off.
Such was the case for my husband, Andrei Nana. After his first Spartathlon – the epic 153 mile race from Athens to Sparta – in 2013, he suffered an avulsion fracture in his left tibia. At first, he simply thought it was a result of running hard, essentially slamming his feet into the pavement, and all it would take was rest. So after a year of trying, he rested for 12 weeks. Yet as soon as he started running again, the pain came right back, so intense at times that trying to walk around his office after a long run was excruciating. And yet, at other times, the leg didn’t seem to hurt while running. So he rested for another four weeks. When he started back, there was no change in the pain level. He tried massage, ultrasound, even different shoes – thinking that the heel-to-toe drop might be aggravating the injury.
And nothing worked. As much as he tried, there was no running through this one.
As I began to wonder how life without running for a hardcore ultrarunner might be, a friend of mine mentioned that she had just been to her massage therapist. “Boy he really beats me up,” she said. I perked my ears. “Do you think he can help my husband’s running injury?”
“I’ve seen him fix worse,” she said, “And his son, the acupuncturist there, you should see what he has done with some people. There was one man who wasn’t walking when I started there, and now, you’d never know.”
After taking down the information, I decided to give it a try – on myself. Leaving that day, I purchased six sessions for my husband and gave Andrew Farretta, the acupuncturist, a warning: My husband is a non-believer.
He looked at me, unfazed, “Ok well, we’ll see what we can do.”
Yet, as far as ultrarunning was concerned, Drew was a non-believer too. In the following sessions I had with him, he’d often ask me about ultrarunning.
How do you explain ultrarunning to a non-runner? I think I said it was like a meditation, only in an exaggerated form. “But what do you think about for all those hours while you are running?” he’d asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered, I guess the thoughts just sort of take care of themselves.” I knew it didn’t make sense to him, and yet I could tell he was interested.
Drew wasn’t a stranger to pushing himself. His father had been a competition gymnast, and his mother an active equestrian, and Drew himself, practiced gymnastics, often achieving what looked like impossible positions to me.
Yet even still, trying to tell an athlete that, like Dean Karnazes says, “When you run an ultra, you talk to God,” doesn’t make much sense until they experience it for themselves. As I left that day, I wondered how he’d explained acupuncture to Andrei.
Thoughts do take care of themselves on a run, and for the most part the body does too. But not always. Sometimes injuries create scar tissue which then results in a cascade effect: muscles become tight around the area and don’t move smoothly as they should, circulation is disrupted, and healing just stops. It seems then that the body enters into a protection mode where every stress that training places on it only results in more guarding of the injury. What needs to happen, Drew had told me, is that the pattern is broken, circulation is brought to the area, the muscles relax, and the body “relearns” how to move.
But you also have to have enough faith in the process to keep going.
Finally, after eight sessions, Andrei was running again. And Drew also had started running. First a mile or two with Andrei after his treatments, and then a few more on his own. After a few weeks, he and Andrei were running “long runs” of ten miles on the weekends.
It was time for a plan. Andrei suggested that Drew first run the Ft. Lauderdale Half Marathon, and if things go well, consider entering the Keys 50K a few months later. As far as definitions are concerned, in two races, he would be an ultrarunner.
However, as most ultrarunners know, ultrarunning really starts at 100 miles. And after a successful finish at the Keys 50K, in 5:46:02, Drew set his sights on the Icarus Florida UltraFest 24 hour race in November, just five months later. As the race founder, Andrei thought that not just would the course be conducive to a first 100 mile attempt – it is a flat, shaded, one kilometer loop – but also that Drew would enjoy running with the participants that would be completing the six day race.
In preparation, Andrei and Drew had run the course several times, Andrei explaining the strategy behind running a loop course, the pacing required to finish 100 miles in 24 hours, and the mentality needed to push oneself beyond what one thinks is possible.
It’s never the body that limits you, it’s the mind, and on November 24, 2016, Drew accomplished more than he ever thought possible. He ran 103.1 miles in 24 hours.
To put things in perspective, most runners are happy to simply complete 100 miles in the time allotted, which is usually between 32 and 36 hours. A second, and much more ambitious goal would be to run 100 miles in under 24 hours. This goal usually takes 2-3 years of solid training and racing.
Drew did it in 11 months.
And in the meantime, he helped a lot of other runners. After his own return to running, Andrei referred an impressive collection of runners to Drew. From Joey Lichter, the ultra-triathlete who is currently training for a deca-triathlon, which is ten “Ironman” distances in a row, to Grant Maughan, a two time second place Badwater 135 finisher, and Jodi Samuels, an accomplished ultrarunner with seven 100 mile finishes to her name.
For more information about Andrew Farretta and The Center For Massage Therapy, visit, www.centerformassagetherapycoopercity.com
For more information about Andrei Nana, and Nana Endurance Training, visit, www.nanaendurancetraining.com.
Claire Dorotik-Nana is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks Into Springboards. She also pens the blog, “Leveraging Adversity” on Psychcentral.com.
Andrew Farretta - UltraMarathons
Andrew Farretta - UltraMarathons
Keys 100 Miles (2017) - 19:31:04
Endurance 24H (2017) - 149.9km
Long Haul 100 Miles (2017) - 24:42:42
Icarus Florida UltraFest 24H (2016) - 103.1mi
9850 Stirling Road #101, Cooper City, FL 33024, USA
Email: [email protected]
Symbolizing high flying ambition, the myth of Icarus warns us against complacency and hubris, and similarly, ultrarunning symbolizes the human drive for empowerment and warns us against heeding our own limitations, self doubt, and fears. To those in the sport, ultrarunning is not only a way to be better, but also to know thyself, and know what better means. To those on the outside of the sport, ultrarunning is the myth that truly heroic things are not achieved by mere mortals, but only by heroes. Icarus Florida UltraFest was organized with the idea that truly heroic things can be achieved by all of us -- if we are willing to put in the time, energy and effort demanded by the task.
During the 2014, 2015, and 2016 editions, athletes represented 23 countries and succeeded to break 9 new records as well as to qualify for the 24H national teams.
Brad Compton - New American Age Group 144H Record
Jovica Spajic - New Serbian 144H Record
Colby Wentlandt - New American Age Group 48H Record
Colby Wentlandt - New American Age Group 144H Record
Kimberley Van Delst - New Canadian Female Age Group 72H Record
Kimberley Van Delst - New Canadian Female Age Group 144H Record
Ed Ettinghousen - New American Age Group 144H Record
Tina Andersen - New Danish Female 144H Record
Tina Andersen - New Scandinavian Female 144H Record