Friday, February 17, 2012

Run Report: 10 Years of Ultrarunning

Today, February 17, 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of my first ultra – the Kurt Steiner 50K, held in Central Park, NY, in conjunction with the famed Metropolitan 50-miler. So I thought it would be a good time to go back and think about my 10 years of ultrarunning. To say it’s taken me places and given me unforgettable experiences I never dreamed I’d have is the understatement of the year!

First, the numbers, since I’m a numbers junkie. I’ve run and completed 69 ultras, plus one DNF (Rocky Raccoon 2007). These include 18 50K’s, 12 24-hour runs and 11 6-hour runs. Most-completed races include 7 times at the Caumsett Park 50K, 7 times at the 6-Hour 60th Birthday Run, and 4 times each at the New York Pioneer Memorial 100 Mile Trek, Joe Kleinerman 12-Hour, the Knickerbocker 60K, and the IAU 24-Hour World Championships (held in four different locations). My most-visited race location, my home away from home, is Crocheron Park in Queens, where I’ve raced nine times on its 1,709-yard loop for a total of 474 miles. My busiest year was 2008 with 10 ultras. Total miles raced in ultras is 4,890. I’ve run ultras in 10 states and 5 foreign countries. I’ve managed to win 17 ultras, my first win coming at the Extreme Workout 50/50, a 50K and 50 Mile race held on the East River Esplanade on Feb. 19, 2005. In that low-key race, 6 runners signed up, 3 started, and I was the only finisher, at 7:28:20. My wins also include two 24-hour national championships (2009 and 2011) and a 48-hour American record.

It’s hard to remember much about my first ultra, the 2002 Kurt Steiner 50K. I’d run four marathons prior to that (New York Marathons in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001) and I figured that I probably wouldn’t get too much faster, but I could always go farther. So, seeing the Metropolitan 50-Mile/Kurt Steiner 50K on the NYRRC calendar, I thought I’d take the leap. I don’t remember too much from that race, except that it was pretty cold, it was a different experience running the 4-mile loop in Central Park eight times (almost), without the hype of the New York Marathon. I remember the novelty of eating cookies during a race! And of course, I remember how glad I was to be finished! Back then, the NYRRC let us into their building before and after the race, and after they had hot tomato soup and hot chocolate. I didn’t chat a lot with the other runners, except for an Italian runner living in New York who finished a little bit ahead of me. Of course, I remember Richie Innamorato getting us going at the start and giving out awards at the finish. I finished 16th male and 18th overall with a time of 4:30:31.

I had a good time, but it was tough for me, and I don’t remember getting “hooked” at that time, or even thinking I wanted to keep doing this. But I think even then I had Badwater in my mind, and I was hoping to work my way up to that some day. So basically I built my way up to longer distances and more races.

Looking at the big picture, it’s interesting that many of my best races, especially early on, happened when I was an unknown and flew in under the radar to surprise people. Notably, I’m thinking of the 2004 Joe Kleinerman 12-Hour, when I finished second and became competitive locally, the 2006 Ultracentric 24-Hour (national championship) when I finished third and became competitive nationally, and the 2007 IAU 24-Hour world championships when I finished fourth and became competitive on the world stage. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it’s getting harder for me to fly in under the radar, but in a strange way, it’s reassuring that it’s still possible for me to be overlooked sometimes.

Just about every race was exciting and memorable and had its own highlights, but overall, the best part of ultrarunning is the community. It’s the other runners, volunteers and other people who keep you going when running loops over and over again, when cold and wet, when battling extreme heat, exhaustion, blisters and sleep deprivation. Everybody’s going through the same pain, suffering and challenges, and everybody reaps the rewards when the race is done.

And I feel so proud especially to be a part of the New York ultrarunning tradition, home of the founders of modern road racing and ultrarunning, and to have gotten to know many of the people who had a part in building that history, and continue to do so.

I know that over the next ten years my times will get slower, but the runs will be no less exciting or less rewarding. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!


  1. Great post, Phil! I too have been at this for about 10 years, though not nearly with your success! I agree 100% with what you say about the community as well as about the rewards reaped no matter the finishing times or miles accumulated. I've been inspired too many times to count.

    Your effort getting the 48 hour record was truly inspiring to watch but no more so than some of the efforts I've witnessed of folks barely making the cutoff, or failing to make a cutoff despite their very best effort. I believe it is digging deep, feeling the pain, and the intensity of those moments (or hours!) that keep us coming backnagain and again.

    Congrats on a great 10 years. And best luck going forward!


  2. Thanks Scott! Yes, it is about the digging deep, and the rewards from it, no matter what the outcome. Good luck to you as well!

  3. Kurt Steiner 50K, but in 2003, was my first ultra, on the tail of my only one at the time marathon. That was fun, 16F and frozen water in cups:) Congratulations on years well run - pan intended.

  4. Phil,
    Your success is great , and the manner in which you compete and represent the USA makes me proud. I hope your next decade is surpassingly rewarding.

  5. February 17, 2002! I was there as well! It was my 17th ultra, but you have long since passed me (many times). I looked at the results for the 50K and the 50-miler and saw many familiar names who are still at it.

    I missed you at Caumsett Park on Sunday. It was my 24th 50K, so I am still ahead of you there.

  6. Although I am still new to ultrarunning, I've learned a lot from folks like you and some of the other BUS regulars. The beauty of this kind of running - at least for me - is that speed no longer matters, it's finish lines that do. And unlike other forms of running, even a DNF is considered just part of the process. I like that. :)
    Thanks for laying great ground for others to follow, Phil. I'll see you out on the roads and trails.