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Beyond the Marathon


Craig Chambers

Craig Chambers gives you the feeling that it is equally valid to be either a beginning runner with modest aspirations or one who has worn out many pairs of running shoes for the pure love and joy of running. His writing will inspire and encourage you. So, get out there and run around the block or over that mountain. Maintain a calm interior. Feel safe about trying to push your limits. Be your own measuring stick. (AW)

About the Author

Craig Chambers is a partner and founder of Phidippedes, Encino CA, a specialty sporting goods store for runners and triatheletes. For five years (1981-86) Craig ran to and from work on trails across the Santa Monica Mountain (26 miles per day). He has run 100+ marathons and 20 ultra marathons. He has finished the Western States 100 three times each in sub 24 hours. He has done a double crossing of the Grand Canyon ten times and has finished the Death Valley Ultra-Triathalon in under 58 hours. He holds an MBA from U.C., Irvine and a BA in philosophy and psychology from U.C., Santa Cruz.

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. ... Robert Browning

Beyond the Marathon

Stay Curious.

Goals are progressive. When I began running, I used to lie in bed, stare at the ceiling and dream of some day running a marathon. I did not expect to run over 100 marathons. I did not expect that I would commute run across the Santa Monica Mountains for five years. I did not expect I would run 100 mile races. I had never even heard of an ultra-marathon.

The first time I heard of an ultra was the day after my first marathon. I had made about as many mistakes as a body could make; I hit the wall at 24 miles and lurched in. The next day, when I told a friend of my heroic first marathon, she told me about the 72-mile race around Lake Tahoe. I just stared at her. I couldn't speak. I couldn't begin to comprehend that such a thing was humanly possible.

Beyond the marathon. There is plenty of challenge in the marathon. But, after running a few, you may find that you can run the distance easily enough. You also find that it becomes a melancholy proposition to run them faster and faster. While you may continue running marathons for fun or even for pr’s, to remain challenged, you may find that you will need to set further goals.

The same spirit that got you to the marathon may inspire you to go further.


Train as much as you can.

Training makes you strong.

But, if you are already running marathons for fun, you're probably already running as much as is convenient. Perfect. Marathons, ultras and the training that support them should enhance your life.

Training for a 50 mile race is not essentially different than training for a marathon. It is helpful to run a couple of long runs in the 25-30 mile range or to run a marathon or two for training. But, it's not necessary.

Just get as fit as possible. Pay your money. Take your chances. The race will motivate you. And, the race will take care of itself. You will surprise yourself.

Walk before You run

Over 30 years ago, when nobody was training, President Kennedy suggested that Americans take a 50 mile hike.

He did not say to train like a maniac until some future president’s administration.

He said, “Take out you indelible marker. Write ’50 Miles or Bust’ on a clean white T-shirt. Face any direction. And, go”

Who am I to argue with the wit and wisdom of JFK?

Just do it!

Am I really suggesting that you walk 50 miles?

Well, I did something similar before my first marathon. I was a graduate student at U.C. Irvine. I walked from Balboa Island to LAX. It took me about 12 hours and I covered some 30 miles. I was intending to walk up the coast highway and have a nice, pleasant walk beside South California beaches. I didn't’ realize how much of the coast was dedicated to oil exploration. I was studying public policy, but nothing I had read had the impact or offered the insight into city/county planning as walking through North Long Beach, Lomita and Redondo Beach.

Kennedy’s suggestion was brilliant. Whether you walk urban areas or wilderness, you will be amazed by what you see and learn.

Am I really, really suggesting you walk 12 hours or 50 miles?

Well, you don't need to. But, it will take the mystery out of the time and distance. And, you will learn something about yourself physically. The point is your can do it. And, you can do it now.

Freedom and Adventure:
The Death Valley 200/100/10 Ultra-Triathlon

There are no limits.

People run across continents.

I think the most interesting thing about me is that I don't have any particular athletic talent.

When I set my marathon pr, I was eagerly running 140 miles per week. I ran 2:47 - certainly not a bad time - but not 2:10.

I have other pretensions, but I have never considered myself an athlete.

I have enjoyed running. I have enjoyed the process of setting and meeting goals - and, setting new goals. The process is creative and essentially limitless.

I started out dreaming of running a marathon. Then, one sunny, summer morning, I woke up and began the Death Valley Ultra-Triathlon. I biked across the desert and back, swam 10 miles in the furnace Creek pool, and ran over 100 miles back across Death Valley. Shade temperatures were 120 degrees; temperatures on the road were 180 degrees. I expected to sleep four hours after the swim; I slept two. I hoped to finish in 60 hours - two and a half days. I finished in 57:22. I hoped to run the 104 miles across Death Valley in under 24 hours; I ran 22:20, finishing in late afternoon.

I drank about 10 gallons -80 lbs. - of water and juice and still lost weight to dehydration.

The heat was so intense, it didn't feel like earth. It was bright beyond clarity. Visible waves of heat rose off the desert floor.

Death Valley is so vast that time and distance required abstraction; they were unimaginable in personal terms.

I thought: I can't go on, I'll go on.

It was not as easy as it sounds.

But, it was also gorgeous. From the roseate dawn to the Milky way night, desert light is spectacular. Death Valley is not just an expanse of sandy desert, it has its own dramatic geography bounded on every side by rugged mountains.

Personally and privately, I consider the Death Valley Ultra-Triathlon to be a signpost on the field of human endurance.

But, if stupid old Craig can do it - you can do it. Or, anything you choose to do. The principle limiting agent is your own mind.

What It's Like

You will have to run a 50 and find out for yourself what it's like.

But, I'll tell you, in my experience, what it’s like to run 100miles.

It’s bigger than you are.

I’ve run the Western States 100 three time, each under 24 hours. The race starts at 5:00 a.m. It is dark. The start is at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe. The first thing we do is run to Emigrant pass, 9,000’. From there, we run through every Sierra canyon, and over every Sierra ridge, until we get to Auburn.

We run all day. And, through the night.

It is glorious.

Whether running across exposed, rocky ridges with spectacular views, or through canyon forests with sunlight filtering through the trees and onto the ferns, or across deep, cold, fast-flowing Sierra streams - the experience is breath-taking.

Every canyon is different from every other canyon.

Day is different from night.

Night is hard.

Your try to stay out of trouble. You fail. You recover.

You run where you are. You see and experience everything as it happens.

The next day you expect the entire experience to come crashing in. It doesn't. It scary that it doesn't. But, it doesn't.

You can remember any point of the race vividly - what it looked like, how you felt.

But, you cannot get a sense of the experience in its entirety. You've run all day through short term memory. You will never have a complete feeling or understanding of the whole experience. It is bigger than you are.

It is like life.

© 1995 Craig Chambers

(Published on Armchair World, October, 2000, by permission of the author)

Craig can be reached by filling out our feedback form and referencing this article.

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