Simon Edgett never planned to run 50 miles at a time. A longtime hiker, Edgett just wanted to quit smoking.
“In 2011, my wife and I chose a target 5K on June 4th and trained for a month,” he said. “I ran two more 5Ks that summer before my first half marathon and I realized I liked the longer distance.”
In 2012, Edgett’s smoke-free lungs carried him through three more 5Ks, three half marathons, and the Hartford Marathon that October. “I swore I was never running again after Hartford, but the next day, I felt pretty good and went for a jog. The next year, I ran the Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug 50-Mile Run in under 10 hours.”
And just like that, another ultra runner was born.
Luckily for Edgett, he lives in Connecticut and can run in the XTERRA Northeast Series Trail Races, which are meticulously organized by Denise Mast of the New York Adventure Racing Association (NYARA). This year, three of the four races in the Northeast Series include 10K, 25K, 50K, and 80K trail races. The final race in the series – the XTERRA Syracuse Trail Run – offers both 10K and 20K courses.
“Most of us at the NYARA are endurance athletes. We are drawn to longer events, which is why we are committed to offering ultras, even though it makes for a longer day,” said Mast. “A 10K feels too short for us!"
The Northeast Series opened with the XTERRA Shepaug Trail Run, which took place in Connecticut last month. Edgett won the 50K and and is looking forward to another 50K run at XTERRA Wawayanda, which will take place on May 6th at Wawayanda State Park in New Jersey.
Wawayanda Park is a great place for history buffs as well as athletes. An old iron furnace from the 1840's can be seen near the start of the race as well as the rock walls of former subsistence farms and homesteads. The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, also runs through almost 20 miles of the park.
“I’m hoping to significantly improve my time at Wawayanda," said Edgett. "The course is a great mix of flowy dirt single track, Jeep roads, and technical boulder fields and rock gardens.”
Edgett believes anyone who wants to do an ultra run can. He also readily admits that he has focused much more on training in the past few years and has a disciplined approach to getting out the door, even though half of his winter workouts are in freezing conditions while wearing a headlamp.
“Success in ultras is really dependent on consistent training in the weeks and months leading up to racing season. I’ve been keeping my weekly mileage around 45 to 55 miles. About half of that distance is during the week and half on the weekend. 99% of my training is done alone though I do occasionally run with my wife or use a race as training.”
Mast notes that Edgett isn’t unusual in training alone. “I would say the vast majority of ultra runners train alone. It’s a lonely sport.”
If long-distance running attracts a certain personality, then races provide the perfect opportunity for companionship without the noise and crush of a 10K on the road.
“There is a pretty tight trail running community in Connecticut,” said Edgett. “Ultra running is much more laid back than other distances, especially when compared to road running. Spending six hours running with a group of people, even if it is intermittent, kind of makes you close. You share in the pain and know what each other is going through.”
While ultra runners seem like rare, exotic creatures, Mast emphasizes how much ultra running is growing as a sport. One reason for this is that once runners see that it can actually be done, they are less hesitant to try it out. Another reason for the sport’s rise is that trail running is easier on the joints, enabling runners to race into their 70’s.
“If you run on the soft stuff, you can continue running for many more years than you can if you stick to the asphalt,” said Doug Beagle, an ultra runner in Texas. Last year, Beagle won his 65-69 age group at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. Indeed, many masters runners are turning to the trails to continue their racing careers.
But perhaps the biggest reason of all to run an ultra is bragging rights. “Pretty much anyone can tackle a 25K. But a 50 or 80K are a much bigger mental commitment. Those distances show how tough someone’s mettle is,” said Mast.
Edgett believes that dealing with pain and perseverance in running is a great tool for dealing with difficulties in life. “I am an English teacher, so finding symbolism or allegory in aspects of my life is par for the course.”
View results for the XTERRA Shepaug Trail Run
Learn more and register for the XTERRA Wawayanda Trail Run