Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our society, many trail runners have found their 2020 race plans cancelled or drastically changed. Some of us have turned to virtual races or other challenges to satisfy our racing itch. Despite the lack of in-person racing, there have been many inspiring stories of trail runners doing incredible things such as breaking world records, setting FKTs, and winning Salomon Golden Tickets. Across the country, trail runners are staying motivated to train and push their limits in new and innovative ways.
One particularly inspiring story of resilience and creativity is that of Alejandro Venzor’s solo 100-mile time trial. After a last minute race cancellation, Venzor, decided to run his own 100-mile run last month, by looping Rampart Reservoir in Woodland Park, Colorado, not far from his home in Colorado Springs. This reservoir has an average elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level and Venzor’s time trial would include six 14.5-mile loops.
I interviewed Venzor to learn more about his experience of running 100 miles solo.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] You were training for the Superior 100 Mile in Minnesota this fall. Unfortunately, the race was cancelled. What thoughts were going through your head with the cancellation? How did you get the idea of running your own 100 mile race?
[ALEJANDRO VENZOR] When my race was canceled I was a little relieved because it saved me from having to drive to Minnesota and find a crew/pacers from a different state. I searched for 100-mile races in Colorado that I could sign up for last minute and found Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs. I requested time off from work for the race, but unfortunately just as my time off was approved the race organizers announced it was cancelled. I already had the time off from work and had been training hard, so I thought why not organize my own 100-mile run close to home at Rampart Reservoir.
[TAYTE] You have a normal 40 hour work week, yet you train more than many professionally sponsored ultrarunners who do this for a living. How do you balance the work/training? What does a typical training day look like?
[ALEJANDRO] Yes, I work 40 hours per week, most of which are hours spent on my feet walking around an athletic retail store. During my training for the 100 mile attempt, the opportunity came up to train for a free duathlon. It sounded like fun, so I started incorporating more cycling and speed training into my routine. A typical day in this training cycle involved working from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. or 11 A.M. to 8P.M. with a 10- to 20-mile bike ride followed by a 10-mile run. I’d squeeze in these workouts before or after my work depending on the schedule. I progressed to back-to-back 20-mile long runs as I approached race day. Most weeks I had 15 to 20 hours of training.
[TAYTE] How did you stay motivated to train? Why train so hard for something that isn’t a “real” race?
[ALEJANDRO] I enjoy running solo time trials and had already done a solo marathon, a 50 kilometer and half IronMan (without the swim) this past spring. I knew time trialing a 100-mile run would be a much harder challenge, but I thought that if I put my mind to it I could do it.
Training hard for something so challenging that wasn’t even an official race was a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. I was inspired by one of my friends who hardly ever runs races, but never slacks on training. I’d follow his Strava and seeing his workouts motivated me to get out the door everyday. My coworkers, neighbors, family and friends were all so excited for me to do this challenge too and their encouragement helped me through it.
[TAYTE] What is it like to run 100 miles all by yourself? How does the experience compare running solo vs a real race?
[ALEJANDRO] I have run five 100 milers, but every one has been such a different experience. I can’t say I have them down to a science yet! This one was supposed to be challenging mentally because of the loops, physically because of the elevation and rolling hills, and easier logistically. Unfortunately, the logistics also became a challenge because my gel packs did not arrive and I had crew at two aid stations bail last minute. This left me stuck with largely only liquid calories and one aid station on a 14.5-mile loop.
In a normal race, I’ll place myself in the mid to back of the pack and start conversations with runners. That wasn’t an option this time and it was difficult to gauge my pace without others around. There were several points throughout the run that I found myself questioning why I was doing this. There would be no glory, medal, finisher jacket, or crowd yelling at me at the finish line. My pacers helped me out of these mental funks. I eventually realized that I’d regret it if I stopped and I set out to finish no matter what the time said on the clock. I knew that if I could just finish I’d be able to accomplish something not many people would ever attempt to do. It was by far the most mentally and logistically challenging run I’ve ever done, but without a doubt one of the most rewarding. I ran/jogged 96 of the 100 miles, which made me feel great about my fitness and training.
[TAYTE] Was there something in particular that helped you get through this challenge?
[ALEJANDRO] Definitely my friends and family, but also my appreciation for what running means to me during this pandemic. I often see the news and feel like the world is falling apart these days, yet running is a constant. It is something I have control over. I decide how long and how far I run and having that sense of grounding has made me appreciate my running even more.
[TAYTE] What advice would you give to someone whose race has also been cancelled?
[ALEJANDRO] Continue looking for ways to find meaning in your running. To me, trail running is all about pushing your own limits, chasing new personal records and trying new distances. That’s what this100-mile time trial was all about.
[TAYTE] What tips would you give to someone considering running their own 100-mile time trial?
[ALEJANDRO] Buy your gels locally so you don’t risk having them not arrive in time. It’s also a good idea to have a means to warm up food for when it gets cold during the night. Overall, enjoy the experience and don’t worry so much about your pace/time. Have fun!