ISW Athlete - Jimmy Brown, Ultra-Marathoner

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Leadville Marathon

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Speedgoat 50K

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Rockies 12,000 Feet

People often wonder what inspires a runner to take on a challenge like a 100-mile race. What led you to become an ultra-marathoner and what was going through your head at the start line of your very first 100 miler?

It’s interesting, but I never intended to become an ultra-marathoner. In fact, I don’t know any ultra-marathoner who aspired to become one when he or she initially started running. At one point, I was 70 pounds overweight and on my way to adult onset diabetes due to my poor nutrition habits and inactive lifestyle. I began running to improve my health and spent the first couple of years running 5Ks.

At some point, running 5ks became easy. And so – and you mentioned the word “challenge” – I wanted to push myself farther to see what I could do. Half-marathon and full marathon finishes started piling up and it was very formulaic. There was a process and, when I followed it, even running 26.2 miles no longer challenged me like it did in the beginning.

That led me to ultra-marathons, as they were the next level of challenge. What is so wonderful about the ultra races is that there are so many variables that there is always a challenge, no matter what your fitness and experience level. Weather, terrain, elevation, distance, and other factors make every ultra marathon an adventure, which is really appealing to me. You never know what the day will hold.

At the start of that first 100-miler, I just remember thinking, “Do I have what it takes to do this?” The farthest I had run up to that point was a 50-miler, so this was double that distance. I honestly had no idea if I could even do it, but some friends of mine “challenged” me to join them on the course and run the race. Sometimes that’s all we need – a little push from fellow runners – to step outside what is within our comfort zone and see where the real limits are to be found.

How many marathons and ultra-marathons have you completed? Of these, which is the most memorable and why?

Currently, I’m at 73 marathons and ultra-marathons. If all goes well, I’ll be at 80 before 2017 comes to an end. I’m averaging about 15 per year over the past 4 years. That sounds like a lot, but most of them are “B” races that are training for my 100-mile “A” race of the year.

It would be hard to single out a “most” memorable. There are so many great memories: my son (12 at the time) pacing me in an ultra and me pacing him to his own first ultra finish a few years later; my wife running 20 miles with me (only time she’s paced me) at my most recent 100-mile finish; the satisfaction of completing the Speedgoat 50k (widely considered the hardest 50k in the US); meeting many of my closest friends in the Goatz community at Lean Horse back in 2012; my most disappointing failure at Leadville when I missed the cutoff at mile 60 only to have God place the idea for starting Runner Church into my heart early the next morning. I couldn’t label one as the most memorable. There are so many beautiful courses, so many adventures with good friends, so many life lessons out there on the trails.

What is it about this sport that keeps you coming back for more?

Challenge. Courses. Community. Cause. And other things that begin with the letter “C”. LOL ☺ I love to challenge myself and I get a great level of personal enjoyment from running. There are some incredibly beautiful spots “out there” in nature that are best experienced on foot. Of course, meeting so many other runners who have become “family” to me is what really gives running a special place in my heart. Most of all, I keep coming back for more because it gives me an opportunity to show people what the love of God looks like. I see running as a way to turn my “passion into my mission” of spreading God’s love.

One of my favorite quotes is from the Academy Award winning movie,
Chariots Of Fire. In it, missionary Eric Liddell says this…

“I believe God made me for a purpose. For China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold him in contempt.”

Running is not only a passion that fuels my delight in God, it’s also an important part of my Runner Church ministry. Running is a platform for me to model the Christian faith and talk about the Good News of Jesus with others.

How difficult is it to qualify for the Western States 100, and what does it mean for you to have the opportunity to race such a prestigious event?

It’s not necessarily difficult to “qualify” for Western States, but it is very difficult to actually get into the race. In order to qualify you need to complete an officially recognized qualifying race (there is a list at their website) of 100K to 100M distance within the specified cutoff time. If you do so, your name goes into a pool along with other qualified runners for a lottery drawing to determine who gets to participate in the race. With each year that you qualify and don’t get drawn, you get extra tickets into the lottery. So, someone who has qualified 5 years in a row, but wasn’t selected in the lottery, has a mathematically greater chance to get in than a first year qualifier.

Even with the weighted ticket process, the odds are against you getting in. This past year, around 5,000 runners registered and only 250 people were drawn from the lottery due to permitting restrictions.

For me, this has been at the top of my bucket list since I first started running ultras. It’s the “Super Bowl” of 100-milers, the one that started it all back in 1974. This race is steeped in history, always attracts a class of the best ultra-marathoners, and affords you the opportunity to run one of the most iconic courses and celebrated races in the world. To say that I’m excited to run it would be an understatement of immense proportion!

It’s a challenging race with a wonderful community of volunteers on a beautiful course with a chance for me to run for my cause … in other words, it’s everything I want in a race, everything I run for.

What advice would you give a runner who wants to extend their abilities to the ultra-marathon distances?

Making the jump to ultra-marathons really is about managing three parts of your running…

The Physical. Running an ultra is physically demanding, so it’s important to become a student to effectively prepare for your race. Things like nutrition, proper gear, foot care, recovery, paces, sleep, training schedule and types of workouts, and other details need to be addressed and in balance. I suggest reading a book like Training Essentials For Ultrarunning by Jason Koop or Hal Koerner’s Field Guide For Ultrarunning for sound advice on adequate preparation. It’s also a good idea to talk with other ultrarunners and learn from their personal wisdom and experience. Get a plan!
The Mental. The longer you run, the more likely it is that your mind will tell you it’s time to stop running! There comes a point when moving forward is more mental than physical. You need a drive – a motivation – something you can draw strength from in those dark times that will help you continue on the journey. While this isn’t as critical for a 50K as it is for a 100-miler, it’s important to make sure you “really want it” and know how to motivate yourself when your mental energy wanes. Every person is different, so you need to discover what works for you, whether that is getting tough on yourself, listening to music, working for a reward, praying, finding a partner, or turning to some other outlet for a boost. Note: Watch inspirational YouTube videos of the race you are running, great documentaries like Unbreakable, and your favorite running movie (Chariots Of Fire, McFarland USA) in the weeks leading up to your race (and the night before) give you an extra amp of mental energy.
The Social. One of the biggest differences between running “marathon or less” distances and ultra-marathons is the community. Ultrarunners talk a lot with each other, especially during those long training runs and long races. This is a good thing! Turn off the music for a while and chat with your fellow runner. Learn his or her story and tell yours. Share your running experiences. Interact with race day volunteers. Find a training partner (or partners) to hit the trails with you. Chatting away the miles not only makes the difficulty of the ultramarathon more tolerable, it makes the journey more enjoyable.

Bottom line: Take care of your stomach and feet, take care of your mind, take care of fellow runners and let them do the same for you.

One last thought: I recommend making the jump by building and expanding a base. Here is what I did…

I ran multiple marathons and, while in marathon shape, I upped the training just a bit to complete my first 50k. While in 50k shape, I extended my training to complete my first 50-miler. While in 50 mile shape, I ramped up the training more to complete my first 100-miler.

A lot of marathoners train for one marathon per year or possibly one in the spring and one in the fall. In the “off season” they let their endurance training lag. It doesn’t typically work that way for ultramarathons, at least not for the 100-mile distance. Rather, you continually build upon the previous long-distance base to get to the next level.

Enjoy every step!

- Interviewed by ISW Director of Nutrition & Health,
Niki Kubiak
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Hope Pass

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Javelina Jundred 2016

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Runner Church Sermonette