MST Endurance Run: My taste of the ultra life

Diane Van Deren and me during a visit to the Triangle last fall that sparked the MST Endurance Run.

The entry in my workout log yesterday read, “Run for Diane, 7.4 miles @ Umstead, hot — and slow.”

Frankly, it was 7.4 miles I likely wouldn’t have run — in upper 80-degree heat — were it not for Diane Van Deren.

Diane Van Deren, ultra runner, elite The North Face athlete,  and former women’s tennis pro will spend most of this month running across North Carolina. On Thursday, she’ll set off from atop Clingman’s Dome in hopes of running nearly 1,000 miles along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in just 21 days in the MST Endurance Run. The current record — yes, it’s been done before — is 24 days (24 days, 3 hours and 50 minutes, to be exact, set last year by Matt Kirk.

Her schedule calls for her to run anywhere from 27.6 to 53.8 miles a day. On Day 12 of her run, she’ll run 31.1 miles, from Mebane east to West Point on the Eno city park in Durham. My job is to stick by her side the entire way and make sure she doesn’t get lost.

“She’ll probably have slowed a little by then,” Chuck Millsaps, expedition leader of the MST Endurance Run, sponsored by his Great Outdoor Provision Co. and The North Face, told me when asking if I would fill the vacant slot.

Every day, in fact, Diane will have a “Trail Guide.” For the most part, these guides are the elite of the region’s ultra-distance trail runners. Dennis Norris, for instance, has 17 long races under his belt, including three finishes at the 40-mile Mount Mitchell Challenge and most recently finishing 14th with a time of 3:38:24 at the Umstead Trail Marathon. He’ll spend the first two days — and 103.2 miles — with Diane. Or Annette Bednosky, who lives in Jefferson and races for the Montrail/Mountain Hardwear Racing Team. She’ll spend days three and four escorting Diane over 74.9 miles of mountain terrain. Doug Blackford, Mark Rostan, Glenn Wells — all eminently Google-a-ble names in the ultra-running world.

Google “Joe Miller ultra” and you also get a bunch of hits — for “Palin-backed, ultra-conservative Joe Miller,” who narrowly lost a 2010 U.S. Senate bid in Alaska. (You will, eventually, find an ultra runner named Joe Miller, but it’s not me.)

I have gone 31 miles before — once, on an Ultimate Hike’s trip last fall on the Foothills Trail. But that was as a hiking coach. Plus, we left at 4:30 in the morning and finished just before sundown at 6:50 in the evening, a very long 14-hour, 20-minute day. This year, I’ve done the 12-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12M Challenge and the 20-mile version of the Uwharrie Mountain Run. After the latter, which took 4 hours and 22 minutes, I had trouble walking for a couple days. Now, in 17 days, I’ve agreed to run 31 miles with one of the nation’s top ultra runners.

In a conversation yesterday with Diane she assured me, repeatedly, not to worry.

“It’s not a race,” she said, “it’s an expedition. … As long as we’re moving forward, that’s all that matters.”

Which, frankly, was one of the most inspirational things she she could have said. I’ve long advocated the importance of goals, that unless you have one — a race or another event — it’s very hard to push your training. Yesterday around lunch I went for the aforementioned hot, slow 7.4-mile training run at Umstead. I’ve done this run numerous times, in worse physical condition, and never had to walk; yesterday, I walked about a half mile. I was reconsidering my plan to come back to Umstead over the weekend and run 15. Then I talked with Diane.

Training for a race to set a new PR is a good carrot. Training because, 17 days down the line, someone will be depending on me to help her through 1/21st of an extremely ambitious challenge is a bowl full of carrots that have been dumped and replaced with Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy with whipped cream, hot fudge and a flashing red maraschino cherry. It is not to be ignored.

Not that I’ll be training my butt off over the next 17 days just for Diane and the good of the MST Endurance Run. After safely depositing Diane at West Point on the Eno sometime the afternoon of May 21 you can bet I will indulge in my personal carrot.

A little Chocolate Therapy.

* * *

Follow Diane Van Deren’s epic run

In a joint venture with run co-sponsor Great Outdoor Provision Co., I will be writing a series of blog posts during the 21 days of Diane Van Deren’s MST Endurance Run. The posts will be teased on this site and appear in their entirety on the Great Outdoor Provision Co. site.  The first post will appear May 10 — the first day of the run. For more on the MST Endurance Run, go here.

4 thoughts on “MST Endurance Run: My taste of the ultra life”

  1. Great post, Joe!
    I’ll be “handing off” Diane to you after completing the previous section. Not being one of the “elite of the region’s ultra-distance trail runners,” I’m thrilled to be part of this expedition and will be repeating the “keep moving forward” mantra in my head.

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