"Excuse me sir, I think you forgot your shorts in the locker-room," a passerby said to Nick as he climbed the stairs up to the YMCA weight room.
His shorts were their normal length, well of course, by Nick standards, but his shirt was a little longer than normal so it hung past the bottoms of his shorts giving off the appearance that he did indeed leave his shorts behind.
On that particular day, Nick was trying his hand at resistance training for the first time. I had been training his long-term (of 15 years) girlfriend, Barb, for the past year, and the addition of weight training had really improved her running, so Nick decided it was time to join the party.
So you want to be a bad ass
When Barb first called me up last January inquiring about personal training, I knew from that first conversation that we were going to get along great.
I asked her what her goals and expectations were from hiring a trainer, and though I don't quite remember her response, I do remember saying in return "so you want to be a bad ass."
Of course this was a slightly superfluous comment, because little did I know, she already was.
For Barb, "running ultra-marathons is kind of like life, you know there are going to be times that you feel good, times that are hard, times that you just have to put your head down and keep going, and times you feel like you could run forever."
She knows within the first mile of a race if that particular day is going to be rough or not and admits, "there's no guarantee, regardless of your training, of what you're going to feel like once you get to the start line."
For Nick, who probably has more miles on his odometer than a well traveled car (by the way, at 73, Nick still runs like a new car), says, "usually you start out and think 'I feel well, I've trained well' and for whatever reason your body is just in sync, but somedays it's just off. You could be 20-30 miles into a race and just know, this isn't going to be pretty."
"Running ultra-marathons is kind of like life, you know there are going to be times that you feel good, times that are hard, times that you just have to put your head down and keep going, and times you feel like you could run forever." - Barb Elias
But, when that last 30 miles hit, his body no longer wanted to keep the "red-line" pace and he began throwing up the rest of the way.
Can you imagine, at this very moment you start throwing up, and someone tells you to go run 30 miles?! That is resolve people, in the most raw, pure form possible!
Barb's resolve is just as impressive as Nick's, as she has her share of horror stories as well. One in particular will leave you wondering how no one has noticed the Wonder Woman suit under her scrubs (she is a Physician's Assistant).
There is a 135 mile, yes.. 135 mile.. race from Death Valley up to Mt. Whitney, CA called Badwater (or) The World's Toughest Race.
This particular race covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet up and a 6,100 feet down. Go big, or go home.
Anyway, you can only imagine the bad mental monkey that starts talking when you are even contemplating signing up for such a race (mine is laughing right now), let alone showing up and running the thing.
Alternatively, there is a mental muscle unbeknownst to most people that allows one to come back from the dead mid-race and keep going. About 40 miles in, Barb was essentially crawling through the desert because she was so cramped up from dehydration that she couldn't walk.
She looked, and (though she would never admit it) felt like a zombie. Like Nick, she was throwing up more than she ever had in her life, combined.
One of the race aides gave her a liter of Oral Rehydration Solution, which she drank up like a sponge. Nick was amazed to see the life start returning to her and asked the aide what Barb was drinking.
"Try a sip," he said. Nick took a sip and immediately almost threw up due the extreme salt content, containing twice the amount as sea water if you can imagine that!
Two liters of double strength sea water magic potion later, Barb started to feel human again and looked Nick in the eye and asked, "Can you run?"
He looked back at her with bewilderment thinking "Uh, yeah.. I wasn't the one who was just throwing up an hour ago," and they trotted off for Barb to finish the remaining 95 miles, which as I type this is almost comical.
The amount of toughness that would take is completely mind boggling. "Most people don't think I'm my age, which is fun," says Barb, while casually sipping wine and laughing about these intense experiences like they were nothing.
"Can you run?"
Never too late to start
At 39 years old, Nick ran his first 50 mile race on a dare. Within that same year, he ran his first 100 mile race, the Western States, and never looked back.
His goal was to beat his buddy, a fellow Wyoming native, who claimed to have the fastest time in the state. Now, 34 years later, Nick has raced the Western States 14 times and is the oldest finisher in the history of the race.
After nearly being intimidated off the course by his own fear the day before the race, Nick ran into a 67 year old who also would be running the following day.
Convincingly, the "older man" told him that with the training he had put in, he was more than capable of finishing. He returned the next day to not only finish, but to beat his buddy's time.
During the interview, it came to light that this ultra-couple had won several races in the Master's division, with Barb coming in as a top female runner multiple times.
Alas, you would never know. Even talking about it, they shrugged off the accomplishments and laughed at how the trophies were still packed in moving boxes.
It has been an honor to get to train these two incredible people who define good health, resilience, strong character, and so many other beautiful qualities.
When asked what advice they would give to someone considering running an ultra, or even a normal marathon, they said "get off your butt and do it (laugh)."
Still going strong
Clearly their sense of humor is one reason we get along so well, but on a serious note they advise that if you're considering it, just do it, because that one experience and accomplishment will be something you remember the rest of your life!
Even if you're not the running type (like myself), Barb summed up the importance of being active better than I've ever heard, "Your health is not a right, it's a privilege and you have to work at it. It's what you put into it, you can't just expect to be healthy, you have to do the work. It's like being fit, there's no magic pill, you just have to do the work."
"Your health is not a right, it's a privilege and you have to work it. It's what you put into it, you can't just expect to be healthy, you have to do the work. It's like being fit, there's no magic pill, you just have to do the work."