During the last 18 months of my running career, I have met some of the most amazing people who just so happens to share the same passion in running. One of them is Conor Joyce. A friend of mine and I joined a Florida Keys Ragnar team at the last minute this past January and that where I met him, in his hot pink hot pants (I kid you not). The Florida Keys Ragnar is a 197 mile relay race from Miami, FL to Key West, FL (if you ever have a chance to do this race, DO IT!). Conor volunteered to run with me during my night run and help pace me. He was great company and actually helped do a personal best!
When I heard that that Conor was running the Peak Ultra 100 marathon in Vermont, I just HAD to include him in my Runners Inspiring Runners series. Below is our interview:
ME: How did you get into running, and do you feel like this is something you are genetically programmed to be good at?
Conor: I started running in High School track to train for spring baseball, then just stuck with it when I didn’t make the baseball team cut. I always had weird knee problems, and was never really motivated to run circles around a track, so I slacked off a lot. Got out of running in college, but finally got back into in 2009. My dad hit a mid-life crisis of sorts and ran a marathon, I thought he was nuts. But then he challenged me to join him.
I don’t know that I’m programmed for it, but I’ve learned a lot over the last 4 years and am definitely more suited for cardio and endurance activities than strength training / lifting. I’ve also been really fortunate to recover quickly from minor injuries and avoid the major ones.
ME: What was your first marathon and how did you do?
Conor: Marine Corps Marathon 2011, in DC. It was a learning experience. I was doing great for the first half, running with 2 friends and having fun. Pulled over for a bathroom break, and spent the next 6 miles sprinting foolishly to catch my friends. I didn’t catch them, blew my knee out, and walked the rest of the distance in pain. Made several mistakes I’ll never repeat. (BTW, I still haven’t beat Oprah’s MCM time. Fingers crossed for 2014)
ME: What made you decide to train for ultras?
Conor: I love trail running, and can run farther / longer distances on dirt. A friend offered to pace me for a 50k, to help me get over my MCM debacle, so we signed up for the North Face 50K outside DC. I was instantly hooked. It poured the night before, the trail was muddy and trashed, and I loved it. Never felt better. As they say, it’s all mental.
ME: Why did you chose the Peak Ultra 100?
Conor: Just like my first marathon, the Peak Ultra 100 Ultramarathon was a challenge. My friend Josh Eckler challenged me to join him for the 100, said it would be fun. I couldn’t say no. He had done Peak events before, told me how great their events were, how beautiful the mountains and trails in Pittsfield, VT are. And a 100 just didn’t seem that bad.
ME: How do you eat during an ultra? What about going to the bathroom? Do you sleep?
The Peak 100 was a great set up. 10 x 10-mile laps. Every lap we came into the “pits” at a barn next to the trail. Could grab food, dry socks/shoes/clothes/anything you need, refill hydration packs, etc. So I ate a ton at the pit: bacon, hard-boiled eggs, PBJ sandwiches, salted potatoes, nuts, fruits, (snuck in a few Bud’s), protein shakes, peanut m&m’s. On the trail I carried gels, blocks, and bars. Stuff I could choke down quick and would carry me through back to the barn. Bathroom breaks when necessary, either dig a hole in the woods or get lucky to make it back to the barn. No sleep for this one, was too worried I wouldn’t get back up.
ME: How did you train for your ultra and what other type of training do you engage in to enhance your running?
Conor: I searched loads of free online training plans before I found “the one”. It focused more on time than distance. But “time on feet”, not “fast time”. The weekday workouts were completely manageable, 4-10 miles 3x a week (fit in-line perfectly with my triathlon training), and long runs on weekends. Sat could be anything from 2-4 hours, Sun another 1-3. Or vice versa. Nothing else mattered on the wkend, just time. Pace and distance were inconsequential.
I also trained and did several Goruck Challenges, Blue Ridge Marathon, an Olympic triathlon, and several other races to prep. Did a lot of swimming and bike/run brick workouts, lifting, and a lot of body-weight and weighted PT.
ME: What goes through your mind when you’re running 100 miles?
Conor: A lot of crazy shit. Now I’m already pretty far out there to begin with, but wow. My favorite parts were between ~1-3am, running alone on the trails, just the glow of my headlamp and flickering glimpses of reflector ribbons making the trail. I started seeing people (no one in particular), but just people along the trail. I’d jog up to them to say hi or ask what they were doing out there, and they’d vanish and become the trail marker ribbons. At least they were keeping me on trail, I guess.
Them and the bears. We crossed a momma bear and 2 cubs at mile 7, very 1st lap of the day. Only had to cross that spot 9 more times. Lucky us! Entire rest of the race, every noise in the woods I swore was a bear coming to get me.
ME: What did you have to do to mentally push you through?
Conor: My friends kept me going. I had 2 friends, Josh and Skip, also out running the 100, as well as Ann running the 50, and my dad running the 30. Around 3am I met another Goruck Tough brother, he got me through miles 67-70 and back to the barn when I was really drained. I bribed him with my one and only Snickers bar (I was saving it for mile 95) and he ran a whole extra lap with me. Really got my spirits up and back in the game. (Best Snickers bar I’ll never eat, Eric!)
I also kept a log every lap; food, trail conditions, gear, aches/pains/blisters, etc. That really kept me conscious of my condition and watching my body.
ME: How did you feel physically?
Conor: I felt great until around mile 65, then let sleep and self-doubt creep in. The mind games will always get ya. But after we got moving again that all passed. Other than those few miles, felt amazing. Just had fun with it.
ME: What inspires you?
Conor: My friends, family, everyone who can’t compete. No matter what, the pain I feel is nothing compared to what other people endure day in and day out, or those who will never have the chance.
I’m so grateful that Conor agreed to do this interview with me. I am inspired by him and his sheer determination. Who knows, maybe I’ll take on 100 miles one of these days! Currently, Conor is training with Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA) for the Charles Street 12. The ASA is a non-profit organization where athletes use their abilities to to support youth with disabilities cross the finish line. The ASA is an organization which I hope to personally become involved with very soon. (http://www.athletesservingathletes.org/)