Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Who can run a 100-mile race? This guy.

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of short profiles highlighting an ardent local running enthusiast. Up today: Ultrarunner JONATHAN SAVAGE, a software architect who was born in England, has been in Charlotte for 10 years, and became a U.S. citizen last September.

Full disclosure: Jonathan belongs to the same running group as me -- the University City Road Runners. But although we're in the same club, we're not in the same league. (Sometimes I wonder if we're even playing the same SPORT.)

For an idea of how big a "Runnin' Fool" he is, consider this: Jonathan celebrated his 43rd birthday last Saturday by running 43 miles beginning Friday night and ending on Saturday morning.

When and why did you start running: I started in 1996, when I was overweight (205 pounds) and sedentary. While on vacation, I had a serious migraine that affected my speech and vision; the symptoms were similar to those of a stroke. It was really scary, and even after it was diagnosed as a migraine not a stroke, it acted as a wake-up call. Not being able to speak or read was horrific, a feeling of being trapped inside a mind that does not work. [Today, Jonathan weighs 130 pounds.]

What makes you a good runner? I enjoy the spiritual side of running. To go out before dawn, and run as the sun comes up; letting the mind wander freely, while the body settles into a gentle rhythm, is wonderful. I do all of my best thinking when I run -- planning, musing, creating, evaluating. It can also be a time of mental quiet and respite.

What would make you a better runner? More hills! There are few good hills in the University area, and some of my races have long, hard descents. (Going up is easy, going down is hard.)

Current running shoes: Nike Free 3.0 and Vibram FiveFingers. I believe that we are designed to run barefoot, and many of our running problems start with shoes that interfere with our biomechanics.

Do you have a standard running route in Charlotte? I mostly run on Mallard Creek Greenway. I love the greenways and hate being near cars.

What is your typical training week? I run four times a week. I do three hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then four-plus hours on Saturday. Wednesday is also hill training day. I often run on Tuesday and Thursday, but normally just enough to warm-up.

Favorite annual N.C. race: Mount Mitchell Challenge.

Favorite distance: I love 50 miles, but 100 is as seductive as it is brutal.

PR for that distance: With ultra-marathons, the concept of PR does not really apply. Different courses have huge differences. I've done a 50K in 4:15 and felt I should have done better, and done the same distance in 5:40 and felt I did great. Weather can make a lot of difference on the same course -- I’ve had races where you can get heat stroke and hypothermia on the same day.

Running moment you'll never forget: Doing a double crossing of the Grand Canyon (south rim to north rim and back). It's not far (less than 50 miles), but you are on your own. That makes for great solitude but also a sense of vulnerability.

Running moment you'd like to forget: Finding blisters at mile 25 of the Massanutten 100. That was a bad sign, though I did not realize at the time just how bad.

What's the longest run you've ever gone on? 100 miles, which I've done three times. I'm hoping to go further at the Hinson Lake 24 hour race in September.

Do you listen to music while you run? Yes; at times it motivates me; at times it helps me meditate.

If you could pass on just one piece of advice to novice runners, what would it be? It would be to focus on their cadence (how often their feet touch the ground). You need to have a turnover of 180 steps/minute. Jack Daniels (the coach) found that the slower the turnover, the longer you are in the air and the harder you land. Slow turn over means more impact, which causes more injury. (More info here.)

What's next on your race calendar? The next big race will be Hinson Lake 24 hour, though I have Laurel Valley 35 and Triple Lakes 40 before, but they are not the focus of my training. My rather ambitious goal for Hinson Lake is to do 111 miles.

What is your running ambition? I would love to complete Western States 100 or Hardrock 100. These are difficult to train for when you live in Charlotte as they are both at altitude.

* * *

Know of another running fool? Tell me about him or her in an e-mail to tjanes@charlotteobserver.com.


Anonymous said...

FiveFingers are my favorite running shoes as well. Actually I wear them everywhere- they are very comfortable and I like feeling the texture of the ground underneath.

Elisabeth said...

What great insight to a gentleman I would see on a regular basis. I just moved from charlotte and I lived on the Greenway and would pass, or should say he would pass me, in the mornings. I would always marvel at the stamina and at the pleasant greeting he would give each moringing. I miss the greenway and I miss seeing Johnatha and his friendly way!! run on my friend!!!

B.o.B. said...

I keep hearing about the barefoot running thing. I think I may be too scared of cutting my feet. The Nike's would certainly be a way to mimic that.

Great interview.

Shorts said...

Jonathan is full of positive energy. I suffered an injury that sidelined me from running last summer. I learned Jonathan previously experienced the same type of injury. His advice for my recovery was right on target. When I was reduced to walking only, his cheery greeting when I would see him on the greenway reminded me that I too would make a full recovery. Jonathan contributes to the running community in so many ways.

Allen said...

Can someone please explain to me how these guys can run 100+ miles a week without getting injured but every time I push 40 some part of my body breaks down? How do they do it? Amazing!

jfsavage said...

Allen, I believe there are a number of factors that allow me to train at high mileage:

1. I have built up the mileage slowly. It seems that the body takes far, far longer to adapt to a given mileage than we would like. Some parts of the body adapt quite quickly, like the muscles, but others, like tendons, take much longer. When I moved to running four long runs a week, it took me about 7 months to adjust.

2. Keeping the cadence high helps reduce impact. When I concentrated on running at 180 steps/minute my running dramatically improved.

3. I had some nagging knee pain until I swapped to the Nike Free shoes. It took some time to adapt to the Nike Free, but when I did, it really helped. I would never go back to ‘normal’ shoes. I am hoping that the FiveFingers will give me the same benefits when I finally adjust.

4. I take rest. It sounds stupid, but running does not make you fit; it is the rest that follows running that makes you fit.

5. I am reasonably light – I am 5’ 10” and 130, which reduces the strain on the body.

6. I treat any possible indication of a problem early. Ice is your friend; use ice cubes in a Ziploc bag, not freezer packs. The stick is also very useful.

I hope this helps, Jonathan

Anonymous said...

Great running music:
The Noises 10! Matty Reed (US Pro Tri-athlete who loves them, comments on them regularly and has them featured on his personal website). They are local--born and raised in Charlotte too. Check them out and enjoy! :-)


Anonymous said...

I always run barefoot at the beach.I start 40 minutes before sunset running east, then turn at watch the sunset as I run west, finishing with a swim. Run barefoot on the golf course here in Charlotte.