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One Word: Endure

Recent years have a revealed a new level of athletic achievement that has taken hold of competitive running and cycling sports. Ultra marathons and cycling longer and longer distances have shown that our physical and mental stamina can be surprising when put to the test in distances like 50 or 100 miles (or more) for running; going all the way across the United States for cyclists. It seems in our 21st century we have pushed many boundaries in the realm of technological advancements, but in many ways we are looking inward to see and tap the potential of what we humans are capable of as well.

Two of our own staff members at Memorial Hospital of Converse County recently completed Ultra style competitions in running and cycling respectively. After their adventures were completed we spoke with Population Health Director Tom Holt, and Physicians Assistant Terri Marso on their experiences and how they kept going all those miles.

Training for an event like the Race Across America or the Big Horn 52 miler is not without its challenges. It takes a specific personality to even begin to work towards a goal like competing in and finishing these events. How does the process begin?

"We started about a year and a half ago logging our miles, all four of us. The team, we're kind of spread out so we all did a little different, but tried to ride pretty much every day. I usually took one or two days off a week to rest," noted Terri Marso. "On the weekends we put in around 60 miles a day, usually which takes you about two and a half to three hours. I would do as much as I could. Todd the guy I rode with who's from Gillette, he added up all his miles from last January of 2016, it was like 22,000 miles."

Tom Holt added: "Exercise is always on my to do list and you could say is a priority in my life. It seems that I have developed an inner desire to always exercise in some way, shape, or form. If I don't exercise, I don't feel like myself, almost a depressive state. Yet daily exercise is an antidepressant drug---a potent one. Ultra-marathon running isn't my only passion, which I believe keeps me in a constant state of physical activity. Namely, in 2010, I participated in a fundraising road bike trek over 7 days and two mountain ranges. The course went from Wheatland to Laramie to Walden, CO to Steamboat Springs to Baggs, WY to Saratoga to Laramie and back to Wheatland. It was 526 miles in 7 days and was such an exhilarating experience. I am an endurance junkie!"

These races are often grueling, long, and open to extreme weather of all kinds. It takes a level of endurance to keep going let alone finish: "I felt like personally, I had the advantage of being a mom and being sleep deprived kind of chronically for six years," laughed Marso.

But when it comes down to it, the importance of mental stamina of training compared to the physical can't be underscored enough for either of our athletes. "I think the actual mental component of the race is bigger than the physical. You have to be prepared physically, but this race as long as it is and tiring and grueling the physical part, or the mental part of it probably more important than the physical. How you prepare that, I don't know, I think some people probably born with some component of that. I think that the four of us [on Team Love, Sweat & Gears] have done quite a fair amount of racing and stuff and I think you learn to just fight through things like that."

Holt concurred with his statement on physical versus mental toughness: "I have said that 80% of weight loss success comes down to what you put in your mouth. Similarly, endurance exercise success comes down to 80% mental focus and toughness. Just like most human experiences—the more you practice the better you can get.

All forms of sport, even the solitary style ones like say running, cycling, or even swimming, have a natural solitude to their competitiveness. Your time to beat is often you from the last time you went out. And many times when in a competitive setting like a race or ultra event you are not only trying to just finish but place well, improving your PR. So how do our endurance or ultra athletes feel about competitiveness and personal achievement? "It seems that I am constantly focused on one simple outcome….personal fitness success. When I say success—that doesn't mean gaining accolades from friends or for recognition from others," said Holt. "To me, success is the act of personal effort, attaining that goal, feeling good about myself and having the increased desire to set another goal to smash….and repeat."

Team Love, Sweat & Gears which Terri was a part of placed incredibly well in the overall Race Across America and they made history together. Their team was the first team to ever win the 4 person category with a female aboard their roster in the 36-year history of the event. "It was just such a rush and it's just kind of unbelievable that we were little old Wyoming people competing with these people from all over the world. It made you feel pretty good."

But intermingled with their team was a camaraderie for their fellow cyclists, "At first it was pretty competitive. It was always like you wanted to catch them or they wanted to catch us if we were ahead, but by the second half of the race, it was a pretty fun camaraderie. Every time someone would pass we'd be yelling for each other," said Marso. "They had a lot of respect for us because we had four people where they had eight and we kept up with them. It was really a neat experience."

Why run or cycle this distance though? When many hear of the distances ultra runners or cyclists compete at they get a look of surprise or shock. The sheer number of miles is daunting to even imagine. "You know the saying, 'it's not the destination, it's the journey'? Exercise is the journey for me. That journey includes the open road, the solitude, the self-reflection, the re-invigoration of desire and the defragmenting of my thoughts," reflected Holt. "Running, in particular, is the purest way of getting in touch with myself and getting back to mental homeostasis. There is something about running that brings a person back in touch with themselves."

"It was neat to see the country. There [were] little patches every other four hours that you wouldn't see because you were in the back of an RV, but I really enjoyed the night riding just because it was cooler and you're kind of out there by yourself and the headlights of the van. I really enjoyed being out there by yourself, you can just reflect and really enjoy it." added Marso.

Final Thoughts?

"When you get into the habit of pushing through pain and having an insistent dedication in getting past physical barriers then you can feel that euphoric pleasure of doing something that you wouldn't think you could ever do. To me that's what endurance running is all about," stated Holt.

"It was just one of the coolest things I've ever done. Pretty epic experience and had a lot of fun and made a lot of new friends that'll be good memories. I encourage people to get out and be active," concluded Marso.