To many, the Boston Marathon is the ultimate test of endurance.
To Dave James — and other ultramarathoners — it's more of a 26.2-mile warmup for the rest of a race.
"You still have to respect the distance any time you do it," said James, who is running his second Boston Marathon Monday. "My legs are pretty beat up right now. I'm doing it for training."
James, 31, of Trumbull, won the Umstead 100-mile endurance run in North Carolina April 4 in 15 hours, 5 minutes, the fastest 100-miler in the country this year.
"It's an experience like life," James said Friday. "There are ups and downs. It's like a science experiment with your body — hydration, blood sugar, when you can eat.
"I feel like I can run faster. I went out too hard. Psychologically, I felt tired, but looking at my heart rate monitor, my heart rate was really low, so I was able to continue. It was an interesting experience."
James' life has been like a 100-miler, plenty of ups and downs. He started running eight years ago after his girlfriend Jen gave him an ultimatum: quit partying and grow up or she was gone. He liked her, so he stopped drinking and started running. He was 270 pounds. He started eating healthier and lost 90 pounds.
When he started, he said, "I couldn't even run a mile."
But James doesn't do things halfway. Nine months after he started running, he completed a marathon in New York State.
Never again, he told his sister Christina, as she ran alongside him the final few miles of the Wineglass Marathon. He finished in 3:17, respectable for a first-timer.
Of course, he did another. And another. At a marathon in Miami in 2002, he tried to qualify for Boston and finished 50 seconds off the qualifying time. He refused to wear a watch after that and stopped running for time.
James went to the University of Maryland for three years but didn't graduate. Instead, he came home to New York and began to work full time at a country club where Jen also worked.
In August 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It appeared to be under control, and they were engaged in January 2004.
"We thought we had it beat," James said.
But a subsequent checkup revealed that the cancer had spread, and less than a year after the initial diagnosis, she was gone. She was 41.
James ran his first ultra, a 50K, that spring.
"We weren't officially [married] because of the medical bills and everything," he said. "There was a little ceremony that was done in the last few days, but there's no record of it.
"I was in therapy. They would say, 'Keep running. It releases the endorphins.' I was in shock, depressed. It was a very hard time in my life."
He ran, but he never knew he was good. In 2008, he had a breakthrough, finishing third overall and the first American at the Coastal Challenge, a six-day stage race in Costa Rica. He beat some quality marathoners and ultrarunners.
"I had no idea I had a talent for this stuff," he said. "They recruited me to come back in 2009."
He started to wonder how far he could push his body, how much it could endure. He had studied pre-med at Maryland and decided to go back to school.
So this fall, James will not only be working toward undergraduate degrees in biology and psychology — with an eye on an advanced degree in naturopathic or chiropractic medicine — but he will also be a member of the University of Bridgeport's cross country team. He has two years of eligibility. He will also help coach the team.
Monday, he will be running Boston with his girlfriend, Andrea Minarcek of Hoboken, N.J., who will be running her third marathon and first Boston.
They have trained together a lot recently. To prepare for a 100-miler, James would run a hard 30 miles on a Saturday, then go with Minarcek on her long run, usually a 20-miler, on Sunday.
"I teach him how to run slow," Minarcek said, laughing.
"I was in so much pain Sunday after running 30 miles, but to get out and do another 20 with her — I didn't want to look like a wimp," said James, who trains about 100 miles a week but also cross-trains by swimming. "I think that really helped [with the 100-miler], the back-to-back days."
Now he will help her get through the marathon. Then it will be back to training, this time for the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run in California, one of the oldest and most challenging endurance runs in the world. It will be his first crack at the race, which is run the last week in June.
James wants to win. He's confident.
He has come a long way in eight years and a tremendously long way from high school, when he sat the bench in basketball, got cut from the baseball team and never thought he was much of an athlete.
"It's amazing how far you can push yourself," he said.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Another beautiful morning for running and another nearly 18 miles on trails. It looks like recovery from Umstead 100 is just about complete. Today I ran into Alicja Barahona and spent a few miles with her. Alicja is gearing up for her run across Long Island (120 miles, as part of the 2009 Long Island 2 Day Walk to Fight Breast Cancer) to raise awareness and money to help fight breast cancer. The Long Island 2 Day Walk is organized to raise awareness and funding for the fight against breast cancer on Long Island. 100% of the donations raised by the participants are distributed to grassroots service organizations so the funds reach the members of the Long Island community affected by breast cancer. Please considering sponsoring Alicja in raising money for the Long Island 2 Day Walk. You can donate HERE !
On a different note, Umstead 100 Mile champion and good friend Dave James was featured in an article in the Hartford Courant written by Lon Riley, titled "Boston Marathon Just A Start For Trumbell's James". Below is the article that can be found by clicking on the aforementioned title link :