Ultramarathon Training in New Canaan 

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This year I am giving up politics for Lent. In lieu of complaining about local government, I want to share a ‘Thank you’ note to the New Canaanites helping me prep for my upcoming ultramarathon.

This was not a New Year’s resolution (one-month survival rate: 64%). I just want to make some changes this year. My plan was to compete in an ultramarathon scheduled for late June with six months to prepare. I needed to make an accounting for strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses: Weak. Slow. If you saw my fitness level in January, you’d look at my body and think, “Wow you must really spend a lot of time using Excel.” Strengths: I wake up early, don’t commute to the city, and am focused (obsessive?). Since I walk to work, I want to get in as much of my training as possible in New Canaan. Here’s what I’ve done…

I signed up for the Mountain Lakes Backyard Ultra directed by my friend Brian Vanderheiden. He works in New Canaan and encouraged me at the very beginning of my almost six months ordeal of preparing for the event. Runners repeat a rocky, hilly loop on the hour all day and all night until there is one person left who is declared the winner. Winners of these events have run over 283 miles in the course of three days. This may seem like a strange way to start a fitness routine, but it gave me a focus.

Next, I’d need to start running… a lot. I started meeting up with a group at 5 a.m. on Sundays that typically trail runs and bushwhacks from about 5 until 9 or 10 a.m.. It is called “Sunday Runs” yet we seem to pretty much do the same on Saturdays, too. Recently, a member of the group completed a 365-mile run in nine days that came through New Canaan following the route of a vagabond known as the “Leatherman” who traveled on an annual circuit between the Connecticut River and the Hudson River in the 1850s-1880s. You meet interesting people in trail running. 

Pro tip: if you go from zero to 20 miles per day running and you are over 40, you will get stiff. Rigor mortis stiff. So I signed up with StretchLab to get a weekly assisted stretch with one of their trainers. I figure that it will be worth it in the long run for injury prevention. Extra flexibility helps with my running stride. Thanks to Adam Kanzer and Brynn Cox for bringing this new business to our town.

Gym: I run to Oxygen Fitness‘s boxing, spin, and interval training classes before sunrise and run home before the kids wake up (AKA an hour after I told the kids to wake up). I had a major apprehension about joining because I thought I would not be able to keep up with the regulars and would just look stupid. But once I had a goal to reach by June, I turned around this concern and told myself “just look stupid.” No one cares less about you or how stupid you look than a New Canaanite trying to get in their workout before they catch their train to midtown. Thanks, Sarah Koch, for this great space and great instructors. 

After a long run and strength training, I had a small second wind at the end of the day so I thought I would supplement my routine with yoga at studiO. I had access via my Oxygen Fitness membership so I thought I’d check it out. My favorite part of this training program so far has been taking Julie Deery’s yoga class, the first one that I took and it isn’t really a beginner class. This is where I took my “just look stupid” plan to a whole new level. The first class was 100% women which made me somewhat aware of the fact that I was the sweatiest, smelliest, and clumsiest thing that had ever walked in that door. I tried a headstand which looked like a whale that had managed to get beached headfirst. But I stuck with it and can now not only see but can touch my toes. Thanks, Julie.

So food. When no one is looking, my typical routine before this training effort was to eat a family size Stouffer’s lasagna with meat and sauce. It was the perfect food in that it hit both of my food-related criteria: delicious and convenient. But running with extra weight really hurt my knees and ankles, so I switched that up for salads from Embody Fitness. Their best salad is the “Supersede Cobb.”

Whether or not you’re interested in running hundreds of miles, you should check out what New Canaan has to offer athletes and non-athletes like me trying to reach a new fitness goal. When my race is over, I will have shed some fat, built some strength, and spent the better part of three days with my friends doing something that I love. It will be recorded tersely as “Chris DeMuth Jr, DNF.” Whether we run one loop or 60, with the exception of a single last person standing, we will all be marked down as “did not finish.” It seems like a cruel joke as a summary of people who have run hundreds of miles through night and day but came up a loop short. But for my purposes, this is an almost perfect goal—a race orders of magnitude harder than anything I’ve done before just to end with those humbling but motivating words—did not finish.

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