Michael Tommie McDuffie is a true ultra runner. He enjoys spending time on trails and the surrounding environment. He, along with a few other TARC members, joined me for some "fun in the sun" down in Georgia (banjos please). The race didn't go (on...) as planned, but a bond was formed between us. Mike has a great story to tell about how he got started and where he is headed. Enjoy everyone!
First off, how did you catch the ultra running bug?
I’d say after I DNF’ed my first 100 mile attempt. Up until that point I had set out to run that distance and wasn’t quite caught up in everything it was to be an ultra runner. I was definitely viewing it more as something to be accomplished and not enjoyed. It was almost like I was daring myself to do it.
After that first DNF I was drawn to getting back to that place where my mind and body are so drained that I wanted to quit. It was almost as if I now knew the challenge that existed in these races. As with much education in life you learn that you didn’t even know how much you don’t know. The uncertainty of the races draws me back for more.
The community was also a huge factor. I sought out running clubs after the race and eventually found TARC. Being around all that positive energy and excitement and camaraderie really transformed my mindset about the ultra distance races.
Tell us about your weekly training regimen.
I’m trying a different approach this year than I have in the past.
Previously I worked towards a high weekly volume (mileage). I’d try to run 2 hours a day 3-4 times a week and then get in one 9-12 hour run on the weekend. It would work out to be between 90-100 miles per week but only 15-20 on trails.
The past few races I’ve scaled it back a bit and now I aim to get in 2-3 runs at 2 hours during the week and then back to back long runs on the weekend. Life usually keeps me at 13-16 hours a week of running. Much more trail work these days.
Most runs are slogs when I feel crappy but I push it when I feel good. My races have been slower this year but I think I am enjoying it more and have time for other things. Keeping a training log has been very helpful for me (http://www.dailymile.com/people/MMCDUFFIE.)
Give us 5 pieces of trail running gear that are must haves.
If I could I’d be shirtless with a single handheld all the time. Most of the races I’ve done haven’t really been conducive to that.
1) A good slim and light pack. I am currently using the AK ultimate direction vest. Great to hold all the gear and food you’d need for a long training run or a leg in a race gone horribly awry.
2) A good shell. I have used a shell at just about every race I’ve done. At some point when calories don’t go in as easy you want an extra something to keep your dwindling heat in. Even with just a tech tee, tiny shorts and a shell I can be comfortable overnight. A lot of the shells are really portable and add negligible fuss to your setup.
3) A water bottle that leaks all over the place. It’s a good thing most of them do this so you don’t have to look too hard.
4) Shoes with a significant and cushy midsole. I’ve done a 100 in a combination of Vibrams and New Balance Minimus Zeros. With a 60/40 mile breakdown. It sucked out loud. As good as minimal feels it will just be a much nicer day with some protection. (More on this later)
5) Vices. I don’t make tons of plans before races but one thing I always plan out is when I’ll start rewarding myself. The stages usually go..
-Hokas (Relief for my feet)
-Caffeine (More relief for my feet and to start waking me up)
-Angsty Music (Some music I ONLY listen to during ultras because of the emotional impact it has on me)
-Effects from those you care about deeply (A tissue dabbled in perfume, a buff worn by them... All things I’ve used to keep me going.)
Were you always a trail runner? Tell us about your background in sports or
I sat on my ass and played a lot of video games when I was a kid. A lot of video games. I do remember being in high school and they’d occasionally make the gym class do a 1 mile run. I once did a 6:37 or something without ever having trained in my life. Years later I’d struggle just to get back there WITH training. I experimented with wrestling but I wasn’t aggressive or competitive enough to really get into it.
Sometime in college I signed up for my towns 5k on a whim and ran it in a pair of shoes that had fried eggs and bacon all over them from the deli I worked at. To this day it’s all my parents ever talk about when it comes to my running accomplishments.
I avoided running mostly because I had some body issues with being such a scrawny bastard. I didn’t know what I was doing in the weight room either. I graduated high school at 5’9’’ and 119 pounds. When I graduated college I managed to put on an impressive 6 pounds.
I picked up a book called “From Scrawny to Brawny” that really changed things for me post college. I started eating 3800 calories a day and doing deadlifts. Within a year or so I had gotten up to 150 pounds and eaten roughly 30 cows worth of ground beef. During that time I was running 8-12 miles a week to stave off heart attacks. I started taking a Brazilian Ju jitsu class and the added energy consumption was just too much for me to continue gaining weight. I had gained more confidence and started to feel guilty about the amount of food I was consuming.
I’m babbling... So.. Running.
I muled the MDI Marathon (Gorgeous road marathon!) for someone and found the distance and long time on my feet to be not *that* difficult, even with the 10-20 miles per week I was doing. Years later I’d sign up for a marathon on a whim again wondering how fast I could actually do it. What made sense in my mind at that time was to run a 12 mile and 18 mile run the week of the marathon to see how it felt. The marathon was a miserable affair and I couldn’t walk right for months afterwards. I had tweaked something hard in my knee and the walks to and from school everyday bothered it. I entered a running lull again.
The second big physical revelation in my life was barefoot running and “Born to Run”. I started running completely barefoot to and from school and found my knee pain getting much much better. I started running just to run. Late at night when my mind was racing from grad school and lab work and the job I had, it was like slipping into a quiet and cool river to go for a run. The muggy nights in the city would feel the perfect temperature with a layer of sweat on my skin and a light breeze coming off the Charles. People would point and laugh as I sprinted through the streets wearing nothing but the shortest pair of shorts I owned. Their drunken revelry as the bars closed would fuel the introverted angst in me. I focused on marathons that fall and did my first 24 hour event that winter. A day after the 24 hour I swore off all running for the rest of my life and signed up for that first 100 a few days later.
You have already run two 100 milers this year. Impressive! How do you recover so quickly?
I don’t! I think I picked some races this year that I knew I wouldn’t have a chance at a PR and wanted to enjoy the scenery. In the mental preparation for my races I reiterate to myself why I am doing the race and what my goals are.
I take it super easy the week after a race. The Five Fingers are a great tool for recovery I think. The super light minimalist barefootish gait whatever you want to call it is easy to slip into when you’re in rough shape. I stand at work for a few hours and go for short and easy runs. Things just to get the blood flowing. I abuse myself with a softball to break up knots.
I think after you’ve built a strong base up you can keep your fitness level pretty even keel. You have to realize that you can only gain so much fitness in between races and pushing it hard could just break you down before the next one.
Eating clean also makes me feel better faster. Lots of veggies and whole grains is usually how I feel the healthiest.
I’ve noticed you wear Hokas during your races and some minimalist shoes. What is your approach when it comes to footwear?
As I eluded to in my background, that barefoot feeling is part of why I run. The connected feeling with the ground and my own biomechanics is important to me. It’s harder for me to enjoy a run in more cushioned shoes. I want me feet to ache at the end of a good day and my leg muscles to scream from all the shock absorption and propelling they did.
But, running 100 miles is pretty friggin’ hard at times. 50-60 miles into a run I am not thinking about physical enjoyment. The enjoyment becomes much more emotional and I’m willing to let myself become disconnected with the situation below my ankles. I tried my very first 100 entirely in Five Fingers and made it 82 miles before I quit because the pain in my feet was overpowering. It took a few more races before I learned I do not have what it takes to do the whole thing in something that thin.
I’ve found good balance in doing a minimal shoe (MT110, Inov-8 245s) for 50-60 miles then letting my feet slip into those moonshoes the kids are wearing these days. The TARC100 will be my first all Hoka attempt. I’m sure they’ll be sending out the sponsorship papers shortly.
What is your favorite race/run?
DNF’ing Leadville last year. I’ve never been more broken then crawling and vomiting my way up hope pass on the return trip. It was clear halfway up that I was going to miss the cutoff at twin lakes (Mile 60). Even getting to the hopeless (Mile 55) aid station at the top of the pass meant I’d have to trek another 5 miles or so just to get to twin lakes and officially miss it since there was no dropping at hopeless.
I thoroughly enjoyed how miserable and beat up I was. The stillness of mind associated with that is often what I chase. It was great to compete in a historical event even if it has become a corporate monster of a race. The experience out there is wild.
I took some video footage a few days later up in the high country and sometimes I watch it and let the sound of my labored breathing remind me what it feels like to be at altitude. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2nSMW1pRu8)
Favorite New England trail to run on?
Fells Skyline. It was my go to trail training run for a long time. Tough enough to grind you down a bit but not too bad that you don’t want to try another loop.
You are running the TARC 100 this June. Do you have any goals that you would like to share?
Realistically, sub 24 would be fantastic. Ostentatiously, sub 20. After that I could retire.
We spent some time down south together at the Empty Square 100, er Double Top 100. What are some positive aspects that you gained from the experience.
Getting to travel with you guys was a ton of fun! There were sections of the course that I will remember for their tranquil beauty. Except the tranquility that existed where the aid stations should have been. Could have done with some commotion there.
In the proper hands that will be an AWESOME race.
10 in 60 (10 questions in 60 seconds. One or two word answers will suffice or the first thing that comes to mind)
1. Favorite ultra food? Fake orange slice candies.
2. Hand held or pack? Summer - Hand Held, Other Seasons - Pack
3. Music or no music? Only 80+ miles into a 100.
4. Favorite blog or ultra site? I actually don’t follow any... I should!
5. Best pre race meal? Leftover pizza from the night before.
6. Post race meal? French Toast, Eggs, Hash Browns, Sausage, Syrup
7. Beer me. Yeah or nay More than likely not.
8. Running injury? “You’ll shoot your eye out kid!” - I once fractured a metatarsal running in Five Fingers. Entirely my fault for over training though.
9. Western states Some day.
10. Walking in ultras I do a ton of it.