Endurance running is both mentally and physically challenging. As the Sunday Mail City-Bay Fun Run is coming up in September, I thought I would continue the fitness streak of articles and interview someone who runs for a living. The Western States 100 – Mile Endurance Run is the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race. Starting in Squaw Valley, California and ending 100.2 miles later in Auburn, California, runners climb more than 18,000 feet and descend nearly 23,000 feet before they reach the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn.
South Australian Lewis Horwood is eighteen years old and lives in the beautiful suburb of Unley, South Australia. Growing up on the South Coast in Victor Harbor he became passionate about long distance running, and for the past four years Lewis has been training for and running ultra-marathons.
“It was when I was in high school down in Victor Harbor that I started developing my distance running abilities. I am very passionate about running trails, music and trying to live the most fulfilling and decent life that I can.”
At the beginning of primary school, Lewis realised pretty quickly that he was never going to be particularly fast.
“There was probably a bit of predisposition towards endurance in my genes, but I think perhaps more than that I always had a lot of respect for my father, who ran long distances. We used to run laps of a gymnasium together when I was six, and one day Dad told me that if I could run one hundred and twenty laps of the perimeter (12kms) before the September of that year, he would sign me up for the City-Bay, which I completed just before my seventh birthday in 1hour & 15 minutes.”
In the ninth grade however Lewis started to dabble in ultra-marathons, which is any race that is over 42 kilometres. Competing in various races of 50 and 60km, he slowly built up his training to master his preferred distance of 100km, and will be tackling the 100 mile (160.93km) distance later on in the year.
“I certainly don’t think that I displayed any huge amounts of natural talent, but from as soon as I started pushing my body over these kinds of long distances, I was sure that it was something I wanted to keep exploring. I’m currently training for, amongst other things, qualifying for the Western States Endurance Run in the breath-taking Sierra Nevada, California. It’s a 100 mile trail event, which will be a real test of both my physical and mental fortitude, as I have never actually tackled the distance before. It’s a very historic event on the ultra-marathon calendar, often referred to as the ‘New York Marathon’ of trail races, and attracts a very competitive field of international athletes. Being able to test myself on a course where so many legends of the sport have battled it out would be an awesome personal experience.”
In the months prior to the event, Lewis will be running 100 miles in the Flinders Rangers, as well as the North Face 100 kilometre event which is held in the Blue Mountains. Recently Lewis has become an athlete an ambassador for the outdoor company called Merrel.
“(Merrel) very kindly provide me with minimalist running shoes and apparel, and so it will be a very humbling experience to be able to represent them on such a stage as Western States. They have an impressive and successful group of athletes running for them at the moment, and so I am very grateful to be given such a generous opportunity. What I am perhaps most impressed by is the ethos that Merrell runs their company by, creating a range of vegan friendly and fair-trade supporting running shoes. I feel very fortunate and appreciative to be able to represent a brand whose world views are so similar to my own.”
Training for endurance running is not only physically exhausting but it can also be mentally taxing, however Lewis commented that it’s most likely for that reason why such a growing number of runners are partaking in them.
“You can’t exactly bluff your way through one of them on your physical merits alone, unless you are a pretty extraordinary athlete. I think that is what is most beautiful about them. The events themselves are the easy part (very relatively speaking); the hard work has all been put in behind-the-scenes in the months and years prior, and you just hope on the day that everything falls into place. There was a quote by another Adelaide trail runner called Sputnik, and in a recent article he said: “You can fake a lot of things, but you can’t fake training.” It’s certainly a belief that I share.
For Lewis running the marathons is more than anything just his ability to get into the right kind of head space – and knowing that despite his best intentions, no matter what race he endures, it will be a painful and arduous process.
“It is a pretty unique kind of sport, where you have to delicately balance this kind of deep-seeded and unbreakable confidence in your own ability with a sense of humility and respect for what both the course and Mother Nature might throw at you – not to mention the talents of any other athlete out there. This head space is often hard to find, and I am sure it takes on different forms for every person out there on the course; but on a personal level I certainly try to lose myself in the amazing landscapes that these events are held, and take the time to reflect on basically anything that is going on in my life; family, work, girls, my own existence, that sort of thing. When I am at a point in a race where I am a seriously considering pulling out, and the waves of doubt start to sneak in, I think about Terry Fox running across Canada with one leg in 1980 and then realise “I don’t have that much to bitch about really.”
People who partake in sport or performing on stage, often have pre-event specialities such as; do three push-ups, clap their hands three times or breathe deeply. For Lewis it’s all about socks, shoes and listening to Kanye West.
“I am not all that superstitious, but I am weirdly obsessive about the length of my socks (laughs), and minimalist shoes are a must. In an ultra-distance event, I definitely have to make sure I have flat Coca-Cola and Chia seeds at some point, and watermelon covered in sea salt is a pretty standard option as well. I will rarely race without my iPod, and that is normally loaded with a pretty eclectic range, but Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Avett Brothers, Radical Face, Of Monsters and Men, Australian Hip-Hop and Kanye West (I am ashamed to say) are the regulars. Music really helps me get through the standout tough patches of an event, particularly at night, and I find it really helps me relax into a steady rhythm and feel as at peace as one can.”
The iconic “Just Do It” was phrased by Nike to use in their promotions, but it can apply to almost anything in sport or achieving goals in your life. Running is usually free and there is no test you have to pass or standard you have to meet – it’s about dedication and testing out the limits your body can go to.
“Don’t get caught up in this concern with having the flashiest gear or your pace or even how far you can cover, and just enjoy one of the most primal of activities for what it is. One of the many great things about this sport is that there is no test you have to pass or standard you have to meet, and rarely is there a fee, to just get out there and see what your head and body can do in some amazing landscapes. I have met some fantastic people through my running, had experiences that I can look back on and think “that was awesome”, and been able to run through amazing parts of the world. From one day to the next, I never know what is going to happen on a training run – who I might meet, an experience I might get to have – and I think that is a pretty cool factor to have in my life.”
One of the many benefits of running is that you are your own transport. Whether you run in the suburbs, around the alpine mountains in Australia, through the tulip fields in Holland or along the River Seine in France, it is about the journey you go on; physically and also metaphorically.
“I think one of the most spectacular places I have ever run is Mount Kosciusko in the Snowy Mountains – somehow I had just never realised that we had mountainous and alpine areas quite like that in Australia – or perhaps the rainforests in the Kingdom of Tonga. I don’t quite know what it is exactly, but there is some undeniable primal part of my psyche that just sees big mountains and bending rivers and forests and thinks “I have to run there”. With that in mind, I really would love to train out of Alaska or perhaps Boulder, Colorado, and just enjoy living a simple life with mountains and pine forests to explore right at my door step.”
Running is certainly in Lewis’ future, and he would love to make a name for himself as an endurance athlete on the bigger stage.
“…I certainly like to think that there is something more than ego driving me. While I would love to have hordes of people eagerly following my results and training online, and hanging out for the release of my books, like international athletes Kilian Jornet and Anton Krupicka have, I think ultimately I am doing what I do purely because it is something that I enjoy for its own sake. When training, I often think of the quote “Do not work towards happiness, but instead allow the work itself to make you happy” and try to find something to cherish in just the simple act of being able to do something I am so passionate about on a daily basis.”
If you could sit down for coffee with any person, dead or alive who would it be and why?
“It would probably have to be psychologist Phillip Zimbardo (responsible for the Stanford Prison Experiment). He is one of the most interesting people I have ever heard talk, and if the topic “good and evil” was brought up, he would be pretty engaging company I would imagine.”
If you could say one thing to a large group of people, what would you say?
“I would repeat the Anthony de Mello parable. “A group of tourists sit on a bus that is passing through a gorgeously beautiful country; lakes and mountains and green fields and rivers. But the shades of the bus are pulled down. They do not have the slightest idea of what lies beyond the windows of the bus. And all the time of their journey is spent squabbling over who will have the seat of honour in the bus, who will be applauded, who will be well considered. And so they remain till the journeys end….Well, either that or “be the kind of person you want to be friends with on Facebook”. Both are nice.
You can visit the Official Website of the Western States Endurance Run at www.wser.org.