Inside the Brain of Brian Peterson, Ultrarunner
A popular anonymous running quote stoically states, “I am a runner because I run. Not because I run fast. Not because I run far. Because I run.” I’ve undoubtedly posted and reposted said quote on several social media outlets because it’s good. It empowers me. Someone who couldn’t run one mile in middle school without wheezing into submission of walking long before my full four laps were completed in PE. Things have changed, quite a bit, from that day, but I am still incredibly astounded by the feats ultrarunners accomplish for ‘sport,’ and/or the love of running.
I was first introduced to these freaks of nature superathletes via Born to Run (GREAT read!). I couldn’t get enough of their motivation, psyche, and fuel memoirs and was ecstatic about the opportunity to interview San Diego’s own local ultrarunner, Brian Peterson. Below is the thorough, 20 question, Q & A with Brian. I know I’m a little biased, but it’s worth the read.
When and how did you start running? When did you start to consider yourself a “runner”? I got into running in 2nd grade. At elementary school my older brother, who was in 4th grade at the time, and who I liked to copy, signed up for the school track team, and of course, so did I. I considered myself a runner starting in 6th grade when I started setting records as part of the school’s cross country team.
How long did it take you to get up to the distance you run today? Today I run 100 mile ultramarathons. I did my first 100 miler in 2013. It took me till 2013 (about 23 years of running) to get up to that mileage, but that was only because I never had an interest in ultramarathons until 2011. I used to think ultramarathons were just excessive and stupid, so I never gave them much thought. But I think had I been into ultras at a younger age, I could have run those distances many years ago. The key is that if you want do something, then you go for it and persevere through the setbacks and keep going until you reach your goal. The 100 mile distance has more and more finishers every year, it is quite amazing. For some people it is more about registering for the race, than actually doing it. They know that if they register they must get to the starting line. Once you toe that line, there is usually enough support and camaraderie out on the course to help you get through it. Thinking about the large amount of miles in an ultra is scary, so I like to break it up into smaller chunks, and just focus on getting from aid station to aid station, because it really is a scary thought to be thinking at the starting line “how the heck am I going to make it through a 100 miles today”!
Why do you run the distances you run today? Internal motivation? Goals? Just because you can? Depending on your answer to this, what then fuels your training? I run the distances I run today, because those are the distances that I have the most fun doing, but it is not like I just run anywhere, like down a 50 mile road. I love doing ultramarathons in the MOUNTAINS where the courses are exceptionally difficult. I love the feeling of being out in wild places and exploring. I love the lure of doing races that I don’t always know if I will even be able to finish. I love going after those goals that practically seem impossible. I don’t know how I get through 100 mile races, but somehow I do, and it is always the most wonderful sensation at the finish line, it is as if everything in life is brand new and super fresh! All that tied up with the feeling of ultimate pride! Afterall, the impossible was just completed! Even better than all that though is the ultra community, it is wonderful! Truly great people! The community draws me back after every race!
My training is fueled by my love to get out exploring. I train on terrain I love to be out on, I don’t just default to the closest place I can run. I gotta find mountain peaks to bag and rocky ridge lines to scramble, that is when I am having the most fun, and if I am having a blast then training is never a problem. I love being off-trail exploring, finding some scrambling, all the while never stopping for a second. I’m always on the move, hence a friend jokingly calling me the, “Trail Shark”.
Percentage wise, what percentage of a long run is pleasure and what percent is pain? Rarely is a long run painful. They are usually always a blast. But I must admit I enjoy that pain during long runs and working through it. I love that accomplishment. Long runs are usually the best part about training. They are a ton of fun, getting to spend the full day in the mountains, and just exploring, feeling the freedom of wilderness, and going where you choose.
What do you consider a “long run”? What’s the longest run you’ve done? I base my training based off of time spent running. I am usually running on such difficult terrain that I don’t end up doing that many miles. I consider long runs to be runs of 4 hours or longer. Sometimes I do go out and do some mileage-based runs in training. I had a lot of fun this past summer doing some 40 mile long runs with a friend.
The longest run I have done in training is a run across Zion National Park, called the Zion Traverse, which is 48 miles. Now if you count my ultramarathon races, my longest run is 100 miles.
What is your main diet while training? Is it different than when you’re not training? Favorite pre race foods? During race fuel? Post race foods? I am vegan and I also eat gluten free, and processed sugar free. Being the weirdo I am, I still like to indulge in beer, which does have a little bit of gluten, which obviously doesn’t make sense with eating gluten free, but I love the craft beer scene, and could never give up drinking beer. I eat the same whether I am training or not. I don’t really believe in diets. Diets are temporary. My eating habits are part of my lifestyle, I’ve been vegan now for four years and I love it. I don’t struggle with it in the least bit.
The night before a race I love to eat a huge raw salad, and then the morning of I will have 2-3 Lara Bars before the race. During ultras I eat real food at the aid stations, such as fruit, nuts, potatoes, and rice balls. In between aid stations I consume gels. My favorite are the organic Honey Stingers, they are sweetened with honey. O yea, I am one of those vegans that eats honey. After a race I eat as I normally would.
Do you run alone or with others? Both. But I would say I do more training by myself than with people. Training with people isn’t a necessity for me. I am fine with training by myself, but I always enjoy the social aspect of runs when I get the chance to run with a fun group! I especially love having someone out there with me that is going to push me. Those types of training partners can be hard to find, because they must be at the same pace, like to run in the same type of terrain, and be on the same running schedule. I have friends that are doing ultras at all different times of the year. Some friends might be training while others are kicking back at the moment. So getting schedules lined up to train super hard together is not always easy.
Where is your head at on a long run? What do you think about, or do you typically zone out? I think about everything and nothing at all. It really depends what is going on during the long-run. I typically do long-runs over challenging terrain that takes on an intense focus where time takes on a different measure; time goes by really quickly for me, because I am out having fun. If I’m not having fun time goes by slowly and it is time to reconsider my choice of a long run. Hammering through a long run in which I am not having fun is a quick way for me to lead to mental burn out.
What types of terrain do you you enjoy training on? What’s the best place in San Diego to run (in your humble opinion)? I enjoy running off-trail and having the opportunity to combine my running with some scrambling. Sometimes sticking to a trail seems too mindless, and I will feel the urge to break off from the trail. I don’t always need a trail thinking for me and telling me where to go. There are 2 places that are my favorite places to run in San Diego. I really enjoy running on Sunset Cliffs and exploring all the routes made by the surfers, especially the secret ones. I also really enjoy running at Mission Trails, especially the staircase up to South Fortuna, and the scramble route up to Kwaay Paay.
What’s the most beautiful location you’ve ever run?
What shoe brands do you enjoy training and racing in? I have shoes for different purposes. I race in Pearl Izumi Trail M2’s. For scrambling purposes I use La Sportiva’s Bushido. For tempos and other speed work I use Salomon’s Sense Mantra. I am thinking about dabbling with some Altras and seeing if I like those or not. Overall the Pearl Izumi Trail M2’s are my favorite all around shoe at the moment. In my last 100 mile race I wore the same pair the entire time, I never needed to change shoes the entire 100 miles! I will be using Pearl Izumi Trail M2’s for all my races in 2015.
What’s your strategy going into races? I start slow. For 100 mile races I pretend it is mile 75 until it is mile 75 and then I try and step it up and race. I try to run as consistently as possible and within my means. Consistency is a big thing for me. Lots of people blow up in 100 mile races, and I just sit back waiting for that to happen. Of course, this takes an incredible amount of training to be able to do this, but like I said, if you go out slow and don’t get sucked into anyone else’s races it will help. I actually think it is harder to race like this mentally. It takes a lot of mental confidence and patience to be able to go out slow, and have faith that you will catch them later. I never let myself run someone else’s races, I don’t get sucked into running at someone else’s pace. I do what is good for me and ignore everyone else as much as possible. During ultramarathons management of your bodily systems is huge. Once I start getting hungry, typically around 2-4 hours into the race, I will consume 100 calories every 30 minutes, and then eat extra food as needed at aid stations. I also take a salt tablet once an hour. If it is hot out I take extra precautions with dumping water over my head and shoulders at every aid station, and drinking ice-water. During races that are hot it is super important to keep your core temperature down.
What is the typical strategy behind your training plans?
Do you listen to music while running? If so, what type of music? I don’t listen to any music when I run. I don’t even have a means to do this. I grew up not listening to music when I ran and that has held true to today. I will never listen to music when I run. I also feel that it is a safety measure to not listen to music. I use my hearing for so much when I am running, the auditory system is highly underrated as being part of the natural experience when running, and as a safety tool.
Would you rather break both toes or both arms? Ha, I love the question! Ummm, I don’t think I would really care which one it was. The toes would be easier to deal with, especially if they aren’t the big toes. But I always find a way to get out into nature and do something. Breaking bones would obviously be a setback, but ideally I would hope that I can mentally put a positive twist on it and take that opportunity to understand life from a new perspective.
Would you rather lose your sense of hearing or sight in one eye? Oh my gosh! I love it! Hahaha. I would definitely rather lose my sense of hearing!!!! But I do love to play guitar so if I lost my sight, then the guitar would be that much more fun. Maybe I would play guitar out in nature and that would be my thing. I would probably need some assistance with that though to get out into nature if I was blind.
If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? I love breakfast potatoes. I never get sick of them.
Given the choice between a 10K and a 100K, which would you rather run? 100k all the way. I don’t like to pay race fees for races that are easy distances for me to run in training. I run 6.2 miles on just about every single training run I go on. For me personally, the 100k distance would be a lot more of a challenge. I am definitely capable of doing a 100k in training, but it is so much easier and safer to do it during a race with aid stations providing food and water.
What’s your day job? I am a full time master’s student at the University of Utah. I am studying the sustainability of long-distance hiking trails with the department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. My degree has three parts to it: ecology, social science, and GIS mapping.
What do you like to do when you’re not running? Rock climb, play guitar, and dork out on my master’s junk.