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Adventure : Fitness

What It Takes to Finish the World's Toughest Ultra 20 Consecutive Times

On July 11, human anomaly Kilian Jornet smashed the six-year-old course record at the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run. Despite Jornet’s unbelievable speed, Coloradan Kirk Apt, who finished in 39:38:51—nearly 17 hours behind Jornet—received the loudest applause at this year’s awards ceremony.

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That’s because the 52-year-old—who broke the course record in 2000 with a time of 29:35:00—kissed the Hardrock for the 20th consecutive year, a new record. The race was his 48th hundred-miler since 1991; that’s an average of 2.1 hundreds per year, and he’s managed to show up healthy and fit to all of them.

In an era when elite ultrarunners drop out as soon as the smallest thing goes awry, Apt is the exemplar of what determination and perseverance can accomplish: a level of lifetime fitness unknown even to the most famous and revered professional athletes.

We caught up with Apt at his home in Grand Junction to see how 20 years of Hardrock is even possible.

OUTSIDE: When did you start running ultramarathons?
APT
: I actually don't remember; it was probably a year or two before my first hundred, which was Leadville in 1991. In 1990, I paced my friend Greg Brunson at Leadville. The next year, we reversed roles, and since then I've lost count of how many times he has paced me in my 48 total hundreds. Probably close to 20, including Hardrock again this year.

What initially drew you to the sport?
The simple love of running in the mountains and the challenge of resetting the edge of the envelope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Who was instrumental in you getting hooked on the sport?
In addition to Greg, my early mentors include Steve Mahieu, Charlie Thorn, and John Cappis. 

You dropped from your first attempt at Hardrock in its 1992 inaugural running due to food poisoning. Was that a formative experience?
Maybe, in the sense that the experience solidified the feeling that I really don't like not making it to the finish line. That remains my only hundred-mile DNF.

You finished Leadville before you first ran Hardrock. Did that prepare you for the 100.5-mile loop through the San Juans?
Oh, it was so different than Leadville, and I was still quite low on the learning curve. There was so much uncertainty before the first Hardrock; we wondered whether it could be completed in 48 hours. I remember going into the run with a healthy dose of fear and respect. Certainly it was beneficial to have the 100-mile experience of one race, but Hardrock is a very different experience than other hundreds.

What memories do you have from your first Hardrock 100 finish, or have they all blurred together?
I do remember my first Hardrock. As for gear, I had the whole house with me, a huge backpack. I wasn’t even experienced enough to think I knew what to expect. My plan was to go out and see how it came to me. That first finish line was very special. I remember running super conservatively and feeling huge elation running into the finish, which was down by the gazebo and courthouse [in Silverton, Colorado] back then. It made up for the disappointment of the DNF the year before. 

What was winning the 2000 race like for you?
We were living in Boulder that year, and it was a low snow year. So, just great training in the Front Range. I certainly didn’t go into it with a “win or bust” attitude, but I knew I was super fit.

I did my thing through the race and found myself in the lead. We were going counterclockwise that year, and I got to Chapman aid station [mile 82] feeling pretty good and thought, “I've got a shot at winning this.” I’m really not competitive by nature, so I had to convince myself to go for it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It was a big mental effort to keep myself pushing.

I had the best running day of my life on probably the best day to have it. That was the high-water mark of my lifetime fitness.

Being able to show up at Hardrock for 20 straight years and fit enough to finish such a tough course is a level of lifetime fitness most people can’t achieve. How do you do it?
Luck. Also, because I've made Hardrock the focus of my year, all my training and other prep has been all about getting to the start line in the best position to be successful. I try to have a healthy lifestyle, eat well, get regular bodywork, train smart. I also take time off when necessary. And I stay positive.

What has been the key to your training?
I now train at really low intensity. I don’t have any problem walking if a climb is working me. My [slowing] times kind of reflect that.

For me, it’s just been the long run. Time on my feet. I don’t care how much ground I cover or how fast I’m going. I do try to get as much terrain [vertical gain] in as possible. May and June are the key times, but you can’t always get up high with snow in Colorado. I just do what I can.

When I was more competitive, I was underemployed, so I had more time to train. My partner, who is also a runner, and I have been together for almost 20 years. We don’t have kids. She’s key to keeping me on track with my training. 

Have you had any injuries along the way?
About five to eight years ago, I realized that my adrenals were kind of shot. That really had a hand in increasing my finish times at Hardrock. I worked with a naturopath doctor, got regular acupuncture, and was on multiple herbal adrenal-health supplements. Eventually that fixed it. Three years back, in the spring, I started to roll my ankle a lot—worse than usual. I ended up having to wear an air cast every time I ran for a year.

What’s your diet like?
I eat mostly vegetarian, but certainly not completely vegetarian. Dinners are always centered around a gigantic pile of steamed vegetables. I also eat beans and quite a few eggs for protein. 

What keeps you motivated year after year?
Well, there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend all day on my feet in the mountains. Motivation hasn’t been an issue.

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Your Wicked Wednesday Workout

When getting outside is the goal and training is what makes your adventures possible, Wednesday is the perfect day to push it. Why? You’re recovered from the weekend and can rev yourself for the days ahead.

Now, there’s nothing that says you have to hit the gym for a strength and endurance sweat session. With a little space, minimal equipment, and less than an hour, you can have an intense workout that preps your heart and muscles to complement your main sport.

In this Wicked Wednesday Workout, you’ll work on upper- and lower-body strength and mix it in with some high-intensity spurts. In the final stretch, you’ll have to push your body when it’s already zapped—to help you get more mileage when the tank is almost empty. And that’s the hump that’s worth getting up and over.

This Week's Workout: Six by Six

Total Time: 20-25 minutes

Equipment and Set-Up
You'll Need: A dumbbell or heavy object that you can use for overhead presses and a field or playground with trees or monkey bars.

Set up six stations. At each one, you will perform one exercise for the number of repetitions outlined below, starting with 12 repetitions. Complete the six stations, then rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute before doing the next circuit. Complete six rounds of the six exercises.

Stations

  1. Perfect pushups, two seconds down and two seconds up.
  2. Squat jumps. Hinge at your hips when you squat down so that your butt thrusts backward and your knees don’t extend past your toes. On the way up, explode up into a jump. (Optional: Hold some kind of weight.)
  3. Overhead presses, using any kind of weight (dumbbell, sandbag, cinder blocks).
  4. Mountain climbers. Count one rep every time your lead foot comes forward.
  5. Pull-ups on tree branch or monkey bars. (Optional: if you can’t do pull-ups, do a modified pull-up by hanging a towel around a (sturdy) branch or bar. Jump up and grab each end of the towel and pull yourself as high as you can go on each jump.)
  6. Set up cones or markers about 20 yards apart. Sprint from cone-to-cone. One rep is running one length.
  7. Rest

Circuits

For the first time through, do 12 repetitions of each exercise. Each time through, you'll do fewer reps—until the final circuit, which is 15 reps of each.

  1. 12 reps
  2. 10 reps
  3. 8 reps
  4. 6 reps
  5. 4 reps
  6. 15 reps

About this Series
The Wicked Wednesday Workout is designed to help you break up your week with a high-intensity, total-body workout of strength and endurance that uses minimal equipment—to help better prepare your body for the randomness of your weekend at play. 

Ted Spiker, who has designed and led backyard and neighborhood workouts for his friends for the past three years, is a journalism professor at the University of Florida who specializes in health and fitness writing. He recommends you pick up a scrap truck tire to add more variety to your workouts.

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The 4 Most Influential Fitness Trends

Every year, data and news service Thomson Reuters compiles an index of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.” Scientists earn a place atop the list by publishing several articles that rank among the top one percent most cited by fellow researchers.

“Citations offer a direct testament to work that scientists themselves judge to be the most important to ongoing research,” said Gordon Macomber, managing director of Thomson Reuters Scientific and Scholarly Research, in a press release.

With that in mind, we combed through the most influential sports science journals to find their top-cited articles over the past five years. Presenting what all that research has to say about our health:

We’re Obsessed With Shortcuts

The Source: Journal of Applied Physiology

We want to go fast. But we don't want to do the hard work. Nitrate and protein supplement research dominates the literature. Nitrates, found in beetroot juice, were found to make exercise more efficient and help endurance athletes go stronger longer—if they drank 17 ounces of the stuff every day for at least three days before go-time.

And in muscle-building news, the journal’s top-cited study concluded that whey hydrolysate beats out soy protein and casein for post-workout muscle recovery. Athletes who downed a drink with 10 grams of whey hydrosylate after performing resistance exercise had a 93 percent greater muscle protein synthesis response than they did after consuming a drink that contained the same amount of casein.

The takeaway? Everyone's looking for a fitness shortcut. In reality, diet tweaks and supplements might help you eke out that final percent of performance gain. But for most athletes, sticking to the fundamentals will yield more immediate results.

We Want to Embrance Bionic Technology

The Source: The American Journal of Sports Medicine

Platelet-rich-plasma injections (aka PRP) were the hot topic in this journal. As the top-cited article explains, PRP injections are prepared from one’s own blood, and contain “growth factors and bioactive proteins that influence the healing of tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone.” More and more pro athletes are turning to both stem cell and PRP injections to try to avoid the uncertainty and down time associated with surgery.

Using one’s own blood as a body boost is nothing new. Tour de France cyclists have been extracting their own blood—sometimes centrifuging it down to just the red blood cells, then re-injecting it—for years. As Bike Pure explains, autologous blood transfusion “is not detectable and is perhaps not technically “doping”, but remains a banned technique affording a massive boost to an athlete over fatigued competition” by delivering extra oxygen to working muscles, and “increasing the capacity of the muscles to use oxygen by up to five percent.”

Unlike blood doping, PRP injections are not illegal. In 2011, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed PRP from its list of banned substances after noting a lack of evidence that the procedure enhances performance. PRP is for healing.

We're Terrified Of Concussions

The Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

For athletes in contact sports like football, researchers are particularly concerned about concussions: their long-term effects, how to spot one, and how to decide when an athlete is ready to play again after suffering one.

Since top researchers released a popular consensus statement on concussion in sport in late 2008, research on the condition has exploded. We know now, for example, that men take more than twice as long as women to recover from a concussion. (An average of 66.9 days vs. 26.3 days for women, likely because the female hormone progesterone may play a protective role.) And that 10 to 20 minutes of low-intensity aerobic activity can alleviate symptoms and expedite recovery.

Helmet technology is getting smarter, too. In football, the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet is “designed to disperse energy, reducing the risk of trauma,” SB Nation reports.  A built-in response system “is intended to alert coaches when a player suffers a significant hit to the head, or multiple hits that combine to pose a risk. And in the endurance sports world, Swedish company POC introduced helmets with MIPS, a technology designed to reduce oblique impact forces on the brain by allowing the helmet’s shell and liner to move separately.

We Think Sitting Is Killing Us

The Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews

In perhaps one of the most talked-about studies from this journal, scientists linked time spent sitting to mortality and found that the longer people sit every day, the higher their mortality rate. The revelation brought on a wave of stand-up desk articles and an urge to at least get up every 15 minutes to take a lap around the office.

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Advice from Our Fittest Real Athletes

Pros are so lucky. They get to devote their lives to the sport they love, and completely focus on training and eating well. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be so successful? Look—you can. It's not that laundry list of obligations holding you back from being an amazing athlete, and our 2014 Fittest Real Athletes are living proof. They're power players at home, in the office, and competing alongside the pros themselves. And they're nice enough to share how they do it all, so start taking notes.

Train With a Buddy

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Case Study: Ironman Clay Emge, 30

Bona Fides
Last year, Emge, an engineer at an oil and gas company in Tyler, Texas, won the 25–29 age group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

How He Does It
Emge has always been a strong runner—he completed a one-hour 22-minute half marathon in college. After getting into triathlons in 2009, he steadily improved his multisport performance through committed training: 6 A.M. swims at the YMCA, lunchtime runs and strength training, and grueling evening bike rides. But when he missed qualifying for Kona by just ten seconds in 2012, he decided to ramp up his approach—especially on the bike, his weakest discipline. “Realizing I was that close to something most triathletes only dream of made me dedicate myself to making it the following year,” he says. Emge began riding with a friend who was also targeting Kona and was a strong cyclist but a slower runner. “He pushes me on the bike, and I push him on the run,” says Emge. “Having a partner makes it that much more bearable—and makes you faster and more competitive, too” He also does weekly group rides. “I would never have won my age group at Kona without those steps,” he says. “I’m not motivated enough to push myself to the limit.”

Follow His Lead
Endurance coach Jesse Kropelnicki, who has guided several Ironman champions, strongly endorses working out with partners, particularly as a way to address weaknesses. But he cautions that doing so can result in overtraining. “If you’re working on improving one aspect of your sport, you need to decrease volume in others,” he says. “A triathlete who adds two hours a week of swimming needs to cut back on biking and running. Your body can only handle so much stress.”

Be More Efficient

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Case Study: Endurance Runner Blake Benke, 37

Bona Fides
In 2009, Benke, who lives in Connecticut and works in financial services on Wall Street, finished tenth place at the notorious Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile race through California’s Death Valley. Last September, he completed the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece in 28 hours and 29 minutes, earning him 13th place—the top American finish.

How He Does It
Benke has a 90-minute commute and two small children. Finding the time to train takes discipline, which he developed at the U.S. Naval Academy and later as a Marine in the Iraq war. It also demands creativity. “I think part of the fun is making it all fit,” Benke says. He uses the seams in his schedule to train. He works from 
8 a.m. to 6 p.m., “with no breaks,” but will often run eight miles from his lower Manhattan office to Harlem to catch a commuter train home. Usually, he does his longer runs on weekends. “Then, as soon as I get home, I’m taking my kids to birthday parties, giving them baths, and doing everything I can to pull my weight,” says Benke, who is currently training for November’s JFK 50 Mile race. “It helps that I really only need about six hours of sleep.”

Follow His Lead
“If something is important to you, you’ll find time to do it,” says David Allen, author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life. “And often it will benefit the other things in your life.” Pack your day, as Benke does, and you can’t afford to waste a single moment, which helps you focus. “If you’re with your kids all the time but looking at your phone constantly, that’s no different than not being there at all,” says Allen. It’s all about balance. “If one part of your life starts to suffer, it’s important to reevaluate and figure out what needs to change.”

Set Goals—and Stick to Them

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Case Study: Climber Andrew Palmer, 27

Bona Fides
In October 2013, Palmer, a Boston-based data analyst at creative agency Digitas, climbed Jaws II, 
a 70-foot Class 5.15a route at 
New Hampshire’s famed Waimea crags. He was the fourth person 
to scale Jaws and one of a small number of Americans to send 
a 5.15a climb.

How He Does It
Palmer relies heavily on detailed goal setting, a habit he picked up 
in Richmond, Virginia, where he began climbing at 13, and honed as a student at Dartmouth College. These days he spends three nights 
a week at the climbing gym, training evenings from 8 to 10:30, always with a specific objective in mind. “I keep track of every workout,” he says. “If I’m not improving, I analyze variables like diet, sleep, and stress. If none of those things are to blame, I’ll take a different approach.” Almost every weekend, Palmer travels to Waimea—with a plan. “I’ll set a big goal, but start with smaller goals. When I was working on Jaws, I’d have a goal 
to make it a quarter of the way 
up, then halfway, then to just stay 
on the wall for a minute longer.”

Follow His Lead
“He’s doing everything correctly,” says Edwin Locke, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland business school and author of New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance. “He has a distant goal, some proximate goals, a plan to reach his goals, and a way to evaluate his goals.” Locke especially likes that Palmer tracks his progress on paper. If you do that and still can’t figure out what’s hampering your headway, he suggests reach-ing out to an expert like a coach or boss for help. “And make sure that the goal is for you,” he says. “If it’s 
to impress somebody else, you’ll fail 
or get hurt, or when you reach the goal it will feel empty.”

Multitask

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Case Study: Obstacle Racer Amelia Boone, 30

Bona Fides
Bankruptcy attorney Boone was 
the top woman and second-place overall finisher in the 2012 World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour event that had competitors completing 
300 obstacles over 90 miles. Last year, Boone won the Spartan World Championship, a 14-mile course 
with some 40 obstacles.

How She Does It
During her interview for this story, Boone was rolling around on a lacrosse ball to smooth out some knots in her back. So goes training for a Chicago lawyer who occasionally puts in 80-hour workweeks at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, one of the country’s largest firms. Boone has become a master at getting fit while cranking out billable hours. “I’ll do phone calls as I walk home,” she says. “And I always tell people that a conference call is the best time to get in a ten-minute squat test.” Of course, she also has to find time for dedicated training sessions. She often wakes up at 4 A.M. to go for a run or work out at her local CrossFit gym. If her ever changing work schedule allows, she plans to tackle at least 
20 obstacle races across the country this year—up from 12 in 2013. “I always make sure my travel bookings are refundable,” she says.

Follow Her Lead
Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says you can get away with Boone’s brand of aggressive multitasking if the exercises you’re doing feel habitual. “You can easily complete a task that you don’t need to think about, like walking or brushing your teeth, while also having a conversation,” Markman says. Plus, “exercise is really good cognitively,” he says. “It releases dopamine, which is associated with focused attention.” But things get tricky when you try to accomplish multiple tasks that tax your brain, like shopping online while talking to someone. “Your brain will shift back and forth between the two tasks,” he cautions, “and you’ll become inefficient at both.”

Eat Smarter

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Case Study: Triathlete Sami Inkinen, 38

Bona Fides
Since launching the real estate website Trulia in 2005, Silicon Valley resident Inkinen has climbed to the top of the amateur triathlon ranks. He’s a two-time overall amateur champion at the highly competitive Wildflower Triathlon, near Paso Robles, California, and was the 2011 world cham-pion in the 70.3 distance for 
the 30–39 age group. In June, Inkinen and his wife began their attempt to row a 5-by-20-foot boat from San Francisco to Hawaii.

How He Does It
Though his company is now well established, Finland native Inkinen still keeps a startup schedule, regularly putting in 70-hour weeks. So how does he maintain elite-level endurance fitness? “Really intense hour-long workouts,” he says. Inkinen will bust out ten intervals of minute-long sprints on a treadmill or stationary bike followed by a minute of jogging or spinning, then jump in the pool and swim 100-yard sprints. “It’s all the time I can afford,” he says. But the most dramatic improvement in his racing came when he rebooted his nutrition plan. Disillusioned with a low-fat, high-carb diet that left him constantly hungry and caused his weight to fluctuate dramatically, Inkinen experimented with different foods, ultimately adopting a high-fat diet made up of ingredients like olive oil, macadamia nuts, and avocados. “After a few months, I started becoming healthier and performing better,” he says.

Follow His Lead
According to Dina Griffin, a sports dietitian at Fuel4mance, which counsels elite athletes on nutrition, there are four key signs that you might be ingesting too many carbs: you frequently bonk, you’re hungry all the time, your stomach hurts, and you’re not recovering well from workouts. “We’re seeing that most athletes—from weekend amateurs to serious professionals—perform better with moderate carbohydrate intake,” she says. “If you eat pasta every night, cut back to once or twice a week and see if you notice a difference.”

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