From 5Ks to 50-Milers: How I Became An Ultramarathon Runner In Two Years

In the summer of 2008 I had just finished law school, but I hadn’t started working yet. I was running a bit for exercise, because I had the time, but once my first son was born, running just didn’t stick.

Seven years later, knee deep in parenthood and my career, I weighed around 210 pounds—and wasn’t doing a single thing about it. So I made a few New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, get healthier, and start building better habits. I had to face that I wasn’t 20 years old anymore.

I started and stopped working on my resolutions many times (just like everyone else in the world). I was trying a lot of different things to keep up momentum—my wife and I even bought a water rower, but that got boring fast—and when I started running a couple of miles a few times a week, I learned that there was a 5K race in town. It was sponsored by a local pub, which didn’t hurt, so I signed up (even though I found myself questioning why, considering I still wasn’t very good at running).

I practiced for a few months and by the time the 5K rolled around, I didn’t exactly kill it (I came in around 28:25), but I did enjoy it, especially hanging out with fellow runners afterward.

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As I kept up the running after the race, I noticed I was losing significant weight—about 45 pounds! And by the middle of summer 2016, it stopped being about losing weight. I was really just loving the running. So I began focusing on races and getting fit for different events.

It wasn’t always easy—in fact, it was a real challenge. When I ran my first actual marathon in 2016 in Brooklyn (a nostalgic moment for me because I had lived there from 2009-2015), I completely crashed after the first 16 miles. I sat down, then laid down. The longest I had ever run before was 16 miles, so I was pretty unprepared, and I thought about quitting. What kept me going was that I had told everyone that I was doing the marathon, and I just couldn’t live with quitting. That’s when I got a second wind.

From there, I was totally hooked.

Runner’s High

There’s so much to love about running. You’re alongside elite athletes, you can experience gorgeous scenery, and you get to inspire your kids. My youngest son, Nate, who is five, has done two 5Ks with me and I didn’t even have to carry him! During the first, he was hurting at mile two and a half, but he didn’t want to stop. When he saw the finish line, he bolted!

The social aspect of running kept me coming back for more, too. At the end of 2016, I looked for a running buddies club so I could meet other runners. I found one called Fueled by Doughnuts (our group was just featured in Runner’s World, in a piece called “One Pretty Sweet Club”) so I attended one of their group runs one December night.

The group is founded by the owner of a local doughnut shop who provides doughnuts and coffee after every run. The founder also hosts two insanely popular races in Montclair, NJ—a 5K in December and a half marathon in March. Running with Fueled by Doughnuts is how I met all of my running buddies, some of whom have turned into very good friends.

Full Steam Ahead

In early 2017 I decided that it would be fun to do something a little more adventurous than a road race. I found a cool 50-mile ultramarathon (an ultramarathon is any race longer than 26.2 miles, which is a standard marathon) near Ithaca, New York, called Cayuga Trails 50. The ultramarathon, which took place in June 2017, was a 50-mile trail run with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain. The scenery was beautiful but the course was tough.

Carlos, on one of his runs.

I made it about 42 miles in 14 hours, but I was so mentally defeated by mile 42 that I just gave up and asked my wife to pick me up where the trail was intersected by a road. That night I ate three dinners and then fell asleep.

As soon as I woke up, I felt regret for not pushing myself to finish those last eight miles. I had been on my feet for 14 hours—what were a few more? Physically I know I could have done it, but it was a failure of mental toughness.

This year, I’m going to run an easier 50-miler called The Dirty German in Philadelphia. Then I’ll try Cayuga Trails 50 again down the road. (I’ve also been toying with the idea of trying a 100-miler instead!)

To amp myself up for these runs, there’s a lot of Lupe Fiasco on my Amazon Prime playlist; his music is upbeat, introspective, and addresses different issues. I listen to him if I’m doing a treadmill run or a hard run outside when I’m not with friends. For easier runs, I like to just catch up with friends and need to make sure I can talk.

But all of that doesn’t make running easy all the time. When I’m lacking motivation, my friends get me out of the house. I’d say about 90 percent of my running habits today are because I’m going to hang out with friends. I actually haven’t had this many friends since high school!

My advice to people who want to start running or working out:

First, create a habit of laying your clothes out ahead of time, especially early in the morning. After a while you won’t have to think about it, you just do it. Getting your stuff ready for beforehand reduces the need to make that early morning decision: Do I get up and run? The easiest way to build a habit is to make it happen on autopilot, and by knowing you’re all set and ready to go, there’s no more mental struggle about whether or not to hit the snooze button.

Second, give yourself something to look forward to after your workout, like coffee.

And third, consider it a mental workout, too. Your body is capable of a lot more than you think it is. When you’re fatigued and want to slow down, it’s not really a physical limit—it’s an emotion. Your brain makes you feel it, but you can push past it. Once you understand that, it’s motivating.

Share your own victories, both big and small, on Instagram using #VictoryIsMine and tagging @vitaminshoppe. We might feature you on our page!