Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ultra runner spotlight: Joe Fejes

Joe Fejes at Across The Years. He wore this shirt so that friends and family back home could identify him on the race web cam. (Photo: Low Country Ultras Facebook page.)
In just a few short years, Joe Fejes has managed to put his name in ultra running lore in a major way. On New Year's Day this year, he broke the record for the longest distance run at the 72 hour (yes, 72 hour) race in Arizona called the Across The Years by running an incredible 329 miles! That's after a 280 mile rookie attempt the year before. Just a couple of weeks ago, he broke more records in Destin, FL when he set the Guinness World Record of running the most miles on sand in 24 hours. He's won or stood on the podium for countless races as well.

I first met Joe a couple of years ago when he would occasionally run with our humble Wednesday morning group and drive over 40 miles at 6am to do so. Even then, all he could talk about was about racing and he was always asking questions about others racing. He ran several trail ultras before he finally found his groove with timed loop courses and he has been excelling at them ever since. A humble runner, you'll be hearing a lot more from this guy in the years to come. Oh, and he's only 47 years old!

Joe took some questions and here are his responses...

Describe what it was like to race for 24 hours in the sand and how did you prepare for it?

Running 134 miles in 24 hours in the sand was really challenging. Connie Gardner commented after the race that she thought the Destin 24 hour in the sand was as difficult as running Badwater. The weather was chilly--low 30’s and we had a wind advisory of 15-30 mph gusts. I wore a windbreaker vest and long sleeve tech shirt to help with the cool and windy weather. I loved the 7 pm start time on Saturday night as it made running in the cold windy conditions much easier since I had relatively fresh legs during the coldest hours. I also did not experience any difficulties with sleep deprivation since I was well rested for the normally difficult 3 am -6 am time slot.  Once the morning came and the sun came up it was mentally refreshing especially with the beachgoers who were cheering and shouting encouragement each lap.  The camber of the sand made for an awkward running style and the soft sand for each 1 mile lap turnaround made it oftentimes a plodding effort. I tripped several times on the ridges that developed from the beach erosion and tidal changes. The good news is I was dialed in mentally and physically for most of the race and believe I was as in good condition for the event as any event I have run the past several years. My heart rate and breathing felt great from the beginning and I ran much faster for the 50 (7:30) and 100 mile (16:05) splits than I had planned—actually about an hour and a half faster for both.  

Preparation for the event was really a continuation of the training regimen that I have been doing the past six months.  I have been focusing on shorter two a day workouts with a 6-8 mile am run and a 4-8 mile pm run a few times a week.  I have also incorporated a weekly fast 8 mile tempo run and hill repeats from time to time.  My training the past 3 weeks before the event was spot on.  I had raced a 5k (18:01) and a 10k (36:01) a couple of weeks prior and I knew I had plenty of leg speed to have a good day.  I had no injuries and was really looking forward to running hard on race day.

What exactly is the record you now hold in the official Guinness Book of World Records and how does it feel to have it?

It is my understanding that I now hold the record for the longest distance run in the sand for 24 hours.  The old official record was 83 miles set by Christian Burke in the Hermosa 24 hour sand run in California although I believe Patrick Sweeney has unofficially run 94 miles there too.  I am not sure however how the Destin and Hermatosa courses compare to each other.  The Hermosa is run in July so the warm summertime temperatures could make it tough.  I also don’t know how many other runners in the US or other countries have actually attempted to run 24 hours in the sand. If Mike Morton wasn’t injured and had run the race I most likely would have lost by 50k. In any event the record should be taken with a grain of sand.

It is always nice to hold a record although I was really more satisfied with my effort level rather than breaking the Guinness record.  I felt like I ran as hard (if not harder)  at Destin as I did a few months ago when I ran 156 miles in 24 hours at Desert Solstice on the track in Phoenix Arizona.

Speaking of records, this past New Year’s Day you broke the course record at Across the Years running 329 miles in 72 hours. Describe your experience. How did you stay motivated for three days. What was your nutrition like? Did you ever want to stop?

You can read my full race report for Across The Year's on my buddy Christian Griffiths' blog, here. I stayed motivated by thinking about the race 24/7/365 since I came up short with only 280 miles last year. I knew if the weather was cool that I could run 300+ miles.  

Nutrition-the first 12-16 hours during a 24 hour race is a critical period for me for nutrition.  I usually have stomach issues when I am running hard early on and/or if the weather is warm. I relied primarily on Boost drinks, Coke, water and bananas for Day 1.  Day 2 my stomach settled and I was able to eat virtually any and all real food that was offered by the aid stations.  I also enjoyed the Succeed ultra drink that has a light orange tasting flavor that is much easier to handle than Gatorade or Powerade.

Did I ever want to stop? Hell yeah!!—always do and always will during virtually any ultra event!!

Go back in time, how did you get into the world of ultras and when and how did you realize that time courses were your best fit?

A few years ago I ran the Blue Ridge Relay with 5 other guys and found that I liked running at night. I  ran approximately six legs totaling 40 miles and thought it would be neat to try something longer.  A few months later I entered the inaugural Pinhoti 100 mile trail run notwithstanding I had never run a 50k or any other ultra. I dnf’d at mile 80 when my right hip flexor seized up and I couldn’t lift my leg or walk.  The good news (or bad depending on your perspective) is that I was now hooked n ultras.

I ran my first 24 hour at Black Mountain Monster a d won the race with 116 miles. I then ran Hinson Lake 24 hour and finished 2nd behind Mike Morton with 132 miles.  I learned a few days later that if I could run 140+ miles I had a shot at making the US 24 hour team. Although I thought my chances of actually making the team were slim I felt like I could run 140+ under ideal conditions. I therefore set out to improve my performance by training harder and working on the little things (weight loss, less breaks during race, better nutrition, etc.)

You had the chance to represent the USA last year at the IAU World 24 Hour Run Championships in Katowice, Poland and helped the USA take third in team standings. What was the experience like and what can you share about your teammates Mike Morton, Harvey Lewis and others?

Representing the USA in the World Championship is surreal.  It is difficult to describe the emotions I felt wearing the USA jersey and toeing the line with World Class athletes such as Yiannis Korous and Mike Morton as well as many others.  I kept wondering if it was a dream and questioning what the hell Joe Fejes was doing there.  I did however make a pact with myself before the start that I would run my ass off in case my performance could in anyway contribute to the team’s success.   I was an alternate that was running in the #6 spot so I had very little expectations or pressure to perform well.  The atmosphere of a World Championship is electric and super charged—adrenaline rush for sure.
Mike Morton-warrior, humble, quiet--motivates by actions, possesses unbelievable mental toughness and physical talent--little wonder he is in the Special Forces. 

Harvey Lewis-probably has the biggest motor on the team, fierce competitor, loves to run fast, lookout this year- I expect even bigger miles out of him.

Phil McCarthy-great roommate, consummate professional, veteran of many World Championships,  American record holder in 48 hours, quiet, he will be missed on this year’s team.

Serge Arbona-consistent, tall powerful runner, quiet, focused, capable of 160+ miles.

Jonathan Savage-encyclopedia of running knowledge, always experimenting-- always looking for ways to run better, he will also be missed on this year’s team.

What’s next on your racing calendar and what are you most looking forward to in 2013?

I am running the Palm 100k on March 23 in Fort Lauderdale and the Draggin Tail 50k in Bristol Florida on April 6  as tune ups for the 24 Hour World Championship that will be held on May 11 in Steenbergen Netherlands.  The USA team is loaded with talent this year with Mike Morton and Harvey Lewis returning along with Jon Olsen and newcomers Nick Coury and Scott Traer.  I am also super excited and very scared of attempting my first six day race in December at Across the Years in Phoenix. The three day event beat the hell out of me and I am not sure how I will fare over six days. 

What would you recommend to someone training and preparing for a 24 hour race?

Training- (1) Lose weight. (2) Run a bunch--I would recommend a minimum of 50 miles a week consistently over 6-7 days. I usually top out at about 90 miles a week primarily getting my miles in via two a day runs of 8 miles in the am and pm.  I also recommend incorporating into your training dedicated hill repeats, tempo runs and speedwork. I do not believe in tapering other than cutting back slightly on your miles- I run up until race day. (3) Race strategy is key into maximizing your mileage—you need to stay on the course as much as possible moving forward—no time for chit chat.  If you take a break during the race make sure it is planned for a purpose (potty, food, drink, rest legs, etc.) and keep it to a minimum. I also recommend that you have a race plan. I usually have simple benchmarks: 3:45 first marathon; 7:15 (50 miles); 78 miles (12 hours); 15:30 (100 miles), “balls out” last 8 hours. (4) Weight training-if you can find the time it doesn’t hurt to condition your core and supporting muscles just to give you a mental edge that you are fit from a whole body perspective; (5) Plenty of sleep the last few days before a race. 

Joe, thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions and good luck this year. I have no doubt that you will accomplish all of your goals.

Javi, thanks again for giving me the opportunity to talk shop on your blog.  Looking forward to running with you in 2013.

1 comment:

  1. This guy is pretty incredible. I watched him break the sand record in Destin, FL. Great location and place for an ultra, think I am signing up for next year!!