An active triathlete and endurance runner from Missouri, Brandon Janosky won the Howl At The Moon ultra in August 2010 by covering an absurd 53.14 miles in 8 hours. I caught up with him to talk about the mindset of the ultra endurance runner: one who decides 26.2 just isn’t enough.

Janosky holds his first-place plaque from Howl At The Moon. Photos courtesy of Brandon Janosky.

The Marathon Newbie: So how did you decide the get into ultra-marathon running? Did you always want to do it?

Brandon Janosky: Actually, no. What initially got me into it was a book I checked out by Dean Karnazes. He’s probably the most recognizable ultra-runner and he’s done a great job marketing himself and the sport. He writes entertaining books that are really easy to read—and they also make you think you can do it too. So yeah, it all started with a book I bought for $5.99. After I read it, I started to wonder how far I could run.

TMN: I assume you had already done a handful of marathons and half-marathons?

BJ: Actually, I hadn’t even done that. Most of the running was what you’ve done – training for soccer, Bloomsday every once in a while, a couple of 5ks. I knew I liked to run, so I decided to see if I liked to run a lot.

I signed up for a half [and as I was training for that], I finished a 10-mile run. I remember what it felt like – I really thought I was on top of the word, like I was the most incredible athlete. I was so excited from that, I thought surely I can survive 13.

So I ended up pushing each boundary, little by little. By 2006 I had done a couple halfs.

TMN: What do you think drove you to keep running bigger distances?

BJ: It’s harder to capture that high – and I almost think that it literally is a high – because the farther you go, the more elusive it is. You’re just not as likely to get that huge peak and feel like a million bucks. When you run 10 miles all the time, it just becomes pedestrian. You have to run 30 miles to get to that point where you feel weightless and feel like you can run forever.

TMN: What are some of the benefits of getting into those bigger distances? What’s the reaction like from other people?

BJ: As a side benefit, you also collect friends with people who “get it.” I was lucky to find a few of these guys who are all in the same boat. We like to go for a run and have a beer afterward, but everyone likes to get home by ten. They all have wives who are saints, and full-time jobs, kids, etc. They’re also borderline obsessive-compulsive people.

You can’t just run a 50k – you have to train for it. You have to eat well. You have to take care of yourself a bit better and put in a lot of time and effort. These guys are elite level—they have the ability to do it for 15-20 hours at a time.

In terms of mentioning it to other people, sometimes they think you’re looking for attention. They’ll try, but they won’t be able to wrap their brains around it. I just tell them that it’s something I have been working at it. You see someone and you mention that you’ve run 20 miles that morning, they are amazed. You just say that my heart and my legs can do it and I can do it again tomorrow.

The way I explain it to people is this: Imagine if every day you got up and ran three miles. Every day. Eventually that’s going to get really easy, right? Then you’re sitting there on the couch and you start to think, ‘Hey, I bet I can run six. I can double it.” Next thing you know, you’re doing six miles every day and, “Hey, I think I could probably double it again.” For me, after I finally run 50 miles, I thought to myself “that didn’t go so badly. I think I can double it.”

Janosky on the morning of the race.

TMN: What was it like when you finished your first ultra event?

BJ:  Pure joy and pure agony. It was the second event I had done. It was a timed event – there was a three-mile loop and you had eight hours to run as far as you can. It was in Danville, Illinois in August—temperatures between 80 and 100 degrees. You can stop if you want to and take a nap or get some treatment. You can even stop and have a margarita. The atmosphere is really wonderful; it’s really fun. It’s the largest timed ultra in the US.

At that point, I had been doing a lot of four-hour runs and I thought: I’m going to see if I can double it. It was a fun race. You don’t really know where you are in comparison to the other runners. Since people are taking breaks, you don’t know if you’re passing people.

One of my friends was pacing me and running every other lap. Toward the end, he runs up to me and meets me top of the hill and says, “Who’s got two thumbs and is pacing the lead runner? THIS GUY!!” I just say, “NO WAY.” I was totally elated and I took off running really hard.

TMN: You’d been running for so long at that point. How did you keep going?

BJ: Yeah, every step hurts real bad. You just kind of get used to it.

 

TMN: So how did it end?

I was the only one to go back out for the 16th lap and I had just enough time to finish it. Then they don’t want anyone out on the course anymore after 7 hours and 30 minutes, but there’s a quarter mile out-and-back. So from then on, you’re doing half miles.

I remember, there was 7:53 gone and I just looked at my crew and said, “I can’t do anymore. I’m done. How an earth can I run a half mile in seven and a half minutes?” They’re telling me I can do it; I’d been running around double that pace all day. But I just couldn’t figure out in my brain. There was no way. So I sat down and I stopped. I quit seven minutes early. I think I cried and curled up into a ball. When I found out I won, it was a glorious and sad moment.

Janosky and his friends before a 20-mile weekend fun run

TMN: What kind of a mind-state do you enter when you’re running? Where does your mind go?

I do some of my best thinking when I’m running. I really like the trail much more than the road. There are 4-5 us guys that are really tight. We just talk. All of us have daughters, all of us work. We all tell stories and shoot the breeze—there really isn’t much else to do on those long runs.

I’m a little banged up right now so I can’t go, but those are my favorite weekends. It’s not the races, it’s the training and spending time with those guys. The downside is that I’ll never see them if I don’t run with them. That is our time together. We don’t go out drinking. We don’t play softball. We run. If you don’t show up, you’re kind of out of the loop.

TMN: Any final thought on ultras before we finish up?

BJ: The biggest thing about ultras isn’t the event, it’s more about recovery than training. It’s really easy to go out there and run a lot or too much all the time. What’s hard is getting off your feet. Eating the right amount of protein and carbs. If you say screw it and grab a couple donuts, you might run tomorrow but it won’t be a quality run.

I think for beginners, the focus is on the miles. Maybe what they really need is get 8 hours and take a day off. There’s a more-is-more mentality that I think can be really detrimental. The really good guys can duplicate Saturday on Sunday. 30 miles, then 20 and still ready to hit it on Monday.

TMN: For me, eating what I want is pretty much the best part of training.

BJ: I did it for a couple years that way. I would just eat my face off. I mean, I was eating way more than any 160-lb should ever eat. I was fine with it

Once I wanted to qualify for Boston, though, I got serious. And it wasn’t that hard of a change – just not having the third helping of lasagna or the brownie sundae every night. I would just go a little easier on stuff. Not watching Fallon, but going to bed at 10. I had my best year of running just because I took care of myself.

Additional information:

Brandon’s own account of the race is on his blog, the Janosky Project 3.0.

Check out media coverage from Running Times and Commercial News.

Finally, to donate to my Crowdrise fundraiser, go here: www.crowdrise.com/runandyrun   

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