Going the Distance

In the wee morning hours, when the sun has yet to burn off the fog along the bay, and at night, when moon and stars take their places in the northern skies, you see them on the road. Whether they're on foot or cycle, alone or in groups, in any given season you're bound to notice the local professionals who trade their neckties and heels for spandex, running shoes and the chance to push their mental and physical endurance to the limits. The TCBN caught up with three competitors to find out what drives them and how they manage the rigors of training with their successful careers.

Adrianne Whittaker Hagerty Insurance

Knowing that the pain will pass pushes 31-year-old Adrianne Whittaker through fatigue and the agony of screaming quad muscles during events like Iron Man, which she recently finished with her husband, Jason, in Wisconsin.

"You have highs and lows throughout event, but knowing the exhilaration of the finish takes all of that pain away," says Adrianne.

In preparation for the 140.6 mile run-cycle-swim triathlon, for eight months Adrianne began most work days at Hagerty Insurance (she is a Private Client Services Account Executive) only after an intense morning training session.

"The biggest challenge (with training) isn't the time, but just fitting each little piece into your schedule. I'd get up and swim in the morning, come to work, then go home and run or ride after work," says Adrianne.

Having completed marathons since she began competing in 2006, Adrianne decided Iron Man would be a challenge not only in distance, but in skill level too. For thirty minutes, three times each week she swam with a coach at the Civic Center pool and in the waters of East Bay. Three other days Adrianne took to the roads of Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau County by bike, and another three were focused on running routes around town.

Deciding to enter her first ultramarathon came after having achieved her goal of "just completing" the 2006 Traverse City Bayshore Marathon, followed by one in Detroit. In 2008 Adrianne surprised herself when she finished the Bayshore with a better time than in training, which qualified her for the renowned Boston Marathon the following year. Unfortunately, the night before that event, Adrianne came down with sudden flu, denying her rest and making each mile of the race more miserable than the next. Although she says she didn't really enjoy the run as a result of her illness, she still finished, with the support of fellow runner and husband, Jason, who stayed just ahead of her throughout the day.

In full health, Adrianne emerged from the water during Iron Man, 26 minutes before Jason, only to be surprised when he rode up next to her near the end of the bike portion. Unplanned this time, the pair continued on foot and crossed the finish line together. Adrianne says she competes solely for the challenge of completing a race, but "the coolest thing was being able to finish with my husband."

Norm Plumstead Honor Bank

Norm Plumstead says he simply would not be able to compete in ultramarathons without the support his wife and their two young sons provide while he trains five to six days each week. A runner herself, Norm's wife also crews for him during events, including the 100-mile Kettle Moraine trail race, which he completed in just over 24 hours this past June. In order to spend more time with his family, training sessions before work vary between 35 and 90 minutes. On weekends, away from his post as vice president/branch administrator and Traverse City Marketplace Circle branch manager for Honor Bank, Norm gets in a few hours to complete the 60 miles he trains each week. While racing, he says continued motivation comes from a desire to not have the time spent away from family to go for naught.

"I think about the time I've put in and the sacrifices that family has made for me to give me that time to train, and so I try to use that to stop feeling sorry for myself and push on through. Typically you do feel better – most of the time it's just a patch and it gets better," he says.

Norm has been running for thirteen years, competing in a dozen marathons and a handful of 50 milers and 50k races. After having the confidence he would finish each marathon, he challenged himself to improve his times. In 2000, Norm ran a marathon in Madison, Wisconsin hoping to complete the race in the three hours and ten minutes needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He crossed the finish line with a time of 3:10:10. The disappointment he felt coming in ten seconds shy his goal, lasted until the next day when he learned of a 59-second leeway, meaning he qualified "just by the skin of my teeth" for the event the following year.

The past three years, Norm gradually built up to ultramarathons. "I was looking for the next step – a progression in my running. As my times leveled off, I instead looked for a different way of challenging myself and that came through extending the distance," Norm says.

Norm's next challenge comes by way of Africa. He and a handful of fellow runners – most from Traverse City- are currently training for a 400-kilometer run across Southern Ethiopia to raise funds and awareness for Ethiopian education.

Chris Girrbach Pangea Pizza

Chris Girrbach will join Norm Plumstead in the Race Across Ethiopia which begins January 8, 2011 and spans 12 days. The 31-year-old Traverse City entrepreneur who co-owns Pangaea Pizza and Great Lakes Potato Chip Company started competing in triathalons during his junior year of college. His interest was spurred by a friend who had won the Boulder Iceman event.

Today, along with his wife and two children, friends are still proving a key factor in Chris' motivation to compete in ultramarathons. "Running with a group keeps you going. It's fun. There are always times when you wish you could stop, but when you have other people that are running, they kind of help motivate you, so it's pretty easy when you have a big group of people you run with," he says.

Preferring to train near his home on the base of Old Mission Peninsula or along the VASA and Boardman Lake trails, Chris runs or bikes early mornings and late nights six days each week, averaging 60 to 70 miles each week. Despite being an accomplished cyclist and runner who has completed Detroit Marathons, the Bayshore race and many others, Chris says he isn't looking for a big win when competing.

"I'm not a super competitive person, so I do it mostly because I really enjoy it. If I never won a race or even came in the top five, I'd still be happy because I just like doing it with friends," he says.

He and his friends are currently training for the long distances they'll cover during the race in Ethiopia, though some things Chris says will be tough to adjust to, like the high altitude, culture differences and food. Considering his business, when asked how the owner of pizza and potato chip companies remains dedicated to fitness, Chris relays his belief in living life with moderation.

"I drink beer. I eat chips, pizza and hot dogs, but I don't extensively do any of those. I think everything in moderation is the key to life. If I didn't eat a pepperoni pizza once in a while and watched everything I ate, I wouldn't be happy," he says.

Chris invites the public to enjoy his pizza and learn more about Run Across Ethiopia during an open house at Pangea's on October 2 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. More information on the run can be found at onthegroundglobal.org.