Q: Basically, how do you feel after you've finished running 100 miles?
A: My feet are beat up. Blisters under my feet and my toes are bruised from kicking rocks. I stub my toes a bunch of times. The rest of me is fine, normal.
Q: How tall are you?
A: Five feet six, 115 pounds. I've been racing up in the 120 range and that's where I really like to be, but when the heat comes on, I drop weight. I just can't keep it on. This week I was down around 113.
Q: What kind of eating do you have to do to keep your weight up like that?
A: I've been a vegetarian for 14 years and a strict vegetarian for almost four. No fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, butter, milk, yogurt. Originally it was a way of rebelling. But I just was healthier eating a vegetarian diet than I was eating steak and potatoes. I used to stop eating dairy products two weeks before a race to give my lungs a break because dairy products trash out your lungs. When I started well in races, I thought, well, why start eating cheese again and milk? The hard time being a strict vegetarian is the cold weather when you're susceptible to bad circulation and what I call protein fatigue. You don't have enough protein and your fingertips are cold and your nose is cold and you're just rundown. So I eat a lot of soy protein. I eat half a pound a day of soy protein.
Q: How do you feel when you do eat red meat?
A: It's been 14 years. I wouldn't know, I don't consider it food any more.
Q: Can you usually tell from the very outset of a race whether you're on or not?
A: Totally. I ran a race the first weekend in May that was my worst day in a race in a year and I knew in the first mile because I was fighting and struggling to get 6:15 miles out and usually I can run strings of them. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't get a rhythm, I couldn't get anything going. I hung in there, ended in coming in third. I finally got in gear 30 miles out. But it was not my day.
Q: Why do you think that was?
A: Because I was staying at a friend's house the night before the race which was full of people staying up all night smoking dope and cigarettes and my lungs were crashed from inhaling that crap all night.
Q: When did you start running and what's the appeal in this?
A: Running, even this kind of running, is probably the least stressful thing going down in my life. It's my personal time. It's a good way to meet people that I have an affinity with. I never was a good competitor. I'm 27 years old. I didn't compete effectively until I was 23. I had no coaching, nothing.
I was the runt of the class, the one who was picked on all the time for being too little to pick a fight, too little to do this, do little to do that. Running to me is just a way of expressing the divine within us and it's a way that makes me comfortable. It gives me a chance to go places and see things I otherwise wouldn't see. So it's a good rationale for a lot of things that I need in my life. I would be no good at competition if I didn't enjoy running. I just enjoy it.
Q: So it's not a competition for the sake of competition, but something inside?
A: We're not competing with each other. Someone always wins. In some parts of the country it's kind of cutthroat. In the South it's more family. If someone has a better day than you, your goal is to be the first person there to shake their hand. Northern runners are a little bit more, I would say uptight, basically. Just not cool, not relaxed. You go to ultras in the South, it's the opposite story. We have a gas. Maybe 20 or 30 of us go to a lot of races and see each other and it's like family. Everybody who starts is a champion in their own way for having the guts to go try.
Q: What's the psychological difference being a leader in a race makes?
A: I prefer to run from the lead. Most people don't, it's the difference between being the stalker or the stalkee. But you see, I don't race against other people, I just run my race and I've been to so many races when people said, "Warshawer is here, he's fast, he's gonna do this, he's gonna do that." They adapt their race to mine and they get beat, destroyed.
Q: What's the difference between running your race and running a race based on the other strategist?
A: Some people start slow, have a good stretch in the middle and then fade. Some people come up strong at the end. Everybody knows their nature as a runner. I start strong, stay strong and fade some in the last 20 percent of a race. I just don't even think about what's going on behind me. I couldn't care. And they're worrying about me -- how's he looking, how's he doing. I've learned a few tricks -- whenever you go through an aide station you suck in your gut and pull out your chest and look chipper and all that. "How you feelin?" "Just great, just great." Then the word passes back, he looks great, he looks great. I won a couple races by looking great when I felt like s--t because no one found out how bad I felt until the race was over.
Q: It strikes me that there's a whole lot involved mentally.
A: The longer the race the more that's true. That's why I think these races are so much more strategic than marathons. I've probably run a dozen marathons. I've run twice as many ultras at least. The marathon is a burn, the gun goes off, you run your ass off and if you keep your s--t together, you don't die and if you don't you die, you finish. I don't much enjoy them. I don't have a fast twitch muscle in my body, biomechanically speaking. What I've got is a heart that lasts and lasts and lasts. And I've got good concentration. Most ultrarunners are a lot older than I am. There's a contingent of late 20s ultrarunners in the U.S. that are good but most of the good ultrarunners are in their late 30s and 40s. Too many young runners don't have the mental discipline or maturity to make up strategy, to learn from their mistakes, to not take every failure like the end of the world. All of us are burned-out non- marathoners, people who were unsuccessful in the marathon, competitively speaking.
Q: When did you start running?
A: When I was in college I used to run with a guy every afternoon five or six miles. I just started doing it at often as I could, running 14 and 15 miles in a day in the morning before work. I lived in Santa Fe and I'd go right up in the mountains and disappear and I'd end up up on top of some peak looking out over the city. That's what really got me running, the beauty of the places I could run. The good places to run are real spiritual. The mountains are so high and so wild. I used to see wild animals all the time. You'd go running through a herd of deer and they'd stand there and watch you run by. Maybe an ear or two would twitch but they didn't have any reason to move.
Q: How many miles have you worked up to now?
A: At that point I was training 25 miles a day and now I'm running half that. I was easily injured and incredibly anorexic. I weighed 105. I felt strong. Running is kind of a positive addiction because I had drug problems for a few years and I got real paranoid: You are either going to become a criminal or you are suicidal and you have to change your whole life and you have to do it now. It's not going to wait until you feel like it because if you wait until you feel like it, you are never going to do it. So I disappeared into the mountains in southern New Mexico and hid out for a couple of weeks without any drugs, sat in the hot springs and ran.
Q: Was this like your classic recreational cocaine?
A: Exactly. It'll eat you alive. Cocaine's a monster. From 13 to 23 I probably smoked more dope than some people smoked cigarettes. When I was a recreational jogger, running my occasional three-hour and 20-minute marathon I would smoke a half a gram of hash the night before a race.
Q: That didn't interfere?
A: Sure. It took probabl a quarter or third of the race to clear my lungs. But that just meant I started slow and finished faster. What can you say? You can rationalize anything.
Q: So the turnaround was -- ?
A: Stark reality. You get up one morning and you look at that person in the mirror and you say, "Are you going to be stupid the rest of your life or what?" I didn't see any choice. I couldn't afford the luxury of being in therapy for years. And I sure couldn't afford the cost and the repercussions of being a druggie. I'd already been that for long enough. And that balancing act probably has to give at some point. I was a darn good soccer player even when I was stoned out of my mind all the time. But now it's been since before I moved to Atlanta on June 4, 1984 that I stopped smoking. This is the longest since I was 13 years old that I've gone without smoking a reefer. It masked pain. A part of your frontal mind which deals with numbers and hassles and gripes gets shut off.
Q: What about stepping back and looking at some of these people that run six-day races, people who are pushing themselves to that limit, what's the difference between that and a 10K weekend runner?
A: None, except dedication. There's nothing in the world that could stop anybody that runs the 10K from running a 100-mile race, from my point of view. Nothing in the world. It's just mind over matter.
Ultramarathoners are people from all walks of life, all corners of the earth that have something in common, that otherwise would never be there. We have a doctor in our little group. We have a guy from Tennessee who's a full-fledged total hippie. He'll pull off the race and have a cigarette in the middle of a race. He's a nut case. In a multi-day race, he'll hit the tent and hide out and smoke a joint before he comes back on. And he's not bad. These airborne, special forces guys, they're a gas. It's adventurism, a combination of adventurism and survivalism. You have to admit, if you go out there and run a hundred miles, you get up the next day and go, "No matter what they throw at me, I can handle it. Guess what I just did?" You sit back there and you go, "Uh huh, go ahead, make my day. What do you got that I can't handle. Nothing." That's how I am at work, too. It infuriates people.
Q: What do you do when you start feeling pain? Have you ever had any serious injuries?
A: I've had plenty of serious injuries. In a 24-hour I ran (a while ago), I was hurting from the first step. My right ankle was a mess and I could not figure out why. So, I taped an icepack to it and kept running. You can only block so much. Aspirin helps and sometimes you just have to stop, put your feet back, lay down on your back and just breath and let the blood the rush to your feet and take five minutes with your feet up and you'd be amazed. It's almost like you've been sleeping for an hour. If I had pain that was so extreme, then I'd stop, but in one 48-hour race that I ran, my right knee started hurting, so I taped an ice pack to it and started running, it smoothed right out and then 14 or 15 hours later it happened again and that time I couldn't smooth it out, so I walked. I just walked the rest of the race, six hours of walking. It turned out the problem was my hips were out of line. I had a chiropractor adjustment two nights later and there was no more knee pain. Basically I have a lot of faith in the body's inherent strength and that if you're well conditioned you can work your way through most pain. If the pain becomes so intense that it's unbearable, then stop. You know, there's a little bit of psychology about not finishing races. A lot of people torment themselves over races they don't finish and I just figure if you don't finish your race, it means you'll ready for the next one sooner because you won't have beaten yourself so bad.
Q: If you tell someone in the street you run a hundred miles most people would be ready to send you off to an insane asylum.
A: If they write you off that quick you wouldn't want to get close to them anyway. It's kind of a good litmus test. How does a person react to the fact that you have this weird avocation. If they react too weird you go, well, it's nothing personal but I guess we really don't have that much to share.
Q: How much of this is mental and how much is physical?
A: You have to be strong for your mental capacity to be of any merit. The strength comes first and most anyone can develop it. But the mental capability actualizes the physical strength into results.
Q: What's your next favorite thing in life?
A: Sex and food, those are high up there on the list. I love to eat, and sleep. Good sleeper, one of the best. Oh, ride my convertible with the top down, good old American virtues. I was such a radical when I was a kid. I'm older, I guess. An old college buddy said to me, "So when did you sell out?" '81 is when I think I really sold out. He said, "I sold out in about '80 myself."
Q: Ten years from now, are you going to be running ultramarathons?
A: God yeah! Shoot, I'll just be getting good then.