Interview with a Powerlifter/Ultra Runner
Suzanne Taylor attends UNC Chapel Hill and in addition to her double major in Geography and computer Science she is a member of two athletic clubs at the UNC.
Interestingly though, Suzanne’s chosen clubs are located at the absolute opposite ends of the athletic spectrum; Power Lifting and the Marathon Running clubs. My guess was that she is the only person to be a member on both clubs. She confirmed, “Yes, I am the only person who is part of both marathon and lifting clubs. Marathon club members poke fun at strength training and powerlifters hate on cardio so being in both groups is certainly entertaining.”
As an endurance sport and strength training coach, I appreciate the rarity of this. I can also appreciate that finding an athlete who is drawn to these two pursuits that exist at either ends of the spectrum, it is certainly going to be an interesting conversation.
When I first saw Suzanne, I first noticed her composure and focus as she was lifting. Quietly loading the barbell on the squat rack with an impressive 200 plus pounds, her following actions were a stark contrast. Once under the bar, she proceeded to knock out 5 solid repetitions. Neatly rack the barbell and calmly walk away to spot her lifting buddy. I thought to myself, ok this young lady if for real.
Curiously, I inquired if she was lifting as her focus or if she was training for a sport. Her answer surprised me. “I like Ultramarathons.” An ultramarathon is a 100-mile running race. It is harder than hard core running and breaking 24 hours is a common goal for this distance. Suzanne has three (3) Ultras to her credit.
However, Suzanne’s big goal this summer is the RDR200 which is a 200-mile running race that takes place in Ohio. For this event, there is a 90-hour time limit. Wait, what? 90 hours?! Doubling the distance of what is an incomprehensible 100-mile distance is consistent with the mindset that makes Suzanne who she is. “I am drawn to running more, to go farther.”
Like many runners, she loves the solitude of getting away and existing in that world of your own thoughts while running. Trail running is her preferred surface. Checking through her training log I humorously, yeah, not many runners would join you on a 40-mile training run. So best to be able to thrive in the solitude that long distance trail runs offer. Or shall I say demand.
I checked out the website for the RDR200 and looked at the list of entrants. First, not a lot of runners had signed up for this extreme event. Second, Suzanne was by far the youngest athlete to sign up. The athlete closest to her in years was twice her age. Endurance sports commonly attract athletes in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and even the 70 plus crowd. Peak performance currently comes in around age 35. That leaves our athlete with over a decade and a half to ascend the ranks.
While talking to Suzanne, I sensed a maturity and composure that is beyond her years. It’s not surprising to find that she creates and tracks her training in a well thought out and methodical manner. But it is the exception when you find out how well planned it is when she told me about her training.
She uses some key technology to help her with training. Google docs are used for plotting her training on a weekly basis. She uses Gravitus for her weight training work and then Strava to track her running. She also proudly displays a COROS watch on her wrist which is the lightest GPS watch on the market. She handed it to me to check the weight. Feather light. Funny detail, the COROS watch only has a 30-hour limit which adds a bit of a hitch when you are looking to use it for a 90-hours straight in an event.
Once I wrapped my head around the day’s long duration of the RDR200 miler, I asked her about strategy. Two major components are sleep and nutrition. Her plan is to sleep about 5 hours after the first 100 miles. And then 1 to 2.5 hours there after until the finish line.
For fuel, she has a definite advantage in that she has found that she has an iron stomach. A clear advantage because if you can’t fuel (eat) you will not finish and event such as this. She will consume everything from fruit to ramen noodles and sandwiches. Sports drink will be a must and holding everything down as one pushes the human body to its limits is essential. It is going to be a heck of a stretch of days to say the least.
Training. Suzanne is that choice athlete who enjoys both training and competition. In training, she relies on her high sense of intrinsic motivation. And in competition, she loves that extrinsic motivation of going up against all other competitors.
A typical training week consists of 6 runs per week and 3 lifting days per week. After decades of training endurance athletes, I was very impressed as she shared her program details at how consistent the program she has created is consistent with the best programs that are laid out by a knowledgeable coach. In running, she has one or quality running day where she is on the track and performs something like 6-10 x 800 repeats. There is one long run weekly and other runs are relatively shorter and low intensity.
Again, keep in mind that she also trains for maximum strength. Although endurance athletes are very wise to incorporate weight resistance training. It looks very different from a lifters workout for competitive Powerlifting. Suzanne smartly adjusts her training phases. When she is on a higher volume of run training for example, she will deemphasize her lifting and vice versa.
I am grateful to have been able to sit and talk to Suzanne. In the hundreds of athletes I have had the pleasure of meeting, she holds all the key ingredients for success. Confidence, motivation, organization and all in a wonderfully respectful manner and good dose of humbleness. She has a true love for what she does, and it shows.
I truly appreciate the opportunity to learn about truly amazing athletes and thank Suzanne for sharing her story with me.
I hope you enjoyed this article and our glimpse into the world of an athlete who has impressive range and breadth.
Suzanne’s Running Highlights
Myrtle Beach Marathon
FKT Stone Mountain – Grandfather Mountain 100 Miler
Power Lifting Bests
Bench Press 130
Links to the technology referenced.