Andy vs Mark are fictional characters based on two “buckets” that populate the ultrarunning community.

While Andy and Mark are not “living and breathing” human beings – their attributes exist and are inspired by real-life runners.

One of these running types is you.  To find out which, keep reading.

First, let’s get something out of the way… one is plagued by the symptoms of overtraining (constantly stressed to the max).  The other is healthy, happy, and smashing PRs.

Strap yourself in.  Grab an iced glass.  Fill it with an IPA.  Chill.

Say Hi to Andy:

Finding time to train is tricky.  But, I force into my schedule. 

A good week of training is 60 miles. 

Though I’ve been running for marathons for 4 years, I’ve only run two ultras.  The Chuckanut 50k and a 50 mile “fun run” around my neighborhood.

-Andy

Say Hi to Mark:

Like my running pal Andy, I’m new to the ultra scene.   Reading Ultramarathon Man by Dean K was a huge inspiration. 

I’ve steadily progressed from 50k to 100 miles. 

My training is pretty light.  I do what I can.  Even if it means a light walk a couple days a week.

I’m not fast.  So I use this time to decompress from the day.

-Mark

Choices

Last year, I picked up The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Endurance Training guru Dr. Phil Maffetone (infamous for coaching ultra running phenom Stu Mittleman)

I want to share a particular passage that really strikes a chord:

Consider this paragraph context for what I’ll share with you shortly.  It’ll make perfect sense later on.  A gem of wisdom that can change your life.

But, let’s get back to Andy and Mark.  There’s a striking difference between the two.  A schism that’s worth noting…

Backstory

In the spring of 2004, I was offered a track & field scholarship from the University of Cincinnati.  Like any eager high school athlete, the thought of performing on a larger stage thrilled me.

After being wowed during my official visit, I signed with the Bearcats shortly after.

That summer…while my friends were partying it up, I committed myself to pouring every ounce of energy I had into honing my skills.

Early morning runs at 6:30 per mile pace.  Lifting 3 days a week.  Bench press, squats, and abs.  Intervals on the track. 

You name it

My neighbors started calling me the “running guy”.  They’d stop me on the street.  Comment that they never saw an athlete work so hard.

They were right.  I was training my butt off…

 If I wasn’t spending time getting better, I was wasting my gift.  The latter was an option that was unacceptable.

Painted by Adam Burgess

My mom worried that I was would get injured.  That my workout habit was unhealthy.

It was no use explaining myself.  Every second spent goofing around was a missed opportunity to prepare for the college stage.

That summer passed in a blur…

In a blink of an eye, I was cozy in my new dorm room.  

…and this is when – completely blind as a bat – I stepped into the “burned out” world as an Andy.

The ANDY Role

During my “wet behind the ears” year as a freshman, I took training to an entirely new level.

I was the first practice.  Ran circles around the seniors.  Lifted my butt off.

Results?  A new freshman school record in the 800 meter.  Qualifying for the conference meet.  Everything was clicking.

Snowballing on early success, my sophomore year was an opportunity to upgraded my work ethic.

However, things started to change…

  1. I was getting slower in workouts.
  2. Race results were nowhere near the previous year.
  3. Grades (when I even made it to class) were sinking like the Titanic.

… and with the energy I could muster, I squandered it by playing Grand Theft Auto Vice City.  Usually into the wee hours of the morning.

The decline did not deter my motivation.  I was still eager as hell to get on the track to train. 

It was my addiction.  I craved the dopamine.  The bump that only high-intensity training can provide.

But each breakneck week of training led to piss poor results.

  • Back of the pack rankings
  • IT band flared up
  • Insomnia
  • Body started to quit on me
  • Constant hunger
  • Chronic dehydration
  • Severe mood swings
  • Late nights drinking $2 Budweisers

I was nowhere close to my running goals.  This was rock bottom.  I felt like tying cement to my ankles.  Then jumping off a bridge into the Ohio River.

No butts about it (truthfully, I think this vicious cycle is where most perfection-oriented ultra runners begin their ultra quest).

My hair-brained process resembled as follows:

This methodology depleted my energy faster than you can say, uncle.  It’s the essence of “no pain, no gain” mindset.

You’ve heard this story before.

Our mood swings, constant pangs of hunger, loading up on sweets, avoidance of friends and family …

…Is daily proof of this perpetual cycle of doom.

Without knowing how to end this cycle of overtraining.  I hopelessly watch myself plunder

Junior year results?

Horrid.

Downright ugly…

Performance?

Embarrassing.

One fateful night, partying with friends, was the nail in the coffin…

It happened a week before the start of the season.  I was riding my skateboard at night.  I lost control of the board.  Landed on my knee. 

The aftermath was a torn patella tendon and a nasty gash (2 inches long) across my kneecap.

My only option was to redshirt.

Training?

Non-existent.  Zilch.  Nadda.  No way.

For the first time in my life, I was forced to stop.  To slow down long enough to reevaluate.  It took an injury to do it.

Though my experience was “track” related, my approach to training was the same as the fictional role of Andy.

It took losing everything to realize being an Andy was the fastest road to disaster.

The MARK Role

Mark is a total 180 to Andy.

Mark has a firm handle on his zeal for training.  Training doesn’t consume his life.

He recognizes the importance of recovery.  He values his low key moments.

His mantra i “no pain.  No gain”.  Instead, it’s “do no harm”.

Mark’s philosophy:

In training, Mark doesn’t go all out.  That’s not aligned with his approach to building endurance.

Instead, Mark focuses on crafting a strong aerobic system…plenty of slow and easy running that snowballs on itself.

His #1 priority is to build a rock solid base.

Mark’s done the research.  He knows that his body has two fuel tanks.  One that burns sugar.  The other that burns fat.

He’s studied enough to know that his sugar based tank has a short shelf life.  3 minutes of all energy. 

Whereas, his fat based tank has enough energy to propel him for days on end.

He knows that improving his aerobic function takes time.  Sure, he’d love to be faster today.  But, knows that putting in the work now will yield favorable results in the long run.

Paradigm Shift

“No pain, no gain” is sexy.  Sex sells.  The sports industry makes a killing spewing this cancerous campaign.  It’s not healthy.

During my injury (had a lot of time to think), I was presented with this truth.  It all made sense.

I reshaped myself into a holistic athlete.

My progress was slow indeed.  But, after healing up and treating my training with care.  I was able to make a complete comeback.

With two years left of eligibility, I used my time wisely and trained with the mantra to do no harm.

By the end of the season, I won 3 races and qualified for the Big East Championships.

Senior year saw similar results.  I was named a team captain.  Matched my PR.   And catapulted my GPA by one letter grade.

Most importantly, I was more energized to seize the day.  A zeal for life that improved relationships with friends and family.

A major feat for an athlete who was once rock bottom.

After graduation, I channeled this approach to ultrarunning.  For me, the sport symbolized the philosophy of slow and steady.

As I fell in love with slowing down (transitioning to barefoot running helped with this), I’ve given myself more time to dig deeper into my newfound long-distance passion.

I’ve even gone so far as cleaning up my diet.  No small victory for a self-proclaimed sugar addict. 

By switching to my more life-affirming foods and consciously building an aerobic base, I’ve stopped the perpetual cycle of overtraining.

This process has led to achieve my ultra race goals.  Notably, running across the USA (Just like Forest), finishing the Badwater 135, clinching a win at the Across the Years 48 Hour Run, and a few more…

Wrapping it Up

An Andy views training as a chance to inflict pain – where results lead to stress and injury.

Andy is an “occasional” ultrarunner.  Occasional because of the consistent strain working out places on his body and mind.

Some days he shows up.  Others days he’s too taxed to make it out the door. 

For each run missed, the more excuses govern his life.

The big sports brands are keen on Andy’s ways.  They pimp the no pain no gain slogan just for him.  They know that a new gadget or shoe will feed his need to prove himself.

It’s all short-term.  It doesn’t solve the deeper issue.

Marks are different.  They are the 1%.

A Mark understands that pain is to be avoided.  He doesn’t sacrifice his health for speed.

He groks that endurance is a long-term asset.

His goal is to be running happy and injury free for decades to come.  

From the middle-of-the-packers, newbies training for their first ultras, to the elites acing huge race performances.  Though the 1%, Marks are everywhere. 

It begins with a holistic mindset (you don’t have to be a superhuman to think this way).  Results are gained by committing yourself to constant improvement. 

I’ll finish with this

Andy and Marks have many dimensions.

There are Andys of the world who are happy as all hell to be an Andy.  They are addicted to the thrill of speed workouts, lackluster refined foods, and racing every weekend.

If they hit a PR (only to DNF three weeks after), they chalk that as a win.  

Many Andys purposefully act this way.  But, are fed up with the burnout.    But, don’t know how to make the change.  They know the Marks of the world.  They may secretly want to be one.  They just don’t know where to start.

All is not lost for the Andys.

Marks build endurance holistically.  Some Marks even go on to win races.  

…. but the philosophy of Mark never changes.  Cultivating endurance is a long game.

The Marks who are crushing it:

  • Focus on building their aerobic system.  Take training day by day.  Individualize their approach.
  • Ditch refined foods and sugary treats.  Consciously craft their diet so that it enhances their sleep, energy, and well-being.

… and the most valued Mark trait is that they are using running as a vehicle to explore their mind-body connection.

Here’s a how Scott Jurek, arguably the Babe Ruth of ultrarunning, puts it:

“I’m convinced that a lot of people run ultramarathons for the same reason they take mood-altering drugs. I don’t mean to minimize the gifts of friendship, achievement, and closeness to nature that I’ve received in my running carer.

But the longer and farther I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind – a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.”  

This state of mind is the gateway to optimal health, training, and racing.

To name of few who are leading the way Zach Bitter, Bob Hearn, Andre Snope…

It’s a mindset.  It’s a lifestyle.

No right or wrong.  Just a careful consideration of what you seek on a deeper level.

And for you?

Do you operate like an Andy or a Mark?

This your crossroads (read the passage Dr. Phil Maffetone’s passage at the top).

No matter the outcome, be ok with it.

My turning point was fated by injury.  Who knows how long I would have blindly beaten myself into submission (like Andy) without knowing there was another way (like Mark).

Ten years ago, I upgraded my mindset.  That was what was right for me at the time.  It has paid off in experiences more valuable than gold.

My intention is to treat my body with care.  To listen to its voice and celebrate its progress.  To reject the masses spewing no pain, no pain.  To witness adaptations (physical, mental, spiritual, emotional) and ask of it only what it instructs of me.

My intention is to be here for the long run.  To cherish the gift of movement before I peace out forever.

If this resonates…

There’s still time.  It’s not too late.  Are you up for a ready for an upheaval? 

Your paradigm shift is one click away.

-Barefoot Alex

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