Smile or You’re Doing it Wrong

Ultra marathoner Andrew Glaze shares how its not just about smiling through the pain, but learning to actually enjoy the experience.

Ultra Marathon Smile or you're doing it wrong

There are many routes in which people find their way into endurance sports. One of the most common trends is the progression through running. It’s a tale as old as time: an athlete starts running for exercise and signs up for a local 5k, then a 10k. They test their medal in a half marathon or two. Eventually they sign up for a full marathon. Where do you go from there? 

Fire Captain Andrew Glaze knows this conundrum all too well. As someone that has been running his entire adult life, Glaze has experienced it all from small local races to large production marathons. He was a competitive OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) participant in the Tough Mudder series, and spent a number of years competing in triathlons. With each race completed, there was more left to be desired. 

A New Path is Discovered

In November of 2015, Glaze signed up for a unique type of race, a 24 hour Tough Mudder, the basis of which was to cover as much ground and as many obstacles in a 24 hour period as possible.

“In preparation I started doing 50k ultras as training runs.” With many of these races being set off-road, Glaze spent more and more of his time on trails vs. pavement. 

This uncovered a passion for ultra running and eventually, Glaze transitioned from OCR to ultra marathons. To date Glaze has completed 45 races over the 50 mile distance, including four 100 mile races in the first eight weeks of 2022. He achieved a PR at his most recent race for that distance: 17 hours and 23 minutes. 

A Budding Sport 

An ultra race is defined as any running race that is longer than a 26.2 mile marathon. The most common race distances include 50 Kilometer (31.07 miles), 50 miles, 100 Kilometers (62.5 miles) and 100 miles. However there are a number of longer races, with distances upwards of 257 miles, including  the Cocodona 250 –a point to point race from the Phoenix area to Flagstaff, Arizona. 

“It’s great, we have people like Cameron Hanes and David Goggins promoting the sport,” said Glaze. Both men are well known endurance athletes who have shared quite a bit about the benefits of ultra training. The sport has seen tremendous growth, with a 345% increase in the last 10 years

Most of the major US ultra events are what’s called ‘point to point’, meaning the course starts and ends in two different places. Given the size of these races (50 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles), most of them are done in state national parks that offer the scale and terrain necessary. 

This in itself presents a challenge to the sport. Glaze shared, “The challenge with ultra running in the US, is federal and state lands limit the number of people that can be on the land at the same time. This caps the number of participants that can sign up.”

This supply and demand, along with race logistics also contributes to another challenge: the price tag. The Cocadona 250 carries a $1,800 entry fee. 

Not for the Faint of Heart

Training to be an ultra runner is a task in itself. In addition to being a full time Fire Captain at La Verne Fire Department in California, Glaze fits in a training program that would make most people’s heads spin. 

“I wake up every morning at 2:30 am so I can get my morning run in, which is at least 20 miles.” 

When he gets back, he has his breakfast and heads out to work. Upon returning home, he spends time with his family before heading back out for his evening 10 mile run or weight training session. 

“I only sleep four and a half hours a night, I don’t suggest other people do that, but it works for me,” said Glaze. 

All told, the average week for Glaze includes 30 to 35 hours of training covering 150 to 200 miles of running. In March of this year, Glaze completed his 105th straight week of running 100 miles or more. 

A Mental Game

The physical demands of being an ultra runner are high but they pale in comparison to the mental challenge of the sport, both in training and in racing. 

To be an ultra runner, you must build up your aerobic engine, which is most effectively done during low intensity workouts… long, slow, training.  

“When I first started running slow, it was hard psychologically and felt like people were judging me. I would get comments on my Strava,” said Glaze. “Most of my training was 12 to 13 minute miles even though my average race pace is a 9 minute mile.” 

However even at low intensity, 20 to 30 miles a day will take its toll on the body. “I rarely feel fresh. I am always sore and I have to run slowly.” 

Glaze said pushing through the pain plays a psychological role in his training. “Ultra is basically all mental once you get to mile 70 or so. That feeling of being so sore and so broken.” This type of mental training prepares him for physical breakdowns.

Smile or You’re Doing it Wrong

One of Glaze’s missions is to use his running experiences and social media to spread the positivity of what being active can do for a person. “In my 20’s, I didn’t live the healthiest lifestyle and it caught up with me.” Running became his antidote and he wants to share that message with the world. 

At the end of every post on social media, Glaze signs off with, “Smile or you are doing it wrong,” which originated from a popular yet challenging segment on Strava. 

“Every time I run it, I’m smiling ear to ear. And one time it came to me, If you’re not smiling, you’re doing it wrong. You’re out there, you’re not at work, you trained for this, you worked for this.”

Glaze’s message, “Embrace the positivity and the happiness of what’s going on right now. It will change the outlook of the race altogether. If I smile at someone and that makes them smile, it starts the butterfly effect and who knows what could happen.” 

“There’s nothing I love more in life than running…besides my wife that is.”