For the Long Haul
Leland ultrarunners Jeremy Reynolds and Jeff Winchester compete in long-distance races and motivate others to do the same.
For most of us, simply the thought of completing a marathon is exhausting. The physically demanding hours of required training and running are daunting enough to deter us from ever attempting to accept such a challenge. But for ultramarathoners and Leland residents Jeremy Reynolds and Jeff Winchester, those 26.2 miles are merely a warm-up for something truly epic.
For best friends Reynolds and Winchester running is a relatively new passion in life. The two men met in 2013 at a time when Reynolds was transitioning from an active career with the Air Force to a more sedentary office job with GE. He reached out to then-acquaintance Winchester, who had recently taken up running as a way of combating his stress and other recent health issues.
“Jeff and I really connected, and we started working out together every day,” Reynolds says. “We got into Spartan races, and I decided I really liked the running portion of them, especially the scary part of not being sure if I could do it, and the pain aspect. That’s really what got me into ultras.”
Similar to Reynolds, Winchester also realized his favorite part of the Spartan races was running, and he began training for his first marathon in 2015. Although his finish time was slower than he’d hoped, from that moment on he was hooked.
“I bombed really bad, but I loved it,” Winchester says. “I loved all the pain, maybe not at the moment but afterwards. It was a good type of discomfort, and that’s what drew me in. People hesitate because we’re afraid of pain, but that’s kind of silly, in my mind. It’s not bad to be uncomfortable, it’s just uncomfortable.”
Soon afterwards, Reynolds completed his own first marathon, and from there both men set their sights on going even farther. Winchester completed a 50K race, and then the duo ran together in the JFK 50 Mile, otherwise known as America’s oldest ultramarathon, in November of 2016. After numerous other marathons, 50Ks, 50 milers and 100Ks, both men completed their first 100-mile race at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run in Raleigh.
“For me, it’s really not about the distance,” Winchester says. “There’s this element of discomfort that makes you feel like you’re dying, but it actually makes you feel very alive. I think it’s why we’re very passionate about encouraging others to try all kinds of challenging things, not because we think everybody should suffer or because I want them to hurt, but because I think they learn so much about themselves and what they can do.”
Winchester and Reynolds both agree that races lasting sometimes more than 12 hours are more about being mentally strong than physically dominant.
Contrary to what most might imagine, ultramarathoners aren’t expected to run the entire time. Generous cutoff times and frequent aid stations mean most runners walk to some degree throughout the race.
“It becomes this negotiation with myself of keeping one foot in front of the other and asking myself how I can continue to move forward,” Reynolds says. “Like most people, I tend to get in this really deep, dark spot where I start to wonder why I’m even doing it or if I can continue, and that’s the magic in it. From a confidence standpoint, you get to know yourself and understand what you’re made of. I love feeling that ‘wow’ moment of realizing I’ve got something in me I didn’t know was there.”
Defined as any footrace longer than the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles, ultramarathons have been gaining in popularity. The number of available races, coupled with events like Wilmington’s own Southern Tour Ultra, which allow runners the option of racing in relay teams, have encouraged people of different abilities to experience ultrarunning in a fun, welcoming environment.
“These 48-hour events just seem to normalize things, because at first you show up and wonder how these other people are doing it,” Reynolds says. “Before, it was just this mythic thing that you might have read or heard about, but then you start to see seemingly average people doing things you never thought possible. I think that’s really contributed to the sport’s growth.”
This past November, Reynolds and Winchester decided to share their passion for ultras by creating their own podcast, “The Ultra Running Guys.” Their goal is to encourage others who are considering getting into the sport, because they know just what it felt like to take that first step.
“When I initially heard that people ran 100 miles, I literally thought it was a mistake,” Reynolds says.
“But I soon learned that everyday people do this all over the country, every weekend, and I realized I had put these limits on myself. Just because something seems so far away, if we take it in small, incremental steps, we can get there. Ultrarunning isn’t about being crazy good at something, it’s just about deciding you can do it.”
Both Winchester and Reynolds have several races on their calendars this year, including another 100-miler this fall. In addition, they’ll be hosting their own race called The Final Countdown on September 18 in Brunswick Nature Park. In this choose-your-own-distance run, athletes of all abilities will repeat a 1.33-mile loop, with each lap getting slightly faster than the last. Runners who don’t make it back before the timer runs out each lap will be out of the race, until only one runner returns before the completion of The Final Countdown. For Reynolds and Winchester, the ultimate goal of this type of race is to let people know that everyone is capable of doing more than they think they can.
“Effort is effort, and so if somebody is working and pushing through one mile, that’s a big deal,” Reynolds says. “It’s really about progress, not about who can do what distance, and that’s one of the things we both really value about the ultrarunning community. Sure, there’s racing that goes on, but the racing is really such a small percentage of it. Everybody out there is just so supportive, because we all recognize that we’re on our own discovery journey.”
Become an Ultrarunner
Tune in to the “The Ultra Running Guys” podcast on Audible and listen for free. Or go to the website: theultrarunningguys.com to find the podcast link, read their blog and more.
The Final Countdown Race
September 18, 8 am to 5 pm
Brunswick Nature Park, 2601 River Road SE, Winnabow
This choose-your-own-distance run for athletes of all abilities will repeat a 1.33-mile loop, with each lap getting slightly faster than the last. Runners who don’t make it back before the timer runs out each lap will be out of the race, until only one runner returns before the completion of The Final Countdown.
If you’re not interested in running, but want to check it out, volunteers are needed on race day.
Find information at theultrarunningguys.com.