Going the Distance
Since this article appeared in the Spring 2013 Colby-Sawyer Magazine, Zak Wieluns has become the subject of the documentary '100: Head/Heart/Feet' by Mike Mooney '02 and Will Peters '06. See the film trailer here.
Zak Wieluns '02 remembers the first time he attempted distance running, and why it was the summer after graduating from Colby-Sawyer. It was a seven- or eight-mile run around Little Lake Sunapee, and I was dying at the end of it. My roommates were rolling on the floor laughing when I came back from trying to impress my new girlfriend. A decade later, that girlfriend, Lenka Jakabcinova Wieluns '02, is his wife, and Wieluns has transformed himself into an ultrarunner.
Wieluns ran his first marathon in 2003. I had no idea what I was doing, he recalls, and it hurt. From that experience, he learned the importance of proper training, and since then has run four more marathons. He also ran a snowshoe marathon, a grueling test of endurance with a course set up and down a mountain in Pittsfield, Vt. As impressive as those feats may be, Wieluns was just getting started.
Ultrarunning refers to distances greater than a marathon (26.2 miles), with typical events extending to 50 or 100 miles. Unlike road races, ultraraces mostly take place on trails, hills and mountains.
It's a totally different mindset and a different type of training, says Wieluns. For most ultra distances you're looking at a minimum of four hours. In 100-mile races you can be out there more than 30 hours.
Wieluns, who lives in Portland, Maine, had one of his best runs this past October when he took second place in the Big Brad Ultra, a 50-mile ultrarace held at Bradbury Mountain in Southern Maine. His strong performance had him crossing the finish line in a brisk nine hours and 30 minutes.
Despite his successes, Wieluns still has one challenge to overcome. His nemesis is the Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run, held each July in West Windsor. Twice he has attempted this arduous run, but the first time, a cyst on the back of his knee burst. On his second attempt, he reached the 92-mile mark and his body just shut down. This summer will show if the third time is the charm. It's a very humbling sport, he says with a laugh. It's a very personal thing. You get to learn what you're really made of, inside and out.