Past and Present New Paltz Runners Compete in Marathons

Running 100 kilometers is no easy feat. For those of us that do not utilize the metric system, that is a little over 62 miles. A run like that is not even considered a marathon, it is considered an ultra-marathon, which is any running distance that exceeds 26.219 miles. That may seem nearly impossible, but earlier this year on Jan. 9, three members of the New Paltz community did just that.

Jason Friedman, Kali Bird and Phil Vondra all participated in the Bandera Endurance Run down in Texas. The run went through the Hill Country State Preserve near San Antonio. The course is mostly desert, and runners exceeded more than 7,000 feet of elevation gain. The blistering temperatures of the ultra-marathon only make it all the more difficult, but thankfully the weather was mild this year.

Despite the challenge, all three runners fared very well. Bird finished 12th in the female division with a time of 13:31. According to an interview from The New Paltz Times, Friedman explained that this was “her first run ever, longer than 31 miles.” Vondra came in second in the men’s 45-to-49 age group, earning him a lottery ticket for the Western States 100. The  Western States 100, one of the four races that make up the U.S. Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, is so exclusive that less than 400 runners are allowed to participate. But 270 of those slots are awarded via lottery, and Vondra earned one of the 3,000 lottery tickets that are handed out.

Friedman, who finished with a time of 9:23 which was good for fifth overall for the men and second in the Masters’ division, explained that part of his decision to compete in the Bandera was for a chance to compete in the Western States 100.

“One of the main reasons I chose Bandera is because it’s one of the qualifiers for the Western States 100, which is the largest and most prestigious 100 mile race in the country,” Friedman said.

After his performance in the Bandera, Friedman earned a spot in the 2017 Western States lottery.

Friedman also has ties to the Athletics Department at SUNY New Paltz. He served as an assistant coach and a volunteer coach for current Hawks cross-country head coach Mike Trunkes from 2007-08, Trunkes’ first two seasons at the helm.

“The program had been struggling a bit and Mike [Trunkes] really got them on the path back to success,” Friedman said. “He and I disagreed at times on our approaches — I was usually advocating slower, easy miles, where Mike [Trunkes] generally wanted the teams running fast, and hard workouts more often than I would’ve liked. But I think we found a nice balance and started to build a good program.”

One of the runners Friedman worked with was Nichole Wischoff, who graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 2013. She is a member of the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Hall of Fame, and to date is the only runner in program history to compete in the NCAA Div. III Cross-Country Championships. Currently, Wischoff is preparing to participate in the Boston Marathon that will take place on Monday, April 18. She explained that the transition from running in college to running in a marathon is a transition from working with a team to working as an individual.

“Running in New Paltz was running for a team,” Wischoff said. “I was a part of something. When I wasn’t motivated for myself, I found that motivation in my coach and my team. We all showed up. It wasn’t just me out there all alone training like a crazy person for no reason. Running post-college has its perks. I don’t have to run a workout if I don’t want to. [But] it’s truthfully a lot harder to stick to something so tough when you’re doing it alone. The difference now is that no one really cares how I do, but I care. No one is at the finish line but me. In a sick and crazy way, that’s all that matters to me at this point.”

Trunkes, who has competed in a number of marathons, said that it mainly takes desire to run such great distances. This is why he stuck with marathons and never competed in an ultra-marathon, it was not something that appealed to him nor did he have the desire to do so.

“It takes a lot of willpower and a lot of mental fortitude,” he said. “I think more than anything, physically most people are capable of covering the distance. It’s that desire and drive that motivates you to do something like that. What motivates anyone to do anything out of the ordinary? Why do people climb Mount Everest? Because they want to and think they can do it. The average person who is a couch potato sees a buddy or coworker of his complete a marathon and he’s saying ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”

Trunkes said he never had any desire or interest to [run an ultra-marathon]. His pursuits were in shorter distances, so he never really saw himself as a marathon runner.

“I think it takes a lot of patience and you have to really plan for it,” he said. “It was never something that really appealed to me.”

Not surprisingly, preparation for a marathon or ultra-marathon is brutal. It’s not something that you can just decide to do one day, it takes a year or two of preparation. Friedman, who has also competed in a number of marathons, explained what the preparation process is like for such long runs.

“Preparation and training for Bandera was similar to what I’ve done for other ultra-marathons,” he said. “I ran just about every day, averaging about 70-80 miles a week.  In the months leading up to Bandera, I upped that to an average of 95-105 miles per week, with a peak of 125 miles in a week. The longest runs I did were 35-40 miles at a time.”

While accomplishing such a feat may seem out of the realm of possibility for many of us, some people see it as a goal to accomplish. Members of the New Paltz community have shown that it is possible to run a marathon or even an ultra-marathon, it just takes passion.

When fourth-year member of the cross-country team Danielle Halikias was asked if she would ever consider competing in a marathon or ultra-marathon, she responded with an answer only someone who is truly passionate about running could understand.

“I could definitely see myself running a marathon by the age of 25,” she said. “An ultra-marathon is something I would like to accomplish one day in my life, but it will not be a priority. A marathon is a race that I would prefer because it is a long distance that can be done in three or four hours while an ultra-marathon takes twice the amount of time, which means twice the amount of training.”

She said in the middle of a long run, marathon, or ultra-marathon, runners will doubt themselves.

“If you can overcome that doubt, then you can overcome anything and do amazing in your race,” she said.