Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Interview Tuesday: Meet Arizona Runner Ben Markwart

South Sister Summit - Bend, OR
This week for Interview Tuesday I talk to Arizonan Ben Markwart.  I met Ben via the Tucson Trail Runners FB page.  I have two things, well at least two things, in common with Ben. He lives in Tucson and I lived there many years ago and it is where I started running.  Also, he runs many of the trial I used to run, and love, when I lived there.  We have conversed back and forth via email/online and it was nice to learn more about Ben - I will add, as I forgot to ask about it in the interview, that Ben is running the Jemez Mountain 50 miler at the end of May and the Angles Crest 100 the beginning of August.  Enjoy this interview as I did.

Tell us a little about yourself not necessarily related to running: age, where born, education, area you live in, etc…..
I was born and raised in and around Oakland, California. I am 38. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Arizona with a degree in Philosophy and Political Science and I completed my graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

What is your profession?
I am a Data Solutions Analyst and work in data science at the University of Arizona’s College of Education.

How did you start running and what prompted you to do so?
I was never much of a distance runner until 2009. The idea of getting better at something I was not very good at drove me to start running.

How long have you been running?
About 10 years. I ran my first marathon and 50 miler in 2009.

Did you participate in any other sports over the years?
I was always active in sports having done a little bit of everything but my two primary sports were Baseball, which I played for 20 years and soccer which, I played for 19.

Did you run in grade school, High School or College? 
I ran one year of cross country in high school. It was among one of my most treasured experiences. Despite my success in other sports, I ran JV for all but one invitational. I really did not belong on varsity but my coach pulled me aside and said this is the last invitational, you have one shot at getting a varsity letter, earn the team some points. To this day, I am not sure how but I ran as hard as I’ve ever run for 3 miles and got it. Until 2009, that was the extent of my running experience.

So we get an idea of where you have been with running can you share your PR’s for: 5K, 10K marathon and any other distance you may have run in the past.
I do not and have not run 5k to marathon distances in a race in over a decade. My training run trail PRs for half-marathon is 1:26, trail marathon distance 3:20, my 50k PR is 4:28 and my 50 mile PR is 9:34, I think.

Blacketts - Tucson, AZ - Photo: Julie Henk
What is your most memorable race or races and share a little about at least one of them?
My two most memorable races were the 2017 and 2018 Mogollon Monster 100 miler. In 2017, I got lost and ran 109 miles and managed to finish 15th and in 2018, I had a bug bite manifest into staph infection during the race but still managed to finish (barely) in 19th place. These two races are not my best finishes or times but they are the races where I learned the most about myself and I am proud of them because when all signs pointed to DNF’ing, especially in 2018, I finished. In 2018, I went into mile 80 in 6th place but the infection had ravished me. I had to let go of my dream of a top 10 finish in a 100 and I set out of the aid station ragged but with resolve. Finishing these two races was heartbreaking and also rewarding not because of the time or how I placed but because of the experience and what it taught me.

How often do you race a year and are they all Ultras?
In the past 3 years I have starting racing a lot more. I have been shooting for 4-6 ultras a year.

What does a regular week of training look like?
My training weeks and philosophy are different than most. I do not follow training plans, I run based on how I feel and am driven by the prospects of improving. A six week training block will be anywhere between 100-130 miles a week with at least 20,000 feet of elevation gain. Depending on the routes and their profiles in a week miles and elevation gain will differentiate but those tend to be my benchmark goal. I am well aware I tend to do more than most but my view on it is that I am not one of these naturally gifted runners with fast turnover. I need to do more to be competitive. I have been meticulous about my recovery routine and fortunate that I have been able to avoid injury for the past 3 years (knock on wood).

Do you have a favorite workout you do?
My favorite works out are fast tempo runs on the Bear Canyon Loop trail, and mountain repeats at Mt. Wrightson and Blackett’s ridge

How about a favorite route or place you like to run?
My favorite route is the Mt. Lemmon Ascent. An 18 mile run to the Summit of Mt Lemmon Summit at 9,157 feet. I love this route because it takes you through all of Tucson Arizona’s ecosystems. From lowland dessert up to alpine mountains.

What is your favorite distance to run and race?
Douglas Springs Trail during Tucson High 5 - Photo: Julie Henk

This is tricky. I have had most success at the 50 mile and 50k distances but I’ve had the most rewarding experiences at the 100 mile distance. My favorite race is the Mogollon Monster 100 miler and Old Pueblo 50 miler.

What shoes do you run in and what do you like about them?
I am currently running the Salomon S-Lab Ultra 2. This is Salomon’s newest high performance trail running shoe. I like the form fitted feelings of not having too much shoe there and feel they give me a good sense of the rock beneath my feet. They feel light and grip the rock well.

How about diet, do you eat any certain way and do things change on race week and race day?
I eat a low carb high diet. I would not say that I am keto-adpative. The small portions of carbs I eat come from whole grains and fruits and I eat a lot of salmon, bacon, red meat, and chicken as well as high fat high protein meat substitutes. I do not drink any dairy and eat cheese occasionally.  In training and races I will take in sugars and products with honey and mix in some seeds and nuts too.

Do you have any long-range running plans?
I would like to be able to be out in the mountains as long as humanly possible. These places are sacred to me, give me peace and fill my spirit. So much of the running I do is for the love of it and not always for races. My immediate race goals are to continue building on the progress of the last 3 years. I have been fortunate enough to be on the podium 5 times and would like to be there as often as possible. However, with this said, I am most interested in progress and having positive race experiences.

What do you like best about living and running in Tucson AZ?
Tucson is one of the nation’s most unappreciated trail running meccas. Not only are we surrounded by a variety of mountains with trails and routes for all levels but the trail running community has been a powerful and positive force in my running. We have a legacy of over 40 years of developing trail runners and ultra-runners. I love these people in every sense of the word they have been a guiding light when I was not sure if running was for me and they inspire me. Everyone from the new runner to trails to season veterans to our local elites are treasures. These are the things I like best of about running and living in Tucson and I am grateful for our mountains and community every day.
Rincon Peak - Photo: Julie Henk

I used to live in Tucson back in the 70’s and early 80’s and ran a lot of the trails - what is your favorite trail in the Tucson area?
Hmm tough question. Some of my favorite trails are the Esperero Loop, Old Baldy Trail, Super Trail, and the Vault Mine trail in Madera Canyon. Just about any of the trails in and around Mt Lemmon and Sunset Loop is a dream. And of course the iconic Bear Canyon Loop and my personal favorite Blackett’s Ridge trail at Sabino Canyon.

Is there anywhere you would like to visit to run?
I would love it if I could manage to figure out how to have a runcation in Iceland and/or the Alps! But if I have to keep it in the States, I would also like to do some more running in Colorado and Utah.

Do you have any bucket list races?
The dream started and continues to be to get a chance to run Hard Rock 100. If that can’t happen I would like to do as many of the original 100 milers as possible.

What do you struggle with most with regards to running?
I think I struggle most with believing in myself and battle feeling like I am not good enough. I did not come from a pedigree of running. My first 10+ ultras were complete train wrecks, it was all I had to finish these things and I did not see a lot of improvement for a long time. I was very close to walking away from it all. Some of these experiences haunt me and have me second guessing myself during races and in preparation. These are both demons and angels. They are demons that we all face and are rooted in self-doubt. Yet they are angels to because they are part of what gives me drive to work harder, get better, train smarter and give myself permission to acknowledge what I have been able to accomplish.

I would also like to say that which we struggle with does not have to be our enemy. Running is hard the very act itself is a physical struggle. But the runner’s spirit knows better and keeps us going and allows us to dig deeper. Running for me has been a process of becoming more than a runner. It has taught me to except that sometimes your best may not be as good as you want and sometime life on life’s terms is difficult to accept. Running has taught me to how embrace the struggle and navigate adversity and use it to my advantage. I embrace the struggle as part of the necessary process that allows for positive outcomes. The goal is not to never struggle. The goal is to use the struggle to one’s advantage and to better oneself. This has been my life’s experience and running experience.

What do you see as a trend in running?
Wasson Peak during Tucson High 5
w/Kent Warlick - Photo: Carleigh High
Ultra-runners are faster than ever and ultra courses are faster than ever. When I started, I could not find a 50k or 50 miler that didn’t have 7,000-10,000 feet of elevation gain. Today, you can find a 50k that is fast a really runnable almost every weekend. I think this is good it enables the sport to grow and improves its competitive value while at the same time, allowing for greater participation. A trend I would like to improve is making ultra-running more desirable for the female athletes. There is a great deviation between male and female participants and I think the sport could to do far better at recognizing this and creating an environment that fosters greater female representation and participation.

If you had one, well maybe two or three, things to say those that are running to encourage them what would it be?
  1. Believe in yourself and if you don’t challenge your beliefs.
  2. It is not about how fast you are or aren’t it is about the process. Trust the process and find the new parts of yourself you didn’t know existed.
  3. No matter what the gift of running is that if you put one foot in front of the other, you will get where you need to go. Just keep going.
Do you have a website or other social media site you would like to share?
Any closing comments?
I want to express my gratitude to Tony Konvalin for inviting me to do this interview and I would like to thank Wasatch Nectar and Honey Stinger for their role in supporting the dream. Keep your eyes peeled for a Honey Stinger Blog Post forthcoming in June that Highlight’s Kent Warlick and my journey to be the first to summit all five of Tucson’s prominent peaks in under 24hrs.

********You can see past interviews here********

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