A run for the ages

JOHN URBANSKI (left) is pictured at the start of the Rainier to Ruston Rail Trail Relay and Ultra race, held Saturday in Washington state. The race fulfilled his goal of accomplishing an ultramarathon for his 60th birthday. Urbanski entered the race with his daughter-in-law Julie (center) and son Jeff (right). (Photo provided to The Courier)

JOHN URBANSKI (left) is pictured at the start of the Rainier to Ruston Rail Trail Relay and Ultra race, held Saturday in Washington state. The race fulfilled his goal of accomplishing an ultramarathon for his 60th birthday. Urbanski entered the race with his daughter-in-law Julie (center) and son Jeff (right). (Photo provided to The Courier)

By MARGARET DWIGGINS
Staff Writer
With his 60th birthday approaching, John Urbanski wanted to mark the occasion with something monumental. The longtime runner decided that completing an ultramarathon would be a fitting challenge. He accomplished his goal last weekend, running the Rainier to Ruston Rail Trail Relay and Ultra race, which starts at the base of Mount Rainier near Seattle, Washington, and ends 50 miles later at the Ruston Way Waterfront in Tacoma, Washington.
Urbanski said he completed the race in 14 hours and 20 minutes, stopping at the 20-mile mark to change his shoes and shirt, and at aid stations along the way for food and drink.
An ultramarathon is defined as any organized running or walking race that goes beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
Urbanski, the president and CEO of United Way of Hancock County, observed his 60th birthday May 25. He said he decided to do the race about a year ago and had plenty of support with the planning. His grown children, Matt, Emily and Jeff, are all marathon runners, and Jeff, Matt and Matt’s wife, Julie, have completed numerous ultramarathons. Matt, who lives in Seattle, is also a certified running coach, so he helped his father outline his training regimen.
Jeff and Julie accompanied Urbanski in Saturday’s race, with Julie placing second in the women’s division with a time of eight hours, six minutes. Jeff finished in eight hours, 50 minutes.
Urbanski’s training followed weekly workouts assigned by Matt. He kept to his schedule, running outside during the difficult winter all but a handful of days, when he ran on a treadmill.
Urbanski said he ran two standard marathons this spring, and a few weeks ago ran 29.5 miles over six hours with no stops, eating and drinking along the way.
He credited several people with keeping him going, including Annie Hayes, a training partner who ran several long-distance runs with him, including the Glass City Marathon in April; Jean Fernandez and his cousin, Tim Rooney, who were faithful partners for shorter-distance runs; and his wife, Jackie, who endured the many hours he spent training and made the trip to Washington state with him.
Urbanski said many ultramarathons are held in hilly areas over rough terrain so it’s difficult to train here, where it is so flat.
He said he began to question his stamina about halfway through Saturday’s run, but he was determined to keep going.
The race started with an uphill leg for a couple of miles, then went for 14 miles along a trail that was muddy and rocky. He joked that keeping his balance at his age isn’t easy, and said this part of the route took extra time to complete. The next 25 miles were on bike paths, followed by 30 to 40 miles across sand and grass, which Urbanski found to be the most challenging. The remainder of the race was on pavement and sidewalks.
“My fear was being the last person to finish, but I wasn’t,” he said.
The race attracted about 600 runners, Urbanski said, many who were running relays, with 127 participants doing ultramarathons.
Urbanski has been a recreational runner for many years. The former owner of Rocking U Pizza also owned the Riverbend Running Co., an athletic shoe store, with his brother Mike from 1981 to 1984.
The two brothers established a four-mile race with the YMCA in 1978, which became the Riverbend 10K race, a popular run that was held annually for many years at Riverbend Park.
These days, there are very few 10-kilometer runs, replaced mostly with 5-kilometer races, he said.
Urbanski shed 24 pounds during his training. Just three days after the race, with little time to heal his sore knees, Urbanski said he has no plans to try another ultramarathon.
“I think this may be one and done,” he said.
He will keep running, however. He is scheduled to run in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., in October. Matt is working with him on his speed work, he said, and he plans to train with weekend runs of eight to 10 miles, distances that seem short to him now.
Urbanski said he is happy that he achieved his goal, but, more than that, he is proud of the experience preparing for it gave him.
“It’s been a very emotional journey,” he said.
Dwiggins: 419-427-8477 Send an E-mail to Margaret Dwiggins

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