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Off to the Races: Trail Running with Purpose

By: Kyle Wagner

“Some days you feel like breaking the bike in two, and others you begin to realize that the rubber and metal components are sometimes your best friend.” – Ryan Correy

Craig Sylvester will never forget the first time he saw Ryan Correy.

“I was stationed in Monterey [California], going through post-graduate school and training for my first Ironman,” Sylvester recalls. “I rode up on this kid on my bike, he was riding, too, but all he had was a backpack, and I asked if he was from around here. He said, ‘Oh no, I’m heading back to Canada; I’m riding around the U.S., raising money for a friend who has cancer.’ I was blown away – he was about 19. Then he tells me that he had run out of money and had to leave his support vehicle in L.A., and it was a little difficult for me to believe, but I thought, what the heck, and I gave him $20.”

It turned out that Correy had indeed started his Ride for Life in Canada and had ridden around the U.S., and as Sylvester was to learn over the subsequent 16 years he felt lucky enough to call Correy friend, that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Correy’s generous and adventurous spirit. Over those years, Correy would break records riding the Race Across America (RAAM), the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Argentina, and would also become a two-time finisher of the Tour Divide.

But in 2017, all of that came to a halt, when Correy was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. “At that point, I had this really clear sense that I wanted to do something more, and when I saw what Ryan was going through, he was so brave,” Sylvester says. “He shared everything on social media, the 10 rounds of chemo, live-streaming it, so candid and honest and positive through the whole thing. He was very giving, and everything he did, it was never about him. It was about sharing his love for being out there.”

Ryan Correy died on April 27 of this year, and the loss continues to propel Sylvester forward to give back.

“I had just run a 50-mile training run when I got the news,” Sylvester says. “He and his wife had been married for only a little over a year, and it was just devastating to lose this amazing person, and at the age of 35. I am so honored to be a part of carrying on his legacy, which is so important to his friends and family.”

Sylvester, who lives north of Seattle in the town of Mukilteo, says he always knew of the Leadville Race Series, but was drawn more to long-course triathlons during his career in the Navy. Although retiring as a Navy salvage diver in 2011 was a big lifestyle change, keeping time for an annual big endurance adventure remained important.

“I went on the Leadville site one day, though, and saw the charities section, and I really wanted to do a run,” he explains. “Then I contacted First Descents. The mission so aligns with Ryan, with his spirit and his own motivations, and it really just feels so right.”

Sylvester – who turns 49 just a few days after the LT100 Trail Run on August 18 – was once described by Correy in a journal entry as being “built like a brick sh**house” – is still in great shape, but even he has to work through training and nutrition issues. He shares his thoughts below on getting ready for this epic race as a member of the first running team First Descents has fielded in the LT100 series.

FD: How do you fit this into your life?

CS: I guess I purposely chose the field that I went into in part because of its physical components – when I was in the Navy as a salvage diver, well, that was a period of life where I was getting paid 2 hours in the morning to work out, which was pretty amazing. So, when I retired, I knew I had to work at finding something to maintain that fitness, and I also wanted something that would offer similar flexibility. For me, it’s not the money, it’s the freedom, and so now I work as a contract engineer for the Navy, which is a good fit.

I feel very fortunate that I can do the majority of my work from the house, and so I can work my training in around my work needs. The work site, where the crew is right now, takes me about an hour and a half to get there by ferry, but I don’t have to go to the work site every day of the week. When I do go there and have the opportunity for a workout, there are a lot of trails to run, and I just get out on a trail every chance I get.

FD: What does your training schedule look like?

CS: When I first signed up for the race, I sat down in January and kind of sketched out a plan that included not just running, but swimming and biking too.

My daughter Katie, who is 21, will be one of my pacers and part of my crew, and we did her first half-marathon together in Huntington Beach [California] in February, and then I found a 50-miler that I had done in 2011 to celebrate my  retirement from the Navy. I put that on the schedule back in April. It turned out to be a perfect training run, the Capitol Peak 50, near Olympia [Washington]. It runs through the Capitol Peak Forest, a very rugged singletrack course that was humbling, but I also recognized that the course is probably in some ways more challenging than Leadville will be, very technical and with 8,500 feet of climbing.

Other than that 50-miler, I don’t have any races in the plan on purpose, and I’ve mostly just been training locally. I’m in the 50-miles-a-week range, with the majority covered over the weekend, so I’m doing 10 miles on Friday, 10-15 on Sat, and 25 or 30 on Sunday.

My wife was a little skeptical at first because the initial training was touch and go – I had some serious calf challenges and had to take a couple of weeks off. For the 50-mile training race in April, I promised her that if I felt really bad, I’d stop at the halfway point. For Leadville, she knows the level of commitment I have to finish and that discomfort is expected.

FD: What’s your go-to snack during a run?

CS: I feel that my Ironman training really helped me learn that very important aspect of nutrition during long-distance racing. Early on there was a lot of trial and error, but I’ve learned to listen to my body and what it’s telling me, like when I’m craving pizza and I realize I missed something in the sodium realm.

I’ve been really happy with Infinit Performance Nutrition’s custom mix, but I did change things up a bit with the Huma Chia Energy gels; I’ve incorporated those into my hourly intake and it’s working out well. When you think of an ultrarunner, well, I’ve got a lot more mass compared to most. I’m around 200 pounds, and so for a 24-hour race, I’ve been training with an hourly intake of around 450 calories and that has been working well.

My advice would be that, like most people, you’re not going to know what your body is going to need unless you go out and try it. Put it to the test during your runs. You don’t want to find out on race day that you shouldn’t have tried that buffalo bar you think you need – you should be doing that during training.

Like my pizza craving, what your body needs is pretty recognizable; you just have to pay attention and figure out what you’re hearing.

FD: What’s the hardest thing for you about racing the LT100 Trail Run?

CS: I have confidence that I’m going into this race for a reason and it’s the right reason, and so I’ve already finished the event in my mind.

I know that may sound cavalier, or arrogant to some, but it is key to have a mindset of confidence and commitment going into a challenge of this magnitude. There’s going to be realities, of course, where there’s discomfort, there’s pain, there’s suffering, I look forward to that somewhat, and in the moment when I cross the finish line, it’s going to be a tremendous accomplishment for everyone – my family will be out there, and some friends.

I’m not going in with any fears. I don’t have something in the back of my head saying ‘what if you have a leg cramp?’ I know I’m ready to deal with it if it happens, but that’s not something that’s taking up headspace.

FD: What motivates you to keep going when the running gets tough?

CS: Ryan will obviously be a big part of the race – he will be on my mind throughout the day, and I know I will feel his presence.

The other factor is the commitment I’ve made: If I make a commitment to myself or especially others, I’m extremely focused to do what I say. The one super triathlon I did, at the end of the swim and the bike and during the 30-mile run, I was hurting. It had gotten dark and so cold that I was shivering, and I went past a dog park and found the poop mitts and made gloves and lined my jersey for insulation, and then I ran into this volunteer who was handing out chicken broth, and I said to her, “Are you going to be here for a while?” and when she said yes, I said, “I will be back. I have one more loop to do, and then I’m coming back.” I made that commitment to her, and I followed through on it.

I just have to keep reminding myself, “This is not about you, Craig, this is about others.” And so, this is my commitment, to run this Leadville race, and I am going to keep my word.

To support Craig’s LT100 fundraiser benefitting team First Descents, donate to his fundraising page here.

Kyle Wagner worked at The Denver Post from 2002-2014 after nine years as restaurant critic for Westword. Kyle is an avid mountain biker and outdoors woman.  She has ridden the Leadville 100 MTB twice, both times during or following her own breast cancer treatments. Over the next six weeks, she will be following our Leadville runners and riders to bring you the inside scoop on how Team FD is getting #OutLivingIt like never before!  Keep up with the stories by checking back weekly on our Out Living It Blog.

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