SVSU director goes the distance

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Between a full-time job and raising two young children, Director of Global Engagement Brian Thomas somehow finds time to train for ultramarathons.

“Ultrarunning involves any distance over 26.2 miles, so essentially a marathon,” Thomas said. “(Being a) sociologist, at least in a cultural basis, (I) enjoy observing the differences between the ultrarunning communities and other running communities.”

Thomas began his running journey in graduate school and found the culture of ultrarunning much different from other distances.

“Ultradistance is a little more relaxed, a little more of ‘we are just trying to get there in the end,’” Thomas said. “You see people. I literally run with people for six to 12 hours sharing conversations. I feel the community itself. In terms of the number of people participating, it’s smaller, but then the attitude of the community tends to be, ‘Let’s help each other finish.’”

Ultrarunning has been a growing sport over the last few decades. Thomas has attempted seven 100-mile races and has completed four of them. He blames undertraining for all three non-finishes.

“Training may not be sufficient because things can go wrong,” he said. “Your stomach could get upset, the weather could be bad, but inevitably, there can be some unexpected barrier. So, you want your training to be good enough that when you do hit this unexpected barrier, you can move past it.”

Thomas further explained that it is hard to find time to train with busy schedules. He has found himself training during his son’s soccer practices or late at night on the treadmill.

“You get bored,” he said. “You have to distract yourself. So I can only watch action movies (while running on the treadmill). You need something that is going to keep you distracted from the fact that you are on a hamster wheel.”

There are lots or resources and running communities to help motivate runners and encourage their success. However, Thomas prefers to train individually.
“It is nice to have time, and I haven’t really pursued running with other people because it’s nice to have time to yourself,” he said.

Thomas also had advice for new runners and those who are interested in pushing their limits.

“You should really only run if you like running,” Thomas said. “I think sometimes runners have actually hurt the sport by perpetuating that it’s right for everybody.”

Thomas has been running for years. His experiences have taught him that failure isn’t something to be afraid of.
“I think there is a lot of life that is predictable,” Thomas said. “In fact, I think that we are very much enmeshed in a life of predictability and that we are so surrounded by this life of predictability that we don’t notice it.“

Leaving this predictability behind is one major reason Thomas runs.

“I think there is satisfaction in pursuing activities where there is the potential for failure or there is some ambiguity to what is going to happen next,” Thomas said. “Ultramarathons are decidedly ambiguous. I like the unpredictability.”

Thomas notes that the results of the race, failing or completing it, is part of that unpredictability.

“I like to finish stuff, but at the same time I appreciate (that) there is ambiguity to my success,” Thomas said. “I appreciate doing something where failure is an option.”