Featured Athlete Blair Mann
This husband, father, and software engineer finds ultra-running to be his chance at adventure & makes his mind, body and soul very happy.
GOT: Where do you train? (track, trails, road, in urban setting, specific city, etc.)
B: Mostly trails, but sometimes on the road depending on the season and access.
GOT: When do you train? (time of day, number of days a week etc.)
B: I train just about every day. I am fortunate enough to have the flexibility at work to get out for a 10 km run on my lunch hour each day. Long runs are done either late at night or early in the morning on the weekends to avoid cutting into family time. On my off running days I do weight/strength training at the gym.
GOT: Do you train solo and/or in a group setting?
B: I have some co-workers who join me for some of the lunch hour runs. My friend and co-worker Scott Dorcas joins for many of my weekly runs and sometimes some of longer efforts on the weekend. There aren’t many trail or ultra runners in Moncton (at least that I know of). Occasionally, I will drive to the Wentworth Valley in NS or Fundy National Park to gather with some other runners for a large effort in a group setting. The majority of miles are run solo.
GOT: Do you train with a coach or self-train?
B: Self train.
GOT: How did you come to discover this sport?
B: Like so many others, I read “Born to Run” and was fascinated with the ultra distance races described in the book. Leadville, Western States, Hard Rock all sounded so magical and wild. I had no idea runners were doing this and have been doing it for many years. I wondered if I could push myself to run these distances. I started researching the races, the race reports, training plans, advice. I was intrigued.
GOT: When did you start participating in your sport?
B: I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in university. After graduation I had a particularly bad flare up that landed me in the hospital for 20+ days in the middle of summer. I changed my diet and lifestyle drastically that included starting to run regularly. I had always played hockey pretty competitively growing up – I had never been exposed to track or running formally. I taught myself and decided to train for a half marathon which went well so I kept going for a full marathon that fall – I struggled through the last 10 km but finished.
From there I continued to dabble in running, usually training for a half for full marathon each year, trying to push for a PB each time. This continued for several years.
Then I read “Born to Run” - the biggest message I took away from the book was to slow it down, relax and just run to enjoy it - like we did playing in the neighbourhood as kids. I took this to heart and began to REALLY love running. I wanted to push for more and more. In 2010, I ran something like 5 marathons and 2 half marathons. The final 3 marathons were on consecutive weekends. I figured if I could do that, I would try 50 miles the next year.
In 2011, I signed up for the Haliburton Forest 50 mile event in Ontario that fall. In the process of training,I found a local spring 50 miler in NS – the Wascally Wabbit. It turned out there was a small group of ultra runners in Fredericton, NB and NS training for the Vermont 100 that needed a 50 mile qualifier – so Jodi Isenor created his own. He taught me a lot and fast. I was under trained but I signed up figuring I would at least meet this group and learn something for Haliburton. They turned out to be great friends and a very welcoming community. I finished that race dead last. I went on to run Haliburton that fall and finished 10th male, 12th overall. I was hooked and signed up for Vermont the following year in 2012.
GOT: When did you start competing in your sport?
B: I still don’t consider myself “competing” in the sport. It sounds cliché but I only compete against myself. I have never lined up at an event with the intention of passing anyone. I have my own goals to attain with the main objective to enjoy the day, stay in the moment and feel good upon finishing – no injuries so I can do it again.
GOT: What is your greatest achievement to date?
B: I am not a great runner by any means, middle to back of the pack. Getting further back all the time it seems LOL. A great achievement for me was running Vermont 100 in under 24 hours in July, 2012.
However, I am probably most proud of finishing my first mountain ultra at Ultra Trail du Mont Albert (100 km) last summer in Gaspe, QC. I had a particularly rough day. My stomach shut down about 7 hours into the race. I wasn’t able to eat or drink much after that point without throwing it back up. I was down and out a couple times and got back up to finish in just shy of 26 hours. I was fortunate to have a couple runners at the last aid station offer to pace me in though the final leg which was pretty remote without aid. They had already run the half marathon event earlier that day, hadn’t slept yet and were hanging out at the last aid station in the middle of the night– seen my condition and offered help. That is what makes ultra running special! In the end, I had seen the sun rise twice and lost around 16 lbs – but I didn’t quit!
GOT: Bucket list event or race?
B: I flip flop between Western States and Hard Rock depending on the day. Either would be surreal.
GOT: Any advice for others interested in doing what you do?
B: Slow it down, be thankful you can run and enjoy every step. If you have the right attitude the distance will take care of itself.
GOT What is your favourite?
- Quote: “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” ~John Barrymore
- Event: The local events are my favourites. I get to catch up with all the local running community – we are few and dispersed geographically throughout NB, PEI and NS. We are growing in numbers though. Jodi and Karine Isenor host a NS Trail Running series every year (3 races in the Wentworth Valley). Shawn McCardle puts on a great 50 km event in Brookvale, PE. Bryan Gagner offers a couple races in NB as well – The Herring run and a new 50 km event in Rockwood Park in Saint John, NB.
- Food or nutrition product to train/race with: It’s mostly trial and error with everything and anything for me. I try to stick to real food rather than gels, powders, chomps and chews when I can. I have been struggling a bit in this arena lately. I find it to be the hardest part of ultra running.
- Training spot: I love the Halls Creek Trails in Moncton, NB for every day access and terrain. The Wentworth Valley and Fundy National Park for longer efforts. I crave for the Riverfront Tail in the city for long solitary non-technical miles as well. I have trained many, many long early morning solitary miles on that stretch – it will always be special to me.
- Clothing/shoe/sock/equipment (bike, snowboard, rappelling gear): I prefer low drop shoes with wide toe boxes. I keep going back to Altra Lone Peaks. They are great for all terrain. I also like Brooks Pure Grit as well as Saucony Peregrine – they are all 0-4 mm drop with ample space in the toe box. I always wear 2 pair of socks. I currently use the Nathan Vapor Cloud pack for most races.
- Time of year to train: I train year round. I do dial back the long runs in November and December but start ramping up again in January. I think I enjoy something about every season. I like the cold in winter as well as fresh powder on the trees – the woods in so quiet and peaceful when blanketed in snow. I love the leaves and crisp air in the fall. And of course everyone loves summer. The colors, the warmth, the smell of flowers in the air are always a treat.
GOT: Is there a Professional athlete in your sport that influences or inspires you? Who and why?
B: I look up to many pro ultra runners for different reasons. I root for the Canadians of course: Krar, Greenwood, Robbins, and Campbell. I appreciate the runners who find spiritual connection: Joe Grant, Timothy Olsen. I have the utmost respect for the pioneers: Gordy, Jurek, Trason - and all the ones who were doing this long before anyone heard of ‘ultra’.
GOT: Do you have any rituals or superstitions?
GOT: WHY do you love your chosen sport? What makes it special for you?
B: People ask me all the time why do you love it, why do you do it? I honestly don’t know. I know it makes my mind, body and soul very happy. I think about running all the time. It’s a lot of things for me. If I haven’t been on a long exhausting run (sufferfest) in a while - I crave it.
Chemically, I think it is a drug – I can feel horrible and go for a run – afterwards I feel great.
It is a meditation for me – I love long solitary miles and hours alone.
I am first and foremost a husband to an amazing woman and father to two great kids – they are my world. I work 40 hours a week as a software engineer. Ultra running is my chance at adventure. There aren’t many arenas in life these days that you really get to test your metal. Ultras strip you down to nothing – total mental and physical exhaustion. I love the challenge of trying to push through that and come out the other side. There are people that experience true exhaustion outside of ultra running – my heart goes out to them because it’s not a choice – it’s a harsh reality for them. We get to do this by choice and because we can - maybe that is what makes it special.