MILFORD — Twenty-five-year-old Nick Cruz of Milford has a long way to go toward his goals, but he’s off to a running start.
On June 26, he set a course record in the Night Train 50K race in Farmville, Virginia. Arriving 10 minutes ahead of the second-place runner, Mr. Cruz set a course record of 3:43:37.
At an average speed of just over 7 miles per hour, it could take a few years to reach his ultimate goal of running marathons on each of the seven continents. That’s just fine with him, because another goal he has set for himself is to still be running 20 to 25 years from now.
While most competitors reach their athletic prime between the ages of 20 and 30, long-distance endurance increases with age and generally peaks at about age 36. Mr. Cruz believes that for ultra marathons, races that exceed 26 miles, the peak age is even higher.
“Years and years of running not only improves your heart and lungs, but also helps you to be a more efficient runner at the neuromuscular level,” he explained. “The more efficient you become over time, the more that can help improve your running performance, too.”
Mr. Cruz started running cross-country in 10th grade, but it was only after graduating from Stony Brook University in 2018 that he started running ultra marathons. He worked his way up to it incrementally, placing first in his first half marathon at the Dutchess County Classic in LaGrange, New York, that September. In 2019, he placed first in the 3 Days at the Fair ultra marathon in Augusta, New Jersey, logging 64 miles in 12 hours.
Some ultra marathons are measured in distance and time, others are timed runs, where the athlete with the most miles wins. Still others measure pure endurance; the race continues until only one runner remains and is then declared the winner. Called a Last Man Standing event, the Beat the Clock Challenge was one of those. Mr. Cruz paced 77 miles during the 18-hour event, graciously accepting second place.
“The only person who beat me was a very famous professional ultra marathoner named Michael Wardian. That was definitely the longest race I’ve ever competed in, both in miles covered and in total time spent exercising,” Mr. Cruz said.
Time spent exercising is an integral part of the success of a long-distance runner. Conservative training, running 60 to 80 miles a week, amounts to a commitment of one to three hours daily. Traveling to and from events can add several more hours to the week. But these are the only downsides Mr. Cruz can think of.
He considers himself blessed to have had few injuries. Those he has sustained have taken only a couple of weeks from his training. He consistently maintains healthy eating and sleeping habits, and trains at a level comfortable for his body to prevent injury.
“Always listen to your body and take ‘rest days’ if you need it,” he advised.
While he’s running, Mr. Cruz sometimes has time to daydream, especially on the longer races, but mostly, he’s listening to his body.
“Fueling your body with food and drink is extremely important during an ultra, so usually that’s one of the main things on my mind,” he said.
He also looks at the scenery. On the Night Train track, for example, his most memorable moments were in the first mile of the race, crossing a 2,400-foot-long railroad bridge 125 feet above the Appomattox River.
“The volunteers were so nice and encouraging,” he said. “It reminds me of why I love ultra marathons. They’re always filled with great competitors, beautiful scenery, fantastic volunteers and a great community to cheer everybody on.”
He also enjoys the camaraderie of shorter races, like the Rehoboth 5K, “You get to see people again and again, especially in Delaware.”
Hopefully, Mr. Cruz will continue to find his favorite things as he crosses the finish line in the Badwater ultra marathon, a 135-mile mid-summer race across Death Valley; the highly competitive 100-mile Western States Endurance Run, and beyond.
He hopes to set records and live his dreams in races across the globe for years to come. Just this week, he learned about the annual World Marathon Challenge, a seven-marathon, seven-continent, seven-day event that begins at Novo (Antarctica) and is followed by marathons in Cape Town (Africa), Perth (Australia), Dubai (Asia), Madrid (Europe), Fortaleza (South America) and Miami (North America).
However, his latest race was of a smaller circumference, a one-mile loop with a 300-foot elevation gain called the Fat Sass Switchback Challenge. That was held Saturday in Millburn, New Jersey.