NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s James Whipple was surprised to find himself leading just one mile into Saturday’s 50-mile at the New Jersey Ultra Festival in Augusta. He was even more surprised that over the next 49 miles, none of the other 35 runners came to challenge him.
Whipple, 36, won in 7 hours, 49 minutes and 25 seconds. Daniel Gallo finished second, more than 30 minutes behind. It was just the second ultramarathon for Whipple, who ran the distance for the first time last year. He has also run 11 marathons.
“I had always been intrigued by ultras,’’ Whipple said. “Last year, unfortunately I didn’t go about it the right way. I ran marathons in Boston and New Jersey and then the 50-miler in Maine in a span of seven weeks.
"I thought if I go a little slower, it should be no problem. But the course was extremely hilly, it was muddy and it was a brutal course. It beat me up. That’s the first time since I’ve been running when I wasn’t able to run for a few weeks. After about a month, I decided I wanted to do it again.”
Whipple won a lottery bid to compete in this year’s Western States Endurance Run, the world’s oldest and prestigious 100-mile trail race, on June 28. In January, he enlisted the coaching services of renowned ultramarathoner Karl Meltzer, who helped him devise a training plan for the race. Part of the plan was to race 50 miles in March, which led him to the New Jersey race.
“I liked what he had to say,’’ Whipple said. “He’s more about running quality miles, and not increasing how many miles I was doing. He said I could do what I had been doing, just change it up a little.”
Whipple said the key on the five-lap, 10-mile course was nutrition. “Consuming enough calories every half hour and consuming salt tablets every 75 minutes really helped,’’ said Whipple, who averaged 9:22 per mile for the race. “You really need to stay on top of those things. It’s the same thing as running marathons. You just have to keep moving.”
With support from his wife, Shannon, and two young daughters, Whipple kept plowing through the miles. His mind raced back to the Nashville Marathon in November, when he led the race for 15 miles before he made a wrong turn. He ended up losing nearly eight minutes, and finished second. He was 59 seconds out of first. “I was worried that might happen again,’’ he said. “No one made a move.”
Whipple and Shannon also ran four races in four days and over 48 miles in January, tackling the “Dopey Challenge” as part of the Walt Disney World Marathon. He also endured a brutal winter with the help of a treadmill.
“I don’t mind the treadmill as much as some people,’’ he said. “I got out on the trails as much as I could. I did what I had to do.”
Whipple’s next race will be the Boston Marathon, where he finished about 45 minutes before the bombings last year. “I’m going to use it as a training run for the Western States,’’ he said. “I’m going to enjoy the day.”