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Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019
Sudbury couple lives for longer distances
by Randy Pascal

Only in the world of Amber Konikow could her current endeavours make her previous training regimen as a national caliber boxer seem like a walk in the park. Always an avid proponent of a healthy cross-training schedule, the 42 year old Sudburian will be one of 29 individuals, including five females, who will take a crack at the 200 mile challenge that is the Sulphur Springs Ultra this coming weekend.

Just to clarify, that is 200 miles that Konikow and the field will be covering by foot, not cycling, nor enlisting the help of a motorized vehicle. And while race organizers allow for a 72 hour window for completion of the distance, this full time registered nurse is targeting a time closer to the 60 hour mark.

Did I mention yet that this undertaking will commence roughly six weeks, to the day, that Konikow and husband Joe Hurban returned from the Annapurna Ultra, a six day 200+ kilometer trek through the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal?

All of this was the result of a relatively innocuous merging of interest for a couple that lives and breathes physical activity on a daily basis. “My husband was running on trails, so I would go running with him,” Konikow noted on the cross country jaunts that she would take, six or seven years ago, to help maintain the cardio demands of boxing.

“I liked it because it kept me activated, because you had to pay attention. It actually built up different muscles, improved things, it really helped me a lot in boxing. I was looking for something to branch off to, so we thought why not take it to the next level.”

That “next level” would come in the form of the Canadian Death Race in Alberta in 2010, a 125 kilometers challenge that they opted to complete as a relay trio, along with friend and current stunt artist, Steve Gagné.

“I loved it,” Konikow recalled of the post-race feelings that engulfed her after tackling almost half of the distance on her own. “I loved the idea of the isolation that you feel, all of the different emotions that you feel, the mental battles you have with yourself, overcoming that and being able to take the next step forward. It’s really quite inspiring. You learn so much about yourself.”

Over time, there would be a natural progression, additional knowledge gained, as Konikow and Hurban looked to a variety of different options on the ultra circuit. “Nutrition is huge,” she said. “You learn so much during the races, learning what food works for you. You have to find out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. And you make sure that you gradually build up your mileage, developing your muscles.”

In fact, her first two attempts at a race 100 miles in length would end in frustration for Konikow, bowing out just after the halfway mark both times. Having run half marathons from time to time throughout her adult years, the Lively resident had to learn to wrap her mind around a somewhat different approach when it came to ultra marathon events, especially in terms of pacing.

“It’s a combination of running and what I would call power hiking or power walking,” she noted. “You’re not running full speed – you can’t. With ultras, you’re going a lot longer distances than a traditional marathon, and you’re often climbing huge elevations in the mountains.”

“I built myself up to my easy pace, and I can tolerate that easy pace for a long period of time. Mixing in power walking allows for a great time for recovery, time to refuel.” It was time for a tangent, as Konikow and Hurban decided to integrate the idea of self supported stage races, such as the one they just completed in Nepal.

“You run a certain distance per day, and then you stay in tents or local villages,” she explained. “If you’re doing a 50 or 100 mile race, you’re just focused on the run, run, run, run, run. You don’t stop and look at things and take pictures.”

“In a self supported stage race, you run daily, you have a time limit, but it’s not as tight. In those types of races, you can power hike them, you can power walk them, you can run them, you can stop and take pictures, you can talk to the local people – that’s what I like about these.”

In the case of the Annapurna Ultra, the daily maximum distance topped out at just under 40 kilometers, quite manageable for these athletes. That certainly wasn’t the biggest hurdle they faced. “The distances weren’t overly long, but the climbs were huge,” said Konikow.

“We were climbing up to an elevation of 10,000 feet. Some of those would be non-stop straight up or non-stop straight down. It felt like hours.” The payoff, in the end, was worth its weight in gold. “You’re going to see stuff that normal tourists would never see,” declared Konikow. “With these races, you get to see the real “guts” of it, I would say.”

Annapurna would mark the third such race for the northern Ontario pair, participating in previous events in Iceland and Utah. Back home in early April, preparation began quickly for the next race, the Sulphur Springs Trail Race, her first attempt at a 200 miler.

“It’s interesting that my training has been a little bit different than it has been in the past,” said Konikow. “Before, it was like I have to get miles in, but I would always seem to enter a race with an injury, or not feeling good, or not motivated. I was over training.”

“Last year, I learned a lot of lessons about taking time to recover and doing less, which can sometimes be better. When I ran the Haliburton 100, I was feeling rested, I was relaxed, feeling happy – it felt so darned good.”

“I changed my training around to focus on quality, not quantity.” In the world of Amber Konikow, however, both are at a level that few of us can truly conceive.

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