Down the Shore with ‘Cape to Gate’ runner Steve Antczak

On Saturday, 30 teams of runners will relay their way from Cape May, N.J. to Margate, N.J. as part of the 44-mile Cape to Gate Relay.

But some runners are not only running that course by themselves, they’re getting to the starting line by running from the finish to the start (and then some) for a total of 100 miles over two days in an ultra marathon called the TAC100.

Steve Antczak, known to many as “NJ Shore Run,” is one of the founding members of this race. I asked Antczak, with whom I ran the Asbury Park Relay Marathon in 2009, a big question: why?

JAM: When did you start running?

NJSR: In early 2004, I started running only as a means to improve my fitness for surfing. After being – reluctantly – convinced to run a 5K, I was hooked on fun races, and impressed with the focused and encouraging runners at the events, and at my job. Not long after, my enthusiasm for running and racing soon lead to me creating NJShoreRun.com, a calendar of races for the Jersey Shore.

JAM: I know that, at least when we ran the Asbury Park Relay Marathon as a team of two, that you had talked about problems you had with injuries. How, then, did you make the leap to ultrarunner?

NJSR: I am the classic over-trainer and had many overuse injuries. The key to solving these injuries was to learn to listen to my body and take more rest or cross-training days. In the beginning, I would run five or six days in a row which doesn’t work well for My body. I changed to running quality workouts only three or four days a week with rest days in between. It helped me stay healthy. Plus, I do more cross-training like biking, walking and cross-fit to make up for the junk miles that I took out of my weekly training. This meant I was able to run farther with less injuries because it allowed more time to heal. It’s good to take a few days off after a really hard workout or serious long run.

JAM: What was your first ultra?

NJSR: My first was in February of 2010 with my ultra mentor, AJ Johnson, in a test run of his own “fat-ass” format race, The Coyote Run 50K.  A “fat-ass” is a term used by the ultra-running community that means that the run doesn’t have all the amenities of a race you pay for – they’re no fees, no frills, no complaints runs, just like the Cape 2 Gate Relay. I was fresh off a string of Fall marathons and then Disney’s Goofy Challenge where you run a half marathon on Saturday and then a full marathon on Sunday in January. I thought that if I could run 39.3 miles in two days, I was ready to try 31.1 miles in one day. With AJ’s help – and much caffeine – I managed to complete the distance.

JAM: How many have you done now?

NJSR: I’ve run nine races over the marathon distance, ranging from 50K to 100 miles.  My fellow ultra running club members at The Animal Camp (TAC) have been so inspirational and supportive. The ultra-running community is very much like a family. It’s close-knit, very encouraging, and they’re there to pick you up off the ground in a tough race. Ultras require your “family team” to help crew you on the longer distances, to keep you company and pace in races with small participation, and to put you back on the course when normal thoughts tell you your legs don’t work anymore or humans aren’t meant to run 24 hours straight. I attribute much of my completed ultra races to the help of my crew, usually my girlfriend Ev. She crews and/or paces me selflessly in these races- sometimes for 24 plus hours and for many miles on the course. I couldn’t do most of this without her help!

JAM: Most people think I’m pretty zaney for running a 44-mile relay race with a team, but you’re doing the TAC100 solo. How did this race get added to Cape to Gate weekend?

NJSR: You should consider zany as a great compliment!  The Cape to Gate is a fun and laid-back event put on by some really cool friends. Last year, when some of TAC members were preparing for The McNaughton 200, they needed a 100 mile training run over the winter. The Cape to Gate Relay came to mind for a solo run.  Once TAC got involved, it quickly became clear to us that we should run to the relay start from the finish and then run it back. I put together a 50 mile one way course on the path of the Cape to Gate that includes six shore islands, five boardwalks/promenades, 12 bridges and some beach. The Cape to Gate crew was kind enough to share the course with us, and it was a motivator to see the relay teams on our long run in the middle of February. This year, I will only run the TAC50 course (one way from Cape May to Margate) with TAC members AJ Johnson and Josh Dennis. Expect a lot of real fun in the relay – there’s not many race experiences like it in our area.

JAM: What the do you eat during an ultra marathon?

NJSR: I follow the ideas outlined in the Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Success. My main fueling source is Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem solids *which is a tablet of protein and carbohydrates), plain water, and pills to regulate lost electrolytes. I supplement with other regular foods on the course like boiled potatoes, pretzels, watermelon, PB&J, energy gels, Oreo cookies, M&Ms, and my favorite treat: CocaCola. I’ve heard folks describe an ultra aid station as looking like a child’s birthday party. It’s the little treats – in moderation – that you look forward to when you are literally out on the course all day and night! For readers thinking about a first ultra, consider crewing an ultra runner. The amount of information that I learned about running and fueling for ultras while crewing was invaluable.

JAM: How do you find time for training?

NJSR: It obviously takes up a lot of my time. Just like marathon training, I use the long run to build up to the longer distances over many months. Every third or fourth week, I complete a long run with a few more miles than the previous to build to my race distance. It can take me nearly six months to fully build up to a 100 mile event (provided I have a good marathon base). My long runs might look like this: 20, 25, 30, 30, 35, 40, 40, 50, 62, 100. The weeks between long runs, I train like most other folks: short runs, hill runs, tempo runs, some races, and a few medium length runs of 15 to 20 miles.

JAM: Are you crazy?

NJSR: My kind of compliment. Clearly I am! As The Animal Camp founder Josh Dennis says, “You can’t stop crazy!”

Check back here on Friday for a piece about Cape to Gate, which I’ll be running on Saturday with these ladies. For real time reports from the race, come back here on Saturday, or follow me on twitter at @jerseyshorejen.

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