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Ultra-fit surgeon socializes during 100-milers

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Marty Fritzhand grew up in a one-bedroom apartment without air- conditioning in Brooklyn, with parents who each had a two-pack-a- day habit. Until he went away to college, he thought he had asthma. He says it with a grin, but he's not kidding.

He recently returned to Cincinnati, to his home in Wyoming, from Leadville, Colo., the highest incorporated village in America -- we're talking altitude. There, he completed a foot race that started at an elevation of 10,200 feet, ascended to 13,300 feet at mile 45 and went on and on for 55 miles beyond that, for crying out loud.

It was a long way from Brooklyn, not to mention from the merest hint of a cigarette.

At 5-foot-9, Marty tips in at 155 pounds and has an at-rest heart rate of 48. Not bad for a 63-year-old guy.

Nevermind that he's one of the oldest guys on the ultramarathon circuit -- an ultramarathon being any foot race longer than your casual 26.2-mile marathon-regulation jog. Strictly speaking, ultramarathons come in denominations of 50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers and 100 miles, although the most common are measured in miles. One such race, called "Mountain Masochist" in Lynchburg, Va., fairly well sums up, at least in a titular way, the attitude necessary to be an ultrarunner.

It was Marty's third ultramarathon of the summer. He thinks of marathons as "long training runs." He says he has run, um, let's see, at least 50 of those, mostly in preparation for the 13 ultras he has subjected himself to. The dropout rate in these races, by the way, is around 40 percent.

Of the 13 he started, he has completed 11. His first -- the Mohican 100 in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1999 -- is still his fastest. Not that it's been downhill from there. This is a guy who still wears out running shoes at the rate of a pair a month.

Most of the folks Marty runs with are half his age. I say "with" instead of "against" because, at that distance, the focus is mainly on finishing in the allotted time. With most 100-milers, you get 30 hours to finish, period. Can you imagine doing 100 miles on foot in 30 hours plus one minute and having some jerk say you don't get a medal?

Also, ultras are for Marty a social thing. He's not competing with the other runners so much as with himself.

"There's always a pre-race meeting, which is like a college reunion," says Marty, who is an internist and surgeon in his day job.

"During the race itself, you're either catching up to or being passed by someone all day long. Everyone always slows down, takes a minute to talk. 'How's it going?' That sort of thing. I don't know what happens at the front of the pack -- but where I am, it's very convivial."

What I wonder is what goes through Marty's mind during 100 tortuous miles of picking them up, putting them down. Does he whistle a cheery little tune? Does he picture himself on a beach in Tahiti?

"Mostly, you have to stay focused -- it's not like running in the street, where you can go off someplace in your mind.

"These races are on mountainous terrains, with lots of rocks, lots of tree roots, and everything is trying to trip you. It's easy to be seriously injured."

Everyone walks the "up-hills." No one gets hurt going uphill. Marty says you're climbing over boulders, occasionally using fixed ropes because a part of the route has been washed away. Downhill, you have to make up that time. With every footfall, you're planning your next step.

"Most races have at least one river crossing, where you have to wade across," he says.

"Some races, your feet are wet the entire time. The Western State at Squaw Valley had a 20-mile stretch where you're running on snow, and you encounter so many swollen streams, you lose count. So blisters are certainly a hazard. But if you're an ultramarathoner, you have no choice. Fortunately, I have tough feet."

The big challenge in these runs, Marty tells me, is avoiding hypoglycemia. With it comes an overwhelming feeling of despair, a conviction that you'll never make it. I get all hypoglycemic hearing about it.

Aid stations are about two hours apart. Marty takes a minimum of one salt pill each hour and two Motrin every six hours to keep the pain at bay.

Nutrition-wise, he favors Hostess fruit pies, which pay out at the rate of 500 calories, two bites.

"I like cherry best," he says.

On the dark side, ultramarathoners drop off the chart from all kinds of self-inflicted maladies, from dehydration to inflammatory nightmares to renal failure, where they have to be taken straightaway to the hospital.

OK, so who wouldn't want to be an ultramarathoner? Running with blisters, eating Hostess fruit pies, chasing what must seem like an infinity number of miles.

"It's an adventure," Marty says.

"I heard a rattlesnake once in Squaw Valley, although I didn't actually see it."

When Marty is done running an ultra, he makes a beeline to a bathtub.

That's good for now. But how long does a superbly fit surgeon subject himself to this kind of ordeal?

"I'll do it until I can't."

Contact David Wecker at (513) 352-2791 or via e-mail at

(C) 2005 The Cincinnati Post. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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