Nick Lewis, Hardcore Runner, Knows Pain

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An article in The New York Times asks doctors and trainers about jocks, aches and pains, and ibuprofen, but, hey, what do they know? You want to know about dog food you gotta ask the dogs.

Granted, dogs eat cat poop and drink out of the toilet, but nobody knows more about processed dog food. And nobody knows more about pain and pain remedies than serious amateur jocks.

Many of us take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen before, during, or after workouts as routinely as we drink a glass of water. If you think it works, does it work? Or are you fooling yourself and possibly doing more long-term harm than good, as some of the experts quoted in the NYT article suggest?

I vote yes, with a qualifier. All of these drugs upset my digestive system in an unpleasant way, no details necessary. Unless I'm limping or aching (which is most of the time, unfortunately), I don't take anything. But for several years I was convinced that Vioxx allowed me to keep exercising and playing sports after knee surgery, and I would have taken the witness stand in defense of the drug company Merck and said so.

But I'm just a farb. Here's what a Memphis hardcore had to say on the subject of ibuprofen and a pain train few of us can even imagine.

Nick Lewis completed the astonishingly difficult Leadville 100-mile overland run in August, at elevations of up to 12,800 feet in the Colorado Rockies. Correction: he didn't merely complete the race, he finished second, in a time of 17 hours and 44 minutes. The 23-year-old 2008 Rhodes College graduate gobbled 13 ibuprofen tablets during the race. He said they kept him going after a couple of race-day injuries compounded the standard torture.

Only 271 of the 504 runners who entered the race made it to the finish. Lewis started in darkness at 4 a.m. and finished in darkness nearly 18 hours later in the sixth fastest time ever for the Leadville. He battled 85-degree temperatures, altitude sickness, steep climbs to a 12,800-foot pass, "the twilight zone" where your mind starts playing tricks on you, and a whole lot of rocks. With 40 miles to go, he thought he was done, and flopped down in a stream for five minutes. It revived him, he swallowed a salt pill, ate an energy gel, and got back in the race. He estimates that he consumed 12,000 calories that day in the form of drinks, gels, fruit, and peanut-butter and honey sandwiches.

Lewis, who works at Breakaway Athletics (for the record, he wore the same pair of socks and Brooks Cascadia trail shoes for the entire race), is only 5'-3" tall and weighs 110 pounds. He ran track and cross-country at Rhodes but until last year all of his running was at low altitude and not more than 50 kilometers or 31 miles. Three weeks before the Leadville race he started training in Colorado. He credits familiarity with the course for helping him finish second, only 17 minutes behind the winner.

He's hooked on "ultras" now and expects to compete in Colorado and California later this year.

"Every race is like going to a family reunion," he says.

He didn't run for a week after the race, and when he did he experienced some foot and knee pain and decided to take a few more days off. That and some ibuprofen ought to do the trick.

To read more about the race, visit Nick's blog.

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