Chowing down on chocolate donuts and salami while on a run might not seem ordinary, but for ultra-marathoner and Chappaqua resident Eric Gelber, nothing really is. We first met Gelber last fall as he recovered from a 48-hour, 135-mile race across California’s Death Valley, which he had completed for the second time. His motivation? The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, for which he’s raised more than $800,000 for to date since losing a close friend to the rare plasma-cell cancer. And this Friday, Gelber will be making his third attempt to run 200 miles, or 33 laps, around New York’s Central Park (he came up 24 miles short in 2014), in the hopes of crossing $1 million. In support of his mission, we caught up with the endurance expert to see what keeps him moving.
Are you training differently for this one than in 2014? Anxious at all?
What’s not to be anxious about? Running 200 miles? [Laughs] And yes, over the years my training has gone in a different direction than you might think. When I first started ultra-marathons, I used to run a lot more, maybe six days and 90-plus miles a week, and that’s taken its toll. I do other routines now, too: swimming, cycling, endurance training. I feel like having a really well-rounded level of fitness is better for my running.
Running for two days straight must work up an appetite. What can you eat while on the move? I heard you like chocolate donuts and salami.
I have a routine that’s more traditional with fluid and certain powders, but as I progress in the run, it’s hard to eat the same thing over and over, and sometimes it’s really good to have something that you love. It just makes you feel better. The salami thing is actually something we figured out last year. I was in Death Valley, and I was just having a really hard time and not feeling well. I finally was like, “Forget the powders forget all that stuff, let me try that salami, and I want a glass of ginger ale.” And we have all these things just in case, so I had two little slices of salami and chugged a few ounces of ginger ale and started to run and I started feeling pretty good. I don’t know what it is; the fat, the protein, the sugar obviously. But I think the ginger ale just settled my stomach and the salami gave me the calories I needed, and it worked, so we’re going to do that this year.
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Where does your mind go when you start to hit the later phases of the run?
Sometimes, when things start to hurt, I may try to focus on that. Not dwell on it, but sort of accept it. And maybe try to focus on something else, like a short-term goal. Trying to get to the next lamppost and accomplishing that so you can feel better. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when I’m really wiped at four in the morning, I’ve seen things that aren’t really there. One time I thought it was a jellyfish actually floating, and as I got closer to it and it came into focus I was like, “Oh it’s a light post!” It was pretty wild.
What kind of music do you listen to you?
Pearl Jam is one of my favorite bands. Metallica. But then I’ll have Top 40 stuff that my daughter listens to. It’s not like it’s music that I like, but it reminds me of something pleasant, because she dances to it. So when I hear that and I can see her dancing, it kind of takes my mind off stuff and makes me happy.
You came up 24 miles short in this same run two years ago. Will you be doing anything differently this time?
I’m going to go slower and try to maintain that for longer. The reality is you’re going for two days and it’s just too hard to predict. I can usually gauge the first hundred miles, but after that I don’t know how I’ll handle the pain and the frustration. If you keep moving forward, those feelings tend to dissipate. You just have to not give up.
Tell us about filming the documentary-in-progress, Just a Mile to Go.
It’s totally new to me, and it’s frankly a little weird. I think it ended up really great because it was me and my words, and there’s nothing about this that is an act. It was just funny having a film crew in my house, and my wife having to be like, “Okay honey see you later, have a nice run,” which is not the way any of that ever happens.
What would you say to the people who’ve supported you and contributed money to the cause?
To the people that are supporting me, I can’t say thank you enough, and thank you is probably not enough, but that’s all I got. And I love when people come out to the park, and I really encourage people to do that, so anyone who reads this and is anywhere near New York City this weekend, come out, say hey, give me a pat on the back or something, and tell me I can do it. That’s always nice to know that people care.