(Read Time: 6:11)
Every now and then, we like to interview real people doing cool things to develop healthier relationships with technology. Like Andy Pearson. An ultra marathon runner, who holds the current course record at both the Antelope Canyon 50 and the Grand Canyon 100.
Ok, Andy’s not actually a real person. He’s a feat of nature. Andy runs 100-mile marathons, electively. With no tiger in sight, he's finished over twenty ultra marathons, including seven 100-milers. And his personal 100-mile record is just sub-18 hours. That's 17 hours and 55 minutes of running. In a row.
All that said, he also has a phone and a busy job as a creative director at Deutsch LA. So we asked Andy about his own tech habits and what he’s learned in all those muddy hours in the mountains. Here’s what he said:
You run 100 miles at a time. Are you crazy?
Yes? Nah, I just like to think that I’m a normal dude who’s curious about nature and the limits of the human body and mind. So yes, possibly.
How did you get into this?
I’d always been decent at running. In high school, I thought I was going to get serious about it in college. In college, I thought I was going to get serious about it in grad school. In grad school, I thought I was going to get serious about it when I got a job. And when I finally had a job, I didn’t.
But somehow about eight years ago I found myself living in Boulder, Colorado. I kept looking up towards the mountains on the edge of town and thinking, “I should be up there doing something in them.” And then I read the book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, and it totally changed my life. It expressed a lot of the things I’d always felt about running but never could articulate. Like, that there is a deep, raw human joy that comes from running. That simplicity is a virtue we must protect and cultivate. And that we feel most connected with ourselves when we are most connected with nature.
And so, with that wind in my sails, I just started running in the mountains. I ran my first marathon a few months later. My first 50-miler exactly a year later. And my first 100-miler exactly a year after that. And the adventures have just gotten crazier from there.
How would you describe your digital habits outside of running? You are human, right?
I am. And a pretty tech-addicted one at that. I work in advertising so I’m pretty much on a computer or my phone 24/7, much to my wife’s chagrin.
Do you take your phone on those runs? What about on races?
I do take my phone on most morning runs, but it’s only to use the camera. My friends and I have our own running team called Pacific Mountain Runners, and we also run for a few other running brands, like New Balance and The Feed. So we bring along our phones to snap pics for them. But despite that, my hours out on the trails are blissfully free of being connected to anything but miles and miles of trail. And I don’t use anything other than a GPS watch during races. That’s when it’s go time.
Do you miss it?
Not at all. Being out on the trails is my form of meditation. When you’re grunting up the side of a mountain or bombing down a gnarly, technical trail, all you can focus on is being in the moment. It’s total flow state. Sometimes I’ll come out of a particularly intense section and realize that I wasn’t paying attention whatsoever for the last five minutes and I’ll think, “WOW. THAT WAS REALLY DANGEROUS. I TOTALLY WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION AT ALL.” But really, I was paying attention so much that my mind empties itself and lets my body taken over entirely. It’s sort of akin to reaching a higher level of consciousness that people try to find during meditation.
So that adds up to about how many hours a week without technology?
Probably an hour and half on weekday mornings and then four to six hours on Saturdays and Sundays. So say 14-ish hours a week.
Do you notice any withdrawal symptoms?
Calmness. Happiness. A feeling of connectedness. That general sort of thing.
Was disconnecting an added benefit to the hobby or have you not thought about it until this very moment?
It’s definitely an added benefit. When you’re racing a 100-mile race, and you’re out in the mountains by yourself for hours and hours, you really learn to be quiet with yourself and depend on your own mental strength. Last May I won the Grand Canyon 100. But the crazy part was that I was totally alone all day. From the first few steps of the race to the time I crossed the finish line, I was in the lead so I found myself out in the wilderness, all by myself. Twenty hours and three minutes of solitude. That much loneliness is actually really intense.
What do you think about?
Math. Seriously. It sounds weird, but when you’re racing, you constantly calculating where you on the course, how far it is to the next aid station, how many calories you’ve consumed, do you need to talk a salt tab now? How far ahead am I of that one guy? Or how far am I behind of that other guy? How many vertical feet is this next climb?
The other thing you think about (but try not to) is the pain. So actually, having something else—like math—to focus on distracts your mind from the pain.
Do you get bored?
Ha, a lot of people ask me that. I think they assume the kind of running I do is like their morning jogs but just thirty times longer and thus thirty times more boring. Trail running and ultrarunning are really different. They’re more like a mixture of running, hiking, mountain biking and maybe even a little snowboard all rolled into one sport. There’s almost never a dull moment, and you’re out in remote areas experiencing nature in a way that few others get to experience.
Do you ever catch yourself thinking about emails, texts, or facebook in that time?
Objectively, do you think other ultra-marathon runners seems to have a healthier relationship with technology than all of us lazy schmucks?
Haha, we’re all just as addicted as everyone else unfortunately. Some people even more so. The good news is that we have an outlet where we can put that all aside for at least a few hours a day and focus on being connected to something else.
But it’s accessible to everyone. You don’t have to run 80 miles a week. The other day, I invited a friend out to a group trail run. It went along this really pretty ridgeline in the Santa Monica mountains just as the sun was coming up in the distance over the San Gabriels. Afterwards he told me, “Dude, that was the first time I haven’t run with earbuds in probably three years. It was incredible.” I love to see people have that experience for the first time.
What have you learned about yourself in this time?
I’ve learned that the world is an even more incredible place than our simple human minds could ever imagine. The only thing that’s stopping people from experiencing is the work it takes to get out there.
Has it impacted the way you deal with technology outside of running?
My wife would probably say no.
Do you ever feel bad for people who can’t run this far?
No way. I love sitting at the finish of a 10K and watching people come across the finish line. The feeling of accomplishment is the same. For some people they’ve worked hard to get there, and that’s the most they’ll even run in their lives. I think that’s incredibly cool.
What do you find yourself feeling smug about?
Of course not. I’d love for everyone to be able to experience the things I experience and see the things I see. I think the world would be a lot kinder, more understanding, cleaner and more connected place. But the trail running movement is growing exponentially every year so maybe, just maybe that will happen. But am I smug about it? Absolutely not.
Do you have any tips for people looking for a digital detox?
I think the trick is to fill that space with something else. For me, it’s running. Just like any addiction, you can’t simply remove the problem. You have to fill that hole with something else. The key is to find something healthy you can get lost in that gives you real, deep joy. Not just something that simulates it on a screen.
Do we have to run a million hours to get this feeling?
I think it’s obtainable in a lot of different ways. But do I think you should try to get out on some trails tomorrow morning and watch the sunrise from the top of a mountain? Definitely.
See. You don’t have to travel to Bali to find a moment of HUSH. Sometimes, you can just put on some jogging shorts and run out your back door.
And if you're in the LA area, here's a list of HUSH destinations that are just a drive away. And as always, you can check out our ever-growing list of HUSH destinations to find a good spot to disconnect near you. Tell us in the comments about an activity you do to disconnect.