Steve Ross was obese, doped up on meds, and suffering from knee pain and headaches. Now he runs 100-milers that feel like marathons.
Last year Steve Ross ran 2,600 miles and is aiming for 3,000 in 2015.
Not bad for someone who has overcome major knee and back surgeries, obesity and an addiction to pain medications. Oh, and at one time, he had to walk with a cane.
From Walking with a Cane to Ultra Marathons
Steve’s breaking point came one day when he was with his young son. “I was on medication and my son did something wrong. I realized that I couldn’t correct him because I was ‘high’ from the medication. I was drugged because of the medication and I couldn’t help him. He had more control over the situation than I did. I then realized that I can’t be a dad like this.”
Ross remembers visiting doctors and hearing the same story: the only solution was different medications. “I had to make a change. I was having migraines every day. I realized there had to be another way around this. No doctor ever told me to lose weight. I just figured why not, let’s give it a try. I had to decide that I am going to make this chance and there is no going back.
“Losing the comfort of food was a lot better than the pain of losing my family.”
Ross quit the medications for his knees and headaches, and began to lose weight. Later he started walking regularly — without his cane — and then to running. He started slow, alternating running a block with walking a block. “I just loved getting out and having some time to myself.”
The Oregon resident figured that if he could run three blocks, then why not one mile? He then got up to 5-6 miles. “It took time but I got there. I was doing 10- or 11-minute miles but I was doing it consistently. The big thing was to be out there consistently, three to four times a week without excuses. A lot of people start, then stop for a couple of weeks. I didn’t stop. I ran every week.”
He calls his transformation from couch potato to walker to runner “a step-by-step progression.” Looking back, he was surprised that he was “able to run without any pain or discomfort. Taking it one step at a time, I lost 85 pounds and have not gained any back at all. There are zero total regrets.”
That first step off the couch eventually led to a marathon, which Ross initially thought “seemed off the chart. But once I did one and realized it did not kill me I wanted to do it again, but next time on the trail.”
A friend propelled him into long-distance running by getting him into a runner’s group, “a step he cannot recommend enough.” That helped him get up to longer distances, first with the half marathon and then a full. The first one “beat the hell out of me. I felt terrible. But I knew there was more in me. I’ve overcome all this weight and pain, and I knew I could do more.”He also credits Trevor and Angie Spencer, owners of Marathon Training Academy and podcast hosts, who he says “helped a lot with ongoing pointers and tips” on his running journey.
Ross became inspired by a movie about people running 3,000 miles across the Sahara Desert. He loved his first trail race experience because he got to know people. “In a big race, you don’t get to know people.”
After his first 50K, he felt “pretty beat up but I still had energy in there.” So then he did a 50-miler just over a year ago. Even though the temperature was as high as 95 degrees, at Mile 32, he felt great. “I trained so well, that I felt like I had just warmed up. The body had accepted that a marathon was just a warm-up phase.”
Then he set his sights on the 100-miler, which “scared the hell out of me,” he says, adding, “But I figured that I came this far, so I am sure that I can do the 100. That’s what really inspired me to run more than 24 hours. I realized the same thing. Yep, the body is beaten up but I still felt that there was more energy in there. That inspired me to do the harder 100-milers, which I am doing this year.”
On his schedule: Mt. Hood 50 in July, and Pine to Palm 100 in September, then 2016 Western States and Bigfoot 215-miler in August 2016.
“It’s the challenge of taking on fear right in front of me, and smashing it down.”
For those interested in ultra marathons, Ross recommends mastering half marathons then conquering full marathons. “Do a few 50K and then a few 50-milers. Don’t go from marathon to 100-miler. Climb the stairs and don’t make short cuts. Strength training is a MUST.”
He still runs three or four times a week, mostly on hills with elevation gains. He usually does a long run and two short runs — one speedwork and one hills. He also works out on the bike trainer and regular strength training.
Solid training is why “a marathon to me is 100 miles,” Ross says, continuing, “My body does not feel anything after running a marathon. I want that same feeling at the end of a 100-miler.”
Fueled on plants and maple syrup
Not only did Ross completely change his exercise regimen, he changed his diet.
“Originally, I lost a lot of my weight through more of the paleo or South Beach diets,” he says. “But what I found is that it became more difficult — with my wife being Asian and having a high-carb diet — and going out to restaurants. It became harder to maintain that weight loss. I figured that the easiest thing would be a plant-based diet would be acceptable to almost any culture out there and in most restaurants. It’s much easier to adapt to. And you can eat as much as you want.”
He knew that many ultra runners embrace the vegan diet. “So I know I needed to make a change. I made the switch about a year and a half ago. I found that my energy levels and performance has increased so that I am able to do 6- and 7-minute miles. And recovery is a lot faster. And my injuries have decreased significantly.”
Ultra runners need to fuel on the run to make it through training and races. As a vegan, Ross uses bananas, potatoes, Hammer gels, vegan bars, electrolyte drinks and — maple syrup. “That’s what you need for a 24-hour run, a lot of real foods.”
Exercise leads to a strong family bond
After his transformation, his relationship with his family has also improved even though no one else is a runner.
“It’s great in the sense that I can be a loving father,” Ross says. “I can go out and do things. I am mentally present where before I couldn’t be mentally present. I’d be on the couch, covering my eyes because of a migraine. If I wasn’t there, now I can understand what’s going on. We spend time together, doing things. We do hikes together, and we couldn’t do that together before because I would be stuck with a migraine or a headache. And wouldn’t have the energy to do such a thing.”
Now, with my kids I can be there with them, listening. I may not always have the answer but I can listen and understand what they are going through.”
Name: Steve Ross
Hometown: Moved to Oregon from Tauranga, New Zealand, in 2002
Number of years running: Four years
How many miles a week do you typically run: 50 miles per week.
Point of pride: 100 milers, and losing 85 pounds
Favorite race distance: 100 miles
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: banana, I’m a vegan
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: anything upbeat that will get me on the mood to take on the world.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Impossible to Possible.