Eric Friedman was a marathoner turned ultra runner looking to do something different with his athletic endeavors. After reading Dean Karnazes’s book, “Ultra Marathon Man”, Friedman became introspective and took the book at face value.
“I couldn’t believe humans were capable of running like that,” he said. “I had to see if I could do it myself.”
So what did Friedman do? He morphed skydiving and ultra running together; and, while he was at it, developed a whole new kind of race that people now sign up for and compete in (for starters).
How did a mere marathoner turn to such extreme sports? Well, he was always extreme. Before conceptualizing the SkyDiveUltra, and, driven by a desire to push his limits, Friedman trained for hours with his best friend, Smith Jean (Smitty) Baptiste. Every Thursday night, he and Smitty would head out at 11pm and run until 5am; the two would run countless hours and hundreds upon hundreds of miles together.
“We would then head back to our houses, shower up and head to our jobs for the final workday of the week. This Thursday (work), Thursday night (run) and Friday (work) would simulate the perfect 100-mile training, including lack of sleep, etc.,” Friedman explained. “We would get up and pull tires three times a week, from 1am to 5am, because that was the time we had available. He’s the only one crazy enough to run at those odd hours with me, and we banked some serious miles together.”
The idea to actually sky dive and then run an ultra race came about during one of those overnight runs with Smitty in 2012.
“I’ve always been a skydiver, and we got to talking about what would make a really cool race, and the thought of jumping out of a plane to start a race was pretty crazy. I went to my drop zone the next weekend and poked around the area to see if I could come up with a course to run, and then started laying out some details,” he said.
A couple months later, Friedman conducted a test run of a sky dive-run event with a group of friends. Eight jumped and ran. In 2013, Friedman organized a much bigger event, launched a website, did some real marketing, added some additional distances and directed a race – complete with insurance, medals, buckles and the whole deal.
“I was really shocked at how much effort actually goes into pulling off a race,” Friedman observed.
Extreme Athlete, Extreme Diet
If you ask Friedman, its beer.
“I’m a big supporter of carbo pro and beer on my runs…I actually completed a 50-miler on nothing but beer…but that was just for giggles, and to see if I could do it. I have dabbled with all sorts of diets and am mostly paleo[C2] ….I was also a ketogenic runner for a couple months. I’ve run the gamut on nutrition.”
On the flip side…
“I’ve been the guy who ran 20-plus-mile runs on just water and a mixture of chia/hemp hearts and salt. I would bring a single handheld and a small Ziploc baggie of the seed mixture and go for hours, filling up my water bottle from the shower heads along the beaches.”
To Friedman, it really it just kind of depends on “where he’s at” with his personal diet when it comes to what he will, or more likely won’t, eat. For example, Friedman spent 60 days on a pure juice diet leading up his Keys100 race. “I brought a small nutribullet to that event, and my crew gave me fruit smoothies and icy blended drinks,” he said.
Then again, he’s a 50-miler on nothing but beer and water.
When it comes to all his athlete endeavors, Friedman doesn’t describe himself as a competitive guy.
“I’m not the most competitive runner. For me, it’s all about the camaraderie in the sport. I love my ultra running friends and their real, raw, honest attitudes. The conversations we have on the course are very special. I’ve never had any problems with the training aspect, because I had the company of really amazing people to share the hours with. Whether it’s race day or training day, it’s always the same…I’m just enjoying the view, the vibe and the company.”
And what about these extreme races he competes in?
“Reading “Ultra Marathon Man” was my tipping point. It’s taken a while, but I’ve figured out why I do all the crazy things that I do: I do them out of fear. I’ve trained in mixed martial arts, done jiu-jitsu, skydived over 150 times and run these 100-milers…all in the name of fear. I’m afraid of them. I’m afraid of the challenge. I have recently determined that I am compelled [C4] to do what I fear to show that I can overcome myself[C5] .”
SIDE BAR – SkyDiveUltra 2014
The SkyDiveUltra on February 1, 2014, had folks camping out in tents the night before for the super thrill of their lives. The event was hugely successful, boasting a motivated and eclectic crowd from both the U.S. and abroad: 72 Floridians, 2 locals from Belle Glade, and participants from New York, Tel Aviv Israel, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Tennessee, New Jersey, Virginia and Mississippi.
“We had two cancer survivors successfully run the 10k and 26.2 division – both having had chemo treatments within the previous 10 days,” Friedman said.
- 63 total skydivers out of 94 entrants.
- Athletes ranging in age from 22-60 years (46 females and 48 males)
- 30 volunteers, including families and children.
- 4 people who came just to skydive while their friends ran.
- 50 hotel rooms booked in the surrounding local areas.
- Local news/press in attendance.
Side Bar 2
Helping A Man Become An Ultra Athlete
One of the most exciting stories is that of a buddy of mine from grade school who I started talking to again in August of 2013. He weighed approximately 350 pounds, and he was very depressed. I talked him into coming out and doing a few miles with me one weekend, and then somehow talked him into letting me coach him through some weight loss and exercise. Well, silly him, letting an ultra runner guide him through that! I essentially got him to do a marathon, as well as my next 12-hour overnight event (Son of a Beach) 30 days after we started talking; he was 345 pounds at the time. Then I talked him into agreeing to try to lose 80 pounds over the following 6 months and running the SkyDiveUltra 50-miler. We trained our butts off! I had him pulling tires and doing lots of plyometric work as well as lots of walking and jogging. He ended up losing the 80 pounds, and got down to about 274 by February; and he ran the 50-miler. He ended up grinding it out and finishing the event in about 18 hours, I think. It was really inspiring. (You can search facebook for “Joel’s Journey” to see a page we created to document everything.) Just recently, on the one-year anniversary from the beginning of this weight loss, he committed to come back this year for the 100-miler.
Here’s a link to the video from the first SkyDiveUltra event: