(John Sakata / Berkshire Eagle Staff )

PITTSFIELD — Commitment. Careful scheduling. Desire.

All these characteristics were highlighted by some of Berkshire County's fiercest competitors as essential while training for an extreme sports challenge.

Following months of grueling training, these athletes were able to finish a marathon (26.2 miles) in just over four hours, battle through an 11- mile course designed by British Special Forces, and endure an Ironman triathlon.

In achieving their physical goals, these competitors say their long hours of training sustained over several months played a critical role.

Training for a marathon

Pittsfield resident Danielle Giulian had never completed a marathon until 2010.

Now the 27-year-old has three full marathons behind her, along with plans to compete in The Boilermaker, a 15K race in Utica, N.Y., on Friday.

In the past, Giulian has completed obstacle courses that include the Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash competitions, but she says training for a marathon is the toughest. Without even acknowledging the physical toll, Giulian points out how much time it will take to schedule 24 miles of jogging on Sunday. She will also spend time jogging two additional days this week.

“It's the time commitment,” Giulian said. While training for the marathon, she's also simultaneously preparing for her first triathalon.


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“You have to stay on schedule rain or shine,” she said. “You can't miss a long run, otherwise it sets you back.”

Giulian is already training full-bore with the mindset of surpassing her previous personal marathon best of 4 hours and 8 minutes. In October, she'll be competing in the Hartford Marathon.

“I am racing against my best times,” Giulian said. “It's always a race against myself. I am never trying to be the first one in my age group or race against my friends.”

Five months before a marathon, Giulian is gearing up. During that period, she'll train alone and participate in long distance runs with a jogging group. She finds half-marathons to participate in to keep her training at race pace.

Giulian is constantly raising the bar on her goals, and she prides herself on surpassing these goals. She records each trial run meticulously using a Garmin pedometer, and her best effort then becomes the bar to overcome next time she puts on her running shoes.

Throughout the marathon, she's blind to her competitors, with her eyes on her stopwatch to ensure she's on track with expectations.

“Once I set a goal and say it out loud, I feel I am held accountable,” Guilian said.

One ‘Tough Mudder'

Self-billed as the “premier obstacle course in the world,” the Tough Mudder competition carries sizable challenges.

The annual competition occurs over 10-12 miles and incorporates challenges designed by British Special Forces.

Pittsfield resident Jeremy Smith, 40, was inspired to compete by his father, who served in military. Proceeds from the competition go to the veteran charity Wounded Warrior Project.

Smith competed in New Hampshire in 2012. “My legs were beat up and cut up from crawling through the mud. My muscles were bent through all the running. My grip was so fatigued from the monkey bars and climbing rock,” Smith said.

The course included swimming through ice water, running up and down a hill while carrying a log, climbing a 20-foot wall, crawling through muddy waters with electrical eels and an exhausting 2-mile uphill run that leaves some participants vomiting by the end. Smith had to throw himself across monkey bars — and the risk of falling short meant a long fall into water.

As he readies for this year's competition, Smith and five others have assumed a vigorous workout routine. The training includes trail runs through the Pittsfield State Forest, squats and weight lifting. The preparation begins “three to four months” before the event and includes workouts twice a week.

“We're looking to strengthen each person's weakness,” Smith said.

In his training, Smith recalled several years ago on receiving lessons on running form, tips on breathing while running, and sustaining speed that his body could not previously achieve.

They'll compete together as a team, so he said it's equally important to stomp out egos. Improvement on individuals weaknesses is a focus. And communication is equally important.

Weekly training is mandatory, he said.

Training should be “honest and sincere,” he said, and people with egos “would have to change their outlook for the person next to them, because now we have to take care of each other.”

Overcoming the Ironman

Pittsfield resident Steve Foley said competitors preparing for an Ironman competition often underestimate the difficulty of swimming 2.4 miles.

At 39, Foley completed an Ironman course in Lake Placid in Michigan.

“A half-mile out I was doing the doggy paddle, feeling like I was going on a treadmill going on to nowhere,” Foley said.

In addition to the swimming, the 38-year-old then had to summon the energy to bike 112 miles, then run 26.2 miles. The biking alone was five hours on hilly roads with an 8-mile uphill climb, he said.

The competition left him hungry, sunburned, chafed. And proud.

“It's one of those things you say that ‘I've accomplished this,' ” Foley said.

Foley is an avid runner, and he can lay claim to completing the Walt Disney World Marathon in 2 hours and 41 minutes.

Foley's training started with a mentor who had completed an Ironman competition. The training began five months before the competition. At the peak of his training, Foley recalled training 20 hours a week, and he was jogging 20 miles in a single day and biking more than 100 miles in a week.

“You have to listen to your body and don't get injured,” Foley said.

Following brutal training sessions, he would reduce the training to allow his body to recuperate and then build back the hours.

The workout routine was time-consuming. He creditd his wife for taking his children to school in the morning while he biked more than 20 miles to work in Stockbridge. His workouts began at 5:30 a.m.

For his efforts, Foley recalls completing the competition in 10 hours and 30 minutes. Competitors are eliminated from the competition if they can not complete the course in 17 hours, he said.

Foley said at day's end, he had to want to compete.

“I really wanted to do this.,” he said. “I wanted to finish, and I had a pretty strong competitive bent to the thing.”