Mike Carbone: Science Teacher and Ultra Marathon Runner
Posted 01/13/2016 10:44AM

by Patricia Erikson

Sometimes, little more than a swaying tree canopy and the bellowing of one’s own breath mark great athletic achievements. This is the case for two-time Peace Corps volunteer, former wildlife biologist, and Thornton science teacher Mike Carbone who runs through the mountains for insane distances that require consumption of 200-300 calories per hour. In this fall 2015 Postscripts interview, Mike explains his sport and shares his experience this summer with champion ultrarunner Scott Jurek whose successful attempt at a new record running the Appalachian Trail became embroiled in controversial national news.

*When did you start ultra running on trails? 

“I have spent a lot of time backcountry hiking. After my wife and I started a family, I began running trail ‘ultras’ that cover in a one-day mountain run what would have taken me three to four days of backpacking. I can return home in the same day. I no longer run on roads at all.”

*How many miles do you tend to run at a time (the range) per day?

“During the three to four months leading up to an ultra, I log one long run a week of 20 to 30 miles that best approximates the upcoming technical, mountain terrain race conditions. For example, this summer I ran the Presidential Traverse (four times), the Grafton Loop in one day, and Katahdin (twice in two consecutive days). Then, I sneak in an additional three or four days a week for a weekly mileage totaling anywhere between 25 and 60 miles, all of it trails. Since I teach and have a family, I often get up early (3-4 AM) and run with a headlamp. How do I have time for this? I don’t have a television or a phone.  Cut those two things out of your life and you free up many hours.”

*How did you meet Scott Jurek and connect with his record-breaking Appalachian Trail (AT) run?

“Scott not only completed the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles through Death Valley, in July, then up Mt. Whitney), he won it. Twice. In the ultrarunning world he is a legend. Scott reached out to the local trail running communities in New Hampshire and Maine. Since this is the hardest stretch of the AT, he knew he would benefit from local experience.”

*What was your role with Scott Jurek’s attempt at the AT record?

“In ultrarunning terms, I ‘paced’ and ‘muled’ for him.  A pacer helps the runner maintain a steady pace and assumes all navigational responsibilities. I ran several paces in front of Scott so that he could watch my foot placement and maintain a consistent rhythm. When the trail was not clear due to boulders, stream crossings, or tree falls, I would run further ahead to ensure that we were headed in the correct direction.  Muling is easier to understand. I carried some gear: headlamp, GPS tracker, food, water, and trekking poles. I ran with Scott for two sections of the AT; neither of my shifts required us to sleep on the trail so my pack with my own gear, plus Scott’s, was a little under ten pounds. A friend of mine took over after me and his pack weighed around 35 pounds, as it had sleeping gear.”

*Since you were on the trail with him, what do you want to say about the controversy between Baxter State Park and Scott Jurek?

“When I was having lunch with Scott in Portland three days after he set the record he expressed how surprised he was by the Baxter Park citations and how he believed that he was being singled out. I witnessed Scott showing more respect for the trail than I see in most hikers I meet in the woods.  For example, he packed out orange peels and toilet paper, and recycled all food wrappers from the entire trip. It’s too bad that the park administration tried to portray him in a different light.”  

Please Note:

  • Mike planned to run twin 50 mile races this fall (October & November) and attempt the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine in under 48 hours. 
  • Following this interview, the Baxter State Park citations against Jurek for littering and group size were dismissed in court.

This article was first published in Thornton Academy's Fall 2015 Postscripts Alumni Magazine and joins our online features about faculty "Beyond Bios."

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Saco, Maine 04072
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