Ultradistance runner Tim Henderson from Sayville knows how most people perceive him and others of his ilk.
Henderson, 44, is one of those runners for whom even the 26.2-mile marathon distance is deemed insufficient, runners who regularly compete at distances of 50 kilometers (a little more than 31 miles) and longer: 50 milers, 100 milers, races that last for 24 hours.
"Most people think we're nuts," he says. "'I don't even want to drive that far.' I can't tell you how many times I've heard that one."
Henderson and about 160 other fellow "nuts" will compete this Sunday in the USA Track & Field 50 Kilometer National Championship Run in Caumsett State Park. The race, held on a loop course in the state park in Lloyd Neck, is organized by the Greater Long Island Runners Club, and also includes a shorter, 25k race.
While those in the 50k may be perceived by some as a kind of lunatic fringe in motion -- or worse, seen as engaged in a body-battering pursuit that can result only in injury or illness -- a new study finds that ultramarathoners are, by and large, healthy and happy.
The first wave of results from the projected 20-year Ultradistance Longitudinal Tracking Study was published last month in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. The 1,212 ultramarathoners who took part in the study reported fewer sick days than the average U.S. worker and a low incidence of serious medical issues. The subjects, who were surveyed through questionnaires, did have greater numbers of stress fractures (not surprising, considering the many miles they run) and a higher occurrence of asthma and respiratory infections (the researchers speculate that this may be caused by longer periods of exposure to outdoor allergens and pollutants).
Still, Stanford University School of Medicine professor Dr. Eswar Krishnan, one of the authors of the study, describes the ultra runners as "happy campers" who seem to enjoy what they're doing and feel great pride in achieving their goals.
"Ultra runners report tremendous satisfaction," Krishnan says.
Henderson is one of them: Since doing a 50 miler in Central Park in 2000, he has gone on to complete a total of 68 ultramarathons, including every one of the Caumsett 50k races (the event began in 2003 and has been the national championship since 2006) and even a few 100-mile races.
Henderson, a history teacher at Lindenhurst High School, averages about 50 miles a week of training. In the summer, he works as a lifeguard at a private club in the Hamptons, and does a lot of swimming, but little running. The change of pace may contribute to what he says is a lack of any serious overuse injuries during his nearly 15-year ultra career.
He's looking forward to Sunday, he says, and not only for the sense of achievement at crossing the finish line (which he hopes to do in about four hours). "It's like going to hang out with a group of your friends," Henderson says. Although growing, the ultra community is still fairly small. "I know all the people from New York, and a lot of the people from out of town."
So much for yet another myth: the loneliness of the extremely long-distance runner. "It's very social," Henderson says.
For more information on Sunday's Caumsett 50k and 25k, go to http://bit.ly/1dbugvN