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Q&A: Ryan Deguzis - 2015 Atacama Competitor

Ryan Deguzis is representing Runwell for the 4 Deserts 2015 Atacama Crossing, a 6-stage 7-day race, crossing 155 miles of the Atacama Desert in Chile. Of course that’s probably crazy to some people, but he fits right in with this crowd. Runwell Founder Linda Quirk took on the Atacama back in 2010 when she became the first American woman to complete the 4 Deserts race series (Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, and Antarctica deserts) in under a year.

Deguzis is 29, a classical musician and owns his own business teaching violin and viola. He started running about 10 years ago in college to help mitigate stress. Later, running became a catalyst in his recovery from alcoholism. We caught up with him to ask him a few questions about the race, the training and nutrition, and we sure are glad. This guy has some level-headed perspective.

Occupation: 

Business Owner of The Complete Musician. A Violin and Viola Teaching Studio.

Why did you choose Runwell? 

When I decided to run the Atacama Crossing, I wanted to give it a purpose greater than simply running a race. I explored several different charities when I came across Runwell. It was the perfect pairing as I have been in recovery for over 4 years and was looking to help a cause that is drastically misunderstood and underfunded. Sporting events are a great way to grab people's attention, especially a race of this magnitude, Runwell helps bring light to the suffering of millions and our out of date treatment practices/attitudes.

What does Runwell’s mission mean to you?

It means bringing our understanding of addiction into the 21st century. Many of our laws, treatment programs and attitudes are seemingly based in 19th century thought. Throughout my fundraising I've come across so many stories that make it clear that addiction is sadly all too common. And though it is common, we don't talk about it because it makes us uncomfortable due to the misconception addiction is a moral failing. Groups like Runwell are working to change that paradigm while helping people start recovery based in medical understanding rather than pseudo scientific treatment.

How’s training going so far? Can you give us a little overview of what your weeks are like? 

Training has been going very well for the past six months, out of all of those months I've only missed one training session. Other than running I use the sauna to help get used to higher temps, cross train with the elliptical and weight training to get my upper body used to the extra weight of the pack. Another key part of training is research. Such as researching how to treat potential problems with your feet during the race as well as anticipating the type of terrain and environment you will be competing in.

Right now my training consists of 2 weeks of building up mileage, with one week of recovery.

The past build week looked like this:

Sunday: 9 Miles of hill repeats

Monday: Cross training with focus on core strength building and weight training- (Sometimes I will sit in a 180 degree dry sauna for 20 minutes to acclimate my body to the heat of summer running) then 2 miles in the evening

Tuesday: 8 Miles of easy aerobic jogging

Wednesday: 4 Miles in the morning jogging, and 3 miles at night a little quicker

Thursday: 6 miles jogging, and 4 miles at night faster

Friday: 30 miles with my pack on

Saturday: Rest

Any specific goals or expectations you have for the race?

I really want to enjoy the race as much as possible but also want to represent the charity and country and do a reasonably good job. I'm actually not super competitive but in order to enjoy the week I will need to finish each stage quick enough to get out of the sun and into recovery mode for the next day. However, I don't want to burn out at the same time. My overall goal will be to balance all of these elements at the same time!

What makes you want to run six marathons through the desert in five days? I feel now that I have reclaimed my health I owe it to myself to live life as fully as I can.  Its almost like getting a second chance at life, Ive come back to a healthy lifestyle stronger than before and I better damned well make the most of it!

Additionally, I like the idea of the adventure aspect of these races. People often say, “You only live once!!” and proceed to eat a cheesecake or go out for a night of partying. If I only live once, I better be making the most out of my time and try to have some truly epic experiences while I can.

Also, being in a completely new environment, meeting new/different people and working through obstacles (particularly mental obstacles). I feel as if your goals in life don't scare you a little bit you can find yourself losing your gumption to try and experience new things. It's easy to be comfortable and stay within that “day in day out” mode of thought, however it's working through difficult circumstances in life that teaches us the most about ourselves and perhaps, with an open mind, more.

What’s keeping you motivated?

Many different things on different levels.

On one level the amount of support through donations and people just offering kinds words is a huge motivator. Knowing that running this race can really help people suffering always plays a key part in my motivation. Now that almost everyone in my life knows about this race and the cause, there is also that sense of being obligated to keep moving forward.

On a different level the sheer scope of the race and logistics scares the heck out of me at times. This isn't your average run around the block- if I'm ill prepared it could be life threatening for me. Waking up in the morning with that knowledge always provides a good kick to get me out training.

Toughest part of training?

Keeping all aspects of my life balanced. Training for this race takes up a considerable amount of time, energy, money, and focus. However I need to be able to take the responsibility for everything else in everyday life. This year alone I started my own business and will be getting married less than a month after the race. These also need a significant amount of attention and energy as well. The toughest part of training is keeping up, or balance, with all aspects of life.

Short running history: 

I started in college to help with my stress levels due to a high workload. Before that, I was not athletic at all and actually grew up as a chubby kid. In college I was studying classical music performance at a leading conservatory, which can be very cutthroat and was creating some mental anguish. I started running in a tiny gym one mile at a time. Over the years I entered some races and eventually fell into marathon and ultramarathon running.

What pushes you to continue setting running goals?

I like setting the goals and the process of achieving them. The actual race itself is only the cherry on top of the sundae. The long training process is filled with little victories and defeats. During those months I use the training as a meditation tool and learning experience. Even though the race is the “bonus,” without that ending point I would have a tough time staying motivated.

Do you have a running philosophy that you follow or gravitate toward?

Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That) is an ancient Sanskrit saying which implies you are what you make yourself out to be. It's a fancy way of saying “it is what it is” or “you are what you are.” Ultimately I have control over how I perceive my personal journey through life. That translates how I approach running. I often see people at races or out on the trail looking like they are in their own personal version of hell or uttering the phrase “I'm dieing out here.” Or I come across a lot of people obsessed with speed, numbers etc.

I think if I can change/control my perception a bit to realize, even when hurting or tired, that running is living fully rather than suffering or “dying” I will be okay. You can approach running as an adventure or a chore, and for me every run is some sort of an adventure.

Is this the first time you’ve fundraised for a race?

No, in 2008 I raised money for the American Cancer Society while training for the Marine Corps Marathon. My uncle had just beaten a dangerous form of cancer and I wanted to help raise awareness.

You’re almost to your fundraising goal, have you experienced any plateaus or challenges?

I went into this knowing a cause such as addiction was going to be difficult to get donations for. Most of us don't even want to talk about it, let alone donate money to help addicts. The good thing about the Atacama Crossing is that it's such a crazy feat to attempt that people inevitably ask: Why would you do that!? Which provides a perfect transition into discussion about this cause I believe in. However it can be frustrating to get people to sometimes understand or just to call you back.

Fundraising can be just as challenging as the training - how do you stay motivated in this area?

It can be very easy to get down when you encounter fundraising challenges. It's important for me to remember that it is not a personal fault of mine and that everyone has their own problems and goals to worry about. I just focus on the generous and loving people who have donated to my campaign.

Are you doing any specific mental training as part of your daily routine?  

Yes, to stay in the moment. I am a natural worrier and sometimes it's even hard for me to fall asleep since I'm going over the logistics of the race in my head constantly.

I think there are always a million things that could go wrong while running this race and while it's important to prepare for eventualities it doesn't help to worry about them. Things might not work out perfectly, but that's okay and I am training myself to accept that when something goes wrong to accept it and move forward as best as I can.

What’s your take on mental training? Is it a necessity or not for everyone?

For a race this big, I believe it must be a necessity. I guarantee there will be a point where my body will absolutely not want to move forward. The only asset I will have at that point is a positive mindset to keep me going. You can be the fittest person on Earth but if you can get your head in a good place when something goes to hell you may not make it to the finish line.

How do you get through the tough points in your long runs? Any mantras that keep you going?

I anticipate the tough moments before they arrive but don't worry about them before they happen. I remind myself that even when I feel bad, I still feel better and am doing better than my best day while drinking.  When you have been through hell and back, running soreness and pain doesnt have the same meaning when put into that perspective.

What do you say to a person about to embark on a 155 trek across the desert? Good luck doesn't seem to cut it, but money talks, right? Consider making a donation to help Ryan reach his fundraising goal. He's almost there! 

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