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Meet Pablo Espinosa, the Canadian who won a 6-day race in Florida

Espinosa ran more than 400 miles without a crew

Remember the name Pablo Espinosa. The 39-year-old ultrarunner, who lives in St-Polycarpe, Que., won the 144-hour distance (also known as a 6-day race) at the Icarus Florida Ultrafest in Fort Lauderdale on November 18, with a jaw-dropping 405.47 miles, or 648.75 kilometres, and he was the only Canadian out of 11 finishers at that distance. On January 6 he turns 40, and he has some big plans for 2020.

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People who run road ultras are a small and tight-knit group, and Espinosa is not well known outside of it. He has twice made the Canadian 24-hour team (though this year he was not able to compete) and won the Beebe Farm 48-hour race in Vermont in 2018 and the Ethan Allen 12-hour race (also in Vermont) this past July. Espinosa is hoping to break multiple Canadian age-group records at Aravaipa Running’s Across the Years, which starts on December 28 and ends on January 7. (Last year he finished third in the 72-hour distance at this race, with 225.7 miles.)

The distances he has to beat are 434 miles/694 kilometres over six days, 496 miles/794 kilometres over seven days, or 654 miles/1,046 kilometres over 10 days. All three are currently held by Trishul Cherns, who is now 62–which tells you something about Cherns, and about how hard these records are to break. (Cherns is originally from Hamilton but lives in New York.)

Trishul Cherns at Rock the Ridge 50-mile race in New York state, 2016. Photo: courtesy of Trishul Cherns

At the Icarus race, Espinosa ran alone without any support from a sponsor or crew, which is almost unheard of at these events. When his plans for a crew fell apart, he decided to simply run anyway and see how it went, as a sort of test run for Across the Years, and for a 30-day ultra on the treadmill in March. “It went better than I expected,” Espinosa told us. (He is a master of understatement.) The experience convinced him that he can do well at ATY, where he will have the relative luxury of a crew. The course at Icarus is a one-kilometre loop in a park. Espinosa ran without music, and every evening he washed his running clothes in the shower, since he didn’t pack enough clothing. He ran almost the entire distance in the same pair of Saucony Freedom ISO 2’s. 

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These races are not continuous–most competitors stop at night and sleep as much as they can. Espinosa says he slept for eight hours each night, except for the last day, when he ran 105 miles in 26 hours. He plans to follow the same routine at ATY.

Charlotte Vasarhelyi winning the 72-hour race at Across the Years 2018/2019. (Pablo Espinosa finished third at this race.) Photo: Bill Schultz

Espinosa’s physical transformation

Raised in Argentina, Espinosa came to Canada 14 years ago as a computer engineer, weighing almost 300 pounds and never having participated in sports. He took up jogging to avoid spending too much money, and to give himself something to do in an unfamiliar new city. His first race was the Montreal Marathon in 2008, and without really knowing much about the marathon, he ran a 3:36–which is impressive for someone who was in the throes of a major physical transformation.

Espinosa (left) in 2005. Photo: courtesy of Pablo Espinosa

The weight came off through a combination of running, walking and weightlifting. “I loved it,” Espinosa says, adding that it came naturally to him to run longer and longer. “I had never exercised and didn’t do track at school. My whole life was computers, since I was eight… I would have been a lot better runner at 29 if I’d had a track background.” He also studied personal training, but found he preferred running. Then he went to college to study nutrition, and in 2013 he developed a product called GO Juice, which he uses exclusively to fuel his mega-distance projects.

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Nutrition studies bear fruit

GO Juice was born purely out of necessity. Espinosa tried many different commercial products but found that with the exception of Clif Bars, none delivered consistent results: “Big companies use mixers with drums to blend ingredients, and the results are never the same twice,” he says. By contrast, every single serving of GO Juice is mixed by hand, individually. “It’s the only way I can guarantee consistency,” Espinosa says.

There are two GO Juice products, one for hydration (consisting of dextrose, pink Himalayan sea salt and a little bit of maltodextrin) and one for recovery (which also includes protein in the form of hydrolized beef in addition to the ingredients in the hydration product). All of his ingredients are non-GMO, dairy-free and gluten-free.