Ultramarathons to Deaflympics, Ryan Guldan Does It All

Ultrarunner and Deaflympics athlete Ryan Guldan

Ryan Guldan wasn’t a runner.

He played baseball and basketball growing up, so running meant laps around the outfield or wind sprints from baseline to baseline.

“Running was this torturous thing your coaches put you through at practice,” Guldan says.

It wasn’t until college that he embraced running as more than just end-of-practice conditioning. Guldan started running local 5Ks in college and completed two full marathons before graduation. Now 35 years old, the Grand Junction, Colorado, resident clocked a sub-24 hour race at the 2017 Leadville Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run, logged a personal best 2:34 at the Chicago Marathon and, today, competes with the USA Deaflympics team.

Guldan's family first discovered he was hard of hearing when he was about 2 years old. Surgeries and hearing aids have since improved his hearing, but he still can't hear most frequencies of human speech—although he can hear lower frequencies, which led him to love bass-heavy music.

Now, he regularly works 12-hour days as a water engineer in the natural gas industry while still carving out time for his rigorous training. His ambitious goal this year: break 2:30 in the marathon. We spoke with Guldan ahead of the 2019 Boston Marathon to hear about his training, the Deaflympics and his goals for the rest of the year.

Ultrarunner and Deaflympics athlete Ryan Guldan

Fleet Feet: Despite only really starting to run in college, you quickly accelerated as a competitive runner. Fill us in on your running journey.

RG: I was about 27 years old when the running focus really started which was largely influenced by the book "Born to Run."

Through this story, I was exposed to the idea of running in the Leadville Trail 100, which seemed like a reasonable goal since I had a pretty good foundation in long distance backpacking. Prior to reading that story, I had recently completed the Colorado Trail (~485 miles) as a thru-hike in 19 days. So I signed up for my first ultra which was the Desert RATS Trail Festival in Fruita, Colorado, in the double marathon distance. I became addicted to ultrarunning and proceeded to race an ultra pretty much every 30 days in my first year.

When I finally raced my first Leadville 100 I basically crawled across the finish line with a time of 28:30. Lots of hard lessons were learned in that race but I also did not know what to expect.

FF: When and how did you learn about the Deaflympics?

RG: It is a slightly long drawn out story but the short version is I have a fellow Deaflympian friend, John Klish, who has competed several times in the cycling events. He was the catalyst that pushed me to go out for the 2017 team that competed in Samsun, Turkey.

FF: Describe the training you went through to qualify for the Deaflympics.

RG: The big step to break into the sub 2:40 category was not realized until I was able to link up with my still current coach/mentor Justin Ricks. He put me through an entirely different grinder, where a lot of it is modeled after the Daniels Running Formula.

Weight training was a must. I hadn’t hit the gym that hard since my basketball days in high school. The running workouts had a deliberate focus; they had a specific purpose to improve abilities I was working on.

The one thing that sticks to my memory the most is how much time is spent recovering. Recovery starts to become your second job outside of your first one (assuming that is not running). Staying on top of eating good food, stress management and making sure you get a good night’s rest become so important. I don’t want to sound like the “fun” disappears, but you really must evaluate the tradeoffs of your time. If you don’t do what is required to make sure you are at your best level possible, you will have a mediocre performance on the next day’s or week’s plan.

A man wearing a hat while running on a trail

FF: What goals did you have going into it?

RG: I typically always set up the A,B, C goal approach.

A was to medal

B was to break 2:30

C was to finish strong

FF: How did it go?

RG: Honestly, not very well. The one thing I was not prepared for was competing in another country, especially where we were in Turkey. Our rooms didn’t have air conditioning, so getting sleep at night was extremely tough as well as finding food that was compatible with me. I also put way too much pressure on myself to perform a certain way since so many people invested in my opportunity to be there.

I slowly degraded throughout the race with a steady decline in my mile splits to the finish line. However, I did manage to successfully meet my C goal. I dropped to somewhere like 12th or 13th in the field not far after the half marathon mark and was able to win back a decent placement. I finished 8th with a 2:49.

FF: Most running events are started by a gun or other sound. How are things done differently for deaf athletes?

RG: Great question. They use a light system to signal the “on your mark,” “go.” A gun is still fired, which I can still hear without my hearing aids. Athletes range from completely deaf to those more like myself to some who utilize a combination of both.

FF: What would you like readers to know about the Deaflympics?

RG: It is a legitimate Olympics! In fact, I believe it is the second oldest international competition next to the Olympics. The first one was in the early 1900s. They are every four years and have events in track and field, basketball, golf, swimming, badminton, etc.

We have a fantastic set of young individuals in our country on the USA Deaf Sports Track & Field squad (I am the old guy). Getting the word out to our running communities that they are training their hearts out, and if they wish to support their Team USA, it will have a huge impact on our athletes. Many are in college and some even in high school.

FF: You also have an ambitious goal for the Boston Marathon coming up. Tell us about that and other goals for the near future.

RG: I have been wanting to break the sub-2:30 barrier in the marathon for a bit of time now. Last year I really messed up my achilles and lost a lot of training. The injury has taken over a year to really come around to a normal state, and there were still remnants of the injury at the Chicago Marathon last fall, but I was able to pull a 2:34, which is my current PB. I feel so blessed to have run a marathon in the sub 6:00 min/mile club!

With the focus on the track this past winter, I am hoping it brings an element of speed, and with my experience on the Boston course (and, God willing, the weather isn’t horrible this year!) I can creep a little closer to, if not break, the 2:30 barrier.

I might return to the Desert RATS Stage race for a sixth appearance in June and will have a summer focused on some fast road racing, such as Bolder Boulder and Fortitude 10K.

My biggest event will be the Berlin Marathon this September. With it being the WR course, I am hoping to set another PB there.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.

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