For the typical Californian, the idea of running in Alaska during winter seems ludicrous. Add to that the challenge of traveling 100 miles on foot while pulling a sled full of gear with a 48-hour time limit and you've crossed the line into straitjacket and padded cell territory.
In many ways, 36-year-old Ryan Young epitomizes a Hollywood fantasy. He moved to L.A. at 18 and became a successful model. (He has 45,000 followers on Instagram.) But a short time ago his fitness regimen needed a new challenge, and he became the model who runs. A lot. While runners in Los Angeles will toil under hot, sunny skies at this weekend's L.A. Marathon, Young will be in Alaska — for an endurance race.
How did the distance running bug bite you?
For most of my adult life I was big into cycling. A few years ago I was walking into a spin class and just stopped. I realized I was bored and had a flashback to when I was 15. My older sister was finishing a 50-mile race and I ran the last mile with her. I remembered that I wanted to try that, so I committed to spending just 10 minutes on a treadmill each day for a week. I don't remember the decision to keep going, but five months later I ran the L.A. Marathon.
How did your running evolve from there?
For a couple of years I kept to the marathon distance. Then in January 2015 I did the Race Across the USA. I was part of a team of five who ran California. It was 30 miles a day for 10 days, and that was my entry into the ultra world. After that it was a 50-miler here, a 60-miler there, and last summer I attempted a 100-mile race in the Rockies near Denver but didn't finish because I fell asleep against a tree.
Has the running had an effect on your modeling career?
I've been modeling since I was a kid and have always been in shape, but with running I've never found something so efficient for shedding fat. The stereotypical look of distance runners is gaunt and wasting away, and I experienced a small work slump before finding a balance. I run every morning but also have a weight-lifting session every evening. I feel like when I lift I'm creating a stronger, more robust structure to handle the punishment of running long distances and avoid injury. I've been doing more fitness modeling. I've become known as the model who runs.
Models have to be careful about what they eat. Does running give you dietary freedom?
I don't follow a terribly strict diet. I'll eat good things that make me feel great and propel my body, but I allow myself treats in moderation. I have more caloric freedom than other models because I know I'm going to burn it off. A joke among my friends is that I'm still that guy from Chicago who loves a good deep-dish pizza.
Tell me about the big race coming up in Alaska.
The Anchorage race is called the Susitna 100. The terrain is difficult because you're running through Alaska in the winter where the conditions can change in a moment. I also have to pull a sled carrying 20 pounds of survival equipment. I'm using the race to raise money for the 100 Mile Club. It's a charity that gets kids to pledge to run 100 miles per school year. It's about teaching children how a little devotion each day can help them achieve big goals.
Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of bodyforwife.com