After breaking the world 100 kilometers record in May 2023, ultrarunner Aleksandr Sorokin says that even if there are limits to the human body, we are still far from reaching them.
I met Sorokin, 41, in his hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania, where he set the world's record by running 100 km in 6:05:35, or 5:53min/mile, for over 62 miles. Although the World's Fastest Run took place more than a month ago, he's still waiting for the record to be officially ratified.
After I go with him on a short run and finish his usual stretching workout that puts me, an occasional jogger, in pain for the next two days, we sit down to talk about his preparation routine.
Athlete's 'Groundhog Day'
Sorokin, who became a professional athlete only in 2019, exercises two to three times daily, which takes about six hours. He says his days resemble the movie "Groundhog Day" — they are all similar: waking up early, having some coffee, running 30 to 50 km, eating, sleeping, and running an additional 10 to 20 km.
He doesn't follow any particular diet except for a higher protein intake because, as he puts it, "the body demands it." But he counts calories, as he has to consume between 4,000 to 5,000 kcal daily, which is much more calories than an average person needs.
However, completing a 24-hour run is a completely different story. During this kind of ultramarathon, where athletes run as far as possible in 24 hours, Sorokin primarily — and surprisingly — eats junk food. Although such foods are not recommended as part of a regular diet, they provide sugar that can be quickly converted into glucose, the main energy source.
"The more calories in the smaller amount of food, the better. That's why I eat chocolate bars, chips, cookies, packaged instant soups, sandwiches, and drink sodas. During the race, I eat food every child would be happy to eat," he tells Healthnews.
When it comes to recovery, Sorokin says he doesn't have a special routine, but quality food and sleep, including eight hours of sleep at night and an afternoon nap, always help. He also occasionally visits saunas and sees his physical therapist, as well as gets massages.
He uses a smartwatch only to track his pulse while running and sleep quality. For him, one to two hours of deep sleep means he rested well.
The importance of moral support
Sorokin says that it is crucial to actually enjoy running; otherwise, you will eventually stop.
Motivation is also important. Sorokin himself soon found that participating in half-marathons and marathons was not challenging and motivating enough, so he turned to ultra runs.
But running ultramarathons has its ups and downs. Inner struggles always accompany 24-hour runs.
"Especially when the night comes. My body and mind are tired, and I am in pain. But then I talk to myself: I know there will be pain and extreme tiredness, but this is my choice, and I must keep moving. Also, I know that it will be over eventually. I sometimes think that people in concentration camps survived without having any chance to survive or to see freedom again. And me? For me, it is only 8 hours until I reach the finish line," he adds.
Sorokin says that thoughts about his wife and friends also help him to feel more positive during the race.
"When I run in the world or European championship, I know that people in Lithuania are cheering for me. The support, although mental, helps."- Sorokin
Doing sports strengthens not only the body but also character and spirit by making us more disciplined, Sorokin says. If we have enough motivation and a goal, we can achieve more than we think.
So are there limits to the human body? Sorokin says there are probably some, but we are not close to them yet.
He concludes, "Everything depends on our motivation. Sometimes you just need to motivate a person, and they will be able to do anything."