Meet Dan, he’s a bit nuts. This is a common trait among the successful ultrarunner. How else do you explain someone who pushes themselves to run so far, for so long, often times in dangerous conditions? In other words, Dan – like so many others – possesses a drive to explore the limits of his physical and mental capabilities. As many of you know, it’s often the mental challenge that defeats us.
Running a marathon was a bucket list item for Dan; in 2006, he accomplished this in Florence, Italy as a fundraiser for the AIDS Foundation. His crazy reveals itself here when I tell you that he had only run as far as an 8K in training. After years of spectating the Chicago Marathon, he finally ran it (a bit more trained than the Florence race) in 2013 & 2014 – accomplishing his goal of running a 4-hour marathon.
He needed a new goal, so in 2015 he set out to qualify for the Boston Marathon and discovered the Libertyville Running Club on Meetup (yes, in the early days LRC had a Meetup.com account). Tired of doing his winter long runs on the treadmill, he made the trip to Libertyville from Fox River Grove (a 35-minute drive on a good day) for some company and discovered a gaggle of runners just as crazy as himself. He knew then that this was going to be a great group to be around. The LRC helped him trim 50 minutes off his previous marathon time!
Narrowly missing a Boston qualifying time in 2015, he went back to the Illinois Marathon in 2016 and accomplished a qualifying time of 3:09:49 only to discover this past week that it wasn’t enough – the 2017 Boston qualifying time is 2 minutes and 9 seconds under his age group’s 3:10:00 qualifying standard. In the days after the Illinois Marathon, he searched for a different kind of challenge.
He was running about 50 miles a week and decided to attempt one of the hardest 100-mile races out there: the Ouray 100 Mile Endurance Run – a trail race in southwest Colorado with 42,000ft of gain over an elevation range of 7,600ft – 13,400ft. Dan hadn’t run on a trail yet. To remedy that, he signed up for and finished his first ultra and trail race, the Kettle 100K in 8th place! Though this gave him the confidence to attempt Ouray in August, he still had to fine-tune his training and tackle it at elevation, something he couldn’t train for in the midwest.
All the articles and YouTube videos about ultrarunning can’t replace the insight you’ll get from completing the ultra yourself. He discovered that not overthinking or overtraining played to his advantage. After Kettle, Dan realized that running hill workouts and higher mileage helped. Now he would add a few runs in the dark and a 30-miler. Much like the struggle one feels around mile 20 in a marathon, Dan notes that miles 30 – 35 in an ultra are similarly difficult. The night running can be exhilarating but navigating the dangers of what lurks just beyond the illumination of your headlamp takes some getting used to. This is where your pacer or teaming up with another runner will be beneficial.
The Ouray 100 ended up throwing everything at Dan: cold, rain, darkness, loneliness, sleep deprivation, elevation extremes. At around mile 75, after 36 hours of running, he was ready to give up. He had gotten lost several times, he was wet and shivering in the night looking for the path down the mountain. This is another point at which your crew and pacers are important; Jen Wierzba saw to his every need throughout the race and convinced him to keep going. Having someone to tell you to eat and drink and chat with will keep you from having those Tom Hanks / Wilson moments from the movie Cast Away.
He did it in just over 50 hours! Dan was one of only 5 out of 30 people to complete the race. Now he wanted to earn enough points to enter the lottery for the 2017 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 100-mile race in the Alps and enter the lottery for the 2017 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in California. So just 6 weeks after completing the Ouray 100, he ran the Mark Twain 100-Mile Race in 26 hours (2nd place overall) after falling, injuring his knee 4 miles in, and leading the race for 69 miles! Throw in lottery attempts for the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run, the Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run, and sub-3 hour marathon and sub-24 hour 100-mile goals, and Dan has a pretty ambitious 2017.
Dan hopes this will inspire and motivate all of you getting into ultrarunning and/or running the Hennepin 100 races this weekend. Eat what you crave at those glorious ultra aid stations, enjoy your surroundings, appreciate your crew and pacers, and push beyond where your mind tells you to quit. Good luck ultrarunners-in-the-making!