Ultrarunning is esoteric enough that even most marathoners don’t know about it. About twenty years ago, I happened to see an issue of Ultrarunning Magazine for sale in a running store and bought a copy along with my new Nike Air Max running shoes.
A whole new world was opened up as I read the magazine from cover to cover. How could people be discussing renal shutdown and bloody urine so casually in the letters to the editor? People I had never heard of were running distances I never thought about. What do you mean a 24 or 48 or 72 hour race? What do you mean a 50 mile, 100K or 100 mile run?
For people like me, who believe that everything worth doing is worth overdoing, this was a siren song that beckoned me into the woods near my home. The ice age trails were a part of the Kettle Moraine area of southeastern Wisconsin. There were crazy people like Tom and Lorraine Bunk, Kevin and Kris Setnes, Jim Lambert and Rod Condon among others. They screwed hex head sheet metal screws into their running shoe soles and ran the snow mobile trails in the winter in near subzero weather. They were friendly enough but I couldn’t keep up. I became an excellent tracker and eventually was able to follow their tracks back to the parking area on our Saturday runs. They were a strange subset of the Badgerland Striders running club.
The summer I moved to California they talked me into running the Voyager 50 miler in Minnesota before I left. They also told me that I was on the verge of being admitted to the Duke Ultrarunning Club (Gary Hauser president) named after John Wayne. That was it; I would have to do it. I finished with three others at the tail end having made a wrong turn with two miles to go. I went to bed that night thinking I would probably die during the night. I didn’t.
The Kettle Moraine area is known for two runs in particular. I helped at the Ice Age 50 mile run and got a Tee shirt. It immediately became my favorite shirt and I wore it until it became threadbare. The other run is the Kettle Moraine 100 mile run. I came back from California to finish it in 2000. It was good to see the running group but not the deer ticks again.
And that is kind of how you get the bug to run and run and run. I’ve participated in a few 24 hour track runs also and find them more challenging in some ways since you can step off the track whenever you wish and be done. And that is when the healthy voices speaking through your blisters tell you it’s time to pack it in. Finishing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in 2001 after two previous failures was my biggest physical accomplishment.
Ultrarunners are just like any cross section of people you will meet. Some are kind of scary and seem to have no permanent address. They live out of the back of their trucks and haven’t shaved for quite some time. Some have quite an assortment of body art underneath their tie dyed shirts. Here is my final bit of advice to wannabe Ultrarunners, “No whining and the beatings will continue until the moral improves".