Dave Shively: On the run
July 22, 2007
Steamboat Springs — With age, time shrinks and distance stretches in a runner’s mind.
I laugh at thinking, as a child, that six miles was an impossible distance. But I still can’t imagine running for two straight days, 100 miles from Silverton to Lake City to Ouray to Telluride to Silverton. I’ve driven sections of that loop, doing irrevocable damage to vehicles. I don’t know what the steep, rocky terrain would do to my legs. Taking a whole afternoon to hike, not run, 14,048-foot Handies Peak (a tiny part of the course) gives me a guess.
So, what went on in Scott Jurek’s head when he shattered the Hardrock 100-mile endurance race record in 26 hours on a sprained ankle?
Rickey Gates was burning similar internal fuel at the recent 10K Trail Championships. Gates ran 6.8-minute miles for 7.5 miles, up Christie Peak and back to the Gondola base, twice, for his second trail-running national title in a week. His feet were a mess of blisters and cracked toenails.
“You get focused, dig hard, let it hurt – that’s all you can do,” was Gates’ explanation.
But athletes cannot stay pinned at this maximum output of masochistic pain management. This is why endurance lends itself to aging. Jurek, 34, has nearly 10 years on Gates. Only 14 of 68 competitors at this winter’s 90K Coureur des Bois were under 30.
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“It’s a big balance between younger quads that can train hard, to have the youth advantage, but without the experience, it can be so intimidating,” said Steamboat’s Betsy Kalmeyer, 46, a five-time Hardrock winner who completed her ninth race last Saturday.
For local finisher Mike Ehrlich, 44, the race was a fitting climax to 2 1/2 weeks of unplugged R&R by isolating himself, camped near the trail, to pre-run the stoutest passes and prepare his mind as much as his body.
Ehrlich, like five-time Steamboat finisher Dick Curtis, was a marathoner who helped pace other runners, only to follow the “evolution” of stepping up to the challenge.
“For me, it’s old age only in your mind,” said Curtis, 62, who helped pace Kalmeyer this year. “When I first started (racing Hardrocks), it was hard to mentally comprehend time out there, but you get more mature and a better understanding and can adjust easier.”
Curtis is a young gun when it comes to more “mature” competitors like 67-year-old Hans Dieter Weisshaar, who completed his 100th 100-mile run, or John DeWalt, who completed his 11th Hardrock at age 70.
Maybe time speeds up as the body slows down. For Ehrlich, the point is not competition, but the experience, endorphins, inner strength and scenic surroundings. But that’s only because he’s learned to handle the immediate pain.
“Maybe it’s bad in the moment or maybe not, but you need a long-term perspective – it’s like anything in life, it could get better or worse.”