WeRunFar Profile: Ann Heaslett And Tim Yanacheck

WeRunFar Profile: Ann Heaslett And Tim Yanacheck

Ann Heaslett trained every year for one race: the IAU 100k World Cup. (The race is now called the IAU 100k World Championships.)

Her first year, she made the 100k team as an alternate, traveling to France in 2001. In 2002, the race took her to Belgium, to Taiwan in 2003, to the Netherlands in 2004, and finally, in 2005, she helped Team USA bring home a gold medal from Japan. At these different races in different countries, she contended with many variables–food, travel, the course, weather, and more. But there was one constant that she and Team USA didn’t leave home without, and that’s her husband, Tim Yanacheck.

Ann ran onto the ultra scene as a late bloomer, and it is Tim who lovingly and proudly takes credit for getting her there. “I started ultrarunning before Ann, but what I like to say is that she was nothing until she met me,” Tim claimed. “I take credit for introducing her to ultramarathoning and I have been with her at every ultra she has ever run.”

“Yes,” Ann confirmed, “you were there.”

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Ann and Tim (‘Timo,’ as most refer to him) met during a weekly group run in Madison, Wisconsin, falling in love over the love of the miles. They recently celebrated 11-and-a-half years of marriage, him at age 69 and she at 52. Both participants in high-school and college competitive running, running fast is a commonality the two share.

Ann began running on the boys team at her high school in Green Bay, Wisconsin since there were never enough girls for their own team, she said. She went on to run for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, majoring in pre-med. It was while attending medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison–running just for fun at this time–when she met Tim.

Tim was a young runner, beginning on the half-mile course his dad routed out for him to earn a Boy Scouts badge. He attended Carthage College as a Division III runner, before enlisting for two years in the U.S. Army. After, it was straight to Marquette Law School and on to practice civil law for the next 42 years. Tim retired in January of this year.

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“I’ll brag about Ann, real quick,” Tim jutted in, the first of much bragging about Ann that he did during our interview. “She was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Wall of Fame, which is their version of a hall of fame.”

Ann went on to a career in state hospitals for psychiatry, working with adults and children who suffer from mental diseases.

When the two met, Tim had already figured out he was more of an ultrarunner breed, choosing Ice Age Trail 50 Mile as his first ultra. “I did have a great time,” he said of the first one. “I loved the trails and found I could keep up with the mid- and upper-pack. I wasn’t going anywhere in marathons. I had broken three hours twice but I was not close to the Olympic Marathon Trials or anything. It was just fun for me.” Ann, also a three-hour marathoner–“She ran 3:01 four times! You can’t run faster than that!” Tim injected again, affectionately–but like Tim, she found the trails more enjoyable. Plus, if she was going to run with Tim, it was trails or no run at all. “I just never put all my eggs in the road-running basket,” she said. “But then, I thought it was more fun to run trails and go longer.”

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The Ice Age 50 Mile was also Ann’s first 50 miler and she has since completed it 10 times.

“Tim, I don’t know how many times you’ve done it?” she questioned.

“I don’t know either!” he exclaimed. “I’ve lost track.”

Race director Jeff Mallach cleared it up for them, saying Tim has finished the 50-mile race about six times and Ann 10 times, but that is just the 50-mile course. The pair also has a number of finishes in the event’s 50k and half-marathon distances. “Ann is a member of the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile 500-Mile Club (10 finishes),” Mallach said. “She won Ice Age in three consecutive years (2003 to 2005) and finished in the top three five other times.” She also won one of the 50k races and holds the masters record in the half marathon, he added.

Though the two didn’t race together over the next few years, they trained together and attended each other’s races as crew members and spectators. “I would crew Ann,” Tim said. “It is always a pleasure to crew Ann.” When Ann began running for a spot on Team USA to race the IAU 100k World Cup, Tim’s spectating position transformed into a much bigger role. “I am a good spectator,” he deemed. “I like to recognize people and see new people.”

Always accompanying Ann during the 100k race, Tim became the assistant manager of Team USA. He rented the car or bus, picked up the athletes, helped out at aid stations, and, perhaps most importantly, cheered on Ann and her teammates. “I love it. I don’t have to run and I get to enjoy the heck out of it,” he said of each trip. During the years Ann raced on Team USA, from 2001 to 2005, Tim said he loved watching every moment of her race.

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“I was prouder than you can imagine, I still am.” Tim said. “The year she helped win the gold medal for the U.S. team, man, I was bawling my eyes out.”

Ann’s road to competing at an international level included winning the 2002 USATF 50-Mile Trail National Championships at the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run in Washington, running it in eight hours and 13 minutes, and the 2002 USATF 24-Hour National Championships during the Olander 24-Hour Relay and Endurance Challenge in Ohio, where she completed 128.55 miles.

At the 2002 IAU 100k World Cup in Belgium, Team USA finished third, and in 2005, in Japan, the team took first. During the four years Ann was on the team, she said the USA’s goal was to run together for as long as they could in the race. “We run slower and keep the pace steady for the first 50 to 80k, then we see what we had left,” she said. “I am not a strong finisher. I was always one of those Steady Eddys, finishing between third and fifth place on the team.” Ann raced alongside Nikki Kimball, Anne Lundblad, and Connie Gardner, among others, she said. The legendary Ann Trason was on the 100k teams before Ann, she added, though the two once ran a race together.

Over the years, one of the bigger changes they have witnessed is women from all over the world gaining more respect, not just because of faster finishing times, but overall as serious athletes. “Women are getting faster–men are too–but women are really getting faster,” Tim said. “Ann became the first woman ever, ever in the world, to run a 100-mile trail race in less than 16 hours, which has now been broken by several women. Women have come a long way in the sport. I’m a fan of that.”

National- and world-championship-level events are gaining in stature as well, Tim said, as more countries are joining and sending teams to compete. Races are being held in places most people would not travel to otherwise, he added. Qatar was unbelievably different, Gibraltar was so small the athletes slept on a cruise ship docked off the peninsula, and organizers in the Netherlands “really know how to put on a race,” Tim said.

Team USA is heading to Spain in late November for the 2016 IAU 100k World Championships. On the women’s team it’ll be Meghan Arbogast, Pam Smith, Sarah Bard, Camille Heron, and Traci Falbo. Team USA’s men are Zach Bitter, Matt Flaherty, Patrick Reagan, Nick Accardo, Joe Binder, Geoff Burns, Chikara Omine, and alternate Graham Peck. Due to injuries, the women’s team will compete with only five runners, Tim said.

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The team does not have an official coach. It’s up to each runner to get ready for the world championships, which often times takes place on a route not publicized until quite close to the event. “You do whatever training that got you through the national championships and onto the team,” Ann said. For her, that included a lower weekly mileage, numerous races, and a few hours a week in the pool. “I run a lot better in a race than in practice,” she said. While competing in the championship races, they were Ann’s ‘A’ goals, she said.

“That was the focus, to do whatever I needed to be ready to make that team and then to make the world race,” she said. “My philosophy was not going all out in every other race, but there were times, you know how it is when you’re in a race, you go harder in a race. I think that has made me be a better and faster runner.”

Prone to injuries, Ann’s string of championship races came to an early end, but her competitive nature drove her on. From 2005 to 2009, Ann switched her main focus to Ironman racing since she was already a runner and a swimmer. “I thought I would use my strength as an ultrarunner,” she said. “You really learn how to manage hydration and nutrition and I thought that would come in handy in Ironmans and it did.” Instead of miles of running, she would spend a day training on 100-mile bike rides. “It was intense in a different way,” she said. “I really enjoyed it, though.”

Ann qualified for the Ironman World Championships twice and competed in the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii in 2007.

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During all these years, Ann continued to be a supporting member of the 100k championship team, along with Tim as one of the managers and helpers. In the 2006 race, held in North Korea, Team USA did not place well, according to Tim. So, over beers, Tim, the race manager, and doctor talked about a better way to keep the team more consistent. Their answer came in the idea of a qualifying race.

The doctor, Lion Caldwell, said he would donate $2,000 in prize money if Tim would put on the race. The race would be an annual, dependable, well-run championship course where runners could sign up to specifically earn a spot on the team and to run fast times. With the clinking of bottles, Tim and Caldwell agreed and the Mad City Ultras–100k, 50k solo, and 50k relay–began. The first one was run in 2007 and Tim has directed them ever since, welcoming fast and slower runners to Madison, Wisconsin every spring. The race is a certified 10k loop, wrapping around the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum and Lake Wingra.

A half-flat, half-slightly-hilly course, the race allows people to come aiming for a goal time. The 100k male and female winners automatically receive a spot on the national team. This year it was Falbo and Burns who received automatic entries. Burns set a new course record this year in 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Other racers travel to the course seeking age-group records, Tim said. “Two years ago someone came to set the record for 80 year olds, and he did,” Tim said. “And last year a man came to set the record for the 50-to-54-year-old group, and he did. There are very slow runners and very fast runners, and the 50k course is not a championship race, but people just want to see if they can do it.”

After the first spot is filled, the USATF selects the remaining Team USA spots based on top 100k times and other qualifying standards.

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The course is set up for a fast race, with ample aid and great family access, Tim said. “It’s an ideal set-up for an ultra race for people in it for not just the scenery, but for the competition, just like the championship,” he said. “Not to say our course is not scenic; our course is beautiful. It is really pretty.” Starting up the race so quickly, and one with such caliber, was not a problem for Tim, who spent years helping out and years of race-directing experience already under his belt. In 2002, Tim took over the Kettle Moraine 100 Endurance Run, originally directed by Kevin and Kris Setnes. “At the time it was the only 100 miler in Wisconsin,” he said. “Everyone loved it so we [he and co-director Jason Dorgan] thought someone needed to keep it going.”

Tim, being a sub-24-hour finisher at the race, knew what it took to direct a successful race, but there was more to Tim’s personality that kept the race one of the top races in the Midwest. “Yes, it is very difficult,” Tim said of directing a yearly 100 miler. “But, I don’t see it like that. It is a sense of altruism, it’s a sense of giving, like donating blood.” He describes it as a public service, a thankless job in many ways. “Our race is an important opportunity for people and we realize how important it is every single year when people finish and how happy they are that someone gave them that opportunity,” he explained. “So that is my motivation.”

“Timo treats all his runners with respect,” Mallach said of his fellow Midwest race director. “It doesn’t matter if you win the Mad City 100k or are DFL at the Kettle 100 Mile, he’s there with a smile and a handshake. Timo and his co-director Dorgan are the reason many runners keep coming back to the Kettle 100 Mile.”

Ann’s current training consists of local half marathons, four to five weekly runs, and regular boot camp high-intensity workouts, she explained. Still working five days a week, leading two dogs to the dog walk, and running and working out, her life maintains its busy schedule. Tim, recently retired, keeps up with both races and has joined the local theater, singing and dancing. It was difficult the first few times that Ann accompanied the USA team as a spectator and not as a competitor, she said, but watching and cheering has gotten easier.

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“Now, I enjoy working and volunteering,” she said of her niches of assisting at the championship races, other ultras, and at Tim’s races. “Ann and Timo are Ice Age volunteers,” Mallach added. “Welcoming and knowledgable, they are great ambassadors for Wisconsin ultrarunning, and ultrarunning in general.”

Tim’s love for watching people run, whether it is the fastest person on the course or while standing next to a group of volunteers in a foreign country, has brought him and Ann closer together. “Little Ann,” he calls her. “She is a beautiful runner, a toe runner, running on her forefoot. In marathons, she just puts down her head and runs as fast as she can. That’s the same kind of strength and character and determination she brings to ultramarathon running. I am proud to know her and I swell with pride when I see her run.”

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WeRunFar Ben Holmes

WeRunFar Profile: Ben Holmes

Trail Nerds (noun): Persons (or mammals) living within the Kansas City metropolitan area and environs who avoid roads of all kinds. They run throughout the woods, up and down hilly, rocky trails day and night, winter through summer. They run everyday, including weekends, volunteer when they can, and drink beer after every finish line.

They are of the ultrarunning species and their population is growing each year.

The Trail Nerds make up one of the largest trail running groups in the U.S., with more than 4,000 people on their Facebook site. The group originates in 2001, when Bad Ben Holmes trekked into town.

“Back in 2000, I decided to try to get some of my buddies to run trails with me,” Ben said. With a Yahoo site already set up for road running groups, called KC Running, Ben realized he needed one for those interested in the trails.

“Some other people said, ‘Why don’t we call ourselves the Kansas City Metro Area Trail and Ultrarunning Association?’”

“Nah,” Ben shot down quickly. “We are the Trail Nerds.”

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Because Ben was calling the shots, gathering the nerds up for each run, building the Trail Nerds website, and organizing races, he won out on the name. Since then, thousands of runners follow the Trail Nerds group, hundreds run the 20 races put on by the group every year, and a handful of dedicated runners come out for the weekly group runs. The Trail Nerds lead group runs 52 weeks of the year and continuously schedule spur-of-the-moment fat-ass races and long runs, Ben said.

Mud Babe Mondays, the female Trail Nerds version, where women can run together and new runners can be introduced to the sport without any outside pressure, claim Mondays. Occasionally, Tuesday night runners will group together for an unofficial hilly run and Wednesdays, the designated 2.5-, 4.5-, and 9-mile runs meet at the Shawnee Mission Park at 6 p.m. for a well-attended event, Ben said. Pace groups split off so that everyone has people to run with, he added.

Thursday is the popular, never-miss beer appreciation run at Wyandotte County (WyCo) Lake Park at 6:00 p.m. “Matty Mullins heads that up,” Ben said. “There are always 10 or 20 people who show up year round. I went to one once. It was only 15 degrees out so I thought, Eh, there will only be like three to four people. Fifteen people showed up! And two of them showed up on motorcycles. Yeah, Trail Nerds are tough.”

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The week, Monday through Sunday, is full of Trail Nerds running for Ben. Three to four days of leading running groups, weekends of fat-ass races, and the directing of official Trail Nerds races.

“That’s a lot of running,” Ben said, whose official titles are founder of the Trail Nerds group and race director of the events. His girlfriend Coco Tieghi is co-director.

“It is a lot of work,” he said, but the two have the race protocol down to a science.

At each race, the large U-Haul truck, wrapped and decorated in Trail Nerds paraphernalia, is stationed at every finish line. Jammed full with every race-related necessity inside, it acts as both a large organizer and storage unit.

“Once the race is over, I put everything back in it for the next race,” he said. “It’s a labor of love and a lot of work, but I enjoy doing it and we get the most awesome volunteers to help with the races.”

As founder and race director, the biggest duties lay on Ben shoulders. Prior to the start of the new year, about $25,000 is handed to the state parks and other trail officials for permits, port-a-potties, and a weekly shelter fee.

Membership fees are required on a yearly basis or lifetime level, and for those generous types, one can pay an amount when signing up for the year to help with some of the fees, Ben said.

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The fees though, go toward annual costs, rather than race dues.

For instance, Ben describes some recent, late August races, “The Rock Away Night & Day [which consists of a Friday night half marathon and an a Saturday day 50 miler] had a $20 entry fee and you got a really nice trucker hat, free downloadable pictures, beer at the end, and a sticker with the distance on it,” Ben said. “A lot of the races barely cover costs.”

The money instead helps with trail maintenance, another race-director responsibility.

The Kansas City area trails are tread upon by trail shoes and paws, sharing the pack from one trail to the next. The group takes over the parks within the Kansas City Metro area, Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas and everything in between.

The races operate on each trail as well, with the most well-known Trail Nerds race using the WyCo Park for the February Psycho WyCo Run Toto Run, a 50k, 20 miler, and 10 miler, and its summer sister event, the Psycho Psummer Trail Run, which hosts the same distance races.

“We have singletrack trails that are very rocky,” he said. “We help build and maintain trails in the area, like weed whacking. When a storm comes and trees come down, we go out there with chainsaws.”

Ben personally weed whacks 30 miles of trail per year, which equates to about four hours per mile.

The first few days of September were spent hiking the WyCo loop with a few other Trail Nerds with chainsaws, cutting down and clearing the 15 felled trees after a big storm went through, he said.

The Trail Nerds have a great relationship with the county parks and trail managers because of the multitude of races, which bring in revenue to the area.

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“We will have 500 people show up for the Psycho WyCo race in February and people will spend like $200 a day when they stay the night,” he said. “The county sees that. Everyone appreciates the work we do. They see how their bread is buttered and they see us and thank us.”

Many people have Ben to thank when it comes to the sport of ultrarunning. Each year, the Trail Nerds group introduces about 5,000 people to the trails, Ben said, these people are a mixture of young 20-somethings who just started their running career to veteran road runners looking for something new and discovering it on the trails.

Self-proclaimed trail rookie, Dan Savage, said he has Ben and the Trail Nerds to thank for getting him off the roads and onto the trails.

He had two weeks to get ready for his first ultra, the Frisco Railroad Run in Willard, Missouri in April 2016, when Savage said he was getting nervous.

Needing some inspiration, he turned to the Trail Nerds, whose races are just 15 minutes from his front door, he said.

“I initially went out to volunteer with the Trail Nerds to get inspiration from the ultrarunners running that race, which I did in a big way,” Savage said. A big help, he claimed, was the finish of a 73-year-old in the 100k distance.

“As an unexpected side benefit from volunteering, I was able to spend some time with this guy named Ben, [who he learned later was Bad Ben, the race director]. He was giving me little nuggets of advice on running that ultra that helped me greatly.”

Savage has since volunteered at five Trail Nerds events and ran the 10k at Psych Night Trail Run this past August. Each time, he learns a little bit more about ultrarunning, and now knows the importance of owning several headlamps.

The Trail Nerds cover all their bases: Night running with flashlights and headlamps, all-distance races, all-terrain routes, and all-season weather.

The group starts off with a 2.8-mile race for someone’s first introduction to the trails. The distances then climb from there, offering marathons and 50 milers. The longest is the 100k distance during the Free State Trail Runs, also a 40-mile, marathon and half-marathon, all of which takes place at the Clinton State Park in Lawrence, Kansas.

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Ben decided from the beginning he did not want to offer a 100-mile distance, in respect of his own time and efforts and those of his faithful volunteers.

“There are too many damn 100 milers out there. There really are,” he said. “When I started running 100 milers, 1,500 attempted a 100 miler per year and there were only 15 100’s offered. Now, there’s 158 in North America and there’s 4,000 people who enter them.”

It zaps the energy of the volunteers, he added, who man the aid stations and finish lines for races which usually draw up to 50 people in the longer distances. But, he said, if you really want a 100-mile race in the central Midwest, there are six races within a short driving distance of Kansas City.

Instead of the 100 miler, Ben likes to put his energy into perfecting his unique races.

He offers low-key races of all distances, making a family event for every ‘runner’ in the house. When I say runner, I don’t mean those with just two legs. “Most races, except for the hotter summer ones, I allow dogs,” he said. “They get a bib, chip time, and there’s a separate canine division for awards.” For the entry fee, the Dirt Dawgs receive a collapsible doggie bowl, with the only rule being the dog must be able to run efficiently without a leash, and not go bounding off through the woods chasing every deer and turkey they smell. “Dogs love to run on trails and they really get into it,” Ben said. “After a while they get comfortable and really enjoy running on trails. It is a kind of a tribal thing, a really cool thing to see.”

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“Most of our races are 35 to 40% women, 10% kids, and the rest men,” Ben guessed. “Plus dogs! It really is a family affair.”

Savage ran a 10k with his trail dog Sydney, which was her second official trail run ever. “I absolutely love taking Sydney on the trail runs with me, and she loves it too,” he added. “We both have a blast.”

The family running trend relates back to Ben’s own family, how he got started in running, and how he now runs with his own grandson. Before moving to Kansas in 1996, Ben lived in the Pacific Northwest, running in high school until losing the love of the sport for the next few years. He graduated from Eastern Washington University with a degree in mathematics, landing the next few jobs in the labs of pharmaceutical companies.

At age 23, he picked up the sport again. During the years he wasn’t running, Ben would still enter the Spokane, Washington Lilac Bloomsday Run race, which his grandfather, a runner who logged miles till he was 96 years old, ran in every year.

“I usually trained a week before, which did not do much good, show up, run the 7.4 miles, throw up at the end, and then call it good for another year,” he said, laughing at his former teenage self. “One year, I looked at my time from previous years and looked at his [his grandfather’s] time and I realized I was getting slower and at this rate mathematically, I’m going to be finishing after him in a few years.”

Ben started training more and the next year finished with a decent time, good enough to start training for a spot on his company’s corporate team. Then in 1990, he announced to his team he was going to run a marathon. “A gal at the head of our corporate team said “Uhh, you kinda’ have to train for one,” he remembered. He decided a 15 miler the week before would suffice. “So, I did that and thought, Well, I can do it.” He came in 26 miles later in 3 hours and 46 minutes, saying the one phrase every destined to-be runner says, “I will never do that again.” Of course, six months later, he was in Seattle, Washington running his second one.

He finished 38 road marathons throughout the ‘90s before finally entering a 50k. “I did okay there, about four and a half hours, then decided to do a 50 miler in Texas and I did okay there in 9:07 and I said, “Okay, but I will never run a 100 miler,” he said.

In 2003, Ben ran his first 100 miler, the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, finishing under 24 hours. At age 59, he has since run the Texas race six times, among other low-key events. His eyes though are now set on the Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run, after two unsuccessful attempts before.

His training, running about four times a week plus any long runs, is done on his own or with friends and family. Most of his races are unofficial fat-ass events. Every once in awhile, he will call up his high-school-freshman-aged grandson, asking to run the 10-mile WyCo loop. “I call him up during the summer and say, ‘Hey, want to go run a loop?’” Ben said. “Sure, can I grab a couple of soccer buddies?” the young one answers. “They take water and we do a run in the 90-degree heat,” he said, laughing.

Like grandfather, like grandson.

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His nickname, Bad Ben, was earned for having a similar running-focused mindset. Years ago after just moving to Kansas, Ben was taking martial arts, working 60 hours a week, and running ultra after ultra. “A man in his late twenties, a little overweight, worked with me,” Ben said. “I used to go to his house for parties, these 20-something parties that lasted till 3 a.m. and I would get ready to go at 1 a.m.” Ben was asked why he always leaving before the party ended, he recalled.

“Oh, I’ve got a marathon or a 50 miler to run,” he would respond.

“When?” the friend would ask.

“Oh, about five hours till it starts,” Ben told him. “He started calling me Bad Ben.”

Now, the friend is an ultrarunner living in North Carolina and has run a marathon on every continent.

“It feels good to have inspired him to do that,” Ben said.

Inspiration, motivation, and a lot of tough love are what makes Ben a great race director and a great crew member for his friends’ ultras. Though he has never run Western States or Leadville Trail 100 Mile, he has been there through it all, pacing and crewing friends, all with a ‘suck it up and run’ approach. “I really like pacing, but I have never had a pacer for myself,” he said. “I like seeing people develop and pushing people through their first 100 or first sub-24 100 miler is a lot of fun.” He may see it as fun, but his runner may not. “I am pretty tough,” he admitted.

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During one Western States at the Rucky Chucky aid station, Ben was trying to get his runner, who was complaining of stomach issues, back to the trail. “I said, ‘We have been here for nine minutes, either you put your fingers down your throat and throw up or I will put your fingers down your throat!’” he said. “He finally did throw up and said, ‘Hey, I feel better.’”

Ben doesn’t mind if pacing leads him to more than 50 miles on his feet or directing keeps him up till 2 a.m. “I love seeing people get inspired on the trails and start doing ultras,” he said.

The 2016 Western States winner, Kaci Lickteig’s first ultra was the Psycho Wyco in 2012, he said, and she just returned this past summer to win the hot version of the psycho race, the Psycho Psummer 50k.

“My experience was fantastic and one I will never forget,” Lickteig said, remembering her first-ever trail run. “I remember meeting Ben and he welcomed me and made me feel like I belonged.”

Coming back in 2016, she knew another good, crazy time with Ben and the Trail Nerds was in the works.

“The atmosphere of the Trail Nerds events is one of the biggest reasons I love to run them,” she said. “It makes me feel so honored to be a distant part of the Trail Nerds by having that race as my first and by coming back and feeling so welcomed. Ben always goes above and beyond to make me feel special, but he does that with everyone.”

As a race director, pacer, or just fellow group runner, helping people in their own journey of running is his biggest joy, he said. “That is probably why I love to crew and pace and put on races. I love seeing people get into it,” he added.

Lickteig is just one of the runners who honor Ben for helping them take their first step into the trails. “I have to thank Ben for being the one who hooked me to trail running. If my experience had been elsewhere, I may not have fallen in love with trails and never found the passion for them as I do today. He makes it a point to provide everyone something to love about the trails,” Lickteig said. “Thank you Ben for being a great race director and more importantly a great person!”

WeRunFar Ulli Kamm

WeRunFar Profile: Ulli Kamm

“There is nothing like finishing 100 milers,” Ulli Kamm said. “I’ve done 200-plus miles nonstop…. but there is nothing like coming to a finish line of a 100 miler. I don’t need any awards. I just need my wife standing there and me knowing I finished the 100 miler and am in one piece. I am happy.”

Ulli is a special subject when it comes to the world of ultra races. His name has been appearing in races and results pages for years, but unless you’ve seen him really race, you know there is something more to this guy than competing.

Ulli does not sign up for the glory, the publicity, the belt buckle, or even the camaraderie found in ultra packs. Instead, he is out there to walk. To walk sections with friends. To walk the trails. To walk in whatever weather nature brings him. To walk up and down the mountains. To walk for himself.

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His competition is against his own thoughts and the clock. The red unwavering numbers, counting down the minutes toward each cutoff time.

“For preparing for [a 100 miler], it is more mental than physical,” he said. “I know the day will come when I don’t meet the cutoff and I will be late. I have to prepare mentally for that day.”

Ulli is an ultrawalker. At 69 years old and in his 50th year of ultrawalking, Ulli’s passion for the sport and trails is as alive and fresh as ever. He recently finished a 100 miler on just “training” or walking a total of two to three miles the week leading up to it, and has about four to five more ultra races planned for the rest of the year.

When I say ultrawalking–I mean, and he means–ultrawalking. He is not hiking and jogging. He is not running or taking extra-long walking sections on flat or hilly sections of a trail. He is walking all 100 or 50 or 60 miles or however many miles are in his race and enjoying every minute of it.

As runners get older, the amount of walking they do in races typically increases. And as a runner gets more tired during a long ultra, the same thing can happen. And neither of these situations are on purpose. However, for Ulli, it was always like this. He has always intentionally ultrawalked.

Ulli was born in Germany in 1947 and as a young child, around three years old, was quickly introduced to the mountains. It was in the Alps, climbing one day in the year 1974, when he met his wife Traudl, who shares his love of the mountains and nature and has completed about six ultras herself.

“I just love being out in the mountains and nature,” he said. “I am always hiking. I just enjoy doing it.”

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It was in 1968, still overseas, when he did his first 100 miler. Having already finished a 50k in 1966 in Germany, he knew he was up to walking an ultra and finishing in time. A friend had asked him to join him in a race in Holland and–without knowing the distance ahead of time–Ulli said yes.

It was the toughest finish he’s ever had, he claims, and yet his love of endurance-walking races was born.

“Running requires training,” he stated. “Hiking in the mountains is always training.”

Ulli looks at every hike, walk of the dog, climb of three flights of stairs instead of an elevator as a training session for his next ultra.

The 100-mile distance is preferred, he said, because he can achieve everything he needs to within those miles and relishes in his belief that every 100-mile race is walkable.

He also has competed in two Centurion racewalking events. The Centurion races began in England in 1911 and are still held every year there and in six other countries including the United States. After finishing one you become part of the “Brotherhood of Centurions.” Ulli finished the race, which challenges its participants to walk 100 miles in 24 hours in England and in the Netherlands. Beyond the Centurion races, Ulli has racewalked to the finish of nine 100-mile races in under 24 hours.

Ulli Kamm photo 3

“I never care for records and rank,” he said. “I don’t mind being at the bottom of the pack. I just keep going and keep walking.”

In 50 years of competing, Ulli tributes his nearly injury-proof life to not having the stress of running take a toll on his body. The one injury he claims was not really an injury but painful enough to be forced from the race, was during a 24-hour run when a bone moved, pushing and straining a nerve in his leg.

He added, after a Barkley Marathons one year, his knee was so painful he could not do any ups and downs. He stuck to flat ultras for the next year instead.

He praises his 50 years of ultrawalking with one thing: his health, both mental and physical.

“I have learned how to overcome the challenges of life, the ups and downs, like the ups and downs of a race,” he explained. “My slogan is ‘just keep going,’” he stated.

Another big lesson learned every race? “Learning how fast I am at every moment. That is necessary to avoid missing cutoff times.”

When younger, Ulli said he was a middle-of- the-pack competitor, keeping the same steady pace the entire 100 miles. During his first Leadville Trail 100 Run, he reached the turnaround and passed 94 people on the way back, without anyone passing him. Now, while in the back of the pack of most races, his motivation is still the same as it was 20 years ago.

Ulli Kamm photo 4

“My motivation? I have my schedule and I stick to my schedule no matter what others are doing or saying,” he claims. “People at the aid station say I am not going to make it or other runners say I’m not going to make it, but I say no, I am a few minutes ahead of my schedule, I am going to make it. I trust my schedule and I trust my speed.”

His schedule affirms where he should be at each mile and aid station, based off the approaching cutoff time. Whether he is 10 minutes ahead or just three, he knows he is on track to finish, unless something truly unplanned happens. Coming in minutes before the cutoff? He’s pretty used to that, he said.

He’s also pretty used to his biggest supporter, his wife Traudl.

“She has been with me for 200 of these ultras, going from aid station to aid station, supporting me and cleaning up the mess I make at the aid station,” he said. “There were many races I could not have done without her. She was and still is the best aid-station person someone can have.”

Ulli Kamm photo 5

Nearing 70 though, the types of races he chooses to be involved in has changed. He picks races he knows he has at least a 50-percent chance of finishing and has the possibility of Traudl walking him in at the end.

The Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run, his favorite race and trail course of all, is no longer on that list. However, he will never forget those Silverton, Colorado trails and those who are still directing and racing will never forget him. Ulli is one of the few 10-plus-time finishers of the race. His last finish at the race was in 2004.

“Hardrock is my all-time favorite,” he claimed. “It will be always be my all-time favorite landscape. I like climbing mountains and in Hardrock I get to climb as many mountains as I want.”

When I see pictures of Hardrock, I think this has to be the hardest race in the country, but according to Ulli, it is subjective and depends on the runner. For Hardrock, he said, the challenges comes from the cutoff times and unpredictable weather. The climbing and descending of some 33,000-plus feet is the fun part, well maybe not fun, he said. It is the most enjoyable part for the climbing enthusiast, but the climbs are also the biggest factor in meeting the cutoff times.

Dale Garland, Hardrock’s race director, said when he first met Ulli and learned he was walking he thought, No way. According to Garland, Ulli’s legacy at Hardrock has been a greater self-confidence in people when finishing the race.

“We have people who still finish Hardrock because they learned that you can finish without running,” he said. “He is reserved, but he is a man who loved the mountains, loved the camaraderie of the people who came to share that love.”

His favorite Ulli story is when Ulli would tell him after a race how lonely he was during the part of the race, since everyone ran ahead and left him.

“Yet, at the finish line,” he said. “Here was Ulli with four, five, six people who he had picked up along the way and who finished because they stuck close to him and walked with him.”

Ulli Kamm photo 6

He believes there are several 100 milers where the course may not be as tough as Hardrock, but the cutoff time is shorter, a difficulty for back-of-the-pack runners.

During his first few times at Hardrock, Ulli thought one section of the race could be improved. In the early days of the race, the route between Silverton and Grant Swamp Pass was routed up the South Mineral Fork Road and the Ice Lake Trail. After looking through maps and even buying a hand-inscribed map from a land surveyor, Ulli tracked down some old mining trails, designed an alternate 14- to 15-mile route for that section, and submitted it to the directors.

It was tested and accepted, and it today remains the standard route connecting Silverton and Grant Swamp Pass. In that section of the course, there is the Kamm Traverse and the KT (Kamm Traverse) Aid Station. As you can imagine, these were named after Ulli.

“Yes that’s cool,” he said, reluctantly responding to my admiration. “But, that’s not why I suggested the change. I don’t like the exposure.”

With more exposure, comes more pressure according to the ultrawalker.

“I want to go into these races without pressure and enjoy doing it. That’s why I’m still here,” he said.

Ulli Kamm photo 7

His race choices are founded on this mentality as well, which explains why Ulli has never been to Western States, a great event he believes, although a bit of a “circus” of a race for his mentality, and only has done Leadville, another type of circus, a few times because it was located near his home when he lived in Colorado.

His preferred races include a lot of nature, whatever nature can give him. The McNaughton Park Trail Run, now called the Potawatomi Trail Run in Illinois, is a good one, along with several others around his current home of Boise, Idaho, he said.

“I really like the nature there,” he said. “[Potowatomi] has three creeks and in the wet years, knee-deep mud, and some vertical up and down. I like tough environments.”

Of course Hardrock is a top one in his books. It has everything–mountains, night running, weather–basically just nature. Finishing within minutes of cutoff times means a lot of night runs and temperature changes. Over the 50 years of ultrawalking, he has run straight through 184 nights without a break or sleep.

“I got used to it,” he said. “The night is beautiful when the moon is showing and animals’ red eyes are looking at you and you hear a lot of noises around you. Night is special. I like being with other people, but I also like being in the quiet, peaceful hours alone through nature.”

Weather is just another aspect of the race.

“I like being a part of nature and rain is a part of nature,” he said. So is snow and cold winds, he added.

“I am not fighting the weather, it is nature,” he said. “It is natural and you have to be prepared for the weather. When the trail gets slippery or the rocks and roots, then that slows you down and then I am worried about cutoff times. That is the only problem I have with the weather.”

Hardrock is not an option anymore, a fact accepted by Ulli, who claims he could still do the race, but he thinks he’d need an extra eight hours or so to get around the loop.

But that still won’t slow him down, race-wise. So far this year he has completed two ultras and will have about three to four more to finish before 2016 comes to an end.

He is aware that in the coming years not meeting cutoff times will begin to get more difficult.

Ulli Kamm photo 8

Until he wants to stop doing such races as often, his plan is to switch to 24-hour races or easier 50ks.

“And that is welcome,” he said. “I’m prepared for that.”

According to his calculations, he usually completed eight to nine (usually 100 milers) races a year and since 1989 has averaged 76 miles a race.

He buys a pair of shorts and one to two pair of shoes a year depending on the wear and tear, he said. He also logs every race, publishing a summary on his website, ultrawalk.com.

The site is a compilation of race results, photos, biographies, and other walkers of ultras. It also lists the numerous names of races he and his wife have directed over the years.

“I don’t remember how many years ago,” he answered, when asked when he began the website. “It was more or less for me to keep track of what I’m doing. How I got into this and my past.”

In the 50th year, the mile doesn’t get shorter and the toll on the body is not getting easier. The weather is never the same and the trails are constantly changing, but the clock never lies. It keeps going. 24 hours. 28 hours. 32 hours. Done. As Ulli gets older his priorities for this sport are becoming more focused.

They won’t include worrying about nutrition, weather, or even the cutoff time soon. It will just be about the relationship between Ulli and nature.

WeRunFar Sunny Blende

WeRunFar Profile: Sunny Blende

For those obsessed with food, this story is for you.

When it comes to fueling for ultra distances–whether it is swimming, rowing, or running–there is a nutritionist who stands out amongst the rest. Sunny Blende is a renowned endurance-sports nutritionist who has gained such a reputation from a combination of her science-based methodologies, her long-term Ultrarunning Magazine nutrition column, and her personal experience living and fueling as an ultra athlete.

I could have spent all day asking Sunny questions. “What carbohydrates are best in a race?” “Should certain people abstain from dairy products?” “What is the real deal with cholesterol?” Like many, I just want to say: “Okay, tell me everything you know. I’ll do it, no questions asked.”

But it is not that simple and Sunny cannot be that easily played. “Many people just want a meal plan, ‘Just give me what to eat and I will eat it,’” she told me. “That is not teaching somebody. I want to teach people things because that is how it becomes a habit.” Nutrition is not taught by saying, “I am not going to eat sugar anymore,” she said. “It has to be a habit.”

Sunny Blende 1 - canyon running

Sunny, age 65, has a lifetime of personal experience in athletics, health, and food, which have molded her habits into a way of life from which she will never fully retire. Though she is now professionally retired, she calls it “semi-retired” because she cannot seem to break the “habit” of publishing articles, traveling the country to speak, and volunteering for organizations and at events.

She attended the University of Southern California for dental school, worked as a dental hygienist for 33 years, and then in 1996 went for a human-nutrition master’s degree from the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

“My hands began to give out,” she said. “Thirty-three years is along time to be a dental hygienist, not many people go that long.” Nutrition seemed like a natural path for her after that. “I was always fascinated by nutrition, partly because of being a dental hygienist,” she said. Most of her fellow nutrition graduates went into working for food companies, but Sunny wanted to be more in the health and sports industries. She decided to open her own sports-nutrition practice.

Sunny Blende 2 - Grete

Sunny expected that she would have masters-age clients who could afford a nutritionist and a trainer, but instead her main athletes have been in high school, college, and ultrarunners of all ages.

She also taught a class at College of Marin in Kentfield, California where she had a slew of students, all interested in sports nutrition for different reasons. “I had a lot of swimmers and runners in the class,” she said. “But I also had a lot of parents of those student athletes who had no idea what to feed their kids.”

Her program with students and non-athletes tended to center around the same structure. She started with basic nutrition–macro and micronutrients–for all-distance athletes–sprint, middle, and ultra–as well for team “start and stop” sports, such as volleyball and baseball. The main thing for everyone was the emphasis on real food and not relying on products made by sport-nutrition companies.

Sunny Blende 3 - Badwater crew

When Sunny began writing for Ultrarunning Magazine in 2006, her career took off within the ultra world. Before then, there was not a lot of education available on fueling for a race longer than a marathon. “Marathon nutrition didn’t work great with ultras,” she said. “You can last two to four hours, but it is not great for 12 to 20 hours.”

Her ability to explain things in a way that everyone can understand, rather than in scientific terms, is something she prides herself in and is a skill for which many commend her. Tia Bodington, a previous iRunFar profilee, the Miwok 100k race director, and a former Ultrarunning Magazine editor, used to edit Sunny’s nutrition column at the magazine. “I was always amazed that she could take such complex topics and explain them in a way that the layperson could understand and implement,” Tia said.

Sunny said that, since she was running ultras by that time as well, she was able to start developing a program specifically for ultra distances based on how she herself felt. However, the biggest thing she has learned from the last 10 years of coaching is that there is no one way when it comes to nutrition. “There are actually many ways that work,” she explained. “You just need to work with the athlete and find out what works and what doesn’t. Some people can eat 24 gels in a 100-mile race and be fine with that. And I have had several runners throw up on me at mile 65 because they could not take another gel.”

It is through trial and error, she reminds everyone, that we navigate ultra nutrition. “I tell people to experiment and what I tell clients who are under-fueling–which is the usual problem since people don’t take in enough calories at the right time–in long training runs, eat till you throw up. Eat till you get sick!” she said. “They are like, ‘What?’” She then explains that perhaps he or she can eat more than they think, allowing them to get in more calories than they originally thought.

“Try something different,” she added. “Really, throwing up–in my definition–is erasing the blackboard and starting over.”

The goal is to get her athletes to think of fueling as a separate entity from eating. “It is not the same food we enjoy at dinnertime,” she said. Fueling, in Sunny’s terms, is something to help sports performance and something that can be sustainable down the road.

Sunny Blende 4 - GGB row

Over the years of training clients, watching races, and competing herself, Sunny realized the great deficit between the amount of calories we consume and expend during long bouts of endurance exercise. She began closely looking into how our body uses the fuel we put into it. By figuring out how to maximize the greatest number of calories, she stumbled upon the science of metabolic efficiency, or what is commonly referred to as fat burning.

“We all carry some fat no matter how lean we are,” Sunny said. “But how do we tap into it?” In a nutshell, Sunny trains her clients’ bodies to utilize stored fat, rather than just the instant carbohydrates we traditionally consume during exercise. It is a process, unique for every athlete, but one which offers an advantage to many kinds of athletes. She asked her clients to slow down for a period of eight to 10 weeks and told to lose the bad carbs. She hopes she shouldn’t have to say what those bad carbs are, she added.

Sunny says that the system only works with slow running, wherein the body doesn’t have to use many carbs due to the lack of the intensity. Sunny said that since she has begun working with the research, she has noticed more and more people catching on to the low-carb diet. This was especially spurred by the Paleo Diet trend since early 2000.

Sunny Blende 5 - NFEC

The Paleo diet, when revised years later, added in more carbs for athletes and reduced the amount of saturated fat, especially the bacon grease, she said. “Athletes weren’t competing well on just the Paleo Diet,” Sunny said. “My point on all diets is that all diets do have some good points to them, but use your common sense. As for a vegan diet, I have no problem with a vegan diet except that it is harder and you have to watch if you’re getting enough protein and iron.”

Sunny doesn’t tell people to cut out all carbs and run 20 slow miles a day. No, she makes suggestions like upping fruits, veggies, and protein, as well as switching up your regular pasta meal. “Instead of two thirds pasta and one third sauce and veggies, switch it up,” she said. “Do one third pasta and pile on the veggies!”

There is evidence from her everyday life. Fresh-caught fish from her lake-house property in Idaho and an entire head of asparagus, usually meant to feed five or six, split between her and her partner Randy Hixon. “We eat what is available and what is in season,” she explained. “And we use tons of different spices. We went to Morocco and fell in love with the spices, like turmeric and cumin.”

She only drinks water since juice, she claims, is barely a step above Coca-Cola. “Eat the orange and let your gut be the juicer,” she said. “Eat the food as close to the source as possible, like a carrot rather than carrot juice.”

“The only exception is carrot cake,” she added in, laughing. “That’s my favorite.”

Sunny Blende 6 - Alcatraz swim

Another big issue in the diet are dairy products, yet Sunny says, once again, use common sense. “We need to choose dairy wisely,” she said. “Yogurt for instance. I have a big beef with the nonfat flavored yogurt because when you take the fat out, then they up the sugar you are putting in your body, which is inflammatory and spikes your insulin.”

Sugar. The ingredient every nutritionist and dental hygienist loathes to see. When switching over to more fat, protein, and real food during races for herself and her clients, the role of sugar in one’s health was another main factor she kept an eye on.

“Most athletes who are good in their sport don’t have a weight problem and don’t have to worry about eating a lot of carbs and gaining weight,” she said. “But if you ask me, it is the health as well. When you look at a long-term athlete, say 35 years long like me, exercising six or seven days a week for one to two hours a day and taking one to two gels a day, that is a lot of sugar I am putting into my body. And that is very inflammatory.”

Sunny doesn’t just teach these lessons. She tries to live them. Sunny has more than 30 years of single-scull rowing, years of distance swimming, mountain biking, hiking, and trail running. Add in paddleboarding too, another hobby she picked up about three years ago. Sunny is mostly a rower and runner. She grew up and still lives in southern California where she was a part of a very athletic family who traveled and hiked throughout the country.

Sunny Blende 7 - Row Tahoe

As a kid she watched the rowers glide along the bay outside her window and quickly picked up the sport, now having rowed all over the world with Randy, usually in single shells. The two, who are celebrating their 24th non-marital partnership this year, met during a rowing trip and since then, they have rowed to Catalina Island, California, a 32-mile row that takes about six hours to cross. They have also rowed across the Monterey Bay in California and through the Prince William Sound, Alaska–100 miles through glaciers. When the couple traveled to Budapest, Hungary and Australia, they rented boats as well.

If they haven’t rowed on a continent, then they have either hiked or ran on it. “I have been to every continent, even Antarctica,” she said. “I ran there, but there wasn’t an official marathon yet.”

Within the multitude of sports Sunny participated in while growing up, she stumbled across her love of running in 1972, when she was in her early twenties. In 1978, she completed her first marathon and several years after that she even discovered her love for trail running.

It was a decision she made by herself, to run a marathon. In a time of horrible, stormy weather at her home in southern California, Sunny had to drive to Santa Monica to buy roofing supplies to fix a damaged roof. While there and without telling anyone her plan, she parked her car, put a few dollars in her shorts pocket, and ran what she believed was a 20 miler, her longest run ever by 14 miles.

Sunny Blende 8 - LA Marathon Photo

She ran through the town, along the ocean, and through the marina, asking the local sheriff for directions. She bought a Coke at a gas station and continued back toward her Volkswagen van.

“When I got back to the van I couldn’t step into it and I had to pull myself up by the wheel,” she said, laughing at the memory. “I limped into the store, got the roofing materials, drove home, and got into the bathtub, trying to move again. Then I told everyone I was going to train for a marathon and then went through the regular training.”

She had the opportunity to run international races, thanks to a friend who was on the Los Angeles Marathon committee. During one race, the Berlin Marathon, Sunny could only run for three hours, about 20 miles, and then she had to be on a train headed to Moscow, Russia for another appointment with her friend. “They had a cab waiting for me. It was pouring down rain so I was soaking wet and I was changing in the back of the cab and the cab driver was trying to watch me,” she laughed while retelling the story. “We barely made it in time, then they locked us in the cars. So, I didn’t get to cool down or stretch and didn’t get to eat for hours!”

It was back in the States, running a trail marathon in California, when the opportunity to step into the ultrarunning world presented itself.

Sunny Blende 9 - Skyline

Sunny won her age group and received a free entry into the Skyline 50k Endurance Run for her award. “I was like, “Oh my God, I won the prize, now I have to do it!” she exclaimed. “I really enjoyed it and I really liked trail running.”

She’s since completed numerous 50ks and 50 milers all over the country. She’s not run a 100 miler, but more adventure-type races and endeavors have taken her up and down a volcano in Maui, across the Grand Canyon’s Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim twice, and pacing at Western States and the Badwater 135 Mile.

I asked Sunny for her favorite race or destination and received a 10-minute answer with the inclusion of about seven different names. Her all-time favorite–she decided days after our initial interview–is the Run to the Sun in Maui, Hawaii, which is a 34-mile race from sea level to the Haleakalā summit at 10,000 feet. Her longest race was the 54-mile Mountain Masochist in Virginia, which she describes as a “no piece of cake” adventure.

Sunny has run the Dipsea Race, the oldest trail running event in the country, which takes place in California, many times. “I love the Dipsea Race,” she said. “I also love the Catalina Eco-Marathon, that’s a cool one. I think because I have rowed to and from the island in a race and have rowed around it. I know the water and I know the land and the buffalo and the wildlife. It is beautiful, there are no cars, and it takes you out of big-city life.”

She completed the Quad Dipsea in 2008, which is the seven-mile Dipsea Race route repeated a total of four times.

Sunny Blende 10 - Dipsea

Other contenders include Badwater, at which Sunny has paced and crewed friends. One time at Badwater, in 2005, she crewed Mike Sweeney, who led for over 80 miles. “He would not get on the scale for the entire race and when we finally got him to we realized he had gained weight and was hypernatremic, so drinking too much water,” she said. “We brought him back around and focused on getting him up to Whitney Portal, so I took my top off and ran backwards so that he would have something to follow. He followed right up the mountain!”

Badwater holds a special place in Sunny’s heart because crews and pacers have to support their runner so much despite being sleep deprived and running in the over 100-degree Fahrenheit weather, she said. And, the beauty of the desert makes it one of her favorite races.

Sunny Blende 11 - BADWATER BTR

The “different” races, through the desert or before and after the kayak leg of an adventure race, are the types of activities Sunny enjoys.

The next big one for her is a three-day run through Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon for the Grand Circle Trailfest this October. Despite now being in her “retirement,” Sunny will be attending the event to present on sports nutrition. It is a weekend she is beyond excited about, she said.

She also continues to work with long-distance swimmers. One, Paul Lundgren, will be attempting his fourth time across the Sea of Cortez, an 82-mile outing.

Her ability to drop and go to any volunteer, pacing, crewing, or teaching opportunity is an amazing attribute of Sunny’s, Tia added, who also mentioned Sunny’s continuous knack for taking on miscellaneous unsung tasks when Tia is directing the Miwok 100k. Sunny has the fun job of manning the Bridge View aid station. “Sunny is a dynamic, inspiring, and giving person who is not afraid to go after many of the amazing, athletic, travel, and volunteer opportunities this world has to offer,” Tia said, summing up her friend in one sentence.

Though Sunny is still hands deep in coaching, she did turn in her final nutrition column for Ultrarunning Magazine in January. “I will still write features and am still the nutrition columnist at Swimmer Magazine,” she said. “I stopped doing dental hygiene because my hands went out, but I loved it and still do and for sports nutrition. I think it is really nice to finish your career when you still really love something.”

Right now, Sunny and Randy have left their California home and relocated for the next few months at her parents’ old cabin in northern Idaho. There are bikes, fish, rowing shells, and trails. And lots of swim goggles, she added. Everything they need to live, until their next out-of-country trip.

Since toning down the workload, Sunny said she has been able to read her first fiction book in “I don’t know how many years.” Usually, she said, the books focus on science or the next trip she is planning.

In addition to the fiction novel, Sunny is nosing through books for her upcoming travel plans. Hiking and eating in France? Rowing and swimming in the Galapagos Islands? Running Italian trails before making her way to the beaches of Mexico and Costa Rica? She’s going to need some fuel for these adventures.

iRunFar: Jenny Nichols

WeRunFar Profile: Jenny Nichols

Warrior II Pose: Stand in Mountain Pose. Breathe in. On the exhale, step back until your feet are about four feet apart. Turn your back foot so it’s at a 45-degree angle from your front foot. Bend your front leg until your knee makes a 90-degree angle, or as close to it as you can. Straighten or nearly straighten your back leg. Raise your arms parallel to the floor with your palms facing down. Drop your shoulders from your ears. Take a deep breath and reflect.

Jenny Nichols takes this time to ask herself: Do I feel tight? Where do I need to focus on today? How are my hips and shoulders?

“Yoga is knowing yourself and your body,” Jenny said. “It is a self-awareness, like ultrarunning.”

In a race, the similar thoughts of self-awareness flow in: Do I need sugar? Salt? How are my legs feeling today? Ummm, where is the finish line?

Jenny Nichols 1 - yoga at home

In Jenny’s world, the two go hand-in-hand. They make up a “complex dualism,” where running flourishes when yoga thrives. It is a balance years of dedication, strength, and the ability to admit defeat have created.

For Jenny, the blonde 37-year-old mother, wife, and entrepreneur, that balance has leveled her into the badass ultrarunner/yogini she is today–strong accent and all.

Jenny mothers two boys while living in the Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee region with her husband. The town is situated in the area bordered by the two states, where some businesses claim the Tennessee address and others have the Virginia one, and everyone is voiced with the Southern-mixed-with-Eastern drawled-out dialect.

Jenny claims that the accent can be hard to take sometimes, and as kid she was embarrassed by it. But now she says is another thing that makes her, her.

“I once went to Louisiana and their accent is crazy strong, but they are all proud of their heritage,” she said. “I said to myself, Man, if they can be proud then I can be. People like me, if they don’t like the accent then they don’t have to talk to me. I have embraced it.”

She was born and raised in the Bristol, Virginia area, attended the University of Virginia for political science, and at age 27 decided to have her first son Jack and stay at home, eventually leading to starting her own business.

Jenny Nichols 2 - Family

She began running high-school cross country and track and field, but was so embarrassed at her race during the freshman year regional meet when her coach came up to her and asked, “Do you really want to improve?”

“I was working so hard and not having any results,” she said of her freshman-year training. During the off-season she began lifting weights, running, and working out with the high-school girls’ basketball team.

“Something clicked in my head,” she said. “It was a long summer of hard work and persistence.”

These two traits came back a few years later when she found herself at 185 pounds and pregnant with her first son.

“I had never done a marathon before,” she said. After Jack’s birth she was ready to take on another challenge. “I found shoes, looked up a race in Runner’s World Magazine, and went and did it.”

She finished the Louisville Marathon in 2005 in 4 hours and 23 minutes. Not very fast, she said, but a huge accomplishment.

It was her next-door neighbor, Beth Minnick, who exposed her to the world of ultrarunning.

“She ran the Boston Marathon and then got into ultrarunning. I thought she had lost her mind,” Jenny said. “Trails? Snakes? Bears?”

Around two years later, her brother Todd died, plunging Jenny into a traumatic whirlwind. It was the last month of her second pregnancy.

When she was cleared to run three months after her son’s birth, whom she named after her late brother, she met up with Beth, this time the concept of trail running didn’t seem so bizarre.

“Beth called me to run 17 miles,” she said of that first trail run.

“Yeah, I can do that,” she responded.

A few hours later: “It kicked my ass.”

With no gels, Jenny bonked hard in road shoes as she trekked through the wandering Virginia trails.

“I had an amazing time,” she exclaimed. “It was the peace I needed. The medicine I needed.”

Ultrarunning became a way to escape and just let it all out.

“I could be angry, cry, I could think about my brother,” she said. “It was a different community. It accepted who I was without any competition.”

“I finally found my people, my tribe,” she told me.

Jenny Nichols 3 -AT run

She and Beth continue to run together as a part of their founded club, Happy Trails. The club began with 10 people, its members discussing the next day’s route through Facebook posts. Now, she said, it is over 300 people and up to 20 runners will show up for a long run.

“It is not affiliated with the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, but is modeled after that,” she said. Jenny is friends with Sophie Speidel, claiming it was mentor Sophie who took her under her wing when she first began racing. The two meet together every year to trek with the other members of the Dirty Moms group, which escapes annually to the Appalachian Trail for crazy adventures.

Jenny’s running escalated quickly, consuming the body of the woman entering into races nearly every month for the next few years.

The endless miles were taking a toll on her fatiguing muscles and mind.

In 2011, Jenny started her yoga journey to combat what racing so many ultras a year was doing on her body.

Each pose added to the balance of her new training program, working through running and actively recovering with yoga.

“It is important for longevity,” she said. “I first used yoga as recovery from long races like Hellgate 100k. Instead of stiffening on the couch, I was moving and flowing.”

Today, after four years of yoga practice and teaching, the benefits of the movement surpass simple stretching.

“I can focus better and am just mentally stronger,” she said. “My breathing is better, I have enhanced creativity, and am better at being present in the moment.”

Trail running and yoga go together, she explained.

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The trails provide the cardio outlet and spiritual “church-time,” while yoga softens the rugged runner into toning those trail-built muscles through body-trusting poses and flow.

The balance between the strong, masculine side of ultrarunning combined with the softer, feminine side of yoga inspired her to start a small business, Mountain PrimaDonna LLC, a homemade jewelry and accessories business.

She first started making her own jewelry through metal-working in college. Several years ago, she worked at an independent sporting-goods store in Virginia called Mountain Sports Ltd. where she picked up the skills needed to run her own business.

In 2014, she started an Etsy site and fields requests of different projects daily. Her work combines the masculine and feminine of yoga, running, metalworking, and jewelry making. Jenny even provided the awards for the VHTRC Women’s Half Marathon.

With the business, mothering, wife-ing, and her running and yoga, her typical day includes rising super early to get a headlamp run in before the boys wake up. After fixing breakfast and preparing lunches for the boys’ school days, Jenny spends the rest of her days working on orders and running back and forth to the post office. She’ll train clients at various times throughout the week at the yoga studio before picking the boys up from school for the night.

“I have to balance life in a way where my passions are not disruptive of everyone else,” she said. “It took me a while to get there, but life is short and we have to embrace the time we have.”

Her life is the metaphor of an ultra, she said.

“The 100 miler strips you raw till you’re whittled to nothing. It is the life, death, and rebirth journey.”

Jenny Nichols 5 - Jewelry

In her running she has experienced the lively aspects, such as winning the Grindstone 100 Mile in 2012.

Despite being laden with allergies and bronchitis leading up the race, resulting in not being able to train as she would have liked, and receiving a text from her worried parents warning her not to run, Jenny toed that start line in October, determined to run the race she spent $300 on.

“For whatever reason, everything came together,” she explained. “All the stars aligned and I felt good.”

Claiming she started off too fast with the top-three women, Jenny said she kept the pace up through the night, eventually passing all the women before ticking off many of the men.

“I really like night running, I am just so happy and carefree,” she said, adding in that she remained happy and carefree while ignoring the coughing and running nose.

At the turnaround marker, Sophie met her to pace, at which point the runner was pretty spent from running so hard for so long.

“She kept me eating, drinking, and moving,” she said, throwing the praise of her win to her fellow Dirty Mom.

“Jenny ran a flawless first hundred at Grindstone,” Speidel claimed. “She took it out steady but not too fast as she felt great for most of the race–until the quad-busting downhills in the last 15 miles. We just had a lot of fun running together on trails we knew well, so it felt like a faster training run for most of the race.”

To this day, though, Jenny said she has no idea how or why she ran so fast, but said it was a beautiful course for an amazing journey.

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It was the race of a lifetime, but over the next three years Jenny had trouble keeping up with the stress of the multiple hats she was wearing. She was filled to the brim with more ultras, job demands, and yoga teaching. Her life was beginning to teeter-totter into the unbalanced, threatening to end some of her beloved passions. To save them, she needed to make a change.

From January 2015 until the beginning of 2016, Jenny has taken a sabbatical from running, finally acknowledging the overtraining and racing she was putting herself through.

“I had no enthusiasm,” she said. “I was getting injured frequently, I was tired and fatigued, and just couldn’t recover.”

Yoga, two boys, a rising business, ultrarunning.

“I had to realize I was only one person, that I couldn’t do it all,” she said. She took the time to build up her business and clientele and devote more time flowing into poses at the yoga studio.

But, instead of having a passion pass away, the year off allowed her to refocus and regain the energy she needed to rebirth of her running life again.

Now, Jenny feels back on track, this time knowing how to keep both sides of her teeter-totter level, knowing her limits.

With the help of Andy Jones-Wilkins coaching her to several ultras this year, Jenny has 2016 planned out for her rebirth into the running world. She was en route to running the Thomas Jefferson 100k on March 12, however a nagging runner’s-knee problem forced her to say no.

“I was stretching and foam rolling so much, and still literally dragging my leg behind me,” she said. “I probably could have ran and survived, but I decided not to do the race and take some time to heal.”

And heal is what she needed to get the bounce back to her step, she said.

Trying to catch her breath in early April after a beautiful 72-degree Fahrenheit run, Jenny said everything in her life–kids, running, yoga, and her business–were all doing really well.

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Despite the small injury setback, Jenny has her eyes back on the training book, with the Greyson Highlands 50k race penned into her calendar for April 23rd. The Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run is scheduled for September 30th.

Both races, she said enthusiastically, are located near her home, allowing her to finish the race and be back home within the hour of finishing.

“My goal is to finish every race I start and to be more present,” she said. “I want to be more present with my family, friends, and just in my world. Ultrarunning helps that, helps you be in that present moment in nature.”

Over the last year, Jenny has changed the way she looks at sponsorships, the way she thinks about others’ perceptions of her, even how she looks at why she has chosen her passions.

“As an ultrarunner baby, all I wanted was to be sponsored,” she said, and thanks to her Grindstone win both Salomon and GU picked her up as athlete to represent their companies. “But then I put so much pressure on myself, and when I was not running, I didn’t want to let people down, so I let it all go.” She’s now let go of that pressure, and feels free to run without any need to prove herself to others or her own self.

Slowing down and balancing her priorities has allowed her to question what her true motivations are for running, yoga, and her business, in addition to her unwavering duties of being a wife and mother.

“I want to be there with a pure heart, and run these races because I am happy and I enjoy it,” she said. “People will respect me whether I am fast or slow. Whether I am supermom or a yogini.”

Her realization speaks the truth, according to Speidel.

“I know I can speak for many of her female friends in the ultra world when I say we are in awe of her energy, drive, focus… but mostly her sincere desire to be authentic, real, and true to herself,” Speidel said. “She seems so happy and fulfilled with her life, and she is a great example of someone who found her callings, and wasn’t afraid to take risks to grow.”

It has been a learning process, one of balance, self-assessment, and reaching a new kind of maturity.

“I didn’t have all that at the beginning,” she admitted.

Now, she flows into Warrior II Pose, arms outstretched and chin lifted high. Her legs slightly quiver of fatigue from her morning run.

She has a long week of working and mothering, only taking breaks to skateboard down the street with her two boys.

In this pose, no one and nothing can touch or daunt her.

“This is my home base,” she explained. Breathe in. Exhale. “It is a very strong and powerful pose.”

For a very strong and powerful woman.

WeRunFar: Stan Jensen

WeRunFar Profile: Stan Jensen

One of Stan Jensen’s mentors, Dick Collins, once said, “One of the key principles in this sport is volunteering. You cannot just show up, pay the entry fee, and run. You have to give back.”

These words are Stan’s daily inspiration. Balancing between hours spent cheering runners on the trails, maintaining the online resource Run100s.com, rescuing marine mammals, and more, Stan gives back to the worlds that have given him so much.

Stan, 62, was born in Southern California and currently lives in Pacifica, California. He attended school for geography at the University of California, Davis before becoming an employee at Silicon Graphics working with computers.

He began running in high school, and then kept going through college for recreational purposes.

Stan never planned his runner-turned-ultrarunner and computer-focused-employee-turned-full-time-volunteer lifestyle.

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Stan said, “People always say, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I had no idea. Had no idea it would be a geography degree. Had no idea it would lead to a computer job. Had no idea 10k’s would turn into 100 milers.” It was also unknown to him that he would one day spend his time hands deep in water, rescuing endangered marine mammals.

Technically, Stan is retired. Yet, he travels and works as if he has several full-time jobs.

Between volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, offering his time and experience at 100-mile races throughout the West Coast, donating blood, and managing one of the original ultrarunning websites, his volunteering makes me want to ask, “Okay, when do you sleep?”

Even before volunteering at races and the marine center, the act of giving was already in his blood, literally. In 1984, Stan began donating whole blood samples to the Stanford Blood Center at Stanford University. He also began donating platelets in 1985. He has donated over 400 times to the center. He says because of his high platelet count, he is able to donate three units of platelets at each visit and replenish them in enough time to return in two weeks.

“My type is A-, but my blood is “CMV-,” which means I don’t carry Cytomegalovirus, which would be harmful in premature babies,” he said. That means Stan’s donations can be used for infant operations performed at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford. His most recent donation took place on August 31.

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After retiring from his job in California, Stan came across a flyer full of information on the marine center. “The flyer said they needed volunteers, no skills needed,” he said. “The first day I lifted a sea turtle. The very first day, I learned there were turtles in the sea and I physically got to touch one. I was hooked.”

That was 15 years ago, and since he has spent two to three days a week at the center, sometimes every day when the shelter gets busy. Because Stan is not married, he says he can be more available to the workers, and is able to fly to places where animals need assistance.

During the day, he prepares food for the animals’ breakfasts and assists with any medical issues and relocating animals when needed.

“Most people like the otters,” he said, agreeing that the otter is among his favorite animals. “I got to bottle feed a nine-week old otter. I gave him a bath, dried him off, and put him to sleep, too!”

The first day at the center, Stan’s eyes opened to a new world, one where he was needed for the safety of others’ lives, whether it was for supplying food or bandaging injuries.

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His entrance to the ultra world hooked him as well, yet in a different way. Stan says this world saved him, supplying friendships, goals, and a lifelong passion.

His first ultra was a result of falling in love with trails. He ran the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run in 1993. The softer ground, beautiful scenery of the forest and the ocean, and wild turkeys and deer, Stan said he was instantly connected to the sport.

The peacefulness of the trails did not completely overpower Stan’s competitive side. He said the American River 50 Mile was run to spite the guy who dropped out last minute and offered Stan his race bib. “I wanted to better his time,” he said. “I did. 9:50. It was hard but that was what I was expecting.”

The trails provided Stan with a sense of family and friendship not usually seen on the roads. People are friendlier and more talkative on the trails, he commented. They ask what shoes you’re wearing and make sure you’re okay when you stumble and fall.

“My first 100k, the Miwok [100k Trail Race], I sprained my ankle and was walking in a six-mile stretch between the aid stations,” he said. His pace, up in front with the leaders, might have been a little faster than he planned to run, he noted. “The lead woman caught up to me and asked if I’d like her to walk with me to the aid station. It’s that type of sport, where somebody will give up their race to help you. It is just great.”

His love of the sport pushed him through thousands of miles of trails all over the country. The first time he set foot on the Western States (WS100) course, it was as a spectator watching a few training buddies complete the before-unknown race. Then, it took him two years to get in.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t get picked because I knew I wasn’t ready,” he admitted.

Not wanting to be the 100-mile virgin on the WS100 course, he and his friends signed up for the Angeles Crest 100 Endurance Run (AC100). A big advantage going into the WS100, he thought it would give him some experience in what it takes to run 100 miles. Yet, Stan said it was still hot and hard.

But when States rolled around, he was ready and finished in 28 hours, 46 minutes, and 4 seconds. That was at age 43. He has three overall finishes: 1996, 1998, and 1999. His fastest running of the race was in 1999, where he finished in just under 27 hours.

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A lover of the race and its history, Stan said even if he could run it again, he would not return to the WS100 as a competitor. “It is not fair to run again when there are all these people not getting in,” he said. Say something like that in any other situation and you’re probably receiving a few odd looks. But, say something that selfless in the ultra community and people don’t think twice. That is why a life spent giving back to a community of runners, race directors, and aid-station helpers is now Stan’s not-so-regular ‘regular’ life.

Today, Stan is unable to run due to an old knee injury. In 2002, he was working with a large sea lion at The Marine Mammal Center. The slippery, blubbery body escaped and all the workers went down in a heap, pushing someone’s body into Stan’s knee.

“Something snapped and the doctor said something was torn,” he said. “But, it was just an accident.” The non-running injury destroyed his running lifestyle, and Stan was forced to weigh his options. Have expensive, painful surgery or enjoy the sport in a new way? “Volunteering,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me to stand there and watch others race.”

It is a chance to live vicariously through every runner who comes into the finish line. Whether it is watching a family come through with their first-time runner or watching Rob Krar jog in flip flops alongside Gunhild Swanson like this year at WS100, Stan said helping out is just as filled with special rewards. “You get to see the emotional side of the sport,” he said. “You get to see people kiss their medal and see the crews who are almost as happy as their runner.”

For just about every race he has personally run, Stan has returned to volunteer, even for summer-long multi-race efforts like The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning and The Last Great Race. Stan was asked to pace his friend Tom O’Connell during his attempt at the Grand Slam in 1995. “He asked if I would pace him at Western States,” he said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding? I can’t keep up with you.’” “Don’t worry,” O’Connell had responded. “You’ll keep up, and if not then I’ll leave you, deal?”

Stan was not left. Instead, he was struck with the longing of completing the series himself. In 1997 he attempted and was forced to drop out of the Slam during the Leadville Trail 100 Run with a leg problem. He vowed to himself that he would return, however.

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In 1999 Stan came across The Last Great Race, a series of the oldest 100-mile races in the country. The series included an entire summer of 100s: Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country Run, the WS100, Vermont 100 Endurance Run, Leadville, Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run, and the AC100.

He took the adventure seriously, attending a Leadville training camp and preparing by running the Umstead 100 Mile in April to get in the 100-mile mindset. And, he was mentally focused on conquering Old Dominion, an old DNF that was asking for another go.

“Going into that summer I was in the best shape both mentally and physically,” he said. The hardest race of the series was once again Leadville, he said. The spacing of aid stations, altitude, weather… he counted off. “There are just so many things that could go wrong.” That 1999 summer was like spending time with one big family among those who were involved in the series, both runners and crews, he described.

Out of the 130 or so ultras Stan has finished, 14 have been 100 milers. “It looks like I have done a lot, but that is just because I did the six in one summer,” he claimed. “But, I like them because they are a challenge.”

Stan looks at the ultra distances like they are steps on a ladder, each one adds a bit more effort. “The 50k is not much more than a marathon, and the 50 milers seemed like a big difference,” he said. “The first 100k, it was, wow, you’re out there for 14 to 17 hours. You run at night. You’re tired. But 100 milers. They are even one more step.”

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He completed the race series with just one bad race, Wasatch, which he claims is ironic since the Utah-based point-to-point is his favorite race he’s ever done. “I almost lost it,” he said. “My electrolytes were out of balance and I was dizzy.” At the aid station during the race he was forced to take a nap and drink soup for three hours.

“My sister was there, and could tell by the tone of my voice after that I was recovered,” he remembered. “I woke up and said, ‘I think I need to stay longer.’ ‘No, you’re good to go,’ she told me.”

Stan completed The Last Great Race series that year with six other racers. Since it was founded in 1989, there have been 39 finishers. It’s since been renamed the Original Six Hundo Challenge series.

After completing the six 100 milers in 1999, Stan was back again a few years later, volunteering rather than running for those competing in the Grand Slam and The Last Race. At races, he works with UltraLive.net, and says his favorite part is being able to see who is running each race and who finishes. For most races he tries to work both the start and finish. “The best part about volunteering is being able to put a face with a name,” he explained. “At WS100 for example, I help out with bibs and timing chips and see the gun go off in the morning. Then I drive to Auburn and help out with the finish-line stuff.”

In addition to volunteer positions, he also ends up at races as co-race director. He’s been roped into race directing Hawaii’s H.U.R.T 100 Trail Race for the last few years.

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“As an ultrarunner you never appreciate the backside of the race,” he said. “It is an awful amount of work.”

H.U.R.T race directors John and P.J. Salmonson said Stan first came out during the race’s fifth running, and has now helped out for the last nine or 10 years. “Stan is unbelievable and indispensable,” John said. “Most people don’t realize that Stan’s running volunteering actually takes second seat to his Marine Mammal Center volunteering. I’m guessing he averages 40 to 50 hours a week volunteering and he’s so good, he’s in high demand. We’re very lucky to get some of that!”

Runner, race director, volunteer: a full circle, preparing him with years of experience and knowledge of the sport.

These positions have led to meeting new people and staying up to date on the latest ultra news. Combining everything together, Stan successfully keeps up with his website, Run100s.com. While working at his computer job back in 1996, Stan’s boss asked him to create a website as a way of jumping into the new internet boom. He told Stan to create something that meant something to him and would be easy to write about. In the boom of his running, Run100s.com was born and now more than 20 years later, it is still one of the most frequently visited ultrarunning websites.

Today, Stan works on the site almost every day, either updating new race stats and information, uploading results, posting new races and adding to the helpful resources tabs, which include blog posts and articles. “There are so many websites, and practically every event has its own page,” he said. Stan has race directors emailing him about updates and has new race directors asking about promoting their events.

Personally, he checks Facebook for race notices and constantly stays absorbed in race coverage during big races, like the coverage on the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc a few weeks ago.

With a resume like Stan’s, I figured he would be the number-one guy to ask for the latest news in the ultra world and a good guy to talk to about training for a 100-mile running race. But when I asked him if he received help requests from fellow runners, his reply was “thankfully, no!”

“I haven’t been active in the ultra world in five or 10 years,” he said, though I personally would count his participation in the ultra scene as an active one. “I would say I am more of librarian than someone who gives advice.”

Stan Jensen: the walking encyclopedia of ultramarathoning. It has a nice ring to it.

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He described his new lifestyle as being able to help people find how to make their own choice.

“What’s a good 100 miler?”

“Want one with elevation? Close to home? Loop format? Go to the main page and scroll through the 140 options to choose from.”

“Is this a good type of running shoe?”

“Go to a running store and talk to those guys, or go to a race and talk to someone with those shoes.”

“I am good at telling people where to go,” he claimed.

For Stan, there is more to the book smarts of the ultra world. From the years of running and volunteering, he has been up close and personal with the hardships, pain, and victory of what the races posted on his website produce in runners.

We all know how hard it is to be on the sidelines, cheering others on but wishing it was us dripping with sweat, swallowing that 25th gel. But for Stan, he is happy feeding hungry runners at mile 70 and watching the last runners cross the finish line even after the time limit is up.

Because even if he is not physically running, he is volunteering each beat of his heart with each pounding of the shoes on the trail.

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WeRunFar: Terry Rhodes

WeRunFar Profile: Terry Rhodes

Last year, 2014, was going to be her year. It would have been the year of her 20th 100-mile race, her year to re-qualify for Western States, the year she would run with her stepson during his own WS100 effort, and the year in which she might have had a go at the Tahoe 200 Mile.

“It was supposed to my year,” Terry Rhodes said. Instead, her life took a very different path.

On March 16, 2014, Terry lounged in a beach chair on the deck of a Mexican resort not long after running the 2014 Way to Cool 50k in California with a girlfriend. Another vacationer had just gotten up from that chair at the bustling hotel and Terry quickly nabbed the open space. She wasn’t there five minutes when the cover of a hot tub flew off a deck in a wind gust and hit her in the back of the neck.

“I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “It was instant.”

“I said, ‘Okay, just breathe. Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out,’” she said, recollecting those first few thoughts of the accident.

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The hot-tub cover had hit the base of Terry’s neck, paralyzing her from the neck all the way to her toes. The accident took place on Sunday, and by Monday she was undergoing surgery at a hospital in Mexico. By Tuesday the feeling in her legs returned, but her arms remained motionless.

“I was put in an MRI at the hospital in Mexico,” she said. “They took my hands and moved them over my head. I watched them move. It is surreal to not feel anything.”

She was diagnosed with C4 incomplete paralysis, which meant that her body was paralyzed from the neck to the waist. This injury usually affects a person’s ability to breathe, paralyzing the heart and causing death.

“I am a walking miracle,” Terry said. It is a reputation she has had all her life. Terry Rhodes, now 59 years old, grew up in southern California near Pasadena. At age 16 she was in a horrible car accident that forced her to relearn how to walk.

After high school Terry moved to Santa Barbara and worked various jobs. “I did struggle after high school,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” She eventually landed a job working in the juvenile probationary and family court in Reno, Nevada, and stayed there for the next 30 years.

“It was a really amazing job,” she said.

Her time at the family court led her to her daughter, Ashley Sieczkowski, who is now 28 years old. “She was removed from an abusive house, and nobody claimed her,” Terry said. “But I did.” It took three years for Terry to become Ashley’s adoptive parent and in 1993 she was allowed to take her home to her family. A year before, Terry had her son, Matt.

Terry met her now husband, John Rhodes, while running during her lunch break in 1992. On her daily run to the river from her office, Terry sensed someone behind her. “Don’t worry, I’m just drafting,” was the man’s remark.

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Apparently John also used the route on his daily lunch break, coming from the office right next to Terry’s. Both single at the time and with kids of their own, the two bonded over running. He also introduced ultrarunning into Terry’s running lifestyle. Terry had run her first half marathon in 1980 and her first marathon three years later, deciding to skip the 5k’s and 10k’s.

Her first ultra was the Silver State 50k. She took the bib of one of John’s friends who couldn’t make the race, and was hooked from the start. “I had a ball!” she exclaimed. “It was slow, there were cookies at the aid stations, the trails were incredible. It was just an amazing day!”

The next few years became operation ‘Get to Western States.’ In 1994 she ran her first 50 miler, the Jed Smith Ultra Classic, to qualify for the race, but didn’t get the qualifier. Then in 1995, she had qualified, but didn’t get picked in the lottery.

It was in 1996 that the pressure was on. John was set on running WS100 with Terry, and she was ready to do anything to get her name on the list. That year, she earned her qualifier.

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For the next 10 consecutive years, Terry ran and finished Western States. Each one had different pacers, crew members, and of course, different highs and lows. In six of them, she and John ran the entire race together.

One year she struggled into the finish with “that lean,” she described. “I couldn’t straighten up,” she said. “It was horrible, but at the finish everyone was cheering me on.”

In 2006, on the 1,000th mile of her 10th Western States, she finished without her crew. “They kept missing me because I ran too fast,” she said. “They came 15 minutes later and made me cross the line again.”

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For a few years, her son and his friend would drive and park somewhere on the course, waiting for Terry to come by. Cheering in the dark, they were covered head to toe in glow sticks.

The ‘tiny dancer,’ as Western States icon Gordy Ainsleigh describes her, has also run the Leadville Trail 100 Mile, the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run, and the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile.

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“I am very lucky to have run and finished 10 Western States,” she said.

One could also say luck has been on her side throughout her recovery, too. But how does the actual occurrence, getting seriously injured while on vacation, fall into Terry’s story? When I was speaking with her about her accident, I mentioned the fall of Dave Mackey and his ongoing recovery. Though Terry had not heard all of the details about his accident, she could relate well. “You look at some of the things people do, climb and run mountains,” she listed. “They are doing the things they love. You can’t just not do something or stop doing it because you’re afraid. No, you have to do what you love.”

That is why her accident was so out there, so bizarre, she said. “I was just lounging on a chair and got hit in the head. My kids know about these trail races I do. You take one wrong step and you fall off a mountain. They always thought that if they get a call about me, it would be something like that. But no, it was this. You have to laugh because it is so crazy.”

What is also bizarre in Terry’s story are the events leading up to the accident. Days before leaving to go to Mexico with her friend, Terry had a weird feeling about going. “I didn’t want to go,” she admitted, but the vacation was a free one. She said, “How do you turn down a free trip?” Before she was about to leave, Terry said that dread filled her body, but she didn’t know why.

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“I thought maybe something was going to happen to my mom,” she said. “She’s 94. But that shouldn’t be dread, I said to myself. I thought, It should be reveled that she’s doing so well.”

While having surgery, her husband was stuck in the States and unable to reach her because he had an expired passport. Then, when she was recovering in the hospital, a nurse accidentally punctured a hole in her stomach with a feeding tube. “I was a mess,” she said.

However, the power to think positive and stay in the moment has allowed Terry to overcome every obstacle thrown at her. “My mom has always been positive,” she said. “She always says, ‘Gotta’ roll with the punches.’ And, ‘Think pink.’”

And, similar to Mackey, she had an entire running community behind her. Her family set up a CaringBridge page, where they could post updates on Terry’s condition for others. Her hospital room was covered in get-well cards and posters, and she received letters from ultra legends.

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“It was just beautiful,” she said. “Whether or not I could run again, the support from the community was incredible.” Terry has kept every message she received and uses them, along with meditation, yogic-breathing techniques, and a self-made mantra to help her through recovery. “When things started creeping in, I chanted my mantra and went someplace beautiful,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to that place.”

“After surgery the first time, I thought, I don’t have the courage to do this,” she said, fearing her future without running and possibly becoming a quadriplegic. “I tried to stay in the moment. I didn’t let myself look backwards or forwards. No ‘what-ifs.’”

Since the accident, Terry’s legs are functioning but her arms are still catching up. Apparently she has had to become a lefty, since ‘Righty,’ as she calls her right arm, is still trying to come back to life. “I was not able to put my hair up in a ponytail, and having someone who can’t do it try to help is so frustrating,” she told me, trying not to criticize her husband’s hair styling.

Now, at 16 months since the accident, Terry has short hair and she’s performing everyday activities as best she can. The other day she put the dishes away and cleaned the cat box: all things she couldn’t do months ago.

“I am just so grateful for everything,” she said. “I don’t take a moment for granted.”

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With regard to running and exercise, Terry’s progress is slow but has become a daily activity.

“I went for a two-mile walk today with John,” she told me on the phone. “I try to do something every day, whether it is walking or going to my PT appointment or shopping at Costco with my mom. We call it our Olympic event because the cart gets so heavy that it becomes an upper-body workout!”

She has her ups and downs, but Terry says she is still able to enjoy and appreciate both her old life and this new one. She returned to Western States this past summer to cheer on her stepson and she plans on volunteering at more races in the future.

She even has some lofty plans with her daughter, Ashley. To her, Terry will always be a peppy, never-stops-smiling woman. But as most mothers do, Ashley knows that her mom shields her from the pain she still feels. “That darn lady hasn’t ONCE used this as an excuse,” Ashley wrote me. “Yeah, she might need to cancel plans because she’s in more pain than most days, but she never uses her injury as an excuse to quit anything. The other day she even said, ‘Let’s do a mother-daughter marathon!’”

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“She doesn’t push her mile times. She isn’t focused on getting bigger, better, faster,” Ashley said of her mom’s running style before the accident. “She runs because she loves the way it makes her feel.”

Terry says she’s happy with how she’s doing now, and if you look at her Facebook page, you can see the truth in that. In every picture, that big, wide grin is showing brightly on Terry’s face.

“My mom is the happiest person you’ll meet,” Ashley said. “In high school I ran into someone who knew my mom and said, ‘Does she ever stop smiling?’ That’s the best way I can describe her: happy, perky, and just genuinely sweet.”

“If my walking-quadriplegic mom can do a marathon, then I better get off my butt and do it with her,” Ashley exclaimed about Terry’s recent marathon proposal.

Terry’s 2014 goals did not pan out the way she planned, but perhaps 2014 was still her year. A very different year from that which she imagined, but one that deeply demonstrated the fortitude of her spirit and the love of her family and friends. She said, “It’s amazing what can happen in a year.”

Perhaps in another year, the reunion between Terry and a starting line will take place. Who cares if it is an ultra, marathon, or local 5k, Terry will be back to running with more love and gratitude for the sport than ever before.

Terry Rhodes 9