Redcard Roberts:100 miles to pain, glory
August 17, 2010
Over the last decade, I’ve run a number of marathons. When I’m training, someone inevitably asks me, "Why is a marathon 26.2 miles?"
I love getting this question. I put on a solemn face and ominously shake my head, then launch into the poignant answer: In 490 BC, the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran from a battlefield in the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens – 26.2 miles away. His mission was to announce the defeat of the Persians to the Athenian king. The war was over. Upon Pheidippides’ arrival in Athens, he exclaimed "Niki!" (Victory!). He then promptly keeled over and died.
This is the time when I give a dismal sigh and a long dramatic pause, allowing my listener to come to the obvious conclusion: Yes, indeed, the things I do for sport often kill mere mortals.
Well, thanks to Andy Avery, I’ll never again be able to tell this story with pride and gusto. Because now I’ve learned there are people out there who run 100-mile races – without royal orders – and live to tell about it.
Avery is just one of the nearly 250 runners taking part in this year’s Wasatch 100 on Sept. 9 – an ultra endurance trail run from Layton to Midway with a cumulative elevation gain of nearly 27,000 feet. For more information on the race, visit http://www.wasatch100.com.
As a staunch believer that I never need to run any farther than I can get on one gallon of gas, I ask him the obvious question: Why do you want to run 100 miles? And he simply replies, "For the challenge."
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A challenge? Seriously? When I want to push myself to the limits, I try really, really hard to make just one trip to the liquor store all week.
But Avery is up for this ultimate test of endurance. He’s been training since December, usually about 15 hours a week and up to 40 miles per training run. "Those are the days I avoid the stairs," he says. "And I’ll probably avoid them for a good week after the race."
I forgot to ask him if he has a single-level house, but I hope he does.
As you might imagine, organizing a 100-mile trail run is probably as difficult as running it – which is why volunteers are vital to the race’s success. According to race director John Grobben, there are actually more volunteers than runners – about 300 in all.
Grobben has been the race director since 1988 but has never been a participant. "I run it; I just don’t run in it," he says.
He devotes countless hours each year to make this race a success and keep the runners safe, and he loves doing it. "It’s the most fun I have all year," he said.
Fun? I’m not sure how many runners will be using that description come Sept. 10.
But Grobben does have a true passion for this race. Meeting the runners and hearing their stories inspires him to stay involved. "A few years ago, one of the runners came up to me and told me how his wife left him, he was going through a traumatic divorce, and he was so heartbroken, he just didn’t know what he was going to live for. He entered this race and found the training therapeutic. He thanked me for saving his life by putting on this race. It’s stories like this that have kept me coming back for 22 years."
Of the approximate 250 participants, Grobben expects about 60 percent of them to finish. Andy Avery is determined to be one of them.
And I can’t help but wonder if recruiters for the Greek army will be waiting at the finish line to greet him.
Amy Roberts is the public relations director for Park City Medical Center. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. In her spare time, Amy can be found skiing, mountain biking, hiking, running, and playing soccer.