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Ultra marathons gave man with new challenge

Staff writer

Many things happen to a runner during a 100-mile race.

Dan Schmidt, 52, of Salida, Colo., goes through several peaks and valleys during a race of that distance. His mother-in-law Velma Hadley of Hillsboro is an integral part of his crew for a 100-mile race.

Schmidt said he usually feels euphoric around 34 miles into the race, with endorphins racing through his body. In a span of 10 minutes, his muscles will ache and he will have to struggle to continue.

“There’s not a lot of acute suffering,” he said. “It’s just going when you don’t want to go anymore. I’ve learned so many lessons in life from running. If things aren’t going well, just suck it up — there’s a better day that follows.”

A 100-mile race is nearly four marathons back-to-back. At such extreme distances, the body reacts differently than during a normal run. Schmidt said his neck will hurt more than his legs when he is about 70 miles into a race, “(Because) it’s carrying an eight pound bowling ball that’s moving the whole way,” he said.

Schmidt’s forearms will start to ache during and after a run.

During the later stages of a race, Schmidt will battle congestion and nausea. He said altitude at races in Leadville, Colo., can really affect his stomach.

Over a span of at least 17 hours, runners have to continue to eat and drink while they move.

“The most challenging thing is retaining the amount of calories that you need to do this,” he said. “You get sick; your digestive system doesn’t want food.”

Schmidt carries a pack with water, drinks filled with calories and electrolytes, and high calorie gels to keep him moving. Schmidt’s crew of his wife, Jan, his mother, Julia Gregory, Hadley, and any combination of friends Manny Campo, Carl Coecher, and Tom Sobal will hand Schmidt drinks and food at aid stations positioned every five to seven miles throughout the race.

The key to a 100-mile race, Schmidt explained, is to never stop moving. After accepting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Jan, Schmidt eats it while running or walking quickly.

“The thing you can’t do is stop,” Schmidt said. “You can’t sit down.”

He says he never vomits, but the runners who do, throw up as they continue to walk down the trail.

“It is a quirky group of people who do this,” Schmidt said.

After one particular race, Schmidt sat down. He said he felt fine even though his fatigue went to his bones. When he tried to get up to grab something to drink, he immediately passed out and later had to ask Jan what happened.

Schmidt has run ultra marathons since 2003. He has been interested in the sport for 10 years and paced a runner to find out more about running the herculean distance.

He won the Heartland 100 Saturday near Cassoday. He ran 100 miles in 17 hours, 12 minutes. According to Hadley, he finished 10 minutes after the slowest runner of the 50-mile distance.

“I’d like to win,” Schmidt said Friday. “I’ve gotten a lot of third-places and fifth-places.”

Schmidt started running ultras in his home state of Colorado. He runs the Leadville 100 every year, which features an average altitude above 10,000 feet. His best finish at Leadville was 20 hours. The race at Heartland he said is relatively easy in comparison because the elevation and terrain are not as intense. He finished third last year.

Before he ran ultras, he ran marathons in the 1990s. Before marathons, he ran 10k distances in the 1980s after he graduated from the University of Georgia.

He said he has always had a love of running even though he did not compete until he was an adult. He always wanted to be the fastest child in his neighborhood.

The Peach Tree Road Race in Athens, Ga., was Schmidt’s first competitive long distance race in college. The challenge was a thrill Schmidt longed to repeat.

However, he did not enjoy the commercial aspect of large races. Ultras gave Schmidt the chance to compete with an elite group of runners without some of the fan fare from bigger races.

Runners in ultras help fellow competitors. Schmidt said he has seen a lead runner stop to give someone gels and water. Gels, water, Imodium AD, and Ibuprofen are shared among the runners.

The people who help organize a race in Leadville or in Cassoday feel a connection with the runners.

“It’s a personal experience but it’s shared,” Schmidt said. “It’s like going to somebody’s house and playing cards, you get to know them.”

The challenge of the race drives Schmidt. While not working renovating houses, he trains year-round for a 100-mile race. He said he will run at least two 50-mile races before he will run a 100. He runs between 2,000 and 2,800 miles a year. He said he has skipped about two weeks of training in the last 10 years.

“If I miss a day of running, I feel it,” he said.

He never runs a race without the right amount of training. He said he learned that lesson the wrong way after attempting a marathon without the right preparation.

“You never feel like you’re fully prepared,” he said. “But before a certain point you might as well not run.”

When Schmidt told Jan he was going to run 100 miles, the first thing she asked was whether it was a healthy activity.

Schmidt said he has had fewer injuries running ultra distances than when he ran marathons, the soft ground of trails hurting his legs less than streets.

Since she found out it was safe, she has supported him.

“You have to realize that there’s a lot of sacrifice that you both have to make,” she said.

While the challenge of a 100-mile run makes the feat unique, the feeling of crossing the finish line is what Schmidt treasures.

It is late at night on the trail and Schmidt has almost reached exhaustion when he sees the lights of the finish line. Almost a mile away he hears people cheering for him to finish, Sopal’s baritone voice is yelling for him to cross the line. He inches closer and closer, the noise rising as the crowd thickens near the end.

“It feels good to see the finish,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot in life where you finish something.”

Last modified Oct. 13, 2010

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