Go­ing the (re­ally long) dis­tance

200-MILE RACE STARTS THURS­DAY

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TERI PECOSKIE

At noon Thurs­day, Rich Hum­ber will start run­ning down a wind­ing dirt trail in the Dun­das Val­ley and won’t stop for 72 hours or 200 miles — which­ever comes first. Why? “Chicks dig it,” he quips. Hum­ber is a 53-year-old sales man­ager from Hamil­ton. He’s also a masochist — one of 30 who forked over as much as $1,000 to run 200 miles (more than 320 kilo­me­tres) at the Sul­phur Springs Trail Race this week­end.

He’ll have un­til noon Sun­day to con­quer the course.

In pre­vi­ous years, the longest event at Sul­phur Springs was a mere 100 miles. Co-di­rec­tor An­drea Lynn Sloan says or­ga­niz­ers wanted to “go big” in 2017 to hon­our the race’s 25th an­niver­sary — that’s why they de­cided to dou­ble down.

“Canada doesn’t re­ally have any­thing like that, and we have a lot of re­ally strong ul­tra run­ners that have to travel quite far to show off their ta­lent,” she says.

They also have a chance to make the record books. Ac­cord­ing to Sloan, this is just the sec­ond race of this dis­tance in the coun­try, and no one com­pleted the first (the Yukon Arc­tic Ul­tra in Fe­bru­ary), which means some­one could make his­tory as the first fin­isher in a Cana­dian 200 miler.

On top of those 30 en­trants, hun­dreds of oth­ers will also tackle the race’s tra­di­tional events, which range from 10 kilo­me­tres to 100 miles. They will con­verge on An­caster, where the run starts be­hind Fire­stone Arena, from all over North Amer­ica and Europe to take part.

The ul­tra run­ners (those who com­pete in dis­tances of 50 km or more) are gen­er­ally in their 40s and 50s, says Sloan, and they tend to be “Type A”— a per­son­al­ity type de­fined by traits like com­pet­i­tive­ness, drive and im­pa­tience. Some have or have had ad­dic­tion is­sues with food, drugs, even run­ning.

They train com­pul­sively. In the lead-up to Sul­phur Springs, many of those pre­par­ing for the 200 miler were log­ging well over 100 kilo­me­tres a week. Some run overnight, while oth­ers opt for long runs back-to-back-to-back to get used to the feel­ing of rac­ing on sore and tired mus­cles.

That’s not how they started, though. While ev­ery­one’s story is dif­fer­ent, most ul­tra run­ners get into the sport grad­u­ally. They tackle shorter races at first — 10 km, for in­stance — then progress to half­marathons, marathons and, even­tu­ally, ultras.

The 100 miler was al­ways con­sid­ered the ul­ti­mate test. How­ever, even that dis­tance can start to feel rou­tine once you have a few of them un­der your belt.

That’s how Hum­ber feels. And by the way, he’s not re­ally run­ning the 200 miler — his first — for the ‘chicks.’ He’s in it for the chal­lenge.

“We all get into this just to see what we’re ca­pa­ble of,” he said.

Deb­bie Bul­ton un­der­stands. A 47-year-old mother of three from Cam­bridge, she thrives on push­ing her lim­its — whether that means com­plet­ing an Iron­man (she’s fin­ished sev­eral), climb­ing the Seven Sum­mits (she’s started) or, in this case, trot­ting through the woods for three days straight.

“It kind of breaks you down and builds you back up again,” she says when asked why does it.

“It’s about per­sonal jour­ney, it’s about per­sonal growth, it’s about the chal­lenge.”

Bul­ton and the other 200-mile rac­ers will run a hilly 20-kilo­me­tre loop through the val­ley 16 times. By the time they fin­ish, if they fin­ish, they will have also climbed 10,000 me­tres — the rough equiv­a­lent of scal­ing Mount Ever­est.

They will run at all hours, sleep lit­tle, if at all, and eat what­ever high-calo­rie grub they can keep down. They will, at times, feel aw­ful.

“Ul­tra run­ning is painful,” says Bul­ton, “and there are so many lev­els of pain. There is foot pain, there are blis­ters, there is mus­cle pain, there are aches, there is the phys­i­cal fa­tigue. There are so many dis­com­forts you have to get into a mind­set where you’re kind of com­fort­able be­ing un­com­fort­able, there’s no way around it.”

Hum­ber agrees. That’s why, he says, ul­tra run­ning is all about prob­lem solv­ing.

“Even on a per­fect day it’s not per­fect, so it’s about fig­ur­ing out how to over­come is­sues and push your­self be­yond what you pre­vi­ously thought you were ca­pa­ble of.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Rich Hum­ber will be­gin a 200-mile, 72-hour race Thurs­day.

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