Going the (really long) distance
200-MILE RACE STARTS THURSDAY
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.”
Rich Humber will begin a 200-mile, 72-hour race Thursday.