For ultrarunners, 26.2 miles just isn't far
|For ultrarunners, traditional 26-mile marathons on city streets
are no longer sufficient challenge. These hardy athletes run marathon-length
races, and longer, on wooded trails. Runners move to trails because
of the scenery and because trails often are easier on the legs than
On a brutally rugged
section of the rock-strewn Chubb Trail east of St. Louis, a group of
runners struggles against the day’s increasing
heat. Their tired feet alternately pound down a rocky hill, across a
muddy creek and up a steep hillside. For most, the race lasts for 15.5
miles. But a select few will continue for another lap, some taking nearly
eight hours to cross the finish line.
Completing 31 miles
on the Chubb Trail is quite an accomplishment. But that task pales
in comparison with other feats undertaken by members of the St. Louis
Ultrarunners Group, or SLUGs for short.
Many of these athletes
had already run the St. Louis or Boston marathons just a week earlier.
Most would be back in the woods less than a month later to run the
Berryman Trail Marathon or Ultramarathon. For them, the Chubb run was
merely training to prepare them for the 26- or 50-mile Berryman challenge.
Later in the summer,
they might do the club’s Flatlanders 6-
or 12-hour run. Or they could opt for another club event, the first-ever
Frankenstein Marathon to be held in the central Missouri town just
Although races start on pavement, they quickly
move to rugged trails.
Reasons for testing
the limits of their endurance are as varied as the SLUGs membership,
says David White of Chamois, the group’s president.
I get bored with running, I sign up for a race that scares me,” says
the Three Rivers Electric Cooperative member. “I use that to
rejuvenate me. It gets me back interested in running and competing
probably it more than anything else.”
David and his wife,
Victoria, have been with the SLUGs about as long as anyone, joining
in 1998 when the group had fewer than 20 members. Since then it’s
grown to 120 members and changed from a St. Louis-based group to
one with members in rural areas and other states.
The growth of the
SLUGs mirrors an increased interest in running, especially marathons
held on the road. “Once people have run a few marathons they
think, maybe I’ll do a 50K because that’s just 5 miles
says. “And then they think, that was pretty fun, let’s
try for 50 miles, the next step up.”
Before long, they
are training for 100-milers or a race David has done eight times, a
marathon up and down Pike’s Peak, elevation 14,110 feet.
The ultrarunning craze is so popular today that registration
for events such as the Pike’s
Peak Marathon fills up within minutes.
|Christine Crawford pushes herself to the top of a steep hill on
the Chubb Trail during the 2007 run held there.
David estimates that
if the SLUGs had kept the Berryman race registration open until
the race day, more than 300 people would have signed up. He
had to turn away at least 30 runners this year because the trail
volunteers can only support about 150.
has gotten much more popular,” David says. “It’s
a much more relaxed kind of race. When I work at an aid station
at a trail run, they will sit down in a chair and talk to
you for 20 minutes, then get back up and run. It’s
not like a 5K race in the city.”
Some runners are
content with finishing the race. Others want to see just how fast
they can do it. “It seems like there are basically
two kinds of people in these races,” David says. “The
ones out there to compete in the race and the ones out
there to just complete the race.”
For Deanna Stoppler,
a SLUGs member from Ashland, the goal is to place high
enough in the ultrarunning trophy series sponsored by
Trailrunning magazine to land a sponsorship that will support her high-mileage
pretty expensive to do this stuff,” says
Deanna, who recently won the women’s bracket
in a 40-mile run held in Kansas. “I
usually camp out before the races, but just the gas
to get there is really expensive.”
up her trail running after moving to Missouri from
Maine, where outdoor activities such as mountain
climbing and whitewater canoeing also occupied her free time. “I
just started running to kind of challenge myself.
I did a marathon, and I enjoyed it, but I wanted to go
farther. So then I did my first 50K (31 miles). From
there I’ve just been picking it up and every
couple of weeks do a race.”
SLUGs runners keep going despite injured knees and sore muscles.
The trails alternate between mud and rock.
Friends are evenly
split in their reaction to Deanna’s extreme
running. They either long to pace her on the long
runs or, eyeing her black toenails, think she’s
a little nuts.
here at work, a lot of them are excited for me, but they just
don’t understand, they really can’t
imagine it. I tell them, ‘You
can do it, anyone can do it, you just need to
train for it.’”
running seems extreme, what Don Ryan of Eldon
does redefines the term. Don started out running
recreational runs as short as 3 miles. Eventually
he ran his first marathon. Next was a 50-mile
ultramarathon on a trail, which he really enjoyed.
Don averages five to eight 100-mile runs every year — and the
races are held on trails in the mountains. To put that in perspective,
100 miles from Columbia to Kirksville. His
fastest time over 100 miles was 20.5 hours, while his longest effort
took 34 hours.
“I was doing
all right at the distances I was running, so I thought, ‘Let’s
push it and see what happens,’” he
says. “I guess it’s
Don says the most
difficult part about running 100 miles
is keeping enough calories in a body
that would rather throw up. Pre-race meals are
used up quickly, requiring the body to
burn fat stores to keep going. Don must
force himself to eat high-energy food
or energy gels while running.
|Joan Bennett checks off runners as they pass the midpoint of the
Chubb run to ensure no runners get left in the woods.
His training consists
of daily runs that prepare his body for the rigors of the
real thing. On weekends his long runs
might hit 45 miles. One of the ironies
of distance running is that the runners
never do the entire distance until race day.
“When I do
long runs, I try to do them back to back,” says Don, who
is 58. “I do a long run one
day and then maybe half the distance
the next day. It gets your body used
to working when it’s tired
and overworked already.”
doesn’t actually run all
100 miles in a race. He walks when
he needs to, such as on steep hills
and dangerous rocky sections. Like
Deanna, he believes anyone can
do an ultra-distance run.
ask me that,” he says. “I
wouldn’t say anybody
is going to win one of these
and I certainly won’t,
but anyone can do one. I’m
speaking of anything from a marathon
to 100-mile distance. If you
set your mind to it and have
the right attitude about it,
it can be done.”
is time on your feet, David
says. He runs every day, logging 50-60
miles per week and increasing
his distance as race day draws
closer. “You just
have to get used to being on
your feet and moving eight,
nine, 10 hours or longer,” he
Most runners have
no qualms about stopping whenever they
need to, whether it’s
to rest, eat or drink something
or just to make sure another runner is OK.
Ultrarunners compete on trails normally used by hikers or mountain
has to have rewards to keep the runners coming
back, and for the SLUGs, there’s more to a race than the medals and belt
buckles presented to finishers. And that’s where membership in the SLUGs
comes in. Despite its growing membership, it remains a small, close-knit group
of like-minded individuals who know how to have fun after the race is over.
always look forward to after the race,” Deanna says. “Most
people will stay a couple
hours at least and eat burgers. I’ve seen a recurring
theme of homebrews. I’m
always learning things
from other people. And
then there’s new
people running and you
can pass that information
on to them.”
says club members will
run 50 miles, rest
and refuel their tired bodies,
and then offer to help
him in his role as
So what does ultrarunning
do to a runner’s body? “I’ve often
argued that 50-mile
or 100-mile races aren’t good for you but the training
is,” says David. “That’s
where the trade-off
is. But if you don’t
do too many . . .
for me, I could do
a marathon every
month if I don’t
run them fast.”
the rigors of the
trail, SLUGs, who
range in age from
the early 20s to over
70, say they will keep
on running until their
bodies tell them it’s
time to stop.
I’m 80, I
want to still be
the SLUGs is
$20. For more
on to the SLUGs
Web site at www.stlouisultrarunnersgroup.net,
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org write to SLUGs, 9720 Trinadad, St. Louis, MO 63126.