Monday, January 6, 2003

Ultra-marathon poses the ultra-challenge

Winning 100-mile race was 22-hour, mind-boggling test of endurance, runner says

By Llee Sivitz
Enquirer contributor

For most of us, running a marathon is something we can only imagine. Running an ultra-marathon, nearly the equivalent of running four marathons in one day, is beyond comprehension. Nov. 2 at the Dan Rossi Memorial near Akron, Kimberly Theiss, 46, of Springfield Township, took 22 hours to win the third 100-mile ultra-marathon she has entered.

What motivates anyone to run that far?

"I needed a different goal," Ms. Theiss says. "It had become, `Get faster, get to Boston (the Boston Marathon).'

"I (first) decided to try the Kentucky 50 Miler. I said, `I'm going to throw my watch away, have fun and see what I can do.' It was an all-day race and a different mind-set. Maybe a hundred runners, and everyone knew everyone. I went again the next year and came in third. It became easy, fun and I got to know the `family.'"

Last week Ms. Theiss talked more about her experiences.

Question: How difficult is a 50-mile race?

Answer: I think someone who can run a marathon can switch to a 50-miler pretty easily. I won't say it's not a big deal, but it's easier to do (than you would think). Your training is the same as a marathon, but on race day you slow down. You cannot run a 50-miler as fast as a marathon or you will not make it. There's some strategy such as walking the hills. Walking is part of an ultra-marathon.

ON ULRAMARATHONS - online version of the magazine with links, calendar of ultras worldwide and top ultra runners. - "I'm just an ultra-runner constantly trying to learn more," says Stan Jensen, site owner. It's an extensive source for event calendars and information to encourage people to try ultras. - By ultra authors David Horton and Rebekah Trittipoe, site has race results, photos, runner biographies and a running store. Sponsored by the American Ultrarunning Association, this nonprofit site promotes ultra-running in the United States. - Learn about one of the most challenging footraces in the United States, just two hours from Cincinnati. - Another source of up-to-the-minute news about the ultra world. - To contact Kimberly Theiss about ultra-marathon training.

Q: What made you try the 100-miler?

A: In 2000, I did something stupid. I said, "Gee, if I can do 50, why not 100?" I had no clue. I trained by the seat of my pants and went to the Mohican 100 (in Central Ohio). It was a trail run, and I'm a street runner. I could never have fathomed what 100 miles was going to feel like. I made it 68 miles - farther than I'd ever run - and it took me 17 hours. It was the first race I started that I did not finish. That was traumatic.

Q: Why try again?

A: I found out that most people don't finish their first time because it's such a drastic step. There's a lot to learn. Everything I learned the first time I put into place for my next attempt.

Q: What happened next?

A: Saturdays and Sundays, I ran 20 miles. I practiced running at night, carrying a flashlight, completely exhausted. My last practice run was 20 miles the night before the Flying Pig Marathon. I ran till midnight, and then got up at 4 a.m. to run the Pig (as more ultra training).

The ultra was a 10-mile loop which you did 10 times. I twisted my ankle at Mile 20 and stopped running at Mile 80. I knew at that point that I had the training knowledge. I was less than a marathon away.

Q: So three's a charm?

A: I set my sights on the Dan Rossi Memorial. This one was 100 percent road. The only thing I was concerned about was the weather. It was November. We had record lows that night. I ran with another Cincinnatian (Cheryl McKettrick of West Chester Township), and we finished first for women, at 22 hours, which was an unbelievable record time for us.

Q: Besides distance, how is the 100-miler different?

A: The ultra throws so many things at you. There's terrain such as rocks, mud and lakes that you have to cross. And weather. You're out there 20-plus hours, so much more strategy is involved. And you're self-sufficient. There's no Port-O-Lets or fans along the way. There's sleep deprivation. They say if you make it through the night and see the sunrise, you get that second burst. I was fortunate that I finished at 5 a.m. and didn't have to find out.

Q: What was it like to finish?

A: For me, it was, "Thank God, I finished. I can stop, I can sit down." I wanted to cry, there are so many emotions that go through you.

Q: The ultra-marathon has some interesting traditions.

A: Usually, you get a medal when you finish a race. In the ultra, they give you things like belt buckles or paintings from a local artist. My first impression was, "I ran a hundred miles for a painting?" But that's part of the uniqueness of it. The 50s give you a medal.

Q: Will you ever run another ultra?

A: I'll definitely do 50s. The 100-miler is mind-boggling. If you had asked me the day I finished, I would have said no. But now, yes, I'll do another one.

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