Dr. Derek Beenfeldt is an avid runner – participating in multiple ultramarathons and races just this year. One endurance run this summer, however, pushed him into new territory when he had to overcome heat and miles of running on blisters to reach a once-in-a-lifetime goal in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.
As an ultramarathon runner, he’s participated in multiple marathons/ultramarathons this year alone including the Napa Valley marathon in March, a 50K “Way Too Cool” ultra-marathon a week later, followed by the Boston Marathon in April, and the Silver State 50-mile in May.
All this running was in preparation for the ultimate bucket list prize: To run the Western States 100-mile marathon in less than 24 hours.
The Western States® 100-Mile Endurance Run, held on June 27 to 28, is the world’s oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race. Participants start off in Squaw Valley, Calif. near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and end about 100 miles later in Auburn, Calif. Since its inception in 1974, it has come to represent one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world.
And, endurance is what runners need.
In the Western States Endurance Run, participants climb more than 18,000 feet and descend nearly 23,000 feet before they reach the finish line at Placer High School in Auburn.
In the miles between Squaw Valley and Auburn, runners experience the beauty of Emigrant Pass and the Granite Chief Wilderness, the canyons of the California Gold Country, crossing of the Middle Fork of the American River, and, the red and brown colored trails that led gold-seeking prospectors and homesteaders alike to Auburn.
“I finished 88th out of 374. Of those who started the race, 124 dropped out during it. My biggest accomplishment and a goal, beyond finishing, was to finish in less than 24 hours – my time was 23:48:09,” Dr. Beenfeldt says. “Those of us who did finish received a silver belt buckle. This is arguably the biggest prize in ultra running.”
So what is it like participating in ultramarathons, races and trail runs? Dr. Beenfeldt to shares his experience with the Western States Endurance Run.
Hours of Training
The training included a tremendous amount of running – hundreds of miles. It was an infrequent day that I was not motivated to get out and run, and running became such an integral and necessary part of my life.
Also, I had a goal of finishing within 24 hours which is very difficult to do in the Western States. “Keep your eye on the prize” was good advice from a friend which I kept repeating to myself throughout my training.
Challenges Encountered Along the Way
It was a hot day, but I’m lucky that I have always done fairly well in the heat. I had never had blisters in a race before but because of the heat, it was necessary to submerge in the streams and get iced down at the aid stations. This degree of water on my feet caused blisters at mile 43.
I ran 12 miles on blistered feet until my crew at the 55 mile aid station could duct tape my feet and give me dry shoes and socks. The three miles from 52 to 55 were the low spot in the race for me. I tried to keep in mind that everyone suffers in a hundred miles.
I just kept focused, put my head down and kept running.
Running in My 40s Versus My 20s
I took running up pretty late in life at age 41. I can’t help but wonder if my 21-year-old self would have been a better runner.
Alternatively, 46 years give you learning and life experience you just don’t have in your 20s. I have more patience now than in my earlier years. I’m probably more prone to injury and the recovery takes longer, but I think I appreciate this beautiful sport far more at this age.
Fueling the Body for Running
With my patients, I recommend reducing carbohydrates while increasing vegetables, fruits, protein and healthy fats. I really do try to practice what I preach. I also try to avoid processed carbohydrates.
I was told that this would be the journey of a lifetime, and it was. From the moment I was selected (by lottery) until now, it has had such a big impact on my life.
As this was my first 100-miler, I had to wonder if I could do it. I learned something about myself in those 100 miles. I think my crew of friends and family who stayed with me the whole 23 hours may have endured more than me. Their love and support is what carried the day.
I was lucky to have them there.
Reflections After the Run
In the days that followed the run, I reflected on the amount of work and sacrifice it took to run 100 miles. This left me wondering if it was worth it.
Ultimately, I have determined that with the appropriate balance, continuing to run long distances needs to be a continued part of my life. It has provided too much in the way of new friends and a way for our whole family to stay active, doing something we can enjoy together.