I used to be the kind of person who looked at runners and couldn’t believe someone would choose to do it. Now I’m routinely on those packed trails, with four marathons behind me and the itch to add “one for the thumb” in 2015.
At the end of all four marathons, I remember thinking how glad I was to be done. Conversations in weeks that followed tended to come back to 26.2 miles (because runners like talking about running even more than running). It was smugly satisfying to have something I accomplished deemed “crazy” by others.
Crazy, though, is relative. If running a marathon is crazy, what is John Focke? The short answer is that he’s a radio studio host for the Timberwolves and Lynx. The expanded answer is that he’s the type of person who recently chose to compete in a running event that is nearly four times as long as a marathon.
It’s called the Superior 100, and it’s well-known in the ultramarathon community. It covers 103.3 miles along the Superior Hiking Trail, starting in Gooseberry Falls and ending in Lutsen — essentially a run and hike mixed into one. Focke started at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 5, and a little over 37 hours later — of which he was sitting for maybe 40 minutes, he said, and in constant motion the rest of the time — he finished.
“It was a ton of fun,” Focke said, “but it’s not exactly what everyone would think would be a fun weekend.”
He started in with some details, and it sounded beautiful: the scenery, the crisp air, the sense of community. Then he started talking about blisters at mile 86. Not fun any more.
“It felt like a nail going through the bottom of my foot,” Focke said. “I adjusted my stride and decided I wasn’t going to let blisters ruin it.”
He did that for 17 miles, and he would do it again. Like others of his ilk, he has the itch. Focke started with marathons and, in fact, plans to run Twin Cities Marathon in 10 days. But those are just training runs now.
“Every year I kept adding stuff in, and enjoyed the adventure of it,” he said. “I finally decided to test myself with the 100.”
It’s a common sentiment among those who keep pushing farther in distance races. I asked my friend Dylan Dragswiek, another ultramarathoner, why he does it and the reply was familiar.
“Crazy is just past what you think is normal. If you don’t run at all, going around the block sounds nuts,” he said, adding: “Our normal is someone else’s crazy, and I kind of like that.”