Glade Park ultra runner Adam Bechtel meets incredible challenge
When Adam Bechtel ran track in high school, he had one goal.
“Never get lapped in a race,” he said of his one-year career as a miler at Fruita Monument. “I achieved that. I wasn’t very fast.”
About 10 years ago, Bechtel, now 36, attempted to run a couple of different marathons.
“I didn’t do well in either,” he said. “I bonked at mile 20 and had to walk both of them out. For a decade, I decided I wasn’t a marathoner. I wasn’t someone who could run marathons. Maybe 10Ks and 5Ks, but a decade later I gave it another shot.”
He started to get the hang of running 26.2 miles.
“In my 20s I didn’t have the mental capacity to pace myself,” said Bechtel, who works in infrastructure for Yahoo! and lives on Glade Park. “I’d always go out too hard and blow out and start puking and it never worked out. I definitely think it took me a long time to get to that mental pace where I could pace myself.”
He decided he was ready to run one of the big marathons. He qualified for the 2010 Boston Marathon and finished in 2 hours, 57 minutes, 46 seconds.
Then, a couple of years ago, his brother gave him a book about ultra marathons.
“It put a bug in my mind,” he said. “I never heard of the Leadville 100.”
So the guy who wasn’t great at running four laps around a track in high school and struggled through his first few marathons started thinking big.
“I didn’t know if it was possible. I never dreamed it was possible for a human to run 100 miles,” he said. “I started reading about average people being able to do it. The challenge of it just stuck in my head.
“Once I started running more on trails and what-not, it somewhat became self-medicating, the endorphins. I was running before work and feeling better. I had the simplicity of a goal and training for it and it simplified my life.”
So last year, he entered the Leadville 100.
When he was reading Ultra Running Magazine, he saw a story about people who ran in something called the Grand Slam.
“I got home from work and was going to sign up for Boston again, and it sold out in four hours,” Bechtel said. “I thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll put my name in for Western States.’
“I didn’t have a plan to run any 100s. I got lucky for a first-time person to get through the lottery. I figured chances are I wouldn’t get selected again until I was 45, so I’d try the Grand Slam.”
And yes, a grand slam in ultra running is just like a grand slam in any other sport — four events. But in ultra running, there’s a kicker. The four events are in an 11-week time period.
Turns out, the not-so-great miler and the marathon bonker was built for this “are you crazy?” challenge.
“I had only done one ultra in my life,” he said. “It was not the smartest thing to sign up for but I thought, ‘Hell, I’m in my mid-30s, chances are my health is only going to deteriorate. It’s only going to get harder, I might as well try to do it.’ ‘’
The best marathon runners in the world can travel 26.2 miles in just more than two hours.
The top men’s time in the Western States 100 in Squaw Valley, Calif., is 15 hours, 7.04 minutes, set in 2010.
In June, 375 ultra runners started the Western States run, including Bechtel. All but 65 finished, the best percentage since 1993, and 125 of those runners finished in less than 24 hours.
Bechtel had his best time of the four at Western States, 21:42.09.
That was June 25-26. In mid-July, he was off to West Windsor, Vt., to run in the Vermont Trail, finishing that in 22:28.41.
“Western States was basically the first 100-mile race, in 1974,” Bechtel said. “It started as a horse race, and one guy’s horse came up lame so he entered it on foot and competed against the horses. That started the 100-mile distances.”
In Vermont, there are runners on two legs and four legs.
“You actually do race against horses,” he said. “You start at 4 a.m. and the horses at 5 a.m. It’s pretty bizarre. The fastest humans do beat the horses. I didn’t.
“The last-place horse passed me about 11 p.m., 19 hours into the race.”
Throughout his ultra quest, Bechtel has experimented with the proper nutrition before and during a race. During a 20-hour race, runners try to take in about 400 calories an hour.
“That’s probably the most unpleasant piece of it all, trying to eat when you don’t feel like eating and trying to keep it down,” he said.
He’s found that during the night, he likes ramen noodles and mashed potatoes. During the day he’ll eat nuts, watermelon, Fig Newtons, but nothing too sugary.
“I love Snickers; I can eat those all day, but during a race, that concentration of sugar makes me puke,” he said.
In August came the Leadville 100, and Bechtel finished in 27:41.18. He wrapped up the Grand Slam at Wasatch Front in Utah, finishing in 28:02.16.
Only 12 people completed the Grand Slam, and of those, Bechtel had the best overall time, giving him the title of the 2011 Grand Slammer.
A couple of weeks after finishing his slam, he vowed he will not try to defend his title in 2012.
“I told my wife I’ll never do a Grand Slam again, and I won’t,” he said. “The recovery time is only three weeks and the last two races it was two weeks and six days. That’s not enough time for me. For the seasoned guys that’s probably OK, but I’m not out running 400 miles a week. It’s too much for me.”
But is he done with ultra running?
“I’m sure I’ll run one or two next year,” he said. “Not four in 11 weeks. That was a one-time deal.”