by Ron Marinucci, Nov. 3, 2009
Matt Bedford’s first racing interest was with motorcycles. “I ran on and off my whole life,” he shrugged, only because “I lived in a rural area and, to visit a friend, I pretty much had to run there. But as a kid, I was first into racing motorcycles.”
Well, he discovered competitive running a bit later. This past summer, for the third time since 2006, he was the first Michigan finisher at the Mohican 100 Mile Trail Race in Ohio. The Michigan runner also produced his best finish, 4th overall out of 70 runners. The next Wolverine was 22nd.
Motorcycles to ultrarunning?
“I didn’t embrace running until 17-18 years ago,” the 48-year old admitted. “We got married and we were broke. Running was cheap.” He first talked his wife, Julie, into running. She was an aerobics instructor, who “traded one addiction,” smoking, “for another,” running. She’s become a pretty good marathoner, ultrarunner, and triathlete.
“After Julie ran her first marathon, I ran one, in ’93 or ’94.” Soon afterward, “sometime in the mid-‘90s,” they did Dances with Dirt as a team, “a family team.” There, he saw the legendary Dick West running the 100K. “I asked myself, ‘How do they do that?’ It piqued my interest.”
He ran the 50K at DWD in 1998 and 1999. “I thought that was the biggest thing I’d ever do in my lifetime.” Then he learned about the Leadville 100, one of the granddaddies of American ultraracing. “I said, ‘This is even crazier than Dances with Dirt.’ But in the back of my mind….”
After finishing the 50-miler at DWD a couple years later, he decided “to step up with the big boys. I was thinking Leadville, but I found Mohican.”
The Mohican, near Loudonville, Ohio, is a beautiful, but very challenging ultra. A visit to that part of the state reveals some surprisingly hill country. It starts at 5 AM Saturday and runners are timed until 11 AM Sunday. Running through the night, participants carry flashlights, wear headlamps, or have some other source of illumination. Although there is some pavement and dirt road surface, much of the course is single-track trail. Bedford noted there are waterfalls and sections that have to be traversed “hand-over-hand.” And, from start to finish, there are 11,400 feet of total climb.
“I’d never run it before, so I went down three weeks early for practice runs on Friday night and Saturday and Sunday morning,” he recalled. “I wanted to see the waterfalls and hand-over-hand.” While there, he met some other Mohicans, runners who took him out on the course. “I met some great people and families. It’s got to be the friendliest race I’ve ever run.”
One of those guides was Regis Shivers, Sr., “who had a pacemaker.” Shivers was a “1000 Mile Buckleholder,” a ten-time finisher of the Mohican. “He’s my inspiration. I gained more knowledge from him in one night than since. It rocked to run with him.” Bedford added, “I run with his son [Regis, Jr.] now.” One of their goals is to earn their own “1000 Mile Buckles” together.
During the Mohican, Bedford uses a flashlight, “a green one. I prefer it [over a headlamp]. I can point it in different directions. It helps with my peripheral vision. A woman from Mexico recommended using a blue or green flashlight. It doesn’t mess with your night vision. Red isn’t quite bright enough. And I’m one of the few guys with a green light, so my crew can see me coming.”
His crew helps with fluids and nutrition on the course. He practices to determine the right balance and types of foods and drinks. “Balance leads to a positive attitude. I can keep rolling long. I think a bad attitude, that’s why some people bonk.”
On the course, there is an aid station every five miles, “a smorgasbord of stuff.” Runners can get sports and energy drinks and anything from “a chunk of hamburger to a piece of turkey. There’s even a bowl of table salt.”
Although during the race, “I follow my cravings, my staple is peanut butter and jelly.” Some veterans once told him, “‘Coca Cola and chicken soup will cure any bonk.’ So, 15 to 20 hours into it, I look for soup. It fills your nourishment and pretty quick.”
And, “there’s always pizza at mile 95.” Pizza? “Yeah,” he chuckled. This year, “at [mile] 75, I was really looking forward to it. But by 95 miles I said, ‘I don’t think I want any right now.’”
While the entire course poses a difficult challenge, mile 80 begins a particularly tough stretch. “It’s a climb uphill for more than 20 minutes. It’s something you’re not looking forward to. You do it twice. The first isn’t too bad; the second time you sort of go numb.”
Julie said Matt usually trains for these ultras with mere 15-mile long runs. He himself likened preparation to “training for a tough marathon, trying for a PR.” Often, he trains on “the Torn Shirt Trail” at Brighton State Recreation Area. “It’s a 6-mile loop with 3000 feet of elevation gain in one loop. It’s as close to simulating the Mohican as we get around here.” In the winter, he still runs the trails, ice, snow, and all. “It toughens the leg muscles,” he said, “and you become more coordinated. I seldom trip and fall [on the trails].”
Mostly, he trains by himself. He quipped, “I don’t know a lot of people who like to go out in the woods and run like I do.”
Bedford sees a bit of “a lull in Michigan ultra runners,” noting there aren’t many Dick Wests out there. But, he looks “for Michigan runners to step it up a bit. There’s really only one 100-mile race in Michigan.” And, he sees “more and more people from Michigan “at the Mohican. Laughing, he lamented, “I’m losing my little secret down in the woods of Ohio.”
You can find information about the Mohican, including history and results, at www.mohican100.org.