Taking The Long Path
Former UV Resident Jeff Colt Takes Running To The Extreme.
I remember watching the Ironman Triathlon from Hawaii for the first time, some 40 years back. The concept seemed amazing; running a marathon, and combining it with a 100+ mile bike ride, and a long swim. Who could accomplish such a feat? Why, a 26-mile run alone seemed a stretch in itself.
Fast forward to the sport scene of today, where ultimate endurance athletic events are all the rage. One of the more popular ultra endurance sports is long distance trail running, a sport in which a former Upper Valley resident is on the verge of making quite a name for himself.
Those that paid attention to area high school cross country running and skiing events ten years ago likely remember the name Jeff Colt. Running, skiing, and ski jumping for Hanover High, Colt was a strong contender statewide in these sports. While attending Middlebury College, Colt was on the Ski Patrol, and was a member of the cross-country team for a short time.
“After running (in competition) since I was seven, I got burnt out in college,” says Colt of competitive running.
Still, Colt enjoyed running for fitness and recreation, and he continued pleasure running while in college.
While leading a group of freshmen at Middlebury during an orientation trip, Colt met Peter Howe, also from New Hampshire, who introduced Colt to the idea of competitive distance trail running. Colt, who worked summers at the Appalachian Trail huts, and spent considerable time running the mountain trails on days off, decided to give it a try. His first attempt was in the fall of ’15, entering the Vermont 50, an ultra 50-mile trail race that begins in Brownsville.
“I went into the race totally unprepared, but I learned a lot,” says Colt, who dropped out of this race at mile 38.
Unfazed, and wiser about what is required for these endurance races, Colt kept training during 2016, entering the Big Brad Ultras 50k event in Pownal, Maine in the fall of 2016.
“I knew I had a lot of strength, but I didn’t really know I could compete with the experienced runners,” Colt says. But compete he did, winning the race.
Moving to Colorado in early 2017, Colt decided to step up his commitment to endurance trail racing, and entered 10 races out West. His results were impressive, finishing between 2nd place and 5th place in nine of the ten.
The year cumulated in the Bandera 100k race, which took place in the hill country west of San Antonio, Texas on January 6 of this year. Colt targeted this race as his most important of the season, because of the longer distance (62 miles), and the high level of competitors entering. Despite “hitting a wall” around mile 50, Colt persevered, finishing the race in under nine hours and finishing a very strong 5th, out of roughly 300 entrants in the 100k run. “It was great,” Colt says of his finish, adding that he still needs to refine his training and strategy.
“I have a lot to learn about diet and calorie consumption during the race,” he says.
Not surprisingly, proper intake of fluids and food during these endurance races is critical. Colt says his distress around mile 50 of the race resulted from a lack of calories; fortunately, there was an aid station at mile 54 where the runners could stock up on snacks. Making it to the station, Colt says he revived himself by stopping and eating. What foods work for the runners when in need of that extra energy to finish? “Snack and junk foods, with sugar and salt, that are easy to digest, and add calories,” was Colt’s answer.
The competitive nature of the ultra endurance races is a great motivator, but Colt says what really attracts him to the sport is the camaraderie among the competitors. “Every runner cheers for every other runner…that support carries through to the end of the race,” Colt says.
Those that compete come from various backgrounds, Colt says. Some are ex-military, some come from other sports backgrounds, and some get involved as a way to lose weight and get active. “It’s a fun community,” Colt says of the competitors. “It’s a goofy group.”
What’s in store for Colt in 2018? First, as a result of his performance last year, Colt qualified to run in the Boston Marathon this April. It will be interesting to see how the trail racer, used to dirt, rocks and other impediments performs on the streets in and around Boston. He also plans on tackling a couple of endurance trail races while visiting the East. His big news is that he will try a couple ultra trail races in Europe this year. While the endurance races are gaining popularity here, Colt says the European circuit of trail racing is more established, and even more competitive.
To get an edge and be among the best in this type of endurance racing, it must take more than pure fitness. As Colt says, “The top competitors show up similarly fit, and race day is most entirely mental strength.”
So I was curious, what is that little extra, that inspiration that helps him succeed when the going truly gets tough during a race, such as at that mile 50 mark in Texas?
“I think about how grateful I am to be able bodied…I think about the Make-A-Wish kids I’ve been raising money for, I think about my childhood friend James (who died of cancer very young)…I think about my friend Nate Wright who experienced a horrific accident two years ago…Nate endured. Nate kept at it, (and) took his first steps without a walker this summer.”
“When I am in a dark place, I find strength in the amazing people in my life who are a daily inspiration to me.”