Hays man experiences grueling terrain, challenges during 240-mile run in Utah
After completing a lifelong goal, most people might choose to stop there, but not Chase Hammond.
For Hammond, an ultra-distance runner, pushing himself further and achieving a new goal is worth it in the end, no matter how much sacrifice and pain he might have to endure in order to get there.
After Hammond, of Hays, reached his lifelong dream of completing a 100-mile run, he decided to keep pushing.
Hammond recently completed a 240.3-mile run in Utah. The Moab 240 Endurance Run, which takes place in the Canyonlands and Arches National Park, puts runners through elemental, physical and mental challenges.
Hammond, who has been running ultra-distances for about five years, started the endurance run Oct. 9 and finished Oct 13 for a total of three days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.
Running an average of 60 miles per day, Hammond finished in the top 25% of competitors.
While the race offered its own set of tests, the training to run 240 miles displayed challenges, too.
In order to prepare for the Moab run, Hammond said, he trained for a year.
“I'll usually go hard three days a week and then take one week easy,” Hammond said. “For this particular race, a hard week is about 100 miles of running and then my recovery week is about 35 miles, so I'm doing typically anywhere from 300 to 350 miles a month of actual running.”
But running is just one aspect of training. Hammond does injury prevention exercises and light strength training for his legs. Good nutrition, sleep and listening and taking care of your body is key.
The training that might be less obvious, but proves to be just as vital, is mental training.
Hammond said he had to get himself used to being uncomfortable in certain situations in order to handle the mentally grueling tasks that he would undoubtedly face in Moab.
“I'll run outside no matter the weather,” Hammond said. “If I'm scheduled to do 30 miles on Saturday and it's 100 degrees out, I'm gonna do 30 miles in 100 degree weather and if it's gonna be negative 10 degrees out then I'm gonna do 30 miles in negative 10. I just made a commitment to run outside no matter what just because I know that that's gonna have a mental benefit that will exceed the physical benefit from that particular training session.”
While Hammond trained extensively to prepare himself for the endurance race, there were still experiences that had never come into play during a run until he took off in Moab.
Hammond started running about 7 a.m. Oct. 9. The first day proved to be challenging as the temperature reached 102 degrees and Hammond’s water supply was running low.
“I ran out of water a couple sections in a row,” Hammond said. “I was really dehydrated. This was probably about 40 to 50 miles into the race and there was one point where it was 102 degrees out without water and I was 13 miles until the next aid station where I could get water.”
Hammond started experiencing cramps and he couldn’t keep food down due to being dehydrated and attempting to swallow would only cause him to choke.
“I didn't eat any calories for 20 miles and I was cramping so bad that if I ever stopped, my legs would just seize up so I just had to keep going. I just had to get to that next aid station so I could camel up on water essentially.”
At certain aid stations, Hammond’s four-person crew, which consisted of his wife Casey, his mom Cindy, his mother-in-law Kim and his father-in-law Kenny, waited for him.
During the stops at the aid stations, Hammond’s crew would help him change his socks and shoes, talk strategy and refill his pack with food and water.
Hammond also had the opportunity to sleep at aid stations if he wanted. During the 240-mile run, he slept about six hours total.
At one point, Hammond said, he went about 60 hours on two hours of sleep. Around the 167-mile mark, auditory hallucinations began to take effect.
“I remember running in the woods on a particularly difficult section of the course that had a lot of elevation change, essentially running up the side of a mountain in the forest,” Hammond said. “I heard whispering on both sides of me. I was always with it enough to know that it wasn't real. Obviously on one side was a rock wall so I knew no one was actually over there. But I could feel my mind slipping a little bit and I could always tell, ’OK, I gotta get to the next aid station and see my crew so I can lay down and get a mental reset.’”
Hammond also experienced extreme elevation and temperature changes. Temperatures fluctuated from 102 degrees down to 27 degrees in the mountains.
The course, which gained and lost 29,467 feet over 240 miles, included trails that forced Hammond to essentially run up and down the side of a mountain.
By the time Hammond reached the end of the course, he was physically and mentally exhausted. Despite the challenges, seeing and hugging his family at the finish line was well worth the pain, he said.
“I absolutely could not have finished this without the crew,” Hammond said. “I totally underestimated how important they were and it was definitely a team effort. They were the best crew there, no doubt about it.”
Knowing how much he had sacrificed and how much time was invested into the run, Hammond said, he never considered giving up during the course of the race.
“I told (my family) there's nothing that is going to be a big enough problem to justify quitting this race,” Hammond said. “We are going to get it done one way or another, we are going to cross the finish line. That is all that mattered to us. We pretty much decided there's no problem big enough that we can't solve together, you know. It was never an issue.
“I mean it was terrible at times, I'll be honest with you. But it never crossed my mind, ’I'm gonna get to the next aid station, pull out’ or anything like that. I knew that if I did that it would be hard to look myself in the mirror. For me, that's just kind of how my mind works.”
While most people might not want to think about running another ultra-distance race for awhile, Hammond started planning his next one on his way home from Moab.
“I just want to go further,” Hammond said. “I want to see what I can do. Trying to achieve some sort of rank doesn't do anything for me. That just doesn't excite me that much. I want to sign up for something that I know even finishing is going to require me to go to a place mentally that I've never been. I definitely want to go further and do bigger races and stuff like that.”
But for the time being, Hammond will continue his recovery process which he estimated will take about 24 days.
Although he doesn’t like taking time off, Hammond said, he listens to his body and only pushes himself as far as it tells him to.
“I took 10 (days) off before I decided I couldn't take it anymore,” Hammond said. “I went out and ran five miles and I could just tell I needed more time. My legs hurt.”
Hammond said he has only ran twice since completing the Moab 240. He hopes to slowly work his way back into it and thinks it will take a couple months before he is back to running long distances again.
A goal that Hammond always sets for himself when he signs up for races like Moab 240 is to learn that he is capable of more than he gives himself credit for.
“I think the thing that I always learn about myself when I go a little further is that I have underestimated myself and I've put limits on myself that weren't real,” Hammond said. “I think a lot of people do that. I think that's something you generally only find out by doing something that you're not sure you can actually do or not.”
No matter how brutal a run might be, Hammond said, it is always worth it once he crosses that finish line.
“Eventually it clicks and you learn that all these limits that you put on yourself were just a bunch of crap all the time and that you could always do this stuff,” Hammond said.