Run 100 miles? It’s not so crazy for Stephanie Hoff
To a large percentage of the population, running 100 miles non-stop might seem a little crazy.
Hoff’s running ability has grown incredibly quickly. She laughs at the recollection of being thrilled to run a quarter-mile without stopping when she first started running. She grew from that level rapidly. In the past five years, she’s run 20 marathons and her running interests have advanced from there.
She advanced from marathons to do a 50-kilometer (31 miles) trail run. While doing that run, she met another runner who was going to do a 50-mile trail run three weeks later. Hoff decided to tag along.
“I finished great and had a blast,” Hoff said.
That led to her next adventure, the Superior Sawtooth 100 Mile Trail Race in September. That race starts in Gooseberry Falls State Park near Lutsen, Minn., and winds along the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota. It took Hoff 36 hours, 45 minutes to complete the ultra-marathon course that officially lists at 103.3 miles.
Hoff said running on trails is a completely different sport than road races. It can involve climbing sharp inclines and steep descents. The trails are often uneven, with runners needing to dodge rocks and tree roots. They also run through the night, with headlamps to illuminate their way through the often wooded trails.
The runners do the first half of the race alone, but after the 42-mile mark, they could have pacers to accompany them. Members of the New Richmond Running Club, of which Hoff is a member, served as her pacers.
“They help you make sure you are eating and drinking enough,” Hoff said of the purpose for the pacers.
To help stay hydrated, most runners wear hydration packs on their backs. This allows them to drink while they are running.
The runners fill the hydration packs and get plenty to eat at aid stations which were spaced anywhere from 5-10 miles along the course. Having the stops helped Hoff mentally handle the distance of the race. She didn’t think of it as running 103 miles. She only thought in terms of how many miles she had to cover before reaching the next aid station.
Hoff said she only sat once for two minutes during the race. That was to change shoes after 60 miles.
“Honestly, my legs didn’t get tired until Mile 90,” she said.
While her legs weren’t a problem, her feet took a horrific beating. She changed shoes at Mile 60 and didn’t dare take them off until the end of the race, fearing she’d never be able to get shoes back on because of the swelling.
“I think that’s the most pain I’ve ever been in, with the blisters on my feet,” she said.
Once the race was over and the shoes came off, the damage was clear. She lost all the skin off the bottom of her feet. Her toes swelled so badly, she called them “elephant toes.”
Through it all, Hoff said she never considered quitting, even though just 88 of the 189 runners who started the race completed it.
“The pain of not finishing would outweigh the pain I’m in now,” was what she told herself to get through the later stages of the race.
The last mile of the race is run on a road. All of Hoff’s pacers were there to run the final mile to the finish line with her.
Hoff’s interest in endurance running took an unexpected turn after she completed the Sawtooth race. Her name was drawn, so she can compete in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. This is considered the country’s oldest and most prestigious distance race.
Getting her name drawn for the Western States race took some extremely good fortune on Hoff’s part. Several thousand runners qualify for the race, but only a few hundred names are drawn to take part in the race each year. Hoff was fortunate enough to be one of four Wisconsin runners to have her name drawn for the 2014 Western States race. There are also four Minnesota runners who had their names drawn.
The Western States race starts in Squaw Valley, Calif., and ends in Auburn, Calif. The terrain is highly challenging, running through areas of desert while other stretches will take the runners into mountainous ranges. Much of the trail is only accessible by foot, horse or helicopter. The course also includes the runners fording across the American River.
The changes in altitude and temperature push runners’ systems to their limits. To prepare for the fluctuations, Hoff has purchased an altitude training mask.
“It makes it harder to breathe. It’s supposed to mimic the effects of altitude changes,” She said.
If you are amazed by Hoff’s dedication, you aren’t alone. Jim Heebink is a long-time member of the New Richmond Running Club. His love and knowledge of running are unmatched in the area. He sees something special in Hoff’s running.
“Stephanie is strong physically, but has unbelievable mental toughness. Her running form, physical makeup and attitude make her well suited to distance races,” he said. “Her personality is hard to beat. We have several gals in the running club, including Stephanie, who just amaze me. They have families, full-time jobs, and still train like they are preparing for the next Olympics.”
Hoff chose to have Heebink be her pacer for the final 18 miles of the 100-mile run. Heebink’s questions and observations about the race helped Hoff to remain mentally sharp and aware through the strenuous final miles of the trek.
Hoff continues to search for ways to challenge herself. She said she may follow in the footsteps, quite literally, of long-time NRRC member Jeff Johnston. Johnston has run a marathon in all 50 states. Hoff said that is an idea which intrigues her. She has already completed marathons in seven different states.
Another of her goals is to continue qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She was at this spring’s marathon in Boston, having already completed her race when the bombing occurred near the race’s finish line.
She also includes “becoming a personal trainer” as one of her goals.
The joy Hoff has found in running pours out of her as she speaks about running. It also shows as she teaches the First Steps class of the NRRC, for adults getting into running for the first time or returning to it after years away from the sport. Hoff said she finds it “motivational,” to stir the interest in running in someone else.
Hoff celebrated her 34th birthday on Nov. 6 by running 34 miles. She ran a loop of six miles five times then added four miles, with friends running different loops with her. She tries to make running enjoyable for everyone involved. For her birthday run, her mom manned the aid station with sandwiches, soup, chips, cookies and water.
Even in her off-season, Hoff continues to run. She said she is running 40-50 miles a week to maintain her base over the winter.
For those looking for more information on her running, Hoff wrote a blog post about her recollections of the 100-mile run. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/stephanie.johnson.hoff/posts/10200806872631133