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Tucson Daily Star Article

Opinion by Greg Hansen : After 100-miler, Tucsonan, though tired, ready for more
Opinion by Greg Hansen
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.25.2007

In the wee hours of Sept. 9, Chase Duarte found himself running in the Wasatch Mountains outside Salt Lake City. All of the stereotypes applied: It was dark, he was dirty, his feet were killing him, and he desperately wanted to go to sleep.
And that was the good stuff. Duarte had cramps. He was cold. Five of his toenails had torn loose. At 8,000 feet, he had difficulty breathing; he thought he might puke.
"If I live through this,'' he thought, half-seriously, "I'm never going to run 100 miles again.''
Duarte ran and ran and ran. After 86 miles, convinced he needed an emergency nap, he stopped and lay face-down. Sleep was instant. He woke up eight minutes later and was back on the trail.
"I wasn't exactly wide-eyed,'' he said later, laughing. "I still had a tough run ahead.''
Fourteen miles to go. Or, as it seemed that night, forever.
For 30 hours 15 minutes, 40-year-old Chase Duarte covered 100 miles and 26,842 feet of elevation climb in the Wasatch Mountains. No one put a gun to his head. In fact, he had to enter a lottery, pay $150 and document eight hours of volunteer work for the National Forest Service before being granted one of about 300 coveted berths in the annual Wasatch 100.
"Without a doubt, Chase is one of the toughest guys I know, a strong-minded, buff dude,'' said Chris Fall, an official at Tucson's Raytheon headquarters who paced Duarte in the Wasatch 100 and ran the final 47 miles with him. "But it doesn't matter how tough you are; when you finish 100 miles you tend to get very emotional.''
A few days later, I sat with Duarte at the Western Army Aviation Training Site at the Pinal Air Park, where Duarte is a Chief Warrant Officer II for the National Guard. I did not see any tears.
I saw a former Marine who routinely asks his daily car-poolers to drop him off at the Tangerine Road exit so that he can run the final 12 1/2 miles to work. I saw a hardy Minnesota native who once ran from the Rincon Mountains, up and over the Catalinas and into Oracle — 60 miles in 23 hours — on a night so cold that his drinking water froze.
"Gotta be a record,'' he said. "I don't think anyone else has ever tried it.''
I had one question that had any substance: why? Why would anyone run 100 miles?
"To me, it's not suffering,'' he said. "It's beautiful. It's spiritual. I wanted to experience something of extreme difficulty and experience how my mind and body would handle it.''
This is not unbroken ground in Tucson. Our ultradistance-running adventurer, Pam Reed, has not only won the 135-mile Badwater Marathon through summertime Death Valley, she ran a 300-mile endurance test three years ago on a Pinal County frontage road. Tucsonan Bruce Gungle has finished the Badwater. And Fall, Duarte's pacer at the Wasatch 100, completed the same Utah trail in 2002.
"These running accomplishments can be life-changing,'' said Fall. "When you get to the finish line of a 100-mile run, it's an amazing experience. It's not just something you do one day and move on. It becomes part of you.''
Duarte began running in 1989, in part to break what he terms "a vigorous smoking habit'' from his Marine days. He had run a marathon a few years earlier, but "it hurt so bad I swore I'd never run again.''
Right. By 1991 he was on the National Guard marathon team. He broke three hours easily, and soon got his time under 2:40. He began thinking about the Olympic trials. "This is my sport,'' he remembers telling himself. "I was 26, 27 years old, and I didn't think there was any limit.''
Upon moving to Tucson a decade ago, Duarte reached his marathon limit. His prime speed years as a distance runner had come and gone. So he changed. He entered, and won, the 50-K Crown King ultramarathon in the Prescott National Forest. He won it a second time. He got bored. There had to be a greater challenge.
He thus entered his first 100-miler, the 2003 Angeles Crest 100 in the back country north of Los Angeles. He dropped out after 59 miles. "A big mistake,'' he said. "I just wasn't ready. I fell apart.''
Three years later, he was ready. He entered the Western States 100 that begins in the mountains near Lake Tahoe, another admittance-by-lottery race in which he wasn't totally sure he wanted his application approved.
Only 52 percent of the starters reached the finish. Duarte not only finished but did so in 24 hours 32 minutes.
It was spiritual. It was beautiful. He forgot about the pain, and this month decided to do it again. On Sept. 8, he flew into Salt Lake City and went confidently to the starting area. By the time he reached the finish 30 hours later, sore and exhausted, he swore he would not run ultra distances again.
"Not even a 50-miler, maybe not even a marathon,'' he said at his office. "I mean it.''
A few days later, I got an e-mail from Duarte.
"I'm planning to train for and run a sub-2:50 at the Carlsbad marathon in January,'' he wrote.