CHILLICOTHE — With the price of gas being relatively low, and with several good options for public transportation, if someone wanted to travel 100 miles, it would be a fairly easy task.
But Paul Wilkerson and Shawn Brandon still insist on covering that distance by running.
They were part of a group of runners who participated in the 100-mile event of the third annual Cry Me A River! Trail Runs over the weekend at Camp Wokanda. Other divisions in the event covered distances of 100K (about 62.1 miles), 50K (31.1 miles) and a half marathon (13.1 miles).
“This is the second 100-mile race here, but 100-mile races have been around for a long time,” race director Jenna Bahaj said. “They’re just now starting to get more popular, but people have been doing them for years.
“We didn’t have a lot of people signed up for the 100-miler,” she added. “But I think as word gets out, more people in the surrounding states are going to find out about it. Some of the other races have been around a long time and they do have a following. Some of the newer races that are flat get a good turnout too, because they’re a little bit easier.”
The Cry Me A River course was anything but easy. The 100-mile course consisted of a 2-mile loop around Camp Wokanda, and then a 9-mile trek to Detweiller Park (one way) and back — five times.
Add a total of 23,500 feet of elevation because of all of the hills on the course, and it proved to be a daunting task.
“This is the toughest course in the Midwest,” Brandon said. “A lot of that has to do with the heat and humidity we deal with here.”
Of the 11 runners who started the 100-miler, only five completed it within the 34-hour allotted time. Eleven runners completed the 100K run, 37 finished the 50K run, and 67 finished the half marathon.
“In 2016 there were 70,000 ultra-marathon finishers, counting races from 50K up through 500 miles,” said Brandon, who was the first male finisher in the 100-mile race and second overall. He completed the course in 29 hours, 39 minutes and 22 seconds.
That was well behind the winner, Susan Donnelly of Oak Ridge, Tenn. The ultra-marathon veteran completed her 98th career 100-miler in 27 hours, 16 minutes and 55 seconds.
That was way too fast a pace for Brandon, a Morton resident who has competed in a few of these extended races since he started them about five years ago. His longest race covered 200 miles.
“I ran with (Donnelly) the first 18 or 19 miles,” Brandon said. “She had never been here before, so it was her first time on the course. The course is marked, and theoretically you could go out and run it. She chose to follow people who knew it, and then said, ‘Thanks for showing me the course.’ She used me like a rug, and then threw me away.”
Brandon, a labor foreman at Carpet Weavers, was a competitive track runner at East Peoria High School, and ran a few 5K and 10K events in college.
“I’ve always run, but not very efficiently,” he said.
Brandon, who was one of the race directors last year, took up the ultra-runs in 2012 because, “I was fat and out of shape.”
On one of his first road runs, he met some members of the Central Illinois Trail Running Alliance, the local group that organizes the long runs.
“They invited me to a trail run, and I met Jenna on the first one,” Brandon said. “Then I just fell in love with being in the woods. I’m not a big fan of road runs, but put me on the trails, and I’ll go for a day or two.”
Wilkerson, a concrete worker from Germantown Hills, was third in the 100-miler in 33 hours, 6 minutes and 24 seconds. He has competed in about 20 of the 100-mile runs, but said he does it for a different reason.
“I just tell people that it’s fun,” he said. “What else are you going to do on a weekend? I’ve been running my whole life, but I didn’t run track or anything. I just run for fun, and I just enjoy it.”
But Brandon and Wilkerson approach the events with different training philosophies.
“I don’t do much training,” Wilkerson, 41, admitted. “I do run, but it’s really hit and miss. I’ll take my dog to run on short runs, and I try to do something over 10 miles on weekends. But if I skip a weekend, I don’t worry too much about it. I have done a few races leading up to this.”
Brandon, 44, puts in a few more hours of road work every week.
“Paul is a minimalist, and I do a lot more training than he does,” Brandon said. “But he has a lot more mental strength. If you can put your mental strength and physical capabilities together, you can have a pretty good day. If one of them falls apart, your day’s gone with it.”
Runners also have to be well prepared for the longer races if they want to finish at all.
Brandon ran with a hydration vest, which contained all of the necessities for the run – snacks, water, other provisions, flashlights for the late-night and early morning sessions, and even an extra pair of shoes for some. There were also aid stations all along the course, about every 3 to 5 miles
The race strategy is also important, especially in the longer, overnight races.
“I power hike all the hills, and I try to stay at 11- or 12-minute mile pace on the flats and downhills,” Brandon said. “I’ll try to keep my breaks down to about a minute or two. After 40 miles, I’ll probably take a 10-minute break to clean up my feet and re-apply some lube.”
As far as dangers on the longer races, dehydration is probably the biggest problem, according to Brandon.
“It’s pretty safe out here, because there are no venomous snakes or bears or anything like that,” he said.
Brandon said he has not decided if he will defend his men’s title next year or go back to being a race director with Bahaj. The events, which have changed over the years, should be the same for next year’s race.
“We see what’s popular with runners,” Bahaj said. “If a race is not popular and is not doing well, we get rid of it and replace it with another distance that we do think is doing well. But I think we’re in a good spot, and we’ll probably stick with the distances we have.”
If Brandon decides not to run next year, he can always call an Uber.
Johnny Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3214. Follow him on Twitter @johnnycampos59.