In mid-August of 2014, Traverse City’s Dan Kaupas ran 100 miles. For fun. Kaupas competed in an unfathomable sport event called the Leadville Trail 100 Run, finishing in a little less than 29 hours despite daunting factors like unpredictable weather and elevation ranging from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet.
This hundred-mile “Race Across the Sky” started in 1983 in Leadville, Colorado. It was created to provide an economic boost to the old mining town, and 32 years later there are a series of mega-races, including the Trail 100 Run. This year there were 700 participants in the race, including Kaupas.
MyNorth’s Eliza Foster chatted with Dan Kaupas to find out more about his unusual training techniques and what possessed him to run a hundred miles.
Why did you want to run this race of all races?
I was in a severe car accident when I was 12 years old. I broke my skull—among other things—and I was in a coma for seven days. So that messed me up physically. Then in February of 2011 I got a DUI, and I said that I’ve got to do something else. I was sort of just drinking my pain away.
I needed something else to take my time besides drinking. I stopped drinking and the running and the bike riding were a natural turn. I was at Brick Wheels getting my bike and they jokingly challenged me to compete in the first year of Mud, Sweat, and Beers. I did pretty good at it and I’d never trained. I did some more bike races and I was pretty good at those, too.
Then my neighbor was talking to me and he was joking around and said, “Anybody can coast on a bike, you should try to run a marathon. I mean you know how to run right?” So I did the Bayshore and then some other half marathons here and there. I never trained for any of them.
My dad’s joke became “What could you do if you trained?” Last summer my aunt and uncle were in town and they live about 30 minutes from Leadville. We were at dinner and my dad’s joke came up again, so my two cousins said that I should do Leadville. They told me it was happening soon and I said, “Okay I’ll do it.” And they said, “No, you can’t just run a hundred miles, you need to train.” So I didn’t run in it then, but on January 1st, I signed up and started training after that.
What was your training like? Did you do most of your training in Traverse City despite the lack of Rockies?
Commitment wise it takes a ton of your time. I did train in Traverse City, but I went out to Colorado ten days before the race so that I could adjust my lungs to the altitude. When I trained here I used an oxygen deprivation mask. I didn’t do much hill training to be honest. In the Bayshore this year I tore my calf muscle, so I didn’t do any training between the Bayshore and Leadville. Instead of running I trained with an athletic trainer, and I did a lot of cycling and a lot of gym time.
So when you were competing, what was your mental process like throughout? How did it feel to run for 29 hours straight?
It goes by really quick, it’s weird. You are constantly changing terrain, so you might be in a field you have to run through and then the next moment you are running four miles up a mountain into the woods. After that you are above the tree line running for 30 to 35 miles.
There are a lot of high and low moments, but then I would think, I am out for a jog in the Rocky Mountains, and you look around and you say, “Wow, that is beautiful.” At least it gets your mind off of your legs a minute.
Did you have a pacer throughout the race?
Yes. The second fifty miles is when I got pacers.
A crew precedes you and they are at each of the 11 aid stations. So I saw them about every 2.5 hours. At an aid station they would fill the water pack on my back with more water and fill my sport drink. I would spend about 8-9 minutes at aid stations changing my shoes, socks or shirts as it got colder [temperatures ranged from the low 30s to low 70s].
They would also feed me. I was supposed to consume 12,000 calories throughout the race. They had lunch meat turkey, PB&Js, bananas, jerky, summer sausage, peanut M&M’s, Ensure, and honey sticks.
The pacers mule your backpack with food, clothing, and water in it for you. They run about 10 miles with you. They would just hand me a piece of banana, tear off some sandwich or whatever to keep me going. I only got one pacer at a time, but not every runner has a pacer, some people run one pacer all the way back.
How did you feel when you crossed the finish line?
Emotionally spent. You’ve given everything. Mentally, physically, and emotionally every ounce was spent. I think one eye had a tear of pain and the other had a tear of joy.
How was your recovery? Did it take a few days to bounce back?
I’m still recovering. On mile 60, I severely sprained my ankle. I hit a tire mark that I couldn’t see by the river. I rolled my ankle and popped my knee out but I didn’t get any help for it, I just kept going. I just thought that if I could walk away from the race I could walk further down the trail.
Are you planning on taking on Leadville again? Any other upcoming races?
I want to do Leadville again in a couple years now knowing what I am in for, and to be able to go into it without injuries and shoot for a below 25 hour finish.
I also have a race in the beginning of May around Long Lake here in Traverse City: The Long Lake Challenge 13.1. It’s a great precursor to the Bayshore marathon for runners of that, and also I see it as a great way for people to stay motivated towards something over the winter. I found myself as the winter went on needing something to look forward to in the spring, to keep lacing up my shoes and running or to keep going to the gym.