Imagine running a 100-mile race. Now imagine doing it every two weeks.
That’s what Monica Scholz did, on average, in 2010. Sometimes she ran a 100-miler on consecutive weekends. Her story fascinated me, in part because she’s a couple of years older than I and she works full time as an attorney, like my husband. And still she managed to fly around the country on weekends, get off the plane, hit the trail, run 100 miles, and be back at work on Monday. I wanted to know not just why she set a record by running 25 100-milers in a year, but how.
I wrote the story below for the March 2011 issue of UltraRunning. Tomorrow, I’ll post a follow-up on Monica’s Top 5 Running and Travel Tips.
The Hardest Day in a Year of Running 25 100-Milers
The low point for Monica Scholz in her successful quest to run the most ever 100-mile races in a year came last September, during No. 19 of the 25 100’s she completed in 2010.
The 43-year-old Canadian, who holds a full-time job as a family law attorney, had to take three connecting flights from her home about an hour north of Buffalo, New York, to get to Southern Oregon for the Pine to Palm Endurance Run. First she got stuck in North Carolina due to weather. Then she got a delayed flight out West, drove about an hour to the Siskiyou Mountains, missed the pre-race medical check, arrived at a motel seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and finally got a few hours of sleep.
She woke at 4:30 a.m., walked outside barefoot to get something from her car, and heard the door to her room lock behind her. She had no keys and no phone on her. No one was on site to help. She flagged down a passing cop car, and the cop called someone to unlock her room. She grabbed her stuff, sped away to the race start, and stepped out of her car as the race director was counting down the start. She jumped in to join the 130 other runners on the course with little food or sleep to sustain her.
Rain started to pour and high winds kicked in. Race Director Hal Koerner later wrote that the conditions could not have been worse.
“I don’t mind running in the rain, but it was sort of nonstop,” Scholz recalled during a phone interview. “You’d climb up these ridges, and it got really, really cold. … Then around Mile 65, I had a horrible bonk. I was just bobbing and weaving on the trail, thinking, ‘This is really bad.’ I’m trying to eat chocolate, trying to listen to music, just trying to get myself going again, and I’m getting anxious because I’m still bonking.”
She saw another runner and willed herself to catch up to him. “I told myself I gotta start talking, gotta get my mind off this. I asked him if he could talk to me and just help keep me awake.”
When she felt so lousy, so far from home in conditions so extreme, did she think of giving up her quest to run so many 100-milers in a single year?
Did she wonder why she was doing it, and if it was worth it?
Did her resolve turn to regret with each sinking step in the Oregon mud?
“Oh no, no,” she said, sounding mildly appalled at the suggestion she would quit. She worried about falling asleep on her feet, but not about giving up. “I don’t think I ever had a low point where I thought about not doing it”—“it” being her goal to break the record she set back in 2001, when she ran 23 100-mile races. “I’m focused. This is my goal.”
Re-energized by the company on the Pine to Palm trail, she pushed through and finished in 29:29—far off her 2010 best of 19:08 and her lifetime 100-mile PR of 18:46, but an impressive feat considering only 55 percent of the starters finished.
Running Was Not the Hardest Part
Since she ran the 25 100’s in 2010—roughly the distance from her home in Jerseyville, Ontario, to Los Angeles—she now has 112 100-mile finishes to her name, including multiple wins at the HURT (Hawaiian Ultra Running Team) 100-mile Endurance Run and the Badwater 135-Mile.
How does it feel to cram so many ultras into the calendar? “Definitely tiring, but the running was not the hardest part—it was the traveling,” she said. “The travel was horrible. A lot of time it was a relief to get to the starting line and just run.”
As a litigator, she has to return to work and sometimes be in court on Monday morning. If the race weekend takes longer than expected—as it did at Northern California’s Rio del Lago on the weekend before Pine to Palm, when she went way off course and barely had time to get a shower before getting on the plane—then she faced an extra-tough week. “Running itself isn’t so bad if I can sleep and relax after, but a lot of times that wasn’t an option.”
Scholz’s husband, Phil McColl, helped her manage last year’s grueling schedule. An ultrarunner who finished seven 100’s himself last year, he helped her pack her gear and joined her to run or crew at several of the events. They don’t have children, but they do have dogs and had to find pet and house care when on the road.
Getting past the how of her unsurpassed ultra-running, the obvious question remains: Why did she run so much last year and put herself through the logistical stress to get to all those events?
Of course she loves to run. You bet she enjoys the scenery. And sure, she enjoys the people she meets at the events. “But that’s not reason enough to be doing so many,” she acknowledged.
The reason for her 100-mile streak boils down to the record. She wanted to surpass what she did in 2001. “I thought, ‘Before I get too old and decrepit, maybe I’ll have a shot at it.’”
Does it go deeper than that? “I don’t think so,” she said frankly. “I basically spent a year in this constant state of sleep deprivation, trying to jam all this work in between everything, just to see if I would beat the record. I can’t think of any other reason I’d do it. It’s the satisfaction of being able to do it.”
Not Addicted or Compulsive
Scholz managed to avoid injury (aside from an episode of knee swelling, which resolved itself) and says she wasn’t worried about the volume of running and travel having an adverse impact on her health. “I can’t say I was concerned, because it was finite—I knew it was going to end.” She compares it to being in a six-week trial, working up to eighteen hours a day and living on adrenaline. You get through it because you know you can give yourself a break at the end, she said.
Which is exactly what she’s doing now. She finished her last 100, the Creemore Horizontal in Ontario, in late November and took most of December off. In January, she and McColl headed to Hawaii for HURT. Scholz previously finished HURT ten times in a row (2001 – 2010), making her the only member of the event’s “1000-Mile Club.” She says it’s her all-time favorite 100-miler because of the degree of challenge combined with natural beauty.
This year went a little differently. After the first of the course’s five laps, “Phil and I looked at each other and said, ‘Do you feel like being out here all night?’ We hadn’t spent a ton of time together, so when we started off on our second loop, we said, ‘Let’s play hooky.’ I was just not interested in running all night.”
The hooky-at-HURT set the tone a more mellow approach to Scholz’s running this year—proof, she suggests, that she’s not addicted or compulsive about the sport, as some may think.
“Compulsion to me is people who have to run every day or log every mile, and to me that’s kind of wacky,” she said. “I’ll walk out the door and go for a run if I feel like it, and if I don’t feel like running, then I won’t.”
And what if someone wants to break her record by running 26 100-milers this year? “I’ll shake their hand,” she said. “I’m not going to do this again. It was a one-time, see-if-I-can-do-this thing.”
Monica’s Top Travel and Running Tips
After UltraRunning published the story, I asked Monica to supplement it with some advice on traveling and running. Since she traveled so much and handled so many tricky logistics, I figured she must have some good tips. Sure enough, she delivered. Read her advice in the next post.