“You’ll never know how far you can go until you risk going too far.”
That’s an old ultra-runner quote that Dr. Rick Sandison lives by.
Dr. Sandison, a family medicine doctor at St. Luke’s Magic Valley, practices what he preaches.
On Aug. 20, running along the Greenbelt in Boise, he achieved a personal goal.
For his 60th birthday, Dr. Sandison ran 60 miles – barefoot.
“I have run marathons barefoot before, but 60 miles is a whole different level,” he said.
“Because it’s cool.
“Remember how it used to feel when you were 5 years old, running around all summer without shoes on?”
Running wasn’t always in his blood. In fact, it wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he began running. With medical school, residency and raising young kids, he said, he neglected his physical health and was totally out of shape. He also had a foot injury that caused foot pain even when he ran less than a mile.
He decided to start small and build from there.
“The first day, I went out and gently ran one side of one block and then walked home,” said Dr. Sandison. “I took a day off and then I did a block and a mailbox. I took another day off and then a block and two mailboxes.”
Eventually, he ran around a whole block. After another long time, he built up to a mile. He gradually worked up to running a 5K (3.1 miles) and then a 10K (6.2 miles). After a long time, he ran a half-marathon (13.1 miles).
After five years, Dr. Sandison was ready for a marathon (26.2 miles).
“I ran the Portland Marathon for my first marathon,” he said. “I had a great day, but as I finished, the thought occurred to me — ‘Hmmm … I could have kept going.’”
On subsequent long run training days, he did keep going. He ran 28 miles, then 30, then 32 and then 35.
“The day I was running 35 miles, I had a flashback to a sports television broadcast I had seen when I was young. The old ABC Wide World of Sports was showing a special on the Western States 100-mile endurance race.
“I remember being completely amazed by those runners,” Dr. Sandison said. “As I was running the 35 miles, the thought occurred to me, ‘I wonder if an average Joe, 45-year-old guy like me could do that.’”
Dr. Sandison signed up for a 50-mile run, with the idea that he would run a half-dozen or so 50-mile races to try to toughen up for the 100-mile distance. But during the last five miles of that 50-mile run, the thought from the ultra-runner’s quote kept going through his mind: “You’ll never know how far you can go until you risk going too far.”
That sealed the deal: The next race was going to be 100 miles.
During training, he would run just one day a week, for about four hours. About every four weeks, he would do a long run.
Dr. Sandison ran and completed several 100-mile events. His first was the Vermont 100-mile endurance run, which he completed in 27 hours and 35 minutes.
Although he said it does take endurance to successfully finish 100 miles, there are a lot of other factors.
“You have to learn to manage your stomach,” he said. “During 100 miles, you have to eat thousands of calories of food.
“You have to figure out what your stomach will tolerate. Most people will vomit at least once during a 100-mile event.”
And then there’s foot care.
“You have to learn to manage your feet,” Dr. Sandison said. “Many people drop out from trashed feet.”
But wait, there’s more.
“There is also sleep deprivation, since you run all day and then all through the night,” he continued. “For 100-mile events, especially in the heat, you have to manage your fluids and electrolytes properly or you could seriously harm yourself.”
In 2008, he took a sabbatical from St. Luke's for a year to work in a mission medical clinic in Ecuador. He didn’t run much that year and left ultra-running behind. Until his recent Greenbelt run, he had not run anything long since then.
However, “This year I was turning 60, and I began to wonder if average Joe, 60-year-old me could possibly get back to running 100 miles.”
He wasn’t in shape for 100 miles, so he decided to start with something more modest, like 60 miles – barefoot.
“I run barefoot year round and I have run marathons barefoot, but 60 miles was far beyond anything I had ever tried before. It was a risky goal. There was a great chance that I wouldn’t be able to finish.”
But, “You never know how far you can go unless you risk going too far.”
Dr. Sandison had mapped out the run ahead of time. He parked his car along the path for food and supplies.
“On any long run, you have to expect adversity. You cannot be surprised by surprises. Adversity of some kind is going to happen. It cannot be a surprise.”
Within minutes of his 4:30 a.m. start, he had his first surprise — a wet course. Sprinklers were watering across the Greenbelt path. Dr. Sandison knew that water is an enemy for barefoot runners, and that if his calluses were to get soaked, they would wear off, causing real problems. Not a good start for an attempt at 60 miles.
“On the fly, I had to revamp my course,” he said. “I was able to find dry sections of the Greenbelt and stayed on those until mid-morning, when the wet sections dried up.
Although he said by the end, he was hobbling (“By that point, you could hardly even call it walking.”), he did finish.
For his endurance runs, Dr. Sandison uses a “race plan,” with laminated affirmations and notes that remind him of what he needs to do during the race, i.e. what he needs to get from a drop bag or what he needs to eat or how much salt to take, etc.
On his laminated cards he has thoughts to consider along the way, such as “Expect a journey and a battle.” “Accept the suffering.” “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” “A dream that you do not fight for can haunt you the rest of your life.” “Manage the moment.” “Recovery happens.” “Expect surprises.” “Pain is temporary.”
His perspective on the sheer number of miles he is able to cover is equally inspiring.
“If you are running 100 miles and you think of the whole 100 miles, it is overwhelming. The next time you drive from Twin Falls to Boise, watch the odometer for 100 miles. It’s a long way. And if you think about that whole distance, it’s overwhelming.
“You just have to stay in the moment,” he said. “You have to say, ‘I don’t know if I can finish this, but I do know that I can go one more mile. And then after that mile, you focus on one more mile. If you manage your present moment and put enough moments together, it turns into 100 miles.
“To me, doing 50 miles is boring. But doing 100 miles is fascinating.”
Dr. Sandison still has his heart set on running the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race. Runners must qualify and be selected through a lottery.
He and two of his three daughters are training for an upcoming marathon, and he is preparing for a 100-mile race in March 2018. This time – with shoes.
“I would never recommend for anyone to run 100 miles,” Dr. Sandison said. “But if I have a patient who likes to run, I might encourage them to try a marathon. When I tell a patient to exercise, I think it helps that they know that I walk the talk. It gives me some credibility.”
Michelle Bartlome is the public relations manager at St. Luke's Magic Valley.