For most runners, completing a marathon is a noteworthy accomplishment.
For Gary Henry, a marathon is merely a warmup, even if he doesn't see it that way.
"It's just more of the same," Henry said. "But I do hear that: 'If you runs 100s and 50s and things like that, a 10K or 5K or even a marathon must be easy.' But that's just not the case. All races are difficult if you do them right. If you're out there for that 3.1 miles of a 5K and giving all you've got, if you're finished, you're finished. You're just as tired : well, maybe not as tired as if you'd run a 100K, because you haven't been running that long, but it takes it out of you. Any race done right is very strenuous."
Henry, a 50-year-old Lawrence runner, knows of what he speaks.
He has run the shorter races, but now he prefers races of a distance that all but defies comprehension: ultramarathons.
Usually all-day affairs, an ultra is a run longer than a marathon (26.2 miles), though distances typically are 50 or 100 kilometers (31 or 62 miles) or 50 or 100 miles.
"I had done shorter races before - 10Ks, 5Ks - and I always liked the idea of doing distance stuff," Henry said. "One time I hiked from Indianapolis out to Boulder, Colo., with my dog. It took 100 days, back in 1988. I guess I always was fond of the long-distance-type stuff."
The long run
But it wasn't until 1995 that Henry started pushing the limits.
That's when he ran his first half marathon. The following year, he ran his first road marathon.
He ran a few more marathons and solo'd the Brew to Brew Run, a 40-plus-miler from Kansas City, Mo., to Lawrence, a few times.
In 2002, he dipped a toe into the ultra pool.
The previous year, his friend, Ed Payne - whom Henry refers to as the "Instigator" for his knack for goading Henry into new events - convinced him to run the Pike's Peak Half Marathon.
In 2002, he graduated to the Pike's Peak Double: a half-marathon Saturday, followed by a full marathon up the mountain Sunday.
Then, in 2003, Henry dove right in when he entered the Leadville Trail 100, a legendary 100-mile trail run at elevation in Leadville, Colo.
As it turns out, Henry wasn't quite ready and had to call it quits "just" 741â2 miles in.
'That's it. I'm done'
Henry recalls making it to an aid station just before the start of a grueling climb. In the middle of the night.
"I was close to the time cutoff," Henry said. "I should have gone for it. But I was out of my depth. The thought of going up that mountain at 2 a.m. scared me to death. I said, 'That's it. I'm done.' It was easy to quit at the time, but the next morning, I woke up and thought, 'Oh, my God, what did I do? I had it there.'"
Henry returned in 2005 and tried again, but he hadn't spent enough time acclimating to the elevation and bailed about the halfway point, a victim of the time limit.
Last August, he tried again.
With the help of friend Greg Burger, of Lecompton, as a "pacer," Henry finished the Leadville Trail 100. His time: 29 hours, 18 minutes, 59 seconds.
"It was a huge relief, just to be able to stop running," Henry said. "When I finally crossed, it felt so good to be done. It felt so good to have that monkey off my back. I'm a person who : quitting really bothers me. I carried the memory of having quit in 2003 around all those years. It was unfinished business. It felt good to go back and get that thing done."
Henry ran the 50K Psycho WyCo in February in Kansas City, Kan., and the Rocking K Trail Run 50-miler in Kanopolis State Park earlier this month, and Saturday he ran the Free State Trail Run 100K race at Clinton Lake.
He finished Saturday's race in 13 hours, 6 minutes.
"That's faster than I thought I would do," Henry said. "It was fabulous fun, a beautiful day."
All the races this year are part of Henry's training for another 100-miler - the Old Dominion 100-Mile Cross County Run - in June in Virginia.
And though Henry isn't about to play down the accomplishment of completing a mere marathon, he acknowledges differences between one and an ultra.
"It's hugely different," he said. "A marathon is 26.2 miles. In general, you finish it somewhere between three and five hours, which is a long time I guess to keep running. But a 100-miler like Leadville, you have 30 hours to finish that. You're going a long, long time. You're going all day, then going through the night. You get to a point where your mind starts to play tricks on you a little bit."
This is where Henry begins to wax a bit mystic.
"The world after 50 miles looks : different," he said. "It's beautiful in some ways. I don't know I'd say it's unreal, but it's real in a different way. You look up at the sky, and the stars seem really big and bright and close."
Such atmosphere is another difference between most marathons and most ultras. Although both can be run on or off road, most marathons are road events, and many ultras are contested on trails.
"They're almost always in a beautiful place," Henry said.
Off-road races tend to have slower times - due to obstacles and elevation changes - but also tend to be a bit easier on the body. The repetitive stress of road running has been many a racer's undoing.
"The other thing that's attractive to a lot of people is, although you keep going, you run a lot slower," Henry said with a laugh. "That's attractive to older, slower people like me."