Dr. David Springer, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Social Work, knows a thing or two about running marathons. In fact, he does it every weekend.
The 42-year-old husband and father of one is part of an elite group of distance runners known as ultra runners. A traditional marathon distance measures 26.2 miles, but ultra runners like Springer train year round, running a marathon's distance each weekend to prepare themselves to run 100 miles.
This past August, Springer competed in the Leadville Trail 100, an ultramarathon in Leadville, Colo. There, competitors traversed 100 miles of trails and dirt roads at high altitudes through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Runners climb and descend upwards of 15,000 feet during the race and must finish in less than 30 hours.
The training for the Leadville race started a year prior, when Springer was inspired by the success of his friend and soon-to-be coach Jason Lippman who had competed in that year's race. Springer had previously given up running.
"I went from 0 to 100 in a year," said Springer. Soon he found himself waking for 5 a.m. weekday and overnight weekend runs. In the lead up to the race, Springer said he averaged about 100 miles per week.
Beyond the endurance and physical ability to recover from the toll of ultra running, Springer acknowledges the mental strength necessary to persevere. "At some point, you'll want to stop," admitted Springer. "You've got to want it more than anything else."
After reaching the aid station at the halfway point of the race, Springer broke down. Exhausted, hungry and tired, Springer was running on dead legs and had already lost six pounds. Slumping into a chair, he put his face in a wet T-shirt and sobbed, he said. But it was his credo to "go do something epic" that pushed him onward, something his wife and crew chief Sarah Springer would say to him each morning on those early training runs. Getting up from his seat and tying on a new bandana, Springer looked to his running partner and said, "let's roll."
29 hours and 22 minutes after he started, Springer crossed the finish line with 38 minutes to spare.
Two months later, Springer still wakes up for those early morning runs in his quest for an epic life. Currently training for next year's Leadville race, Springer hopes to best last year's time.
"Ultra running is a transformational experience," he said. "It's a form of being fully engaged in life."