Racing 240.3 miles on foot in the area around Moab, Utah, sounds like a singular and competitive pursuit.
That’s what Kenai’s Eric Thomason, 48, thought, too, until tackling the Moab 240 Endurance Run from Oct. 9 to 13.
“It was a race at first, then it kind of turned into a social event,” Thomason said.
The drive from Homer to Anchorage is 222.3 miles. Thomason ran almost 20 miles farther than that in the looped race, gaining and losing 29,467 feet of elevation in the process. Mount Everest is 29,029 feet.
In reaching a high of 10,000 feet above sea level, Thomason said he dealt with temperatures that reached 90 degrees and fell as low as 30 degrees.
Despite getting less than 10 hours of sleep on the way to finishing in 4 days, 7 hours and 45 minutes, Thomason had to navigate a course through desert, canyons, slick rock and two mountain ranges surrounded by Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, according to the race website.
“It was my first time there,” Thomason said. “It’s like Mars down there. It’s like another planet.”
That’s why relying on other people became so important. Official results were not available Monday, but tracking data shows the race had 127 finishers and 64 listed as not finishing. Thomason took 85th overall.
He said part of the social aspect of the race was bumping into unexpected people before the race. Thomason said he met central peninsula resident Kyle McNally, who was there to pace for Homer’s Torrey Short. Short took 28th in 3:15:42.
“The biggest thing I learned is the whole social thing,” Thomason said. “Talking and hanging out with those other people, I found somebody to pace off of and you feed off each other.
“When you start going slow they help you speed up. It’s a team type of thing.”
‘I suck at running’
After doing marathons, Thomason got his start in extreme endurance events in 2017 at the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon, a 2.6-swim in Resurrection Bay followed by 112 miles on the bike from Seward to Bird Point followed by a 27-mile run that included two climbs of Mount Alyeska.
Thomson finished 128th overall that year, but improved to 66th in 2018 and eighth in 2019.
Alaskaman went away after 2019, but Thomason’s passion for endurance didn’t. He completed the Susitna 100 on foot in February in 36 hours, 24 minutes and 30 seconds.
After April’s Badwater Salton Sea, an 81-mile footrace, was canceled, Thomason homed in on the Moab 240 after learning about the event from the book “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins.
Thomason’s performances in the Alaskaman were marked by excellent rides on the bike. So why has he settled on long running races?
“Because I suck at running,” he said. “I want to get stronger at my weaknesses.”
Training to run 240 miles
Thomason’s strategy was to teach his body to run slow and steady, carrying a lot of weight, no matter what. He said racers must carry required gear, so many will cut some weight by not carrying a lot of water between the 14 full aid stations.
Thomason said cutting water results in dehydration and runners dropping out.
After all, there is a race rule that actually states: “If a runner requires IVs during the event they are automatically disqualified.”
Thomason works at Pacific Star Seafoods. In the summer when the fish were running, he worked seven days a week for about six straight weeks. He would run 8 miles to work and 8 miles home from work each day, carrying 40 pounds. The 8 miles would take him 2 to 2.5 hours to run.
After work got less busy, Thomason was able to work in mountain training. One day, he climbed 10,000 feet by going up and down Skyline Trail.
“I was preparing for things beyond my control,” Thomason said. “When you go into something that’s four days long, things are going to happen and you just have to embrace it.
“When those things happen, I would say that’s why I’m here. To get through those challenges. Ultimately, it’s about training for life.”
A little help from his friends
Thomason planned to do the race totally solo, but ended up meeting challenges with the help of friends old and new.
He started the race at 6:45 a.m. on Oct. 9. It took him just over 22 hours to do the first 72 miles. There he met Nikiski’s Dwayne Meganack, who had flown in to support Thomason at the last minute. Thomason tried to sleep in Meganack’s car.
“I was rolling in the car and cussing,” Thomason said. “I couldn’t get comfortable and I didn’t sleep at all, but I laid down.”
Meganack paced Thomason for the second day. Thomason said everyone struggled through hot, sandy, rocky conditions. A little after 4 p.m. on the race’s second day, Thomason hit the Bridger Jack aid station at Mile 102.6.
“I was crying when I got to that aid station,” Thomason said. “I was happy to get food and water. After a day and a half, I was pretty tired and emotional there.”
Thomason also took a two-hour nap in Meganack’s air conditioned car.
“He said I came out looking like a new man,” Thomason said.
This is where things got social. Among others, Thomason talked with Jared Buchanan, who runs to bring awareness to police, veteran and first responders suicides, to get to Shay Mountain at Mile 121.6 at about 2 a.m. on the second night.
The hills are alive with hallucinations
Thomason said he got through the third day fine, but that night things got … well … interesting.
“It got super dark that third night, and that’s when things started coming alive,” Thomason said. “Bushes started forming into shapes and trees started coming alive.”
Thomason said he’d read about hallucinations in endurance events but had never experienced anything like that third night.
“When I did the 100-miler, on the first night I thought a bush was a house, but nothing like this,” he said.
Thomason said this was the point when racers really started relying on each other to keep going. One of Thomason’s most frequent companions was Karla Kent, a 56-year-old from Las Vegas who has finished numerous ultraendurance events.
With Kent sleepwalking part of the way, Thomason hit the Road 46 aid station, 167.3 miles into the race, at about 2 a.m. on the race’s third night.
After about three hours of sleep, he would face the challenge of climbing from 6,000 to 10,000 feet in the next 30 miles of the race.
“It was probably the most difficult part for me,” Thomason said. “I’ve never been that high before and I was struggling with my breathing. I started getting lost and second-guessing myself. Every turn, it was, ‘Am I lost again?’”
Thomason got to Geyser Pass, 201.4 miles into the race and nearing 10,000 feet, at 5:45 p.m. heading into his fourth night on the trail. Again, hanging with competitors helped, as did Meganack finding Thomason to get him some water.
After topping 10,000 feet just after Geyser Pass, Thomason had about 40 miles and a drop of about 6,000 feet to finish. Problem was, he had to travel through the night again.
“I shut the lights off because I didn’t want to see the trees and rocks come alive,” Thomason said. “The rocks were turning into faces and the trees were turning into animals. I needed to focus on what I was doing.”
At Porcupine Rim, 223.9 miles in, Thomason said his brain actually tried to trick him into saying, “We’ve come this far. Do we actually have to finish?” Thomason said he was ready for that trick.
Thomason had until 11 p.m. on the fifth day to finish and ended up finishing at 2:30 p.m. His training had worked. He never experienced anything he could not overcome.
“I never doubted at any point and time I wasn’t going to finish,” he said.
The finish meant a shower, real food and good sleep, but not much more than that.
“It wasn’t anything special,” Thomason said. “I think I was so mentally and emotionally drained because there were so many emotional moments during the race where I was completely drained. There wasn’t any emotion left. I just wanted to get it done.”
Thomason said his hydration and nutrition plan went smoothly. He said he shivered during the second night of the race, mainly because he didn’t want to put on a jacket and gloves because he has Alaska’s reputation to uphold.
Thomason said his goal at the beginning of the race was 90 hours, but his time got to nearly 104 hours due to his naps. He thinks if he does the race again, he could break 100 hours.
Just four days after finishing, Thomason was back to running again, and in the days after the race, he got in a few bike rides.
Thomason has his eyes on the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run in September 2021, but in the meantime he has to get ready for the Susitna 100 in February.