Seventy miles into the Honey Badger 100 Mile Ultra Road Race, standing next to his own vomit, James Strahorn was trying to catch his breath. He was ghostly pale and couldn’t lift his arms above shoulder height. He couldn’t believe this was happening, his body had never failed him before. Strahorn was facing more than just 30 more miles, he was also battling severe dehydration. The lingering effects of extreme physical exertion were too much for him to finish.
“Things were going pretty good, but it was my first time experiencing severe dehydration and my body was deteriorating,” Strahorn said. “I’ve never experienced that before, so I kind of panicked and dropped out of the race.”
A DNF (did not finish) is one of the more crushing things that can happen to an ultra marathon runner. To spend months preparing, putting your body through rigorous workouts, to not even be able to cross the finish line? That’s something that has stuck with Strahorn over the last calendar year. That’s why this time next Saturday, he’ll be going back to the same race.
“Going back to the Honey Badger is something I’ve been waiting a whole year for,” Strahorn said. “Dropping out of a race will leave a really bad taste in your mouth. That’s why I’m going back for redemption. This is the most anticipated race I’ve ever had because of what happened last year.”
This year’s Honey Badger will be Strahorn’s fifth 100-mile race. He’s finished in first, third, fourth and 16th in all the others. But this course is an unforgiving one. While most courses are on dirt or a trail, this one is all cement. It’s equally as unforgiving as it is taxing on the body. Deep in Kansas, in the middle of July, the sun radiates off of it. Strahorn will have to do multiple shoe and sock changes over the course of the race. Running a 100-mile race is a daunting task, but it’s one that Strahorn says he’s prepared for because unlike his first go around, this time he has experience.
“The more races you do, the more you learn from them,” Strahorn said. “That’s part of being an ultra runner is the experience. You’ll experience things during a race that you won’t experience during your training.”
Part of Strahorn’s training is making himself as uncomfortable as possible. Whether it be waiting until it’s middle of the day when it’s at its hottest or eating a full dinner right before his 40-mile training session, all of the unorthodox methods are to strengthen his mental toughness.
“Last year I got to the point where I was mentally looking for a way out the whole time,” Strahorn said. “I ended up facing those same problems in a race the following month but I knew I would be fine. So mentally you tell yourself you’re going to be okay and typically you will be. That’s the mental side of it. It can be very hard. You go through so many emotional ups and downs.”
Strahorn’s best time in a 100 mile ultra marathon is 18 hours and seven minutes. He doesn’t listen to music or wear any headphones. The only thing he hears is the sound of one foot hitting the pavement in front of the other. Late in a race, the only human interaction he has is with his wife, Tricia, who is in the car following him. Leapfrogging him from time to time to hand him food or a fresh pair of shoes. It sounds insane because, well, it kind of is to most people. To run by yourself with no music, no interaction except for an exchange, for 18 hours is wild. So how does he do it? What does he think about for that long?
“Usually in the late stages of the race, I can look both directions and I wont see anybody,” Strahorn said. “That’s where I zone out and do a lot of thinking. A lot of what I do is spend a lot of time in prayer. I’m a person of faith. I spend a lot of time thinking about my family and friends and how thankful I am for so many things. It kind of humbles me because of how blessed I feel like I am and the fact that I’m able to do this. Sometimes it’s easy to take it for granted that I have the ability to do this, but I’m very thankful for it.”
Strahorn says he has been counting down the days until his race next weekend. He compares it to being a 10-year-old at Christmas. But what is it about ultra marathons? Why does he put his body through such pain and anguish? Really, to him it’s simple—he just loves it.
“It’s really hard to describe why I do it,” Strahorn said. “There are times in the race where I wonder why I do it, because it is so demanding. But at the end of the day it’s so fulfilling to know how durable our bodies really are. It’s so fulfilling knowing this is something I can accomplish. These days are my favorite because I can literally step away from everything and all the worry and anxiety and everything like that goes away. It’s why I cherish it so much. As crazy as it sounds, I just enjoy every single second of it, every step of it, and every mile of it.”
The Honey Badger 100 Mile Ultra Road Race takes place in Cheney State Park, KS. Strahorn will enter the race as the No. 3 ranked runner. The race starts at 6 a.m.