WETUMPKA, Ala. (AP) — Jared Struck isn't quite sure why he loves running. He knows he's always been the type to head toward a challenge — maybe because of his upbringing, maybe because of his service in the Air Force. He embraces adventure and finishes each task he takes on.
When asked why he is choosing to run the Badwater 135 — known as "the world's toughest foot race" — July 15 through July 17, Struck pondered his answer.
"It's really hard to answer the question of why," Struck said. Maybe it's the desert and its beauty that draws him to the race, or "the fact that it's the hardest. I think the challenge is probably the biggest draw to me."
Whatever the reason, Struck has committed himself to being an "ultra runner," a name reserved for those that participate in races longer than marathons. He's even added a '26.2' tattoo on his leg, indicating the mileage of a marathon.
Running for Struck began as a simple way of getting in better shape. Drinking frequently and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, he looked in the mirror and decided to make a change, starting by completing a marathon. He picked one a few months away, put it on the calendar and started training.
That was in 2005, and he thought he would be done afterward. Yet, dozens of races and thousands of miles have been completed since. He's competed in Australia and China, and in a race where 39 of the 50 miles were run on sand. His hope is to one day be selected for the Western States Endurance Race, having applied five times to participate in the oldest 100-mile race.
He will head to Death Valley, California in a few weeks, where the 135-mile-long race will start at the lowest elevation point of the lower 48 states, stretch along three significant hills, one of which is 18 miles long from base to peak and end at the highest elevation point.
All in all, within 48 hours, Struck will climb from 280 feet below sea level to 14,600 above. His second time competing in this race, his goal is to maintain his time of 39 hours — which will give him time for a quick eight-hour nap before the pizza party and awards ceremony begins after hour 48. During the race, there isn't time to sleep.
To participate, Struck had to apply. He'll join a group of 100 people who represent 19 countries.
To prepare, Struck runs at least three one-hour jogs throughout the week and as the race draws closer, will take on back-to-back runs over the weekend — completing 50-mile runs on Saturday followed by 20 miles on Sunday. Each week he also goes to the sauna, now up to 42 minutes running in place in the 150 degree environment. Ten days before the race, he'll spend at least 30 minutes in the sauna each day.
While he admits to times he didn't prepare well for shorter races, he isn't going to take any chances when preparing for this. He can hurt now, or he can hurt there, but either way the pain is going to exist, he said.
"There are times when it's tough to get motivated to train but I think the key, and that's for anyone, is to put that event on your calendar. If you waste a weekend, it's one more weekend closer to the event taking place," Struck said.
During the race, "There's a lot of ups and downs," he said. "You could go from thinking how beautiful this place is and how I'm lucky to be out here than to how much something hurts.
In Death Valley, the miles stretch on with nothing in sight. Struck said he tries not to think about how much farther he needs to go. "I can see for miles down the road but it's just as easy to look back and see how far you have went," he said.
While he doesn't listen to music while running, because he think it throws off his pace, the two friends accompanying him during the race will likely play some once they enter the second day of running.
Known as pacers, the two friends will ride with Struck's wife in a van that will meet Struck every two miles to give him a bottle of water. The pacers will alternate running with Struck a couple of miles at a time.
"They'll try everything just to keep me moving, even cattle prods," Struck joked.
His goal, aside from completion within 39 hours, is to raise money for Montgomery County's One Place Justice Center. A one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence, One Place includes social workers, medical professionals, lawyers, magistrates, detectives and more to ensure that when a victim arrives, all services are offered.
Pointing to other places across the country that do not have a centralized location for victims, Struck said, "It's not very helpful for the victim at all and I think a lot of victims are afraid to even come out because if you go to the hospital, then they'll send you to the police station, then the lawyer and everywhere else."
"I think it's a great thing," Struck said of One Place. "It really, to me, is a brilliant idea that is going to help victims."
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com