Like many ultra runners, Luke Sanchez found inspiration in the sport from incredible athletes such as Scott Jurek and Jim Walmsley, picturesque trails and the welcoming community. His unbridled enthusiasm, boundless energy and mental toughness propelled him to finish his first 100-miler Oct. 28 at the Javelina Jundred.
But for Sanchez, the 100-mile achievement wasn’t the culmination of a lifetime dedicated to running. If he trains smart and stays healthy, there are countless opportunities, races and trails awaiting him.
After all, Sanchez is just 15 years old.
“When it comes to endurance races, the longer, the better,” he says. “I like the adventure of it, the challenge of it and pushing myself against the variables.”
Finding trail running via YouTube
Three years ago Sanchez started out in shorter distances, first with 5Ks and then moving up to the marathon. He didn’t stay there long. Inspired by watching YouTube videos on trail running, Sanchez quickly transitioned to trail and ultra running.
“I like the idea of pushing myself through multiple nights and going on,” he says. “I just love trail running and being out there in nature.”
Among the first videos that inspired Sanchez: the Lake Sonoma 50-miler. “It looked really awesome to run the trails and how they were really pushing themselves over that distance.”
Sanchez ran Rocky Raccoon in February, finishing the 100 miles just six minutes after the cutoff. He also fell short of finishing the Ouray 100, logging 19 hours in unrelenting hail. Undaunted, he saw Javelina as a challenge that pushed his limits.
“I really wanted to push myself, through the heat, through the night,” says Sanchez, who recently moved to Mammoth Lakes, Calif. “You are kind of pushing yourself through all the variables that the environment has.”
An elite pacer
At Javelina, Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run champion Sabrina Stanley paced Sanchez for the last 40 miles on the five-loop course. They met when Sanchez was training for Ouray, where he had a DNF (did not finish). Stanley’s boyfriend, Avery Collins, befriended Sanchez and helped him train in the mountains.
When it came time for Javelina, Sanchez asked Collins to be a pacer. Collins was nursing an injury but Stanley stepped in.
“That was really awesome, she is super great at pacing,” says Sanchez, who finished Javelina in 25:38:39. “She kept me moving forward and really helped.”
While he experienced highs and lows during the race, Sanchez stayed mentally strong.
“I had no thoughts of quitting, even when in the pain cave,” he says. “I kind of endured it in a big way. When you get into a low, you can never have quitting on your mind. You have to have it in your mind that you are going to keep going no matter what. Once you get over it, you get a bigger high than the lower low.”
Inspiration cuts both ways
While he draws motivation from the elite athletes he meets, Sanchez is inspiring others, too, starting at home. His mother, Kristy Sanchez, had previously finished marathons and triathlons.
Then she followed her son into ultras, even though she was hesitant at first to let him run such long
“My mom’s first reaction was ‘no’ — not completely no — but it was something new to her,” remembers Sanchez, whose first ultra was a timed race on Aug. 31, 2017, in which he did 27 miles.
“But then when she saw me get out there and how I was building my body to the point where I was just as sore during a 50-miler as I was doing a 5K a few years ago.”
In her first 50-miler, the Deer Dodge 50 in Milton, Fla., Kristy Sanchez (at left) was third overall woman.
“She got into it because she saw me getting into it,” he says, noting his mom wants to do Javelina next year. “We both really love the community of doing ultras and the whole idea of it.”
Some soreness after 100-miler
Sanchez has learned a valuable lesson that some veteran ultra runners fail to grasp.
“I listen to my body,” he says, explaining his rapid rise to longer distances. “Even though I jumped my distance from 27 miles to the 100-miler, I filled my training between them. Each week I was building up the mileage more and more, adapting my body.”
And that paid off. Roughly 36 hours after crossing the finish line in the desert, Sanchez says he “feels good. Some of my muscles that I didn’t train enough are sore, but other parts aren’t sore at all because I trained them a lot.”
He is looking forward to his next race, the Sean O’Brien 100K. The mountainous race better mirrors his training than the relatively flat Javelina. “My muscles really adapt to that type of terrain. I’m really looking forward to it,” says Sanchez, who lives at 8,000 feet above sea level.
Afterward, he is looking forward to doing Lake Sonoma and the Big Foot 200 in August.
While he is still in the infancy of his ultra journey, Sanchez — who attends an online school — has soaked up plenty of running knowledge.
“What I have learned is that you can’t go into a race thinking ‘I might or might not do it,’" he says.
“When the lows come, you might think about quitting. But what I have learned is you will have moments when you feel incredible and moments when you feel down. You just have to have it in your mind that you are going to finish.”
His friends aren’t really into ultras, or even running. But that doesn’t bother Sanchez.
“It’s what I love,” he says simply.
Name: Luke Sanchez
Hometown: Mammoth Lakes, Calif., for the past five months. Ocala, Fla., for previous nine years.
Number of years running: At 6 years old, my mom dropped me off one mile from my house after school and I ran home every day. At 12 years old, I started 5Ks and continued increasing to ultras.
How many miles a week do you typically run: I don't track my miles with a watch because that takes away the joy of running. But I usually run about two hours a day and some three hour days.
Point of pride: I like to push my own limits
Favorite race distance: 100 miles so far.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Day before race I like sweet potatoes and salmon. During a race I bring sweet potatoes and Tailwind. And I eat Sportsbeans during runs.
Favorite piece of gear: Squirrels Nut Butter on my feet — 100 miles and no blisters. Nathan Howe vest — doesn't shake.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I have listened to Scott Jurek’s book “Eat and Run” 30 plus times — it’s very inspiring. I got to meet him at Javelina right as I came in from mile 60 and I had his book going. This really pumped me for rest of race.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: "Sometimes you just do things." — Scott Jurek
Where can other runners connect or follow you: Instagram, @luke833, and on Facebook, Luke Sanchez.