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Dreaming big for 5 epic challenges

By Henry Howard

I’ve had plenty of time to dream big about future challenges as an injury has forced me to back off a regular training workload the past couple of months. The foot appears to be healing, thanks to rest, the sage advice of coach David Roche, and my physical therapist, who introduced me to dry needling among other treatments.

During this time, I’ve kept my focus on getting healthy and ready for Hennepin Hundred, my big goal race for the year and my qualifier for a second ticket into the Western States drawing later this year. Eighteen weeks from this weekend, I’ll cross the Hennepin finish line and secure that second ticket. The odds will be stacked against getting in but that’s all right. I’ve learned plenty of patience these past two months.

And if I don’t get into Western in 2022, there will be other adventures I can go on. Of course, this is always subject to change, but here are my current top five epic challenges:

1. Western States: The well-known 100-miler is sure to be on most ultra runner’s bucket-list races. The late June event not only is the nation’s oldest 100-mile race but it has a captivating aura like no other. Mountainous snowy climbs. Deep canyon descents. An escorted river crossing. And a victory lap around a high school track. I first became enchanted with the race itself when I interviewed Gunhild Swanson about her epic finish, 6 seconds before cutoff. As mentioned, Hennepin will be my second ticket into the annual drawing. I figure it will take another six to seven years to be drawn for the race.

2. Rim to Rim to Rim: I’ve been to the Grand Canyon exactly once, and it was a brief visit. I don’t know exactly when I first contemplated running the 48ish-mile round trip. But I was certainly inspired by Jonathan Levitt’s run around it. And just this morning, one of the athletes who I coach told me that she will be running it this fall. Sign me up next.

3. Leadville 100: I did the Leadville Marathon several years ago and was blown away, almost literally at Mosquito Pass the halfway point. It was an epic adventure and instantly had me curious about the 100. A friend, who lives in Colorado and finished Leadville 100, talked me out of it being my first 100. It will require some serious training, given the race’s notorious high altitude and low finishing rate. But it will be a challenge worth pursuing.

4. JFK 50: The road-trail combination ultra, honoring President Kennedy, takes place around my birthday most years. What a terrific way to celebrate another year around the sun by enjoying a challenging race that has a bit of everything, including a section on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve become even more enchanted with the race each time I interview someone who has had success at the race, including Eric Senseman’s breakout victory and Rajpaul Pannu’s inspiring first ultra.

5. STSM TBD: Something That Scares Me, To Be Determined.


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