A week from today, Mark Gavorski is going to be encountering ridiculously steep inclines, rugged terrain, wide-ranging temperatures and total darkness.
The 51-year-old Greenwood resident will try to stay nourished through bites of a sandwich or sips of chicken broth.
And water. Lots and lots of water.
Gavorski will focus on keeping his momentum as he and longtime running partner Mark Thill, also a Greenwood resident, compete in the annual Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run that begins in Squaw Valley, California.
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They’ll run it all. Without a break.
Runners will experience everything from inspiring scenery during the competition to aching muscles after it’s over.
The Western States 100 is widely viewed as the country’s premier ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is a race in which runners are challenged by a course ranging in distance from anywhere 31 to 100 miles.
This event is 100 arduous miles, certain to challenge even the most accomplished distance specialists.
“The Western States is like the Boston Marathon of ultramarathons or the Super Bowl in football,” Gavorski said. “It’s the oldest 100-mile race in existence.
“Not only do you do 100 miles, you do it in the heat and in the mountains.”
Once the starter’s pistol sounds at 5 a.m. runners experience the middle portion of the Western States Trail, which was used by gold and silver miners of the 1850s.
“It’s very surreal to be running in this race,” said Thill, 41. “If I could finish in under 24 hours, it would be a big deal. I’m sure Mark and I will start out the race together, but after about 10 miles I would be surprised if we’re still together.”
Over the first four and a half miles, runners are challenged by a trail ascending from an elevation of 6,200 feet on the valley floor to Emigrant Pass (8,750 feet). In time, they will descend 22,970 feet before reaching the finish in the town of Auburn, California.
Temperatures in Squaw Valley in late June often range in readings from 35 degrees in the early morning hours to the mid-80s by afternoon.
Such conditions make it difficult for some competitors to adjust, Gavorski said. Blistering, dehydration, heat, exhaustion, cramping and muscle fatigue also are capable of taking a runner out of the race early.
The challenge is to not run the first 50 miles too fast and run out of energy before the second half of the race.
To be eligible for an award, a runner must finish in less than 30 hours — by no means an easy task. Gavorski runs/walks with a light backpack containing a two-liter water bottle, headlamp, energy chews, a dry pair of socks, hat, gloves and anti-chafing roll-on.
He’ll need the headlamp because about eight hours of race is run after the sun goes down.
A total of 21 aid stations spaced slightly less than five miles apart give runners the chance to grab a bite to eat. A slice of pizza or peanut butter and jelly sandwich are popular selections. Gavorski makes it a point to consume chicken broth for the sodium.
Afterward, recovery time is imperative.
“One, you miss out on a whole night of sleep,” Gavorski said. “I usually take a week off of running because you can have everything from hip flexors to knee and ankle soreness.”
The Western States course is remote, much of it accessible only by foot, horse or helicopter. A runner must be strong mentally as much as physically in order to endure the combination of gradually steeper inclines, changes in elevation and mid- to late-afternoon heat.
Every runner’s strategy is different, said Gavorski, an administrator at Homeview Health & Rehabilitation Center in Franklin.
In his case, he attempts to resist the urge to sit and linger at any of the aid stations. He will stop at each one to refill his water bottle and electrolyte drinks and perhaps get some food, then continue on in order to maintain momentum.
Gavorski’s plan is to hike up the dozen or so steep inclines and run the less imposing stretches of the course.
Born and raised in Ohio, Gavorski ran cross-country in high school and began taking part in marathons in 1993, four years after moving to Indiana.
He has run a marathon or ultramarathon in 18 states and would eventually like to complete one in all 50 states. Gavorski competed in the New York City Marathon in 1999 and the Boston Marathon in 2012.
That year, he also won the Dances With Dirt, a 50K race conducted every year in Dade City, Florida. Gavorski’s best time running 100 miles came at the 2016 Tunnel Hill 100 in Carbondale, IL, where he finished in 18 hours, 37 minutes.
“Probably the coolest was in Big Sur, California,” Gavorski said. “Between the bridges and the ocean, it was just a spectacular view the whole race.”
Even with the courses he’s run and the sights he’s seen, Gavorski has longed for a place in the Western States 100, which has a rather unique entry process.
The top 10 male and female finishers from the previous year’s race are automatically qualified.
The majority of runners, however, are selected through a biannual raffle drawing 18 and 12 months prior to the event. This is when runners can purchase as many raffle tickets as they want.
If your ticket is selected, you have to complete a qualifying run, then you are in.
Gavorski and running partner Thill, two of eight runners from Indiana competing in the Western States 100, qualified through the lottery process. It was Gavorski’s fifth time attempting to get his name chosen from among the over 4,000 applicants worldwide.
“With the mountains and the heat, my goal is just to finish in under 30 hours,” said Gavorski, who runs 10 miles daily, including Saturday workouts with Thill in the hills of a park in either Brown County or Morgan County.
“I always tell people running is a major part of my life. I believe faith, family and fitness are the core presence of who I am. I hope to be running for a lifetime.”
THE GAVORSKI FILE
Born: Lakewood, Ohio
Family: Wife Lori; daughters Hannah, 17, Madison, 15, and Lena, 14; son Gavin, 15
High school: Maumee, Ohio (1984)
College: University of Toledo (1988)
Career: Nursing home administration
THE THILL FILE
Family: Wife Carla; daughter Ashley, 14; son Cameron, 6
High school: Lake Central (1993)
College: Indiana University (1999)