By Carrie Adams
When Ryan Dexter, also known as Dexter the Punisher, crossed the McNaughton 200 finish line at 51 hours, 50 minutes in the small town of Pittsfield, VT, on May 8th, 2011, he completed what he called “an epic adventure”: two hundred miles of hard trail running in the Green Mountains with extreme weather, rugged terrain, steep elevation, and the will to continue despite fatigue, hunger, and physical pain. It also marked one thousand McNaughton racing miles raced by the experienced ultra marathoner and a course record on the longest trail ultra in North America.
The ultramarathon (also called ultra distance) is gaining in popularity with endurance runners and includes any running event longer than the traditional 26.2 marathon distance. Ultramarathon events can cover specific distances or time constraints with the winner accumulating the most mileage in that time frame. Common ultramarathon distances are 50K, 100K, 50 miles, and 100 miles. The McNaughton has several events: 500 miles, 200 miles, 150 miles, 100 miles, and 30 miles. Most ultras in the U.S. are trail and mountain runs, and environmental factors often play a critical part in the race outcomes.
When I caught up with Dexter, he had just finished mowing his lawn, a typical evening task in middle America, but doing it four days after running 200 miles makes it seem far more impressive. Dexter, a professional engineer, didn’t set out to run and win 200-mile races when he began running in his twenties. As a college student in Pennsylvania, he just wanted to run the three and a half mile stretch around the lake near his house. Maybe loop it twice by the end of the summer. He couldn’t imagine anything beyond seven miles. When he got to seven miles within a couple weeks he set his sights a bit higher – a marathon. So, in 1997 he did just that and after, he says, he was “wrecked…I had to roll out of bed and do a push-up just to get off the floor the next morning!”