By Dan England

Right now, as I’m writing this, my dog, Pepper, has her sleepy head draped across my feet. She is a good girl, so I know what she’s trying to do: She’s trying to make my paws feel better. 

My dogs—not Pepper—are definitely barking after I attempted to run 100 miles just a couple days ago in the Arizona desert. Spoiler alert: I got my butt kicked. 

When I set this goal in January of attempting 100 miles, I knew it was crazy. Many people, even those who knew all the things I’d done in the past, would fall silent when I’d tell them what I had planned for Halloween weekend. The silence spoke volumes: What the hell is he thinking?

Those crazy looks reminded me of 2016, when I signed up for my first ultra, Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat Springs. It was a 50-miler, one of the harder ones in the country because it had 10,000 feet of climbing and was above 10,000 feet much of the time. The longest distance I’d run was a marathon: Run Rabbit Run was two. At the start of the race, after we climbed 3,700 feet in the first five miles (essentially a 14er), I realized at the first aid station that I was tired, and we had 46 miles to go. I had a mild panic attack. 

Still, I did it, and I’ve completed several races since then that will stay with me forever. I’m so grateful for those experiences, and I would not have had them had I not dreamed big. 

We have throw pillows on our couches that say “Dream Big,” but most of us don’t actually do that. We stay in our dead-end jobs, even when the job market is finally tilted in our favor. We don’t open businesses. We don’t pursue our crushes. 

I wanted to try something I didn’t know I could finish, just like I did in 2016. 

You’ve probably guessed by now that I didn’t finish the 100 miles. The hardest thing about the race, other than the fact that it was 100 miles, was the fact that it was in the desert, and the roughest thing about the desert was—surprise!—the heat. The heat affected me in so many ways. 

Running in the heat—the temperature rose to 80 degrees around 9 a.m. and kept going from there—made me sick. It weakened my spirit. But the worst was the fact that it softened my hoofs.

My feet rarely give me problems. I ran a 50-mille race a month before the 100 and didn’t have one blister despite trudging through 12 stream crossings. But the desert dumped gritty sand into my shoes, even past my gators, and turned my socks into sandpaper that shredded my soft feet. After the first 20-mile lap, my soles felt raw. After the second lap, they felt like broken glass. After the third and final lap, I couldn’t run on them without crying. This slowed me down too much and completing another 20 miles by the 24-hour cutoff wasn’t going to happen. I don’t know if I had another 20 in me by then anyway. I was in a lot of pain.

My friends and I decided that 100K (62 miles) was a worthy finish. It was nearly a half-marathon longer than I’d ever run before. 

This is the first time in my life that I’m content with a DNF. I think it’s because the goal was so audacious that it forced me to do something extraordinary just to attempt it. 

Maybe one day I’ll attempt another 100-miler. I don’t want to think about that right now. I’ve already signed up for some ultramarathons to encourage me to get out. If I need any more encouragement, I’ll rely on Pepper, who enjoys making my feet fly as much as she does helping them feel better when we’re done. 

The Javalena Jundred is an iconic ultramarathon that takes place deep in the desert surrounding Fountain Hills, Arizona. Javalena is known partly for its fun aid stations, enjoyed by the author at 2 a.m. with his friends Charles Stillman, right, and Michael Mock.

What I learned: 

Thank you for joining me on my journey to attempt 100 miles and get some tips along the way for improving your fitness. Here’s what I learned: 

1 Dream big. Set a goal you aren’t sure you can reach. You may only be successful once out of every three tries. It will push you, and the result of that effort will still be more than you’d accomplishment without the goal. 

2 A huge goal will help you accomplish huge things. I ran 100K, the longest I’d ever run by a half-marathon. The 100-miler also pushed me to enter three ultras, including a 50-mile race, to get ready for it. 

3 Enjoy the journey, not just the event. One night I went to a Greeley park and ran all night until I did a 50K. It was crazy and really fun. I enjoyed seeing the strange looks from residents the next morning. 

4 Remember the hard parts and learn from them. Despite what that smiling stick figure says, life is not always good. It is hard. When you do hard things and go after hard goals, life doesn’t seem quite as hard.