100 miles of Agony

Columbus natives tackle tough terrain in grueling challenge

Runners Zane Yeager and Christian Wagner were about 20 seconds away from missing the race for which they’d been training for months to compete.

The pair thought their hotel was a 30-minute drive from Blue Heron, Kentucky, where the 100-mile race began Oct. 14. It actually took them a little over an hour to get there, and athletes already were lined up on the starting line as the two were just getting out their car.

Wagner and Yeager barely had enough time to get their GPS ready before the race took off.

“That was probably the most doubt I had about not finishing the race,” Yeager said.

The flustering start didn’t prevent the pair from finishing the 100 miles together at around 23 hours, 40 minutes. Running the 100-mile race that covered ground from southern Kentucky to northern Tennessee was a new adventure for Yeager, a former Columbus East football player and current Bloomington resident.

Yeager was given fifth place and Wagner sixth out of nearly 100 athletes.

Tackling a 100-mile race was something Yeager felt he wanted to do ever since he first started running four years ago. It wasn’t until Wagner approached him this summer when Yeager decided to finally take on the challenge.

Wagner is no stranger to running 100-milers, with this being his fourth. He posted one of the best 100-mile times in the country the year he ran a much flatter course in northern Illinois. He finished about 10 hours faster then he did this time around.

The former cross-county state champion and four-time track state champion from Columbus North competed for Wisconsin and did one year of professional running for Hansons Brooks Olympic Development program. He has since returned to Columbus.

Wagner said it is hard to compare times because each 100-mile race is different. This 100-miler was a much more uphill battle than the one in northern Illinois. The route was advertised at 10,000 feet of uphill running, but it ended up being close to 18,000 feet.

Many different factors go into finishing a race of this magnitude, and eating is one of them. There were were aid stations separated every five to seven miles throughout the race where runners could grab food from peanut butter sandwiches to chicken noodle soup. There were also doctors and paramedics available at the major stations to help bandage people up if needed.

“My eating is very simple on 100-milers,” Wagner said. “Usually during a 100-miler, you burn 20,000 calories for the entire thing. Your body can’t even process that much in the amount of time you’re doing that. I try to eat as much as I can at any give time. The longer you go in the race, your stomach starts to turn, so you don’t feel like eating. My goal is to eat early and eat often and to stay well hydrated.”

The burritos and peanut butter sandwiches started to get less attractive to Yeager as the race continued after Mile 70.

Each runner had their physical challenges throughout the race. Yeager had an Achilles flare up on him, while Wagner was dealing with issues in the back of his knee on top of some skin peeling and blistering on his feet.

Wagner said this was the first time he has ever had knee issues during a race, but confessed that there is always some type of wear and tear that runners have to deal with a some point in the race.

“It’s a long race, and just being up on your feet that long, stuff starts to go,” Wagner said. “You don’t usually have an issue with going 50 miles, but by the time you get to 70 or 80 miles, your body really starts hurting. Behind my knee was my main problem this time, but everyone of them I’ve run, by the time you’re 70 to 80 percent of the way done, you’re on your feet so long there is going to be something not feeling quite right at that point.”

Yeager’s mental block came near Mile 70 during one of the many river crossings. Yeager decided to try and balance on a tree during the fifth or sixth river crossing instead of using the rope provided in hopes of preventing his feet from getting wet. He slipped and fell face first in the river. Yeager had to force himself to mentally recover from that setback and keep on pushing.

“Around that point, if you fall and do something like that, you get out, you get dry, start walking and look at your watch and realize you’re 14 hours in. You have at least seven more hours of running,” Yeager said. “The sun is going down, your lights are going back up. It’s going to be you and your friend in the woods with no other lights or activity for seven hours. That was the toughest thing to grasp — ‘This is how it’s going to be for seven hours after running 14.’ It’s a tough pill to swallow, but you just gotta get through it, regardless.”

Some athletes dropped out as the race went on, but that was never an option for Yeager and Wagner. No matter what obstacles they faced, both runners knew they would at least finish.

Wagner said the key to finishing a 100-miler is for runners to tell themselves they are going to finish no matter what. He said that type of focus is what runners need to finish the last 30 miles.

“With that amount of distance, if there is any doubt in your head about not finishing, it’s very difficult to finish,” Wagner said. “The more of these races I do, the more I realize you’re never really fit enough for a 100-miler. It’s very difficult to train for that amount of distance because there is no way to know what the last 30 miles feels like.”

This was Wagner’s first time running a 100-miler alongside a partner. He said if felt good to have somebody to talk to and get through those hard moments of the race.

Wagner also was really impressed with Yeager’s results in his first ever 100 miler. Their goal was to finish under 24 hours, which Wagner said is pretty hard to do in your first race.

“It was really good to run with him. He just killed it,” Wagner said. “Zane went out there on his first ever try and not only finished, but ran his first under 24 (hours), which was absolutely amazing.”

Going the distance

Name: Christian Wagner

Age: 31

High school: Columbus North

College: Wisconsin

Residence: Columbus

Occpuation: Engineer at Cummins Fuel Systems


Name: Zane Yeager

Age: 24

High school: Columbus East

College: Indiana University

Residence: Bloomington

Occupation: Grad student at IU, studying exercise physiology

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.