Columbia runner sees 100-milers as personal challenge

Monday, June 6, 2011 | 8:41 p.m. CDT; updated 9:43 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 6, 2011
Ultramarathon runner Jeff Wells jogs down one of the trails in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park in Columbia on Sunday morning. Wells has already completed two 100-mile races and is training for the Black Hills 100 on June 25.

COLUMBIA — Not surprisingly, completing a 100-mile run can have its challenges. Jeff Wells was able to endure the majority of his first such event, but finishing was troublesome.

In November 2009, Wells, a 52-year-old Columbia resident, signed up for the Ozark Trail Run, listed as a 100-miler through Central Missouri. His friend Andy Pele, who ran with Wells as his pacer, said that after getting through 100 miles, they realized there were still two miles to go.    

“Those last two miles were, like, the hardest miles,” Pele said. “You just keep going up and up, and I know they can practically smell the finish line, but then we’d go up, and then we’d go down, and he was like, ‘Where the hell is this finish line? Can you just run ahead and see where we are?’ So I run ahead for a while, and finally I say, ‘We are almost there,’ and of course we aren’t almost there because I don’t even know where we were.”

Other times, getting through the heart of a race can be unusual, too.

“Sometimes in the middle of the night when you are running in a 100-mile race, you might see something unique, but it probably isn’t really there,” Wells said.

“Some people call it hallucinations. I mean, I don’t really call it that. You just start thinking. You are by yourself, it is 2 o’clock in the morning, and you are by the woods. I guess your mind wanders, but it’s not like I have ever run into a bear.”

Regardless, Wells, who just recently started running 100-milers and has completed half a dozen 50-milers, said he sees it as a personal challenge. He enjoys seeing things that most people never get the opportunity to see, such as waterfalls and caves, because they cannot be reached by road.

He doesn’t plan on slowing down his running habits anytime soon. He ran the Berryman Trail 50-mile run for the third time last month and is running the Black Hills 100 on June 25.

“You are just competing against the distance to see if you can do it,” Wells said. “I am never going to win anything. I just do it to see if I can do it.”

He understands that not everyone can relate to his passion for running.

“Of course everyone thinks you are a freak,” Wells said. “It ain’t like I am some kind of professional. I just do it for fun. I guess if it got to be a job, I would probably quit."

Wells hasn't always been so passionate about running. He used to be a smoker before his wife, Lisa Wells, who has been running for about 15 years, helped him see he should change his ways. 

"At that time, my wife was running and doing triathlons, and you’d go to watch these, and you see all the people out there,” Jeff Wells said. “It was just like, ‘Gosh I can’t even go from here to the parking lot, you know?’ Here these people are doing all that. I was just like I’m done. I’m quitting.”

His first attempt at running was about 12 years ago when he turned 40. He had not run since he was in high school.

After no more than two minutes of running on the MKT Trail, Jeff Wells said he was completely exhausted, and he turned around and walked back to his car. Wells didn’t tell anyone he was attempting to run in fear of not being successful.

“I don’t even know if I could make it a mile without dropping dead,” Jeff Wells said. “I don’t even know if I could run 50 yards. I just kind of worked at it.”

After a few months of running, he signed up for his first 5K. After a few of those, he decided to sign up for longer distances and went through a “natural progression” until he has reached 100-mile races, which take him about 30 hours to complete.

Lisa Wells has been her husband’s crew for the two 100-mile runs he has completed by assisting him at aid stations along the race.

“He is kind of living proof that someone who has a real job can go off and do this,” Lisa Wells said. “You know he works construction. He goes off and does physical work every day, and he still has time to go run two or three hours when he gets off work in the heat, which I think is amazing.”

Jeff Wells does most of this training alone, though once a week he has some company.

“We have a small group that runs every Sunday out at Rock Bridge State Park,” Jeff Wells said, “and you do some short runs with some other people, but it is kind of hard to get someone to go with you on a five-hour run. It isn’t just like you are going out for an hour. Most of the time if you are going to do a long run, it tends to be by yourself.” 

Many in the group are likely to compete in the Rock Bridge Revenge Trail Runs. Jeff Wells serves as race director for the set of 7-mile, 25K and 50K events in October.

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