One hundred and fifteen miles is a considerable distance. In the United States, 115 miles means 202,400 yards. For nearly everybody else in the world, 115 miles means 185,074 meters. For Hillsdale cross country senior Eli Poth, running 115 miles meant a standard week of summer training.
Running 115 miles is not quite as physically impossible as it seems, even if it means more than 16 miles a day. The entire men’s cross country team trains with high intensity during the summer, and the lightest load was about 45 miles a week. Cross country standout junior Joey Humes averaged between 90 – 100 miles a week. But no one ran more than Poth.
Poth has been running competitively since he was in sixth grade. He began his collegiate career at Saginaw Valley State University, but has spent the majority of his career at Hillsdale, running for both the men’s cross country and track teams. Assistant cross country coach R.P. White said one of the things that sets Poth apart is his love of running.
“Eli is probably the most passionate person about running that I have ever been able to coach,” White said. “He’s had his ups and downs, but I think the words that define Eli are resilient and persistent. He hasn’t quit on himself, and I know he’s never going to quit on himself just because he loves it so darn much.”
Poth said his love of running stems from the opportunities it provides for him to test himself.
“Running just gives you something to struggle for. Though struggling, you find meaning. You constantly put yourself in adverse conditions every day,” Poth said. “Not even just the running — you have to be running in the rain, running in the snow, running on some random road in the middle of nowhere when it’s getting dark. That’s stuff people don’t go through.”
While having a passion for running helps him to maintain motivation, Poth said the key to running long distances in the volume he did this summer is finding ways to break up the distance into chunks.
“Running is really weird. When you run a lot, your brain creates mental pathways that lets you justify what you’re doing,” Poth said. “You get so good at playing games with yourself, you don’t even realize you are doing it anymore, so when you get tired on mile five of 20, you don’t even think ‘Wow, I have 15 miles to go.’”
Poth’s intense mileage has a psychological impact on his teammates, several of whom said training was easier because they knew just how much Poth was running.
“In high school, I was the high-mileage dog,” Humes said. “I would always run by myself. With Eli, it’s nice to know someone else is out there running, same as I am.”
“It’s easy to feel like you aren’t running that much when someone is running more than you,” junior Eric Poth, Eli’s brother and teammate, said. “I was running 90 miles a week, which is more than I’d ever ran, but it didn’t feel like that much because I knew Eli was still out there running three or four more miles a day.”
Eli Poth did have one advantage that many runners don’t have during training: a dedicated training partner in his younger brother Eric. Both worked on their father’s farm over the summer and ran most of their miles together.
White said he believes the brotherly bond will help both Eli and Eric succeed during the season.
“They have such a unique dynamic. They’re not always friendly all the time. They’re brothers on the same team — they get in little fights — but you can also tell that there’s just something different about the bond between them,” White said. “I think when they’re able to line up together, they’re both going to get confidence from that, and they’re both going to have some special runs this year.”
The Poth brothers have never competed in a Hillsdale cross country meet together. Eric Poth redshirted in his freshman season and an injury kept him from competing at a meet last year as a sophomore. Once he finally gets to run alongside his brother in a race, Eric said it will be an advantage because they know each other’s pace so well.
“One of our best strengths is that we gauge off of each other pretty well. If I’m with him in a race, he knows he’s having a bad day,” Eric Poth joked. “It’s gonna be fun. It’s his last year. We are finally racing together like we planned two years ago.”
Their first meet together will be the Spartan Invitational on Sept. 14, where Eli Poth will be making his season debut for the last time as a Charger. But Eli is not planning on easing up on running once he graduates. He said he plans to race in marathons after his time at Hillsdale is through.
“For Eli, there is little separation between this, his lifestyle now and how he is going to live for always,” White said. “He loves to do it and he’s going to do it after he graduates. He’s going to do it until he can’t do it anymore.”
Eli Poth won’t stop after his next 115 miles. He believes he has a lot more in the tank.
“I can’t fathom not running, because it’s who I am,” he said. “It’s given me everything I have.”