Associate professor of economics Charles Steele has run over 1000 miles in numerous 50-mile races, and has now added another 50 miles to the count, but this time with company.
This October, Steele recruited senior Nick Scovil, Lauren Sheard ‘19, Emma McCormick ‘19, and Derek Spiteri, owner of Handmade Deli, to run with him at the Le Grizz Ultramarathon, a 50-mile race in Montana. Steele has finished 19 of his 23 50-milers, and has run a total of 52 “ultras” – races longer than a marathon.
Although this was most of the group’s first time running the Le Grizz Ultramarathon, Steele ran his first Le Grizz ultra in 1983.
“My first ultra changed the way I think of things,” Steele said. “Endurance sports are about being persistent, and distance running emphasizes that, but ultras really emphasize that. Sometimes you don’t succeed at something, but it’s never because you quit.”
In 2010, Steele received the Ten Bears award for finishing 10 Le Grizz Ultramarathons, and he is now working toward completing 20 in order to receive the Chief Ten Bear award.
“As you can imagine, pursuing this has been a long-term goal and project,” Steele said. “It doesn’t have much to do with fame or awards, it’s wanting to do a thing that is really a part of me and has been for most of my life.”
Spiteri had run ultras during quarantine with different Zoom groups, but Le Grizz was his chance to finally run an ultra on an in-person professional course.
“I guess in my typical style, I just dove headfirst into it,” Spiteri said.
This race was much harder than Spiteri’s past long-distance running experience because he had to run all 50 miles in a row, compared to the 40-mile races he was doing where he ran four miles every hour with scheduled breaks.
“A lot of people will talk about ultra running as a kind of a metaphor for life,” Spiteri said. “There’s ups and downs and you’re not going to be up the whole time you’re running 50 miles.”
Scovil ran cross country and track in high school and started training for the Le Grizz Ultramarathon in July.
“I always liked running longer distances because for me there was less pressure because you can run slower,” Scovil said. “But this race was an opportunity to do something challenging and unique with old friends in an amazing part of the country.”
Scovil said finding a fun group of people to run with makes a big difference, and this group was no exception.
“Dr. Steele made the comment before the race that if Derek runs half as good as he makes sandwiches, then he should break the course record,” Scovil said.
McCormick placed eighth, Spiteri finished twenty second, Sheard finished thirty fourth, Scovil finished forty seventh, and Steele placed fifty sixth. Steele described the race as “a wild and scenic journey of self-discovery,” much harder than his past 50-milers.
“I was last across the finish line, but who cares?” Steele said. “The goal is to cover 50 miles and do it as well as I can in the conditions I face. Mission accomplished.”
No matter the conditions, Steele reiterated the importance of pressing into the challenge in order to step out stronger on the other side.
“To some extent, the race is about surviving a challenge,” Steele said. “There’s a kind of respect and support ultrarunners have for each other because we all suffer the same things, whether we’re at the front, back, or middle. You have to step outside what is comfortable to pursue something really challenging, even if it’s intimidating. That’s part of why I run ultras.”
Steele plans to continue running his ultras, no matter the distance.
“I’ll do this for as long as I can,” Steele said. “If I die, I have friends who have promised to drag my body or carry my ashes across the finish line.”