Local runner in the sport for the long haul | TheUnion.com

Local runner in the sport for the long haul

Why would someone want to run a marathon distance (26.2 miles), considered daunting to many, and still have over 70 miles to go to the finish line?

Local physical therapist and long distance runner Jack Emery is going to do just that.

He is eagerly looking forward to his first 100-mile event, at this year’s prestigious Western States Endurance Run, starting June 26th in Squaw Valley and ending in Auburn.

It’s been a long road and many miles to get to this point for Emery, who has run mostly just for the enjoyment of it for decades.

Emery started running in his early twenties while on a Mormon mission, spurred on by his fellow missionary and friend.

“My companion was a runner, and got me interested in it,” Emery said. “So it’s all his fault! Having a basic appreciation of fitness, I figured running was an easy way to exercise.”

After running regularly throughout physical therapy school at Cal State-Northridge, Emery, on a whim, ran his first race around age 30, jumping into the deep end by running a half marathon in the late seventies in Sacramento.

“I thought I was going to die that first race,” he said. “It was really rough. I didn’t know how to train at that point. I think I went out a little too fast, which is a common error, and by the end of the race I was really hurting. My goal was to finish and just experience the race. I wasn’t trying to be really competitive.”

Emery completed that half marathon (13.1 miles) despite not having run anywhere close to that distance before. After finishing, he had no desire to run another race.

“That was it,” he said. “I was done. I was happy. I felt okay about it, but wasn’t inspired to run more races.”

Emery continued to run for another decade for general conditioning and for fun, and ended up moving to Grass Valley in early 1990.

His next foray into racing was The Spring Run 10K at the Methodist Church in Nevada City in the early ’90s. He ran regularly, usually finishing in the top three in his age group. Emery’s most recent two appearances at that race netted him a tie for third with his training partner, Art Green, in the 50-59 age group in 1998, and second place in his age group and 8th overall in 2000.

Next up, Emery got what he calls a “wild hair” and bypassed the more popular marathon distance to jump from his longest race being a half marathon to run the Pacific Crest Trail Ultra 50K (31 miles) because he liked where it was located. He increased his training mileage significantly to prepare, up to about 30 miles per week.

Did Emery enjoy running that event?

He replied, “I went back and did it again! I felt good that I had completed it. I’m an extremely active back country skier and hiker, so that was a good way for me to get out and see some great country.”

And he still has no desire to run a marathon.

“What attracts me to ultras is that they’re on trails,” Emery said. “I try to have as little asphalt under my feet as possible because I feel better that way, and because I like that experience with nature. Ultras are not really a race, they’re a run.

“They’re not so much competition against other individuals as competition against yourself and feeling good about what you did.”

At last year’s Western States 100, Emery paced local ultra runner, Peggy Davidson for about 20 miles, getting a taste of what was to come.

Emery had watched the event the year before, and found out that, in his age group, he had to run 50 miles in less than 11 hours in a sanctioned event to qualify.

In his first 50-mile qualifying attempt, in September of 2002, in the Sierra Nevada Ultra, Emery got a better feel for the challenge.

“I really was not prepared,” he said. “It was the hardest event I ever finished. I walked the last ten miles. I couldn’t run anymore. I could hardly walk. Every time you run an ultra, you learn something.

“I learned about hydration, staying cool, pacing, and what to wear. I lost four toenails in that race and had huge blisters. My feet were sore from about mile 30 on. I ended up finishing in 14 hours.”

Emery recovered and ran a 50-mile race on Catalina Island a year ago, qualifying for Western States by finishing in 10 1/2 hours, a monumental improvement from 14 hours in his prior attempt.

But even after qualifying, runners still have to go into a lottery to be chosen to run. At this year’s drawing, last month, there were about 800 applying for 400 spots. Local ultra ace Peggy Davidson was chosen, but Emery was not.

After all those miles, training and finally qualifying, his high hopes were dashed.

“I was glad Peggy was picked,” he said. “I was disappointed I hadn’t been drawn, because I really wanted to do it. But I knew there was still a possibility.”

Because the Sierra Trailblazers, our local running club, provides an aid station at the 85-mile mark, the club is allowed to send one runner of its choice to participate in the event.

And Emery is the one this year.

Still, Emery said if Davidson hadn’t been chosen, he would have insisted she take the spot.

Emery has again increased his training, now running about 55 miles a week. He’s planning a 25-mile jaunt today.

His main goal at Western States this year, when he will be 57, comes as no surprise.

“My primary goal is to finish,” Emery said. “Beyond that, I’d feel good if I could complete it in about 27 hours. I may move that goal up if my training goes really well.”

So, why does Emery want to attempt this grueling 100-mile event?

“I love to run and I love to train,” he said. “Additionally, I like where the race is. I love running in the back country.

“And finally, it’s a personal goal now. If I can run 100 miles, I know I’d feel really good about that accomplishment. It’s not that I could do anything, but I’d know I can do a lot more than I ever realized I could.”

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