“Do what you want to do, not what you want to be known for.” – Walter Handloser
I met Walter while we were volunteering together for a mutual friend’s charity race in late 2018, before I even heard about what he was tackling in 2019. Once I found out about his epic adventure, I stalked him on social media to share his story with you.
Please tell us a bit about your origin, Walter.
I was born in San Diego and spent most of my only-child early life with my mother in a house in the middle of nowhere. We actually lived a few miles from the start line of the San Diego 100 (miler). Though I was always in sports, I was always losing the battle with obesity.
I found out I loved running in Junior High. I joined our tiny little cross country team, I think there were four of us. I weighed like 50% more than most of my teammates, but that didn’t matter. I never enjoyed the competition, but there was something freeing about the movement–the act of running–that I just loved.
In high school, my distance running ended for a while since I had to focus on football. Like many football players, my weight just went up and up. By the end of high school I was 250, and by the beginning of college I was 275. The obesity lasted through my twenties.
Are you vegan or vegetarian?
No, but I think omnivorism is the last bastion of a time that we won’t look back on fondly. I don’t think carnivores, myself included, are on the right side of history from both an ethical and ecological perspective. If I ever decided to have kids, I can imagine telling them I used to eat meat, and they’d respond: “Ewww, really dad?” Vegetarianism is something I find harder to avoid as I get older.
What are you doing this year Walter?
Running too much. I’m attempting to break Ed Ettinghausen’s (The Jester) record for the most 100+ mile races in a calendar year. Ed’s currently standing record is 41, I’m aiming to make 50. At the time of this interview, I’ve run 10.
What inspired you to break Ed’s record?
Like a lot of important decisions in life, it was on a whim. I had just finished an 11-week, 11-race progression in early 2018. At the end of that progression, I had run one of my fastest 100 milers coming within a few hours of a course record on a difficult race. That got me wondering what the upper limit was.
If back-to-back shorter races could be this beneficial, could I manage back-to-back longer races? What was the record for that? When I looked it up and found out that it was 41, I was a bit shocked. Not because that’s high, but because that seemed low. The records for most marathons in a year is something close to a marathon per day so it would literally take up every moment of your spare time to try and break the current record.
But the hundred mile record was currently not even at one per week? I found out later that Ed had also done it on a whim. Not much planning, just found himself in the right place. I thought: well, then, with a little planning, I might just be able to beat that.
How did you prepare for this?
Physically, my prep was to continue life as normal. I work out 24-28 hours per week, so I’m always ready to run a race. The logistics were far more difficult. By June of last year, planning was in full swing. There are something like 160 100-milers in the US. But they don’t happen every weekend. Some weekends, like mid-September, are stacked with five or more. Others, like Christmas weekend or Labor Day, have nearly zero. It was a struggle planning a schedule that didn’t just have me haphazardly flying all over the US.
I’m still working as a Data Scientist for MINDBODY but my funds aren’t unlimited and I can’t take unlimited time off. What I do have is a flexible job that I can do from anywhere and a van that I live in. Without these, this goal wouldn’t be possible.
Are you flying solo? No crew or pacers ever?
Some races it can’t be avoided. Honey Badger, for example, is run like Badwater: you bring your own support van and crew. For that, I reached out to locals who lived near the race. Let me tell you, I have never felt so welcomed as I did by the Kansas running club that volunteered to help me (a total stranger) out with this. But for the most part, yes, I’m solo. No crew, no pacers.
It’s been three months since you started running hundreds all over the US. Do you feel lonely doing this on your own?
Very, yes. Life on the road can be pretty lonesome. Even when I’m in places with people I know, my friends aren’t there. Or, like now for example, I’m sitting in my father’s house. But my father is also on the road, so I’m just in an empty house for a few days.
I hope some of your friends reading this can take the time to fly out and meet you in some places. Plenty of time to book a cheap flight.
Oh, I wouldn’t expect that of them. That’s a lot to ask for.
Do you have a schedule posted somewhere so your followers know where you’re going to be next?
The schedule is the pinned post for the page. I did the artwork myself. Rather proud of that.
So when you call your adventure The Half-Hundred Hundreds, you are going for at least fifty 100-milers, is that right?
I have 51 races on the calendar.
The pre-ultra person might laugh at this next question. Besides the location and date, do you pick hundreds that are difficult? Or do you try to keep them moderate to save your body for the next one?
I didn’t want to aim for low-hanging fruit. I want to pay tribute to the great old races of ultra running hence why I’m Grand Slamming and made an attempt at Last Great Race. I also want to tackle some of the more difficult and out-of-the-way races such as Ouray and Baldy Marathons.
My decision-making tree looks like this:
Old > New
Mountain > Track
And always go for the race I would run anyway. This should be fun for me in whatever way it can be.
For the reader, here’s what Walter is talking about.
The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning is a set of four of the five most prestigious and oldest 100 mile races contested in the United State. A small number of people manage to complete four in one calendar year.
- Old Dominion (Virginia)
- Western States 100 (California)
- Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run (Vermont)
- Leadville Trail 100 (Colorado)
- Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run (Utah)
The Last Great Race consists of running the first six 100-milers in the United States in one summer
- Old Dominion (Virginia)
- Western States (California)
- Vermont (Vermont)
- Angeles Crest (California)
- Leadville Trail (Colorado)
- Wasatch Front (Utah)
Is your plan to run a hundred mile race each weekend?
Every weekend I could find is filled. Some of them twice. Always a hundred mile race or more.
When you say “twice,” what’s an example please?
For example, the week of Honey Badger is also the week of Steep Camp. Because Steep Camp is a running festival that starts earlier in the week, I can schedule a run there on, say, Wednesday, finish on Thursday, then start my next race on Saturday. Any time I can find a running festival conveniently close to another race that weekend, I’ll do it unless it’s logistically infeasible.
What has gone well and not so well ?
I had a few races already that I considered iffy. I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to finish them. For example The Spine: a 268 mile race through the icy winter countryside of England and Scotland. I had that on my calendar from before I decided to try for the record and I decided to keep it there despite the very good advice of friends telling me to put it off ’til next year. It has about a 25-30% finish rate most years.
Also high in the difficulty scale was the Pirate’s Cove 24 hour. I knew that there are only one or two finishers of the 100-miler each year. And this year the course was worse than ever, with snow and mud covering most of it. In the end, though, three people pushed through, myself being one of them.
As to wrong? Well, it couldn’t get much worse than the end of February. I had a double planned. I was going to do Franklins 200k on Wednesday and then Lone Star 100 on Saturday. They run the same course.
Combined that means I’d be running 224 miles with almost 55k of vertical. I got injured with 40 miles left in the first race. I loaded up on ibuprofen and powered out that finish, but I could barely walk afterward, and I knew I had to DNS (Did Not Start) the second.
Then, during my week of recovery … disaster! I wound up catching the flu. I went into the next race with fever and chills. I was so miserable at several points during the race that I felt like just sitting down and crying right there on the course. In the end, I made it 52 miles before the illness and pain became too much. I had missed two races in two weeks. I genuinely feared for the record attempt. That’s been my low point so far. I really hope it remains the low point of the year.
What have you learned so far for yourself?
That running this many hundreds is difficult! Also, I’m shocked I thought this would all fun all the time. I’ve started to dislike the first half of races. In turn, I really love the second half because things begin to gel and I feel like myself again. The first half is pain and worry. The second half is just running.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to break barriers like what you are doing?
Just start it. I dislike motivational people who try to tell you you’re stronger or better than you are. Motivation is transient. If you don’t take some degree of joy in the process, chances are you won’t complete it once your motivation leaves.
If you love something, do it. If you don’t, then don’t force it. Find your joy and pursue it. Do what you want to do, not what you want to be known for.
Sage advice. This has been thrilling for me Walter. Thanks again for doing this. You are a badass but you know that already.
Aww, thanks! I always enjoy talking about running.
I highly recommend following Walter at https://facebook.com/halfhundredhundreds where he will be posting about his next race in Georgia, the Double Top 100 Stone Anvil, his 13th 100 miler this year. Incredible!!!!