Running for a causeWORTHINGTON — For 50 miles, Seth DeGroot felt great. Then the rain came. And the hail. But he went on, for 20 more miles. Running in the Black Hills 100 as a fundraiser for Admission Possible, DeGroot and six teammates embarked on an event that challenged the runners both physically and mentally.
By: Aaron Hagen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — For 50 miles, Seth DeGroot felt great.
Then the rain came. And the hail.
But he went on, for 20 more miles.
Running in the Black Hills 100 as a fundraiser for Admission Possible, DeGroot and six teammates embarked on an event that challenged the runners both physically and mentally.
“It was a little daunting at first,” DeGroot said. “It’s kind of amazing how your body responds, actually. Once you start building up the miles, you don’t think going into it that your body is going to respond to it like it does. But your leg muscles start adapting to the mileage and your body responds faster than you ever think it could. The training aspect of it wasn’t as bad as I initially thought it was going to be. It actually helped to have the rest of the guys on the team to pull you through.”
Admission Possible is a program that helps low-income students reach their goals of attending college.
“It does that through a curriculum of coaching and support that includes ACT and SAT test preparation, financial aid counseling and counseling on how to apply to colleges and which colleges to apply to,” DeGroot explained. “It’s prepping juniors and seniors in high school on how to get into college.”
In a way, DeGroot was able to relate his challenge to those in the Admission Possible program.
“That’s kind of what our motto was for the whole run,” he said. “We were paralleling the challenge that these kids were facing with getting into college. None of us has done a run like this before. With these kids, none of them have had brothers or sisters or parents or anything like that going to college. It’s just as daunting, if not more of a daunting task in front of them as it was for us.”
The team has raised nearly $100,000 for the program, which was enough to put around 65 students through the program.
“That was one of the big motivations that kind of kept your mind focused when you were out there on the course,” DeGroot said. “Not only thinking about the kids, but thinking about all the people who donated and all the people that gave money to the cause.”
A 2003 graduate of Worthington High School, DeGroot played football and ran track during his days as a Trojan. Prior to undertaking his training for a 100-mile race, the furthest the former Trojan ran was two miles.
His goal was nearly 50 times that.
DeGroot and his teammates had a mere nine months to prepare.
“One of my first trainings was actually the Turkey Day 10K,” he said. “I think that was my first official training run, actually. We kind of built up from there.
“I don’t think you can really prepare for the mental aspect of it. We had some longer races in there and the longest preparation run we did was a 50-miler. We kind of built up gradually. I hadn’t even done any marathon runs before we started training. We kind of built up, starting around 10 miles and eventually went all the way up to around 50.”
While the distance alone was going to be tough, the course presented another obstacle — elevation.
“We went out to the Black Hills about a week before the race,” DeGroot said. “We did a short training run on the course to try to get a feel. We didn’t have any elevation to train in out here. I think the closest thing we had was about 5,000 feet of elevation gain. In the actual race, I think there was something like 16,000 feet of elevation gain. It was hard to prepare for that aspect of the race. There was definitely some nerves going into it, but it was good to have the whole team out there to draw on each other’s support.”
The race, which was on June 26, started well for DeGroot.
“I would say about the first 50 miles, I was running with another one of the guys on the team and we felt great up until about mile 50,” he said. “We were supposed to have a turnaround point at mile 50. You go out 50 and then back 50 on the same path. We got to mile 50 on our watches and we had no sign of a turnaround. Then we got to 51 and still no sign. About 53, we hit the lead runners coming back and they told us that the aid station was about a mile away yet. The course was about three or four miles longer each way. It actually ended up being the Black Hills 106 to 110 versus the Black Hills 100. That was kind of demoralizing.”
Out of the aid station, the skies opened and a thunderstorm rolled through.
“It was probably 8 at night, so it got pretty dark. We didn’t have our headlamps and it started raining on us and the rain eventually turned to hail,” DeGroot said. “It got pretty bad out there with the storm. I would say that, more than anything, broke me down. When I got to the next aid station, I was shaking pretty bad and it was pretty cold. I ate a lot of chicken noodle soup and hot water to try to warm back up. I actually got back on the course around midnight. I made it to about mile 70 and I never really recovered from that storm.”
DeGroot wasn’t able to finish the race, but he wasn’t alone.
“I forget the exact numbers, but I think there was close to 100 entrants and around 20 or 30 finished,” he said. “The usual finish rate in those events is around 60 percent, so it was just a grueling course.”
But midway though, DeGroot thought he could finish.
“We’ll never know, but I was feeling great until that thunderstorm,” he said. “That’s kind of frustrating about it, too.
“At the 50-mile turnaround, I was feeling really good, my legs were feeling fresh and I was doing good on my nutrition and hydration. I was feeling really good at the 50-mile turnaround, actually.”
He was on the course for 18 or 19 hours, but came 30 miles short of the finish line.
“I’ve been trying to think back on that and what I actually felt like,” DeGroot said. “It’s kind of hard to actually remember what you felt like at that moment. Something in between pure pain and despair and questioning the whole race. It’s really hard to explain. I kept thinking about wanting to be back in my bed where it was warm. That wasn’t the best thing to think about. Looking back on it, I wish I would have kept going. But there’s nothing I can do about it now, I guess.”
It took a few days, but DeGroot was able to recover from his grueling experience.
“A lot of the guys were in worse shape than I was,” he said. “My feet were in good shape afterwards. A lot of the guys lost toenails and had big blisters. I had a few blisters, but nothing too bad. I’d say it took about a week to stop being sore.”
DeGroot already has his sights set on another 100-mile run.
“There’s another race in Utah that’s a 100-miler, so I’m going to go and try that in the first weekend of October,” he said. “It should be a little easier course. I want to get one of these 100-milers in before winter so I don’t have to go through any long winter training runs.
“Typically, when you finish these things, you get a belt buckle. I want my belt buckle before winter.”
And if there is another race for Admission Possible next year?
“There’s been some talk of that already,” DeGroot said. “Nothing official yet, but I would look for something next summer.
“I would sign my name up and do it again.”