Runner to race 100 miles in Alaska

Cause: Ultra-marathoner will fight the cold and raise money for the Dyslexia Tutoring Program based in Hampden.

February 18, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

There are die-hard runners. And then there is Mike Murphy.

The 58-year-old northern Baltimore County man often wakes up at 3 a.m. to run through the city before reporting to work. On the weekends, closer to home, he runs mile after mile around Prettyboy Reservoir.

Murphy is what is known as an ultra runner, and he plans to start tomorrow on a 100-mile race - in Alaska, in snowshoes.

For the Susitna 100-Mile Race, he'll follow part of the course of the Iditarod dogsled competition. He'll cross several frozen rivers, and fight frostbite and hypothermia, and pull a sled with survival supplies. Hallucinations caused by sleep deprivation are considered part of the experience.

The guiding principle is: Keep moving and maybe you won't freeze to death. The high temperature is expected to be about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the low about 10 degrees. The wind chill factor will make them seem lower.

People sometimes ask Murphy if he enjoys pain.

"The idea is to hurt as little as possible," he says. "That's why you train. Sometimes, I think the training is the best part."

Murphy, managing director of equity capital markets with Wachovia Securities, is using the race to raise money for the Dyslexia Tutoring Program, a Hampden-based nonprofit agency that trains volunteers to teach dyslexic people to read.

"I think it's a great cause," he says. "I wonder how anyone without insurance can manage. This fills that need."

Murphy, of Butler, says he's not sure how much he will collect in pledges.

Marcy K. Kolodny, executive director of the nonprofit, says that, whatever the amount, it's sure to be the most unusual donation they've received.

"He's a got a good heart," she says. "We are thrilled about this."

Someone else might write a check. But those who compete in ultra-marathons tend to be "unique people," says Mike Spinnler, race director of the JFK 50-mile, an ultra-marathon in Western Maryland. "I wouldn't say `crazy.' They're a very elite group."

Murphy, who has competed in about 10 ultra-marathons, says he has hallucinated on these jaunts, once seeing golf carts where there were boulders.

"You can run farther than you think," he says.

To prepare for his second time participating in the Alaska race, Murphy has been running about 20 to 30 miles on Mondays, four miles on Tuesdays, 10 miles on Wednesdays, six or seven miles on Thursdays and Fridays and 10 to 12 miles on the weekends.

He also works out several times a week at a gym. He has been starting his daily runs in the dark, because where he'll be in Alaska, daylight lasts from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

During the race, hot water and some snacks will be available about every 12 miles, though most of the stops are trapper shacks with no heat.

Because there are no doctors on the course, Murphy says he'll wear a heart monitor.

In a dufflebag with a sled for a bottom, Murphy will tow a sleeping bag, a ground cover, a radio, powdered food and a stove weighing three ounces. He'll melt snow if he runs out of water.

The sleeping bag is in case he gets lost or hurt. He might use it for a short break, but otherwise he hopes to run straight through the race and finish in about 30 hours.

Murphy, who has three teenage daughters, has his limits. He says he'll stop if he breaks something or sees blood.

"The real fear is the weather turning," says Murphy, who thought he was lost on the course when he ran it about five years ago. "You're in the middle of nowhere."

At the end of the race, Murphy says, he'll probably be craving protein: "You look for the biggest hamburger you can find."

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