Outdoors Blog

Explorer of the Month: Ultramarathon runner tests his limits

Dennis Ahern and his daughter, Naomi, helped at the Hardock 100 ultra marathon last summer in Colorado. Ahern has completed that race in 45 hours, 40 minutes. The total elevation gain is 33,992 feet.
Dennis Ahern and his daughter, Naomi, helped at the Hardock 100 ultra marathon last summer in Colorado. Ahern has completed that race in 45 hours, 40 minutes. The total elevation gain is 33,992 feet. Courtesy of Dennis Ahern

We’ll highlight someone’s outdoor pursuits on the first Wednesday of each month. Suggestions? Email outdoors@idahostatesman.com

 

Even average athletes can complete 100-mile ultra marathons, Boisean Dennis Ahern says.

He counts himself as one of them.

But you have to have something inside that is way above average.

“My gift is I’m very persistent and I refuse to quit,” Ahern said.

Ahern, 57, has pursued endurance activities since he became a backpacker as an 18-year-old. He began ultra marathons at age 50 and since has finished 53 of those races (basically anything beyond a marathon) — including 22 races that covered 100 or more miles. He recently ran 164 miles in a 48-hour run at Eagle Island State Park, has biked from Boise to Ketchum through Stanley and back in one 32-hour burst, completed the grand slam of ultrarunning in 2013 (the four oldest 100-mile races, completed in a 10-week period) and last fall he rode his bike 4,200 miles in 41 days from Anacortes, Wash., to Bar Harbor, Maine. This summer, he hopes to bike the Continental Divide Trail from Canada to Mexico and in 2018 — when he turns 60 — he plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

“There’s never a thought that enters my head about quitting,” he said of the long-distance challenges. “I just like being out there. I like being outside, testing myself, seeing some incredible areas ... and doing it with really cool people.”

He found his “tribe,” he said, with ultrarunning. He’s aware that some find the idea of a 100-mile run outlandish, but the sport is growing.

“It’s all a party at the end and we’re sort of celebrating something that a lot of people think is kind of crazy,” Ahern said. “I don’t find it crazy. I know to some people it looks extreme and aren’t you hurting your knees and harming your body? I’m not interested in harming my body but I’ve got this body and I’d rather use it up doing something cool than sitting on the couch. Am I wearing my body out? Yep, I am.”

The races aren’t about running for him. They’re about the outdoor experiences.

He runs three to four days a week and can finish a 100-mile race with as little as 30-40 miles of training per week, he said. He also rides bikes often.

Ultrarunners, he said, might be chasing an instinctual need to face physical challenges.

“It’s like being with nature but also working against nature,” said Ahern, a self-employed cabinet maker, woodworker and renovator. “... At this point in my life, all I care about is experiences. I don’t care about stuff. I like having nice bikes, but all they are is tools to get me out there.”

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