Jim Bisbey, 51, lives in Scottsdale. and he is an ultrathoner. That is someone who runs in races longer than 50 miles. Jim recently competed in and finished the Salt Flat 100, a 100 mile race across the Salt Flats in Utah. Jim recently sat down with us and answered some questions about the race and becoming an ultrathon runner.
How did you get into running long distance races and when did you start?
A chance meeting on the trail almost 4-years ago inspired me to train for an event called the Phoenix 7-Summit Challenge, which led me to my first marathon. As I was training for my second marathon I met an Ultra – Marathon runner named Amanda on the trail. We became friends and running buddies. She inspired me to do my first ultra race called the “Crown King Scramble 50K Run”. Since then I have run 10 Ultra Marathons from 50K to 100-Miles. It has been an amazing journey in that the 7-Summit Challenge led me to my first marathon, which led me to my second marathon. That led me to my first 50K and that to my first 50-Miler.
Tell us a little about how you trained for the Salt Flat 100 and what made you want to do it?
My training evolved over the last 4-years by wanting to do unique events. In 2016 I challenged myself to train to do the Pike’s Peak Marathon that has over 7,000’ of elevation gain in just 13.1 miles to the summit. That entailed doing 3-Ultra runs (1-50K & 2-54K) to train up for the 26.2-Mile Pikes Peak Marathon. I also trained all summer in the 100+ degree Arizona heat to make sure that I was ready to do the Marathon. As you look for the next challenge you build on previous successes. I did another Ultra in early October that was a 55K run to train up for my first attempt at 100-Miles. In late October I did 80-Miles of the 100-Mile Javelina Jundred run. I learned a lot from not succeeding in my quest for 100-Miles. I learned how to pace myself for the entire run and also discovered that I mentally could do a 100-Mile run.
Why run 100-Miles? If you would have asked me 4-years ago would I ever run a Marathon, let alone 9-Marathons, I would have said no way. However life, two chance meetings on the trail, timing, and as they say a left or right turn at the right time brought me to where I am today. If I hadn’t met my dear friend Amanda roughly 2-years ago I would never have thought about doing an Ultra Marathon.
It all started with training for a Marathon and then a chance meeting with Amanda the Ultra Marathoner who inspired me to do a 50K run. Here is how you get to that reasoning. As I was training for a 26.2-Mile Marathon I thought why not do a 31-Mile (50K) run, it was only 5 more miles. After I did the 50K (31-mile) run it felt so good that I figured if I was ever going to do a 50-Mile Endurance Run that I should do it now while I was in Ultra condition, again my thought process was it was only an additional 19-Miles, so I did it. In October of 2015 I paced my friend Amanda on her quest to do her first 100-Mile run. I paced her for 15-miles and was so inspired by her success that I started planning on doing the same 100-Mile run a year later.
I imagine that everyone has his or her own reason for wanting to do a 100-Mile Endurance Run. I look at life like a “resume” of life. What I did 10-years ago or yesterday is a part of who I am. I have now added a 100-Mile journey to my resume of life, it is the greatest feat of my running career…
How important is apparel and equipment to an ultra runner?
Your running apparel and equipment can make or break your run. If you don’t have the right shoes, socks, shorts, shirt, and hat you have a greater chance of failing. To complete a 100-Mile Endurance Run all aspects from clothing, shoes to nutrition have to be right to be successful.
You have been a strong supporter of Alchemi Sun Hats. Tell us why and how you use the different hat styles (river hat, desert hat, and sun cap) for your running.
I do my training runs in the hot desert of Arizona and on many occasions with temperatures in the 100’s. I have tried many hats over the years and I can honestly say that the Alchemi Sun Hats are the best that I have ever worn. The hats protect my head from the heat and harmful UV rays. I have never had any heat related issues while wearing the hats. The one thing that I like about the hats is that they have a version for your every need. I have worn all 3 versions that are currently available.
The River hat has a nice broad round brim, is lightweight and gives maximum sun protection, and is great on long hikes or runs.
The Desert Hat has been great for keeping the sun off the ears and the back of the neck. It worked extremely well on my 80-Mile Endurance Run as the sun was rising in the morning.
For those looking a streamed lined hat to protect your head then I would recommend the Sun Cap. It looks great, lightweight and keeps the heat and harmful UV rays off your head.
How important is the mental aspect when running a 100-mile race? Takes us through some of your thoughts during the race.
The mental aspect of a 100-Mile Endurance Run plays a major part in whether you finish or not. If you are not mentally ready to run 100-Miles then you most likely will not succeed. Early on in the run I had many times where I had to overcome the desire to quit. It would have been the easy way out. However, each time I came up with a reason to quit, I equally came up with a reason to continue on.
Here are a few examples of the mind games that I had to deal with.
At roughly 40-mile into the run I just wasn’t feeling like I was strong enough to continue. This is where your mind plays games with thoughts. My first thought was I am only at 40-miles into this and I still have 60-miles to go. There is no way that I am going to make this happen. Then you say to yourself, ok you did a 50-mile run about 8-weeks ago so you should be good for at least 50-miles. Then you go back to the 80-miles that you did last October and say, ok you know that you can go up to 80-miles and should be good for 100-miles.
You also do the, it would be so easy to quit. Then you say to yourself, hey you just spent a small fortune to get here to do this race. You also say that all the training you did to get here would have been for not.
You also play the game of 10-miles down, or I just did a half-marathon 13-miles down. Then the next goal is a marathon 26-miles down. The next goal is halfway 50-miles, you say just get to 50-miles and then in your mind it’s all down hill per say. At least the counting down is sort of down hill. Another magic number is 90-miles, I figured if I can just get to 90-miles then it would be all down hill to the finish, even though some of the final miles were flat.
There are 14 aid-stations on the course and each one is an oasis in the mountains. As you run 100-miles you can’t think about how far you still have to go to the end, you have to take it one step at a time. Each aid-station was that one step at a time. Your goal was to get to the next aid-station in the time needed. Each aid-station with its amazing volunteers was a brief opportunity to take a quick mental break from running and the chance to grab some food and liquids. Mentally you needed that break every few hours to reset your body physically and mentally.
Quitting – the only time I truly thought about quitting was at about mile 50 or so and at about 1:00a.m. I started to fall asleep as I was running. Fortunately it happened as I was on a service road that was wide and fairly flat. I stumbled a few times and started having serious concerns for my well being and safety. As safety personnel approached in a Jeep I contemplated calling it quits. As they asked how I was doing I decided to have them check on me when they came back through. I figured that if I was still falling asleep when they came back through that I would for my own safety quit. A Sheriff’s search & rescue vehicle also checked on me. I then decided to take a Clif Shot Blok energy gel and got my second wind. I never got sleepy again. That was the only time I came close to quitting.
I would say that the mental aspect of a 100-Mile Endurance Run is half of what it takes to be successful. The other half is physically being able to do it and for all the other pieces to fall in place, from equipment, weather and proper nutrition.
Now that you have accomplished your goal of completing a 100-mile race what’s next?
That is a great question. I took some time off and am just now getting back on the trails. My next scheduled race is the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C. this coming October. I will look to do something fun this summer in the meantime.