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I’m With Stupid – February 11, 2011

by Todd Hartley

Earlier this week, a Belgian man named Stefaan Engels ran a marathon and completed one of the most absurd feats of endurance any human being has ever accomplished. You see, this particular marathon, held in Barcelona, Spain, was Engels’ 365th in the last year.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

The marathon was named for a guy who ran 26 miles and dropped dead. Engels ran a marathon every day for a year, at an average pace of about four hours. That means he covered 9,563 miles, or the distance from Aspen to pretty much everywhere beyond the Aspen roundabout, and spent 1,460 hours, or about two complete months, running.

In the last year, one time I was about to get on an airplane when I realized I’d forgotten my son’s car seat in the car in the long-term parking lot. I sprinted both ways and barely made it back to the plane in time to take my seat and pant and sweat all the way down to Denver, but that was probably about 500 yards and eight minutes of my life. That’s how much more running Engels did than me.

Engels’ record easily outdistanced the previous mark, which belonged to a 65-year-old Japanese man who ran 52 marathons in a row in 2009. What Engels’ accomplishment did not so easily surpass, however, was the prior most absurd feat of endurance ever, which was completed the day before New Year’s in Revelstoke, B.C., and in some ways might be even more astonishing.

That day, a man named Greg Hill climbed and skied his 2 millionth vertical foot of 2010, achieving a goal he’d set for himself. That may not seem like too much to those of you who don’t live in the mountains, but let me break it down for you. That means he averaged considerably more than a vertical mile each day, in freezing cold and dangerous conditions, with skis and equipment. Anyone who’s ever skied without the aid of a chairlift can tell you how ridiculous that is.

Hill just wanted to see how much skiing he could do, as well as document the whole endeavor and make a film about it, while Engels appears to have been motivated by doctors who told him, as an asthmatic child, to avoid sports. I’m curious about their motivation because, to me, they seem to be completely out-of-their-gourds, frothing-at-the-mouth insane. They’re probably not, but you can see why I might think that.

Not to mention that the only wacko endurance athlete I’ve ever met personally was almost certainly clinically imbalanced. Nice guy, just a tad intense and maybe wound a little too tight. His name was David Michael Anthony, and I first saw him years ago biking along Highway 82, towing extra bikes atop a large steel trailer that I would later learn weighed more than 1,300 pounds.

I ran into him later in Aspen and interviewed him for an Aspen Times article, whereupon I learned that he’d started in California and to that point had biked 25,000 miles, or the circumference of the Earth, and visited nearly every other state, including Alaska in the dead of winter, all while dragging his trailer behind him.

His plan upon leaving Aspen was to ride up to the top of 12,095-foot-high Independence Pass and set up a high-altitude training camp. Each morning he intended to crawl out of his tent, carry his bike and a big metal contraption that turned it into a stationary bike up the side of a mountain to about 13,000 feet, and then ride in place for 10 hours a day.

When I asked if he would at least be listening to music, he shook his head. “Don’t need it,” he said. “Mentally, I’m a rock.”

He said that after a couple of weeks of at the top of Independence Pass he was going to bike every other paved pass in Colorado and finish up in Colorado Springs, where he was going to stop by the Olympic Training Center for testing, “so they can see what event I’d be a monster in” at the 2004 Olympics.

Sadly, and predictably, he didn’t make that or any other Olympics, and as far as I know, he could still be out there biking. The last count before his website disappeared was 40,000 miles and all 49 states reachable by bike.

Oh, and his motivation? He’d been working an office job and somehow broke his back and decided he needed to do something that people would notice.

Congratulations, David. At least one person did.

Todd Hartley is like a box of chocolates. When it’s hot he gets all over your fingers.

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