SHERIDAN — Don’t tell her family, but Marta Ostler would run the 100-mile race again in a heartbeat.
Fifth in the women’s results and third in her age division, she finished the ultramarathon at the 21st Annual Bighorn Trail Wild and Scenic Trail Run in 28 hours and 59 minutes last weekend, making her one of the few that has run the “Bighorn Grand Slam.”
Race organizers had to think of a name for the gauntlet this week after Ostler joined Wendell Robison and Zach Mettler as ones to run all the races offered at the area Trail Run; the 30K, 50K, 50-mile and 100-mile.
For Ostler, the hardest part wasn’t one of the physical or even mental challenges that no doubt come with running the literal distance from Sheridan to Gillette but over a mountain, it was convincing her family that she’d be OK. (she was) Plus, it was a time commitment for someone who works full time as a physical therapist at Sheridan Memorial Hospital and has five kids.
But it was all she wanted for Christmas.
“I guess my first thought process started when I was passing 100-milers when I was running the 18-mile 10 years ago when my kids were babies,” Ostler said Thursday afternoon, seemingly fully recovered from her run. “I thought ‘Oh, that’d be cool, but I don’t know if I could ever do it.’”
“When I did the 50-mile last year it was just short and sweet, and I thought, ‘Wow, I think I can do that.’ My biggest hurdle wasn’t deciding to do it necessarily, but getting my family to say it was OK.”
In the end, her family turned out to be one of her biggest motivators, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Let’s first focus on that 100-mile run.
Ostler followed a training program she found online that she had used for the 50, bumping up the regimen for 100-mile prep. She ran short during the week and then long distances on Fridays and the weekends. Her longest mileage weeks were 75, but she said there are a lot of 100-milers that don’t do that much, explaining the key is a really long run one day followed by a shorter but still long run the next day. She put in 1,200 miles during six months of training.
“You’re kind of sandwiching yourself in between long runs,” she explained. “I think that was kind of key to getting my endurance up.”
Any long run is mental training, she says.
“If you just tell yourself you’re doing something, you’ll do it,” she remarked. “You’ll rise to that occasion.”
Any in-race push she needed can be credited to her pacers, Mark Conrad and her old running partner Lisa Nicholls, who made the trip from Buffalo, N.Y. for her best friend. The two ran all the other races together before Nicholls moved east.
While she couldn’t pin down exactly what they did to help her, just having them there was hugely important to Ostler. And Conrad, a past 100-miler himself, pushed her over the edge in actually signing up for the race.
“First of all it costs 240-some bucks, that’s a commitment in my eyes,” Ostler joked. “So I’m sitting at the computer one day, I had filled out my registration a couple times, I just didn’t ever press send. Mark either texted or called me out of the blue and said ‘hey if you run the 100 I’ll pace you. That was like being pushed over a cliff. ‘Someone else thinks I can do this, I’d better try.’”
And then there was the support of her family, which spurred her into it in multiple ways. Her daughter Elana won the 19 and under age division this year, running the 30K in three hours and five minutes. To put that in perspective, that’s 37th overall out of the women and 89th in a field of almost 400. She’s been first or second for the past three years in the 30K. Her husband Kirby Ostler couldn’t hide his pride in his wife’s accomplishment when talking about it this week, even if at first the task seemed a challenge for a big, busy family.
“One of the big reasons she wanted to do this was to show our kids that you don’t have to be a superstar or an outstanding athlete to do something, whatever special thing people might think you have to be, if you just set your mind to it you can do it,” he said. “She showed them a lot about dedication and determination.”
Kirby Ostler said running 100 miles was on his wife’s bucket list, so he wanted to support that.
“I have friends who’ve died from ovarian cancer lately,” she explained. “I have friends with lots of different problems, so I don’t want to wait until I have a problem and then regret that I never did something.
“You could call it a bucket list, but the funniest thing was, one of my twins looked at me and said, mom, why do you want to do this? Why do you want this for Christmas?” He looks at me and says, ‘Mom, my bucket list is full.’”
She never really cared about her time, saying it wasn’t a race, only asking for a time once early Saturday morning because she wanted to know what time it was after a long dark night of running.
“I’m not going to be on the side of a Special K box,” she joked. “This was just a journey.”
“When it’s starting to get dusky, putting on your headlamp, that was awesome,” she told of running at night, one of the calling cards of the Bighorn trail run is the night running. The race begins at 11 a.m. Friday as runners head up the mountain, turn around and descend to a finish in Dayton Saturday.
“We were blessed, we had lots of stars and so we were going up hill, you could watch these little headlamps up there in front of you dancing — I would do that again in a heartbeat.”
“I was like, bring it on, this is really neat,” she said.
Then there was the desire to get to the next aid station that pushed her.
“Where do I get to go to next, I get to go to Spring Marsh and see my friends there, I get to go to Elk Camp and see who’s there, and then I get to go to Jaws (Trailhead) and the cross country kids are there, I’ll see my husband and my kids.”
“Plus they had mashed potatoes and coffee,” she laughed.
“What more do you want? You want coffee to taste good, run a 100 miles.”
Listening to her talk of the experience is hearing a story an immense enjoyment, a true rush from knocking something off one’s bucket list. It’s almost not worth asking if she’d do it again.
“That’s a divorce question,” she joked.
“I’ve found my distance, the ultra endurance races,” Ostler admitted. “I love it, I would do it again, and my marital criteria has become if you do it again we’re going overseas,” she said, seriously, hoping that maybe Ireland would be her next hundred.
Even that was a portion of her driving force. Without the Bighorns, she might not have even thought to run the ultramarathon.
“What blew me away was that there’s not more people up there,” she said. “But the running community here is great. I could always connect with friends and they’re always willing to help. But why would you not? You don’t have to run, you can go walk hike, whatever you want to do. Just do it.”
Her family may not be able to stop her from running inordinate distances in the future. Ostler joked that maybe there’s something wrong with her genetically, sharing an especially wonderful story that may explain her desire to trek long distances outdoors.
Her great, great grandfather homesteaded outside of Forsyth, Mont., and a family story passed down goes that he once walked into town to get a plow, a 26-mile jaunt that was no big deal for him at the time.
The roads follow the riverbed so you knew where to go, and he walked into town, found a plow and got a friend with a wagon to haul it back home for him. Well, when the friend made his way back to her great great grandfather’s house he knocked on the door and told her grandmother ‘here’s the plow, your husband will be along in a while.’
She says, “No, grandpa Johnson’s been out on the tractor for three hours.”
“It’s in my blood,” she laughed.
There were a few little hiccups in the race — things that come with a 100-mile adventure. Her knee started to act up around mile 90, and she confessed that her manner toward her pacers deteriorated at that point.
“But that was the hardest part,” she said, once she got past some intimidation at the starting line. “Standing in this pool of 160-some gurus, and I’m thinking what am I doing here? I’m a mother of five why am I here?”
Insecurity proved futile. She was the only 100-miler from Sheridan County to finish as for whatever reasons the challenging trail won and the others dropped out of the race.
“I guess a sense of accomplishment is seeing how proud people are of you,” she said, telling that it especially set in when she crossed the finish line.
“People come up to me everyday and say ‘wow I can’t believe you do that. All I can think of is, it wasn’t that bad. It was really fun, just a great weekend. I didn’t have to do laundry, didn’t have to cook dinner. Everybody wanted to feed me and they all cared about me.”
One lady was even crying as she helped her at an aid station, Ostler said.
“That’s how people are, they think it’s amazing.”
She used to think it was amazing, but now she knows she can do it.