Member Story – Chris Copenhaver

A Q&A interview with Chris Copenhaver, FCRC member and 2nd place finisher at Never Summer 2022.

1. What motivated you to run Never Summer?

     I love a big challenge and I needed redemption from my 1st Never Summer attempt in 2018 which was one of my most difficult races ever.  It was my first 100k, the longest distance I had ever taken on. I had over-trained, I went out way too hard and my IT band locked up by mile 17.  I didn’t know at the time about ITBS (IT Band Syndrome) and I toughed it out.  I ended up walking most of the last 25 miles to finish.  This year I finished about two and a half hours faster than my 2018 effort.
2.  Highlights of my Never Summer race.
     Working together with Stephen Pretak and Chris Hammes up until Clear Lake (mile 40ish) to stay smart and run in control was a lot of fun.  It’s very enjoyable to share these long miles with friends instead of slogging it out by yourself.  The biggest highlight was definitely the Clear Lake out and back where I got to see where I was at in the race.  Between leaving Clear Lake 1 and leaving Clear Lake 2, I moved from 7th place to 1st.  I’m not sure what came over me on that segment.  I guess I just decided it was time to race. I felt good from the controlled start and still had lots of leg left to race with.
3.  Did you expect to finish near the top?
     Not at all.  After another 100 mile DNF in May at Cruel Jewel in Georgia I just wanted to run a smart race and be able to finish strong.  I figured if I could manage a top 10 finish and felt like I had run smart, I would be happy with that.
4.  Low points of the race.
     After Canadian aid station (mile 50ish) I had picked up Ryan Baker, my trusty pacer, but I started to bonk.  I took in some liquid calories and a gel and started feeling better.  I came into Bockman aid (mile 56ish) feeling good and managed to eat another gel about a mile later.  Then my stomach turned and I started to drag by the bottom of the last climb.  I could hear the 2nd place guy right behind me so I pushed hard up the mountain.  I held him off until the top but I was literally on the verge of passing out.  I had to let him go, giving up the lead and pull myself together.  I managed to get going again on the descent and about 2 miles out from the finish I started to charge.  I was holding a 7:30 pace trying to run him down.  Unfortunately, I could hear him finish ahead of me and he got me by a little over 2 minutes.
5.  How did your body feel after that whole thing?  Completely shot or well trained?
     I actually felt surprisingly okay after 65 hard miles.  Surprising because I had decided to have fun and enjoy running as an approach to this race as compared to an intense, focused, training schedule.
6.  Words of wisdom for others training for this race.
     Trail running and racing is very difficult.  If you cannot find a way to have fun and enjoy the training, then it is pointless and you will burn out.  Love what you are doing.  Perfect training runs aren’t necessary and neither is stacking up endless hours and miles that don’t leave you fulfilled. Enjoying the journey is the important part because once you reach your destination it is over and you are left trying to figure out what you learned along the way.
7.  Do you have a next race on the calendar?  If so, what?
     I’m just going to compete in some USATF XC races for the rest of the year and maybe the Bacon Strip race.  Next year I have two tickets for the Western States 100 mile lottery.  If I don’t get into Western States, I will be going back to attempt the Cruel Jewel 100 miler again in May.
8.  How long have you been running and/or ultra-running?
     I was a mediocre runner in high-school.  I got back into running again in 2012 and ran my first ultra, the Golden Gate Dirty 30 (50k) in 2017.  I respected the distance and started slowly.  It was one of the few ultras I’ve run where I didn’t have IT band issues.
9.  Advice for those wanting to give trail or ultra-running a try.
    Do it!  You have nothing to lose.  I encourage everyone to get out on the trails and see what nature has to offer.  You will see the most beautiful things that the world has to offer and learn so much about yourself.  Start slow, respect the distances.  Find some good people to share miles with and enjoy the company but don’t be afraid to be out there alone.  It’s good to spend time outside of your comfort zone.  Make sure to eat and drink when you are out on long runs because the heat and distance can eat you alive.
10.  What got you into running and what do you love most about it?
     After high school I started drinking heavily.  After 13 years I realized that if I didn’t change my life I would soon be living down by the river, dead or in prison.  In 2012 I checked myself into a 13 month inpatient rehab program and started running.  I used running to build a community and a healthy lifestyle that would help sustain my sobriety through the years.  I didn’t really like running at first because of the difficulty.  In fact when I was in rehab I said “I will never run farther than 6 miles because it is too hard.”  Once I discovered the trails and realized that I could regularly explore places that most people spend days getting to or only see on TV I was hooked.  I would not trade anything for the time I have spent in the forest, on top of high peaks or traversing entire mountain ranges.  It has been my saving grace, has given me my life back, and I look forward to so many more miles of exploration with all the great people I’ve met along the way.

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