How many 100-milers do you think a person can finish in a year? It’s an obscure, not to mention insane, record set in 2014 by Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen, who ran 41.
No one really has really gone after the record since Ettinghausen’s attempt until three men—Walt Handloser, Michael Ortiz, and Billy Richards—coincidentally took aim in 2019.
This meant almost every weekend in 2019 was spent running triple digits. In the end, the three combined for 128 total finishes, but only one made it out with the record.
Runner’s World caught up with all three men to hear about their journeys, learn about what worked and what hurt, and who ended up on top of the 100-miler list.
Walt Handloser’s Half-Hundred Hundreds
Name: Walt Handloser
Occupation: Data Scientist
Hometown: San Luis Obispo, California
Number of 100s: 50
Slowest: 127:58:21 (268 miles)
Average Finish Time: 31:31:12
Number of 200s: 2 (Spine Race and Lhotse 200)
Number of Doubles: 3 (Each with a single night sleep between them)
Weekends Off: 3 (Two for 200 miler and one to volunteer at Western States)
Estimated Miles Traveled: 49,685
An ability to recovery quickly between back-to-back ultras was something Walt Handloser discovered about himself in 2018. That year alone, he ran 11 ultras over 11 straight weekends in the spring (between 50K and 100 mile distance) followed by the challenging trio of the Ouray 100, High Lonesome 100, and Bigfoot 200 back to back to back in the fall. So when he made a plan to run 50 100-milers in 2019, he felt ready.
“As I was doing these, I found myself getting faster,” Handloser said. “Turns out, I thrive through continual work. I do best when I’m pushing myself without coming down.”
The fact that he lives in a van was his greatest tool. Already living in a sprinter van for racing, he made a deal to work at his job’s offices around the country in San Luis Obispo, Ridgeway, Colorado, and Atlanta. Once parked, he could do races in that part of the country with the occasional flights when necessary.
This included his second race of the year: the United Kingdom’s Spine Race, a 268 miler that took him 127 hours, 58 minutes, 21 seconds.
“I had already registered for it before I decided to do the 100 milers,” Handloser said. “I couldn’t run the weekend after it because I was coming back. The only other weekend I didn’t attempt a race was Western States because I always volunteer there, even before I started doing utlras.”
Handloser doubled up three times, doing races literally on back-to-back days. For two of these, he relied on races that utilized days-long schedules, with distance- and time-based races going off on different days.
“People asked how I avoided injury,” he said. “I was injured a lot. I reaggravated a meniscus tear from a couple years ago, had something going on with my foot that might’ve been tendinitis, and quad strains that kept coming back, making downhills very difficult. I just had to run through it a lot.”
Luckily, he had help along the way. he even met his now girlfriend, Jackie Fritsch, during the Umstead 100 in April when they started talking while running together. Handloser often called her during races as a virtual pacer to lift his spirits.
At Across the Years, his final two races of the year, he ended with two 100 milers over four days to successfully complete 50 before the New Year arrived.
For 2020, Handloser is taking a step back from 100s. He once again missed the Western States lottery, but he plans to volunteer again.
Outside of that, he’s planning to run the Bigfoot 200 with his girlfriend—her first time at that distance—and also build up speed again for a marathon.
“I was always a fat kid,” he said. “At 29, I said I don’t want to be fat anymore, so I ran off 105 pounds. Someone then told me to run a marathon, and I ended up collapsing at mile 23. It was pretty traumatic, but it was correctable. It was the same thing with ultras. Once I got the idea stuck in my head, I knew I was going to do it.”
Michael Ortiz’s Game of Hundos
Name: Michael Ortiz
Occupation: Vice President
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Number of 100s: 43
Average Finish Time: 30:23:35
States Visited: 35 (and Canada)
Estimated Miles Raced: 5,232
Number of Races Won: 1 (Cross Florida Route 40 Romp)
Consecutive Weekends Attempting 100s: 60 (and counting)
Michael Ortiz was a seven-day-a-week worker with the mindset that he could relax and take vacations when he retired. As someone who grew up public housing, his lifetime drive of getting good grades and a good job was to build up a savings account and enjoy life later.
It wasn’t until his brother died in 2012 at age 29 that his mindset changed.
“My brother and his wife loved to experience things, travel the world, and I thought they were living the life of retirees,” Ortiz told Runner’s World. “When he died, I realized, What if I spent my whole life working and waiting to do something and I died?”
Ortiz started splurging a little, taking up running in 2012 and training for the 2015 New York City Marathon in honor of his brother. When he began to take up ultrarunning, he kept wanting to make the most of his newfound joy of experiences.
Ortiz attempted two different back-to-back 100-mile race weekends in 2017. The first two times he attempted, he finished the first and but could not finish the second. But he knew he couldn’t just stop and kept at his ultra pursuits.
“I was feeling it, but I was also like, wow, my body is acclimating to the mileage,” Ortiz said. “What if I kept going?”
Before he even know there was a record, Ortiz set out to do 100 consecutive weekends of 100-miler attempts.
Ortiz blew threw his savings and he visited 35 states and Canada for races. He even went to Patagonia, Chile, in April for a race only for it to get canceled after arriving. To keep the streak alive, he found a race in Hardwick, New Jersey, hopped on a plane, arrived a the start two hours after the race began, and finished the race only hours away from his Brooklyn home.
“I spent 60 hours to get to my backyard,” he said. “After that, I kept it domestic.”
Despite running 100 miles all 52 weekends in 2019, Ortiz only garnered 43 official finishes. It was enough to break the record, but not beat Handloser. He did complete his goal, though, even if he missed cutoffs because he asked race directors if he could finish unofficially.
His goal right now is to make it to 100 consecutive weeks of running 100 miles, which would take until at least October 2020.
“The unfortunate truth is our endpoints are unknown,” he said. “My brother had the right idea all along, and I think he would be proud with what I’m doing today.”
Billy Richards—The 100-Mile Slayer
Name: Billy Richards
Occupation: Personal Trainer
Hometown: Long Island, New York
Number of 100s: 35
Fastest: 22:53:48 (Skydive Ultra — Clewiston, Florida)
Average Finish Time: 29:19:45
Longest Drive: Long Island to Vero Beach, California (1,201 miles one way)
Most Expensive Flight: $600 for DNF at Palisades 100 in Idaho
Most Consecutive Weekends Racing: 15
Nights Slept in Airports: 3
Billy Richards has always believed in pushing his limits farther with each goal he’s set since he left the military—from 1999 to 2003 in the Marine Corps and 2009 to 2013 as an Army paratrooper. This toughness drew him to powerlifting, obstacle-course racing, and ultramarathons, either rucking a 40-pound pack or carrying an American flag.
Despite despising distances over 50 miles, he thought the 100-miler record was the ultimate test for himself.
“I tested it out at first with six 100 milers back to back at the end of 2018,” he said. “I wanted to see what it was like before committing. I had done 10 total in my life, but I wanted to see if my body held up. When it did, I had already made a shell of a schedule for the year so I started to go to town on it.”
Richards completed each race carrying an American flag on a telescopic flag pole. This added a little difficulty to his attempts, particularly on technical downhills that required him to use his hands to scramble down sections.
He saved money where he could—driving to races within 12 hours, relying heavily on aid station food, and even starting a fundraising page when money became really tight.
“I almost had to pull the plug because I was almost out of money,” Richards told Runner’s World. “But this was a once in a lifetime goal. I had one shot at it, so I was willing to put it all on the line to do it.”
After the first 14 races of the year went off without physical complications, the summer took a beating on his body starting in May. A shooting pain and swelling in his right shin, forced Richards to hobble the final 30 miles of race number 15. Fighting through the pain in each race wasn’t easy, but he was determined.
When there were 19 weeks left in the year, Richards added up his finishes. If he were to break 41, he’d need to run 19 in a row. It would be ambitious, but he powered through until his 36th race of the year at the Sadlers Creek Stumble 24-Hour Race in South Carolina. Richards had been battling hip pain for a few weeks, and he was only able to limp for one lap of the 6.2-mile looped course before having to stop, ending his year with 35 hundred milers.
“After stopping my body fell apart,” Richards said. “I was forced to stop working out for a few weeks, and actually ballooned up about 25 to 30 pounds. Shortly after my back went out about three times in the following two weeks, and then I separated my shoulder bench pressing about two weeks after I stopped the runs.”
Richards is still recovering, limiting his endurance activities to walks on the treadmills for now. Yet he is still making big plans.
For 2020, he still has ambitious goals. He’s hoping to take on Badwater 135—pending an invite—and is also looking at the Infinitus 888K—551 miles—and the Bloodroot Ultra 500 Miler down the road.
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