Ultra-Couple Talks Tetons 100-Mile Race
Seasoned ultra-runners and co-owners of Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventures, husband-and-wife team Jay and Lisa Smith-Batchen are gearing up for their third-annual Yellowstone-Tetons 100-mile race, which begins on October 4th in West Yellowstone and traverses through Teton Valley, finishing in Driggs, Idaho. Lisa, a Badwater 135 Hall-of-Famer and Jay, a veteran ultra-runner in his own right, told us about the upcoming event, spiritual journeys, yearning for the desert, and the belt buckle everyone wants at the end of the race.
Your Yellowstone-Tetons race is only three years old. That's pretty young for an ultra-race, isn't it?
Lisa: It is. You know, we're bringing people here during the off-season, during a low time, which is really great. It'll build slowly, which is exactly what we want it to do.
I understand the finishers of the 100-mile race go home with a sweet belt buckle.
Jay: You get a belt buckle when you finish the hundred-miler, which is actually a big reason why so many people want to do these hundred-mile races. Western States has a silver belt buckle for the finishers under twenty-four hours, while Leadville gives out a huge belt buckle that looks like a WWF championship belt.
You also get the same feeling at the end of the race when you get to place a medal around someone's neck or give them a belt buckle. They finish the course and you really feel their elation as they've finished.
Lisa: Yeah, so you can have a crew driving with you along the whole route. We have people who bring their whole family. You know, October is an incredible time with the fall colors, but it's also a time of incredibly low traffic. I drove our hundred mile course last Sunday with my daughter and we saw fifteen cars the entire time.
I understand another part of your job, besides directing races, involves taking clients to Morocco for a seven-day race in the Sahara desert. What's so special about running in the Sahara?Lisa: We take many people over to Morocco from the states for the Marathon des Sables. My husband has run the race ten times, and I'm one of two Americans to ever win the race — I won the race in 1999. People contact us if they want to go, and we help with the plane flights and visas and all that it takes to actually get there. Then we put on training camps. We do everything we can so that those we take actually finish the race. And ninety-nine percent of our runners that we take do finish the race. It's an extraordinary event. It's more than a race. We always say that it's a journey of self-discovery.
So much happens in the desert, I imagine. What happens to the runner? Hallucinations? Loss of bodily control?
Lisa: I wouldn't say hallucinations so much because it's not a straight-out race like the Badwater 135, where you're going straight and you have 48 hours to complete it.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Tetons 100?
Jay: What we want to do in the Tetons is offer people an amazing experience and cater to a group of people.
Lisa: Well I don't think anyone who's done these events would use the word "torture." I think if you talk to people who go on these long journeys of self-discovery, you don't look at it so much as a race. Really it's incredible — the relationships, the people that we've met in the Marathon des Sables and other races. You make friendships with perfect strangers that will last the rest of your life. That doesn't happen to you when you run a marathon or an Ironman. I wouldn't think anyone would look at it as torture because they want to keep coming back. They come back [to the race] over and over again. They want to see if they can do it better, do it different, do it faster, and learn more.
Can you give an example of such a journey?
Lisa: I'll give you a great example of a wealthy person that lives in Ecuador, who we trained for the Marathon des Sables. Private plane, the whole works, maids, cooks — he had everything. He ran the Marathon des Sables with a large pack with all the things he thought he needed. Things he just couldn't live without. And every day he would get rid of more, and more, and more stuff, and I saw a very unique change. There are doctors, lawyers, all kinds of different people just searching, searching for something incredibly unique or challenging.
So in these ultra-marathons, you build these connections with people and discover yourself along the way. Do you also build a connection with nature?
Lisa: Absolutely. Somebody told me today that the energy coming off the Tetons...they felt it was spiritually healing. The wildlife, the animals, the beauty, the color, the fresh, clean, mountain-crisp air. You're left with all of that besides the people that you meet along the way. You know, the same thing with the Sahara desert. Just being in complete awe of what you're seeing.
And is this feeling of energy and awe enhanced by running?
Lisa: When you're driving, you're just not going to see what you actually would see when you're on foot. As I get older and I slow down running, it's like, "how long has that house been here?" Well it's been here ever since you lived here. "Really? I've never seen it." If you're going so fast past it, you kind of miss a lot.
--Photos courtesy of Dreamchasers Outdoor Adventures
Scott Donahue is an intern at Sierra. He was a high school freshman in Mr. Hancock's English class when he first read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Now, he's currently working on a graduate thesis composed of travel essays. Topics include substitute teaching kindergartners in Nepal, drinking rice beer with a Tibetan porter, and running a marathon from Everest Base Camp.