Driven to run 160 km

Posted on June 15, 2008 by

No TSN soundbites for this interview.

I want the straight goods: how do you motivate yourself to run 160 kilometres? What do you think about, how do you focus? How do you train, what type of person tries this and who succeeds?

I’m sitting with Keith Peters, 39, of St. Catharines, a week after the Sulphur Springs Trail Run, a 160K ultra race through the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. His 19:55 finishing time earned fourth place, shaved almost an hour from his 2007 result and nailed his personal goal of 20 hours.

“It takes a really driven person, someone who can look at fear and overcome it,” Peters said. “The first level is, ‘Can I accomplish this?’

“The next is to beat a set time. I never race for position, I can’t control that.”

He said a high placing is not significant in itself, achieving increasingly difficult personal targets are.

“It’s the lure of the unknown.”

Peters is obsessed with what lies around his next personal corner, never satisfied merely duplicating a result. He began distance running to maintain winter fitness while at Trent University, pushing even then. The Peterborough Half Marathon was first, then the Toronto Marathon and he was hooked. Running Boston in 2004 through 2006 followed and now ultra trail running is his focus.

“I ran Sulphur Springs as my first 100 — I wanted to be near civilization,” Peters said with a laugh. “Last year, I focused on the race in 20-kilometre lap segments, but that was too long.

He focused on timing each 5K.

“I needed to do each lap in 2:30 to beat 20 hours, so that was 38 minutes each five kilometres, more for the tougher two, less for the others. By Lap 2, I realized 2:30 wouldn’t leave me any cushion, so I picked it up to 2:22 to bank 40 minutes for the end. It worked perfectly — I needed 10 for Lap 7, and 20 minutes extra for Lap 8.”

Asked about his physical training, how he knows his body will run 100 miles, he responded, “I have faith.”

He won’t train on weekends because it takes time away from his children. He works a regular job, so his training is in the evenings. Monday is long run day, two or three hours, never exceeding four.

Unbelieving, I again ask how a person can leap from four-hour training runs to 20-hour races — the answer again is faith.

Peters is referring to religious faith.

“Trail running is very spiritual, keeps me on the straight and narrow.” Peters’ expression hints at an undisclosed past as he continues.

“When you’re running, the big voice says, ‘It’s futile, quit, give up.’ The little voice is the one that says this is possible. You need that.”

Although he’d explained that strategy occupies his mind while running, Peters returned to my question.

“For the first five laps, I think about friends, people who can’t do what I do; like being in nature, doing what I love. I dedicate laps to friends, like Ray who played football and can’t now because of an accident. For most other racers, their focus is running, competition — it’s their Lions Club.”

For Peters, success is about overcoming and learning to understand your mind and body.

“It’s hard to lift your feet the last two laps. You have to recognize when to walk, when to take salt (six times the average daily requirement!), when you can’t risk sitting down. Physical exertion refreshes the soul.”

Peters’ ultimate challenge is a 100- miler in the Haliburton Forest Preserve.

I recount mountain biking there, fighting rocky, technical trails, knowing the bear population outnumbers that of the humans. Peters, ever positive, interrupted to ask if I can imagine how beautiful the aurora borealis will be when he’s running through the night. Then, he wanted to make sure I acknowledge all the volunteers who make these events possible.

Peters would laugh if you called him crazy — probably agree — but his perspective on ultra running and its importance in his life is anything but.

John Swart (

The Standard’s running and cycling columnist.


Posted by Stuart Barrington

Posted in: Canada