By Bill Choy
Triplicate Sports Editor
For many people, running a 5- or 10-kilometer run is a challenging endeavor.
For a smaller minority, a major accomplishment is completing a 26-mile marathon.
Imagine then, a 100-mile race and the challenges those who run it face both mentally and physically.
Now imagine doing it at age 70.
Ralph Hirt accepts the challenge with joy and gusto.
For about 10 years, the Crescent City resident has taken part in 100-mile ultra-marathons. An ultra-run is any race longer than 26 miles.
The retired logging supervisor did not even start running until he was 46.
Earlier this month, Hirt reached a milestone when he completed the 100-mile Rocky Raccoon run in Texas at age 70.
That feat was the first of three he has planned at decade intervals. The second is to run a 50-mile race at age 80, and then a traditional marathon when he is 90.
"I just enjoy doing it," Hirt said. "I love running and the amazing people you meet."
Hirt says he participates in about 10 ultra-runs a year. The runs can be as little as 31 miles, as many as 100. Hirt said he makes sure to do at least one 100-mile run a year.
A major supporter is his wife of more than 40 years, Renate, who has gone to many races with him, including the race in Texas this month.
"It makes him happy," Renate Hirt said. "I'm very proud of him ... It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and a good attitude to accomplish these things. He works so hard on his goals."
To run such a long race, Ralph Hirt said it's vital to not just be in physical shape, but to be in good mental condition.
"You've got to make up your mind that you will not stop no matter what," he said.
The Rocky Raccoon race consisted of a 20-mile loop the runners ran five times.
Hirt said he rarely stopped during the race, only at check points, where he quickly sat in a chair and drank Ensure shakes. A few minutes later he was up again.
"The minute the chair was feeling too comfortable I got up," he said. "I was moving the whole time."
Hirt said he did not sleep during the race, which he finished in 27 hours and 35 minutes.
He said he was a little disappointed with his time, having ran the same race in 19 hours 20 minutes in 2003.
But he was proud he was able to complete such a long race at age 70.
Especially considering he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had major surgery a little less than two years ago.
"There's no doubt that takes a toll on you," he said, adding it appears the cancer was caught in an early stage.
Hirt said it took several months to recover. He started to do exercises and slowly attempted to get back in shape. He was able to run another 100-mile run in Delaware last June,
In 100-mile ultra-race terms, the Rocky Raccoon is an easier one because it's a flatter course. Hirt has completed a different 100-mile run that involved 48,000 feet of climb.
But, he said, "There are no easy ones."
Besides his wife, Hirt was joined at the Rocky Raccoon race by a niece who ran two loops with him as a pacer. She enjoyed it so much she is thinking of running the 50-mile race next year. Hirt said that makes him want to take part in Rocky Raccoon next year as well.
When he started running at age 46, he was a logging supervisor in Klamath. His company had a health program and Hirt discovered he had a "very low heart beat" and did not reach an optimum heart rate when walking, but he did when running.
It grew from there and he was soon running marathons. By the time he was around 60, he discovered ultra-races, ran a 31-mile race in the Bay Area, enjoyed it, and has done them ever since. He estimates he has run in about 90 ultra- marathons. He plans to compete in a 50-mile race in Forest Grove, Ore., later this month.
"It's great to be be able to be out and doing something," Hirt said, "It's better than being at home watching T.V."
Hirt runs at least eight to 10 miles a day and at least once a week tries to run 15-25 miles. He said this area is a perfect place to run, being surrounded by redwoods,
"I'm so happy to be out running the trails here each day," he said.
Hirt say there are very few people his age who compete in ultra-runs, although he knows of one man who is still racing at 76.
He enjoys the close bonds of the ultra-race runners and the diverse group of people and ages that compete.
He said every ultra-runner is aware of the accomplishment of even taking part in such a race. All are recognized from the first to cross the finish line to the last.
Hirt is active in the racing community in Crescent City and is race director of the Redwood Wild River Run and the Fourth of July Run.
The Redwood Run takes place March 29. Runners have the option of either a 15K or 5K fun run/walk through the redwoods.
For registration information, call Hirt at 464-3779.