Ultrarunners spend hours and sometimes days on their feet, pushing through blisters, physical and mental fatigue, hunger, bad weather and even hallucinations.
It’s tough for the youngest and fittest competitors to complete an ultrarun, defined as anything longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. But senior citizen ultrarunners are practically unheard of.
So people tend to stare when Bill and Sally Squier, both 74, show up at races.
“They think we’re crazy, and we are,” Sally said. “We’re old people running 100 miles, which goes to prove that getting older doesn’t make you any wiser.”
On Saturday, the Squiers plan to run the Umstead 100, a 100-mile race at Umstead State Park in Raleigh. Participants must finish the course in 30 hours.
Bill, who has run the race six times, said finishing will bring him closer to his goal of running 1,000 miles this year. Sally, who has finished the Umstead 100 three times, tried last year but started off too slowly and quit.
For the Squiers, who live in Raleigh, running is a way to stay happy. Bill has done 42 ultraruns, and Sally has done 28. They have also run more than 50 marathons and three 24-hour races.
“Running sucks you in,” Sally said. “It’s addictive. We consider it our drug of choice, because we need to run. We have to run. We get depressed if we don’t.”
In 2013, only 0.6 percent of ultrarun participants were age 70 or older, according to Ultrarunning Magazine.
When the Squiers are training for a race, they spend several hours running at Umstead on the weekends. During the week, they lift weights and run on a treadmill in their basement.
After the first 50 miles, Sally said, it becomes a mental race more than a physical one.
“It’s always a challenge,” she said. “It’s never easy.”
The couple, who have been married 55 years, met in the U.S. Navy in 1961 when both decided to join the Navy Band. Sally was a talkative, red-haired flute player from Ohio, and Bill was a quiet saxophonist from Delaware.
The moment Bill saw her, “I just knew she was the one I was going to marry,” he said.
He had to propose three times, but they were married on Christmas Day at a small country church in Ohio. Bill worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and Sally raised the couple’s three sons and one daughter and worked for several years until both retired in 1993.
Neither started running until their late 40s. On Bill’s 48th birthday, he realized his father had died at the age of 49 from health issues, and he decided to start running to get in shape.
“When I started, I couldn’t even run five feet,” Bill said. “I had to walk. I would run a couple of steps, then walk a couple of steps.”
Sally joined him soon after, running loops around their Raleigh house, where they have lived for 40 years. She ran her first race at age 49 – a one-mile run that made her feel like she was going to “puke and die.”
When they’re not running together, the Squiers often volunteer at races. Sally sometimes mans an aid center, “Sally’s Asylum,” at the Umstead 100. They try to help first-time ultrarunners, sharing snacks, water, acetaminophen and encouraging words.
Bill often finishes races several hours before Sally because she “talks to everyone else on the course,” he said. He waits for her at the finish line.
The couple plans to keep running until they’re no longer able to.
“I don’t know what we’d do if we stopped,” Sally said.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; firstname.lastname@example.org