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Trekking Down the Long, Winding, 50-kilometre Trail

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It’s remarkable that someone whose heart was reconfigured at birth can participate in something so heart-strenuous as long-distance running. But Swan River resident John Buhler continues to amaze as he continues to take himself further than before.
His most recent feat was a 50 kilometre ultra-marathon that he ran on March 24 in the Sheyenne National Grassland near McLeod, N.D., an approximately 45 minute drive south-west of Fargo, N.D.. The event is known as the Extreme North Dakota Sandhills Ultra Run Experience (END-SURE).
“On the flat area at the beginning, it was open, aside from the snow, and the snow was probably a couple of inches deep, but in a lot of areas, it was hard packed or icy,” said Buhler. “In bare areas, it was a gravel path, and the nicest part of the path was a nice flat road.
“For the most part, it was constant, rolling hills. And, because it had snowed the night before, it covered up all the wet spots nicely so you could be running and all of a sudden feel a ‘squish’.”
For the approximately 30 runners that gathered enough moxy to take on a 50K, the weather was -2C and overcast for part of the day, but open fields meant a 30 miles per hour wind.
Buhler spent eight hours and nine minutes running the North Dakota hills and crossed the finish line, although shortly before, he wasn’t sure he was going to have the opportunity.
During the month of March, Buhler was restricted from training long distances, according to doctors orders. While he had run a frozen half-marathon in February, Feb. 27 was the first time that doctors had given him a regular heart checkup since he had started running on a regular basis.
“I told them I was signed up for this 50K and (the doctor) said he wanted me to do a stress test, so I went back two days later and did that,” said Buhler. “It all looked fine, except for one thing they weren’t sure about.”
While Buhler was able to get to his target heart rate with little worry during the stress test, his physician wanted a closer look, so he was scheduled for an angiogram six days before the race.
This was the first time that Buhler had been on an operating table since his open heart surgery as an infant that corrected a serious birth defect and rerouted his cardiovascular plumbing. Fortunately, upon closer inspection, he was given the medical all-clear and approval to continue on his course.
Buhler wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to take on this longer race until he actually arrived, having been set back from lack of proper training and a few days of surgery recovery.
“That morning, I decided I would complete it, and finish what I started,” said Buhler, taking his longest and toughest course to date. And, following a recent birthday, the race fell 25 years to the day after his life-saving operation.
The run was challenging in more ways than just tacking on an extra eight kilometres more than a traditional marathon. The terrain was rough and the environment was different.
“When you’re running (a marathon), there is usually mile markers to see how far you are, and there is always a lot of people,” said Buhler. “In this one, everyone was spread out and I wouldn’t see anyone for a long time.”
Signs of intelligent life would come at the aid stations, of which there were only three -- one at six miles, one at 18 miles, and one at the end (31 miles).
Aid stations were much less frequent, and runners were required to be self-sufficient and take a minimum of one litre of water with them. Buhler’s two litre hydration pack added an additional five pounds of burden to his shoulders.
As always, Buhler added that running a long distance race is a mental game more so than a physical one. When the entire body hurts, a strong will is required to keep going. And, with no promise from external support other than the sparse aid stations and a friend waiting for him at the finish line, Buhler had to rely on himself only for encouragement.
“I had different motivation than (the past marathons I’ve done),” he said. “It wasn’t to prove a point to anyone, I was just doing it for me.
“Some people ask if running is boring, and what do I think about. Sometimes, it is just thinking about putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t think why you’re doing it, just that you ARE doing it.
“When I started running, it was more for my mental health, to do something because I couldn’t sleep and my mind was racing,” Buhler continued. “But now, it’s easy, and I just enjoy it. It’s still a stress relief, but I run for fun now.”
Buhler is setting his sights on the half-marathon at the Swan River Fun Run next, held in June, and the full Manitoba Marathon held on Father’s Day weekend after that.
When he first finished his 50K, he stated that it was going to be the last one he would ever run. But once his legs recover and some toenails grow back, he will be itching to find another 50K and obliterate his old time.
“That morning, I decided I would complete it, and finish what I started,” said Buhler, taking his longest and toughest course to date. And, following a recent birthday, the race fell 25 years to the day after his life-saving operation.
The run was challenging in more ways than just tacking on an extra eight kilometres more than a traditional marathon. The terrain was rough and the environment was different.
“When you’re running (a marathon), there is usually mile markers to see how far you are, and there is always a lot of people,” said Buhler. “In this one, everyone was spread out and I wouldn’t see anyone for a long time.”
Signs of intelligent life would come at the aid stations, of which there were only three -- one at six miles, one at 18 miles, and one at the end (31 miles).
Aid stations were much less frequent, and runners were required to be self-sufficient and take a minimum of one litre of water with them. Buhler’s two litre hydration pack added an additional five pounds of burden to his shoulders.
As always, Buhler added that running a long distance race is a mental game more so than a physical one. When the entire body hurts, a strong will is required to keep going. And, with no promise from external support other than the sparse aid stations and a friend waiting for him at the finish line, Buhler had to rely on himself only for encouragement.
“I had different motivation than (the past marathons I’ve done),” he said. “It wasn’t to prove a point to anyone, I was just doing it for me.
“Some people ask if running is boring, and what do I think about. Sometimes, it is just thinking about putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t think why you’re doing it, just that you ARE doing it.
“When I started running, it was more for my mental health, to do something because I couldn’t sleep and my mind was racing,” Buhler continued. “But now, it’s easy, and I just enjoy it. It’s still a stress relief, but I run for fun now.”
Buhler is setting his sights on the half-marathon at the Swan River Fun Run next, held in June, and the full Manitoba Marathon held on Father’s Day weekend after that.
When he first finished his 50K, he stated that it was going to be the last one he would ever run. But once his legs recover and some toenails grow back, he will be itching to find another 50K and obliterate his old time.

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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