ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA (WAFB) - Can you run 1 mile? What about 100 miles...in one day-ish?
Even elite runners will drop their jaws with the thought of that daunting task. For Baton Rouge-native Walker Higgins, it was just the way he decided to spend his weekend.
"There wasn't a race. This is my own decision. This is why my friend called it the 'Poor Decision 100,'" Higgins said with a laugh. "No one thought I would be able to do it. Even the best runners I messaged were like 'no way, dude, this is crazy.'"
The course affectionately known as "The Beast" is located in St. Francisville, La. It's terrain is treacherous and has forced a tear or two to the eyes of many athletes.
"The Beast is considered one of the hardest trails in Louisiana," Higgins explained. "It's super technical, a lot of elevation, up and down, left and right, it's a very challenging course."
Which is why Higgins decided to take make "The Beast" the location for his training run. That's right, this was all practice.
"Why I decided to do this is because back in about mid-February I got a message from a friend on Facebook," he said. "He was dreaming up this idea to do this ultra-endurance race in Arizona. The course runs from Flagstaff to Tucson – it's 185 miles. He's only inviting 25 people to participate."
To prepare, Higgins decided he needed to complete a 100 mile course, but after looking at his calendar, he had few opportunities to take on the challenge. With May being his only "free" month, he picked a date – April 30.
"I thought, if I can do 100 miles out here, I can do it anywhere," Higgins said when explaining why he picked that location. "I had already done a few long endurance races this year, so I knew my endurance was there, but I didn't know if my body could sustain the workload that was needed."
Higgins, who is 34-years-old, is obviously not new to running. Although he's always been athletic, ten years ago he took focus on running and he completed his first 5K, which is 3.1 miles. Two years later, he knocked out his first marathon, which is 26.2 miles, and then his first ultra marathon the following year, which is any distance over 26.2.
"From there it's just kind of grown," he said. "Since 2005 I have participated in adventure racing, which is multi-disciplined events scrambled all together. Those races have lasted anywhere between 3 hours and the longest I've done was 75 hours."
The difference between the 75 hour race and his 27 hour loop around "The Beast" doesn't seem like much to the average person. But for Higgins, the 27 hour run was intense due to the conditions of the trail, the extremely high humidity, thunderous rainstorms that flooded out the trails, and of course, no sleep at all.
"There are times when you see things that aren't there," he said with a laugh when asked how he deals with the lack of sleep. "You get really squirrely, you just get real loopy and you don't make a lot of sense. Eventually those spells break.
"Over the years, my teams, we would go out to different state parks and do sleep deprivation training," he explained. "We would train all day, stay up all night, sleep an hour, and then keep going. The more you do it, the better you become at it."
Although this run didn't have an official "team," Higgins said some close friends helped to push him through the tough times.
"My friend Patrick Doring came and he set up a tent and it really made it to where it was almost like a race because he stationed it like it was a race," he said. "The transition came every 6 miles. When I started on the 6th lap, that's when I would stop and put my legs and feet up. When you run for that long, the blood starts to pool in your feet and legs. When you prop your legs up and then stand up again, it allows for more circulation."
During the 17 loops needed to reach 100 miles, Higgins had to take particular care to avoid dehydration. This was not an official race, so there were no medics on standby.
"For this, with as much elevation as there was, I kind of upped my calories," he said. "I felt like I needed more calories than I normally would and electrolyte replacement. I took in about 30 to 35 GU packs (a brand of calorie supplement gels used by athletes during endurance racing) and I was drinking a hydration liquid called Tailwind Nutrition."
By the end of the grueling journey, Higgins achieved more than he first imagined.
"Before this, the longest run on that trail was 12 hours, which equals about 45 to 48 miles," he said. "That was the record until yesterday."
But more importantly, he proved to himself, and others, that anything is possible.
"I did it and I finished it and I think that I surprised myself with the speed at which I did it," he said. "A lot of people have called me crazy for it, and that's fine, and so many people have called and messaged to say that it was super crazy, but they are super inspired.
"I think that if anyone gets inspiration out of seeing what I was able to accomplish, they need to know that they can accomplish whatever they put their mind to," he added. "Don't discredit yourself for any physical accomplishment you've made just because someone else can go longer or faster. Also, continually challenge yourself to do the next thing. Don't settle for just the 5K if you've done those, try to do the next distance. Get out of that comfort zone and go the next distance."
All of it, he says, will be worth it when you reach the finish line.
"Gabby, my wife, came up and watched the finish, which made it extra special and super amazing," he said. "When I was coming around the bend, I heard 'WALKER' and I knew it was Gabby. Anyone who has finished a distance that's new to them, you know those emotions are kind of flooding. So I started crying when I saw her. That finish is just amazing when you have some one there who means so much to you."
"Thanks to my good friend Patrick Doring who crewed the aid station from start to finish and ran 4 loops with me including the last 3; I know I couldn't have done it without him. Also, I had a bunch of friends stop by to run with me; Jean Aponte 3, Jacob Boone 3, Jason Cheek 3, David Gordon 3, Brandon Eddards 1, Michael Giles 1, Ed Melancon 1, Bobby Love 1, Elizabeth Mendoza 1, Jake Jones 1.
My mom Melissa Higgins came by too and brought me boiled potatoes. The running into finish was super special being surprised with my beautiful wife; Gabby and friends Carlos Boyd and Francis Steib."
To those names he might have forgotten, he asks forgiveness, but his mind is rather tired, and right now he should probably be taking a nap.