Red Deer man celebrates turning 50 by tackling ultramarathon in South Africa

A semi-retired Red Deer man just celebrated turning 50 by throwing himself into one of the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathons.

Jeff Wood at the finishing area of the Comrades Marathon.

Jeff Wood at the finishing area of the Comrades Marathon.

A semi-retired Red Deer man just celebrated turning 50 by throwing himself into one of the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathons.

Jeff Wood completed the grueling 89-km Comrades Marathon, billed The Ultimate Human Race, in South Africa on Sunday. He ran up and down hilly, undulating terrain from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and finished with a time of 10 hours, seven minutes.

He’s got some good recuperating advice for anyone else thinking of competing in a race twice the distance of a normal marathon.

“Find a hot tub and soak, which is exactly what I did,” Wood said with a laugh while on the phone from South Africa this week.

“It was one of the most challenging things that I’ve done in my life,” he added, seconding it only to an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro he made with his two sons.

Wood, who has lived and raised his family in Red Deer since 1972 and works in the oil and gas industry, had never run that far in his life. And he doesn’t do any specific long-distance training, either, just keeping to the treadmill and 10-km-a-day “to keep active and fit,” he said.

He completed a regular 42-km marathon in February, which qualified him for the Comrades, and with that notch on his belt he figured he’d give the legendary endurance test a shot.

“I went through a lot of transitions. At 30-km, I started to cramp up. But I found some table salt at 35-km, which sort of helped with that. Got tripped at 38-km and had some road rash,” recounted Wood.

“I had a real muscle problem at 25-km left . . . I calculated I still had six and a half hours to go before the cut-off, well I figured I could probably walk it in if I had to. Then I got a second wind, and I was able to get in just over 10 hours.”

There were 23,568 entrants this year in Comrades, although many didn’t finish. Wood, whose only goal was to complete the race, placed 5,466th. The Zimbabwean man who placed first ran the course in five hours, 29 minutes, and the Russian who placed first in the women’s division had a time of six hours, 13 minutes.

Wood made the expedition to South Africa and raced entirely on his own.

“It’s just a personal accomplishment. I wanted to do it myself,” he said. “Turned 50 years old (in January), so you gotta do something to mark the milestone.”

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