Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ryan "The Punisher" Dexter

Ryan “The Punisher” Dexter

Ryan Dexter’s reputation preceded him, in my circle of friends.  A few years ago, some of my friends and I dreamed about running a hundred miler, someday.  Dexter had already won a 150 one year and a 200 mile race two years in a row!  He was local to where I lived at the time and he seemed like a rock-god.  He always ran with a Punisher logo on his shirt and it somehow seemed fitting.  He was built more like a football player than a runner and it seemed like he was picking a fight with the course when he ran trails.  Determination and grit emanate from him.  I didn’t picture him doing track workouts or yoga as cross training.  Regardless, he just seemed…well, tough.  It seemed the longer the race was, the stronger he was. 

It took me weeks to get him on the phone.  He had just run the McNaughton 150 again this year and nailed a 2nd place finish.  I wanted to hear all the gory details but right after the race, he was flying back and forth to Florida to look at homes and schools for his three boys.  When he put his home near Madison, WI on the market, it was time for an all night painting session to get the house ready. 

I couldn’t do this stuff if I didn’t run ultras / he says / —I painted from 8 pm to 7 am and then went to work.  I believe ultras help you in life.  I mean, after running two or three nights straight…what’s three gallons of paint?

Dexter is also a thirty-seven year old family man and works a full time job as a professional engineer.  I was interested in finding out how he did it all.

I run back and forth to work everyday, seven miles each way.  If I’m training real hard, I get up and run five on the treadmill, run seven to work, run seven home and then five more on the treadmill.  It’s tough in Wisconsin when the weather sucks to lace it up four or five times a day.  I think that’s how I deal with the monotony of these loop courses and long distances.  I run the same course every single day.  But really, I just love running. 

That adds up to big miles.  Dexter averages over three thousand miles a year, sometimes putting in six hundred mile months before a big race. 

God made us so amazing / he says / —and most people never tap into it.  I’ve spent a lot of time with David Goggins and he always said you have to put yourself in the most miserable situations to really see what you’re made of.  Loop courses, for me, are the epitome of miserable.  But that’s why I do them.  In a hundred and fifty or two hundred mile race, you’re going to break down and want to quit.  No mater what.  It’s the person who doesn’t stop that wins. 

Dexter started running in 1996 and he’s been training hard ever since.  He started with a three miler around his neighborhood.  He ran it everyday.  He wondered if he’d ever be able to do it twice.  Twice came and went.  Before long—he ran a marathon.  Then a few fifty mile races.  In 2004, he toed the line for the Western States 100. 

When I qualified, I didn’t know Christina was pregnant with our second son / he says.  Her due date was pretty much race day / —the race took me almost thirty hours.  I barely had time to shower before catching my flight home.  I don’t know who was in worse shape at the hospital, her or me.  After that, my wife made me sign a piece of paper that said I wouldn’t do this crazy stuff anymore.  But she’s a six time Ironman finisher, so she kind of gets it.  I still have that piece of paper.

In 2005, he ran the McNaughton 100 and afterwards, felt pretty good.  He finished in 22:51 and realized that since they allow thirty-six hours to complete the course, he could probably run another 50 miles in that amount of time.  He convinced the RD and in 2007, the first McNaughton 150 mile run was born.  Fifteen loops around a ten mile course.  All hilly, muddy trails with 24,000 vertical feet and two creek crossings on each loop.  About ten people showed up, including David Goggins and Paul Stofko. 

At the time, the race started at 6 pm, which sucks / Dexter says / —because you’re immediately in the dark, so you’re definitely going through two nights.  I was running with David for a while and he ran into some problems and I thought I had 2nd place in the bag.  I’m doing my last loop—barely moving and suddenly David FLIES by me out of the blue.  I tried to catch him but—I’ve never seen anything like it.  FLYING at a hundred and forty-seven miles.  So that year, I got third place. 

The next year, David Goggins won and set the course record.  Ryan finished second.  (If you haven’t seen it, jump on Youtube and look up David Goggins Human Machine and thank me later.)  In 2009, The Punisher returned and finished in first place, about an hour off of Goggins record. 

1st place McNaughton 150

 It took me three times to win that race.  It was all consuming.  I lived for that race.  Each year, after finishing, I’d take a little break and then start training for the next year.

Lucky for Dexter, the RD of McNaughton moved to Vermont and found another ten mile loop and started another race.  100, 150 and 200 mile options.  The Punisher was all over it. 

In 2010, ten people lined up to run 200 miles.  John Dennis was one of them.  John actually lapped Dexter at mile 90 but as the night went on, he ended up breaking down and dropping at around 150.  On the third straight night of racing—that’s when the visions came. 

I was hallucinating and saw these super real and vivid car accidents on the side of the trail with me in them, bloody and mangled and dead.  They were very intense.  I think my mind and body thought I was dying.  I was 180 miles in and leading when I quit.  I took a shower and called my wife in tears.  She told me I’ve only got twenty miles to go—just go walk it.  I went back out in the mud and won the race. 

Shattered but in the lead.  McNaughton 200

The next year, he went back.  John Dennis was there again, went out too hard again and couldn’t hold the pace.  The Punisher won and took ten hours off his previous years time. 

The Punisher taking 10 hours off of his own time.  1st place

 Since then, Dexter has been steadily racking up a slew of other races while balancing work and family.  He even ran the Frozen Otter 64 miler, which is a self supported race in the dead of winter, in the middle of Wisconsin.  Why?  Because he HATES the cold.  He hated all twenty-two hours of the cold that day. 

You gotta try it—you gotta test yourself!

In April of this year, he returned to Pekin, Illinois for the McNaughton 150.  By mile 120, his feet were in such bad shape, he could barely walk.  If you can’t run and maintain your core temperature, it’s going to make the creek crossings at night when it’s thirty-five degrees out pretty cold.  Dexter got a chill that he couldn’t get rid of and suffered.  At mile 140, he sat in his crew’s car trying to warm up for almost an hour, with only one lap to go.  Logan Polfuss told him third place was five minutes back.  That was all he needed to hear.  He took off as hard as he could.  He put almost forty minutes on third place during that last loop.  He finished second this year. 

I love that feeling of being DONE—totally dead and then coming back and passing tons of people that just can’t keep up. 

That is pretty much was Dexter is known for. 

I ask him what his secret is?  He immediately tells me consistency. 

I’m not special or gifted in any way.  I don’t run a fast marathon.  But I show up to the race knowing for a fact that I trained the hardest.  I may not be the best or the fastest but I know I put the work and time in to win the race.  It’s a tremendous advantage.  I don’t run for success—I run simply because I enjoy it / he laughs / —really I’m a lazy person.  I want to sit and watch tv but I feel guilty.  That’s what I love about running a 200.  It makes you appreciate the little things so much.  Like sitting down and just being still.  After moving for over fifty hours, it feels SO good. 

When I ask him what the next ultra is, he laughs and say / Moving to Florida! / He doesn’t have any races planned at the moment but admits running is a bit of an addiction and races help to keep him motivated. 

Dexter and family

I’ve done a couple of twenty-four hour events but I’d like to do a flat forty-eight hour.  I’d also like to try a six day event and see what kind of time I can pull in / He jokes about retirement but mentions that a sub three hour marathon and a sub twenty-four hour Western States are both still on the list as well.