James Brennan ran 100 miles. Here's why

Brennan on 100-mile race: 'I like challenges'
Posted on 08/06/2019

The West Irondequoit Interview, No. 1

James Brennan has run 17 marathons, competed in Ironman races and done “adventure runs” through places like the Grand Canyon and the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But nothing compares to the challenge he conquered a few weeks ago. The West Irondequoit Central School District’s Assistant Superintendent of Finance finished in 107th place among 349 competitors in a 100-mile race in Vermont. It took Brennan 28 hours, 35 minutes and 57 seconds to complete the VT 100 Endurance. Only 156 runners finished the race and they had to do it in 30 hours or less. Brennan placed 78th among men and 26th among men in his age group (40-49). Not bad for a 49-year-old who took up running only a decade ago because of his participation in the Chase Corporate Challenge with school colleagues.

“It kind of reignited some competitive juices from when I used to do sports in high school – although I wasn’t a runner,” says Brennan, a native of Liberty, Sullivan County, who competed in soccer, tennis and downhill skiing.

Picture of James Brennan with one mile to go

The Vermont race, Brennan admits, was “in some respects the ultimate benchmark,” as a runner. It started in the dark at 4 a.m. on Saturday, July 20. The temperature in and around West Windsor, Vt., was at its lowest point then, about 78 degrees. It would soar later that day under the blazing sun to about 95 degrees, Brennan said.

The forecast is what prompted Brennan to ask for some help from friends and family to be part of his three-man “crew” rather than try it solo. Every few hours, they’d catch up with him and give him food, water or energy drinks. He also drank pickle juice, which has “lots of sodium to help you avoid cramps,” Brennan said. His crew used ice and cold towels to try to suppress his body temperature. Brennan saw other runners who laid down to rest and maybe even nap. He said he never took a break of more than 10 minutes.

“I figured if I stopped I wouldn’t get going again,” says Brennan, a resident of Honeoye Falls who is a former teacher and principal in West Irondequoit.

There were points, especially in the hot sun that Saturday afternoon, where walking was smarter than trying to keep running. Brennan said it’s essential to listen to your body and mind to complete such a race. He had to balance his in-take of fluids and food based on how he felt and what his body could handle.

The scariest part of the race happened around the 24-hour mark in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Brennan felt it was almost too foggy to keep running. It was dark and the fog was thick – so he thought. He said something to one of his crew men about the fog and was told, to his surprise, it was dark but clear – no fog in sight. It’s not uncommon. The depletion of glycogen affects your brain, causing the “fogginess.”

But Brennan rebounded and finished.

The Vermont winner, a runner from Lithuania, completed the race in an incredible 16 hours, 1 minute and 49 seconds.

Would the mild-mannered Brennan do another 100-mile race? Too soon to tell, he says. It took 24 weeks of preparation, from heavy weekend runs to proper nutrition, to get ready. “That’s one thing I’m pretty good at. You give me a plan to follow, I’m going to stick to it,” Brennan says.

His longest weekend training run was more than 30 miles. It takes “mental fortitude to keep going forward,” Brennan says about his mindset throughout the 100-mile race.

But he did it. He made it to the end.

“I have a couple of friends who have done them,” he says of 100-mile ultra-marathons. “I knew it’d be extremely hard. I like challenges.”

 -- Jeff DiVeronica

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