Adam Monke’s fitness goals could have been sidelined after a football injury almost nine years ago.
But the Nickerson man literally ran toward some new goals.
And recently, Monke reached his latest goal when he finished the Leadville Trail 100 Run — a 100-mile ultramarathon — running through the Colorado Rockies in elevations ranging from 9,200 to 12,600 feet.
Monke finished 41st with a time of 23 hours, 15 minutes and 27 seconds. He was among the 377 runners who completed the tough-terrain course out of 831 who entered.
At 32, he’s looking forward to 100-mile runs in Kansas, Texas and Hawaii.
Quite a feat for someone who once had critical knee and lower leg injuries.
Although a lifelong athlete, Monke wasn’t a long-distance runner in his earlier days.
He played football at Arlington High School and then was a Division 1 player for South Dakota State University in Brookings, where he was a running back, kick returner and punt returner. He graduated in 2008.
But on Oct. 10, 2010, he was playing in a flag football tournament when he hit some uneven ground, breaking a lower leg bone, dislocating his knee and tearing ligaments.
He’d seen people reset their knees, so he did that.
But when he stepped down, he passed out — and woke up in a hospital.
His leg was so swollen that surgeons couldn’t operate on it right away.
And after he’d dislocated his knee, he had a drop foot.
“I couldn’t use it,” he said. “It just hung there.”
Monke reflects on that time.
“It was so concerning,” he said.
As a collegiate athlete, he’d physically been able to do pretty much whatever he wanted.
After the accident, he couldn’t put on his own pants or put a sock on a cold foot.
He’d come to understand what he’d taken for granted every day.
Monke said he threw a bit of a pity party for himself for a couple months and faced self-doubt.
But Monke said he learned to get out of his own way and started to recover. He’d get back in shape by running.
“You start small,” he said. “At first, it was around the block and then a mile or two and before you know it you’re really logging some true miles.”
In 2011-2012, he limped his way through some shorter races. He’d work his way up from 5k and 10k races to a half marathon and then a marathon.
A marathon is 26.2 miles long.
Then he heard of 100-mile races.
“To me that was unfathomable,” he said.
He’d start increasing his mileage. Before he knew it, Monke was running 30 miles a week.
Then 40 and 50.
And then 150 miles a week.
“I still wasn’t convinced that 100 miles was achievable,” he said. “But like anything in life, sometimes you’ve got to just go for it.”
Since 2015, he’s run three to six 100-mile races per year.
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He’s gone all over the country. He and his wife, Sarah, travel with their three boys: Monte, 3; Maverick, 2; and Mercer, 6 months.
“We appreciate the challenge of traveling with three boys under age 3,” he said. “It gets Sarah and me out of our comfort level, but it gets them (the boys) out of their comfort level at a young age. It exposes them to different cultures, food and lifestyles. I think that’s crucial for growing up.”
In August, he completed the Leadville Trail 100 Run in Colorado. It took four years for him to get into the event, which takes place thousands of miles above sea level.
“It’s pretty wicked for a flatlander,” he said, adding, “There’s definitely not a lot of air up there.”
Time in the high country can expose a person to hypoxia (low oxygen in the tissues), which he said can lead to dizziness and other symptoms.
The ultramarathon included rugged terrain with rocky sections and a handful of river crossings in what Monke describes as a gnarly, technical trail with sharp rocks.
“If you can’t see them (the rocks), you spend a lot of time falling,” he said.
And then there’s Hope Pass, which has an elevation that reaches to 12,600 feet. He’d cross over it on the way to the course’s halfway point — and again on the way back.
The ultramarathon began at 4 a.m. Aug. 17.
It didn’t start well. He had gastrointestinal issues for the first 35 miles, perhaps due to the altitude.
Yet he persevered.
He knew to maintain good hydration and nutrition.
“If you lose your nutrition, you’ll lose your legs and if you lose your legs, you’ll lose your confidence,” he said. “And if you lose your confidence, you’re in for a long day.”
The GI issue cleared and Monke said he found his rhythm.
During the course, Monke said he maintained anywhere from a 7-minute to a 13-minute mile pace for 100 miles in some of the craziest country Colorado has to offer.
Hope Pass proved to be the toughest part of the course.
“You’re standing at Twin Lakes and you look up at a mountain that’s almost 13,000 feet and you know you have to go up and over that thing twice — that’s pretty tough,” he said.
How did he do it?
“You don’t do math,” he said.
That means he wouldn’t think about having run only 1 mile and having 99 left to go.
“One step at a time,” he said. “You can’t overthink it. You’ve got to run 1 mile at a time. You can’t run all 100 of them at once. You put your head down and go for it.”
He hopes to return next year.
In the meantime, Monke said his boys get to see how much he loves something.
“They get to see me train every day, the passion I pour into it and the sacrifices I make to train the mind, body and soul to accomplish those things,” he said. “And for my boys and my family who were there to see how it all pays off is pretty special.”
In the future, he and his family will go to Kansas for a 100-mile race, which he hopes to finish in under 14 hours. That race is set for Oct. 26, the day before his 33rd birthday.
He hopes to go to a 100-miler in Texas in early December and the HURT Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run in January in Hawaii.
For now, he’ll keep training.
“I love the process of training,” he said. “I think I’m a better person for it. I find a lot of freedom in the discipline it takes to do these things and I get to earn the sunrise every day. I literally get to watch the sun come up every day. That’s pretty special.”
Running also gives him the permission to be curious and explore.
“I always tell my wife, ‘What better way to see any part of the country than to run 100 miles in it,’” he said. “You get to see it firsthand on your own two feet.”