Brian Talon finds his athletic challenges in running long distances — very long distances.
But for the 1992 graduate of Old Town High School, that’s nothing compared to the challenge facing his wife Jennifer, herself a veteran of several marathons.
So Talon is combining the causes, heading to California to compete in the 39th annual Western States Endurance Run on June 23 and using the 100-mile run to raise funds for Can Do MS, a charity that focuses on innovative lifestyle empowerment programs for people with multiple sclerosis, an affliction his wife was diagnosed with two years ago.
“I’ve been running marathons for 10 or 12 years and I’ve always supported friends of mine who have raised funds through running for various causes,” said the 39-year-old Talon, who lives in Southington, Conn., and works as an internal auditor and fraud investigator for Northeast Utilities Services Co.
“I’ve never done one before because I always wanted to find the right event and the right cause. This is a race interesting enough to be attractive to people, and with me being able to personalize the effort with my wife’s story this seemed like the one for me,” he said.
The Western States Endurance Run brings together the top ultra-trail runners from around the nation and beyond for a 100-mile journey through mountains, canyons and all terrain in between. The race starts at Squaw Valley and quickly rises to a maximum elevation of 8,750 feet above sea level just 4½ miles in before descending into the original trails used by gold and silver miners of the 1850s and then through a succession steep undulations to the finish line in Auburn, Calif.
Most of the trail, according to literature about the event, passes through remote and rugged territory typically accessible only to hikers, horses and helicopters and includes 22,000 feet of descent and 18,000 feet of ascent.
“I think the big challenge is dealing with the unexpected,” said Talon, whose longest previous races have been 50 miles. “You have to be able to make the transition from elevation early in the race when it can be 20 degrees to running in the canyons where it might be in the 80s, and the course is relentlessly up and down, which really tests your quads.
“A hundred miles is definitely a new challenge. I don’t run well in the heat and I don’t run hills well, so this will be a challenge.”
Competitors must finish within 30 hours, and Talon said the top ultramarathoners likely will complete the route in approximately 16 hours.
His goal? About 24 hours of running day and night through unfamiliar territory seems reasonable.
“In any race you have to go into it with a game plan,” Talon said. “With 50-milers and longer races you can get to a point where so many things can go wrong, everything from blisters to heat stroke to nausea to having to deal with wildlife. You might have to deal with every one of these several times in a 24-hour period, so you have to be ready.”
Talon competed in cross country, swimming and track and field while at Old Town High School, then swam collegiately at Norwich and Southern Connecticut State.
He’s run about two dozen career marathons, finishing seventh in the 2006 Sugarloaf Marathon in 2 hours, 51 minutes and 59 seconds and holding a personal best for the 26.2-mile distance of 2:43:48 at the 2007 St. George (Utah) Marathon.
More recently he has turned to endurance running, setting course records while winning two 50-mile races, the first at Raleigh, N.C., on March 27, 2010, in a time of 6:18:07 and then in the Nashville (Tenn.) Ultra Run last Oct. 15 in 6:42:01.
He followed his Nashville victory with a second-place finish three weeks later at the Bobcat Trail Marathon in Glouster, Ohio, with a time of 3:39:55 on a course consisting of trails rather than pavement.
But in the back of his mind for several years has been the the Western States 100-miler.
“I read about the race in a magazine 10 or 12 years ago,” said Talon, who logs each of his training runs and races and reports that he ran more than 2,700 miles in 2011. “I thought when I read it that if I was ever crazy enough to do something like this that this would be the one I’d want to run.”
Talon already has raised $7,400 for Can Do MS with two weeks still to go before the race, far exceeding his initial goal of $2,000.
“People have been extremely generous,” he said.
Jennifer Talon, who was diagnosed with MS while studying to become a dental hygienist, now works in that profession, and together she and Brian are raising their two daughters, 7-year-old Lily and 5½-year-old Emma.
Rather than running together as they did in the past, the Talons now hike together when possible.
“She’s doing OK,” said Talon of his wife. “Some days are better than others.”