Senior Master Sgt. Garth Peterson pushes through the Hull 24-Hour race in 2003. “The goal, a lot of the time, is just to keep plodding along,” Peterson said.

Senior Master Sgt. Garth Peterson pushes through the Hull 24-Hour race in 2003. “The goal, a lot of the time, is just to keep plodding along,” Peterson said. (Courtesy photo)

RAF MILDENHALL — The numbers are, to put it bluntly, astonishing.

Just under 175 miles in 38 hours; 129 miles in 24 hours; 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 56 minutes; and 46.5 miles in eight hours.

As times and distances go, they might seem related to bus schedules or ferry rides, but they are the actual times that Senior Master Sgt. Garth Peterson has run this year, mostly without stopping.

Peterson, 43, is considered an ultrarunner, that is, a person who frequently runs for distances so vast over such protracted time lines that the human body often will not tolerate the effort.

Peterson, for instance, once pulled off to the side in an ultrarun, feeling the need to vomit.

“It was just black,” said Peterson, RAF Mildenhall control tower’s chief controller from the 100th Operations Support Squadron.

His stomach had been upset when he started the race, he said, and he’d been jostling his organs for hours by the time he felt queasy. Eventually, he started to bleed internally.

“What it was is just dried blood,” he said.

Peterson threw up three times in the race, he said, but each time he did he felt better, and he kept running.

It’s that kind of voluntary punishment people often associate with ultrarunning, he said, and while the physical exhaustion is a part of the sport, Peterson said he does it mostly, of all things, for the enjoyment.

“I run, first and foremost, because it’s fun,” he said.

The ultrarunning community is small and intimate and supportive, and the races are held all over Europe.

But Peterson also has a need to push himself to great lengths that has driven him to enter a dozen 24-hour races in the past several years.

“For me, personally, I [like to] test my own body and see how it responds … test myself mentally,” he said.

His devotion to the sport started in the late 1990s when he was stationed in Italy, and he signed up for a prestigious 100-kilometer race after having tried his hand at several marathons.

The run was hard, but not insurmountable, he said, and he soon found himself preparing for his first 24-hour run. Since then, Peterson has thrown himself into runs of all times and distances, from 10-kilometer races to the unofficial European ultrarunning championships, a 48-hour event in Prague.

It was there last March, Peterson said, that he suffered his most debilitating running injury to date when he ran so hard his leg started to break.

After 38 hours and 174 miles, he was forced to drop out of the Prague race due to a stress fracture in his tibia. It was frustrating, he said, because he was on track to beat his goal of covering more than 200 miles in 48 hours, a mark he hopes to surpass in this year’s championship.

With those kinds of miles on a 43-year-old body, one might worry about the welfare of a man, lithe and healthy though he be. But Peterson’s wife, Beth, said age isn’t really a factor.

“You’d be amazed,” she said. “You see 70-, 80-year-olds out there [running].”

Neither does the running overwhelm their lives, she said. Garth runs his 45 or so miles per week during lunch hours, and the races give the couple and their two daughters a chance to take trips together, she said.

“For the larger ones, the girls and I are his road team,” she said.

She’s also proud of her husband’s accomplishments, she said. Peterson in the past several years has been ranked third in the United Kingdom for ultrarunning, and regularly finishes in the top five or top 10, even at big races.

Beth Peterson is also supportive of her husband’s next goal, which is to run more than 500 miles in a six-day race, she said. That’s more than 83 miles — farther than three consecutive marathons — each day for six days straight.

Peterson said he knows it sounds masochistic to many people, but he constantly is amazed by what the human machine can do.

“You find out how far you can push your body,” he said. “Don’t you get curious about it?”

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