Adrian Stanciu loped to the edge of the red-rock landscape and looked over the side. A thousand feet below him, the blue Colorado River twisted through the Grand Canyon. He had reached the famous Horseshoe Bend overlook, where the river attempts to tie itself around sandstone cliffs. In that moment he realized the adventure he had chosen would be worthwhile. He wasn't crazy.
Stanciu, a 46-year-old ultrarunner who lives in Manitou Springs, had committed to running 12 100-mile races in 2015. The weight of that decision hit him as he ran along the rim of the Grand Canyon in February. And it felt good.
"That was one of my favorite places," says Stanciu. "The scenery forces you to slow down, take some photos and have some fun."
He now has completed 11 of the runs, and he'll go for the 12th this weekend at the UltraCentric Experience 24-Hour Race in Grapevine, Texas.
Quiet and humble, Stanciu was a little surprised when I contacted him for an interview. But racing so many miles in such a short time is truly remarkable; the best ultrarunners in the country usually manage two or three 100-milers a year.
Stanciu isn't out to prove anything. He's not enduring a mid-life crisis. He and his wife Brenda are raising two girls, 8 and 9 years old. He works for the City of Lakewood and makes the long commute there on most days. It's just that, like Forrest Gump, he's felt like running.
Going to extremes has been his M.O. Most runners start with a few miles, and if racing appeals to them, they'll attempt a 5K. Stanciu's first race was a marathon.
"I was getting close to 38 at the time, and I thought running a marathon before I turned 40 would be a good goal," he says. "I'd been trying to get in shape, and my boss kind of challenged me. It all kind of fell together."
In 2009 he stepped to the starting line at the Colfax Marathon in Denver. "I fell apart around Mile 20, like so many people do in their first marathon," he remembers. "But I survived."
And he fell in love with long distances. Running shirtless through the backcountry, he has found something he loves in ultrarunning. While the miles are mental and physical agony for some, he can't help but laugh to himself as he moves along.
"In day-to-day life I'm relatively serious," he says. "But when I'm running, people comment that I'm always smiling. It's fun for me. I've certainly had low points. Sometimes at night, if things aren't going that well, it's difficult. But overall, the vast majority of the time I'm having a blast."
Racking up heavy mileage like this often brings an increased risk of injury and deep fatigue. Stanciu has avoided health problems, other than general soreness in most of his major moving parts. He carries about 160 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame, and takes a thoughtful approach to training, which includes CrossFit workouts combined with running an average of about 65 miles a week.
He has placed among the top three in five 100-mile races this year. He's also slugged out two tough high-altitude ultras: the Leadville Trail 100, where he placed 22nd with a time of 21 hours, 54 minutes; and the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, where he finished 21st in 25 hours flat.
Another big challenge came in the Bryce Canyon 100, when he was forced to stop and sleep for an hour after a rainstorm left him hypothermic. "That was the first time I almost fell asleep on my feet," he says. "I could barely keep moving. I didn't want to give up, but it was tough knowing I'd be out there so long."
Despite the struggles, he has no plans to slow down. "It is part of my obsessive personality to push a little farther, a little farther, a little farther."
And the ultrarunning community is like a family.
"The camaraderie in ultrarunning ... it really is not racing until the last mile or so," he says. "Just being able to run with another person, a stranger, who after a couple of hours becomes a close friend, is nice. In shorter races you can't do that, but in ultras you really connect."