Meet Ben Yates and Pete Littlehat, two local runners who are totally nuts

Ben Yates is nuts.

I'm trying to quantify that. When he and his buddy, Pete Littlehat, leave for Kalispell, Mont., today, we're going to try to measure the Community Mental Stability Index to see whether there is a measurable uptick in their absence. It's entirely possible that it will be the type of thing that can only be detected by those animals that can feel earthquakes coming.

Ben and Pete are heading to Montana to participate in something called the Le Grizz 50-mile ultra-marathon. They'll cover the entire 50 miles on foot. For fun.

They'll fly into Glacier Park International Airport, a name that inspires all kinds of confidence. Then they'll spend the night in one of the local motels, 19 of which have the word "Glacier" in their names, or possibly at the Outlaw Inn, so named because Dick Cheney stayed there one night while on a hunting trip. The run (not a race!) starts bright and early Saturday morning. They have to start early, because the average time for completing the course is around 11 hours, and organizers don't want to have to look for stragglers in the dark, what with all the bears in the woods.

Ben, a native of Maine who now calls Tucson home, has been training for this event for the past couple of years. I didn't know he was a runner until a couple of months ago. I asked him and several other guys if they had seen the Perseid meteor shower the night before. Ben replied, "Yeah, it was great! I was out running through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at around 3 a.m., and I saw several meteors."

I had always thought that he was some kind of professional, in banking or real estate or something. In this case, maybe he was just trying to make a little extra money in, shall we say, human resources or agricultural products. Why else would anybody be in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at 3 a.m.?

"The summer heat is so intense. It's impossible to run a lot in the daytime. I just wanted to get in some long-distance training in that kind of terrain."

Yeah, OK. I just hope he was looking down when the drone flew over to take the photos.

Turns out he's been training for Le Grizz for more than a year. In 2006, he and Pete ran a 50k on the Hopi reservation in September, a 43-mile rim-to-rim-to-rim run of the Grand Canyon in October, the Tulsa Marathon in November, and the Las Vegas Marathon in December.

They took it easy at the start of this year, but then Ben ran the St. Louis Marathon in April and the Leadville (Colo.) Marathon in July. Seeing as how Leadville has an elevation of 10,350 feet, it probably earns its billing as "the toughest marathon in America."

(I actually went online to look up its elevation. By mistake, I went to Wikipedia, which says that "Leadville is where Superman goes to hide out from the Kryptonite Gang.")

I ran a marathon once. Well, maybe "ran" is too strong a word. But I started with everybody else, didn't stop to walk, didn't catch a cab or a subway, and finished. This was back in the old days, when like nine people would enter a marathon, back before Forrest Gump and even before Jim Fixx, the running guru, started that whole jogging craze. (You do remember that Fixx died young of a heart attack ... after running.)

Ben and Pete have been tapering off lately (down to only 30-70 miles of running per week) in preparation for Le Grizz. I went to the official race Web site, and it shows a map of the area. The spots runners will pass by or near include Lost Johnny Point, Devil's Corkscrew, Going to the Sun Road and a town at the southern tip of Flathead Lake called Poison.

Did I mention that they have to pay to enter this thing?

The Web site also has a section on what to do if you encounter a grizzly bear while running. Most are common-sense suggestions, since most bears will leave you alone. The last point, however, recommends that you do not try to outrun the bear, since some can reach speeds of up to 40 mph. Plus, there's that small point of your having been running for several hours through the woods by that time. If a bear does charge, they suggest that you roll into a ball and basically kiss your ass goodbye.

There is a strict no-refund policy if you get mauled to death.

Ben plans on completing the course--which runs along the Hungry Horse Reservoir and then culminates with a final sprint over the Hungry Horse Dam--in less than nine hours.

Upon his return to Tucson, he's going to switch to cycling and enter El Tour de Tucson next month. In 2008, he hopes to run marathons in Alabama, Texas, Kansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. His goal is to run 50 marathons in 50 states before he's 50. But how can he afford all this travel?

I did mention Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, didn't I?

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