Outdoors

Adventurer of the week: Tahoe 200 Endurance Runner Ken Dam of Eatonville

Ken Dam, left, finished the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run in September. Casey Schwenk showed up at mile 175 to support his friend.
Ken Dam, left, finished the Tahoe 200 Mile Endurance Run in September. Casey Schwenk showed up at mile 175 to support his friend. Courtesy

Running around Lake Tahoe is roughly the equivalent of making two laps around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail, then celebrating with a 20-mile victory lap.

In September, Eatonville’s Ken Dam entered the Tahoe 200 Endurance Run and finished the 205.5-mile run packed with 40,200 feet of climbing in 98 hours, 22 minutes, 12 seconds.

The course for the Sept. 11-15 race traveled through the upper reaches of some of Tahoe’s ski resorts. The entire race is above 6,200 feet of elevation.

“Running at night is pretty difficult,” Dam said. “When you run, a puff of dust comes up and it makes it hard to see the ground with the lighting (from the headlamp).”

Dam, 55, took a naps (usually 30 minutes, but one was two hours) every eight hours. Ten miles into the race he met another runner, Tom Mitchell of Virginia, and the two worked together for most of the remainder of the race.

He also had pacers who ran with him for the final 141 miles.

I went in knowing I was going to finish. I just had a positive attitude the whole time. There were probably a few fleeting moments where I thought, ‘I’ll never finish this. But I never dwelt on it.

Ken Dam, Tahoe 200 finisher

Dam, a manufacturing technologies instructor at Clover Park Technical College, washed his feet regularly and estimates he changed socks six times.

The Tahoe 200 came less than nine months after Dam had 75 percent of his small intestines removed. The procedure was needed after he’d twisted his bowel last fall. He and doctors aren’t sure how that happened, but he thinks it might have been from eating cereal with expired milk.

Dam did four half marathons and a bike race in Bellingham this year as he recovered and prepared for Tahoe. Because he hadn’t run farther than a marathon, he had to get special approval from the Tahoe 200 organizers to participate.

He hasn’t run since Tahoe, but hopes to race in a Bellingham half marathon on Nov. 7. During his recovery, he took a few minutes to field a few questions:

Q. How did you get into running?

A. In 2012 I did the Ragnar Relay (an overnight 200-mile race with teams of six or 12 runners), and to get in shape with that I ran with the Tacoma Runners. Three miles every Thursday. A few years ago, I started running half marathons, and I thought that was the perfect distance.

Q. What was your longest run before the Tahoe 200?

A. The Bellingham (Trail) Marathon (26.2 miles). I helped put on the first race last year in Tahoe and I helped course mark about 65 miles of the course, so I knew what the course was going to be like. I also ran an aid station in Tahoe City (California) last year at Mile 170. … I was surprised at how good people looked when they came in. The thing that looked the worse was probably their feet.

Q. What problems come with having 75 percent of your lower intestine removed?

A. Well, they say you don’t absorb your food as well. So it’s the potential for a nutritional deficiency. I’ve just been getting back into things as I can. I eat like a horse and I’m not gaining weight. I’m surprised I was as strong as I was throughout the whole race. After 100 miles, I started feeling stronger.

Q. Was there ever a point in the Tahoe race where you thought you might quit?

A. No, I went in knowing I was going to finish. I just had a positive attitude the whole time. There were probably a few fleeting moments where I thought, ‘I’ll never finish this.’ But I never dwelt on it.

Q. Any secrets to your success?

A. Toward the end, I asked my crew if they could get a bottle of tequila. At the last few aid stations, I was drinking a few shots of tequila.

Q. How long did it take you to recover?

A. It’s been a month and my feet are almost healed up. I got some pretty bad blisters and an infection, but it didn’t deter me.

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