SLO ultra marathoner has eyes set on world record — by running more than 5,000 miles

“There’s something very magical about just running”: SLO ultramarathon runner

Walter Handloser, an ultra runner from San Luis Obispo will attempt to run 50 races of 100 miles or more in 2019.
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Walter Handloser, an ultra runner from San Luis Obispo will attempt to run 50 races of 100 miles or more in 2019.

Walter Handloser is taking New Year’s goals to the next level.

The 36-year-old San Luis Obispo man wants to run 50 races of 100 miles or more, also known as ultramarathons, in 2019.

If he accomplishes his goal, he’ll set the world record for most 100-mile races run in one year. For men, 41 races is the current number to beat.

“That would be my ideal,” he said. “Get people interested in this idea that this weird goal is possible, and then hold the record for maybe like a year or two. And that would be great, that would be fun. I’m not competitive at all — I’d rather see people succeed at this kind of stuff.”

Walter Handloser, an ultramarathoner from SLO who’s trying to run 50 races of 100 miles or more in 2019. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Becoming a 100-miler

Handloser’s running career began after he decided to get in shape about eight years ago.

He was the self-described “fattest kid on the cross country team” in high school in the San Diego area and struggled to find an effective fitness routine after finishing his prep football career.

Overweight and approaching 30, Handloser, a former Cal Poly student, decided he wanted to get in the best shape of his life. He joined Sleeping Tiger Fitness in San Luis Obispo and began doing kettlebell and kickboxing workouts.

Walter Handloser and his mother pose for a photo in 2000. Handloser, now 36, lost about 70 pounds prior to starting his ultramarathon running career. Courtesy of Walter Handloser

Steady weight loss followed. Handloser, who stands 5 feet, 6 inches tall, went from about 240 pounds to about 170 pounds.

Handloser started running partway through his weight loss. He ran his first successful marathon in 2014, after a painful half marathon and a failed attempt at a full marathon.

A couple of years later, Handloser ran his first 100-mile race in 2016 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

“I was hooked,” he said. “That was my distance. I found what felt very natural and very wonderful.”

As of December, Handloser had run 64 races of marathon distance or greater, including 25 marathons, 12 races of 100 miles and four 200-mile runs. His longest race was 240 miles.

He’s found he recovers from races more quickly than most runners, which helps him run longer distances.

“I guess it’s more of a freakish ability than a skill,” he said.

A sense of freedom

Handloser has optimized his life to allow him to train and travel. He lives in a big white Mercedes Benz van, which he parks at various places around San Luis Obispo.

In spite of his lengthy races, Handloser said his gym workouts still form the basis of his fitness — he calls running his “dessert.”

Handloser is a data analyst for for San Luis Obispo tech company Mindbody, a job that frequently allows him to work remotely and split his days between the office and workouts.

He said he plans to spend a total of about $30,000 on 52 races in 20 states this year. About $12,000 of that will go toward fees alone.

Many races take hours to complete, which means Handloser must take breaks to eat and sleep.

When running in forests, he’s taken his rest on logs, which he calls “nature’s mattress.” In deserts, he’s slept at aid stations.

Walter Handloser, an ultra runner from SLO is trying to run 50 races of 100 miles or more in 2019. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Depending on the course and the terrain, Handloser said he likely averages about 14 minutes a mile.

Handloser said he loves the child-like joy he gets from running in beautiful places around the country.

He gets to see environments and wildlife at different times of day, giving him unique opportunities to commune with nature.

“Running connected me to a sense of freedom I had when I was younger,” he said.

Handloser knows many people think his quest — or simply the act of running 100-mile races — is crazy, a notion he rejects: “We’re just doing something that we like.”

Although racing can be tough at times, Handloser said, it’s ultimately very rewarding.

“Even in the depths of pain, it’s hard not to be incredibly proud of what you’ve done,” he said.

As of Monday, Handloser had completed two of his 50 races. Next up is the Montane Spine Race in England.

To track his progress, visit The Half-Hundred Hundreds Facebook page at facebook.com/HalfHundredHundreds.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, immigration and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She also covers northern San Luis Obispo County city governments and school districts. Lindsey joined The Tribune in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She’s a native Californian raised in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of two Chicago schools: DePaul University and Northwestern University.