A Race For the Ages: Kent Holder

Over Labor Day Weekend, Manchester, Tennessee hosted it's first 100 mile race. And unlike most ultra-marathons - half of the runners were over 60 years old! That's because A Race For the Ages had a unique set-up. Unlike traditional ultra-marathons that have the same time cut-off time for participants, ARFTA formatted the cut-off to parallel the runner's age: each runner would get an hour to run for their age. The first runner to begin was an 84 year old man. He was given 84 hours to run a one-mile loop as many times as he could. The rest of the participants jumped in the race at their respective time with a minimum cut-off time of 24 hours. The youngest participant this day was a 2 year old who was given a full day to see how many miles she could accumulate as her family made a 4 generation attempt. Both the 84 and 2 year old finished with all the other participants by 6 p.m. on Labor Day.

This unique set-up drew in an older crowd who thought their ultra days were behind them. Many were being deterred because of the cut-off times. One of those runners was Kent Holder - a resident of Fox Island, Washington. Though he is still active in the ultra-racing world, he was excited for this unique race opportunity. Kent started running competitively in his early thirties and entered this unique race with hopes of completing 100 miles with his allotted 76 hour time limit. Before ARFTA 2015, only 25 runners around the world had completed 100 mile races in four consecutive decades. Kent set out to join this elite crew since he had three decades of ultras under his belt. Check out our interview down below as Kent Holder recounts his running history and what has kept him in this sport over the past forty years:

JH: Have you always enjoyed running or was there a particular moment when you crossed the threshold of exercise to lifestyle?

KH: I was a recreational runner until my early 30’s just running 2-3 miles a day, 2 or 3 days a week for fitness.  In 1974 I started competing the the California Fireman’s Olympics running the 5K and 10K with only moderate success.  The best I could do was the bronze medal once in the 10K one year.  Finally in 1978 I tried the marathon & won the silver with a time of 3 hours and 6 minutes. This was my very first marathon.  A few months later I ran my second marathon in San Diego with a time of 2:58.  This was my turning point into long distance.

JH: You've had some intense ultra marathons, what have been some of your most memorable moments?

KH: Finishing my 1st 100 Mile at Leadville in 1985. The 1990 Old Dominion 100 Mile where I was the last finisher with a time of 23:59:02.  This race required a 24 hour time limit to coincide with the horse endurance race (most of the early 100 milers were add-ons to Horse endurance races i.e. The Tevis Cup at Western States). There were only 75 starters & due to a terrible storm only 24 runners finished. I was the last one to make it!

The first time I did the Rim-to-rim-to-rim Double crossing of the Grand Canyon - standing on the rim you can see the enormity of what you about to do.  It’s humbling! In 1998 I ran the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska solo in just over 7 hours.  At the time it was the FKT (Fastest Known Time) and the only known solo single day crossing. In 2000 I set a 60-69 age group record at Mt. Masochist Trail 50 Mile in 9:55:26 becoming to first 60+ to ever run under 10 hours in the 19 year history of that race. The Race Director, David Horton, had challenged me because he claimed it could not be done. This race is notorious for its “Horton Miles” . The race is estimated to be about 57-58 miles. Also In 2000 at the age of 61 I finished 7th overall in the Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile. Winning the triple crown as a 70+ runner at the USATF National Trail Championships. Waldo 100K, White River 50 Mile, Flagline 50K. Each year extending my string of 50 Mile consecutive finishes at the Avalon 50 Mile Benefit Run, now 33 years.

JH: Do you have any advice for people starting off their ultra career that will allow them to potentially span a few decades like yourself?

KH: Don’t rush the training,  Don’t run injured,  Set reasonable goals,  Never give up.  It’s supposed to be fun, so have fun!

JH: Do you have any running mentors? How have they shaped your running philosophies?

KH: I’ve always admired Helen Klein who started running at the age of 65. She is an old, dear friend who has always been an inspiration. Another runner that has inspired me beyond words is Harry Cordellos. I’ve guided Harry in 36 marathons through the years. I was also his guide at the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) National Championships guiding him in his American record 5K and 10K. Harry also graciously asked me to guide him in his last 3 Boston Marathons - what an honor and privilege!

JH: You've now completed 100 milers across 4 decades, congratulations! How did this play into your training this year for this race in particular?

KH: I was very determined to be successful in minimally finishing my 100 miles.  My time did not matter as much as the importance of actually finishing. I did a lot more walking training trying to increase my efficiency & improve my speed.  I had plenty of time in my allowed 76 hours so mixing walking more helped a lot in the outcome. My 100 mile split time was 30:42 corrected not including the two extended breaks I took to catch a shower, nap, and to fix my feet!  Getting 100 miles was obviously my #1 goal.

With a time of 76 hours - Kent Holder was able to complete 137 miles at A Race For the Ages! This got him 23rd place out of the 163 participants. Kent has now completed 100 mile races in 4 consecutive decades - which few have been able to do. Because of ARFTA's unique setup, a few of Kent's longtime running buddies were able to join him in this elite group as well! We hope Kent Holder's story will inspire you to keep running and remind you that you can achieve what you set out to!

**All photos courtesy of Kent Holder