Adrian Shipley, who ran cross-country and track in Forest Grove, finished 18th in the Zion 100 ultramarathon in May

Adrian Shipley isn’t a trail runner because it’s chic.

He doesn’t go out on 35-mile training runs to punish his body, and last month he didn’t take his place at the starting line of the Zion 100 ultramarathon in Utah for the adulation he might get at the finish.

(Courtesy) It took him 25 hours to cross the finish line at his first 100-mile race, but Adrian Shipley, 25, a Gaston and Forest Grove native, was happy to get the belt buckle awarded to all who complete the Zion 100 in Utah.
For Shipley, a native of Gaston who went to school in Forest Grove, it’s all about the experience.

"I like running in general. The act of running is therapeutic," said Shipley, 25. "I love the outdoors and the vast wilderness — it's like Zen to me."

The 2005 Forest Grove High School graduate ran cross-country and track for the Vikings his junior and senior years. He said he credits his former coach, Sue Fleskes, who also coached his sister Heather, his older brother Trevor and his younger brother Tyler, for "almost full responsibility" for goosing his passion for the sport.

"A friend invited me to go out for cross-country my junior year, so I went to a meeting," Shipley recalled with a laugh. "I hadn't been sitting there for more than a minute before Mrs. Fleskes handed me a uniform."

As things turned out, it was a transformative moment for Shipley, a self-proclaimed "minimalist" runner who likes to hit the trails wearing shorts and shoes and carrying nothing more than water. "I don't ever listen to music when I run," he noted.

With his wavy, shoulder-length hair and ascetic propensities, Shipley resembles Boulder, Colo., ultrarunner Anton Krupicka, who has twice won the Leadville Trail 100 Run in his home state.

But Shipley shrugs off comparisons to others involved in the once-obscure sport of ultrarunning, which has been growing in popularity in recent years but still attracts a different breed of athlete — those who can go the distance by employing a combination of laser-focused mental and physical energy.

"I try pretty hard to just be me," he said simply.

Fleskes has stayed in touch with Shipley over the last six years, monitoring his life changes and cheering his athletic accomplishments.

“Adrian has always been a hard worker and tough in the face of adversity,” she said. “He’s just one of those really good guys.”

Injured a lot

Once Shipley had settled into his studies at Pacific, he continued to run but was beset by a string of injuries. In January 2006 he underwent surgery for compartment syndrome in his right calf.

"They made a cut in the muscle sheath because the gastrocnemius muscle had outgrown it," explained Shipley. The extremely painful malady, which was compounded by a post-operative infection, kept him from running his entire freshman year and sidelined him for most of the cross-country season his sophomore year.

Once he had his health back, though, Shipley excelled in the middle distances, running a 31:40 personal record in a 10-kilometer race. With a per-mile pace of just over five minutes, the effort was 30 seconds off the 10K record at Pacific.

Hamstring problems continued to plague Shipley, but as he tried to find a balance between running too much and running too little, he began to gravitate toward longer distances. In September 2009 he ran his first 26.2-miler, the Timberline Marathon at Mt. Hood, and the next month he tackled his first ultra, a 50-mile race in Sacramento, Calif.

Since then he's completed four more marathons.

After Shipley got his master of arts in education degree at Pacific University in 2011, he and his girlfriend, Samantha Lee, whom he met at Pacific, "picked a place to travel to" and landed in Salt Lake City.

Right now, the son of Suzanne Shipley of Forest Grove and Gary Shipley of Gaston is working as the manager of Utah Pizza, "looking around the job market" for the right opportunity.

Many mornings he heads into the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah and knocks off 30 to 40 miles before lunch. Easy access to wilderness trails has stoked his desire to push his body to its limits.

"Moving to Salt Lake has changed everything for me," he said. "The trail proximity is totally transforming — I hardly ever run on roads anymore."

As the calendar page turned to 2012, Shipley's running story evolved to its next phase.

Mind set on ultras

"I really started to set my mind on ultramarathons," he said. Running in the mountains near his home, where the altitude is 5,000 to 6,000 feet, had given his cardiovascular training the boost he needed to be successful at distances of 50 miles or more.

"It's vast up there," Shipley noted. "It's a dry climate, high desert. It gets cold a lot of the year, and there's snow in the mountains. But I run in the foothills, and it can get hot, with high temperatures in the mid-80s."

Shipley started training for an ultra without a specific race in mind. "I was three to four weeks into it and I hadn't picked a race," he noted. In March he registered for a 12-hour race in Moab, Utah — four hours south of Salt Lake — one that challenges entrants to run as far as they can in half a day.

Shipley and a friend, Salt Lake City resident Colin Anderson, set a lofty goal for the event. "We wanted to break the course record," Shipley said, grinning. Anderson knocked out 59 miles, but "I ended up tying [the record] at 64.8 miles over the 12 hours," he noted

After that, Shipley moved on to the holy grail of footracing: a 100-mile ultramarathon. Other ultras are even longer — Badwater in Death Valley is 135 miles long, for instance — but 100 miles, equal to nearly four marathons run back-to-back, is not for slouches.

He picked the Zion 100, a new race that traverses Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah. After visiting the website in April, he laid down the $180 entry fee.

"From everything I read it was supposed to be a beautiful course," Shipley said. "Zion National Park is in a book of 'Top 100 Places You Should Go Before You Die.'"

No illusions

He said he had no illusions about the race's difficulty, but neither did he entertain the thought he wouldn’t complete it. "There's no fooling anyone once you're on the course," Shipley said. "You've either done the work or you haven't."

Shipley had, and it showed. After lacing up his gray-and-green New Balance Minimalist Trail 10s before dawn on May 11, he joined a field of 110 others and tackled the rigors of the course.

Fifteen weeks of training, including eight runs of marathon distance or longer, had prepared Shipley well for the sometimes-steep inclines and tricky descents along the trail — not to mention the sheer distance of the race.

“It’s a long ways,” Shipley noted.

Aid stations appeared like desert oases every eight miles, stocked with Gatorade, water and a mix of salty and sugary sustenance: pretzels, boiled potatoes, oranges, Skittles.

“I really didn’t care what I ate,” noted Shipley, who ran with two hand-held water bottles and four power gel packets. “You never know what’s going to sound good.”

The Zion 100 begins in Virgin, Utah and winds northward over Smith Mesa and Kolob Terrace before turning south past Gooseberry Point, Smithsonian Butte, Little Creek Mesa and the Hurricane Rim Trail.

It terrain is often technical and treacherous, making it difficult for runners to keep their footing.

Like most of the others, Shipley’s first goal was to finish. Nearly half the field would not. “I wanted to go out at a 10- to 11-minute pace,” he said. “For a perfect race I was hoping to break 18 hours.”

At the 20-mile mark, Shipley was in second place behind Jay Aldous, a top American at 100 miles. But the overall climb and treacherous stretches containing “a lot of rocks and tree roots” took their toll.

He began taking shorter, quicker strides, which helped him stay upright but sapped his energy in the dry heat, which soared to 95 degrees by afternoon.

‘So sleepy’

By the time he reached the second of two medical checkpoints, where participants’ blood pressure and vital signs were assessed, Shipley discovered he’d lost six pounds. But two-thirds of the way through the race, that wasn’t his biggest concern.

“I was just so sleepy — overwhelmingly so,” he said. “The hardest point for me was between miles 40 and 60. There was a good 20-mile period when I just wasn’t having fun.”

When he crossed the finish line after 25 hours, 3 minutes and 49 seconds, all Shipley wanted to do was lie down. “I was just glad to be done,” he noted.

In the official race standings, he’s listed as the 18th male runner. Thirty-six men and 15 women dropped out somewhere along the course.

Hours later, after Shipley had showered, slept and eaten “a whole lot of calories,” he said he felt “really good” and that the toll on his body turned out to be surprisingly minimal.

“I lost five toenails and my muscles were a little sore,” he noted. Still, Shipley’s already looking forward to his next ultra, probably in September. He qualified for Western States but because that race employs a lottery system for entry, it’s off the list for now.

Badwater might find a place on his racing radar, but he’ll have to mull that one over for a while. “It’s a different beast,” Shipley said. “It’s an endurance race.”

And there’s always the Hard Rock 100 in Silverton, Colo., an ultra whose average altitude soars above 9,000 feet.

Back in Salt Lake City, Shipley is contemplating his professional future while considering other pursuits. “I’d really like to get into race directing,” he said. “I think it’d be fun to design ultramarathon courses.”

In the meantime, Shipley will keep on trekking through the wilderness, putting one foot in front of the other and reveling in the sights, the breeze on his well-tanned face and the joys of stream-of-consciousness thinking.

“For me, running is very experiential,” he said. “There’s nothing I love more than going out and getting lost on a trail for a couple of hours.”

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