At the beginning of March this year, Michael Ortiz had his race schedule for the rest of his year fully planned out. Ortiz was chasing a personal goal to complete 100 100-milers in 100 consecutive weeks—a streak he called the “Game of Hundos”—and he had just 32 weeks to go.
Yes, this might sound insane. But Ortiz was inspired to tackle a challenge of this magnitude by his brother, David, who was killed while riding a bike in 2012 at the age of 29.
David and Ortiz, at the time, lived their lives in very different ways. Ortiz worked seven days a week and focused on saving for retirement. David, along with his wife, traveled and experienced the world, something he wished his brother would do. But when David passed, Ortiz realized how important it was to live his life because all his work could be for nothing.
“When he died, I realized, What if I spent my whole life working and waiting to do something and I died?” Ortiz told Runner’s World in January, after he completed the second-most 100 milers in a year in 2019. “The unfortunate truth is our endpoints are unknown. My brother had the right idea all along, and I think he would be proud with what I’m doing today.”
That brought Ortiz to March. He was more than two-thirds finished with the Game of Hundos, running the Conquer the Wall 35-Hour race in West Virginia on March 6 as 100-miler No. 68.
Before this year, Ortiz’s planning had been more random, picking out races much closer to the race dates. To improve his efficiency in 2020, he decided to just knock out the bulk of the planning in advance by registering and booking flights, hotels, and rental cars at the start of the year. It was an incredible flurry of internet searches and credit-card charges, but it made the logistics easier than in 2019.
And then the pandemic hit.
One by one, Ortiz’s races were canceled, his advanced planning backfiring. Just like when he signed up, he had to individually manage the cancellation issues associated with these races.
“It was demoralizing,” Ortiz said. “Having 32 races locked and loaded, the most disheartening thing was going email by email and managing the cancellations, deferrals, refunds, not refunds, partial refunds, and all the logistics that went with it.”
For a hot second, Ortiz flirted with the idea of calling it a day on the Game of Hundos. He is based in New York City, which was an early hotspot for COVID-19, and he couldn’t see a way to continue his streak with the city shut down.
It was a tempting thought, like that of a DNF to end the suffering of a long, painful race. A global pandemic seemed like a solid reason. It wasn’t a injury or hard fall that he thought might one day upend his effort, but it seemed to fit the description of something that was out of his control.
Then, not long after he started working from home and watching the Netflix sensation Tiger King, like so many others who had little else to do, he realized he wasn’t satisfied with stopping.
“As I’m watching Netflix, I look around my living room and an idea popped into my head,” Ortiz said. “I knew right away it was ridiculous to run my race inside, but how doable was it? I measured the perimeter of the carpet and found it it was 40 feet. Doing that math, that’s 13,700 turns around the carpet.”
The turns weren’t his only concern. He also worried about his neighbors below him, wearing out his hardwood floors, and wearing out his carpet. He had ordered a treadmill, but the delivery was delayed.
His solution: a cardboard track on top of his carpet, and a dampener underneath.
“I eventually found out from someone in my building that less than half the people were still there when the pandemic started, including my neighbors downstairs,” he said. “For 10 weeks thought, we had strict lockdown orders.”
Completing 100 miles on that cardboard track took Ortiz nearly 60 hours. And the first two and half months of the pandemic required similar creativity to keep the game alive. When his treadmill finally arrived, he started using that for his 100-milers. When his mind wandered, he started to play around with speed and incline settings.
When New York began loosening restrictions, he mapped out 100-mile routes around the city. Starting in July, Ortiz flew to run in a few official races, or he would create 100-mile routes in states where he hadn’t run 100 miles before.
“It was certainly different when races returned,” Ortiz said. “I’m not as fast as I was a year ago, so things like aid stations where I couldn’t just walk up and take what I needed, added a lot of time when I’m already pretty slowed down. Still, I was happy to be out of my apartment.”
All of his efforts led him to October 24. With a group of friends pacing and crewing him in a self-made route that at one point spelled out Game of Hundos through New York City, he reached a goal that no one has ever been known to have accomplished before: 100 100 milers in 100 weeks. A well-deserved champagne celebration awaited him at the finish, and for the first time since late 2018, Ortiz didn’t have to recover quickly for a 100-miler the following week.
Now that Ortiz has completed the Game of Hundos, he said he plans to catch up on sleep. The week after his last 100-miler, he slept a full seven hours a night for eight straight days .
As Ortiz has reflected on his efforts near the finish of this journey, he’s thought a lot about the memories, the challenges, and craziness the last 10,000 miles have brought to his life. Most of all, he thinks of his brother, David. A hundred runs later, Ortiz said he isn’t done yet. He wants to continuing living his life to fullest, just like his brother would’ve.
“I know what [David would say],” Ortiz said. “When he passed, it sank in that what if I died today? I hadn’t left the country. My life would’ve been schoolwork, jobs, and 70 to 80 hour work weeks. That’s not fulfilling. After this, if I saw him at the finish line, he’d greet me with the biggest smile ever. Then he would say, ‘I told you you would like it.’”
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