Events & Media

Bren Staff Researcher Completes Ultra Marathon in Hawaii

February 4, 2013

John Priester

In terms of physical exertion, Bren staff researcher John Priester’s daily routine is fairly light. As one of the leaders in Bren professor Trish Holden’s lab team, which is working to further understand how engineered nanoparticles affect bacteria, he sets up and monitors experiments, meets with fellow researchers, and works on reports and articles for submission to professional journals. Suffice to say, he doesn’t go home with his muscles aching from heavy lifting.

Things are a little different in his spare time.

Priester is a marathoner and an ultra-runner, which means he routinely runs well beyond the 26.2-mile marathon distance. He’s done the 35-mile Nine Trails race in Santa Barbara. He’s done a 50-miler. But those were jogs around the block compared to how he spent the weekend of Jan. 19 and 20, when he ran 100 miles to become one of 53 finishers (of 121 participants) to complete the 2013 Hawaii Ultra Running Team (HURT) 100-mile Endurance Run on Oahu, Hawaii.

Priester started at 6:00 AM on Jan. 19 and crossed the finish line at 5:28 PM the following day, completing the race in 35 hours, 28 minutes, 32 minutes before the allotted 36-hour cutoff.

“It was probably the most difficult thing I have ever done,” Priester said. “It was really rewarding to finish the race.”

The course consisted of five 20-mile loops through the mountainous Hawaiian rain forest just north of Honolulu.

“Early on I was pretty excited,” Priester said. “That lasted for about 20 miles or so, through the first loop of the course. Starting the second loop, the heat really kicked in and from that point on I was just pushing and trying to get as much done before dark as possible.”

And it’s not as if they were running on roads or smooth trails. Each loop contained several thousand feet of elevation gain and decline and uneven mountainous terrain throughout, with boulders, tree roots and other hazards making things more difficult.

The night he spent running through the rain forest was the hardest part.

“It was nice and cool, but visibility really became an issue because the trail is all roots and rocks,” Priester recalled. “It was hard to focus and stay awake, so I had a lot of mental fatigue. But once sunrise hit, I got a boost of energy and felt like I was waking up after sleeping, even though I hadn’t been.”

Priester’s previous longest run was 67 miles, which took place on the same course last year in a 100-kilometer race.

“Ever since I was a kid, I liked to wander around the woods,” Priester said. “After I moved to California for grad school, I liked running around the Ellwood Bluffs area. As I went out there more and started to challenge myself, I went from a marathon to 50K to 50 miles to 100K and then 100 miles.”

“To be a great laboratory researcher requires extraordinary focus, attention, and perseverance,” said Holden. “John has these qualities, and is superb in lab research. This feat of endurance – running one hundred miles without stopping – demonstrates another aspect of his extraordinary abilities.”

Priester says that the mental challenge of running an ultra-marathon enhances his sharpness in the laboratory.

“The amount of focus it takes to finish a race like that really applies to anything, especially if I’m doing lab work that takes a long of time or I’m up at night doing it,” he said. “Everything seems easier when you’re not out there running for 35 hours.”