Early morning commuters in Washougal and Camas run into Dr. Dave Stinchfield all the time.
Stinchfield is the incredibly fit guy with a long beard who likes to start his 26.2-mile training runs at 2:30 a.m. He begins that early so he can be on time for his job as a dentist and owner of Discovery Dental in Washougal.
Stinchfield calls the training technique “stacking” — one marathon after another, day after day. The grueling 26.2-mile marathon distance training runs prepare him for mind- and body-blowing events like the Bigfoot 200 Endurance Run, a 206.5-mile ultramarathon held each year around Mount St. Helens.
Stinchfield started the race deep in the Cascade Mountains at 9 a.m., on Friday, Aug. 9. He finished the race five days later with a time of 85 hours and 10 minutes, covering 206.5 miles while climbing more than 42,000 feet of hills during that time.
“At this level it’s all up here in your head,” he said. “If you don’t have your mind trained for this length of running, you won’t make it.”
Many ultramarathoners don’t make it. More than 50 of the 160 athletes who started the race didn’t finish due to injuries, blisters or dehydration.
Washougal’s running dentist finished the event in 35th place, competing against athletes from all across the world.
A family feat
Stinchfield’s family helped him during the five-day backcountry race. His wife Adina, who competes in 50-kilometer (31 miles) ultramarathons, served as his crew chief, driving a truck with a pop-up tent more than 800 miles down forest service roads so she could wait at aid stations where athletes rehydrated, ate, and sometimes, but only briefly, slept. Dave slept for three hours each on the second and third nights of the event.
Dave’s brother Tom, also a dentist and co-owner of Discovery Dental, ran next to his brother for more than 30 miles, and a friend kept pace with Dave for another 46 miles. His daughter ran with him the last 13 miles.
“My family is awesome, and a lot of them run,” Dave said.
All Bigfoot 200 competitors are equipped with GPS beacons so race organizers can keep a close eye on them.
“When you are dealing with a 200-miler, you are dealing with multiple race days, major sleep deprivation and exhaustion,” Dave said. “It means you can start getting hallucinations, and people sometimes don’t realize where they are or what they are doing.”
Running started later in life
Growing up in California, Dave Stinchfield was a football player. The closest thing he did to distance running was when he got into trouble with his football coach and was forced to run a few laps.
“I thought those two laps were a marathon,” Dave said.
After going to dental school, then working as a dentist four years, mostly in Japan for the U.S. Navy, Dave moved to Clark County to be closer to his father, who lives in Vancouver.
When Dave started working at the Washougal dental office that he later purchased, he worked only 2.5 days per week, so he took up running as a way to see more of the natural beauty of the region.
In 2005 he ran his first marathon, which led to dozens more before his brother-in-law invited him to run in the “Buck Mountain Mudslinger,” a 6.5-mile trail run near Silverton, Oregon.
“I was blown away,” Dave said. “I said, ‘This is awesome.'”
Soon he started competing in 50K (32-mile) trail races, and did dozens of them before competing in his first 100-mile race on Orcas Island a few years ago.
“The fastest 100-miler I’ve done is about 23 hours, 40 minutes with no stopping,” Dave said.
Doctor says vegan diet helps his body recover
Three years ago, Dave read medical research that concluded that a mostly vegan diet with no meat or dairy could help endurance athletes recover faster than normal. Adina, a clinical dietitian, helped him create a diet filled with quality plant protein.
“I’m a big believer (in vegan diets for athletes),” Dave said. “I started (the vegan diet) three years ago and my performance has completely changed for the better.”
He had to recover quickly after the 206.5-mile race, because the next weekend he competed in a much shorter trail race near Mount Rainier. Next month he’ll travel to Arizona to compete in a 100-mile race.
To prepare he’ll soon return to marathon-length early-morning training runs, all while working as a dentist, running a small business and supporting his busy family. Now that’s an ultramarathon life.