Getting to Know Our Gnarly Bandits

Meet our Gnarly Bandits!

If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering what makes our Gnarly Bandits tick. Why are they undertaking this year-long, 462-mile project? And what wisdom are they acquiring along the way? This week, I spoke by email to two of our nine contenders, Kevin Clark and Jeff Leuwerke, to find out more about what motivates them, and what they can teach us. Thank you, Kevin and Jeff! If you see them on the course or at the finish line this weekend, be sure to give them a hearty cheer!

What made you decide to do the Gnarly Bandit this year?

Kevin: I have a couple of reasons for attempting the Gnarly Bandit this year. I have two Gnarly friends, Angela Barbera and Tina Johnson, that decided to sign up. With those two Gnarlies in for the series I knew it would be a fun year!

The other reason is I attempted the Gnarly Bandit last year and was defeated by the heat at Black Hills. I finished the rest of the races in the series, so there was no way I was going to go out like that! I had to come back this year and get the series completed.

Jeff: I wish there was some deep meaning or cause for me attempting this series, but honestly it comes down to both the absurdity and the challenge of it all.   I think my fate was sealed when I won race entry to the Black Hills 100 at the UMTR banquet in November.  At the time the longest I had run was 50 miles, so if I’m signing up for one 100 miler, I might as well sign up for four, plus a 100k.  This is one of the downsides of the trail community we have here, you are surrounded by people who do these types of things, and pretty soon it doesn’t seem as crazy as it actually is…. This is also how I find myself signed up for the Tuscobia 160 in December…


What have you learned from your Gnarly experience so far?

Kevin: I have learned a lot over the past two years. However, the most important lesson the Gnarly Bandit has taught me after the heat at Black Hills last year is to be thankful for the good days on the trail. Not just weather wise, but the days where your body cooperates and allows you to run 100 miles.

Jeff: June is a difficult month and never underestimate any of these races.  I went into Kettle with the attitude that it would be the easiest of the 100’s, and knew that if I just took it slow, I would be able to get to Black Hills feeling pretty good. It turned into the hardest one so far (Still a few days before Superior when writing this) with the rain, followed by mud, followed by heat, followed by wet shoes for 30 miles, and blisters… The best I can say is that I survived Kettle.  I might have to have a redemption run in 2018 on that course.


What has surprised you about doing the Gnarly Bandit series?

Kevin: How tough the Gnarlies are this year! Last year at this point there were only 3 chasing the gold. This year we have 9 Gnarlies! That is awesome.

Jeff: The people that I get to be around just because I’m taking part in these races.  The hundreds of volunteers who are doing everything from ringing a cowbell to filling my pack.  Tim who paced me for 30 miles at Zumbro after his runner had to drop.  Rick who volunteered to drive me out to the Black Hills, “run” 30 miles with me, and drive me back. Marc and Mary who let me stay at their house on a training weekend up north, after learning I was a Gnarly Bandit. The fellow Gnarly runners, Erik who I walked through the night with, and Carl and Kevin who pulled me to the finish line.  I hope I never stop being surprised at how amazing this community is.


What one piece of advice would you share with a would-be Gnarly Bandit?

Kevin: My advice would be to sign up!

Jeff: Two pieces of advice:

First, from now until the end of time, it would be easy to come up with reasons not to do the GB series.  It is crazy, it is hard, and it does take a lot of time and dedication, but… It’s not going to be any less crazy or hard if you wait, so you might as well jump in with both feet.

The second, 462 miles is too much to wrap your head around all at once, I feel that the series, and the races individually have to be approached as one aid station to the next, then it becomes simple, left foot, right foot, repeat..

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