Chris Benjamin hits the trails 100 miles at a time
Published in 2022 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers magazine on November 8, 2022
Even if you’re a runner, Chris Benjamin admits the sport isn’t always enjoyable—especially when you hit mile 50.
“I just fell apart,” he says of his first 100-mile race, in the summer of 2012. “I had to walk 25, 30 miles. What’s weird is that, even though it felt like death, I became addicted to it.”
Benjamin, who has now run 65 marathons and ultramarathons, never saw himself as a runner growing up.
“When I was a kid, I was always a little bit on the heavy side. But when I was really young, I walked 14 miles with my Boy Scout troop, and it was one of my proudest achievements,” he says. “I was a power lifter in high school and college, and somebody talked me into running a 5K when I was in law school—and I just absolutely loved it.”
Before graduating from the Mizzou’s law school, Benjamin got the idea for a bucket-list item: running a marathon. Friends and family thought he was crazy—some even tried to talk him out of it—but he was determined.
Two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, in 2005, Benjamin ran the Des Moines Marathon in four hours and 16 minutes. What was supposed to be a one-and-done accomplishment became a way of life. He began reading about runners like Dean Karnazes, author of Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner; and Farhad Zarif, a Kansas man who ran the Badwater Ultramarathon, which is 135 miles through Death Valley in California.
In 2014, just two years after his first 100-mile race, Benjamin ran Badwater himself. With a time of 31 hours and 13 minutes, he was the 17th person to cross the finish line. In such long races, competitors have three-person crews to help, plus various walking stretches and stops to rest. Sleeping is allowed, but Benjamin never has.
“There’s times, particularly as you get to three or four in the morning, that the mind disconnects a little bit,” he says. “Some people talk about hallucinating, but it’s really just micronaps that are taking place. You have to keep the energy level just high enough to where you keep moving, but then not to create GI and stomach issues. There’s a happy medium.”
Benjamin’s best 100-mile time was also one of his most scenic runs: over the Seven Mile Bridge through the Florida Keys. “At miles 70, 75, I was really just almost destroyed. I was barely able to walk,” he says. “I sat down for 10 minutes at an aid station, threw up, then ate a grilled cheese sandwich—and something just turned on, and I was doing sub-tens [minute miles]. It’s weird how the body can go from this horrible state to an awesome state, really fast, and back-and-forth. It’s such a mental game, too.”
Though he’s run races on other continents, the one Benjamin considers the most unusual actually takes place in southeast Missouri: the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, which is managed by Missouri lawyer Paul Schoenlaub and winds through Mark Twain National Forest each October or November.
“It’s hard to keep on the trail just right, especially in the middle of the night,” he says. “There’s no cell service, so they have ham radio operators at each of the aid stations. That was a pretty trippy race because it’d be two o’clock in the morning, completely dark—and I hadn’t seen a runner in like two hours, and coyotes are all around. It was … just complete solitude.”
Benjamin knows this may sound crazy to others, as it sounded crazy to him at first, too. The best way to get started, he says, is to get a physical, find a local running group, start small, and begin reaping the mental and physical benefits.
“As lawyers, we’re so plugged in that we can’t do anything without having a phone or computer near us,” he says. “When I’m out there running all day or all night on a trail, nobody can get hold of me. I’m completely unplugged. I’m focused just on what’s in front of me. That, I think, is this real special feeling.”