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Choteau resident completes 383-mile marathon in the Arctic

Posted at 4:29 PM, Apr 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-01 18:54:34-04

GREAT FALLS – Choteau resident David Hirschfeld just celebrated his 54th birthday. But that’s not the only milestone he’s reached recently.

“I prefer to say 383 because every mile counts,” Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld just completed the 6633 Arctic Ultra, a marathon known to be the toughest, coldest and windiest footrace on the planet.

“This race tears up your body, it tears up your mind. Your ability to think clearly and before long after your body is gone and your mind is gone. It starts to tear up your emotions. You’re pretty fragile at that point,” Hirschfeld said.

It took him 207 hours to complete it.

“I told myself I was going to the 380 unless I was injured. I knew I was going to be hurting. I knew I was going to be tired. I knew I was going to be exhausted, fatigued, mentally and emotionally, physically but unless I was hurt, I was doing the 380,” Hirschfeld said.

But that does not account for all the hours of training beforehand. Hirschfeld had a strategy.

“Mine was to stop as few times as possible, even if my progress slowed, keep going until I couldn’t go any farther. Stop. Put up a tent, sleep for a couple of hours. Pack it all back in and go for another 20 hours,” Hirschfeld said.

Unfortunately, not every part of the race can be trained for. One of the participants even had a near-death experience.

“I was terrified. I immediately got to my spot tracker and pressed the help button. I noticed his breathing got shallower and shallower, and then it would stop,” Hirschfeld said.

He’d use his satellite phone to make an emergency call and then wait it out with the man in need until help arrived.

“We’ve done all we could do. We’ve been out of race mode now for three or four hours trying to stay alive. Keep the man alive. That transition going back into race mode was the most painful thing we suffered on this race. It was emotionally draining because what do we do now. A guy nearly died,” Hirschfeld said.

But they would continue on.

“Wherever there was a gap in your clothing, wherever there was the slightest exposed skin, the wind found it. And fighting the wind and having to bundle up enough to stay warm slowed your pace down a lot,” Hirschfeld said.

With blistered feet and swollen legs, all while pulling his own emergency equipment, he persisted.

“There are a thousand words and you can look it up in a thesaurus, but painful is the best way to describe it. It’s dark. You’re alone. I’m going to do whatever’s out there. Throw at me what’s next. Another hill you bet bring it on,” Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld finished fourth out of the six participants who completed the race. But it was not all about winning for him.

“God put forth this amazing aurora display. It was the best one we had seen. All different colors all above our heads. It was like fireworks going off. 3 or 4 o’clock, I crossed the finish line and it was over. It was over. Nothing felt as good as it being over,” Hirschfeld said.

“It’s the same reason that people climb mountains. It’s the same reason that people explore the world. I’m not some great adventurer or some amazing athlete, but I think everybody has something in them that calls out. What are you capable of? What can you do? Where is your limit? I found my limit,” Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld is encouraging others to test their own limits.

“It’s invigorating. If I can do this, other people can do it too. It takes training. It takes discipline it. I would encourage people to test their limits. Push themselves. It’s a rewarding feeling knowing where your limits are. It’s an amazing thing to see what you can do,” Hirschfeld said.

Reporting by Elizabeth Transue for MTN News