WETUMPKA, Ala. (AP) — Capt. Jared Struck isn’t quite sure why he loves running, just that he does.

The aircraft maintenance officer at Maxwell Air Force Base has always been the type to head toward a challenge — maybe because of his upbringing, maybe because of his service in the Air Force. He embraces adventure and finishes each task he takes on.

When asked why he is choosing to run the Badwater 135 — known as “the world’s toughest foot race” — July 15-17 in Death Valley, California, Struck pondered his answer.

“It’s really hard to answer the question why,” he said. Maybe it’s the desert and its beauty that draws him to the race, or the fact that it’s the hardest, he said. "I think the challenge is probably the biggest draw.”

Whatever the reason, Struck is committed to being an “ultra runner,” a name for those who participate in races longer than marathons. He’s even added a "26.2″ tattoo on his leg, the mileage of a marathon.

Running, for him, began simply as a way to get in better shape. After years of frequent drinking, and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, he decided he wasn’t entirely happy when he looked in the mirror.

He decided to make a change — quickly. He picked a marathon that was taking place in just a few months, put it on the calendar and began training.

That was in 2005.

When he started out 14 years ago, Struck thought he would run the one race, then be essentially done with long-distance running. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Now, with dozens of races and thousands of miles behind him, he always seems to be looking forward to the next big event.

He’s competed in Australia and China, including a race where 39 of the 50 miles were run on sand, and his hope is to one day be selected for the Western States Endurance Race, the oldest 100-mile race, which he has applied for five times.

But first he will head to Death Valley, where he will be one of 100 runners from 19 countries taking part in the Badwater 135. The ultrathon will start at the lowest elevation in the U.S., 280 feet below sea level, and end 135 miles later at 8,300 feet above sea level on the side of Mount Whitney.

Runner Jared Struck shows off his belt buckles and medals from previous races. The Air Force officer is training for the Badwater 135, an ultra marathon that begins in California's Death Valley. (Jake Crandall/Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Runner Jared Struck shows off his belt buckles and medals from previous races. The Air Force officer is training for the Badwater 135, an ultra marathon that begins in California's Death Valley. (Jake Crandall/Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Within 48 hours, Struck will traverse three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet of vertical ascent and 6,100 feet of cumulative descent. In this, his second time competing in this race, his goal is to complete the course in 39 hours — which will give him time for an eight-hour snooze before the pizza party and awards ceremony begins after hour 48. During the race, there isn’t time to sleep.

To prepare, Struck runs at least three one-hour jogs throughout the week. As the race draws closer, he will take on much longer runs over the weekend — completing 50-mile runs on Saturday followed by 20 miles on Sunday. Each week he also goes to the sauna, running in place in the 150-degree environment. Ten days before the race, he’ll spend at least 30 minutes in the sauna each day.

While he admits to times he didn't prepare well for shorter races, he isn't going to take any chances when preparing for this. He can hurt now, or he can hurt there, but either way the pain is going to exist, he said.

“There are times when it’s tough to get motivated to train, but I think the key — for anyone — is to put that event on your calendar. If you waste a weekend, it’s one more weekend closer to the event taking place,” Struck said.

During the race, “There are a lot of ups and downs,” he said. "You could go from thinking how beautiful this place is and how I’m lucky to be out here than to how much something hurts.

In Death Valley, the miles stretch on with nothing in sight. Struck said he tries not to think about how much farther he needs to go. “I can see for miles down the road but it’s just as easy to look back and see how far you’ve gone,” he said.

While he doesn’t listen to music while running because he think it throws off his pace, the two friends accompanying him during the race will likely play some once they enter the second day of running.

Known as pacers, the two friends will ride with Struck’s wife in a van that will meet Struck every two miles to give him a bottle of water. The pacers will take turns running with him, a couple of miles at a time.

“They’ll try everything just to keep me moving, even cattle prods,” he joked.

His goal, aside from completion within 39 hours, is to raise money for the One Place Justice Center, which offers victims of domestic abuse a complete array of services from social workers, doctors and nurses, lawyers, magistrates, detectives and more.

"I think it's a great thing," Struck said of One Place. "It really, to me, is a brilliant idea that is going to help victims."

Information from: Montgomery Advertiser.