Here is a story of a couple named Pero. He is grey-haired, with a tall, Slim-Jim-styled body and a wicked gruff, Bostonian awhccent. She is a Southern-drawled gal with fluffy hair that bounces with each step of her strong, ultrarunning legs. They met one day on the trail, he organizing the run, and she just stepping into the trail running world.
They locked in step-for-step, synonymous with each of their respective newly divorced statuses and love of running. He was a veteran marathoner, looking for something new. She was an endurance junkie looking for the next distance level.
That’s how they became life partners and ultrarunners.
Steve and Deb Pero, ages 63 and 60, bonded on those Massachusetts trails: igniting a love for running, the outdoors, and later discovering an intense passion for the San Juan Mountains in Colorado.
The two have been married for 13 years. He brought two grown children, Deb brought three into the pact, and together they have 11 grandchildren from one to 15 years old.
Steve grew up in a town just outside Boston, Massachusetts, whereas Deb traveled to the East Coast in the 1980s after living in Fort Worth, Texas.
If you simply glance over these WeRunFar articles, pausing at the pictures and taking note of what races people have done, then I will help you out. If there is one thing to take away from this profile, it is this: the pure, raw love Deb and Steve equally share for the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run.
Okay, that’s it. Go back to your Facebook page, if you must.
Steve and Deb moved to New Mexico in 2010 to be closer to the Hardrock course. But, after a few years of unstable job prospects, they moved back about a month ago to a farmhouse in Sharon, New Hampshire.
Now, in between training, the self-proclaimed “hippies” are balancing Steve’s job as a mechanical designer, Deb’s pajama-wearing painting career, and the transformation of an old farmhouse into a self-sustaining homestead, equipped with chickens, horses, and a garden.
“We are preparing for the zombie apocalypse, growing all our own food,” joked Steve. “Yeah, Swiss chard,” Deb added. “But, I don’t think zombies like that.”
Steve has taken up brewing his own beer, a hobby inspired by fellow Hardrockers, and they both are trying to learn how to play an instrument, from the piano to the banjo.
“Don’t ask us to play, though,” Steve warns. “We won’t. We are really bad.”
But the two are experts in a different field—the field of each others’ emotions, their past, and finishing the other’s upcoming sentences. They are also experts in the field of running—thanks to years of experience, both good and bad. Whether it is DNFing more times than finishing, or running fat-ass races so fat ass that you only knew of the run by word of mouth, the Pero team functions as one.
April 2015 marks 40 years of running for Steve.
“I started running after seeing Bill Rodgers win the Boston Marathon,” he said. He and his friends walked through town, just catching the runner cross the finish line. “We saw Bill, long, blonde hair flying, hands in the air. It really inspired me, and the next day I started running.”
He has since run the race 13 times.
Deb’s inspiration for ultrarunning also came from the Boston Marathon, but in a somewhat different way. Years before moving to the East Coast, she volunteered at a local race in Texas. Amazed at what those runners were about to do, she said she picked up the sport the next day. (Note the same next-day mentality as her then-husband-to-be.) She quickly switched to trail running due to severe knee pain during road runs. While volunteering for the 100th Boston Marathon, she recalls, Deb walked around the remnants of the starting line, picking up the discarded clothing the runners shed before taking off.
“I picked up a sweatshirt with a 50-mile race logo on it,” she said. “I thought, No way! Impossible!”
Turns out, it is possible. She still has that shirt, and now an excuse to wear it.
“These trail people…” she said. “They say 10 miles is fun, then 20, then 30. Within a year I was training for the Vermont 100 Endurance Run.”
Steve said that he fell “into bad company” as well. His first ultra was in 1987, just a local fat-ass event. “Never again” was his response, and he stubbornly stuck to it for 10 years. Coaxed into the Don’t Run Boston 50k in Massachusetts, where he tied for first, he said he was changed forever.
Since then, the two have been to the Vermont 100 and various East-Coast ultras put on by David Horton and the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC).
Steve completed the ‘Fun Run’ distance, 60 miles, at the Barkley Marathons in 2001, a race that “nearly killed me,” he claimed.
“I have never seen him look so terrible,” Deb exclaimed. “I lost 10 pounds, and I am six feet tall,” he said. “I looked like hell,” Steve added.
They consistently make it out to The Ring in September and The Reverse Ring in February, two VHTRC races. And they always show up for the unpredictable More and More Difficult 50k, the secret race that gets “more and more difficult” each year. Steve proudly keeps the loincloth given to him by the race director for finishing the outing five times.
Deb and Steve have ventured across the country as well, competing in Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run, the Speedgoat 50k, and The Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run, a favorite of the two.
But nothing, nothing compares to Hardrock.
Deb and Steve have been on the Hardrock course every year since 2001, except when the run was cancelled in 2002. They even announced their engagement together on the course at the 2001 event. Every year the run’s administration selects a piece of artwork or photo to be their poster. It is shown on the website and each finisher gets an individual copy. Deb has had four of her paintings selected.
They have run–tripped, wept, Steve gotten sick, and Deb pushed the time limits–each year since 2001 as well. However, the two have only finished the 100-mile journey three times each.
It’s a poor finishing record, Steve admits, but Hardrock is like no other.
Sure, every time Steve DNFs he says he is never coming back, but Deb knows it never sticks.
“’Damn it, I didn’t finish,’” Steve says, after another disappointment. “But, it pulls you back.” “We have been to other races several times, but it is not the same thing,” Deb says.
Okay, keep up with me here:
In 2001, Deb dropped and Steve finished. In 2002, the run was cancelled for weather conditions. 2003: Deb finished, Steve dropped, but then Steve paced Deb to the finish. 2004 to 2007: both dropped. In 2008, Steve finished and Deb dropped. In 2009, Steve did not get into the run so the pair didn’t go. 2010 to 2011: neither finished. In 2012, Deb finished and Steve dropped. 2013: they both finished! And in 2014, neither got in. For 2015, Steve remains on the waitlist and Deb is in.
Inside the Hardrock lottery, the drawing of a Pero name is a common sight. Is it luck? A sign from the Hardrock gods?
For whatever reason, the couple returns each year to run, pace, finish, or drop. They come to experience the trails, the mountains, and the beauty together, in an odd, painfully sweet way.
Deb explains the usual protocol for signing up for a race, which involves Steve signing the two up and later sending an email to Deb writing, “Oh, by the way I have entered us in…”
For Hardrock, Steve discovered the event in 2000 when he agreed to pace friend Sue Johnston, who ended up dropping him to win in 32 hours. He returned home and said, “Deb, you have to do this.”
“I had nightmares about it,” she admitted. “I saw photos of it. They scared the bajeezus out of me!”
However, it didn’t stop her from arriving at the start line in 2001, ready for the 100-mile adventure. Unfortunately, she was forced to drop that year from sickness, but vowed to return again.
Over the years of Hardrock miles, Deb pinpoints one moment as her happiest of running moments. After dropping in 2001, she toed the 2003 starting line with determination, something the run would test of her later on. Deb, a usual back-of-the-pack runner had trouble keeping a running partner. “Everyone around me kept dropping,” she said. Mentally, things were not going great. As of halfway, she was the last runner. “I kept thinking, I’m not going to make it,” she said. At Telluride, she was ready to call it quits, but an aid-station volunteer informed her that her husband had dropped, but was running back to pace her to the finish line. “I thought, Oh crap, now I have to keep going,” she laughed. She left the aid station so late that the volunteer told her, “No one has ever left this late and made the cutoff time.”
Steve met her soon, and at a 49-hour pace, they knew they had some ground to cover. “He looked at me and said, ‘You’re going to be a Hardrocker.’ I teared up a little at that,” she said.
Steve pushed Deb on to a 47-hour-and-three-minute finishing time.
“You barely got in,” Steve said, remembering the run from so long ago like it was yesterday. The last two times she has run, Deb has been the oldest woman to cross the line.
This year at Hardrock, if Deb decides to return to the fierce trail again, her brother Drew Meyer will return to pace her. Meyer, who is another Hardrock devotee, has been Deb’s pacer several times, one year actually having to catch and find her on the trail.
For the 2012 race, Drew planned on pacing Steve the entire 100 miles, which is allowed by the rules of the event because he was over 60 years old. Steve was forced to drop due to sickness at the Ouray Aid Station, and Drew was informed that Deb was only a few minutes ahead of them, also not feeling great.
“I proceeded to the next aid station fully expecting to find Deb sitting there, wrapped in a blanket, done,” he said. “I confess I was hoping she was done so I could quit, too. But she had gone on past that aid station, and as I reached the top of Engineer Pass just at dawn, I saw her ahead of me, running strongly downhill.” Drew paced his sister to that year’s finish.
“I give him all the credit in the world,” Deb said. “He is awesome. It is hard to run 100 miles, and harder to run at someone else’s pace.”
“As a back-of-packer, you have to know the cut-off times, but you cannot pay attention,” she said. “You have to ignore it.”
You don’t know what might happen, she says. You could go blind in one eye or you could run the last nine miles without a headlamp, only to remember within minutes of finishing that your pacer has an extra in his pack. Both have happened to Deb on the Hardrock course, and Steve has been given the nickname “The Barfomatic” by his loving wife from years of on-course illnesses.
“Stuff like that happens, and it is just nuts,” she says. “But we don’t have anything to prove. It is just a fun challenge.”
A fun challenge they enjoy together. They run every other day, and do body-strength exercises on their off days. On the weekends they take to the trails for their long run on Saturday and either another run or long hike after church on Sunday. They have adopted a plant-based, near-vegan diet, which they claim has upped their energy levels and decreased their recovery time.
“We spend a lot of time together, and I look forward to the weekends,” Steve says. “If she wasn’t a runner then I would be out there by myself.”
“At this age, to have a shared passion is really awesome,” Deb added.
But there are some downsides to having two intense, stubborn ultrarunners in the family. For one, they said, when they both want to run, there is usually no one to crew. When the other one has to drop it is discouraging, they agreed, but then again when she knows Steve is out on the trails, it is really encouraging for her, Deb said.
“When we get to an aid station the first question is always, ‘How is Deb/Steve doing?’” Steve said. “Even if he is not next to me, I am glad we are doing this together,” Deb added.
With their hands full of fermenting beer, squawking chickens, and logging mile after mile, Deb said it is awesome to be healthy and to keep running.
“If and when we can’t run, then we’ll hike,” she noted. “Yeah, life is like a circle,” Steve chimed in. “In the Boy Scouts you’re a hiker and one day I will be a hiker again.”
“When we’re 70,” Deb said laughing.
“No,” he stated decisively, “at age 70, I’ll be at Hardrock!”
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
Do you know Deb and Steve Pero? Have you run with them? It’s time to cut loose with some good stories about this couple in the comments section. Fire away and help celebrate their contribution to our community.