Badwater 2011 — Crewing for Pam Reed

A couple years ago at Thanksgiving, I watched with fascination Running On The Sun, the 1999 account of the Badwater Ultramarathon.  I wrote a review on it here.  I knew I would never run the race but it never even occurred to me that one day I would be crewing for it because I didn’t even know anybody who wanted to run 135 miles in a human BBQ.  All that changed when I met Pam Reed.

I had crewed for Pam in Jan. of this year when she did a 24-hr. run near my home in California.  So when Pam asked me to join her crew for Badwater, I didn’t hesitate.  In his pre-event news release, race director Chris Kostman said, “The necessary favorite is Pam Reed, 50, of Jackson, WY, the 2002 and 2003 overall champion who also won the women’s field in 2005 and placed 2nd woman and 7th overall in 2009.”  Pam had also recently qualified for the Ironman World Championships and the 70.3 World Championships, and won the Keys 100 in an impressive time.  She was more than ready; at age 50, she was in the best shape of her life.  Most people do Badwater just to finish or win a belt buckle.  Pam was here to win it, and that creates a sense of excitement and a dynamic with the crew that other teams don’t get a chance to experience.

A week before Badwater, one of our crew members had to drop, so my running pal and training partner Dr. Kevin Stuart joined the crew.  I was thrilled to be doing another epic event with Kevin as we have shared some really awesome experiences over the years.  Still, we weren’t really sure what to expect as rookie crew members.  Race rules state “runners accompanied by conveyance such as hovercrafts and helicopters will be disqualified.”   Why would “hovercraft” need to be in the rules?  At the general store at Furnace Creek Ranch, I found a t-shirt with the instruction, “Bring a compass.  It’s awkward when you have to eat your friends.”  Such rules and words leave a lot to the imagination.

Yikes! Try not to buy gas in Death Valley. Ice is $4 a bag but we would have gladly paid $10.

This year’s crew met for the first time two days before the race in Las Vegas.  Led by crew chief Susy Bacal, we were joined by veteran crew members Craig Bellmann and Jim Cady.  Nike running coach Kenley Ferrara joined us from New York City.  I could tell there was  a good vibe with this crew right from the start.

Pam figured she had one person to beat–Sumie Inagaki of Japan.   Pam had run with Sumie in France at the 48-hr. world championships.  Sumie is the world record holder at 48-hrs. but this was her rookie year at Badwater and had probably never run in this kind of heat.

Eventual women's winner Sumie Inagaki gets some much needed sleep at the pre-race meeting.

Early on race morning, Pam got a phone call and heard some difficult family news.  At breakfast, she told the whole crew.  We knew it wasn’t the kind of thing she could just block out of her mind, but we tried to keep things light-hearted since the race was starting in just a few hours.

Kenley and I waited at Furnace Creek (mile 17) in the second van to take over support when Pam arrived.  We watched the entire 10 am. group come through.  Something was wrong.  The crew said Pam seemed fine the first ten miles, then started slowing down and walking with a sharp pain in her back.  We couldn’t tell if it was a real injury or if the stress of the news from home had her tied in knots.  Whatever it was, Pam was suffering.

When Pam finally arrived, she had to lay in the shade.  We did our best to calm her down, help her relax and find a new groove.  She took a dip in the pool at Furnace Creek Ranch and we hoped that would help her snap out of her funk.  Eventually we were back on the road and tried to keep moving.  We took turns walking with Pam for several miles as she struggled mentally and physically.

Pam tells race officials she is dropping.

One race official pulled up behind us, shocked to see Pam in very last place.  Without hesitation he said, “We will bend the rules for Pam.  She can do anything she wants out here.”  It was indeed an honor to be crewing for Badwater royalty.  She made it another few miles but decided to drop before things got worse.

Even at her lowest point, Pam wanted to check on her fellow runners.  We drove ahead to find Amy Palmiero-Winters in bad shape on the side of the road.  We pulled over and Pam gave Amy some words of encouragement.  Amy recovered like a true champion and finished the race.

We also caught up to Luis Escobar who had returned to Badwater after a five year hiatus.  Pam and I had a fantastic time with Luis last Sept. when we took him to Jackson Hole, WY  to do a photoshoot of Pam in the Teton Mountains.  He’s an amazing photographer and an outstanding runner, finishing his third Badwater this year.

Luis Escobar shocked to hear Pam is dropping. He goes on to earn a buckle.

Once we gathered ourselves and realized the race was over for us, Pam said she wanted us to drive to Stovepipe Wells at mile 40 to give the rookie crew members a flavor of the race.  We passed many runners and just about everyone looked like they were suffering greatly.  It was 125 degrees and everyone at the time station remarked how it was so much cooler than last year’s 134.  We all jumped in the pool at the Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel.

I didn’t get to experience the full measure of Badwater but I saw enough to appreciate the magnitude of what these runners do out there for 135 miles in unimaginable heat.  And to consider that every year the field gets better, stronger, faster.  I can’t help but wonder just how fast someone can run this course.  The men’s record is 22:51:29 and some were expecting it to be broken again this year.

It’s hard to know if Pam will make a another run at Badwater.  I’m not sure she knows herself.  It would seem there’s really nothing left to prove but a DNF doesn’t seem like the way to end her career at the event that brought her  worldwide fame in the ultra running community.  If she decides to go for it next year, I hope to be there.

Running The Sahara Movie Review

If this 3-min. trailer doesn’t captivate you, read no further… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HidKMFClQUU  I watched this movie several times on a flight from San Francisco to Dubai on my way to Banaglore.  It made the 15-hr. flight somewhat bearable but it also kept me awake when I should have been sleeping as I was mesmerized by the story.  I had heard about these three nutcases who decided to do this on something of a whim in the winter of 2006. 

American Charlie Engle is well known in running circles for having completed some of the longest runs ever after a life of serious drug and alcohol addiction. Ray Zahab from Canada is a former smoker and drinker.  Kevin Lin from Taiwan was really the only real elite athlete, capable of running under 2:20 for a marthon.  The three of them had raced together before, but they decided to run the Sahara simply because nobody had ever done it.

Narrated and executive-produced by Matt Damon, the team called this an expedition, not  a run, and the original goal was just to get one of them to actually finish.  Starting on the coast of Senegal, the course took them 4,300 miles through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt, finally finishing at the Red Sea.

Running The Sahara, photo By Don Holtz

It’s impossible to chronicle a 111-day journey in a single documentary film.  But it does a great job of capturing the thoughts and emotions of three distinctly different men, their loved ones, and their support crew. I found myself sometimes wondering what happened in those 4 – 5 day stretches that weren’t covered in the movie.  Were they just mundane, uneventful days of running 2 marathons a day, day after day after day?  Sort of makes those guys who run a marathon a day for 50 days look like they’re just getting started, huh?  These guys actually got to a point where they were comfortable running 50 miles a day…after already completing 3,000 miles!  The mental fortitude it must take to continue under incredible circumstances and challenges is difficult to comprehend.  Sandstorms, death threats, baseball size blisters, sleep deprivation, significant weight loss, illness, exhaustion.  Good grief.

What takes the whole expedition to another level is the cause that was spawned as a result of the effort.  In partnership with Matt Damon, the Sahara runners started the H2O Africa Foundation to bring attention to the water crisis in Africa and gather support for clean water programs in critical areas, including communities along the Running the Sahara route. I love stories like this, where it’s not just about three madmen hoofing it across the biggest sandbox in the world.  This is real inspiration.

Skyline 50K Trail Run

I had just completed the Tahoe Rim 50K two weeks ago and my Transrockies teammate and I had planned to do a final training run at altitude the day before Skyline by doing a 5-hr. run at Yosemite.  But the day before that, I spent the afternoon in the emergency room with chest pains, only to be diagnosed with a case of costrochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage in the chest wall).  By the time I was cleared by several doctors to run, Kevin and I had decided to bag the trek to Yosemite.  Now what do I do?  I ran 15 miles of trails the next day with Kevin but this was supposed to be our peak weekend of back-to-back-to-back long runs before tapering for Transrockies.  I felt like I needed a challenge, so I drove an hour north on Sunday morning to the Lake Chabot Marina in Oakland, CA.

Lake Chabot startThe Skyline 50K is the oldest 50K trail race in the country.  You would think that dubious distinction belongs to a bigger event.  According to co-race director Jennifer Ray, “…only one other trail 50K is that old – the Quicksilver run in San Jose.  But they stopped having the 50K for a few years, so Skyline is the longest running 50K.”  Quicksilver is a regular training ground for me but I’ve never run the 50K (and not sure I want to with its sawtooth profile).   On average, Skyline draws less than 150 runners; this year there were 126.  But I can see why it’s been around so long.  It’s a fast course, very runnable, and extremely well organized. 

Sjyline 50K Start LineLike most trail runs, the start (and the finish, for that matter) was casual and inauspicious.  Runners gathered behind a piece of duct tape while we half listened to final instructions.  I can never remember what color ribbons to follow.  Red going out, blue coming back?  Or was it the other way around?  What’s the white ribbon for?  And then we were off.

The current course, established in 2003, is described on the web site as  having generous amounts of singletrack, ridge running, and no quad-busting finish.  That translates into lots of running.  There is a total of three miles of paved bike path along Lake Chabot, 11+ miles of shady single track, and the rest is on dirt fire roads.  I took the first hour or more at a leisurely pace, walking some of the steeper hills even if I could have run them.  Everyone seemed to be in a hurry.  No lolly-gagging at the first few aid stations.  This event is a championship event in the 2009 Pacific Association/USATF Ultra Grand Prix Series, and it seemed like everyone was racing for points.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning my nutrition and hydration needs through trial and error…with plenty of errors.  I’ve learned to drink early and drink a lot, even when I’m not really thirsty.  Hyponatremia is not likely to catch up to me with my nearly excessive hydration requirements.  I grabbed a fistful of PB&Js at every aid station, and that seemed to take care of my nutrition requirements.

What saved me and probably many others on this day was the weather.  It was overcast and in the 60s almost the entire race.  The sun came out and started warming things up with just a few miles to go.  I finished in 5:36, my fastest 50K ever and my 9th PR of the year.  It was a refreshing change to receive a goodie bag with something in it this year.  Among a smattering of giveaways was a very nice tech T-shirt accompanied by an aluminum drinking bottle which took its place on top of my trophy case next to the Rim Trail Ale I received at the Tahoe Rim 50K a couple weeks earlier.  The post race BBQ was simply awesome, and included vegetarian items.  I filled my plate with a massive burger, vegetables and a big bowl of vegetable bean soup.  There are generally no medals for trail runs but the food is usually excellent.

Skyline 50K ViewIt’s a great feeling to be in good enough shape to decide to run 31 miles the day before a race, especially after running 15 miles of trails.   I have managed to stay injury free while running up to 100 miles a week and I feel like I have really put the work in for the Transrockies Run.  I’m not sure there is anything else I could have done to prepare.  Now I can go and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.

Tahoe Rim Trail 50K

View near Snow Valley PeakThe tagline says it all — “A Glimpse of Heaven and A Taste of Hell.”   Officially 50K but closer to 32 miles all run at 7,000 – 9,200 ft. elevation.  The event even has a theme song dedicated to the crazy ones who run the 100 mile event.  I knew the scenery would be phenomenal, but this one would be a real test.  I signed up for this event with my Transrockies partner Kevin as a training run.  I knew if it wasn’t a disaster it would be a confidence builder and in my mind there wasn’t much in between.  I had trained well, but I was nervous about doing my first ultra at elevation.  The last 16-ml. training run at Yosemite a few weeks earlier did not go well.

It was a bit sobering to go to packet pick-up on Fri. and see so many people running the 100-mile event.  You could tell who was running 100 because they all wore white wristbands with their weight and weight limits scribbled on them.   A woman said she was running the “fun run” and I was surprised there was a 5K until I realized she was referring to the 50K. 

A group of four of us from my running club stayed at the host hotel in Carson City, NV.  We left the hotel in the dark on race day at 4:45 am.  The 100-milers would start at 5:00 am., followed by the 50K and 50M at 6:00 am.  It was fairly evident this event drew many seasoned trail runners, although by a show of hands, the vast majority of 400 runners were running this event for the first time.  I also couldn’t help but notice at the start the brand of choice these days for gaiters is dirtygirlgaiters.com.  I’ve been wearing them for years and love them.

Marlette Tahoe LakeMarlette Lake in the foreground.  Lake Tahoe lies 2500′ below in the back.

The spectacular setting for this event is high elevation alpine and sub-alpine regions of the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains.  We had to stop several times just to look around at the jaw-dropping vistas.  I wasn’t expecting the trail to be almost entirely sandy dirt and lots of mixed chapparal areas, causing me to eat dust most of the day.  There were also some tricky rocky sections, which made us wonder how the 100-milers would negotiate some of the terrain at night.

I remembered someone at the pasta feed explain they had run into a 400-lb. bear during one of the training runs on this course just a few weeks ago.  But I was more worried about the heat and the elevation.  I knew it would soar into the 80s even at the higher elevation.  I would need to run a smart race.  That meant pacing and course management, hydration and nutrition, salt tablets, and taking advantage of everything at the aid stations. 

Finish LineHaving a doctor, especially a gastroenterologist, as a running partner and team mate is a phenomenal   advantage.  Kevin understands how the body functions better than I ever will, so I basically do whatever he says when it comes to hydration and nutrition.  Kevin was great at reminding me to drink constantly.  We crossed the finish line together in 8:25 but figured we could have gone under 8 hours if we were racing because we spent a leisurely 30 mins. combined at the aid stations.  We were really pleased that we had run a smart race.  We started easy and saved our energy.  I drank a huge volume of water–60 oz. an hour just as planned–to deal with the heat and elevation.  We took several salt tablets and ibuprofen late in the race to deal with cramping.  We were especially happy we were able to run at altitude without adverse effects.  We felt strong at the end and picked off close to 20 runners in the last seven miles, putting us in #68 and #69 out of 165.  We weren’t dehydrated, so we enjoyed the commemorative Rim Trail Ale we were handed at the finish line.

So how hard is the Tahoe Rim and would I do it again?  Consider it took Kevin three hours more to complete than Way Too Cool (50K) and my time was only 90 mins. less than what I ran at AR (50 mls.) last year.  There were many sections where just walking was hard.  The daunting Red House Loop in the middle of the course is the most punishing 10K section of an event I have ever run.  I came up out of that hell hole completely spent, not sure if I could finish.  Yes, I would do it again.  Maybe even the 50-mile.

We were stunned when we saw local ultra runner Peter Fain coming from the other direction about ten miles in.  He was already ten miles ahead of us, finishing in a mind-bending 4:39.  We also saw 5-time WS100 winner Tim Tweitmeyer out on the course who took second place nearly a full hour after Peter.

This event is jointly presented by the Tahoe Mountain Milers (Lake Tahoe) and Sagebrush Stompers (Carson City) Running Clubs.  Everything about this event is first class.  The pasta feed is catered by a local restaurant, the shuttles and parking is well organized, the events start exactly on time, the burrito bar at the finish is the perfect post race food, and I relished a full 30-min. massage after the race with three masseusse’s working me over at the same time. 

Hobart Aid StationThe aid stations are simply the best.  In my book, half of a good aid station is just about being stocked with the right stuff.  The other half is a crew that knows what they’re doing.  I’ve never seen a better aid station than Hobart at 8120 ft.  We hit it twice on the 50K.  Fully decked as an Irish pub, it was a high energy environment with music, men dressed in kilts, a dart board (I just missed a bullseye), a full keg of beer, a wide assortment of food and drinks including chicken noodle soup, and a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey.  The bottle had not been touched when I rounded Hobart the first time (it was only 8:00 am.), but on the second trip later in the day, some runners had clearly taken a turn.

SignThe crew at every aid station was incredibly attentive.  Someone always took my pack and filled it with ice and water for me.  A local Boy Scout troop crewed the Snow Valley Peak aid station.  One of the Boy Scouts had checked my bib number and came running out to meet me on the course, and said, “Lynn, is there anything I can do for you?”  How awesome is that?

About the Tahoe Rim Trail (from the official TRT web site)
The Tahoe Rim Trail is one of the world’s premier trails. It passes through two states (California and Nevada), six counties, one state park, three National Forests, and three Wilderness areas. This spectacular trail is 165 miles of single-track multiuse trail, winding peak to peak around Lake Tahoe.  The Tahoe Rim Trail Association was formed as a nonprofit in 1981.  The trail was completed in September of 2001. Construction began in 1984.  49 miles of the TRT overlaps the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
TRT map

Ultimate Direction Wasp Hydration Pack

wasp_front07I use the Nathan HPL 020 hydration pack for local trail runs, but I needed something with extra storage capacity without the bulk for the Transrockies Run.  I also have broad shoulders and a big frame for a distance runner and needed a pack that fits me comfortably.  Nathan packs are not really designed for someone my size.  I had heard recently that the owner of Ultimate Direction used to be partners with the owner of Nathan.  They split and became competitors, and that would help explain all the extra features you find on UD products.

I chose the Wasp from Ultimate Direction.  First launched in 2004, you can tell by looking at it that it was designed for long distance running.  The shoulder harness system allows this pack to sit higher on the back than most packs.  It’s amazing what a difference that makes.  Aside from fitting more like a garment than a pack, my running shirts don’t creep up my back with this pack.  Click here for a detailed list of product features.

It’s all the little extra touches that sets this pack apart, starting with the bite valve.  If I can’t drink easily, the whole thing feels like a nuisance.  On the Wasp, you just bite down on the pliable silicone and the water flows.  It also doesn’t drip when you’re done drinking.  The tube is encased in insulated neoprene to keep the water cold.  And I really like the little gator clip with a wrapping velcro attachment which allows you to secure the valve where you want it instead of having it bounce around.wasp_back07

A distinguishing feature of this pack is the unique roll top reservoir opening and closure system.  At first glance, you might expect this design to leak and it doesn’t really look easy to open and close.  But then I remember how many times I have fumbled with the screw tops on Nathan and Camelback reservoirs and I realize this design makes a lot of sense.  Once again, it’s the little details.  The reservoir has a central baffle that keeps it from bulging when filled to capacity.  It also has a simple grab loop at the top which holds it in place and keeps the reservoir from dropping as it empties.  Sounds like something designed by runners, for runners, doesn’t it?

Wasp at YosemiteI recently wore this pack on a very hard 16-mile training run at Yosemite, almost fully loaded the way I would wear it for Transrockies.  I packed a blanket, raingear, arm warmers, gloves, camera, Gu, energy bars, and trekking poles.  The only items I didn’t pack were a medical kit and a few accessories like a compass and sun block.  All these items were easily stored on the Wasp and it felt very comfortable.  I was a bit worried the poles might bang around but I didn’t even notice they were there when I was running.  We also refilled twice in the streams (we had iodine tablets) and I was impressed with how the insulated tube kept the water flowing cold.

I really can’t think of anything I don’t like about the Wasp.  Even the price is very reasonable.  I found it for $65 online but probably would have paid more for such a great product.  The jury may still be out on the durability of the reservoir.  I’ve had two blowouts on my Nathan pack in two months.  The Wasp has a double RF-welded perimeter specifically to prevent blowouts.  Again, a smart design feature, but now I need to see if it stands the test of time and trails.

A Chance Encounter at Montana de Oro

I was visiting my in-laws in Paso Robles for Father’s Day weekend, so decided to treat myself to some new trails this weekend.  I printed the 25K course map for the Pacific Coast Trails Montana de Oro event and drove to Montana de Oro State Park early Sunday morning.

Spring poppies

The name Montana de Oro, or “Mountains of Gold,” was inspired by the abundance of Orange Bush Monkey flower, but the mountains are a cornucopia of Indian Pink, Indian Paintbrush, Yarrows, Buckwheat, Lupins, Deerweed, and other varieties.

The 1200-ft. climb from Spooner’s Cove to Valencia Peak is two miles long at an average incline of 14.1°.  A third of it is loose Monterey Shale (rock) and the first ridge is entirely exposed.  The view of Valencia Peak reminded me of the scenes from the Road Runner cartoon or How The Grinch Stole Christmas where the narrow trail spirals up the mountain until it reaches the pointed top, which I reached in a leisurely half hour.  I signed one of the hiker’s log books with a Father’s Day message.

Spooners CoveAlmost two hours into my run I had not yet found the Hazard Peak Trail.  I found myself winding my way back to Spooner’s Cove.  Entirely by chance, I met three runners coming down the same Valencia Peak Trail I had completed about 45 minutes earlier.  One of them was Luis Escobar, who will be running the Western States 100 for the 8th time this weekend.  He has also completed Badwater, Hardrock, HURT and numerous other ultras.  He’s also an accomplished photographer.  Go to www.allwedoisrun.com and check out Luis’ account of the rarely photographed Tarahumara people in the Urique and Batopilas Canyon region of the Copper Canyon, state of Chihuahua, in northern Mexico.  Very cool stuff.

Luis invited me to a 50K/50-mile run his running group is putting on at this location the weekend after Thanksgiving.  This is a new venue for the Santa Barbara 9 Trails 35 Mile Endurance Run, chosen after the recent fires in Santa Barbara.  I’ll be sure to promote it with my running club.

I took this chance encounter as the reason I was not supposed to find Hazard Peak Trail (although I did finally find it a half mile from where I parked as I left the park).  Some of the best moments in running are the serendipities along the trail.
 
Bluff TrailLuis and his buddies were meeting family members so we parted ways at the parking lot.  I was running out of time with a 45-min. drive back to Paso Robles.  Luis said the Bluff Trail was not very interesting.  It’s very flat, but I didn’t have time for Hazard Peak.  I’m glad I ran the bluff.  I stopped many times to take photos, listen to the big waves crash, and enjoy the moment.

Incredible Feats of Endurance

Recently, there has been a series of unbelievable feats of endurance that caught my attention and captivated my imagination.  It’s probably been going on around me for many years, but it’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see it everywhere on the road.  Ever since I signed up for the Transrockies Run this summer, I am taking notice of many incredible examples of human endurance.  Any one of them make the 125-mile Transrockies stage race look like a warm-up.

jennifer-figgeTake Jennifer Figge, who just became the first woman to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.  She completed this swim in 24 days, swimming 2,000 miles from the Cape Verde Islands to Trinidad in a makeshift shark cage.  Frenchman Benoit Lecomte is believed to have been the first to swim across the Atlantic when he swam 3,716 miles from Cape Cod, Mass., to the Brittany region of France in 1998. The journey took him 73 days.  In 1994, another Frenchman, Guy Delage, claims to have swum the same route that Figge swam, but with a kickboard.

15 athletes recently completed the 8th Decatriathlon World Challenge in Monterrey, Mexico.  That’s ten ironmans in a row, or an absurd 24-mile swim, 1,120-mile bike, and a 262-mile run (just move the decimal point over one place–seems easy, huh?).  The swim alone is 1,520 lengths of a 25-meter swimming pool, or the equivalent of swimming the English Channel.  For the leaders, this ultra endurance event takes over eight days of non-stop effort with occasional one-hour sleep breaks.  Six others (3 men, 3 women) also completed the Quintuple Ironman, a monumental distance that is somehow dwarfed by the Decatriathlon.

richard-donovan3Then there’s this fellow Richard Donovan who just last week became the first person to complete seven marathons on seven continents in less than seven days.  His globe-trotting string of marathons started in Antarctica, then went to Cape Town, Dubai, London, Toronto, Santiago and Sydney in five days, ten hours and eight minutes, logging 26,719 miles in the air in addition to his running.

What drives these people to attempt such mind-bending feats of human endurance?  How do you train for something like that?  And just how far can you push the human body, anyway?  Many of these extremes among extremes raise money and awareness for charitable causes along the way, but you know that’s not the only reason they do these things.  Is it inspiring or truly insane, or maybe both?

Any discussion on endurance giants is incomplete without mentioning Dean Karnazesdean-karnazes1, whose list of unimaginable running accomplishments continues to grow.  There is no organized race in the world that provides enough distance for Dean, and he makes Forrest Gump look like a rookie.  Last year, Dean became the first person to complete the desert “Grand Slam” in one year by running five of the world’s most inhospitable deserts.   He has also run 350 miles without stopping.  Yes, 350 MILES!  Took him over 80 hours.  That’s over three days and nights without sleep.  His perfect biomechanics and an ability to recover quickly has helped him to never sustain a running injury.  More on my recent run with Dean here and my review of his book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.

For cyclists, there is of course the Tour de France.  But that famous event is for professional riders and it’s a mere 3,500 kilometers long.  For the truly insane cyclist, there’s the Tour d’Afriquegeorge-hood (ironically pronounced “da freak”), an annual 12,000-kilometer bicycle race and expedition from Cairo to Cape Town, billed as the most grueling bike race on the planet.  The event takes about 120 days of which 96 are cycling days, averaging 125km a day.

Last May, George Hood set a cycling record without going anywhere.  He sat on a stationary bike for over 177 hours.  That’s nine days pedaling an estimated 2,600 miles, burning nearly 47,000 calories, and sleeping a combined 9 hours, 36 minutes in 10- and 12-minute cat naps.  Can’t imagine how he handles saddle sores.

The longest certified road race in the world is the 3,100 mile Self-Transcendence Race.  There is no photo that quite captures the madness of this event but the whole philosophy of self-transcendence is the idea that we are capable of more than we might believe.  Incredibly, competitors run 5,649 laps of a half-mile course in a span of 51 days.  The course record is 42 days.  That’s an average of 75 miles a day for six weeks!  suprabha_beckjordSuprabha Beckjord is the only 12-time finisher and still the only female competitor.  She has run 39,900 miles in this one race alone and holds national and world records for running 700, 1,000, 1,300, and 2,700 miles.  This and other famous feats of endurance are a part of the fascinating history around ultramarathons and its predecessor “pedestrianism,” chronicled on allaboutrunning.net

And just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s Mark Covert, who has run at least one mile every day since July 23, 1968.  That’s over 40 years without missing a day and averaging almost nine miles a day.  I remember reading about him in Runner’s World last year.  He has covered more than 136,000 miles.  mark-covert4He ran more than 150 miles a week in his peak years when he finished seventh in the 1972 Olympic marathon trials.  His is a different form of endurance, but no less impressive.

I note the age of just the athletes mentioned here as it makes me feel very young:
Jennifer Figge — 56
Richard Donovan — 42
Dean Karnazes — 46
George Hood — 50
Suprabha Beckjord — 52
Mark Covert — 57

Here’s how one athlete summed up his 4th place finish at the Decatriathlon.  “It took me 2 years to recover from the race in Mexico. My health suffered from the supreme effort I had given and from the amount of painkillers I consumed. But, despite this I learnt a great deal about myself. I learnt how to keep going though great pain barriers. Too often in life people are scared to push themselves. They put up a barrier. However, it is once you break through that barrier that you discover yourself. Don’t be scared of breaking through that barrier in life. You never know what you might achieve.”

I especially liked what Jennifer Figge said about the ultra endurance athlete.  “Those who don’t know the impossible are the ones who make things possible.”

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