Thanksgiving Came Early This Year


        This year's Texas opportunity to overdo it shifted a bit South in geography and earlier on the calendar than usual. With what seemed to be the end of the long-lived Plano 24/48-hour race last year, the idea was planted that maybe I could put something together this year to continue the string of Texas multi-day events. A possible spring date for this effort fell through when I ran headlong into a mass of red tape standing between me and my goal of holding this race on the Texas A&M campus. OK, I would just look further ahead and try to schedule on Thanksgiving weekend, just like the Plano race. Speaking of which, I then found out that Scott Eppelman was going to revive the Dallas-area race on the same date. After quick consultation, we agreed that I would put on the race this year, then he would go ahead with his resuscitation efforts next year.

Several choices of courses were turned down for reasons ranging from reasonable to ridiculous, finally a possibility presented itself in the form of a .6 mile loop around a park next to the football stadium. Along with that came the next date change. You see, you can't have a two day race next to the stadium on home game weekends, and Thanksgiving weekend is THE home game against UT. These are just minor examples of the difficulties and details that kept me busy practically right up to the race itself. But the best thing to come out of the many changes, was that I was able to extend the course by using crossing trails to 1.547 miles with the runners coming through the aid area about every half a mile. This required the use of lots of signs and flags to mark the route, and worried me greatly that runners would be getting off course a lot.

At least the weather was not going to be much of an issue. A continuation of the string of carbon copy low-80° days and 50° nights was promised through the weekend. Some runners would find the sunny afternoons challenging.

Surprise! Even with the dark start to the 48-hour, the runners stayed on course and with only a rare lapse, had no difficulties keeping track of where they were throughout the event. In fact, despite some minor grumbling about some tiny (but growing) hills and occasional uneven footing and concrete, the course was a hit for most runners.

        The battle shaped up early between Randy Albrecht and John Yoder. But with Randy planning steady progress toward his desired 200 miles, their close proximity was more likely due to competitive urges by John, who was attempting his first 48-hour. Indeed, John maintained a narrow lead through 11 (61.9 mi.) hours, but fell behind during a break, and thereafter began to steadily lose ground.

        Meanwhile, Jeff Hagen was sticking with a well-disciplined plan in hopes of breaking Jim Drake's 50-54 age group record of 213 miles. He took over second place after 16 hours (78.9 mi.), and stayed within an hour of Randy on completed laps until a series of breaks by both runners left Jeff in the lead just past 20 hours (95.5 mi.). By the 24 hour mark Randy was back in the lead with 114.5 miles to Jeff's 112.9. John Yoder and Mark Henderson had reached 103.6 and 100.6 miles respectively at 24 hours. Less than three hours later with a full 2 lap lead, Randy seemed to hit the wall with flu-like symptoms that drained him of energy and took him out of the race at 128.4 miles.

        While Jeff plowed on in his record chase, Mark began reeling John in. He succeeded just past 30 hours (109.8 mi.), then surpassed Randy after another 8 hours. Mark's strategy of cooking his own hot meals followed by substantial sleep breaks powered him through the remaining hours, as he continued to entertain lap counters and runners alike.

        The Saturday morning start to the 24-hour went off as scheduled, and suddenly we had twice as many runners to track. However, reinforcements had arrived in the middle of the night from Kansas in the KUS-mobile, so everything continued to run smoothly. Just past 7 hours, Davey Harrison (38.7 mi.) held a narrow lead over Austin Marathon race director Joe Prusaitis and Wes Monteith, with Chuck Zeugner about two laps back. As is so often the case in these events, even brief time off the course can shift the runners' placement. Joe held to the course, taking the lead he would never relinquish as his opponents took their breaks. By his first significant break at 15 hours (71.2 mi.), he was 7 laps clear of Davey and 6 ahead of Chuck. For Chuck and Wes this was their first excursion beyond 50 miles, and both seemed pleased to reach the 70 mile range. Davey stopped just past 23 hours in second place, which allowed the fast finishing New Yorker, Michael Dorovitsine, to equal Davey's total with less than 5 minutes to go in the race. Joe had reached 100 miles by 22:27 and continued on to finish with 106.73 miles. Bill Shirk was a recent casualty at the KUS Flat Rock 50 K, having broken an ankle in the first mile on rain-slickened rocks. With his ankle braced securely, he couldn't resist joining us for another round of fun, and managed a full marathon for his effort.

        The women's 24-hour contest was between one runner in her first try beyond 50 miles and another trying her first ultra (if you don't count Pikes Peak)! Experience won out as Kansan Jan Shirk posted 63.42 miles to win by a landslide over Misty Fillus, who stopped early happy with her new distance PR.

        With the 24-hour event over, the 48-hour ground on, with Jeff continuing in pursuit of that record and the rest of the field embellishing their totals as fatigue allowed. One of these was the only female entrant in the longer event, Barbara McLeod. Intent on Canadian age group records, she logged over 80 miles the first day, and eventually stopped before 45 hours with over 200 kilometers to her credit. Oklahoman Tony Bridwell, after a longish sleep break to start the second day, came back strong enough to abandon an earlier thought that he might have an easier drive home by stopping early. Instead, he hung in there to nudge his 48-hour PR upward. The youngster of the field, Dalton Pulsipher, found new life on the other end of a ten hour break, to finish strongly. Veteran Willard Davis was able to work in well over 100 miles around a heavy schedule of football game broadcasts. In every such lengthy contest, there are at least a couple of early casualties. We were sad that in this case it was Dan Baglione and Mike Morrow-Fox who departed early.

        The real story of the closing hours of the race was Jeff's unyielding quest for the record. He came off of his last real break at 36 hours, and put in as fine a display of persistent effort as I have ever seen in the closing stages of a 48-hour race! Having previously observed one such race and competed in innumerable others, I have a keen sense of how the extreme fatigue in the late stages makes forward progress laborious and costly. Yet Jeff was able to put in 59 miles in the last 12 hours to top 100 miles for the second 24-hours of this struggle. This rarely seen achievement powered him past the old record by over 3 miles. Another interesting statistic is that he logged no less than 2 laps (almost 5 K) in every hour of the entire race! I certainly learned a few things by watching this performance unfold. Thanks Jeff!

        Finally, I must discuss my failure to put together the research project I had mentioned in my two oxidative stress articles published this summer in Ultrarunning. With lack of funding staring me in the face, I must admit that the resulting discouragement slowed down my efforts to organize a less ambitious project. It turns out that I would have had to have all the details worked out and the proper forms submitted by mid-summer, in order to gain approval for the research by the start of the race. My failure to properly navigate the bureaucratic channels has now convinced me that the best way to conduct such science is with private funding, and recruiting a medical doctor to collect tissues. It is my intention to pursue these options in connection with future KUS events. This was a golden opportunity to do such a project, as the vast majority of runners interested in the race were also interested in participating in the research. I can only blame myself for not making my case more articulately and forcefully to the funding sources. Unfortunately, there is also a general lack of interest in the special problems of ultradistance competitors from the sports medicine community.

        My thanks go out to all the KUS and non-KUS volunteers without whom such an event would not have been possible. Mark Henderson's soup the first night and KUS chef Purple Flurp's chili the second night were essential to keeping the runners and lap-counters going. I also must mention the high level of cooperation received from the Department of Health and Kinesiology, which was a requirement for our use of Spence Park here on the Texas A&M University campus.

Scott Demaree RD