Visitors to the website have recently been treated to some fantastic race reports, and I am happy to say that the latest, written by Richard Jones, is another classic.
Dust Bowl Series – Five Marathons in Five States in Five Days, 131 miles
Firstly, I have to apologise for taking far too long to write this race report; a combination of post event holiday and business trips has caused this.
This was the first ever multiday multistate five day event in the US, so when I read about it on the internet nine months ago I just knew I had to do it. Unlike single day marathons, my goal was not time based but simply to cover the 131 miles and complete the event. I signed up for the days and the race organiser, Clint got in touch straight away to welcome me into the event and offered any help he could to make my life easier, a real nice touch.
The event took place on trails in small towns in the states affected by the Dust Bowl which wiped out thousands of acres of agricultural land in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. I’d obviously heard of the states but a look on Google showed that these towns were little more than what we call villages, well used by truckers as stopovers on interstate highways but not exactly on the tourist map or famed for much.
I flew from London into Dallas Fort Worth and then on to Amarillo (yes the song, “show me the way to Amarillo”, which was sung to me at work repeatedly the week before). A gruelling 20 hour trip, thankfully I arrived on the Friday evening so I had two full days before day 1. The next morning I picked up my hire car and with some trepidation about driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time in years, pointed it northwards to Dalhart. The great thing about US highways is they are very clearly signposted, well maintained and for this particular journey, virtually empty of traffic, I drove miles without seeing another vehicle. I got very excited when I saw my first tumbleweed bounce towards me on the road, which was duly crushed under the wheels, followed by thoughts of punctures and being stuck!
For all five days the race organiser had secured enough hotel rooms in a local hotel at each location so we were all staying in the same place. I collected my race number on the Sunday afternoon, met the rest of the guys taking part (I was the only Brit and apart from a guy from Japan everyone else was American). There were quite a few locals taking part in each of the days but only around 45 people had signed up for all 5 marathons. There was also the option of half marathon distance for each day and a similar number had signed up for the 5 halves.
What struck me about my fellow competitors was the sheer number of marathons they had done, but how friendly and approachable they all were. I’ve met a number of UK veteran runners who have triple digit marathon finishes and they have a bit of a high opinion of themselves, a self-proclaimed elitism, which simply wasn’t the case here. One guy, a 70 year old, has done a thousand marathons, a truly awesome achievement, and he approached every day with the same smile and words of encouragement for those of us who are relatively new to running. The whole event was very much based on getting through the days and finishing, rather than competing against one another. Results were listed in alphabetical order as well as by time, and special awards were given out each morning to the last place finisher from the previous day.
I’ve done a few multiday events of marathon or ultra marathon distance, but never five in five days. I took trail and road shoes and enough gear to almost fill a suitcase(!) to cover any weather condition as well as a running rucksack with water bottles. Thankfully the courses had so many feed stations that I never needed to use a pack or run with a bottle.
Day 1 – Dalhart, Texas
A freezing cold Monday morning in a state park a few miles from the hotel; stupidly, I started in cycling shorts and short sleeved t-shirt and nearly froze in the first few miles. A fellow runner kindly offered me a pair of gloves (he actually had two pairs on!) and they really did save my race. I’ve never tried to run with my hands in my armpits but after 2 miles this is where I had them, in the darkness, fighting to keep warm but at the same time not go haring off on the first day. I quickly got through the first half by which point the sun was up and starting to thaw me out. The lake we ran around was stunning, birds were flying in and out constantly which was great to watch. By mile 18 I slowed down and started to refuel for Day 2. The feed station was more like a buffet, I’ve never seen such an array of sandwiches, savouries, sweet snacks and hot and cold drinks! I helped myself and paired up with Norm, a retired forces veteran, who was running my pace and the remaining miles flew by. Marathon completed in 4 hours 50 minutes and I felt really good, one down four to go.
The drive to Oklahoma took my through the town of Hooker; local shop had t-shirts in the window with the printed phrase “All my family and friends are hookers!”
Day 2 – Guymon, Oklahoma
26 laps of a park lake; I expected this to be difficult because of the monotony but I actually really enjoyed it. I set off with a sub two hour half in mind, not quite knowing how the legs would be after day one, but surprisingly I was flying and did the half in 2 hours. So, I aimed to do a further 3-4 miles at a reasonable pace then slowed down again and aimed for a sub 5 hour finish, eating on every lap to refuel for the following day. This course gave me lots of opportunity to talk to my fellow runners and some of the life stories and anecdotes were hilarious but sadly unprintable! With Day 2 done in 4 hours 45 minutes, no major injury concerns, I got in the car and drove to Kansas.
En route I called into the town of Liberal on the state border and visited the official Wizard of Oz museum, the actual house in the film is still standing. Great to see but they had no red shoes for sale, missing a trick there!
Day 3 – Ulysses, Kansas
The evening before the race the local tourist board put on a fabulous free pasta party for us at the local museum, the museum itself was fascinating, particularly the old photos of Wild West life and the Dust Bowl.
Day three was on a local golf course and it was bitterly cold, the course was a rough triangle shape with a long incline on one side and open to the elements. It certainly was cold, there were icicles hanging from the outbuildings! I noticed my legs took a bit longer to warm up and get moving, but I still managed to keep to a 9 min/mile pace and got to the half marathon distance in two hours. By 2 hours 30 minutes I’d past the mile 16 stage and I knew day 3 was in the bag, so again it was time to eat on the move and refuel for day 4. I even started powering up the hill and walking the decline on each lap, just for the hell of it, seemed like a good idea at the time! I finished day 3 in the same time as day 2, only 4 seconds difference.
Day 4 – Lamar, Colorado
I woke up, stepped out of bed and felt some niggles in my legs for the first time. This course was different in that it was an out and back course, uphill out and downhill back. By now some of us were starting to really hurt, more runners set off actually walking than running, I noticed that my legs just wouldn’t quite do what I was asking them to do. Again I opted for a sub two half and as the sun rose and shone brightly I quickly warmed up and the running became easier. I had started in hat, gloves, fleece and windproof, such was the cold, but by mile 16 I was down to long sleeve top and the Ron Hills. I actually felt quite good, perhaps in the knowledge that I was really going to do all five days, barring a disaster, and with a new found spring in my stride I finished in 4 hours 32 minutes. One day to go and a small matter of 200 miles of driving to the next destination! Thank goodness the car was an automatic.
Day 5 – Clayton, New Mexico
About 5 hours of running and I’m done! Unfortunately the most difficult course was left until last, a real sting in the tail. At 4,000 feet above sea level New Mexico gets pretty cold and we were on Mountain Time, an hour behind Texas and the other states, so we had a 6.30am start. I had to scrape the ice from the car windows and then it was around a 20 minute drive to what felt like the middle of nowhere. I gave a lift to a fellow runner, Renee, who was on the trip with her husband Rob, a smoking, drinking, larger than life New Yorker. I had offered to give her a lift to allow Rob at least one decent night’s sleep, he had been up and on the course every day supporting his wife. By now all of us were feeling fairly beaten up so the conversation was virtually zero as we drove in the dark up to the park. The course was a figure of eight, with the feed station in the centre which was on the only level part of the course. Both loops were hills and were quite steep, eight times the figure of eight had to be done and it was torture. You were basically running up or down the whole time. It was like running on a dried up river bed, sandy with large pebbles and small boulders which rolled your ankle, got in your shoe or had to be hopped over. I could have cried with still 10 miles to go, my sub two hour half strategy had completely gone out of the window, as had any running rhythm because of the surface under foot. Then Clint the race organiser appeared alongside me, on his bike, wanting to know my views on the event and what he could do to improve things the following year. I tried to be as diplomatic as I could about day five’s course, suggesting as it was the hardest day and the furthest drive distance to do it as day one rather than day five. Before I knew it I’d done another three miles at a nine minute mile pace, amazing when you are concentrating on talking and not actually running! My left Achilles was starting to complain, first time ever, and every uneven step made the pain worse.
Clint peeled off to leave me on my final lap; I had feelings that I’ve never experienced before from running; the pride of finishing 131 miles in 5 days, physical pain in my lower legs and also sadness that the adventure was over, no more race camaraderie with my new found friends, I didn’t want the adventure to end. I even joked as I took my final steps by half turning and shouting “let’s go back”, part of me would have gladly continued. The marathons I have done previously have largely merged together in my mind, but this event will stand out for the rest of my days.
I finished the five days with an average time of 4 hours 50 minutes per marathon in ninth place. My five day medal has pride of place at home. More importantly I have also made some fantastic new friends who have kept in touch and I will definitely see again, and the trip has broadened my running horizon still further. After running five in five, I know I can do anything.
My aim now is to do all 50 US states and I’ve signed up for the three day marathon event at Lake Tahoe, California in September.
Keep on running.
Ps. Did the Rotterdam marathon on Sunday, 14 April, in 3 hours 59 minutes, 3 weeks after this event, the human body is truly an amazing piece of kit with incredible powers of recovery.