There's no crying in ultra-marathons

Baby, where do I sleep?

Feels so good but I’m old…

2,000 years of chasing, taking its toll

And it’s coming closer

-          “closer” by Kings of Leon

There’s an old saying “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”.  Well, I think I can go top ten at Western States, set the FKT for the Appalachian Trail and do a bunch of other crap that the statistician in my brain understands has an actual probability of less than a fraction of one percent.  So, what do you do when your own fragile grip on the reality of what your body and mind is capable of is warped AF?  First, make good friends with disappointment, failure and pain.  Let’s take a fun look at what’s underneath my dozen or so FKT’s and records this year:

Failed to break the Syncline Trail FKT by 7 minutes and still have scars from wiping out on the boulder fields on my shins.  Failed to break the Potawatomi Trail FKT not once, but twice and badly sprained my ankle, complete with ruptured blood vessels, when I finally got it on the third try.  2 broken ribs on a collision with a boulder on the Black Mountain Crest Trail FKT.  A torn meniscus on my spring 50k race victory.  Heat exhaustion in Panama that reduced me to human rubble.  A 2nd place finish in a race I took a gamble on winning and paid a heavy price for a loss. 

The physical side is well documented.  The emotional is what most never see.  Trying to balance dreams of “the most interesting year ever” with also being the best dad possible to two little boys.  Doing runs in the heat of afternoon or after bedtime.  Scheduling trips around their schedule.  Going with less sleep.  Planning record trips, inviting your friends and then having them refuse to reimburse you for the plane tickets.  Running sick and tired.  Trying to balance finances and always provide by doing your own endeavors and contract work to make a year like this even possible.  The hardest was the choice made last week.  To let go of my biggest project of the year…

 

My goal this year was to complete 24 epic runs.  5 races (win an ultra-marathon in each calendar season and place at my first 100 miler), 7 adventures (Most states in a day, most countries in a day, fastest trans-continent run ever, etc.) and 12 FKT’s (breaking existing records, no “only known times”).  The stretch goal was to get nominated as one of the 5 FKT’s of the year.  Nolan’s 14 was going to be that capstone for me.  I’ve spent dozens of hours planning, breaking it down into 27 pieces, studying everyone else’s routes, reading the books, trip reports and going over topo maps. 

 

The plan was to rent a house and spend 3 weeks in Colorado with my family while scouting all 90+ miles.  Unfortunately, my youngest just isn’t at a good point in his little life for that 3 week adventure.  It would be hard him, hard on mom and hard on me.  So, I tried to fit 3 weeks of scouting into a 3 day weekend and it didn’t work.  A simple mistake of staying on Princeton’s ridge for ¼ mile too long was a stark reminder that I have no chance to beat the legendary times on that route without putting in the time on the ground.

 

It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I made the choice to push Nolan’s to next year.  It was unquestionably the right move.  Attempting a Nolan’s FKT with 1/3 of the hardest off-trail spots un-scouted would be an exercise in speed record suicide.  But I had my heart set on this route.  It was my misogi, my chance to shock the world, to make a mark, to re-validate my ability above 14,000.  It was the only thing this year that truly scared me.  It’s not just that my heart was set on it, it’s that I felt I needed it.  When I cancelled it this year, I lost that part of my 2019 dream, I felt lonely and hollow.

 

Sometimes doing the right thing can feel very wrong.  A huge storm below over the mountains and a fog enveloped my car as the rain and hail pelted the windows.  I broke down.  On the trail, I am fierce.  All I’ve ever asked for was the chance to fail.  The chance to throw down on a fraction of one percent chance.  In those moments, I find out who I am, what I can do and there is only the fight.  But when the fog clears and there is no big impossible proverbial mountain to climb… it’s empty.  I’ve long since made friends with failure and pain.  This week I’m courting disappointment and she is a cruel mistress. 

4 ultras in a month

Intro: In preparation for my Nolan’s 14 attempt and to hit my ridiculous goals for the year, I needed to have a killer July. This means pulling off the 50 states 5k (a 157 mile stage race over 6 days) and then running 3 ultra-marathon distance races/FKT’s in a 14 day period. Probably shouldn’t try this at home.

***A sidenote: Injury prevention is my number one goal when attempting this. I took 5 days off after the 157 mile stretch in 6 days. I took 4 days completely off following the first 50k and did only active recovery and shakeout style light jogs between the FKT and final ultra. Ice baths, foam rolling & clean eating were constant companions during the recovery phase.***

Ultra #1 - The 50 states 5k event. Running a total of 157 miles over 6 days and 7 hours in all 50 states of the USA was nuts. The temperature was often over 90 degrees, there was no time to warm up/cool down and sleeping, eating and living in a van for days takes it toll. I wrote a seperate blog post for this event here: https://www.joshsanders.net/blog/50states

Ultra #2 - The Dirty Burg 50k Ultra (2nd Overall) The course is 5 laps which each conclude by running up and down the ski hill. The plan was to drop after the second lap if I wasn’t feeling great. The race start was exactly one week post 50 states 5k. Felt pretty descent through 2 laps and was 30 seconds off the lead, so I just kept going. It was stupid thing to do. Quads ended up getting sore around mile 15 after 2 gnarly descents of the ski area. After the 4th lap, I was hurting. I used the race as a hot weather practice race. Did pre-cooling with a frozen towel while warming up and used ice in different methods on the back of my neck and head. That part of my race was great. Didn’t feel over-heated. I love ice like Sven.

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The last lap I was 15 seconds off the lead and just trying to survive on dead legs when I badly re-sprained my left ankle. I first injured the ankle, complete with ruptured blood vessels, 3 weeks earlier during the Potawatomi Trail FKT. This re-sprain was worse. Could barely limp for a few minutes. Ended up losing by 4 minutes. Thanks for setting a new PR in this race, Jake (j/k… Jake run with so much guts and 100% deserved this win). You win some and you lose some. My legs were wrecked and I technically “shouldn’t” have raced and ultra this soon after the biggest mileage week of my life… but I regret nothing. You have to take chances to do big things and I need an ultra-marathon win in each calendar season. I think I won a $10 Gazelle Shoes gift card but kinda just left without my finisher medal as I had to run home to ice bath before going on dad-duty with the boys ;-). My goal of a ultra-marathon win in each calendar season this year would have to wait.

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Ultra #3 - Twin Valley Trail FKT - 4:37:32 (New Speed Record). I took 5 full days off after the 50k to get my legs back. Did a few very easy recovery jogs and then one decent 90 minute run with Jordan at CSGA on Sunday. Took a very easy day Monday and went for the speed record Tuesday. Put the kids to bed (#DadLife) at 8pm and drove to Ohio (4 hours) and slept in my car in a rest stop area… dreaming of when Wisconsin beat Ohio State under the lights on Saturday night football to ruin their chances of a title #OnWisconsin

Woke up at 5am, drove 45 min to the trail and got on my way. The history of the attempt was self-supported. I prefer unsupported but usually just follow the history of the route, so I left myself some coconut water at a junction. Kept my heart rate super low and did the gnarly sections first. There was pretty poor footing due to erosion. Ugh, Ohio.

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The heavy rains the last week left the trail muddy. Some parts were easily the most mud I’ve ever run through in my life. It was soul sucking mud. There were a few pretty rad ascents on both sections, so that was cool. I guess Ohio isn’t all bad ;-) Legs got really tired around mile 18. Low point at mile 22 was solved with 2 gels. Took off at mile 25 to try and get KOM for a segment and badly re-sprained my left ankle AGAIN. I had to completely stop moving and scream a few profanities before gingerly limping the next mile.

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Luckily, I had this ranked as the 2nd easiest FKT to break in the midwest, so I was still able to break the old record by 39 minutes. What I learned: Even at efforts that aren’t full race pace the whole time, I have to keep up on nutrition, even small lapses lead to low points. Also, it’s crazy how the sections that are supposed to be easiest turn out to be hard. It’s like we know we should just crush those sections, so we relax or delay things like nutrition and the chill parts end up sucking. Also, Ohio rest stops aren’t great for sleeping.

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Anyways, I also have to figure out this ankle thing. 3 nasty sprains in 4 weeks means it’s just not healing between runs. I’ve managed swelling fairly well and the brusing is gone by the time I’m attempting another nutso run but dang. Saturay’s 50+ mile is on less gnarly trail, so hopefully without the gnarly descents and crazy rocks/roots, I can rock and roll.

Ultra #4 - Loopty Loop 8 Hour Ultra (1st Overall, Course Reccord). Last year I ran the 4 hour race at this event and won a super sweet chair and got my first course record. This year I decided to go for the 8 hour race as a final long run before Nolan’s and to take one more crack at getting my summer ultra-marathon win. As a fun bonus my college roommate Kyle Fraser came from Milwaukee to run his first ultra in the 4 hour event.

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The course is a 6.5 mile loop on mostly single track mountain bike trails through the woods. Not a ton of elevation gain but lots of zig-zags and a few little hills. My legs were tired by the half marathon point but I had planned on a 50 mile day and was only stopping if something structural started acting up. The shade kept the temps slightly lower than the mid-80’s in the sun. Kyle got the win in the 4 hour and broke my course reccord from last year. Super pumped he crushed his first ultra!

The last 2 loops (13 miles) weren’t really fun but I was incredibly grateful for the chance to run on truly wrecked legs and get some great practice in for Nolan’s. I tried some ultra-lite fueling (potato chips, protien cookies) to test for Nolan’s where I’m trying to keep 10,000 calories under 5 lbs. The last two laps were slower but I managed to break the CR by 22 minutes.

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In the 28 days from June 30th to July 28th… I ran 322 miles and in all 50 states. I completed one of my major adventure records for the year, broke another FKT, captured my summer season ultra-marathon win and extended my streak of podiums at an ultra-marathons to 11 (you know, providing you throw out the 2018 Hennepin 50k, which was my 2nd ultra of the day ;-)

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2019: A 1/2 year review

On this day 3 years ago I decided to be a runner.  I started with a half mile run and with a goal of a 2,190 mile run (Appalachian Trail).  I mean, if a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step, than a journey of 2,000 miles starts with a half mile, right?  I figured it would take 10 years of training to be ready for the AT.  This is my 10 year master plan and the first half of year 3 has been pretty rad. 

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1,350 miles isn’t a lot of miles for a competitive ultra-runner to log in the first half a year.  Miles have been lower to spend additional time recovering from racing so many FKT’s, ultra-marathons and long distance adventure races.  But man, the places these legs have taken me the first 6 months of 2019.

50 states & 16 countries run, 7 FKT’s broken, 6 national parks run, 3 logistically complicated speed records set, 2 ultra-marathon race wins & 1 continent traversed.  I’ve also broken 2 ribs, torn cartilage, ruptured blood vessels, sprained multiple joints, battled heat stroke, smashed my face up and taken so many ice baths to reduce swelling that I no longer flinch or hesitate when entering the ice. 

My 2019 litmus test is National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. If something would help my resume for that nomination, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. I made a spreadsheet. I’m roughly on pace if I can knock out a few more FKT’s and get my summer race win over the next 6 weeks. Nolan’s looms in the distance.

My 2019 litmus test is National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. If something would help my resume for that nomination, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. I made a spreadsheet. I’m roughly on pace if I can knock out a few more FKT’s and get my summer race win over the next 6 weeks. Nolan’s looms in the distance.

Since it would be impossible to write an accurate review of the past 6 months with anything short of a book… here are my 10 favorite photos from the first half of my year (caption included for each photo for the sake of additional context).

Deep Freeze FKT: The 28 mile ‘Adventure Hiking Trail’ on the Ohio/Kentucky border is one of the most gnarly trails I’ve run. It was nearly zero degrees, the trails goes directly up the bluffs, it was awesome. The speed record was previously held by Troy Shellhamer who won the inaugural Tunnel Hill 100. I started off frustrated with un-runnable sections, getting off course twice and complications from the freezing temperatures (frozen feet, fingers and water lines). But once I let go of expectations and just ran, I was able to enjoy the beauty of this untamed land. It ended up being possibly my favorite run ever.

Deep Freeze FKT: The 28 mile ‘Adventure Hiking Trail’ on the Ohio/Kentucky border is one of the most gnarly trails I’ve run. It was nearly zero degrees, the trails goes directly up the bluffs, it was awesome. The speed record was previously held by Troy Shellhamer who won the inaugural Tunnel Hill 100. I started off frustrated with un-runnable sections, getting off course twice and complications from the freezing temperatures (frozen feet, fingers and water lines). But once I let go of expectations and just ran, I was able to enjoy the beauty of this untamed land. It ended up being possibly my favorite run ever.

The North Rim: The Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim has become an annual pilgrimage each January. This year I took a few friends and we crossed the canyon in 2 feet of snow. Caleb’s brilliant take on a Simpson’s episode was the turning point in my decision to shift from races to FKT’s and leaving behind the comfort of a high paying salaried job with nice benefits for the ultimate freedom and adventure of the great unknown. Who are you trying to impress? The people who matter or the weirdo’s at the worm store?

The North Rim: The Grand Canyon’s Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim has become an annual pilgrimage each January. This year I took a few friends and we crossed the canyon in 2 feet of snow. Caleb’s brilliant take on a Simpson’s episode was the turning point in my decision to shift from races to FKT’s and leaving behind the comfort of a high paying salaried job with nice benefits for the ultimate freedom and adventure of the great unknown. Who are you trying to impress? The people who matter or the weirdo’s at the worm store?

Canyonlands Fog: The FKT attempt on the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands National Park proved that all is fair in love, war and FKT’s. The previous record was absolutely smashed the day before I made my attempt. While I was able to run the fastest clockwise loop ever, I still fell a few minutes short of Liam’s time from only 24 hours previous. There is no second place in FKT’s. There is ony the knowledge you threw down the best you could, left nothing on the course and the experience of these epic places. There is no failure in these places. Trophies rust, records are broken and muscles atrophy… but the experience is forever.

Canyonlands Fog: The FKT attempt on the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands National Park proved that all is fair in love, war and FKT’s. The previous record was absolutely smashed the day before I made my attempt. While I was able to run the fastest clockwise loop ever, I still fell a few minutes short of Liam’s time from only 24 hours previous. There is no second place in FKT’s. There is ony the knowledge you threw down the best you could, left nothing on the course and the experience of these epic places. There is no failure in these places. Trophies rust, records are broken and muscles atrophy… but the experience is forever.

Carolina Climbing: The Black Mountain Crest Trail is the highest elevation trail of any east of the Mississippi River. It’s a gnarly trail so technical there are fixed ropes. My motto for this year has been “every second counts” and it was never more evident than when I broke the ascent record by 3 seconds. I broke 2 ribs on the descent as I ran out of control down the mountain on my way to breaking the round trip FKT by over 15 minutes. I’m not elite and I never will be but this FKT proved I can compete and was a huge confidence booster. This record will always have a special place in my heart as 6 years ago it’s where I rekindled my love the outdoors which eventually led to ultra/trail running.

Carolina Climbing: The Black Mountain Crest Trail is the highest elevation trail of any east of the Mississippi River. It’s a gnarly trail so technical there are fixed ropes. My motto for this year has been “every second counts” and it was never more evident than when I broke the ascent record by 3 seconds. I broke 2 ribs on the descent as I ran out of control down the mountain on my way to breaking the round trip FKT by over 15 minutes. I’m not elite and I never will be but this FKT proved I can compete and was a huge confidence booster. This record will always have a special place in my heart as 6 years ago it’s where I rekindled my love the outdoors which eventually led to ultra/trail running.

The Starting Line: The 2019 Get Lucky 50k started just before dawn on a freezing and perfect day. The starting line “corral” was the board walk along the lake. I love the start of races. There is always so much hope, adrenaline and energy. I came away with my spring ultra-win goal as well as a torn meniscus and 10 days off running. All things in balance as they should be.

The Starting Line: The 2019 Get Lucky 50k started just before dawn on a freezing and perfect day. The starting line “corral” was the board walk along the lake. I love the start of races. There is always so much hope, adrenaline and energy. I came away with my spring ultra-win goal as well as a torn meniscus and 10 days off running. All things in balance as they should be.

Bus Stop Devastation: Running trans-continent across the country of Panama in the 90+ degree heat and humidity was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I tried to hit time goals instead off paying attention to how much the heat/humidity was breaking me down. I had scraped snow of my windshield on the way to the airport. I love this photo. I love it because it shows the brokeness that succesful photos seemingly ignore. Some see success and assume it comes easily or naturally. It comes at a price few are willing to pay.

Bus Stop Devastation: Running trans-continent across the country of Panama in the 90+ degree heat and humidity was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I tried to hit time goals instead off paying attention to how much the heat/humidity was breaking me down. I had scraped snow of my windshield on the way to the airport. I love this photo. I love it because it shows the brokeness that succesful photos seemingly ignore. Some see success and assume it comes easily or naturally. It comes at a price few are willing to pay.

3:59am: Running in a record 13 countries in one day wasn’t necessarily a special athletic feat but it was easily the most complicated and logistically difficult endeavor of my life. From spending hours reading rental car contracts to make sure they were allowed in every country to planning the routes in unknown territory, this was a bear. When we somehow arrived in the Netherlands at 3:54am after a series of crazy setbacks, I ran a 5 min/mile to get a mile in each country in under 24 hours. I had one minute alone in the Dutch night to soak in that moment. It was my favorite moment of the year so far.

3:59am: Running in a record 13 countries in one day wasn’t necessarily a special athletic feat but it was easily the most complicated and logistically difficult endeavor of my life. From spending hours reading rental car contracts to make sure they were allowed in every country to planning the routes in unknown territory, this was a bear. When we somehow arrived in the Netherlands at 3:54am after a series of crazy setbacks, I ran a 5 min/mile to get a mile in each country in under 24 hours. I had one minute alone in the Dutch night to soak in that moment. It was my favorite moment of the year so far.

Kentucky Mountain Sunset: Running in a record 18 states in one day was an epic experience and whirlwind. While the “athletic achievement” wasn’t necessarily special, the pushing for 24 straight hours to finish just a few minutes before the clock struck 24 hours was epic. Most epic was Coree joining us after I randomly DM’ed him from the Outback Steakhouse bar while drinking a Diet Coke and eating a mashed potato as my weird form of self-care.

Kentucky Mountain Sunset: Running in a record 18 states in one day was an epic experience and whirlwind. While the “athletic achievement” wasn’t necessarily special, the pushing for 24 straight hours to finish just a few minutes before the clock struck 24 hours was epic. Most epic was Coree joining us after I randomly DM’ed him from the Outback Steakhouse bar while drinking a Diet Coke and eating a mashed potato as my weird form of self-care.

Sunrise in Pinckney: The Pinckney State Park has been my nemesis the past year. From having to drop out of the Run Woodstock 50 miler due to RD error to two failed attempts in the previous 5 weeks on the Potawatomi Trail, I just couldn’t get a win on these trails. This sunrise over the lake was spectacular. The conditions were perfect. I attacked the trail and true to the old saying… 4th time was the charm.

Sunrise in Pinckney: The Pinckney State Park has been my nemesis the past year. From having to drop out of the Run Woodstock 50 miler due to RD error to two failed attempts in the previous 5 weeks on the Potawatomi Trail, I just couldn’t get a win on these trails. This sunrise over the lake was spectacular. The conditions were perfect. I attacked the trail and true to the old saying… 4th time was the charm.

Racing the thunderstorms in Montana: For years I’ve been planning the “50 states 5k” adventure to break the speed record for visiting all 50 states while also running a 5k in each state. I broke the record for most miles run a week (156.9 miles in 6 days), dealt with excessive heat, massive sleep deprivation and the stress of nearly having the whole trip blow up in my face over cancelled flights to the starting line. But in the end, it was executed in spite of obstacles and the dream was realized. This photo encapsultes the entire experiece. The storms were coming but we always fought to stay ahead of them.

Racing the thunderstorms in Montana: For years I’ve been planning the “50 states 5k” adventure to break the speed record for visiting all 50 states while also running a 5k in each state. I broke the record for most miles run a week (156.9 miles in 6 days), dealt with excessive heat, massive sleep deprivation and the stress of nearly having the whole trip blow up in my face over cancelled flights to the starting line. But in the end, it was executed in spite of obstacles and the dream was realized. This photo encapsultes the entire experiece. The storms were coming but we always fought to stay ahead of them.

1/2 half of 2019 statistics:

1,361 - Total miles run
10 - States I’ve run at least 26.2 miles in
50 - States I’ve run at least 3.1 miles in
16 - Countries I’ve run at least 1 mile in
7 - Established FKT’s broken this year (most ever in 1 year)
2 - Ultra-Marathon wins

The 50 states 5k

6 marathons in 6 days.  It’s been done before but never like this. The great American road trip meets the great American ultra-marathon stage race.  We called it the “50 states 5k”.

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The idea was simple.  Break the speed record for “fastest to ever visit all 50 states” but also run a 5k while in each state.  Yes, this would make it more difficult to say the least.  We’d have less than a week as the record was 6 days, 17 hours and 31 minutes.  We would run 157 miles along the way. 

The planning was not simple.  Over 100 hours of work to find the optimal route across the country, the best places to run the 5k along the way and which flights would work the best as well as logistics of 5 people living in a van for a week while traversing America.

We arrived at the airport to find our flight delayed and eventually cancelled which jeopardized the entire trip.  Not getting to Hawaii by 7pm would mean our flight to Alaska and Seattle would be missed as well.  United Airlines, the worst airline currently in operation, decided instead of cancelling the flight, to just delay it 6 hours.  We were able to book a new flight from San Francisco to Honolulu and other than being set back $259 and losing our 5 hours on the beach, the trip would go off as planned.

It would be impossible to truly tell this story this big in a single blog so instead I’ll summarize each day by state with some of our best photos. 

Day 1 – Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon & Idaho

We ran the trails of the Kaka’ako waterfront park along the Pacific Ocean at sunset.  It was beautiful.  Then, we quickly Uber’d back to the airport and hopped on our flight to Alaska. 

We had a pretty tight window in Alaska, only 2 hours between landing and boarding, so our 5k had to be efficient.  We caught an Uber to the ocean which was only two miles away and ran the Coastal Trail with views of Anchorage and the mountains.  I could have run here forever. 

In Seattle my dad had rented the van, grocery shopped and gotten everything set for us to simply walk to the arrivals gate, grab the keys and go.  It was a gorgeous day in Washington, sunny and 80 across the whole state… except for the Snoqualmie Pass where we hit 50 degree hail, lightning and downpour rains on the Iron Horse Trail. 

Next up was Oregon and the trails of the McNary wildlife area along the banks of the Columbia River.  It was 90 degrees and the sun dried our previously soaked running clothes within minutes.  The dam and lock were magnificent to watch as we ran along the river trails.

Night had fallen when we arrived in Twin Falls at the snake river gorge and Evil Knievel’s jump sight.  The canyon rim trail ran along the river and we came within feet of a skunk and racoon.  This was the one place we visited at night that I was really bummed I couldn’t see in the light.  The river roaring below, deep inside the canyon, surely was an incredible view.

4,215 – Miles flown

644 – Miles Driven

15.75 – Miles Run

2hrs, 1min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 2 – Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas

We rolled into Utah in the middle of the night.  Our route took us past the Enola Gay hangar and the city streets of Wendover.  It was uneventful as you hope the night runs are.

Just after sunrise we pulled into the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada.  The trails ran past the lake with the desert mountains in the background.  We beat the heat on this run and were off to California.

Our California run was located between the Mojave Desert and the dead mountains wilderness area.  Even in the mid-morning it was over 100 degrees and this was our first highway run.  Much less fun than the cool trails of the first 6 runs.  Still, the desert landscape with mountain backdrops was a spectacle. 

Next up we rolled in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park and ran along the rim overlooking the vast canyons of red, orange, black, purple and so many other shades of colors.  The heat index was again over 100 but the views from the top were among the best of the trip.

Our New Mexico planned route was to run in the El Maipais National Conservation area but we needed food, an easy route and restrooms as one of our team was sick.  So instead we ran the city streets of Milan which had food options and restrooms and was a flat route.  I finished the 5k first and then bought Subway for everyone while Brandy filled the tank and we were off.

We ran Texas in the middle of the night.  There was a farm road on the extreme NW corner of the state but it ended up being more of a tractor path in a farmer’s field.  Either way, it was in the state of Texas, so we ran quarter mile repeats by headlamps to finish out our day.

1,447 – Miles Driven

18.9 – Miles Run

3hrs, 20min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 3 – Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota

We ran Oklahoma in the small town of Felt where the city streets would be safer at night than a busier road or trail.  Turns out there are dozens of loose dogs in this tiny town that charged us and barked at us the whole way.  I still can’t believe no one was bit but I’m very thankful for that fact. 

We arrived in Kansas just after sunrise and ran the farm roads overlooking thousands of acres of wheat.  It was one of those “amber waves of grain” moments in the early morning light.

Colorado is known for the Rocky Mountains but our route took us to the extreme eastern side of the state where it’s mostly prairie.  We ran the city streets of a charming little town and off we went. 

Nebraska was supposed to be running trails in the state forest but I was concerned with the high heat and humidity and general fatigue in the car that the elevation gain on that trail would hurt more than the views would be worth.  So, we ran the city streets up to the college in Chadron.  We were able to park in a gas station parking lot and get food and fuel with minimal downtime.

Wyoming was another state we barely clipped and limited time.  We ran the Little Missouri River Road in the vast prairies of the eastern side of the state.  Cool views but tough heat and headwind.

Montana came after a sketchy 25 mile gravel road traverse but we were rewarded with amazing mountain and valley views as we ran the trails Wickham Gulch.

We managed to outrun the severe storms to the state line of North Dakota.  We ran the high hills overlooking the Little Missouri River as dark storm clouds flashed lightning in the distance.

912 – Miles Driven

22.05 – Miles Run

5hrs, 41min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 4 – South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana

Our original plan was to run the Badlands National Park in South Dakota but it would be dark when we got there and possibly in the middle of a severe thunderstorm.  So, since there would be no views and to avoid the rain, we drove a few hours further east run along the Missouri River in the town of Chamberlain.  The bridges and levees were really fun to run at night.

We hit Iowa in the middle of the night and ran the farm roads from the state line into the Iowa farm country.  We had only our headlamps and fireflies to light our way.

We arrived in Minnesota and the Myre-Big Island state park at sunrise.  We ran the park trails and roads as the sun came up over the water and deer grazed in the fields.

In Wisconsin, we ran along the Mississippi River just inside the border.  This would give us a 6+ hour drive to relax and not run for awhile before our home state of Michigan.

Michigan was our resupply state.  An amazing group of a couple dozen people showed up to run with us and help switch out coolers and get new supplies.  It was a nice boost after several long travel days.

45 minutes later we were in Ohio and ran through the town of Edon.  As we ran past the track, we figured we’d do a little speed work and did several laps around the track.

We arrived in Indiana shortly before midnight and ran the trails along the Wabash River.  The crushed limestone was a nice reprieve from the pounding of pavement the previous few states.

1,442 – Miles Driven

22.05 – Miles Run

5hrs, 23min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 5 – Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama

In Illinois we ran across a bridge over the Rend Lake next to Wayne Fitzgerrell State park.  We saw some baby racoons and deer via headlamp. 

The fastest route into Kentucky was to run a small gravel road just inside the border but it was underwater due to flooding.  We instead had to run on the highway which had no shoulder and a lot of traffic, even at 2am.  State Troopers guarded the van and took our state photo with us.

We ran Missouri in the middle of the night and it was still mid-80’s and humid.  We ran the city streets instead of the cool trails of the Mississippi River to play it safe.  Exhaustion was setting in.

Sunrise hit right as we arrived in the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.  Running the dirt roads and trails as the first light of day hit the trees and water was amazing.

We ran the trails along the Mississippi River in Memphis where a 5k race was being run for the 4th of July.  The trail, river and race made us forget about how it already was at 8am.

In Mississippi we ran the Lefluer Bluff State park roads and trails.  A kind gentleman paid our 50 cent entry fee.  The bluffs, rivers, ponds and trees growing in the water were as Mississippi as Mississippi gets.

When we arrived in Louisiana mid-afternoon the heat index was over 100.  We ran in the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge but were able to park in a gas station parking lot to get ice and cold drinks.  Running a 5k in those temps is brutal.

Florida wasn’t any cooler when we arrived in the late afternoon but we found a side road just inside the border that had some huge trees providing shade and had a nice 5k run.

We hit Alabama just before sunset.  The original plan was a trail in downtown Montgomery but would hit fireworks traffic, so we instead just ran the city streets to avoid losing time.  The bridge views of sunset made it worth all the elevation gain in this hilly little town we chose. 

1,135 – Miles Driven

28.35 – Miles Run

6hrs, 38min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 6 – Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York,

Georgia just after midnight started our day.  The plan was to run the trails of the Mill Creek Nature Center but ran our night route along the mall instead.

South Carolina and the Lake Hartwell state park had a ton of elevation gain but it was fun to bomb down the steep park roads in the middle of the night.

Sunrise hit just as we arrived at Lake Norman in North Carolina.  We ran our 5k along the banks of the popular lake.  The clouds kept the temperatures a little lower which was nice.

In Virginia we ran the trails of the Claytor Lake state park with views of the lake in almost all directions.  The mountains loomed in the distance and we settled in for our last longer drive of the trip.  After we would arrive in West Virginia, there would be no less than 90 minutes between runs.

In West Virginia we ran along the Appalachian trail and it was one of my favorite runs of this trip.  I didn’t want to stop.  This part of the AT ran along the Shenandoah River with incredible views in every direction. 

In Maryland we chose to run city subdivisions instead of the Patapsco state park to give us more options to avoid traffic going through Baltimore.  Sometimes you sacrifice views for time.

Delaware was another excessive heat warning as we ran from the state line down to the University of Delaware and back.  We use our stop to get dinner, fuel and I even managed to quickly shave in the sink.

Our Pennsylvania route had us run in the shadows of all the major sports stadiums.  While I will always prefer the trails to the city, it was pretty cool to run along the huge sidewalks with the stadiums.

We arrived at the New Jersey side of the Hudson River right at sunset.  The trails along the river gave incredible views of the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan skyline.

New York’s route was in Rye, NY where we could see the ocean as well as the giant Ferris wheel while lit up at night.  Finishing New York was our 10th 5k and meant 50k for the calendar day.

 1,034 – Miles Driven

31.5 – Miles Run

7hrs, 15min – Time ahead of WR pace

 Day 7 – Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont  

 We ran across the Connecticut river and down the trails to the city to get our first state of the last day.  There wasn’t much of a view from the bridge due to nightfall but it was nice to be on our last day.

 We hit Rhode Island and ran a 1.55 mile out and back on a quite country road.  There was a light mist that felt great to run in after several days of excessive heat.

Due to running at night, we decided to run the city streets of Worcester to knock out Massachusetts.  It turned out to be the sketchiest neighborhood in the city.  And hilly.  Oh well, only 3 states left!

We arrived in Maine just as the sun was coming up and ran across the river to Badger Island.  The bridges had incredible views of the ocean inlets and the tide going out.

New Hampshire’s route was a run along the Merrimack River.  The huge mature trees masked the view for most of the run but we were able to get a few good photos.  Then off to the last state.

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We crossed the Vermont state line at 8:56am to set a new speed record for fastest to visit all 50 states.  Then we just had to park and run the bridges across the White River.  We ran loops over the river via the Hartford and Bridge St. bridges until we hit 5 kilometers to break the record for fastest to run a 5k in all 50 states.  The records had fallen and all that was left was to drive home and sleep in our beds.

334 – Miles Driven

18.9 – Miles Run

9hrs, 33min – Time ahead of previous WR

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“Official” record times:

6 days, 7 hours, 58 minutes – New speed record for running a 5k in all 50 states

                (1:30am EST Sunday start to 9:28am Saturday finish)

6 days, 5 hours, 16 minutes – New speed record for physically visiting all 50 states

                (3:40am EST Sunday start to 8:56am EST Saturday finish)

Most States Run In A Day

A brief timeline & written history of Josh Sanders, Coree Aussem-Woltering, Christina Bray, Steve Miazgowicz & Lori Money’s record breaking run for most states run in one day: 18.

2:08am - I’m up. It’s early. The next 36 hours ought to be a real fun whirwind.

4:34am - We’ve picked up Coree. There is apparently a chicken broil in Manchester, MI. And from the signs, its THE chicken broil. Guess we’ll have to come back for that?

5:03am - Longest security line I’ve seen in Detroit in years. Actually took 19 minutes to get through. This airport isn’t that bad.

5:29am - McDonald’s isn’t open. This is the worst airport in the history of the world.

5:36am - McDonald’s opened. Apparently at exactly 5:36am. Gonna have to change the hours on Yelp. I feel better eating here when I’m with Coree, I mean, it’s working for him.

8:53am - Brief layover in Charlotte. There was Starbucks for everyone. Caffine is beautiful. I think it’s what unicorns are made of.

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11:07am - On the ground in Atlanta after one of Hartsfields world famous “20 minute taxi’s” on the runway. If you’ve flown into the ATL you know exactly what I’m talking about. Thanks for the memories American Airlines. Flight over, time to drive.

12:44pm - We’re in the rental minivan. Coree is my co-pilot. The ladies are ruling the middle seats while birthday boy Steve has the back bench to himself and his Steven King novels. Over 1,500 miles of driving coming right up!

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2:30pm -START! Ended up starting 30 min later than planned but I’m sure this will in no way haunt us when we arrive in NYC traffic closer to rush hour. Ran a mile in Georgia right on the border of SC on the banks of Lake Hartwell. Got bit by a fire ant while taking the finisher photo. Fire ants would make a horrible pet.

4:04pm - South Carolina was finished with a lovely mile run down the Jones Gap State Park road. I’m 2 for 2 in planning scenic routes and 2 for 2 in planning routes with enough elevation to get a few snarky comments from the gang. 1hr, 34min elapsed. 2 minutes behind 24hr pace but don’t you worry, we’ll run faster from now on.

4:41pm - State #3 is finished as we ran a mile in Asheville, NC along the banks of the French Broad River. 2hr, 11min elapsed. 1 minute ahead of pace. I TOLD YOU we would run faster.

5:43pm - Are you from Tennessee? Cuz’ your the only 10 I see. Anyways, this is the 3rd straight mile we’ve run in mountains and I’m a happy camper. I’m glad I wore a maroon colored shirt because both Coree and Steve wore blue and it would just be too awkward if we all matched. 2 minutes behind pace but we lined up Domino’s Pizza in two hours in Virginia, so I smell a delicious comeback.

6:29pm - I’ve made several hilarious jokes that no one laughed at. I’m going to make them all run straight up a mountain pass on the Kentucky border next… we’ll see whose laughing then.

7:31pm - Kentucky is finished! I would like to apologize to my 4 running compadres for the extreme elevation gain of my Kentucky route. Love you! 5 states and counting…

7:33pm - “Virginia is for lovers” - Coree. “That’s cute, it should be a billboard” - Christina (Coree points to billboard that states “Virginia is for lovers”.)

8:58pm - Ran a mile into the western Virginia sunset. I filled up the van while Coree ran to get pizza and then we sprinted our miles to save time. I love efficiency. It’s more important than trust in any successful relationship and you can put that in the bank. 6hr, 28min elapsed. 5 min behind pace but now that we have pizza, we’re gonna crush this long drive to WV.

1:43am - West Virginia, Mountain Mamma, take me hooooome… State #7 is done. Ran across the Shenandoah River bridge on the Appalachian Trail route. This is the first of only 4 runs to be done at night. 11hr, 13min elapsed and a 7 minute lead on record pace.

1:47am - Super effecient fuel stop. Filled the tank, bought coffee and coke and were back in the van and on the road in less than 4 minutes. Efficiency. It’s sexy.

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2:30am - Chose a Maryland route before Baltimore to allow multipe routes through the city based on least traffic. It meant running a mile in the boondocks. Didn’t realize there was a hill there. I’m a little worried about a possible mutiny since I’ve somehow managed to pick the most hilly places in all 18 states to run. I have to remind them of the old Chinese Proverb: “Hills build character and character builds efficiency and efficiency is sexy.” - Unknown

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4:01am - My Delaware route not only had NO hills but ran directly past an open Dunkin Donuts. I sprinted into the store mid-run and ran the last 1/3 mile with a dozen donuts. Thinking about creating a Strava Segment that involves buying donuts. We’re 5 minutes ahead of pace.

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4:47am - The Pennsylvania route was pretty awesome. Ran along a huge sidewalk that linked all the major sports teams stadiums. Pancake flat and urban cute. Rumors of a mutiny are subsiding. The donuts helped. Nearly 15 minutes ahead of record pace now.

5:28am - Somehow got turned around in Philly and lost 6 minutes of time. Then managed to take the wrong exit and lost another 5-6 minutes. Philly isn’t efficient and I’m sad about it.

6:15am - Gave up our sweet New Jersey running route on the Husdon River due to traffic getting bad in the city. Ran a mile in a lame subdivision instead. I guess sometimes efficiency isn’t sexy. Sun is up and it’s a lovely day though! Taking fastest route through NYC now.

7:34am - Ran to the ocean in Rye, NY. Parked in a gas station parking lot that had an adorable little coffee/bagel place attached to it. Ordered coffee/food while driving to pick up to go. We’re 10 min behind pace after hitting NYC traffic but have enough fuel to finish without a pit stop and enough latte’s to finish without a mutiny. The ocean was beautiful.

9:09am - Ran a mile in Connecticut by running on a bridge over the CT River. I’m getting really good at updating this website, uploading Strava, pulling up directions to the next stop and FaceTiming the boys while running a mile in a random state. One day I’ll meet someone who values efficiency as much as myself and we’ll start an LLC and probably rule a kingdom within 3 weeks.

10:11am - I thought it would be fun to run to the highest point of Rhode Island since it was literally right on the border where we would drive to. I described it as a “little hill” and was just told that if a hill is over 100’ high, I can’t call it little. I’ve been given an A+ for picking the most scenic routes on the trip and a solid D- for picking easy and flat spots. Still ten minutes behind pace. No margin for error.

11:17am - Massachusetts mile is done. Abandoned planned route to try and save 1-2 minutes. Parked immediately off the exit and ran our mile. Just under 21 hours elapsed and still sitting nearly 10 min off pace to finish all 18 in less than 24 hours.

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12:23pm - Mile in Maine is done! Sad to abandon our planned route of running across Badger Island but it saved us at least 2 minutes to run the first turn off the exit. It was a little half mile road and it has a Strava segment. Coree set a new KOM on the segment and I kind of hope whoever had it previously knows who he is and wonders why in the literal heck Coree Woltering drove across the country to stop in Maine for 7 minutes to break a segment.

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2:05pm - We made up a ton of time the last two stops by running at the first safe place to park the van and hitting zero traffic. Finished New Hampshire with a 2 minute lead on record pace after being over 10 minutes down just 2 hours ago. The originally NH route was to run along a river but was faster to stop at the park n’ ride which featured a huge hill. New goal is to also get a vertical kilometer of gain on this trip. That goal makes me happy. The girls may slap me at the finish line.

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Google Maps is saying we’ll arrive in Vermont to complete our last mile with 12 minutes left on the clock. There is a lane closure on the border causing delays. As long as those delays are less than 5 minutes, all of us will get this done before the clock strikes 24 hours.

2:19pm - Arrived in Vermont. We have 11 minutes to run this mile and make it happen.

2:25pm - Finished my mile to complete 18 states with at least 1 mile run in 23 hours and 55 minutes with Coree. Everyone was finished by 23 hours, 58 minutes. 24 hours of driving and running and hills and we reached our goal by a few minutes. Every. Second. Counts.

3:13pm - Big Fatties BBQ in White River Junction, VT is legit. Celebratory beers for all.

Statistics:

18 - states in 24 hours with at least 1.01 miles run
1,398’ - total elevation gain of all 18 miles/states run
18.67 - Total distance run in 18 states
6:24 - Fastest mile run (Vermont)
8:16 - Slowest mile run (West Virginia)
7:23 - Average mile pace for all 18 miles/states run
1,348 - Total miles driven between state 1 and state 18
23:55 - Total hours/minutes of entire trip start to finish
2:18 - Total hours/minutes spent running
21:37 - Total hours/minutes NOT running

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FKT recap & final tribute to my favorite shoes

Today I set a new speed record on the most scenic and awesome trail in Michigan’s lower peninsula, The 23 mile long Manistee River Trail.  For the trip report, scroll down.  But first, an ode to the most legendary pair of running shoes I’ve ever owned.  Worn today for the last time.

For the last 3 years I’ve exclusively worn the Adidas Energy boost road running shoes.  I wear them everywhere.  I wear them on the most technical single track, the highest 14ers, 17,000’ volcanoes and everywhere else.  Inevitably someone will always comment on how I “shouldn’t be wearing road shoes on a mountain” or some similar sentiment as I fly past them on the trail.  I pay no attention. 

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They are the fastest and lightest shoes with so much cushioning I’ve never had an issue and that’s what I dig about them, so I keep on running.  My current pair have past their useful life and need to be retired.  Normally, there isn’t much ho-hum about old shoes as I burn through 10 pairs a year.  But this pair… this pair has done things few running shoes will ever do and been places few shoes will ever go.

This particular pair of black and blue shoes have run in 16 countries.  They’ve been the first pair of shoes to ever run from the Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean in one day.  They’ve set the speed record for the highest elevation trail in the east… a gnarly trail usually reserved for plated hiking boots.  They’ve run in 95 degree heat and 10 degree windchills.  They’ve set the speed record for the most beautiful mountain trail in all of Georgia outside of the Appalachian Trail.  Surpassed the marathon distance in 2 states and 3 countries.  They’ve been on one mile runs and 50+ mile runs.

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Today, in their farewell run, they ran the fastest time ever recorded on the most scenic and badass trail in my home state of Michigan.  They say not to judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  We all have a story.  These shoes have more stories than most.  So, fare thee well, old shoes.  You and your torn up Chinese stitching will have stories in shoe heaven that will be legendary and I’ll always look back at you fondly. 

Anyways, the Manistee River Trail is a 23-ish (probably 22.5) mile trail near Cadillac, Michigan that is a loop along both sides of the Manistee River.  It uses the Manistee River Trail (MRT) on the east banks and the North Country Trail (NCT) on the western side.  The official FKT set back in 2014 includes a 2.8 mile “out & back” section from the Seaton Creek Campground.  The trails are linked by a road bridge on the southern side and a suspension (walking only) bridge on the northern side.

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The MRT section has constant amazing views of the river.  I stopped twice for 2-3 seconds to snap a quick photo because the view simply had to be documented.  For my money, this is easily the most scenic trail in Michigan (at least in the lower Peninsula, no one is dissing you, Pictured Rocks).  The MRT side has slightly less overall elevation gain/loss but that gain/loss is a little steeper and there are lots of quick turns around trees you have to slow down for… and lots of roots.  I mean, a lot of roots.  Here is an actual conversation I had with myself in my mind:

Me: (thinking) Man, there’s a lot of roots and I’m not tripping or falling once.

Also Me:  (thinking) If anyone thought I was clumsy for breaking my ribs in a fall on the BMCT FKT, they should see me now.  I’ve got incredible balance and I’m killing this.  Like, 7 miles of crazy roots and not one fall.

Me:  ** (trips on root and falls) **

Also Me:  D*&% it!!!

I did my homework on the course and figured I could hit a 3:07.  The plan was to do the 2.8 mile out in back in 24 minutes or less, the eastern (MRT) section in 1:14 and the western (NCT) section in under 1:29.  The “official” listed FKT is 3:33:01 by Peter Hubbard who set half a dozen speed records a few years ago.  There are also two Strava segments that don’t include the “out and back” to the campground.  One is the full loop with a CR of 3:19 and the other doesn’t include the ½ mile on Coates road linking the MRT and NCT but has a 2:53 CR (probably a 2:57 or 2:58 if the road was run at the same pace).  So, I wanted to make sure to at least go sub 2:50 on the loop.  I’m a bit of a “purist” with FKT’s and I wouldn’t claim a fastest known time if there was a segment for 85% of the course and I didn’t beat it.

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I had a crazy allergy/sinus thing over the weekend and both my little kiddos are sick and I’ve been up at night with them.  I considered not doing this today since this training block has been less than ideal, I’m still in sleep debt from Europe and I did a hard workout 48 hours before… but as Michael Scott says, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  Lots of rain lately made the trail fairly muddy but it was a nice morning with temps at 50 degrees and nearly no wind. 

I started at the campground and ran the first 1.4 miles easy and relaxed.  I pushed a little bit on the MRT section because I was losing some time with the muddy footing and I also managed to get slightly off course, even with a GPS.  I missed the trail around mile 7 after a very short section on a road and realized I was about 100 feet off the trail. To get over to the trail, I had to go directly up a ridiculously steep hill with thicket all over the place and I briefly felt like I was in the Barkley Marathons.  I also definitely got poison ivy bush-wacking back to the trail.  Lost at least a minute there.

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Made the road around 1:25 and finished the full MRT section in 1:16 (according to the Strava segment).  The NCT had two longer hill sections with 300+ feet of gain that I moved slowly up but I was cruising at around 7 minute mile pace when it was flat.  Just before the suspension bridge there was an incredible view of a horseshoe bend in the river and I was too busy staring at that awesomeness to notice the trail split in two and I went the wrong way.  Caught the mistake within 30 seconds but another minute lost. 

It started to warm up to the mid 60’s with some humidity, so I was sweating hard and working for it those last few miles.  Crossed the suspension bridge just after 2:55 elapsed time with just the 1.4 mile stretch to go.  Ran it in for a 3:06:39 total elapsed time.  Got the FKT by 26+ minutes, the full loop (bridge to bridge) Strava segment by 30+ minutes and the partial loop by segment by roughly 12-13 minutes.  Overall, considering all the circumstances, I’m very happy with the run.  This is a really rad trail and hopefully now that it’s more competitive, more people will go for it.  The FKT deserves to be sub-3 as this is one of the coolest FKT’s in the Midwest.

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The great European half marathon

Deep in the remote and steep farm hills of the Luxembourg & Belgium border we came to a barricade.  The road was blocked off at the border but our headlights showed there was a small opening if you drove in the mud to the right.  At 2:15am there wasn’t another soul for miles, so we swung our 9 passenger Mercedes vans around the barriers and sped down the hill.  We didn’t have a choice.  There was no time and our only hope was a Shell gas station that appeared to be in the absolute middle of nowhere.  The only gas station for 20+ miles.

I could see the cows, laying in their fields, raise their heads in annoyance as we swerved down the winding roads, surely the only vehicle for many hours.  The orange light of the fuel tank warning had been on for what seemed like hours and we hadn’t passed a single gas station.  We’d left the major highway in desperation.  These roads seemed to lead to nowhere but Google claimed there was an open gas station in this wilderness of farms.  We called several times and no one picked up.  If it was closed or didn’t exist, we would have no choice but to sit there for hours until the next day, completely out of fuel.  Our quest for 13 countries ending in the worst conceivable way at 12.

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My greatest logistical challenge ever had taken a horrible turn thanks to a French pump not taking credit cards, language barriers, a closed interstate and a 40+ mile section of Belgium highway with no fuel stations.  Now we’re here at 2:15am, with only the sleeping cows and a fading hope of not sleeping in the vans.  Nearly 2,000 kilometers of running and driving across Europe over 22 hours would come down to this random gas station in remote farmville Europe actually being open.

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The idea for running in 13 countries in one day came when I was reading about the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc race which traverses 3 countries.  I spent quite a bit of time online trying to find anyone who had ever claimed to have run in 4 or more countries in one day to no avail.  My recent passion for trying to expand what’s possible in one day led from curiosity to serious planning.  I made a Facebook post hoping 2-3 people might join me for an epic European run to help cut costs and ended up getting a group of 16 adventurers to join.  We set a date for mid-May, I planned for several hundred hours… researching routes, using google maps & street views to plan run locations, researching border crossings and trying to figure out the logistics of renting two vans that would be allowed to drive over 14 countries while staying insured.

The day finally came and we all met up in the O’Hare airport for a red eye flight to London.  The plan was to drive over 1,900 kilometers across Europe in one day while stopping to run at least 1.01 miles in each country along the way.  We would finish with a half marathon distance (13.1 miles) and complete the journey in less than 24 hours.  The driving route was the most efficient one I could find across Europe that touched all 13 countries and the running routes where the most scenic places I could find along the way.

(Left to Right: Lisa, Mike, Steve, Julie, Laura, Lori, Josh, Kathy, Haley, Angela, Lora, Debbie, Erin, Kyle, Nicole & Joe… the 16 runners taking on “The Great European Half-Marathon”.

(Left to Right: Lisa, Mike, Steve, Julie, Laura, Lori, Josh, Kathy, Haley, Angela, Lora, Debbie, Erin, Kyle, Nicole & Joe… the 16 runners taking on “The Great European Half-Marathon”.

We rented the vans and drove to the hotel just outside the starting line in Brno, Czech Republic.  After nearly 48 hours of travel, we were all tired but extremely excited to start the record attempt at 4am.  I went to bed early to prepare for over 24 hours of running and driving while some of the more fun runners went out to enjoy the Czech nightlife at a crazy secret speakeasy called the Super Panda.  We met in the hotel lobby at 3am and began the drive to the start line.  We had tons of snacks to get us through the day with minimal stops.  Kyle, being a sub 2:30 marathoner was going to attempt to run 2 miles in each country.  The faster runners would set up a camera on the hood of the van to get a photo at each country and as soon as everyone had finished their mile (or 2 miles) we’d snap a group photo and quickly move on to the next country, stopping only for emergency bathroom breaks or fuel.

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The first country was the Czech Republic.  We ran a fun out and back along the bike lane that ran next to the Thaya River in the town of Breclav.  The orange streetlamps illuminated the run in the crisp night air as the first signs of dawn started to light the eastern sky.  I stopped several times to snap photos of the other runners as they ran back and we hopped into the vans at 4:14 right on schedule.  The first country was in the books and we were off to Slovakia.

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The drive to Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava was only 48 minutes.  We took the exit and parked in the first spots we found to run the large boardwalk along the Danube River.  The sun was coming up over the river and the buildings and huge boats in the river were incredible sights.  Everyone was fresh and excited to be running.  We ran under a huge hotel that was built over the walkway and Danube and turned around to finish our mile, snap the photo and hop back into the van.  We managed to get a few minutes ahead of schedule after the first two runs.

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The next stop was one of shortest drives of the day.  It was only 17 minutes from Bratislava to the tiny town of Rajka, Hungary.  We passed the border without being stopped and took the first exit which led us to this quaint little village.  Ditching the vans in front of a few houses on the side of the road we sped off down the streets as the sunrise started to glow orange and illuminate the sleepy town.  We dodged the traffic of a few passing cars and again made great time finishing our runs. 

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Kyle was running his 2 miles at an average mile pace of 5:45 and consistently getting back to the van well before the 13 minutes allotted for the run (15 minutes total alloted from the time the van was turned off to turned on).  I was really pumped everyone was being so efficient with hopping out of the van, running and getting back in.  16 people in 2 vans can be really difficult to get on the same page but this group was fantastic and doing an excellent job of being a team.  We started off for Slovenia over 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

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There was a 3 hour drive from Hungary to Slovenia, our first long drive between countries and the longest drive between runs of the day.  Slovenia would also be our 4th country of the day and we would be the first to ever document running in 4 countries in one day.  I chose a run location that was off the very first exit across the border near an architecturally unique hotel and casino building.  I could tell there was a big hill we would have to run up but the side streets would have a terrific view of the Slovenian hills and valleys.  The hill was much longer and steeper than I imagined but it was a beautiful view from the top.  Our times were slightly slower due to the elevation gain but I think everyone was way too excited to now be “record holders” to worry about anything else. 

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We snapped our group photo at 9:05am.  It had taken us 5 hours and 5 minutes to drive across and run at least one mile in 4 countries.  Now we were off to the Alps and the mountainous countries after our first and only border crossing where we were asked for passports.  It took about one minute and we were on our way.

World Record! First known/documented runners to run in at least 4 countries in a single day.

World Record! First known/documented runners to run in at least 4 countries in a single day.

Our 5th country of the day was Austria and as we drove closer the Alps started to loom in the distance.  As a mountaineer turned runner, I have to say they are now the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen.  It was simply incredible to watch them out the window as we drofe down the highway.  Having rented the vans in London, the steering wheel was on the right side of the car but all of Europe outside of the UK still drives on the right side.  The speed limit is also 130km which is roughly 81mph.  So, we were constantly traveling over 80mph.  I drove van one and Steve drove van 2 the entire day.  With the drive from the hotel to start line and finish line to hotel it would be nearly a 26 hour day.  Steve Miazgowicz is the absolute man.  A 9 passenger van with the steering wheel on the right side, through tunnels and winding mountain roads over 26 hours is a crazy amount of mental energy.  There was also the added difficulty of having no left hand side mirror after both vans smashed their mirrors on a German construction barrel placed on the road-side of the yellow lines.  It was masterful driving by Steve all day.

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We pulled off the exit and onto the side of a country road in Pyhrn, Austria.  The backdrop was the Austrian Alps and it was simply magnificent.  The bluebird sky with a few clouds for texture and snow capped peaks in every direction was incredible.  I ran a quick mile so I could get a finishing photo of everyone as they ran down the mountain road back to the van.  There were some unbelievable views and sights along our route but I don’t think anything beat this backdrop of the Austrian Alps.  We snapped our group photo now that 5 countries were finished and took off for Germany.

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I took 15 seconds to pull off at a rest stop to have Kyle drive for an hour so I could do some math to figure out times we needed to hit at current pace and close my eyes for 15 minutes.  Kyle was running twice as far as we did but did a great job in emergency driving relief.  We arrived in Germany on Lake Chiemsee just after noon and over 7 hours into our day.  Google maps had shown a path along the lake but it was actually an uneven wall about 24 inches high, so we just ran back and forth on the ¼ mile section of parking area along the lake.  The Chiemsee is essentially the German equivalent of Lake Tahoe. 

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It was a great view point even if the running surface wasn’t quite what was expected.  There were restrooms and a small restaurant and this was our first stop where we didn’t hit our 15 minute limit for total stop time to run the mile.  We had over a half hour lead on projected pace to finish in 24 hours and everyone was starting to feel how you’d expect someone to feel after nearly 7 hours in a van.  The break was nice and even though we didn’t hit our 15 minute time, we had re-fueled and used the restrooms and now our 6th country of the day was done.

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Italy was next and one of 3 countries that wasn’t directly on the route but instead a country we did an “out and back” drive to get to.  We took the highway over a mountain pass to the Italian boundary and the town of Brenner, Italy at an elevation of 5,000’.  There was a paved path along the road side that was fairly flat but had great views of the Italian Alps. 

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I sat on the path to get photos from a great vantage point and at one point Kyle hurdled me as he sped off for his second mile.  We got some great photos and made great time and despite needing to stop for fuel and restrooms again, we had nearly an hour lead on 24 hour pace.

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The next drive was through dozens of incredibly long Austrian tunnels to get to Liechtenstein.  The tunnels were dark and often 10-20km long and I would get sleepy as I drove through them.  When we arrived in Liechtenstein the Alps somehow got more scenic.  The little town of Vaduz was like something out of the Sound of Music with a little fair happening in the town center.  We dodged a passing train and ran through the town in the shadows of the Alps. 

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Those who finished their mile first posed with the farm animals of a farmer who was quite impressed with our travels.  We were equally impressed he was running a small farm in the middle of this town.  We got our photo with a great view of the mountains in the background and started off to Switzerland.  Shortly after we got in the car a quick afternoon rain shower began.  We had almost perfect weather the entire day.  The only rain that fell all day was later in the day and always when we were in the car.  Traffic was also perfect with only construction slowdowns and no real heavy traffic jams.  We were catching little breaks and staying well over half hour ahead of schedule.

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The drive from Liechtenstein to Switzerland was nothing short of the best mountain drive I’ve ever experienced.  It was like Banff (Canada) mixed with the Sierra Nevada’s (California).  We arrived at our Zurich run location shortly after 7:30pm local time to run a mile in our 9th country of the day. 

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The road was private, which I wasn’t expecting, so we parked in an empty 4 car driveway and ran the park paths to a vantage point with a beautiful view of Lake Zurich and the setting sun.  The paths were lovely and we soaked in the last run of the day to be done in the daylight and then off to France.

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The first 9 countries went exactly to plan and were close to perfect in terms of traffic, weather, running locations, border crossings and pretty much everything.  We had a 35-40 minute lead on 24 hour pace as we rolled through France.  The plan was to run at a rest stop that had a track and neighborhood behind it.  If the track was open, we’d run the track as that would be the safest night run and if it were locked, we’d run the neighborhood which would at least be lit with streetlamps and have slower moving traffic.  Unfortunately, there was a tall locked fence not everyone could jump over and so we had to go to the next exit to find a place to run.  The next exit inexplicably had bumper to bumper cars parked along the street for a mile in every direction.

Nearly 19 straight hours of driving and running had taken its toll and I was trying not to be really irritated that my run location didn’t work out and this exit had no parking for a mile.  We finally found a spot, parked the vans and started running down the French sidewalks of Strasbourg.  It ended up being a really pleasant city run in the cool night air but we ended up losing nearly 10 minutes of time.  The plan was to get gas and a quick bathroom break before leaving France and then hit the last 3 countries.  We took our group photo and country number 10 of the day was complete.

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We pulled into a highway rest station to get fuel and use the bathrooms.  I needed some caffeine too.  I put my card in the pump and it was declined.  So was my AMEX.  So was my Visa.  Frustrated, I went to the attendant who didn’t speak English to try and figure it out.  I ended up giving him the last of my 20 Euros which was all the cash I had to fill it up enough to finish, or so I thought.  The other van had the same problems but we still had over a 1/3 of a tank plus 20 Euros of new fuel.  When I went back in, I found nearly all 15 of the other runners in line to buy food.  I have a huge sense of urgency and begged everyone to pool their food and just make one transaction as this stop wasn’t supposed to take nearly this long.  Not figuring out a way to get more fuel into the vans here and telling everyone this wasn’t a food stop are my two biggest and really only regrets of the trip.  I failed everyone as a leader here.  When we got back on the road we had only a 20 minute lead on 24 hour pace with the final 3 runs to go.

Running French city streets

Running French city streets

Running Luxembourg city streets

Running Luxembourg city streets

We passed the French border and into Luxembourg just after 11pm.  Our first traffic issue came up when the main interstate highway through Luxembourg City was closed and we had to take a detour which cost us over 5 minutes of drive time.  We ended up getting to our run location from the opposite direction I was planning on but it was a nice urban shopping area with a well lit and paved sidewalk to run on.  I tried my best to have safe nighttime run locations and we finished our run about 16 minutes ahead of 24 hour pace.  Kyle was pushing himself hard with 2 miles in each country and still knocking out sub 5:45 miles despite constantly having to run 2 miles hard and then hop in a van for a few hours and repeat.  We were all getting fatigued from the day but 11 countries were in the books with only Belgium and The Netherlands left.

We use headlights instead of camera flash and it didn’t go so well ;-) Sign says: Luxembourg: Mile 11

We use headlights instead of camera flash and it didn’t go so well ;-) Sign says: Luxembourg: Mile 11

We took the highway exit north to Liege, Belgium and had about an hour drive to the major city right up a 130km/hour highway.  It was evident at this point (shortly before 2am) that neither van was going to have enough fuel and we’d need to stop.  We pooled together our remaining Euros and I used the walkie-talkies to tell the other van we’d stop at the next gas station.  That station never came.  Nearly 30 highway miles later we still hadn’t come across a fuel station.  I had the team Google search for any open stations.  They were all 20-30 miles behind or ahead of us and we didn’t believe we had enough to get there.  The only option was a Shell station that seemed to be in the absolute middle of nowhere, way off our route.  We had no choice but take a leap of faith, leave the highway and head into extremely remote farm country.

After over 7 miles of driving the steep, sharp winding farm roads we came up to where the Shell station should be.  At this point, I didn’t even care about finishing all 13 miles in 24 hours, I just didn’t want this group of 15 friends to have to spend the night in the vans.  They had trusted me with this crazy adventure and I was perilously close to letting them down in a heartbreaking way.  We passed over a small hill and then all screamed in excitement when we saw the brightly illuminated Shell logo.  The store itself was closed and no lights were on but it’s still incredible to me this station existed in the literal middle of nowhere.

We held our breath as we pulled up to the pump.  It was off.  There was no credit card receptor.  I breathed out a quite sigh in complete defeat.  I had let everyone down.  We would have to run a mile here and then spend the night in some completely remote farm country with cows while waiting for morning.  Just then, Kyle says the first pump on the other side of the station had a credit card insert.  I walked over and put in my Visa.  Error.  I put in my Mastercard.  Error.  I put in my American Express.  Error.  I hadn’t used my debit card this whole trip but for some reason, just put it in out of the purely masochistic motivated feeling of wanting to get declined a 4th time.  Enter PIN.  Huh?  I entered my PIN and the pumped roared to life.  I screamed.  I screamed to Steve to quickly drive over so I could fill his van while Kyle drove my van in queue.  With both vans filled with fuel, I turned around and tore down the road.  We flew over the bumps and hills, sped past the border barricade and through the tiny sleepy village that guarded the highway.  When we got back on the highway our estimated arrival time to The Netherlands was 3:49.  We still had to run a mile in Belgium.

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I was defeated thinking the time just didn’t work but Kyle kept pushing me and refused to accept any sort of defeat.  When I was low he picked me up. So, we took off at 140km (speed limit was 130km) and rolled into Liege. Going a few kilometers per hour over the speed limit allowed us to get to the city streets of Belgium 5 minutes early (we had very strictly followed the speed limit all day, not going even 1km per hour over).  The highway through Liege, Belgium goes right through downtown but stops being a highway and more of a 4 lane city road. We pulled over at an open parking spot, smashed the brakes and tore off down the city streets, leaving the van doors wide open.  I made it back to the vans with a sub 6:30 mile and started them up.  We got both vans started, lights on, camera set and ready to roll the second the last runner arrived.  Kyle and Kathy both rolled in at the same time and we snapped the group photo and were back on the road within seconds.  It was by far our fastest run, taking only 11 minutes which included the 2 seconds it took to do the photo. 

The GPS said we’d arrive at the first exit of the Netherlands, 2.7 kilometers past the border, at approximately 3:57.  It was only 17 minutes away but we needed to get there quicker for even the fastest runners to have a chance at sub 24 hours.  We did not drive recklessly but our 23 hours of defensive driving certainly turned more “offensive” minded the last hour. The highway through Liege turned from 60km city limit driving to 130km highway again and we tore off to the Dutch border.  I took the exit and as we circled the ramp towards the main road I quickly ran the van off the side of the road into the tall grass and smashed the brakes. 

Kyle had jumped out of the car before it stopped and I threw the van into park in the same motion as opening the door, leaving it running and jumping out.  We had somehow made it to the Netherlands at 3:54am.  Everyone would get to say they ran in 13 countries in one day but it was still possible to finish the full 13.1 miles and a get a full mile in each country if you could run the final mile in 5 minutes.

Parked the vans on that strip of Dutch grass

Parked the vans on that strip of Dutch grass

The last mile of the European Half on the pathway

The last mile of the European Half on the pathway

There was a bike path along the road and I tore after Kyle at nearly full speed.  I checked my watch at a quarter mile and my current pace was 4:17/mile.  The first half mile to the turn-around was slightly uphill and I made the turn at just over 2:30 (5/min mile pace) while Kyle continued on to finish his two mile run.  I pushed as hard as I could the final 800 meters.  In one hand, I pulled up my camera on my phone so I could take a photo and time stamp my watch once it hit 1 mile.  I came up on the vans and my watched vibrated as I finished the full mile.  I went a few extra seconds to make sure I hit 1.01 miles and took a photo of my watch showing a 5 minute mile.  I touched my phone screen to see the time stamp of the photo…

3:59am. 

Kyle was a mile away finishing his 2nd mile and the rest of our rad crew was just behind me running their final mile as fast as they could.  I had one minute to myself in the orange glow of the Dutch streetlamps, in the cold night air at 3:59 in the morning.  4,000 miles of flying, 3,500+ kilometers of driving to the start line and during the record attempt, 200+ hours of planning, 24 hours of driving, 13 miles of running and 1 crazy idea of what’s possible in a day… came down to single digit seconds.  3:59am.  According to Strava, which I’ve used to track my runs the last two years, I ran my fastest half mile, kilometer and mile since starting the app on that final mile in the Netherlands.

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I raised both arms outstretched in the cool night air and lifted my face to the stars.  This was my moment.  It was a moment of extreme gratitude for my non-elite body being able to push itself just hard enough to do something cool.  Gratitude for things somehow working out in a way that despite major setbacks the last 3 hours there was at least a slim sliver of hope.  Gratitude for the 15 amazing friends I spent every second of the whole day with.  Gratitude that every one of them got to physically stand in and run in 13 countries in one day. Every second counts.  Every.  Second.  Counts.  And this one moment was the culmination of everything and it’s the one second I’ll forever be grateful for.

Kyle crushed his first mile and also logged a mile in the Netherlands before the clock turned to 4am.  Steve and Joe both finished at 4:00am and the rest of the group just a minute or two after.  I know some where disappointed they didn’t log the full mile before 4am and I get that but every single one of the runners on this trip set a new world record for running in 13 countries in one day.  It doesn’t matter if you had 0.62 miles at the stroke of 4am or finished the mile by then.  You physically ran in 13 countries in a 24 hour period.  Record holder. It was an incredible day.  We took our photos and drove off to the hotel to sleep.

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The next morning we drove to London and celebrated all night.  I slept for 4 hours the second upon checking into the hotel while the others went out to dinner.  When I woke up around 9, I went for a quick 10k jog around London to check the city out at night.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I had an incredibly detailed plan for every second of this trip but tonight… tonight there was no plan.  There were only the bright city lights of London as I ran over the bridges and along the Thames.  The shadows of the buildings occasionally hiding my lit smile as I soared over that city.  This is where the magnitude of what we did truly hit me.  We shattered boundaries, we set records, we did something no one history has ever dared and tonight we were the kings and queens of London.  16 adventurers, 16 runners, 16 friends for life… 1 epic record setting day. The great European half-marathon & marathon.

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Trans-Continent FKT: Panama

So, it’s Tuesday night, April 2nd, and I’m meeting Caleb for a beer to chat about a business idea. Two M43’s (delicious Michigan pale ale) into the evening he randomly throws out the idea that it’d be fun to run across the country of Panama because you could run from the Atlantic to Pacific in one day.

It was a rad idea that I fell in love with more every time I thought about it. By the next evening I’d already found cheap enough plane tickets that we could do the whole adventure for less than $400 (including flights and ground transportation across the country) and do it in a 48 hour window. As always, my goal is to eliminate time and budget as a constraint and less than $400 and less than 48 hours did the trick. Within 4 weeks of kicking the idea around, we’d be in Panama doing the run.

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Naturally, I tapered for this 50+ mile run in the oppressive heat and humidity by setting a new speed record on the highest elevation trail in the east (blog link here) just over two weeks before. I like to call the Black Mountain Crest Trail “vertical violence” and while I did get the ascent and round trip record, I broke my ribs on a downhill fall. I had a quick work trip to Georgia 13 days later and couldn’t help myself from attempting another FKT. The Pine Mountain Trail speed record was less eventful than the BMCT but my legs were definitely dead and that run probably didn’t help. I knew I had two weeks of rest coming up, I just had to gut out the Panama run. It’s only 50 miles in the heat, right?

There are many accounts of people crossing Panama on foot including the army rangers in jungle warfare school and the conquistadors but no one has ever claimed to do it in one day. With the isthmus of Panama being the shortest distance to get a “trans-continent” run in the books, it seemed like a rad adventure. There is no trail and the most effecient route would involve road running along a highway and through the cities.

Detroit airport. Smoothies are good.

Detroit airport. Smoothies are good.

The plan was to leave the Detroit airport at 10:50am and be in Panama by 6pm (CST). We’d get a hotel, sleep, wake up and Uber across the country and then start running by 7am. I had a goal of sub 10 hours and figured we should definitely break 12 hours. Back to the hotel for dinner, a quick nap, catch a red-eye back to Michigan and land around 10:45am. Less than 48 hours to travel to Panama, run across the continent and get back home.

We arrived in Panama City and got to our hotel room. A quick dinner at a local place across the street and then a drug store for supplies. I decided to go coconut water as that’s been my jam lately. All the electrolytes of Gatorade without the crazy amounts of sugar, excessive sodium but with a bunch of potassium and magnesium (the neglected electrolytes). Turns out the coconut water I bought which stated “pulp” was actually huge chuncks. I was worried it would clog my hydration pouch so Caleb and I developed a filtration system using cheap plastic hotel cups and tissue dispensor.

My spanish is rough: Pulp = Massive chunks. #MacGuyver

My spanish is rough: Pulp = Massive chunks. #MacGuyver

We got up and at 5:30am and caught an Uber across the country. The drive took just over an hour and we arrived at the Juventad Park right on the Carribean just after sunrise. It was cool to see all the huge tanker ships and boats lining up to go through the Panama Canal. The park was scenic and the Colon’ square was a perfect place to start.

I wore a hydration pack with a 1.5 liter camelbak filled with coconut water. I also purchased a bottle of water every stop and always had one in my hand. I bought cookies, candies, nuts and a protein bar that were all in Spanish but looked good. It was a terrible fueling plan but I was out of my normal gels. There was a huge statue of Jesus right on the bay where we decided to start.

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The first 10 miles were mostly urban with the first mile running directly down a 20’ wide sidewalk/square with thousands of schoolchildren getting ready for the day. By 8am it was already in the mid-80’s and oppressively humid. Caleb and I were both wearing hydration packs and short running shorts, we got a good amount of stares and smiles.

Our biggest concerns for this run were: 1) Panamanian Traffic. 2) Police. 3) Stray Dogs. We ran together for the first few hours but after a few dozen police motorcycle’s with uzi carrying cops drove past us with no issue, all stray dogs being docile and the traffic being surprising well behaved, we decided it would be okay to run alone. Caleb, very smartly, played it cautiously with the heat and took walking breaks. I was intent on breaking 10 hours, so I ran ahead. I was going self-supported (foraging and buying food along the way) and Caleb unsupported (carrying all his own food and supplies from the start).

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After essentially a half-marathon in the urban and dirty highway environment of the city I finally started to reach the more scenic and wild countryside. I was buying water at every place I passed to try and stay hydrated as it was hotter and muggier in the jungle. There were lots of little stands along the road selling bananas, avacados and fruits, which became my main source of fuel. I had some Panamanian cookies called “chokies” which was a perfect name for how my run was about to go.

I knew my legs were dead and I needed time off but this 50 mile run was going to happen regardless of how I felt. The plan was to take a week off as soon as I was done but having done 3 races of 23+ miles in the last 38 days, my legs were heavy from the start. I also thought that having a few runs in Florida, Alabama and Georgia the last two weeks would help acclimate to the heat but it did not. This was full on 90+ degree humidity and it was fierce.

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I was moving well the first 20+ miles and keeping pace in the 8-9 minute/mile range while at a low percieved effort but the heart rate was crazy high trying to keep my body cool. Luckily, this was the most scenic part of the run. There wasn’t a ton of elevation gain but it was constantly rolling hills and the top of the hills usually had a good view.

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I made it 26.2 and over halfway across the country but I was definitely hurting. I couldn’t drink enough despite constantly drinking and my legs were not right. By mile 29 I was taking walking breaks to try and avoid cramping. Then, it happened. There was a bulldozer working on the side of the road and moving piles of dirt. A laborer was directing traffic and so it was backed up a few hundred yards. As I approached where the bulldoze was entering/leaving the road, I cramped up. And I mean, it was the most magnificient, powerful, full leg, siezing, cramp I’ve ever experienced. It looked like my calf was possessed by a spirit and trying to exit my leg.

I tried to play it cool as there was a ton of cars not moving and I wanted to avoid the cops with Uzi’s and AR-15’s. So I’m incapacited on the ground, moaning and writhing in pain but trying to make it look like it’s not a big deal. Typical gringo, rolling around in the Panamania dirt, I guess. The 60 something year old Panamanian laborer was concerned and he picked up and pushed my toes towards me, apparently knowing how to stretch a cramping calf.

I don’t speak Spanish but knew he was asking where I was headed in such bad shape. I lied and said the next village because I knew he would freak out if I said Panama City, over 20 miles away. I would get up, walk a few feet and cramp again. The worst and most powerful cramps of my life. My whole leg. Hamstrings, Quads, Hips, Calves, they were all blowing up.

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I knew I was also having several symptoms of heat stroke. So, I decided that if I actually threw up or passed out, I’d play it safe, call it quits and get an Uber back to the hotel. But, as long as neither of those two things happened, I’d keep walking as long as it took. Mile 29 may have been the slowest mile of my life. It was nearly an hour. At one point I laid in the shade for 15 minutes trying to settle my body down. The next mile was rough but I was able to walk without cramping. I bought gatorade, bananas and avocados and just kept walking.

We had cell service the whole way (Thanks ATT international, $10/day). Caleb was about 4 miles behind me when I blew up. He was smart about the heat and kept making progress. I tried jogging many times but every time I’d break into anything faster than a walk, my legs would immediately cramp. I did the math on how long it would take me to walk to Panama City and it wasn’t pretty. 13-14 hours. It was so hot, just a relentless heat/humidty in the afternoon. Then, finally… at mile 36 I found him. Brooks.

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Brooks was a massive chunk of ice that a road-side vendor selling gatorade sold me for one Panamanian Balboa ($1USD). I named him after my Brooks brand running hat and Brooks from Shawshank Redemption because if I made it to Panama City, I was going to feel like Andy when he crawled out of the sewer and into freedom. Brooks probably saved the trip. I was finally able to lower my body temperature over the 45 minutes it took him to melt.

Somewhere before mile 40, after nearly 10 miles of walking and just after Brooks gave his icy life to spare mine, Caleb caught up with me. He was feeling better than I was and could have gone ahead but decided to stay with me and finish together. We soon entered the outskirts of Panama City. I can honestly say I’ve never hurt this badly in my running career. My mucles were just destroyed. Every step was pain every where. My feet, legs, lower back… it was bad.

The one thing that never occured to me was stopping. I came here to run across Panama. It didn’t matter if I had to walk the last 20 miles in crazy pain and sweat and heat. I was going to finish. I don’t know what words to use to express the physical hurt I felt. I think this photo of me taking a quick one minute rest at bus stop might say it all for me.

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It was inevitable that we wouldn’t make it to the Pacific Ocean before dark. It was one foot in front of the other. It was really nice having Caleb to chat about things with and get my mind off the pain. The rest of the journey would be urban and some of the vistas of hills and the first glimpse of the skyscrapers in Panama City were lovely and motivating.

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The Panama presidential election was later in the week and as we worked our way towards the city center, we encountered many demonstrations and politcal rallys along the road. It was fun to see and experience. There were crazy amounts of people in the streets and sidewalks. While I was irritated I couldn’t physically run and had to walk, I’m not sure how much faster we could have gone anyways. It made the experience more fun.

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The sun went down with about 10k left to the ocean. These last miles were all city and mostly sidewalks. The temperatures didn’t drop much with nightfall but it was nice to not have the sun burning down on my scorched skin. At this point time didn’t matter much as were going to be the first to ever document a one-day run across the country but the overall time would be soft. It was just about finishing. And in my case, ending the suffering.

We finally reached the park where we were going to finish… and it was closed with two armed policed officers guarding it. Good planning, Josh. The thought we wouldn’t make it in under 12 hours didn’t even occur to me and we got here so late that it was closed. So we had to walk nearly another mile to get to a spot where we could be on the Pacific Ocean. I can honestly say that was the least favorite mile of my life but it’s kind of funny and a good lesson looking back. Most importantly, that walk got the trip over 50 miles as we would have been just short if we’d have ended at our original target.

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Our final time was 14 hours, 12 minutes, 48 seconds. We ran from statue to statue on two seperate oceans. The second half took nearly twice as long as the first half but this was always more about the adventure and documenting the first day-trip across Panama on foot (both Caleb and I believe someone has to have done this before, but we just can’t find any records of it anywhere, nor can other record fact checkers we asked). I learned a few lessons about the heat and fueling properly and also enjoy that fact that I’ve gotten to the point where extreme pain and discomfort no longer even trigger the thought of giving up.

James “Iron Cowboy” Lawerence (in my opinion, the greatest endurance athlete ever) once said in an interview that he never considers quitting because fear and pain have stopped knocking at the door. They know it’s futile, so they don’t even show up. I’ve destroyed my body the last 5 weeks and further wrecked it on this 50+ mile run in the most oppressive conditions… but that doesn’t matter. Quitting isn’t an option because it no longer knocks at my door. While my time sucked and this was the hardest/most painful thing I’ve ever done, I take solice in that.

This was a completely rad adventure with one of the coolest guys I know. We ate some pasta, slept 20 minutes in the hotel, got to the airport at 2am, missed a connection due to a flight delay and arrived back in frigid Michigan and home for dinner. Now, to take 5 days completely off running and put copiouis amounts of Lidocaine on my severe sunburn.

RIP - Brooks (April 30th, 2019 - April 30th, 2019)

Pine Mountain Trail FKT

I went on a quick two day work trip to Atlanta/Alabama for a former employer. As always, since I’d be in a new part of the country, I meandered over to the FKT website to see if I’d be near an established record. The Pine Mountain Trail was only an hour from the airport and looked like a pretty rad trail. (Trip Report Coming Soon)