It was almost eleven at night on a Wednesday in the Alaska Dome last week and Willow, Alaska resident Dave Johnston had been running for nearly three days. Some of that time has was spent hunched over the toilet, puking. Multiday ultrarunning is extremely hard on athletes.
“Stomach’s finally starting to feel better… now it’s just time to run,” Johnston says as he makes his way around the track.
Johnston recovered from his rough start. By Friday, Johnston was in second place, trailing the leader by less than 20 miles.
And the competition was stiff — a lot of the most prominent ultrarunners from throughout the world were logging laps at the Alaska Dome last week. Forty-eight hours into the event, Indiana-based runner Traci Falbo set a world record for most distance covered indoors during a 48-hr. run — she ran almost 243 miles before collapsing on the track.
The six-day ultra event is called “Six Days in the Dome.” It’s just like it sounds: runners log as many miles as they can in six days. It sounds crazy. And it kind of is.
“This is what we’ve chosen to do with our vacation time and our extra dollars,” says Ed Ettinghausen. He placed seventh overall.
Ettinghausen was dressed like a jester, and he brought six different jester outfits to the race — one for each day. His wife and daughter were sleeping at one end of the track while he doggedly put one foot in front of the other with a smile on his face, bells bouncing atop his jester hat.
There’s another guy here from Brazil who ran a hundred and forty-two miles on the first day of the race. You can tell people were equally impressed-slash-appalled by the feat. By Wednesday night, he was out of the race, sleeping on a high jump mattress to recover.
One of the race organizers, Zane Holscher of North Carolina, says this motley crew of nearly 50 is actually one of the most elite packs of ultrarunners worldwide.
“To do this on this track, day after day, and when you sleep you get so tight and then come out and have to run again. I can’t tell you the level of people we have here — mental toughness, physical toughness, it’s unbelieveable,” Holscher says.
So how’d they end up in Alaska?
“Turns out, there’s only a couple of facilities like this in all of North America with a 400m track indoors. Most are 200 or 300m.”
The race organizers wanted an indoor, temperature-controlled, element-free track that would allow the runners to simply run.
“And this turned out perfect because everyone in Alaska wants to be outside int he summer instead of summer, and we wanted to be inside. So kind of supply and demand. We were able to work out something great with the Dome, and I can’t say enough abvout how great this facility is,” Holscher adds.
The Dome also doubled as a hotel for the race. At one end of the track runners set up camp. Sweaty clothes were draped over hurdles to dry. Athletes were curled up on high jump mats that double as beds.
And the event even served its own food. Three meals a day.
“Eggs, bacon, PopTarts, oatmeal, PopTarts… looks like they’re having PopTarts at every meal.”
There’s even sushi on the menu plan.
After six sleepless days and nights, the race finished on Sunday morning. Race organizer Joe Fejes of Atlanta, Georgia took first, having logged five-hundred and eighty miles. For the women, Liz Bauer logged 425 miles for the win, and sixth place overall. No runners broke the 600-mile goal the cash prize was contingent on.