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Westbrook tells of his incredible feat (and his INCREDIBLE feet)


By Brett Hess, Associate Editor of the CLAYTON NEWS DAILY


2,971 miles.


500-plus hours.

400 cities in 12 states.

64 days.

Six pairs of running shoes and dozens of pairs of socks.

Two removed toenails.

One badly swollen leg due to severe shin splints.

Fourth place overall and first place in the Master’s Division.

Those are just some of the figures associated with Richard Westbrook’s summer vacation.

Westbrook, shown here celebrating the Wildcats' state championship in cross country last fall, was probably just as excited Saturday when he reached New York.

Westbrook, shown here celebrating the Wildcats’ state championship in cross country last fall, was probably just as excited Saturday when he reached New York.

The Lovejoy teacher and cross country coach spent his summer – or 64 days of it – seeing the United States. Westbrook competed in the Runner’s World Trans America footrace, a Tour De France-style competition from Huntington Beach, California to New York City.

It was the first such competition since 1929 and it attracted the world’s best ultra-distance runners as 28 athletes from seven countries assembled June 20 on the west coast.

The race ended this past Saturday and Westbrook returned home Sunday morning – just in time for the start of school Monday. (But the coach took a well-needed personal day and returned to classes Tuesday.)

“Though tired, he wasn’t entirely happy to be done. Finishing was kind of bittersweet,” Westbrook said. “We were all tired, but we were all a little sad to be done and going our separate ways.”

But the trip satiated Westbrook’s strange thirst for an incredible challenge.

“It was everything they said it would be,” Westbrook said. “The scenery, the comraderie, the challenge. It was the experience of a lifetime.”

Westbrook’s Ramble

Ten facts relating to Westbrook’s cross country journey:
10. Shelly Tyler, a runner for Westbrook at Riverdale High a few years ago, drove the support van.
9. Several former and current runners teamed up with the coach and ran with him through parts of Utah, Colorado and Indiana.
8. Colorado, Illinois and Indiana were the three ‘most beautiful states.’
7. Day One: Was his toughest day. A bad choice of fluids nauseating Westbrook to the point of nearly passing out one mile from the finish. “I thought I was in real trouble. Here it was the first day and I couldn’t make it.”
6. The run helped prolong his personal running streak of running at least one mile every day for the last 17-plus-years.
5. What’s next: He plans to run the Blue Ridge Parkway (500 miles) next summer.
4. Averaged 150 miles of running each week for six months leading up to the competition.
3. Better that he ate his Wheaties: Westbrook’s preferred breakfast choice during the run.
2. Favorite state: Ohio. “The Ohio Running Club took care of everything all the way through the state. We had everything we needed.
1. Yes – he would do it again. But only when they change the course so that he could see a different part of America.

But it wasn’t as tough as the “experts” said it would be. Running experts and scientists predicted that no more than four competitors would reach New York. But 13 finished and the baker’s dozen posed for a group picture Saturday.

Despite being competitive, Westbrook said the runners supported each other in achieving the main goal: finishing.

“We all wanted to win, but it was more important to finish,” Westbrook said. “We had a great time trading advice and getting to know each other in the evenings.”

But the mornings were strictly for making progress. At 5 a.m. each day the group – along with a dozen or so ‘journey runners’ who ran portions of the race just for the experience – set out on a pre-determined course that would take them to an average of 45 miles.

Lovejoy coach Richard Westbrook shows off the six pair of shoes that he wore in his cross-country run this summer. Note the shoes second from the left: Westbrook had to cut the toes out because his feet had swollen in the desert.

Lovejoy coach Richard Westbrook shows off the six pair of shoes that he wore in his cross-country run this summer. Note the shoes second from the left: Westbrook had to cut the toes out because his feet had swollen in the desert.

Westbrook: Thought trip was worth the trouble

The runners were aided by their own support groups and just five Runner’s World staffers. Along the way volunteers chipped in with drinks or a post-run meal. Many of the towns scheduled welcome parties for the runners and donated sleeping quarters and home-cooked meals.

“I’ve had so much spaghetti and pasta that I can’t even look at it,” Westbrook said. “It was great that people came out to help, but 60 straight days of spaghetti and pizza is enough.” 

A day with Westbrook

Following is a rough diary of what Westbrook did each day along the 64-day journey.

4 a.m.  Arose and prepared for the day’s run. Ate a large bowl of Wheaties with a spoon of sugar.
5 a.m.  The run (anywhere from 30 to 55 miles) began. He chose not to eat any fruit or solid food along the way, instead alternated drinks of Kool aid, Coca Cola and fluid replacement drinks like Gatorade.
Noon-2 p.m.  The day’s run was over and he drank a large glass of milk to settle his stomach. After a light bite to eat, he would nap for two to three hours.
6 p.m.  Arose again to do a little stretching before eating the day’s big meal (usually heavy on pasta).
7-10 p.m.  Enjoyed the evening’s festivities or just sat around talking with the other runners.
10 p.m.  Went to sleep in preparation for the next day’s run.

Considering the daily grind, Westbrook said many of the runners thought the biggest challenge would come later in the race. But the desert proved to be the testing grounds. If runners make it into Colorado – as 15 of them did – they had proved their mettle and went on to finish the voyage.

“I knew the desert would be tough but it proved to be the greatest challenge,” Westbrook said.

Runners battled blisters from head to toe and swollen feet while running for several days in the intense heat. Although many of the runs were completed by noon, runners still encountered temperatures as high as 114 degrees.

“It was hot 24 hours a day,” Westbrook said. “Everything was hot, even the water we had to drink seemed hot.”

Westbrook was hot – literally and figuratively. Literally in that his feet swelled to the point that his shoes didn’t fit. Since he only had six pairs of the same brand, make and size of running shoes, Westbrook had to cut out the toe box of one pair of shoes to allow his feet adequate space. He lost the toe nails on his second toe of both feet.

Westbrook overcame this minor obstacle to jockey for position in the overall standings.

The 45-year-old entered the race with the hopes of experiencing the trip and finishing. But as many of the runners dropped by the wayside, Westbrook moved up to second in the standings.

“That was a real surprise because a dozen of these guys were famous for this type of thing,” Westbrook said. “I kind of caught the bug and started thinking about winning.”

After eight days in the California and Nevada deserts, the field ventured into the wilderness of Utah. For the better part of two weeks the field of runners were on their own. Primitive campgrounds were the likely evening rest stops and the food was basic (usually out of cans).

Westbrook said the beautiful scenery of Colorado helped off-set the pain of running at altitude, but then the 10 days spent in Kansas took their toll.

“It was hard to keep it up because it was so boring and there were few towns to break up the monotony,” Westbrook said.

Meanwhile Westbrook continued to cruise through the days feeling better as he grew accustomed to the daily ritual. A strong performance through Missouri (July 28-31) allowed Westbrook to gain on overall leader David Warady.

But little did Westbrook know that when he went to sleep in Hannibal, Missouri on July 31 that everything would change by morning.

August dawned and Westbrook awoke with a severely inflamed left shin. It didn’t feel like shin splints but the race doctor diagnosed it that because, according to Westbrook, he didn’t know what else to call it. Luckily for Westbrook, a relatively short (35 miles) and flat stage was on the day’s menu and he was able to walk-jog to the finish line just seven minutes [short] of the day’s cut-off time.

The shin problem never worsened, but by the time Westbrook was able to run comfortably again (five to six days later) he was back to fourth place.

Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania proved to be an enjoyable time for the field as cool temperatures and extremely interested local citizens chipped in to pamper the runners.

Westbrook was happy just to be running again and had no chance of winning the race. He was able to hold off Emile Laharrague of France for the  master’s title.

“That’s my little piece of fame,” Westbrook said.

No one, including the race’s overall winner (Warady) received anything more than a certificate for finishing.

Richard hugging his wife and youngest daughter at the finish of the TransAmerica Footrace.

Richard hugging his wife and youngest daughter at the finish of the TransAmerica Footrace.

Runner’s World has scheduled a race for next year but the entry fee will jump from $200 to $1000. Don’t look for Westbrook to sign up, though.

“I’d do it again some day but they would have to change the course,” Westbrook said. “That was the best part of it – seeing America.”