Posts Tagged ‘TransAmerica Footrace’

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.”

By John D. Thomas                  FOR THE JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

For ultramarathon runner Richard Westbrook, Kansas was a sloppy hellhole.

“We went through the northern part of Kansas on Highway 36, and it was all hills,” Westbrook says, relaxing in the kitchen of his Jonesboro home. “We had rain every morning, and it was cold. You had to get up and run 60 miles battling the winds and hills all day. And it stunk. The trucks came by and threw water and stink all over us from the pig farms. It was not a happy place to be.”

Westbrook, the 45-year-old cross country and track coach at Lovejoy High School, is reminiscing about the 3,000-mile World Trans America Footrace, the first contest of its kind since 1929, which began at Huntington Beach, Calif. on June 20 and ended in New York City’s Central Park on Aug.22

Athletes ran 64 individual stage races, with nary a day off, ranging from 28 to 62 miles per day. Twenty-five of the world’s best ultramarathoners began the race, and 13 crossed the line in New York. Westbrook was the master’s division (over 40) champion and came in fourth overall, 15 hours and 57 minutes behind the winner, 35-year-old David Warady of Huntington Beach, Calif.

Westbrook began running ultramarathons in the early 1980s after completing a number of regular marathons. He decided to run this race to get an eyeful of America.

“One goal I had was to run across the country and see America from that perspective, and so I was hardly ever bored, except maybe in Kansas,” he says. “There were places in Utah where you would come over a peak and it seemed like the whole world opened up, all those gorges and valleys below you. They were just fantastic scenes. You may see pictures of it, but you can’t [really know what it’s like].”

It is said that marathon runners hit a “the wall” at around the 20-mile mark, when the body begins to rebel against the abuse being heaped upon it. In this race Westbrook slammed into his wall at around mile 1,950. He already had covered the Mojave Desert in 110-degree heat and scaled the Colorado Rockies, including 12,000-foot Loveland Pass. Hannibal, however, was not so kind.

“I had the reputation as the only American in the race, and eventually the only person who was not having any physical problems,” he recalls. “But boy, that changed when Hannibal got there.”

LOVEJOY HIGH SCHOOL cross country coach Richard Westbrook )left) was fourth overall behind David Warady in an ultramarathon across the country.

LOVEJOY HIGH SCHOOL cross country coach Richard Westbrook (left) was fourth overall behind David Warady in an ultramarathon across the country.

Westbrook: Ran across the country in two months, 4 million strides

The morning after completing the stage through Hannibal that led into Illinois, Westbrook’s left calf was swollen and extremely tender. “It was swollen and hurting in one spot, and if you touched it the pain would shoot me through the roof,” he remembers. “And when it hurts in one spot, it usually means a stress fracture, and I thought, God, I’m going to be fractured.”

They manipulated the calf area, put some inserts in his shoes, gave him some medicine for the inflammation, and strapped on an ice bag. Then, through the entire states of Illinois and Indiana, Westbrook alternately ran, jogged, and walked, stopping intermittently to strap a new bag of ice on once the last one had melted.

Although his pace slipped below the disqualification cutoff time on several occasions while he was on the course, Westbrook was always able to surge just enough to stay in the race. “I would get into the run and be behind the cutoff time, but I would be getting closer and closer to making it,” he says. “I figured if I could just put up with the pain and keep jogging that by the end of the stage I would be close enough to the cutoff time to gut it out and get under it.” Westbrook says that the pain in his left leg began to subside about the time he crossed into Ohio, and he was then able to get back on the good foot.

Accomodations were another daunting aspect of the race. Forget four-star hotels. Competitors stayed in stuffy, un-airconditioned high school gyms, National Guard Armories, Legion Halls, churches, and sometimes on the side of the road.

Fuel was another problem. The race organizers estimated that during the event each runner would burn close to 384,000 calories. Westbrook did the majority of his chow hounding at dinner. And, to keep cost down, the runners were fed after each stage by groups from organizations like local churches. The meals, however, became depressingly predictable.

There would be a big meal between 5:30 and 6:30, and you would eat everything you could, no matter what it was,” he says. “Everyone needed all the calories to recover and sustain them through the next day. People would come out to feed us, and as everyone knows, runners need carbohydrates, like spaghetti. So we ate more spaghetti than you would want to believe. I don’t want to eat any more spaghetti for a long, long time.”

The finish in Central Park, which came after logging more than 4 million strides across 13 states, was an almost spiritual epiphany for Westbrook. “We came into New York over some peaks and you could see the skyline,” he recalls. “The first time was saw the pinnacles of the George Washington Bridge, everyone wanted to sprint, but we still had quite a few miles to go.

“Running through New York approaching Central Park, the traffic stopped and they let is through. There were so many people there. Across the finish line I just wanted to see the guys I had finished with to congratulate them, and we just started hugging everybody. At the same time I was looking for my wife and kids. It’s like you wanted 100-yard-long arms to hug everyone all at once. They had said in the race information sheet that it would be the experience of a lifetime, and it very well may have been.”

Richard Westbrook shaking hands with Harry Abrams, the lone survivor from the 1929 TransAm race

Richard Westbrook shaking hands with Harry Abrams, the lone survivor from the 1929 TransAm race.

The finishers (survivors) of the TransAm in Central Park, New York

The finishers (survivors) of the 1992 TransAm in Central Park, New York

By John D. Thomas

Back in America’s physical fitness dark ages, before long-legged lopers like Frank Shorter and Bill Rogers inspired a distance-running frenzy, marathoners were seen as endorphin-addicted, masochistic kooks. Nowadays housewives and short-order cooks are common on the 26-mile, 385-yard circuit.

Today the kook factor is assigned to ultramarathon runners, true self-infliction aficionados who trot double, triple, 10 times, and even 100 times the marathon distance justfor the pain of it. Or, rather, just to see if they can cross the finish line alive.

Dr. David Martin, a professor of physiology at Georgia State who advised the designers of the Barcelona Olympics marathon course, says an ultramarathon is “more of a survival contest than a race. An Ultramarathoner’s focus is on finishing more than on competing. A race that long is a competition between you and the distance rather than you and your competitors.”

One such well-callused survivalists is Rich Schick, a physician’s assistant at Woodstock Hospital and the former coordinator of the Atlanta Track Club’s ultramarathon team. Schick, 43, ran his first ultra marathon, a 100K race in Switzerland, in the late 1970s after having run close to 100 marathons. He has completed some 60 of the grueling ultra treks.

“One of the things I like is that there is so much variety in the sport,” says Schick. “You can have road events, track events, and trail events, which we call adventure runs. In those events you can race anywhere from the lowest point in the United States, in Deadwater, California, to the top of Mount Whitney as a continuous run, or across the Sahara Desert, or you can go up the Himalayas. No matter where you get in your conditioning, you can always get your guts up to try something bigger.”

Schick says he trains between 60-70 miles a week, which includes one extra long week- end run. “Thirty to 31 miles of that is usually done on Saturday or Sunday,” says Schick. He does his long runs on the trails around Kennesaw Mountain, and says he is happy to have aspiring ultramarathoners tag along, as long as they can hack the distance. “On those runs the person has to have a certain amount of training,” says Schick. “I don’t mind going slower than my normal pace, but I have to have the feeling the person can do the distance safely. If a couple of people wanted to give it a try, the way Kennesaw Mountain is laid out they could drop cars off at a couple of different places so if they burned out they could bail out.”

Dr. Martin says anyone thinking about tackling an ultramarathon should do it gradually. “l think just as a good coach counsels younger runners who are moving up from the high school mile to the 5K or 10K in college not to try a marathon until they’re out of college, I think the same thing applies to someone contemplating an ultramarathon,” he says. “If you find 10K races are too fast for you, but you find it easy to run longer distances, try l marathon. If you find you can finish marathons with no problem but you have trouble trying to run them quickly, then jump into an ultramarathon.

The only local ultramarathon is the Stone Mountain 50-miler, which takes place in January.

            This is a look into some books that are running related.  The relationship may seem like a stretch at times, but it is there.  That may include tapping into the psyche of running and not just the obvious physical aspect.  But, as most serious runners know, our running is affected in one way or another by everything we perceive.  Reading helps us to broaden that perception.

BOOK:  My Life On The Run, The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon

AUTHOR: Bart Yasso

PUBLISHER: Rodale, 2008


            The author, Bart Yasso, is the Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World magazine…Whatever a Chief Running Officer is.  As the dust cover leaf states, Yasso has competed in more than 1000 races, triathlons, biathlons, and eco-challenges over the past 28 years.  He was inducted into the Running USA Hall of Champions.  He has also been called the “Mayor of Running”…Whatever.

            I met Bart when I was running the 1992 Runner’s World TransAmerica Footrace.  He was sent out west by Runner’s World to quiet the rebellious runners who seemed to think their running was what the race was all about.  After his ranting, raving, and threats, we continued doing things our way with no problems.  Bart was replaced with a more sane liaison.

            But, Bart did write an interesting book about his various running adventures.  Most of these were initiated by Runner’s World sending him to differing races in order to report on them for the magazine.  That sounds pretty sweet, going to races with all expenses paid, and Bart readily recognizes this fact.

            The book is easily read and is entertaining.  It is not just a compilation of races in which he competed.  It gives good descriptions of the background of the races.  Personalities are described when they are important to the character of the events. 

            Bart’s racing adventure takes him to far off places like Antarctica, Africa, and Nepal.  He recommends marathons that should give the reader the best and most enjoyable experiences.  This is intertwined with the stories of his travels to and from the events.

            He, also, relates health problems that hampered his adventures.  This was complicated by his location being out of the USA.  Medical treatment could get suspect when you get away from our medical system.  The reader can appreciate Yasso’s determination in completing assignment under these conditons.

            Just as the reader is immersed in the stories, Yasso changes gears and starts telling the reader the more practical aspects of such runs.  This leads to training program for 5-K’s up to marathons.  The programs tend to be on the easier side of training as typical for the parent publication, Runner’s World Magazine.

            I liked the book, especially the accounts of the races.  The pictures of the sites and of Bart through the years add to the enjoyment of the book.  An overriding message from the book is that each of us can find adventure in our running and races just may be the best source.

            That’s well worth the read.   

  Richard Westbrook


“I had taken running for granted or at least put too much emphasis on the wrong things.  I had never won a race of the mythical 26.2-mile distance, and at age 43, I probably never would.  It was time to appreciate the sweaty exertion for what it was – an affirmation of life.”

                                                                                                               Bart Yasso