The Running Decathlon: Victory is mine

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Kelly Hayes, a spotter on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, is attempting to to complete “The Running Decathlon” which consists of the ten most widely-run track events. His goal is to run each race “half as fast,” or in twice the time, of the current world record in each event. And he will attempt to run these races in the footsteps of those who set the records on the very tracks, and in the very stadiums where the records were set.

His “quest” serves as a platform to raise funds to purchase a $90,000 exoskeleton Bionic Suit, which allows those with critical spinal injuries to rise from their wheelchairs and actually take assisted walks. Think Tony Stark from Ironman. He is relying on donations to the Bridging Bionics Foundation to make this a reality.

Follow Kelly on his journey, which begins in Rome on July 7, 2016, here, on Facebook, Twitter and at race2walk2016.com where you can make a 100 percent tax-deductible contribution towards the purchase of an exoskeleton Bionic Suit for the Bridging Bionics Foundation. One hundred percent of your donations will go towards the purchase of these suits.

Please turn Kelly’s steps into dollars. And we will turn dollars into steps for those who want to walk again.

As I stood at the start line in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, site of the 1960 Summer Olympic Games, waiting for the gun to go off, I had no idea if I would achieve my goal.

Running in the shadow of the great Moroccan runner, Hicham El Guerrouj, who set a world record in 1999 for the Mile Run seemed daunting at best. And I was only trying to run half as fast as El Guerouj’s mark of 3:43 that had stood for seventeen years. Could I do it?

This was race number one of my Quest, something I call the Running Decathlon. My goal is to run each of the ten most contested track events in twice the time or, half as fast, as the standing world record in each. It may seem somewhat pedestrian, but when you throw in the fact that I am 60 years old and plan to run these races on the exact tracks where those records were set, in places like the Stadio Olimpico, and the Berlin and London Olympic Stadiums, it seems a little more challenging.

When I took the track shortly after dawn on a hot, muggy Roman morning, still jet lagged from the previous day’s flight, the time of 7:26 kept pulsing through my consciousness. I had been concentrating on those numbers for a few weeks as I trained for this moment. I am a daily runner, a streak runner, who for the last five years has plodded along on 10-minute miles. And even though I had a 7:32 under my belt, that one was at home and truth be told, it had a downhill slant to it. Still, I thought, “This is a fast track. I have new spikes and if I can just stay with my pace setter, Gabriele Pattumelli, who had been recruited to help out by the stadium, maybe I could get close enough to the 7:26 to not embarrass myself.”

When El Guerrouj set this record on the same date, July 7th, that I was running on, he was on the precipice of being acknowledged as the greatest distance runner in the world. Fifty-one weeks before, he had run away with the 1500m in this very stadium, setting the record for the Metric Mile. On this date, he would run stride for stride with Kenyan Noah Ngeny, who was there to be his pace setter, but instead stayed in the race for keeps. El Guerrouj finished two strides ahead as both runners broke the world record in times that have not been duplicated since.

This was all in my mind as stood in the exact spot on the outside where El Guerrouj started his record mile. As the Italian starter pulled the trigger on the gun, I sprinted towards lane one and the first curve behind Gabrielle feeling incredible excitement and energy. The 65,000-seat stadium was empty, save for couple of handfuls of workers who were there to set new turf for the AS Roma and Lazio football clubs that call the stadium home. With each lap, they cheered and clapped and encouraged me in their native Italian.

I had worked it out with Gabriele that I thought we should do 1:50 laps and let me gut it out down the stretch. Though neither of us spoke the same language, he seemed to understand. So when we finished lap 1, the one with the extra 9 yards, in 1:32, I was a little concerned. But feelin’ alright, I continued on just a few steps behind the easy running Gabriele, who has a 4:00 1500m to his credit. Lap 2 was nice and easy, and when we got to the third lap I thought, “Just keep your form, don’t fall apart until the last lap if you are going fall apart.”

There was no bell, but the bell lap was a total joy. I ran with great form on the two curves and felt no pain as I got to the final 100m.

“Go Kelly, go!” Gabriele implored as he slowed to let me pass.

I lifted my legs and pumped my arms, hoping to get to the line in, say, 7:30.

When I crossed the line, I looked instantly at the timer. “7:05.76” he shouted across the track. Victory was mine.

At least in the first race. Nine more to go including a trip back to Rome for the 1500m this week.

Alaskan Native Pete Kaiser wins Iditarod sled dog race

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) Pete Kaiser won the Iditarod early Wednesday, throwing his arms over his head and pumping his fists as he became the latest Alaska Native to claim victory in the iconic sled dog race.

Kaiser, 31, crossed the finish line in Nome after beating back a challenge from the defending champion, Norwegian musher Joar Ulsom.

Crowds cheered and clapped as Kaiser came off the Bering Sea ice and mushed down Nome’s main street to the famed burled arch finish line. His wife and children greeted him, hugging him at the conclusion of the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) race, which began March 3 north of Anchorage.

Kaiser, who is Yupik, is from the southwest Alaska community of Bethel. A large contingent of Bethel residents flew to Nome to witness his victory. Alaska Native dancers and drummers performed near the finish line as they waited for Kaiser to arrive.

Kaiser will receive $50,000 and a new pickup truck for the victory. Four other Alaska Native mushers have won the race, including John Baker, an Inupiaq from Kotzebue, in 2011.

This year’s race was marked by the stunning collapse of Frenchman Nicolas Petit, who was seemingly headed for victory as late as Monday.

Petit, a native of France living in Alaska, had a five-hour lead and was cruising until his dog team stopped running between the Shaktoolik and Koyuk checkpoints.

Petit said one dog was picking on another during a rest break, and he yelled at the dog to knock it off. At that point, the entire team refused to run.

Petit had to withdraw, and the dog team had to be taken back to the previous checkpoint by snowmobile.

Fifty-two mushers began the race in Willow. Petit was among 10 racers who withdrew during the race.

The race took mushers and their dog teams over two mountain ranges, along the frozen Yukon River and then across the treacherous, wind-swept Bering Sea coast to the finish line in Nome.

This year’s race came during a bruising two-year stretch for the Iditarod that included a dog doping scandal and the loss of national sponsors amid protests by animal rights activists.

French musher was leading Iditarod, but then his dogs quit

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) Musher Nicolas Petit lost a huge lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday when his dog team refused to keep going after he yelled at one of the animals.

A dog named Joey had been fighting with another dog on the team and jumped it during a break on the way to the Bering Sea checkpoint of Koyuk.

“I yelled at Joey, and everybody heard the yelling, and that doesn’t happen,” Petit told the Iditarod Insider website. “And then they wouldn’t go anymore. Anywhere. So we camped here.”

Several mushers passed Petit’s team on the trail, erasing his five-hour lead in the race. Pete Kaiser of Alaska was the first musher into Koyuk, followed 11 minutes later by defending champion Joar Ulsom of Norway.

The checkpoint is 827 miles (1,330 kilometers) into the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) race across Alaska.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a frequent critic of the race, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.

Petit said his dogs are well-fed and there’s no medical issue keeping them from getting up and running.

“It’s just a head thing,” he said. “We’ll see if one of these dog teams coming by will wake them up at all.”

For Petit, it’s another bad memory from the stretch between the Shaktoolik and Koyuk checkpoints.

He was in command of last year’s race when he got off trail during a blizzard and lost the lead. He wound up finishing second behind Ulsom.

“Something about right here, huh?” he mused.

The race started March 2 in Willow, just north of Anchorage. The course through the Alaska wilderness took mushers over two mountain ranges and the frozen Yukon River before they reached the treacherous Bering Sea coast.

The winner is expected to come off the sea ice and mush down Nome’s main street to the finish line sometime in the middle of the week.