The Running Decathlon: Track Town, The Netherlands

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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.

On a cool May afternoon in 2004, more than 15,000 people packed the stands and lawn hillsides at the Fanny Blankers-Koen Stadion in Hengelo, Netherlands. The track savvy crowd had come to see Kenenisa Bekele attempt to break the world record in the 5000m, or 5K, which was held by fellow Ethiopian, and Bekele’s mentor, Haile Gebrselassie.

Among those there that day to witness the fastest 5K ever were race starter Bennie Oude Engerink, who fired the opening gun, and timekeeper/jury member Marion Witvoet.  Aikio Staudt and Lars van der Pluym, both teenagers, were in the stands as fans.

Twelve years later, all returned at the long revamped FBK Stadion to participate as I attempted to run “half as fast” as Bekele in an attempt to complete the third event of my “Running Decathlon.”

The FBK Stadion in Hengelo is a track and field only facility that plays host annually to the IAAF meet called, naturally, the FBK Games. Thanks to a relationship with a Dutch agent, African runners from Ethiopia and Kenya have always been a part of this meet, and the times in the 1500m, 5000m and 10000m have been very fast. The stadium was named for the Dutch Olympic great who, as a mother of two, won four Gold Medals in the 1948 London Games. As a result of all of this, the Hengelo fans are amongst the most avid and knowledgeable track and field fans on the planet.

As I took the track on a cool and overcast morning, I felt that I had a good chance to run the 25:14 that I needed to achieve my self-set goal of twice the time as Bekele’s world record. My hopes were buoyed when Lars, who had been in the stands that day in 2004, showed up in a Jim Morrison T-shirt to pace me. An accomplished club decathlete, Lars has run sub 20 minute 5ks and was a worthy rabbit, and his English was solid enough for conversation during the 12-and-a-half lap trip.

My goal, which was pretty pedestrian, was to go out in a: 60 200m and then settle into a 2:00 per lap pace, finishing at 25:00 even, just ahead of my goal. As the gun sounded, I jumped on the turn, perhaps a touch too quick (well too quick by my 60 year old standards), and we hit the 200 mark in a bit over :40. “Lets just slow it down a bit,” Lars counseled and we fell into a slow groove.

Lars had asked before the run if I had wanted to chat along the way, or if that would be a distraction. I told him I wanted to focus, so if he wanted to talk that would be fine, but don’t expect too much conversation. Of course, that went out the window on lap one when he told me he was a mad fan of the NBA.

LeBron was his man, he said, the Cavaliers his team, and he derided Golden State’s Splash Brothers and their three-point play. That led me to tell him the story of Steve Kerr, the coach of the Warriors, who attended my High School, Palisades, before matriculating to the University of Arizona. Two laps later, I had finished the tale of how Kerr’s father had been assassinated in Beirut, Lebanon, by terrorists when Kerr was a freshman Wildcat and how he had hit six straight 3-pointers in response to the Arizona State students disgusting chants of “PLO” and “Your father is history” before the game. It is a story that has always inspired me, one that I tell often, and it was powerful telling it one more time on this run.

As we completed the second mile, I was felling pretty strong and our times were getting a bit faster with each lap. I thought of the video of Bekele’s record-breaking run that I had watched many times before the race, and how he had sprinted so hard on the final laps, and I thought, “We should give this thing a go.” Lars was ready and on the 11th lap we dipped under 1:50.

As the bell rang (I just loved it that the equipment men had brought out the bell and the lap clock for the run), we kicked into gear. Earlier in the week, Tim Burr had written a post for the Race2Walk2016 blog about how everyone has challenges, and that the key was in how you approached them. Again inspired, I took off.  “I can smell the barn,” said Lars as we hit the backstretch.

At this time, I knew I would be under my time so a sense of relief overcame me, but, as has been the case since this whole thing started, I was once again overwhelmed by just how fortunate I was to be able to run like this. Maybe not so fast, but fast enough to be in the game, running in competition, even if only with myself at the age of 60. This whole crazy scheme was actually happening and I was sprinting to the finish.

As I saw the clock and the finish line, the small crew of track fans and officials who had come out on a Friday morning for a look cheered me on. I crossed to their applause, satisfied that I had, once again, fooled ‘em and crushed the time to beat with a last lap time of :97 and a final clocking of 24:14.97.

It’s good to be 60.

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.