At age 62, having just completed a grueling 100-mile mountain race in which he finished first in his age group, Fred Brooks died suddenly when his car crashed on an interstate highway just hours after the race was completed. He was in the second year of a comeback to ultrarunning after a six-year hiatus.
From the late 1990s until 2007, Fred had a successful run in the sport that followed a common arc: a series of continually faster and bigger races that leveled off and then faded, coming to a stop after about 10 years. But he then made a comeback, and a rewarding one at that. Fred ramped back up with a 50k in June 2013, and this year he completed six ultras leading up to his great performance at Wasatch in early September.
I didn’t personally know Fred, but immediately on news of his tragic passing, my inbox was crowded with notes of sorrow and fond memories from his many close trail friends.
In researching his ultrarunning career and piecing together his life, answers were hard to find and the questions only grew.
Why did he move from Canada? How did he apply his academic learning and degrees to his career? How did he run under four hours at Way Too Cool? What happened in his marriage, and how was he as a father to his 12-year-old son? Why did he take a break from ultrarunning—and why did he make a comeback? What was his race like at Wasatch this year? And what happened in the westbound lanes of I-80 in the middle of Nevada on September 13?
Many of these questions will never have clear answers, but here’s what I learned:
- Fred had a zest for life and thrived in the ultrarunning community. He had fun and always brought a positive and invigorating attitude to training runs and ultra races.
- Fred was an intensely tough cookie on the trails. Back in 2001, he was drawn to Barkley—the toughest ultra of all—and he was thoroughly trashed after completing two of the infamous five “loops.” He went back and did two loops the following year too. At Wasatch this year, he had no crew or pacers. At mile 38, suffering from “foot issues,” he enlisted the help of another runner’s crew to change his shoes—because he physically couldn’t do it himself—before going on to a strong solo finish some 62 miles later.
- Fred was respected and loved by many in the ultrarunning community, and by his son and former wife. I also learned a few lessons for myself.
- Fred’s example proves that one’s ultrarunning “career” can have multiple lives—that you can always make a comeback and find meaning in the sport, even if you are older, and slower.
- Fred’s passing came suddenly, arguably at the peak of his life. Life is fragile and can end suddenly. This reminds me to appreciate every day and cherish every moment, especially with friends and family.
- We won’t ever know what happened in Fred’s accident, but I know that I have drifted to sleep while driving after a 100-mile race, with my children in the car. I know that I glance to read texts, emails and other updates while driving. I know I sometimes take stupid risks in traffic. I know that I have to stop doing all of that.
Fred’s rich life and his tragic death are best honored by taking a moment to appreciate all the blessings that life offers all of us every day. At this time of ref lection and thanksgiving, this resonates all the more.
Thank you, Fredrick Brooks.
In this issue, we highlight special people in the ultrarunning community, without whom there would be no sport—because there would be no races. Read our pieces on Race Directing beginning on page 26. We hope you enjoy the helpful and interesting articles from our Columnists, and another great crop of race reports and photos from late summer and early fall races.
Happy Thanksgiving, and may your every run be a great one.