On Labor Day Weekend, the Fred Deadman Park in Manchester, Tennessee will play host to the greatest field of American ultramarathon runners ever assembled…. 30 years too late.
In a unique format, where every runner is allotted the same number of hours to run as their age in years, the winner will be the runner accumulating the most miles before the finish; at 6pm on Labor Day Monday. The first runner, 84 year old Dan Baglione from California, will be starting at 6AM on Friday, with additional runners taking to the certified 1 mile loop around the Park every hour for the next two and a half days. This will also be the oldest field ever to run an ultramarathon; with 29 entrants over 70 years old, and another 55 runners over 60. 84 of the 163 entrants will be over 60 years old.
While Ultramarathoning has become a mainstream phenomenon in recent years, back in the 1970’s and ‘80s (or even the 60’s) when most of these runners began their careers, it was an obscure sport, with only a handful of participants. Back in “the day,” when these athletes were in their prime, almost everyone knew each other and competed in the relative handful of available events. ARFTA will be a grand reunion of the runners who founded the modern sport. The field includes a plethora of current (and future) hall of famers, with athletes whose achievements range from sub-3 hour 50km (31.05 miles) to transcontinental races of over 3,000 miles.
As with any athlete, the years have slowed the ARFTA runners, many of them no longer able to make the time limits. However, the Manchester format has turned back the hands of time, and the great runners of the past will be able to compete on equal terms with some of the great runners of today. Race goals for these 60, 70, and 80-year-old, plus, runners range from 100 to 250 miles. These are not your typical grandmothers and grandfathers.
For anyone who questions the value of a lifetime of physical fitness, the career achievements that the ARFTA runners are seeking are mind boggling. Just taking the 100 miles, the flagship distance of today’s ultramarathon: Only one person has ever completed a 100 mile run in each of 5 different decades (Ray Krolewicz) Ray is running ARFTA, along with three other runners who will be attempting to join him; Joe Scheiffer, Ed Dodd, and 81 year old Ed Demoney. While completing a 100 mile run in every decade is impressive; equally impressive is the ability to complete 100 mile runs over an extended period of years. Currently, there are only 25 people in the history of the sport who have completed 100 mile races over a period of more than 30 years. 8 of those runners will be at ARFTA, including the only two women on that list. What is truly amazing is that no fewer than 17 ARFTA entrants will be attempting to join that exclusive club.
Bonnie Gamble, and the Manchester Recreation Department are commended for bringing to Manchester a truly unique, and inspiring, athletic event, which has drawn entrants from 34 states and Canada. A plethora of age group records are expected to fall, but the real treat is that, for one more weekend, the old guys will be able to compete head to head against the kids.