Dust Bowl Series 5-5-5

Five marathons in five different states in five consecutive days? Crazy, right?
Perhaps, but I not only survived the Dust Bowl Series, I had an awesome time! Would I do it again? Definitely. In fact, I’m planning to do the Appalachian Series in October — this time seven in seven states in seven days. Bonkers? Maybe, but I won’t be alone. In fact, there is a wonderful community of runners that develops at each of these series organized by Clint and Hanne Burleson and their Mainly Marathons crew.

Even some of my running friends ask how it is possible. My approach was to intentionally slow down, use run/walk intervals to keep my heart rate down and minimize the wear and tear day after day, visualize each day’s finish, embrace the experience, and take it one day at a time rather than thinking about the totality of it until the end of the last day. I trained by doing a lot of miles on a weekly basis and some back-to-back long runs, but I did not train for speed.

Doing a series of races was not new for me, though. In January 2014 I ran the inaugural Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World — a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and a Marathon in four consecutive days. The toughest part of that was getting up so early each day so this time I did know what to expect in terms of early rising. And in August of 2013 I did a marathon in New York on a Friday followed by my first ultra the next day in Connecticut (a 50K or 31+ miles) so I had some experience with the marathon distance two days in a row plus travel.

But this series was definitely a whole new level. You just have to think of it as 26.2 miles at a time and not focus on the 131 miles over five days.
Much of the fun of doing these series is getting to know your fellow runners well. By the last day I was on a first-name basis with just about everyone that ran the entire series. Each course is a short out-and-back repeated anywhere from 9 to 16 times for the full marathon distance. That may sound awfully boring, but it’s not. The configuration allows you to see the other runners often and get to run alongside most of them for a period of time. It becomes just like a close-knit running club with lots of support and encouragement and shared stories.

I took a leap of faith ahead of time and posted on the series Facebook page that I was looking for a roommate and someone to share the driving from state to state. I ended up with a great traveling friend in Seth who was also experienced doing some previous Mainly Marathon races. He helped show me the ropes and introduced me to some of the regulars.

Seth and Me in front of the kitchen trailer

I also met the other Marathon Maniac with the same nickname — Rick “Roadkill” Haase. There are now over 11,000 Marathon Maniacs worldwide but just two Roadkills. I was hoping Rick wouldn’t be upset with me using “Roadkill” since he was a Maniac long before me, but Rick was more than gracious, and we had a great time getting to know one another during the series. There were many comments about the two of us running together. One of the more dubious comments when we were seen together was “roadkill coalescing.” Personally, I prefer “Roadkill Squared” or “RK2.”


One of the unique features of a Mainly Marathon series is the food! Norm Duesterfoeft is the series cook and there is an amazing amount and variety of food! Because the courses are short out-and-backs typically less than 3 miles, there is just one hydration and food station at the start/finish area and no need to carry hydration bottles or gel packs. Runners are encouraged to provide one or two bottles for the hydration table (to minimize wasting paper cups) and the volunteers keep them filled with water or Gatorade per your request. Food is always available in bite-size portions and ranges from fruit to nuts to candy and cookies to pickles to brownies and peanut-butter-and jelly sandwiches to hot food like panini, soup, chili, and much much more. Each day, Norm has something special “cooked” up! In spite of the expenditure of energy, it is actually possible to gain weight during the series, and you have to be careful about spending too much time at the food table each time you finish a lap.MainlyMarathonsSupport

Fortunately, the Mainly Marathon races have no time limits and welcome race walkers. In fact, the last finisher of each half marathon and marathon are enthusiastically celebrated with the awarding of the coveted caboose — no matter how long it takes. I injured my foot early in the series and by the third day I had to slow down a lot — scoring the coveted O scale model train caboose and sharing the honor with my friend Phil as we finished together. Even so, chef Norm was waiting for us with a sandwich for the road.CabooseAward

Yep, I am definitely looking forward to October to do another series and catch up with friends I’ve already made and make many new ones. I should have 21 states completed after October, and this time, my wife and I will be traveling in our new-to-us RV so we can do some relaxed sight-seeing on the way home.

If you are working on completing a marathon or half marathon in all 50 states or are contemplating doing two or more races on consecutive days definitely consider a Mainly Marathon series. At this point, they cover all but 10 states (AK, AZ, CA, FL, HI, ID, NV, OR, UT, and WA) so at least one series is probably close to where you live or somewhere you’d like to visit. I can’t think of a better way to see the country!

Here are my notes from each day of the series…

Day 1 — Dalhart, TX

  • I was struck by how flat and open it was on the drive from Amarillo (where I landed) to Dalhart — very few trees, mostly grassland and no hills to speak of. Endless sky and endless highway ahead.
  • The day before I checked out the town to find a bar where I could get my traditional car bomb. I had no luck so I picked up a pint glass in a local dollar store, bought a shot glass, a bottle of Jameson’s and Baileys, and a six-pack of Guinness in a local liquor store. I was set for the series.IMG_2590
  • The series was a pretty big deal in most of these small towns we visited, and the local XIT Museum hosted a dinner for runners the night before. They even showed up the next morning to cheer on the runners (and sell us XIT and Dalhart souvenirs).IMG_2593
  • The Rita Blanca Park was pretty desolate-looking — like an alien world scene for an early Star Trek episode. The course was a dirt and gravel path — glad I wore my gaiters — but it was wide and well groomed for the most part.
  • 12 laps out and back. Each time you return to the start you pick up a rubber band to help you track your laps. Each lap is also an opportunity to visit the well-stocked water and food tables. It took me until the last day to get my water and food quickly and not lose time in transition — so much to choose from and opportunities to visit with the volunteers and staff.
  • Started out using my Gymboss timer, but found myself leap-frogging with Liz so I stayed with her and followed her intervals instead. Fell behind somewhere after mile 20 when I made a pit stop. By day 4 I stopped carrying the timer and I rarely looked at my Garmin.
  • Finished just under 6:30 which was in the range of what I expected, but I must have done something to my foot because it became irritated later that night on the top where the foot and ankle flex. It’s possible I might have planted or pivoted on some loose soil on that trail and twisted or strained some tissue, or I might have had my shoe tied too tight.
  • The panhandle region of Texas and Oklahoma is almost all extensive grassland in all directions — the high prairie. I knew that but didn’t process the fact that I would be running at elevation. — from 2500 in Dalhart to 4000 in Clayton. I didn’t notice the elevation directly in terms of breathing but it might have made some difference in my overall speed during the series.

Day 2 — Guymon, OK

  • A wild and windy drive to Guymon with tumble weeds hurtling across the road into the cars driven by wind gusts up to 40 and 50 MPH. There was a tornado warning well to the east of where we were — no danger to us, but we did experience the wind come sweeping down the plain!
  • Almost had a lodging problem. Used booking.com but the reservation never went through. Lesson learned — call for confirmation (although I thought I had). Fortunately they still had a room available and gave us the group rate.
  • A cold start (ice on the car windows in the morning) but it warmed up nicely to be a very comfortable day.0643
  • Thompson Park is a small, pretty park featuring Sunset Lake with a small island full of very noisy geese. A concrete path circles the lake and there is a miniature railroad, too, but only operational in the summer.
  • Although this was probably the coldest start, the wind was not much of an issue — possibly because the park sits down below the surrounding land. When we left to drive on to Kansas it definitely was windy again.
  • We ran around the lake almost to the starting point, then turned around to run back to the start for 1 lap, collecting 14 rubber bands to complete this marathon.2281
  • I could feel the discomfort in my foot during this race, but it didn’t slow me up significantly. I did lose about 20 minutes in the porta pot, though — one of those days.
  • We missed the wine and hors d’oeuvres at the Adobe Museum by the time we drove to Kansas and got dressed for dinner, but after the group dinner next to the hotel we found a large contingent of our group had brought the wine and appetizers back to the hotel after the museum closed so we drank wine after dinner and had a raucous conversation.

Day 3 — Ulysses, KS

  • This was my least favorite course at Frazier Park next to the Bentwood Golf Course, and, to be fair, the surface was a surprise to race director Clint Burleson. What had been an asphalt path was now topped by gravel — with stones as large as 3/8 inch diameter. Even in my ultra-cushioned Hokas I could feel the surface under foot. To make matters worse, my foot pain made running pretty uncomfortable. I resigned myself to doing much more walking.
  • Pivoting on my bad foot was the most problematic and at the end of each lap we had to make a U-turn around a cone. It wasn’t until the last few laps that I figured out making a clockwise U-turn was much better! Wish I had figured that out much sooner.

    Photo by Juli Seydell Johnson
  • The weather was not the best this day. It was a cold start and I wore my fleece vest planning to take it off later but never did — partly because I was going so slow I didn’t keep my core warm and partly because there were more clouds than sun and we had a pretty stiff wind much of the day.
  • Although I struggled I knew I would finish, but I didn’t realize until close to the end that I was in the “running” for the Caboose Award. However, this day there would be two of us. Phil and I found ourselves together with just two laps to go, and we decided to share the honor. Unlike most races where the last finishers are lucky to find some water and maybe a bruised leftover banana, there was food and drink and plenty of cheers along with an official caboose photo. Mainly Marathons truly knows how to show love to back-of-the-packers!

    The coveted Caboose Award has pride of place on my race medal rack!
  • To add insult to injury, I developed two large blisters on the outside of my big toes. Luckily, they were in areas I could easily work on and weren’t on the bottom of my foot. I drained them that night and bandaged them for the next day.
  • Once again, conversation after dinner lasted a lot longer than intended. Not as much sleep as I should have had for an earlier race start in an earlier time zone in the morning.

Day 4 — Lamar, CO

  • The course was located in Willow Creek Park — the first New Deal project in Colorado which provided much-needed flood relief and a recreational area while providing work during the depression.

    Pikes Tower – Willow Creek Park WPA Project
  • A chilly start, but I soon took off the jacket and gloves

    The out-and-back course crossed Willow Creek providing a couple of short but steep descents and ascents but I enjoyed the scenery much more than the previous day in Kansas. The weather also improved greatly — this was the warmest day of all five.

  • My foot still bothered me, but I was able to maintain a quicker pace even when walking. It actually felt a bit better to run up the inclines than to walk them, and I was able to run far more than I did the previous day. I spent much of the time in conversation with “Evil Twin” Karen which helped distract me from my foot pain, and I ended up finishing more than 45 minutes faster than the day before — still my 4th worst time but nowhere near in contention for the caboose!
  • Thanks, Dr. Mark!

    Near the end of this marathon, I caught up with fellow runner Mark who is a podiatrist. He graciously granted me an impromptu, informal consultation while on the move. Based on my descriptions of symptoms he said my foot pain was probably due to an impingement (tissue-on-tissue rubbing) and probably not indicative of a stress fracture. Relieved by this news, I was encouraged that I should be able to finish the final day of the series.

  • I had a massage from massage therapist Mark on the first day but missed the next two days. This time, I took full advantage and it was fantastic. Mark and his wife, Sue — also a masseuse — had a small pool set up with ice water — perfect for my sore foot. Sue helped me clean and dress the blisters which had new blisters underneath.IMG_2703 She and Mark had “Second Skin” squares they gave me to dress the blisters. These are 1-inch moistened gel squares that are applied directly to the blister (after draining). I then wrapped them with kinesio tape which formed an excellent protection from further problems. Then lent me the jar of pads overnight so I could re-dress the blisters in the morning before the last race. Then Mark went to work on me spending some extra time on my foot. He used a technique involving direct pressure while I moved the joint with and without resistance in each direction.
  • That night we made it to Clayton, NM, in time for dinner at the Herzstein Museum with a brief tour of the museum afterward. Then off to bed because we lost an hour driving in Mountain Time Zone.HerzseinMuseum

Day 5 — Clayton, NM

  • Clayton Lake State Park was a half-hour drive from the town so it was an early rise for the last day. This was a much different course than the others featuring some hills, running across an earthen dam with gusting cross winds, an out-and-back in two directions from the start/finish area, and dinosaur tracks on the other side of the dam.IMG_2637
  • Apparently the early morning light is best to view the tracks because of the shadows so on my second time across the top of the dam, I stopped to take the steps down to the tracks on the other side. I took the time to take photographs and walk all around the area on the wooden walkway. In the footprints of dinosaurs!IMG_2645IMG_2654
  • Between the detour to see the tracks and taking photographs of all the informational plaques I probably added at least 15 minutes to my marathon time for the day. And, in spite of my foot still hurting, I was able to run much better than the previous three days finishing with my 2nd best time of the series — about 15 minutes more than the first day when I didn’t visit dinosaur tracks! Maybe it was just a case of “smelling the barn!”13951475
  • What a great euphoric feeling to finish the series! I treated myself to one more Mark Massage before embarking on my 3+ hour drive to Santa Fe to meet my wife.
  • Then one last car bomb: IMG_2672

The last day of the series also featured a drone filming us running during the early morning hours. Very cool!


One of the runners that ran all five days — Lynn “Cornbread” Forbus — made a video of his experience using a Go Pro camera. It gives a great sense of the experience as it happened. (about 30 minutes running time)

Over the next several days my wife and I visited Bandolier National Monument, the Four Corners, and Zion National Park where we did a lot of hiking and took many photos. We ended the trip by driving on to Anaheim for the wedding of close friends followed by a trip to the La Brea Tar Pits and a day at Disneyland. Sounds like a reasonable way to follow up 5 marathons in 5 states in 5 days, doesn’t it?

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