The Original Ultimate Runner Competition

The Original Ultimate Runner Competition

I was a nationally ranked miler by my late 20’s. However, aging legs are not a national class runner’s friend. It was nearly time to hang up my spikes and move to the next chapters of life. I was in the final steps of my competitive running career looking for one last challenge before I put my spikes away.

When I saw the advertisement for the Ultimate Runner Competition in a national running magazine, I jumped at the chance to compete. The race seemed like climbing Mt. Everest to me at time. It was the battle and adventure that I was looking for. You see, the original Ultimate Runner Competition consisted of running a 10 k, 400 meters, 100 meters, mile, and a marathon all on the same day.

Some of the best runners in the world at various distances gathered to compete in The Ultimate Runner Competition. 

The original Ultimate Runner Competition sought to answer these questions:  Was a miler or middle distance runner the best runner in the world?  Was a sprinter the best in the world?  Was a marathon runner or ultra-marathon runner the best runner in the world? 

The winner of the original Ultimate Runner Competition was honored as the best all-around runner much like track and field honors the winner of the Olympic decathlon as the best all-around athlete in the world and the Iron Man determines the best triathlete in the world.

The original Ultimate Runner Competition was also designed to test the limits of human endurance in one day. The founders of the race reached their goal. The original Ultimate Runner Competition (it no longer exists) was the toughest endurance event of my life. 

Runner's World Magazine writer Jim Harmon covered the race one year and had this to say about The Ultimate Runner: "This competition may be the last word in running endurance".

Imagine for a moment running at nearly top speed for over 33 miles in one day. Running 33 miles at a fast pace in five different races is a level of pain that I had never experienced before or since this race. 

Some of the best ultra-marathoner runners in the world competed in the original Ultimate Runner Competition including Barney Klecker, the American record holder at 50 miles (Klecker held the American record at this distance for almost 40 years. He set the American record in 1980. The record was finally broken in May of 2019.), and Charlie Trayer who was the number three ranked ultramarathon runner in the world at the time.                                                                                                                 

Charlie was also named the UltraRunning Magazine Ultra Runner of the year in 1987. Stefan Feckner, the UltraRunning Magazine Ultra Runner of the year in 1988, also competed in the Orginal Ultimate Runner Competition.

The ultra guys were attracted to this race because it was one of the toughest running events ever created. These are pretty tough guys who think running 100 miles in a day is normal!

Don Kardong, a former U.S. Olympian in the marathon and fourth place finisher in the Olympic Games marathon competed in the Ultimate Runner one year and also wrote about his experiences after the race. In his usual humorous style, Kardong and a writer from the American Running Association had some funny yet spot on things to say about his participation in the Ultimate Runner Competition:

"When Kardong heard about the Ultimate runner competition in Jackson, Michigan, of course he went. This diabolical contest has you run a 10K race in the morning, 400 meters, 100 meters, and a mile around midday, and for the afternoon, a marathon. Kardong is funny. He recalls passing a dead raccoon in the last couple of miles of the marathon, "I thought the roadkill looked better than I felt. “He placed fifth overall…".

Olympian and famous running author Jeff Galloway competed in the Ultimate Runner event just one time and said, "I haven't had this much fun since Viet Nam". 

John Craig, a semifinalist in the Olympic Games at 1500 meters  said the original Ultimate Runner was a great experience but he would never do it again because it was too hard on him. 

Kardong's humor sums up the event best. The race was brutally hard and there was nothing left in the tank when you finished the race. Galloway's comment tells you the same thing in a different way.

The race turned out to be a battle of will from the very first step. National record holders in the ultra-marathon events, road racing champions, elite marathon runners, Olympic athletes at 1500 and 5000 meters competed for the title of The Ultimate Runner at its peak in popularity. I was not on anyone's radar to win this event.

You could almost hear a pin drop at the beginning of the competition the day I ran the race. Every elite runner in the field was extremely focused and wanted to win the race.

By the end the competition, I was crowned “The Ultimate Runner” setting the all-time record in the event. I finished ahead of several national and world class runners whom I had never beaten before. I was blessed to end up number one on the all-time Ultimate Runner point total list ahead of 1500 meter and 5000 meter Olympians, marathon champions, and ultra marathon national record holders.

Winning the Ultimate Runner Competition took every ounce of mental, physical, and spiritual strength that I could find deep down inside that day. The meet officials had to lift me up onto the stage at the awards ceremony that afternoon to receive my first place award because my legs were like jelly.

Due to space limitations, I can’t share all the details of the many life changing experiences and life lessons that I experienced that day. However, I can tell you that I prayed and focused like never before, learned to really trust God in the midst of physical pain, and most importantly began to understand the verse “all things are possible with God”.

Looking back, my entire perception of fatigue and endurance was transformed during the competition as well. There is no question that we can all do a lot more than we initially think we can in the endurance and mental realms of life.

In summary, the original Ultimate Runner Competition was the mental and physical test of a lifetime. I will always be grateful and cherish the opportunity I had to test the limits of human endurance when I was a young man. The event taught me so much about running and life—we can always do more than we initially believe.

Keep pushing the pace to your dreams. Never give into pain along the way.  All things are possible for those who believe. 

Blessings,

Coach Weber

Philippians 4:13

To learn more about how the Original Ultimate Runner Competition impacted my life, view this interview with sport talk host Will Ferris. The video and podcast interview was released in October of 2019.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OTsG7nuoWM&fbclid=IwAR1Yuz4M63p_WcUSaBp7z2aQfB8a-3g9DulGl3vDyz_ueO4MN_LvUrnC48I



The Orginal Ultimate Runner History: John Craig finished second behind me in the Original Ultimate Runner Competition (10k, 400 meters, 100 meters, a mile and marathon all ran on the same day). John (number 145 in the picture above) ran in the Olympics in the 1500 meters and is seen here running against Olympic 1500 meter champion and world record holder John Walker of New Zealand in a 1500 meter race. John Craig was also the national road racing champion at 10k in his country.

Photo Credit: Unknown

The Original Ultimate Runner HistoryBarney Klecker held the American record in the 50 mile run for almost 40 years.  He set the American record in 1980. His 50-mile American record was finally broken in May of 2019. He was joined in the original Ultimate Runner by two of the great Ultra Runners of all-time,  Charlie Trayer and Stefan Feckner. Both won Ultra Runner of the year awards. Barney and Stefan both competed in the Original Ultimate Runner Competition. You can view Trayer and Feckner's awards here: https://ultrarunning.com/features/reference/ultrarunning-magazine-ultra-runners-of-the-year/

Photo Credit: Rollga.com

The Original Ultimate Runner History: This is an old picture of Olympian Don Kardong, the fourth place finisher in the Olympic Marathon leading American legend Steve Prefontaine in a track race in their college days. 

In his usual humorous style, Kardong and a writer from the American Running Association had some funny yet spot on things to say about his participation in the Ultimate Runner Competition:

"When Kardong heard about the Ultimate runner competition in Jackson, Michigan, of course he went. This diabolical contest has you run a 10K race in the morning, 400 meters, 100 meters, and a mile around midday, and for the afternoon, a marathon. Kardong is funny. He recalls passing a dead raccoon in the last couple of miles of the marathon, "I thought the roadkill looked better than I felt. “He placed fifth overall…".

Photo Credit: Inlander.com

Famous running author and marathon Olympian Jeff Galloway competed in the Original Ultimate Runner Competition. He is seen here running second to running legend Steve Prefontaine and just ahead of another Olympic Marathon runner, Don Kardong.

Photo Credit: Unknown


This picture was taken about 5 minutes after I  finished the Original Ultimate Runner Competition. I looked like death warmed over and felt like it as well. The meet organizers had to lift me up on the platform to accept my first-place award. I could not lift my legs up the steps to the winners platform.  This was by far the hardest race I ever ran in my career. 

From the brochure of the Original Ultimate Runner Competition: " Some have called it runnings answer to the Ironman...The Ultimate Runner is what the decathlon  is to track and field..."

Charlie Trayer won several national Ultra-running Championships and is an Ultra-running legend in the United States.  Charlie is given credit for placing American ultrarunning on the world stage. Charlie is another great ultra runner who competed in the Original Ultimate Runner Competition. You can read more about Charlie in the Ultra-legend series: https://ultrarunninghistory.com/charlie-trayer/

Photo Credit: Unknown

Dave Hinz  is running on the shoulder of number 10 Dave Gordon in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with Bill Rodgers, Greg Meyer,  and Alberto Salazar. Dave was a 2:12:06 marathon runner who competed in the Original Ultimate Runner.  Dave went out at sub 2:20 pace after running a 10k, 400 meters, 100 meters, and a mile a few hours before the marathon. We were all new to the Ultimate Runner so no one knew what to expect when it came to racing at just the right pace for all those events.

Running at sub 2:20 pace after running all the prior events of the day was too much for anyone to handle including some of the best ultra runners in the world.  I went out a lot  more conservatively than Dave and felt very fortunate to feel strong with 2 miles to go.I passed Dave at mile 24 in the marathon, and went on to win the Original Ultimate Runner overall breaking the all-time record. I had never run a marathon before the Ultimate Runner Competition. I guess ignorance really is bliss!

Two of the best Ultra Runners of all-time battle it out in the Original Ultimate Runner Competition.  Charlie Trayer and Steven Feckner had amazing endurance and it seemed like they could run all day!

I was number 11 in this picture running for Reebok in the mile run portion of the Original Ultimate Runner Competition. The man in the beard directly behind me is John Craig an Olympian at 1500 meters and a national 10k road racing champion for his country. John was running for New Balance.

This picture is from the last major road race of my running career. I won the race over my long time rival 3:58 miler Gary Gustafson. Gary was a great guy who was a finalist in the 1500 Meters at the USA Track and Field Championships. Gary had beaten me at the national championships.           

I had  an extra  gear that day and won the race in the last 300 meters. This race marked the end of an era for me and the conclusion of a very meaningful chapter of life.                                                                                                                               

I retired from competitive running shortly after this race and less than two years after the Orginal Ultimate Runner Competition.