Olander Park hosted the United States Track & Field Association's 24-Hour Run National Championship over the weekend, and the event attracted many of the best long-distance runners in the world.
Yiannis Kouros, the world-record holder, won the event, running at a near seven-miles-per-hour clip in the race, which ended at noon yesterday. He was joined by a total of eight previous national champions.
But to a person they agreed that the event had only one winner: the weather.
High heat early in the race, hard rains during the night and searing humidity throughout the event made the chase for records futile.
“People who set goals for mileage for this race had to throw them out the window because of the weather,” said Ann Heaslett, winner of the women's race.
Heaslett, a psychologist from Madison, Wis., held off a late-morning charge by Sandy Powell to claim the women's title in her first 24-hour race. Heaslett covered 128.558 miles, almost four miles more than Powell.
“My strategy? To stay in front of the woman in second place,” said Heaslett. “Sandy was in second, and around 4 a.m. she had a spell where she was running really well - so well that I thought she would catch me. But she had problems with something around 8 a.m. and that forced her to slow down.”
Heaslett, who finished in front of all but five of the record 177 competitors in the event, had problems of her own afterward. She was bundled in blankets following her win - “I always get cold after a race,” she explained - and she received an I.V. as well.
Kouros had no such problems after the race, looking surprisingly fresh despite running 172.378 miles, breaking his own North American outdoor course record by almost five miles.
His only problems, naturally, were with the weather.
“If everything was perfect I wanted to go for the world record,” said the native of Athens, Greece, who also owns that mark with 180 miles. “But after 100 kilometers I knew it was not possible. It was too hot early, and the rain slowed me down. It was not possible in these conditions to set a world record.”
Still Kouros' 172.378 miles is a staggering total. To put his mileage in perspective, Kouros ran more than seven miles in an hour - for 24 straight hours. His total also was almost 35 miles more than the next-highest total.
That mark was 137.523 miles by John Geesler, who claimed his third U.S. national title. The St. Johnsville, N.Y., resident narrowly edged brothers Mark and Stephen Godale, finishing just four miles ahead of Mark in second and almost seven in front of Stephen in third.
“The humidity was the key,” Geesler said. “The temperature wasn't bad, but the heat just dragged everyone down.”
Geesler said the early-morning hard rain helped him move up from fourth place at the midway point in the race.
“I was praying for the rain, even though everyone else said they didn't want it,” he said. “I really wanted colder weather, but the first thunderstorm was good enough.”
The top local finishers were the husband-and-wife team of John and Andrea Nichols of Waterville. John Nichols placed 17th overall and 13th among the men by covering 110.191 miles, one of 37 competitors in the race to break the 100-mile mark. Andrea Nichols finished 10th among the women by racking up 88.371 miles.