Another David Johnston journey: 551 miles in 6 days

Near the end of the Across The Years Six-Day Race -- after running more than 500 miles, banking just an hour of sleep a night and enduring hallucinations -- David Johnston was understandably dazed and confused.

That's when the accomplished ultramarathoner from Willow suffered several of what he casually calls "fall-aparts.'' Johnston, 44, relied on his father, Frank, who doubled as his support crew, to make sense of what he was doing running endless circuits of a 1.05-mile loop on dirt, dust and gravel at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix.

"I'd ask my dad, 'What am I doing? Which way do I go? How do I score points? ' '' Johnson recalled with a laugh. "He'd say, 'You keep going this direction, son, and I'll see you again.' ''

At race's end Saturday, Johnston had conquered a field of more than 50 runners and covered 551.15 miles, about 10 more miles than runner-up Christian Mauduit, a 39-year-old from France.

Johnston came up about four miles shy of Joe Fejes' 2014 race record of 555.36 miles. Still, Johnston achieved one race goal -- winning -- and did well enough to consider racing Across The Years again to bag another race goal -- 600 miles. Through five days of the race last week, Johnston was close to the pace required to sniff 600 -- he had covered 485 miles -- but those "fall-aparts'' hit him on the final day.

"I had 600 miles on my brain -- 100 miles a day -- and you always have winning on your brain,'' Johnston said. "My body was ready for five days, and it was a six-day race.

"To me, winning the race is really important. And, I don't want to end up in a hospital.''


What Johnston ended up with was a weather-beaten face, cracked and peeling lips, aching legs and a case of general fatigue.

"Even sitting around with a cold beer isn't as comfortable as it should be,'' he said four days after the race.

Daytime temperatures during the race were generally in the 60s, Johnston said, but he was taken aback by night temperatures in the 20s, one spell of snow flurries and the sight of grass frosted white in the mornings.

Johnston said Mauduit, who in a 2010 event in Mexico completed 10 Ironman distances of swimming, biking and running in 10 days – "It's insane,'' Johnston noted -- passed him about halfway through the six days. Johnston said he regained the lead when Mauduit took a break, but the Frenchman remained dogged in his pursuit throughout.

Johnston competed with sponsorship from his employer, Geneva Woods Pharmacy in Wasilla.

"They paid for my airfare and entry fees, and that's a couple thousand dollars right there, so I couldn't have done it without them,'' Johnston said.

Among Johnston's accomplishments in 2014 was smashing running records in both the Susitna 100-Miler and the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350-miler. He also ran the 360 miles from Anchorage to Fairbanks in less than five days and then finished the Equinox Marathon the next day.

Johnston has hiked a couple of miles a day this week to get his legs going and hopes to be back running by the weekend. Depending on how quickly he recovers from his experience in Arizona, he has designs on this year's Susitna 100 and possible the ITI 350. He'll also run the Boston Marathon.

And another stab at the Across The Years Six-Day Run next holiday season isn't out of the question. By then, Johnston's memory of how lousy he felt after his Arizona debut likely will have faded.

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Doyle Woody

Doyle Woody covered hockey and other sports for the Anchorage Daily News for 34 years.