The Dawn to Dusk to Dawn Track Ultras, Where American & World Records Are Set, Celebrate 25 Years
Greeting runners on Mother's Day weekend at the high school in Sharon Hill, Pa. Photo by Jon Gilbert.
After a two-year delay due to the pandemic, the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn Track Ultras (D3) will celebrate its 25th year anniversary on Mother's Day weekend ( May 7 - 9 ). It's been a long but patient wait for the runners and race directors alike. The 24-hour, 12-hour, and 50K events are sold out. Registration for the virtual 50K event, which you can run anywhere and not necessarily on a track, closes May 7 at 11:59 pm.
I recently chatted with race director Bill Schultz about the history of these track ultra events, what makes D3 unique, his fondest memories of the good, the bad, and the ugly, the challenges and rewards of the last twenty-four years, the world and American records set at D3, and advice for aspiring race directors who want to create an ultra event.
How It All Got Started
In 1986 Bill got into Ed Dodd's Weston 6-Day track ultra that took place in June in Pennsauken, NJ. "I wanted an event that I could run in May a month before the 6-day race. That event became the Dawn to Dusk ultra. It was only 12 hours," explains Bill. He was director and Bob Huggins was the co-race director.
Bill and Bob at the 1986 Weston 6-Day. Photo courtesy of Bill.
Twelve people, all from the Delco Road Runners Club who had never run an ultra, ran the first Dawn to Dusk track ultra in 1984. "In the early days you had to have someone count laps and write down the time for every lap. This new timing thing has been around the past ten, fifteen years," chuckles Bill.
The 12-hour Dawn to Dusk track ultra morphed into a 24-hr event in 1986. In 2014 the event became the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn track ultras consisting of the 24-hour, 12-hour, and 50K event. A virtual 50K run was added in 2022.
When Bob passed away in 2012, Josh Irvan stepped in and served as co-director for eighteen years. "Josh came up with the phrase 'for runners, by runners.' We wanted to put on a race that we wanted to run. We wanted an aid station, a leaderboard, a program. All those things became important to us," says Bill.
An ultra that began because Bill wanted a 12-hour training run before the Weston 6-Day evolved into track ultra events where American and world records are set.
American and World Records at D3
"In 2014 Debra Horn was our first big female runner," says Bill. In 2019, Debra set American
60 - 65 age group records in the 100K, 12-hour, 50 mile, and 50K runs at D3. Gene Dykes, 74, has set American records in the 50K, 50 mile, 12hr, 100K, 100 mile, and 24-hour event.
"We've had over 25 American records and a handful of world records at D3. In 2016, Pam Smith came in and set national and world records," adds Bill. "Pam was going after Ann Trason's 13:45 in the 100-miler. She was on pace to break it through mile 92. She fell apart and finished in 14:09. But she has the 12-hour course record with 88 miles. Pam holds all the course records at D3 and they are all splits."
"The best runners in the United States have come to run in Sharon Hill, Pa.," says Bill. Elite ultrarunners who have graced the USATF certified and sanctioned track ultras at D3 include Bob Hearn, Harvey Lewis, Dave Johnson, Pete Kostelnick, and Laurie Dymond, who won bronze at the 2017 world championships in Belfast as an alternate in her age group. At the D3 24-hr in 2019, Harvey Lewis logged 156.33 miles and Rich Riopel logged 161.82. "Both were on the gold medal team at the world championship in 2019," adds Bill.
These track ultra greats followed the early greats that came before them. "Stu Middleman, Don Choi, who's in the Ultrarunning Hall of Fame, and Ed Dodd. These guys are pioneers," says Bill. The top male runner with 16 runs at D3 and 1, 416.50 miles is Neil Weygandt. The top female runner is Janet Johnson with 11 runs and 899.25 miles.
Runners continue to come to D3. "Runners are coming this year just to run on a 400-meter certified track for a 50K...125 laps, 100K...250 laps, 50 miles, and 100 miles."
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I asked Bill to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly over the last 24 years and what it takes to put on a successful track ultra.
"The good has to be the people who have run here. The people are wonderful. A handful comeback." Bill shares with affection and chuckles when he speaks of the role his parents played. "In the 80s when we went to a 24 hour, after the race people went to my parents' house . My parents made them breakfast. Then my sister Nancy got involved."
"As for the bad I'm always getting blamed for the weather. And the ugliest thing that happened was in 2015. The timing-company screwed up." The following year Mike Melton was brought in.
Another year, Bill did not have the key to unlock the box to turn on the lights on the track for night running. The lights turned themselves on at 10 at night. And a race isn't complete without complaints that the food served is too vegetarian or too much meat, and that the porta-potties are stationed too far away.
Unexpected race day challenges are just par for the course for race directors and runners. You overcome them and move one. "We're runners, for runners. If runners are going to give their best, we need to give our best." Helping runners achieve their PRs, giving them a good experience, and helping runners push their limits and keep their goals in sight is what makes being a RD rewarding. "May you goals be forever in your sight," is Bill's mantra for everyone.
If you've never run a track ultra, consider setting foot on a track. "One of the best things about running on a track is that you always see your competition and one of the worst things is that your competition sees you. In a trail ultra, you see trees. In a road marathon, you see the same people you're running with. You don't see the leaders. On a track, the leaders go by you every three minutes," Bill points out. "One year at ATY [Across the Years] I wanted someone to take a picture when Yiannis Kouros was about to pass me because that would mean I was in front of him," laughs Bill. "On a track you can get to run next to Camille Herron, Bob Hearn, Pam Smith. I have a picture of me running with Don Choi," Bill shares with delight.
Race directors make it look easy. For anyone looking to create an ultra event of any kind, Bill offers the following. Ask yourself: Why am doing it. What do I want to get out of it. Am I prepared for the long haul. Can I get support.
"If you're going to be a RD, you better have the people see you on the course. "I don't leave the course. I walk in the opposite direction." It's essential that the RD looks at the runners and that the runners see the RD. "I want you to see that I'm there in the same lousy weather that you are. If you're going to do your best, I'm going to be there to give you my best," says Bill.
Josh and Bill being there for the runners. Photo courtesy of Bill.
"There are few races in the country that have been around since 1984." says Bill. He credits the success of the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn track ultras to the people who have helped and supported him. Bill is grateful for his sponsors including Bob Davidson from RunGoo, Maggie Guteri from Trailwind, Michael from Tancredi Chiropractic & Rehab, student volunteers from Valley Forge Military Academy, and the Delco Road Runners Club. And his sister Nancy, who makes the best potato bacon soup; it ran out pretty fast when I ran the 2019 24-hr ultra where It rained the last 11 hours. Nancy will be back in the kitchen on Mother's Day weekend.
"I have been so blessed from the people I've met through running. The community itself is such an amazing group of people." says Bill.
More Miles on Mother's Day Weekend
You might be asking - Why hold an ultra event on Mother's Day weekend? In 1978 Bill ran his first marathon - the Yonkers Marathon in Yonkers, NY. It took place on Mother's Day. His mother was not too happy but he calmed her displeasure. "Mom, you'll know where I am and I'll be thinking of you on Mother's Day." Bill adds, "Mother's Day weekend was also the five weeks before the Weston 6-day in 1984. That's why I picked Mother's Day. If you run the 50K or the 12-hour track event, you can still celebrate Mother's Day on Sunday,"
Two years after Covid-19 struck, 78 runners, 45 of them running the 24-hr event, will run laps counter-clockwise and clockwise, and will switch directions every four hours this Mother's Day weekend. They won't be able to control the weather but they will be part of history as D3 celebrates a quarter century. They will become members of the D3 family on a track where American and world records are made and broken.
They will add more miles of history. What started as Dawn to Dusk 12-hour with twelve runners has over the years grown to 302 different runners who have logged a total of 38,059.24 miles (not counting the virtual miles logged in 2020 and 2021).
If you want to be part of D3 history virtually and log a 50K, you can register here. This year, volunteers are needed. If you want to crew or volunteer in Sharon Hill, Pa. register on the volunteer link at Runsignup or message Bill or Josh on the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn Track Ultras FB page.