The race to get from an ultramarathon in California to Omaha Westside’s district track meet Wednesday could be even more nerve-wracking than the actual event for Derek Fey.
And the race itself will be nuts.
“I know it’s crazy when runners are thinking I’m crazy, too,” Fey said.
Fey, the Warriors’ boys cross country coach and assistant girls track coach, will compete Monday and Tuesday in the first Badwater: Salton Sea ultramarathon, an 81-mile race from the Salton Sea to Mount Palomar in California. The name of the game, he said, will be to keep moving.
Fey will be part of a team with Jay Birmingham, his former track and cross country coach at Dana College, and Chris Twiggs. Both live in Jacksonville, Fla.
Eleven teams will start the race together Monday morning and each team must finish together Tuesday. Squad members can’t be separated by more than 10 meters — around 32 feet — during the race or they’ll be disqualified.
Besides the distance, the ultramarathon has a few other challenges. The last eight miles are up Palomar Mountain, and the temperature Friday at the Salton Sea was a balmy 105 degrees.
In other words, it’s perfect for Birmingham, who loves testing the limits. He holds the American record for running from Los Angeles to New York (2,964 miles in 71 days, 23 hours) and he’s a veteran of the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, a requirement to enter a team in Monday’s race.
Fey, 33, takes his Omaha Westide teams to Birmingham’s cross country camps in Colorado each July, and they’ve stayed in contact since Fey finished at Dana in 2003, so he didn’t want to say no when Birmingham asked him to participate. Birmingham is paying all of their expenses.
Unfortunately, it’s a busy time of the year for Fey, who is also a Westside middle-school teacher with a 1-year-old at home. He runs with the girls during practice, runs before meets and even sometimes squeezes in a jog between events.
The Warriors have become very interested in his preparations.
“They are planning to follow me through the day and night,” Fey said.
He’ll be posting updates, just like he did in 2009 when he ran the Boston Marathon. He got lots of encouragement then and is hoping for the same on Monday.
Even though Fey said he hasn’t ran near enough miles to prepare, he knows there’s no way he can quit — it would set a bad example for his team, and he’s also raising money for the American Cancer Society.
Ian Latella, a former Viking who is on Fey’s support team for the race, battled testicular cancer while running for Dana.
“He was running when he was having chemo,” Fey said. “It was amazing to see.”
The track team helped raise some money through a spaghetti feed and Fey has gotten support from his running group the Ndorfnz and the Goatz, a trail running group.
John Tripp, the distance coach and cross country coach at Omaha South, also is on the support team. He, too, must make it back in time for districts.
That’s where it gets interesting. They’ve mapped out every aspect of the race and must finish up by 11 a.m. Tuesday. They will then drive 2½ hours to catch a 4 p.m. flight in San Diego. They will arrive home at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and must leave Omaha by 7 a.m. for the Class A-3 district at Lincoln High.
Not much room for error, Fey said.
“I’ve told the girls, if there is a flight delay, I’ll find another one,” he said. “I’ll pay whatever to get back. We’re not going to miss the most important track meet of the year.”
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