Thursday, May 26, 2005

Karnazes to skip Badwater in lieu of 24-hour World Championships

The latest on Mr. Karnazes...

Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon Champion Joins USA Ultrarunning Team

May 3, 2005

San Francisco, CA: 2004 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon winner, Dean Karnazes, has been named to the USA 24-Hour Ultrarunning Team and will represent the United States at the 24-Hour Ultrarunning World Challenge on July 16-17, 2005, in Worschach, Austria. “I am pleased to have qualified for the United States Ultrarunning Team, and it will be a great honor to represent my country at the World Challenge. My only regret is that I will not be able to participate in the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon, an event that I look forward to every year. I wish all of the athletes at the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon the very best, and look forward to returning in subsequent years.”

To learn more about the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon, visit:

To learn more about the Ultraruning World Challenge, visit:

Friday, May 20, 2005

Lost In Translation (Vail Daily)

Crazy! I can't imagine being lost and NOT being able to read the signs. Great article from the Vail Daily.

- SD

Lost in trail-running translation

Shauna Farnell
May 18, 2005

TOKYO, Japan - Eagle trail-running champion Anita Ortiz has had her share of racing experience, but her first Japanese trail run will surely go down with a flag in her memory files.

Ortiz was one of six Americans on the U.S. Mountain Running Team to compete in the inaugural Challenger's Race Japan Cup, a series of 10-kilometer, 25K and 50K races intended to draw an international field April 29.

Photo by Dan Davis/
Click to Enlarge Awesome Anita
Eagle trail running champion Anita Ortiz will compete in the Teva Games National Trail Running Championships June 4 in Vail following her jostling first experience competing in Japan. She was one of dozens of racers to get lost on a poorly marked course.
Dan Davis/

The event, which Ortiz said was organized by the Japanese trail running federation in an effort to bolster the image of the sport locally and showcase the country's course potential to outside participants, had a few missing links. Specifically, the courses were unmarked, and those competing who were not well-versed in Japanese symbols either didn't finish the race or took several wrong turns until they reached the nearest semblance they could find to a finish line.

"I didn't see any markings," said Ortiz, who also said she would have surely won the 10K had there been a clearly marked course. "There were check points, but of course, nobody got through them all. Most of the people that ran the 50K didn't even finish the course. One guy was lost for eight hours. He was out lost in the mountains of Japan. I know when I went off-track. It was like 40 minutes out. I was plenty ahead when I went off-course."

Ortiz ended up "finishing" in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. She said about 360 racers competed in the three events. According to a recent article in Colorado Runner's online magazine, only 33 of 110 who competed in the 50K finished and just 11 of the 160 competing in the 100K finished, with the first-place finisher reaching the end point after more than 18 hours.

"It was a royal muck-up," Ortiz said of the event, which took place in the hills of a Tokyo suburb. "It was too bad because it was my kind of course - pretty technical and with some hills that were wicked steep. Some of the course had ropes you had to use to go up and down. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Their trail system is so interwoven and crisscrossy - kind of like ours, but it's especially bad when you can't read Japanese. We were there for seven days and they treated us wonderfully. It was a good place to go and a good experience, but pretty much everyone got lost. The ball got dropped for the race."

The Japanese federation financed the U.S. team's expenses getting to and from the Challenger's Cup. Ortiz will be one of the premiere local athletes competing in this year's Teva Mountain Games at Vail. The National Trail Running Championships at this year's games kick off at 9 a.m. on June 4.

Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or
(Full copyright by Vail Daily, all rights reserved)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Run in the Redwoods - The Waterfalls of Big Basin Marathon

Last Saturday I raced the The Waterfalls of Big Basin Marathon in Big Basin Park just outside of Boulder Creek, CA (right in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains). This race has it all - gigantic redwoods, 20 foot waterfalls, and enough vert to bring even the fastest runners to their knees. It was one of my favorites from last year, and I eagerly awaited the new addition of a marathon distance. Eric Gould and the Redwood Trails crew ordered up another perfect weather day (how do they do that?), and a full roster of 250 eager runners showed up to bond with Mother Nature.

The race had four distance options, making use of two hilly loops of 5.5 miles and 10.5 miles. The first loop climbed about 2000' feet through soft single track, with a steep rock face at mile 3 to keep you honest. The second loop had closer to 3000' feet of climbing, with a long descent down to Berryessa Falls, a few miles along the waterfalls (rock step formations and handholds required), and a long ascent back. Most opted for the middle distances (10.5 and 16 miles) to get deep into the park where most of the waterfalls were. Only a few were crazy enough to double loop the backside for the full 8000' vertical foot marathon.

The marathoners lined up early, and quickly sorted out that this was going to be a full day in the mountains. There were a few first time trail marathoners in the group, lured by the gorgeous trails and "opt out" layout of the loop course (which I'm happy to say, nobody opted out of). This would be a great race to slap on the iPod and do some sightseeing, and I brought mine along just in case. I was also trying a few new changes to my running strategy, in particular trying to run with water bottles strapped into each hand instead of my usual fanny pack. A lot of runners at Rucky Chucky were doing this (particularly those who beat me....good clue), but I thought it seemed crazy to put that kind of weight in your hands. But don't knock it before you try it, right? I strapped in my bottles as we hit the trail, and Mike LeClair took off like a rabbit from the start - we saw hide nor hare of him (ha, ha) for hours. By the time we hit mile 2, everyone had found a comfortable pace, and I had slotted into second.

At the end of the first 5.5 mile lap, they told me LeClair was well ahead of me on a frenetic sub 7-minute pace. I kept my sore-hamstring-friendly pace, thinking he was either a phenom-in-the-making, or I would find him somewhere on that second loop passed out on the trail...either way, his performance was going to be epic! As I hit the downhill on the second loop, I noticed two big advantages of the two water bottle method. First, I was actually drinking according to the schedule (it helps when it's right in front of you all the time, and you can take smaller drinks more often). Second, it was easier to keep my weight forward when running downhill. I just started "throwing" my hands ahead of me, and the long strides seemed effortless. Surprisingly, my arms weren't much more tired than without them. They weren't much help on the climb, but thanks to the distraction of rushing waterfalls, little help was needed.

As I rounded into the last 10.5 mile loop, I could see the 5.5/10.5/16 mile finishers coming in. Dale Reicheneder, the current Trail Runner Magazine Tropy Series leader, had won the 16-miler in an impressive 2:10:55 (~8 min pace), barely showing wear-and-tear from his stellar performance at Malibu Creek Trail Challenge the week previous. Patty Campbell schooled the younger woman on the trail with a respectable 2:40, earning her bragging rights and first crack at the PB&J. Gabriel Lombriser and Laura Albrecht won the 10.5 miler, with Gabriel being one of only two to fly through the big loop at a sub-8 minute pace.

I caught up to few runners on my last lap, including the amazing Sharlene Abrhams, who has been blind since birth. She was cruising along the waterfall trail with her guide at a brisk pace. I wondered how in the world she was going to make it through the rock footholds on the steepest sections, but then I remembered she's done tons of these races! My quads burned through the steep sections on the second lap, forcing me to walk a few sections that I hadn't on the first lap, but all-in-all I was feeling good.

When I crossed the finish line, everyone was spread out under the redwood canopy, enjoying the snacks and waiting for the last few stragglers/marathoners. Mike LeClair had come in around 4:13, just a few minutes ahead of me, saying that the second round of hills smacked him down. Dale Reicheneder was also there with congratulations (like he was giving to everyone), well-wishing for the remaining season, and the hope our race schedules would cross again. We compared strategies for the Trail Runner Magazine Series, with Dale's insane ability to race all-out on the half marathons weekend after weekend (which I could never do), or my strategy for racing fewer races but nearly all at marathon distance (Dale says no way). Either way, I was pleased to know that the man to beat for 2005 was so down-to-earth, with a genuine passion for the sport.

My arms were a tad more sore than usual, but the benefit of getting through four bottles of water during the race easily made up for it. I think I'll be sticking with this method for the longer trail races, and definitely for the 50k's. As I packed up my gear, I realized that despite running for almost four and a half hours, I had forgot about my iPod. Like Sharlene had told me, the sounds of redwoods, streams, and waterfalls can be far more rewarding if you give them the chance. A sure sign of an epic race.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Ultramarathoners are the ultimate road warriors (USA Today)

USA Today?!? Ultras are going mainstream, baby! There's some interesting stats in this story by Sal Ruibal. Good stuff.

- SD

Ultramarathoners are the ultimate road warriors
FORT VALLEY, Va. — Of all the things to be doing at 5 a.m. Saturday, preparing to run 100 miles of steep, rocky and root-strewn Appalachian trails would seem to be pretty far down on the list.

But here at the dark, chilly start of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 ultramarathon, the 143 runners are hopping with happy anticipation in the seconds before race director Stan Duobinis gives the start signal.

They'll have a 2.4-mile dash on rolling asphalt roads before they hit the rough stuff.

The lean greyhounds at the front are churning out seven-minute miles, which would be a good pace for any recreational runner in a 5K race.

The rest of the field is strung out with some running, some walking, some doing an awkward mix of both, their headlamps creating a bobbing line of lights that snakes up aptly named Mountain Road.

They have 36 hours to finish the 101.8-mile course, and some of these back-of-the-pack competitors will need every minute for this ultramarathon, defined as any race longer than the standard 26.2 miles of a road marathon.

Given that everyone from Oprah Winfrey to your mother's dentist seems to have finished a regular marathon, the cachet of running a marathon as a feat of strength and endurance has diminished in the eyes of many runners.

With that increased mass participation, average marathon finishing times for men have jumped from 3 hours, 32 minutes in 1980 to 4 hours, 19 minutes last year, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The answer for the frustrated endurance crowd was to go longer and harder.

So here, at the first of 16 aid stations, some runners grab for cups of Gatorade or water before heading up the first of 10 shin-busting major climbs.

The race is only 30 minutes old, but already a cry of distress pierces the darkness.

"Hey, do you have any extra toilet paper? I'm already out!"

A bigger challenge

The USA's first ultramarathon, the JFK 50 Miler, began in Maryland in 1963 as a tribute to President John F. Kennedy, who advocated 50-mile walks and hikes to improve the nation's fitness.

In that first JFK 50, 11 runners started the race; only four finished over the 50 miles of rock and dirt trails. In the 2004 event, 876 runners finished.

In 1979, 2,300 racers finished an ultramarathon, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer study. Last year, more than 18,000 achieved that feat.

Head for these hills

Many events are sold out months before the start date, even with entry fees that range from $150 for the Massanutten 100-mile event to $220 for the Leadville (Colo.) 100 trail race.

There are additional costs for camping and support crews, who dash from aid station to aid station to care for their runners. Many runners own SUVs powerful enough to pull spacious camp trailers from race to race.

A 100-mile run through the woods can cost $1,000 or more. The finishers' prize: An engraved pewter belt buckle.

Ultrarunners must also give up large chunks of their time to train for these mammoth events. Weekend mornings are usually given over to four-hour training runs. For those racing in 100-mile events, several 50-kilometer (31-mile) races must be undertaken to steel the legs. Most ultrarunners don't compete in more than one or two 100-mile races a year.

The average ultramarathon runner is older and more conservative than counterparts in the other so-called extreme sports, Duobinis observes. Although there were a few tattoos and low-slung beanie caps in this starting field, salt-and-pepper was the predominant hair color.

That will be reflected in the final results: The average age of the race's first 10 finishers is 35.7; the 45th through 54th places averaged 45.2 years; and the last 10 runners average 49.1.

"A lot of road marathoners look for diversity in their running as veteran athletes," says freelance writer and author James Raia, who has completed 35 marathons and 40 ultras. "Trail running and longer events, 50 kilometers and farther, provide a nice alternative.

"Often, the fields are smaller, the terrain appealing and there's a nice overall camaraderie in ultras. There are stars like Dean Karnazes who thrive on the attention, but they're the exceptions."

Karnazes, the 42-year-old author of Ultramarathon Man and the current media darling of extreme running, seems to rub this crowd the wrong way.

"We have some very elite athletes here," race director Duobinis says. "They just prefer to keep a lower profile."

Rugged course

The Massanutten race course is an out-and-back route. The first 50 miles head south, weaving up and down the ridge of Massanutten Mountain. At Mile 52, the race takes a U-turn and heads north on Green Mountain.

Both mountains are classic Appalachian in formation, long ridges that once were as pointed and raw as the Rockies are now. They have since been worn into woods-covered walls strewn with the rocky detritus of a million years of erosion.

Between those ridges is Fort Valley, a relatively flat area where many hamlets and vacation camps have sprung up.

During the race, Duobinis says, the 143 runners, 130 crewmembers, 100 volunteers and 30 ham radio and Web site operators "more than double the population of Fort Valley."

Most of the race is on U.S. Forest Service land, so local district supervisor Don Sawyer is here to keep an eye on things.

With all the crews zooming through Fort Valley en route to the next aid station, "Traffic can get pretty exciting on some of these turns," he says.

But his biggest worry is getting runners to go farther into the woods when nature calls.

"We really don't want them (going to the bathroom) in someone's yard," he says.

Eat to win

One of the most important — and attractive — aspects of ultrarunning is the necessity to consume massive quantities of food and drink. The fastest runners make do with super-caloric energy drinks and gels.

The other 75% of the pack look forward to the smorgasbord awaiting them at the next stop.

"We're like an emergency room with a restaurant," says Bob Heltibridle, who, with his wife, Janice, runs the station at Elizabeth Furnace, the last stop before the race finishes 5 miles away.

All you can eat!

"Our main job here is to help them with any medical needs and make sure they get what they want to eat," Janice Heltibridle says. "By the time they get to us, they're pretty much out of it and can barely talk, so we just go through the whole food list until they hear something they like."

At the early aid stations, runners clamor for Gatorade or Hammer Gels, a syrup-like energy gel. By the time they reach Elizabeth Furnace, they want Coca-Cola or coffee. Sometimes all that sweet stuff has upset their stomachs, so they go with ginger ale.

On the fast track

While most of the pack has just made the U-turn onto Green Mountain, the elite runners are heading toward the finish line.

The mild temperatures and lack of humidity have made for ideal racing conditions.

Even the best racers are forced to a fast walk on the route's rocky climbs. They can pick up speed on the descents, but the terrain makes them skip from rock to root to scree. No one escaped without falling, and all bear bloody scabs and scrapes.

At 10 p.m., word comes back to the finish-line headquarters that Matthew Estes, a 31-year-old mountain biker from Ellington, Conn., who has never finished a 100-mile running race, is more than an hour ahead of his closest rival.

There's some elation, but Duobinis cautions that Estes had been ahead in a previous Hawaii 100-miler only to blow up and drop out of that race.

But Estes, who is running with a sheet of paper containing the winning split times from last year's race pinned to his T-shirt, doesn't falter, hitting the finish line in 18 hours, 12 minutes, 59 seconds.

His effort of just under 11 minutes a mile for 101.8 miles not only shattered the long-course record of 19:58:19 but also broke the 35-hour shorter course record of 18:21.

Due to his unexpected speed, only a few dozen people are on hand to see Estes cross the finish line.

He walks stiff-legged to the platform and says to no one in particular, "I don't want to do that again any time soon."

Estes says his strategy was to hang back at the beginning of the race, then turn on the heat at the finish.

His parents are there, and, after giving and getting hugs from them, he poses next to the big, red digital clock that's showing his record-breaking time.

"Do I look fat?" he jokes.

Beat the clock

The next runner won't arrive for another 71 minutes, so the excitement dies until 3 a.m., when Sue Johnston, the fastest woman in the race, appears to be on track to break the women's record. She hits the tape at 22:38:29, breaking the mark of 24:40:20. She finishes in sixth place overall.

"My goal for this race was to be the first woman," says the 39-year-old medical transcriptionist from Waterford, Vt. "However many men I could beat is just icing on the cake. Making the top 10 is pretty neat.

"I stink at the shorter races. I've only run one 5K and no 10Ks. Those races are more painful. This is like a dull ache."

More than 12 hours later, the last two runners — both 51 — are navigating the final rocky stretch to the finish.

Shihab Shamma has a big gash on his chin from a fall in the race.

"How far to the road?" he asks as he picks his way through the boulders. "How far?"

A few yards back, Leonard Martin is using a walking pole to help his aching knees.

They both reach the finish with more than 20 minutes to spare. The crowd that greets them is 10 times larger than the group that met the men's and women's champions.

Fifty starters fail to finish.

Copright, USA Today, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Ain't no walk in the woods (The Vancouver Province)

The popular 5 Peaks series has a new sponsor.

- SD

Ain't no walk in the woods
Race series grow in popularity across province

Greig Bethel
The Province

The running craze has hit the woods.

Instead of pounding the pavement, runners are pacing themselves around rocks, over roots, past tree stumps and logs, through creeks and mud.

The increased popularity of trail running has been accompanied by the growth of a number of race series. B.C. is home to five, plus a number of other events.

This year, the 5 Peaks series -- perhaps the most popular with, or accessible to, urban dwellers -- has lured Mountain Equipment Co-op to be its title sponsor.

(CREDIT: Trevor Cooper Photography:5 Peaks / Racers climb a forested trail after crossing a creek during a 2004 5 Peaks trail running series event on Mount Seymour in North Vancouver. This year's Mount Seymour race is on July 23.)

"Trail running is experiencing phenomenal growth in Canada,"5 Peaks president Kathryn Stanton says. "With MEC as title sponsor, we expect the 5 Peaks series to increase the sport's popularity."

The 5 Peaks series was first run in 1998 and has participation has grown by 15 per cent each year.

In 2004, the races attracted between 250 to 300 competitors, including men, women and children ranging in age from seven to 70.

B.C.'s trail race series -- which are listed at the bottom of this page -- consist of events that take place from early spring to late summer.

Trail running combines the cardiovascular workout of jogging with the physical demands of hiking. Plus, there's the thrill of splashing through mud puddles.

© The Vancouver Province 2005

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Be wary of Gore-Tex running shoes (Knoxville News Sentinel)

Is Gore-Tex the worst material ever for trail running shoes? Apparently Mr. Medred thinks so, but he does raise some good points. If anyone knows of the Gore-Tex sock company he's talking about, be sure to send him an e-mail.

- SD

Be wary of Gore-Tex running shoes

If one more outdoor magazine raves about a Gore-Tex lined trail running shoe, I'll be convinced the city boys who run those publications never leave town.

This time it's Outside magazine's special 2005 Buy-Buy-Buy issue (officially the Buyer's Guide: Outside 2005 Annual) proclaiming the "Timberland Trail Lizard with Gore-Tex XCR" a "Trail Runner of the year."

"Bonus," notes the accompanying copy. "Gore-Tex XCR uppers contribute to all-around environment-proofness."

Now, I don't have a clue as to what "environment-proofness" is, but I'm guessing it's supposed to have something to do with protecting your feet from the environment. Either that or they're trying to say the shoe itself will survive the environment, which for $110 it better.

So we can probably translate "environment-proofness" to mean "it will keep your feet dry."

Only the Gore-Tex XCR won't. It's hard to stay dry when it's so easy for water to get in.

This is part of what makes Gore-Tex trail runners one of the worst uses of technology in outdoor gear. I say this not as some Luddite critic of Gore-Tex. I am a Gore-Tex believer.

I have a Gore-Tex dry-suit for rafting. I have Gore-Tex waders for hunting and fishing. Waterproof-breathable fabrics work.

In fact, they're miracle fabrics, but they are not without flaws.

A big flaw is the inevitable sacrifice of breathability in favor of waterproofness. Gore-Tex might be a wonder material able to stop water and still pass water vapor, but it also remains a compromise.

Try running in a pair of Gore-Tex trail shoes in warm temperatures, and you'll discover the consequences of this compromise. Gore-Tex might breath, but it doesn't breath like mesh. Your feet get hot and sweaty in warm temps.

Warm weather is seldom a problem in Alaska. Wet weather, however, is - and here is where Gore-Tex shoes display a weakness common to all waterproof materials.

They keep water in just as well as they keep water out. Anyone who has used insulated ski gloves with Gore-Tex liners knows what this means. Once you get the insulation in the gloves wet, they are not easily dried.

If you're indoors, you can throw them in a dryer or put them over a forced-air vent or a hair-dryer. But if you're stuck in the field somewhere, you'll discover it's near impossible to dry the gloves.

Much the same goes for Gore-Tex running shoes. They stay wet for a long, long time.

Gore-Tex running shoes are so badly flawed in this regard that I once thought they should be called the worst-ever use of technology in outdoor gear. Then I took a pair for a run on the paved path around Seattle's Green Lake in a light rain. None of the puddles were more than an inch deep.

If this is your idea of a "trail run," then fine, the shoes work. And if Runners World magazine, a publication more devoted to life on the trail than off, wants to declare these shoes sweet on your feet, OK.

But outdoor publications like Outside are supposed to be offering advice to people who actually get Outside - at least out to where the pavement ends and the trails begins to get wet and muddy.

And this is where Gore-Tex running shoes are at their worst. It is only 4 inches from the bottom of a running shoe to the cutout around the ankle. I know; I measured.

It is unbelievably easy to find puddles or mud holes that deep. You step in. The shoe fills up. That's it. Your feet will be soaked for the rest of the day.

Well-ventilated trail shoes made with open-mesh uppers are far better than Gore-Tex in these conditions.

Why? Because even though your feet will get wet faster (maybe), they have a chance to dry. If you get out of the swamps into dry country, your feet will dry out in these shoes.

And the truly sad thing is that there exists a perfectly good alternative to Gore-Tex shoes - Gore-Tex socks.

They have a couple things going for them that Gore-Tex trail runners lack. One is height. Gore-Tex socks are 10-inches high. It's a lot harder to get into a 10-inch-deep mud hole than a 4-inch deep mud hole.

The second plus is that in warm weather you can leave the socks off. Instead of cloaking your feet in hot, sweaty Gore-Tex, you can let them breathe.

The third plus is that they are made of a single layer of material that can be turned inside out to dry. When you get Gore-Tex socks wet in the field, you can actually get them dry again - unlike Gore-Tex trail runners.

The only thing that would make Gore-Tex socks better is even more height. I used to have some Gore-Tex knee highs with Velcro closures for holding the socks up above the calf. They were wonderful. So wonderful I wore them all the time when charging around in Alaska wetlands.

I wore them out. Now, I can't find a company that makes them.

That's too bad, because I'd happily sing the praises of a good pair of Gore-Tex knee highs. They have all the merits that Gore-Tex trail runners lack. People who actually get on Outside trails might find them useful.

E-mail Craig Medred at cmedred(at)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

(Copyright Scripps Howard News Service, All Rights Reserved)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Go Trail Running? (Times Online UK)

Looks like Bill Bryson's outdoor comics are coming to the big screen.

- SD

Newman and Redford
plan a new buddy film

Stars of Butch and Sundance to take a stroll with Bill Bryson
ONE OF the most popular acting partnerships in Hollywood history, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, is planning to reunite for one last movie.

More than 30 years after they last worked together, Redford is negotiating for the rights to Bill Bryson’s travel book A Walk in the Woods.

Redford, 67, would take the role of the author, who in the book attempts to shake off a midlife crisis by hiking across the American wilderness. Newman, 80, would play his doughnut-addicted companion, Bryson’s friend Stephen Katz.

Newman recently said that they have been looking for an “unexpected” film to follow up the barnstorming success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 and The Sting in 1973.

“I hate to talk about anything until the papers are drawn up but we’ve been looking for something like 20 years and now we are looking harder,” said Newman. “I want to make one final film for good luck and I would like it to be with Bob.”

The matinee idol turned racing driver turned organic food magnate has already been limbering up for the role. Earlier this year, after attending the wedding of his daughter Nell in south Wales, he reportedly took off for a hike at the Mumbles, the local beauty spot, with his wife Joanne Woodward, the actress.

Redford, a noted environmentalist, has been a fan of Bryson’s comic book since it was published in 1998. The story chronicles the duo’s misadventures during a hike along the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail.

Redford said he hopes that A Walk in the Woods could be their swansong. “That might be something for Paul Newman and me, if we’re not too old. That’s if Paul can hang on long enough and we can get him on the Appalachian Trail before he gets into a wheelchair,” he recently joked about his famously fit friend.

Newman and Redford still have pulling power. When Newman discussed his plans at the recent Tribeca film festival in New York, Julia Roberts, the actress, said she would love to take the cameo role of Bryson’s British wife Cynthia.

She would even settle for a smaller role. “I want to be in it and I mean to be in it,” said the 37-year-old superstar.

The Appalachian Trail, running from Georgia in the Deep South to Maine near the Canadian border, is a rite of passage for Americans who regard themselves as outdoors types.

Bryson, after living in North Yorkshire for nearly two decades researching his bestselling books such as Notes From a Small Island, decided to “reacquaint” himself with his American heritage by walking the trail in bursts. He relished snubbing much of the professional walking gear, opting instead for plastic sheeting purchased in hardware shops.

He avoided some of the tough and tedious terrain by taking cab journeys and broke from the trail to return to his family in New England for “tender loving care” when it all got too grim.

Even then, after several months of harsh walking, the ill-prepared writer was unable to finish more than half the trail. “It defeated me, as it does most, although I still feel I have completed the trail in spirit,” he said later. “And it’s still there if I want to fill in the gaps.”

Katz, Bryson’s old school friend from his native Iowa, added some light relief for part of the trek: Bryson wrote that, due to unspecified past drug habits, Katz has to keep on eating doughnuts or else risk “brain seizure”.

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