6 Days in the Dome is a pretty wild event. I don't remember when I first learned about it, but once I did, I knew I had to get out there. Races consist of 24 hours, 48 hours, and 6 days. Yes, 6 days! All races take place at the Petit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on an indoor track with ice rinks in the infield. The track is longer than a standard outdoor track, so you complete a mile every 3.6 laps. I was intrigued by this race because I believed it would offer the optimal environment for a 24 hour run. Protection from the elements, climate controlled, easy access to gear and restrooms, and steady footing. What else could you ask for?
I originally signed up to do the 24 hour race in 2020, but COVID eventually caused the event to be canceled. So I was excited to give it a shot in 2021. I signed up for the 24 hour race that started at 9am on Saturday. The first of the two 24 hour races and the 48 hour race both started at 9am on Friday. And the 6 day event started at noon on Sunday, giving the track a few hours to recover between races
I flew to Milwaukee on Friday and booked a hotel that was only a few miles away from the venue. I did not rent a car because the rental cars prices were through the roof at that time due to supply issues. I thought about walking to the venue on Saturday morning, but that seemed like a poor idea right before a 24 hour race and it just happened to be pouring outside, so I called a Lyft and was on my way.
It was a fairly tame scene when I arrived, about an hour before the start of my event. The 24 hour runners from the day before still had about an hour to go and those poor 48 hour runners still had 25 hours to go. It was clear that most of the runners were just buckling down.
I would like to tell you I was in proper shape to run a 24 hour race, but I would be lying. We had just finished up our legislative session about 2.5 weeks before this race and it always takes me at least 7-10 days to feel normal again after a session. That means I had trained in earnest for about 10 days before this event. Sometimes I don't know why I do these things to myself. But I also relished the idea of 24 hours of relative solitude, as I didn't know anybody who would be running in my race. I also had a few audiobooks I wanted to start and I looked forward to listening to some good music. It would be a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the end of a legislative session.
I got checked in and started to mentally prepare.
Your entry fee includes rent for 1/2 of a table and one folding chair during your race. Because I flew and I hate checking a bag, I was somewhat limited in what I could bring with me, but that was fine, as I didn't think I would need all that much. I brought three pairs of shoes so that I could switch them out every once in awhile. I also brought couple of changes of shirts, a light jacket, some gels and a couple of handheld water bottles I could run with. One bottle was for water, the other for Sword, who just happened to be a sponsor of the event. Sword is my preferred electrolyte drink.
The first thing I noticed when I scoped out a table was that other runners had way more stuff on their tables - more food, more fluids, more gear. And many of them brought a more comfortable chair, some could even recline backwards for a more comfortable nap. And many people had a support person at their table to hand (or throw) them things when they jogged by. I, however, would be on my own. But I honestly wasn't too worried about that.
Before arriving in Milwaukee, I learned that there was a runner in my race who would be attempting to set a world record for the fastest 100 miler on any surface. His name was Taggart Vanetten. The world record he would be trying to break was 11 hours, 14 minutes, set by Lithuanian runner Aleksandr Sorokin in April 2021.
Taggart had recently set the world record for 100 miles on a treadmill, accomplishing that feat in 11 hours and 32 minutes. It wasn't hard to spot Taggart in the crowd, as he had shaved his goal time of 10 hours, 59 minutes into his hair. He was gracious enough to let me take a photo. I wished him well on his effort.
Next thing I know, we were off. Taggart took off like he was shot out of a cannon. I told myself to make sure I didn't get in his way. I didn't want to be the jackass who wasn't paying attention and tripped him up, ruining his chance at a world record.
The track had three lanes. Runners were instructed to pass other runners on the outside. This meant that you should be running in lane 1 unless you were passing somebody else. Sometimes you could hear a runner approaching and knew somebody was about to pass you. Other times, you didn't hear anything and then somebody was just passing you. I was cognizant that Taggart would be passing me a lot. He was going to be running more than twice as fast as me.
We would also change directions every four hours, which was interesting because you had to finish the lap you were on before changing directions. So, at certain times, people were running in opposite directions.
I was happy to finally be running. And I did what I have a bad habit of doing - I went out too fast. I didn't have much of a strategy, but I figured that if I could average 15 minute miles, I would cover 96 miles. I was aiming for 100 miles so I knew I would need to be slightly faster than that. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was telling myself that perhaps I could do 12 minute miles the entire time, which would net me 120 miles.
At any rate, nothing in my race plan had me running 9-10 minute miles right out the gate. But that is what I did, for awhile. A photo from the first few laps:
And a video from that first lap. It would indeed be a long day (and night)!
Every time you crossed over the timing mat at the completion of each lap, you would see real time feedback on a giant television screen, telling you how long it took you to run that lap, how many laps you had completed, and your ranking. It was odd to get so much real time feedback. I am all about data, but it was almost too much for me...and there was no way to turn it off.
Another video from along the way. As you can see, the track is pretty narrow, so you had to be make sure nobody was attempting to pass you as you attempted to pass another runner.
And in the video below, you can see how much faster than me a shirtless Taggert Vanetten is running. It was crazy! [Alas, he did not set the world record. He started struggling at some point, perhaps about mile 50. I saw him fall down onto the track at least once, maybe twice. He tried to tough it out, but I believe he pulled the plug when he fell too far behind world record pace. Kudos to his race crew though. They had quite a system down of tossing fluids and food to him on demand as he passed them. It was impressive to watch.]
One of the really cool things about this race is that they provide meals for you.. I was pretty excited when it was lunchtime at 11:30am. I ate at least 3 sandwiches, stopping every couple of laps for another one. After all, I was burning a lot of calories, right? I needed the fuel, or at least I told myself that.
The running indeed became monotonous. I could only tolerate about an hour of an audiobook before I had to switch to something else. I listened to some music. Sometimes I just took my earbuds out altogether and let my thoughts wonder. I jumped on Facetime with my wife and mother a couple of times. At one point, hockey and speedskating practice were going on. That was a welcome distraction - something else to look at.
I didn't make much of an effort to get to know the other runners. I still felt quite exhausted from the legislative session and just did not feel like being social. Don't get me wrong, I had random conversations with others runners and both gave and received words of encouragement, but those were short conversations during the 24 hour race. In retrospect, it would have been nice to have someone to talk to along the way. It certainly would have made the hours and miles go by quicker.
Zach Bitter had set a world record in the 12 hour race back on this track in August of 2019 and they had a plaque commemorating where that happened. He covered over 104 miles in 12 hours! And, of course, you had to watch for zambonis while running, which is not something I ever thought I would have to worry about while running.
As morning became afternoon, I realized how much harder the track surface was than I had anticipated. Truthfully, I was thinking it would be more like a spongy outdoor track. It was not. It was much harder and that was starting to wreak havoc on my body as I eclipsed the marathon mark. Everything began to hurt. This is when I realized I had made another crucial mistake. I brought racing shoes with less cushioning rather than the more cushioned shoes I would normally wear out on the roads. One of the pairs of shoes I brought was very thin on padding, so I pulled them from the rotation pretty quickly.
About midway through the afternoon, I found myself walking more than running. My sore feet and legs just did not want to cooperate any longer. This is the point that I realized that 120 miles was definitely not going to be possible. A few hours hours later, I realized that 100 miles wasn't going to happen either. I was simply moving too slow and stopping too frequently. Seeing these goals slip away was, of course, disappointing, but I wasn't going to let it stop me from giving it my best effort.
I was very excited about dinner - it was basically going to be a Thanksgiving dinner! I stopped for longer than I should have to take down some turkey and mashed potatoes. It was so good. And, oddly enough, it gave me a huge boost of energy. Although I had been moving fairly slow up to that point, I now took off like I had been shot out of a cannon. I ran my fastest lap right after dinner and probably put together a 9 minute mile. Other runners noticed. One participant exclaimed as I passed her: "What got into you!" I knew the burst of energy wouldn't last. I was right. It was fleeting.
As we got into the evening hours, the place became very quiet. No more ice hockey. No more speed skating. No more music from the loud speakers. Just the sound of footsteps and determination and the occasional words of encouragement as runners passed one another. It got really cold inside, cold enough where I put on a jacket as well as winter hat and gloves. I am glad I thought to bring those with me. I don't think I would have survived otherwise.
Around 2am, I realized how exhausted I was. I needed to try to get in a quick nap to hopefully re-energize. I sat down in my chair and tried to rest. It isn't easy to sleep in a folding plastic chair. And I was cold. So cold I was shivering. I am not sure if it was from the temperature or the trauma to my body. In any case, I was having serious chair envy and wished I had something that reclined.
As I closed my eyes, I seriously thought about calling it quits. I started to think about going back to my hotel, taking a hot shower, and sleeping in a warm, comfortable bed. But then I remembered that I didn't have a car and I doubted I would be able to get a Lyft at 2am. Just to confirm, I opened the app on my phone to check. There were several cars only minutes away. I could be back at my hotel in a matter of 20 minutes or so. Tempting. I had to make a decision and it was going to be a close one. I was ready to be done.
There wouldn't be any shame in quitting. I wasn't properly trained for this type of event but I have covered a respectable amount of miles. On the other hand, I knew I would regret it. I would be mad at myself in the morning, no matter what the justification. I wrestled with these competing ideas in my head and finally decided to stick it out. No matter how slow. No matter how few miles. I wasn't going to quit. I had come all this way for this event, to give it my all for 24 hours. I could take a hot shower and sleep when the race was over. I assessed where I was and set a new goal to complete 75 miles. It would be a challenge, but also doable if I stuck it out.
After a mostly futile attempt to nap, I got back on the track and started walking. The lap where I contemplated dropping out would be my slowest of the entire 24 hour period. As I got back up, my feet hurt. My legs hurt. My lower back hurt. My neck hurt. It was hard to even walk. But I also knew that once I got started, my muscles would warm up and provide some measure of relief. They did. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all.
Breakfast was served at 5:30am, after a long night of slogging around that track. After wrestling with my self-doubt all night, I was ready for breakfast and I took down a little bit of everything, but a lot of bacon! Who can say no to bacon after 20 hours of physical activity? Not me.
The last few laps were utter torture, but the end was in sight and I knew I would get to 75 miles. And I was proud of myself for toughing it out when I wanted to quit so many times along the way. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I crossed the timing mat for the last time. As runners finished their last lap, we all gathered to cheer on those racing against the clock to finish just one more lap. Every runner had come in with their own goals. Some were met, some were not. It was a very emotional moment, knowing that we had all accomplished something phenomenal regardless. And I earned my second buckle, and a really cool one at that!
I finished in 15th place out of 26 runners in my race, with 75.23 miles (my Garmin watch was a bit off, but that is to be expected on an indoor track). I finished 273 laps. My fastest lap was the one of the laps where I felt a surge of energy right after eating dinner. 2 minutes and 9 seconds. My slowest lap was when I was struggling mentally and physically and trying to take a nap in the middle of the night. 36 minutes and 7 seconds.
As I was finishing up my race, some of the racers for the 6 day event were lugging in their gear. And some of them had a lot of stuff - think Costco sized food items. Running for 6 days? That is something that even I don't want to sign up for. But just know that there is a small group of runners that travels around the world to do 6 days runs. Mad respect!
When I finally got back to my hotel room, I took the world's longest hottest shower and then went straight to bed. I woke up just in time for the Happy Hour at the Cheesecake Factory across the street, where I had eaten the night before the race. The only problem was that I had to walk there, which proved immeasurably more difficult than the night before. I hobbled like an old man the entire way. Now I know why those walk signals at intersections give you so much time. I needed all 25 seconds to make my way across the street.
I ordered 3 or 4 appetizers as well as this delicious vodka martini (slightly dirty) with blue cheese stuffed olives. I took a piece of cheesecake to go and hobbled back across the street (Pain!) and promptly went back to bed. The cheesecake made a delicious middle of the night snack!
Here is a TikTok video I made to commemorate my experience at 6 Days in the Dome:
Another really cool thing about this race was the unbelievable caliber of the field. This is an open event where anybody can register and compete. That means people like me can race alongside legends. In addition to Taggert Vanetten, there were a couple of world record holders in the 48 hour race (Marisa Lizack and Olivier Leblond). The first person in my race to complete 100 miles (in 13 hours, 21 minutes), Nick Coury, set the world record for a 24 hour run by completing 173 miles at the Desert Solstice race in December of 2021. Amazing!
Knowing what I know now, I really want to run this race again. I might even consider the 48 hour version. If nothing else, I would be way more prepared on the logistics side. I definitely hope to be there in 2022, hopefully with a friend or two.
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.