WARRENTON — Warrenton Grade School Principal Tom Rogozinski has literally run across America.
The mild-mannered, 49-year-old career educator has been running ultra-marathons since college, from nonstop 200-mile footraces through the wilderness to a Tour de France-style run in stages from New York City to Los Angeles.
Last month, Rogozinski covered 206 miles in 90 hours through Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Earlier this month, he covered another 206 miles in 78 hours around Lake Tahoe. Next month, he will tackle 238 miles from Moab, Utah, through the Canyonlands and Arches national parks, the final leg in the Triple Crown of 200s that has become a yearly ritual for Rogozinski, always trying to test his limits.
From Pittsburgh, Rogozinski ran track at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. At 22, he helped crew for a friend running the 50-mile Massanutten Mountain Massacre race in Virginia in 1990. Intrigued, he entered on the day of the race, finished in the top 10 and was hooked.
Within a year, Rogozinski had graduated to a six-day run around a quarter-mile track in New Jersey.
“That was the most mentally taxing race I’ve done,” he said. “You just went as far as you could.”
He read a book on Jay Birmingham, who ran alone across America in 1980, and dreamed of one day doing the same after retirement. In 1928, nearly 200 runners participated in the inaugural Trans-America Footrace from Los Angeles to New York, dubbed the Bunion Derby by newspapers. After two years, the race went on hiatus until organizers got Runner’s World to sponsor the next installment in 1992. A 24-year-old Rogozinski, suffering from a stress fracture in one foot, finished third in the 64-day, 2,936-mile race.
After around 15 years of road races, the inaugural Bigfoot 200 trail race through Gifford Pinchot came on Rogozinski’s radar.
Rogozinski has a simple approach to preparing for the grueling footraces: time on feet. He runs anywhere between 35 and 60 miles a week, along with weight training. To prepare for the 200-miler in Washington, he ran shorter 100-kilometer variants weeks earlier on the same course and near Lake Tahoe.
“Do you suffer the whole way? No, you don’t,” Rogozinski said of long races. “Usually … there’s some discomfort. There’s homeostasis. Your body’s in sync.”
Then the race is about managing hydration, caloric intake, fatigue and sleep deprivation, he said. Racers are helped by aid stations spread throughout the course offering food and rest. There is a friendly competition among racers, but for the most part, runners compete against themselves and the course, he said.
“Certainly part of the attraction is overcoming a challenge,” he said. “Our society’s very comfort-oriented, so entering into something where it’s physically demanding and the outcome is uncertain, I think there’s an appeal to it that’s pretty primal.”
Winter is coming
While continuing to run trails in the contiguous U.S., Rogozinski has been preparing for the new challenge of winter ultra-marathons in the Alaska interior. Two 100-mile races he ran last winter and spring brought Rogozinski closer to his goal of running the Iditarod Trail, more known for dog-sledding but also completed by people on foot, skis and bicycle. Two separate events have 100-, 200-, 350-, 400-mile races Rogozinski must finish to enter the ultimate 1,000-mile race from Knik to Nome, just 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The races require runners to tow gear and have survival training on how to bivouac, make water from snow and otherwise survive subzero conditions and whiteouts.
A friend from Rogozinski’s past, Tim Hewitt, has completed the race nine times and at 61 years old last year set a course record of 19 days, nine hours and 38 minutes. Just finishing would be a worthy accomplishment, Rogozinski said.
Asked what he says to people who might think he’s crazy, Rogozinski said it’s in the eye of the beholder.
“For some, that’s probably absolutely true,” he said. “It would be crazy, but for the fact that I think anytime, whether you’re one of the dog mushers doing that, or a runner doing it, or somebody who’s through-hiking the (Pacific Crest Trail), it sort of has to emanate from inside-out. And if that’s true, then no, it’s not crazy. You’re fulfilling your design.”