Cassville man wins 50K race
On Sunday, Oct. 2, Lee Stubblefield, of Cassville, won the inaugural Kickin' Route 66 50K road race, and in doing so, set a new Missouri state 55-59 age-group record with his time of four hours, 23 minutes and 44 seconds on the 31-mile course.
Stubblefield, who turns 56 in January and just became a grandfather for the fifth time, didn't just break the old record of four hours, 51 minutes, 39 seconds, he shattered it by over 27 minutes. Besides being the overall winner, he also finished ahead of all the 50K five-man relay teams.
"You're never too old to dream big," Stubblefield said after the race.
Last spring, Stubblefield reminded the area running community that he could still coach, when he directed Purdy's Audrey Patton to her only career appearance in the Class 2 state track meet. On Sunday, he showed he could still run.
"I started thinking a record was possible when I broke an hour and 33 minutes in a half-marathon back in July," Stubblefield said. "I did the pace computations and compared them with my training times and decided that I would have a shot if I could increase my mileage without injury."
The veteran coach and runner wasn't just bragging. Besides being a state champion cross country runner in high school and a varsity collegiate runner, Stubblefield had previously qualified for the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon as a masters runner, twice.
Years of coaching gave him an advantage too, as he was able to distance himself from the runner's viewpoint when he designed his training.
But there were a lot of miles to cover to prepare for a race five miles longer than a marathon. The intense summer heat posed a problem.
"I was up and out the door before five almost every morning last summer, trying to get in quality miles before the heat kicked in," he said.
Even at that, long runs were sometimes impossible. Dehydration and cramps often cut short his planned long runs. Weight loss was a constant concern.
"I was close to suffering from exercise-induced anorexia," said Stubblefield.
From May 15 to Sept. 1, his body weight melted from 175 to 152 pounds. He changed his diet drastically, adding significantly more protein, and managed to regain eight pounds by late September.
Like many long distance runners, Stubblefield was plagued by nagging injuries as his weekly mileage increased. Blisters, thick callouses, black toenails, strains and tweaks constantly hampered his training. But he persevered.
"We all have our personal dragons to slay," he said, "This was mine."
Race day dawned with perfect running weather, and Stubblefield knew the quest was on. He joined over a hundred other runners on the various starting lines along the old Highway 66 route. The 50-mile race started in Lebanon, the 50K and 50K relay in Conway, the marathon between Marshfield and Conway, and the half-marathon some six miles east of Strafford. All races shared a common finish line near the Underground on East Kearney Street in Springfield.
By design, Stubblefield started slowly, ignoring the other runners and concentrating on maintaining his predetermined race pace.
"You have to respect the distance," he said. "Just being on your feet that long is a major undertaking. You can't go out on a suicide mission."
Stubblefield also ignored the aid stations, relying instead on his handheld water bottle for hydration.
"I trained myself to sip on the run instead of trying to gulp down a few ounces at every water station," he said. "That allows you to better control the hydration process, and it helps cut down on cotton mouth. I am very superstitious about my race routine. I don't like surprises, and I don't want anything different to distract me from the task at hand. A different brand of energy drink, or a different flavor gel can have adverse physical and mental effects."
The miles and the hills rolled by. For months, Stubblefield had planned his training runs so that the hills of Cassville coincided with the climbs of the old Highway 66 course. The route from Conway to Marshfield posed seven major hills with the biggest coming right on the north edge of the city limits.
Stubblefield took the lead at the eight-mile marker and never looked back. Then the biggest hill of all loomed at the 17-mile mark, right at the Northview turnoff.
"That's a real widowmaker hill by anyone's standards," said Stubblefield, "and even more so after running 17 miles."
Meanwhile, Stubbefield's wife, Josie, was an aid station on wheels, constantly checking on her husband's condition and supplying him with Gatorade, gels and lots of encouragement.
The trek continued west through Strafford, and then became a gentle five-mile descent into Springfield. By now, Stubblefield was comfortably in the lead and was even passing some of the struggling marathon runners despite their five-mile head start. At that point, the old coach could focus completely on the age-group record.
"Once I crossed the railroad track on Kearney Street, I knew I had it made," he said.
Of his record-setting performance, Stubblefield said, "I was proud to do this in a Cassville Wildcat jersey. I wanted everyone out there to know I am a member of the Wildcat Nation."