Russell Secker didn’t start out to stage an international running event. He simply thought it would be fun to connect two Texas cities, Moscow and Paris, with some European history. Being somewhat of a history buff, Secker realized that 2012 was the bicentennial of Napoleon’s infamous retreat from Moscow to Paris at the conclusion of the French Invasion of Russia in 1812 (and, yes, Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 Overture, so often performed on the Fourth of July in the United States, was actually written to tell the story of Russia's defense of their motherland—it includes snippets of the French national anthem, La Marsillaise, and Russia’s God Save the Czar). In addition to being fond of history, Secker is a runner. His love of the sport has taken him well beyond traditional 5Ks, 10Ks, and marathons…even beyond what many consider to be traditional ultramarathons. Secker has run across entire countries as part of multi-stage races; in fact, the TransEurope-Footrace took him across a continent over 64 days and 4,176K (that’s 2,595 miles). He went on to write a book about these adventures, appropriately titled “Running Across Countries.”
Combine this interest in history with that passion for running and a true love of a rollicking good time and it’s no surprise, then, that Secker has come up with a uniquely Texas multi-stage race. From December 1-7, ten ultramarathoners representing five different countries will cover the rolling hills of East Texas. Unlike Napoleon’s Grande Armee, they won’t have to battle snow, mudslides, scorched earth battle tactics, and river crossings. Runners will traverse the back roads of Texas, where the worst dangers are uneven chip seal and speeding drivers. Each day, they will cover anywhere from 25 to 46 miles, depending upon the stage of the run. The routes are point-to-point, meaning that runners start in one place and finish in another, and each runner will have a road book with directions. Secker and his crew will provide aid stations via vehicles at pre-designated spots as well as transport luggage to each night’s lodging. Meals are eaten together, runners and crew alike and, over the course of those seven days, bonds will form.
This year is a test year, and the field of runners is full of friends that Secker has found in his years of multi-stage racing. The youngest participant is Rachel Wasilewski (United States); at age 30, Wasilewski has the least ultra experience but is an Ironman-distance triathlete who has hiked the 250-mile John Muir Trail. The oldest competitor is Gerard Denis (France), who is 69 and has run many trans-country races. Most of the runners have more than 50 marathons/ultramarathons on their resumes. Couple Christian and Ursula Marti (Switzerland) have almost 400 marathons/ultramarathons between them, which goes to show that running long distances can foster romance. In fact, Secker’s wife, Claire, is taking on the Napoleon Ultra herself. An Ironman-distance triathlete who represented the United States at the ITU World Championships, Claire has 50 marathons/ultramarathons to her credit, including runs across Germany (Baltic Run) and Ireland (M2M Trans Ireland).
This group of intrepid travelers will start their journey on Friday, November 30, here in Austin at (where else?) the historic French Legation for a kick-off luncheon. The runners and crew will load into vans and drive approximately four hours to Crockett, Texas, which will serve as home base for the first few stages. The journey will start on the morning of December 1 after a short drive to the start in Moscow, finishing 230 miles later in Paris, Texas. And that’s a finish worthy of fireworks, champagne, and the 1812 Overture.