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Six races, 600 miles for ultimate marathoner

She started running June 2 in Virginia.

By the time she was finished, Barbara Frye-Krier had run six 100-mile races.

You read that right. Six hundred total miles, run in six races across the country.

In all, the associate education professor at the University of South Florida ran for 153 hours, 12 minutes and 58 seconds _ the best time of anyone who ran all six races this year. It was also the fastest a woman has ever run the Last Great Race Series, which began 12 years ago. The next-fastest woman this year was nearly five hours behind her.

Frye-Krier, 47, said she took a leave of absence from her job to compete in the six races for a simple reason: "I thought I could do it and I wanted to do it."

After the race in Virginia, the Largo resident ran 100-mile races in California, Vermont, Colorado and Utah. She returned to California for the final race, running through the canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The string of races tested her iron will as well as her threshold for pain. At times, her feet were blistered and bleeding. But the solitude and sometimes stunning scenery helped.

"It was a real spiritual journey for me where I had long periods of time by myself enjoying a steady stream of random thoughts," she said. "I never had to fight thoughts of quitting. . . . I'm a very goal-oriented person; I tried to enjoy the scenery, although it's very important in trail running to watch your footing."

The final race, she said, was a highlight.

"That last event was memorable coming toward Pasadena at night with all the lights of L.A. in the background," she said. "It was beautiful but tough. The pain doesn't last as long as the sense of accomplishment."

Frye-Krier first learned to enjoy mountain running as an undergraduate at Colorado College in Colorado Springs near Pikes Peak, elevation 14,000 feet. She stayed on another five years, teaching at an elementary school while training for her first marathon, which she ran in 1978 in Arizona.

Racing was fun, but it seemed somehow cold and impersonal. She was seeking something where participants helped each other as much as they competed.

The answer: ultra-marathons, 100-mile races in long stretches of wilderness, often along mountains and canyons.

"Except for the people up front, ultra running is not as competitive and far more supportive than road running," Frye-Krier said. "We are there to help each other _ not beat each other. I never found that in road racing."

"Ultra running" demands long hours of training. This spring, to prepare for her series of ultra-marathons, Frye-Krier ran from 120 to 140 miles a week.

But even with such a training regimen, mental toughness, proper nutrition and adequate hydration are also crucial. Less than 60 percent of those who begin an ultra-marathon typically finish.

"It takes an unbelievable amount of training and even more determination," said Dr. James P. Gills, a Tarpon Springs ophthalmologist who has finished 14 ultra-marathons. "The toughness and discipline required to persevere in these events is something that carries on through every aspect of a participant's life."

When she runs, Frye-Krier carries a small backpack with three bottles of water, which she drinks and refills at aid stations. She also takes vitamin supplements, energy gels and electrolyte replacement capsules. Instead of eating food, she drinks Ensure Plus for her nutritional needs.

"Some people eat solid food; I have trouble with my stomach so I stay with liquids," she said.

Just as difficult as the physical challenges, she said, are the mental obstacles, that insistent voice that says, stop and rest.

"I try to maintain an even keel _ staying level-headed _ so when I run into periods of not feeling well I'm prepared to wait it out," Frye-Krier said. "I tell myself it will pass. I never sit and rest in an ultra."

She only let her emotions take over at the finish lines at the Wasatch 100 in Utah and the Angeles Crest 100 in California, the last two events on her rigorous schedule.

"They were poignant moments for me with my loved ones there at the finish line," Frye-Krier added. "I cried with a sense of elation. My daughter said to me: "Mom, you're awesome.' "

Frye-Krier plans to back off next year and let her coach and husband, Miles Frye-Krier, strive for his ultra goals as he turns 50. Still, she hasn't put long-distance running out of her head completely.

"I'm thinking later about the Hard Rock 100 in Colorado _ it's tough and tempting _ and maybe the Badwater 135-mile event through Death Valley in California in mid-July. It's hot and requires a different kind of training.

"But I'm just thinking about them now."