The final phase of NFL scouting has begun. Many of the teams are now flying prospects to their complexes to get a closer look. The collegiate career, all-star games, scouting combine and on-campus pro scouting days are all complete. Now is the opportunity for the teams to evaluate each prospect's character, personality and chalkboard skills.

The consequence of drafting a player who has off-the-field, substance abuse or violence issues are dire. With these types of issues, the team potentially loses the player and then experiences an acceleration of deferred signing bonus and "dead cap space." As a result, the team may not only lose the player but they also lose the ability to replace him due to salary-cap restrictions.

There will be a "dead week" in scouting before the draft, and the spectacle of actual drafting commences on May 8. The Houston Texans are in the unique position of holding the first overall pick.They can draft in their No. 1 position or trade it for additional draft picks. Texans owner Bob McNair and General Manager Rick Smith are brilliant and accomplished sports professionals who have built a powerhouse franchise that simply went off the tracks last year.

Obviously they do not need my advice or pressure to make the right decision with the first pick. But I have represented 60 first-round picks and the very first pick in the first round in eight separate years. Here are my variables and considerations:

When President Bill Clinton ran for office, his focus was simple: "It's the economy ... stupid." In the same vein, to build a winning franchise in the contemporary NFL: "It's the franchise quarterback ... stupid." It takes tremendous judgment on multiple fronts to win in the NFL, but the key to getting to and winning in the playoffs and Super Bowl is having the right franchise quarterback as the leader.

NFL football has evolved from a run-first mentality to a pass-first mentality. Having a quarterback that a team can build around for the next 10-12 years is the critical building block for success. This means having a "win because of" quarterback rather than a "win with" quarterback, one who can elevate his play in adverse and critical circumstances to take a team to victory.

Franchise quarterbacks are not easy to find. It is not just a matter of drafting them -- the modern cap considerations force a team to start a first-round draft pick immediately.

No longer is there room for the tutelage and continued development that players like Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer and even Brett Favre experienced. Forget the fast starts of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III -- normally a rookie year for a quarterback is filled with misadventure and a learning curve.

A strong offensive line and a good defense can greatly assist the rookie QB's transition. The right quarterback coach is another essential. The press and fans have high expectations and a young learning quarterback can have his confidence broken with premature "bust" assessments.

Look at the 1999 draft: Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown were all top first-round picks who under-performed. Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft pick, Russell Wilson was a third-round pick and both over-performed and out-paced expectations. These examples clearly evidence that there are multiple ways for a team to fill the QB position, but generally it is the top of the first round where the greatness is found. From John Elway to Troy Aikman to the Manning brothers to Andrew Luck -- the top of the draft should provide the best.

Houston has to believe it will never be this high up in draft order again. Jadeveon Clowney may be a great player, but Houston has already taken the Mario Williams route. The Texans need a quarterback. A hundred miles up the road at Texas A&M is where to find the solution. Johnny Manziel is a freakishly gifted savant at the QB position -- bright, good arm strength, a fiery leader, and the most amazing ability to sustain plays of any quarterback in modern history. With him at the helm, every game is winnable.

I don't represent Johnny, but if I owned or managed a team, I would start with him on May 8.

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Aaron Harrison's streak of game-winning shots has earned him a national spotlight as well as legendary status in Kentucky's illustrious basketball history, but according to those who know him best, this is nothing new for the shooting guard.

The star freshman has nailed the shot that turned out to be the game-winner in Kentucky's past three wins -- over Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. According to his dad and former AAU coach, Aaron Harrison Sr., that's one-third the amount of game-winners Harrison hit in his final year of AAU. Harrison Sr. told Gregg Doyel of CBS that in 75 games, he estimated that his son hit 12 game-winners.

"I told you, this is what he does," Harrison said. "He wants that last-second shot. Not everybody wants it, but he wants it. He goes looking for it."

And that's not even including game-winners that Harrison hit for his high school team, Fort Bend Travis, like the one below:

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"He's been hitting game-winners since he was in fourth grade," the elder Harrison told Doyel. "His first one, he was about 10 years old and it was as far as that shot against Michigan."

Making his last two game-winners even more improbable is the notion that Harrison wasn't having great games against either Wisconsin or Michigan. Before his final shot, he had five points against the Badgers and nine against the Wolverines.

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SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert has a wonderful opportunity to showcase his skills in a workout for pro scouts this Friday in Dallas. For a college quarterback, a 40-minute passing session where all of the possible pass routes are executed is the Super Bowl of the pre-draft scouting process. In previous columns we've covered the training regimen, all-star games, and scouting combine -- the pro scouting day at college campuses is the final opportunity for most players to enhance their draft status.

Normally these days are held in March and early April on campuses across the country. The draft has been moved back to May 8, the latest ever, so there may be private sessions and workouts for certain players after pro day. Players are weighed and measured. They can perform the same seven drills done at the combine:

1) 40-yard dash
2) 225-pound bench press
3) vertical leap
4) broad jump
5) a three-cone drill
6) the pro shuttle
7) the long shuttle.

This is the opportunity for players who were not invited to the combine to compete. It also may be used by players who did not choose to perform at the combine or were dissatisfied by their numbers. These measureables can elevate or diminish player evaluations greatly.

Garrett Gilbert went through a fairly normal quarterback developmental curve in the early years. It takes time to master the position. The more a quarterback is able to play, the better his decision making and reading of defenses will get. Gilbert was put in a difficult situation early in his career at Texas, and those memories have unfortunately colored a clear view of his current status. Freshman quarterback success for Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Florida State's' Jameis Winston and UCLA's Brett Hundley are the aberration. Very often, it starts to come together for a college quarterback his junior year and then he flourishes dramatically in his senior year.

Fortunately the draft is a projection of what a player's performance will be during the next 10-12 years, not a merit badge for stalwart college performance.

Beginning in game six of his junior year, Gilbert showed his franchise quarterback potential. If you viewing the film of that year and a half, he matches up very competitively with the top quarterbacks in this years' draft. He has great size at 6-4, 225 pounds, which is important in absorbing the hits in the NFL. He has the best football sense and instincts of any quarterback in the draft. Coach June Jones, a recognized quarterback guru, schooled him well. Jones worked with Jim Kelly, Warren Moon and many prolific quarterbacks throughout his coaching career. Garrett's father, Gale, was a 12-year player in the NFL, who went to five Super Bowls. Garrett has good arm strength, and deceptive speed, which allows him the ability to run effectively.

When then-UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman threw in front of coach Jimmy Johnson, it cemented his status as the top pick in the draft and Dallas selected him. When Jeff George threw brilliantly at Illinois in 1990, it was termed "The $15 Million Dollar Workout Video" because that was his contract as the first pick of the Colts. This tradition has continued. During the past 40 years, I have represented franchise quarterbacks like Steve Bartkowski, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, Jake Plummer, Mark Brunell and Ben Roethlisberger. I know what a young franchise quarterback looks like: He looks like Garrett. Gilbert will wow the scouts with his talent in a workout run by Coach June Jones. Keep your eye on the way his stock rises.

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Three years ago, a one-time baseball prospect from a non-BCS school impressed scouts by throwing 59 miles-per-hour at the NFL Combine.

Colin Kaepernick seriously boosted his draft stock with his strong performance in Indianapolis and he ended up starting in the Super Bowl in his second year in the league.

After several near-misses, a prospect has finally broken Kaepernick's velocity record at the NFL Combine.

Former Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas recorded a 60 miles per hour throw at the NFL Combine, which is believed to be the fastest toss since throws were recorded seven years ago.

Granted, many of the top quarterback prospects over the years haven't thrown at the Combine (this year Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel all sat out that portion), but Thomas' mark is still impressive. A few prospects have matched Kaepernick's mark -- in 2012 Brandon Weeden and Kirk Cousins were clocked at 59 miles per hour, last year Tyler Bray and Zac Dysert each hit 59 -- but not one has surpassed it.

Now that Thomas has established his arm strength, he'll have to show scouts that his accuracy is improved. Decision-making plagued Thomas during his career at Virginia Tech, and in 2013 he threw 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

To check out a full list of prospects' speed over the past seven years, see here.

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The Seattle Seahawks knew that a seemingly commanding 22-0 halftime lead in the Super Bowl wasn't safe against the Denver Broncos, one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history.

Fortunately for Russell Wilson and Co., Seattle had no trouble in the second half, and now the Super Bowl-winning quarterback has opened up about why the Seahawks were so dominant after the intermission.

In an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, Wilson said he took advantage of the extra long halftime at the Super Bowl by showering and stretching again.

“I took my whole uniform off, I took a shower and everything. Halftime is about 45 minutes, so I took a shower, I re-taped everything, got my arm stretched again,” Wilson said. “That kinda restarted our minds, so [when] we came out at halftime it felt like it was a brand new game. So that’s why I think we played so well.”

The Seahawks got off to a quick start in the second half, as Percy Harvin returned the opening kick for a touchdown. Seattle's defense forced a punt and recovered a fumble on Denver's next two drives, the second of which resulted in Wilson's first touchdown pass of the game. Playing in his first Super Bowl, Wilson was 18-for-25 for 206 yards and two passing touchdowns.

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Saturday kicks off the Super Bowl of the NFL draft process in Indianapolis -- the scouting combine. This event draws every single NFL coach, executive, scout and director of player personnel who desire a personal view and opportunity to scrutinize several hundred of the top college prospects. Even some owners attend. The NFL Network, and ESPN to a lesser extent, actually televise some of the drills as they happen.

It is covered by massive amounts of print and electronic media. Performance at the combine can send a player soaring up the charts in draft position or plummeting downward.

When I began working with players in 1975, the NFL draft was held in January. The players were largely judged on their college performance supplemented by a few All-Star games. Today, the second season of scouting that commences after the bowl games has become as important and determinative in many cases as playing the games themselves.

This is because the draft projects a player's value in the NFL going forward. It is not a merit badge for conspicuous college achievement. Players have been getting special training for the last six weeks at a series of combine facilities around the country. They have been on nutrition, weight training and specific drill training working with trainers. Agents now pay for this training as part of their service.

The testing begins with measuring height, weight and receiving physicals. Many players are flying some distance and Indianapolis is cold, so they may not be at their best. Multiple doctors pull on joints and inspect the players. I used to joke that if a player was mildly injured coming in, after seven doctors pull on the same joint they are really injured. The players are given an intelligence test, modified from the former Wonderlic.

Teams then conduct 20-minute interviews with prospects. They may have team executives and coaches taking part. Teams are trying to judge character, determination, and non-testable attitudes. The consequence of selecting a player who has off-the-field issues or non-compatibility with a team and their system is disastrous. If that player cannot fulfill his contract, the team is left with no player and dead cap room which prevents replacing him. Certain players are asked to do press conferences. Michael Sam and Johnny Manziel will be the stars of that show.

There are five basic combine physical tests:
1) 40 yard dash
2) vertical leap
3) broad jump
4) bench pressing 225 pounds
5) three-cone lateral drill

Some players feel that they may perform these tests more proficiently at the pro scouting day held later on their campus. The opportunity to do the same drills in March is part of their consideration. Given that the entire fraternity of the NFL has gathered to witness these tests -- a player who can perform dramatically will see his stock rise rapidly. The NFL is speed-centric today, for a running back or wide receiver or defensive back running a blazing 40 becomes his calling card. Slower players drop precipitously. For lineman, speed at 10 or 20 yards is heavily measured.

With the drills finished, players are offered the opportunity to show their position skills. How a quarterback throws the ball makes a major impact on scouts. Seeing how an offensive lineman moves his feet or a linebacker moves laterally can make an impression. Again, certain players, especially quarterbacks, choose to perform their position skill display back on campus.

Another group that frequents the combine in droves are player agents. The NFLPA has scheduled one of their required yearly agent seminars immediately prior because of that. The drills are closed to all except NFL and press. The hotel players are housed in does not permit agents on its premises, so I never really understood the need for attending. But agents have sold their presence as a critical part of the support of players. I'll be staying home.

Players have been pointing toward a career in professional football for most of their lives. The stakes for draftees are critical. The testing is about to begin.

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A day after the Seahawks smothered the Broncos in the Super Bowl, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said he would've been interested in becoming the head coach of the Browns. But Quinn declined to interview while Seattle was making its Super Bowl run, and Cleveland opted for Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

Quinn figures to get plenty of other opportunities after helping the Seahawks get a ring. And based on the enthusiasm he shows for his players, Quinn doesn't seem to be in a particular hurry to move on.

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Lache Seastrunk is used to people doubting him.

Growing up, the Temple, Texas, native spent time in special-needs classes. He also witnessed the incarceration of both of his parents. Still, he starred on the gridiron and accepted a scholarship to play running back at Oregon.

"I had a lot of doubters," Seastrunk says in an original documentary by ThePostGame.

The questioning of Seastrunk didn't stop then. He left Oregon after one year and transferred closer to home to play at Baylor. How would he adapt to a new conference and a new school? Just fine, it turns out.

Seastrunk had two stellar years at Baylor, rushing for at least 1,000 yards in both 2012 and 2013 and averaging more than 7 yards-per-carry. He was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2012 and helped lead Baylor to a conference title and a BCS berth in 2013.

Seastrunk, 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, was a track star in high school and is one of the most athletic running backs in the upcoming NFL draft. He is projected to be selected in the top three rounds and one of the first running backs taken. analyst Dane Brugler told that Seastrunk projects as a low-to-the-ground runner with "terrific balance and sharp start/stop action." Seastrunk's style has been compared to Giovani Bernard of the Bengals and Ahmad Bradshaw of the Colts.

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Oars beat a steady rhythm against the water. Eight young women pour all of their energy into this repetitive motion while one sits at the stern, coaching them through it, as the much of the world around them is still sound asleep. There is a camaraderie to the rhythm they beat at the early hour, and a shared, unspoken goal to be the best. More and more, this is the scene being played out across the country, as girls row and see the sun rise over the Washington Monument or the Space Needle or the Bay Bridge.

"The difference between rowing and sports like basketball or soccer is that in those sports, there can blatantly be one star on the team," says Hannah Wilson, 21, senior co-captain of the Cornell women's rowing team. "All the players have such different roles. In a boat, we're going for synchronization, so there shouldn’t be someone that stands out. It's really cool to see a sport where everyone is working so hard individually to come together, to just be completely part of a team that can't function without everyone else. It teaches you a lot."

Wilson is one of more than 5,600 female college students now rowing at a Division I school, a greater number than women playing both basketball and softball. The sport has seen a 63 percent increase in women participating at the Division I level since 1997,when it officially became an NCAA sport. High school and college coaches alike have noted the increase popularity particularly in the past five years, and new rowing clubs have sprung up in cities with access to an appropriate body of water.

The lure of scholarship opportunities has accounted for a big part of this surge. The NCAA caps the number of scholarships that can be offered for a particular sport. With 20 scholarships available per school for women's rowing, rowing has more than any other sport -- men's or women's -- aside from football. If every team in the NCAA offered its maximum number of allotted scholarships, nearly 2,900 rowing scholarships would be available to high school girls.

"If you break down the demographics, junior girls is probably the biggest sector where there's been such growth,” says Megan Kennedy, coach and founder of the crew team at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, an all-girls Catholic school outside Philadelphia. "Junior programs are growing all over the place. Schools that never had programs before now do. Even in an area like Philadelphia, where rowing has been since the Civil War, there’s still so many new opportunities and new programs every year."

The increase in interest at the high school level is most likely attributed to the sport's growth in the NCAA.

"Women's rowing became an NCAA sport in 1997, which essentially created rowing programs at many universities that, prior to 1997, either weren’t varsity status or didn’t have a program at all," says Cornell coach Hilary Gehman. "Once it became an NCAA sport, they added rowing and put a lot of money into it and that created so much opportunity."

Gehman says that more people become aware of rowing as students learn about classmates who are involved in the sport and their parents encourage them to try something new. The effect it has on the recruitment pool has benefits and drawbacks.

"There's a lot more rowing at the high school level now," Gehman says. "It's definitely increased the level of recruiting, but it also has diluted it as well. Rowers know that there are opportunities for scholarships and recruitment, but there's a level of athlete that’s not recruitable who may think she is. I think we're getting a lot more high quality rowers from the opportunities in high school that have grown over the past five years. But there are also quite a few more rowers who believe that because they row, they can be recruited, which can be challenging for the college coaches."

With the enticement of scholarships, some girls scramble to pick up rowing in the latter stages of high school, which isn't the most realistic approach.

"Last year we had three girls who were seniors and joined the team as novices and were flat-out hoping they would get recruited on their one year of experience,” says Briana Schulte, operations manager and varsity girls' coach at Pocock Rowing Center in Seattle. Schulte previously coached at Purdue and University of Pennsylvania.

A lot of girls and their families hope that with recruitment comes a scholarship. But Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships in any sport, and participating in rowing doesn’t guarantee financial support from or admission to any college.

"Rowing shouldn’t be considered a strategy for college recruiting," says Ryan Sparks, founder of Sparks Consulting, a group specifically geared toward placing skilled high school rowers at a college. “There are plenty of folks and recruiting businesses that look at it that way. Sports are about development of life skills, not accomplishment of an admission or scholarship."

Rowing experts say it isn’t practical to continue the sport without a passion for it.

"By the time they've done it for three years, they’re so committed to rowing,” Kennedy says. “College admission might have been the initial reason that they tried out or came to a learn-to-row session, but that’s not the reason that they stay. It’s just too much time."

Wilson says that, in the long term, this has a positive impact on the sport.

"The nice thing with rowing is that you weed out people who are just there to goof around,” Wilson says. “Because it’s such a hard sport that you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t love rowing."

In fact, it may not be the students who are insisting on using rowing as a form of resumé-padding or a strategy for scholarships.

"Parents are looking at it as an angle to get a leg up in college admissions,” Schulte says.

Over-involved parents, Gehman says, may actually weaken their child’s chances of getting recruited.

"The parents who play a huge role are probably the ones who pushed their kids into looking at rowing as a recruitment opportunity,” Gehman adds. “We’ve recruited people in the past who the majority of my correspondence has been with parents or the guidance counselors, not with the athlete herself. That's a red flag to me."

Those in the sport have seen parents pay for things other than regular training in an effort to gain scholarships for their daughters.

"It's a lot more common for kids to be going to camps that focus on recruitment and how to present yourself, and parents are the ones paying for these camps," Gehman says. “There are recruiting services and companies, and you know parents are paying for their kids to go to these recruiting services."

Rosenfeld says she did several rowing summer camps starting her sophomore year of high school.

"Usually kids think that the coaches will email you and make all these offers, and unless you're a big time football star, that really doesn’t happen,” Rosenfeld says. "The camps were how I met coaches. I got to know them, they got to know me, and they got to see what my potential and skill level was at. After a camp, I would email them right away and thank them for their time and then build an email correspondence from there. That would be the one thing I would advise any high school athlete to look into."

When women's rowing became an NCAA sport in 1997, there were 98 teams. It grew to 145 teams in 15 years. In 1997, there were just over 5,000 female college students participating in the sport. In the 2012-13 season, there were more than 7,500 athletes. As the amount of participation increases, so, too, does the quality of the sport.

"Prior to this trend of more rowing in high school, the best athletes were going to the popular mainstream sports, and then maybe they would switch to rowing in college,” Gehman says. “Now it’s attracting the highest caliber athlete, which is creating more competitive, faster boats at the collegiate level and beyond."

This increased competition fuels athletes' motivation.

“When it comes to race day, it’s really about who wants it most and who will pull for it,” says Lexi Rosenfeld, 19, a sophomore coxswain at Cal. "It’s a really self-rewarding sport. What you give is what you get."

But with seven others in a boat, the payoff goes beyond the individual. Dedicated rowers say the sport has a unique team dynamic. Girls share a mutual pain brought on by the intense fitness required.

"People are brought together by suffering, and that’s definitely something that we just throw ourselves into,” says Lily Eisermann, 21, a senior and Wilson's co-captain at Cornell. "Once you've been rowing with someone, it's a bond that you can't really break."

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An elite ultramarathon runner can start a race like the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run when The Today Show begins Monday morning and finish it by the time it ends ... on Tuesday. They can run a marathon, and then another one, and another one, and another one without taking a break. And they can do this not on the mostly flat, forgiving streets of Boston or New York City, but on ragged terrain like trails in the Sierra Nevada mountains. They run when it's freezing cold and when it's steamy hot. They run -- a lot -- often for 100 miles at a time through thousands of feet of elevation.

This is why Pam Smith, 38, the 2013 Western States female champion, says the focus in ultramarathon running is on the accomplishment of completing the course, rather than watching the clock.

"When I ran marathons, I would be beating myself up to take two or three minutes off of my time," she says. "I think one reason that people move to ultras is to get away from the road. People can challenge themselves without the pressure of running a specific time."

With the clock out of the way, runners can focus on more pressing matters, like finishing the race in one piece.


Ultramarathons are defined as any race longer than a marathon. They usually come in four different varieties: the 50k, the 50-miler, the 100k and the 100-miler.

"Most people start with a 50k," Smith says. "It's basically a marathon plus five miles. If you run marathons routinely, the extra five miles doesn't seem so bad. You can sort of just push through that. I try and convince all of my friends to do it. When you run a marathon, you're pushing the red line for the whole 26 miles. At 50 and above, you may have sections where you might be walking or stop at an aid station. It mitigates some of the pain."

The pain, for those who haven’t experienced it, can run from complete loss of energy, to agony and disorientation. Such is the natural result of entering a race that may take you 30 hours to finish.

"The fatigue can get overwhelming," Smith says. "It also becomes challenging and difficult to manage. You come up with mental strategies to overcome it. A good one for me is breaking the course down in sections. I'll think to myself that I have five more miles until an aid station, or three more miles until I reach the top of a hill. I like to run the race in little chunks, but you have to have that mindset that you're committed to finishing it. In every race, there's a period where you're hurting or you'd prefer to stop. The hardest part in the 100-mile race is in the 45-60 mile range. At that point you've gone quite a distance and you still have 40-45 miles left."

Josh Dickson, 29, a veteran marathon runner, competed in the 2013 Western 100 with Pam Smith and 383 other starters (only 277 finished). While Dickson has numerous marathons and ultras to his credit, the Western, which he describes as the ultimate ultramarathon, is a different animal.

"In a 100-miler, you hit that point where you want to quit a lot of times," he says. "People talk about getting a second wind, but you need a seventh and eighth wind to get through these. Most ultras are trails, and you're talking about rocky, root-filled trails which slow you down. The cumulative effect of that and the heat, it beats you down a bunch. At mile 30, you're feeling pretty good, looking over the mountainside, but by mile 38, you start to get a little groggy. It was over 100 degrees the day of the Western and the heat kicked in and it was tough to handle. I had a pretty tough bout between mile 40 and 50."

Smith knew the heat was going to be a problem and tried to game plan accordingly.

"I knew from the forecast that it was going to be a really hot year," she says. "I wore a cotton T-shirt because it holds moisture closer to your body. I also took all nine of my water bottles and froze them half with ice and filled the rest with water, so that the bottles themselves would keep me cool."

Staying hydrated and staying cool are the only ways to stave off the major issues brought on by the elements, namely cramps, overheating, dehydration and a general physical breakdown. Smith says that the wetter you can stay to beat the heat, the better.

"I put ice everywhere I could put it," Smith says. "I put it in my hat, my bra, my bandana. I splashed in every stream and river crossing. I made sure that I was soaking wet and got my body temperature down so that my running wasn't affected by the heat."


Races like the Western States typically start early in the morning, since many runners will be forcing one foot in front of the other for well over a day. This means that in addition to the physical pain of pounding the pavement, runners must also contend with the effects of sleep deprivation. Smith, who was the fastest woman in the Western, finished ninth overall with a time of 18:37.21. While the winner, Timothy Olsen, finished in just over 15 hours, only a third of the runners finished in under 24 hours. Dickson finished in about 25 hours, putting him in the middle of the pack.

To get ready for the 5 a.m. start time, Dickson woke up at 3 a.m. At the midway point of his run, about 6 p.m. that day, he'd already been awake for 15 hours.

"I was feeling good through about mile 70," he says. "Then the sleep deprivation starts kicking in. It felt like I was just wandering in the darkness. My little brother was with me, which was good because I was having mild hallucinations. Between mile 78 and 93, it was just absolute hell. "

So why do it?

Dickson paraphrases a quote from Ernest Hemingway:

"Everyone is broken by life, but some people are stronger in the broken places."

"I think ultras embody that whole mentality," he says. "It's just you against you. The course isn't going to move or change for you. You just have to keep going. It helps you prove yourself to yourself. If you can go through that type of physical and mental battle, I think it makes you a stronger person. It pushes you to a place that's hard to get to ... where you're that stripped bare and broken down in a moment."

Smith describes what she gets out of running by recalling the one DNF (did not finish) she has in an ultra.

"I didn't finish the Angeles Crest in 2010," she says. "It was a complete mental breakdown. I lined up and I just wasn't excited to run that weekend. I just felt like it was going to be terrible. I was a little fatigued and over trained. My knee started hurting and it wasn't something that should have been a race ending injury, but I just got into this negative mindset. I couldn't keep myself going to the finish line. I just decided to call it a day. In retrospect, my head was not in it from the get-go that day and I was relieved when they cut off my bracelet."

Preparing for a 100-mile marathon takes several months of training, often knocking out 100 miles of road work per week. For Smith, the decision to give up was almost as painful as the race itself, considering all the time and effort it took just to compete.

"When the day got hard, I called it quits," she says. "That prompted me to be more resilient. In the 2012 Western, I ran a terrible race. I had hypothermia, asthma, weight gain from fluid retention. The Western is usually very hot, but instead it was 40 miles of snow and sleet and rain. I just had gloves and arm sleeves. No jacket, nothing. The officials put me on a medical hold for two hours. When I was ready to leave, they made me sign a medical waiver before I left the tent, acknowledging that I could die on the trail and there might be no aid... But I finished."

Counter that with the 2013 race one year later, where Smith was victorious, and Hemingway's quote rings all the more true. Then again, in this case, a quote by Friedrich Nietzche may be more apt when talking about ultramarathons:

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

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