St. Louis resident Eric Strand, CEO of Drury Hotels, wanted to do something to help frontline hospitality workers who found themselves furloughed or laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve worked side-by-side with these caring and giving people throughout a 30-plus-year career in the hospitality industry, and my respect is profound,” said Strand.

Combining his caring and his competitiveness, the 59-year-old, who’s a veteran ultrarunner, decided to attempt to set a fastest known time (FKT) for running the entire length of the 237-mile Katy Trail while asking for donations to support the Helping Hospitality Urgent Aid Grant Program of the Above and Beyond Foundation.

Strand successfully completed the FKT in late May with a time of three days, 14 hours, and six minutes — beating the previous record by four hours and six minutes. He also raised more than $40,000 to support his chosen cause.

“It’s one of those things where you can fail for yourself, but when you have people putting money down, you feel responsible to follow through,” he said. “I’d thought about [attempting the FKT] for a while. The Katy is one of the treasures of the state. When the pandemic hit, it wiped out my race calendar and put hospitality in the bullseye. Everything sort of came together from there.”

Eric Strand during his FKT attempt on the Katy Trail.

Eric Strand during his FKT attempt on the Katy Trail. (Frank Evans)

But attaining the record wasn’t a sure thing. Strand had never run more than 110 miles at one time before. “You just don’t know what 240 miles means until you do it,” he said. “By 115 miles, I was thinking I was cooked, and I wasn’t even halfway. I took a nap, praying it would rejuvenate me, and it did. I learned a huge lesson in terms of how quickly your body can bounce back.”

Strand slept three times over the three days for a total of 8.5 hours. Pacers Dan Turpin, Frank Evans, Paul Forman, Ron Golan, and Meredith Streubing helped him pass the miles. His wife, Tami, provided support along the way.

“This is a beautiful, flat, easy running trail. Lots of wildlife out there and these beautiful bluffs near Rocheport that I had no idea about,” said Strand. “Once I got to Dutzow and we had 50 miles left, there was this kind of magnetic pull to the finish in Machens. You feel miserable, but you find yourself smiling.”

Surprisingly, says Strand, his recovery hasn’t been as rough as expected.

“I have a nice bouquet of blisters on my feet, but I don’t feel as torn up as I have after my [100-mile] Leadville races. This was more mental,” he said. “If someone went out there and beat the record tomorrow, I don’t know that I’d try to reclaim it right away.”

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terran Magazine.