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Elite six- and 10-day ultra running races are coming to Milwaukee's Pettit Center in June

If you've ever run a marathon, you've probably been on the receiving end of shocked looks from non-runner coworkers who cheekily quip that they'd "never even drive that far."

No doubt, running 26.2 miles is an impressive athletic feat. Most popular estimates report that only 1% of the population has completed this distance. However, an annual endurance event returning to Milwaukee's Pettit National Ice Center's indoor track dwarfs a marathon to 100-meter-dash status.

Participants in the Pettit's 6 Days in the Dome event undertake the challenge of running as many miles as they can over six consecutive days. The winner is the runner who completes the most laps of the 443-meter track in the allotted 144-hour timeframe. Last year, Nicolae Buceanu took first after completing almost 499 miles. That's over 1,811 laps.

Sounds superhuman, right? Still, these competitors don't run nonstop over the six days. Walk breaks are common, and participants can stop to eat or sleep at any time. Runners sleep in the Pettit's second-floor Hall of Fame Room, which is room temperature, unlike the track which borders a speedskating rink. Three meals and a midnight snack are provided each day. Electrolyte beverages, candy, cookies, salty snacks, soup, ramen noodles and more are always available at the aid station just off the track, race organizer Mike Melton said.

New this year, 6 Days in the Dome is also hosting a 10-day race, which Melton said organizers hope to put on every other year.

The 10-day race begins on Thursday, June 13, and the six-day starts on Monday, June 17. Spectators are welcome to come watch, ask questions of race organizers, and learn more about a niche sport full of "deeply passionate" and knowledgable participants, Melton said.

"I find it fascinating," said Melton, who's been a runner for over 50 years and has completed a six-day race. "For other people, it's probably like watching paint dry. But, it's interesting paint."

Joe Fejes runs the Across the Years Six-Day race in Arizona with Jon Olsen, the former American record holder in the 100-mile run.
Joe Fejes runs the Across the Years Six-Day race in Arizona with Jon Olsen, the former American record holder in the 100-mile run.

But why would someone run for six or 10 days?

The 6 Days in the Dome race debuted at the Pettit in 2019. It was started, in part, by Joe Fejes, the American record holder in the six-day event. Fejes completed 606 miles in six days in 2013.

Since running this far is already so physically and mentally taxing, Fejes sought to control all the external conditions of the race to simplify logistics and optimize performance. The indoor, looped course allows athletes easy access to food, water and aid without having to carry anything on the run.

"The Pettit Center is 55 degrees, 30% humidity, all the time," Melton said. "There's no wind, no rain, no hail, and 3 p.m. and 3 a.m. look exactly the same. It eliminates all of the things you can't control so you can just focus on running and executing your strategy."

Ultra-endurance athletes have had great success at the Pettit. In 6 Days in the Dome's first year, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point grad Zach Bitter set then-world records in the 100-mile and 12-hour runs. Bitter completed 100 miles in 11 hours and 19 minutes (less than 6:50 per mile) before running an extra 41 minutes to set a then-12-hour record of 104.8 miles.

Numerous age-group and national records have been set at the Pettit in various multi-day durations. In addition to the six- and 10-day races, 6 Days in the Dome is hosting an invitation-only, 24-hour race for elite athletes. The race, on Saturday, June 15, exclusively features athletes trying to set records or make the U.S. 24-hour run National Team.

Melton said people often assume runners get bored traversing the same loop literally hundreds of times. However, in his experience, he said chatting with fellow runners and taking walk and meal breaks together means there's never a dull moment. In fact, friendships are often forged on the track.

Race organizers also plan to liven up the monotony by having runners switch directions every six hours (this also helps lessen physical strain) and playing music.

The race also offers shorter options

The 6 Days in the Dome race is not just for elite athletes. While the six- and 10-day races are already sold out, anyone (who dares take up the challenge) can sign up for the event's multiple 12, 24, 48 and 72-hour options.

There are multiple start days for these shorter races. A 12-hour race is offered each day from June 17-22; non-invitational 24-hour races are each day June 16-22; 48-hour races start each day June 16-21, and 72-hour races start each day June 16-20.

About 100 people are currently signed up across all races, Melton said. A diverse range of participants are represented, from up-and-coming elites to older runners who want to complete 100 miles but need a longer time limit than is available at most races. Melton said the event is a great example of why you should never judge a book by its cover.

"There's an incredible array of people. It's not just what you'd see on TV running in the Olympic marathon field. ... We are a bunch of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. There are people who are tall and thin and fat and short and young and old."

Runners compete in the Icebreaker Half Marathon at the Pettit National Ice Center on Jan. 23, 2010.
Runners compete in the Icebreaker Half Marathon at the Pettit National Ice Center on Jan. 23, 2010.

When and where is 6 Days in the Dome 2024?

The 6 Days in the Dome race takes place at the Pettit National Ice Center, 500 S. 84th St., Milwaukee.

The event kicks off on Thursday, June 13 at noon with the start of the 10-day race. Other races start at various times throughout the 10 days. All races conclude by Sunday, June 23. A complete schedule can be found here.

How to sign up for 6 Days in the Dome 2024

You can still register for the 12, 24, 48 and 72-hour runs. Learn more and register at UltraSignup.com.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee to host six- and 10-day ultra running races in June 2024