Lance Parker: The Infinitus Champ

Think running 888K is impossible? Lance Parker is here to prove you wrong. 

Name: Lance Parker Age: 22
Lives in: Montpelier Occupation: High school behavior interventionist/River guide

“You will regret this,” warns the registration for entrants who choose the 888k option of the Infinitus, a series of rugged trail races staged by the Endurance Society in Goshen, Vermont.

Lance Parker, however, has no regrets. On Friday, June 2, the 22-year-old from Montpelier won the 551-mile, 10-day event that’s designed to drive athletes to their limits. Powered partially by chocolate milk, Snickers and yogurt, Parker was the only participant out of 11 to finish the 888-kilometer course. He did it in a total time of 229 hours and 51 minutes.

Parker is no novice: he’s run a number of ultra races, including Wyoming’s Bighorn 100 last year. He works as a behavior interventionist for the special education department at Spaulding High School in Barre, and is spending this summer guiding whitewater-rafting trips for Adirondack River Outfitters. Two feet, two wheels and in person are the ways that Parker rolls: he has no car and no phone.

Born and raised mostly on the Maine coast, Parker was naturally peripatetic, thanks to a stepfather in the military; that side of the family never spent more than three years in the same place. We did manage to get Parker to spend more than a few minutes slowing down to share his story with Vermont Sports.

VS: How did you get into running?

LP: My college (Sterling College) had no organized sports. But I got introduced to the concept of ultras, and thought it was amazing but ridiculous. The summer of 2013, Heather Anderson set the self-supported speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking 45 miles a day. About this same time I learned about a 50k race at Jay Peak, and got into minimalist running shoes. These three things, combined with a large amount of naivety, led me to sign up for a 50k that was less than a month away. I had only ever run 11 miles going into that race, and my longest race was a 10k on roads. I took fourth, and that changed my perspective on running. Two months later I ran a 50-miler, then my first 100 six months after that. I’ve done the Race to the Top of Vermont three years in a row, but I’ve always done a double on it.

VS: What is the appeal of ultrarunning for you?

LP: It’s the great equalizer, time and distance. The women beat the men. The less fit beat the fitness freaks. Phenomenal nutrition and mental preparation are as important as strength or stamina. Anyone who knows me as a runner knows that I am not the most consistent with training. I’m not the strongest or fastest out there. But I might win, just because I want it more, and I’m willing to feel the worst. The further the race is, the more this matters.

VS: How did you train? We heard you slept outside all winter?

LP: From December 21st until the race, I slept out every night (except for four nights, only once in a bed) on a covered porch in a house I was sharing in Calais. That was one way of getting rid of a few mental walls, such as “the missing your bed” feeling, “the getting out the door” feeling and the “getting up for the day” feeling. I practiced lifestyle changes every day. It’s all about the six inches between your ears. Excluding race weeks, I never ran more than 40 miles in a week—something I would change. I did a lot of skiing, skinning, and indoor bike training, and a lot strength training after every run.

VS: Why no car and no phone?

LP: I’m not one for social obligations or norms. I’ve had a flip phone, but it broke a couple of months ago. Someone gave me a smartphone, but I just use it for Internet. I’ve ebbed and flowed between having a car and not. It’s a combination of idealism, getting out and exercising more, and never having the money for a decent car that doesn’t break down all the time.

VS: What did you do in the days leading up to Infinitus?

LP: I worked the day before the race started. And actually ran a few miles the night before. I was biking 17 miles each way to and from work for the few weeks before.

VS: How did the race surprise you?

LP: To be honest, I thought I would make it five days on pace and begin falling apart.

Then I would manage a marathon a day to hit 400 miles, come back next year and finish it. I was kind of scared of success. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be leading the race, or to be the only finisher.

VS: What was the race like?

LP: The weather was wild—the worst weather of the three years of the race. It was 94 degrees the first day, with very wet trails. It rained on four or maybe five of the days. The eighth day, a huge storm hit, with sustained 30 mph winds and 60 mph gusts. Trees were down all over the course, I ran in the middle of the night that night by myself with branches hitting everything. It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. The last day was beautiful but the course was the muddiest I’ve ever dealt with: mid-shin deep every step for miles!

VS: What was the toughest part?

LP: Definitely the morning of Day 7. It was a hard, lonely start to the day. I cried a lot. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. I felt like I no longer had a choice to drop out. Too many people wanted to see it happen. I would have to get injured to get out of this. I felt an enormous amount of pressure.

VS: And the most rewarding?

LP: I left mementos on the course my first lap. Inspiring letters from years ago, from mentors and friends. Picking them up off of the course on the last lap was so rewarding, especially with my friend Liz. She ran the last 7 miles with me. At the top of Mount Romance was a tree I named Liz, and a letter she wrote me three years earlier at the start of my first 100-miler.

VS: What did you do when you crossed the finish line?

LP: I was wearing a mask. This was to pay tribute to a racer who crossed the finish line with a mask on the year before. The race directors put masks on the trees in the woods on the course; I took one of them off on my last lap. I hugged the two race directors, I took my shoes off and threw them very far. I then immediately had a beer and slept!

VS: What will your next event be, and how are you training for that?

LP: I’m currently signed up for Ghost Train 100 in New Hampshire again in October [Parker placed 5th there last year]. They allow you to run past 100 miles for “bonus miles.” I’m hoping to run 140 miles in the 30 hours. I’m planning on going to the Pineland Farms Last Man Standing race. And I’m planning on returning to the 888 next year.


Sarah Tuff

Sarah Tuff writes about outdoor sports, health and fitness from her home in Shelburne; her work has appeared in The New York Times, Runner's World and Skiing, among other publications. She is also the co-author of 101 Best Outdoor Towns (Countryman Press).