100 Miles to Destiny
                 a Novel on Running
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ULTRARUNNING Magazine, September 2008

by Jonathan Zeif

I imagine that many of us enjoyed watching the marathon and even some track events at the Beijing Olympics. After all, we are all runners, and most of us can relate to the preparation and training it takes to get to a big event; and it is great to see the competitive spirit of all the athletes. As you were watching did you find yourself wondering what it would be like if an ultramarathon were to be contested at an Olympic event?

       In his novel, 100 Miles to Destiny, that is exactly what author and ultrarunner Willis McCarthy has proposed. The story is told as if it did in fact take place at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Of course, being held in California, it would only make sense to choose the course from Squaw Valley to Auburn; that’s right the Western States 100 mile course. With chapter titles such as Duncan Canyon, Robinson Flat, Michigan Bluff and Placer High School, the book is sure to bring back memories for anyone who has already run Western States. For those who haven’t run there, it is a good introduction to the course. And for those who have never run an ultramarathon, the book gives insight into all that goes on in a 100 mile event – the preparation, race tactics, nutritional strategies, even aid-station protocol. If you have ever tried to describe to someone who hasn’t run an ultra just exactly what it all is about, this book might help clarify some of what actually goes on out on the trail, as when the television reporter covering the event asks the race director what happens to a runner who arrives at 4:31 at a checkpoint with a 4:30 cutoff time, he answers (as some of us know all too well), “the cutoff times are strictly enforced.”

       The book is a novel, however, not just a factual description of the Western States 100 run and as such, McCarthy develops an interesting story line based on the personalities and nationalities of the competitors. In the postscript McCarthy tells how he has spent much of his life travelling abroad, often using running as an opportunity to meet people of many different cultures he has experienced. Based on these interactions, he builds the story around a diverse group of characters. There is the American, a favorite to win (having won Western States previously), as well as a Russian, a German, an Irishman and many others. McCarthy describes the background of each competitor, his family, what motivates him, and how he arrived at this Olympic event. Just as in a “real” 100-mile race, there are unpredictable events; runners who are forced to withdraw, and lead changes throughout the race.

       With some predictability, the American and the Russian are battling for the lead at 75 miles, followed closely by the Mexican, Japanese, Israeli and Italian runners. I won’t give away who actually wins the race; for that you’ll have to read the book. 

by Vincent Charbonneau, Ontario, Canada  
       Although a work of fiction, Willis B. McCarthy’s novel, “100 Miles to Destiny,” offers an insight into the minds of athletes as they compete at the Olympics.  The reader is also treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the organization of an international event.  The setting of the story is the XXIII Olympiad of 1984 held in Los Angeles and the event is a 100-mile run.  There will likely never be any such race at the Olympics, but the author cleverly chooses one of the most prestigious ultra running courses for his tale; the famed Western States Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains from Squaw Valley to Auburn in California.
A seasoned ultra runner and 4-time finisher of Western States, McCarthy clearly understands the highs and lows a runner experiences over the course of a 100-mile race.  Also, his knowledge of this particular course is quite evident.  Whether you are one of the lucky runners who have run this race, or if you are like me and have read many accounts about it, you will certainly appreciate his accuracy and (attention to) detail.
Although the 1984 Summer Olympics were boycotted by many Eastern-bloc countries and their allies, this novel includes participants from places like Poland, East Germany and Russia.  The author weaves a storyline involving a new leader of the Communist Party who helps avoid a boycott in order to make these Olympics a truly global competition.
McCarthy also develops many interesting personalities including some inevitable stereotypes.  100 Miles to Destiny features a rivalry between an American who is the reigning WS100 champ and a cold-blooded Russian runner.  Other characters include the speedy Africans who set a torrid pace to take the early lead, an enlightened Buddhist Japanese athlete and a quick-witted Irish runner to name a few.
The Canadian contender in the book is a character named Ian Jones.  A personable and well-liked athlete, entering the race, Ian Jones is one of the early favorites based on his 100 km World Record time.  At one point the Canadian runner takes part in some friendly banter on the trail with other runners over which country has the best beer.  Unfortunately, the author misspelled “Molson’s”!  Shame on him!
       Any follower of ultra running in this country will undoubtedly suspect that this character is an accolade to the great Andy Jones who still holds several Canadian ultra-running records.  In the late 1990’s Andy Jones set the standard in the following distances:  2:53:20 for 50K, 4:54:50 for 50-Miles, and a mind-boggling 12:05:43 for 100-miles.
Willis B. McCarthy notes that he took over 2 decades to write this, his first novel and its completion is what defines him.  Sprinkled throughout the book the reader will find evidence of McCarthy’s many travels and his knowledge of historical events.  100 Miles to Destiny is a light read and an amusing page-turner.  Although the reader might suspect to know the outcome of the race, we are encouraged to read on with curiosity.

        If interested in purchasing a copy of the novel, please contact the author at wmccarthy@100milestodestiny.com or call (650) 898 - 8321. The cost of the book is $12 per copy, plus $6 shipping and handling or two copies for $20, includes shipping. When purchasing multiple copies a combined discount is available.  











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