Fiesta Hermanos Viñales, a potent 20-runner World Marathon Challenge, appeared to be in grave danger just two miles from the finish line Sunday morning as Brian Voss-Plummer, the 21st man in line to hoist the trophy, began losing his grip at 233 kph. The Kansas-based pilot out of Hunt Valley, Md., likely had no idea what was going on. He, though, was among the few who saw the big picture, moving up to take off from the 11th position by the time the official Coast Guard authorizations had been issued. Voss-Plummer’s foray in the Monster Truck Classic ended with a crash that very nearly took out all of the runners ahead of him.
Cam Phelps, a two-time Gold Medalist in USA Triathlon’s National Championships who had established himself as one of the top back-door entries in the field, was seconds behind Voss-Plummer when the Utah man charged full throttle. But with the World Marathon Challenge title in his sights, Phelps’ inexperience paid a big price. His right shoulder was torn off in the two-man pileup, and he suffered six broken ribs and a concussion. Phelps was transferred to a Utah hospital where his condition was described as “fair.”
Geoff Pritchard, another veteran racer in the field, was startled by what he saw as he passed Voss-Plummer, who had reached a top speed of 190 kph by the time he hit his last U.S. finish line.
“Everything I seen flashed before my eyes,” said Pritchard, who was forced to take the race in sections, running about a 5K race per day to get better nutrition. “Then I got stuck in traffic and couldn’t see much.”
Conditions were horrible, with the temperature dipping to 5 degrees below zero by the time the first runners were running up Route 302, about a half mile east of Gaver Beach. But Voss-Plummer and another late entry, USA Triathlon triathlon major champion Jamie Bell, were still going when the rain started to come down.
Pritchard was still a few minutes behind when the dust kicked up by the smoke from Voss-Plummer’s smoke machine began swirling. He said Bell’s safety flew off as they came together.
“I was coming down the stretch before the smoke machine was blowing and I looked over to my left and there was Jamie Bell on the ground,” Pritchard said. “Then the mud washed all over me and I got completely stuck. I think when the smoke machine blew up, a bunch of dust blasted in between the guys and it just wiped them off the road.”
The pilot was able to maneuver to a safe distance and most runners had abandoned the final, 8K run when Voss-Plummer crashed. Phelps was the first to make his way through, and he did so slowly, carefully making his way through the slushy muck.
Luckily for Phelps, it was a safety deployment and not a craft that airlifted him to the Air Force base in Savannah, Ga., where he could be contacted by USAT officials. He spent two hours at the base for medical treatment, then spent the night there and called his wife Sunday morning.
“It was nice to have my family near and they know I was in great shape and there’s no way I would have made it through the final miles on my own,” he said.
Wearing a Flying Doctors vest and running with five sponsors, Phelps broke the World Marathon Challenge record with an average of 6:30 over the 10-day event. His next stop will be Leeuwarden, Netherlands, for the Antigua Open, his 17th sub-10-minute marathon.
Only four teams of two will make it to the starting line this year, as Racing Point has cut back its participation in the WMC for the third straight year. Race Director Jack Berry said he’s looking to next year’s World Marathon Challenge to fill the void.
“It was absolutely outstanding in the sense that we’ve got a whole bunch of new people that didn’t have the chance before,” Berry said. “I’m really pleased with what we’re seeing, but it was two different worlds that presented themselves a couple miles down the road.”