Drew Bell Earns All-World Honor In Trail Run World Championships
MADISON- A goal was set a year ago by Madison’s Drew Bell of qualifying for the Trail Run Half-Marathon World Championships. The 57-year old cross country and track head coach for James Clemens High School met that goal when he qualified for the big event at the National Championships at Oak Mountain State Park in Birmingham, one of 38 qualifying events held around the world.
With the world event held at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine staring him in the face, Bell looked for more spiritual support to provide him the strength, mentally and physically, to tackle the awaiting epic course in what Bell indicated ended up being, ”The most brutal course and toughest race I ever ran in my 50-plus years of running. God had a plan for me.”
Bell had a spectacular race as he posted a time of 2:50:43 that placed him in third place among the 55-59 age division which earned him a bronze medal and the title of All-World.
“I had a plan and strategy for the race and trained specifically for the Sugarloaf course here at home running up Oak Mountain and Wade Mountain trails for an entire month and that prepared me well for the race,” said Bell, who has participated in 51 marathons in his career.
Bell’s story is easily inspirational and displayed moxie as he has endured struggles through illness and injuries to fight his way to success; and what a successful year he has achieved. He won three National Championships, one national runner-up and earned 17 All-American performances along with his All-World stature. His triumph to return to the World Championships for the first time since 2011 was nothing short of remarkable as he faced what he considered an uphill battle emotionally to be able to compete at the world level.
“I went to new levels in this race as I really didn’t think I could compete with many of the top athletes from across the world, but I did everything right in my preparation,” added Bell. “I raced like I trained as I was in my zone.”
Arriving in the shadows of Sugarloaf Mountain with his wife, Bobbi, of 30 years, and their youngest daughter, Morgan, 23, who made the trip with Bell to provide support, he and his family made their arrival one of a vacation visiting local communities in and around the local areas after flying into Portland. Bell said when they arrived, he did not think of the race until on the starting line and the sound of the start gun. He added, “We enjoyed the whole experience of the scenery and the people. The locals were awesome, and we met some really good people and made new friends.”
Once the race got underway, which began exactly one hour after the marathon race started, the athletes began the 13-mile trek on the course with a topography of more than 100-kilometers of twisting, tree-lined trails from its base elevation at 1,417 feet to its mountain peak of 4,237 feet. “The climb was equivalent to a 320-story building or about 3,219 feet in the first three miles,” said Bell.
At the five-mile mark, Bell said he was exhausted beyond belief. Around the four-mile mark a small rock found its way into one of his shoes, which ultimately cut one of his toes and caused a blister. He chose not to stop and waste precious time of removing the stone and continued his quest for success.
“I concentrated on my breathing control and kept my emotions under wrap attempting the 36-degree climb to the summit of the course. At mile five, I almost gave out, but I kept fighting through my struggle. God had a plan and carried me the remaining eight miles,” said Bell.
The climb at Sugarloaf tested the determination and resilience of every athlete. Challenges came continuously during every point of the racecourse. For some, the long descent down Sugarloaf was indeed another set of challenges as the course presented each athlete with an array of natural obstacles.
“I fell five times going down the course as the terrain include wet grasses and the like,” added Bell. “I had the second fastest time of those participating coming down the mountain. I felt really strong the last two miles as I passed many runners who were in front of me. I ran the best race I could run.”
Bell and his family returned home to Madison with an experience to last a lifetime. Bell arrived with his bronze medal and specially made wood plaque indicating his third-place finish and proudly has them displayed in a designated room in their home he calls the “Track Shack,” which hosts all his awards he has earned for his colossal, many times heart-wrenching efforts of fighting that inner demon of pride.
“I believe in race numbers,” explained Bell. “I came into the race ranked the No. 3 American and No. 23 in the world. My race number was 313, my placement was third and the top three finishers were American.”
His enormous pride also led him to wear a blue “JC” singlet for what he said was, “Representing James Clemens and Jesus Christ.”
“I’ve endured 18 races this year and I’m glad its all over,” said Bell, who is already setting more future goals. “Now I can rest and prepare for 2024 as I have several great things planned for next year.”