In October 2019, Philip Lowry of Sandy, Utah completed what very few have done: the Triple Crown of 200’s, which takes in three-200 plus-mile races in the space of eight weeks. The experience left him wanting to do it again, and he looked forward to completing the feat in 2020. But, 2020 had other plans for Lowry and his family. Not only did the novel Covid-19 pandemic cancel the first two races in the Triple Crown, but on June 19, his wife, Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Jill was also signed up to do the Triple Crown with me, but when she got the diagnosis, our focus shifted,” Lowry said.
Taking It in Stride
According to Lowry, his wife still had goals of running the Moab 240, which was the only one of the Triple Crown to remain open, but had to see how the chemotherapy treatments were going to affect her body. Lowry recalled a moment during a 20-mile training run in the Tetons after Jill’s second week of treatments when the couple stopped to take a break. “We were running at 9,000 feet elevation in the Tetons when we decided to take a swim in the 40 degree water,” Lowry recalled. “Jill got in the water and said to me, ‘If my hair floats away, will you go get it for me?’
Right after that, we saw some other ultrarunners and we compared ultrarunning resumes. Jill then chimed in by saying that she was just hoping that her hair didn’t drift off in the river. We explained that Jill had breast cancer, and we all realized how tough Jill really is.”
The Bear 100
Leading up to the Moab 240, Lowry and his wife were still undecided if the race or any race would be in the cards for either of them due to inconsistent training. Even so, they kept moving forward. Their son, Ian had been training for his first 100-mile race, the Bear 100, and Phil was slated to run the entire race with him. Lowry and his wife decided that this would be a good place to test things out. “When my son, Ian raced the Bear 100, it really became a family affair,” Lowry said. “My daughter ran with us for several miles, and Jill ran 10 miles from Tony Grove, and then seven miles to the finish.”
According to Lowry, after the Bear 100, his wife really had her sights set on running the Moab 240, but decided that it wouldn’t be the best idea. After all, Jill would only have 2 ½ weeks of recovery from her last chemo treatment, and would need to have another one immediately following the race. Even so, Lowry said that Jill was determined to help crew him.
The Moab 240
Having just finished the Bear 100 a couple of weeks prior, Lowry knew that those long miles would have an effect on his Moab 240 race. In fact, he said that going into Moab, that he had to look at the two races as one event. “When you’re doing back-to-back ultra races like these, you can’t look at them as separate events, but as one whole,” Lowry said. “I had to look at Bear and Moab as a 340-mile effort rather than a 100-mile race and a 240-mile race. I treated these two races just how I would have the entire Triple Crown if it was still on.”
Much like the Bear 100, Moab was also a family affair with his wife and son-in-law (while his daughter was at basic training) stepping in to crew and pace him. In fact, in addition to pacing, his wife Jill decided to be medical crew director at one of the aid stations. But it was his wife’s help during the third night that Lowry said was needed the most. “Jill paced me through the third night, which is when the Boogie Men really start coming out,” Lowry said. “We were both exhausted and freezing. We tried to sleep, but it was just too cold.”
Lowry recalled a sleep-deprived hallucination that both he and his wife had a good laugh/scare over.
“We were going along, and there was this round thing on the trail,” Lowry recalled. “I swore it was a giant cowpie, and Jill thought it was just a big puddle of pee. When we got closer, it was in fact a porcupine! There’s nothing like a giant cowpie or pee puddle that starts throwing needles at you.” Despite the cold and porcupine- and demon-filled night, Lowry was not only able to complete the 240-mile race, but finish in fifth place overall with a time of 78:53:11.
And when many runners spent the days recovering from their efforts, Lowry and his wife left immediately after the race to get home for Jill’s last round of chemotherapy that would take place the next morning at 7:00 a.m.
Lowry is a seasoned ultrarunning veteran, having completed fifty-four 100-mile races and seven 200-mile races (making podium at many), said his upcoming goals have nothing to do with breaking personal or course records. This year, he says, will be dedicated to his wife, Jill. “My goal for this year is to get Jill her Triple Crown.”
On behalf of Kogalla, we send our support and well-wishes to the Lowry family for a healthful year and Triple Crown finish.
Special thanks to Howie Stern for the always-awesome photography displayed in feature image of this article.