At some point during my childhood, I realized my eye doctor never changed the eye charts, so I memorized them. Done. Bottom line: A P E O R F D Z. And that was it. I had perfect vision with my eyes closed. I thought it was the type of challenge you could surmount one time and then move on with your life. Let’s do bigger things.
Running is not like that. In high school, as we approached the end of track workouts, my coach would yell, “One and done!” Oh, right. One for now, but in 15 minutes we’ll be doing a cool down run, and you know very well that I’ll be running every day for the rest of my life.
Ultrarunning offers a robust extension of that sentiment. Every race is a unique challenge, and there is no such thing as perfect. It requires you to adjust your plan and account for whatever befalls. Wild dogs, temperature changes, nutrition problems, mountains, and injuries. Oh, man. The Lone Ranger 24-Hour Run was no different.
The race course was beautiful. I loved it. It was a loop of about 8.45 miles around the Schuylkill. A regatta [not to be confused with ricotta] was being held out on the water. I watched as crew teams competed, and a man bellowed boating instructions over a loud speaker. Philadelphians wandered about the course all day, too, rollerblading and walking their dogs. And at night, there were fireworks in the distance. The aid stations were the best! They were well-stocked and full of the friendliest volunteers. I approached a station and heard some familiar lyrics: “And I know someday that it’ll all turn out. You’ll make me work, so we can work to work it out. And I promise you, kid, that I give so much more than I get. I just haven’t met you yet.”
You just haven’t met me yet, Michael Bublé. I’m right here, just running around.
One of the highlights of the day was running with Anna Piskorska—a virtual superhero of 24-hour runs. We discussed shared friends and our first meeting, at the Umstead 100, where we competed but never spoke. Anna is wonderful, and I think her daughter must be very proud of her. After about 2 hours, we separated at an aid station, and the heat of the day escalated to almost 100.
Anna had told me that 50 miles would come quickly. She was right! 60 came quickly, too. Then 70 and 80. In the heat, hydration was important. I stuck potatoes into salt cups and ate them, then chugged water. Now, writing this while sitting in a normal context, well-fed and hydrated in a temperature-controlled bedroom, that seems incomparably gross. At the time…delicious. But as the night arrived, I was ready to sleep and started to struggle with my pacing.
I worked to discipline my thoughts. As long as your mind is focused, your body will follow. At age 26, your neuroplasticity starts to decline. I turned 24 on Monday, so I’m becoming increasingly cognizant of this. I want to take advantage of my malleable intellect over the next two years by disciplining my thoughts and learning everything I can. But sometimes my mind still wanders…
The race went on. The heat got to me, so I could no longer eat solid foods. In the words of a post-modern philosopher, “Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.” Miley Cyrus, your lyrics would be more poignant if they were not sung while you danced on a pole. For the final 40 miles, I drank soda for sustenance. A terrific woman with a huge smile gave me iced coffee every 8.45 miles. I loved that. My wonderful crew member—Kristen “KPr$” Peterson—took great care of me and delighted in her first-ever experience at any running event. All of the other crews rallied around me as well, and I have never felt so loved by a group of people I had just met!
At about 2 a.m., a man named John offered to pace me for almost 17 miles. It was dark, and I was scared. I am so thankful for his encouragement. Later, a guy named Mike finished the race with me. He was hilarious. Mike found out I liked philosophy and asked me pressing “philosophical” concerns he had been stewing over:
“When does a twig become a stick? When does it become a branch? Then a tree?” he probed.
“I don’t know, Mike. Those are implicit in the definitions of the various affections of wood…together called a tree,” I mumbled. “It’s not philosophy.” Mike smiled and told me about the time he made a tree into a log.
“What would happen if I had a car driving at the speed of light with its headlights on?” he asked. Physics. I was 120+ miles into a run and had no remaining mental lucidity to answer that with any clarity of response. But I loved that he was engaging me in my interests. We laughed a lot. Mike was the best.
My parents came! I love them! They love when I run for 24 hours and get all beat up and exhausted; it’s probably their favorite thing.
Then it was all over. I got my first record, which was exciting. 127 miles (officially 125.something to the final aid station you reach) in nearly 100-degree heat off of 3 weeks of training. That’s encouraging to me. It means I can plug in and do work. I went home, rehydrated, and thought about my next race. I want to compete in the 24-hour run for the national team in Cleveland this September. I love this distance.
When I woke up in the morning, I had to google the event to make sure it all really happened because these runs seem so surreal. It’s like living 2 separate lives. I put on my loafers and business clothes and hopped onto the metro, hoping it was the correct train. I couldn’t really read the sign, so I just crossed my fingers and assumed it said A P E O R F D Z.