Thursday, July 18, 2013

410 Miles, One Week. Running the Length of Illinois.

Now. that. was. a. long. run.  It's getting close to two weeks from the finish as I write this and it still hurts.  As expected, things didn't go as expected. 

Our plan, envisioned by Brian Gaines many months ago, was simple enough on paper: Run from Paducah Kentucky to the Wisconsin border, approximately 410 miles, and do it in one week.  We planned to stop each night at hotels in towns along the way, so the distance each day varied depending on the distance between towns from around 50 miles to over 75 miles, close to an average of 60 miles a day.
As someone who has done a lot of crazy runs, I knew that 60 miles a day for 7 days is pretty insane, very likely past my own ability, or at least right at the edge.  So naturally, I jumped at the chance.  Eventually three other nut jobs decided to take on the task: Chuck Schultz, Tony Cesario, and Scott Smoron.  We also had major, massive, incredible support from Scott Kummer.  Scott gave up a week of his time to drive the support truck and provide aid, and he saved our lives, figuratively and literally.  Additionally, many friends and family came down to provide both physical and emotional support.  Finally, we had a sponsor, HealthVend, who hooked us up with all kinds of healthy food we could use on the go, which is invaluable in the middle of nowhere Illinois.  More on the products we were supplied below. 

We were also running for a great cause!  Chicago Run  is non-profit organization that implements and supports running programs for children and youth in Chicago.  We managed to raise over $2,500 for em, and it's never too late to help out: 

We spent the entire day Saturday the 29th driving down to Kentucky, then started at 6:00am precisely on Sunday 30th.  It was an amazingly comfortable, overcast summer day.
Day 1:  The first day went smoothly, we spent most of the day running through the Shawnee National Forest area.  It was picturesque, there was not a lot of traffic, and our legs were relatively fresh.  A hint of some of the challenges to come came when we realized the distance ended up being 50 miles, rather than the expected 47, and I also felt more tired and beat up than I thought I should be given it was only day one.  50 miles is far no matter how far you have to go I guess.  Oh boy.

Day 2: Harrisburg to Fairfield, 52 miles.  Day 2 brought on the view we would have for most of the remainder of the run; corn, corn, corn, corn, corn, corn, beans, wheat, barn, farmhouse, corn, corn, corn, etc.  Cloudy and rainy most of the day, which was good for the runners, not so great for Scott and Brian who were crewing.  At the end of the day I felt ok, tired and too sore already, but ok and ready for day 3 which was scheduled to be our big bad 80 miler.

Day 3: SNAFU.  Day 3 started a little slow, it was raining still, we were all pretty sore and tired already, and we had 80 miles to get done that day.  Then things got really tough.  Almost 5 miles into the days run, we come across a washed out area of the road.  As we were debating wading through or adding on a couple of miles to go around, the truck died.  Then the truck wouldn't start back up. 

The initial assessment:
The starter went *Click! Click! Click!* but no good, probably the alternator went out.  Which is a relatively easy fix, except we were in the middle of nowhere, 5 miles from the nearest town, and the nearest town is teeny tiny. 

We called both tow trucks in town, one wasn't available, and the other guy said he didn't have a flatbed which would be necessary with our 4X4 truck.  Which was funny, because we called the local police office to see if they had anyone to recommend and the Sheriff said: "You called Joe? (not his real name), Joe has a flat bed!"  So basically Joe didn't feel like getting off his ass to help.  We also called AAA and was on hold for hours without luck. 
Pouring rain, stuck truck

So without help on the way, the guys had a bright idea, "let's push the truck back to town!"  I thought they had lost their minds, there was no way we were going to push the truck 4-5 miles then try to turn around and run 80 (or any for that matter), it was insanity.  I wasn't really in the mood to push the truck so I took video of the madness and ran to a couple of farm houses to see if anyone was home (no one was):
Fortunately, after about a mile of pushing the big truck down country roads, someone stopped to help.  We got a jump which got the truck started but it died again after just a block or two.  Fortunately, the Good Samaritan stayed with us and gave us a jump several times to get back to town and to a shop to get it fixed.  We went to a diner down the street to wait for the repair and make a plan for how to continue. 

So what to do?  We had lost our entire morning, 4-5 hours, with a broke down truck.  If we tried to run 80 miles now, we wouldn't finish until mid to late morning the next day, losing a nights sleep and not be able to get use of our hotel room.  We could also just wait to start again the next day, delaying our finish by a day.  This would have been ok, but then we would lose our chance to finish the run in less than a week, and would screw up our hotel, crew and work schedules.  So, it was decided that we get back on the road as soon as possible, and get as many miles in as we could before morning.  Then we would drive to Mattoon where we had our hotel, then drive back to where we ended and add the extra miles to day 4.  The day 3 SNAFU cranked the difficulty of the run up to 11.  The rest of the week was going to be very tough going.

Day 3 Continued: We were finally back running close to noon, trying to get in as many miles as we could.  For the first time the group started to get pretty spread out.  Scott jumped ahead with Chuck a couple miles behind, then me, then Tony.  It was a surprise to see Tony fall so far back.  We call him "Tony the Tank" because he has giant legs of steel and nothing can stop him.  Among many other feats, he once ran 40 miles a day for a week on his own, just for the hell of it I believe.  I told several people that Tony had the best chance of finishing out of the group.  So it was a huge surprise when I saw him sitting in the truck around 5:00pm.  Apparently he had not been able to keep down food for much of the day, among other problems, and was going to have to call it quits.  I was shocked, and nervous, I was not feeling well at all myself, it was only day 3 and chances were starting to get long that anyone was going to make this thing.

We were about 50 miles in when it got dark, so we put on our night gear.  It was the first time we put on our night gear in the week.  We hadn't planned on it, but we ended up running late into the night for the rest of the week.

Surprisingly, I started to feel much better as night came on, laying down several sub 9 minute miles, which by now felt like a full on sprint.  I finally caught up to Scott and Chuck after being behind all day, and we ended the day after midnight with 65 miles.  It was 15 miles shorter than we planned when we started the day, but pretty good considering the challenges of the day.

Day 4: South of Mattoon to Champaign, 60 Miles: After a short nights sleep we started the day with more bad news, Scott was not going to continue.  Out of the 4 of us, Scott had the least experience, but he was a strong natural runner.  He gave it a valiant effort, but running such huge volumes of miles day after day after day can crush even the most experienced.  So now we were down to 2 runners.  Our run had been in preparation for months and we involved many supporters, sponsors, friends and family.  It would be a massive let down to disappoint all of those people.  Chuck and I committed to each other that we would not stop "Till the wheels come off", meaning something would have to physically stop us from moving before we would stop.

Day 4 began well for me, I started where I left off the night before running sub 9 minute miles.  Maybe not the smartest way to start a 60 mile day, but I had decided to run well when I felt well, because it may not happen again soon.

Unfortunately by late morning, the heat finally arrived.  We were actually very lucky to have the first 3 days as cool as they were, but that didn't make the current heat any more pleasant.  But, we kept slogging along, seeing the sights (corn), and the occasional small town.  Finished the day around midnight.
Above: Sights of Illinois.

Day 5: Champaign to Gilman, 50 Miles: Happy Fourth of July!  We started the day a bit late because we were getting very sore and beat up.  My feet, Achilles tendons, and little toes were especially bad.  My tendons prevented me from have a stride length more than a few feet and it felt like someone was hitting my bare foot with a metal bar every time my feet hit the ground.  Chuck was also not looking so good.  Among other things, he pulled the muscle that runs over the front of his shin bone (I don't think I even have a muscle there), and it turned an ugly black and blue.  I had never seen a pulled muscle look like that.  We got to see all kinds of weird injuries before the run ended.  This billboard I passed in Gibson Illinois seemed especially appropriate:
Yes. Yes and Yes.

After a very long day we got done around 10:00, with a nice fireworks show at Gilman to end the day.

Day 6 and 7: Gilman to Wisconsin, 130 miles: We started day 6 (Friday) faced with the problem that we knew was coming: There wasn't enough time for us to get to Wisconsin before Sunday at 6:00am without pushing through the night.  So we decided to basically combine day 6 and day 7, running as much as possible, and we would just have to take the opportunity to sleep for small amounts when we could.  Basically, it was going to be hell.

My memory of day 6 is a little hazy.  I remember it was hot and there was a lot of corn.  Other than that I think I just turned my brain off and kept doing what we did best, keep moving forward. 
At some point Chuck and I started to get pretty far apart, with me being ahead by several miles.  Fortunately, at this point we were joined by several New Leaf Ultra Runs supporters, so one support crew stayed with me, and one with Chuck.

As the sun set on day 6 my head cleared a bit as the air cooled.  Next I just wanted to get as many miles in as possible before sleep deprivation forced a stop.

 As I ran through the night on day 6-7 I made a plan: Try to get to less than 70 miles to go as soon as possible, then find a place to get at least a small amount of sleep before sunrise on day 7.  I would then have 24 hours to accomplish less than 70 miles.  Even if my current state of damage got worse, which it totally could, I felt like I had a good chance to at least crawl it in by 6:00am.

At 2:00am we found a hotel on the route, and tried to sleep until 5:00am.  My feet and legs hurt so bad that unfortunately I didn't get any actual sleep, but I at least got to be horizontal for a few hours and my crew got some needed shut eye.  Interestingly, at 6:00am we were hitting the road as Chuck and his crew came in to use the hotel room.  It was the last time I saw Chuck until Sunday close to noon.

Day 7: Chicago Suburbs to Wisconsin Border, 69 miles: Finally the last day had arrived.  It was going to be another hot day, so I wanted to get as many miles in as I could before the heat of the day.  The pain in my legs and feet at this point was almost as bad when I stopped as when I was running, so I told myself I might as well keep running and try to produce enough adrenaline to tamp the pain down.  We were able to get 22 miles in during the first fours hours of the days run.

The heat and lack of sleep during the middle of day 7 was making me super duper sleepy.  I was trying everything I could to keep my eyes open.  One small diversion, I happened to run by the original McDonalds in Des Plaines Illinois.  Not exactly a Wonder of the World, but you take what you can get.

After slogging along all day, I finally was greeted by my last sunset of the Illinois run.

I had about 15 miles to go at 9:00pm, this thing was finally seeming like it was going to end!  I could slowly walk and still make it by 6:00am.  I probably would have slowly walked the rest of the way but I was in this pain limbo where it hurt to run as much as it hurt to stop, plus I was sleep deprived and just generally exhausted.  In order to end my misery as soon as possible, I continued my slow run to the border.

 For the last 15 miles I was joined by a whole bunch of New Leafers, as well as Bridget and Scott each took turns running with me, keeping me awake, and trying to keep my spirits up.  I was so bonked that I could not have been good company.  I am very grateful for everyone's help.

At 12:26am on day 7, we made it!!  AND, right at the border, there was a bar!!!

Wow, that was truly Epic.

I found out after I finished that Chuck had been forced into walking.  His knee was horribly swollen, IT band was a mess, he had bruises and pulls all over.  Plus, apparently his crew had been hitting him with sticks!?!  You will have to check Chuck's Blog for answers on the that last one. 

He never stopped though.  After several days of searing pain, Chuck finished around 11:30am on Sunday:

We made it!  Thanks again to all of the supporters out there. 

Please check out our nutrition sponsors:
Vigilant Eats -
Jimmy Bars -
Lenny & Larry’s -
Factor 75 -
Water Sensations -
Chia\Vie -
HealthVend – a Division of Norman Distribution, is a full service Distribution company out of IL that specializes in bringing the best healthy snacks and beverages to vending service companies, micro-markets and school districts across the US.
Norman Distribution, Inc. is a full service distributor specializing in chain & independent, convenience and grocery accounts. Founded in 2009, our mission has always been to provide premier service to our retail customers and vendor partners. Our abilities have produced positive results for the brands and retailers we partner with.

On to the next adventure!!

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