Running may seem like an individual sport, and while it very much is, the encouragement and cheering from fans and other runners makes it feel very team-oriented. I know that I never would have finished three marathons had it not been for the cheer crews and others joining together for one ultimate cause of reaching the finish line—it is a priceless feeling.
When your willpower and steam are running out that extra dose of inspiration is a must. My friend Tim shares his experiences with two “extreme” running events that he completed earlier this year in April and August. Enjoy reading about his grueling experiences!
Guest Blogger: Tim Smith
My addiction to the race has only been a recent issue. It all began for me when a friend from work asked me to step in as the 12th runner for the American Odyssey Relay, a 201 mile excursion from Gettysburg to DC. Normally that trip should only be around 100 miles, but for some sadistic reason, the race coordinators thought 201 would be far better. Despite only being a recreational runner, I accepted the offer to play a late-in-the-planning 12th member of team Will Run for Snickers.
The race was grueling, to say the least. We ran through rolling hills, into western Maryland, up and down mountains, all in the unusual cold of late April (temps ranging from 50 to 35). On my last leg, a 7.6 mile jog along the C&O Canal somewhere in Maryland, I had already run 12 miles and was running on about 3.5-4 hours of very interrupted sleep. Throughout the run, I saw other runners, just as exhausted, all running to get their last legs over with. We had all encountered mismanaged signs and questionable directions throughout the whole course, but we had van support. This last leg, though, offered no van support possibilities. It was simple on paper: follow the canal till the end of the leg. It wasn’t that simple on the trail; I lost count of the forks for different trails. Runners around me would call out “left or right?!” My response was always a simple “I’ll just follow you!”
The leg went on forever. We had left the Canal at what I was positive was the 7.6 mile marker but, as if to mock me, there was a sign “AOR Leg 29” and an arrow pointing forward onto the main road. That wicked road wasn’t just uphill, it was a cliff face; it felt like I was jogging up Mount Kilimanjaro for the following mile or so—nobody truly knows. I pressed on till I finally turned a corner and saw the 29/30 Exchange. For those last yards, I was sprinting as fast as my gelatinous legs could carry me—burning out the last ounces of energy left before practically hurling the baton at my teammate. Greeting me at the exchange were my teammates, armed with Gatorade and bubble wands, running alongside me and cheering. As I caught my breath, I looked over at a table with a sign that said exactly what I was thinking: “7.6, My A–“. I found out a week later that leg 29 was miscalculated and was either 8.8 or 9.1 miles.
A few months later I ran the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan. It claimed to be 8+ miles and have 25+ obstacles ranging from hurdles and monkey ladders to mud crawls under barbed wire and sand bag carries. I was a more proficient runner and had become hooked on racing. I was sure of myself and ready to run this 8 mile jog through Painsville, VA (actually Leesburg). My roommate, Noah, decided to run too. The day before the race, it rained. The day of the race, it rained. The storm stopped for a couple hours just as our heat began. We started at the very front (I will never understand what we were thinking) with a young man who either had 3 or 4 too many Red Bulls or was just happy to be there. At the starting gun, we all began jogging as if it was going to be an 8 miler; at least sort of. Competitive Tim was going above pace to keep up with Noah and the other front runners. After a few hurdles, I kept my pace up well—I had whooped them and was feeling good about the race. I knew the hill was coming up, but I was ready for it. Running up the hill, nothing went the way I planned: I slipped in mud and roots and nearly twisted my ankle twice. Trying to jog through the soaked earth, my will seemed to burn out. It seemed impossible to me that I was already gassing out. Another runner started cheering me on and we jogged together up that monstrous hill.
I ended up passing him by as we began a long looping path through a steeplechase originally meant for horses. The race coordinators thought it was perfect for the race. I hopped what I could and climbed the rest. After each obstacle, the trouble was reigniting the pace that would abruptly stop over and over again. Finally through the last of it, I started jogging along with another runner who had come all the way from Georgia alone; at the last minute, his teammates backed out. Ian and I jogged the next 3 miles, cheering each other on and supporting each other through the obstacles. We finally reached a point where he refused to keep running and just started walking, no matter how much I pushed him to keep going. He had hit his wall-completely literally-at a wall. It was an 8 foot wooden wall covered in mud and soaked through. Everyone struggled climbing over it, but Ian just couldn’t climb over. I should have let him jump up first and boosted him, but I didn’t. He was angry that runners were helping their friends but nobody would just give him a boost. Making it over the wall for him was not about beating a challenge, it was just a bad struggle that had beaten him even though he overcame it. I pushed him to keep running, but he refused. I ran the rest of the race on my own. It was a fun challenge, but just not the same as overcoming each obstacle with a teammate. It fuels me to cheer on another runner.
To bring the title of this blog post into play, during both my relays, it was a common cry among all the runners when we read on the maps “NO VAN SUPPORT.” Legs of the races that were inaccessible to teammates and therefore completely solo runs. Will Run For Snickers was unique: we cheered on every single person on the course, whether or not they were on our team. If a runner looked gassed out, my teammates were rolling down the windows and handing out water, Gatorade, and waving our trademark bubble wands; as goofy and silly as they were, it worked: whenever I saw our white minivan, they started cheering me on, and I just felt great out on the roadside. The Super Spartan (which by the way ended up being 10.71 miles and had 75 obstacles total) was the same thing, when I was running with a random person I decided would be my teammate, cheering them on proved to strengthen my own determination to finish stronger. It wasn’t about just winning a race.
“I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my Lord, and I feel very weak. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.” Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”” Daniel 10: 16-19