I kept moving, one foot in front of the other, never stopping, as I continued north. Then it was a left turn at the 102nd Street crossing. This took me past the starting line, more volunteers and a table of food and drinks. I was hi-fiving the volunteers and feeling great, until I noticed the lap counter:
“David Roher, seven to go. Time 1:43:12.”
I forgot just how long this was going to take.
(You did that on purpose.)
With seven more loops to go, I let myself get lost in my music and I let my feet do the work.
(You got lost.)
Just my mind.
Runners are used to hearing the volunteers and spectators tell us,
“You are almost there!”
When you are running four-mile loops, you are always “almost there”, but you will be back again and again and again...
By lunchtime I was halfway through the 37-mile odyssey.
(Odyssey? It was more akin to Sisyphus repeatedly pushing that darn boulder back up the hill.)
Four hours and five loops in, the lox and cream cheese sandwich had done its job.
(What job? It’s a sandwich!)
At the NYC Marathon my run had run out of gas because I skipped breakfast. Here at the 60K Ultra Marathon, I was still running.
(The power of Jewish “soul food.”)
I think it was just all the carbohydrates.
Where was I?
No, in my story.
Right, I was getting a little hungry, but I didn’t want to stop for food. I had several packets of cheese crackers stashed in the “athlete baggage” section, but I was in a groove.
(Many marathoners and ultramarathoners like pb&j sandwiches. Why did you pack cheese crackers?)
Two reasons: less mess and less prep.
(I guess when you buy them, that is true.)
It’s economics: Everything costs you time or money.
(You mean like you can either know where you are or how fast you are traveling?)
We do not have the time to be getting into the Heisenberg uncertainty principle right now.
(Ah, but we can measure your exact position right now.)
By 1 p.m. I was 26 miles in.
(Just 11 more miles to go.)
Five hours and 38 minutes is only minutes off my NYC Marathon average time.
(Feeling good about that, weren’t ya?)
Just ahead at the West 96th Street entrance to the park, I spotted my friend, athlete Sarri Singer.
Sarri had brought me pizza.
(A whole pie?)
Just 2 slices.
(Why not more?)
It is one thing to sit and devour a whole pie, but that is way too much food to consume while running.
I might cramp and that would end my race real fast.
By 2 p.m. I was at mile 30. Six hours and 38 minutes in. I had never gone this far before.
(Don’t start celebrating, you still have seven more miles to go.)
By the last five miles I was running on fumes.
(Did you need more food?)
No, I was simply nearing the range that I was able to run without stopping.
I wanted to sit down but was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get up again.
(So, you stopped.)
So, I slowed down my run pace. That got me through lap eight.
By the last four miles I was reduced to a walk/run.
(What is a “walk/run”?)
In my case it was, walk a few seconds, run a mile. With each mile, it was more walk than run.
This was the last loop and the volunteers were still cheering us along.
“You got this!”
“I got something,” was my reply.
The volunteers responded with laughter. No matter how tired or sore or cold I might have been, I was still cognizant that I was pushing myself to do something new. If you had asked me just two years ago if I would ever do an ultra-marathon, I would have told you that it was beyond my abilities.
(And yet, here you are.)
There I was…
(…in Central Park, like Heisenberg said…)
I was miles away from completing my first ultra. That thought kept me smiling and moving forward.
Don’t think of it as four miles think it is one loop.
I run in this park every week; I know almost every inch of the running path.
As comforting as that was, I was seven hours in and I could no longer feel my feet.
With less than four miles left to go, the sun started to set and the temperature started to drop. My body had been comfortable as long as I was running, but my body was nearing the end of its ability to run. As I started walking, I began to feel the cold November air.
I wasn’t wearing enough layers for walking. The wind cut through the sweat soaked clothing. This had quite the cooling effect on my body. My arms, chest and back felt like thousands of tiny daggers were piercing my skin. In turn, my breathing became labored.
The pain was motivation enough to keep walking with the occasional 100-meter run.
Naturally at the moment of my greatest physical stress, both my son texted me and my mother called me.
Naturally I took both of those calls. I welcomed the distractions.
(It must have been fun talking while running with labored breathing.)
The real problem was the last two miles where everything around my knee started to tighten up. Not just the knees, but behind the knees just above the calf muscle.
Did I mention this was uphill?
As I crested the hill, I made a last push and sprinted towards the finish line.
My thinking was, “I may trip and faceplant, but at least I was not walking across the finish line.”
Every finish line crossing is emotional and this one was no different, except that…
(You were cold and tired.)
I was cold and tired I just wanted to go home.
Immediately after crossing the finish line, I went for the mylar blanket.
(Congratulations on not tripping and faceplanting.)
The final challenge was to find my car. Now where did I park it?
Unfortunately, I got lost in Central Park on my way to said vehicle.
(So, how does this story end?)
I found my car. I drove home. My wife and children greeted me with hugs and warm food.
(And you signed up to do this race again next year?)
No, I started to think about signing up for a completely different race…
David Roher is a USAT certified marathon and triathlon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and a veteran special education teacher. He can be reached at: [email protected]