I woke up the morning after the stupidest thing I’ve ever done and took stock of my bedroom. My lamp was still on, and my bedside table was full of bottles of water and protein drinks. A garbage can lined with a Wegman’s bag sat right next to my bed. My legs were throbbing, and I was still in salt-caked running clothes. Seemed like a normal Saturday morning in college, only it was Wednesday and I wasn’t hungover or surrounded by empty pizza boxes.
The previous morning, I woke up at 4 AM, pulled my shorts and singlet on, and was out the door by 5. The air was cool, and the sun was just starting to peek above the horizon as I trotted fearlessly down the same road I had run a million times before while I lived in Buffalo. The only difference was that I wouldn’t be coming back this time.
I left my apartment in Tonawanda, Buffalo with a pretty simple goal: run to my parent’s house. In Irondequoit. In Rochester. I never stopped to contemplate how absolutely nuts that was – it always seemed so easy when I was planning it. A flat course, easy to follow, away from traffic, but not so far afield that I wouldn’t be able to get myself out of a jam. Of course, it was 90 miles on a straight line with no shade, but hey, you gotta break some legs to make an omelette. Wait. No, eggs. You have to break eggs.
The early morning miles passed without incident. I was working a little harder than I would have liked, but I was moving consistently. I knew it was going to get warm through the middle of the day, so I was grateful for the brisk morning breeze. At eight miles or so, I ran into my mom, who had selflessly given her day to keep track of and crew for me. I told her I skipped breakfast, so she gave me a PB&J. Lucky guy right here.
The sun was beginning to wake people up as I approached Lockport around mile twenty. I could hear cars on the road, and dog walkers became more frequent. Along a particularly encouraging stretch of the path, someone had scrawled inspirational messages for some other group of athletes, but I accepted them as if they were for me.
I cruised through Lockport feeling good. A little more than twenty miles down already, and it wouldn’t be long before I saw my mom again in Gasport. I was making some pretty good progress! This might not be so bad after all! Now, if you’ve ever run a step in your life, you already know what a big fucking lie THAT’LL turn out to be, but bear with me, I’m trying to craft a scenario here.
It was on the way to Gasport where I first noticed I was sweating. A few beads on the forehead, nothing major, but I knew what it foretold. The temperature that day was supposed to hang in the mid-80s, with lots of sun. I looked up, and wouldn’t you know it, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. A beautiful day. I shrugged and kept moving – nothing I could do about it, and I was already over a quarter of the way there. As long as I kept moving through the heat, regardless of pace, I’d be fine.
I reached Gasport around 10 AM. Here I was surprised to see both my mom and dad. Dad was suited up, and said he was going to do the next stretch with me, ten miles to Medina. Good company would do just the trick to keep me moving through the hot weather. Overjoyed, I quickly slurped down some applesauce and headed out.
The first several miles passed quickly. My dad was preparing to leave on a road trip with Mel, and he went over some of their plans with me. It was nice to just listen to someone, and I could match my pace with his without thinking about it.
A few miles before Medina, things got rough. The sun was high in the sky now and beating down on us. I could tell my dad was starting to feel the effects of the heat. I was feeling it too. We hadn’t drank any water for an hour and a half, and had been baking in the sun that whole time. We fell silent and kept our heads down, plodding along, hoping to see the small town appear around the next bend of the canal. When we were about a mile out, I texted my mom, asking her to walk out and meet us.
And she did! Really gunning for that best crew ever award, she met us about a quarter mile out from Medina. Corinne had joined her, and we walked into town together. In Medina, I took water, applesauce, some freeze pops, trying desperately to cool off. The thought of the next stretch, from Medina to Albion, more than ten miles through the intensifying sun, was filling me with dread. I was so desperate, I voluntarily decided to carry water with me.
I started out again slowly. Even after stopping and drinking water, I was feeling pretty rough. I was forty miles in at this point, and my feet and legs were feeling the pounding. The sun was at its highest point, and the temperature continued to rise. I had a tightness in my chest, and nausea in my belly. I hadn’t eaten anything of substance for six hours. Things could have felt better, but I had to keep moving. I had miles to go, after all.
I kept trucking along, and after a few miles, I came across my crew! They had looked at the map and found a place to meet me before Albion, cutting the segment in half. I immediately chucked the water I was carrying, refueled, and was underway again. That stroke of good fortune was doubled by a text from Jason, saying he was riding out from Albion to meet me! Things were really starting to go my way. Filled with giddy anticipation, I trotted off into the sun.
It wasn’t long before I saw Jason wheeling towards me on his bike. Seeing him really boosted my spirits, and we cruised along, knocking off mile after mile. I got to hear about his awesome event the previous Sunday: a hill climbing tournament on one of the more formidable climbs in Rochester. We laughed and joked all the way into Albion, where Jason pulled away to take a conference call – the dude was still at work! I couldn’t believe he had come out to the most desolate point on my route to do some mileage with me. Truly an amazing guy.
My mom and sister were in Albion, too, of course, and it was good to see them again. They urged me to eat some real food, and pushed sandwiches at me; however, I was still feeling nauseated and was having none of it. I took some water and applesauce and continued on my way, hoping I could carry some of the momentum Jason had given me into the next stretch. Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly pan out. My body offered a few half-hearted dry heaves on my way out of Albion, as a friendly reminder that I was slowly dying. I shook my head and trudged onward.
Time completely stopped for me in the next four or five miles. I was alone. The canal flowed lazily by on my right, and vast fields of green extended for hundreds of meters to my left. There were no birds, no geese, no people. Just me, the sun, and the unnaturally green canal. I wiped my brow over and over, shedding buckets of sweat on to the cinder path, my one-dimensional purgatory. I could hardly breathe for the pressure in my chest, and my stomach was doing flips that would have made Shawn Johnson jealous. My feet throbbed, and my legs felt like rusted pistons. Shade and water wouldn’t be enough: I wanted to stop existing, to be completely free of the heat and the pain. I couldn’t do this, I just couldn’t. There was no way. I had to quit. Yeah, I decided. I was going to stop, next chance I got.
And in that moment, that very lowest point where I teetered on the brink of giving in, I had a vivid flash in my mind’s eye. I saw your faces. Everyone who had wished me luck, who offered words of encouragement. People waiting to run with me in Brockport, in Spencerport. Friends texting me throughout the day, checking up on my progress. My family, out there all day, keeping me alive. I suddenly realized I couldn’t quit. Not with so many people supporting and believing in me. It sounds sappy and dramatic, because it is. I can’t do this stuff alone. I’m just not strong enough by myself.
That was the last time I considered quitting. From that point moving forward, I knew I was going to make it to my driveway in Irondequoit or die trying.
One foot led to another, and before I knew it, I found myself in the middle of nowhere again. Only at this middle of nowhere, miles from any town, my mom and sister were there, set up in the shade. I sat and rested. I talked to my family. I took off my shoes, massaged my feet. I sipped water. I lay down and put my feet up. My mom, thinking of my nausea, nervously asked me if I minded if she and Corinne ate. I shook my head, and they unwrapped their Subway sandwiches. Corinne offered me one. I said no. Then a fraction of a second later, I said ‘Actually-’
This shocking display absolutely delighted my family. Glad to see me eating real food, they shooed me back on to the trail after half an hour or so. That stop set me back big time on my pace goals, but it was a valuable break. I didn’t feel much better afterwards, but my body had what it needed to press on, whether I knew it or not. I pressed on, with Holley and Brockport in my sights. At this point, I had two goals in mind. These stuck with me through the rest of the run and were pretty much all I talked about. The first was to reach Spencerport, and raid the Abbott’s there for some ice cream. The second, of course, was to reach the finish line. It was about twenty miles to Spencerport, and another twenty miles after that to Irondequoit. I could do this. Two twenty milers, with consistent food and water. Not a problem.
To make matters better, Jason had gotten in touch again, and was raring to go for more mileage! Unreal. I made my way through Hulberton and met up with him again. More good conversation carried us three miles into Holley, where Jason shrugged and said he’d go the rest of the way with me to Brockport, another four miles. I couldn’t believe it. How lucky could I get? Pretty lucky, apparently, since I had more friends waiting for me in Brockport.
Matt, Chris and Josh were just arriving at the 100K point when I pulled in with Jason. My mom and Corinne were there as well, and we stood (well, I sat) around and shot the breeze for a bit before getting going. From here, it was eight miles or so to Spencerport and ice cream. I was definitely starting to weaken a bit at this point, over 100K and 14 hours into the day, so I folded in behind my vanguard and drifted along on the wings of their banter and generous pacing.
Listening and laughing with that squad of goons made the miles fly by, and it wasn’t too long before we made it to Spencerport. Dave had run out to meet us, and was planning on joining me until the end. This dude had been checking up on me consistently throughout the day, and was now giving up his evening to bring me home. I had also reached the ice cream, which was delivered to my face by the goon squad, who ran out and bought it for me. What. What? I sound like a broken record, but I am so lucky to have friends like these.
I lay on the ground, surrounded by my friends and family, eating my ice cream, just over 70 miles into the day, and a strange sensation settled over me. I felt as if this was just the start of my run. I can’t really explain it, but I did switch watches at this point, so maybe that had something to do with it. At any rate, I had just under twenty miles to go, and my mind was feeling fresh. Or at least it had undergone a soft amnesia reset.
The ice cream and setting sun really cooled me down, and I began shivering. My ice cream was taken away, to my crushing dismay. I reached for it like a newborn child, complete with infantile whining and crying. Dave was urging me to get moving at this point, and I conceded, suddenly feeling guilty that I was dawdling. He offered me a long sleeve tech, which I accepted. We said our farewells to Chris, Matt, Josh, and my family, and we set off to enter Rochester proper. After all I’d been through, after everything I’d seen and experienced so far today, surely the last stretch would be simple, and altogether uncomplicated.
Yeah, you’re too sharp to fall for that, huh? No, this is where the story gets interesting.
Dave and I progressed pretty smoothly into Rochester as the sun sank below the horizon. We chatted the miles away, catching up in the wake of Dave’s effort at Mind the Ducks (dude ran 100K on suboptimal conditioning, zero ultra experience, and experimental nutrition – I know, that is impossible). By the time we made it to Gates, the sun had gone down, and we had transitioned to our headlamps.
Moving through Greece, the path suddenly changed from pavement to singletrack. This was confusing, and normally would have been a welcome change. At that point in the night, however, I had no depth perception, and I was afraid I was going to trip on a rock or root and shatter every bone in my body. I was also wary of adding on extra mileage. At 75 miles in, the last thing I wanted to do was make a wrong turn.
Nevertheless, we followed the trail for about a mile or so, and it eventually dumped us out…on the shoulder of 390. Whoops. We had done something wrong. Thankfully Dave owns a smartphone, unlike myself, and we were able to use maps to work out a plan. We had simply traveled too far north, away from the canal. We could just crash through the undergrowth to get back to the path.
So we did! We popped back into the trail, picked a line using Dave’s phone and 390, and barreled through. It wasn’t long before we reached the point where the canal crosses the expressway. Unfortunately, there was no path there, just a sheer 20 foot drop into the water. Dave, continuing to think rapidly on his feet, suggested we crawl underneath the overpass to reach the other side. That way we’d at least be on the forward-moving side before we tried to find the path again. I nodded dumbly. All I could do was follow Dave at this point. He could have run me right off a cliff and I wouldn’t know it until Satan was prodding me with a pitchfork.
So we squatted down and duck walked our way under the bridge. Cars flying by caused the bridge to rattle and moan, but in no time we were on the other side. From there, it looked like we could cut straight down through the grass, across a parking lot, and end up right where my crew, and now Laura, were waiting for us. As we stomped through the grass, we were suddenly stopped by a chain link fence running in both directions. Undeterred, we followed it north to the nearest cross road. From there, it wasn’t long until we caught up to my family.
My mom, Corinne, and Laura stood where Lee Road intersected the canal path. Laura, who had worked from dawn to dusk before going and racing(!!!) in the Corporate Challenge, was now offering to go the rest of the way with me. It was 11 PM on a Tuesday night, and Dave and Laura were still out there, supporting me. Unbelievable.
I still wasn’t eating, and my nausea was getting worse, but we were so close now. With 12 miles to go, we hit the canal path hard. An enormous orange moon peeked out at us from behind the trees from time to time, giving me something to gape at as I shuffled along. The three of us ran along, talking about this and that, laughing, falling silent. I nodded off for half a second here or there. This was the longest I had ever been on my feet, and I guess I was starting to get a little sleepy. So lazy!
In the dark, we completely missed the next rendezvous with my family, and before we knew what was going on, we found ourselves in Genesee Valley Park. This gave me a pretty big boost mentally, since that put us a few miles ahead of where I thought we were. Laura was in touch with the crew, and they caught up to us not long after that. We discussed route options. I had a bite of PB&J. It was pretty bad.
After a few minutes, I got to my feet and we started moving ag- no, wait, wait. I dropped to one knee and vomited up a day’s worth of water, applesauce, freeze pops, and other miscellaneous edibles. I kept a steady stream going for a couple minutes, punctuated by retches and heaves. Frustratingly, it was doing nothing to alleviate the nausea I was feeling, and I still felt sick after I was spent. I could hear my generous caretakers talking softly amongst themselves a little ways away. I could only imagine what they were talking about.
Once I had finished marking my territory with half-digested sandwich remains, we got moving for real. The plan was to head down Elmwood to the Highland Park area, and make our way into Brighton and up Culver to the end. Simple. This was going to be no problem. I demonstrated my presence of mind by immediately trying to make a wrong turn, and was saved by the grace of Dave and Laura, who brought me back the right way.
At this point, there was only a handful of miles left, and I knew it was only a matter of time before we would reach the end. The miles crept by quietly in the cool, gentle night. I tried to look at the stars, but I couldn’t see them very well. Dave peeled off early to run back to his house, which was along the way. Laura and I pushed on, and we soon found ourselves along Highland, outside the Hillside Center, where my crew was waiting for the final time.
I drank some water and refused everything else. Nothing I took at this point would have made much difference. I rolled out of the chair I was sitting in and puked some more. I wanted to lie down. I mean, I had been lying down all day, but I wanted to lie down forever this time. Time to go home.
Laura got me going again, and we started out at a walk. We walked down Highland to Monroe, then turned on to Culver. We walked past 490. Laura said we had less than two miles to go. I could run that. We walked past East Ave, past University. I said we should forget the finish line and just hit up Muller’s instead. We walked past East High, past Main Street. Less than a mile to go now. I could run that. We walked into Irondequoit. We walked until I saw the traffic light for Bay Street. So close. I could run that. This time that actually translated into physical action, and Laura and I trotted the last few hundred meters into the welcoming arms of my mom and sister, who were waiting in the driveway for me to get home.
And that was that. I gave everyone a hug, walked inside, upstairs to my bed, and passed out.
The end. For me. Of course, everyone who had spent their time supporting me, especially into the night, had made sacrifices in order to ensure my health and safety. Laura didn’t sleep at all that night, and was back to work at 7 AM the next morning. Dave’s car was left overnight in Spencerport, and he had to hitch a ride from a coworker to go grab it. I don’t know how Jason fit those hours of biking next to me into his work schedule, but I don’t think he slept all that much the night before or after the run. Chris, Matt, and Strat at the very least missed Jeopardy, and stayed with me until well into the evening, giving their night to pace me. My dad and Mel got a late start to their cross-country road trip because of the stretch Dad did with me. And, of course, my mom and Corinne spent pretty close to 24 hours just keeping track of me.
On the level, I have pretty low self-esteem. It’s really difficult for me to comprehend why people would be willing to come out and support me at the cost of those inconveniences. I mean, I know why I enjoy doing the same for others, but I don’t consider myself deserving of that kindness or friendship. I’ve been trying to improve this outlook, and days like this one make a big difference. It means so much to me that so many of my friends and family spent their time with me or kept me in their thoughts throughout the day. I cannot thank you enough, honestly.
I have a lot to learn about this distance, and ultra running in general. Almost five hours of the twenty-one it took me to make the trip was spent idling, resting with my crew. I got to see them every few miles by the end, and I probably shouldn’t have stopped as often or for so long. There are still kinks to work out in my fueling. I didn’t get enough water or calories throughout the day, I’m sure of it, and the things I ate may not have been very helpful.
This was fun. Setting and achieving goals is more rewarding when I put more effort into it than just clicking a few times to sign up for a race. Racing is awesome, and I love that too, but for me nothing beats the implementation and execution of an original idea. Runs like this are my creative efforts, my symphonies. Like all shitty art, they’re not always pretty to look at, and largely an expression of my own insufferable ego, but the intent is to inspire thought and action in those brave or unlucky enough to bear witness.
Have fun. Challenge yourself. Do something crazy. You can do it. I believe in you.