Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The 200 Mile Race

Today, at 43 -- with a seemingly ever growing waistline -- running 200 miles seems inconceivable to me. In mid-March 1986, however, I approached the 200 mile race as another work week.

My plan was simple. With a four day cut-off, I’d try to run 60 miles for each of the first three days, and then finish up with an easy 20 miles on day four.

One thing I wanted to avoid was the temptation to stay on the one-mile course at Flushing Meadows Park all night the first night. After completing 60 miles -- which I figured would take me into the late evening that first day -- I knew it would be difficult to leave the course, but if I succumbed to the temptation to run to exhaustion that first day, then my chances of actually completing the race would be diminished. Better, I thought, to run a little less, have a massage and good meal, shower, and get five or six hours of sleep.

With the notable exception of my daily mileage goals, the plan worked well. As I expected, though, it was emotionally difficult to leave the course that first night. I don’t remember who snapped the picture above, but that’s me looking pretty optimistic on day one. I did manage to cover 60 miles that day using a simple run-walk strategy which had me walking about 200 yards at both ends of the one-mile loop course. When it came time catch a ride home for the night, though, I felt a little guilty.

Aside from a few people who had already dropped out, everyone, it seemed, was on the course grinding it out. When I looked at the leader board (for lack of a better word – the board showed the names and mileage of all the runners), my name was right in the mix with 60 miles completed. Physically, I felt pretty good, too. I contemplated doing another 10 miles, and then decided to stick with the plan. I caught a ride home, took a long, hot shower, ate, and promptly went to sleep.

God was I stiff the next morning. I got back to the course at about 7:00 a.m. and the place looked deserted. I saw nobody on the course. I checked the leader board and my name was at the bottom, just above the folks that had already dropped out. Trishul, who I think went on to win, was already past a hundred miles. Most everyone, it seemed, was in the 70 to 80 mile range.

I asked around and apparently most people had just left the course a few hours earlier. While I was shocked at how far behind I had fallen through the night, I also realized that I had made the right decision. Most of the folks ahead of me were not going to feel all that great for the rest of the race having already dipped so far into their reserves. With that, I began hobbling onto the course.

My goal for day two was another 60 miles, but by late evening I had covered only 50. While I was a little disappointed, it was a good day and my name on the leader board was back up in the thick of things. One hundred ten miles down, 90 miles to go.

On day three, I covered 45 miles. So, instead of having a relatively easy fourth day of running, I’d have to run another 45 miles. It was all good until around the 185 mile mark.

I was just spent. I started walking complete laps, and I’m not talking about power walking. I was literally sleeping on my feet. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet learned that “coffee is the life blood that fuels the dreams of champions,” so I didn’t try coffee. Ketan, however, had a suggestion as I staggered through the staging area. “Why don’t you borrow this,” Ketan said as he handed me his Walkman. (Do people even know what Walkmans are anymore?)

I hadn’t listened to popular music in years at that point, but when Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” came blaring through the headphones I was running again. It was incredible -- an instant wave of energetic euphoria that I’d ride for the next eight or nine miles. By mile 195, however, I paid the price for the sudden burst of ‘80s Top 40-inspired running.

I hobbled and walked the last five miles, but it didn’t matter. I knew I had made it. I finished in 86 hours and some change – just over three and a half days. I went home happy that night and returned the next morning for the finish.

As I recall, I was the seventh male finisher and 15th finisher over all (seven women finished before me, too). There were perhaps 25-30 finishers total. When I got back to the course the next morning, there was a nice awards ceremony, which included a walk-past meditation (that’s me, above, followed by the illustrious Databir).

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