When an idea becomes reality, and you’re living that reality, that’s something special.
Training is important for sure, but having the dream, setting the goal and getting to the starting line is sometimes all it takes!
This was it, it was now December. I’d run eleven marathons already in 2017 and was staring directly in the face of my hardest one yet. Way back when many months ago I started adding up all the marathons I’d ever run and realized that December would be number nineteen. Being someone who likes even numbers, and also a challenge, I decided to add an additional marathon to finish 2017 with an even twenty of all time. Now I could have chosen another race, and I actually did look into other options but decided to try something new with a new goal, something different, and something pretty challenging. I was going to run this December race backwards in the middle of the night at 1am, and then turn around to run the ‘real’ marathon with everyone else. This would be unchartered territory for me, and also the farthest I’d ever run before in my life. I was coming off three weeks of rest from New York City marathon and feeling strong, ready to run and super excited for this adventure.
Before we get to the race, there’s a little backstory first. Back in March even before the double marathon was an idea, I reached out to my run crew from around the country with an idea. How about they come out to California and run this final marathon of the year with me? What do you think? Initially there was lots of interest and – “That’s an awesome idea, let me see what I can do!”
And as the months passed, the group of seven dwindled down to one. I know many of my friends wanted to come out and run but family and other work logistics made it hard. The lone runner with me for the second marathon would be my very good friend Jessica from Minnesota. Now I call her a good friend, but when she officially committed we still hadn’t met each other in person. Have a dream and get to the starting line. Well Jessica and I finally met during one of my speaking trips to Minnesota and she made plans to run with me in Sacramento, California on December 3rd 2017.
Now I feel totally confident in saying this, but Jessica wasn’t a marathon runner. She had run a marathon about fifteen years prior but nothing since. I mean she wasn’t even a consistent runner really, living in Minnesota it’s hard to get out of the house some days with those cold winter months, but she was determined to train and train she did. Talk about having passion and being consistent with her miles, what she ate, following a training program, she was putting her heart and soul into this race and it turned out we would need each other for those final few miles in December, we each would be facing our own challenges out on the course and Jessica without a doubt helped get me through.
When I told my wife about this double marathon plan and the big goal that was in front of me, she had only one request.
“Adam (she never calls me Adam) I want someone to go with you during the middle of the night.”
That’s all she needed to say, I knew she was serious and I knew just the person to call. I have lots of great neighbors and friends I could have asked but only one would be as excited as Andreas. We were hanging out at the pool one afternoon and I popped the question.
“Hey man, you know I’m running a bunch a marathons this year.” – me
“Yah for sure, how’s it all going?”- Andreas
“Really awesome. I’m planning to run my December marathon twice.” – me
“What do you mean twice?” – Andreas
Andreas is a beast. He’s done Ironmans. He’s done RAM (Race Across America) where he rode his bike across the country. He’s a legit skier. And he has three young kids so the energy level and stoke factor is always high.
“I’m going to run the course backwards in the middle of the night at 1am, and then run the real race. Do you want to do it with me?”
“Done!” – Andreas
That’s all it took, and I had my security entourage which would come in way more handy that I initially thought.
This is what the three weeks after New York Marathon looked like leading up to this race. I worked everyday. I ran 30 and 35 mile training runs in back to back weekends. Made final arrangements with Jessica for her trip to California. Considered all possible forms of logistics with food, clothing, weather, gear, hydration, hotel accommodations, my family and a whole host of other things before the big day.
Two days before the race Jessica and her son were flying in and landing around 11pm. I was also meeting with a videographer who was making a video about my marathon year. Friday night I had to meet with him and record some footage. Jam to San Francisco airport to pick up Jessica. Got to bed that night around midnight and was up at 5am the next day to meet and do some video footage around my hometown. This was the day before I was running 52.4 miles. We got home around 10am from filming, packed up some gear and drove the hour north to Sacramento so we could get our bibs and swag from the expo. It was my friends first time in Sac, so we toured the state capital, walked around and grabbed some dinner. It was about 5pm at this point and my neighbor (and another friend) was still at home and leaving to come up pretty soon. We still had to drive his car to the starting line so he could get home after our middle of the night run that was happening in just a few hours. They got stuck in traffic and didn’t get to the hotel until around 9pm. Thankfully someone in my crew (my wife) followed them up and drove them back down for a couple hours of sleep.
The ‘real’ marathon started at 7am the next day and I wanted to leave plenty of time for my first run just in case we hit a snag during the night. Leaving at 1am from the finish line would give me more than enough time to run, change my clothes at the start, get something to eat, and cue up with all the other runners. Andreas and our other neighbor Roux were riding their bikes with me which turned out to be a good call. They had a kid trailer behind carrying supplies and also some ‘protection’ in case anything came up. As we were leaving the hotel parking lot heading to the finish line (my start line) I noticed a baseball bat in Andreas’s trailer.
“Is that a baseball bat bro?”- me
“Heck yah, you never know what might happen!” – Andreas
That was our ‘protection’ and thankfully we didn’t need it.
We rolled across the finish line at exactly 1am and started off. I had a feeling come over my body that I’ve never had before. It was elation. It was uncertainty. It was excitement. I’ve never known anybody to do what I was doing even though I’m sure people have, but for me this was a big deal, it was the culmination of a pretty big year and almost a celebration of sorts.
I ran, and my friends rode. We chatted. We checked the map. It started to rain. We had to ask for directions. We laughed. We stopped for a minute to eat. We laughed some more. They rode ahead to scout out the route. They took pictures. I posted on social media. And we checked the map some more.
I was feeling super strong and was on pace to run a 4:00 marathon. Now this was great and all but I still had to turn around and run back. And Jessica was meeting me at the start and we vowed to run together for that entire race. So I did what I knew how to do, I ran. I ran with the rhythm of the night. With how my body felt. With how my friends were feeling and helping me along. And before we knew it, there they were. The busses.
There were lines and lines of school busses bringing the runners to the start. California International Marathon starts at Lake Folsom, and finishes at the State Capital in Sacramento. This was my fifth time running this race and the emotions were pretty high as we finished those last two miles. I couldn’t see it, but you could feel it. The busses were stuck in a line and you could feel all the runners looking at us. What were they thinking? Were they grabbing a last few minutes of sleep? Were they wondering what we were doing running to the start and did any of them fathom what we’d just done. It didn’t matter, this was our race and our experience and I almost started to cry. We crossed the start line in 4:04 and celebrated with a photo and hugs all around.
Thankfully Andreas’s car hadn’t been towed during the middle of the night and I needed to change into some dry clothes, eat and find my running partner for the second half. I hopped in the car, stripped off my wet clothes, put on some dry ones, ate, went to the bathroom, ate some more, found Jessica and joined the thousands of other runners who were ready to go.
I felt something I’ve never felt before. Looking around the crowd of runners there were so many thoughts in my brain. I’d just run 26.2 miles and was about to run it again. Nobody else here had done that. It didn’t go to my head at all, it was just a feeling I had. I’d set these goals almost a year ago and they were becoming reality, and when you’re living reality, that’s something special. But we had work to do. Jessica was with me and we were ready to roll.
Before the race and throughout our training we had talked about a time goal. I was predicting we’d be somewhere between 4:30 and 4:45 but it was really hard for me to estimate based on I’d never run that far before. The first thirteen miles were a breeze. We talked. We ate. We looked around, and we talked some more. This was the longest period of time we’d ever spent together so we had lots to talk about and catch up on. My wife and family were at mile fifteen and hearing those cow bells they were ringing really lifted our spirits. My body was feeling strong and so was my mind, but I still had eleven miles to go and had already run forty-one, so I stayed calm and did a quick check-in with Stacy.
She knows the right questions to ask and things to look for.
Had I been hydrating?
Did I have enough to eat?
How were my legs feeling?
What are you thinking about?
After a kiss and her telling me I was looking great, we were back on the course ready to crush the final eleven miles. I hope you’re not ready for some grand finale, these final miles were hard, really hard. We’d run, and then walk for thirty seconds. Run again for another mile and walk for forty-five seconds. I could hear my friends breathing and could tell her heart rate was beginning to climb which isn’t a great sign during a marathon, so we drank some fluids and power walked. And then I started talking. I talked about all the people who have been such a big influence in my life. How they’ve helped to shape who I am and what I’ve become as a human. I talked about all the spectators who were their cheering us and all the other runners on, and thanked a few as we ran. I talked about the volunteers at the aid station passing out water and raking up all the disposable cups that get dropped as we run the course. And I talked about how thankful I am to have a friend who would fly across the country to run 26.2 miles with me and that a friendship like that is hard to come by in life. And we continued to run.
These are the moments. The moments that count, but nobody sees. These aren’t the moments that get posted on social media and shared with friends. These moments are for me. They are a quiet celebration for all that freakin hard work that went in to get me to this point in time, right here, right now. I don’t need anyone to see those moments, because most people probably wouldn’t even understand. These are the moments that count. This is my why.
We crossed that finish line in 4:48 and oh my gosh did it feel good. Was I tired? You bet I was. But any pain I felt was completely smothered by the accomplishment I had just completed. We linked up with our families and sat on the steps of the state capital to recap the race. We’d done it, and every step of the way we had run together, every single step.
I fell asleep on the way home and woke up not reflecting, but thinking about what was next. This backwards and forwards marathon had been the most challenging endeavor of my life. There were a few moments to celebrate but not much more than that. There was work to do. I took Monday off from running and cranked it back up Tuesday morning at 4am. If I thought that race was a challenge, I had much more in store on New Years Eve, only a few shorts weeks away.
It’s a long time to run, it’s a huge goal and I was ready for the challenge.
I never really intended to run this race. Why would anyone running thirteen marathons in one year want to add one more on the calendar? It happened how most things happen, kind of by chance. In June of 2017 I was looking at the race website for my night marathon that was coming up and somehow stumbled onto their entire calendar. To be one hundred percent honest I was NOT looking for another race, but there it was. ‘New Years Even One Day’ right there on the calendar staring at me. I can vividly remember stopping for a minute to wrap my head around the thought that was currently swirling in my brain. There have been many books over the years that I’ve read where runners have competed in a 24 Hour Race and I’ve always been enamored with the distance. In all honestly it’s not really a distance like any other race, it’s an ‘amount of time’ race which is even more cool. I quickly skipped to my race calendar and realized my December marathon (that backward and forward race) was happening super early in the month. I would have time to recover! And the double marathon would actually be great training for this race. This was happening way too easily, it was making sense and my only thought was. “What am I going to tell my wife?”
So I didn’t. I put it on my race calendar but didn’t sign up at first. I was now officially (in my brain) going to run this thing but if I signed up now my wife would see the credit card transaction and have questions. I knew she wouldn’t care at all, that wasn’t the problem, it’s just been a busy year of running for me and I needed to find my point of entry to drop it into a conversation somewhere! I’d find the right time, and I was pumped for a huge new adventure.
My research started almost right away. I simply Googled – “How to train for a 24 hour race” and started devouring articles written by runners who had partaken in such an event that had been ever so kind to blog about their experiences afterwards. Some 24 hour races happen on a track, some on a three mile loop course and mine was taking place at Crissy Field in San Francisco at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge around a one mile loop. I’ve been there many times and it really is a special place, this was going to be awesome. Very quickly I felt good about my decision, maybe the subconscious fear inside was trying to rationalize. What a perfect way to finish my marathon year! This would be the icing on the cake to the double marathon and I was already feeling confident about finishing the race. I read an article written by some guy on the east coast who had driven by a 24 hour race and became enamored. He decided that next year he’d run the 24 hour. The only problem was he hadn’t really trained. He went out too fast and only ran for eighteen hours. He did end up running seventy miles or so but couldn’t walk too well after the race. I was feeling confident because I was training. I’d been running everyday and was on this marathon tear that had to improve my chances of finishing. Not a problem I told myself, and I also set a goal.
One hundred miles. My goal was to run one hundred miles for the 24 hour. I would be almost doubling the longest I’d ever run before which was only a few weeks prior. But I was confident, and this was the suffering, the pain, the challenge, the hill and the journey that I wanted to be on.
I made meticulous notes and packed everything I would need in order to run nonstop for 24 hours. I brought things I thought I might need. And things I probably wouldn’t need, but contingency planning for an event like this is important, I wanted to be prepared. There were a few friends who said they’d come out to run a few miles with me, but New Years Eve is a tough time and most of them bailed for a party or family function out of town. It was totally fine, I actually wanted to be alone. I wanted to fight off the demons that almost inevitably would be knocking on my door throughout the day by myself. I wanted to feel the pain as it crept through my muscles and body, and deal with it on my own terms. I wanted to be at the point where I may have some sliver of doubt in my head about finishing, and dig deeper than I’ve ever dug before and somehow find a way to continue on. I was beginning to realize that all my marathons were actually just a precursor to this 24 hour race. It was that journey that led me here. The marathons were important, but nothing compared to what I was about to do, and I was more excited than ever.
Now being my first race of this kind I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. The race website had some information, but was pretty limited compared to what they tell you for a marathon. I’d looked at results for previous years and most people ran the six and twelve hour option, there weren’t too many people who went the entire day, and that made me even more excited to join this elite group of athletes. The race started at 9am on New Years Eve and finished at 9am on New Years Day. People running the six and twelve hour options could either start at 9am with us, or at a few different times throughout the day. I was focused on what I had to do, that was it.
We pulled up to the parking lot and a number of tents were set up. I’d read about this a few times but really didn’t think much of it. Some people bring tents so they can nap throughout the day and night if they need to. I’d brought an old camp chair and had absolutely ZERO intention of taking a nap, I had a hundred miles to run and a nap was not part of that plan. I ran with Dean Karnazes for a few miles during the New York Marathon and he’d said this race was on his calendar. Other people must have had the same intel because a few runners had copies of his books, I’m guessing they hoped he would sign them at some point during the day. I didn’t bring his book, but I was excited to see Dean in action for the day.
Twenty-four hours is a long time to run, without a doubt. And my best advice to anyone is to just find a groove and stay in it as long as you can.
Ten minutes before 9am the race director called everyone over to go over the instructions. We were all wearing a transponder around our ankle that would count laps for us as we passed each time. The race started in counter clockwise direction, but we were free to change directions throughout the day if we wanted. We just had to cross the line, and then cross back over and go the other way. At the time it sounded like a good option to shake things up a bit. And I actually did run a few laps in the other direction but for the vast majority of the race I went the same way. It was nice having a groove and wearing marks into the pavement, or at least that’s what I was telling myself.
At 9am exactly he called everyone over. Told us good luck, to have fun, and we were off. In my pre-race planning and also doing some rough math, I was hoping to run nine minute miles for as long as I could. That was a super comfortable pace for me and I knew it wouldn’t last forever, but if I could get some serious mileage down at that pace, I could deal with the overnight miles and whatever I needed to do early in the morning to achieve my goal.
I don’t run with music and never have. For most of my marathons this year I carried my phone during the race but decided I didn’t want the extra weight on my arm. I even bought a lighter water bottle and holder for this race so I could conserve as much energy as possible. The really awesome thing about a 24 Hour Race is you run by the start every mile. Which means my food and gear was in super easy reach and I could very easily stop and grab whatever I needed at any point throughout the day. They also had really great snacks for everyone and even some really nice surprises late late late in the race that would really hit the spot during a few low points.
Twenty-four hours is a long time to run, without a doubt. And my best advice to anyone is to just find a groove and stay in it as long as you can. Find a song you can sing to yourself and sing it as long as you can. Find some people to run with and run with them as long as you can, just make sure you run your race and don’t let anyone derail what you’ve be planning to do. Find parts of the course that you like and smile whenever you go by. Find parts of the course that you don’t like and look away every time you go past. Find food that sounds good and eat a lot of it. Find something to drink that you like and drink a lot of it. Find your groove and stay in that groove.
I ran, some people stopped. I ran, and even more people stopped. I continued to run, and some people took a nap. The six hour people came and went. You’d see some people for hours and hours who were running the 24 and then you’d never see them again, they had went home. You’d see people who looked solid and strong on the course, then you’d see them barfing and not able to hold down food. You’d see people breathing super heavy which is never a good sign for a distance this long, and then you’d see them passed out in a chair. You’d talk with people who you were sure were going to finish the entire race, and they never did. And then at midnight, it was just us. The twelve hour runners had come and now they were gone. It was just the 24 hour runners, and there weren’t that many. I’m not totally sure how many 24 hour runners started at 9am, but we were down to about fifteen or twenty, the pickings were pretty slim.
At midnight the fireworks went off by the Bay Bridge, the race director opened champagne for the twelve hour people, there was pizza, and I continued to run. And then it happened. I started thinking about my dad. I’m not religious and I don’t believe in a higher power, but I know my dad was there with me during those long and dark miles that night. He was encouraging me on. Telling me I could do it. Because I know if he was still alive, he would have camped out at that race with me for the entire day, I know he would have. He’d have been so proud of what I had already accomplished so far and what I was trying to accomplish then, and he would be telling all of his friends. He wasn’t there, because cancer had a different agenda for my dad, but I know he was around. And I kept on running.
In my pre-race research I read about it, and wondered if it would happen to me. Would I see things on the course? I’ve read many books and magazine articles where runners talk about seeing things on the trail in the middle of the night. A tree stump is a person. There are gummy bears dancing under the trees. Voices are calling out as they ran. Each lap I would find something and tell myself what it was, and I was never wrong, no hallucinations for me. So I kept on running.
At this point in the race I’d been running non-stop for twenty hours. Yes I took really short breaks to eat, change my socks and shoes, put on a different shirt, but never for too long. The chair is a trap and you must not succumb. There were a couple times where I actually had to talk to myself.
“Adam. Adam. Get up and keep running. Adam. Go. You have a goal and sitting here won’t help to achieve that goal.”
And I got up and continued running. The chair of death is real, runners beware.
I taught elementary school for years, but math isn’t my strongest subject. Forget that math isn’t my strength during the day, in the middle of the night after running ninety miles, the calculations were going to be tough. I was counting down the miles and also looking at my watch. I really wanted to run a hundred miles and my pace was still strong and I really had only walked a few miles up until this point. At 3am I’d run ninety miles and only had ten more to go. Doing a quick calculation I had six hours to run ten miles. Now any day during the week, even the day after a marathon, running ten miles would only take me about ninety minutes on an average training day. This wasn’t any average day and my body was tired. I’d been eating enough, and drinking enough fluids, but still I was pretty tired. I can remember running a few laps with Dean at this point and I wouldn’t say he was freaked out, but I can remember his comment. He was trying to qualify for the Spartan race in Greece which is 152 miles across the country and originally thought he had to run 108 miles. Well he just found out it was actually 112 miles to automatically qualify and he had his game face on. Four extra miles was four extra miles, we chatted, I stopped for some lentil soup, and he continued on.
I was still running, but my pace had definitely slowed down. I was taking more walk breaks on each lap and continued to think about my dad. He kept me going. He was chirping in my ear that we would celebrate later. He continued to tell me how proud he was. And I continued to run.
There’s a line, and you need to cross it. And then draw a new line, and cross it. Repeat repeat repeat, that’s a 24 hour race.
At 6am I crossed the ninety five mile mark and knew I was home free. I had three hours to run five miles and knew I was going to finish and complete my goal. I started to cry. My daughter has asked me before why I never cry and I didn’t really have a good answer for her. I cried when both my kids were born, when Stacy and I got married, and when my mother-in-law and dad both passed away from long battles with cancer. Other than that, I don’t cry. Until now. The emotions from running thirteen marathons overtook me. The emotions from running for twenty straight hours up until this point overtook me. The pain that was in my body that I was completely ignoring overtook me. And the pain I know my dad went through with round after round of chemotherapy, and then those final days before he passed, that all overtook me. And then I saw my wife.
Stacy had worked the day before until 9pm and I know they were busy at the hospital and she was supposed to be coming out at some point in the morning to meet and drive me home. I’d been checking my phone off and on, but at this point I was in full on focus mode and didn’t exactly know when she was coming. I was running my 95th lap and turning the corner on the back stretch and there she was. And I was crying. She’d brought along our dog Bear and I gave them both a huge hug. She thought I was hurt or something, but I told her this had just been a pretty emotional experience and I was letting it flow, she started to cry a little too. We hugged and kissed, but we kept on running. We ran, and we walked. I told her about the night miles and how I was feeling. About all the people who had started and were now gone. At the start I had counted at least fifteen tents and hundreds of chairs, we were down to about twenty in all. I told her about the fireworks at midnight to bring in the New Year. I told her about the homeless person who was sleeping on the bench all night and how I’d been passing him time and time again and I wish there was something I could do to help his situation. I told her about the people we had seen yesterday morning at Crissy Field, and were now back again walking their dogs, and we were still running. I told her what I’d eaten, how much I drank, all the bowls of lentil soup that tasted so good, and that I was tired but also strangely still feeling really strong.
And then I crossed the line having run 100 miles in 24 hours. I confirmed my transponder with the race director and turned to my wife. She gave me a big hug and asked me a question.
“You’re not stopping are you?”
It was now 8am and I’d been running for twenty-three straight hours. I had achieved my goal of running 100 miles. But, this wasn’t a 100 mile race. It was a 24 hour race and I had an hour to go.
So I kept on running. There were some runners now on the course who were absolutely hauling with their pace and I couldn’t believe it. I learned later they both had taken multiple naps – I had run 100 miles. The question now was how many more miles could I run in one hour? That turned into my challenge and I continued to suffer. I’ll admit that something in my brain clicked off after passing 100 and that final hour was hard, really hard. My upper body still felt strong, but everything down below was on hurt. I could feel blisters on my feet and didn’t even bother to look at them hours before when I changed socks, I didn’t know how bad they were and I really didn’t care, it wasn’t going to stop me from running. My quads and calves were tired at this point and were both begging me to stop. My brain still had a different agenda, we had another hour to run. My brain was still fully functional and even at this point I would quiz myself on multiplication tables, the names of family members and their birth dates, the make and model of my car, and I passed with flying colors.
At 9am on New Years Day 2018 I crossed the line having run 103 miles. My body was thrashed. I know now that I was probably holding it all together mentally even while my body was breaking down. Little by little over the past day I had made requests from it that have never been made before, and it performed beautifully. I had tapped into my internal bandwidth, utilized all those training miles that had been logged day after day, month after month over the past year for this final test. I couldn’t bend over to take the transponder off of my ankle that had been a part of this entire journey and thankfully a race volunteer was there to help. My body was done and my brain was as well.
I hobbled over to my old trusty camp chair and downed a few chocolate almond milks and some bananas. I had to eat, but wasn’t really hungry, it’s a hard thing to explain but a runner knows the feeling. My wife helped me change into clean and dry clothes and we got ready for the award ceremony. When you run a race, they give you a medal. When you run a 100 miles, they give you a belt buckle. I was about to get my buckle. There were only five runners who’d run 100 miles for the 24 hour and I was one of them. There have only been a few times since my dad passed away where I really wish he was there, this was one of those times. I got my buckle, we hopped in the car, and I immediately fell asleep.
Some people encouraged me to write this story the day after this race. I didn’t. The memories of that day have been so intently imprinted on my brain, I knew there wouldn’t be a detail that would escape me, and I was right. When you take on a challenge like running for 24 hours, and you want to make that goal a reality, it’s not something you can easily forget. The smells, sights, pain, the people, the buckle, they stay with you forever, trust me.
Think big. Dream big. And get after it.