This weekend brought the first annual Ace Cash Express-Back on My Feet in24 Race Challenge to Austin, TX. The race series starting in Philadelphia, PA 5 years ago features a 24-hour ultra marathon, a 5-person team relay as well as two individual 5-mile races. One held at sunset on Saturday evening, the second one held at sunrise on Sunday morning.
I have friends who have run 100 mile races, 50 mile races and 24-hour events in the past – something I have never attempted since I started running in 2005. To be honest, the thought really has never crossed my mind at this point. I still have one distance running goal that I am chasing with all of my focus and passion for the sport – and until that goal is met, or I realize that it cannot be met – I do not see me entering an ultra marathon of any shape or size.
But given my role as Executive Director of Back on My Feet Austin – I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat in the planning, execution and management of the first year race in good old 512 and I have a new-found respect for the 37 runners who participated in the Lone Ranger Ultra.
The runners showed up a couple of hours before the 10:00 a.m. start on Saturday and started to set their tents up on the Camp Mabry parade ground. I met most of them the previous evening at Rogue Running downtown as they came in to pick up their packets and have their vitals taken by medical professionals so that their resting heart rate, weight, temperature and blood pressure could be recorded.
These benchmarks would be used during the event if necessary to make sure that the on-site medical teams could monitor athletes for symptoms of dehydration, heat exhaustion or any other maladies that moving ones body forward for 24 consecutive hours may create.
As we staged the runners, took 26.2 seconds of silence to remember the tragedy in Boston it was my finger on the horn that would start the race. It was amazing to see the first laps turned by the athletes and watch as they focused on the miles ahead that would stretch one for a full day.
As morning became afternoon and afternoon became evening the miles continued to pile up.
At 7:00 p.m. 150 or so 5-mile racers loaded up into the starting corral for the Sunset Run and I passed over official Race Starter duties to my daughter Landry – who executed a perfect “Runners to your mark!” at 2 years, 8 months old.
As we wrapped up the awards ceremony for the Sunset Run and participants enjoyed a hot meal from My Fit Foods and cold beer compliments of New Belgium Brewery the Lone Rangers continued around the course into the dark of night.
At 4:00 a.m. when I began stirring after grabbing a couple of hours sleep, they still were making their way around the 5-mile loop with their headlamps shining the way.
I decided that after conducting the pre-race briefing for the Pajama Loop Runners prior to the 7:00 a.m. race, I would hop into the event and run with the group. My legs were sore from standing the previous day, I was not fresh and certainly not ready to run a best ever 5-miler – but I knew better than to complain as the Lone Rangers continued around the course as our race started.
It was a small event and I quickly found myself out front behind the Gator that was serving as the lead vehicle. I let the staff drop behind me as I knew the route and lead the second place runners around the loop. By the turnaround point I had opened up a lead of 4-5 minutes on the 2nd place runner and I was running silently alone through the course.
I imagined for a moment what it must be like for the Lone Ranger participants to continue to run by themselves mile after mile, lap after lap. As I passed two of the Lone Rangers who were walking the hilly section of the base together, they both let out a cheer for me as I sped past – and all I could do was smile. What in the world was I doing that deserved their cheers? They were the ones who were out there doing something truly remarkable.
As I hit the final mile of the race I took everything in, ran around the retired tanks and fighter jets and made my way to the finish line. For the second time in a month I was fortunate enough to add a first place finish to my racing resume.
After I grabbed a cup of water I joined Jacqueline for a mile on her way to 75 for the event and third place overall in the Female Lone Ranger Category. I then hooked up with Douglas Long – US ARMY – from Fort Hood for his 105th mile on the way to 110 in total and a first place finish in the event.
It was a great weekend of racing at a great venue in ATX, bringing all kinds of athletes and their families together making a difference for a great organization that helps individuals experiencing homelessness find hope, strength, self confidence and self-sufficiency through running.
Next year the event is sure to attract 2-3 times as many participants and it may very well take well more than 110 miles to win the men’s category and more than 81 to win the women’s race. I have an amazing amount of respect for the athletes who participated this year and I am honored and humbled to have had the chance to race in their footsteps and even share a few miles with them on the course.