I always try to write my race reports as quickly as possible. Do them, don’t look back and move on. But also, the closer to the race I write it, the more accurately I can remember the details and the emotions. I’m writing this from an airplane fewer than three hours after I finished the Operation Jack 7-Hour Challenge in Portland Sunday, so maybe I’m being dramatic when I say this might have been the best experience I’ve had this year, but it was absolutely awesome.
I’m going to hit the running details quickly so I can move on to the non-running details, which are more important regarding this race.
This was a seven-hour timed race around a loop in a park in Portland, Oregon, that I measured at 0.94 miles on my Garmin. My goal was 45 miles for the day. I think I kind of just picked that number, but I figured 6.5 miles per hour for seven hours was a decent goal to aim for. In theory, that would have put me at 50 somewhere around 7:45, which is decent for a flat course, which this was aside from a couple of small inclines and declines.
The only problem is that I ran my 41st marathon of the year the day before, thrashing my quads on a big downhill course in Pocatello, Idaho (recap here), so I knew this would be painful from start to finish. This race was put on as a fundraiser for Operation Jack, so I didn’t mind doing it. On paper, I looked at it as an addition to the schedule and though, yeah, it would be tough, but oh well. But then I had to get up and run for seven hours!
I wanted to go out and just run it at the pace and effort that I typically would for an easy training run. I needed to lock into that “go forever” effort and then go forever. Well, for seven hours. I took the first lap very slowly, at about a 10:00/mile pace, because my legs hurt really bad. But within about three miles, I gradually pushed it up to about 8:15/mile and felt pretty good. My quads hurt pretty bad, but I didn’t worry about being able to run for a while.
So, I just started knocking out the miles. There was an aid station at the start line and I stopped about once every three miles for a two-minute break or so. Every other stop, I texted out an update to my wife and to my Twitter feed. She was worried about me (what wife wouldn’t be worried about her husband trying to run 45 miles?), so I killed two birds with one stone with a dual-purpose mass text several times.
I was targeting 45 miles, so I started doing math in my head to track my progress. By about 15 miles in, I was looking like I’d hit it somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes before the 7-hour mark. I started thinking about 47 or 48, but I knew I’d eventually fade.
I was pretty encouraged when I hit mile 25, because I did the math and only need to average 10:00/mile the rest of the way to hit 45. After about mile 28 or so, I really started to hurt pretty bad and I started to slow. I started running 8:30s, then 8:45s, then by the time I got late into the 30s, I was running at around 9:00/mile. I was a little slower than after mile 40, running some miles in the 9:30 range.
The breaks probably added up to about 20-30 minutes, but I obviously needed them for water and food. I knew I had 45 locked up with about an hour to go, although I was still cautious, because there’s no guarantees when you’re at mile 40+, especially the day after a marathon. I’m not one of those 100-mile ultra runners.
Early in the last hour, I knew that I hadn’t walked the entire day, that aside from when I had stopped at the aid station, I had run the entire time. I was out there running for Operation Jack and I was also running as part of a fun bet I had going on representing my alma mater, Kansas State University, against a grad from our rival, the University of Kansas. Well, there’s no quit in Jack and there’s no quit in a Wildcat and I became really adamant about not walking.
I didn’t, and not only did I run every step I took, when I crossed the start line at 6:58:40, there was no possible way I was going to complete another lap. But I kept running until the clock hit 7:00:00. Down to the very last second, it was important to me to not quit. And I didn’t. Of course, as luck would have it, I got to finish on one of the inclines. But it was awesome. I stopped my Garmin and saw that I covered 45.26 miles. I was pretty happy with that. I mean, how could I not be happy with being able to run 45.26 miles the day after I ran my 41st marathon of the year? I’m not an elite athlete — I’m just a guy who’s inflicting a lot of pain on his body this year. I was thrilled to run that far. From an individual standpoint, Saturday’s marathon seemed like a loss. Sunday’s was a win.
But enough about that. The running was a small part of it. The most important part was what this did for Operation Jack. First, some background. Operation Jack supporter Deb Bosilevac approached me with the idea of doing a 7-hour timed race as a fundraiser for Operation Jack over Labor Day Weekend. I told her that if she could get it together and get some runners, I’d do it. I’d still keep Pocatello on the schedule, but I’d add the race on and extend my travels over the weekend.
I put her in the loop with a marathon runner I know in the Portland area, Steve Walters, and it didn’t take long to make it a go. I added it on to the schedule and was in the background on the planning, but I didn’t have a lot of time to contribute.
When all was said and done, though, it was an amazing event. I stayed with Steve’s parents and they hosted a pasta dinner the night before the race. I had met Steve and Deb before, but I got to met both of their families, and a few running friends. Nothing but nice people, and it was really cool to see everybody coming together and supporting Operation Jack. I’ve said this before, but it’s really weird for me to get support — in a way, I feel undeserving. I mean, if I can do something, how hard can it be? What’s the big deal?
But people believe in the cause and what I’m trying to do, so when I see folks coming together, I feel very fortunate. I believe I was led down this path to try to run all these races and make a difference, and I get to experience a lot of really cool things. This was another amazing experience in an amazing year.
For the race, there were close to 20 people out there, several of them wearing the Operation Jack tech shirts I gave them for participating. There were people out there volunteering at 6 a.m. It was surreal. They were all doing this for the cause. I wish I could find the words to explain how it made me feel, but I really can’t. I guess the best way I can put it is to say that I’m really blessed.
During the race, I talked to one of the volunteers, Layla Bohm, and complained about my physical pain. I asked her, jokingly, “Why am I doing this to myself?” Her answer was pretty simple and really made me smile. “Your son!” Jack doesn’t directly benefit from all this, but I truly believe that what I’m doing is going to make a difference in the world, even if it won’t be a huge difference. Since I know I wouldn’t be doing this if not for his autism, it made me pretty happy to think about his cute little face and know that he’s going to impact people.
One other cool thing from the race — about 18 or so miles in, there was a group of three women who asked me if I was Jack. Apparently, they’d talked to somebody and saw all the OJ shirts running through the park, so they wanted to know what Operation Jack was all about. I talked with them for a few minutes. As is frequently the case, I got the “wow” comments about all the marathons, which is why I’m doing this, because that led into the talk abut Train 4 Autism. They know people affected by autism, so I’m hopeful they’ll participate with Train 4 Autism or bring other people in at some point in time. That alone would make the race worth it.
But that won’t be the only benefit. I need to add everything up, but I think this race ended up raising about $1,800 or so for Operation Jack, which means $1,800 for Train 4 Autism, which hopefully means that someday $18,000 will get raised for autism-related charities.
I’m in a lot of pain right now. But it was totally worth it and I feel pretty fortunate to be feeling the way I am right now.
41 and an ultra down. 20 marathons to go!
The aid station.
Me texting to Tiff and Twitter.
Me after about 45.1 miles.
Steve made these finisher medals for anybody who ran at least the marathon distance. It’s my new favorite!
When I was finally able to stop moving my legs, I was happy!
Me with Deb and Steve after the race. What a day — I’ll never forget this one, not even when I’m old!
Me with Steve and a really nice runner named Tim Lawson I met at the pasta dinner the night before the race and at the race. I like his race number!
Me with Layla Bohm after the race. I’ve been interacting with her for about a year, so it was nice to finally meet her this weekend.
My calves twitching on their own after the race.