My cousin Marilyn Matevia and I started chatting last year about Ultra Marathons. She shared with me at that time that she secretly had always wanted to finish one. It was a bucket list run/walk that she felt the need to tackle. I personally never really gave too much thought to doing an Ultra, but I told her if it was her desire to do it, I’d be all in!
Due to a crunchy knee from years of running and injuries, Marilyn was planning to do the Ultra as a full walk. Now, if by chance you’re thinking…what’s the big deal…it’s only walking. (yes, people do say silly shit like that) Take into consideration that this is a 31+ mile walk, done at night and you’ll be on your feet for some 12 hours, fighting your body and anything that mother nature has to throw at you. That’s some walk…huh?!
My plan was simple…cross the finish line in the upright position! LOL!! We had almost an entire year to devote to the training and made the decision to sign up. I broke the news to my wife and my sister Patti. They both jumped on board with no hesitation. (Well, maybe a little bit) Marilyn’s plan to walk meant some extra company was in order for her. A couple of good friends of hers Tammy Galloway and Pamela Galloway-Anderson decided to join in and walk the Ultra as well. We were ready!
As you would expect, life got crazy between the conception of doing the Ultra and reaching the starting line. We chose a great race in Illinois called the Hennepin 100. The race consisted of a 50K (31 miles), 50 miler and 100 miler. The 50K was also started at night…or rather late afternoon that quickly went dark…lol! Finding time to train got tough for everyone. Long work hours, long commutes (for Marilyn) and family struggles.
My sister Gini Feller has been fighting RA Rheumatoid Arthritis for many years. This brought about problems with her lungs and she had been getting sicker as the year went on. It became bad enough that she was added to the Lung Transplant list with Cleveland Clinic and with each check-up, moved further up the list. It turned out that Gini got “the call”…just a short time before the Ultra race. She was to get to the clinic because they had lungs donated that were a match!
There were tense moments through the surgery and daily ups/downs. Once we were given the o.k. to travel…that she was stable, we loaded up our gear, pictures of Gini and decided to make our adventure about her. This run was for Gini! There was no amount of struggles or pain that we could encounter that my sister wasn’t already going through to live. This was a driving force for all of us.
Race day was a mostly cloudy, kind of cool day in Illinois. We ventured on our bus ride towards the starting line with all our gear checked and ready. Once the horn went off, we found ourselves on a crazy trail of grass, stone, old asphalt, you name it, we were running on it! We had a canal on our left for most of the run and trees a plenty. Once darkness set in, it was really dark! We all turned on our headlamps and an extra flashlight to spot any tripping hazards, and just ran. The aid stations came up about every 5-6 miles. I found that Pringles and ginger-ale were my new best friends during this long run…lol! We decided to just count the aid stations and keep a nice pace.
We ran some 15+ miles and then switched over to a run/walk combination to finish. Running a mile and walking a mile became the standard for quite a while and worked rather well for all of us. This switched to all walking after about marathon distance. We were still clicking off a 14:40 minute mile pace with walking and were getting anxious for the finish line. The rain began to come down on the last couple miles. The last 1/4 mile or so we decided to run it in and finish strong. The feeling of crossing that finish line with the official mileage of 31.87 miles was a shot of adrenaline! I felt tired yet electric! I high-fived my wife and sister, gave hugs and said “this one was for Gini”. She kept us strong the entire way and it was my honor to carry her the distance.
My cousin Marilyn was still on the course but had sent a text saying she was staying strong and moving through the 20 mile area. Her group completed the challenge in a touch over 12 hours. When she returned to our hotel, I gave her a hug and said “You’re an Ultra Marathoner”! The dream became a reality! Many fun discussions were had over this weekend and dreams were realized. Hearts were filled with anxious moments for our sister fighting and deep love for family. I always try to get people to go out and move and to challenge themselves. I absolutely hate hearing “I can’t do that”. Something that I was gifted with from my father. He wouldn’t hear those words and wouldn’t allow you to be a quitter. No one quit…including Gini! She’s fighting hard with her new lungs and has overcome some serious challenges as of this writing. We all love her and will continue to support her journey.
I was asked by a good friend after the race. Dan Woods, founder of the RunJunkees online running group. “Are you coming back to do the 50 miler”? I smiled and said…”I just might have to do that”! Never say Never! Every challenge brings new life. Isn’t that what life is really all about? Think about it…
I’ll see you on the road!