Jeff and Jack, beer in hand, walking the later miles
I repeated this quote to myself several times during the 22.5 hours it took to accomplish the goal:
It’s at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys.
– Emil Zatopek
It was suitable to me to learn when we finished that the ultimate badge in the FitBit application is the “olympian sandal.” I had no idea going into this challenge that that would be the reward, if you can call it that, but it is fitting because I thought of Emil Zatopek a lot during my travels yesterday. He is far and away my favorite olympic athlete of all time, and I only wish I had lived in his day so that I could have seen him run. One more quote and then the story:
Men, today we die a little.
– Emil Zatopek, at the start of the Olympic Marathon, 1952
Zatopek had never run the marathon when he toed the line for that race, and he set an olympic record in route to winning. While I am very experienced in the art of sleep deprivation to pursue endurance challenges, I did not know what to expect with the effort to log 100,000 FitBit steps in a 24 hour period. Now I know.
The route to 100,000 FitBit steps. 50.89 miles!
The FitBit resets for a new day at midnight so that was our starting time. My friend Jeff and I each worked a full day on Friday. Without communicating our pre-race plans to each other, we found out when we met at Jeff’s house that we both tried to nap, unsuccessfully, in the evening leading up to midnight. Perhaps I got an hour and half worth of sleep, and then I showered at 10:30pm. I was at Jeff’s house sitting on the couch across from Jeff and his wife Charlene as we awaited the starting gun.
I knew going into this event that the toughest part of staying awake is the 02:00am to 04:00am hours. People who keep normal hours are in bed and there are very few cars on the road. In those early hours we endured the excitement and adrenaline rush from finally starting, a few swarms of mosquitos that came to life and attacked in the middle of the night, and the scare of trying to keep voluntary muscles from becoming involuntary as I desperately needed a bathroom at 04:00am. Once we got past those things, the boredom and monotony of the task started to set in.
We made our way south through neighborhoods along the coast of Old Clearwater Bay, and then we stumbled into the Clearwater Marina to see the fishing fleet come to life in preparation for their day. It was after having some coffee and breakfast at a diner in the marina that we felt rejuvenated and ready to keep going. We were approximately 22 miles into our journey as we made our way further south along the beach communities with the heat of the day beginning to bear down on us.
As we were making our way over the Bellair Beach Causeway we stopped to watch a pod of dolphins chasing smaller fish just north of the bridge. We took our time at this break in our action to take in the scenery. Our eyes panned down to see a kayaker fishing just about 30 yards away from the dolphins and directly underneath us at our position on the bridge. Then Jeff says, just as I noticed what he was about to ask, “Is that guy naked?” I responded as I threw my head back up and down the road that we still had to travel, “Okay, I’ve seen enough. Let’s walk.”
The next part of the day was the worst from a combined standpoint of heat, feeling like the 100k mark was not possible at this time of year, and feet problems beginning to set in, and it was only 10:00am. The next few roads offered no shade so we started traveling underneath the awnings of strip malls instead of staying on the sidewalk. I changed my socks and felt good again, and then we made our way to a gas station to look for our first beer at 10:30am.
Beer? Are you crazy? Perhaps, but we needed a laugh and we could not pass up the deal. The station had a special of 2-for-1 25oz cans of Miller Lite, Rolling Rock and a few other brands, for the price of $2.50. If you’re keeping score, that’s 50 ounces of beer for $2.50. What a deal. We emptied the remaining water from our water pouches to make room for the beer and our mood instantly improved after the first few sips from the nipple of the water pouch.
Jeff and I started guessing the ages of people who would pass us as we walked back north on the Pinellas Trail. We were about to cross a street when I noticed a very old man turning onto the trail from that street. We stopped him and chatted for a few minutes. His name is Charlie Lasley and he is going to be 95 in December. I told him that I want to live to be greater than 100 years old and he had some simple advice that he said I needed to follow in order to get there. “Five things,” he said, “1) No red meat, or at least confine it to having a burger once a month, but no cheese, 2) Eat fresh, raw vegetables, 3) Keep moving, i.e. – walk or run often 4) Stay lean and flexible, perhaps Yoga, and 5) Enjoy sex as often as you like.” Charlie told me that he was a retired cardiologist, so it’s “Dr. Charlie” and I think I should follow his advice. Dr. Charlie was walking 6 miles on this day, following his own advice as he is a mere five and half years away from the century mark.
Dr. Charlie Lasley (retired) and Jack on the Pinellas Trail.
As we got closer to town we started communicating with the support staff, our friends, who knew what we were up against and planned to spend their evening walking with us for the later miles. Charlene picked us up off the trail and took us to lunch, then dropped us back onto the trail after lunch (where we left) and we were right back at it. More friends joined us when we arrived into our usual stomping grounds, Dunedin, FL, and we enjoyed the benefit of Charlene running back and forth to convenience stores and burger joints (Sorry, Dr. Charlie) to keep us nourished as we kept moving toward the 100,000 step goal.
Jeff, Jack & Charlene on the road as shadows get long
We had a few challenges as the day drew to a close. Though I considered it a mistake to go back to the barn (Jeff & Charlene’s house) while we still had an unfinished goal, it worked out for the best as Jeff needed to puncture four blisters on his feet and we soaked our legs in their pool before logging the last 15,000 steps. We both developed a rash near our ankles that Charlene said looked like some capillaries had burst, though as I write this mine has subsided and so has the itching that accompanied the rash. We crossed the 100k milestone at approximately 10:30pm and celebrated with, you guessed it, a beer and a soak in the pool.
I consumed 3,755 calories on the day, 1,152 of which was beer.
101,490 steps taken.
50.89 miles walked, with some running occasionally to loosen up the legs.
1) It helps to do something outrageous like this with someone else. You can talk yourself out of a lot of things, especially when the shit hits the fan (blisters), but when you have someone else relying on you or supporting you, the sense of obligation is one of the keys to keeping you moving.
2) Never, ever, ever go back to the barn until the job is done. Even when someone is with you, getting that horse back out of the barn (even if that horse is you) is very hard to do.
3) As my buddy Brian says, “Proclaim it and then do it.” Telling people what you are going to do, no matter how outrageous the adventure, gives you another sense of obligation that you can draw on to keep you moving. I imagined having to tell my friends, “Well, it didn’t go so well. We had to bail out and fell short of the goal.” I did not want to have that conversation.
4) Have awesome friends like we have, perhaps in addition to a willing spouse or partner. Jeff’s wife, Charlene, was very encouraging and never once mentioned what a pain in the ass this must have been for her, even when I woke her up crashing into her bathroom at 04:00am. Our other friends, Bill, Susan and Laura made us feel like heroes for something as meaningless as walking for 22.5 hours. We all laughed and enjoyed ourselves afterward.
Next up for me and everyone involved in yesterday’s craziness is to prepare for our next marathon. More good times, more goals to accomplish, and more laughs with friends.