For the past 33 years, the Cornbelt Running Club has hosted its 24-Hour-Run at the North Scott Track in Eldridge. That’s right, 24 hours of running or walking, around and around and around a high school track. Through rain, wind, sunrise, sunset, bugs, rabbits and birds; through night, through day; through burgeoning blisters, bad backs and sore hips; through chilly temps and blazing heat.

When I initially joined Cornbelt in late 2009, such an event didn’t even register with me. I’m sure I read about it in the newsletter, but because I was so far from considering anything beyond a marathon, I failed to see the event as anything other than LOONEY TUNES! The notion of doing something for 24 hours, paying to do so . . . and not even for a charity? I was completely unable to grasp such nonsense.

20140505_104216_AndroidWithin a couple years of joining the running club, I began to volunteer at a few events and eventually I found myself at a table near the North Scott Track counting laps in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.

As runners and walkers completed the last three hours of the challenge, I began to see the 24-Hour-Run as something I needed to try. Back in January, when I made a list of specific goals for 2014, the 24-Hour-Run was part of my four-goal list.

Because I’ve done a few long events since March, I didn’t consider any specific type of training, rather I focused on staying healthy, listening to my body and in the week prior to the May 3-4 event, squeeze in a daily nap and carb load responsibly.

At 7 a.m. when I toed the line with 24 other individuals from as nearby as DeWitt and as far away as California, I had one main hope: to last all 24 hours.

In talking with others who had done it, I was interested in how pain would affect my psyche. I’m not a masochist and do NOT enjoy pain and/or suffering, especially the self-inflicted kind. But I’m curious about my limits. Back in 2009 when I set my sights on the 2010 Chicago Marathon, I assumed I’d find my limits there. Sure it was tough, running 26.2 miles is hard, but it wasn’t the mythical, life-changing “Everest” I’ve heard others claim it to be.

What if I were faster? Nope. I still don’t think it’d be any of that reverential stuff, it’d just be less fun.

And I’ve pretty much come to grips with the fact that if I’m not having fun, I’m not going to bother. But I must admit, I didn’t expect to have fun at the 24-Hour-Run. I expected myself to morph into some senseless, muttering, sleep-deprived ball of pain.

20140505_104829_AndroidI was most concerned with my feet, given they’d suffer the most. I knew I needed to have a variety of shoes and unfortunately I chose the wrong one to start in: a thin pair of Brooks Ravennas that, while fine for a 10k, have no business staying on my feet beyond that. Though no blisters appeared, the Brooks laces cut into the top of one of my feet, setting it on fire.

Not sure how long each of my three pairs of shoes would last, I kept the Brooks on for seven hours, 112 laps totaling 28 miles before changing into a newish pair of Asics Kayanos.

While the Asics have always been a good long-run shoe for me, and my feet did feel better getting out of the Brooks, the damage was done. I kept them on for another nine hours, another 108 laps totaling 27 miles before breaking out my ace-in-the-hole, a pair of Hoka Conquests.

These moon-like shoes have a sole that’s crazy thick. Its massive cushion helped me run much of that final eight hours. Except for a brief time in which I pulled off my socks and popped blisters on my toes (and then slathered a layer of A&D ointment on my soles) running the straights and walking the turns made for a comfortable way to pass the hours.

But if it was all physical, where’s the fun in that? Eventually everyone walks and it’s when falling in with another participant that the glory of the event comes to the surface. Visiting with DeWitt resident and pastor Curt Girod who was doing his fourth 24-Hour-Run, he told me about his prior experience and what got him to achieving the 100 kilometer/61 mile mark. He finished with nearly 77.5 miles logged.

Then there’s the character who convinced Curt to do the event in the first place, DeWitt resident Scott Hoag. I remember counting Scott’s laps last year, but getting to talk with him and soak up his experience of having completed well over 20 of 24-Hour-Run events, was much more fun. Curt, Scott and the vast majority of everyone else exhibited for me, how much stronger the mind is than the body.

The event defies logic, reason, and has most people thinking we all needed to be locked in a padded room.

Scott’s hips and back were aching and more than once I watched friends work on his lower back as he laid face-down on the in-field. And yet he never quit, logging a final tally a couple tenths shy of 78 miles.

I think Curt and Scott would agree that we powered on, not because our mental fortitude was so immense or our bodies, temples of greatness. We kept circling the track because of the people who joined us . . . the ones who love us, in spite of our quirky hobbies.

Curt’s wife kept him company and walked with him, Scott’s kids were there. Marty brought the kids down, holding signs that read, “Mom is 24 hours of awesome!” My parents came out and walked me over the 50 mile threshold, Charlotte resident and racing buddy Nancy McClimon came twice, first to walk with me, the second time to drive my car home afterwards.

Seeing so many friends and families come out to share in the experience brought real meaning to the term “team effort.” Even while I sat popping blisters, I was loving it.

I think it was Curt who said, “You’re hooked, aren’t you.”

Yep! My 81.65 miles were 323 laps of fun! A fun that was parsed into bits of endurance, slices of sharing, a chunk of eating, a heap of pain, a dollop of suffering, and a huge helping of joy!

Whether you’re a walker or runner, want to do 10 miles or 100, I think the 24-Hour-Run is our best-kept, most neurotically-loved secret . . . and I would love to see more of us out there in 2015!

Originally published 17 May 2014 in The Observer.

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