Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mr. Allen Goes to Washington

The last time that I saw Gary Allen was when we parted ways at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on an overcast winter morning.

This was after our annual New Year's Day Boston Marathon Run.

It was the 3rd time that we've spent our first day of the new year together on this historic course.

After the run, Gary went home to Maine, and I, out west to Ayer.

Two weeks later, we would meet again somewhere in the middle.

I didn't know exactly where until late on Saturday night when his GPS tracking stopped for the night.

He would start up again on Sunday morning around West Concord, about 20 minutes from my house in Ayer.

I set out around 7AM in search of my Crow teammate and inspiration for making the impossible, possible.

I drove up and down Rt. 62 near Maynard looking for the familiar gait of a tall runner, but couldn't find any sign of Gary. I then remembered from reading on his Facebook page that he was going to detour and test out some trails in the area. I'm sure his feet would be appreciative of this gesture after being on them for 7 straight days, and logging more than 280 miles.

Gary is currently on a mission from Maine to Washington DC to raise funds for the victims of the Newtown, CT school massacre, wounded veterans and cancer research.

This folks is a 700+ mile journey in the heart of a New England winter.

Gary's goal is to get to DC by January 21st. This would require about 50 miles per day over the two weeks.

I finally found my friend at mile 282 of that journey, moving steadily down Sudbury Rd towards Rt 62, where he would continue on for at least another 40 miles today.

I ditched my car around Stow, and joined him for a "few miles". Since I had already ran 18 hard miles the day before, my original plan for today was to run with Gary for only 5 miles, head back to my car, and call it a day with 10.

We were quickly joined by another runner named John in downtown Hudson. John had driven all the way out from Westfield, MA! Word was definitely getting out far and wide about Gary's run.

John told me that he was planning to do at least 15 miles before getting a ride back to his car, which was about a mile or so from my car. I was intrigued.

When mile 5 came and went on my Garmin, I decided to continue on, and just get a ride back with John. It was just too tempting, and too much fun, NOT to continue with Gary for as long as possible. This meant that I'd have another 18 mile day, albeit a little slower.

What some people don't realize is that going slower doesn't necessarily mean it's any easier. You're burning pretty much the same amount of calories, and it can be even harder on your body, especially if you're use to a certain stride length and cadence. I can't imagine what this pace must be doing to someone like Gary who's body is use to cranking out close to sub-3 marathons on a consistent basis.

I guess the body has a great mechanism to adapt to survival situations.

For myself, you throw in some Central Mass hills and a little headwind, and you've got yourself a nice long run comparable to a 2 hr long run with Lindsay Willard.

We adjusted our pace accordingly, and had to be conscious of the fact that Gary had to take it "slow", since we didn't want to be the ones responsible for him blowing up halfway through his trip.

Doug Welch, who I first had the pleasure of meeting at the Great Cranberry Island 50K back in July of 2012, was sharing crewing duties with a lovely lady named Elizabeth (which I later found out that evening was working with another mutual running friend in Lowell -  a truly small world indeed).

They did a fantastic job of making sure that Gary, and some of us runners, had exactly what we needed to stay strong and fueled, every few miles. I've crewed for others on ultra runs before and it's no easy task. Ultra runs can bring out the worse in people, and it takes a special crew to understand and deal with that on a daily basis. Emotions run the entire gamut.

We were soon joined by a few other runners, including Doug, as we made our way southwest towards the Connecticut border via Rt 20.

This route is actually very dear to me. Two years ago, I ran this nearly identical route as I escorted world runner, Tony Mangan, for about 20 miles of his 3+ year run around the world. Tony is currently in Fiji.

I also try to run it once a year to get to my brother's place in Auburn. I didn't plan on making that trip this early in the year.

Seeing a lot of the familiar buildings and landmarks along the route brought back a flood of happy memories from runs gone by.

Like I said, even slow, long runs can take a lot out of you. For example, I didn't take any water or GU during my 18 mile, 6:40 paced run with Lindsay the day before, but here I was, at mile 10 of a 10:30 paced run feeling a little light-headed. I would be in trouble and not be able to get to mile 18 if I didn't do something.

It was around mile 13 that I finally took something or else I risked bonking on what seemed like an easy jog. 

Gary, on the other hand, was smartly fueling up at every possible chance. I can't even imagine the amount of calories that his body is burning off every single day, and how much he has to put back in on each 50 mile run.

I felt better after taking a quick GU, but more guilty for taking one from the support vehicle because I was naive enough not to take one with me when I left my car. Poor planning and judgement on my part.

I was already at mile 16 by the time we reached Grafton, but was told that Mile 300 for Gary was only about 2 miles further down the route. There was no way that I was going to stop now.

We marched on for about another 20 minutes before hitting Mile 300 right around the Mass Pike overpass. Much like the finish of our New Year's Boston Marathon run, there was no fanfare, cheerleaders, or Mylar blankets waiting for us at the finish.

Just yummy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, prepared by Elizabeth, from the back of the mobile support vehicle. I'll take that over cheerleaders any day. Well, maybe not every day.

Sadly, this also marked the end of the road to the nation's capital for me and John.

We wished Gary and the support crew the best of luck, a safe journey, and thanked them for inspiring the rest of us to do what we love.

Once again, on an overcast winter morning, I parted ways with my dear friend Gary Allen.

Me to Ayer.

Mr. Allen to Washington.

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