You know how everyone always says that signing up is half the battle? I stand staunchly against that statement… I’ve never thought twice about registering for an event that sounds cool, could end in an adventure, or would be downright awesome with the right group of people. All three boxes were checked for the Fifty Miles for Murph Memorial Run in New York.
I honestly don’t even know where to start this story. I hesitate to assign words to the event, the feelings, or the experience, because it’s just such an epic weekend.
For the sixth year in a row, Freddy Rodriguez was in the planning stages of the Fifty Miler. Talking with different precincts to make sure that we always have a police escort for safety (and for the strobe lights, let’s be honest here), discussing priorities with our follow and support vehicles, coordinating travel from the finish line to the start line the day of the race, and making sure that everyone is where they need to be at the time they need to be there. No small feat.
When he originally started this run, he never thought it would become an annual event, let alone that the event would grow to twenty people running with him. It all started with a simple idea - remember and honor Lieutenant Michael Murphy and all the men who served alongside him in Operation Red Wings. Never let anyone forget their sacrifice. Let their legacy live on through an event that can’t be ignored.
Well, it definitely isn’t ignored now.
Friday started like any other day – butterflies in the stomach, stomach in your throat, unstable on your feet because your head is in the clouds. The worries start to set in about injury, timing, pressure… the usual “We’re running fifty miles” kind of concerns that creep in last minute. Frantic messaging about who’s bringing what and where we’re meeting for rides to our start destination. All of these fears subsided as soon as we met up as a team.
The conversations at our rally point focused on our prior accomplishments as individuals and as teammates, what we’re looking forward to the next day, and betting each other how far we’ll make it before we tap out. The ride to the start point, the Firehouse Ladder 43 in Spanish Harlem, was filled with more of the same banter, some laughter and excitement, carb loading and hydrating, and race day jitters. We’re doing it. We’re all here. It’s happening.
My first “Oh, Shit” moment happened when we got to the firehouse and were getting ready to take off on the run. The Firehouse has a wall dedicated to Lt. Murphy, his accomplishments, his Medal of Honor, and his family. Who he was and how, why. Staring at the patch that was handed to me in dedication of Lt. Murphy, the same one he wore overseas, it all became very real to me. As big as the challenge of fifty miles was – this event was bigger than that. It’s bigger than us individually, us as a team, or us as an event. It’s about sharing the stories so that he lives on, the men he fought with live on, and we never forget. I’ve been told that people die three times – once when they stop living, once when the spirit leaves the body, and the last time their name is spoken. This event, this run, ensures that Lt. Murphy will never die.
After some stretching, a few speeches, and traditional send-offs, we donned our American flags, huge smiles, some calf sleeves, and a naivete that only runners can, and we set off on our run. Down the street. Over the bridge. Onto the next one.
The first ten miles honestly went by so quickly. Laughing, sharing stories, running games. Boom, done. Forty to go. It was dark, we were good on pace and ahead of schedule, and in good spirits. Over the course of the next thirty miles, we stopped at strategic 7-11s and Firehouses to stretch, fuel, and hit the restroom. Some breaks were longer than others, some involved beer and pickle juice while others involved Jelly Beans or Oreos. Almost all of them involved dancing, singing, and a strong dose of camaraderie amongst the crew. By the time we had 10 miles left, we had just started struggling. Tired, sore, getting too close to quit. So close we could taste it.
We knew we would meet up with the Murphy family, Taylor Kitsch, The Protector Fire Engine, and some other supporters at the Firehouse 2.2 miles from the finish line. Run to the next stop light, walk to the next tree, skip to that mailbox. Bit by bit, we made it. Half a mile to go, we grab our flags again, change into our Team shirts, and get ready to run down that Finish Line stretch. We made it.
As soon as we got to the Finish Line, the Four Mile Run Around the Lake in honor of Lt. Murphy was starting. As planned, we jumped into these last four miles to personally check out the area Murph protected, life-guarded, and enjoyed. We were enjoying it, too.
Looking back at the run, it’s still so hard to put into words the amount of mental and physical challenge that we overcame and appreciated, and even celebrated. I’m so proud of what we accomplished as a team. The pace we kept the whole way through, including the sub 8-minute miles right at the end. How well we all worked together to motivate, support, and just be with each other during these 12 hours. It’s pretty easy to get twenty people to an event. It’s really hard to get the right twenty people to the right event. And candidly, Freddy nailed it.
Overall, I’m taking three lessons with me from this event. The first is to never look back, physically or mentally. Keeping track of the miles won’t make them go by faster, I promise. Especially when you get to the final ten. The second is to never stop taking the nutrition you start with. If you start with sugars (coca cola) or carbs (goldfish), continue taking that every 3-5 miles so you don’t bonk or tire out. Your body goes into a weird endurance mode where it just looks to maintain, not exceed, the energy level it’s been putting out. Same mentally – showers don’t last forever, that’s why we recommend them daily. Ditto for mental motivation. I recommend thinking about (and sharing out loud) something motivational every 2-4 miles. (or just dance it out – it really works!!) And the last, especially for this event, is to remain humble. As much as this was event was about how far you can make it, how well you can keep up, and getting that “ultramarathon” notch on your belt, it’s just as much about the team, the memory, and the dedication. First and foremost, it’s about Lt. Michael Murphy.
Thank you to Michele, Paul, and Corey for driving next to us, being our DJ and our Road-Mom and Dad, and always having what we need, making sure we’re hydrated and healthy.
Thank you to the Airborne Tri-Team for being our follow vehicle, keeping all of our stuff safe throughout the run, and for being general bad-asses on the course. Y’all are one fun team, and I can’t wait to get back out on a course with you. Betcha I can beat ya ;)
Thank you to everyone who donated to the cause in any way – even the love and support along the way. This includes my family and friends, who never failed to let me know what a stupid idea 50 miles is but was still behind me 110% of the way.
Thank you to everyone who came out to run – it takes a special kind of person to register for an event like this, a stronger person to toe the start line, and a totally awesome individual to show up on course to run, and to enjoy doing it.
And finally, huge thank you to Freddy Rodriguez for creating this event, sharing it with us, and allowing all of us to take part in it, no matter how big or small. Thank you for letting me in, allowing me to assist in any small way with the organization, and for being the strongest support out there for all of us, keeping us on pace, and making sure we were safe the whole way through. No pressure, but I see big plans for next year ;)
Freddy and I have embarked on many adventures together, this Fifty Miler included, and I'm so excited to announce that we have another one coming up fast. 2018 Half Ironman World Championships in September. To learn more about our journey and donate to the cause please visit our website. Thank you!