It was well after dark on a Saturday night, and my sister and I had been engaged in “relentless forward motion” for 40 miles.
Still less than halfway to our goal, we'd changed shoes four times in an effort to avoid blisters.
“If we put any more duct tape on our feet,” we told our kids and their cousins, who'd come to check on us, “we won't even need shoes!”
Two nephews hopped out of the van to join us. “Now why are you doing this again?” they asked.
We were marking a milestone: The third anniversary of my 90-pound weight loss, in which my sister played a key role. In 2011, we ran 90 miles in nine days. Last year we biked 90 miles. Now, after witnessing my first ultramarathon earlier this year (the Indiana Trail 100 at Chain O' Lakes State Park), we'd decided to try to run/walk 90 miles in 24 hours. Afterward, as always, we'd donate $1 per mile to charity.
Ten-mile laps along the Wabash River into Ouabache State Park were followed by a “pit stop” at my sister's house in Bluffton. It was windy but sunny. On Lap 3, Traci's husband and kids rode bikes with us, occasionally venturing ahead.
As we crossed the White Bridge east of town, Madison, 15, came running.
“I just dialed 911!” she yelped. “A lady said she was trying to kill herself!”
Madison told how her dad had helped the distraught, muddy woman up the river bank. But she hurried to her car and drove off when she realized the police were en route. A squad car appeared, surveyed the scene, then zoomed after her.
There was nothing Traci and I could do but keep going, so we did. Our support crew rode on ahead, anticipating the arrival of cousins and pizza.
It was getting dark when we arrived. Time to switch to a 2-mile neighborhood route. It was definitely getting harder to run, yet it felt good to vary our muscle motion. Thanks to the duct tape, we were still blister-free. But our latest shoe swap wasn't working out so well, in part because our feet were swelling.
“We're gonna need size 12s before we're through,” we joked.
The kids had hoped to play Ultimate Frisbee in the school parking lot as we walked through the night, but as temperatures dipped, it suddenly sounded more fun to sleep over at Grandma's. When they left, our spirits sagged considerably. We still had 47 miles to go.
Hearing sirens, we decided to walk downtown to see what was up. Each step hurt now. My ankle throbbed. Traci could no longer straighten her knee. Suddenly blisters almost sounded appealing, like tiny drainage valves for our swollen feet.
We'd run these streets many times, but we couldn't run anymore. It took forever to get downtown. There was no sign of a fire or anything else of interest. We turned around and hobbled back in silence.
By the time we got to Traci's house for our 50-mile pit stop, nothing sounded appealing: Food, water, not even a bathroom break. The phone with our mileage-tracking app was dead. We pulled off our shoes, put our feet up and explored our options.
Traci's knee ached, but she was willing to keep going if I wanted to. Our pace had slowed considerably. We'd likely finish several hours past the time we'd freed up for this project.
I got up to get a drink — but I couldn't seem to put any weight on my foot.
“Look at your ankle!” Traci said. “It's all swollen!”
Was it a stress fracture? Something else? We didn't know. But given all other obstacles, we decided to call it a night.
It was disappointing that, unlike our first two 90-mile challenges, we didn't push through “the wall” this time. We hated to break the news to the kids. But later, my fifth-grader helped put things in perspective.
“It's like that one saying we always talk about,” Colleen said. “You aimed for the stars, and you missed. But at least you landed on the moon.”
She had a point. If we viewed this as our first 50-mile event, it almost felt like an accomplishment rather than a failure. Our time — 12 hours, 51 minutes, including breaks — would put us among the stragglers at an ultramarathon, but not dead last.
Not too bad, considering our longest race to date had been a half-marathon.