My numbers were 319 total and 70, 48, 44, 55, 49 & 53 for the days in sequence. This was 13 miles less than my initial attempt two years ago when i made more newbie mistakes but had far better weather. In both cases my multiday was very impacted by running Boston hard the week before. How much I shall never know but I suspect 60 or 70 miles worth.
I know how to change this so I won’t dwell on what might have been since neither race is about to change their time frame and for reasons of his own, this old horse is irrevocably and emotionally wedded to Boston as his heritage to the homeless, a station in which I once resided. The Noah Shelter lives on (raised over $35,000 last year).
With a low bow to Leadville, ATY and Western States, the Self Transcendence 6-day is my favorite ultra, a little jewel of a gathering of eagles and eaglets from around the world who make me feel very very proud, and lucky to share the nest in Corona Park for a week each year. Often we do not speak the same language, and often I feel even older than I am to be welcomed to their flock, but no matter, all gesture their gladness to include me. From the great Mr. Schwerk, all the way down to my favorite day tripper Roman Dziertlatka (big Detroit Tigers fan, always can depend on Roman for latest scores), these warriors march around the track for six days to the beat of their own drums, and much can be learned. It lives up to its name – it will transcend you.
Besides the date, the one thing I would change about the race is the running surface, as the sidewalk hardness contrasts with my favorite natural surfaces like trails or the packed dirt of ATY. Shin splints and hot spots occur regularly on runners who do not normally have to deal with them, and standard equipment is a sharp knife to perform the necessary surgery on your shoes as your feet struggle for freedom. I don’t get blisters or shin splints, but needed a visit to the medical tent to receive a magical herbal treatment to relieve some tenderness on the balls of my feet. (this after Andy Cable urged me to — mentioned that the herbalist was one of the 3100 mile runners of last summer)
I had no crew for the first four days, and this costs time in ways you cannot count, less predict. Watching experts like Dipali and Pam with their multi-person coordinated crews is Nascar-like, and the time saving is undeniable. Mr. Dvoracek from the Czech Republic shared my cubicle, and with his son at his beck and call, I saw that he rarely had to skip a beat during his rounds. It is really quite fascinating to watch everyone’s individual approach within the panorama of the dugout setup.
My low point was the third day, when it became so hot (low 90s), and I felt no enthusiasm for the chase. But my good buddy Carl Asker came by with his three yr. old son Fredrik, and would brook no discouraging word outa my mouth, but insisted I was just getting my second wind!
Huh? I am?
Somehow, he convinced me. Maybe because he came direct from The Barkley. Who knows. I am supposed to be his mentor, but I think this young Viking lad has it the other way around, and he plied my spirits with piles of Ensure and amino acid reminders. By the end of his visit, he had me fully persuaded, and assured me he would be back in a couple of days to be sure I followed orders.
Next day, my man Nils arrived. He of Boston Marathon fame, shaving off a mere 135 lbs. in a year’s time as my favorite 08 student to successfully finish the 09 version of the historic marathon. And he had a special gift for me3B something that in my previous 28 Boston’s I had never bought : a beautiful official blue-and-gold B.M. jacket. Wow. This big man may have reinvented himself physically, but he never needed any help in the generosity/emotionally supportive department. Thanks, Nils!
From a low of 14th place, I began inching my way upward. Jane arrived, taking a bus from the Cape to Boston and on to NY, then a cab from 42nd street late at night, a dreamy vision appearing at the end of one rainy lane between the raindrops, my angel come to help out her man. (this is especially important when you’re a senior citizen, as she helps out locating eye glasses, giving massages, finding the denture cream, removing soggy socks, all big challenges when you’re a weary 68 year old just looking for dry shelter in your tiny tent. But cozy, too, when you’ve been missing her soft warm body. There’s life in the old boy yet.
The lion roars a little, and grinds out 55 miles, passing Dipali, Pam, and Schwerk at one point in one of their lower rounds, simply one of the sublime joys a single-mile loop offers a slotard like myself when allowed to vie with the true champions in the same arena of greatness. It is at this point that I remember why I am here, that I thrive on the thrill and fierceness of competition, and humbly strive to do my very best, make every minute count.
Carl comes by for a second visit, nods enthusiastically, cuts up another race-ready pair of shoes for me, brings me my daily sports headlines, leads the cheering section.
For the last 36 hours, sleep seemed impossible, a luxury not worth the time to rest the pipes. I was an engine with momentum, and any need had to be taken in transit, not sitting on one’s backside. And I was now eighth, in a two man duel with Alexander Kharko of the Ukraine for seventh, who had a full 24 mile lead on me after three days. My emotions crested when Jane handed the cell phone from my daughter Kerry, calling from Vermont to wish her dear ol dad to bring it home, “you know you can!”, and my granddaughter Alyssa, who said “Grampy Pete, ya can do it!!”
And he could, half blubbering, I flew. I ran the last two loops under 12, which after six long days is none too shabby. Seventh place was secured, by two long miles.
At the awards, three hours later, I hear myself referred to as “the great Pete Stringer” by the race director Sahishnu, and think no, they got the right adjective, but just call this little jewel of a race great, please. The World Harmony run for 19 countries gathered together every year in a lovely little park in Queens in the greatest city in the world has once again proved that it symbolizes ultrarunnings’ version of a peaceful United Nations.
The competition is fierce and ferocious, but the friendliness and peace remain its signature.
I’ll see you next year, old friend.