What’s an Ultra Athlete?
Any distance over 26.2 (a marathon) is considered to be an ultra distance. However, most ultra distance events are at least 50k (31.069 miles). To be considered an ultra distance athlete, one must go out and complete an ultra distance run/walk, with the intent to do so.
On July 2nd, 2016, I (Systems Engineer for a New Jersey hospital) and three other friends (Ma, and ex border patrol federal agent and now a teacher; Eve, a Special Education teacher; and German, a computer programmer and software developer) met at Dyckman St. (200th street) in Manhattan, NY with the intention of taking on the challenge to walk around the perimeter of the entire island of Manhattan-32 miles in total distance.
We used an application called RunGo to plan and track our route along the way. Because I am very familiar with the layout of the highways, the parks, and the walk and bike ways on both sides of the Manhattan island, I decided we should do the upper side of the island first. So we went from Dyckman St. heading west and up to 215th st. and back down to Dyckman on the east side as a warm up. Then, the real trek started. We headed down the along the East River, taking selfies at any identifiable location.
Even though we stayed as close to the water as possible, it was great noticing how the people, cultures and behaviors changed as we passed from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Only stopping for short rest breaks and to address a couple of minor hotspots issues, we made it to South Street Sea Port and on to Battery Park at the southern tip of the island.
To us that was a major milestone as it meant we now started to count down the remaining miles. It also marked the beginning of the real suck fest and the struggles.
I was dealing with feet issues.
Eve? Knee issues
German was dealing with chafing all in his pants.
And Ma was starting to feel the effects of her 32 lbs ruck sack. More on the struggles from each member below.
Because I have done 2 other ultra distance events before (a DNF attempting a 50 miler and the New Jersey Spartan Race Ultra Beast), I found myself only struggling with my feet hurting. Emotionally, I struggled with keeping the team fired up towards the end.
Quitting was NOT an option for me, but sadly it wasn’t an option for all of us. But It got ugly, believe me.
But everyone pressed on.
“You could see the struggle towards the end but no one complained, and the fact that we all kept walking provided me the strength to keep going, the fact that Carlos kept talking to me distracted me from the pain, Ma telling me she loves me and kissing me made me feel loved and German awesome sense of humor gave me energy to keep going. For some unbelievable reason that I can’t explain, I think love made us keep going” – Eve Mata
“In the end, I found the redemption I was seeking. Redemption for all those times I felt not good enough, not strong enough or kicked in the gut when life has a messed up way putting obstacles in your path. Redemption for being told to take it easy, take the path that is soft and told to conform because….well it may be easier to settle instead of trying harder. Reaching endex gave me redemption” -Myrna (Ma) Velez
“The hardest part of the 50K was all in the mind. While, it’s true my lower body was wracked with pain, what allowed me to push as hard as I did was TEAM. They lift you up, and you don’t want to let them down“-German Hayes.
By this time we were in contact with Rihana, our angel Saint Bernard. She met with us on the lower east side and walked with us to about 96th St. Lifting each of us individually and as a group. Rihana gave us a much needed lift and just the right boost to push through.
I couldn’t join the team for the whole challenge but I was able to join them from Mile 19 to Mile 26 – what an absolute privilege it was to share these miles with them.
“As you can imagine, by Mile 19, the pain was clearly visible: swollen feet, leg cramps and overall weariness. But, what stood out the most during those 7 miles, was the sheer determination the team had to push through the pain and soldier on – and to help each other finish. They did it with grace, humor and, of course, a touch of whiskey” -Rihana Azam
As the sun set over the west, that beautiful sunset brought upon us the hardest struggle of all… Staying together. As our bodies started to just break down, stopping to rest hurt, getting up hurt, standing while resting hurt and starting to walk again hurt. For some of us resting was a must, for others not stopping was the best solution and so we split. Ma and German continued to walk and rest as needed. Eve and I continued on without stopping. Eve also had some personal family matters to tend to and needed to finish ASAP. I didn’t want to leave her walking through the dark desolated portions of the parks by herself so I walked with her.
Ma refused to give up and take a taxi to the finish or to give up any of her ruck’s weight. German also refused to give into the taxi idea and continue to press on. I offered the “taxi way” out for them because I saw them in so much pain with every step they took. They both impressed me, although I wasn’t surprised. I knew these two were tough.
This 32 mile walk taught me that with the right group of people, with the right attitude and with the right determination and mindset, ANYTHING is possible. Set your goals, commit to them and go get them.
P.S. The biggest reward was telling Ma, Eve and German that according to the definition and requirements for ultra distance events they are now considered Ultra Distance Athletes.