Inspiration Comes Running

I love to be inspired by others. I especially love to see people doing things I could never do and things I would never have imagined doing and of course things that I would consider impossible.

This is such a story. My wife, Sandra has been an avid runner since my oldest son ran cross country and track in high school. That was a long time ago, maybe 12 or 13 years ago. She started by just running with him in the neighborhood and by entering a few 5k road races. Eventually, she did her first marathon. This was pretty amazing.

I had been inspired by my children’s running as well, though not enough to keep at it and do a marathon. When she did a marathon I naively thought that was all there is to it. She has reached the highest pinnacle of running. Her accomplishment was pretty significant. But then she began sharing with me accounts of barefoot runners in the desert running a 100 miles. Yikes!

Her fascination with ultra running has been building for many years. She loves to read about and watch youtube vids of runners with GoPro cams running across mountain trails in Europe and the U.S. So, it was quite natural for Sandra to eventually, after much thought, no doubt, consider an ultra run herself. She mentioned to me early this summer that there is an upcoming 50k on the Sunapee, Ragged, and Kearsarge Greenway. My first thought was OK? And within a few more weeks, Sandra had signed up and she was all in.

I had seen how many ultra runners have a support team, naturally, I thought that is my job. I would support her fascination into something so ambitious I was unable to believe she could accomplish making it to the finish line. But I had no doubts she would go down trying. And then I pondered what this could mean.

After carefully packing for a few days, Sandra was ready to hit the road in the direction of Lake Sunapee. We left Saturday, around noon and got to Sunapee mid afternoon. We drove around the lake and had a picnic at Sunapee State Park where we serendipitously sat next to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (unknown to her) which is another story altogether.

We checked out the starting line at the middle school and checked into our hotel room for a good night of sleep. Around midnight we were awoken by a few ladies right outside our open window discussing matters relevant to only themselves in a most enthusiastic manner. After I made a call to the front desk, the voices vanished into the night and we fell back asleep.

We arrived at the starting line at about 6:30 am. I studied the map in haste, not sure where I was going to see Sandra during the race. I hoped and had planned on seeing her at three of the aid stations out of four. The first one was inaccessible. Off they went at 7 a.m. I drove off in the other direction and to a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and then in search of the second aid station. There was little or no cell reception so my map apps proved useless. I had a topographic map showing the SRK Greenway but it proved to not be a great driving aid.

I saw some walkers and asked for help. They guided me back and I arrived at the second aid station with the volunteers who were just setting up. I headed down the trail to take photos of the runners as they came. I posted the photos on NH Running on Facebook.

I was there for the first runners and got a lot of photos. This aid station was 11 miles into the race. Suddenly, Sandra came along with a big smile. I walked with her to the car where she told me her right knee was feeling tight. She rolled it, hydrated and took off up a hill. Remember, her longest runs were marathons at 26.2. She was suffering an injury already.

Sandra Freeman

Sandra coming up to mile 11 aid station

The next aid station was at mile 19. I found it and walked into the woods a few hundred feet to where the tables and volunteers had been helping the runners. It was a very beautiful place. There were lots of large evergreens with a small babbling brook. It reminded me of our own property, back home. There were some very large trilliums with red berries atop. They were quite dramatic above the sienna, pine needle forest floor. Again I snapped many photos of runners as I waited for Sandra. As there was no cell connection and I wondered how I would know if she was to drop out of the race due to injury.

Not to worry! She came along and looked great. I had carried in a pack full of food and other support items she has carefully packed. Her leg was feeling tighter but she was determined. And after a few minutes, up she stood and ran off, onto a mountain. The next aid station was at mile 26.2.

I arrived at the fourth aid station and really didn’t know what to expect. It was hot. I pulled the car about 50 feet from the aid station. The volunteers were greeting the runners as I sat in the car, waiting. I had brought drawing material thinking I might saunter off into the woods and do some sketching as I waited. But I didn’t want to risk not being available when Sandra came off the trail and into the aid station. So, I pulled out from my drawing bag a copy of Leonard Cohen’s book, Beautiful Losers. After the first 20 pages, I realized I was reading some serious stuff.

After 35 pages spotted Sandra coming off the trail. I had the car positioned with the hatchback open, making anything she might need immediately available. She said her knee was getting tighter but there was no way she wasn’t going to go for it. She thought she had eight miles to go. She ate some watermelon and off she went. It was hard for me to believe she had passed the marathon mark and was determined to keep on going. I drove off looking for Ragged Mountain.

The map I had, I discovered later, didn’t show the access road to the ski resort, where the finish line was. So I followed DOT signs, but not confident enough to just keep on driving off the map which included the race course. So I stopped at a convenience store and was told by the attendant that she had worked there and knew where it was. She assured me to just keep on driving and I would find it.

Realizing Sandra might cross the finish line before I got there, I drove and drove and finally saw a large bill board directing me right at an upcoming intersection. I turned right onto the “Ragged Highway,” With the hills all around me, I realized the challenge Sandra was facing. She was out there someplace, way past her comfort zone, in a place she had aspired to be, with an injury. As I kept driving, I eventually came to the Ragged Mountain visitor center, parked and walked over to the finish line.

I arrived at the finish line at 9 hours and 9 minutes into the race. As I looked up the mountain, I realized how significant an effort Sandra was making. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for me to run 34 miles, except impossible. Yet, only a few months ago, she mentioned the idea and here she was, somewhere on the other side of this mountain, climbing a rock laden trail closing in her goal.

On our family text chat all three of our kids were texting her encouragement. I could see that she wasn’t moving on the app, Find Friends. But she was very close to the top. The descent would be the most difficult for her injury and that is what lay before her. I didn’t know how to offer support. If I gave her misguided encouragement, I would regret it. After about 15 minutes I could see on the app she was moving down the mountain.

I was truly amazed that she pulled this off. We often talk about the strangeness of things we like to do in this life. Why does she like to run, why do I like to paint. We don’t have answers, at least deeply philosophical ones. We keep on going though. Setting goals. Honestly, this goal, that Sandra had set for herself, seemed more than I could imagine. That is why I find it so inspirational. I really can’t understand how she could run 34 miles but am totally awestruck to have been there and seen it!

Sandra Freeman

Sandra Freeman crossing the finish line at stage 3 of the Ragged 75 Stage Race and 50k