Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ENDURANCE EXTRAORDINAIRE

Runners are extraordinary individuals, who, through desire, hard work, and dedication, achieve extraordinary things.

In today's issue of the Republican Herald, a local newspaper from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, I wrote an article about a local young woman who recently completed a race that was truly remarkable.

Following is the article.

Many of you have probably participated in a 5K race. Sometimes the 3.1-mile distance feels a Himalayan trek. Perhaps you’ve felt the pain of a 13.1-mile half-marathon, or the utter fatigue of the full 26.2-mile marathon.
If you feel extremely energetic, try completing a 50-mile race.

That’s right, a 50-mile race.

Megan Gabardi, a former Pottsville Area High School cross country and track runner, did just that when she completed the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Miler on May 2 at Bear Mountain State Park, New York.
Completing a 50-mile footrace is a daunting task, but a glance at the North Face Endurance Challenge website is enough to strike fear into any endurance athlete.

According to the event’s website, the race is “a hardy test for trail runners of any level, The North Face Endurance Challenge New York winds along the western shores of the Hudson River and through the craggy foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Expect enough rocks and challenging terrain along the course to keep you engaged, but not enough to prevent you from running the majority of the race.”

A self-proclaimed “Adrenaline junkie,” Gabardi, 29, now lives in Old Bridge, New Jersey. She has completed five marathons, several half-marathons, and chose to compete at the 50-mile distance to “see how far I could go.”
“My goal was simply to finish,” Gabardi said.

And finish she did.

Despite unseasonable heat and hills that would pose a challenge to mountain goats, Gabardi completed the course in 14 hours, 15 minutes, 34 seconds, good enough for her to earn fifth place in her age division.
Hard work and intense motivation are necessary if one is to complete such a grueling event.
Gabardi found the motivation through her 3-year-old daughter, Chloe. Several times a week, sometimes two or three times a day, on her training runs, she would push her daughter in the jogging stroller.

“I want to be a good role model for her,” Gabardi said.

The race itself, which began at 5 a.m. with runners illuminating their way wearing headlamps, was brutal. Hilly, rocky trails, followed by steep, rock-strewn downhills, made the hills of Schuylkill County seem more like speed bumps. The downhills were more difficult than the uphills, according to Gabardi. To keep up with the caloric depletion during the race, she drank plenty of water, consumed energy gels, ate peanut butter, M&M’s, potato chips and potatoes rolled in salt, as well as bananas, all obtained from aid stations, located every two to five miles along the route.

Many marathon runners hit “the wall,” during a portion of the race, usually around miles 18 to 22, where the body simply wants to shut down. Gabardi experienced several such stages during 50 miles of continual body motion. At 18 to 22 miles, like in a marathon, legs cramp, feeling like oak tree trunks beneath the body. From 30 to 40 miles, ultramarathoners experience “the blues,” a period of mental depression, or a second “wall.” Around Mile 45 was the toughest portion of the race for Gabardi, where she told herself, “I would rather go through childbirth again.”
A quarter of the 420 starters did not complete the race, but Megan Gabardi was not one of them. She devoted six months of training to the event, eating cleanly and grinding out four-hour plus training runs. She lifted weights and increased strength, especially in her quads, which bore the brunt of the relentless hills. She rode her bicycle for hours, and sometimes turned in three workouts a day, all in an effort to keep her body in motion for a long period of time.

Gabardi’s future goals include the Rhode Island Marathon in October, a 70-mile endurance run, and an Ironman triathlon. To her, “Running is therapeutic.”

She has used her therapy to successfully go the distance.