Founder’s note: So this article isn’t about obstacle racing or mud runs. What it is about however are the great things done by many of those in the obstacle race community. These two men, who we know well as fellow racers, did something for a greater good. There is a lot of that going on in the obstacle racing world and we at Mud and Adventure just wanted to say: Awesome job Freddy and Jeff! – Paul
We all have people we look up to as inspiration, as motivation. Perhaps even to strive to be like them. Sometimes we refer to them as our heroes. That was something we were asked a lot as children. Who is your hero? Not really something you get asked a lot when you are an adult. Take a moment and ask yourself that question. I know my answer.
On June 21st, 2013, Jeff Rondina and I arrived at El Barrio’s Bravest Fire Department in Spanish Harlem, NYC. We were immediately greeted and welcomed inside with an announcement over the PA that “the runners are here.” Being treated like one of their own, they graciously gave us a much needed dinner. The memorial they have for Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy is absolutely beautiful and breathe-taking. I probably could have sat there for hours looking at it. Our escort for the start would be a van from the Floral Park Fire Department with Ken Fairben, Robert and Toni Wisniewski and Chris Lopes. After some pictures, we began our run at approx. 8:37pm.
As we previously discussed, Jeff and I wouldn’t use our phones for GPS since they wouldn’t last the night if we did. Instead I had the directions printed out and stored on my arm in a football armband that normally holds the no huddle plays. You can see it on my left forearm in pictures. However, since the van couldn’t follow us down a one way road, the van made its way over the RFK bridge to wait for us. Slightly turned around on Randall’s Island and almost crossing over the wrong bridge to the Bronx, Jeff and I made our way past the detour and finally got onto the RFK Bridge and made our way to Queens. Once again, we missed a turn and had to double back to get onto Astoria Blvd. Despite maintaining a great pace, our mistakes had slowed us down but we were still on schedule after adding on an extra mile to our journey, as we would find out later.
Several things I wasn’t expecting at this point but highly appreciated it. The amount of honking and support from random strangers. An FDNY fire truck stopping the van and asking what was going on. As they road by, they honked, leaned out and cheered us on. Our van hitting the lights and turning on the sirens so Jeff and I could continue running across the street without having to worry about stopping. This would prove crucial when we were running on 25A before it become Northern Blvd.
For those wondering, yes we took breaks. Several of them. We never thought we would run the 50 miles straight. My longest road distance was 13.1 miles and Jeff’s was 10 miles. My longest trail/obstacle race was 28 miles while Jeff just recently completed a 30 mile trail race. Clearly, we were in for more than we have ever attempted. Yet, we knew we were going to complete it because we mentally believed it. That is the battle won right there. No matter what, we were finishing the 50 miles. We had plenty of times to quit, plenty of times to lighten our load but we chose not to because we knew if we did, the regret of quitting would far exceed the pain from completing the journey. We had each others backs the whole way, constantly making sure we drank enough water, asking how the other was feeling, speaking up if the pace was too fast and asking to walk a bit if needed. Its about the man next to you because no matter how much you’re in pain, imagine how the other person must feel. That is when you keep pushing on.
If I can accurately recall, we took a quick break in Flushing, Queens so I can put my knee braces on and then again at the Service Road where we made the exchange of escorts to the Mineola Fire Department with Alex Lopes and Andrew Martone, Jr. Not knowing prior that this would be one of many moments I am not soon to forget, Kenny gave me a hug goodbye and thanked me for what we were doing and how much it meant to him to be a part of it. In his hand, he gave me a challenge coin in honor of his son, New York Presbyterian Hospital Paramedic Keith Fairben, who passed away in the line of duty on September 11th, 2001. This was an unbelievably kind gesture and straight from the heart. I carried the coin in my hand until we reached the halfway point and put it in my pack to make sure I didn’t lose it. I will always cherish that moment and always remember Keith and his sacrifice whenever I set eyes on the coin.
At the halfway point on Jericho Turnpike and Brush Hallow Road, we stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a much needed rest and refuel. This is where we said goodbye to Alex, Andrew and the fire truck. I wasn’t feeling too well but after some bacon and half an egg sandwich, we proceeded down Jericho with Chris in his personal car behind us. This moment was almost our downfall as we made a mis-calculation of our location and believed we had just 11.4 miles on Jericho when in fact we had 15.2 miles to go. We wouldn’t realize this until we took a break in Woodbury and we noticed the additonal 4 miles we still had left to go til Lake Ronkonkoma. I am going to be dead honest, this was very demoralizing. We had thought we were making good time and could relax our pace but instead we now had to maintain a 12 minute mile pace for the remainder of the close to 19 miles we had left, including if we took any breaks, which after 30 miles was a large task to ask our bodies to do at that point. I took that mistake personally since I had the directions on my arm and I should have known the area better. Looking back at the directions now, I should have realized my error sooner. Tired, annoyed at myself and starting to feel the pain rise up, I sucked it up and kept to the pace. Jeff came up with the idea to run 3 miles and do a quick walk for 5 minutes and then run another 3 miles and take a sitting rest for 5 minutes. We pushed roughly a 10 minute mile at this point, mostly in silence as we remained focused on our pace, silently suffering through the pain slowly starting to set in. As we reached our first moment to sit since our mistake, we ate some of our energy fuel and refilled our camelbaks as we said goodbye to Chris for the meantime. Clearly sleep deprived after being with us basically all night, we sent him ahead to Lake Ronkonkoma to inform those waiting to meet us later that we were on our way. So here it was, the final 13 miles with just each other to get through it. No more escorts to keep us safe from oncoming cars, to offer extra water or a way out. We had our destination and our deadline. Keep moving forward.
As Jeff brought up, they say sometimes people on these ultra marathons have epiphanies during their runs since they have so much time to think about things. Can’t say that either of us had one of those especially towards the end. To tell you exactly what was going on inside my head at these moments would be difficult but I’m going to try. I just kept thinking about all the pain that those four brave men went through that tragic day almost eight years ago. Only one of them made it out to tell us about it. The pain that was instilled on the men inside Turbine 33 as it was hit with an RPG. The pain their families went through upon hearing the news. There was no way I could possibly be any where near that amount of pain. Keep moving and embrace the pain. I knew I was going to be hurting at one point and here it was. I thought about those who have constantly supported us these past couple of months in our efforts to bring this fundraiser to life. About those who were waiting for us at Lake Ronkonkoma, who we would keep waiting longer than anticipated. To my motivation whom I kept a close reminder of throughout the whole journey and turned to most for those last miles. Thats how it went. If at any moment, a negative thought began to rise, it was met with a positive thought to crush it. Its what had to be done at this point. 2 miles here, rest. 20 mintues of running, rest. 1 mile of running, rest. We did what we could at this point but no matter what, our direction was forward. Single digits left. Less than 2 miles of running on any single road left. Texting ahead that we were 2.2 miles away and saying we were basically almost down to just a walk but that we would make our deadline. Running half miles and then walking. Thats the low we reached but we were still moving and had made up a lot of time.
Half a mile left. The end was in sight and we could see some people outside their houses getting ready to head to the race. The final turn onto Rosevale Ave. Seeing the kids already doing the fun run. Hearing those slight whispers, “those must be them.” The random cheers to keep going and that we got this. We start our final run, a short one, to the finish line. Slowly I notice people clapping. My mind is just thinking, “oh they’re cheering on the kids” until I notice there are no more kids around us and everyone was still clapping. Turns out we and our run was announced previously and people had been asking about us before we had arrived. I’ll admit, I couldn’t really grasp what was happening as I was running down that stretch. I just caught a glimpse of Chris with the rest of our support team, Kayla, Amy, their mom, Lukas and Mickel. This is what got me out of my daze. Then there was the finish line and I rolled up the flag while running out of fear of collapsing when I stopped running and I didn’t want the flag touching the ground.
We had made it in about 12 hours flat and in time before the start of the race. Unexpectedly, Dan Murphy, Michael’s father, was there to greet, congratulate and thank us for honoring his son. There were probably hundreds of things I wanted to say to him, all basically which would have ended with a thank you so thats exactly what I did, I told him thank you for his kind words and thank you for the opportunity to honor his son with the run.
The 4 mile Run Around The Lake was a beautiful site to take in and I thoroughly enjoyed walking it with Chris, Kayla and her mom. We talked, we joked around, we threw water at each other. It was a great way to cap off those final 4 miles in a relaxing way with them. I doubt they realized the joy it brought me that they were there and had arrived so early in the morning expecting us to arrive much sooner than we actually did. I thank them for that and for walking the four miles with me. I was also impressed to see Mickel and several of his trainees carrying a log, a weighted dummy and ruck sacks during the 4 miles. All this with Lukas running about a 30 minute run and Amy placing 3rd in her age group.
Why did we do 54 miles? Why did I come up with this crazy idea? To honor Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a man whose is to be looked up to and who I proudly call my hero. I will never have the opportunity to meet him but I can continue to honor him and that was the point of this run. I even had the pleasure of meeting and talking to his parents, Dan and Maureen. I never thought this run would turn out to be more than just that. From the clapping down the final stretch, to so many people coming up to us and thanking us for what we had done, asking about how the idea was formed, handshakes, pat on the backs, it was all just surreal and touching. It would all culminate at the award ceremony, which is when Jeff and I were brought on stage and our achievement was once again announced to everyone and we were given a standing ovation. All I can say is that I was in shock. That is when Dan, along with Jesse McIntyre and Louis Scotti presented us with a beautiful framed portrait of Michael Murphy along with the El Barrio’s Bravest patch and the USS Michael Murphy patch. As I am writing this, I am still having a difficult time putting into words how much this meant to me. I don’t think I can really put them into words, its more of a feeling at this point and its sitting right here in my heart. It will never leave either. So I’ll revert back to the simple words that can resonate a lot, thank you. Thank you for this gift from the bottom of my heart. As my thank you, I walked over to Dan following this presentation and personally gave him one of my dog tags I had made for one of my training sessions in which I created my own mini obstacle course.
I was proud of that day and how smoothly it went while still being difficult. I carried it the entire 54 miles and wanted Dan to have something from the run. Here I was able to say more about how his son has inspired me and that he will continue to do so.
I truly hope this run and this reflection helps to spread the word about Murph and helps inspire others to not only push themselves but to also do good for others no matter how much it may cause you pain. Its always about the man or woman next to you and to help them out. The amount of thank you’s, comments and messages I received that day and the days following have all been met with such appreciation and I thank everyone for your kind words. They all mean more to me than I can accurately write down. I know I’ve said it so many times already but once more won’t hurt: Thank you.
Greater Love Has No One Than This, That He Lay Down His Life For His Friends.