On July 30, 2008 I set out to become the first person to run the entire 192 mile Pan Mass Challenge bicycle course that stretches from Sturbridge to Provincetown, MA. This was a crazy dream I first imagined back in 2004 while I was undergoing chemotherapy treatments at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Four years and thousands of training miles later, I was ready to make the dream a reality, and in doing so I hoped to inspire patients everywhere to never give up their own fight. Here's how it all turned out!
With so much to report and so many people to thank, I'm not sure how long this recap of my 192 mile run will be, but I'm certain it won't be brief! Let's just start from the start and see where we end up. I'm anxious to get this out for everyone to read, so don't expect Shakespeare. If nothing else, the pictures are pretty! Enjoy!
The day before beginning my journey, Elizabeth (my wife) and I drove up to Boston for my 4 year check-up at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Just before meeting with my awesome doctor, Eric Jacobson, I did a quick interview with DFCI communications ace Saul Wisnia. Saul is a great guy and turned our quick chat into a great article. I also met up with a photographer from the Boston Herald, and she snapped a couple shots that would run the next day in Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald's piece about my run. With the media stuff out of the way, it was time to meet Dr. Jacobson for my quick check-up (all clear!), and head over to the bus station to pick up Crew member Amelia. With all those boxes on the "To Do" list checked, we drove out to Sturbridge, MA, had dinner, and the ladies left me a the Sturbridge Host Hotel which serves as the starting line for the Pan Mass Challenge route.
Since I wanted my crew to get as much rest as possible, I planned on starting out on my own and self-supporting the first 30 miles or so of my run. I knew the crew would be tired enough getting up early on the Cape and driving the 1.5 hours to meet me on the course at it was.
Here they are in the early morning of the race getting their plan together before heading out.Just before I headed off to sleep, Saul called from DFCI to read his article to me. He also mentioned that the PMC course was changed slightly this year (something I noticed when driving the course a couple days prior), and it would only be 190 miles. No problem, I thought, since I could just run two quick miles before the start and still reach the 192 mile goal.
With all the logistics and errands now out of the way, I could finally relax and get some sleep before the big run. As I drifted off to sleep, I started to think about how I'll never run anything close to 192 miles again, and since that number is so close to an even 200, maybe I should just go for it while I have the chance. With that thought, I reached out from the bed covers and changed the alarm from 5am to 4:15am - I was now waking up a little early to run 10 miles before starting the official PMC course.
After a brief but fairly restful night's sleep, I was up at 4:15am and strapped on my sneakers. The air was cool but extremely humid (lots of fog) when I stepped outside. I started running down Rt. 131 since I could count the mile markers on the side of the state road to make sure ran exactly 5 miles out and back before starting the PMC route. While I quickly found my stride in the early morning hours (the sunrise was breathtaking, by the way), I immediately regretted my decision to run down Rt. 131 as it had some seriously long and tough hills. The whole time I kept thinking "What the heck are you doing killing yourself out here on these hills...you're not even on the course yet!!". Oh well, it was my decision, and I had to live with it.
By time I covered my 10 bonus miles and got back to the official start on Rt. 20 in Sturbridge, it was 6am and the trucks were already buzzing by me. Most of the next 6 mile stretch was a test of nerves as there was very little shoulder room (or none at all in some places) to run on as the 18 wheelers squeezed past me. With the humidity causing me to sweat more than anticipated (or maybe it was running next to all those trucks that caused the increased perspiration?), I pulled into a convenience store to refill my water bottles before turning off of Rt. 20. I knew the next 20 miles or so would be on back roads with no stores, so I was a happy to fill up when I could.
I spoke to the crew for the first time about 30 minutes later, and they informed me they were on their way up to the course as planned. I relayed to them the latest news (namely that I ran an extra 10 miles before the start), and they in turn passed the word on to my best friend Chris who would spend the next 50+ hours updating the Run 192 blog from his home/office in LA.For those of you who followed along with Mr. Stanley's updates during the run, you know how amazing he was at this job. He was just about as instrumental as I was in making this run as successful as it was for Dana-Farber. Thank you, Chris!!
After the turn off from the truck-filled Rt. 20 mercifully arrived, I began what seemed to be a 10 mile climb up what I quickly dubbed "You Have To Be S#*ting Me" Hill. Even though it has only been 3 years since I moved to pancake-flat Washington, DC, apparently that has been enough time for me to forget exactly how hilly the country is in Massachusetts. When I finally crested "The Hill" I did my best to ignore the fact that I was sweating like crazy - and that the sun was already heating the air at an ominous rate. I knew the heat would most likely be a reality during this run, and I did my best to prepare for it, but I was still hoping I'd get a little break from the weather gods, at least in the name of some cloud cover. Alas, it was apparent that 100% sunshine, plenty of heat, and NO breeze was on the menu for the day. Lucky me.
The next 15 miles or so brought me around some beautiful country roads and tranquil ponds, while others offered views of rolling hills and valleys covered in waves of green. (This is actually a shot of me passing one of the 9 million farms on the course later in the day, but you get the idea - I was in the country):I became fast friends with the little green signs that mark the turns for the PMC Course as I switched from country roads to busy city centers and back to country again.Before I knew it I was crossing under Rt. 146 to meet up with my crew for the first time at Mile 25 of the PMC course. It was great to see them as they cheered me in toward the coolers of ice and fuel in the back of their SUV. The cold towel they had ready felt great as I refreshingly wiped down my head for the first time all morning. Amelia said she was all ready to run with me for a while, and I was grateful for the company. We bid adieu to the crew and made our way down a mix of roads that varied between good and horrible for running over the next 5 miles.It was during this stretch that we ran past a lady on the street who asked "Are you Dan Rose?". The lady turned out to be Jennifer Eagan, a reporter for Channel 3 and the New England Cable News channel. She had tracked me down using the GPS link on my blog, and wanted to get an interview with me. She was super nice in understanding that I didn't want to stop running for the interview, so I told them to meet up with my crew about a mile up the road where we could hook up a wireless mic and they could conduct the interview while I ran next to their truck. The plan worked great as I was able to give a few good quotes while running before handing them back their mic through the passenger side window of the truck, never breaking stride one bit! From there Jennifer and her crew drove ahead to interview my parents and Elizabeth at the next planned crew stop a few miles up the road. Meanwhile Amelia and I continued to chug along up way too many hills (a couple of them we were 'forced' to run fast when we noticed the TV crew setting up ahead of us for some long-view running shots).By the time we made it to the next stop, the TV folks were still talking to my parents, so there was lots of excitement in the camp. If you haven't seen the video yet, check it out - Jennifer and her crew did an amazing job.
At that point I thanked Amelia for her 10 miles of company and headed out on the next section alone. It was right about then that I really started to notice the heat not only hitting me from the sun above, but reflecting off the asphalt below. I did my best to stay on the shady side of some of the streets, but with a good amount of traffic, I was forced to stay in the direct sunlight for plenty of miles. By time I pulled up to the next stop at mile 40, I saw my crew had company. A chatty local, Marc, who lived next door to where my crew parked their car was running around his house to get his hose in case I wanted to cool off. Marc's aunt was a cancer survivor, and he was happy to try and help me out - he even walked with me for a block or two while I ate a little food and readjusted my new fuel belt. It was nice to meet a random connection on the course like that.
The next section, to put it simply, was really really really really hot. Lots of exposed streets, heat hitting me from above and below, and plenty of long winding hills. My calves were tightening with every stride too, so the sight of me stretching them on the tire of the Crew vehicle could be seen at every stop for the rest of the day. I was wearing an ice bandanna around my neck to help combat the heat, but by the end of each 5 mile section for the next few hours, I was definitely running in the red zone (notice me looking for *anything* I can find to stretch my calves on): At the mile 45 stop I grabbed my ipod for the first time. Partly for some motivation/distraction from the heat, and partly for the extra protection from the sun's intense rays (I wear over-the-ear headphones). During the previous section I noticed my ears burning from the sun, so this seemed like a smart fix.
With my fresh ice bandanna and audio motivation, I was off running happy again. This next section still had a ton of hills (they were positively relentless for 80% of the course), but with a few more trees/shade, it went by quickly. In fact, I was moving so fast that I beat my crew to the next stop. As I ran by and saw they weren't there, I continued down the road and called them on my cell as I ran. They were just a few minutes behind, so they eventually caught up to me about a half-mile down the road. As luck would have it, they pulled over in front of a farm owned by Bob Tisbert. Bob drove over on his tractor to make sure we were ok, and upon hearing about what I was doing, he told us that his wife is currently a patient at Dana-Farber. Amazing coincidence, eh? With a quick hop up on his tractor for a photo opportunity and a hand shake from Bob, I was back on my way.The next couple sections are sort of a blur in my head - Lots of trees, country roads, hot pavement, and way too many gels consumed. I recall being greeted at a crew stop by the sight of Elizabeth doing cartwheels in the middle of the road at one point...or maybe that was just a mirage.By the time I pulled into mile 80, I was happy for a change of pace. Here I met up with my cousin Erin who came down to run 15 miles with me. It was about to get dark, so I gave her a head lamp and off we went. It was her first time running at night, and she loved it. Meanwhile my Uncle Rich and Aunt Betsy took over the crew duties as the #1 Crew took a much deserved dinner break. Erin and I moved along pretty comfortably, walking some of the big hills and just cruising along over the rest. Before I knew it our 15 miles was all over and Erin, Rich and Betsy were headed back home. Time sure does fly when you're running all day. At some point during my run with Erin a caravan full of Family friends (John, Marie, and about 6 kids) joined up to cheer us on at an aid station. I wish I remembered more about it (it was great that they all came out), but after 90-95 miles, I think my night-fog was starting to set in.
With the main crew back for one more section before handing off the overnight crew duties to my brother Erich, Amelia decided to hop in for a long section (7 miles instead of the usual 5) before heading home to rest up. I think this was a section where I walked most of the distance while eating a little more frequently. I was happy with my first day's work thus far, and knew I needed to rest up with some walking miles since I was a bit tired. I crossed the 100 mile mark at about 20 hours, which considering the heat, humidity, and intentional slow pace, seemed to be just about right to me.
After Amelia's section, Steve sent home the rest of the Crew and stayed out to cover one more section with me before heading home himself. We moved very slowly at this point as my feet were killing me (too much pavement pounding). Somewhere around 3:00 a.m. a car pulled up next to us and I heard "Dan Rose!" being shouted from the window. It was my friend Jessee Hope and her super cool husband Mike - they were amazingly supportive enough to wake up at that hour and come find me out on the road. It was a great surprise to see them (especially since Jessee is 7 months pregnant!), and really helped lift my spirits a bit. Jessee and Mike are amazing to have done this for me. It really helped brighten the night - Thanks guys!!
After that nice surprise, Steve and I finished up the section of the course and I sent him home to sleep as well. Erich was now manning the crew vehicle, and I headed back out on the road by myself. I started running again for a couple miles, but the pain in my feet was getting to be unbearable. In an almost comically painful turn of events, it actually hurt my feet less when I was running as opposed to walking....but my legs were so tired that running up some of the hills wasn't an option. So back and forth I went, trying to find the right balance of pain between my screaming legs and shattered feet. It wasn't a fun game.
To make matters worse, about 2 minutes after starting this section, I lost my directions. I still had the PMC course markings to look for at the turns, but from a mental stand-point, it was much harder not knowing exactly how far I had left to push until the next stop. Eventually and mercifully I made my way to Erich and the crew vehicle at mile 117. It was here that I finally sat down in a chair and changed my shoes (my feet needed *something* different to help with the pain). I ate a couple bites of something, took a couple Aleeve, and told Erich I'd see him at the next stop.
As I continued on, the sun was coming up, but it didn't reinvigorate me as much as I had hoped. In fact, the opposite was happening...I started falling asleep on my feet. I tried splashing water on my head, slapping my face like one of the Three Stooges, singing to myself...but nothing was helping for very long. Finally at about mile 120, I had to call Erich to come meet me with the car so I could take a nap. He quickly came around the bend and we pulled into a parking lot so I could grab a 10 minute snooze. I set my watch alarm, put the seat back, and was out like a light. Ten minutes came quickly, and I groggily opened the door to get out of the car. I needed to move my legs over the edge of the seat with my arms since they were too stiff and painful to move on their own. With a grunt and a groan, I stood up and slowly wobbled my way back around the car to get my water bottle from the tailgate....
Here's where it got ugly. I recall reaching for the handle of the tailgate a couple times (and missing), and then I simply blacked out and collapsed against the back of the SUV. Erich was there to grab me before I hit the ground, and he brought me back around to lay out on the reclined passenger seat. I was still 90% out of commission at this point, but I was aware enough of my current state to know I was extremely hot, even more nauseous, and sweating profusely. I had my eyes closed and was biting my tongue to keep from passing out completely again. Erich asked me if I wanted to go to my parents' house, but I said "No, they're sleeping...just take me to your house." Thankfully Erich lives just a couple miles from there, so it was not a long trip (not that I would have noticed as I passed out again on the way). When we got to his house, Erich basically carried me inside where I collapsed face-down on his bed.
I'm not sure exactly what caused my medical melt-down, but most likely it was a combination of everything: I had been on my feet for 26 hours at that point, the intense heat of Day 1 was certainly draining on my body, I probably wasn't eating enough overnight, and I most likely took my latest dose of Aleeve too soon. Whatever the reason(s), I was out cold for almost an hour on that bed. When I came to, I looked at the wall and thought, "I don't know where I am right now, but I know I need to be somewhere else." I quickly remembered I should be running and needed to get back out on the course. At this point, Steve called from his house and Erich filled him in on the details. Steve said he was thinking about having the crew and some other family members come down to each run a section of the course in my honor so I could stop. A nice thought, sure, but I wasn't having any of it. I told him I was heading back to the course, and he should round up the crew and meet me at the next stop. Of course my mouth was writing way more checks than my body could cash at that point.
I S-L-O-W-L-Y got up and walked outside to the car, and Erich drove me back to the course. It was overcast and cool at that point, and since I was still regaining my senses, I felt a bit chilly. I chose to wear a slightly heavier short-sleeve shirt (not nearly as cool as what I usually run in) and headed down the road. I tried to get some momentum going, but I was walking slower than slow at this point as I made my way up and over the Bourne Bridge and officially onto Cape Cod. From there I hooked up with the Canal Bike Path. The plan was for the crew to meet me there at the start of the bike path, but when I arrived they were still at the store stocking up on necessities for the day. Since it was still cool and overcast, I figured my water bottle was full enough for me to make it the 5 miles or so to the end of the canal path where they would meet me next. This turned out to be the biggest mistake I made during the entire run.
As I headed up the bike path, the sun broke through the haze and began to bake me again. The humidity was higher than at any other point during the run, and there was absolutely no breeze at all. The completely exposed bike path quickly turned into a frying pan, and I was sizzling on top of it like a stick of butter. My heavier t-shirt felt like a wool coat. My water bottle was empty after only a mile, and my throat was drier than the pavement I was scuffing with every step. I was wobbling more and more with each passing minute, and I needed help ASAP. I called the crew and told them I needed them to find a spot to cut in on the bike path and meet me right away. I was about 2 miles from the end of the path, and knew I couldn't make it without passing out again. Amelia jumped into action and began running down the canal toward me with some water and a hat while the rest of the crew tried to find a spot to drive in closer to me on the path. Amelia and I finally met up under the Sagamore Bridge and noticed there was a parking lot with road access next to it. We had the crew vehicle meet us there.
When the crew arrived I knew I needed to get out of the sun/heat/humidity for the peak hours of the day. I had no chance of surviving the day in my condition. I would have loved to have run this course in an unbreakable record time without stopping like this, but the reality of the situation called for a change in plans. I knew I hadn't fully recovered from the morning's events, and if I tried to cover even one more mile in my condition I would most definitely wake up in the hospital. The crew brought me to the home base (my parent's house, only about 5 miles away) and I crashed hard for 4 or 5 hours. Elizabeth woke me up a couple times to force-feed me some fuel, and even though I objected, she wouldn't take 'No' for an answer. As it turned out, that food was exactly what I needed to recharge and get back in stride, so to speak. With only 2+ months of marriage under my belt, I'm already learning that the wife is always right!
After my rest, I awoke and began dressing myself for running again. I convinced everyone I was ready and able to continue, and back out to the course we went. I didn't know how I was going to do it (I could hardly walk), but I knew I needed to get back out there and keep fighting.It was at this point I made the decision to scrap my plans for running 200 miles and just cover the originally planned 192. Since I had 10 bonus miles already covered, we returned to the course at the appropriate spot to make the finish line at the Provincetown Inn exactly 192 miles.
This picture is me with Elizabeth just before starting out again on the course (I only needed her to support about 50% of my weight to stand up like this, I swear).
It was early evening (6pm-ish) at this point, and the air was cooling down nicely. Amelia accompanied me as I walked like Frankenstein's monster for about a mile until my legs were loose enough to jog slowly again. In the beginning, I was running so slowly that Amelia was still just walking next to me and keeping pace. Eventually she had to power-walk to keep up, and after a couple miles she finally had to break into a run to stay with me. For most of this section we were on the amazingly hilly Service Road that parallels the super-flat Route 6. What torture it was to look over at points when we could see the flat highway to our left as we had to climb up yet another 400-foot hill. Oddly enough, however, I had no problems running the hills at my slow-n-steady pace. Sure, they were a little more work, but we ran all of them. After 5 miles and another crew stop, Amelia decided to continue on with me for another section. We donned our headlamps and night gear and continued on running the whole 5 miles at a nice steady pace. I could tell our steady running pace was exciting the crew and helping to convince them that I very well might make that finish line after all. I know they all had their doubts after such a rough day (and rightly so), but things were changing for the positive now.
After dropping off Amelia I handled the next section solo with my ipod. Again, I ran the whole thing, and to be quite honest, I was even surprising myself at how I didn't need to walk any hills or take any breaks. I was clicking along at a steady and comfortable pace just like Day 1. After my solo section, I had a surprise guest. My friend Staci had driven all the way down from Newton, MA to join me for a run. Staci just had a baby in May (her second), and she dropped the kids off at her in-laws to head down and join me at midnight for a little jog. I was so happy! We started out running slowly, but to be honest I was more interested in talking with her for a couple miles so we walked a bunch to stretch out our conversation time longer. The end of the section came way too soon, but I had to move on, so I hugged and thanked Staci and pushed on.
Steve joined me for this next section, and since it had been such a successful rebound from near disaster earlier in the day, I decided this would be the last section of the night. At the end I had covered 145 miles total and was feeling great. I could have pushed on through the small hours of the night, but knew we'd all appreciate heading back to get a couple hours of sleep before coming back to finish up the final 47 miles in the morning.
My legs felt great after a few more hours of sleep, and I was up and ready to finish this mission in no time. We got back to the 145 mile point on the course and Amelia and I headed out in very similar fashion to the day before. At first I was moving like Frankenstein's monster, but after about a mile it was more like the pace of the townspeople Frankenstein's monster was chasing. Just like the night before, the hills were no problem as I just stuck to my slow-n-steady pace and ran them all. The only downside to these first 15 miles or so of the day (I should note, Amelia ran them ALL with me) was the roads were extremely busy with fast-moving cars, construction vehicles and GARBAGE trucks. Apparently it was trash-day on the Cape.Eventually we ducked off the roads on to a bike path that was nicely shaded and free from dangerously fast and horribly smelly vehicles. I pushed on solo after thanking Amelia for running longer than she ever had before (a half-marathon was her previous record). My rhythm was smooth and solid, and I while I expected my legs to tire and my feet to force me to walk at some point, that never happened.
When the day started, I thought, "OK, even if I crash and have to walk every single mile today, I'll finish at about 4am". As my day of surprisingly steady running went on and the miles clicked by, that estimated finish time went down at each crew stop: 2am, 12am, 11pm, 10pm, 9:30pm...
The convincing moment for me that my legs were going to be strong enough to run the whole distance was when Steve joined me for a quick two mile section at the mile 163 mark. I had just finished eating some solid food and had enough energy to pull away from him during a short but hilly two mile section. Seeing that he couldn't keep up with me over those 2 miles convinced me that I was not only going to finish this course running, but it would also be at a pretty nice pace too.
My uncle Rich drove all the way back down to join up with the crew at this point, and he hopped in to run the next 5 mile section with me. After Rich, it was my brother Erich (who had now also joined the crew) who jumped in to take on the next 5 miles with me. At this point the sun was moving down in the sky (about 5pm), but its rays were no less intense on us as we covered a hilly and HOT section. We were both very happy to run up the last BIG hill to the crew vehicles to grab some cold water and shade (and a kiss).With only 12 miles left to go, Amelia joined in for one last section with me. We ran the whole way up Rt. 6 as the sun set ahead of us. The Pilgrim Tower in Provincetown came into view in the distance and I said "I'm coming to get you!!" as we clipped along at a steady pace. Views of the ocean on the left and right sides of Rt. 6 were beautiful too, but the most glorious sight was when I saw the 'Welcome to Provincetown' sign just before the next crew stop. We passed that with a mini-celebration and pulled up to the crew on the side of the road. With only 7 miles to go, I was focused and feeling great. My feet no longer hurt, and my legs felt strong and light. I quickly headed out for the next stop 5 miles up the road.
The sun set once again at this point, so I let my headlamp show me the way up hilly Race Point Road around the tip of Cape Cod. A car of cheering people passed me at one point, so I knew they must have stopped and talked to my crew up ahead. Even though this section was quite hilly, I covered it in just under 10 minute pace (not bad for miles 185 to 190). The only reason I stopped at the crew vehicles was to grab a little water in my bottle since it was running low. I was in-and-out in 20 seconds. No time to chat, I had a 192 mile run to finish!
Off I went even faster than the previous section. While cruising along I took some time to think about all of the amazing support I had received during this run, and especially about all of my friends fighting in the hospital right now. My wife's cousin Kurt is in a particularly tough fight himself right now, so I was shouting aloud like Burgess Meredith in the Rocky movies to encourage him to keep fighting and never give up.
The stars were out on this clear cool night, and other than that, not too many man-made lights polluted the ocean air. This helped me pick out the specific hue of the lantern my crew was using as it came into view in the distance.Before long I heard some cheering from my crew up ahead- they too had seen the distinctive light of my headlamp. Amelia was the first one to come into view as she moved up the road to get some photos. Elizabeth was next, her excited cheers of "You did it! You did it!" brought chills up my spine. Then, just around the bend I saw my parents standing in front of the Provincetown Inn finish line. They were holding up a Dana-Farber banner for me to run through...and run I did! I picked up my pace as best I could and crashed through the banner with a celebratory scream! I was DONE!!!
Many pictures were taken, and lots of hugs and hand-shakes were given in the parking lot. Two very nice ladies from the Pan Mass Challenge were even there to congratulate me and give me a t-shirt! It felt great to call Chris, who had been doing such an amazing job updating the blog during the run, and tell him the great news. I was simply ecstatic...and the turkey sandwich Elizabeth handed me shortly thereafter was, without a doubt, the greatest tasting thing I've ever eaten.
After we drove home I was able to finally read all of the amazing reports Chris had posted on the blog, and seeing the total of well over $6,000 raised [Final total raised was $7,650!] definitely brought a tear to my eye. I never would have been able to raise that kind of money without the amazing support of EVERYONE who helped spread the word on this run. I am forever indebted to each and every one of you. Thank you.
Of course, special thanks goes out to those who lost sleep and lent their legs out there with me on the road. The Main Crew: My beautiful wife Elizabeth, Amelia (who ran a total of 48 miles with me!!), and my parents - Here we are inside the Provincetown Inn at the finish:Big thanks also go out to my bother (who saved me when I passed out), my cousin Erin (who ran 15 with me at night), Uncle Rich, Aunt Betsy, Staci, Jessee and Mike, John and Marie (and kids!), and all of the great people we ran into along the way who cheered us on (including many many local police officers who checked-in at night). A special thanks also goes out to the good people at Drymax, my main man Bob especially, for not only donating to this cause, but for also sending me some of their amazing socks. I am being 100% honest when I tell you I finished this insanely punishing 192 mile asphalt run with NO BLISTERS!! Drymax socks are amazing.
Even though I didn't run the 192 miles "non-stop" like I planned (instead of my goal of 50 hours, it took me more like 62 since I needed to sleep and travel to/from the course twice), I still hope the story of this run helps inspire patients currently undergoing treatments to keep fighting, even when things are looking their darkest. Never give up, my friends, never give up!!