Shop Online Cart2

Daring Greatly

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because, there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

For the past two seasons, Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech has been the inspiration for the mantra of the Fleet Feet Running Club Distance Project: Dare greatly. As also happened the previous summer, a group of individuals came together in July 2020 to begin a journey of over 1,000 miles that would take them to the starting line of their goal race, an ultramarathon of 50 or 100 miles. I, Barb Delgado, was one of their coaches. And this is their story.

It was November 9th, 2019, and the final runner from our Distance Project team had just been cheered across the Tunnel Hill 50 (mile) finish line by every other teammate. During the belt buckle-flourishing celebratory photo session and amid the ear to ear smiles and robust hugs one shares for reunions, the question was asked, “Are we doing this again next year?” The question became a statement. “Tell us we’re doing this again next year!” Having no reason or desire to put a damper on the high I answered, “Sure. Why not?” With those words still in the air and with a confidence earned from knowing what to expect the next time around, several team members registered for next year's Tunnel Hill race even before the calendar turned to 2020. 

As every global citizen reckoned with how to navigate through life in a pandemic, Fleet Feet Running Club reimagined ways to inspire members of the community to move together in pursuit of a healthy life. The days of Saturday morning training runs with 300+ participants were put on hold and replaced with smaller groups spaced apart in accordance with CDC health and safety guidelines. Being part of a large group has never been an issue for those training for an ultramarathon. This season, 11 newcomers joined 7 returning members of the inaugural team and the Distance Project training proceeded as it had in the past.  In extremely oversimplified form, our regimen was: meet us at the Katy Trail, run according to your heart rate zones, check in occasionally, and be back here in 5 hours (or whatever the time goal may be for the day). It’s surreal to think that ultra training fell into the realm of “normalcy,” essentially unaffected by the pandemic. It can be reported with absolute honesty, however, that through 19 weeks of training there was never an appearance that training was a chore. It was a “we get to do this,” not a “we have to do this” situation. Participants were treated to countless hours and hundreds of miles of quiet, isolated reflection - all while taking strength from knowing it was a shared experience. There were opportunities to appreciate the sensation of the sun, the wind, and the rain on the skin. There were moments to gaze upon the horizon in the moments just before sunrise (Jason has an entire photo album of those moments!) and sunset, when most of the world is in retreat. There was the hypnotic effect of the interplay of the rhythm of footfall, inhale, footfall, exhale... and repeat. Perhaps, above all, the defining element of this team was the sense of belonging. Brené Brown once pointed out that fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in requires assessing situations and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. In a world in crisis that necessitates unexpected changes in workplaces and in homes, having a place to be for 19 weeks strengthened mind, body, and spirit.

Of course, 2020 eventually caught up to the Distance Project. In September, team members began receiving notification from the Tunnel Hill race director indicating he was being forced to make COVID-related alterations to the iconic event that Distance Project members had set as their goal race. Some team members were “in” and others were waitlisted. Once official word was received from Tunnel Hill that our entire team couldn't compete together the Fleet Feet Running Club coaches and the Fleet Feet Racing Team event directors got together and hatched a plan to create an optional (and epic) race experience for the Distance Project members who couldn't run Tunnel Hill.  When this new option was presented to the team, a consensus of “we trained together, we race together, we belong together” was expressed and everyone deferred entry into Tunnel Hill 2021 and registered for the inaugural Distance Project ultramarathon.  (Team members may have been swayed by the fact that when races across the country were cancelled, Fleet Feet produced the Good News Marathon & Half Marathon as a private event for our half and full marathon program participants. Many Distance Project team members elected to also participate in the USATF-certified race. Two Distance Project members, Chari and Aneta, punched their tickets to the Boston Marathon!)

On Saturday, November 14th, race day, or Dare Greatly Day as it’s become known, runners were greeted by thunderstorms, temps in the upper 30s, and puddles often ankle deep. (A wind advisory and lightning storm in the early Sunday morning hours would later add extra degrees of difficulty for Chari and Bill as they worked to finish the 100 mile event.) There is bound to be something in an ultra race that isn’t part of the plan. In fact, part of ultrarunning's alure is the possibility that an opportunity to “improvise, adapt, and carry on” will arise. The ability to solve such riddles leads to ultra success. To a person, everyone stood at the starting line at 6:58am (well, except for Nick, who was late) and acted like that was the most logical thing they could be doing on a day such as this. They received last minute instructions and set off to do the thing they had prepared to do.  They ran... and ran... and ran.

Crews made up of family and friends sprang to action. With mileage spreadsheets, their runner’s nutrition plans, changes of dry clothes and shoes, and first aid items, crews popped in at trailheads at Good News Brewing Company in Defiance and Klondike Park and Missouri Research Park and places in between. When asked about his crew, ultra running legend Scott Jurek, once said, “To the untrained eye, ultrarunning might seem to reward the self-sufficient and punish any kind of weakness. But the most experienced and highest achieving ultrarunners learn that without support, it’s easy to wander aimlessly. And without a crew that you can honestly turn to for help, a crew that truly understands you, you won’t be able to help yourself.” The dedication of the crews this day assured that their runners would receive all the support they would need. 

Above all, for 50 and 100 miles the team ran with gratitude. There will be many tales about this season that will be shared over the years to come; tales that took place over 1,180 training miles (thank you Doug for keeping track), tales of Black Walnut and Machens and Augusta, tales of wrong turns and running late, tales of support during times of painful personal loss, tales of sunrise in the Busch Wildlife Area, tales of Good News racing and beer, tales of the best spots to potty, tales of virtual Boston Marathons, tales of a diminutive Sunday cyclist, tales of a unicorn, tales of the finish slide to break 9 hours, and tales of two teammates who thought 50 miles was only half enough. During a world wide health crisis and over the course of 50 and 100 miles the ultrarunners of the Distance Project demonstrated what the human body is capable of. Over the course of 50 and 100 miles, they demonstrated what the human spirit can inspire. They dared greatly. 

The results of the 2020 Distance Project ultramarathon can be found here. To learn more about the Distance Project, click here.  And to get an even better feeling for the Fleet Feet Running Club community, click here to join our Facebook Group.

The Distance Project team: Nicole Absheer, Kelly Brueggeman, Nick Doering, Tony Earle, Chari Gay (100 miles), Christine Hilburn, Hannah Hughes, Kat Humlicek, Jason Kesterson, Jeff Lindsey, Doug Mendoza, Bev Ofsthun (coach), Aneta Pavlova, John Scheiding, Kate Treese, Phil Ulrich, Bill Wahl (100 miles), Kelly Williams (cyclist support).  The following photos are in no particular order.


Connect With Us

see the latest from Fleet Feet St. Louis