A redemption run that started as a solo, grassroots idea and quickly became a city-wide effort powered by friends old and new, and who are the epitome of what it means to #justshowup . This is Callie’s story.
It was about 2:30 am. I was shivering, curled up in someone’s tent, waiting for a friend to drive me and my tucked tail home from what was supposed to be a 100-mile finish at a 24-hour race around a 1-mile loop in Lisle, IL. Right from the start, I knew something was wrong. My body rejected all water and food (minus one mint and a sketchy fig newton) and I was stopping for the bathroom every mile on the dot. After 18 miles, that’s when I thought, “this isn’t safe anymore, something is seriously wrong.”
I get home, check in with my doctor that Monday and discover nothing — just my usual low hemoglobin and blood count levels. So, with nothing to diagnose or doctor to tell me no, that’s when the wheels started turning again. I was physically trained for it. Mentally ready for it. That weekend, I was going to attempt 100 miles again. No race. No spectators. Just me and this need for redemption.
I decided the best time to start would be Friday afternoon, immediately after work. That way, the second half wouldn’t mean me having to run completely alone around Chicago in the middle of the night. I mean, I might have dumb ideas, but after an attack that happened early this year, I wanted to play this game as smart as possible.
I spent the week preparing for the trek, gathering groceries, gear and mapping neighborhoods to run through at certain times of day. On Thursday night, I laid out my ‘flat runner’ outfit with a new bib I made out of the last one, snapped a photo, then stuffed everything in my bag Friday morning along with my laptop and lunch. Around noon or so, I get a message from a few November Project friends asking if they could help and that if I posted in our Facebook page, I’d probably get a handful of responses. Before I could, our friend Sam was already on it. And within the hour, friends from all over the city were armed and ready to pitch in any way they could. By the time I was ready to go, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of how much help was ahead — whether that be a pacer or someone acting as an aid station — but what I imagined didn’t even compare.
It’s 3:30 pm. I wave a hopeful goodbye to my coworkers, walk out the door, hit go on my Garmin and I’m off. First stop? My house. #FurMomLife. I designed the “course” so that I could stop at home — my main aid station — to not only grab food and gear as needed, but to also feed and walk my dog. I get home, take care of him, grab some PB&J’s and take off for the first major leg of the journey, up to Highland Park and back.
A few hours before, I shared my location with Sam so she could track progress and update friends throughout the next 24 hours or so. But, what I didn’t know was how important this was to what unfolded out of the next 90 miles. About 10 miles in, I’m running down the sidewalk and see someone waving and cheering on their bike. It’s Sam, my hero! She asks how I’m doing and if anyone could bring me anything (which at that point, I didn’t know how many people “everyone” really meant). I say I’m feeling great and we continue on for the next 7 or so miles.
This is when I discover exactly how many November Project friends are really involved behind the scenes. Like Randy, who was already waiting at mile 17, geared and ready to pace for the next 40 miles. And did I mention Randy and I had never officially met before? Well, for the next 10 hours you could say we got to know each other very well.
At this point, Sam has to jet off and Randy and I make our way to Highland Park. Randy says we’re going to meet someone soon who’s prepared water and snacks if we need them. Sure enough, our November Project friend Sippi shows up and rolls out the red carpet of vegan aid station options. Peanut butter pretzels, vegetable broth, chips, Swedish fish, water, you name it. I’m completely shocked by the attention to detail and of course, her willingness to show up and help out on a late Friday night. I give her a huge hug, stuff my face with pretzels and we’re off again.
We get to the downtown area of Highland Park, stop at our turn around point — a gas station — for water and a bathroom break. I explain to the cashier why two runners would happen to pop in at 1 am and he laughs. An appropriate response. It’s a quick stop. I fill my water bottles and we make our way towards the North Branch Trail.
This was honestly the section I was most concerned about — prior to knowing I wasn’t venturing through it alone. In the woods, you can’t account for gas stations to appear, or an attacker to not appear. A bathroom? It’s the woods, so who cares about that. But, thanks to this amazing group of friends, I went right into the woods without a worry in sight.
At this point it’s about 2 am. I notice Randy messaging someone and about 20 minutes later, Sippi, who he’d been coordinating with, appears again. What. An. Angel. I remember the vegetable broth, down a cupful of it, grab some Swedish fish and we’re back on the trail again. A couple hours later, another friend shows up in their car with more VIP-style aid station options just for us. More hugs are shared and even more laughs. Because what else are you supposed to do when you’re on the side of the road in the wee hours of the morning about 45 or so miles into a run?
About 5:30 am Randy has to take off. Not to go to sleep, but to pace his running group for their Saturday morning long run. This guy, I swear. I give him the biggest hug imaginable, say “it was great to meet you”, he hops in an Uber and I start the second half of this journey. But first, the pup. I make a pitstop at home, feed him breakfast, take him for his morning walk, pat his head and lock the door on my way out. The second half is a straight shot towards the lakefront path, heading all the way south, then all the way north before making a final trek back home.
I’m almost to the lake and notice two smiling people. I recognize their faces and sure enough, it’s more November Project friends. Two people I’m officially meeting for the first time again and can’t thank enough for jumping in to help on this hot Chicago summer day. It’s about 84-degrees this weekend and very, very humid. Not the most ideal running weather, but the sunny skies sure beat the thunderstorms we were supposed to experience all night and day.
Drake, my next pacer, and I start heading south on the lakefront path, not long until we run into my next aid station. It’s Krishna and he’s stocked with perfectly cut PB&J’s, pickles, skittles, water and a camera to make sure this run comes with real “race photos”. So many heroes all in one day.
Drake and I keep heading south before he has to jet off and it’s not long until someone else is geared and ready to pick up the pacing duty. It’s Elisa, another friend I’m meeting for the first time and she’s ready to go on her Divvy bike. She ends up being just what I needed at this point in the run — from about miles 60-75. I was experiencing a lot of low points during this leg and her super bubbly, upbeat spirit is exactly what the doctor ordered. On our way back north, we run into Krishna again. I grab the entire bag of skittles this time because I really needed to taste a rainbow, he jumps in and so do two more November Project friends, Sue and her pup.
We make it to mile “I have no idea” and it’s time for the final stretch home. I say thanks to everyone who has to peel off and head straight west alone. At this point I’ve never been more thankful for two things in my life; 1) Friends who have your back no matter how crazy your goal is, and 2) sunglasses for hiding all the ugly cries I couldn’t control while shuffling my two very tired feet back home.
Home. Only .2 miles from it and I hear someone shouting “Callie!” from a street away. Alas, two more friends — Nora and her pup, Potato — are at the finish already waiting. With only what felt like forever to go, we walk around the block until the Garmin hits 100 and I immediately bend over with hands on both knees. She tells me congrats for what I’ve done and pulls out a wooden “medal” she made on the fly to commemorate the accomplishment. It’s an exact replica of the bib I scribbled 25 hours ago and use any energy still hanging on to not deliriously break down into tears.
100 miles. Officially done.
Between the friends who showed up in the middle of the night, to Sam for organizing every detail in the background, to another November Project friend from another city, Eric, who saw the story unfold, handmade two etched official medals and sent them to our co-leaders to present at a workout, I’ll never forget this moment for many, many reasons.
Callie found out about November Project through seeing runners and athletes wearing their grassroots gear around Chicago ‘having the best time.’ She did some research and decided to #justshowup in late April, 2019– we are glad she did!
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