Early in 1985 I made a bet with a guy at Tulane University. The bet was whether or not I could jump rope for three hours nonstop. I was allowed to miss four times per hour. But I would have to immediately start up as soon as I missed. Any misses I didn’t use per hour could be carried into the next hour. I think I used nine or ten of the possible misses. I won the bet. One 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade was mine. The guy’s name was David Rothenberg. I then locked up the Tulane field house where I was working as a student coach. David and I got into my Alfa Romeo Spider. I drove him to a 7-11 where he bought a bottle of Gatorade. I then drove him to his apartment in uptown New Orleans. When I turned on the news the next morning, I saw my friend being carried off by officials in handcuffs. The allegations: gambling. How could one bottle of Gatorade get him into so much trouble? David had bigger problems. He was part of a point-shaving scheme (read more in the Sports Illustrated link) that brought the Tulane basketball team to its knees. I told you that to tell you this. Neither Rothenberg or myself realized that our lives would be forever changed that night in the Tulane field house. The next day as he contemplated his future as a criminal, I was trying to figure out how to go longer. I didn’t care how or why. I just wanted to go longer. Thinking back on it, the most incredible thing about my three-hour rope session was that I didn’t stop once for water. Things started to happen. Instead of running three to six miles (mileages that would mimic the 5 and 10K events I was doing), I would just jog around New Orleans. I would grab coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde for fuel to run back uptown. Instead of taking my car to Donaldsonville, Louisiana to visit my parents, I began taking my bicycle 80 miles one way. I would turn around and ride right back. It was around this time I read a story in a magazine about a race called RAAM, also known as the Race Across America. I read about a guy named Pete Penseyres. In 1986 he set the all-time RAAM speed record of 15.4 miles per hour over a course of 3,107 miles with a time of eight days, nine hours and forty-seven minutes. The record has stood for more than 20 years. If I’m not mistaken, he built the first set of aerobars. These are used across the biking and triathlon world today. I remember sitting in my office at Newman School where I was employed as a strength and conditioning coach for all sports, thinking one day I too would be an ultra athlete. I figured all I would need was a lot of money so I wouldn’t have to work all the time. That way I could train long hours. Like most people in the world today, that day never comes. In 1993 I entered my first 12-hour mountain bike race. At that time it seemed almost ludicrous to ride a bike for that amount of time. Within a year I had entered my first solo mountain bike race. Within two years of that day, I made it to the world solo finals in 24-hour mountain bike racing. What does all of this have to do with what’s going on today? Everything. What people like myself were doing in the mid to late 90s was considered crazy. By today’s standards, it’s considered nothing. People regularly ride these distances in races around the world. It’s considered common. I have a friend, Shannon Farar-Greifer, who does several 100-mile foot races per year. One of the first times I met Shannon she was pregnant and about to deliver her third or fourth child. I was shocked to read that four or five months later, she had entered a 100-mile off-road foot race. Ultra sports are not for everyone. It just shows our willingness as humans to see just how far we can go. It makes me that much more excited about the next ten years and the ten years after that.
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