On Saturday, March 30, ultrarunners participated in the 20th annual Lakefront 50K along the Chicago lakefront. This popular running event has been called the gateway to ultra-running with a flat looping course, enthusiastic race support, and seasoned race directors who know how to put on a great event.
One runner was interested in participating, but needed a virtual option as he would be in Iraq on race day. LTC Andrew (Andy) Heymann, BOS-I Commander, is a member of the 201st Regional Support Group (RSG), which is a regional support group of the United States Army and the Georgia Army National Guard.
Commander Heymann’s unit was deployed earlier this year, his second deployment to Iraq (he also previously served for 18 months in Korea), and has been serving our country at the Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. Commander Heymann, an experienced marathon runner, reached out to the Lakefront 50K race directors, Jeff Fleitz and Pat Onines to inquire about a virtual option.
“Andy contacted me via email about a month ago and asked if we would be interested in sponsoring him for a satellite run,” explained Fleitz. “I didn’t really understand what he meant, so I wrote back and we exchanged a few emails. When I asked what he was looking for, he said ‘what every runner wants, a shirt and a medal!’ That seemed pretty reasonable, so we agreed to partner up with him.”
Andy received a complimentary registration for the race so that he would be officially registered and was mailed a shirt, finisher metal, and other special Lakefront 50K swag.
“I have exchanged about a dozen emails with Andy helping to offer some advice for his first ultramarathon and provide encouragement,” stated Fleitz. “I have started to get to know who he is now. At first I assumed he was a 20-some year old guy who just picked up the running bug. The story keeps unfolding as we write back and forth.”
Andy has been running for 20 years, having begun in college recreationally. He completed his first marathon during his last deployment in 2007.
“It was a satellite run of the Boston Marathon,” explained Heymann. “I was the race director for it. I then did the Atlanta Marathon a few years ago, and again, earlier this month as a satellite run in Iraq.”
“I’m very excited for Andy running his first ultra and finding the Chicago Lakefront 50K to partner up with,” said Race Director, Fleitz before he ran. “It was just by chance that he found us. He did a web search looking for an ultra around this time because he just finished running a marathon a few weeks ago and wanted to take advantage of the conditioning from that race and put it into his first ultra.”
Not only did Andy successfully tackle his first ultra, he did so three weeks after completing a marathon, while training with his unit in Iraq; his story is the epitome of self motivation.
“Knowing that we would be deployed through March, we reached out to the Atlanta Track Club and held a satellite run of the Publix Atlanta Marathon on 08 March,” said Heymann. “Piggybacking on that, I figured I would fulfill a goal of mine and plan to run my first ultra before redeployment.”
“Ever since I first read Ultramarthonman by Dean Karnazes, I have wanted to attempt an ultra” Heymann added. “I have continuously challenged myself, pushed myself, over a lifetime to see what new thresholds I can reach: Ranger School, MMA fights, endurance events, etc. I have done a few marathons and one Half Ironman, but with marriage, kids, and numerous injuries, training for an endurance event has been difficult over the past five years.”
Dedicating time to training can be a real challenge for runners who must find a way to balance family, work, and fitness. Marathon training season can be a trial for all kinds of relationships, and more than a few have suffered because of imbalance.
Commander Heymann found a way to maximize his time away from his loved ones as he logged miles of training time in order to be ready for an ultra. He trained by running, stretching, and stationary cycling.
“One of the few positive aspects of a deployment is that there are very few distractions and, other than work, our time is free,” said Heymann. “Al Asad Air Base, where I am stationed, is large and has miles and miles of roads and trails to run on.”
Although the Lakefront 50K took place on Saturday, Andy raced his virtual equivalent on Friday, March 29that exactly 5 a.m. in the Anbar Desert of Western Iraq. “The weather was awesome, as good as one could hope for out here,” described Heymann.
The morning was dark and pretty cool, but as the sun came out, so did the gnats. “They are thick this time of year. I did one long leg to start (10.5 miles) and then did 4.5 loops on the back (quiet) side of post so I could avoid traffic.”
As you can see from the photographs, several soldiers paced Andy for portions of the race. He also staged a vehicle with water, bananas, and Clif shots as an aid station. He also had a separate group of soldiers staged in a vehicle with water, NUUN, Clif shots, and bananas.
“I started off really strong! I had random aches and pains throughout – hips, feet, hamstrings – but that’s normal for me. At 40k, my right calf started to cramp pretty hard. I managed to work through it and just kept moving forward,” he said. “I constantly quote lines from two movies: “No pain no pain” (Rocky) and “Just keep running, just keep running” (paraphrasing Dory from “Finding Nemo”). Oh, and kick ass playlists full of Marvel soundtracks, Disturbed, and Nightwish.”
Andy finished his first 50K with a time of 5:27:41 and officially became an ultrarunner.
“It’s exciting to be part of Andy’s first ultra experience,” explained Fleitz. “I’ve always felt that ultra running is a very friendly and sharing community. I’m glad that I can share my experiences with Andy and hopefully represent the ultra running community in a way that feeds into, and maybe even expands, his passion for running for years to come. Maybe our paths will cross someday and we can meet in person, it’s a small world.”