I've been running races since 1995 starting with the 10K. Over a long period of time, my running has evolved into something far beyond what I thought was possible. It's been a long progression with many ups and downs. It's been an adventure. And, even though I'm quite fulfilled in many other areas of my life, ultra running has become my passion.
I have never felt as if I had any talent as a runner. I guess if one were to find something defined as talent in me, it would be lack of injury proneness and having better than average endurance. Otherwise, even though I do pretty well in ultra events as a recreational runner, without the speed, I'm limited.
I'm okay with being limited because as I said earlier, my running has evolved into something far beyond what I thought was possible. I never thought I'd be able to run 100 mile races or 24 hour events and survive. I never knew that I had something in me deep down that wanted to do this-even though I fought it. I still fight it.
Along the way throughout my running, I've had influences-so many of them. I could probably list 10 people since 1995 who have encouraged and supported me such as my dad, Al. I did my first long run with dad- ran half marathon and 10ks with him, and he now comes out and supports/crews many of my ultra events. He's 77 years old and still running half marathons. RUNNING, not walking half marathons. I feel so blessed to have this bond with him. I know it's special.
My first 100 mile race was KEYS 100 in 2010. It took me over 3 years after my first ultra to run a 100 mile race. It was a big deal and I finished the darn thing. I told myself, and everyone else, that I'd never do another one again. 100 mile races are really crazy and one was enough.
Six months after KEYS 100, while I was running the Peachtree City 50K and on my last 5ish mile loop (I'd run a marathon the day before so I was shuffling very slow), Joe Fejes came running up beside me. He was at the race running the 25K only because he'd finished Pinhoti 100 mile race just the weekend before. We were facebook friends and had mutual friends because we lived close to each other, but we had never actually met. He came up beside me to run with me so that he could ask me about KEYS 100. I told him not to do it. Just kidding....
So, after meeting him and adding him to the Hamilton Mill running club email list, he fit in very well with our club and ended up running with us on a regular basis. While many of his miles run with me were "junk" miles because he is quite a bit faster than me, he still saw value in it. In fact, he played a huge role in helping Ami Roach get faster. When he first met Ami, she couldn't break 4 hours in the marathon. He encouraged her and pushed her. Ami's marathon PR is 3:21 now. Joe has helped her do this. He helped her because he truly likes helping people improve and excel in running. You can read about her here and here. I think he enjoys helping others as much as fulfilling his own dreams as a runner.
Hinson Lake 24hr was my first actual 24 hour race and it was Joe's second. We'd done some 100 mile races but when you finish under 24 hours as a 100 mile runner, a 24 hour race can seem daunting. I stopped at 100 miles in a little over 21 hours and Joe kept going. He kept going and finished in the low 130s. After the race, Vikena Yutz suggested to Joe that he try qualifying for the USATF 24 Hour Team. He had just finished the 24 hour- dehydrated, out of it, chafed, hungry, thirsty, not hungry, tired....but still, when he listened very carefully to Vikena and her suggestion, he lit up. He wanted it.
Even though I love ultra running-just love it, the 24 hour race seems insane. And though I'm a decent ultra runner, running for 24 hours is just so hard. It hurts and honestly, I still don't know why I love it. How can someone love something so much that brings on so much pain?
Over a period of time as Joe improved his 24 hour event by completing 142 miles and qualifying for the USATF 24 Hour World Championships in Poland, I started to think that I wanted to try this. The idea of competing overseas with 35 other countries was intriguing. I wasn't sure I had a chance but with Joe's training guidance, I decided to start taking training even more seriously.
You can read about my race at North Coast 24 hour (September 2012)here. I fell short of my goal of over 125 miles but decided that I have a chance at improvement. I may not be fast but I don't take breaks and know how to shuffle. So, in 2013, I'll be giving a 130+ mile in the 24 hour a shot again.
Joe went on to Poland to compete in the 24 hour USA World Championships, as the sixth male to qualify in 2012 completing 147 miles and was the 3rd American male finisher. Since then, he ran 156 miles at Desert Solstice 24 hour to qualify him again to compete in Worlds, and this was two weeks prior to his new world record in the 72 hour at Across the Years. He ran 329.6 miles in 72 hours this past weekend. Averaging 110 miles a day for three days is hard for even most ultra runners to fathom.
Joe Fejes isn't an average Joe at all. He is a coach, a mentor, and now a world record holder in ultra running. The Hamilton Mill Running Club is so glad to know Joe and have him a part of our group. He inspires us all to never stop pushing hard for our dreams and believe in things that seem out of reach, to not settle for something that we think is what we deserve, and to do what we love because this is our one shot at life.
Congratulations Joe. We are all proud of you.