A couple weeks ago, we brought you the story of 21 Guns, an organization that pays tribute to America’s fallen heroes by running in honor of them. Earlier this month, they ran an ultra marathon in honor of two soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan over the summer and Adam of 21 Guns wrote this race report, an amazing story. Thank you Adam and Dan and 21 Guns for sharing your story!
This past weekend was a big weekend, as Team 21GUNS had the opportunity to run in honor of 2 Army helicopter pilots who were shot down in Afghanistan 5 June of this year. CW3 Kenneth White and CW2 Bradley Gaudet both stepped in harm’s way voluntarily and paid the ultimate price so that we could live the lives that we live in this great country.
The race was the First Annual Delirium 24 hour Endurance run in Bluffton, South Carolina. Along with the 24 hour version, one could also sign up for a 6 hour or 12 hour option as well. You would never have known this was an inaugural event, as the organization of the event down to every last detail was spot on. Team 21GUNS opted for the 24 hour version, so at 10:00am Saturday morning, 21GUNS cofounders Dan Tebo and I, toed the line to start the 24-hour journey.
If you ever want to peel back all the layers and see what you’re really made of, run an ultra marathon. Those ultra runs tend to carry you through many highs and lows while you’re on the trail. The highs can be very high and the lows can be VERY low, requiring you to dig deeper than you ever have before. I think Dan and I covered the entire spectrum of emotions during this event.
One team member had to make the difficult, but smart decision to end his run early due to injury. This did not end his day, though like the soldier he is, he got cleaned up and set a new goal for his mission. He decided to be there every step of the way to get his teammate to the finish.
The day could not have started any better, with temperatures in mid 40’s. There was not a cloud in the sky. Dan and I were both pretty relaxed as we ate breakfast at 7:00am– albeit a little quiet as we contemplated what was about to begin. We got the vehicles loaded up and gathered the team: Dan, myself, Larry Salley ( my brother in law and Uber Crew chief), my son, Sean Fitzgerald , Hillary Tebo Dan’s wife future ultra runner Logan Tebo, and of course the cheering section of the four-legged variety, Elsa, Roxie and Koa.
Once we got to the start line, we focused on setting up the “Aid station,” where we could access all of our supplies during the run. Everything at the aid station, from nutrition to change of clothes, crew members and the race gear served as a reminder of why we were there in the first place: to honor two real heroes and their families. During a brief introduction and pre race meeting you could cut the nervous anticipation with a knife. Dan and I both had our game faces on and were ready to “Get-er Done”.
The gun sounded and we were off.
The early miles were filled with a lot of nervous laughter and chatter as people settled into their pace. The biggest issue we had at this point was keeping the excitement of the day from dictating our pace and running too fast. Of course, that is exactly what happened. After a few hours I could tell things were not quite right with Dan. He was keeping his cards close and not letting on that he was in some serious pain. Like the warrior that he is, he made it past the 50k mark (31.2 miles) before making the very difficult decision to end the run portion of his race, and shift all his energy to getting me to the finish.
For this I am very grateful. Later in the race, his support was critical in getting me to the finish. We continued on clicking off the hours and things really started to get interesting after the sun went down. By this time, the wind was really kicking into gear and the temps started to drop. According to the iPhone app, the temperature dipped to 26 degrees with a wind-chill of 11 degrees.
Around midnight, fourteen hours into the race, things started to get tough for me. By this time, I had enough clothes on to look like the Michelin man, but I still could not stay warm. From this point on the crew really earned their money in providing support, and we all remained united in our goal to run for the families.
The mantra was simple at the beginning of each lap. “RFM, RFM” (relentless forward motion) and “just get to the next aid station”. To this point, my hydration and food seemed to be spot on as the race aid station was VERY WELL equipped with anything that you might crave– including some of the best chicken soup I have even eaten in my life. Yet, the time on my feet and the energy draining cold were really starting to take their toll.
By 3:00am (17 hours into the race) I just could not get warm enough and was shivering uncontrollably. Dan recognized that this might be classic symptoms of hypothermia, so we made the decision to step just off the course and get into Dan’s SUV to warm up before starting the next lap. This strategy continued for the next few hours.
The sun finally came up around 7:00am. This usually results in a lift of the spirits and for at least a brief period and a lift in pace as well– as people can see the light at the end of the tunnel from an end of race perspective. You no longer have to deal with staring at a small circle of light from your headlamp in the midst of pitch black woods– so dark you can’t see the hand in front of your face. In my case, there was no increase in my pace, as my legs were pretty much shot at this point. However, there was a big boost in my spirit due to the sun and a much needed nap to stave off sleep deprivation. Although from the outside looking in it might have been hard to tell as I dragged along.
So it was FINALLY here, the end was in sight. I had just one lap to go. It took the whole team to get me to this point, so the WHOLE team was gonna run that last lap with me. I took the American flag and Dan took the Team 21GUNS flag and we were off on the last 1.7 miles of this journey.
The course was a loop course with the last .2 miles a straight shot from the woods down the street to the finish. Once we got close enough to see the finish (just thinking about it is giving me goose bumps) we could see what looked like somebody with three small kids. As we came closer, I recognized Sarah, the wife of fallen soldier, Kenneth White. She was standing there with her three kids, waiting for our arrival. That was a real quick reminder that all of the pain and discomfort that Dan and I both endured during this run, paled in comparison (and should not even be compared) to the loss that this young mom and kids have had to deal with every day since losing her husband and their daddy.
After finishing, we had the privilege to personally thank Sarah and the kids for their sacrifice and presented them with a very small token of our deepest appreciation. I am still trying to process it all as it was quite an emotional roller coaster for me and the team. I do know that this has really fired me up for the next race, as we continue to push forward in making sure that these warriors are not forgotten.
Fallen and not Forgotten
Co Founder Team 21GUNS
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Check out our last post on 21 Guns and their journey toward the ultra marathon.