What possessed Connie Nunham of Howell to run 100 miles at the age of 63, despite undergoing five foot surgeries and having screws in her hip because of a stress fracture?
“I’m kind of nuts, but intensely driven,” she said. “I’m stubborn.”
In a year in which nearly all races are virtual, Nunham ran 5.25-mile loops of Settlers Park in Hartland in early November until she’d completed 100 miles. It took 40 hours to complete the distance, running day and night.
Trying to eat after hours of running was the most difficult part.
“You can’t put food in you,” she said. “You have to take so much nutrition in. It was horrid. That part was horrid. I couldn’t walk for a day afterward. My feet were swollen.
“Probably 20 miles in, I got a side ache; it was a muscle. It plagued me through the whole event. At times, I was bent over sideways. I had to stop and do cat-and-cows (a yoga stretch) in front of the fire department. I couldn’t get rid of it. The waves of nausea, yeah, it wasn’t pretty. People were force-feeding me. ‘If you want to finish, eat it!’”
Remember, this is what she does for fun.
Nunham attempted a 100-miler last year, but dropped out after 56 miles because of an injury.
“I quit, but that dream is still there,” said Nunham, who began running 10 years ago. “I’m not a quitter. I had to try again.”
This year she signed up to do the virtual Hennepin Hundred, which typically takes place in early October in Illinois, because of its generous time limit. The race was run as a virtual race this year.
To ensure a more successful attempt this time around, Nunham enlisted the help of a coach, accomplished ultrarunner Loretta Tobolske-Horn of Brighton. Tobolske-Horn not only came up with a training plan and offered tips in the three months leading up to the run but also turned Nunham’s race from a solo venture into a community event.
Anticipating it would take Nunham 36 hours to complete the race, Tobolske-Horn put out a request on social media to have runners accompany her in one-hour blocks throughout the run. Within an hour, there were more volunteers on board than were needed for the 36 slots.
When it appeared Nunham’s run would take longer, Tobolske-Horn sent out another message for pacers to accompany her over the final four hours.
When Nunham finished at 1 a.m., about 15 people cheered for her at a makeshift finish line. She was presented with a belt buckle, the customary award for 100-mile finishers.
“It was incredible to see all the people come out,” Tobolske-Horn said. “People from her church, people from Running Lab, people from the Hope Water running group. It was just a neat day. Especially during this pandemic, things have not always been fun. It was great to see the community come together and be able to be outside.
“Our running community is absolutely amazing. It’s just so neat to see it all come together. A lot of us hadn’t seen each other for months. Because of COVID, running groups have been canceled. That probably made it more special.”
Nunham didn’t want to be in the spotlight but appreciated the support she received, in some cases from total strangers.
“I was in awe,” she said. “I had music downloaded to all my iPod shuffles, iPods, you name it. You know how many times I played that music? None. I had the best playlist ever. I had people, I had nature. No app or musician could ever recreate those sounds.
“At the end, I cried. All those people from Running Lab and other running communities I’m part of, friends, family, my church, strangers came up to me. They said, ‘I don’t know you but, man, you’re awesome!’ In the midst of all we’re going through right now, to have that support and encouragement, there are kind, warm loving people still there.”
Contact Bill Khan at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.