By Henry Howard
For some, finishing a marathon is the ultimate achievement in running. It’s a worthy goal and one that less than 1 percent of the adult population achieves.
Right now, a dozen runners are going on an epic multi-marathon challenge across the United States. They are participating in the Race Across USA, which is literally what they are doing — from California through the southern part of the United States to Washington, D.C.
It’s a 140-day journey, with 120 planned days of running and 3,080 miles. They will run 112 marathons during that time.
Darren Van Soye is the creator and organizer of Race Across USA, along with his wife, Sandy. He is running the entire race so she is taking on the primary role of race director, handling logistics and everything else that comes up along the way.
Dozen Runners Crossing USA for Charity
Van Soye says he hatched this idea because there “are people who always want to test their boundaries.”
Twelve runners began the quest on Jan. 16. “I think every one of them signed up to test their boundaries and try different things,” he says. “They are trying to push themselves and reap all the benefits that come with that — increase confidence and increased success with your life.
“If you don’t fail once in awhile, you aren’t pushing hard enough. You learn more by failing than you do by succeeding.”
Van Soye started testing his own boundaries during a half marathon in 2006.
“There were two miles left, when I said out loud that I thought running a marathon was insane,” he tells me during one of his walk breaks on Day Seven of the Race Across the USA. “I was having so much trouble at mile 11, with two miles left. I thought that was completely beyond what I could do. But it wasn’t impossible. It was just beyond what I thought I could do.”
He finished the half marathon, then bought and read Jeff Galloway’s book, “You Can Do It,” which describes the run/walk method for marathons. Van Soye told Sandy that he wanted to do a full marathon.
“She became very concerned but I said I would be walking part of it,” he recalls. “She thought that sounded reasonable and it was. It was hard but there are just ways to get around the difficulty, some tips and tricks. And of course your body plays a part of that. The trick is the right shoes, the right socks, the right backpack, sport drink, water, sunscreen … “
But the Race Across the USA isn’t just about pushing boundaries. It’s about raising awareness and money to overcome the childhood obesity epidemic. “There are 19 million kids that are obese, not fat or overweight. There are all kinds of health dangers that come with childhood obesity,” he says.
Van Soye explains that every core team runner was required to raise $2,000 for the 100 Mile Club, state runners had to donate $400 and four-day runners had to collect $100 for the charity.
The 100 Mile Club is a national, school-based program that challenges kids to run or walk 100 miles in a school year. The program also teaches kids life skills, goal setting, and self-esteem while making physical activity a healthier habit for life.
“The sweet spot for this is the early grades — first, second or third grade all the way up through seventh or eighth grade.,” Van Soye says. “We raise money for the 100 Mile Club and they work to identify schools that may be in need for scholarships for some of the students to get them started. We are trying with this event to promote the 100 Mile Club’s mission.”
(To donate to the 100 Mile Club, click here.)
Van Soye says the runners get one of two reactions from people they encounter. “Some people just change the subject,” he says with a laugh. “Other people just give a short affirmation and that’s it. Either complete denial or it’s not really sinking in. I do have a business card with a map of the route across the U.S. on the back. When they see that, they get it. And when they learn that we’re supporting childhood fitness, they are all about it.”
The group has also planned to visit schools and talk with the students across the country. They are getting a lot of support from schools, churches, campgrounds and hotels.
Those commitments were part of the logistics the Van Soyes put together since March 2013. He estimates he has put in 2,000-3,000 hours in preparations for the race while his Sandy has put in 1,000 hours. In addition to mapping out the route along secondary roads, finding accommodations and recruiting volunteers, Van Soye also had to get approval to run on the roads. For example, Van Soye had to get approval from nine different transportation boards just to get through Texas.
“There were quite a few challenges,” says Van Soye, who is also race director for a 100-mile race. “Anytime you start a big event, it’s like a giant millstone. You have to push so hard just to get it turning. And you push and push and push. Sometimes it only goes around a quarter turn. But after a while, it takes on a life of its own.”
Even as they move across the country, there are concerns. “I most definitely have a concern about Arizona and New Mexico,” he says. “We are in the desert right now. The good thing is that we are not here in the summer. When we’re in Phoenix, we’ll be at 7,000-8,000 feet and it will be cold. There will be cold and ice. I’m concerned about falling beyond schedule. But we have these rest dates in there so we could catch up.”
They could also face extremely hot days and threatening winds across the southeast in May. Last spring, the Van Soyes drove the route backward to get an idea of what the runners would encounter. They got stuck during a major rainstorm in Mississippi.
Van Soye ran four or five miles a day during that time, even during the hot weather. “It will be really hard at the end, but we’ll be superhuman by that time,” he says.
Due to the fact of how long it takes to organize, the 2015 event will likely be the only one. But for those interested in joining for a run across a state, or a four-day event, there are some spots available, including the last stretch that ends June 2 at the White House. ($190 cost plus $100 donation to the 100 Mile Club.)
The night before our interview, Van Soye and the others stayed in Joshua Tree National Park. Now that the logistics are done, Van Soye can enjoy the camaraderie, scenery and opportunity to run for charity.
“It’s the same experience I had when I was doing my half-marathon,” he says. “What seems impossible is merely difficult. If you are doing it for a good cause, your gift and your passion will go on. This is just an absolute blast now that all the hard work is done. Now we can just crank it out.”
Name: Darren Van Soye
Hometown: Palm Desert, Calif.
Number of years running: Eight years
How many miles a week do you typically run: 40
Point of pride: Creating new races to raise funds for charity
Favorite race distance: 100 miles
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Avocado sandwich
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Dark Side of the Sun by Black Label Society
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: If you don’t fail once in awhile, you aren’t pushing hard enough
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