I drove the five-ish hours from Massachusetts to New Jersey, without expecting much. My memories of New Jersey were the inability of its inhabitants to pump their own gas and its olfactory unpleasantries, suggesting the Garden State’s groundskeeper overuses the manure. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a lovely rolling countryside peppered with absurd religious threats, my favorite being, “Careful. God is watching you.” I rolled up to the Sussex Country Fairgrounds in my sweet ride — my mom’s minivan — that would be my home for the next few days.
I was here on a mission to crew a man I had never met and who was attempting his first ultramarathon. Matthew Algeo (hereafter, Algeo the Ambulator) wrote a stellar book on the forgotten late 19th century American mega-sport of Pedestrianism. After reading his book, I reached out to Algeo the Ambulator to encourage him to attempt a 24 hour race of his own. To my delight, this took hardly any bullying and he was totally on-board for the 24 hour event at Three Days at the Fair. After a pre-race beer and meal with Algeo the Ambulator and his father-in-law, we were ready to rock!
Together, Algeo the Ambulator and I lubed up his feet and sauntered over to the start line for the uneventful race kick-off, which is characteristic of most ultras. Algeo the Ambulator aimed to achieve a half-century with a heel-to-toe walk approach, optimistically hoping to better his previous PR of 0 miles. The race commenced with perfect weather, cloudy with a chance of awesome, as Algeo the Ambulator cruised along for hours with his consistent swagger.
I would see Algeo the Ambulator every mile and neither his spirit nor my encouragement ever faded. As he continued to crush it early on, he said he felt like a pitcher in the 4th inning of a no-hitter, worried that even the slightest wrong look just might ruin everything. Now, unlike baseball, there is no superstition in ultrarunning. And unlike ultrarunning, there’s no crying in baseball. Anyways, I continued to cheer on Algeo the Ambulator as he continued to kill it out there. Self-admittedly, Algeo the Ambulator was having fun, making friends and quickly becoming part of the ultra community. That’s what this silliness is all about, right?
Impressed with the smorgasbord provided for the runners, Algeo the Ambulator never had to rely on his provisions of bananas and PB & J that were baking in the boot of his car. His nutrition and hydration were bang on. Throughout the event, he stayed in the zone of smart racing, preventing any bonks or other problems common to the modern-day pedestrian.
Contemporaneous with the race at the fairgrounds was a rodeo…in New Jersey. Just as the rodeo was about to begin, the fairgrounds got splashed with some rain. The racers circumambulating the rodeo were treated to a delightful country song encouraging them to embrace the rain because, “Rain makes corn. Corn makes whiskey. Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky.” As Algeo the Ambulator and I walked together for a lap getting a kick out of this song, I asked him if he’d been to a rodeo before. He said he had not. Indeed, this was his first rodeo. That zinger was way too easy. I should have taken more advantage of Algeo the Ambulator’s temporary lack of wit during his race.
While I would usually see my crewing responsibilities through to the end, I had a race of my own coming up, so I decided to get in some solid sleep. Algeo the Ambulator was around the 40 mile mark when I left him on his own and crawled into the minivan. Right then, a massive rain storm rolled in, but I was confident that Algeo the Ambulator would see it through. Not only did Algeo the Ambulator tough out the cold rain, he also threw in a bonus mile and walked away with 51 miles to his name in his pedestrianism debut.
Phenomenal work, Matthew! It was a real pleasure to be a small part of your big accomplishment. I’m proud of you for bravely taking on a challenge that most would balk at.
I’m sure that folks reading this will appreciate Matthew Algeo’s pluck and I encourage you to pass along your congratulations to him via e-mail: malgeo[at]yahoo.com. Also, check out his book!