A marathon runner usually only has one person with whom to celebrate at the end of a race — him or herself. But an ultra runner usually has teammates and therein lies some of its glory.
So says Sarah Funk, one of six members of the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade who ran the Tuna Run 200, Oct. 19 to 20. The team, which included fellow members; Chase Rahm, Shawn Wussow, Hector Gonzalez, Jake Etzel and Heebeom Kim, each ran 30 to 40 miles, covering a total of 204 miles from Garner, N.C. to Atlantic Beach, N.C.
As Team Blackjack, the team set an ultra team mixed course record with a time of 29 hours, 17 minutes, according to the Tuna Run 200 website. They beat Charleston Ultra by 20 seconds.
The team did not do any special preparations for the run, but primarily trained through regular physical training, said Gonzalez, a native of Boston, and a five-year Army veteran.
“We did just normal runs,” Rahm said.
But, the run itself was challenging.
“It was freezing cold. It was pitch black dark, and it was like a big mystery run,” explained Gonzalez humorously, adding that he, at one point, was also chased by a dog.
Because of those challenges and the difficulty of the course, the team would sometimes lose time by getting off track, Wussow said.
He said that Team Blackjack lost about an hour of time and could have finished well ahead of their 29:17, but it was an enjoyable experience.
“I enjoyed the team spirit and competition of it, being able to pass other teams and seeing where our limits are,” said Funk, also a Boston native, and new to the Army by five months.
According to Wussow, Funk was the last person to join the team, but a valuable addition, qualifying the team for mixed status rather than as an all-male ultra team.
“Little did we know, she was probably the best runner on the team,” Wussow said.
She also was the one who had previously run the longest distance, having completed in this year’s Boston Marathon.
But, ultra running is different. It is typically longer than a marathon, usually 31, 500, or 100 miles or more and requires its runners to use legs they aren’t sure they still have, to dig deep, to push even when it hurts to walk.
“It’s all about seeing how far you can push your body. We couldn’t even walk, and yet we were still running,” Funk said. “It was kind of an out-of-body experience of being able to see yourself, pushing yourself that far.”
“I think it’s more of a challenge just to see how far you are willing to push your competitive edge against others,” said Gonzalez, who added that the longest distance he had previously run was the Army Birthday 10-Miler on post this past June.
For Wussow, 38, the ultra run proved to be a way to test himself against younger runners.
“Being an older guy, I like to challenge the younger kids,” he said.
Funk, 22, said that, for her, the race produced the opposite effect.
“Being a younger person, I like to challenge the older guys,” she said in jest.
No matter the motive, just being able to win with a time of 29:17 was good, and being able to represent the Army was even better, especially against another mixed team comprised of Fort Bragg Soldiers and of Marines from Camp LeJeune, N.C., Wussow said.
“We pulled it out. We were the last team to start,” he said.”But, we just wanted to be sure to beat them.”
Kim, an Army veteran of 19 months, agrees with Wussow that representing the Army meant a great deal to him.
“It was a huge honor,” said Kim, who is a native of Saipan, an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the Pacific Ocean.
“It was about intestinal fortitude,” Funk said. “The fact that we really won shows the epitome of a Soldier.”