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|Going the distance|
|Written by Gillian Smith|
|Wednesday, 14 August 2013 07:49|
Lucas and his crew. From left to right: Penny McPhail (pacer), Lucas Wojciechowski, Julia Millon (crew, athletic trainer), David Wilemski (co-worker at Facebook, pacer)
“In running other races, I got the sense that I could run 100 miles. It feels wrong to imagine you could run 100 miles and never actually test yourself.”
Twenty miles from the finish line, Lucas Wojciechowski felt a sharp pain in his ankle and knew immediately something was wrong. Twenty hours into the race, he had experienced thick fog and howling winds, not to mention a mental barrier that threatened to prevent him from finishing the race. He was racing for 100 miles and he wasn’t about to stop.
Wojciechowski is an ultra runner, which means he runs any race that is longer than a traditional marathon of 26.2 miles. He crossed the finish line of the Coastal Trail Run San Francisco 100-mile endurance run on Aug. 4, 25 hours after crossing the finish line and just eight seconds before the second place runner. The fact that he finished at all was a feat in itself; the fact that he came in first place was shocking.
“I had some really fantastic low points,” he said. “At one aid station, I was shivering uncontrollably, so my crew bundled me up under multiple sleeping bags and I curled up in a car with the heat on full blast. I didn’t want to continue, but my crew forcibly unzipped me and forced me to keep going, because they knew they couldn’t let me drop out.”
The race was a 25-mile loop that runners alternated completing in clockwise and counter-clockwise rotations (dubbed “washing-machine” loops). The trails went along a scenic tour of the Marin Headlands with views of Tiburon, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
After running for 80 miles on pace with his crew, Wojciechowski’s ankle began swelling and the pain intensified. Although he walked for much of the last 20 miles, he said he still felt good about his accomplishments. With the finish line in sight, Wojciechowski gathered up the last of his energy and made his way down. As he and his crew approached the finish line, they started tak- ing pictures and celebrating the fact that he had made it to the end. When surrounding crews started yelling for him to pick up the pace and cross the line, he realized he was in first place.
Lucas at mile 98. The finish line is just visible below in the parking lot.
“I had no idea someone was behind me,” Wojciechowski said. “I didn’t expect to be in first place. The entire time I was walking I kept expecting people to run past me; I was paranoid. When they yelled for me to finish quickly, I thought it was a joke.”
In the middle of his third year at the University of Wa- terloo in Ontario, Canada, Wojciechowski is studying software engineering in a cooperative program. As part of his co-op, he is currently interning at Facebook. While he has enjoyed his time at the highly popular social media platform, as well as at Twitter, Wojciechowski is still not entirely sure what he wants to do for a career.
In keeping with his familiarity with social media, Wojciechowski tweeted throughout the race and kept his friends and family across the country up to date on his progress throughout the 100 miles. For his family, it was nice to be able to keep up to date on his travels.
“It was thrilling for us to watch everything happen,” said Peter Wojciechowski, Lucas’ father. “The whole family, around the world, was able to watch. It was a very engaging weekend.”
While Wojciechowski was on the track and cross country teams at Duxbury High School, he felt running short distances wasn’t enough for him. Instead, Wojciechowski decided to start exploring and running longer distances.
“I discovered running long distances was a fun way to explore, the same way hiking is a good way to explore new areas,” he said. “I had a lot to gain, both emotionally and physically, by running longer distances.”
Early on in the race, Lucas was right on pace.
Wojciechowski is impulsive. While he had been considering running a 100-mile race for some time, he didn’t actually sign up for the Coastal Train Run until just a few weeks beforehand. By the same token, he took a spur of the moment 40-hour trip to Alaska this past weekend to climb some mountains, run a little, and drive 820 miles.
“Most races I do are impulsive,” he said. “I am always training, but I don’t often have long term goals. I am competitive, but my training is so much more about going places and exploring.”