Superman can defy gravity. Captain America has superhuman speed and endurance. Spider-Man can scale walls. For practically every law of nature, there is a superhero who can break that natural law.
Michael Chitwood is one of those guys. Where no single person in their human physical condition should be able to do what he is about to do, Chitwood and three others are going to do just that. They're going to run 100 miles in 21 straight hours -- 74 miles through the night starting this afternoon, October 8, and then they will join 1,000 Team World Vision teammates for the final 26.2 miles of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
When Michael first told me he was running 100 miles, I, of course, didn't believe him. One hundred miles in and of itself sounds humanly impossible. And doing any sort of physical activity for 21 straight hours -- well, I don't think most of us could even sleep for that amount of time. So you can understand my fascination with understanding why this team is going to such great lengths (literally). I recently chatted with Michael to get the 411 on his longest race yet.
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Lindsey (L): Okay, I have to ask…are you crazy for running 100 miles?!!
Michael (M): You know, I've been getting asked that question a lot lately. Really, I've been asked that question a lot since I ran my first marathon in 2003. Some people thought I was crazy to run a marathon, because I had never run and was pretty overweight at the time -- 265 pounds. Then, when I did my first Ironman Triathlon, some of my friends thought I was crazy. Then, last year, I did my first ultramarathon, a 56-mile run in South Africa…my friends said I was crazy. But for the first time in eight years, and after running all of these events, I have to admit…this one, running 100 miles, it's maybe just a little crazy.
L: Obviously, 100 miles is quite ambitious. What makes anyone commit to running that distance?
Michael greets his sponsored girl, Mbali, at the 60-km mark during the Comrades Ultramarathon. ©2010 Andrea Peer/World Vision
M: That's easy -- my World Vision sponsored kids are the reason. Last year, I took a team of 18 runners to run the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Our team was able to find sponsors for 1,000 children! After the race, I got to meet two of my World Vision sponsored kids -- Mbali in South Africa and Maurine in Kenya. After meeting them, I think I'd do just about anything to share their stories and try to get more kids sponsored. One hundred miles doesn't seem so tough after seeing how tough life can be for Mbali and Maurine.
L: I'd imagine it takes a close-knit group of four to commit to doing something like this. What will running beside each other for 100 miles be like?
M: Wow. The people on this team are some of my best friends in the world. All of us ran Comrades in South Africa last year for Team World Vision, and we met our sponsored kids after the race.
Paul is a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. He ran on Team World Vision at our first Chicago Marathon in 2006. Two years later, he helped launch our first Team World Vision church team at Willow Creek DuPage. Rusty was in my small group at church back in 2008 and decided to try the Chicago Marathon. This week, he actually came on staff with Team World Vision, and his first assignment is to run 100 miles (quite the initiation, huh?) Hannah trained for the Chicago Marathon with me and Rusty back in 2009 as a senior in college. She qualified for the Boston Marathon on her first try.
I wouldn't be running this without them, and I know it's going to be amazing to run 100 miles with them by my side. (Read more about the Chicago 100-mile team.)
L: And the training -- that must have been brutal.
M: Training consists of a lot of back-to-back long runs. Sometimes, we would run marathons (26.2 miles) two days in a row. You have to teach yourself to run on tired legs. Our biggest training week was 100 miles total. We did 40 miles on a Sunday, 9 miles that Tuesday, and finished with marathons (26.2 miles) Thursday and Friday.
But I think about my sponsored kids almost every time I put on my running shoes. They have changed my life. Having seen firsthand the poverty that exists across Africa, it hits me especially hard when I watch the news to see the extreme drought and famine in East Africa right now. It's tough to know that Maurine, my sponsored child in Kenya, is being affected by that. Sometimes, I'll be on a training run and some song will come on my Ipod that makes me think of her -- and I fall apart crying in the middle of a run.
L: I'm sure the finish line calls for quite the celebration.
M: I can't wait to celebrate with our team. We have close to 1,000 Team World Vision runners at the Chicago Marathon this year who our 100-mile team will meet up with at the starting line. We are having deep-dish Chicago-style pizza at our post-race party tent. I'm excited to see how many pieces I can get down before I head back to Kenya in two weeks with 10 Team World Vision runners for the Nairobi Marathon. I'll get to visit Maurine and her family again while I'm there.
L: Last words before you hit the track?
M: I'd love to ask people to consider sponsoring a child on behalf of our efforts. We're running 100 miles because we've seen firsthand the difference World Vision can make in a community. It's $35 you won't miss, and it will change a child's life forever.
You can sponsor a child in support of Team World Vision and the Chicago 100 team at www.TeamWorldVision.org/Chicago100.
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Pictured at right: Michael with his sponsored child, Mbali, after the 2010 Comrades Marathon in South Africa.