For a guy who is no longer 22 or even 42, Erik Brooks has still got it, mostly.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the backstory is that Erik spent 24 hours — from 7 a.m. on Saturday morning (Aug. 27) until 7 a.m. on Sunday — walking and running on the track at Liberty Bell High School to raise money for the cross country team, of which he is the head coach, and the Liberty Bell Booster Club, which supports all high school sports.
At 50, Erik had undertaken this 24-hour existential corporeal challenge twice before: in college and in his 40s. But the 50s are a different beast, as anyone who has reached that milestone can attest.
At 7 a.m. on Saturday, Erik took to the track as planned, despite being a wee bit behind in his preparations. Pop-up tents were erected, but some of the logistics associated with such an athletic venture were not yet in place: the food and water station, timing devices, and what I came to think of as “the shoe department” — Erik’s array of the four different pairs of running shoes that would house his increasingly aching tootsies throughout the ordeal.
But soon everything was in order and by 1 p.m. Erik had already ticked off 30 miles. By 6 p.m., he was at 50 miles.
No novice to the world of whackadoodle physical challenges, Erik’s approach was strategic. At regular intervals he hydrated and ate, mostly real food (pasta salad, PB sandwiches, potato chips) but also an occasional Gu packet. He switched into a different pair of shoes and socks every hour and reversed his direction every 20 laps or so. He also switched ballcaps and T-shirts frequently, because he is anything but a sartorial slouch. And also these items get sweaty.
Although he ran/jogged/walked at least half of the laps alone, Erik was joined throughout the event by friends, family and the teens on his cross country team. Two moms of young runners — Erika Spellman and Mandy Schmekel — even showed up for the 3 a.m. shift to cruise a few laps with Erik, taking — literally — a hit for the team, since most of the kids were snoozing.
I ran one of Erik’s first laps with him — well, behind him. After determining that his pace (even for someone who was ostensibly saving his energy for the 23 hours and 55 minutes ahead) was not one I could keep up with for long, I offered invaluable assistance in the form of taking unimaginative photos and, in the early part of the night shift, falling asleep on the track while Erik kept churning out the laps. (Take note: you don’t want me on your endurance run pit crew.)
Other parents were more useful, such as Eric Purpos and Kelly Bolinger, who brought a stove and kept Erik plied with warm broth and quesadillas.
Around 11 p.m., the boys’ cross country team got serious about their role in the endeavor and started setting up their overnight camp in the infield of the track. They brought their own version of the 10 Essentials, including things like a bull whip that made a resounding crack. What they lacked in adequate bedding they made up for in air mattresses. The next morning I overheard one boy say to his parents, “We only got about two hours of sleep!” As if that were something to be celebrated, which, for youth, I suppose it is.
At 7 a.m. on Sunday morning Erik walked his last lap, accompanied by a small entourage, and clocked out at 327 laps: a little over 81 miles. At age 22 he covered 60 miles in this same enterprise and at 42 he knocked off 70.5 miles. Some things do get better with age.