#Extraordinary – Brenda Guajardo

We recommend new Newton Runners start out taking their shoes out for a 3 to 4 mile spin to get used to the lugs. Before she was even a Newton Running athlete, Brenda Guajardo took a pair of Women’s Motions right out of the box for a 20 mile run. “It was a moment that redefined my running because for the first time a pair of running shoes felt like they were built just for me.”

Brenda took up ultra-running in 2008 when she lived in Virginia Beach. She liked the idea of running a distance that generally would require a car for transportation and since this idea Brenda has competed in races that are over 300+ miles long!

In 2016, Brenda ran 4 races that were 125+ miles, landing two 1st place finishes! One of her 2016 races was the “Pheidippides Race” which was 304 miles.  Continue reading for Brendas personal recap of this 74:35:43 second long race!

“The race begins in Athens, Greece at the Ancient Market with an evening start. Before the race begins there is traditional Grecian dancing and music with performers wearing authentic dress. One of my favorite things about racing in Greece is that it’s more of a cultural experience than just running. The runners are following almost the exact routes that historical figures ran during times of battles and wars. It’s really meaningful for the locals to share this history with the runners because in a sense, it’s the ability to relive their history in modern times. In the case of this race (and who the race is named after) it was a professional runner named, Pheidippides, who was asked to run [from Athens] to Sparta and request help from the Sparta military to fight off the Persians. While most people think Pheidippides only ran the distance of a marathon, the truth is that he ran from Athens to Sparta and back to Athens to deliver the news, a total of 304-miles. It was only after this journey that he then ran to the city of Marathon to share the news of the victory where he died from exhaustion. Who knew that ultra-running would teach me more about world history than sitting in a classroom ever did!?

The mountain range we crossed over twice is impressive. This is where the road turns to trail and back to road. The climb feels like it leads you up into the clouds with the most amazing vistas. There is something very peaceful about this section because of the silence in the air. In terms of the course, it’s probably the most difficult part, but the views are worth the pain. The race takes place just before winter, so during the race the runners witness  the shepherds migrating their flocks of sheep across the lands. It seems like this would be something you would see only in the movies, but this is an example of the experiences I have the opportunity to see because of running.

This year the field was comprised of 16 runners, myself and 15 men.   Of the 16 runners, there were 6 different countries that were represented; Greece, France, Belgium, Finland, Japan, and me coming from the USA. I must admit, I really have a total love and passion for Italy so I race wearing Italian colors which confuses people. Ha!

It was interesting because we only saw each other very briefly at the pre-race meeting which was held just a few hours before the start of the race. At least in my case, my focus was on getting my race number and rushing back to the house to pack up the gear and take my last long hot shower before setting off for the long journey. While we were standing at the start line there was electricity in the air from the excitement. I felt this unity with the other runners because of what we were about to try to do. One of the Greek runners would be running this route for the third time!

I wish I could pinpoint exactly what parts of the race were the hardest but the race was difficult at different times, for different reasons. I’ve run through one night in other races but three nights was tough! There were many times I would sing out loud because it was the only way to stay awake. Other times, I wasn’t sure if I was actually awake or sleeping so I would belt out a scream just to figure it out. I needed to actually feel the intensity of the scream in my throat and feel the adrenaline kicking in again to jolt me awake. I’m sure the race officials and the police car behind me probably thought I was crazy! Having a logical thought process was very difficult after the second day and for almost two days straight I lived with constant hallucinations even during the day. I would see people or things that weren’t there.

The terrain of the race was almost entirely on asphalt, aside from a brief section of the trail near the mountain of Artemisias. While some may consider road running easier, there is the element of constant pounding on your joints and feet from the unforgiving asphalt that make it feel just as hard as running on an uneven trail. The cold temperatures during the early mornings made running tricky, as it was cold enough for frost to develop on the roads – another obstacle to battle! During this time of the year in Greece, the temperature fluctuates a lot. In Texas, where I live, we have two seasons: hot and hotter, so racing in freezing temperatures to hot and back to freezing was quite an adventure for me.

I had minimal problems during the race, which I attribute to my coach and physical therapist that helped me prepare for the race. At one point during the race, my left calf muscle swelled up to twice its size! I had brought wraps with me just in case a situation like this occurred, so I did the only thing I could think of which was to wrap that area of my leg. After a day of keeping it wrapped my calf went back to normal and the pain went away. Towards the end of the race, the lower area of my shins began to turn purple. Since the only pain I felt was the justifiable discomfort from the mileage I knew I didn’t have stress fractures. The trapezius muscle was probably the worst of everything from holding my head up to maintain good form. It never occurred to me to strengthen this area in training. There were long hours were I felt a burning sensation in this area and I finally put a mini hot pack on it to help ease some of the pain.

The question I am most often asked is “how many blisters did I have at the finish,” that answer was zero. My feet were never an issue. I wore the exact same pair of Newton Gravity’s from start to finish. When I reached the finish line, those Gravity’s had completed 1000 miles! Part of the reason why I love the Gravity shoe so much is the power of the lugs. The Gravity tends to have a more rigid ride, and I prefer to have power in my shoe and save any cushion for after the race during recovery.

In 2016,I had set out to race what I personally dubbed as the “Ultra Road Running Grand Slam.” This personal goal consisted of completing four ultra-road races in 2016. These four races would mean running 717 miles in 181 days, something that has never been done before. The races were Nove Colli 125-miles in Italy, Badwater Ultramarathon 135-miles in the USA, Spartathlon 153-miles in Greece, and the Pheidippides 304-mile race in Greece. There is one runner from Italy, Paolo Bucci, who finished the first three races in 2011. The Pheidippides race didn’t exist during the year he completed the three races. So this year my goal was to try and match his three races and also add Pheidippides. Unfortunately I had some issues at Spartathlon. After completing 106 of the 153 miles I pulled out of the race missing my overall goal for the year. It happens!

My original goal for this race was to finish Pheidippides just over an hour faster than the men’s course record, which was 78 hours and 41 minutes. Don’t ask me how I came up with this but it seemed to make perfect sense, and I went for it. I knew this goal was going to be a major undertaking and a stretch for me to push this hard but I’m also at a point in my life where I’d rather try and completely fail, than play it safe. I decided to take a chance on myself and I went after it. From start to finish I have to say that this was probably the single most liberating experience I’ve had in a race.

Pheidippides was liberating for two reasons: Emotionally, this race stripped me down to absolutely nothing. During the three days of running I let go of a lot of sadness and hurt that burdened me this year and that at times negatively affected me physically.. The second reason this race was liberating to me was because I really took the time to appreciate the land I ran across and the people I met along the way. I felt immense gratitude for the gift of running, the people who helped me and cheered for me along the way, and most importantly having the opportunity to be part of Greece’s history. I was able to share this journey with three incredible people who crewed me, but I was also able to share this racing adventure online with fellow runners who understand the passion and commitment of running.

304 miles later, I finished first place out of all 16 runners, (against the men since I was the only female) with a time of 74 hours and 35 minutes. I broke the men’s course record by 4 hours and 12 minutes – something that never occurred to me might be possible… “per ardua ad astra” (through adversity to the stars)!”

Brenda’s preferred Newton platform is the Women’s Gravity V.

sparta_king-leonidas

This photo of Brenda kissing the statue of King Leonidas is the halfway point of the race. It’s the arrival into Sparta at 153-miles. Tradition is that runners kiss the feet of King Leonidas upon arrival.