The mountains were shrouded in a blanket of mist. The windshield framed nothing but an expanse of road winding in and out of the soft peaks of the Appalachian Mountains. The day was nothing but grey, the mountains caught in the odd space between summer and autumn before springing into color, the road was sheered with rain and the sky was a mass of cotton-ball clouds.
I was driving back home after a victory in the Currahee Challenge mountain race. My decision was to take the long was and enjoy the scenery. On the side of the road was a small storefront selling fresh Apples, so I pulled in to purchase a peck of apples and a few fritters. The lady behind the counter is cheerful and all smiles. It is little things like this interaction that remind me of Europe and the markets I would frequent during Run For Currahee.
As I begin driving again, my mind begins to wander. I watch the road and mountains continue to peel away before me. Where will my next adventure take me? Where will life take me? Where will running take me? Life is an adventure more than anything. But for some reason, I knew the answer to all three of the questions was the same: Normandy, France on a June summer day.
Normandy left an immeasurable impact on my life. It was the place where I began Run For Currahee, the adventure that has defined my life thus far. It is the place where I have made friends, I might as well call them family, that I will treasure forever. It is one of the few places on Earth that I truly feel at peace. And I knew my road through life, much like the road I was driving, would take me back there someday. And I knew it would be in June.
Soon the next question came to mind: What will my next adventure be? Yes, I have a 50km ultra marathon scheduled for November 14, and a 50 mile race on tap for December. But for some reason, those do not feel like adventures to me. They are about competition, camaraderie, meant to be an experience, but there is still something too safe about them. I wanted to be back on the edge I stood upon for two months this summer.
Then, I began to think. I remembered all the people I met, and soon I remembered Laurent Guérin, who I met on a day where 60 mph winds were blinding me with Omaha Beach sand, the hardest day of my journey. He volunteered to guide me the rest of the way and our friendship developed immediately as we bounded along those Normandy cliffs in pure trail running bliss.
He had told me of an event he helped put on in commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day in 2014: a 100 mile run 14 professional and military runners took along the Normandy coastline, visiting the cemeteries and memorials along all five D-Day beachheads. It was called the D-Day Ultra Trail and I ran the route over 4 days during Run For Currahee. Those days were some of the most challenging but also the most raw and beautiful days of my journey. I wanted to return there.
So, here is my proposition, my idea, my extension of the love I have for running and honoring our World War II veterans: I will run all 100 miles of the Normandy coast, from Pegasus Bridge to Utah Beach, in 24 hours, paying tribute to our WWII veterans at memorials along the way.
The plan is to begin on June 5 at 6am on Pegasus Bridge near Caen, France, visit all five D-Day beachheads (Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah), and run through the towns of Carentan, Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and Sainte-Mere-Eglise, before finishing on Utah Beach in time for the official commemoration and memorial on Utah Beach at 6am on June 6.
I have never run 100 miles all at once. But I have run that coastline, and I know the memory of the soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice on June 6, 1944 on those blood-stained beaches will push me forward to reach this goal. This is my thank you and my promise to them that we will never forget.
This journey is in its infancy, but if you have any ideas, tips or would like to volunteer to help in Normandy, please comment below! Thanks as always for the support.