It was 9:30 a.m. just outside of Joshua Tree National Park in California, and Darren Van Soye had been running for an hour and a half. He carried two litres of water, an avocado sandwich, and a lightweight jacket, just in case.
His day was just getting started.
Van Soye breathed evenly and slowed his pace, taking in the scenery — yucca, desert shrubs, cacti, mountains that looked like big boulders. He made sure to keep moving. “We don’t make a lot of stops,” he said cheerfully, as cars loudly whizzed by.
By the end of the day, Van Soye would cover the distance of a marathon, just over 26 miles. The next day, he’d wake up before sunrise and do it again. Since the previous week, when he set out from the coastal city of Huntington Beach, he’d already covered more than 132 miles. He still had more than 2,900 left to go.
The 53-year-old Van Soye, a seasoned ultramarathoner, is one of 12 core runners in the Race Across USA, a 3,080-mile foot race from the Pacific Ocean to Washington, D.C. that began on Jan. 16.
The team members, who range in age from 29 to 74, want to draw attention to childhood obesity, inspire a healthier lifestyle in Americans (they’re visiting schools along the way), and raise money for the 100 Mile Club, a charity that encourages kids to run 100 miles in a year.
Van Soye and his wife, Sandy, spent countless hours planning the race. She’s one of four support staff who leapfrog around the runners in vehicles, carry their gear, and man the aide stations every 6.6 miles. The route is based on a heart attack survivor’s cross-country walk, but the Van Soyes made adjustments to avoid some of the busiest roads and to end up in the nation’s capitol. They drove all 3,080 miles of the route to scope it out.
Even with most of those miles now stretching out ahead of him, Van Soye insisted “the most difficult part was the planning.”
“I’ve got a few blisters, but the key, mentally, is to never think about the entire race,” he told Business Insider on the phone, as he jogged slowly along the road. “You just take it 25 miles at a time.”
Here are 10 of the core runners at the start of the race:
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