Before dawn on a warm summer morning in June, nearly 20,000 runners gathered in Durban, South Africa, for Comrades, the world's oldest, largest ultramarathon. Wendy Ploegstra of Chicago, Illinois, was one of thousands of international competitors preparing to run 54 miles full of hill climbs from Durban to Pietermaritzburg in 80-plus degree heat.
"I had heard about the Comrades race about seven years ago and was intrigued by the difficulty and adventure of it," says Wendy. "I've been given the opportunity to run it for the past three years, but I've always had to say no—first, because I was pregnant, then because I had just had our son. Finally, after a lot of prayer and discussion with my husband, we decided we were going to make the sacrifice and the commitment to do it this year."
Though she is a seasoned competitor with 12 marathons under her belt, Wendy didn't arrive at her decision to compete in an ultramarathon casually. "It had to be something much bigger than just a race to give up the amount of time training would require," she says.
More than a marathon
Wendy began training for Comrades in December, six months before the actual event. A full-time nurse practitioner, she frequently would wake up at 4 a.m. and jump on a treadmill, finishing her workout by running the remaining miles to the clinic where she works. Though Chicago winters are not conducive to outdoor running, Wendy often would brave sub-freezing temperatures, snow, and ice to complete her training runs. As the weather improved, she'd bring her then-one-year-old son Maurice along in his stroller. At her peak of training for Comrades, she put in about 12 hours, or 80 miles, in one week.1
How Far Would You Go?
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