Pole Vaulters, Don’t Try This at Home! Most masters athletes compete in more than one event. Combinations such as the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints, the hammer and the weight throws, or perhaps the long jump and the hurdles are common.
An uncommon combination is the pole vault and the marathon. I know only one person who combines those two events. He is my good friend Charles “Chuck” Milliman.
I met Chuck at a Washington state seniors games meet eight years ago when I had just begun competing in track and field. Neither of us was a youngster. I was competing in the 70-74 age group and Chuck in the 75-79 group. One of the things I discovered about Chuck was that he had a pole vault pit in his back yard. Hey, don’t we all?
Time does fly. I recently graduated into the 80-84 bracket and spent my 80th birthday hobbling around with a cast on my right foot, from having an unfriendly hurdle fracture my fifth metatarsal.
Chuck had a more ambitious plan for his 85th birthday. He planned to run 85 miles.
Crazy you say? Well, it might seem that way, but Chuck is quite an athlete. He won the pole vault and the high jump at the national senior games in Birmingham this year, and has completed more than 60 marathons since he took up running at the age of 39.
To Chuck a marathon is merely a warm-up for an 85 mile run. To celebrate his 78th birthday, he ran the 26.2 mile marathon distance three days in a row – 78 miles.
Fast forward to November 14, 2012. On his 80th birthday, Chuck stepped out of his house at midnight into the forty-degree temperature of Sequim, Washington and begin running. He began in the dark and ran until sunup. He ran until sundown. He kept running and at 11:50:53 pm he stopped. He had completed 80 miles!
Five years later, his goal seemed even more formidable. The difference between 80 and 85 miles is significant. The difference between an 80-year-old runner and an 85-year-old runner is titanic. Then, there was the weather with which to contend. The forecast was for rain throughout the day, heavy at times, winds, and temperatures never rising above 50 degrees.
Chuck could count on a terrific support crew. On his 80 mile run, his son-in-law Dick Henrie ran the first 30 miles and his grandson Jason Henrie covered 50 miles with him. This time, there were additional friends running parts of the journey with him. His son Phillip, also a national champion senior games pole vaulter, drove the support vehicle.
Chuck’s goal was to finish in 30 hours. To begin at midnight, as he had on his 80th birthday run, would mean running through two nights. This time Chuck began in daylight at 10:00 am on his November 14 birthday and ran strongly into and through the night and then . . . Well, let Chuck tell it:
“I really felt good until mile 65, 20 to go. And then my back started to tighten up. From then on, it was pain, pain. My pit stops were getting longer and longer. Dick my son-in-law was getting concerned about long stays in the motor home. I was having my granddaughter Melissa massage my back and put on menthol. And I was also doing some back stretches on the course.
I was slowing down to a point where my time was 37 minutes per mile. I had been using walking sticks from mile 69 to the end of the race! I was listing to the right so much that all my aid personal were getting very worried if I would not make the distance. At about mile 80.5 my friend Larry took my right arm, which took a lot of the pressure off of my back. Then at my next pit stop my son-in-law Dick came in and read the riot act to me. He said I am going to take your arm and between Larry and me, you are going to do the next four miles without stopping. So let’s go. He took my right arm after we went out of the motor home and straightened me up. That helped to take the pressure off of my back so that I could walk upright. With that help I managed to walk at about 20 minutes per mile.
And we did the last 4 miles and we were done!?
Chuck finished at 8:35 pm of the second day, at 34 hours and 35 minutes, a bit short of his goal time. Congratulations, Chuck, your many friends in the Pacific Northwest USATF Masters are proud of you.
Here is a Facebook post from Chuck’s granddaughter Melissa Henrie Johnson:
Congratulations Grandpa Charles Milliman!! YOU did it! What an Epic ride being a part of my Grandfather’s Celebration of Life Adventure for his 85 birthday. 85 miles, 34.5 hours straight – no sleep. Experience, grit & support encouraged him to the Finish through unexpected early discomforts, high winds, long night, tight muscles, a few doubts, yet lots of determination, grunts, & laughter!! Amazing camaraderie of strangers, friends, & family coming together to not only help him finish but raise money for the Sequim Food Bank!!
My Grandmother stayed awake through it all too, making sure Chuck had what he needed and was well fed, rested before heading out again, pressing towards his goal. Her dedication while in her 80’s was inspiring !! One fave story – A sweet 107 year old friend of Chuck’s was driven out at 3 in the morning to deliver banana bread!!!! Also she was his piano teacher when he decided to learn in his 70’s & she was in her 90’s. Seriously, incredible adventure to support, celebrating life and all of the joy my grandfather was grateful for through all these years!