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Great Bend Friends Finish 50K
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Rosie Meier and Rebecca Ford of Great Bend trained, participated and finished the 50K We Walk! along the Lake Wobegon Trail in Minn. in May. They were the only two to complete the entire 50 K, with most walkers opting to stop at the end of a 30K marathon distance. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

The proverb rings true for Rosie Meier and Rebecca Ford, both of Great Bend.  In May, the two friends completed the We Walk! Marathon along the Lake Wobegon Trail in Minnesota.  But the journey really started when their dogs met.

“Rosie would walk B.J. past my house every morning,” Ford said.  “I’d be in the yard with my dog, and the two would sniff each other and we started talking.”

Ford was training for The Great Saunter, a 32-mile walk around the perimeter of the Manhattan, NY shoreline.  She asked Meier if she wanted to come along.  Meier regretfully had to say no, but the seed was planted.   When the We Walk! 50K walk came up, they agreed to make a trip of it.  

The We Walk? Marathon claims to be the only marathon event exclusively for walkers in the country.  

“We welcome all walkers, including, but not limited to, fitness walkers, power walkers, nordic walkers, race walkers, hikers, walk/runners and even, gasp, even ordinary walkers,” the website claims.  Walkers could choose to participate in the marathon, (30K), the half marathon, or the 50K walk.  Meier and Ford chose the 50K walk. That would mean some long distance training.  

They talked until they ran out of things to talk about.  They got to know one another very well.  

They began training in January in earnest.  During the week, they did their regular walking routines.  On the weekends, they took longer walks, utilizing the hike and bike trail along the Arkansas River south of downtown.  They worked up from 10 miles of walking a day.  They stayed on the pavement because the irregularity of the dirt path was hard on her feet.     They trained in the cold, the wind, and sometimes the rain.  Ford used an app on her cellular phone that recorded their distance and pace, as well as the amount of calories burned during their workouts.

“That was fun,” Meier said. “Sometimes we couldn’t hear ourselves talking because of the wind, and we could barely hear the program, but it kept us going.”

Late into their training, they walked from the head of the hike and bike trail to Heartland Farms west of the city.   They learned the importance a good surface can make when Rosie ended up with two black toes because they walked on uneven ground close to the ditch.  It was painful enough, they had to call someone to come get them.  That didn’t stop them though.  By then, their distances were increasing from 14 miles there and 14 back, then 16 and so on.   

“The first time we did the 16, we got in the car to go to Ernie’s to eat,” Meier said.  “Our legs were so stiff!”

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain

The friends drove to Minnesota together, arriving the day before.  Both are Catholic, and enjoy looking at churches.  They stayed at the St. Joseph Benedictine college and visited the St. John Benedictine Monastery.  They also travelled the route to familiarize themselves with the scenery and stopped to visit the towns the trail would pass through.   On the night before the We Walk! event, the two met some of their fellow walkers at the pre-walk spaghetti dinner.

The next day, they took a bus to the starting line with the other walkers, and began their trek along the Lake Wobegon Trail that wound through rural forests and farmland that inspired author and humorist Garrison Keillor’s books about the fictional town.  Other walkers came from all over the country.  There were 50 who did the half, 50 for the marathon.  Ford and Meier would be the only two to finish the entire 50K.  They were joined briefly by another walker who had not trained enough, and dropped out before finishing.

The course was timed, so break time was at a premium.  They had a limit of nine hours to complete the 50K, and they were shooting for eight hours.  Over the previous five months, they had worked up to a pace of 14 minute miles, and with thirty-two miles to go, they would need to sustain that pace the whole way.  They took one 30 minute break part-way through.   

The night before they ate a lot of pasta to make sure they had a reserve of carbohydrates to draw from during the walk too.  The balance between carbohydrates and hydration is critical to make sure they don’t hit the wall, Ford said.

They wore backpacks with a gatorade/water mix to keep hydrated during the walk, and they took advantage of the water stations along the way.  

They devised a plan to play games because they knew they would eventually run out of things to talk about.  “When that happens, you start to focus on finishing, and the pain you might be in,” Ford said.  

“We thought we’d play the “I Spy” game or a rhyming game to occupy our time and keep us going, and it worked,” Meier said.

A blister started working its way into the sole of Ford’s foot during the walk.     

“If you have happy feet, then you have a happy walk,” she said.  “Sometimes you have control over that, and sometimes you don’t.”  The blister deepened until it finally popped with seven miles left to go.    She remembers she got angry, and she channelled the anger into finishing. Meier remembers they were playing the rhyming game and then all of a sudden, her companion became quiet.  

They finished in under eight hours.  Meier finished in  7:54:06, and Ford had a time of 7:56:54.  

“I was relieved the next day when Rosie said she was tired and sore,” Ford said.  

“I don’t think I could have done it without all that training,” Rosie said.  She felt she was really well prepared. “It’s nothing for me to walk 10 miles a day, but 31.25, that’s a little more.”

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.  Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness.  I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.  ~Soren Kierkegaard

Ford, 44, said she began walking seriously after her brother died in an automobile accident to help deal with her grief.  

“I read somewhere once, ‘Walking is the true pace of the soul’,” she said.  “Sometimes we are going too fast, and we need to slow down.  Other times, we are dragging, and if we can just get up and go for a walk, we can pull ourselves out of whatever dark place we’re experiencing.”  As she began to heal, she found there was a community of walkers, and she started attending walking events and made friends and heard about other events.

Meier, 60, began walking to stay fit.  In addition to walking her dog, she walks a total of five or six miles a day she says, at least during the times of the year when her work doesn’t demand too much of her time.   During the summer, her routine may go down to two to three miles a day.  Participating in the 50 K walk was an achievement that boosted her confidence.

“Rebecca got me psyched out,” she said.  “It’s something I’d always wanted to do , and with her, it was a lot of fun.”

Over the summer, they rested, took their dogs for walks and stayed out of the heat.  With the return of milder weather, they know they would like to train for another walk.  Right now, they are considering participating in the Great Saunter in New York in May if time permits, or possibly something a little closer to home.  

When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the shoe leather has passed into the fiber of your body.  I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson