Running across the state for Parkinson’s

When I saw the flier tacked to the bulletin board at the neighborhood Starbucks, I had one question. So I jotted down the name and number of the local contact and gave her a call.

“This 545-mile, 16-day Murphy to Manteo run that the three of you are doing,” I asked Lisa Tew, who lives in Fuquay-Varina, “this is a relay, right?” The flier touted a bodacious event involving three women — Tew, who is 43, Shay Mendes, 39, and 32-year-old Kristy Tomicki — who planned to run from Murphy to Manteo, a distance of 545 miles, in just 16 days starting Sept. 6. Certainly it was a relay; otherwise, that would be 34 miles per person, per day. That’s like running a marathon and a third every day for 16 days straight.

“No,” answered Tew. “We’re running together.” After all, the three have been doing “extreme things” together for seven years. They’ve done marathons together and they’ve done ultramarathons, including the Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50 Miler near Rockingham. After all that togetherness, what the heck would be the fun in running across the state in shifts?

Tew says the three got the idea on Memorial Day of 2009 after completing a half marathon in Florida. “We got to talking about what we wanted to do next,” says Tew. These shorter events are fun, sure. But after a while you want a real challenge.

“Then someone said, ‘Why don’t we run across a state?’ recalls Tew. Though Mendes and Tomicki lived in Philadelphia, the three had met while living in North Carolina. Since it was North Carolina they had in common, they decided it would be a good state to run across.

What began as something of a lark started gaining traction. If we’re going to do something as ambitious as run across the state, why not do it for a good cause, something we believe in? they thought. Finding a worthy endeavor wasn’t hard: Tew’s father has had Parkinson’s Disease for 15 years. Shortly, they became affiliated with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and they had a goal: raise $1,000 for every mile run — or $545,000.

“It’s really escalated into something more than we had imagined,” says Tew, who has spent what free time she has — between working working 55 to 60 hours a week as director of sales for Pepsi Bottling Ventures and running 60-65 miles a week — as a fundraiser/event coordinator/travel agent.

Fundraiser: “We’ve done a lot of different things to get the word out,” says Tew. She’s approached a number of companies about contributing, set up an expo booth at the inaugural Tobacco Road Marathon and spent countless hours forging partnerships with elementary schools along their route to promote being active and to raise awareness about Parkinson’s.

“We’re trying to get the school kids to walk 545 miles [collectively] during a given time frame to raise $545.” And even after putting running 34 miles every day, the women are looking at making appearances at schools along the way.

Event coordinator: Charting a safe running route across the state is no easy chore. “We can’t exactly follow I-40 the whole way,” Tew notes. In charting a route, she got input from a variety of sources. A couple months ago she drove the route and made alterations.

Travel agent: Since this isn’t one of those fundraisers where a third of everything raised goes to overhead (all contributions go directly to the Fox Foundation), keeping costs down is key. Thus, the three will bunk with friends, family and whoever else they can find with floor space to spare. Fortunately, once they’re on the run, Tew will hand off travel coordinator responsibilities to a point person who will act as an advance team. She’s also gotten Pepsi to chip in a company Avalanche that will serve as a SAG wagon, carrying their gear, nutrition and hydration.

From left: Lisa Tew, Kristy Tomicki and Shay Mendes.

When she can, Tew goes for a training run. She uses a novel approach that keeps her from growing bored on her long runs. “I go out my front door and just run,” she says. Maybe an hour out, then back. Maybe more. And she runs iPod free, using the time on the road to let her mind escape the daily grind.

“I know I’ve solved the issue of world peace on runs,” she says. “I just can’t remember how I did it when I’m done.”

She downplays the novelty and challenge of the run: “There’s a guy running across the state barefoot right now,” she says, trying to redirect my awe. But she also recognizes that running the equivalent of nearly 21 marathons in 16 days is something that requires serious preparation. In addition to putting in the miles, she’s picking the minds of other endurance runners.  Charlie Engle of Greensboro — who among other things has run across the Sahara Desert and set a record in 2009 at the 135-mile Death Valley Cup http://www.badwater.com/dvcup.html — perhaps gave Tew her best bit of advice. “He told me, ‘If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen during the run.’” (More specifically, he told her to make sure her feet stay dry.)

Tew expects to burn 6,000 to 7,000 calories a day on the run, making for plenty of guilt-free milkshakes. She expects to maintain an average pace of 10 1/2 to 11 minutes per mile. And she plans to use three, maybe four, pairs of running shoes along the way. She would love to reach their goal of $545,000 dollars raised in the name of Parkinson’s research, but realizes that’s extrememly ambitious. (Currently, they’ve raised about $30,000, making them the Fox Foundation’s eighth largest fundraiser.)

While she can’t guarantee the $545,000, she says there is one thing you can take to the bank.

“I can tell you with certainty that we’ll get the run done. One way or another, we’ll get the run done.”

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For more information on Murphy to Manteo: A Journey to Benefit Parkinson’s Disease Research, go here. You can also donate to the three runners’ fundraising effort through this site.

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