“You can’t live in Philly and not see the homeless,” explained Mize. “Not so much in the suburbs where I live, but when you go into town. And I thought that this was a good way to give back.” The run, which is held over 24 hours on an eight and a half mile course, simply involves racking up as many miles as possible during that time; it’s a fundraiser for Back on My Feet (BoMF), an organization with chapters all over the country (including Austin) that seeks to empower the homeless to make lasting changes. Even though the run was just ten days away, Mize signed up, one of the group of 100 participants who filled out the field in 2008.
Mize laughingly recalled his “training plan”: “I basically crammed for it. One day, I ran ten miles at 10 a.m., which is when the race starts, and then another ten miles at 2 p.m. to give me a feel for being on my feet all day.” The young man made a loose plan. He’d shoot for 100 miles in the 24-hour period; he’d need to run 12 loops, one every two hours, in order to reach his goal. Mize figured that he’d rest each lap, much like a swimmer who’s making intervals gets to hang at the wall until time to set off again.
That July race day morning turned out to be, in Mize’s words, “ridiculously hot and humid,” and everyone went out too fast (Mize included). He rested after his first loop but things quickly deteriorated—there were blisters and dehydration to contend with. “I did a fair amount walking,” he said. “But walking hurts worse than running because it takes longer.” He met his first goal, which was to make it for 24 hours and, in the process, he raised $200 for the organization. It took him three weeks to return to running; Mize was unprepared for the swelling that followed and the toll on his body. Staying up for 24 hours really hadn’t been a problem; Mize works in a hospital where this kind of stint is required a couple of times a year (“Plus we had young kids at home,” he said wryly, “so there are plenty of sleepless nights there as well”). In reflection, one of his worst decisions in that race was to take a rest break prior to his last loop, when he slept for about 30 minutes. “When I woke up, it was like rigor mortis,” he said. That year, he covered 70 miles. But he was hooked.
Mize came back the following year, made changes (not all good—he swapped out his shoes halfway, which “practically crippled” him), and made it to 80 miles. The next year, Mize was recovering from a mini-stroke and his wife limited him to 18 hours; he covered 59 miles. In 2011, he got to 84 miles; last year was his best to date—93 miles, just seven short of that 100-mile goal.
There haven’t been any other races like the 20in24 for Mize; he has focused on this particular ultra, saying, “If I’m going to hit my goal of 100 miles, I want it to be here. I guess it’s sentimental.” He’s let go of keeping a log or recording his workouts, and he doesn’t need the 20-mile long runs. “It’s more of a lifestyle now,” he explained. “I go out and do it because it’s fun.” He did run his age on his birthday this March: 33 miles.
Mize is traveling to Austin, the newest chapter of the national BoMF organization, to run the inaugural 20in24 Lone Ranger. The event will be at Camp Mabry on May 11-12, and it will be his sixth consecutive attempt at the 100-mile distance at a BoMF run. “As soon as I saw [the information], I wanted to do it,” explained Mize. His wife has family in San Antonio and his teenaged niece may run a bit with him. Mize set some high expectations for the event, practically gushing about the experience. “It’s really well done; BoMF runs a first class event and does a great job of entertaining and catering to the runners. With all the different events, there’s a distance for just about everyone,” he said. There are several other events that go on during the 24-hour race, and the shorter ones are run in the opposite direction. “People cheer for you—and you try to cheer back, but they’re gone so fast,” he laughed. Mize talked about the special relationships that develop among the runners who are out there all day, saying that “you pick right back up” when encountering them again the following year.
It will be fun to see if Austin provides the magic that this Philly-based runner needs to reach his goal of 100 miles in 24 hours. But beyond this desire to reach that mileage, Mize hopes to give back through his running. “It’s a noble thing, to help people,” he said. “I’m glad I can do it through something I love.”