When birthdays roll around, most of us aren’t thinking about setting any personal fitness records.
But Bill Porter did just that last month, running 50 miles to commemorate his 50th birthday.
“I didn’t ever know I could do a 26-mile marathon until I tried it. So I figured ‘I can do 50 miles, I just have to put the time in,’” Porter said.
His route from the St. Simons Island Pier to the Jekyll Island Fishing Pier and back came in at around 50.44 miles, falling just short of twice the length of a marathon. He spent a total of about nine and a half hours walking and running, completing the trip in 11 hours and 15 minutes including breaks.
Friends and family gathered up supplies and set up way stations for him to rest, eat and drink. Some ran stretches of the 50 miles with him, which he said was a nice change of pace. He normally runs by himself so he can focus.
“Over the years of trying to do these longer distances, I put my blinders on. I’m not thinking about anything, I don’t do music or nothing,” Porter said.
Porter moved to the Golden Isles in 2007, looking for a little change of scenery from his former home in the mountains of North Carolina.
While living in the mountains, he’d acquired a taste for mountain biking. He found the hobby during a rough patch in his life and he didn’t want to give it up after coming to love it, but it didn’t translate well to the Golden Isles’ terrain.
“I was new to the area at the time, was a mountain biker at the time, but there weren’t any mountains or many biking trails ... I just wanted to change what I was doing with my life, and I wanted to continue doing that here,” Porter said. “Running is to me now what mountain biking used to be then.”
Fast-forward to 2019, and Porter has a growing interest in “ultrarunning,” a term used when someone runs more than 26 miles in one go.
“I was just following the ultra trail runners groups, all these distance marathons on TV, how far these people are going. I see these groups where running helps their addiction, and they keep pushing further and further. ‘If I can put the time in, I can do that distance too,’” Porter said. “I knew I could do it, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could.”
With his 50th birthday nearing, he thought it was a good opportunity to really push the limit. Being his first time attempting to run as long a distance as 50 miles, Porter said he had been planning to take it a little easier than some more serious athletes though.
“I thought of it as a long fun run. Of course, that might sound crazy to a lot of people,” Porter said. “The way I wanted to treat the run was, just treat it like a day of work. Take regular breaks, make sure to eat. I’m just missing my nap.”
While he attempted the feat in conjunction with his 50th birthday, Porter actually did the run a few months after the day itself. Cooler weather was a big motivator, but that gap also gave him time to plan out how he was going to handle the route.
For example, Glynn County is mostly flat but Porter knew going into it that he was going to have to contend with several bridges on his trip.
“The bridges, especially the Sidney Lanier, it’s always rough whether you’re walking or biking,” Porter said. “I knew that was going to be tough, so I set out to walk all the bridges. Going up it was tough, and going down the muscles were getting sore too. I didn’t want to hurt myself. If I hurt myself, I wouldn’t be able to finish, and that was my goal.”
He didn’t quite prepare for everything, however.
“I was sunburned on my left side because there’s no shade running across the Jekyll causeway, either causeway,” Porter said.
Finally having finished, he said he didn’t quite know how to handle a lot of the attention. Some told him he inspired them to try harder.
“I don’t think of myself that way. And they say ‘Well, none of us can do it,’ and it inspires them. Well, they inspire me, so I guess we’re inspiring each other,” Porter said.
“Achievement-wise, I just think it’s something to write down. But I’m a nobody to the family except dad.”
Given all the work that went into this 50-mile run, Porter said he didn’t think he was going to try for any longer distances.
During the interim between his birthday and the run, he followed an 18-week plan to get into shape which, among other things, called for more running during the week
“(My wife) didn’t marry a runner. I don’t expect her to run, but she knows it’s what I enjoy, and it helps with stress and it’s the only time I see my friends,” Porter said. “They’re the ones that get affected most in any training plan that requires you to do all this extra work because they don’t see you as much.”
That won’t necessarily stop him from doing another 50-mile run.
“I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last time I do 50 miles. I figure I can do it faster, and I want to do it without stopping.”
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Taylor Cooper at email@example.com or at 912-265-8320, ext. 324 to suggest a person for a column.