MEDINA — Hop on a treadmill, set the speed at 6.2 mph and run a mile. Now imagine running at that pace for 24 straight hours.
That’s what Medina resident Connie Gardner did at the World Cup in Poland in September, when she set an American women’s record by running 149 miles in a day.
Gardner’s ultimate goal is to break the world record of 158 miles, which she will attempt to do at an event in Arizona in December and at the 2013 World Cup, which will be held in the Netherlands in May.
In case you’re wondering, that would mean setting the treadmill at almost 6.6 mph. Or, to look at it another way, that’s running a mile in 9 minutes, 11 seconds — and doing it at least 158 times.
If she succeeds — actually, even if she doesn’t — Gardner also wants to run across the United States for charity in the near future.
“I try to keep the same pace throughout the whole day and whole night,” said Gardner, who Tuesday celebrated her 49th birthday. “I try not to get too excited, because a lot of people go out way too fast.
“The first eight hours are kind of hard. I get lapped (the World Cup is run on a mile loop, while the Arizona event will be on a 400-meter track) by a whole bunch of people. The second part, I’m usually OK and feeling better and start passing people back. The final four hours, you’re just trying to hang on.”
The 5-foot-5, 133-pound Gardner, who works locally at the Edge Outdoors mountain bike shop, has been running since she was a child, but began competing in ultramarathons (anything longer than the standard 26.2-mile marathon) in 2000.
The Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductee trains by running 110 to 120 miles a week, owns 11 national championships and has competed in places like Taiwan, Korea, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada.
“The first time I did it,” Gardner said of a 24-hour run, “it was just like another runner told me it would be: You feel like you’ve jumped off the Empire State Building and lived.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is really bad,’ but your body gets used to it. Now, I’m just kind of tired, but I can walk around afterward and sightsee.”
Remarkably, Gardner has had just one injury, a stress fracture in her femur that forced her to stop running for six weeks. She immediately compensated by riding a bike.
“I’ll be 50 next year, but it seems like I’m doing better,” said Gardner, whose daughters, Abby and Gwen, are 21 and 18 years old. “As you get older, you really have to address your body and pay attention.
You can’t do well in an ultra without paying attention to your body. A younger runner will ignore things.
Gardner, who in February plans to take part in a charity event in the Florida Panhandle, where runners will attempt to set world records for running in the sand, takes no extraordinary steps to prepare for a 24-hour competition.
She might eat an extra large meal a few days before if she feels the need to “pack on some calories” and she tries to stay off her feet as much as possible, but she basically gets a normal night’s sleep prior to a race.
“When I’m training, I get up at 5 a.m. to go for a run, so I don’t need that much sleep anyway,” she said. “In competition, you just have to focus and pay attention to the pace.”
Gardner eats something — a banana, peanut butter or protein bar — every 30 minutes and also drinks water at that time, but never stops running unless she requires a quick bathroom break.
“You have the best in the world running at the World Cup,” she said. “There aren’t people out there just to be out there. Every single person is going for a record, so people are pretty intense.
“There’s usually several hundred spectators, and it’s kind of cool to be in an event where the spectators are not clueless. You see these foreigners who can barely say your name and they know all about you and where you are in the race, even with people being lapped. People are there all night long watching.”
And Gardner is there all night long running, churning out sub 10-minute miles one after another for 24 hours.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.