At a little before 10 p.m. on July 7, Ryan Clifford sat against a wall on the Brooklyn Bridge. His eyes were closed, his body exhausted, his mind filled with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. The 23-year-old Seaford man had just completed a 131-mile ultra-marathon to benefit the John Theissen Children’s Foundation, a Wantagh-based non-profit that aids sick and underprivileged children.
Clifford left the Montauk Lighthouse at 12:01 a.m. July 7, a full day (almost quite literally) of running ahead of him with minimal stoppage time. He completed the journey in 21 hours, 50 minutes and said he raised more than $12,000.
“It felt awesome,” Clifford said of the finishing moments. “Coming into the last three miles onto Myrtle Avenue [in Brooklyn], you’re coming over a hill and in the background you can see the skyline for Manhattan…You can tell what you’ve been working toward all day is there. It was such a special experience. I soaked in all the lights, looked around, and finished strong.”
Clifford, who met Theissen through the close-knit Long Island running community, said he was inspired by stories of the philanthropist's 103-mile run from Wantagh to Montauk in 1999.
“It definitely planted the seed in my head of something that seemed pretty crazy and definitely worthwhile in doing,” said Clifford, who is a graduate assistant track and field and cross country coach at Minot State University in Minot, North Dakota.
After leaving the Montauk Lighthouse, Clifford ran down Montauk Highway through the Hamptons, took Merrick Road to Wantagh Avenue, and eventually hit Hempstead Turnpike before moving toward Queens. He estimates that he ran 109 of the miles and walked 22. He said he ran mile 98 in 6:58, his fastest of the day. He averaged 9:12 per mile.
Clifford said he only took two breaks of about 15 minutes each, one coming in front of the John Theissen Children’s Foundation headquarters on Wantagh Avenue in Wantagh. At that stop, he was greeted by family, friends, and well-wishers. But, despite the frivolity, he had to keep going.
“ miles is a lot of distance to cover in a day, so essentially you’re not covering the distance unless you’re moving,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t feeling great, I figured it’s better to be walking and heading in the right direction than staying stagnant and not really making any progress.”
Plus, the more he moved, the less time he’d have to keep feeling that familiar burn that distance runners know and loathe.
“The quicker you run, the quicker you’re done,” he said.
Clifford, who estimates he lost between 9-11 pounds during the run, said he battled some stomach issues around mile 80. But thanks to water, food, and support from a trailing crew of family and friends in motor vehicles, including Theissen himself, he was able to push through.
Clifford’s father, John, ran the last eight miles with him.
“It was a one of a kind experience,” Clifford said.