Most people would be hard-pressed to run two miles a day, but not Henrico firefighter Alex Hall or his best friend Thaddeus Meyer. The two ultra-marathon runners clock in anywhere from seventy to 130 miles a week.
This Memorial Day, they will begin their SOS 1,000 Mile Run (See Our Symptoms) to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “The run is not about us,” Meyer says. “It’s about trying to get help to people who need it.”
The two longtime runners met during a hundred-mile run about ten years ago and became close friends. They began talking about a fundraising run after Meyer’s 72-year-old mother took her life in April 2017. Her suicide was a complete shock to Meyer and his family.
“Right around three years ago, my mother was the picture of joy, love and happiness,” says Meyer who works in cybersecurity in Northern Virginia. “She was the mother of four and grandmother of twelve. She started with anxiety and mental illness.”
The family encouraged her to get help, see a doctor, or seek out a support group but she decided to face it alone. “Mom was a private person, and I think there was a sense of denial that mental illness can cause physical symptoms,” Meyer says. “We tried to identify what led her to be so anxious, but nothing stood out. Over the course of her life, we never noticed she was anxious or depressed. She would light up a room. People who know what happened were shocked to hear it.”
The run is a way to honor her memory and bring attention to mental illness and suicide prevention. “This is about shedding light on this problem,” says Hall, who works at Station Ten in Henrico County.
After making the decision to do the run, the two talked about distances. Should it be five hundred or one thousand miles? They settled on one thousand as well as the trail they would take. They will run the entire Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada, from north to south then continue on to run the Erie Canalway Trail in upstate New York from Buffalo to Albany. “We needed to do the run in under a month for our jobs and families,” Hall says.
He and Meyer have competed in various long-distance runs, including the Grindstone 100M run in George Washington National Forest with an elevation of more than twenty-three thousand feet. “You are running up and down, so it’s continuous gain and loss,” Hall says, noting they finished it in twenty-six or less hours with no sleep. “Mentally, it’s very challenging. You run fifty miles, and then turn around and go back to home base.”
To keep in shape and get ready for his thousand-mile race, Hall runs ten miles every day. “If I don’t get ten miles in, I feel like a failure,” he says.
Meyer is running a rigorous schedule as well. “When you are training you have to stress your body and break it down. Once you recover, your body will get stronger,” he says. “It’s a fine line between that and injuring myself, but I’ve had a lot of experience and I’ve learned how my body responds. I know when to back off.”
They will run the SOS race in stages, forty miles a day for twenty-five days. “When we accomplish that, we can get off the trail and repair our bodies for the next day,” Hall says. “No matter how well-trained you are, the pain is going to start and it won’t stop. You have to overcome it with your brain.”
They plan where to stay along the route – typically they stay at a bed and breakfast – and they are trying to drum up a donated recreational vehicle. “We usually have a crew of three to four people and they will drive the RV,” Hall says. “We typically ask a few medics from Henrico Fire to go with us. The crew will meet us along the way. They are the backbone of an expedition like this.”
Both Hall and Meyer hope the race will help people understand that “mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of,” Meyer says. “It’s something we should talk openly about and discuss freely.”
Video and a live feed of the run will be on Facebook and Instagram at SOS1000MileRun each day. To make donations, visit www.SOS1000milerun.com.
To learn more about suicide prevention, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Virginia.