If you completed the New York City Marathon and woke up Monday morning with blistered feet, throbbing shins and cramped calves vowing never to do it again, consider this: at 26.2 miles Daniel O’Keefe will be just over a quarter of the way to his goal.
On Friday, Nov. 7 at 6 a.m. the Cardinal Spellman High School principal will step on the school track and he will not stop running around and around—and around—the track until he has completed 100 miles, hopefully 24 hours later Saturday morning.
“I always try to tell the students this. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it,” said O’Keefe of the reason behind the improbable endurance test. The run is also to help raise funds to support Cardinal Spellman’s sports and student activities. The student body is being challenged to raise $100 from sponsors, with every cent donated going directly to benefit Spellman students.
“It’s all voluntary,” he stressed of the fund-raising component. “At Spellman we try not to put mandatory fund-raising on the kids. Mostly it’s about motivating students to give 100 percent of themselves in whatever they do. And I think it brings the school community together to realize, don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t get 100 on that test. We’ve had students graduate at Spellman with a 100 average.”
O’Keefe, 49, admits he’s received a few arched eyebrows from faculty and students about his seemingly Quixotic and possibly dangerous 100-mile endurance run. But he’s done it before, several times actually, as an ultra-marathoner. He started running cross-country in high school at St. Francis Prep in Queens, ran marathons in college and, yes, he has participated in the New York City Marathon. He first got interested in super long distance running in his mid 40s.
“I wanted to be challenged by distances longer than marathons,” he explained. He’s run in the Vermont 100 and the New Jersey 100, both ultra-marathon events, finishing each time. He’s had to battle rugged terrain and inclement weather in those events but he thinks running on a flat track may present a greater challenge.
“Running a hundred miles on the Vermont trails up in the mountains is beautiful and very different than running 100 miles by doing hundreds of laps on a high school track. This is absolutely more of a mental challenge,” he stressed. “When you do events like the Vermont race there are sometimes 200 people in the race. There is always somebody to talk to.”
He will have company part of the time on the Spellman run. Some faculty members have volunteered to join him for a mile or two and Spellman cross-country team runners have also volunteered to pace him. Spellman students are also encouraged to come out, during class breaks, to cheer on their principal. O’Keefe’s family, his wife Lucy and daughters Erin, 19, Tara, 14, Bridget, 12, and Nora, 10, will also be there Friday evening. But he will be running alone for some of the run.
“If somebody is with me then the conversation actually keeps your mind off what you’re doing and you’re body actually gets into a very regular rhythm. So when you’re speaking to someone it makes it go by much more easily,” he explained. “But times when I’m not having someone with me a lot time is just focused on prayer. It’s interesting because I’ve run on the track so many times I’ve figured out I can pretty much get a decade of the Rosary in for just one lap.”
But he acknowledges the wee hours could be pretty lonely and that’s when fatigue and doubts could set in.
“Probably about 2 a.m.” he said when asked what he thought his darkest hour might be. “At 2 a.m. I’ll still have about 30 miles left. By 4 a.m. you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
He sees 100 miles in 24 hours as possible but he’s run long enough to know anything can happen.
“To finish in 24 hours it’s just about 14 minutes and 24 seconds a mile I think the way the math comes out,” he said. So it may take a little bit longer, but I’ll finish. I’m aiming at 24 hours, but it may take 25 or 26 but I’ll get it in.”