ST. MARYS — Karl Joseph and two friends learned a painful lesson last year when they attempted to run 155 miles nonstop from St. Marys to Savannah.
The ultra-marathoners made the mistake of attempting the run when temperatures were in the mid 90s and the heat index was 103 degrees. They quit midway through the run because of cramping and concerns about heat exhaustion.
Weather wasn’t an obstacle for Joseph and his running partner John Durant when they left 7:10 a.m. Friday from Hutchinson Island with a goal of running to St. Marys in less than 40 hours. In fact, the runners believed they might be able to complete the run as fast as 36 hours if they averaged 12-minute miles.
The purpose of the run was not about setting personal records, though. It was intended to generate support for the Coastal Georgia Greenway, much of which is uncompleted.
When they stopped to eat, McDonald’s restaurants were often the destination. Friends would have food waiting for them to scarf down before they continued to run.
Temperatures began to drop Friday night as they reached Darien, about 75 miles into the run, when Joseph said he noticed Durant was having problems running. Durant said he was going to have to walk for awhile and told Joseph to keep running without him.
“I really struggled with going without John because of concern for his safety and well-being firstly, but also because I really wasn’t sure if I could finish without him,” Joseph said.
He said there were stretches of the run “where you simply have to turn off your brain.”
Exhaustion made it challenging to run through Brunswick with the traffic of U.S. Highway 17. At one point, Joseph said he jumped over a guard rail and laid down in the dirt.
“I nodded off for three minutes, but it felt like an hour,” he said.
He called Durant when he was at the base of the Sidney Lanier Bridge and was surprised to learn his friend was still running and was less than five miles behind.
The run from Brunswick to Woodbine was one of the toughest stretches, especially when Joseph ran on the stretch of the Georgia Coastal Trail in White Oak that is made of crushed rock.
He met friends in Woodbine and bought a cold soda and ibuprofen for the pain in his shins. One of his friends decided to run the last 26 miles with him.
Joseph said he realized it was still a realistic goal to complete the run in less than 40 hours. In 2015, he said he ran the distance in 44 hours.
He and his friend arrived at the Howard Gilman Memorial Park in downtown St. Marys at 10:02 p.m., eight minutes early.
He called Durant after his run ended and learned his friend was still determined to complete it.
“I knew he was in a world of hurt,” he said.
Durant finally arrived at the park at 3:40 a.m.
“I teared up as I saw him struggling to get to the park,” he said.
Durant said he completed the equivalent of five marathons by speed walking, covering a mile every 15 to 16 minutes.
“Occasionally, we would get in some sprints for the last five miles but not for a long distance,” he said. “I was very happy to come in at the waterfront fountain in St. Marys.”
Joseph said it will take about two months for him to recover from the run, but he will do some running this week. It is also his last Coastal Georgia Greenway 155 run, he said.
Joseph said about 75 percent of the run is on busy highways and roads.
“As we get off the roads, onto trails, swampland, marshes, there is a great sense of relief and peace,” he said. “An off-road greenway would be such an asset for runners, families on bikes, hikers.”
But a completed greenway would not make the run any less challenging.
“The sheer effort involved is not really based on the road, non road conditions,” he said. “It would just be less stressful and more scenic.”