Runner Wang completes her six-marathon quest
Once Hien Wang signed up to run six marathons in six days, there was no stopping her.
Training through an Oregon winter didn't stop the Bethany resident. Climbing through April heat in the California high desert didn't deter the Portland pharmacist, either.
On April 15, Wang completed her phase of MS Run the US, a 3,260-mile footrace relay from Santa Monica, California, to New York City to raise awareness and money to support those with multiple sclerosis. Over six days, she covered more than 164 miles from the Santa Monica Pier to Barstow, California.
"Mentally, I never had a doubt that I would complete the run," she said.
Actually, Wang, accompanied by friend Joliot Chu, covered more than the assigned mileage thanks to a Day 5 detour.
Wang's description of that day reflects her positive personality. Before explaining that some roads on her map didn't exist, forcing her to cover more than 30 miles, Wang cheerfully mentioned that the detours meant she completed her first 50-kilometer run.
It helped immensely, she said, that friend Chu ran the whole way, too.
When Wang signed up for the MS Run the US, the plan was for a different friend to run with her each day. COVID-19 restrictions nixed that option, but about three weeks before her April 9 start she learned she could have one person join her along the entire route.
A Portland-based flight attendant, Chu was the one friend with the week off work. Though not a competitive runner, the Beaverton resident jumped at the chance to join Wang.
Wang said she had prepared for the loneliness of the road by training without headphones so she could "be in my headspace and work through the mental struggle."
She believes she would have managed without Chu, but said that she felt safer with a friend along — especially with recent hate crimes against Asian-Americans.
Chu said the idea of doing six marathons in six days did not intimidate him.
"It was better I didn't have the stress" of thinking about the challenge for months, he said.
Physically, the biggest challenge came when temperatures soared into the high 80s. One morning, support team leader Haley Halvorson tried to talk Wang into cutting the day short, but Wang was determined to stay on schedule.
"There were some really devastating moments" alone on the road in the heat, Chu said.
Those moments, though, were the most memorable and fun because, Chu said, he and Wang traded jokes to keep themselves going. And, on occasion, they slowed to a walk in order to preserve energy.
Given the physical demands, Wang expected to be famished at the end of each day. The opposite was true. She and Chu had to force themselves to eat the protein-rich meals prepared for them by Halvorson.
Wang was not even interested in her favorite pastries, delivered by her husband, Lih, on her 37th birthday, which fell on April 12.
Wang developed blisters, and the downhill run toward Barstow was more challenging than she expected. But, just a couple days after passing the baton to Ed Madison to complete her role in the run and despite lingering blisters, Wang resumed running about six miles a day.
Wang was the first of 19 volunteer runners who would carry the baton for one week, a chain scheduled to end on Aug. 20 in New York City.
Wang said she will continue to run with — and for — a purpose. She has not yet decided what her next cause will be, but she will do the MS Run the US again.
"I'm really glad I was able to use what I do best to raise money for people who need it," Wang said.
Over seven years, the MS Run the US relay nonprofit has raised $2.3 million, which it distributes to organizations researching MS and as financial aid for MS patients.
To learn more, or to donate to Hien Wang's efforts, visit www.msruntheus.org and go to the Ultra Relay link under the Get Involved tab.
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