It took a village to get William Byrd to the finish line of the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile endurance race in Huntsville, Texas.
But when he did, he realized he won the 19-and-under age category and shattered a 17-year-old record along the way.
Byrd, a 2018 Glide High School graduate who now attends Baylor University in Waco, Texas, completed the course in 25 hours, 10 minutes, 18 seconds, breaking Peter Goren’s 2002 time of 27:21.0.
“Looking back now, post-race, with a clear head and healing body, I can say that I would probably would not have finished without my crew and pacer. Having the support and being able to see my family at many of the aid stations really boosted my confidence,” Byrd said.
“Plus, the ‘encouragement’ to continue on is much appreciated now. I don’t know if I would have been able to finish the back half of loop four without my brother there to lead me and provided support during the dark hours of the night.”
For the final 38 miles he was joined by his younger brother, Brandon, a sophomore at Glide High School. Their parents, Chris and Christina Byrd, also made the trip to Texas to offer support and cheers.
“They were hobbling like old people,” Christina Byrd said of her sons when they crossed the finish line.
Brandon Byrd runs on the high school cross country and track and field teams, but his true passion is dirt bike racing. But there was no hesitation when it came to being the pace runner for his older brother, although his role was different than imagined.
“My spirit was really uplifted after I picked up my brother during lap three. He helped me really pick up the pace during that lap and I really felt good,” William Byrd said. “He would run ahead of me and I would zone out and follow him in a trance like state.”
At mile 85, William Byrd started to feel extremely tired. His legs got heavy and moving forward became harder and harder, and Brandon Byrd’s role changed from setting the pace to becoming a motivator for his older brother.
“I think I was beginning to bonk. Not the ‘hit the wall’ of a marathon, but more like ‘hit by a bus, then backed over again by the bus,’ bonk. I was really suffering; my knees were pretty much done, I couldn’t really feel my feet much, and my mind was in some sort of fog,” William Byrd said. “I had never hit this point before. I had also never exerted myself this long.”
“It was a side of his brother (Brandon) had never seen before,” Christina Byrd said. “His job was to keep William moving.”
The later it got, the louder the music at the aid stations got. “Brandon said that was the greatest sound, because you knew you were getting close to an aid station,” Christina Byrd said.
The two made it to the final aid station, four miles from the finish, nearly two hours behind schedule.
William and Brandon Byrd ran together mostly throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning and just before sunrise the batteries in their headlamps gave out and the duo had to run by the light of their cellphones.
“After the longest four miles of my life, we rounded the corner and came out of the brush and were able to see the finish,” William Byrd said. “We turned off the phone flashlights and hobbled our way towards the finish. I remember my brother saying something like we should sprint the finish. I just laughed and said we’d run/hobble the last 100 or so feet. And like two cripples, we both crossed the finish line.
“I think that was the best part of the whole race. There is really no way to properly describe the feeling of crossing the finish line after running/forward moving for over 25 hours.”
Although he bonked with 15 miles to go, the start didn’t go great for William Byrd either. His mother said he looked pale, was cranky and talked about giving up.
“Early into lap two, I lapsed into a mental state of despair, where I began to question whether or not I would be able to finish the race,” William Byrd said. “At the first aid station I expressed my feelings about how I felt that early on and my crew chief, aka my mom, would not hear of it and ‘kindly’ pushed me to continue and encouraged/forced me to ingest some food.”
Christina Byrd said. “I knew he could do it. I told him to eat something. He told me I didn’t understand, and I said ‘I know I don’t understand, but eat something and we’ll see you at the next aid station.’”
By the time William Byrd got to the next aid station, he was feeling much better and ready to conquer on the rest of the course.
The course itself consisted of four 25-mile loops and six aid stations were spread out along the loop.
“The aid stations are like a buffet. There was bacon and pancakes, tacos, and hamburgers,” Christina Byrd said. “When the runners came in it it was like a pitstop at the Daytona 500. People would hand them water, food, new shoes, socks, Band-Aids — whatever they needed.”
While tacos and hamburgers may not seem like healthy running food, the runners have to make sure they take in a lot of calories to keep going. William Byrd burned 8,807 calories during the race.
“The high point was probably the freshly prepared bacon and pancakes at one of the aid stations,” William Byrd said, adding he also ate some Taco Bell before starting the second half of the race.
Nearly 390 people started the race and only 207 finished. William Byrd was 82nd overall.
“I think that my favorite part was that during the race, all other life stresses and worries seemed to disappear as my only goal and worry was to simply run and finish. Nothing else mattered,” William Byrd said. “Now back in school, with life’s many stresses and worries, I long for the simplicity of just worrying about moving, eating, finishing.”
William and Brandon crossed the finish line just after 7 a.m. and after the race was over, the family got into their vehicle at within five minutes all of them were asleep.
It was the first time since his Leukemia diagnosis that William Byrd missed a doses of his oral chemo medication.
His doctors at Doernbecher Hospital continue to monitor him when he gets home on breaks from schools. The medical staff at Baylor University is aware of his condition, but do not require extra involvement. His medications get shipped to the school from Portland.
“(Running) gives him a sense of accomplishment. He pushes himself beyond his limits,” Christina Byrd said. “It’s a good environment, I’m proud of him and his accomplishments.”
The freshman is an engineering major with a 3.4 GPA and a full 16 credit-hour schedule.
“Though it would seem hard to run and train in college, I feel that it is almost easier. I have less things that I have to worry about and do,” William Byrd said. “Growing up on a ranch, there was always work to be done, so fitting in a run would often mean getting up early or running late.”
William Byrd also joined the on-campus organization Engineer’s with a Mission (EM), a service-oriented group of students and faculty using skills from the classroom to help people in need in the real world.
He went to Rockport, Texas, to help rebuild a church damaged by Hurricane Harvey and is headed to Haiti in March to help install solar panels and an electrical system at a local hospital.
He’ll also be traveling for school work this summer, when he’s heading to Greece to study literature and culture.
“I feel that this will be a great experience and I am really looking forward to it,” he said.
But running is never far from his mind.
“I can confidently say that I will run 100 miles again,” William Byrd said. “Definitely.”