At 6 a.m. on Oct. 19, John Sisler will arrive at Lake Benson Park in Garner. After stretching, he will begin running southeast.
As morning turns into afternoon, Sisler will keep running. When darkness falls, he will keep running. In the wee morning hours, he will keep running.
And finally, after he’s run 200 miles, he will stop.
Sisler, 46, will be taking part in the Tuna Run 200, an overnight race from Raleigh to Atlantic Beach. He is one of two solo runners in the event and estimates that the race will take between 50 and 70 hours to complete. The current completion record for the course is 65 hours.
He also is raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that serves injured veterans. Sisler, who lives in Cary, has raised $1,150 of his $10,000 goal through Crowdrise, as of Oct. 12.
The cause is personal. As a student at the University of Akron in Ohio, Sisler was an Army ROTC member and joined the U.S. Army after graduation, hoping to be placed on active duty. But after 18 months of training, he was part of a reduction in force that occurred after Operation Desert Storm.
Eventually, he decided to join the IT field and now works as a web business analyst for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Sisler was inspired to support the Wounded Warrior Project because of the high suicide rates among soldiers returning from combat and the challenges they experience with reintegrating into civilian life. While the U.S. Army provides training for combat, Sisler said they don’t invest similarly in preparing soldiers to come home.
“I missed becoming unadjusted by the skin of my teeth,” Sisler said. “It could have been me.”
Sisler has completed other ultraruns, including the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic, a race around Hinson Lake in Rockingham. In 2015 he was unable to complete a 150-mile run. The Tuna Run will be the longest race he has attempted.
The ultrarunners are followed by crewers, who take turns following a runner on foot or in a car to ensure the runner’s safety and provide support. They often run alongside the runner for a stretch, keep the runner awake and provide food and water.
Running for long periods over extensive distances can quickly become an issue of mind over matter, Sisler said. Fatigue, injury and hallucinations can also occur, he said.
“Your mind has a lot of opportunities to tell you to stop,” Sisler said.
For example, when Sisler crewed for a friend, Ashby Ray, in last year’s Tuna Run, Sisler saw Ray begin to hallucinate. Ray, 43, said he is confident he saw a large metal chicken playing a lute.
Despite these risks, runners must push on, Sisler said. This year, Ray, who is the police attorney for the City of Raleigh, is crewing for him.
“Endurance is the idea that, despite circumstances, you persevere,” Sisler said. “It applies to life as much as to running.”
After Ray finished the race – in 65 hours – Sisler gave him a painting of a chicken playing a banjo.
The Tuna is not the first challenge Sisler has faced. In 2009, he fit the definition of clinically obese. One day he was playing tag with his son in their yard. The activity left him bent over, gasping for air. Sisler knew he needed to make some changes.
He began tracking his calories, eating less and jogging. Initially, Sisler could not even run three-fourths of a mile without walking or stopping.
Over 52 weeks, he lost 52 pounds. By the end of the year, Sisler could run six miles, a distance he said seems small now.
Looking for a new challenge, he began reading books about ultrarunning.
“I remember thinking, ‘Who would do that?’ ” Sisler said.
In 2013, he ran his first ultrarun, a distance of more than 50 miles.
“I’m always trying to improve, which I think is more noble than any (racing) goal,” Sisler said. “It’s about the journey.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler
Want to donate?
John Sisler is raising money to support the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that serves injured veterans. To donate, go to crowdrise.com/Roadto200. The fundraiser will remain open for about a month after the event.