In the first six days, Diane Van Deren’s teammates were lancing her blisters and taping her sodden feet several times a day. The endurance runner from Sedalia motored through 10 pairs of shoes as she ran 20-plus hours a day through a tropical storm.
Unable to read maps or remember directions due to a brain injury, the 52-year-old relied on “Team Diane” guides as she navigated the often unmarked trail.
Still, the heroic Van Deren ran. Step after step, sleeping at most three but usually one hour a day.
And last Friday morning, 22 days, five hours and three minutes after she started running atop a rain-slicked granite knoll in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she stopped on a sandy beach, setting a record for the 1,000-mile course.
Still in a bit of daze on Monday, Van Deren — one of the world’s top endurance runners who won the 2008 Yukon Arctic Ultra towing a 50-pound sled of supplies across 300 miles of frozen tundra in the dead of winter — spoke for a few moments on a feat she called “the hardest thing I have ever, ever done or will ever do again.”
Her feet, she said, were “totally, utterly trashed” within the first hours of the mission. She explained how her faith, friendships, trust, respect, discipline and drive pushed her through the pain. A true professional, Van Deren always describes her accomplishments using the plural “we,” diverting praise to her sponsor, The North Face, and the Mountain to Sea Trail expedition supporter Great Outdoors Provision Company, who provided food, shelter and top runners to guide Van Deren through the maze-like trail.