On Sunday, in beautiful spring weather conditions, Newport residents Adrian Massie and Sandy Spitler set out to achieve a goal that would be physically impossible for most people, including many top athletes: They ran the entire perimeter of Aquidneck Island.
The loop was just over 50 miles long – nearly the length of two marathons – and was carefully mapped out by the couple during six weeks of prior planning and preparation. Massie said they began running at 6am yesterday, and completed the feat in approximately 8.5 hours.
Both Massie and Spitler are accomplished competitive runners in Rhode Island and out of state, and their experience running long distance races meant they were well-prepared physically and mentally for the challenges of Sunday’s run. “In terms of conditioning, we were ready. We knew we could do it,” Massie said. “We’re at that level where we have the confidence.”
We had a chance to chat with Massie about the experience and inspiration behind his and Spitler’s Aquidneck Island perimeter run as well as his journey as a competitive runner. Read on for the interview.
What was your inspiration for running the perimeter of the island?
Sandy and I both love running with Run Newport and in the absence of weekly events like Run & Chug, we were a little bit bummed to not be racing and seeing friends. But eventually, we came to see it as an opportunity to try new things and that’s what spawned the idea. Coincidentally, we each had the same idea to run the perimeter of the island. Sandy was planning to run the Boston Marathon this year but when we heard it was postponed, we both thought maybe there’s something we can do together. I was already thinking of the logistics of how to do it, and she was thinking of the same thing. We presented our ideas to each other and knew it was something we had to do. So, we started putting together a plan and worked on it for about 6 weeks and then executed the plan.
Exactly how many miles was the loop?
We thought it was going to be close to 55 but in reality our GPS got us close to 51 miles.
How long did it take to complete?
We started at 6am and finished just before 3pm. We had four planned stops that took about 10-15 minutes and a couple of other shorter stops. Total running time was 7 hours, 20 minutes, in total it was about an 8.5 hour day.
What was the toughest section?
For me, it was right around Clements’ Marketplace which was about mile 35. I started to feel really funny; things were a bit wavy and I was feeling kind of hot. We had a big uphill climb on East Main Road toward Portsmouth Town Hall. I had a moment of uncertainty but I stopped for a couple of seconds and took some deep breaths and charged up the hill. I felt good the whole way through after that.
Tell us about what went into the preparation and logistical planning for a run this long.
Nutrition and hydration are the most important things when you’re running any distance close to a marathon (26.2 miles) or further. We put a lot of thought into what went into the four drop bags that we placed strategically throughout the course and also where to hide them at locations in Portsmouth and Middletown. Lucky for us, nobody stumbled upon them! For me, rice burritos got me through the course. In addition to those, the drop bags included energy gels, bananas and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We overbudgeted for water which was a good problem to have. We both ran with hydration vests which carry about 2 liters of water. In yesterday’s temperature conditions, that amount of water can get you through about 10 miles or more. We also checked the weather forecast a lot as temperature and wind conditions are factors that can have a significant impact on outcomes in long distance running.
What does recovering feel like today?
I feel pretty good. I’ve never run this far before, so you might have to ask me next week! Our objective was not to finish as quick as possible, it was to complete the loop in a safe way that didn’t damage or disrespect our bodies so that we can continue running, which I probably plan to do later today.
How long have you been running?
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How I Started Running Today’s submission is from Adrian Massie. Swipe ➡️ to see his “before” photo. Now we see him winning races on the regular! Thank you for the story @adrianmmassie !! “I didn’t always run – far from it! I grew up mostly an athlete (not a runner though) but got away from organized athletics in college, going for mostly board-riding related activities. My physical (and mental) health wasn’t high on the priority list for a lot of years. I wasn’t especially happy or grateful either, even though opportunities continually swirled around me, I continued not to reach out for them. Then in my young 30s, all within a few weeks time, my parents divorced (total surprise! 39 years), my father fell very ill and required long term hospitalization, my mom moved 400 miles away, and another family member basically went crazy. The stress of these new developments, combined with an already fragile emotional being meant that something needed to change. I was about 10 -15 pounds overweight at that time, and for the first time in my life my family needed more out of me. So I went for a run. About 7.5 miles, which at the time seemed like a ridiculously long way. I hadn’t really run since high school. It was hard. I wore kooky hiking shoes that didn’t fit right and a golf shirt. I didn’t look like a runner at all. Finishing that run felt hard but good. It was the only good thing I had felt – so I did it again. And again. I ran almost every day for a few months and signed up for a race. The confidence building related to that first run eventually led me to eating better, sleeping better, losing 25 lbs, changing careers, making new and good friends, aligning myself with a truly wonderful group of runners (Run Newport and Run N Chug!) ,being able to better weather difficult situations, and has provided a general sense of gratitude and stoke for life that I never had. It takes time but I never stopped running and it is a continuous building process even up to today. I have raced every distance from the mile to the ultramarathon. I have won races. I have done things I truly never dreamed possible just a few years before. I don’t plan on stopping. Thanks running!
A little less than 8 years. I sort of picked it up late in life at age 35 and found it’s something I really like to do and that I’m good at.
You and Sandy have competed in many races in Rhode Island and elsewhere – what are a few highlights?
My favorite race and one that felt best to win was the Newport 10 Miler in 2017. That race is just a really fun day for Newport visitors as well as locals. It’s a nice distance in the prettiest part of our city. I’ve also run the Newport Marathon twice and placed second in the Ocean Road 10K. I ran the 2019 Boston Marathon and qualified for it by running a marathon in Portland, Oregon in under 3 hours. I learned a lot from Boston 2019 and can’t wait to go back. Sandy is one of the strongest female runners in Rhode Island. She holds the course record for the Newport 10 Miler, Newport Marathon as well as an ultra marathon in California.
You’re also a surfer – do you surf competitively as well?
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An ode to Adrian. First and last name in the water since I’ve started shooting. Big, small, off shore, on shore, Adrian just goes. He didn’t even look yesterday, just suited up and got out there. I look up to his approach on life. Full speed. Thanks for always spreading stoke, sending me text for secret slab missions, and reiterating the importance of “just send it”.
Surfing is just for fun – do it as much as I can and I love it. Winter surfing is one of the best strength conditioning activities you can do.
Any other thoughts on this experience you’d like to share and any advice you can give readers who might be interested in leveling up their fitness?
Through running the course yesterday, we got to see a lot of beautiful parts of the island which we hadn’t seen before. We’re both very grateful for where we live – I feel that every time I leave the house and put on my running shoes. A couple of years ago, I never dreamed this would have been possible, but you never realize what you’re capable of and it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.
I wasn’t always a goal-oriented person. I became that kind of person over time and running helped me become that person. Setting a goal and reaching it can be a really rewarding experience. You’ll always learn something in the process of getting there and you’ll find you’re capable of much more than you think. That’s been my lesson.