HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - If 13 miles equals a half marathon and 26.22 miles equals a marathon, what does 188 miles equal?
For Jamie Woyce, it’s the final leg of the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Run the U.S. ultra relay run. The 19th segment will take her from Pennsylvania through New Jersey and into New York City in seven days to raise awareness and funds for MS.
The Ultra Relay is an annual, 19 segment, relay run stretching 3,260 miles across America for MS. It begins every April in Santa Monica, CA and finishes in August in New York, NY.
“My family thinks I’m crazy, but they’re supportive,” said Woyce who currently resides in Hasbrouck Heights.
“They keep asking ‘How are you feeling’ Are you ok?,” she said of her parents, Nancy and Conrad, who still live in East Rutherford. Woyce is the 11th of 14 children.
The main driving force behind her Herculean effort is her older sister, Michelle.
Michelle was diagnosed with MS at the age of 27. She was a nurse and had been training for the Air Force Reserve time trials. She “kept running and falling, and had tingling in her feet, and she knew something wasn’t right” recalled Woyce. She was eventually diagnosed She worked as a pediatric oncology nurse at Columbia Presybterian Hospital in New York. Between the disease’s progression and commuting into the city, she had to give up work two years ago.
Woyce says her sister, who resides in Nanuet, NY, with her two children, still stays active, volunteering at a food bank, participating in 200 mile monthly challenges on her stationary bike, even weeding her lawn with her walker.
“She’s still positive,” said Woyce. “She’s one of the most positive people ever. It’s very rare that she complains.”
There is no cure for MS, only symptom management. Michelle gets infusions twice a month.
Multiple sclerosis (or MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, according to the MS Run the U.S. website. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. Twice as many women are diagnosed than men. Over 2.2 million people live with MS.
Until a couple of years ago, Woyce wasn’t aware of the annual event. It was happenstance. Woyce is an assistant coach for cross country, winter and spring track teams at Cliffside Park High School. In 2017, she and head coach Lindsey Reggo were running with the team from New Jersey across the George Washington Bridge for practice. The group met the runner finishing the final leg that year, and they started talking. They kept in touch. In 2018, Woyce, Reggo and the Cliffside Park cross-country team ran the final seven miles with the 18th segment runner. They met up in Fort Lee and ran with her to the finish line.
She applied for the event in August 2018, and was notified at the end of October about her acceptance.
“I started running and training right away,” she said.
Her sister said, “You don’t have to do this...this could kill you,” recalled Woyce.
“It’s giving her something to look forward to.”
Training and Nutrition
Woyce is a 2007 graduate of Becton Regional High School, where she ran cross country and spring track. She also ran two years in college before stopping due to injuries. She has completed three marathons, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the U.S. Marine Corps in Washington, D.C.
A special education teacher at Cliffside Park Middle School, Royce wakes up at 4:45 am for either a morning run or to go to the gym. Her day continues with work, practice with the high school team, going home. She’s usually in bed between 8 to 9pm. .
Her training includes weightlifting, swimming, running on the treadmill, physical therapy. stretching, and elliptical training.
She even runs in the winter.
“I bundle up a lot,” she said. “You get warm eventually.”
In training, Woyce said “the big thing is to doing back to back long runs each day. She’ll do 20,10, 20 miles or 10,24,8, miles, and then three more days before a day off. She runs six days on, one day off.
As the cross country coach, she has the benefit of running and training with the team.
“Being a coach, I can do a lot of training with the kids,” she said.
“I’ll always be the first one to say, ‘Agh, I don’t want to run today,’” she admitted. At the end of the season, the team gave her a special award -- “The Only Person Who Will Complain About Running and Sign up to run 190 Miles."
Her weekends include 20 or 22-mile runs, sometimes running from Hasbrouck Heights to Saddle Brook Park and back, sometimes with runs around town. Reggo will sometimes accompany her on bike.
To aid in her daily recovery, Woyce saw sports rehab doctors, Gregory Doerr and Megan Doyle, at Bergen Chiropractic. Her therapies included assisted soft tissue mobilization for scarring and chronic inflammation, and cupping to assist in blood flow.
“They’ve been awesome,” said Woyce, who has had cupping on “every part of my body.”
“It helps the next day. It definitely feels better.”
All the training did sometimes wear on Woyce, who admits to questioning whether she could successfully train and finish the event.
“I’ve been out for a run and thought ‘I can’t do this”, she explained. “You doubt yourself a lot.”
But her friends reminded her it was too late to turn back. Reggo would tell her “Don’t think about it today. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
The organizers set up team meetings via Skype before the event, and small groups, so runners could text and support each other. They would share tips and help each other with doubts.
Keeping her body fueled for an ultra relay, Woyce eats healthy but doesn’t deprive herself.
“I’m not super super health conscious,” she said. “I eat healthy but I’ll eat a burger, I’ll eat ice cream.”
She said she does eat a lot of protein, but it hasn’t “stopped myself from enjoying food.”
The key, she said, is “refueling after long runs, but it’s hard finding something to eat after. It is a bit of a challenge.”
The night before she begins she’ll “make sure I eat pasta and chicken.”
Woyce is running the 19th and final leg of the annual MS Run the U.S. Her segment begins in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles north of Harrisburg. Her segment begins on Saturday, August 10.
According to the run planner provided by the organizers, she’ll run across Pennsylvania, through Easton, Pa. and cross into New Jersey at Phillipsburg, New Jersey. She’ll log miles in Warren, Morris, Essex, Passaic, and Bergen counties. Her final day will take her from Bergen County, across the George Washington Bridge, to a ceremony at Harlem Hospital at 11:30 am.
She’ll need to do a minimum of 26 miles a day, or more, to make it to the finish on Friday, August 16. Woyce said she hopes to do a few extrra miles each day to have less to do at the end.
She plans to modify the route slightly on the last day. She’ll meet up with the Cliffside Park team, run down Palisade Avenue with an escort from the Cliffside Park Police Department, to the bridge, and then into the city to Harlem Hospital.
Because August can be unbearably hot and humid, Woyce wants to “try to start as early as possible so I'm done before the major heat of the day.” She plans to be up at 4 a.m. and begin running by 5 a.m. to get in the miles. She said organizers “encourage afternoon naps.”
Accompanying her will be Peter Oviatt and Will Komas from the organization. Woyce has rented an RV for her family and friends. Her sister, Michelle, will be with her on the first and last day. Her parents, nieces, nephews, and close friends, including Hasbrouck Heights head coach Mike Ryan and Reggo, who will bike along with her. In Easton, she’ll be joined by the Easton High School cross country team for a few miles.
During the run, organizers will make her stop to eat and drink every five miles, then continue. Some of the things she’ll eat include granola bars, protein bars and cookies, potato chips and pretzels. Woyce likes potato chips because of the salt.
“At that point, it’s just taking in calories,” she said. “If you can stomach it, eat it.”
A crew truck will follow her, stocked with water, Gatorade and water for the trip.
She also plans to change her clothes and shoes half way through each day.
Part of the event is fundraising for the organization. She had to raise $10,000, which goes to research for medicines and a cure, awareness, and financial aid to help build ramps and handicap bathrooms in homes. She hit her goal.
“Fundraising was much easier than I thought it was going to be,” she said. Cliffside Park, Becton, and Garfield High Schools each held Dress Down Day fundraisers.
After finishing the race, there will be a luncheon back in Cliffside Park for Woyce and her family and friends. And the next day she’ll head out to teach a cross country camp in New York state.
What does she want her students to learn from her ultra run this summer?
“You’re capable of doing a lot ore than you think you can,” she said. “You could say ‘I can’t do any of this’, but if you don’t give yourself a choice, you can.
“You can do it if you have the right mindset, and that’s like life,” she said. “You can do anything with the right mindset.”
What is some of the non-training advice she’s gotten?
“”Everyone says the best part is all the views,” she said. “Take your photo, stop and take pictures.”
“They say just take every step and every mile. Worry about just that. Don’t think about the 20 miles today. Just worry about what you’re doing right now.”
“Just keep moving forward. Whatever you do, just keep moving forward,” she said. “If you have to walk, walk, or run, run. Just move forward. You’ll be closer to the finish.”
And when it does hurt really bad, she remembers what her sister is going through.
“‘Come on, Michelle is doing this, you can do this,’” she says to herself. “That’s the extra incentive."
Donate through Jamie's MS Run the US page.
Follow Jamie's run on her Facebook page.
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