A record-setting run fulfills lifelong dream

Feat: A Baltimore man spends 24 hours on a treadmill to break records and raise money for an animal shelter.

January 26, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

If you ask Serge England Arbona's wife, she'll tell you he's a little bit nuts. He has to be to do what he did over the weekend: run 152.27 miles on a treadmill in 24 hours - staking claim to four world records and tormenting every major muscle group in his body.

"These runners, especially ultra runners, have a crazy obsession with running," Jeanne England-Arbona, said yesterday.

Her French-born, 38-year-old, handyman husband - who has a penchant for 100-mile races through the mountains - started his run at noon Saturday in a Towson YMCA, dead set on breaking the 24-hour treadmill distance record, which he did yesterday by more than three miles.

But along the way, the Baltimore resident also beat the 50-mile treadmill time by 22 minutes, the 100-mile time by two hours and the distance record for a 12-hour run by more than four miles.

"Four records in 24 hours might be a record itself, said Christy De Vader, a Loyola professor who runs with Arbona sometimes. "He just whipped them all off."

Guinness World Records has to analyze the documentation before it's official, but to Arbona's fans, that's just a formality.

"The man is like a machine. I don't know how he does it. He's an inspiration to all of us," said Linda Tice, 58, a member of the Baltimore Road Runners Club, as is Arbona.

Ultra runners - those who run distances longer than a marathon - are different by nature, said De Vader, 44, who headed the crew attending Arbona.

"They just don't accept boundaries like other people do," said Dave Cameron, 40, a fellow runner from Millersville. "He's got tremendous mental focus and discipline. He was hurting three hours into this thing, but he just keeps going and going and just doesn't stop."

Friends kept Arbona moving through the night by singing and playing guitar, and showing videos of runners and of his 18-month-old son, Anjelo. The only time he stopped moving was during infrequent bathroom breaks.

By 10 a.m. yesterday, Arbona had given up running, though, and was sticking to a fast walk. His muscles were cramped, his ankles were shot, and he was nauseated and exhausted.

In addition, his mind was cloudy. He could no longer compute the distance he had run by looking at the treadmill display. He forgot that he had taken a salt tablet, to keep his sodium up, five minutes after downing it. He stumbled over words. But his feet kept going.

"We had a crew with him around the clock, at least three people at all times attending to the care and feeding of Serge," De Vader said yesterday at the 22 1/2 -hour mark. "All he has to do is put one foot in front of the other, and we'll do the rest."

A cooler piled high with food - nuts, chips, chocolate, fruit, bread, peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, baked potatoes - sat in front of the treadmill, and his pit crew regularly drew from it, forcing him to eat at times.

Crew members kept a strict watch on his condition and charted the results. At 17 hours, after running 115.3 miles, he ate cheese curls. At 19 hours, he cracked a smile. At 20 hours he wanted music. And at every hour in between, he was hurting.

"He can take suffering like I've never seen anybody take suffering," Arbona's wife said.

But he can't take animal suffering, and neither can she. The two, married for seven years, are hoping that the event and coverage of it will raise money for Animal Rescue Inc., a no-kill shelter for abandoned and abused animals (www.animalrescueinc.org) in New Freedom, Pa.

The shelter, which has four locations, costs nearly $3,000 a day to operate - much of it for medical expenses - and donations are scarce, said Phil Staelens, its director.

"Most things we have to generate ourselves" through various regional fund-raisers, Staelens said. "This is kind of like a gift."

About $1,000 had been raised yesterday, he estimated.

As time ticked by, dozens cheered Arbona on, trying to keep him motivated even after he had tied - and a second later broken - the distance record with 37 minutes left on the 24-hour clock.

With one minute left, he began to run again, grimacing all the way. At the end, friends wrapped him in a foil blanket to keep his body temperature from dropping too quickly, and he stood still for about five minutes.

But after staring into a camera waiting for a television news crew to go to him live, he wavered for a few seconds before appearing to pass out during the interview.

"I fell asleep," he said, sitting in a wheelchair organizers had on hand. "I'm floating, I can't focus on anything."

Up since 5 a.m. Saturday, Arbona was ready for a hot shower and a long nap. But he was alert enough to savor the moment.

"This is the best and most exciting day of my life," he said. "I was dreaming of a world record when I was a kid. It took a long time."

Records set

Here are the records that Serge England Arbona set - subject to verification by Guinness World Records - in Towson over the weekend:

Fastest 50-mile run on a treadmill. Arbona's time was 6 hours and 39 minutes. The previous record-holder, Ian Griffiths of England, set the bar Nov. 7, 2001, running the 50 miles in 7 hours and 1 minute.

Longest distance run on a treadmill in 12 hours. At midnight yesterday, Arbona had run 85.68 miles. Karl Graf from Germany had run 81.46 miles in 12 hours two years ago.

Fastest 100-mile run on a treadmill. Arbona ran it in 14 hours and 22 minutes - more than two hours faster than David Deubelbeiss of Canada, who, a year ago, ran the distance in 16 hours and 23 minutes.

Longest distance run on a treadmill in 24 hours. Arbona reached 152.27 miles. The previous record holder, Germany's Karl Graf, ran 149.1 miles in February 2002.

- Tricia Bishop

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