Robert Brooks ran so far, he out-lasted the battery of his GPS watch.
In that 100 miles, he also blew out a new pair of sneakers and had his running tights torn up by sotol brush, but somehow, somewhere, he said he found it within himself to continue to place one foot in front of the other and keep going.
At mile 88, Brooks said he knew he was going to make it. It would be slow moving, but he would complete the Cactus Rose 100-mile Endurance Run, held Oct. 27 at Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera.
“The last 10 to 15 miles were the absolute worst,” said the 49-year-old Kempner resident. “It’s when you felt the worst. I didn’t question whether I was going to go on, I questioned whether God was going to stop me. I was praying, ‘Don’t let me twist an ankle or fall. I’m so close, but it’s still 15 miles.’”
Brooks finished in 28 hours, 34 minutes, 15 seconds — a third-place finish for his age group and 22nd overall. It took a week, he said, before he no longer felt like he’d just run a hundred miles.
This was Brooks’ second attempt at the race. In 2011, he sprained his ankle around mile 43 and at 50, he had to stop.
“I’ve never done anything physically more difficult,” said Brooks, a retired staff sergeant who now works as a licensed vocational nurse. “You have to force yourself to take another step. That’s how you do it.”
Much of the race is run in the dark, so Brooks wore a headlamp.
“When you’re running by yourself in the dark, it’s very disconcerting,” he said. “You have to slow down so you don’t fall.”
The strangest part, he said, were the tiny owls that would sit in the trail, their eyes glowing in the dark.
“When I’d get within a few feet of them, they’d let out a little squeak and fly off,” he said.
The endurance race is a 25-mile loop with aid stations spread throughout. Brooks’ wife, Paula Brooks, met him at most aid stations to give him food, drinks and equipment.
“It was really nice to see,” Paula said. “It’s amazing when you set your mind to something, you can work hard and accomplish it.”
To train, Robert ran a total of more than 3,000 miles, much of it during the summer heat.
“I told him I knew he could do it this year. It was cold and I worried about him. I worried about the others, but it’s something he likes to do,” Paula said.
While Robert does enjoy running, he also has a second purpose: to raise funding and awareness for Special Love, a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides families of cancer patients a network of support.
Robert’s daughter, Katie, now 21, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at age 3 while the family was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. From there, the Army transferred them to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center so Katie could receive treatment and shortly after, they all began to find solace in the recreation activities provided by Special Love.
During the last leg of the race, Robert wore a Special Love T-shirt and hat.
“These people do just unbelievable work,” he said. “A child can experience things and not feel different. They can almost forget they have cancer.”
While the charity is not local, Robert said military families move often and could easily find themselves in the Virginia area. Not that he wants anyone to need their services, but if they do, perhaps they’ll remember having heard the name and seek out help.
“I want people to know about it,” he said.
The veteran is now training for the Army Marathon, scheduled to be held in Central Texas in April. While his goal for the Cactus Rose was just to finish, he has set the bar high for his next race. He hopes to finish in less than three hours.
“I felt silly doing a marathon now and not doing something extra,” he said.
Again, he plans to wear the Special Love hat when he runs and will continue to reach out for support for the nonprofit, either through donations or volunteer work.