Even a damaged heart couldn’t stop Sheryl Wheeler as she emerged from the Adirondack woods as a record-holder.
Wheeler broke the speed record for supported hikers on the Northville-Placid Trail on Thursday, June 16, finishing the 122-mile trek between Lake Placid and Benson in 35 hours and 15 minutes.
The previous record was set by Vermonter Tim Seaver in 2005, who finished in 37 hours and 31 minutes.
Wheeler set out in Lake Placid at 5:02 a.m. Wednesday, carrying two water bottles and a fanny pack of food. Her support team — husband, Dan, and friend David Boles — met her nine hours later when the trail crossed routes 28 and 30 near Blue Mountain Lake.
Boles said Wheeler carried drinkable yogurt and salted cashews for nutrition and requested Coke and ginger ale at the support crossings. One of her water bottles has a filter, so she scooped water from the abundant streams along the way.
Unexpected stinging nettles and raspberry canes left Wheeler’s bare legs criss-crossed with scratches, and bugs had bitten her. She said everything hurt but eventually went numb. She said if she’d anticipated those hazards, she would have worn nylon sweatpants for the trek.
Wheeler spotted a large moose track and a bear track along the way but said she wasn’t frightened because bears usually go away when they hear humans approaching in the wilderness. She briefly considered the danger of mountain lions but dismissed the idea.
Despite the full moon and using a headlamp, Wheeler said she lost the trail Wednesday night, adding at least 5 miles to her distance. At a pace of 4 miles per hour, that added more than an hour to her time, she said.
The Rhinebeck housepainter said she started running when she was 34 years old. About six years ago, a virus attacked her heart, leaving about one-third of it damaged. Once her doctor OK’d her to resume running, she chose to run long distances because she believes the slower pace is less taxing for her heart muscle.
Wheeler normally competes in ultra-long-distance races. She placed second in the Massanutten Mountain Trails’ 100-mile run in Virginia in May. Her racing strategy is to maintain a pace of 15-minute miles, then start passing the leaders around mile 83.
She said since the May race, she hasn’t really trained, but she has been walking a lot. She said she enjoys walking and welcomes the hills when she’s racing because she walks up them rather than run.
“Breaking or making records is highly overrated,” she said. “It’s hard work.”
But when she turns 50, she said she’ll start trying to break age-related distance records, because not many women that age are out running long distances.
While waiting for Wheeler’s arrival at the park at the bridge to Northville, Mayor James Groff asked Boles, “What’s next? The Appalachian Trail?”
Boles quickly shushed him, saying not to give Wheeler any ideas.
Wheeler said the experience was a “once-in-a-lifetime” one because she doesn’t plan to ever do it again.
But she said if her brother, a runner, wants to try, she just might go along.
The full trail begins on 1.2 miles of roadway in Lake Placid and ends with 10 miles on local roads and Route 30 in Northampton. Those sections are not counted in the record.
Other hikers have set records for completing the trail without the help of family, friends or other supporters offering food, drinks and supplies when the trail crosses roads at several points throughout the Adirondacks.
Barbara Cook/The Leader-Herald
Sheryl Wheeler of Rhinebeck describes a bear track she saw during her record-setting hike on the Northville-Placid Trail last week.