■ BY SUSAN ERWIN
Five years ago Sally Libonati decided she wanted to kick a bad habit. She had wanted to stop smoking and realized she needed to do something active that would help her reach that goal. So one day, she decided to go for a jog.
“When I first started I could barely run one block,” Sally said. “Then it started to get easier, and I eventually ran a 5K, then a 10K, and I just kept going.” Soon she traded her bad habit in for a healthy addiction. The Dolphin Cove (Pink Pony) employee of 17 years ran her first marathon six months after she started running.
Last weekend, October 31 and November 1, she participated in the “Save The Daylight” run, an event that takes place every year when Daylight Savings Time ends. It’s an “Ultra Marathon” that lasts 24 hours.
This year, the event took place at the Ann Dever Memorial Regional Park in Englewood. Joining about 60 other runners of various ages, Sally started running on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and finished on Sunday morning at 8 a.m. And she ran the entire time. The computer chip in her running gear proved she ran a total of 105.6 miles in 24 hours. “I stopped just long enough to refill my water bottle or to grab something to eat. The only time I stopped for more than a couple of minutes was after 50 miles, and that was to change my clothes and grab my flashlight because it was getting cooler and dark out,” she said.
She said gel packs with electrolytes and amino acids kept her fueled during those 24 hours. She also gained energy from applesauce, chicken broth and nibbling on jumbo marshmallows. “I didn’t really plan on doing 100 miles, but it ended up being one of the best races I ever ran,” Sally said. “The park has a 3.3 mile loop trail, and you just had to keep running it as many times as you could.”
Sally met her husband, John, at the gym and the two were married last February. The couple currently lives in Rotonda. Although John isn’t a long-distance runner, he does join Sally on shorter runs like 5K races. Sally said John came to cheer her on last Sunday morning as the event was wrapping up. “He ran that last loop with me, and I am so glad he was there, because I was so tired and sore, and I was actually crying during those last few miles. But he inspired me to finish,” she said. She ended up finishing in first place overall at the event – winning a medal, an engraved beer mug, a sugar skull and a belt buckle. The person who took second place finished nine miles behind her.
And she has no plan of stopping now.
“My goal this year is to run at least 52 races,” Sally said. “Some weekends I take off and sometimes I will do three races in one week,” she said.
Sally also leads a weekly “fun run” group at Englewood Beach on Thursdays at 6 p.m. “Sometimes there are just three of us, and other days there are 25 people. Anyone can attend. We have walkers and runners – all levels of experience are welcome,” she said. She is also a member of Zoomers Running club.
She said she mostly does local runs, but she usually has to travel to attend the ultra runs. Anything over 30 miles is considered an ultra run. She ran a 50K last year at Oscar Scherer Park in Osprey, and that’s when she first found out about the ultra runs. “I thought, well, that’s only four miles more than a marathon. I can do that,” she said.
Sally said her next goal is planned for August of 2016, when she will compete in the “Trans-Rockies” event, a 120-mile staged run set over a period of six days in Colorado. “That terrain will cover 20,000 feet of elevation, so that one will be a challenge – especially since I am used to running in Florida,” she said. “Trail running is very different. It uses a lot more of the stabilizer muscles in your ankles, knees and hips.” Sally encourages anyone who has a desire to give running a try to do it. “It’s never too late to start,” she said. “You just have to listen to your body and take it slow. You have to be able to tell the difference between aches and pains, or if you are actually running with an injury.”