At times, the journey was fun and awe-inspiring.
In the morning sun, as Jon Pincince ran down a dirt road in Foster, a stranger stood on her front porch, yelling “Happy birthday, Jon!” And at nightfall, as he made his way through a pitch-dark pine forest in Richmond, fireflies lit up the path.
But at other points, the journey was frustrating and grueling.
He ran past a sod farm’s heaping mounds of manure, which had filled the air with a stench for miles. And as he reached mile 74, six miles short of the Atlantic Ocean and the end of the North-South Trail, he found himself depleted, cramping, and unable to stand.
And his 19-hour journey, covered by television crews along the route Thursday, provided the state with an inspiring performance amid a depressing pandemic.
“I’m obviously a little disappointed not to finish it,” a sore and tired Pincince said Friday morning. “But it was a fun, successful day.”
Pincince, a Woonsocket native who lives in Cranston and works as the career law clerk at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Providence, said he was overwhelmed by all the support he received.
“So many good people excited about doing something like this,” he said. “It just seemed to really strike a note with folks, and that’s gratifying.”
He said he’s glad he did it. And, he added, “Next time I’ll finish the damn thing!”
P.J. Fox III, executive director of the Nonviolence Institute, was grateful.
“Jon said he wasn’t sure how to engage or support, so he looked within and said, ‘I can run,' and, oh man, did he run at such a personal risk to his health,” Fox said. “He chose to use his talent to draw attention to our work. The Nonviolence Institute is honored that he chose to run for and with us.”
The adventure began at 4:30 a.m. in the dark in the woods of Burrillville.
Pincince and his wife, Christine Omerhi Pincince, started out running together on a rocky trail, guided by flashlights and a headlamp. After a mile, she told him to go ahead because she thought she was slowing him down.
“He’s like a mountain goat,” she said. “He was bouncing along, up and down, smiling. He just loves to run.”
A nurse practitioner, she said she once talked to Jon about counseling cigarette smokers, and he told her he could understand their struggle because if someone told him running was bad for him, he’d still do it.
From the outset, Pincince acknowledged that running 80 miles in single a day was a “terrible idea” — the kind of outlandish notion that pops into a runner’s mind on long training runs.
But his family and friends backed him all the way. At mile 17, Pincince’s 13-year-old son, Charlie, jumped on a mountain bike, joining his father on a seven-mile leg of the trail.
His parents, Roger and Colette Pincince, of Cumberland, met him with food and water at mile 24, on Route 101 in Foster, right at the Connecticut border.
Pincince slugged back a bottle of Gatorade and stuffed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into his mouth before setting off on the next leg with Marie Kearns, an ultra marathon runner from Warwick.
At mile 59, Pincince and Art Entwistle IV, athletic director at the Rocky Hill Country Day School, emerged from the woods on a single-track trail, reporting a “gnarly” stretch of boulder fields and ticks. Family members and friends fed Pincince food and water, and he added more tape to his blistered toes.
A WJAR Channel 10 camera crew interviewed him, and this reporter ran with Pincince the next nine miles. Along the way, motorists honked their horns, seeming to recognize him from the news coverage.
In the woods, surprises awaited. At one point, Pincince almost literally ran into a family in a golf cart heading the other way on the trail. Soon afterward, a woman rode by on a horse.
But the miles were taking their toll. His quads were cramping. He was finding it harder to get food down. And the sun was sinking low in the sky.
Then he stepped out of the woods, halting at the edge of a sod farm that stretched for about half a mile. The path ahead was unclear. The smell of manure was intense.
But Pincince managed to find the trail, and the manure half mile ended in a wooded path covered in pine needles, illuminated by fireflies.
His son Charlie came down the path to greet him, leading him to the Meadowbrook Pond Fishing Area, where he sunk into a seat, exhausted, uncertain if he could go on.
His wife handed out cupcakes, and a circle of 14 friends and family members surrounded Pincince, singing “Happy Birthday,” accompanied by the base notes of bullfrogs in the nearby pond.
Pincince managed to make it another six miles.
But at about 11:30 p.m. — when he reached the final stop, six miles from the Blue Shutters Town Beach in Charlestown — he found he could not stand up. The plunge into the ocean would have to wait for another day.
So what will Pincince do for his 44th birthday?
“To be determined,” he said. “But probably some terrible idea.”