A Story of Courage, Commitment, and 26.2 Miles

This is Sonya Harrington, and she is a marathoner. Sonya (1)

Of course, that wasn’t always the case for Sonya. Just 7 short months ago, she showed up at a Fall Marathon Informational Meeting at Fleet Feet Sports in Schererville, Indiana to gather details on what it would take to complete 18 weeks of training to prepare to run the Chicago Marathon.

Many “would be” first time marathoners come to these meetings, but after seeing the intense amount of training that is required to successfully complete a marathon…never come back – only Sonya did come back, and that is where her journey began.

Continue reading “A Story of Courage, Commitment, and 26.2 Miles”

Trying Hard To Be Myself In a World of Conformity

I’ve heard it 100 times and read it 1,000 more. Just be yourself. Well let me tell you something, that’s freakin’ hard!

Wake up tomorrow, shower and dress yourself, and step out of the front door like you don’t give a crap what anyone thinks. Walk to your car backwards. If you’re a dude, wear a pink shirt. If you’re a woman, hock a loogie right over the car window. Who cares, right? Just be yourself!

It sounds awesome but in reality, it’s scary and awkward and almost impossible. The truth is that most of us do care what others think and our actions in our daily lives cater to those imposed thoughts of not being good enough.

However, I know a few people who genuinely live like this everyday. They do and say whatever comes to mind without a single passing thought of what others might say or think. They live life on their own terms and I respect the hell out of them.

There are at least 18,000 books about it and millions of online articles that tell us to think outside of the box and live a life according to who we really are. It sounds so easy, yet it’s incredibly difficult. By the way, there really is no box.

The truth is that most of us care too much what others think. What will these strangers think of this shirt? What would my boss say if I told him that I didn’t agree with his idea? What would my neighbors think if I didn’t bring my trash cans into the garage immediately after the trash truck empties them? What if I don’t believe in global warming or evolution? What if they knew I voted for the other candidate? What if what if what if?!?

We can be people pleasers to the crowd and go along with the majority. We can be yes men or women to our boss and agree with every idea that they have. We can choose a life of indifference and stand for nothing OR we can live as though our lives stand for something…something more than opinions of others.

We can’t stop trying to walk our own paths. We need to continue to learn about ourselves and the world needs us to do the same. It’s not about being indifferent to the world around us or weird (even though weird can be fun), it’s about being different within the world around us. When we lose our identity, we also lose our reason for being here in the first place. Live your life on your terms, don’t be content to simply exist.

Inside the Mind of an Endurance Athlete

Endurance – the ability to continue with an unpleasant or difficult situation, experience, or activity over a long period of time.

Sounds simple, right? Some describe it as becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Marathoners, Ultra Marathoners, Ironmen and Ironwomen, and others who push their bodies past the normal limits of exhaustion, for hours and sometimes days, are a truly unique breed of athletes.

“I’m a distance runner. I’ve been trained to keep going, even when it’s hard, when it hurts, when it sucks, when I don’t want to. I look past it. Relentless forward progress to the finish. Call it what you want; stubbornness, endurance, determination, guts. Deep down, I don’t know how to give up.”

Half of one percent of the U.S. population has completed a marathon (26.2 miles). Sounds crazy doesn’t it? It is, but think about foot races that cover 50, 100, 150, 200 miles, and more.

Then there are Ironman events which feature a 2.4 mile swim immediately followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a full marathon. That’s over 170 miles back-to-back-to-back. Better yet, how about a double Ironman, or a triple length Ironman? Are you sensing the crazy yet?

These are distances that will keep athletes on their feet from multiple hours, to days at a time with little to no rest.

The average finish time for a 100 mile run is just over 28 hours. The average finish for an Ironman (140.6 total miles) is just over 15 hours. Some of the world’s best ultra marathoners will finish a 200 mile race in around 61 hours, while some of the mid-packers will come in closer to 85-90 hours. If your math is rusty, that’s about 3 1/2 days.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Eliot

When I say the words “endurance athlete”, it may bring to mind images of the most elite athletes, olympians and such but those aren’t the athletes that I am referring to. Sure, there are elite endurance runners who crush these races, but I’m actually talking about the everyday athlete. The men and women who have real jobs and families to support, who aren’t paid with endorsements. Those are the ones who inspire me because they are the ones who are up and out of the door at 4 or 5 am to log miles in the dark hours of the morning.

The majority of these people will never taste victory and stand on a podium at an ultra endurance event, yet they do it anyway. What sets them apart from the crowd? What drives them to put in the work for months and years on end, only to show up and place 40th in a field of 100?

As you might imagine, a large part of successfully training for and competing in endurance events is an extreme mental focus. Most everyday endurance athletes will tell you that there is nothing exceptional about their physical abilities, in fact many would not have considered themselves to be athletic as kids and young adults. It’s all about their mindset. They aren’t content with the status quo in most areas of life, which gives them an internal drive to push their limits over and over again.

Most endurance racers also have a higher than average pain threshold. I’m not talking in the sense of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not type of pain threshold, but they do have an innate ability to manage pain. When pain sets in, and it always does, they can deal with it in a way that allows them to continue on in spite of the burning pain coursing through their body. They are also able to ignore their mind when it is imploring them to stop.

“Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy;
the hard part is pushing yourself even further” – Rex Pearce

They are willing to take risks and are completely ok with possibility of failure. Signing up for an ultra marathon takes moxie, and lots of it. Showing up to the starting line and staring fear in the face takes more than that, it takes a bit of delusional confidence as well. It isn’t about arrogance, but it is about having a high level of confidence in yourself and a belief that you can accomplish seemingly impossible feats.

They are some of the most resilient and persistent people on the planet. They expect setbacks and even welcome them. Setbacks offer endurance athletes the chance to improve their mental and physical capacities. Every obstacle offers a chance for conquest.

“We had seen God in his splendour…. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
-Ernest Shackleton

They are able to maintain an intense level of focus for extremely long periods of time. Some people wonder what these athletes think about during these long bouts of competition. While that answer may differ from person to person, the prevailing answer is that they are focused on the task at hand. They are thinking about keeping the proper pace, ingesting the right amount of calories, staying up to date with their hydration levels, and remaining in tune with their body, only they are doing this over the course of hours or days.

They are okay with being alone with their own thoughts. As you may imagine, it can get lonely after awhile. Depending on the event, hours can pass without seeing another person and sometimes they are forging ahead into the cold, black expanse of nothingness…alone. If they weren’t comfortable being in a self-imposed solitary confinement, things could get really ugly (and sometimes it still does).

Sports Psychologist, Frank Farely says that “they tire quickly of everyday things, and their only remedy is to take on the next challenge, hoping for more stimulation.”

In addition to this assessment, Farley also commented that most of these athlete’s maintained similar characteristics in that they’re independent thinkers and methodical about goal-setting. They also tend to believe that they control their own destiny in the sense of successes and failures. They’re typically energetic and innovative, which is why so many are tend to be entrepreneurs.

“Ultrarunners understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being – a call that asks who they are.”  -David Blaikie

Endurance athletes are used to being called crazy, psychotic, and host of other names by those who don’t understand their passion.

They are a special breed, bound by the love of exploration of not only their body and mind, but also of this incredible planet that we call home. They consider moderation to be boring and therefore exhaust themselves in the pursuit of getting more out of life.

They’re entrepreneurs, doctors, school teachers, nurses, construction workers, CEO’s, and janitors. They are everyday people with an extraordinary mindset. Ultra-runners and endurance athletes are a rare and unique breed…and they’re okay with that.

You’ve Got Maybe 75 Years. What Do You Want From It?

It’s a great question and an interesting exercise. Most of us get so entirely consumed in the day-to-day stuff of life, that we never step back…like way, way back and ask ourselves the most important big picture type questions.

None of us are promised tomorrow, and many of us have eaten into a significant portion of that 75 years, but it’s still a thought worth pondering.

What do you want to accomplish with your life?

“It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.” – Jalaluddin Rumi

One thing I’ve learned from obsessing about what my life’s purpose should be is that no one can figure that out for you. It’s all part of the journey, which is why the quote above is one of my favorites. Our mistakes, our failures, and our successes all belong to us and that is what makes this life beautiful.

Sometimes life sucks and other times, it’s pretty freakin’ spectacular. None of it, good or bad, should be taken for granted…ever.

Life has to be about more than the nine to five. It’s so much bigger than our jobs, our cars, our houses, and our bank accounts.

It’s about making an impact…in some positive and meaningful way, we have to figure out how we can make an impact on the world around us by using our God-given talents and gifts; we all have them and we have them for a reason. They fit with our purpose in this life.

I am not going to give you a list of “things to make your life better”. Just ask the question, and really ponder on the answer, then start doing something today that will move you toward that answer.

So what do you want to accomplish with your life? It’s a question worth answering.

 

100 Kilometers- 62.1 Miles of Brutal Determination. 

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” – William Barclay

3 days ago, I sat on the edge of a hotel bed scared out of my mind; afraid of the task that was ahead of me. Laying out equipment and gear in preparation for a 62.1 mile trail race through the Kistachie National Forest, I tried my best to fight back my fears of failure.


My brother was across the room looking cool, calm, and collected. He had been through this process before and now I needed his guidance and his confident spirit, both at that moment and for the next 16 hours.

I knew there would be countless physical and mental obstacles in our quest to conquer a seemingly impossible feat. The mental hurdles would not wait for the start of the race, they had already started their unrelenting assault on my mind. 

Our plan was to get a few restless hours of sleep the afternoon before race day and then try our best to sleep the night before, which we both knew would be next to impossible. Wake up time would arrive with a energetic beep of the alarm at 3:30 AM.


The next two hours were a blur of coffee, running attire, bags of gear and food (that could have kept us alive for at least two weeks in any wilderness setting), a 45 minute drive into the woods of NW Louisiana, and enough pre-race jitters to fill an ocean.

Getting to the starting line would soon prove to be the easiest part of the journey.

The best piece of advice that I received was to picture the start of the run as the entrance of a long tunnel, and the only way out was through the other side. I pictured that tunnel in my mind at least a dozen times during our run.

The difference in the advice and reality is that the tunnel has several escape hatches along the way; it would be our own determined choice to resist the urge to open them and continue pushing forward.

As a small group of fellow Ultramarathon hopefuls gathered at the starting line, I could literally feel the residual adrenaline rolling down my skin. The moment that we had all trained for, sacrificed so much time and energy for, and ran thousands of training miles for, was finally here.

The clock struck 6 AM and it was on. It was time to attempt the unthinkable; to test my mind, body, and spirit, and ask them to take me much farther than I had ever asked before. If they weren’t up to the challenge, it would fall on my shoulders and nobody else’s. My brother was with me, but completing this race was up to me.

For the first hour and a half, we would be running in the dark while awaiting the arrival of daybreak. Headlamps in place, off we went. We knew that we would encounter around 5,500 feet of elevation gain via a varied terrain of soft sand, hard-packed red dirt, rock, and multiple water crossings.

The weather was perfect for running, with temperatures rising from the mid-30’s to around 55 degrees by the afternoon. Our first goal was to finish, just don’t quit. Our second goal was to finish in under 16 hours.

As light pierced the treetops, we were hitting our stride nicely and feeling good. Making a conscious effort to maintain an easy pace – power hiking the up hills and running the downhills and flats just as we had planned. The sandy uphills were by far the biggest challenge of the first 31 mile loop. Treading soft sand takes a toll on your lower legs and fatigues them faster than usual.

Our shoes and socks were taking on sand likes sinking boat takes on water. At the 18 mile aid station, our drop bags awaited us. We quickly scarfed down as many calories as we could, emptied the sand from our shoes, lubed our feet, changed our socks, and off we went.

Each 31-mile loop had around 2,800 feet of elevation gain which was mostly front-loaded in the first 20 miles. This was a welcomed relief for the last third of the loop because we were able to run most of it. We made up quite a bit of the time we lost trudging through the sandy uphills.

Our sights were set on finishing the first loop, getting another round of calories down, taking care of our feet, and getting through the first 10 miles of the second loop before dark.

Then, at around mile 28, my brother’s IT Band flared up and began causing him a great deal of added discomfort. I silently worried if it would be too much for him to deal with, but he kept going. He would have to fight through that grueing pain for another 8 plus hours to finish.

We made it through the first loop mostly in tact. We topped off our water bottles and stuffed our race packs with as many calories as it would hold. One side note: Ryan grabbed a bag of mini-snickers bars as part of our stock-up trip before the race. What a godsend that was! Nothing is more delicious and energy-packed than a mini-snickers bar in the middle of nowhere.


Mis-remembering the first 10 miles of the loop as being all sand and uphill, we were actually surprised to find that this section was a bit easier than we recalled. Then…we found the difficult section. Having already covered 41 miles, we were feeling the painful burn in our legs and the hot spots on our feet more than ever.

Everything ached and the miles were not going down as quickly as before. Now the hills and terrain came at us with a new intensity. One that the trail had not shown in the beginning. This was hell.

Our only focus became making it to the drop bag at mile 49 before we lost daylight. We began moving with a hurried intensity of run-hike-run. My toes were numb, my legs were screaming, and my mind was fighting me with everything it had.

We made it to the drop bag 10 minutes before dark. It was a good chance to get some carb-loaded calories down. Again, we changed our socks, threw our headlights on, refilled our water bottles, and we were off. 13 miles to go. We weren’t racing the clock, we were racing our will to succeed.

This would prove to be the longest 13 miles of my life. As the darkness set in, so did the thoughts of quitting. Your mind is such a powerful tool that when it’s working against you, it becomes a struggle of internal fortitude.

Thoughts of “how bad do you want this” get replaced with thoughts of “why are you doing this?”

It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to has power over you. – Leon Brown

As we began the last stretch of the race, there was dark calm of nothingness surrounding us. I would look to the woods in hope of finding some sort of strength, only to find a blank expanse of uselessness.

My mind was pleading with me to stop moving. I became quiet, fighting an internal battle of self-discipline and self-loathing. This was no longer a trail race, it was a fight.

As I looked at my brother, he was wrestling with his own demons – his IT Band was screaming in full throat but he was moving with an unwavering purpose. He wasn’t going to quit, no matter what. The look in his eyes and the purposefulness of his steps gave me the strength I was searching for.

A wave of emotion washed over me at mile 54 and tears were flowing down my face, only I had no idea why. Maybe it was a silent victory over my mind, a reminiscent feeling of always looking to him for guidance and direction – and realizing that after 37 years, that he was still there to give it.

8 miles to go and we now we exchange a silent gaze. Let’s do this. Power through. Everything you have.

We began to shuffle our feet, and then we’re running. We’ve got two hours to the finish. God it hurts! It hurts to run, it hurts to walk, and it hurts to stop. Keep moving. One foot in front of the other until it’s over.

As we round a corner, we begin to smell the familiar fragrance of a campfire. Hope returns and our faces both express smiles. The crowd at the finish line can see our headlights making their way through the forest and they begin to cheer. We crossed the finish line! 62.1 miles of agony and 62.1 miles of sweet glory!


This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the fact that I did it step for step with my big brother makes it that much sweeter.


We stared fear in the face and we kicked its ass. To my brother; thank you for always being there to shoulder the load. To my wife; thank you for letting me do this crazy shit. To everyone reading this; don’t ever back down from fear. You’re stronger than you could ever imagine. Don’t ever be afraid to challenge yourself!

Stop Giving In To the Pain

In life, we always have choices. When it comes to facing adversity, we have only two; we can choose to fight on or we can give up. When we choose to fight, we are making a statement, “I will not allow temporary circumstances to permanently alter my life.” 

That’s what quitting does; it alters the landscape of your mind and the more you give in to setbacks, the easier it becomes to do it again and again. This is life altering and it cripples us, holding us back from our goals and dreams.

On the other hand, the more we choose to fight and press on, the more seasoned our minds become. We begin to take on a different mindset; a mindset of courage and resolve. 

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” -Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Adversity makes us who we are and it works both ways. If we constantly give in to our problems then we become quitters, never finishing anything difficult. Likewise, if we learn to look our challenges in the face and fight (whether we win or not), then we become someone of strength and mental fortitude. 

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” – Maya Angelou

If we don’t fight, we will never know how strong we are and we will never reach our full potential. Make a choice today and everyday to be a fighter, not a victim. 

5 Life Lessons I Learned From My Grandpa

I was privileged to have my grandpa on this earth for so many years. I’m hopeful that all of us, at some point in time, have had someone that provided an impactful and positive influence in their lives. If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that my grandfather was a very special person whom I admire to this day.

He carried so much wisdom and insight from his 90+ years on this earth, that it literally spilled out of him daily. The way that he lived was a testament to his faith, beliefs, and values. He was a man of action, not just words. He modeled his beliefs through the way that he lived his daily life, and in doing so taught me many life lessons. Here are 5 of the most important:

Be content with what you have but never with what you’ve achieved.

Grandpa and grandma lived a life of simplicity. I never heard him say anything about wanting a bigger house, a newer truck, or a better life. They worked to take care of themselves and those who depended on them, but the trade off of more time for more money was never even a question. They were content with what they had.

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This didn’t mean that grandpa never achieved great things though. He was a highly decorated soldier from his time spent serving during WWII. He retired from the Highway Department with a full pension and served as a deacon in his local church for more than 40 years. He was content with what he had, but never stopped striving to be the person that he thought he could become.

You are never helpless. There is always something more that you can do. 

To say that he lived a life of adversity would be an understatement. In a recent blog, I talked about the many hardships that he faced in his life. When I would talk to him about a problem I was having, he would often tell me that we are never helpless and then he would encourage me to find a way through the setback. He never allowed me to take on the victim mentality.

“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius

You don’t have to be wealthy to make a positive impact on someone’s life.

Grandpa never had much money, but he did have several acres of vegetable gardens, which he worked countless hours cultivating and planting in order to produce food for the family. The produce that was harvested was more than what we needed, and as I kid I could never understand why he planted so much.

It wasn’t until I was around 8 years old, that I realized he was planting more so that he could give it away to those who were in need. He also gave away most of his time, through volunteering at church, playing music in nursing homes, and thousands of other acts of selfless service which could never have been repaid by those who benefited from them.

Follow through on your commitments even when it’s difficult.

As I have gotten older, I realize that there were many days when he didn’t feel like getting up at 4 am to till the garden, prepare for Sunday service, or spending his weekend helping to restore the spirits of the elderly and less fortunate, but he always did it. He had a self-discipline that always amazed me and it was through this discipline that he instilled the same traits in me. It isn’t about how you feel, it’s about what you do…everyday.

Don’t become so focused on the talents and accomplishments of others, that you lose sight of your own.

Growing up, I struggled with self-esteem issues. I would often tell him that I didn’t feel like I had any talents or anything that I was good at, so he taught me to work with my hands. He taught me how to build things, how to fix things, and to find self-satisfaction in all of it. He would often recite the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30 and tell me that it doesn’t matter what we are given in life, it only matters what we do with what we are given.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain

If we constantly compare ourselves to others, we will live a life stammered by feelings of inadequacy and discontentedness. It’s a recipe for hopelessness and depression. Rather than compare ourselves with the accomplishments and gifts of others, we need to focus on our own set of individual strengths and use those to their maximum capabilities. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to each other to be the best version of “us” that we can be.

Get Off of the Fence

I should (fill in the blank) but I’ll wait until tomorrow. If you’ve said this today, or even in the last week, you’re fence-sitting. Why? What are you waiting on? The perfect day, better weather, the right mood, greener grass? How has that worked out for you in the past?

If you don’t like where you are, you have two choices – accept it and live with it or take action and change it. No one is coming to save you from your circumstance. You won’t wake up tomorrow with a different life if you go to bed tonight with the same fears.

“The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.” – Bono

Too many of us are under this grand illusion that successful living just happens; one day we just wake up and the life we want will magically take shape. It won’t. Nothing positive happens without action. Nothing.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Unknown

We only have so many years on this beautiful planet and the more time we spend wishing, hoping, and fence-sitting, the less time we have to see and do and live. We sit on the fence because we are afraid to fail. What’s so bad about trying something and failing? Every single person who has found success has failed…many times.

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes but don’t quit.” – Conrad Hilton

So get on with it. Get off of the fence and start doing. Experience a different life. Don’t die with your bucket list unchecked. Take pictures, talk to strangers, see new places, climb mountains, swim in the ocean, start a business, ask for the promotion, work hard and do epic stuff.

Stop trying to figure it all out before you try something. Step out and take the first step. Try hard things and fail at them. Action is contagious and it feels good to exert influence on the world around you.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The fence will always be there, but our time is limited. We get one shot at this thing; don’t waste it. Get off of the fence and start living.

Endurance Runners: Why They Do It

Endurance Runners: A special breed of men and women who push themselves to their physical and mental limits, and then push even harder.

They drive themselves to the brink of complete exhaustion and then go even further. They train to endure, to outlast; not the competition but themselves. Long after most would have quit, they continue on with an unquenchable thirst for more. More pain, more agony, more suffering. It is in this pain that they discover who they really are.

Their tanks are never empty. They always have more. When they run out of strength, they are able to dig deeper than most to find that little extra drop of determined courage to continue. Their minds are unharnessed by the limitations of mortality and their hearts are free from the strain and pressure of societal conformity. The quest to find meaning in their existence stretches far beyond fatigue. In fact, fatigue is only the starting point.

Everyone understands fatigue, but most never tap into the innermost recesses of their spirit to discover the inner grit and determination to push past fatigue.
If they were to venture into this abyss of mental and physical anguish, they too would understand that life is more rewarding when we explore these dark and remote corners of our soul.

For them, there is no end…no finish line. There’s only more to challenge and discover.

“The cure for the pain is in the pain” – Rumi

Most people wait for the feelings of fear, sorrow and misery to find them (and it does find all of us), but endurance runners seek them out. They know that the only way to beat them is to face them head on.

When you ask, “why do you put yourself through this?”, you’ll often hear them say “I can’t explain it to you”. They’re not saying this to be pretentious…no, endurance runners are far from egotistical.

They’re saying it because they know that the only way you’d ever understand it would be by putting yourself in those same dark and lonely places of the soul and fighting your way out. There are important lessons to be learned in the pain of life. Don’t wait for it to find you. Seek to find it, understand it, fight through it and learn from it.