30,000 Feet of Perspective

3 months ago, my brother asked me to run a 100 kilometer trail race with him near our birthplace in Louisiana. I hem hawed around for a month or so, unwilling to commit. I had just completed two marathons within a month of each other after spending the majority of the summer and fall training, but 100 kilometers? 62.1 miles?! That was a different story altogether. I am usually not one to shy away from seemingly impossible tasks, but this one was different. In the past, I have set difficult goals but they were goals that were mostly doable and even if I missed, I had the confidence that I would at least get close to accomplishing them.

This one though…this was one of those things that seemed so far outside of my realm of possibility, that it actually posed a more serious opportunity to fail and fail big. I had never run anything more than a 50 kilometer race (31 miles) and this was double that distance and even more daunting, probably15-20 hours of non-stop movement on my feet. Do I have the willpower to do this? Am I physically and mentally capable of covering 62 miles of trail? Is my life insurance paid up? Actually, that was my wife’s question.

After a lot of debate and even more questions of my sanity, I decided to commit and at least give it a shot. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Death, actually. Death could happen. My brother calmed that fear though assuring me that I would pass out first. Thanks bro. My brother is a much more experienced trail and ultra-runner, so I would need to lean on him for that experience and knowledge if I had even a chance of succeeding at this challenge.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and I am on a plane headed to Texas – then Louisiana via car to the Kisatchie National Forest. What the hell was I thinking? Seriously! The race is 36 hours away and I have no idea how this will turn out. I consider myself to be a determined and strong-willed person who is in more than decent running shape, but the doubts are swirling.

This is life though, right? We prepare the best we can for it, but in reality we have no idea what tomorrow holds. If the future brings obstacles that require determination and discipline to overcome, how will we react? I will tell you how; by giving it everything we’ve got and refusing to quit. That’s big talk from 30,000 feet up, but in 36 hours, it will be time to step up and put my will to the ultimate test.

Stay tuned…

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.

Running on a Plane

Flying over the unknown en route to Tucson. A trip that, less than a year ago would’ve seemed odd, or at least toward the bottom of this guy’s bucket list. I mean, what’s in Tucson, besides sweltering temps that make you feel like you’ve driven deathly close to the sun and maybe some cacti? Cacti, I’ve always wanted to use that word in my writing. Anyway, so here we are, 32,000 feet above the clouds in a piece of winged-aluminum going really, really fast headed for a daring adventure (okay, not really all that daring). We have actually had the trip planned for months. I’m a planner; it’s what I do.

A few years back, I stumbled into this crazy sport called running. After getting out of the military in 2002, I led a pretty sedentary lifestyle for a few years. In doing so, I put on a few (45) pounds over the course of two years. Then one Sunday, I couldn’t button my pants…again and I became disgusted with myself. I spent a week wallowing in self-pity wondering how the “fatness” had happened so quickly. No one intentionally seeks to become overweight, but it can happen to the best of us if we aren’t careful. By the way, this wasn’t just about being fat; it was that I had slipped into a very unhealthy lifestyle of bad eating habits, a general lack of physical activity, and well…beer.

That kind of a lifestyle can put you on the wrong side of a belt buckle in a hurry. So one Sunday, after waving goodbye to another pair of khaki cargo pants, I decided that it was time to make a change. That’s when my commitment to a healthier lifestyle began. In 2005, I began the long journey of weight loss and exercise. After a few weeks, I found that I actually enjoyed working out, especially weightlifting. In less than 18 months, I had dropped almost 50 pounds and was in the best physical shape of my life. The problem with lifting, for me, was that it was never enough. I lifted 5 to 6 days per week and the weight that I worked out with got heavier and heavier. I was addicted. Then in 2011, I began having problems with my joints and was constantly rehabbing some body part, tendon, or muscle.

Weightlifting started to lose its attractiveness to me because I realized that I was working for something that would never have a reward. The only reward was looking good in tank tops (that’s a selfish goal). I didn’t have the drive to want to compete, so where would it ever take me? What other fulfillment could I get from it? I couldn’t answer those questions and really began wrestling with my commitment. As the tendonitis and joint pain increased in frequency and intensity, I knew that I had to do something different. I needed a new outlet. Cue the shorty shorts and get me a visor.

After a heart-to-heart conversation with my brother, one of the best motivators (and salesman) that I know, I was introduced once again to the idea of running. Admittedly, my first thoughts of running harkened me back to 6 am Physical Training runs in the military. I loved the military, except for those early morning runs (styling in cotton shirts and shorts). If I hated running then, why in the world would I take this up as a new hobby? I mean let’s be honest, running sucks…or at least it can. Remember all of that, my brother is a great salesman talk? Yeah, he’s also extremely persistent. The problem was that he lived in Dallas (that’s a long way from Chicago). So if I were going to take up this new “awesome” habit, it would have to be on my on or so I thought.

I did go on a few runs by myself at first, but soon found that they were all around me. You know, those crazy runner people. I had never encountered one up close, but all of a sudden they were everywhere…everywhere! They were neighbors, friends of friends, co-workers (one even stumbled out of a porta-john during one of my first early morning runs). There was literally a store, completely devoted to runners, less than a mile from my house! Seriously, how had I been so blind? I’ll tell you how. It’s because running can really blow and it can also intimidate the heck out of you. People shy away from it because they associate it with punishment and pain learned in gym class, or after baseball practice. Most people think runners are crazy (that’s actually true), but it’s not a Charles Manson kind of crazy; it’s more like a Marilyn Monroe-John F. Kennedy relationship kind of crazy.

Anyway, so my brother sold me on giving this running thing a shot, so I did. I went for a few easy runs alone and not only did I not die, I actually really kind of enjoyed it (not the first mile though…no one ever enjoys the first mile). Then I started to meet others who loved the sport and asked me to come along on a few longer runs. I developed a consistent habit of pushing myself out of the door and every time I did, it got a little easier. After a few months, I was up to 6 and 7 mile Saturday runs and that’s when it happened; the hook, my friends. A dear friend of mine had signed up for a half-marathon, but couldn’t run it because of an unfortunate injury. When she realized that I had gotten my base mileage to a certain point, she called and asked if I would be open to running in her place. I nervously, but graciously accepted her offer. After a couple of more months of training with some friends, I stepped to the starting line and had the time of my life. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I loved it!

The hook still has me, only now I have many races including half-marathons, full marathons, and even a 50k under my belt. Which is why I am on a plane right now somewhere over the Southwest United States. I am flying to Tucson to get my coaching certification through Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). I will also be coaching the marathon program for Fleet Feet Schererville this summer. When I look back, it is like an absolute whirlwind. I am not sure I can even tell you how I got here, but I couldn’t be more excited about the future!

My Mind Will Carry Me When My Body Cannot

I was an obese kid for most of my life. It severely limited my social interactions with others and led me to develop a very low self-view of myself. I fought depression and a negative self-image for decades, until I found running. Although I am no longer that shy, awkward, overweight kid, he still lives in my head from time to time. I never dreamed that I would ever be able to run 5 miles, much less 20, 30, 40, or 50 miles. There are thousands of others out there that face the same issues and I know how they feel. They feel trapped inside of their own bodies and minds.

God gave us a tremendous gift in the body that we have. It can do amazing things if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone. I hope to show others that they can accomplish amazing things if they will allow God to strip away the self-imposed barriers that surround them. Running does that for me. For others, it may be getting a degree when no one else in their family has done so. It could be stepping out of an abusive relationship or surrendering an addiction that they have to God, the Universe, or whatever it is that you believe in. No matter what the issues are, the lesson is the same; with the right attitude, patience, perseverance, and support anything and everything becomes possible.

No matter what may be holding you back, victory starts with one step forward. Raise your hand and say, this (fill in the blank) will no longer rule my life. Food will no longer guide my thoughts and actions. The abuse stops today, right here and right now. I will complete this degree. I will complete this race. I will show the world that I own this body. I own this mind. I will train this mind and my body will follow. Enough is enough and today is the day that I decide to pursue freedom from my self-imposed limitations. I am where I am because of my decisions and tomorrow has not yet been decided. The story of my life is not over, but I will decide how it ends. Now get up, get out there, and chase your dreams.