Lisa, the Dead Runner and the Asterick

There are some people whom you meet, that when looking back, you realize that they changed the course of your life. Someone who helped you realize that a pipe dream wasn’t really out of reach, that a fleeting thought or daydream could be realized. For me Lisa Gunnoe is one of those people.

As the Chapter Captain, she has led the building of Team RWB Central Arkansas. Her hard work and dedication have made the chapter into what it is today. It was through Team RWB that I first came into contact with her.

12004867_10153029795587539_1795185144403056119_nThe first time I met Lisa, the conversation turned to this thing I had just read about called ultra-running. I asked her if she knew about it and this race that I had just heard about called Western States. Of course she knew about this. She told me that she herself was one of those mythical people I heard about, those ultra-runners.

She told me about the troubles and trials of getting into Western States, but that there were such races in Arkansas and all over the country. I was like a child, just starting to learn about running. In fact, I was less than 2 months away from my first half-marathon.10644347_866091523429685_5011163452274465228_o

Over the next few months, Lisa and I saw each other, mostly at races. It seems she was there at the big moments; like my first marathon finish, she was there with my wife and friends. She was the one who thought to capture that moment I first became a marathon finisher, but what I didn’t know was that we were slowly building up to something much bigger.

That something was a trust and confidence in each other. Sometime in the summer of 2015 she asked a question, would my wife and I pace her during her first 100 mile race? Of course we would. Who wouldn’t want to go play in the woods in the middle of the night? This was a daring move on her part; at that time neither my wife or I had done any trail running, NONE!

Running 100 miles is an epic adventure, you are putting your body through things previously unimagined. You need a pacer, someone to watch over you during those low points, someone to think for you at times. Lisa was willing to trust us with this task, green as we were. What she was doing was taking me outside of my comfort zone; something I’ve come to realize she does very well. I’ll be honest though, I think I was almost as nervous as Lisa was.

Here is her recap of the race, but what she leaves out is the most amazing part. After I had finished my pacing duties, Elaine took over. With about 3 miles to go, they came upon a runner who was face down in the ditch. She had apparently taken a wrong turn and added a few miles.  Her legs had seized up and she could no longer move.  This must have sucked any hope she had. Lisa and Elaine later admitted to me that they thought for a moment that this lady might have been dead.  Lisa massaged her legs and got her sitting up.

Lisa eventually got this runner on to her feet, the poor lady was going to have to quit so close to the finish. Lisa would have none of it. This is typical of her, she is always pushing people to their best. She is also a protector, never letting someone go to far. I jokingly call her Mama Bear. Always the there to make sure everyone is getting and giving their best.

This runner was now without a pacer. Lisa and Elaine offered to step in and paced her to the finish. This incident added to her time. The cutoff was 30 hours and she would be cutting it close without helping. The race director agreed to let her finish and give her an official time, which ended up at 32 hours. She finished, but she had an asterisk next to her name which meant she did not finish in the allotted 30 hours, but finished nonetheless.

In just a few hours, Lisa will stand at the start line once again. tomorrow night, my wife and I will meet her to run in the woods at night again. Her goal? Erase the asterisk, plain and simple, 100 miles for some redemption. She assures me that, if need be, she will stop for dead runners.



Derek Mitchell

Numbers from the doctor, that’s how it began.  Numbers.  Sometimes they shock us into reality. That’s how it began for Derek Mitchell, truthfully that’s how it begins for many of us. It can be a life changer when you realize that you, yourself are capable of changing that number.

For Derek that number came from the scale; it read 625 pounds in January 2015. He knew that a change was needed. He quit drinking sodas and started walking. He changed his diet, but decided he needed to do more. His sister suggested he do more by adding physical exercise. So he began to walk around his neighborhood.

Exercise has a way of igniting a drive, a passion and a purpose in people, and Derek was no exception to this. I would be willing to say that he went well beyond that, into overdrive. The idea of a 5k emerged, but unlike most who set that goal, his goal changed into doing a 5k every month for the rest of 2015.

In March he stood at the starting line of his first 5k. He knew there was no podium for him that day, in fact it would be hard to imagine him wanting anything more than to finish. That is what inspires me about Derek, he just wants to finish. I think there is some irony in the fact that it was a number that started this journey and a disregard for another number (his finish time) that keeps it going.

He soon blew past his goal of a 5k a month and finished the year with a total of 21! Yes twenty-one 5k’s. It’s this drive that inspires so many. He has even started a Facebook page for those who want to follow his journey, which currently has over 23,000 followers. Derek has become an example for so many looking to lose weight. He is a leader in that he wants to do it the right way.

I asked Derderek-mitchellek what his most memorable finish was.  He told me that it was the 5k he did on July 4th, 2015 in Washington D.C.  He explained that he was running for Team RWB and carrying the American flag. I am sure he has inspired many memorable finishes.

When running he likes to keep things simple. I asked him what his favorite piece of running gear was, he said it was just his running shoes and a Buff.  When many are wrapped up in getting the latest hi-tech gear or accessory, here he is in just the absolute basics.

Derek is the epitome of what we should all be, he may be last but he still takes pride in finishing. We should all own and take pride in the place we have, whether it’s first place or last. He said that the best advice he ever received was that he will at some point fail, but the only thing he could do was to get up and keep going and keep going is exactly what he has done.

We’ve all had our struggles, some with weight, or like me, cholesterol and blood pressure. Still others are driven by situations beyond their health such as family or work. Whatever drives us to keep going, we do it.  What separates Derek?  I think it’s his openness about his struggles and a willingness to share them. When he started walking, he put it out on social media and invited others to walk with him. Maybe we should all take a lesson from Derek and invite others to walk and struggle with us.

Of Inspiration

Much has been written to inspire and about inspiration, but one thing that I haven’t seen much of is the duty to ourselves.  We should open up our minds and allow others to inspire us.  As a runner I have had people tell me that they will only run if a bear is chasing them, (I’m so sick of hearing this cliche). What if these people allowed themselves to be inspired by others running? Just imagine what they might be able to accomplish.

Many people look to the podium for inspiration, but I look beyond that. Some of the best stories of overcoming are at the back of the pack. The ones who were told that it would be impossible to finish, yet kept going. Those people inspired me as much as the ones who place. The tortoise was more dedicated than the rabbit, that is why we know the story.

I am a sucker for any inspirational story, even one not related to running. My book shelf is filled with stories of people who were injured and overcame, people who got a rough start in life and despite the situation they went on to become great inspiration to others.  img_3720

There is a common thread in all of these stories, they allowed themselves to be inspired. They are more than willing to tell you who it was and how. Knowing who it is that helped them makes the story more personal, more achievable to others.

In the near future, I will start what I hope to become a regular series here, I will post interviews with people who have inspired me. Some of these people you may have heard of, some you may never see their name as a first place finisher, but all have pushed me in various ways. I have had several commit already and one has already answered my questions, so soon it will begin.


Part II of Hotter’n Hell

After pulled from the race, we loaded our bikes on a trailer and I helped my wife into the truck pulling it. There was another lady in it so I went back to the trailer and sat down, waiting for the driver. I began to talk to another man who was dropping, when all of the sudden my wife and the other lady jump out and ran back to us.

The speed and urgency of their exit made me ask what was wrong. As it turns out, the other lady dropped because her husband’s bike had broke and she wanted to see him finish the 100k so she loaned her bike to him. Including the cleats to clip into the pedals. When my wife heard this she asked what size shoe she wore. They both had the same size, so her cleats and shoes would work, she told this stranger to take her bike since it was OK mechanically. So they exchanged contact info and off our new friend went, leaving her bike with us. You can read her account of it here.

After we got back to the start/finish line, we waited in the hot sun for our friends, including our newest one on the wife’s bike. This is where the hotter part sinks in. Texas is not comfortable in August, but there is a nice expo in an air conditioned convention center. I spend several hours in there, buying a new and nicer helmet. No more trusting my noggin to a cheap one.

Once all of our friends finished, I was really feeling the morning acrobatics. My neck and shoulders were getting very stiff, even after splurging on a 10 minute massage at the expo. Everyone was understandably wore out so we went to our cabin and rested for the next leg, the half-marathon.

After we got to the cabin, a powerful thunderstorm blew up over town. We were expecting the trail to turn into mud for our run. The course would be the same one that was used for the mountain bike ride a couple of days before, so some of the others knew expressed this concern. They said that a lot of it was clay. I’ve ran on wet clay, it can be very sticky, I began to mentally prepare for a fight to keep moving at a decent pace.

The next morning, we lined up outside of the J.S. Bridwell Agricultural Center. The course circles the building through the parking lot, then goes into a grassy area. Pavement was dry, but that’s not a good indicator. The grass was mostly dry, probably wet mostly from dew.

Then we entered the trail.

Things slowed down quite a bit due to the course narrowing significantly. I looked at my TomTom watch once and it was showing a pace of 25 minutes per mile. It occurred to me at this point, many of these people had rode 100 miles on their cycles yesterday and rode this same course on the mountain bikes the day before that. I looked around and could see the exhaustion. What I didn’t see was mud.  Maybe the storm had not hit this part of town. Several around me said that it had rained there and expressed disbelief at the conditions.

Being a mountain bike trail, there were swinging bridges and  switchbacks. The bridges were different, actually it was kind of nice to have something so unusual for a trail run. As for the switchbacks, they were plentiful as the picture shows.IMG_2362

The advantage to these was that I could see people I knew who were ahead of me. Some gave advice on upcoming aid stations and obstacles. Around mile 12.5 I saw my friend Jacob. He’s much younger and faster, so when I saw him it took some of the wind out of my sails. I thought that if I were seeing him that the course must have been long. After all there must be a lot of ground between the two of us, therefore this was probably going to be a 14+ mile run.

My hypothesis failed to take one variable into account…Jacob was doing the Triple Threat. This was the third day of extreme events for him. Once I realized that, I started to get a little speed. The trail had been mostly dry clay with a little sand, but by this point it was just packed dirt so navigating it was pretty easy.

The dirt gave way to grass again, running along a creek. I kept listening for music coming from the finish line, but could not hear any. Finally I came upon a photographer, he snapped my picture and said that it was only about 200 yards to the finish. I thought this was one of those little white lies that folks sometimes tell runners.

I turned and went up a hill and I could see it, finally I could see the end. I realized that I hadn’t heard anything because the finish line was on top of the hill and something must have prevented it from carrying down to me.

I suppose my biggest take away from all of this is not to pay too much attention to the external clues. I lost several minutes grumbling to myself when I thought I had more to run than I planned. Listening for the finish line was no good either. I have a race to run and I should just finish it. Keep moving until someone hands me a finishers medal.

I only attended two of the three events at Hotter’n Hell but they both seemed to be well organized. Hats off to the planners, pulling over 4,000 volunteers and over 10,000 racers together cannot be a small or easy task. Their aid stations were well equipped and the volunteers were amazingly helpful. The locals were very welcoming, even excited to have all the athletes there. Overall, it was a great experience and I look forward to attending again. I wonder if I could be a Triple Threat…