Navy 10 Nautical Miler

As runners we tend to measure our distance in one of two major systems, the metric system with 5k’s and 10k’s being the most popular of these. Then there is the imperial system with all its fractions and decimal points, 13.1 and 26.2 blah, blah, blah.

What if I told you there is another way of measuring your distance? What if there was a completely new distance in this system that you have probably never raced before? There is and it’s call a nautical mile. A nautical mile is roughly 1.15 miles

In 2010 the NSA Mid-South started this race, measuring at 10 nautical miles. Why this distance? According to their race information packet, 10 nautical miles is the distance from a ship to the horizon line. It is also the distance that our brave men battled from when they stormed the beaches of Normandy.

I have wanted to do this race for several years now and I finally made the time to do it. Overall, I’m glad I did and wonder why it took me so long to attend. I wasn’t sure what to expect there, I have seen many photos of the race and it looked like a major one.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon to the health and fitness expo/packet pick-up. It was not as large as the major marathon expos that I have been to, but there was plenty to see. They were set up in an old airplane hanger, so there was ample room, no tripping over other runners. In fact, the entire event was held on the largest inland U.S. Naval base. Looking around and watching the staff and volunteers, it was apparent that the officials had it all together. Everything was organized and everyone seemed to know exactly what they needed to be doing.

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Wearing our Arkansas Run for the Fallen shirts at the Expo

Sunday was race day! 6 a.m. start time! If you ask why the start time was so early, then you probably haven’t ran in the south much during the summer, it gets hot and humid fast here. As for Sunday instead of Saturday? I can only assume that it has something to do with the traffic and the fact that several major streets in and around the base are closed down completely.

At that time of the morning, the sun is just starting to peek over the horizon, but this day it was cloudy and there was a threat of rain. We were corralled up by anticipated finish times, faster ones in the front. As we took off, the course seemed flat to me, but I had been told there would be some rolling hills. We wound around what seemed like a back part of the installation, there were even some old airplanes there as if they were being prepped for display.

Before I knew it, I was at an aid station. The stations were at each nautical mile. I only used one since I was carrying my own water and nutrition. What I did see was that they were well stocked and the water and Gatorade had been kept iced, which is great for the Memphis summer runs. They also had porta-potties at each one, another good idea. With the cloudy conditions, the weather felt great and I just started running by feel and enjoying the day. Aid stations seemed to click by, each one with a sign showing what nautical mile you were at.

Along the course were sailors in their camouflage guiding and cheering for us. While I know that this was probably a typical military volunteer situation they seemed genuinely happy to be there, even at this early hour (for those not familiar, the military has a system where-as the superior rank tells someone that they have volunteered for a duty, otherwise know as being volu-told).

As for me, I went into the race just to enjoy and stay on top of my nutrition. I was hoping to do it in around 2 hours. I only casually glanced at my watch when the miles beeped, I didn’t really pay attention to it until mile 6 (actual mile since my watch doesn’t have a setting for nautical miles).  It was at that point I realized something, I was going to do a personal best on the 10k! I actually ended up doing a 58:39. It was then that I realized that I could actually do the 2 hour goal I had set. After all, I felt great and was already well over the halfway point, so why not?

A swig of Tailwind, a gel and off I went. The nautical miles and the accompanying aid stations seemed to click off. I had only made the stop at number 5 where I filled up my water bottle, so there was no need to stop at any others, but they made for great mental markers. I ran from aid station to aid station, just enjoying the run. The heat and humidity held off a little. It was warming up, but the overcast skies held off the major heat. I even felt a few rain drops along the way.

The hills were not bad by my standards, they were rolling hills that started18839314_1493715587333939_8228137875747962727_n around 2 miles in and were never a hard grade. By the halfway point, we had reached the maximum elevation. The worst was behind us or so I thought.

We entered a paved trail walking/jogging trail that went behind the base housing. Several of the residents came out to their backyards in order to cheer us on. At one point we went into the streets in the housing area with more residents out to cheer and one family outside with their water hose spraying into the street to cool the runners.

I always like to finish strong, push the last bit and this was my plan here also. What I had not counted on was the long steady hill up to the finish line. Again, it was not steep, just a long one, especially after 10 plus miles. I pushed as much as my legs would allow me to. I even managed to pass a couple of runners on the home stretch. As I approached the finish, my eyes went straight to the clock, 1:51 and counting. Official time-1:51:15.28, I had beat my goal!

I feel like I would 18835675_1530554330318974_4532056194763520342_nhave done a little better, had I realized that there was free waffles and beer at the finish. I’ll know next year, so maybe I can shave a few minutes off. The after party was well stocked, plenty of water and did I mention waffles and beer?

The most surprising thing to me was that 1,500 people were signed up, yet it had the feel of a small town race. It’s really hard to put your finger on why, but it just felt like a small race. Maybe it was the support of the local community, maybe it was that the organizers were on top of everything, or maybe it was the abundant volunteers who knew what needed to be done. Overall this is a great race that I am sure will continue to grow. I look forward to going back for many years and seeing what it becomes.

Why I Run Too Much

I am often asked why I choose to run so much or so long. There is usually a look of wonderment in their eyes, not the wonderment that one gets when meeting an idol. It’s more of a look of trying to understand the thought concept I have when I decided to run an ultra-marathon. There are many types of individuals who ask this question. A few are the more experienced runners who are wondering if they could do it; you can almost see the wheels turning in their head. Some are new runners, who are genuinely curious. Questions from these people are great, they make me think that maybe what I am doing is inspiring just one person to try and go further. Their questions are generally more in the line of how it’s done, not why.

The ones that bother me are the “why” questions I get in a nearly condescending way. The ones that are almost like the person is trying to watch a train wreck happening. They don’t think that it is possible; as if 26.2 miles is that absolute limit of human endurance. I have noticed something these people who ask me the whys have in common, most of them are people who I would classify as not understanding the fullness that comes with it. The ones who ask are generally either non-runners who would not under stand the running mentality to start with or runners who have yet to truly look for their personal limits.IMG_8726.jpg

We all have that point where we cannot go any further. The truth is that this point is a very personal thing. That point is one of mental exhaustion, where you can go no more. Your brain refuses to allow the body to continue any further. This is a primitive function of our minds that is a form of self protection. Something deep inside your head thinks that any more effort could become dangerous to the body and convinces you that stopping is the best and only option. I am not talking about stopping due to illness or injury, this limit is one that goes deeper. To not look for this limit is selling yourself short. It’s akin to leaving an uncompleted story, an unfinished book if you will.

What may be one person’s limit might be a warm up to the next person. While I believe that everyone can increase that limit with proper physical and mental training, when a person reaches their point, I respect that. No matter if its 5 or 100 kilometers or anything in between, they have pushed themselves and that is an admirable thing. To question someone who is searching for that boundary is to show a lack of understanding of what the true gift of running is, a mental exercise and test of ones will and grit.

The people who are asking why are the ones who have never searched for that limit. We should be asking them why. Why are you not trying to find a bigger goal? Why are you satisfied with what you have done? I have been known to ask people this. When I have, it was to individuals who I knew were capable of more, who I sensed were just scared to step into the unknown. There is a certain amount of fear that comes with finding these limits.

I may find my limit someday, I might find it at the most inopportune time. It may come when I lest expect it. It may come in the middle of a race, while that would be hard to deal with, in the end I would like to think I would have some satisfaction in knowing. On the other hand, I may never find it. I may spend the rest of my time here looking, but I will continuously be looking.  To say that I am not worried a little by the thought of running 100 miles would be a lie. To be honest, I am scared to death, but I refuse to let the fear or any other emotion control me.

Risks

Recently, I overheard someone say that they enjoyed trail running, but they didn’t want to risk falling. They were, therefore, going to stick to the roads. My first thought was of the traffic, neighborhood dogs and the falls that I had taken on the road. I also thought of the one time I fell and ended up in a cast, while road running. Yes, trail running can be dangerous, but I am not going to let fear rule me or my enjoyment of the world around me.  I fact, just a couple of weeks later I did take a nasty tumble. A little blood on my shoulder and knee, but all was good.

My pride wasn’t bruised, I fact I came up laughing about it. I should have seen that rock that was jutting up, silly mistake. Those who were behind me were more shook up than I was.

Later in the race, I noticed my left ring finger was bleeding pretty good. I stopped at a bathroom in a nearby campground and rinsed it off. The only way to describe the feeling was that it felt like a little knife in my finger when the water hit it. (Good thing I had bought a Qalo ring the week before.) The important thing was that I was still having fun. There were still 10 miles to go and a little blood wasn’t stopping me from finishing.

I think of scrapes and bruises much the same way that many mountain bikers do, they are trophies.  They show that the prize was earned, the effort was there. People see injuries and naturally ask what happened. “Oh, I was running down this mountain and lost my footing”.  I have notice that the look they give you is the exact same look they will give you when you say that you ran 50k or 50 miles. It’s one of complete amazement, shaking their head.

Truth be told, there is risk in everything we do, its just a question of what risks you feel are acceptable for the end results. There is risk in driving your car to work everyday, there is risk in bicycle riding. Risk all around you, most of the time we choose to ignore it or are completely oblivious to it.

To achieve your greatest potential, you will have to accept some risk. There will be times when you question that risk and those decisions. Fear cannot rule your mind without affecting your body and desire.

I chose to take the risks associated with trail running because the reward of the time on the trail in nature far outweighs the scab on my knee or a swollen ring finger.  Just in case though, I always carry a small first-aid kit in my truck.

Disconnect

Society has experienced an evolution, a redefining of sorts. Our perception of how we connect to the world around us has changed, along with how we interact with others. Somewhere, somehow in all this, we have lost our connection to each other. It seems odd that we now have social media that was intended to bring us closer together, but we are not any closer, we just have more facts about each other.  We have connected with people that we probably have not thought about in many years because their name popped up as a suggested connection.

The odd thing that has happened is that through all of these so called connections, we have truthfully become more distant. Our knowledge of each others lives would appear to be greater, but we are just catching the highlight reels of people’s lives, marriages, children and careers.

Our lives are like a castle; we have walls and moats for security and only allow in those we have chosen to, not everyone we meet. In recent years though, we have torn down the walls of security and we are left only with a moat. All the world can see your trials and triumphs. When we watch someone in this manner, we begin to think that we know them. Much like the characters on a television show, we don’t actually know them, we are only familiar.

A few short years ago, it would be normal to have only a few friends and we would not have had to list them. These friends would be very close, we would know many details of their lives, both good and bad.

Something else that has happened in all of this, we have not only become disconnected from those around us, but also the world around us, the environment. We no longer enjoy nature or it’s beauty. We go on a hike or just to a park and we cannot wait until we get back to our cell signal. If there is a signal, you will find people of all ages sitting around with there heads down, looking at their phones, meanwhile, there is so much to see around them.IMG_6901.jpg

Through our cell phones we now have every piece of information that one could need in the palm of our hand. We have become addicted to information, mostly useless information. I will admit that I am just as guilty as everyone else, but I am learning. I have made a conscious effort to put it down and enjoy the world around me. When I am out on a trail, I will rarely take a photo, especially on training runs. I have succumbed to the trend of “run-fies” and taken a few at some of the more scenic spots I come across. I feel like this is a little different, in the past one might have had a small camera to record a memory.

We must ask ourselves, where is the limit, when should I put the phone down and most importantly, do we truly know a person? How is it that we become an honest friend, not a “Facebook friend”? We can only do this through time spent together and sharing experiences. Screen time will never replace actually being with someone.

Training or racing together can build bonds. I think this is why the running community is usually close in most communities. The people have spent time with each other and had that face to face relationships forged. They haven’t been watching from afar across the moat at you struggle, they have been there struggling with you. Bonds and trust have lowered the draw bridge over the moat.

Social media has it’s place. There are many good things that have come from it. There are even many true friendships that have been made from it, but we must always ask ourselves, are we a real friend to others or a Facebook friend?

Is It Worth It?

In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” the main character, George Bailey, holds his daughter at the climatic ending and as a bell rings, she proclaims “Look Daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets it wings!”

While this is a great sentiment, I must beg to differ from Zuzu Bailey’s teacher. When a Navy Seal trainee has had enough, he can quit. All there is to quitting is to walk up to a bell that hangs in the center of the compound and ring it. No angels rejoicing, no celebrations. Just a defeated dream and a lonely walk. Inside there awaits a blanket, coffee and a doughnut. A small consultation prize compared to the honor of wearing the Navy Seal insignia on one’s uniform.

The idea of the ringing the bell is so simplistic, yet it captures what the Navy is looking for in a Seal team member so brilliantly. Will this person quit when they are under pressure? When their team needs them, will they be there and ready to defend at all cost? By putting out a quick reward, they see who has what it takes. Much like the Stanford marshmallow experiment, will they take one marshmallow now or two later?

Nearly all the trainees are capable of completing the training on a physical level, but its the mental strength that is pulling men through all the near torturous trials. When that physical strength is gone, when they think they have reached the absolute limit, that’s when the test begins.

In every race we face a similar choice. Do you quit now and avoid any further pain, or continue, hoping for the prize that is at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Putting aside any thoughts other than the end result. We ask ourselves if it’s worth it. Is it worth all the suffering for that moment when you cross the finish line and someone puts a medal around your neck? Or that moment when someone asks you in wonderment, “you ran how far?”  Is it worth the pain?

These questions can only be answered by you. There is no one to whisper in your ear “yes, it is worth the pain.” You must do this for yourself. Do you want the coffee and doughnut that will only last a few minutes or do you want the glory of the finish?

If you choose to ring the bell and take the coffee, can you live with that choice, knowing that the ringing of the bell will forever echo in your ears? Is it worth it?

When you ring that bell in the race, your dream, your goal dies. All your training, all your early mornings and late nights are suddenly wasted. Is it worth it? Is it worth it?

Eddie Pinero once said in one of his motivational videos for Your World Within “anyone can run downhill, but not everyone will run uphill. The funny thing is that the prize is at the top of the hill.”

When things get tough, are you willing to keep going up that hill, scratching and clawing? At times hanging on by your fingernails asking yourself if it’s worth the struggle to the top? At the bottom of that hill is a bell with it’s coffee and doughnuts, it’s ease and comfort are . At the top is the prize, the glory of the accomplishment, is it worth it? Or would you rather have the easy way out and a doughnut?

Choices

Recently it occurred to me that many people don’t realize why I started running. A little over four years ago I wasn’t feeling right. Tried, lethargic and generally weak. Not to the point that I couldn’t function, but I knew that something wasn’t right. So I made an appointment to get a physical.

Deep down I knew what I was going to hear, but I was hoping for better news. You see, my father had heart problems most of his adult life. I really don’t remember a time when he was not sick or in and out of the hospital. He had more bypasses than I can recall. When he was 3 weeks shy of his 45th birthday, we lost him.

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When I was close to my heaviest, 270ish pounds

Genetics play a large part in cardiovascular health and I knew that I could be headed down a similar path. Yet, I was still hoping for a different report from my doctor.

When the call came, I had a Mt Dew in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. My blood pressure was high, they were putting me on medication for it. Oh, and the cholesterol..their words were “through the roof”, medications for that too. Also, I needed to get my diet under control or we might need to have a conversation about diabetes in the near future.

The Choices We Make

I heard a story once and lately I have heard it several more times, I have even seen and reposted a video of it. The story goes something like this:

Two boys were raised by an alcoholic father. One grew up to be an alcoholic; when asked what happened he said “I had no choice, I watched my father”. The other grew up and never drank in his life. When he was asked what happened he said “I had no choice, I watched my father”.

At the time of that call, I had never heard the story so I never associated it with my plight, but I had the choice at that point; which son was I to be. I did have a choice and I chose the healthier path. That soda I had in my hand would be the last one, I have had mere sips in the last 4 years.

The Next Steps

Other changes came slowly. My diet was the next thing I conquered. Pizza and sweets were my favorite fare. I knew that I would have to teach myself to like salads, veggies and more nutritious snacks. This wasn’t actually as hard as I thought it would be, I guess it was because I had unconsciously associated the junk food with the condition that I had gotten myself into. I still struggle with portion control and cravings for sweets. I still lose that struggle occasionally, but I don’t let those foods rule me anymore.

Smoking was the biggest battle. I fought it for months. My doctor had advised me to wait until I had my diet under control before I quit. She felt that trying it all at once would be overwhelming and could cause me to fail on all fronts.

It would be six months after that phone call before I put out my last one. I struggled and made multiple attempts, for various reason all of them failed. Finally one evening I was outside smoking and it just hit me, I was done, I was no longer a smoker, I would no longer allow cigarettes to control me. I didn’t even finish that last one, I was DONE!

I had pills, gums and lozenges that were suppose to help me. I did use them for a few days, but in the end it was all up to me. These items have all helped people quit smoking, however, a person’s will power and determination that make for a successful effort. Like everything else, there is no magic pill, just dedication and hard work.

The Gym

A couple of months after I quit smoking, I found myself in the local gym. I tried a functional fitness class. It wasn’t bad, it challenged me and kept me accountable. I also did weight lifting. I felt better, but didn’t see much in the way of results.

Overall, the gym was great in that it got me moving. Looking back, I realize that it just wasn’t the right place for me. Don’t misunderstand me, it’a great place to go and has it’s place in any fitness routine. Weight lifting, swimming and functional fitness just aren’t what I was meant to do as my primary sport. My true love, my motivation would soon be found, I just needed to be patient.

What all the gym work was doing was getting my body and my mind ready for running. The weights and functional fitness were building some much needed strength. They were also building mental muscle, the determination and dedication required to go long distances.

The First Steps

Every runner has some small goal when they begin. For most it is to run a mile without stopping. For me it was similar, but more specific; I wanted to do a mile in 10 minutes. For some, that pace comes easily, but for a man who at that point still weighed at least 225 and wasn’t naturally athletic, it was a lofty dream.

Many new runners set that early goal of one mile arbitrarily because it’s a mile and that’s how we measure things. I had a reason for that ten minute mile; I wanted to run a mile in the Arkansas Run for the Fallen. I set this goal right after I rode as a motorcycle escort for the run, so I had just under one year to achieve it.

As much of a social activity as running is, I didn’t run with anyone for months. I read stuff online but really didn’t put much effort into learning what I was doing right or wrong, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, alone in my plight for the magic ten minute mile.

Somewhere in all this, I thought back to when the Little Rock Marathon first started. I remember watching the runners and wondering if I could do that, but not having the drive to find out if I had it in me. That question started coming up in my mind more and more often, did I have what it took to run a marathon? Before I knew it, that question started haunting me, could I do it?

I made the decision to find out, so I signed up for my first half marathon, Soaring Wings Half Marathon. I found a generic training plan on the internet and half stuck to it. I didn’t know about speed work or cadence or form, I just put in the miles that it said I should run.

The day of the race came and I was a nervous wreck. The distance wasn’t bothering me too much, since I cheated my training a little by making my last long run of 12 miles into 13.1. It was the sheer number of people, I had only started running around others a couple of weeks before the race, I wondered if I would trip over someone. In the end, I didn’t trip, I finished in a decent time, but it wasn’t a marathon, I had only reached half of the goal.

Onward and Upward

The people I started running with were some folks from my community who were starting a running club. We began to meet on Sunday mornings and of course the marathon question came up. One lady had done it, another had tried but the course was shut down due to weather before she finished. They were going to run one called the Team Loco Marathon. I signed up for it on a whim and again trained in a method that can only be called naïveté. My longest run before the race was 16 miles and that was the one week before.

What makes this particular race unique is that it is an out and back course, out for 1.3 miles and back then repeat a total of 10 times. Yes, it sounds boring, but that’s just the face of it. The constant back and forth allows you to check in with people you know and you are never more than 3/4 of a mile from an aid station.

As we neared the 22 mile mark, my legs were throbbing, my hamstrings were beginning to seize on me and I really needed to pee but was afraid to stop for fear of not being able to start again. I walk/jogged most of the last couple of miles. It was during this time that I made a promise to myself; I would never walk across a finish line, I could run or crawl, but I would never walk.

As I came to the finish line, I started to wonder about this promise that I had made, I wasn’t sure I could move faster than a walk. Then I could hear the music and people. It was an awakening, there was an adrenaline rush, the pain left and the excitement set in, I DID have what it took to be a marathon runner.

 

 

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Finishing my first marathon.

The funny thing about all this running is that at some point, I left my health concerns behind. My focus was no longer on trying to get my numbers on control, it went into how far I could go. I had gone for another yearly physical and the results were great. They were so good in fact that several days later I got a letter in the mail from the office. I knew that it wasn’t bad news, there would have been a phone call if it was. I opened it up to see a handwritten note from the doctor, it was congratulating me on my turn around. It went on to say that I should be an example to other who were in the same situation, they could change the out come of their yearly physicals and not fall victims to their attitudes.

All of this, simply because I chose to. Because I wanted to be the son who overcame, not the son who gave into the fate that he wrote for himself by giving up. Everyday of our lives, we can choose which person we want to be, I chose to be a runner.

 

Oh, Bandera

Oh, Bandera, you were once a bustling hub on the wild frontier. Spaniards and Comanche fought for control of you. Cowboys gathered around you to begin their journey along the Chisholm trail; ready to guide their steed to Kansas for sale.

Time has eroded your fame and washed away your legend, but still you survive, proud and graceful. Your saloons have been traded for antique stores and museums, tourists have replaced the wild cowboys.

As your ranchimg_6526es became dude ranches, you kept a wild streak. In the Hill Country Natural Area, just outside of your borders, men and women gather every January to challenge you ruggedness, to run you for 100 kilometers. You throw everything you have at these hardy souls, yet they still return in an attempt to conquer your wild side.

I challenged you at the 50 kilometer race last year and we will call that one a draw, for defeat you I did not, but I hobbled away with the right to call myself an ultra-runner for the first time. My goal was 50 kilometers and I did that, still I longed to completely defeat you, to break you like the wild mustang that you are at heart.

I returned this year to face off with you, accepting the challenge of the 100 kilometers.  You would not be easily broken. Starting with your white cedar, aggravating an already worrisome cough. Then you threw sub-freezing temperatures at me, so cold that my water bottles tried to freeze shut, my sweat began to form icicles on the brim of my hat.snap0007

I soldiered on, pushing past my coughing, shivering and aches. My lungs were not up to par, but my legs felt powerful. I pushed through the first few miles of constant hills and technical single track. It seemed that you were not going to let up.

Slowly, you gave me a reprieve, at least it felt that way. The hills eased up and the sotol bush and cactus took over. When they took a break, grass came along, hiding loose rock.

Oh, Bandera, you would not go down without a fight. Relentlessly you fought me until I gave in. With 28 miles of the 62 down, you placed a brick wall on my chest, I could no longer breath, my head was swimming. All that you had thrown at me, I had let my electrolytes become unbalanced. I could take no more, struggling to make a 20 minute mile. I knew I was doomed. img_6591

The decision was hard, but I still believe correct. I chose to give in to you in order to fight another day. My cough was getting worse and I knew that challenging you further would do nothing other than make it worse for me later.

Oh, Bandera, we are now 0-1-1, but be assured, I will return to defeat you. You may have wounded my pride, you did not break my spirit or my will. The score will be even, 1-1-1.

Sun Tzo said “Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards”. I am now roused with anger, my reward will be a buckle.

 

The Things that Matter

A few weeks ago I hit 1000 miles for the year. I’m not sure why this was a goal with me, but it always seemed to be a big milestone. I actually tried it last year and fell short. Injuries and motivation hindered me.
When you are at mile 1 on January 1st, 1000 miles seems so distant. Constant motivation is the biggest key. If one were to keep looking at their internal odometer, motivation and desire can be lost. You cannot think about mile 995 while you are on mile 2, your mind will discourage you.
The main time I thought about the 1000 mile goal was at the end of each month, I would look at my monthly total and add it to a little “score sheet” I had in my desk drawer. This helped me keep the goal in mind while not focusing on the miles ahead.
As the milestone approached, I realized that it would be somewhere close to the finish line of the Soaring Wings Marathon. The night before the race, I sat down and did the math. I needed 26 miles even for my 1000! The finish would be literally in sight when I hit this personal goal. I knew this would give me motivation throughout the race. It was as if there was a double goal thrown out in front of me.
The first ten miles or so I felt great. In fact, I felt better than great. Everything was flowing and I was in the zone. During this time, a car pulled up next to me (the course was not closed). It eased along with several of us. I wondered what they were doing, then I heard my niece, Carissa, yelling. It was my wife’s car! She had tracked me down so that our Carissa could see me running. At this point the child was pulling herself up as much as the car seat would allow and hanging out the window cheering for me.
Carissa has always shown an interest in our running. She is constantly asking when she can have a medal. We have drilled it into her that medals are earned, not given to you because you want it. She has asked if I would take her with me on training runs so she will be able to run a “big race” like me, but at 4 years old she is still a little shy of training age.
When she comes over, she will stare at our medals. In the past, she has asked us to give her one. We’ve explained that medals are to be earned, if we gave her one without the work then it would not mean anything.
This day was the first time she had actually seen me in a race. She had seen me around the neighborhood since she lives just around the corner from me, but she had never been able to get out to a race.
It is amazing to me that while she has no concept of distance and miles, she somehow knew what I, along with the other runners, where doing was big. After our meeting on the course, my wife took her to the finish line to wait for me and cheer the other runners on. I’m told that it was during this wait the she started picking flowers in the grass and handing them out to runners as they came in.
I wish she would have been at mile 20 or so. This is where I began to struggle. Mile 18 has a beast of a hill. I have heard it compared to Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon. As I reached it, the temperature was starting to rise significantly. We were having an unusually warm October and I was feeling it.
Mile 19 came and the only reprieve was the hill giving slightly. At this point of the race, we are on the edge of a small town, spectators are few and far between. The heat sweltering off the asphalt, a constant head wind and mental fatigue had started wearing me down.
Looking back, I realize that I had let my nutrition and, to a smaller extent, my hydration get behind. It seems like once this happens you are fighting to catch up constantly. I never fully recovered during the race, but soldered on, knowing I had a goal that was at hand along with family and friends waiting at the finish line.

The last mile of the race is mostly downhills and flats, so I pushed myself as much as possible. At this point I was close to a PR and I knew it, but all the nutrition mistakes had caught me. The heat was killing any drive I had. sw2016

As my personal odometer turned, my 4 year old niece ran from the crowd, yelling “I want to run with you, Uncle Jeff!” Of course, I was happy to oblige. While she doesn’t understand the concept of running 1000 miles, or even 26.2, she does understand that she ran with me. The race officials even bestowed her with her first medal.
I missed my PR by 90 seconds, but who cares? It was my PR for the course by 4 minutes or so. My biggest prize was the chance to show someone what it feels like to finish something big. That’s not anything that can be worn around your neck like a medal, but with a little satisfaction in your heart.

Because I Ran

It was a fairly steep climb up the desolate highway, I could hear some cows off to my left, all the runners must have stirred them up I thought to myself. But wait, right now there weren’t any other runners near me.

It was 3 am and relay teams were spread out. I had been waiting on the runner whom I would relieve for nearly an hour, watching other teams coming in to this art commune that had opened their grounds to us, feeding us, allowing us to pitch tents, stretch out hammocks or, like I did, just roll out a sleeping bag and doze under the stars for an hour or two. I knew that I was probably 5-10 minutes behind the next runner.

I was runner 7 of 12 on our team in a relay called Outback in the Ozarks. We had been at this for nearly 20 hours, fatigue and a diet mostly of coffee and junk food were beginning to take a toll on me. I was in no condition to judge why these cows were so upset. I needed to just focus on this stretch of road, this 4 mile uphill run.

Suddenly, I heard an odd huff next to me. I turned to look, but all that my headlamp revealed were the trees in their early fall stages. I heard heavy foot steps in the leaves, just out of range of my light. A deer maybe? Hunting season had begun, so it was possible. No matter, I still had this hill to climb, a hill that was quickly becoming a mountain.

Then I heard it. If you’ve never listened to an animal becoming prey, it can be shocking. I instantly knew what it was, a cow that had been caught by something, most likely by a coyote. That must have been what I heard, the rustling of the leaves had gone straight towards where I now could hear the cow crying out. I had only been a few feet away, but never knew of the potential danger.

My first thought was not of how close a call it was, but of how running had brought me to that point, that moment. A point where I could come so close to nature.  Without running I would have never been out there at that time. I would have never been on that highway. Then my thoughts began to drift, I thought of just where running has taken me.

I’m not talking about just the places I have ran, but the situations that have come about due to running. Ones that I would have never know if it were not for running. How my comfort zone has expanded since I first laced up those worn-out off brand shoes. Back when I would not call myself a runner because I could not do one mile without walking.

Not that I was an introvert back then, but I just lacked the confidence to try new things. There is something about setting a goal, be it a 5k or half marathon, then achieving it that will change a person, even if its just a little. If one continues to set goals and achieve them, a new person will eventually emerge. Failing seems to add character to this new person, to drive them. Once big goals are accomplished, a new sense of accomplishment emerges, all because they ran.

Since I first put on those WalMart shoes, I have found an ability and confidence to speak 12512276_1047196975321381_2510232094575245290_npublicly. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a great orator, but I’ve found my passions. This new found confidence has taken me to the Arkansas Governor’s office, to the State House of Representatives, to radio and television interviews. And yes, to animal encounters that I would never have experienced otherwise, all because I ran.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve found a passion and joy for teaching others about running. Several years ago, I would not have dreamed of teaching of any sort, but through the friends I’ve made in the running community and their encouragement, I’ve even started coaching and teaching running to others.

I’ve managed to make friends worldwide, through several organizations I work for. Without running, I never would have associated with these organizations. My social circle has shifted in ways I never imagined that it could, all because I ran.

The biggest change, however, seems to be the sense of adventure. I am now willing to go further out on a limb than I ever though possible. Most people run to get away from their reality at some level, just to get a break from life. For me running has become my ticket to another life, to an adventure, a way of writing a more interesting life story. Spooking a coyote is just another wonderful adventure brought, all because I ran.

I realize that these musings have pushed me on for another mile. I look to the starlit sky and see a shooting star, then another. It’s at this moment that I remember reading about a meteor shower that we were to have that night. It became yet another beautiful moment brought to me by the world of running and, in the words of Louis Armstrong, “what a wonderful world”.