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.


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.




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”.




Liza Howard

A year ago, I sat in a room full of strangers. An odd lady with a squid hat stood at the front of the room. She explained that the things I would learn and the people I would meet over the next few days would change my life. What did she know? I mean, she obviously could not discern good head wear from bad, how could she know that the people in that room would change the course of my life?

That lady with an odd taste in hats was Liza Howard. She was the reigning champion at The Leadville 100. Most importantly, she was the person who had brought all of us together. She had assembled a team of trail and ultra runners in a camp outside of San Antonio. The purpose was to teach trail running to members of Team RWB.


Liza, the Squid hat and myself

Not only was she right, but she, herself was one of those people who helped shape my trail running future. Her love for teaching others has inspired me and helped me discover a love of sharing the knowledge that I gained from her and her team.

Knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life is, perhaps, the most satisfying thing one can know. This is probably why you will almost always see her smiling.

But still, a squid hat? Why? Well, according to Liza, her friend Nikki was shopping for Halloween costumes and brought over some prospects. She accidentally left the squid hat behind and it was never returned. She wore it to camp because she thought it set just the right tone. As Liza put it “There’s room for everybody under the ultrarunning big top. Also it made me more visible.”

Ok, I will give her this, it does command attention in a fun way. Whomever was wearing the hat had the floor, one had to respect the squid hat. It does fit in with her personality. She has this fun way of teaching, where we ended up laughing our way through the planned lesson. This was usually due to bad acting or missed cues from the students she had chosen to help. Her teaching method involves anyone and everyone. Even bystanders are not immune to  becoming object lessons.

As someone who spends so much time giving advice, I was curious, what was the best advice she had received. She said that when she was at the 50 mile point of a 100 miler, a friend asked how she was doing, she replied that she hurt. He told her that everyone was hurting. According to Liza, “It was the perfect reminder during that race and during training, that, of course, it’s hard. Don’t expect otherwise.”

Since she told me about this several weeks ago, I have turned to it during my training. Yes it hurts sometimes, but if it didn’t hurt, everyone would do it. The pain we are willing to endure is what makes us. Even when I am trying to learn more about her, she somehow has taught me.

With so many wins and podium finishes, I thought she would have this great story of how she got into running. Alas, it was just a simple choice, she wanted to run a marathon. The training group was so much fun that, as she put it, she kept going and never looked back. Going is somewhat of an understatement, her favorite race distance is now 100 milers. She claims it is due to her love for belt buckles.

I asked her what her most memorable finish was, she said it was the 2011 Javelina 100. It involved being hauled off to the hospital with a case of rhabdomyolysis. This is basically when the muscle tissue breaks down and releases their contents into the blood stream. This can be a very serious condition that can lead to renal failure. You can read her account of that race here.

In addition to running, she coaches for Sharman Ultra. She also teaches first aid having instructed at the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS and National Outdoor Leadership School.

Still somehow she finds the time to mentor me, answering even the smallest question, whether a running question or helping me plan a day long clinic based off of her trail running camp. Once I sent her a message asking for some input, her reply was that she would love to help me, but it would have to wait a couple of weeks since she was on her way to Morocco for a race!

I am sad to report, this will be the last year that she will wear the squid hat at trail camp. An operation like this cannot be an easy task. Her energy to teach and training as a world-class runner on top of being a mother to 2 small children is amazing, but she feels it is time to move forward.

Her impact on trail running will last for years to come, both through the one on one teaching 12096110_968416266532786_2936749125802329052_nshe does and through those she has taught at trail camp. My personal aspiration is to live up to her example as a mentor. While I may never achieve the impact that she has, I will still strive to. Even if it hurts, we all hurt so I might as well enjoy the pain and smile through it.

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…


Riding in the Bardo (or how not to ride a bicycle)

This past weekend I drove to Wichita Falls, TX to do the Hotter’n Hell 100 mile bike ride on Saturday and their half-marathon the following day. Going in, I was a little apprehensive about the biking part. I had not trained as much as I wanted to and was not comfortable in a crowded field (Yeah, sign me up for a ride with 13,000ish other people).  I felt OK about the stamina that I needed to get through the course, the drafting was a little nerve-racking for me.

I had done some training with a few friends who are very experienced in cycling. They took me and my wife under their collective wings and showed us the basics. I felt good about drafting them, I know them, I trust them and their judgment, but what about race day? What would I do if I needed to draft a stranger whom I did not know or trust?

Luckily they agreed to stay together as long as possible. Did I mention that there are a lot of people at this race? Staying together was going to be a challenge. Once our wave started, we managed to keep pretty close, drafting off each other as much as possible. The ebb and flow at the beginning of a bike race is much like the start of a foot race, speed up, slow down. Spreading out and compacting up like an accordion. Somehow, we managed to stay together the first few crowded miles, not drafting close but within seeing distance.

About five miles in , the crowd started to thin a little. I was starting to feel comfortable with the race. We were able to draft each other much easier now. Things were clicking like they should. Mile ten came and for the first time I started to feel confident. The crowd wasn’t as bad so I relaxed a little, I had this!

Then came mile sixteen…

The friend in front of me said she was slowing, she had a flat. Before I knew what was happening she was down. Honestly, all I can remember is an image of her laying in front of my bike, rolling. The next thing I can recall is another friend on the phone telling the riders in the front of our group what had happened as she was running up to us. The three of us were spread out in the grass, dazed and wondering how bad the others were hurt.

From what I have been told, when she moved over to the side of the road, my friend’s tire stuck in the grass and this threw her. When my bike hit her, it caused me to go over the handlebars. I landed on my head and IMG_2322rolled. My wife, who was behind me, hit us and somersaulted. She landed on her left arm which she had hurt the day before in the mountain bike race.

We stayed there a few minutes to get our senses back and absorb what had just happened. A quick once over of the bikes and there did not appear to be any major damage. The flat was quickly fixed and we were riding again. A little dazed, but moving none the less.

The riders in the front of our group had stopped to wait on us about a mile up the road. The group was back together and we were rolling again. Suddenly, I noticed my wife slowing and her arm was swelling more and more. I could almost watch it getting bigger. My head was starting to throb, along with my neck and shoulder muscles knotting up.

Then it got scary, my wife began to weave a little and was loosing speed. She swore that she was keeping a good pace. She was doing 8 mile per hour and getting passed. I knew I had to try and get her to stop. I also knew that I probably shouldn’t go on myself. When I mentioned dropping, she broke down. She was attempting to do what is called the “Triple Threat”. This is where you do a 12 mile mountain bike race on Friday, a 100 mile road bike race on Saturday and a half-marathon on Sunday. Dropping meant that goal was out.

Once at the aid station she went to the medical tent. They had her lay down so they could check her arm. It was while she lay there, getting her arm wrapped and iced that she realized  the “Triple Threat” award would not happen this year. We both checked out, but felt it was for the best if we did not proceed. This was a tough call for both of us as we’ve never dropped from a race. If we pushed to the end, we may be in so much pain that we couldn’t do the half-marathon.

As painful as dropping was, I had to keep my goals in mind. I was there for the run, the cycling was supposed to be for the fun of it. I need to get to the Bandera 100k safe and healthy, pushing through could have made any injuries worse. I plan on returning at some point and finishing it, but only when I’m ready and focused on it. Hotter’n Hell 100 will not beat me.

All in all it was a pretty bad situation, but it could have been much worse. As we were being driven back to the start/finish, I heard some chatter on the two-way radio. Apparently there was another accident a few miles past ours, they were calling for a helicopter to carry someone to the hospital. The three of us had walked/limped away. Sure, we were bruised and cut, our pride was hurt, but didn’t need to be carried out.

I will share my experience with the half-marathon in my next post, so keep watching for it!