The Georgia Jewel Just Got Real
Earlier this year I signed up for my first ultra marathon. And until last weekend that's all it was. Me signing up for my longest race ever, as well as my first trail race. Longer distance. New surface. New challenge. Nothing more.
Now I know my simplified thinking turned a mountain into a mole hill.
Last weekend my friend Nicole and I stepped onto the Pinhoti trail at Snake Creek Gap. It was the start of a 17 mile training run to prepare us for and familiarize us with the 35 mile Georgia Jewel race we'll run in late September. Our 17 mile trek from Snake Creek Gap to Dug Gap would cover the final half of that September race.
The rain forecasted for the morning didn't show up. But the fog did, creating the perfect setting for stepping into the unknown. And now that I know just how much that unknown ended up scaring me, I'll add a little music from Deliverance or the Blair Witch project on my playlist the next visit.
The first 6 miles or so we absorbed the newness of it all. It was exhilarating to be in the middle of nowhere without a single glimpse or sound of anywhere or anyone. It was just us and a dirt trail winding onward and upward - a whole lot of upward - through the green thickness of what was once a simple dare greatly idea: "I think I want to run the Georgia Jewel."
At about mile 7 I began to wonder if daring greatly had set me up to fail ungreatly. The humidity, working and smiling hand in hand with elevation, was waging a war on my energy. The wilderness fog began seeping into my head and I started wondering what on earth I'd gotten myself into. I began the great running game of IF: if today was race day I'd still have another 28 miles to go.
The best part of that game? It allowed me to momentarily forget I didn't know how we would cover the final 10 miles of our current run.
At mile 8 we ran into my friend and race director Jenny Baker and company. They were handing out drinks and snacks. I wanted desperately to pull up a chair and enjoy some doughnuts and a coffee. Enjoy an impromptu Starbucks experience in the land of the lost. Barista Jenny and my race partner Nicole made it clear that wasn't happening. In the most loving way possible they both said "get going."
Get going we did. We stumbled - and tripped - our way through the next mile or so and into the infamous rock garden. When you hear the word garden you likely think of something good and life giving and beautiful. Which is precisely why I would suggest the name rock garden is a bit misleading.
When Jenny introduced the rock garden to us in our pre-training run prep talk she advised us to walk and not try to run through the garden. As rock after rock reached up from the wilderness floor and grabbed hold of my ankles and with all their might tried to reduce me to nothing more than a motionless rock myself, I asked Nicole, over and over, and maybe with a bit of frustration, "who on earth could run through here?"
I'm not sure what she said. I'm just thankful she didn't suggest we could.
I remember looking at my watch at the half marathon mark. At this point we were about 4 hours and 15 minutes into our run. A run that to this point had involved very little running and a whole lot of mountain climbing. I told Nicole next weekend I'll be running a half marathon back home and I hope to run it an hour and a half faster. The 100 foot climb at the end of the Patrick Henry Half Marathon suddenly seemed less daunting in the face of the 2,500 feet we'd end up climbing this day.
By this time I was feeling nauseous and the only thing I could think about was the paved downhill road that would take us out of the wilderness and to my car. Jenny told us when we started out that morning the final mile or so would be out on the highway and downhill. I never thought the words "highway" and "downhill" could sound so soothing. But they were consuming my every thought. That and maybe wondering how an ambulance might reach someone who was lying in the middle of a trail precisely where I was barely standing.
Then I looked up. Standing at the top of the latest incline was a man we'd seen off and on the last several miles. He'd found our wilderness exit. He seemed as grateful to be standing there as I was to see him there. We began to walk together down a long gravel road. He talked about several of the trail races he'd run before. Some in Kentucky where he lives and some elsewhere. I wondered why anyone would do this more than once. In Kentucky or elsewhere.
As we continued along the rough road, my legs wobbling more by the step, I spotted an overlook. I walked over, climbed up on a rock and took some pictures.
Looking out over this valley I recalled a conversation I had with my buddy Gregory Byerline. In a recent podcast interview I did with him (An Interview With Gregory Byerline), he talked about old hymns and how we sometimes skip over verses that reveal the glory in creation. As I stood there taking in the end of a day, the end of the first leg of a journey, one particular verse of an old hymn we discussed suddenly came to life.
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze
Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee
How great thou art
There I was, in the midst of discovering the beauty in one long, hard day, when the voice of heaven came rolling up that gravel road. God, is that you? Did you really just hear my soul singing?
No, it wasn't God. But close. It was Jenny Baker. Friend and race director. She told us we had two choices. One, we could get in the van with her, where there was an ice cold Coke and potato chips, or........ I quickly stopped her right there. I just knew the or was going to include finishing that final 1.5 miles by some means other than that van. Some means that didn't include a cold Coke and potato chips. Some means which would likely include my tired and fading fast legs continuing onward.
"Show me to the van, please."
In a way, it really was God. Jenny's encouragement on that van ride back to the car gave me more than I could have ever found in my legs finishing up the final stretch of that run.
Jenny was part
I believe you can do this,
here's what you need to do to get better,
all rolled up in one brief spirited mile a minute Jenny Baker pep talk.
There I was on a van with the friend who encouraged me every step of the way that day, and the friend who showed up to remind me I could do this at the exact moment I was doubting I could.
Jenny reached out to me yesterday and asked me how I felt on the drive home from Georgia. She said I don't want to know what you were thinking. I want to know how you felt. Here's what I told her.
I had two predominant feelings: Gratitude and confidence.
I'm grateful for friends. My friend Nicole is speedy. It overwhelms me she'd spend an extra two hours out there making sure I got it done. (And probably making sure the old man is OK). I was grateful for my race director friend Jenny. You being there at the end saying everything I needed to hear and giving me the perfect advice was God's perfect timing. I was grateful for the new friends I got to meet in the Georgia Jewel family. And I was grateful my family gave me the opportunity to come do the practice run this weekend.
Confident. Well, any time I started "thinking" about how I couldn't do it, when I thought about the ever clearer magnitude of it all - God overwhelmed me with the words that have been my mantra since I started this journey: "I won't win this battle with the strength of my own hands. You're the mountain mover, only you can." (From the Steffany Gretzinger song Confident). I heard God saying, you didn't think I was sending you off to do something easy did you? I heard him asking, how can I move a mountain if there aren't any mountains.
So I'm not incredibly confident in me, but I'm more sure than ever that God's got this. So I'll spend the next 5 weeks on the stair master and running stadium steps. And then show up and let God move that mountain.
So that's where I'll be friends if you're looking for me between now and Dalton, Georgia. On the stair master.....
Back on my birthday, April 27, I ran the longest run of my life. I ran 27 miles to support Laura Baumgardner and her Pontiac, Illinois high school students' annual Run for Respect 5k. My run wasn't a part of a sanctioned race. There was no t-shirt or medal or timer or finish line. Just me and the road and a day of reflection on what it truly means to love and respect others.
I guess it's fitting, then, that a few months after that event, I received a package in the mail from a man I deeply respect. I respect him because he makes it a priority in life to honor people. He makes ordinary people doing seemingly ordinary things feel like heroes. And he rarely does it without pouring his time and heart into delivering that message.
So I wanted to share this package with you. I wanted to show you what it means to go above and beyond the call of love your neighbor duty. The gifts my buddy Bill Manning sent me are priceless. I will keep them forever. But more than those gifts will symbolize my efforts, for me they will serve as the identity of friendship and thoughtfulness.
As I write this, I feel like calling out "Robert, Robert, Robert!!!!, akin to Missy Hepp , trying to get your attention at the Meg's Miles Memorial a few years ago.
I apologize for the lateness of this getting to you, but the old wheels sometimes turn more slowly than I would like, as do the ideas that come into my head.
But, I wanted to take the time to recognize a very important accomplishment of yours, and pay forward a kind gesture bestowed upon me back in 2009.
A very kind and dear friend, Emily Woloszyn, once told me that a marathon should never be completed without a well-deserved and earned medal. And, I was given such a handcrafted medal, much like this one, which I still hold dear to this day.
I am of the firm belief that, aside from ultra marathoners, no one should run 26.2 miles unless it is indeed a part of an organized event. The distances are long, the training is difficult with lasting after effects, and most of us have only a limited amount of them in our bank to complete in our running lifetimes.
So with that being said, please accept this certificate of achievement and accompanying finishers medal.
And here is the backstory:
Date line, 2009. My life back then was indeed on an upward trajectory after some dark days. I was dating my future wife, and even though we were living more than 2,800 miles apart, all was looking up. It was time to start planning on my fall marathon as well as other life changing things. The Philadelphia Marathon was on the horizon for me. The timing was right and I had plenty of time to train. Throw into this the opportunity to travel to Maui over Thanksgiving to spend time with my future wife and family, and it was even better! The plan would be to drive to Philly, run the marathon, and then fly to Maui the next evening.
Challenge #1 - when I went to register for the race, it was - yes, that's right - sold out. And the options for another marathon were very bleak at this time of year. Completing one after a Maui vacation and training in the winter months was not appealing to me in the least.
Challenge #2 - So, after some problem solving and creative thinking, I decided to organize and run my own marathon in Syracuse a week earlier than Philly. The plan slowly came together, and a date was set: November 15, 2009. The course would be an out and back along the Erie Canal Towpath and would be a certified distance course measured and marked by a local certifier for a fee. It even had a name: The Inaugural Left Out in the Cold Marathon
In 2009, Facebook and other social media were just starting to take off, so my options were limited. I advertised on the local running store message/chat board, something along the lines of "come run a local, certified marathon - date, time, and no cost (and no frills either).
Well, as you can imagine, few folks were lining up to take part in this adventure. It was a bad time of year, many had already run their fall marathons, or no one wanted to get involved in this seemingly crazy scheme. All except for one, very interesting and unique stranger that since has become a very good friend - and expert on all things chocolate - Michael Woloszyn!
So, November in Syracuse can be tricky, and can potentially bring all kinds of weather. Race morning came - it was an early start - maybe 6-7 am. There was just one other car in the parking lot when I arrived at the start - I had to assume that this was the only other entrant into this marathon. And, indeed it was. We finally got to meet after weeks of emailing and the like. He presented me with an Official race T-shirt, which I have to this day and have attached as a picture. What a great way to start a race.
We could have not asked for a more perfect day to run a flat and fast marathon. As we started our race in the pre-dawn hour, we came upon something across the canal path. We weren't sure just what it was - something discarded or some trash. But as we approached, this pile - later discovered to be a sleeping bag WITH someone inside it that moved as we ran up to it - it sure got the adrenaline pumping as each of us jumped to either side!! (I found out later that that was one lucky sleeping bag inhabitant........)
They say you can learn a lot about a person from running with them, and this was no exception with Michael. We talked about so many things over that marathon that we never would have had the opportunity/comfort level to do otherwise. Mile after mile went by on a beautiful Fall day.
At about the halfway point, my Mom, Laurel, and my Sister, Peggy, met us along the way with water and fuel. What a great crew and welcomed sight that was! They met us again at the turnaround, and then again at the first point. My sister even ran a little way with us. It was a great recharge as we headed back towards half #2. They also kept Laura Lee informed from the other side of the country of our progress, as no tracking was available.
The only downside to this course was that we had to overshoot our cars and then turn around and finish where we had started. This proved to be a mental challenge that I hadn't counted on, but we forged ahead! I walked a bit, and urged my friend to continue on. But in the true runner camaraderie, the reply was, "we started this together, and we'll finish it together."
My time for that marathon was 4:27:49, and I do know that I came in second place overall and won my age group. But that was not the biggest takeaway. Yes, this was before Facebook and running apps and smart phones, but it was indeed an official marathon on a certified course with a credible witness, so I have always claimed it as one of my accomplishments, as should you friend.
So congratulations Keith on a well deserved accomplishment. It was fun recalling this experience, and I trust you will enjoy retelling of your 27 mile Birthday Marathon in the years to come.
Best wishes as the running and the adventures continue.
Just over a year ago I had the opportunity to represent the Meg's Miles Supporters Facebook group at the first Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago. Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team hosted the summit believing great things happen when people are in community with one another. Well, as fate would have it, I met two awesome women while I was there who've become permanent fixtures in my community. And today, thanks to the friendships we've formed since then, the three of us are going to dare to do something great together.
The story starts with Jodi Stoner. Jodi was actually attending the summit representing I Run 4. Shortly after meeting Jodi at the summit I interviewed her for my TwoTim47 podcast. I was intrigued by Jodi's devotion to a 7 year old boy named River. River has spina bifida and Jodi runs every mile of the thousands she runs to raise awareness about the disease, and to let River know just how much she loves and respects him.
I recently interviewed Jodi again after she ran the Boston Marathon for River. As I listened to her recount the challenging conditions of this year's race, and how her love for River magnetically pulled her to the finish line, I knew Jodi and I were destined to work together for the long haul to make a difference in the world.
Jodi must have felt the same destiny. Shortly after that second interview Jodi reached out to me with an idea. Every year she hosts the "Run to Jodi's House" half marathon. Friends and locals register to run a local 13.1 mile route that ends at Jodi's house in Florida. Jodi let me know this year's proceeds were going to go to my TwoTim47 mission.
The Run to Jodi's house half will take place November 11, 2018.
That's where the other friend I met in Chicago comes into the story.
Laura Baumgardner is a special needs teacher in Pontiac, Illinois. Each year she and her students host the Run for Respect 5K in an effort to eliminate the word "retarded" and replace it with the word "respect." The spring before meeting Laura I'd actually run this race virtually in Virginia to support them. Like I do when I run any race to support a great cause, I felt fulfilled.
While I was in Chicago at the summit I had a chance to meet Laura and three of her students. Hanging out with them made Run for Respect more than a cause for me. Laura and her kids adopted me into a shared vision. A shared belief. A beautiful idea that no matter who we are, no matter what labels or diagnosis get attached to us, we are all exactly the same under the beautiful principle that we all deserve love and respect.
I walked away from that meeting with Laura and her students - Mitch, Nick and Austin - knowing I wanted to be a bigger part of their journey to promote respect.
So this past April, on my birthday, I ran my longest run ever - 27 miles. For this 54 year old man, that took a big effort. But knowing each stride was for a larger than life group of kids and their hearts for loving other people the way other people deserve to be loved made it worth it.
Shortly after that run was done, I knew I'd have to do something bigger for them this year. I mean, we were in this thing together now. I had no idea what it would be. Then my friend Jodi announced she was going to use the money raised at her half marathon to support TwoTim47.
I was out running shortly after Jodi told me about her idea. I was moved by it. Then I started thinking about it. I wanted to come up with a special way to use the money she was going to raise. That's when it hit me, this natural link between Jodi and Laura and their common mission to fight for respect for the people they love. And by extension, they fight for respect for everyone.
So here we go. Here's where my running ideas often turn to running craziness. But I love what Jodi and Laura do so much. They deserve some craziness. It's a craziness that's been kindling in me since I interviewed JP Caudill on my podcast. JP ran 7 marathons in 7 days on seven different continents. I left that interview wondering if I could ever run 7 marathons in 7 days.
Next year's Run for Respect 5k is going to be on April 13, 2019. In the week leading up to that 5k, which I will run in Pontiac, Illinois with Laura and her kids, I will run a marathon on 7 consecutive days leading up to the race. One for each letter in the word RESPECT. I'll run in a city or state or community that corresponds with a letter in respect.
So on April 5, 2019, I will get my 7 marathons in 7 days Run for Respect started. The first letter in respect is "R" - so I'll get the challenge started right here in Richmond. Where does it go from there?My plan is to let Laura and her beautiful kids help pick some of the subsequent locations. I will let my TwoTim47.com Patreon supporters help pick a stop or two as well. (Learn more about supporting TwoTim47 on Patreon here: www.patreon.com/twotim47)
The good news is you can help out without having to run one single marathon. A half, maybe, but only one.
Jodi is opening her race to virtual runners. So for $25 you can register for Jodi's race, get a cool medal, and support my 7 marathons in 7 days Run for Respect. The more money raised, the bigger the possibilities get in terms of where I'll run those next 6 marathons after getting it started in Richmond.
I plan to use each of those marathon locations to spread a message of respect. Respect for those battling to end disrespectful words. Respect for those too frequently called retarded instead of being wrapped in love and respect. Respect for those battling health challenges like spina bifida.
I'm going to run 7 marathons in 7 days to promote the idea that respect starts with an internal mandate that we love and respect one another, not an external demand that others earn it. I think we spend too much time outlining, maybe even dictating, conditions under which we'll be loving, instead of shaping ourselves in the image of a God who offers unconditional love.
My goal over the course of these 7 days will be to spend a lot of time shaping myself into someone who offers that kind of unconditional love. If I can move some hearts in that direction with me, then I'll feel confident all 186.5 miles that week (7 marathons and a 5k) will run us all a lot closer to a world of respect that can outrun hate and judgement.
If you'd like to register to run the Jodi's house half marathon and support Jodi, Laura and her kids and the TwoTim47.com's mission to run 7 marathons in 7 days - all for respect, you can mail your registration to Jodi at:
To Register for the Run to Jodi's House Half Marathon
Send your name and address and $25 to:
8800 Mill Creek Lane
Hudson, FL 34667
The actually race will be run November 11, 2018. I will be running my half marathon that morning in Ashland, Virginia - the morning after I run a full marathon in Richmond - so I guess the training for 7 in 7 officially gets started in November with the Run to Jodi's House Half Marathon.
That's fitting now, isn't it?
If you're not up for running a half marathon that day, run it that week over several days. Walk it or bike it if you would rather collect your virtual miles that way. Just put in 13.1 miles, get Jodi your registration, collect a cool medal, and accept our thanks for promoting unconditional love and respect for everyone.
You can listen to my podcast interviews with Jodi Stoner, Laura Baumgardner and JP Caudill here:
Back in 2000, while I was working at a therapeutic wilderness program for at-risk kids, the nurse on staff got concerned with my blood pressure. She'd notice my red cheeks, drag me into her office, wrap a blood pressure cuff around my bicep, pump up, let out, then immediately tell me I needed to go see a doctor.
"I will," I'd always tell her. Every time. And then I wouldn't.
This cycle continued for months. Then one day after taking the cuff off my arm she said here's the deal. You head up to the doctor right now or I'm calling an emergency squad.
"You wouldn't," I told her.
She got three steps toward the phone before I said "OK, stop," I'll go see the doctor.
The doctor took my blood pressure and told me our nurse was a good nurse. Then we had the following conversation:
"Do you drink coffee?"
"Describe a lot"
Maybe 10-12 cups a day.
"Well you'll need to quit drinking coffee. The caffeine isn't good for your blood pressure."
"How about alcohol. Do you drink?"
Maybe 3 or 4 nights a week.
"And on those 3 or 4 nights a week, would you describe those nights as a drink with dinner or more heavy drinking?"
I'm thinking it would probably qualify for that more heavy drinking category.
"Well heavy drinking is bad for your blood pressure so you'll need to quit that."
"And finally, how about tobacco. Do you smoke?"
Finally, one I can get a little credit for. Nope, gave that up years ago.
"So no tobacco at all?"
Why don't these doctors stop when I'm ahead? I use smokeless tobacco on occasion.
"Describe on occasion."
Maybe 2-3 cans of Skoal a week.
"Well you'll need to quit that habit. The nicotine is awful for your blood pressure."
So let me get this straight, I said. I need to give up caffeine, alcohol and nicotine to solve this blood pressure problem.
"Yes, it's either that or go on medication."
Medication. Like pills. So what's the downside to medication?
Not a lot. Most people just don't like to take medication.
Well I don't like living without caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Let's do this medication thing.
And that's the beginning of my relationship with blood pressure medication - followed soon after by cholesterol medications. I walked into a local pharmacy to fill the prescription for those medications and walked out with the two biggest crutches I've ever had in my life. Crutches I could lean on when I wanted to drink coffee to stay alert when I didn't feel like sleeping a lot. Crutches I could lean on when I wanted to use alcohol to numb myself from the stresses of life and work. And Crutches to lean on when I felt the relentless call from my mind to satisfy a nicotine addiction.
Those crutches gave me the health security I needed to continue some of the unhealthiest habits a man could have.
And that's what I did. For years to come I carried on my life just like before. Only there were no longer red cheeks and an angry nurse. The drugs did their job; they lowered my cholesterol and my blood pressure while I ate, drank and was merry.
And here I thought alcohol was the miracle drug.
In 2006 our first son Elliott was born. That's when I went from the frequent heavy drinker to a rare social drinker. It's also when I quit tobacco use once and for all. I flirted at times with giving up caffeine, but that habit remains with me to this day. Much more controlled - (most days) - but I still love my morning jolts of coffee.
Then, in 2014, I started running. In 2016 I started running a lot and ran my first marathon. And in 2017, I started a podcast. I use it to interview runners who often run much more than a lot, and a lot further than marathons. I've discovered many of them are vegans or vegetarians. The thing that's intrigued me most about their diets is every one of them talks about how much better they feel, how much more energy they have for running.
So I started experimenting with vegan and vegetarian diets myself. I've landed at a place where I eat very little meat and sugar and oils and dairy. I'll never get to a spot where I say none or never. But very little has worked well for me. I've lost 30 pounds. I feel better than I have in years. I've discovered more energy for running.
Early last year I decided I was going to quit leaning on the crutches - those medications that gave me permission to live an unhealthy lifestyle. I wanted to see what would happen to my blood pressure and cholesterol without the crutches. It wasn't that I was suddenly against medications, I just knew I no longer wanted to take the pills that were morning permissions slips to make all the unhealthy choices I wanted to.
I didn't get to the doctor as soon as I'd planned. That probably worked in my favor because I eliminated more meat and dairy from my diet in the mean time. But this week I made it to the doctor and had my blood pressure and cholesterol checked. My blood pressure was excellent. Like lowest numbers I can remember. My cholesterol numbers were better than or in line with what they'd been for 18 years on medications. In summary, my life choices were producing health results as good or better than the medications were.
Here's the thing. In spite of the numbers, the doctor was more than willing to refill the medications I'd been off for well over a year now. She encouraged it. She said it's always good to take them as a precaution since you have a history of high blood pressure and cholesterol.
No doc, actually, I have a history of eating a lot of crap, not running a 100 miles a month, using too much alcohol and tobacco, and pouring enough caffeine into my system to make a cocaine addict seem mellow. That's my history. That's what I've changed.
The argument the doctor uses, and a lot of our culture, is that these medicines help you live longer. Well, I get that, but I'm the wrong person to use that argument on. I have no longevity goals in life. I have a desire to live well while I'm here; I just feel no pressure to try to be here forever. I'm leaving this earth sooner than later. When I do I'll be hanging out with Jesus. That thought alone gets me far more excited about that day than one bit interested in delaying it.
But - as long as I'm here, I do want to have as much health and energy as possible to bring His shades of heaven to earth. To encourage as many people as possible to join me in the only longevity that matters to me: eternity.
Today I feel closer to accomplishing that health and energy than I ever have. I strongly believe the medications did me no favors in getting here. I personally leaned on them to keep me healthy at the expense of feeling any personal obligation to tend to my health on my own. I know that's not how everyone treats medications. But it's sure how I treated them.
Running changed that in my life. The more I ran the more I wanted to run. The more I wanted to do it the more I wanted to do it well. And the more I wanted to do it well - the more I discovered how much what I put into my body influenced how well my body responded to that desire. I should also mention it's easier to get a 210 pound body to move than a 240 pound one.
I don't know what the moral of this story is, really. I know not everyone's body responds to lifestyle changes and choices the way mine has. Genetics can be a tough beast to fight. I also know not everyone will have the means or desire to make the changes I made, so maybe medications are the best route.
All I know is this is my story. The story of a guy who'd been leaning on crutches all his life and finally tossed them to the side when he discovered it was easier running without them.
The Richmond Half Marathon
I remember signing up for my first distance race. The Richmond Half Marathon back in November 2014. I did it after getting caught up in the wave of emotions pouring from the runners coming to Richmond that fall to honor Meg Cross Menzies. The day I signed up I'd been reflecting on this scripture:
Like many people I'd been moved by Meg's story. When she died I wrote this article: God's Newest Angel, One With Years of Experience. I signed up for that first half marathon believing this angel had set a race before me, one that was pointing me to Jesus. I confess, though, me of little faith thought the angel had lost her heavenly mind. Who points an overweight couch potato to a half marathon? But Meg clearly felt emboldened by her newfound connection to the greatest miracle worker ever.
I eventually crossed that finish line on race day. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't pretty when I crossed. It wasn't pretty when I hobbled a mile or so to where I'd parked my car. It was ugliest of all the following week when I felt like every handicap parking space in Hanover County should rightfully be mine.
That's alright, I kept telling myself. You did it. And you'll never have to do it again!
The Richmond Marathon
To the many friends I've been blessed to share this running journey with, that has become somewhat of a punchline: "I'll never have to do this again." Because by the time I signed up for my first full marathon 2 years later, I'd run several more half marathons. All of them out of state. One of them as far away as Missoula, Montana.
To be honest, signing up for the Richmond Marathon wasn't a response to another prompt from Meg. It was actually quite self centered. It was ego driven. It was burying once and for all past failures in my life. Things I'd messed up really bad as well as things I'd never taken on for fear of messing them up really bad. This marathon was about finishing so many things in my life, including that first half marathon. It was never lost on me that it was only "half" a marathon.
So, I went into this one thinking about taking care of me.
finished with anything. Not if he can use it for his purposes.
When I crossed the finish line I felt and heard God's voice. He put a scripture on my heart, one that just happened to be printed on the back of the shirt I was wearing that day. 2 Timothy 4:7 says, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." God was about to completely steal my running journey and use it to help others keep fighting, finishing and keeping the faith. And he wasn't asking me to accept that - he was demanding it.
The Podcast Interview
As part of God's plan to begin encouraging others through my running journey, I started a podcast. I interview runners or people in the running community who have inspiring stories. My hope is these stories will shine light on folks who might need it.
through the mountains of northern Georgia. If there was only the 100 mile option, this race would have been in and out of my mind as soon as Jenny was done telling me about it. But the race also offers 50, 35 and 17 mile races.
Long after our conversation was over, The Georgia Jewel kept popping into my mind. I had no idea why. It was just one of those nagging whispers that have come to predict something crazy is about to happen in my life.
Registering for the Georgia Jewel
2018 has been a crazy running year. The year started with a did not finish at the Houston Marathon. I lined up hoping I could keep up with the 6 hour cutoff pace, a pace nearly an hour faster than my only previous marathon. But at mile 18 my hopes were dashed. I couldn't keep up. My record against the mighty 26.2 dropped to one victory against one might Texas defeat.
A little over a month later I had an opportunity to get back in the win column. Several friends were headed to Little Rock, Arkansas to tackle the Little Rock Marathon. At the last minute I decided to join them. Little rock had a much more forgiving 8-hour cut off. If I could go down there and conquer that race I could get back on the winning side of this marathon thing. And after 6 hours and 45 minutes on a rainy, hilly course, that's exactly where I ended up. Back in the win column.
Then comes March. The end of March and the annual Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington, Kentucky. A race that has tried not only to defeat me twice, but not so subtly tried to kill me just to make sure I never came back. It's one of the most challenging courses I've ever run.
This March felt different though. After Little Rock my running only improved. I felt strong coming into Lexington. I thought I could run my fastest Run the Bluegrass, and by the time I got there, I started thinking I could run my fastest half marathon period.
I need to pause here and tell you one thing all three of those races have in common: my friend Nicole. She was there when I got drug off the course in Houston. She was there cheering me on at the finish line at Little Rock. And on Run the Bluegrass day, knowing I had a goal of running my fastest half marathon ever, and knowing she was plenty fast and inspirational enough to help me make it happen, she was lined up next to me determined to make it happen.
And make it happen we did. By about 2 1/2 minutes, I ran my fastest half marathon ever.
That race was a huge confidence builder for me. I didn't know exactly how big until last weekend.
At the Little Rock Marathon my friend Nicole and I started joking about running the Georgia Jewel 35 mile race. Running through the mountains. Becoming ultra marathoners. Daring greatly. Chasing limits that could only be reached with God's strength at our backs. We joked about it. Then we were mysteriously serious about it.
There was a point at mile 11 at the Run the Bluegrass when my friend Nicole sensed I wasn't going to make it. She'll never admit she was sensing it, but I knew she was. Which is why she forced my hand. Dared me to come 11 miles into our shared goal to set a personal record and quit before pulling it off. She left me no doubt that was absolutely NOT her intention, and basically told me to get it in gear or leave Lexington with nothing but regrets.
I'm grateful for that. In hearing that story you get to know a little bit about just how she's built. A fighter. A scrapper. And a say you're going to do it you'd better do it kind of person.
That's why last Saturday when I got a message from her that included her paid registration for the 35 mile Georgia Jewel ultra marathon, I knew that was her way of saying we're done talking. It's time to tackle what we set out to do.
And so last Saturday, I registered for my first ultra marathon. On Saturday, September 22, Nicole and I will tackle 35 miles of trail and about 5000 feet of ascending mountains to cross the finish line. I have no doubt, when she senses I'm about to pack it in at mile 25 or 30 - what?!?!?!? - she'll let me know good and well we didn't come all the way to Georgia not to finish our first ultra marathon.
So for the next several months, through the long and hot dog days of summer, you can be sure - I'm going to have Georgia on my mind.
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
In order for you to fully understand my 2018 Run the Bluegrass (RTB) journey, I have to tell you about my 2015 RTB journey. It was my second half marathon ever. I was ill prepared. And it was the first time I'd ever run over hills the likes of those on this rural Lexington, Kentucky race course.
To be exact, 32 relentlessly rolling hills that offer up everything but a level running surface. Back in 2015, when my buddies helped me across the finish line in just over 3 hours, I swore I'd never run again. Several days after the race I started to wonder if I'd ever walk again.
Then, and arguably still now, it was the hardest race I'd ever run.
But eventually I did find a way to walk again. To my surprise, I also found the will to run again. In fact, before returning to RTB for a third time last weekend, I'd run 2 marathons and 9 half marathons since that race. A running death sentence averted, if barely.
I came into Lexington looking for a fight. My 2018 running year started with a bust when I picked up a "did not finish" at the Houston Marathon. But fueled by that failure, I went to Little Rock and ran my fastest marathon about a month later. Granted, it was only my second one, but when you don't finish your previous race you'll accept any kind of fast.
After Little Rock, I went on to run my fastest 5k and 10k races. This planted a seed - it was possible I could run my fastest marathon, 5k, 10k and half marathon in one month if I could somehow run my fastest half marathon ever at RTB. Only, I knew how impossible that possible was. Last year I brought my RTB time down to 2:48. But my half marthon best was 2:27. Was it really possible to shave another 21 minutes off my time?
If I was willing to fight that course the entire 13.1 miles, I thought it could be done. And so, in my mind, a mission was launched.
Run the Bluegrass is always a family afair for my Megsmiles family. We got the race weekend started with a dinner at Malone's. Me and my plant based diet had fallen on hard times in the days leading up to the race, so as long as we were on the outs I decided to have some steak and shrimp. It had been awhile and I happen to think it was the perfect pre-race meal to tackle the big fight ahead.
In the week leading up to the race, Lexington had been inundated with rain. When I arrived Thursday it was raining, and there was intermittent rain and gloom all day Friday. All signs pointed to a cloudy Saturday if not rainy. That's why, when I made the trek up the hill to the parking area on race day, this scene was a thing of beauty.
When I saw that image, I knew God had something special in store for the day. I'm a believer that God whispers. He whispers through our friends at a pre-race dinner. He whispers through a sunrise. And I was about to find out he whispers through friends who run with you.
I made my way to the Megsmiles tent. It's a special place to gather before the race to share in each other's hopes and dreams for the day. I don't really know how unique running is as far as this goes, but the commraderie might be a bigger part of the race experience than the running. The running gives us something to bond over - the successes and failures and hill struggles - but it's the bonding that often produces the most enduring memories.
You want to talk about a bonding memory. This image will live with me forever.
Those three men there. They've become some of my best buddies in the world. And I wouldn't know one of them if it wasn't for running.
We were all grateful to have Sid Busch join us. Sid's a Navy veteran who's run over 200 marathons to honor fallen military veterans. He runs so their lives and legacies are not forgotten. John and Anthony are veterans themselves. So to be standing there with these three men, all such good and honorable men, it's a moment that transcends whatever race result happens that day; one that ensures victory. It's a moment that won't hang on a wall with the medals, but it shapes a heart forever.
Then it comes. After the dinners and all the pre-race bonding, race time comes. And we head for the starting line.
I'll be honest. This starting line felt different than any other. Likely because I had a large goal. One I knew was bigger than any running goal I'd ever tackled. I think the other part is I had someone running with me. That was a first. For 13 miles I was going to have someone at my side.
My friend Nicole, who originally contemplated not running the half marathon because of a knee injury, knew how much this time goal meant to me. When I was loosely talking about goals for this race earlier in the month, she's the one who ultimately made me say out loud that I wanted this to be my fastest half marathon ever. She's plenty faster than me and likely could have chased her own goal, but she made the decision to help me chase mine.
We finally got our call to start. The 2:30 pace group was in front of us. Nicole said we were going to pass them and never let them catch us. Never came out of her mouth with an intensity that set the stage for the rest of the day. Never once did I hear anything softer than "we are going to do this." No doubts. No waffling on the expectations. Just a constant flow of "we are."
My goal was to get to mile 9 in 1:35. I knew that would put me ahead of the pace I needed to hit my goal. Ahead in time to battle the brutal hills that define mile 9. But we actually hit mile 9 in 1:37:30. I was 2 1/2 minutes behind my dream pace. Which in the grand scheme of things, with only 4 miles to go, felt like a lot. My pace was beginning to slow and I know longer had the cushion I'd hoped for. If I was going to hit my goal, the last 4 miles were going to be hard miles.
I did have one thing going for me at mile 9, though: Meg
I didn't stop at mile 9 like I have my previous two races. No photo ops. No paying respects. I knew Meg would be fine with that. Meg was all about crushing everything in her path to get to that finish line. Hills, the competition - whatever got in her way. So I ran by, gave her a little pat, and with a little extra pep, motored up that first hill.
I'd noticed Nicole looking at her watch and phone more frequently. I knew she'd been receving texts from our friend Tiffany at the finish line who'd been following our pace and offering her instructions. Likely, tell him to pick it up! The more Nicole looked at both, the more I knew SHE KNEW we were cutting it close.
Yet, still: "we're going to do this."
The boost I got from Meg didn't last long. By mile 10 I was fading fast. I did what I've done many times running these races alone. I started setting plan B goals.
Nicole had her music on. She turned to me and said "overcomer" is on. I'll likely always hold that as the most beautiful piece of encouragement ever. Nicole knows my heart for God. She shares it. She knew that song was ALL about leaning on God when there's nothing left. It was one more way of saying "we're going to do this." Get your heart set on God right now. We're overcoming this.
By mile 11 I was walking more frequently. The goal looked as jeopardized as it had looked all day. And Nicole simply looked at me and said, "We didn't come all this way not to get this thing. You can rest in 25 minutes. You can sleep after the finish line. But we're going to do this."
I didn't know how. I was out of breath. Feeling faint. My head could only look down at my feet. But for the next two miles that girl just kept saying we are going to do this. We are going to do this. And she willed my body to do things I couldn't begin to get it to do. She created fight in me when the only material she had to work with was quitting. Because that's what I wanted to do. That's what I was thinking.
Give it up Nicole. We got close enough. Close on a really challenging course.
I never said that. I couldn't. Not to her. She gave up her race. Her day. And she didn't consider it a sacrifice, but an opportunity. An opportunity to help someone else achieve a goal. I'm telling you, that was never lost on me at any point during the race. Nicole smiled and laughed - and danced with Jesus, as she put it - and was totally in her zone helping make someone else's day. That in itself made fighting on mandatory.
I did fight on and at my 12, I finally knew: we are going to do this. I could hear the crowd cheering runners home. I could see the final turn in the distance. And then there we were in that final turn. I saw our friends, and then the finish line, and then with more kick than I think I've ever had with 100 yards to go, I ran home.
I looked at my watch: 2:25:37.9 - my fastest half marathon by over 2 minutes. (Side note: Nicole ran it in 2:25:37.7 - she was NOT going to let me beat her!)
The finish line was emotional. I knew I'd completed what I set out to do. My 4 fastest races, 4 different distances, all in one month. 4 years ago I was here wondering what I was doing in the midst of runners. I wasn't one. I was a survivor, but I wasn't a runner.
Today I felt like a runner. But you know, within seconds the runner in me started reflecting on the person in me. The runner was wearing one cool medal (very cool medal), but the person was overwhelmed by the bonds from the weekend. Bonds formed because a woman died and people captivated by her spirit adopted it instead of letting it die with her. A spirit of loving and giving and putting someone else's finish line ahead of their own.
Nicole and I talked about God nudges on the course. I think the biggest nudge came after the finish line. That's when it hit me that we all bond so well because we know what each other's dreams are, we know what each other's fears are and we know what each other struggle with. We know because we care and we ask. And then we dive head first into being a part of it. We don't do things like Run the Bluegrass to run to finish lines, we do it to run to each other. Wherever we are; whatever we might need.
God gave us that answer a long time ago. Not to run with each other, but to love with each other. StilI, I have to say, running is a very cool place to figure that out. A beautiful place to experience it.
Running the Bluegrass for Respect
Sign up and run the virtual 5K from now until May 1, 2018. The cost is $20. The 5th Annual Run For Respect VIRTUAL 5K RUN is being held in conjunction with the 6th Annual Run For Respect 5K at Pontiac Township High School in Pontiac, Illinois which will be held on April 21. All proceeds from the Run For Respect benefit Illinois Special Olympics and Pontiac Township High School’s Peers In Action programs.
Achieving resilience in the face of failure, perseverance in the face of adversity, is a central part of any ultimate success.
I hung that medal on my medal board as a place holder. It would hold a spot for the real Houston Marathon medal I was committed to going back and earning in January of 2019. In my mind, supported by the spirit of that medal, I could now live with my failed attempt at marathon two. I could peacefully wait on a second crack at it.
Only, I had no idea how soon a second crack at it was coming.
Because, as God often does, especially through this running journey of mine, he weaved Houston and Anthony and some friends I truly love together in a marathon story in a most unpredictable setting. Little Rock, Arkansas.
I wasn't going all the way to Houston to attempt my second marathon and come home without a medal. After all, this one was for the people of Houston who are struggling in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. The purpose was too big; the support too strong. This journey had no room for failure. But in the end, that's exactly what I did. I failed.
"This journey had no room for failure. But in the end, that exactly what I did. I failed."
Norma refused to leave her home while the reparations were going on. One of the reasons she trusted St. Andrews to help her repair her home is they wouldn't take her from the only place she knew as home. To be honest, I thought her home looked chaotic and out of sorts. It was clear, though, Norma was filled with gratitude for her home and all everyone was
You run to where He needs you. Sometimes it's to a place of discomfort. Sometimes it's away from where we expected to be. The reality we often forget or don't understand is -we're running His race, not ours.
The pressure is compounded when you know you have to go and the body that's been so cooperative for months, like a stubborn dog, lies down and refuses to budge.
I knew from the moment it became clear I wasn't going to finish, shame wasn't going to be a part of my experience. My wife's text message set the stage for the response I'd receive from all of my friends at the finish line, and from all the friends and family who were following the journey on social media. She was the first to remind me the weekend was about far more than finishing a marathon. I think she also set the stage for a conversation I was about to have with God on that bus ride back to the finish line.
I was looking out the window as we drove through the streets of Houston. That's when I
So I'll be back in Houston next January. I'll be chasing down the finish line that eluded me. And between now and then I'll continue partnering with St. Andrews Church as they seek to heal their community. I hope to check in on Ms. Norma, the beautiful kids at Lawhon, and the other families St. Andrews will touch between now and then. And I hope to experience the finish line feeling so many of my friends experience this time around.
So stay tuned. Or maybe better yet, book a flight to Houston.
Running a marathon will help you dismiss an unhealthy myth. One perpetuated by the running devils while we're chilling in our comfort zones. The myth:
"I don't need anyone's help."
When I committed to run a marathon the first thing I discovered was a few dozen friends ready to run with me, suffer with me, pick me up when I was down, drag me out of my comfort zone when it sounded more exciting than my current training run. These are the friends who lifted me up as I struggled through the final miles of my first marathon.
When I decided to run a marathon, I think the encouragement the experienced marathoners offered me most often was "running a marathon is more mental than physical." Maybe they told me that to distract me from the reality that my 5'9", 230 pound physique wasn't the ideal starting point for a marathoner. Whatever the case, I had a hard time imagining anything but the physical challenge of running 26.2 miles in a single running experience.
More than likely you're going to run a marathon because you've been inspired by someone else to do it. Maybe this article will be your inspiration. Here's the promise I'll make you, though. No matter who or what inspires you, the minute you cross that finish line, and possibly well before then, you are the one who's going to be the inspiration.
You'll have friends or family reach out to you to tell you they've started running themselves. Or maybe they've simply started taking long walks after dinner. But they are going to see you making a healthy choice, they're going to see a discipline in you they long for themselves,
Life is like running.
If we have friends running alongside us, there's no fight we can't fight, no race we can't finish.
22 Too Many
Faith And Running
Flying Pig Marathon
Kiawah Island Marathon
Little Rock Marathon
Marine Corps Marathon
New Song Mission Possible 5k
Patrick Henry Half Marathon
Richmond Half Marathon
Run For Respect 5k
Running For Soles
Run The Bluegrass
The Georgia Jewel
The Hokie Half Marathon
Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon