It was 4:15 am when my alarm went off. I slowly pulled myself out of the hotel bed and shuffled over to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
Today was the day. After years of running and several intense months of targeted training, I was as prepared as possible for this race.
Or so I thought.
Two pairs of compression shorts, wool low-cut socks, my Brooks Launch running shoes with 1,200 miles already on them, and a bag full of gear.
Sara and I popped down three flights of stairs, jumped into her Ford Explorer, and drove the 30 miles to Camp Ouachita.
We thought we might get there a little earlier than we actually did. We were almost late. We quickly grabbed my running bib, checked in with the race officials, and went to find anybody we recognized in the darkness of the predawn.
A few minutes later the gun went off.
I found myself jogging down an asphalt road to the beginning of the trail head. I would stay on this trail in the middle of the Ozark Mountains for the next 100 miles.
As it began to run, I thought about what had brought me to this moment. I began to think about the lessons I had learned along the way.
Here are a few of those:
- Sometimes you gotta be pushed into doing the right thing. — I was at my favorite running store, Run In! in downtown Greenville, SC, when my buddies, John and Dane, told me about this race and prodded me into doing it. “You’ll totally crush this,” they told me. “Plus we’re doing it too…” That bit of encouragement was enough to inspire me to push my limits. Who are you inspiring?
- If you’re serious about winning, you seriously need to get help. — I’ve run close to 6,000 miles in the last few years. I know how to put one foot in front of the other. When I hired Zach Bitter, the fastest ultra-runner in the world, to coach me, my skills reached a completely new level — faster, stronger, more confident. It took me getting help to get better. What help do you need?
- You can’t do it all on your own. You need a strong team. — Sara stayed up almost 30 hours to make sure I had everything I needed during the race. Almost 300 race volunteers served us sandwiches, soup, and a non-stop stream of water bottles. My mom and dad watched our kids while we were away. It was the team around me that enabled me to do my best. What team do you need to make you better?
- To win you have to focus on what you’re doing right now and nothing else. — A lot of the race was a blur. The landscape around me was beautiful, but I was looking at the trail and my shoes. I wasn’t responding to emails, taking pictures, tweeting, or even wearing a shirt (for a lot of the time). I was just thinking about getting to the next aid station. What do you need to be focusing on?
- Big goals start with small steps and continue with steady progress. — You run 100 miles by striking the ground 176,500 times with one of your feet. One stride and then another and then another until you cover all 528,000 feet of the race. You have to get started with something small and then keep going until you achieving something epic. What small step do you need to take right now?
- You can’t stop fueling your desire to win. — I ate a dozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while the weather was warm. I switched to hot noodle soup when it got cold out. Even though I didn’t feel like eating I knew that if I didn’t force myself to keep eating that my body would shut down before the finish line. The same is true with inspiration. What motivation do you need to searching for?
- You have to tune out the pain if you want the reward. — It’s going to hurt at some point. You’re going to feel like you can’t take another step. You’re going to have to grit your teeth and choose to win. Not because you love pain — but because you want the reward bad enough. That’s what you are thinking about — winning. And so you keep pushing. What reward do you need to be thinking about?
- No one can make you stop but you can talk yourself out of it pretty quickly. — Self-doubt and negative mind chatter is the fastest way to give up before you reach the finish line. If you think “you can’t”, you won’t do what it takes. You’ll quit. And that quitting will impact the rest of your life . You’ll regret for the rest of your life that you didn’t try harder. What new attitude do you need?
- Great friends challenge you to be your best. — Almost 70 miles into my run I waited for the runner behind me to catch up. I was tired of running by myself and wanted some conversation. That turned into more than 5 hours of friendship. When you see the guy beside you running through the pain it gives you the courage to do it yourself. What new friends do you need in your life?
- Just because you win doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt. — I was shaking so badly after I crossed the finish line that Sara wasn’t sure how to get me back to the car. My legs wouldn’t work. The next morning I had to walk backwards to get down the stairs. For the next 24 hours after that I had trouble walking at all. Even simple human tasks were a blast of pain. It took about 3 days to finally recover. What do you need to recover from?
- Just because you win doesn’t mean you can stop wanting to win. — This race is over — 100 miles in the books. I finished 4th place overall. But there is always another race — another challenge. Another reason to want to win. That desire and commitment to win is a flame that you have to keep burning. It is what is keeping you alive. What do you need to do to fuel your desire to win?
The sun came out and went back down while I was still running. It went from cold to warm to hot and back cold again — and I was still on that same trail in the middle of the Ozark Mountains.
It was 1:18AM the next morning when I reached the final safety station.
“Number 126 coming to the finish line”, was what I heard the operator say into his walkie talkie. He looked at me and Nick and gestured toward the trail: “You have 2.6 miles to go, and you’re there.”
And so I began to run a little bit faster. Trying to beat the clock. Part of a mile by part of a mile.
Soon, in the near distance, I could hear music.
They knew we were coming. Sara was there. The race director was there. The finish line was there.
At 1:29 AM, just 19 hours 29 minutes 21 seconds after I started, I finished running 100 miles.
I’m still not finished learning these lessons.
By the way, I didn’t stop running 100 miles races. In fact, almost 19,000 miles later, I brought my video team along to shoot a documentary of a recent record-breaking ultramarathon. take a look behind the scenes at what it takes to accomplish the impossible.