When I run here in Colorado I pass an awful lot of Aspen tree's. When I run by these tree's I think about a few things. They certainly are beautiful and strong, resilient even, and yet they have one of the most incredible root structures of any plant on the planet. Aspen Trees grow into a huge colony, after having started from a single seedling and spreading by means of root suckers. Aspen are also know to clone themselves. Basically if you cut a tree down and leave a stump, the damaged Aspen will send a message down to the root system to send up a new sprout which is a clone of the sprout that was just cut. Where the hell am I going with this?? Lets back up to the part where I mentioned a colony that started from a single seed.. and apply this to ultra-running.
Gordy Ainsleigh is known by many as the first person to have run the 100 miles comprising the Tevas Cup horse race (1974), which would later become the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. John F. Kennedy himself challenged americans to take a 50 mile hike and in turn, he inspired a few runners to run 50 miles (1963), which later turned into America's oldest Ultra (The JFK 50 Miler). I guess when it comes to Ultra-Running as we know it here in America, these two events make up the initial "root system" that has sent up the "sprouts" of our sport. Our colony has grown greatly over the years; especially recently where I feel that new root systems have emerged. First in 2006 when Dean "Karno" Karnazes released his New York Time Bestseller Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner. Second in 2009 when Christopher McDougall released his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.
However for this post, I'd like to focus more on my root system. When I run past these Aspen, I think about myself as the single seedling with a root system of characters that have helped me develop into the runner I've become. Without this group of people, I don't think I'd be getting ready to toe the line of my 2nd Leadville 100, this time with my sights set solely on finishing the race that has become my white whale. All the people I'll list below are the one's I'll take with me on this journey as I remember how I got here and who's helped me along the way. Before I begin, I'll admit that part of what has inspired me to write this post is the thought that so many of us start something in our lives and forget how we got there, who inspired us, who pushed us who helped transform us. This post, in essence, is my thank you to those who have helped mold me over the last 6 years as a runner. Thank you...
1.) Tim Seaver, Ted "Cave Dog" Keiser and The Fitch Brothers
I vividly remember driving to hike New Hampshire's "Wildcat Range" when I said to Sarah, "I wonder if anyone has ever run these mountains the fastest. Like.. all 48.. a speed record." In my research I found out about the Fitch Brothers of the 1970's, "Cave Dog" doing it in 2002 and Tim Seaver doing it in 2003. I was intrigued, and after interviewing all of them, the term "ultra-marathon" had been ironed into my head. The more research I did on "Cave Dog", the more I was amazed by the things he'd done. He held the speed record for NH's 48, The Long Trail, New York's ADK46ers, Colorado's 14ers... he'd even finished the famed Barkley Marathons. It was Tim Seaver who I asked, "What do you have to do to be an ultra-runner," to which he replied, "Stubborn and able to put up with a lot of discomfort." With those words in my mind as I drove him from his house I said, "That's what I wanna do next.."
2.) Sarah Lacroix
"What... run 100 miles?!" That was what Sarah answered when I said "That's what I wanna do next.." This would be the first and only time in all the years that I've been doing this that she's had even an ounce of doubt cross her lips on this incredible journey. I knew I was marrying the right women, when after we set our wedding date, I told her I had gotten into the Western States 100 finally and it would be during the weekend of her honeymoon. Her quick reply was.. "Well I guess we're going to California for a part of our honeymoon." She said it with a smile and did one fabulous job crewing me at that race. No-one else crews quite like her, no one else supports my habit quite like her. As much as I'd like to think that I do all the work, and as much as I admit that this sport is incredibly self-fish, I know that I couldn't have done any of this without her support and help.
3.) Corrin Berg
I met Andy after we started brain storming for the first ever Pittsfield Peaks ultra-marathon in Pittsfield, VT. Our mutual friend, Joe Desena, is the man who put us in contact. As we started talking and sharing stories, Andy asked me to travel to Illinois to run his race in Pekin known as the McNaughton Park 100. I was hoping for the Vermont 100 to be my first race, but he convinced me to make Illinois my first. Andy understood me, he challenged me, he supported me. I'll never forget my first 100. How hard I trained and great I felt early on. How quickly I felt miserable.. and then quitting after 70 miles. But Andy.. Andy never accepted my quitting as an option and left me in the race. He woke me up 4 hours later and threw a pair of socks at me and told me to "get my ass out there." I rose up out of the ashes and ran my fastest 50K split of my life to that point. I finished my first 100 miler and I'll never forget the words he spoke into the sound-system as I sauntered down through the final stretch. He was the first person to acknowledge that I was the "real deal." Something he did many many times again as I continued to run in Andy's races in both Illinois and Vermont.
Hans and I met through a twist of fate. Jeff and I online. Hans was intrigued by my dreams of completing a few journey runs in New Hampshire and out on our various expeditions, he told me about races like the JFK 50 (we went together) and he later came with me to the McNaughton Park 100 so he could run, and finish, the 150 Miler. It was Hans who turned me on to the Massanutten 100 and told me I'd run it great thanks to my love affair with rock hopping. I always viewed Hans as a bit "out there," but his enthusiasm for this sport and his ability to perform.. inspired me. The guy was a real life Forrest Gump, having run across country on foot and numerous other times by bike. He was the ultimate "real life" endurance athlete to me. Jeff and I met at the Disney Marathon in Florida. We ran the half marathon together and then he treated me to a round of golf. A truly giving soul, when he heard I was running my first 100 in Illinois, he volunteered to sign up, drove up from Arkansas and run the thing with me. When I quit, he quit. When I told him I was heading back out, even though his car was packed up for a drive back to Ark.. he started running again with me. We finished together and now we share tattoos. We haven't stayed in contact as much as I like but.. when we do see each other we pick up right where we left off. Jeff is always there when I need him, to push, or pull.. he's inspired me.
I met Nate in late 2007 off of the running forum kickrunners.com; and we started training together and running Fat Ass events together. But it was in early 2008 when I posted my plan to run across New Hampshire, 125 miles, and he replied that he'd join me. Something I didn't expect anyone today. I'll fully admit that our friendship has had it's ups and downs.. perhaps a product of our competitive natures. Regardless, I've always looked at Nate as the runner I always wanted/want to be. A man who juggles the labor of his own business, the love and attention of/to his wife and kids, his ability to train and push himself and consistently become a better runner. In the years I ran with Nate back East, he always pushed me, unintentionally, to be better. Hell.. I'll even go as far to say that it was him that first uttered the term "Human Potential." I could have an entire post on how Nathan has influenced me both as a runner and a man.. so I'll just cut it short by saying that in all the years I've been doing this, since I first brought up the notion of running long in 2004, nobody has been as instrumental in my development as Nathan. Nobodies been as fun either..
7.) Team Robert
Speaking of fun. When I first starting running and horsing around with Team Robert; I didn't full understand just how long they'd been in this sport. Josh, the 2nd generation of Robert Ultra-Running, has been running Ultra's for 12+ years. During a time when I was starting to let Ultra-running and the culture get too serious.. it was this team of family and friends who reminded me that this is supposed to be fun. Josh especially, who's always been there to offer some off-the-cuff banter and some incredible stories in our travels to Massanutten, The Barkley and whatever other crazy adventure I'd created out East. I felt like I could always count on these guys for their support, their friendship and their "screw it" attitude when it came to the seriousness of these vast distances. By far, some of the folks I miss the most after having moved out West and doubt they'll ever make it back here... I continue to stay in contact with this gang as a way to remind myself that yes, this is in fact fun.
As you can see, there's a long cast of characters that have helped create the root system of what has become one magical ride. To be honest, I think about many if not all of these folks on all of my long runs and during races. They push me, they remind me, even if we no longer talk. I have a great amount of respect for all of them and they're all folks I won't soon forget because of that respect. I do think there are many in this sport who have become so focused on themselves, that they've forgotten to recognize those who have pushed and inspired them. This is a sad reality because without a root system, you wilt, and it'll be a sad day when these folks do. Perhaps that's why so many of the popular runners who were huge on the UR scene when I first started, have withered away into nothing more then a distant memory. Now it's time to see, if they clone.