In January of 2021 I celebrated making it a full year without alcohol. In April of this year I celebrated 1 full year of being vegan. Becoming a plant-based athlete was not something that I set out to do when I gave up alcohol over two years ago it just kind of happened.
It has now been 28 months since I last had a drink of alcohol. I would like to say that the transition to vegan was just as easy, but it was not. Traveling as a vegan has been a challenge. I also don’t want friends/family to have to cater to my restrictive diet. There have also been some occasions where I was unaware of a food that contained animal products in it that I consumed. That being said I can count on one hand the number of times I did not have a plant-based meal. I have learned quite a bit over the past year and I have been able to find the foods that my body responds the best to. I am definitely not the person to sit here and try to convince everyone that they should go on a plant-based diet. I am not a registered dietician. It was not too long ago where I made fun of vegans and swore that I would never do something like that. Hopefully those words are plant-based because I have been eating them every day for the past year.
I have lost 50 pounds of body weight since I started this journey. I am not sure how many are from being plant-based, I am sure that dropping alcohol, sodas, and fast-food were big contributors to the weight loss as well. I used to take allergy medicine every night and morning. In the last year I have taken allergy medicine on four occasions, but I no longer need to take anything to function without sneezing all day long. I used to take antacids 3-4 times a day and did my best to avoid coffee or spicy foods late at night. I can now say that I have not taken any antacids in over a year and now I can eat jalapeños right before bedtime and I experience zero heartburn. I have had no heartburn in over a year! I have had eczema one and off for most of my life. I have not had eczema in over a year which may not be related to being plant-based, it could simply be just one of the longer periods that it chooses to stay away.
As a runner I have found that my recovery time after a long run has decreased significantly. I recall one Saturday not long after moving to Amarillo exploring the town with a 29 mile run around the city. I remember getting up after resting for an hour and feeling like I could knock out another long run if I wanted. This is pretty consistent with every training run I do.
The most exciting change for me since going vegan would be the return of my energy! In college (the first time) I worked 40 hours a week, coached club volleyball, played on the men’s club volleyball team, and worked another part time job. When I was diagnosed with MS I lost my energy. I pretended from time to time I was okay, but I used a steady stream of energy drinks just to make it through my day at work. I got to the point where at the end of a nine hour day at work I would go home and be dead to the world. Caffeine stopped working, I just became a zombie. In the past year fatigue has not been a problem for me. I love the fact that now I can put in a full day of work and still find the energy to run for an hour or two. I would like to say my wallet is thankful for not having to purchase tons of energy drinks, but running shoes are not cheap either.
The forecast for the day was in the mid 80s but I sat there my entire body shaking as the adrenaline high I had been on the past three hours started to dissipate. With my head in my hands and elbows resting on my knees I looked down at racing bib 325 as the bridge from Cody Johnsons song “The Only One I Know” played along with the ringing in my ears.
Thursday night I packed up everything I needed for a trail race on Saturday. I even spent time cooking potatoes which would be a big part of my fuel plan for the 32 miles I would be taking on Saturday. I had not attempted a race since my non attempt at the Brazos Bend 100. In fact, I was not running much at all. I found an April race in Arizona that caught my interest so I signed up for it. I caught Covid-19 and my training slowed down even more. I signed up for the 50K race this weekend to force myself back into training mode. It worked, kind of.
Race checkin was at 6:30am with a start time of 8:30. I grabbed my race bib with the number 325 on it. I had selected that number because it is the area code to the place I first fell in love with trail running! I miss running with my friends from San Angelo!
Sitting in the cab of my truck I mixed up a bottle of tailwind to fuel my run. I attached the racing bib to my shorts, applied Squirrels Nut Butter to a few areas to prevent chafing, and I laced up my trail shoes. I decided to bring a lightweight pullover for the start of the race. I knew there would be a nice cool breeze coming in off of the lake most of the race. I knew that if it got too hot after the first 13 miles I could always send it back in my drop bag.
I made my way to the starting line and chatted with the other runners standing around. The 50k and the marathon runners would be starting at the same time. The race director informed us that the first six and a half miles and the last 6 and half miles had the most elevation changes. I had an idea there would be lots of climbing when I signed up, just did not dig into it too much because I like surprises when I run.
The race started with two small loops on the park road before we got out onto the trails. Immediately after we got onto the trails the hills began! I kept my pace slower trying not to race anybody. I wanted to stick to my race plan. A few people passed me up and then I eventually caught up to one of the guys and we ended up running for many miles together. We talked about running while we were running. Doesn’t get much better than that in my book!
The trials were awesome! I ran over big rocks, roots, dirt, small rocks, logs, and even had to do a little climbing at a few spots. I would not say that it was super technical but there was enough changes that keeping my eyes up ahead was very important. The majority of the trails were under a canopy of trees and every now and then I could see the sun shining through. At around mile 7 I left the trees and entered an open area which led down to the lake and I ran through a sandy beach area.
After leaving the beach area I made my way back to the canopy of trees. The elevation began changing again and there were a few small creek crossings along the way. I felt really good as I pressed along. I felt like I could run all day long.
Somewhere after mile 11 the trail flattened out again and I was running on hard packed dirt. This is the part of the race that I have been thinking about for the past 12 days. I have been trying my best to piece it all together but to be honest I don’t know exactly what happened. What I do know is that I was running and then I landed on my head and the lights went out.
The next thing I remember is being on my knees with my arms flat on the ground wrapped around my head. I looked to my left and I saw a small root sticking straight up out of the ground. I got to my feet and started walking. I grabbed my bottle of tailwind and got a drink as I walked along. I put the bottle away and that was when I realized I did not have a clue what had happened. I felt my head but it did not feel like I had a bump on it. I did not feel nauseous. My ears were ringing and I was starting to get a mild headache but I kept on walking. I assume that my shoe caught a tree root under the dirt and I tripped but I really have no idea. For all I know Will Smith came up behind me and knocked me out.
I thought about starting up a light jog when another runner passed by me coming in the opposite direction. He looked at his watch and told me I was a mile and a quarter from the turnaround. I thanked him and decided to continue walking the next mile and re-evaluate my situation at the aid station there.
I came to a spot on the trail with no marker. I first kept straight, nothing. I turned around and went to the right which led down to the lake. That was wrong too. Another runner caught up to me as I was walking back up from the lake and tried the same thing. When we got up to the top someone from the aid station was waiting at the crossroad and pointed out a pink ribbon hanging in some trees which led 200 yards to the aid station. Apparently we were not the only ones to miss this ribbon.
I sat down in a chair at the aid station and I finished off the rest of my tailwind. They did not have a medic at the aid station but I explained what happened to the crew there. All I wanted to do was get up out of the chair and finish the race but I knew that I wouldn’t though. My head is hurting, my ears are ringing, Cody Johnson is singing about how he’d rather die than get caught crying, so I’m just smilin’ wear my hat down low…. I’m not a bull rider. I’m a trail runner and that moment I pulled my white MS Run the US hat down low. I might have had a few tears or maybe not only my hat and I know, but if I did they were not about any physical pain. Just the frustration of not being able to finish the race. It felt a lot like not making it to the starting line at the Brazos Bend 100 in December.
My mom reads my blog so now she can know that I am adventurous but I am also smart enough to know not to run with a head injury. The crew at the aid station was kind enough to drive me back to the starting line. The race director called an ambulance (for liability reasons) even though I did not want one. My vitals looked great! The medic was even impressed with my time to the 13 mile mark for that trail.
Full disclosure it took me a while to write this because I had 11 days of an annoying mild headache so I stayed of my computer as much as I could. I did go see a doctor and have a CT scan after getting back to Amarillo which revealed no brain bleeding. My headache has left me completely and I hope to put in a few miles over the next weekend. I will reevaluate with my doctor next week and we will decide together if I will be able to run the 91K I have scheduled at the end of the month.
The day after my segment of the relay ended I woke up thinking ….Okay….now what? I had spent the entire year training and thinking about running from Ohio to Pennsylvania and now it was over. I got back home and started running more with the San Angelo Road Lizards. We ran trails, roads, and just sat around sharing stories about running. I love being a part of that community!
I was also constantly searching for something to replicate the feelings I had while running segment 17. I even ran from San Angelo to Miles one day just to run somewhere new. I missed the 18 wheelers trying to knock my hat off as they flew past me. I missed the odd looks I got from people looking at me through their windshield as they passed by. Most of all I missed the adventure of starting in one spot each day not knowing what was ahead of me and ending somewhere completely new each day. I had a 100 mile race coming up in December and even though it was a six loop course I hoped that I would be able to find some of those same MS Run the US feelings amongst the alligators of the Brazos Bend State Park.
It was very humid even for Houston in December and there was a heavy fog that hung over the hotel parking lot as I waited for the police department to arrive. Needless to say, I did not get to attempt the Brazos Bend 100 race because of reasons that were out of my control. Normally I am the resourceful type person that figures out a way to make things happen, but that morning as I sat down on the curb I had nothing. The majority of my days since signing up for the race in July had been spent dreaming about running my first 100 mile race. I don’t typically subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason though. I believe that sometimes bad things just happen. It was definitely not a great day, but I still don’t hold a grudge against the person or persons responsible for it because it is my choice to decide how I remember that day. I had recently relocated from San Angelo to Amarillo and started a new job. The setback that day was a gift of some quiet time to slow down and reflect over all of the running I had done over the past year.
Eventually I started thinking about what it would have been like to have run the Brazos Bend 100. Had I trained enough for the race? Would my achilles have failed me again? I even wondered if finishing the race would have been enough to replace the missing adventure in my life, or would it have left me wanting more. I was certain that I would have needed an even bigger challenge to follow it up with had I completed the race. I spent much of that day thinking of what my next year of running would look like. I thought about how the Brazos Bend was 6 loops of the same trail and how my soul longed to explore new places. I also happened to be reading “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” that week as well. The stories of mountain trail races with crazy elevation changes, mud, snow, water crossings and switchbacks had found a home in what I like to call the “Challenge Accepted” part of my brain. It is not lost on me how much the hills of Ohio and Pennsylvania kicked my butt this past year and how many new curse words my right achilles taught me as it screamed at me with each step I took. That’s what makes it a challenge though. That’s what makes me smile. Thats why in 2022 I will be running mountain trail races.
I changed up my training the second week of December to start preparing for massive elevation gains next year. I am all in on the mountains in 2022! I do not have the luxury of close trails to run like I did in San Angelo now that I am in Amarillo. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is not too far of a drive from me and I can hit some trails there for training runs. I am closer to the mountains of Colorado now so I plan on getting some elevation training runs there when I am able as well. I have been researching point-to-point trail races in the mountains and my first race in 2022 is scheduled for the end of April. I have a date that my body needs to be ready so I am in full training mode right now! I also have another running adventure that I will be doing here in the Panhandle of Texas next year that I will write about when it happens! I’m still deciding on races to finish out the 2022 calendar with, but it is already looking to be an adventurous year for me and I can’t wait to share the journey with you!
I started doing math this week to figure out how many miles I would need to average the last 5 days of December to end the year with a nice even number of 1400 miles. I smiled as I realized how big of a challenge it would be with my busy schedule to get the last 39 miles in. Then I remembered that I had a different training plan for the next year and I needed to stay with it. I started writing this post with 1361 miles for the year. My original goal was 1200 miles, an average of 100 miles each month. I definitely exceeded my goal and I know that I will not end this year with 1361 miles either. I decided that I am going to do something I have never done before. I am going to start today’s training session in 2021 and run my way into 2022!
“To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.” ― Jim Valvano
We loaded into the car and headed out to the final starting point of my segment. I reflected over all of the emotions from the day before. I thought about how starting at my lowest point and how messages from my team mates changed the entire day. I knew then I would make all of my miles without help on my final day, but as we drove further on thoughts of doubt made their way into my brain. I did my best to shut them out while I silently wondered if the road crew was thinking they would need to help me with my miles today. Those voices of doubt were silenced as I began running into one of the most beautiful sunrises I had ever seen. I wanted nothing more than to share it with everyone so I stopped and took a picture. I knew that the picture would not be the same as being here in the moment. Just like retelling of each days out running the roads its not the same as being out here. One of my favorite books is “North” by Scott Jurek which is his account of his FKT of the Appalachian Trail. There are pictures in his book and he does an amazing job of describing each day, but I am certain it is not the same as being out there. What his book did for me was leave an open space for my imagination to fill in the gaps of what that experience was like. I hope that my storytelling of segment 17 has left room for your own mind to create its own version of what it was like. I have many reasons that I took this adventure and one of those reasons was to honor those who have inspired me to do big things.
I found myself walking a little more today but this time it wasn’t from the pain in my right achilles and shin that was slowing me down. It had taken me five days to figure it out but I had learned how to run through the pain. Today was the last day of my 167 mile adventure. I was taking in every single minute left of this adventure like my skin soaking in the hot August Pennsylvania sun. I knew that the memories I was making would stay with me longer than the burn the sun was leaving on my skin.
The weather was cool most of the morning and there were times that I wished that I had put on a long sleeve shirt. The landscape seemed like it changed more on day 6 than any of the previous days which kept my mind off of being cold. I can only remember the names of two roads that I ran on my entire segment both of which were on my final day. The first one was Old Town Road which put that song on my brain. Definitely not my favorite song in the world but I have heard it enough that I knew it. I do not have to have headphones when I run because I hours worth of songs stored in my iBrain account. Even the ones that I don’t particularly care for.
With each step I took I knew that my adventure drew closer to an end. I was not to the point of counting down miles yet, but I knew how many more times I would see the road crew before I got to the finish. I was closing in on my second to last stop when I heard a gun go off. I felt nothing and I heard nothing hit in my vicinity and then it went off again with the same result. Im not sure why someone shooting in the country caught me by surprise on that Saturday afternoon because that is a common occurrence in Texas. I had been thinking about stopping for a restroom break and I was wearing an orange shirt but I felt like I should maybe get another mile down the road before I decided to stop.
I knew I was closing in on Brookville when a road sign told me that it was 5 miles away. I stopped and posted a picture of the sign on social media to let people know that I was getting close. Most of the day had already been emotional as I reflected over days one through five. I passed this sign and started thinking about how reading “Born to Run” set me on a path that took me from San Angelo, Texas to Brookville, Pennsylvania. I thought of the day I got my invite to join the team and how quickly I respond with my trademark “challenge accepted”!! The training runs in the rare Texas snow and the hot dry triple digit summer days were all part of the journey to get here. I thought of the DNF on a 60k trail run a month earlier and how it helped prepare me for the days that I needed help to finish my miles. The country side turned into a city and sidewalks appeared before me again. I shared the sidewalks with other people walking around in downtown Brookville. It seemed like forever since I ran and saw other people out and about. I realize the cars that passed me along the road had people in them but I only started to see them as just other objects I passes along the way. These humans that I passed probably assumed I was some guy out for a short run around town as I passed them by. I said “Hi” to everyone as though I was greeting guests walking through my produce department. I smiled to myself and wondered what they would think if they only knew where I had started my run that morning, or where I had started six mornings ago.
I mentioned earlier that I remembered the names of two roads from my segment. The second that I remember is water plant road. I remember this one because it was the final turn of my 167 mile journey. There are moments in my life that no matter how much time passes by when I play it back the emotions hit me just as hard as they did the first time. This was one of those moments. I had been running down Main Street looking for water plant road knowing that it would be my last road to run on. I was hoping that my turn was much further ahead of me but as I left the downtown area there it was. I remember zero pain and feeling as though I was running on clouds as I made my way down the quiet tree covered road to my finish line. I had tears streaming down my face as I ran. I was thankful for wearing shades so that the camera waiting at the end would not capture my tears. I was about a quarter of a mile from the finish line when I rolled my right ankle and I started laughing as I thought to myself how I had gone from Ohio to Pennsylvania only rolling it once. I thought of Jimmy Valvano’s ESPY’s speech and the 3 things that he said we should do every day. “If you laugh, think and cry that’s a heck of a day”. I was experiencing all three of those things at the exact same time. That was definitely one heck of a moment for me that I will never forget!
I emerged from the canopy of trees that surrounded me my last mile and I jumped up onto a sidewalk that took me the rest of the way to North Fork Redbank Creek where segment 17 ended. I can not imagine a more beautiful spot for my run to end. I passed underneath the archway and I stopped running.
I have seen“Forrest Gump” many times and started thinking of the moment when he just stopped running. I had been running for six days and now my body was used to it. It is an odd thing to experience. I don’t know how to explain it, but this was my Forrest Gump moment. It was just like the movie, I just stopped. I sat down on a bench next to the sidewalk and I took my shoes off. I walked into the cold creek water and sat down on some rocks. I continued my reflective state of mind as I watched the minnows swim around my feet in the water. I thought of the people that had inspired me to do big things. I hoped that I had honored them by stepping out of my comfort zone and pushing myself to do something that I once never thought possible. I said I would never run a marathon. It was just starting to sink in on what I had accomplished the past 6 days.
If you have been following my story you have seen me at my best and worst. You have witnessed my insecurities, victories, and at the hopefully you smiled a time or two. I hope that in some way I have made it easier for others living with Multiple Sclerosis to share their own story. If you have been inspired by my story to get out of your own comfort zone and find out what your body is truly capable of then I know I have honored those who paved the broken the broken road for me. My journey is not over. I have only begun to experience what it means to truly live each day to its fullest.
I sat alone in the back seat of the car while the road crew was inside the store getting supplies for the day ahead. I took out my phone and found several notifications on GroupMe app. from my MS Run the US teammates. I was overcome with emotion as I read each persons encouraging message to me. Several told me that they would be running miles with me when they ran that day. I believe that moment in time changed everything for me.
I started the day off with a fast walk with some easy jogging mixed in. My right foot was still not doing well but I was determined to make this day better than the last. I was slowly making progress. I took a small break from the road while Haley and Malcom knocked out some miles for me that morning as well.
After my break from running I took off on the road again this time and something was different. I made it a quarter of a mile without having to walk. This road I was on had tons of landmarks along the way. I started focusing on each sign, telephone pole, or creek crossing along the way. I would make it to one and then keep going with a goal of making it to the next one. I repeated this over and over until I had made it a mile without having to walk. I couldn’t remember the last time I had run over a mile without stopping. I continued on until I found myself on a bridge overlooking the water. I stopped not because I needed to but because I wanted to take some pictures. I promised my good friend Tanis I would take some pictures from my segment and this one was definitely going to be one for her!
I ran along across the bridge to the road crew, grabbed a snack and took off again. What seemed to be a flat route through town quickly changed when the road took me into the woods. What started as a paved road through the woods gradually turned into an insane .92 of a mile climb up a very steep hill. The road curved to the left and right making me believe that the top was just around the corner but it wasn’t. Just more elevation. I found myself getting irritated at the hill for some reason. Maybe I was mad because I had just learned to run again and the hill was forcing me to walk. I don’t know.
About half way up the hill I stepped off the road for a restroom break and I questioned myself as to why I was irritated with this hill so much. This hill was here long before I was. It did nothing to me. I was the one using this path to get across the US. It was then that I remembered my mission. I had gotten so lost in my injuries that I had forgotten why I was here. I’m here because I want to stop MS. I am here because I love running. I am getting to spend an entire week outdoors exploring places I have never been. My teammates helped me start to remember when they sent me messages that morning.
I finished my climb to the top of that hill and it opened up to the highway. A little further down I found the road crew. I was fired up and ready to go! It was one of those moments where you’re driving along in your truck, your favorite song comes on, you drop the windows, and punch the accelerator! I grabbed some food and I took off running. I’m not sure what Malcom and Haley were thinking of me but I am certain they noticed a change in me.
Not long down the road I saw a sign telling me that there was a scenic overlook up ahead. I was moving at a decent pace and thought for a second that maybe I should not stop and check it out. Ultimately the real question was why would I not stop? When will I have the opportunity to check this out again?
I stopped took some pictures and read the words on a plaque at the overlook. “You haven’t lived until you’ve looked down on a hawk.” In memory of Richard P. Thomson. Richard Thomson died in a hang gliding accident at that very spot. I can only imagine the adrenaline rush one would get from going over that overlook in a hang glider. I wouldn’t know his story if I had not accepted this 167 mile challenge and Im willing to bet you didn’t either until you read it here.
The sun had was shining bright and I could feel its warmth on my face and arms as I pressed on through the Pennsylvania countryside. I was also quite aware of the fact that I was smiling again even through the pain. I arrived into a small town and found a sidewalk to run on. I passed a house that had at least 15 dogs in the back yard and they all went crazy cheering me on. On the other side of the house there was a man who I am assumed was the homeowner working on the yard. We greeted each other and he just smiled as the dogs followed me along to the end of the fence. I made one more crew stop to refuel and for the final push of the day.
I arrived at the my stopping place for the day a little bit before the road crew did. They had picked up some food so that we could eat dinner before heading on to our new campground for the night. I sat down underneath the shade of a tree on the side of the road and reflected over the day. I still could not believe how everything changed for me after climbing that one mile hill, but I was thankful for it. I had pushed my body to the point I wondered if I would ever be able to run again. I could barely move my right foot up or down but somehow I was running again. The human body is so amazing though. I really don’t know how to explain how everything changed for me that day, but I do know that it started with an amazing group of teammates supporting me from all over the US! By the time the road crew pulled up next to me on the side of the road I knew deep down inside that I would be able to complete all of the miles on the final day of segment 17.
Today was the first day that I woke up and felt no improvement with my right foot. Most mornings I hurt but I could at least see some improvement after a full night of rest. Ice bath, dinner, and a great night of sleep did not seem to make a difference for me at all.
The sun was just starting to make its presence known and the cool Pennsylvania morning wrapped it’s self around me as I stepped out of the RV. I walked as easily as I could careful not to put too much weight on my right foot. Once inside the car I laced up my shoes as I wondered silently to myself how I was going to knock out 26 miles. I was thankful for the early morning start because my right Achilles told me that it was going to be a long day. I began my morning run after a one mile warm up walk. My right foot was killing me and my left knee only hurt enough to remind me that it could get worse whenever it wanted to.
I arrived at a small town and found a sidewalk to run on which reminded me of many hours I spent running the ones in San Angelo. Up ahead of me I saw a couple people running the same direction that I was going. Keep in mind I can barely move my right foot and I am not sure what I was doing even really resembled running, but I had this desire to catch up to them. I don’t know if it was just longing to run with friends or the competitor in me coming out but that is what I felt like doing. I didn’t catch up to them though. I didn’t even make an effort to do so. Just felt like I should mention that my brain wanted me to.
As I made my way into town I realized it was much bigger than I had first thought. I found much more traffic and realized the need to make a pit stop. Malcom gave me directions to where we would meet with a gas station I could stop at along the route. I never found the gas station and had to cross a very busy intersection along the way. Not typically a problem for me when my run does not mimic a zombie walk. I made it across though, met up with the road crew, and found another gas station to stop at.
At this point my urine had turned dark for the second day in a row. This was the earliest in the day that it had happened and I was concerned. I pushed on to the next stop and this is where it all went south for me. I don’t really remember much about those few miles except for a decent hill that took me to the car and having to go to the bathroom less than a half mile from my last stop. I recall sitting down in the grass next to the car and just defeated. I realized going up the hill I was getting lightheaded and just feeling like everything was off for me. This is also most likely the reason that I never saw the gas station I was supposed to stop at earlier. I got into the car, Malcom and Haley knocked out some miles for me while I hydrated and ate some food.
I was able to get back on the road but I wasn’t running. I was walking. Walking at a pace as fast as I could manage so we wouldn’t be out on the road all day long. I had to go to the bathroom again. We found a church and went there. My urine was still dark but not near as dark as it had been so I felt better about that. Haley and Ashley discussed my situation and determined it would be best for me to take a 5 hour break from the road to get rehydrated. Somehow we figured out that my salt intake was low. We attacked the salt and managed it better. I did not have another hydration issue the rest of the segment. Lesson learned.
I started up the second half of my day walking. As I walked along I increased my walk pace and eventually began to shuffle/run a little. I made sure to take in the countryside views as I moved along segment 17. I got more help with my daily miles from Malcom and Haley. On a long stretch of a quiet country road (except for a dog barking at me) with zero traffic I began to really run. Not fast. Not pretty, but I was running. It didn’t last very long but it felt good to run again.
I made a left turn onto a major road and was met by the biggest hill yet. I didn’t run the hill. I walked it. It was one of those hills that just kept going. Every time I thought I was close to the top it would continue to rise. The hill took a lot out of me but I did manage to make it to the top.
I arrived at the coolest bridge I crossed on my entire segment. The views of the town were pretty cool and I took some photos as I walked across. While I was walking I got passed by a guy who was running. I remembered a time when I could run like that (four days ago to be exact ). I crossed the bridge and made my way into a downtown area. I was able to jog a little bit but that ended when I reached a downhill slope and my right foot let me know that it was just done for the day. I hobbled my way down the hill where the road crew was waiting for me.
I was highly disappointed with how I performed that day. I was thankful that we figured out my hydration issues and that I was able to knock out miles as well. My hope was that an ice bath and some medication would help me recover enough for day 5 to be better.
I am a very optimistic person. On opening day I still believe that the Texas Rangers can go 162-0. I also believe that one day I will run Western States Endurance Run. For some reason when I went to bed at the end of day number 2 I had this belief that when I woke up the next morning my left knee and right foot would be better.
It was another cool morning as I loaded my gear into the car. I chose not to put my running shoes on until we got to my starting point because in my mind an extra 20 minutes without them on would help me later in the day. I focused on the miles ahead of me as we drove along.
I got out of the car when we arrived at a field of corn and took my hoodie off determined to make this a better day than the last one. I did not have long sleeves on today and the traffic was pretty heavy so I knew that with each vehicle that passed I would get chilled. This is the part of the high school basketball player that grew up learning not to show weakness. Pain is temporary, victory is everything. I could go on and on with all of the phrases we used to motivate us to win. I am not certain how the miles of hills in front of me were supposed to be intimidated by me not wearing long sleeves today but that was the game plan! I started off with a one mile warm up walk but after about a half of a mile I started running. Not fast and definitely not pretty. I am not certain that I could even call it running. I did know that I was moving a little faster than my speed walking pace though, so I felt good about that.
I arrived at the first stop of the day and I think Malcom and Haley were both surprised to see me running already, or possibly just surprised at what my running looked like. I didn’t ask, I was just ready to keep moving. The traffic stayed heavier that morning as I pressed on mixing some running and walking, anything to just keep my body moving. I felt like I was starting to get into a pretty good rhythm as I entered a bridge. I recall just how beautiful the view was as I ran across a bridge, and there it was. Up ahead on my right was a sign that said WELCOME TO PENNSYLVANIA in all capital letters. I had completely forgot that I would be crossing a state line at some point in my 167 mile journey. I stopped because I needed to take a picture. I have driven over state lines hundreds of times in my life, had my picture taken by my parents many times in front of those signs on family vacations. Not once had I run across a state line. This was pretty cool. I am not a selfie person, so trying to take my own picture in front of the sign was not going well. About that time Malcom and Haley drove up and they took some pictures of me in front of the sign.
For some reason this acomplisment fueled me as I continued my run into Pennsylvania. State lines do not mean that the topography of the state will completely change. I did not expect the hills to go away, maybe I optimistically thought they would stay the same though? By now the sun was shining bright up above me and had been for quite some time. Three days in to my run and this was the first time I felt the sun burning my skin. Typically it only takes me 15 minutes to burn. “Sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat I heard Luke Bryan singing in my head while I tried to remember if I had packed sunblock in the car this morning. I think I have only heard that song 5-6 times on the radio but it was with me the rest of that day though.
I put some sunblock on at my next stop and made sure to rub it in good, just in case Malcom decided to take pictures. Knowing that was a concern of mine at that point in the day I can say that the ibuprofen, biofreeze, and KT tape were definitely helping. Later in the day I had zero care for what my pictures looked like as the pain increased.
I left another water stop at the beginning of a huge hill. I started off running and wanted to run as far as I could on the hill until the steepness got to be too much. I did not have the presence of mind to measure the distance of this hill on my watch, but it was a monster. I kept my legs moving, every time I felt like I was closing in on the top it just kept going. I remember thinking about how nice it would be to run downhill when I got to the top. I got to the top and looked straight ahead to a town in front of me. The drop down the hill was not equal to the uphill climb but I did enjoy running in the city on terrain that was at least somewhat level.
Making it to the top of the major hill was definitely the peak of my day as well. Even thought he back side of the hill did not provide much of a descent, the rest of my day did go downhill. Fast. Ibuprofen seemed to still be helping my left knee pain but after making it through the small town my right foot just got worse. I got to the point that I was moving faster at a walking pace than running. Maybe my run was more of a shuffle at this point. I recall sitting down at next to the car at a water break and just feeling beat up. It was getting late into the day and I knew that I could walk the rest of my miles for the day but that would put us back very late with a minimal amount of recovery time for the next day. I shared those concerns with Haley and she told me that Malcom and her could pick up of the miles for me to give me a little more rest time. I immediately accepted help to get through the rest of the day.
I was very thankful for the miles that Haley and Malcom helped me out with. Being able to take some time off of my feet allowed me to eat some food, hydrate, and get mentally prepared to finish out the rest of my day. The last miles of the day did not come easy. I had was at a point where I was starting to figure out the most comfortable way to put weight on my right foot. My left knee had finally decided to give me a little bit of a break from the pain as well. It was not easy to finish out the last few miles of the day but I was definitely thankful to be done and ready for an ice bath.
Most people that know me best know that I am not great at asking for help. I have been aware of this for as long as I an remember. I knew this when I applied to be a runner on the 2021 MS Run the US Relay team. I knew asking people for donations is what I would be doing if I was selected for the team. If you are bad at shooting free throws that is what you work on (unless you are Shaq). Forcing myself into a position where I needed to ask people for help was a something I definitely needed. I am now better at not only accepting help, but asking for help as well.
I believe with all of my heart that one day we will stop MS! I have eighteen other teammates that ran this relay with me who believe the exact same thing. Ashley Schneider believed this when she took on the task of becoming the sixteenth female to run across the US. Many others have shown that they believe in this mission by making monetary donations and spreading awareness about this terrible disease.
Also…. Im sorry if Luke Bryan’s song is stuck on repeat in your brain for the rest of the day.
Running Greatly With MS is a play on Teddy Roosevelt’s “in the arena” speech. Day three was definitely a day that I felt like I had failed. I did not fail though. Your best will not always look the same every day (The Four Agreements – Ruiz). I gave the best that I had for day three and I was able to see growth in myself by being able to accept help to finish my miles for the day.
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.“
It was a typical hot and dry West Texas day and there I stood staring at my suitcase. I had already packed my MS Run the US hoodie for the trip to Ohio. Was I really going to pack my long sleeve shirts for this trip as well? I remembered colder temperatures at some of my trail races this past fall and early spring and being thankful for wearing long sleeves. My gut told me I should take them “just in case”. I had read the forecast for the areas that I would be running, but my brain just didn’t quite believe it could be that cool in August anywhere!
At the end of my first day of running I reflected over my accomplishments from the day before. I thought about what I could have done better in hopes of making those adjustments the next day. It had taken me most of the morning to warm up in the cooler temperature. I smiled to myself because I was thankful that I followed my gut and brought the long sleeves with me. I decided that I would begin my second day with a long sleeve shirt on and then remove it as the day got warmer.
The sun was still in the process of waking up when we arrived at the starting point for the second day of segment seventeen which made for another cool morning. I was breathing in the fresh country air when I received a text message. The mens bible study group that I attend on Tuesdays wanted to let me know that they had prayed for my safety on the road that morning. I thanked them and then snapped a picture of the scenery around me and sent it to my daughter so she could see my starting view for the day. She was on my mind this week more than usual because she was in two-a-days for volleyball. She is a freshman this year in high school and had the opportunity to try out for the JV team! (I am excited to say that she did make the JV team!)
I felt surprisingly good when I started my run on day two. I was definitely sore but I expected that would be the case. I did not have any problem starting off with a slower pace today! The scenery was amazing! Much of the morning was spent running under a canopy of trees across the road that kept the sun from warming my skin. The road had very little traffic and I could hear the sound of animals scurrying away as I approached their spot.
I was joined by a sharp pain in my left knee early in my run. It was mild and I expected it to go away over the next few miles. I have learned on my training runs that most pain I encounter typically does not last very long. I arrived at my scheduled water stop and the knee pain had not improved. I put some biofreeze on my knee to see if that would help. I was also careful not to get any on my hands because I have done that before a run in the past and then rubbed my eyes to get sweat out of them (not a fun experience). I had a lot of miles left in front of me and I was not ready for that discomfort the rest of the day.
I continued on as the knee pain increased with each step I took. I tried spending more time running on the opposite side of the road to see if that would help alleviate the pain. I tried the first day to go fifty-fifty switching sides of the road, but there were quite a few parts that I was unable to do so. Switching sides more often did not seem to help so I opted to change shoes at my next scheduled stop to see if that would help. I realized as I changed my shoes that my right achilles was pretty sore but I hoped that the change in shoes would help with that. The switch gave me a mental boost, but the pain in my left knee decided that it was going to hang out with me for a while. The only relief from the left knee pain was more pain. My right achilles and shin started hurting a great deal as well. I assume that changing my stride to accommodate my left knee is what caused my right leg problems.
The last time I had taken any ibuprofen or pain killer was when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. April was the first time I had taken any kind of medication this year. I used to get headaches quite often, but I honestly haven’t had one in a year and a half now (I’m going with healthier food choices as the reason why). I chose to take an ibuprofen and slowed up to give the medication time to kick in. I started seeing some improvement in my left knee but the achilles was starting to scream at me even louder. I was running out of ideas on how to help my right leg. I was in the middle of nowhere and one of the few areas I had no hills (was thankful for that). In fact it almost felt like I was in west Texas for a little bit. There was no traffic so I ran on the left side of the road, the right, I even ran right down the middle of the road but nothing seemed to help ease the pain. Malcom suggested doing intervals so I tried that too. I realized that this was just going to be one of those really long days out on the road.
I hobbled into a small town where Malcom was waiting in a church parking lot for me. We made our way up to the building to ask if we could use the restroom. One of the gentlemen sitting outside came out to meet us and asked if we needed to use the restroom before we even had a chance ask. We had a really nice chat with him about MS Run the US and he told us that he had just started running himself. He was training for a marathon and definitely knew that the hills were pretty brutal around there. We told him where we were headed and he informed me that there was a very big hill on that road but after that it would be much better. That hill was insane! There also was not much of a shoulder to run on and there was an awful lot of traffic on that road for such a small town. I walked my way up the hill which seemed to take an hour to do. I was thankful for my long sleeves because every big truck that passed by made me even colder. At one point a large truck had to move over to the shoulder because an oversized tractor was coming from the other direction. I kindly took myself off into the grass to let him pass.
I finished out the rest of the day pretty slow with a mixture of run/walking. I got to my last water stop for the day and I finally took my long sleeve shirt off. I grabbed a banana and a couple of mandarin oranges to eat as I began my cool down walk to end the day. I was disappointed with my left knee and my right achilles but I was thankful for the slower pace that day because it gave me more time to take in all of the sights along the way as I spent another full day outdoors. Walking on the right side of the road I was completely caught off guard when a man on a bicycle rolled by, and stopped a few yards in front of me. He got off of his bike and asked me about my shirt, and running across the US. I explained the relay and our mission to Stop MS. We just stood there on the side of the road for about 7-8 minutes talking about running shoes, ultra runners, and amazing feats humans have accomplished running. That was an unexpected gift for me on a day where my body had struggled so much. He rode off ahead of me towards a hill I could see off in the distance. He stopped, got off his bike and walked it part of the way up. I knew I had at least one more hill to climb before my day would be over.
I put ice packs on my knee and achilles when we got back to the motorhome. I relaxed and looked out the window as we drove to the next campground which would be home for the next two nights. A blow up swimming pool was aired up, filled with water and ice just for me. I reflected over the day as I sat in the little pool while other campers walked towards the campgrounds swimming pool. I can only imagine what they were thinking about me. I think the only thing I needed at that point would have been a life jacket or some arm floaties.
I was not even a quarter of a mile into my run when the realness of the moment sank in. The past seven months my life had been training runs, strength training, phone calls, emails, and meetings in search of potential donors to support my MS Run the US fundraising campaign. All of which were integral parts of this journey to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. My desire to get to this moment in time was what helped me dig deep and push through on the difficult training runs. I don’t know how many different ways I imagined this day would feel and I am not certain that I will find words that accurately portray those emotions either.
I know there was a smile on my face because I could feel it as I took in the cool morning Ohio air. I recall the excitement that I owned because for the first time as a runner I would not be making a loop. I would be running from point A to point B, every mile helping our relay team get closer to the finish in New York. All of my training runs and races either took me back home or the finish line was also the start line. I wanted to make the most of every step, allowing all of my senses to experience this place I had never been before.
While my eyes were snapping images of the sights around me I thought about all of the people who contributed to my fundraising campaign. I reflected over how so many people stepped up big donating their hard earned money in a year that a pandemic is in full effect. I am thankful for the many people that I met along the way who either had MS or a family member who suffered from MS. I am grateful that they took the time to share their stories with me. I was running for them. Running so that hopefully one day nobody else would go to bed feeling normal and wake up blind in one eye with their life changed forever.
I started my run on a small trail in a local park in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. The weather was nice and cool which was quite the opposite of what Texas weather had given me to train in. I was very excited about running in cooler temperatures to say the least. I focused in on the directions Haley and Malcom had given me for my run, I really did not want to get lost within the first three miles. I then laughed to myself a little as I realized just how much I had going on at the same time. Directions, breathing, taking in as much of the scenery as possible, watching for things I might trip on, reflecting over how I got here… then there was the momma duck with five baby ducks following her along the same route I was taking (got distracted by my next turn or I might have taken a picture of them).
Cool weather and the adrenaline rush from beginning the 167 mile adventure I had trained seven months for blurred any awareness I had of my starting pace until I hit the half marathon distance. To be fair though, I typically do not look at my pace until I have completed a training run. Shockingly enough the first fatigue that I encountered that day was my face, I am quite certain that I had been smiling every step of the way. I decided it best to slow down after the thirteen mile mark, so after a restroom break I began walking while I ate a snack and drank some water. I made my way out of the city into a more rural area where I found myself running again, only at a much slower pace this time. I took in some more views of the Ohio country side and stored some more mental pictures of the beautiful houses as I passed them by.
It was here that I spent some time reflecting over all of the events in my life that led me to running on a Monday morning in Ohio. I even thought back to my high school days when my track coach would drop the distance runners off and have us run back to the school. I was not a fan of running on an oval track back then, so I truly enjoyed those days. As I ran past some Ohio cows and I recalled coach telling me one day to leave the cows alone as we drove past them headed further away from the high school track. Coach Trahan passed away December 1, 2020. I can still hear him telling me that I was a distance runner while I argued that I was a jumper. I am certain that if he’s looking down on me now he is laughing at the washed up volleyball/basketball player with dreams of running a 100 mile race. He was definitely right about the distance thing!
It was around this point in my run that I encountered my first hills. (Maybe I should type that in all caps HILLS to be more acurate). I knew there were hills on this segment, Ashley talked about them quite a bit. We do have hills in Texas, but I don’t think they compare to what I encountered in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I realized after the next hour of hills that this would be my life for the next 6 days. The hills and I did not become best friends from the start, it was a relationship that took five and a half days to develop.
At some point in the second half of the day I started feeling a little bit of tightness in my right achilles tendon. I knew I was putting in crazy miles this week so I didn’t think much more about it. I do recall not feeling any sort of pain discomfort when my watch showed me that I had run 26.2 miles. I stopped, took a picture of my watch and I took a picture of the place I was at when I completed my first marathon distance. It definitely was not fast, and that of course was not the goal but it was an awesome accomplishment for me. I was supposed to have gone over this mark on my 60K attempt at Pedernales Falls State park which did not happen. I shook my head and smiled as I thought back to the many times in my life that I swore that I would never run a marathon. I continued on through the rest of the run and finished with a grand total of thirty miles for the first day of segment 17.
I did not just wake up one morning and decide I wanted to run 167 miles. I do have a single moment in time that this journey began though. It all started on this bench…..
It was the evening of January 6, 2020. The last night of a family vacation at Disney World and I had gone to the poolside bar to buy a crown and coke. On the way back to the room with drink in hand I took a seat on a bench. Earlier in the day I had been looking over some of the pictures from the week and they shook my world. I did not even recognize the man that stood there in those pictures. One picture in particular of me standing next to Goofy is one that I can still see when I close my eyes. I knew I was overweight and when I saw those pictures I was disappointed in myself and the way I had let myself go. I had 3 knee surgeries over a 5 year period and I used that as a crutch to not make time for the gym. I was tired all the time, I did not eat very healthy and I had zero desire to change that as well.
I recall a long conversation with God while I sat there on the bench. I knew that I needed to change some things in my life. I told him about everything that was going on in my world and I needed his help. As I sat there and looked at my half empty crown and coke I decided that I would take a year off of alcohol. I don’t know why I chose quitting alcohol that night but it just felt like the thing I needed to do. I have been pretty responsible with alcohol most of my life with the exception of a few times that I can count on one hand. I just felt that I needed to do something that would spark a change in my life. I guess you could say I was hoping that if I did that, God would help me with other parts of my life. I knew that God doesn’t work that way, but I was desperate.
A week after getting home my Grandfather passed away at 102, and then the following month my marriage ended. Neither came as a surprise to me. I do remember thinking I had picked a bad time to quit drinking. I didn’t take a drink though. I chose to feel all of the feelings that come with loss. It was not an easy thing to do but I believe doing so helped me heal.
One day, I realized that since I was not drinking alcohol I also had not been drinking any sodas. I opted to get one for lunch that day. That soda messed my stomach up pretty bad for the rest of the day. I didn’t like that feeling so I quit sodas well. It made me really start thinking about how unhealthy I must have been for my body to be used to consuming drinks like that on a daily basis. This realization was just the first of many for me that led me to start questioning some of the things that I had always believed.
I started running in March. I did not run much, just a mile every other day. I just wanted to start getting back in to shape. All of the gyms had closed due to COVID-19 but the outdoors were still open for business. Truth be told I wanted to get back into beach volleyball shape. I knew it was crazy to think I could jump in sand after 3 knee surgeries but I was going to try anyway!
In June I went back to college to finish the last 29 credit hours towards my bachelors degree. I found studying and then going for a run helped me retain information better. I also love to read books, in fact I read 39 books in 2020 while completing my bachelors degree. I am also the kind of guy that will read 3-4 books at the same time. A friend of mine had mentioned earlier on Facebook a book that he had read called “Born to Run” which was still at the back of my mind one day when I was searching for my next great read. I went back to his page to find the title of the book so that I could get it from the library. What happened next would alter the course of my entire life. This book introduced me to ultra running. When I read about a 100 mile race that was to be completed in 24 hours I was hooked! I thought why is everyone out there not doing this? I always said I would never run a marathon, I didn’t say anything about an ultra-marathon though!
I have to pause here and share a story with you about getting into running. Maybe a month in to running I hyperextended my right knee walking down the stairs of my apartment (yes I am that clumsy). I spent the next 5 days icing and resting thinking that maybe I was not meant to be a runner. Then I got a text from my sister asking if I had heard about Joe, one of my track friends from high school. She told me that he had died and my heart was broken. I had not seen him in many years but I had thought of him and the rest of my high school track team while I was on my one mile runs. I wiped the tears I had been crying for him and I laced up my shoes determined to run a mile for him on my swollen right knee. I didn’t just run the mile for him, I felt like he was there running with me and I ended up running a mile and a half that day. I never stopped running after that day and I started increasing my distances until one day I ran a 4 miles. After that run for some reason I believed I could do an ultra! I started reading every book I could on ultra running and ultra runners. I wanted nothing more than to cover 100 miles in a 24 hour period. In fact I even sent in an application to join an ultra relay team that was running across the US! While I read these books I was still in college. I found that if I studied for an hour and then went for a run I would think about the information and it would stick with me better. I started eating better, or what I thought was better for me. I did slow down quite a bit on eating fast food. In fact eating out became my reward for passing each final exam. I started to notice something in common between the ultra runners I was reading about. Many of them were plant-based! I was a produce manager and I never thought about only eating produce. I am certain in my past I made fun of those who did. I was curious and I don’t just take someone’s word on something, I have to try it for myself to see. I started trying plant-based foods that we carry in my store and I was surprised at how good the foods actually tasted. (Not all were great, but I was learning!)
I graduated college in September of 2020, and also that month I accepted a challenge of running 167 miles in 6 days with MS Run the US to raise money to Stop MS! I also noticed how great my body was feeling every day and how well I recovered after a long run so I started thinking of going 100% plant-based. That was a very big month for me.
November 21st I ran my first half marathon with my buddy Jason! I believe the runners high from that achievement stayed with me for the rest of the year. As the calendar rolled into December I continued to add more plant based foods to my diet and eliminated many of the meat and processed foods that I used to consume.
In January of 2021 I was about 90% plant-based and I still did not believe I would ever go 100%. I felt great running some trail races and in April after running a race at about 95% I made the decision to go all in! I have found that I truly enjoy cooking plant-based meals. It is fun trying different foods together to see what I can create. It doesn’t always turn out great, but I get better each time I try! Traveling is a challenge, but I have noticed many restaurants have embraced this movement and are adding more plant-based options to their menu. I feel amazing and my recovery time has been cut in half. I used to be dead tired after a 9 hour day at work, now I work the same hours and I have the energy to knock out a 6-8 mile run. I am not going to try and convince everyone to go plant-based but I will continue to share my story with those who want to hear.
There have been many occasions throughout this journey that I have thought back to that night on that bench. I think about where I am now and it blows my mind how one decision took me down this path that I am on. I recently took another trip to Disney World with my daughter this summer and I felt like I needed to go visit the bench where it all started. I sat down this time forty pounds lighter with an insane amount of energy that I had once thought I would never see again. I had a conversation with God again, only this time my prayer was one of thankfulness. I thanked God for not giving up on me and giving me opportunities to grow. Things do not always go the way you hope that they do and that’s okay. Failure is not fun, but learning from those failures are where I believe real growth happens. Below are two pictures taken at the same spot eighteen months apart. I would like to tell you they are of the same person but they are not, this journey has helped me grow into the man I am today. I am thankful for my time on the bench that set this all in motion. I have been blessed by those who I have met along the way. I am thankful for the running community!