While serving in Iraq with the US Marines, my squad left “the wire” almost every day during our entire 7 month deployment. We were constantly out on missions and rarely had any time off to relax. As you might imagine, this made life somewhat stressful.
One day, my friend loaned me a copy of the book “Ultramarathon Man,” by Dean Karnazes. That book planted a seed that has now blossomed into a beautiful and worthy addiction.
With whatever spare time I had, which wasn’t much, I used to run for hours on end around our tiny little base in the middle of a war zone. Within the protection of the sand barriers, we were allowed to roam freely without a flak jacket, rifle or kevlar. I made the most of that freedom.
Running offered me brief moments of relief from the stressors of war. Except for the time when my dirtbag Marine buddies threw rocks at me as their form of entertainment. I suppose they too needed some stress relief. But hours into my runs, I didn’t find that as enjoyable as they did. According to them though, as they have repeatedly told me, this helped mold me into the man I am today 🙂
Upon coming home from the war, I battled with PTSD, depression and severe alcoholism that drove me to the brink of suicide. Running once again became my salvation. It gave me the opportunity to confront and even embrace my demons. It brought me through the darkness, into the light.
Running somewhat inevitably led me to running ultramarathons. I needed to go farther. I needed to go harder. The purity of pain and the sanctity of suffering exposed me to the true, raw, unadulterated essence of the human spirit. It destroyed the masks, broke down the facades and revealed a deeper truth…
The first official race I ever ran was a 50k on hilly trails. Since then, I have run many other ultra’s, but I do them all on my own. I love running them this way for the added challenge.
When I run my ultra’s, there is no one cheering me on. There are no aid stations. There is no media. There are no pacers or support crews. There’s no one at the finishing line celebrating my victory. There’s just me going to war with myself.
While all those elements of a race are valuable and beautiful in their own way, and I will most definitely run more races at some point in the future, I relish the solitude of these self-managed ultramarathons. They force me to find something within myself without counting on any external source for drive or motivation. That inner journey is a deeply spiritual experience.
Of the many ultra’s I have run, some of them include a 24 hour run, an 80 miler around a 0.2 mile loop (pictured below by those series of pools in my building in Bangalore, India) and a 50 miler around a 0.05 mile cul-de-sac when the pandemic first hit. For that particular ultra, I wanted to show people that even though gyms and parks may have closed, there were, and ALWAYS are still opportunities to seek out a worthy suffering. A suffering that grants us the gift of transcendence.
I am not the fastest or the strongest runner by any means. In fact, I have a series of biological defects that make me anything but a genetically gifted athlete.
I have a blood disorder that transports approximately 35% less oxygen through my body than the average man. Two separate doctors told me this would kill me in Marine Corps Boot Camp. I also have flat feet, scoliosis and a gastroenterologist told me my body doesn’t absorb nutrients well.
Yet, I am now a sponsored athlete and an ultrarunner. Biology is not destiny. Belief is…
For me, running ultramarathons is a vehicle to explore the depths of my soul. When every part of my body cries out in pain, when my mind begs me to stop, my spirit reaches forth and gives me the strength to rise. Running ultramarathons connects me to the divine. It reveals the limitlessness of the human spirit that lives within us all.
These adventures serve as a microcosm for the entire human condition. In one compressed chunk of time, I get to experience what it’s like to be without time. I also encounter extreme highs, extreme lows, and everything in between.
At some point during every major ultra, I hate my life and feel indescribable agony. One of the lowest moments I’ve ever experienced was on mile 48 during a 72 mile run. It was a soul crushing low. Even though I had run for longer distances and longer times, for some reason, that moment hit me hard. I can’t put into words how miserable I felt on that occasion. Yet, in time, I got back up and took the next step forward.
No matter how bad things get during an ultramarathon, and it does tend to go very dark at times, I always step back onto the battlefield…
I relish the pain during, and after an ultra. I earn that pain. For a few days after every ultra, my legs ache and I can barely walk. Yet, as I hobble around everywhere, I savor a strange sense of peace. In those moments, my mind and spirit know the magnificent, awe-inspiring, unquenchable taste of victory.
This is perhaps best summarized by the wise words of the legend Vince Lombardi, who said…
“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”
This is the map of the route we took from Kangerlussuaq, on the West Coast of Greenland to Isertoq, a tiny hunting village on the East