Running Ultramarathons

Exploring the limitlessness of the mind, body and spirit

Running Ultramarathons

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.”

Expedition Journey

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

Greenland Journal

21 – We are all superheroes

The reason I am posting daily updates of the journey, even on some days, like yesterday, when I was pretty tired, is because I hope something I share makes a difference in your day. Antarctica is teaching me a lot and those lessons are not just mine to learn.

20 – The most legendary of battles

The last time I got in “the cage” was a warmup compared to this. This time I wasn’t talking in my head, I was talking out loud on every switchback as I fought that heavy sled up each turn. It didn’t matter who was around me, I was in my world. I was unstoppable on that hill. My teammates must have thought I was insane 🙂

19 – More bad weather

I was so excited. I got on my gear, started to get in my mental “cage,” told myself let’s go and was smiling, all charged up to take on that next hill. We got out and the clouds came in again and the move up the glacier was called off. I thought of that scene from Braveheart and told myself in a Scottish accent, “well, I guess you got all dressed up for nothing” 🙂

18 – The anticipation is worse than the attack

I became like an animal in a cage. The few feet in front of me was my cage. And inside that cage, I was in my own world. Nothing existed outside of it. Inside that cage, I was a beast on fire consumed by the immediate fight in front of me.

17 – This moment is yours for all eternity

Let it all go. All thought. All constructs. And just feel Antarctica. Feel this untouched land. Know it. Hear it. What is it saying to you? Don’t listen with your ears. Listen with your soul…”

16 – The animal awakened…

Every day exposes me to another strong why for being out here. Yesterday it was the scenery. Not that today’s isn’t equally epic, but today it was for that second climb. It was a legendary and beautiful inner battle that will stay with me forever. I will remember this moment the next time I find myself in the pain cave, which will no doubt happen again soon enough 🙂

15 – One of my greatest moments in nature

Being on the glacier now is indescribable. It is very different looking at it while standing on top of it versus looking at it from the air. You start to see how small we are compared to the towering might of everything around us. Even as I type this, I can hear avalanches in the distance. It is epic.

14 – The ebbs and flows…

All in all, a solid and smooth day. We are now right under the Axel Heiberg and tomorrow we begin the climb. It looks intense, awesome, spectacular and terrifying all at the same time. You can see crevasses and seracs surrounding our route up the glacier. We have a safe path up, but it’s still pretty wild to see all of this up close.

13 – Nothing in life is given to you…

It’s one of the reasons I love it, even when it’s tough. You get to taste the entire spectrum of the human experience – good, bad, high, low. And when you’re not having the best day, you get to practice smiling anyway. That’s beautiful training.

12 – The descent into madness

After leading 3 more shifts breaking trail, when we got to the last one and a big hill came up in front of me, I just said let’s go, bring it and kept cruising on up with a smile on my face till we got to camp. It was pretty wild the wide variety of thoughts that went through my head today…

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Fearvana inspires us to look beyond our own agonizing experiences and find the positive side of our lives.~ The Dalai Lama

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Fearvana inspires us to look beyond our own agonizing experiences
and find the positive side of our lives. ~ The Dalai Lama

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