To those who chase after their athletic dreams, I hope we can inspire each other. It is not easy to take faith in investing all of our time, money, and mental strength into a dream that offers us no promised chance of achieving. Keeping your flame burning through tests of will power and life’s setbacks is not easy; it is during these times when motivation and inspiration can be lost. By making the decision to go all in, your flame is no longer a flicker of light on a waxed string, but rather a raging fire. A fire that can be thrown into the wettest of environments, because it is all you have and all you are to keep it fed. We cannot be overcome by the excuses to quit or we will be fully put out and lose the chance of reaching our goals and dreams. Therefore, I have chosen to feed my flame no matter what comes my way. My foundation is a bonfire, determined to stay lit through any setbacks or challenges. “I am all in” towards reaching my goal.
Living in an apartment with the same old routine was taxing and dampening my fire. I needed something new and exciting. The decision to live out of my car brought spontaneity into my life; my flame is being fed. Every day is different. The reason behind it was mainly to save my rent money for plane tickets for the summer and to have the reason to sleep at various trailheads in the WNC region. That is one of some of the many reasons why I say, “I am all in.”
Last May, my dream was developed after completing my first Sky. I won the Quest for the Crest 50k in Burnsville. This is where my training was derived and devoted towards training up and down Mount Mitchell crest trail 3 times. I was naïve and ran freely in the mountains. Staying in Montreat Campground all summer after that race and working for Peter Ripmaster at Black Mountain Running Co. is when I wrote down and decided to set the goal to race 4 out of the 5 US Ultra Sky races in 2016 and win the entire series. With the long-term goal of being picked up by a company I believe in to travel and race all around the world.
Your flame is fed when you find joy in your sport. For me, I cannot stop running. My mileage is close to an average of 3 hours a day when I am not sidelined recovering from an injury. I find my joy when I am up exploring in the mountains. When I am with good company flying down technical footing trails. Joy comes when I am embracing the rush of moving my body in sync with my legs. Almost as though I am dancing down hill.
Allowing the force of gravity to tug me down a steep hill, trusting my feet and stride to float me. The joy that comes from the thought of vistas approaching so I can see a bursting sunset or sunrise. The joys I get when I am distracted from the sight of wild edible mushrooms, only so I can snatch them up and carry them to cook them on the stove later. Joy from the sight and shade of the neon green chlorophyll gleaming through the leaves on the trees along side a stream, radiating off a cool temperature during the hot hours of the day.
This excitement to get outside and splash in river crossings, going around new bends in the trail and unfolding discoveries of new waterfalls spent from the time rock hopping up and down river beds, is where I find my joy and fall in love with this sport. WNC is high on the list for me because of the endless amounts of different and unique trails in this region. You have so many options of style trails to choose from. There is still so much for me to discover and running a trail in the other direction is just as new to me as running it the other way. Being disconnected for a short while from society fills my tank up. The mountains recharge me. Doing what people refer to as crazy, keeps me pushing my limit higher and higher. Running in these places and doing the things that give me joy feeds my flame.
10 days out from my first sky race this June, I rolled my ankle real bad coming down Lane Pinacle with Adam Hill and Abby Harris. There was a big thunderstorm raining on my fire. I did everything I could to make that ankle feel better again and in time for Broken Arrow 50k. I got on the plane not being able to run. Just 2 days from the start of my race in Tahoe, was the only time I could start feeling confident to begin running again. I owe it to my friends for their help and advice. Miriam Nelson, (Runner’s Mechanic), Wes Miller, (Anti-Fragile Physical Therapy), Kellie Moylan, (Moylan Training) and to all my other PT friends, shit, I did not realize how many of those I had! Doug Daniel, Sean Bagley, and Will Hagan for helping my ankle recover that much faster. Because of the awesome community of runners I know and from all of their words of encouragement, I felt my flame burning hotter.It was not only the Broken Arrow 50k I was out going to Tahoe for. It was also for a friend I made, Caleb Denton, a Tennessee native who won his golden ticket to Western States 100 by taking 2nd place at the Georgia Death Race, finishing behind the 20 year old who won Western States this year. He had asked me if I could come out to pace him. I happily accepted and to his surprise, I was already planning on being at Western States looking for someone to pace. From mile 62 at Forest Hill High School to the finish at Mile 100, a total distance of 38.2 miles, I could not allow myself to miss out on an opportunity like this. Unfortunately, Caleb had a fall that put his knee out of commission. After running through 2 aid stations to give his knee a fighting chance, Caleb called it quits at mile 43.
Despite this unfortunate scenario, I made the effort to find someone to pace from Forest Hill to the finish. His name is Krystian Ogly from Poland. He was the first Pole to complete the course in less than 24 hours. I was very happy to see him accomplish his goal of running under 24 hours because he finished in 20 hours and 30 minutes. His expression when he saw the clock coming down the last 100 meters on the Auburn track was priceless. He had no clue what his time was since his watch broke on him earlier that day. I was very grateful for him to be open to me pacing him. Helping to pace someone through a goal at that magnitude, 100 miles, is so energizing, it reminds you how nice it is to share the experience with others. Through pacing Krystian, it gave me the much-needed experience for when I go out and race the Western States race, I will not be pulling a “Jim Wamsley” and get turned around at mile 91… Sorry dude.
After Broken Arrow, which was the hardest race of my life, I will be driving out to Aspen, CO to compete in my 2nd Sky Race of this season, the Power of Audi 4 Ultra Sky Race on August 7th. I am going into this race as a stronger, more patient, and wiser racer. I am excited to see how much more I improve compared to my effort at Broken Arrow.
So what I have to say is, find what you love about the sport you are in and discover what it is that lights your flame. Share the passion with others. Let them tag along, sometimes. Feed each other’s fire. Go after your dreams because you only live once. There is no, “next time.”