In the beginning.
It seems most people, in an attempt to understand how a person can become an ultrarunner, will ask a series of questions in no particular order. One of the top 3 questions I am asked when people find out I love to run is “What got you started?” (Don’t worry, I’ll address the other questions at a later time.) They are searching for that childhood memory, the old moment of glory in which some people draw some sort of energy of which to thrive off. They are seeking some sort of rational explanation to what they deem irrational. In my mind, there is nothing abnormal about what I have achieved and the goals I have for myself. It just seems like a natural progression. There is a common theme with all stories, no matter how far from normal they may seem: beginnings. This is the my beginning.
In my short time in the running world, I have noticed that most people grew up running, either on a cross country or track team in high school or college. That was definitely not me. I think the only time I ran prior to college was a 1 mile race in the fifth grade. I came in 3rd place. Now, there were only 2 other competitors, but still, l placed! The better part of my teenage years was spent on the tennis court and the little bit of running that comes naturally with the training. My tennis career was short lived as the men’s team at the university was going to attend dropped the program due to Title-9. As I began my studies to obtain a bachelor’s in chemical engineering at Louisiana Tech University, I did not have much time for anything besides studying and my commute back home. I do not remember how, but I began to start running in the mornings my sophomore year with a girl I was interested in. We both decided we needed to do something outside of the classroom to try to stay in shape, and gain some sense of sanity. Before classes would start, we would walk to the track on campus. Initially we set a reasonable goal of running a lap, then walking a lap for 30 minutes. After a few weeks, we had built up to where we were running about 6 laps (a mile and half) before walking. It was a great time to stay fit, and get to know her better. Nothing ever developed into a relationship with her, but I took to running.
That summer, between my sophomore and junior year, I worked as an undergraduate researcher at Clemson University in South Carolina in the chemical engineering department. During my ten week stint there, I began to recognize the power of running. I was going through a lot of different things, spiritually and vocationally. I remembered hearing that the aptly named Perimeter road around campus was about 3 miles, and thought that would be a great way to get out and intentionally spend time praying and in thought about life. As my prayer times became more intense, so did my runs. Running was one of the few things that could bring me solace. It held a freedom and wildness to it that I could not find elsewhere. Towards the end of my time in Clemson I had built up to running the perimeter three times, without even realizing it! That was the furthest I had ever run, and I felt amazing. I remember telling a new friend at the time about having run 9 miles and he just professed my insanity for being able to run that far. At the time, I did not really think too much of that running accomplishment since the mileage was just an indicator of my prayer times. To me, it meant I had more going on that I thought I did!
Unfortunately, when I returned to LA Tech, I left running in Clemson. I would run, but with no consistency. I spent my time being overwhelmed with stresses that come along with pursuing a degree in chemical engineering and my other passion, playing guitar. The next summer, I returned to Clemson for another round of undergraduate research. I remember the first thing I wanted to do upon arriving was go for a run along Perimeter road. It was like visiting with an old friend. A freedom and solace that I had not experienced since leaving the year before. That summer I befriended Jason, who is one of my best friends still. We would go hiking almost every weekend. Sometimes to a waterfall we had heard or read about, and others to the ‘mountains’ along the border between North and South Carolina. One day, we set out to hike to the summit of Table Rock. The locals called it a ‘strenuous’ hike, which was not the case. Granted, it was not the easiest feat, gaining about 2500ft in 3.25 miles. At about the 3 mile point, I remember seeing a guy running and thought “Wow! He’s crazy to be running this!” I was immediately filled with awe and admiration for this unnamed trail runner. I had no idea that “trail runner” was the term. I did not even know such a thing existed. I left that hike with a new sense of what crazy could be.