When I was road running I never encountered one of these strange phenomena. Just as you’re kicking it down a trail, really making fantastic time, you find that some crazy person put a switchback, a 180-degree turn in the middle of the trail, and then to make it even more fun he put a whole series of these crazy turns into the trail. I never realized why these switchbacks were built into a trail until one sloppy, rainy day I missed the trail and ended up bush whacking down a mountainside. Don’t ask me why I thought it was a better idea to try to go straight down than to try to find the trail again. Perhaps it was momentary insanity. As my body slid down the side of the mountain, collecting pounds of mud, I dearly hoped there were no cliffs ahead, it suddenly dawned on me why switchbacks are built into trails. It is a way of slowing you down so that gravity doesn’t pull you straight down the side of the mountain and off a cliff.
Life has switchbacks also, these crazy 180 degree turns intended to slow you down as you plummet down the trails of life. We tend to view these switchbacks as a deterrent to us getting what we want, and we curse the people who put these into our life or are we cursing God?
“Life is not always perfect.
Like a road, it has many bends, ups and downs, but that’s its beauty.”
– Amit Ray, World Peace: The Voice of a Mountain Bird
If we believe only the straight road is beautiful, we will struggle with life. If we venture out into this wonderful adventure knowing there is a reason for the switchbacks, life can be better enjoyed for what it is.
Living an ultra life means that you enjoy the switchbacks, aware they are life-savers.
Something beautiful happened as I allowed my Father to make me a “real” runner. He began to heal me as I went out on early morning runs with only my thoughts and muscle movement. He began to heal me as I learned to control my negative thoughts, take them captive and make them obedient. He began to heal me as I began to trust my forever girlfriend and allowed myself to fall in love again. Once again I saw the visions and dreams. He entrusted me to care for them. I trusted Him to bring them about in His timing.
I am once again deeply in love with my forever girlfriend and believe our marriage is on a trail filled with true love – patient, kind, never boastful, proud or rude, and never-failing. I dare to dream again and believe that my dream of being an author and speaker is possible.
Running made life possible again and it all began with one decision. I decided to trust God that I would not make a fool out of myself if I entered a race. I don’t know how many races I have run now – “a lot” is the closest number I can think of, but I do know that with each and every race I draw closer to becoming who He made me to be. And that is supremely more important than a medal or finisher’s shirt at the end of the race.
Living an ultra life means living to dream again.
I never intended to become a runner. I just started bouncing along because I was fat and found I could “run” in Kangoo boots without pain. However, along the way I came back to life!
This is significant as my very recent past had crushed every one of my dreams out of my heart and I was dead inside. I would never be a father. I would never be a pastor. I would never be a millionaire business-person retiring at 55, and I had a marriage that was only held together by obligation. I figured I would continue to fail in life as a fat, extremely out of shape person.
Strangely, as I continued to bounce and later run, something deep and personal began to happen. The more miles I ran, the more the gaping hole inside my heart began to fill with hope. The more I challenged my physical body and beat it into better shape, the more I began to see possibilities in front of me. Dreams that I thought had been waylaid by my failures began to spring up again, like the cool bubbling waters that pop up in the most unlikely places on a trail in the mountains.
Living an ultra life brings hope!
I was grinding through the middle of my first ultra-marathon race, a 52-miler over the Bighorn Mountains, and was still confident of finishing despite twisted ankles, deep mud bogs and steeper hills than I’d ever seen. Unfortunately, I didn’t expect my thoughts to be the thing that stopped me!
I had successfully cleared the first time cut-off aid station and managed to crawl – no, literally – I mean, crawl – up the three-mile-plus “Wall of Death” – named it myself! Just 12 miles from the final time cut-off aid station a person passed me and exclaimed, “Yo dude, I think you’re the last one on the trail.” Suddenly, my thought-life was spiraling into darkness. Flooding in came “what if’s” and “if only I had.” I made the mistake of abandoning my race strategy and began to bomb down the hills out of control.
The next thing I knew, I was flying! I’m sure I looked just like Superman. Unfortunately, I also knew my landing would not be near as graceful as his! Twelve miles later, I was pulled from the race by aid station people. I DNF’d (did not finish). A term that strikes fear into the hearts of runners! The worst part was knowing that my body could have completed the run, but my mind didn’t let it!
One of my goals is to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” Notice the quote doesn’t say to ban the thoughts, but to take them captive and make them obedient. Making a thought obedient means to make it line up with who God says you are, so you can continue any race with all the energy and courage you began with, no matter what is being thrown against you.
My DNF taught me to take my thoughts captive and in the 2016 racing season I finished three ultra-marathons, three mountain half-marathons and a 205-mile relay race. I’m proud of getting back in the race and work everyday to control my thoughts in every area of life.
Controlling your thought life will keep you on the journey to living an ultra life.
Putting into practice what I learned in my first 5-K, I bounced a half-marathon on Labor Day. It was extremely hot and humid and I knew that I needed to slow my pace down to save myself for the finish. Around mile 9, bouncing through an Army base, I found myself getting passed – a lot! My first temptation was to pick up the pace and find a group I could run with. Instead, I calmed my thoughts, and realized that I was on the pace that I had trained for, and that I was going to be fine. The final mile of this race was on a boardwalk with the Atlantic ocean glimmering on the left, and a row of spectators lined up on both sides. Just before the boardwalk, I was passing a lot of people, who had stopped, trying to straighten themselves out for the run up for a glorious finish in front of all the spectators. After all, you don’t want to puke in front of that many people when you finish. Somewhere, in storage, there is an iconic photo, (in my eyes) of that finish. I am crossing the finish line with a huge smile on my face, while many of my fellow runners look like they are in extreme pain – like all runners looked to me before I started running. Not only did I finish the race strong but I finally broke 2 hours for a half-marathon, which was huge for me.
In our daily lives we can all experience glorious finishes that we store up for future reference but to do so we have to know that the pace we are running is the correct pace for us. Staying on pace requires disciplining your thoughts and your body to make sure you have enough in you to finish the race strong.
Living an ultra life means finding the pace you were meant to run and then enjoying the race no matter what everyone around you is doing.
Those who know me know that I start every new attempt as if I can’t get there fast enough. They could probably have predicted my first race. I lined up, a stout 235 pound, bouncing man in my Kangoo boots, for my first 5K and went off like the wind with the “real” runners at a breakneck pace. I felt great until mile 1 and then the wheels fell off. I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t sweating. My heart was beating through my shirt and worst, all those people I had passed were passing me by as I had to stop on the side of the road and check myself to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack.
I didn’t have a heart attack but I learned something really valuable that day. If you don’t run the pace that fits your body, you’re in for one hell of a run and you won’t feel very well when you finish. In running, starting too fast is a recipe for disaster and you have to find your pace and keep with it throughout the race, knowing your training – both mental and physical – is what is going to make for a successful race for you.
This may shock those of you like me but guess what? We have to find our own pace in life also and run the race of life just as we are training. “Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I will not be disqualified for the prize.” (Paul to the Corinthians) It’s difficult to find the pace at which you are designed to go because we want to keep up with the Jones’ around us and we don’t want to fall behind. The bad thing is, that just as in racing, when we go running into life at a pace for which we haven’t trained and maybe we aren’t even designed to run we wear ourselves out a lot quicker.
Living an ultra life is about discovering your pace and sticking with it, everything you do in life is about finding the pace and sticking to it no matter what it looks like everybody around you is running.
It’s a beautiful fall day, the trees are exploding with color, the sun is shining brightly and you’re making time down a mountain trail. Suddenly you begin to look around you thinking “there’s a lot of growth under my feet, this doesn’t even feel like a trail”. Now you know you’ve gone and done it again. You’ve lost the trail! This happens to me all the time and it costs me time and extra miles but by back tracking slowly I can always find the trail again and get back to enjoying the day and the trail. But it always throws me off just a little, now I’m a little slower, a little more cautious to keep track of the trail and the end of the run feels like relief rather than total elation.
We do this in life also. We lose the trail. Thinking we are on our way to our goals in life and BOOM, something happens and we’re off track. Unlike trail running it isn’t as simple as just back tracking to get back on the trail. Sometimes we never get back on the trail. Maybe like me, you think you’re going to be this great writer in the genre of a John Updike tilting at windmills of social ills, yet end up being a salesman. Losing the trail can be painful if we don’t do one thing. This one thing is what separates you from having an ultra life rather than a run around the block life.
This one thing is simply this, make a decision and begin to live it. To live an ultra life you practice this over and over until you do it all the time. If you know you started on this trail, but you lost your trail, your heart is telling you that you’re supposed to be on it. Make a decision and begin moving toward it. It may take some back tracking or it may take some total 180 degree turn but first you need to make the decision and run with it. This is living an ultra life.
Happy trails and come back later for more encouragement from Living an Ultra Life.
In January of 2014 I was reviewing life and preparing to turn 50 that July and I kept thinking “how could I significantly indicate to my Self that turning 50 is the second half and it’s going to be stronger than the first half?” I had completed my third marathon after having just started running three years before in November and was feeling kind of burned out running with 30,000 of my closest friends and was looking for something different. In the middle of the night I thought “That’s it! I’m going to run 50 miles on my 50th birthday!” Now if you’ve met marathon runners before you know we’re kind of anal about our training and if your training schedule says “Run 20 miles” and it turns out there is a hurricane going on you still go out and run 20 miles because the day of the race you don’t get to decide not to run if the weather is cruddy. So never mind that my birthday is in July and the weather was bound to be at least in the high 80’s and most likely in the 90’s nor that I had never done more than a marathon before. I decided that I was running 50 miles on my 50th birthday. So I charted out a course around my beautiful city of Sheridan WY and began training. Birthday morning came and before the sun had risen I was out on the streets getting my inside city miles in before it got hot. I headed out into the country on a series of dirt roads and in 12 hours I had finished my 50 miles and knew that I had begun the second half of my life strong. Shortly after I found out that there were other crazy people like me out there and that they were called ultra marathoners and there were races to run ultra distances and I decided there and then that I would run ultra races so in the last two years I have now completed six ultra marathon races and am working up for my bucket list ultra marathon of 205.5 miles in the Taos 200 in 2018.
Along the way “ultra” has become a lifestyle and teamed with my motto of Live With No Regrets I am testing the waters of putting myself on the line on a daily basis, to go beyond what my mind and body think I can do and put it all out there, to go for it with everything I have. This website is the beginning of living a life to the full and not constantly going back to a life lived with “what ifs” and “if only I had”.