If you ever have the chance to spend 52 hours in a van with 18 sweaty runners, trying to outrun a winter storm…
… DO IT.
From March 19 – 21, 2018, I had the great honor and pleasure to run the #RunFor321: a 260.8 mile relay race from Washington, DC, to New York City.
“The purpose of the run was to raise awareness for World Down Syndrome Day, and to raise funds for the organization that put it all together: the great folks over at the National Down Syndrome Society.
We did just that.
The runners are really close to reaching our goal of $100,000.
Until April 30, 2018, you can help us reach this goal by clicking here and donating.
Those donations fund the work of the NDSS: ensuring Americans with a Down Syndrome diagnosis have equal opportunities in the workplace and the world of athletics.”
The race took 52 hours to complete, and I personally ran 40.4 of the total miles over that time.
Those 40.4 miles were spread out over 13 legs, averaging 3.1 miles per leg — one leg every 4 hours.
My longest leg was 7.2 miles through Wilmington, Delaware, and my shortest leg was .9 miles.
#RunFor321 began at the Capitol building in Washington DC, at the steps I had walked up many times with my grandfather as a youngster. We headed across Maryland to Baltimore, turned towards Wilmington (Delaware) and into Philadelphia (PA). Then we raced Winter Storm Toby north through New Jersey: Hoboken, Newark, Jersey City. The race crossed Manhattan to the UN Headquarters, where Toby finally caught up to us.
Even though the legs were spread out and even though they were short, the #RunFor321 is definitely in the category of what I would call a “long run”.
Here’s what I mean: when I run a 5k or 10k, or even a half marathon, I am running for the sake of running.
I train for the run, I run it, and I either achieve my time goal or I don’t.
With long runs, though – runs over a half marathon in length – something cool happens.
I describe it as gaining access to my Spiritual Core.
Reaching the Spiritual Core.
The first time I ever ran 15 miles, while training up for the NYC Marathon, I had an experience I’ve never before had.
Call it runner’s high if you will, but it felt like more than that to me.
Around the 15 mile mark, I felt like I could spread my arms, leave the ground and fly.
As I reflected on that feeling, I was indeed flying at the time: by running to quit smoking, I had escaped the gravity-pull of addiction and was experiencing the world from a whole new vantage point.
This sensation of accessing a Spiritual Core occurred again when I ran the NYC Marathon in 2016 – my first marathon.
Around the 15 mile mark, I slipped into a mental space where I kept hearing a mantra, like a slow and steady drumbeat:
Respect the Course. Trust your Training. Enjoy the Day.
I had those words printed on a ring after the run – Respect, Trust, Joy.
They are the best “how to guide” for living life that I’ve ever come across.
Want a motivational wrist band, wring or necklace? Click here or the image below.
When I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2017, I again entered that Spiritual Core.
In my review of the Chicago Marathon, I wrote about the difficulty of running in the heat, and walking 2
miles of the marathon after hitting the wall.
It was during that phase of walk-running that the image of a rooster I once had in Texas slipped into my brain.
I once watched a Rooster slowly and methodically destroy his enemies – once, a 10′ foot black snake and another time, a possum at least twice his size. Since then, the Rooster symbolizes power over my biggest enemy: a 25+ year pack-a-day smoking habit (which, through running, I kicked in August 2015).
The #RunFor321 was no different: late in the evening of Day 2, I once again locked into that Spiritual Core – this time, in a very different way.
Rather than tell you the nitty-gritty details about 52 hours in a van with 18 sweaty runners, let me tell you what I learned in this race.
I had one goal in running the #RunFor321 relay race.
I wanted to show my 3 sons that we can overcome any obstacle in our life, simply by continuing to put one front in front of the other.
And that’s what I did, without any great difficulty, for the first 2 days of #RunFor321.
I ran with a smile, and I encouraged any other runner I saw struggling.
I worked hard to stay positive and light-hearted.
Winterstorm Toby had other ideas.
On one particular leg, somewhere between Philadelphia PA and Princeton NJ, the snow, sleet and freezing rain began.
There was no sidewalk – we were running alongside heavy traffic.
I started the leg excited to run in snow, for the first time ever.
I ended it scared to death I would be killed – and my boys left without a dad – by a text-driver who slipped on the ice.
I was terrified that one errant footfall on ice would cause me to fall into the road or get hit by a car.
That leg of the run – perhaps because I had not slept in 36 hours, perhaps because I had already put in close to 30 miles in those 36 hours – broke my spirit.
Around the same time, the race organizers were weighing whether or not to cut the run short as Winter Storm Toby, and I weighed in with my opinion:
“No run is worth getting killed over. I don’t think it’s safe to run. Let’s drive to NYC and finish strong.”
The rest of the #RunFor321 team did not see it the same way I did – they wanted to push on despite the adversity.
The irony was not lost on me:
My team was advocating the very lesson I had set out to teach my children, while I argued for caution and safety borne out of fear.
I bent to the will of the team.
The team said run, and I ran with them: I ran as hard and strong as I could.
We ran through the dark of the night.
I had 3 of the best runs I’d ever had: along a canal tow path somewhere in Jersey in the middle of the night.
I learned a little bit about ultra running talking to Mary Arnold on a run through Jersey City, NJ, the next morning.
And I won’t soon forget my run with Jessica Kuss – the beauty of seeing light break over the Manhattan skyline along the Jersey side of the Hudson river followed by the horror of climbing the Fort Lee hill.
Since I started running, I have believed running is a sport where there individual reigns supreme — my strength comes from inside me, and me alone.
In running, I alone achieve the end I have reached.
I have been so wrong.
The #RunFor321 taught me that no goal is accomplished by an individual.
There is always a team behind you, or next to you, or ahead of you.
There are always people who want to succeed with you.
We may never realize it, but we always have a “tribe” propelling us forward.
So, with that lesson in mind, here are just a handful of the people in the “tribe” that propelled the #RunFor321 to success.
This is by no means everyone that impacted me during#RunFor321. To keep this post from becoming a book, I selected just a few of the folks:
Mary brought the “Chill”.
Mary Arnold is an accomplished runner and race organizer, and that’s about as big an understatement as you can make.
But here’s what is most striking about Mary.
We ran a leg of #RunFor321 together early on Day 3, and she explained how when she first met some ultra-marathoners, what struck her was that they were laid back and not anxious.
She said she asked herself “How do I get some of that?”.
Throughout the planning, throughout the race, and throughout the glitches and the obstacles, Mary stayed chill and easy going.
I left this event asking myself: “How do I get some of what she has?”
Michelle brought the “Strength”.
I ran several legs of the race with Michelle.
Though we did not know it at the time, 15 years earlier (give or take) we were at the same wedding – one of my college room-mates worked with her husband.
Michelle is indomitable.
She has had 2 hip surgeries, still runs crazy long distances.
She conducted many Facebook Live videos while on the run, talking like she was standing still.
In between legs, she posted heavily on at least 3 social media platforms while still making logistical coordinations with the other van of runners.
Where she gets her strength, or energy, I’ll probably never know. But it fed the team and propelled us forward.
Bobby brought the “Happy”.
To succeed, every team needs at least one person who is happy, optimistic and just excited about the “mission”.
Bobby was that guy, at least in Van #2.
If you count Bobby among your friends, you are a lucky person indeed.
He stayed happy and positive and encouraging throughout the entire race. I never saw him without a smile, and I never heard him say a negative word – about any thing or any one.
From leaving Vietnam as a child, to his unwavering love of pizza, Bobby’s story is amazing woven with threads of sheer happiness.
I’m not going to steal his thunder and tell his story for him, so if you get a chance to run with Bobby, ask him how he came to run for #TeamNDSS.
I guarantee you’ll leave that run happy.
Elvia brought the “Resolve”.
I first met Elvia at the team dinner in DC the night before the race.
I asked her if she was ready, and I could tell from the look in her eye that she was nervous beyond words.
I was not in the same van with Elvia, but I did see her finish several of her legs.
Late in the day on Day 1, I ran into her at a Van exchange.
I remember asking her how her day went, and she told me it was hard, but she was doing it. I can’t remember her exact words, but I remember her smile. It was the smile of someone exceeding the limits she thought she had.
Elvia pushed herself to her limits. But when I saw her finish a leg, she was always smiling and cheering.
Elvia kept focus on remaining resolved: it’s not how fast or slow we run, or how many miles we log, but how hard we keep trying to reach our goal.
Her daughter – her family – is lucky.
They get a front row seat to Elvia’s resolve — every single day.
Some Random Lady Brought the Coffee.
I have no clue who she was, but early in the morning on Day #2, somewhere just before Wilmington, Delaware, I was about to start a run that was 2 legs back-to-back.
I was cold and groggy and on the lookout for a “pick me up”.
Then, like Santa on Christmas Eve, this woman appeared out of nowhere.
She brought a gallon of Dunkin Donut coffee and a few bags of donut holes.
Whoever you are, “coffee lady”, wherever you are, THANK YOU for getting up at 4 in the morning to chase down 2 vans full of runners dying for coffee and donut holes!
Our Spouses Back Home Brought….EVERYTHING.
Many of us on the team left behind a wife or husband to hold down the fort while we experienced this crazy adventure.
Many of those husbands and wives still had to work a day job.
All of them had to raise the kids solo while we were gone for a 52 hour run (and the days of travel on each side of the run).
Without the support and encouragement of our spouses, without their willingness to do the “heavy lifting” alone….
…the #RunFor321 would never have happened.
We owe them all a thank you.
To my own beautiful wife, and to all the husbands and wives who sacrificed a lot so we could do this crazy event: THANK YOU!!