Races That Changed My Life – Marathon and Ultra Marathon Running


Five marathons or ultra-marathons races/runs that changed have my life.

When I first started on my fitness journey, it was never on my scope to run a marathon or an ultra-marathon.  18 years later I can hardly believe the number of miles I have covered or the lessons that have I learned.

1.  My First Marathon - I began my fitness journey to simply get back into shape.  At that time, I was a mid-30 something young man who was beginning to feel the mid-life riff.  Stepping on the treadmill that faithful day I had dreams of regaining some form of fitness and one day running a 10k where my heart didn’t explode.  Maybe in my wildest dreams I could envision a “better” version of me running a half-marathon.  A full marathon, that is what “other” people did.

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On April 24th 2005, in just over four hours, I ran the Shakespeare Marathon.   My life would never be the same.  I learned much about myself during the nine months of training.  I found my spirit during the time it took me to cover the 26.2-miles.  After finishing the race, I believed I could do anything I set my mind and my will to accomplish.  I became aware that I was capable of being that “other” person, the ones who achieved their goals and dreams.  I learned that any task, challenge or ambition could be met if you tackled it one step, one day at a time.

Nothing seemed impossible after this race.

2.  My First 24-Hour race -  I didn’t see it coming.   A simple black and white flyer picked up at a local running store enticed me into signing up for a 24-hour race.  What was I doing, I asked myself?  How hard could it be to run for 24-hours?  I reasoned it’s only one day.

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I started that race alone, one runner among a group of people each testing themselves against the clock.  I learned a lot about myself as I struggled in the latter stages of the race.  I completed 52.5 miles in just over 16 hours.  More importantly I was introduced to the ultra-running community.  I learned that your competitors can and will become your best friends and your greatest supporters.  I discovered that runners are a community who live, laugh, love and toil together.  I learned that each of us while trying to do our best can lift up others around us.  I learned that although running is a solo sport it is also a community of friends who understand the challenge of pushing our bodies beyond what we believe are our limits.

Running has never felt the same since that day.

3.  My First 100-Mile race –  When asked by friends if I would consider running a 100-mile race, not this guy…had been my standard reply.  “I’m not that crazy.”

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Running the final half mile of the Umstead 100-mile endurance race, knowing I had covered 99.5 miles in under 24 hours, I could barely contain myself.  Approaching the finish line, I looked for my wife who had provided crew support all day.  In between emotion filled eyes I spotted her and yelled “Michele, get to the finish line.”  I’ll never forget her reply “You’re done?  Your early!”

I continued to run for the finish line as she made her way to greet me.  At this point my body was in such pain, and my mind was using every trick in the book to compel me to keep moving forward.  With my goal, just a few strides in front of me I couldn’t believe I was going to complete a 100-mile race.

As I crossed the timing stripe for the 8th time the volunteer sitting behind the timing table called out my number, looked down at the scoring sheet and said “congratulations.”  I remember seeing my wife standing front and center behind a string of yellow tape.  I noticed her eyes were full of tears and my running mentor George stood just feet away looking proud of me.  I can still recall in great detail when Blake Norwood handed me a Umstead 100-mile sub 24-hour finishers buckle and I remember straining to hold it all together.  Blake next presented a girl standing next to me with her buckle, she began to cry and I lost all control.  I was a 100-mile finisher and I could no longer keep my emotions inside.  I moved slowly but as fast as I could, towards my wife.  She hugged me and took me into the cabin to sit down.  I was happy to be still.  I was so proud I had completed my goal, so thankful to everyone who invested and supported me on my journey to run further than I ever imagined possible.  I knew that somehow, 100-miles later, I had become a different person.

100-miles changed my outlook on life.

4.  Running the Grand Canyon – It’s sometimes hard to imagine a race or a run being bigger than the total distance.  Running the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim was so much more.

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The beauty, the friendships, the distance and the struggle to finish left an impression on my soul.  It’s hard to capture in words the overwhelming beauty of the Grand Canyon.  The colors, shapes, and textures flood your senses.  For a brief period, I was not simply a visitor to the canyon I along with four friends were part of the Grand Canyon.  We gathered as friends along the south rim, wide eyed, open minded and unsure of what we had gotten ourselves into.  I believe each one of us knew we would never be the same.  Over the course of the day, over the 44-miles from the south rim to the north and back we shared our excitement, we shared our journey, our experiences, our struggles and we created a bound we will share forever.  It’s funny whenever I see a post from anyone of this group on Facebook I instantly remember our run at the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is more than a place to run it’s a life shaping experience on so many levels.

5.  Shamrock Marathon 2013 – Susan was told she had breast cancer.  She was told that one day she would not be able to walk because of Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Susan asked if I would run with her while she trained for a half marathon. (spoiler alert, she didn’t stop there)

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Nearly a year later Susan and I ran along the Virginia Beach boardwalk with the finish line celebrations just out of site.  “Susan.”  I called out in between deep breaths as I tried to keep my composure together.  “Susan, you’re going to do it…you’re going to finish the Shamrock Marathon.”  I had spent over four hours glued to Susan’s shoulder.  I was so proud of her.  Susan was a fighter, she overcame some of the scariest health concerns.  She was determined, never giving up day in or day out.  Susan was the first person I ran with consistently.  We ran in the rain, the heat, the cold, through thunderstorms, and in races.   Together we ran easy miles and we ran the long hard miles.  Susan overcame so much and I learned to open myself up to others.

Running was no longer about finish lines…running became about the journey, the adventure, the experience and most importantly about the relationships.

Check out my two running related books on Amazon.

a1both books

Honorable mentions:

JFK50 (I’ve run this race three times) – to run the one of oldest of ultra-marathons gave me the sense that I had arrived.

Graveyard 100k and 100-Miler – I ran the 100k step for step with George N, we finished in the exact time.  My second 100-miler made me feel like the first wasn’t a fluke.  I ran this race solo.

Yeti 100 – Joined the cult.

Hinson Lake 24-hour race 2017 - First race that proved I could run for 24-hours.

In all of these great events I learned that running will always be about my next great running adventure…