My mom tells me I learned how to run before I learned how to walk. I would pull myself up to a standing position holding onto the couch, then take off. As long as I had forward motion I could stay on my feet. As soon as I slowed or tried to stand I would hit the carpet.
I have loved the outdoors as far back as my memory takes me. My entire childhood our family owned a 1 acre hill behind our house, and behind that there were miles of undeveloped land which included trails, eucalyptus tree forests, shrub brush, and a pond about two miles away. Growing up we built forts, chased coyotes, and often encountered rattlesnakes. One day as my older brother and his friends lifted up an old rotted out tree they disturbed a wasp nest and quickly came under attack. I remember hearing them sprint down the hill screaming in pain, seeking the refuge of our house. Nature can be harsh but sure is beautiful.
I remember in elementary school at a “run-a-thon” fundraiser I was constantly lapping the other children. As we completed each lap the teachers would make a tick-mark on our bib. Soon the number of marks on my bib far exceeded any other children. I remember a teacher point blank accusing me of cheating, saying I somehow wasn’t going all the way around the 0.10 mile loop!
At age 11 I joined the boy scouts and expanded my love for the outdoors and endurance. I backpacked, canoed, and camped throughout California at a very young age. One year our troop backpacked across Yosemite ending the trip at Half Dome where we all climbed the cables on the back. Wow! What an amazing place Yosemite was to my young soul.
In my early 20’s I started rock climbing with my friend Christian Burrell. We explored as many crags as we could in Southern California. We spent most of our Saturdays at either Joshua Tree or Tahquitz Rock in Idyllwild. I became strong and loved the vertical world of the rocks. In 1997 Christian and I put up a 6-pitch first ascent at Tahquitz called “Lip Up Fatty.” To train for my rock climbing I would often run for hours on end. I never wore a watch or measured my course, I just enjoyed the hours of running.
After three years of training, in August 2000 I climbed the Regular Northwest Face route of Half Dome with my good friend Riley Swift, completing the climb in four days and three nights.
In the summer of 2001 while climbing on a short 20 foot man-made retaining wall known as “People’s Wall” in La Jolla, CA I took a major fall from the top. I broke several toes on my right foot and completely shattered my left foot. After reviewing the CT scan my doctor told me my foot looked like “a bowl of corn flakes.” Even if I were to require surgery we would have to wait for the bones to fuse together, because there was nothing there to do surgery on. There were so many things about the future I did not know; would I ever walk like normal, would I ever climb again, run again? I did not know. Right at that time I started my most intense accounting semester at San Diego State University while in a wheelchair. The day I found out my feet were inoperable I thought to myself, “ok, so I can’t use my legs what else can I do? I want to learn to play the guitar.” The day after my doctor’s appointment I purchased a guitar and started to learn how to play. Eventually I went from the wheel chair, to crutches, to a cane, and after a year I was walking like normal again.
In September 2004 my wife Mary and I traveled to Utah and crewed her brother Brian R. Harward in a race and sport I had never heard of and knew nothing about. It was the Wasatch 100 Mile Endurance Run and the sport was known as ultrarunning. Trails were for hiking on, the concept of running great distances on mountainous terrain had never crossed my mind before. The Wasatch has a very strict 36 hour cutoff. My Brother-in-law ran his heart out and crossed the finish line in 36 hours and 90 seconds. He was issued a DNF (did not finish). We all cried together and I experienced first-hand the triumph and sorrow that comes from running ultras.
Three years after my foot recovery I was turning 30 years old. My wife’s two older brothers had started the tradition in her family of running 30-miles-at-30 and I decided I wanted to train for and do that too. So after some preparation, on a hot August day in 2005 I ran from Oceanside California down the coastal roads finishing my 30 mile run at the People’s Wall in La Jolla.
Two weeks later I found myself pacing Brian R. 13 miles in the Wasatch 100. That year he finished in 27:59:03 having cut 8 hours off of the previous year. It was then that I realized this sport was for me. How sweet the fruit is when you conquer an ultramarathon within the allotted time.
After returning home Mary and I wondered if there were any ultramarathons in our part of the globe. To our good fortune we found the website of a relatively new race called the San Diego 100 set to be run the very next month (October 2005). We emailed a gal named Glenda Kimmerly and let her know that we wanted to volunteer in any way we could. Over the race weekend we met many talented and experienced runners plus all the other volunteers dedicated to the race’s success including the founding mother of the SD100 Kathleen Schmidt. Mary and I drove our forest green 4X4 Dodge Ram out to the most remote aid station, Chariot Canyon, and worked there all day and into the night. We had a blast and were in awe at the participant’s tenacity, strength and talent.
I volunteered at several races and ran a couple 50k’s before believing I could cover the greater distances these amazing athletes made look so easy. I ran my first 50 miler in 2007 and my first 100 miler (the Bear 100) in 2008. I continue to volunteer at races because I love to give back to the sport, but also volunteering is an awesome opportunity to learn from other runners – to see how they do it. In 2011 I became the Race Director of the Noble Canyon 50k and in 2015 I brought back the Lost Boys 50 Mile Trail Run (RD). My experience in ultramarathons includes every angle; spectator, pacer, crew, aid station worker and aid station captain, course marking captain, race director, and of course most rewarding…participant.
See you on the trails.