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Healing through Movement in Northern Japan

Life Lessons I learned while running 100 miles

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In 2015, I took up long distance running for health, discipline, and challenge, as a person in recovery from alcohol use disorder and a warrior returning to conventional forces from over a decade with Special Operations, I needed an outlet, a new mission. I needed something to get me outside, moving amongst the world again.

Over the course of five years, I did a few marathons, a few fifty-kilometer races, a couple of fifty-mile races, and even an one-hundred-kilometer race, but the one-hundred-mile distance eluded me. It appeared on my radar, but I just couldn’t give a serious thought to it.

Truth be told, I was scared of it and looking back on it now, rightfully so. It is a beast of a distance. Incomprehensible to many, and myself for years. It just seemed to be too heavy of a lift. Too far. Too painful. Too much.

I didn’t think I had what it took to get it done, and that’s why I had to try, I had to prove that voice wrong.

In August of 2019, my back went pop while training for a mountain trail race, and I was stricken with what appeared to be a career ending injury. I was gutted. This injury brought me to therapy, and not just physical, but mental. I worked hard to come back and underwent surgery in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning to take hold of the world.

Two months later, I read that an inspiration, friend and coach in sobriety named David Clark had died. He was once a 320 lb alcoholic, addict, fast food junky that turned his life around and became a ultra-endurance athlete, happiness guru. He died during complications with a surgery very much the same as the one I just had on my spine.

That sealed it. I had to get the one hundred mile distance done. I had to do it for David’s memory, and to prove to myself that I was not done. I was far from through. I would recover, and be a better version of myself.

What did I learn along the way? 

Have a Purpose Greater than Yourself- Possessing and clarifying your “why” is powerful, and without it when times get tough, (and they will get tough) you may not be able to continue on without an idea of why you are doing it.

I did this run for awareness of substance use disorder recovery, stigma reduction, and as a tribute to a great man that passed away.

I did it to raise funds for a non-profit called Addict II Athlete that uses athletics to help people get sober and stay sober.

When times began to get tough, I was able to pull from a deep well of knowing that my mission was greater than me, and I was able to keep driving forward. In short- know your why in life.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

AFRICAN PROVERB

Have a Support System-

I wanted to go far, so I enlisted my family and my friend to help. It is crucial to build and have a good support system around you to achieve success. Design a team and take care of that team. You are going to need them, a lot.

Planning is Great, but don’t Fall in Love with any Plan- Twenty-four hours before the start of the run, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 in Hirosaki City. This was right in line with our route across Japan. Being in the military, we are issued and follow a lot of orders. Higher headquarters called the city off-limits. So, we pivot, we flex, we make the decision quickly that we are not running across Japan but running fifty miles from the coast to the mountains, turn around and run back. Always have plan, but never fall in love with it. Semper Gumby- Always Flexible.

Stay in the Mile, because Things can Change– Around Mile Thirty-Five, the pain hit me like a bee sting in my right ankle. I really thought it was a bee when it happened. I stopped and pulled down my sock…nothing.

“Oh no” I thought “If I feel like this now, how will I get through the next sixty-five miles?”

Then, I remembered my mindfulness training, and pulled myself back from the cliff. Stay in the mile, stay here, stay now, things will change, and bridges will be crossed when we arrive. Believe it or not, they did change. I felt better thirty miles later at mile sixty five then I did at mile thirty-five.

STOP– At mile fifty-five, my knee began to hurt a lot and I had seven miles worth of downhill running to do. I began to tense around it but remembered a lesson from a meditation teacher. He used the acronym of STOP.

“S” is for Stop. “T” is for take three deep mindful breaths. “O” is observe what / where you feel discomfort (allow it to be there) “P” is for proceed mindfully.

JON KABAT-ZINN

The key to the whole thing for me is to allow. Don’t fight the yucky feelings or tense around them, it only makes it worse. Just allow them to be there, breathe into them, and they tend to get better or my perception and reaction to them changes, but either way they seem to lessen.

Micro Goals will get You to the End– As the miles piled on, and our conditions worsened we could have been caught up in the big goal of the finish, but that was so overwhelming, so instead we made goals of “jog to that next streetlight” and then “walk to the next”  then “jog to the stop sign” then “walk to the neon sign”, etc.

DON’T QUIT- rest, and reset– It can be difficult to quit, but if you do it once it becomes easier the next time, and the next time and the next time, so DON’T QUIT!

The dawn will come right before the darkest moments. You can stop, rest, reset, but don’t give the quit muscle any strength. You will be shocked what you can accomplish with perseverance.

You’ll never Realize how Strong you are until being Strong is your Only Option

BOB MARLEY

At mile ninety-one, my feet felt like they were rubbed raw, and every step sent an electrical type shock up my legs, every major muscle groups was cramping, nauseous, confused, feet swollen, and in more pain than I had ever experienced. I was broken. Every time I sat down, I fell asleep within seconds, but I knew my “why”, and I set those micro goals, and I just kept on going.

Thirty-one hours after I stepped off from Shabishiro Beach to Lake Towada in Japan, I returned.

After One Hundred Miles, I returned, but I was not the same. I was now a hundred-mile finisher, and as I lay broken in the grass I thought “I can do anything I put my mind to, there is nothing that can’t be done, if I believe, and keep pushing forward..nothing is out of my grasp”

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