Friday, May 11, 2012

A weird sort family tree of awesomeness and pivot points

A friend of mine posted on her blog about her “Pivot Point”. Her pivot point was when she bought  Dean Karnazes’ book, Ultramarathon Man, and how things changed for from that point forward – she asks others for their pivot point. Now that struck a chord with me, because Dean’s book was certainly a significant pivot point for me, it was that book which led to the dream of one day doing Western States, which led to finding out about Umstead, and so it goes. I couldn’t think of just one pivot point though, I think I have several, kinda like several branches of a family tree. So, Shelley, thanks for the idea and inspiration, I am copying it, and how various decisions have gone on to be significant in my running career (career. WTF? LOL)

The first line in this family tree, or the patriarchal pivot point so to speak, was of course deciding to try and run. This being prompted by reading an article about another random 40 something year old man dropping dead of a heart attack. I was approaching my 40th birthday. I had the choice to make, I could either make the decade of my 40’s be my last one, and live life to the “fullest”, have a blast, and probably drop dead. Or I could quit smoking, and start exercising, and make it so that this decade is just “half-way” point. I suspect you know, I chose the latter. As it happens, now 75% into my 4th decade, I feel like I am living life to the fullest, and I am most certainly having a blast.

That decision, led to tears of joy at being able to completely run a 2.4 mile loop at Valley Forge Park – I had walked it often with the dogs, and after the decision to start running, I wanted to run it all the way round. It took 2 or 3 months until I could do that. I was so happy! That was the moment, I considered myself a runner when I finally completed that loop.

Which led me to my first races – a half marathon. More races followed, a few 5k’s, 10k’s here and there another half or two, eventually in 2007 to my first and second marathon.

Somewhere between my second and third marathon came the next pivot point, I was traveling to Canada for work, and like Shelley, I picked up Dean’s book. I was at Toronto’s International Airport. I didn’t read it for a few weeks, but it was in my backpack. I started reading while I was stuck in BWI airport on another work trip, having been rerouted because of weather. I couldn’t put it down. And by the time I had eventually got to my destination in Salt Lake, I had finished the book, and started dreaming of doing the Western States 100 mile run. I actually sent an email to Dean, thanking him for writing the book, and was very surprised when he wrote back. I was now inspired, and at that point decided to set myself a goal of completing Western States. Just how to get there though, and what races would I need to do to build up to a 100 miles? Google provided the answer. Umstead.

Umstead 50 mile and 100 mile ultramarathon – the next leg of the family tree. I signed up for 50 miles, my first ultra. The race was April 2009. This is where the tree branches some. A whole ton of awesomeness came out of this one.

Let’s go down one of these branches. Meeting Frankie. Frankie and I have become solid friends, and that random conversation out there on the trail has led to me running in mountains of Wyoming, pacing a champion at another race in mountains in Wyoming, falling in love with mountains, my first 100 mile run in Boulder and running the Tahoe Rim Trail – 50 miles and then a 100.

Also at Umstead, I ran briefly with Jimmy. Jimmy asked me where I lived, and when I told him, he told me I should join the Mangum Track Club, he told me about about the number of races they have all less than a couple of hours drive from my home. Weymouth Woods, The Boogie, Ellerbe Springs Marathon, Hinson Lake, Derby 50k all put on by members of MTC. Sometime later, I did  the “shirt run” and found out there lots of other people who do ultras in my area – many friendships, races and training runs with new friends later, I can certainly look back at that time on the trail with Jimmy as a significant pivot point.

Also during that run at Umstead, I was lapped several times by the eventual winner, Dave James. Each time he lapped me, Dave had an encouraging word or two to say to me. I loved how the race leader actually spent a couple of seconds to acknowledge my efforts. I have since learned that it is not uncommon during ultras for the elites and front runners to offer up some support and pass the time of day with us back-of-the-packers. This to me, was pretty inspirational. So much so, that one day a few months later, after a few beers, I sent Dave a note through Facebook, and told him as much and thanked him. Dave and I keep in touch and also enjoy sinking a few when I find myself in his home state. Those few seconds to encourage me at Umstead meant a huge amount to me, and was certainly one of the reasons I love this sport.

This led to another branch of this tree – I offered to crew Dave at Freedom Park 24 hour race. While at Freedom Park, I met the person who has become my friend, mentor, part time therapist and unpaid coach Shannon. Shannon is the Queen of Awesome, a wonderful person who inspires people daily (including me).  The whole “Team Awesome” concept is Shannon’s brainchild. I have met several friends through that – and have even clocked my first “wins” and even have a couple of course records at the relay event at Hampton.

Also, at this Freedom Park race, I met Meredith, someone who I had only known “virtually” prior to then – I will be crewing at Badwater for third time (second time for Meredith) as a result of this meeting.

Finally, that decision to help Dave out at Freedom Park meant I got to meet Ray K, a legend in the sport having completed a mere 500+ ultras. Ray will give out advice (and bad tunes) freely, and anyone who has ever spent any time running with Ray will know that it is quite the experience.

So, that first Umstead was clearly a huge pivot point and many branches of the “Tree of Awesomeness” have grown from there, many good friends and many races.

A more recent pivot point – BCRT, Brick City Running Tribe. Yep, my home town of Sanford has a running group. No, really, we do! I learned about this when I got a local paper one day – no idea if it was a marketing thing, or we were delivered the paper by mistake, but there was an article about the running group meeting up on Tuesdays, so I went down with the pups one week, and made a whole bunch of new friends. Ultimately – the fact that Sanford had embraced a running group was one of the reasons I put on my Boxing Day Madness Fat Ass run, and have now become a Race Director.

This sport has given me so much – I have learned so much and made so many friends. But what was the tipping point? Umstead? A few beers on my porch?Freedom Park? Or how about buying Dean’s book? Yep, there have been many moments, some documented here, others not, some big, some small. Ultimately though, I guess some fat forty-something year old smoker dropping dead was probably it. His death gave me life.


  1. Jimbo... have you ever counted the number of people *you* have inspired to start running (ultras or otherwise)? Bet it's higher than you can even imagine.

  2. True Deanna!

    Jimbo has kept me going a number of times! And definitely inspired me to try running 100 miles. (DAMN YOU FOR THAT ONE, JIMBO!!) So with Jim's inspiration I will probably live the rest of my life unfilled! All thanks to Jimbo! :-)

  3. awesome jimbo! you know - i wrote a fan letter to dean too! he sent me an autographed picture that i kept in a frame on my mantel (DORK!)people sometimes don't have nice things to say about him, but you know what - he is responsible for the awesome life i've got now. i got only awesome things to say about him.