Sunday, July 17, 2016

Turning the Page...to Leadville

In the wake of Western States, I really struggled to turn the page. This was for two reasons. First, I know I was/am capable of sub-24 hours on that course. So it hurt to come up short, especially when I consider it could have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Second, it's just downright traumatic to endure what I endured at the Devil's Thumb, Michigan Bluff and Foresthill aid stations. To have gotten that much needed medical attention at those three key aid stations just sucks.

Without going into too many details, in the past few weeks I have been doing everything I could (and can) to "figure out" my nutritional struggles in 100-milers. I truly want to crack this code. I am convinced that I am doing something wrong, versus me just being the victim of a "bad" raceday stomach. I have been practicing with different products on the run and trying to get my gut used to running with calories coming in. Bottom line: I need to consume about 180-200 calories every hour. One product I really like so far is Fuel 100 Bites. They're salty, easy to get down (with water) and not at all sweet. Larabars are good, too. I'm also liking Ultragen for recovery after workouts.

After Western States, I said no more 100s. And for about a week that feeling didn't change. But, just as you'd expect, Leadville started to enter my mind...and heart. So about two weeks ago, I decided to go back and run for another big buckle. With my recovery from Western States going pretty well, I think I can give Leadville a pretty good go.

The thing about Leadville is that it's all emotional to me. When I think about Leadville, I get these images of my son, when he was 2 or 3, running into the aid stations with me. Those kinds of images stay with you, making a race very special. He's grown up on that course. For his birthday a few months ago, we told him we could go anywhere for the weekend to celebrate...and he chose Leadville. So we got a cabin outside of town that weekend and just hung out in the high county. He loves Leadville. It's obvious the area and race mean a great deal to him (and me).

The other thing about Leadville is that it has this incredible vibe. Leadville is an economically struggling town with the most beautiful mountains all around. It's beautifully imperfect, if that makes any sense--just as we are ALL beautifully imperfect creatures. The energy around the 100-mile run is addictive. The race perfectly captures who I am deep down. It has its faults, just as any race has its faults, but it's still an amazing experience. It's Leadville!

Plus, I started thinking about how I'd feel on race morning, waking up in Parker and knowing I just DNS'd my favorite 100-miler. Didn't feel good about that.

Then I started thinking about the course itself. I know every inch of the course and what's in front of me. It's an amazing course and I know what I need to do to get a good result out of the day. For me, it all comes down to getting through the 21-mile Hope Pass section without any debilitating stomach distress. I will have my trekking poles with me on Hope.

Finally, I started thinking about what I might be able to do if I could make some progress on my nutritional woes. With good fitness coming off Western States--assuming I recovered well (which I am doing)--could I potentially go sub-24 at Leadville once again? The answer to that question was, of course, yes.

All that being said, it's been hard turning the page on Western States. I felt slow during Western States...so slow that I wondered if I'd "lost it." But then a few days ago I went out and ran 5000 meters in 18:14, feeling good the whole way as I clicked off three consecutive 5:50something miles and held pace for that last tenth of a mile. Coming off that 5K, I realized I still have decent speed but I need to work on it. So I've been on the track, doing threshold work, and hitting the trails for some limited mileage, trying to sharpen the blade for Leadville.

The support I've gotten in the wake of Western States has meant a great deal to me. Thanks to everyone for their kind words. I agree with you: It's about finishing, especially when you're having a tough day. Enduring the tough days is what makes you a better person and runner.

Turning the Page...to Leadville

After Western States, I really struggled to turn the page. This was for two reasons. First, I know I was/am capable of sub-24 hours on that course. So it hurts to come up short, especially when I consider it could have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Second, it's just downright traumatic to endure what I endured at Devil's Thumb, Michigan Bluff and Foresthill. To have gotten that much needed medical attention at three consecutive aid stations just sucks.

Without going into too many details, in the past few weeks I have been doing everything I can to "figure out" my nutritional struggles in 100-milers. I am convinced that I am doing something wrong. I have been practicing with different products on the run and trying to get my gut used to running with calories coming in. Bottom line: I need to consume about 180 calories every hour. One product I really like so far is Fuel 100 Bites. They're salty, easy to get down (with water) and not at all sweet.

After Western States, I said no more to 100s. And for about a week that feeling didn't change. But, just as you'd expect, Leadville started to enter my mind...and heart. So about two weeks ago, I decided to go back and run for another big buckle. With my recovery from Western States going pretty well, I think I can give Leadville a good go.

The thing about Leadville is that it's all emotional to me. When I think about Leadville, I get these images of my son, when he was 2 or 3, running into the aid stations with me. Those kinds of images stay with you, making a race a very special thing. He's grown up on that course. For his birthday a few months ago, we told him he could go anywhere for the weekend...and he chose Leadville. So we got a cabin that weekend and just hung out in the high county. He loves Leadville. It's obvious the area and race mean a great deal to him (and me).

The other thing about Leadville is that it just has this incredible vibe. Leadville is an economically struggling town with the most beautiful mountains all around. The energy around the 100-mile run is just addictive. The race has its faults but it's still an amazing experience.

Plus, I started thinking about how I'd feel on race morning, waking up in Parker and knowing I just DNS'd my favorite 100-miler. Didn't feel good about that.

Then I started thinking about the course itself. I know every inch of the course and what's in front of me. It's an amazing course and I know what I need to do to get a good result out of the day.

Finally, I started thinking about what I might be able to do if I could make some progress on my nutritional woes. With my fitness coming off Western States--assuming I recovered well (which I am doing)--could I potentially go sub-24 at Leadville once again? The answer to that question was, of course, yes.

All that being said, it's been hard turning the page on Western States. I felt slow during Western States...so slow that I wondered if I'd "lost it." But then a few days ago I went out and ran 5000 meters in 18:14, feeling good the whole way as I clicked off three consecutive 5:50something miles and held pace for that last tenth of a mile. Coming off that 5K, I realized I still have decent speed but I need to work on it. So I've been on the track, doing threshold work, and hitting the trails for some limited mileage, trying to sharpen the blade for Leadville.

The support I've gotten in the wake of Western States has meant a great deal to me. Thanks to everyone for their kind words. I agree with you: It's about finishing, especially when you're having a tough day. Enduring the tough days is what makes you a better person and runner.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Staying the Course at Western States

I’m not sure I’ll write a blow-by-blow report from my race at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. So much has already been said about this event over the years. Where could I possible add any value?

As with all ultras, you will never finish unless you have a Why. Going into the race, the big Why was simple: It’s Western States. As the race wore on and things turned south, the Why expanded to not just finishing the “big dance” but also to setting a good example for my son, honoring the training I’d done, and making this whole adventure worthwhile for my family and crew. Quitting was never an option.

And so in the final 300 meters when I was running around the Placer High School track, over 26 hours into this madness (I had thought sub-24 was very realistic going into the race), I talked with my 8-year-old son, who was by my side and holding my hand. I cried. I told him that you never quit, even when you’re being kicked in the teeth repeatedly. You never give up, especially when you know perseverance and resilience will lead you to the promised land. 

It was a moment with him that I will never forget. He saw me suffer. He saw me fight to the finish. He saw me show kindness to my family and crew when the chips were down. He saw me incoherent at Highway 49 but nonetheless moving forward, mumbling “stay the course.” He saw others shower me with love and care, including the race founder himself, Gordy Ainsleigh, at Michigan Bluff. My hope is that one day all of this will help make him a better man. I am his father and in that race I refused to fail him and come up short in my responsibilities as a man who is obligated to mold him into the best man he can be.

In that regard, it was a tremendous experience.

As far as the race itself, the vibe at Squaw Valley Ski Resort (where you start) is electric. The course itself is beautiful. The first 30 miles, which feature the climb up and over the Escarpment and some gorgeous running through the Granite Chief Wilderness area, is alpine running at some of its finest. The second third features the canyons—Deadwood, El Dorado and Volcano. The third section is “mostly” downhill, featuring the fast California Street trail which takes you from Foresthill (mile 62) down to the American River Crossing (mile 78). From the river crossing, it’s mostly rolling terrain to the finish, with a few good climbs mixed in.

The volunteers and aid stations are spectacular. The aid stations are well-stocked with what you need—not just food and drink but also ice, cold sponges and sprayers. The volunteers are helpful and caring. The medical staff, who I’d rather not have gotten to know (but did), are professional and compassionate.

The organization of the race is phenomenal, save a few sections where course markings were a bit sparse. But, then again, I am originally from back East, where we tend to over-mark courses with pie plates, lime and billions of streamers. The sparse markings in areas, such as the long downhill stretch from Robinson Flat to Last Chance and a few turns going up to Robie Point (the latter of which could have been sabotage), never rattled me but it would have been nice to see some more confidence markers.

Western States has built a big, strong community. The community puts this race on, with excellent leadership from the board and the race director, Craig Thornley. Few races have such a tight-knit community. This is what makes Western States unique, in my eyes.

Looking back on it, while the result certainly wasn’t what I’d hoped—I still feel I am fully capable of finishing under 24 hours—I know I ran a smart race. I went out conservatively. At no point was I pushing beyond my limits. What seems to have done me in were the canyons and the silent killer that was heat in excess of 100 degrees (which everyone experienced, of course). I fell well short in my descent of the canyons. By the time I got to Devil’s Thumb (mile 47), I was nauseous and soon after starting vomiting—probably the product of the heat, though I’d been using ice all day long to stay cool. More vomiting ensued at Michigan Bluff (mile 55) and Foresthill (mile 62). In each of those three aid stations, I was laid up in a cot receiving medical attention.

In the descent to the river from Foresthill, I had some good stretches and seemed to be coming back a bit. But by the time Brown’s Bar (mile 90) appeared, I was hallucinating. So I closed my eyes there for 10 minutes and then we got going again. The hallucinations abated and I mostly jogged and walked my way into the finish, seeing a second sunrise for the first time ever in a 100-miler.

As far as what’s next, I don’t know. I have signed up for the Leadville 100 but I am going to give it some thought. Putting myself through this process in every 100 seems absurd to me. And it takes the fun out of it. Why should I sign up for a puke-fest when instead I could race shorter distances, do fairly well and actually have fun? Running 100 miles used to be fun but in every one of them of late I go in with a great attitude only for my stomach to completely go south on me. So at this point Leadville is doubtful and that’s OK. I have finished ten 100-milers, winning one of them, and I am proud of that. Forgoing Leadville wouldn't be quitting; it would be deciding that my running has gone in a new direction. I will never quit running.

In lieu of Leadville, I would instead gun for a fall marathon where I can get re-qualified for Boston. But that decision isn’t final; I definitely realize I need a cooling-off period.

I am indebted to my family and crew for their support: my wife and our son, who are like my heart and soul; my mom and dad, who I’m sure struggled to see me in such shape mid-way through the race; Mike, who paced me from Foresthill to Green Gate; Kenny, who paced me from Green Gate to the finish; and Kenny’s lovely wife, Jonnie, who is a wonderful person and was there the whole way to help. 

Onward.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Random Thoughts a Week Out from Western States

A few days ago, I crunched the splits from my race at the North Fork 50K on June 4 and, boy, I sure liked what I saw. At mile 20, I was in 18th place out of a field of about 130. From miles 20-32, I ran the 4th fastest split of all the 50K field, moving up 10 places to finish 8th out of 128. The folks who ran a faster final 12 miles were the 1st (4 minutes faster), 2nd (1 minute faster), and 3rd (1 minute faster) place finishers.

This is just more proof that going out conservatively usually works on most courses. By the same token, it also proves that going out too fast in a race usually backfires (which is one reason why I was able to move up so much in the last 12 miles). It all gives me confidence that this strategy will work at Western States, a race that rewards patience. If you don't exercise patience, well, the "Killing Machine" will get you at some point...usually after Foresthill.

So, on race day, in the first third, I will be going out at a relaxed pace. I will do all I can to ignore the hype and instead focus on my own race. In the middle third, the goals will be to keep it relaxed and, above all else, stay cool mentally and physically, because it's going to be hot. As of now, the forecast has Foresthill at 89 degrees and Auburn at 96 degrees. The canyons will be a few degrees warmer. I will have 3-4 water bottles with me. One will be just for dousing myself with creek water and the others will be for drinking.

Approaching the race in this fashion will ideally bring me into Foresthill (mile 62) with strong legs, which are what you need in the last 38 miles when the trail is so runnable and downhill. It's in these final 38 miles, as I've read it, that the carnage is epic and those who went out too fast find themselves in the pain cave and those who've shown restraint can open it up and gain ground. My only hope is that I am not among the carnage! I know that if I run a smart race, I can run well in the final 38 miles.

I don't pretend that the race will go off without a hitch. Problems will arise. I may even puke a few times. I am sure I'm going to find myself quite hot at times. The key will be to stay calm and fix the problems as best as we can. But, above all else, it comes down to having fun. This is Western States.

In the end, I know I trained well. Could I have done a bit more climbing? Yes. But overall I had a good training cycle and put in some good mileage for a guy who works full-time and has responsibilities as a dad and husband. Plus, by race day, I will have put in 11-12 quality sauna sessions.

Speaking of sauna sessions, they are getting easier. This week I've been using the sauna at Lifetime Fitness. Their sauna tops out at 185 degrees and I've put in two half-hour sessions (this week), drinking 60 ounces of water in each. The breakthrough I have made as far as recovering from sauna session is taking an S!Cap beforehand and another S!Cap afterward. I have found that, if I do that, the next day I wake up feeling fine--no washed-out feeling, no headaches, no grogginess.

Another factor in all of this is that I'm experienced. This is my twelfth hundred and I fully intend on it being my tenth finish at the distance. I have big-buckled four times at Leadville, which is not exactly an easy hundred. Also, it's not like I don't have experience in the heat. The 2007 Burning River 100 and 2008 Mohican 100 were no walk in the park. As I recall, both saw temperatures over 90 degrees (along with high humidity).

I wish everyone who will be running Western States all the best. I look forward to meeting the Western States community next weekend and to running the most storied course in all of ultra. Only about 370 of us will have this opportunity and I intend to take full advantage of it, soak it all in, and be grateful. 

I'll try to update my blog one more time before raceday. See you in Squaw.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Heat Training for Western States

With the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run now only 16 days away, I'm in the throes of heat training. As most know, Western States is a very hot race, especially in the "canyons" section, and so it's key to go into the event ready to handle temps well in excess of 100 degrees. I'm coming from Colorado, where we had our signature cool spring. Unlike those coming from other areas of the country, our natural conditions until now (it's supposed to be 90 degrees today) have offered next to no opportunities for legitimate heat acclimatization.

With no real experience when it comes to formal heat training, I have used this great article by Badwater Ultramarathon legend Authur Webb as a guide. I have also sought some thoughtful advice from previous Western States finishers like AJ Wellman (2015 sub-24-hour finisher), Matt Curtis (2014 Grand Slam champ) and Andy Jones-Wilkins (10-time Western States finisher). As such, my heat training has focused on sauna sessions and some maintenance activities like--dare I say--driving home from work in the afternoon with the windows rolled up and vents off (I have been parking on the upper deck to get my car as hot as possible). With the weather in Denver finally starting to warm up, it will also likely involve a few afternoon runs. But sauna sessions are the centerpiece of the strategy as they are widely considered a "best practice" for Western States training (not to sound corporate).

Going into my Western States build up, while I knew sauna time would be a critical aspect, I didn't realize how physically hard it would be. The actual time in the sauna isn't what's so hard; it's how I feel the next day. More on that in a second. When I go into the sauna, it's always with about 50-60 ounces of ice-cold water in hand. And I always make a point to drink both bottles while in the hot box. I try to pace myself so that I'm drinking at an even rate for the whole time in the sauna and take that last sip just seconds before leaving. I also make a point to take an S!Cap afterward to help replace lost electrolytes, and I have found that the S!Cap does make a difference.

How long am I in there? Anywhere from 28-33 minutes at this stage. I originally wanted to build up to a 40-minute session but I honestly cannot conceive of how that might make me feel the next day. Such times as 28-33 minutes in the sauna are way out of the norm when you're looking at the "general population." Having watched a lot of people come in and out of the hot box over the past few weeks (this has offered its fair share of humor, too), I can say that the average session for folks is 4-8 minutes. No one stays in the sauna for a half-hour or even close to it. People have been incredulous when they saw how much I was sweating and asked how long I'd been in the sauna. Never mind what they say when I tell them why I'm doing this. It's all way out of the norm. And so I tell myself that, yes, this should be hard...because it is hard.

As an aside, despite the growth in ultrarunning over the past few years, we should never lose sight of how out of the norm it is to do what we do. It's easy to forget that fact because, for most of us, our friends are also ultrarunners. But the bottom line is that 99.99% of the population has no interest in lining up for an ultra. They cannot conceive of it.

Why am I finding it so hard to sauna train? I have found that the next day I usually struggle with headaches, mild dizziness and general fogginess. Occasionally it feels like a bad hangover. Sometimes it can be draining. The mild dizziness usually clears up in a day or two but it's no fun.

Having spoken with others, it seems this is all part of the process. Heat training is hard and fatiguing and that's why many Western States runners save it for the final stages. I started a week before my taper kicked in and it was hard to balance it all. So I did what I could and now am trying to get to at least 10-12 sessions by the time I'm four days from the race, when it's all behind me. While I have truly loved the build-up to Western States, the sauna training aspect has been much harder than I anticipated. I cannot imagine what Badwater heat training would call for!

If you have any heat/sauna training tips, chime in!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

And That's a Wrap on Western States Training

Well, just like that, the taper for the Western States 100-miler is here. May was a very strong month, and I was able to go into my 3-week taper with a huge (for me) 7-day stretch where I ran 102 miles and climbed and descended a combined 24,400 feet. May saw 370 miles (not including miscellaneous walking). Most importantly, I felt good through all the volume and still feel fresh and alive.

It all ended with Saturday's North Fork "50K." I quote "50K" because it's really a 32.5-mile race--and one of the best such races in Colorado with its friendly, down-home feel, great organization and tremendous post-race picnic food complete with tall cold ones. It seems the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, which was also on Saturday, is the "in" 50K for this time of year but I'll take North Fork any day of the week as it suits me better. It's a beautiful, fairly fast course, passing through some of the burn areas from the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire as you climb about 4,800 feet (which is a lot less than Golden Gate). Plus, it has some nice descents that are perfect for conditioning the quads.

Except for the fact that I saw a dead motorcyclist on US 285 going home, it was a great day at North Fork. I finished in 5 hours and 21 minutes, good for 8th overall out of 128 finishers. Going into North Fork, the strategy was to run it very conservatively (as in all-day pace) and essentially use the race as an aided long training run. I was able to hold to that strategy through about 21 miles, getting passed by quite a few runners, and then it fell by the wayside a bit when I "decided" to amp up the pace and see how many folks I could reel in.

As we entered one of the burn areas in the late morning, I had a nice view of several runners in front of me. It was at about that time that my iPod turned to Bob Seger's "Shakedown," a great tune from the eighties (I've always been a Seger fan). With the competitive juices flowing and the legs suddenly alive, I picked up the pace and by mile 23 was running sub-7s, absolutely hammering the downhills. I passed, by my count, every single runner that had overtaken me in the first 20 miles and was looking for more. And I was feeling good despite the heat starting to pick up. My legs, after feeling tired in the first 20 miles from a lot of running in the past few weeks, all of a sudden felt light and my turnover was solid. My quads were in great shape. It was time to run.

So in the last 10 miles, I was able to gain a lot of ground and even passed a runner about a 1/3 of the way from the finish line, crossing feeling quite fresh. Zero stomach problems. I continue to wonder at the effects of my sharp reduction in sugar, which I began earlier this year.

Today, all feels good--just some minor soreness in my hips and ankles but otherwise the ship is sturdy. I put in an easy 7-miler this morning, followed by weights and my fifth sauna session. I'm looking to put in 10-12 total sauna sessions. Not really interested in any bank robber suit runs, though I admire the commitment quite a bit. The taper plan is to cut mileage by about 35% each week going into Western States, with very little the week of the race as I super-hydrate.

I've been running ultras for 13 years and it's not every day that you can go into a race feeling solidly good about your training. I feel like this has been a hell of training cycle and so I can line up at Western States feeling confident that I can finish and ideally go sub-24 hours...or much better. My quads are there and the heat training is progressing.

The word that best describes this whole process--from start to race day--is simple: Gratitude. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Friday, June 3, 2016

He Ran One of the Fastest-Ever Times Across the USA: Interview with Jason Romero

Jason Romero overcame the challenge of legal blindness to run among the fastest-ever times across the USA. Starting in Santa Monica, Calif. on March 25, he covered 3,063 miles in a little over 59 days, completing his journey at New York City Hall on May 23 at 8:30pm. Averaging better than 50 miles per day, he bested his original goal by five days. The 46-year-old father of three from Colorado has an impressive running resume, completing some of the most challenging races on the planet, including the Badwater Ultramarathon and Leadville 100. Jason's run across America, dubbed Vision Run USA, supported the US Association of Blind Athletes. Jason, a lawyer by training, is now a motivational speaker and enjoys giving corporate keynote addresses. More information about Jason, including booking details, can be found at his personal website. Now sit back and enjoy the interview!


At the start. Credit: USABA

RM: Jason, first off, congratulations on an extraordinary feat. Averaging 50 miles a day while running across the country—over 3,000 miles in all—puts you in pretty select company. Several reading this interview can identify with the desire for such an epic trek but I want to ask the big question on everyone's minds. Why? What compelled you to take this on as a runner who is legally blind?

JR: I believe I was called to take on the challenge of running across America. It was a total act of obedience. One day, I was volunteering at a homeless shelter where I serve on the Board (Chirst’s Body Ministries) and I was overcome with a sense of knowing that I was going to run across America. I didn’t understand why at the time...and I’m not totally sure I currently understand why I was called. 

Before I was called, I had just stopped driving due to deteriorating eyesight. That had strained some important relationships and I had found myself in a funk. I found my way out of it by running and openly being “legally blind." In so doing, I met many people who had gone blind or were already blind. They inspired me. I saw firsthand that life is not over when you lose your sight; it is only different.

I also witnessed some large issues confronting this population, like a 70% unemployment rate, a 66% obesity rate, and 2 times the rate of depression versus the general population. I felt compelled to run across America as a blind man to demonstrate to all that we are capable of anything, despite perceived limitations.

Credit: Carly Gerhart

RM: Let’s talk about your vision for a moment. I want to get a sense of the challenges you may have faced on your cross-county trek. What might you struggle seeing that someone with “normal” vision would have no problem seeing? 

JR:  I have 100% clear “vision” – no problem there. My “eyesight,” however, is deteriorating. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is a degenerative eye condition. I was diagnosed at age 14 and told I would have no light perception by the time I was 30. When I was 14, my left eye was 20/200, my right eye was 20/70 and I had a full peripheral field of sight. At night, I had night blindness (I could see light, but not necessarily what the light illuminated). Fast forward to today: In my left eye, I see 20/400 and my right eye is 20/200-400 depending on how well-rested I am. I have lost my peripheral field (a symptom of RP), so I am able to see what is directly in front of me. I have tunnel-vision with a 15-degree field of sight – that’s like looking through 2 toilet paper cardboard inserts side-by-side. At night time, it has gotten darker and I see less. With RP, the retina slowly dies from the outside in; hence, the reason for shrinking tunnel vision.

Recovering between runs. Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: I can only imagine that, throughout your nearly 60-day run, it wasn't just your eyesight that was a challenge. You must have encountered a range of highs and lows. You told the Denver Post that on several occasions you wanted to quit but you didn’t. Tell me about those highs and lows and how you persevered through the tough times.

JR: As you can imagine, the run was a real physical challenge. But even more than that, it was a mental and emotional challenge. It’s hard to describe what happened because most people have never done anything for 60 days straight. I know I never had. I’ll give a couple of examples to try to sharpen the point. About 3 weeks into the run, a significant multi-year relationship melted down over a 3-day time period. This was a person I was very close to and all of the sudden it was gone. I was incapable of trying to mediate the situation, or work through to a solution. I was just trying to survive the act of getting up and limping for 3 hours before I could run every day. I had to put everything I had into just getting up and getting out there. There were 3 days where I was totally decimated, wiped out, and emotionally destroyed. I had to figure out a way to go on despite losing this relationship. It was very difficult. In a world where I did not have to run 50 miles a day, I would have been mopey and melancholy. But, put on top of that the fact that I’d already logged 750 miles, my body and mind were fatigued and I was in blazing desert. You just have to prioritize things and make a simple decision – am I going to quit (take the easy road) or am I going to continue and suffer (take the harder, and ultimately more satisfying road)? I never quit.

The other example of defining moments in this run came when cars either hit me, or attempted to hit me intentionally (drove directly at me while I was running in the break-down lane against traffic). When you are really confronted with your own mortality, you do a real gut-check. A crazy driver was completely out of the realm of things that I could control. I had to decide whether I was going to continue the run despite the real possibility of being hit and injured by a careless or intentionally mean driver. Ultimately, I decided this was a calling that I was doing and the only way I was quitting was if I was killed, or broke a bone that stopped me from being able to run. That is a really tough decision to make when you are a single father of 3 children. However, this run was not about me, it was for a higher purpose.

Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: I am sorry to hear about the relationship that ended. I can't imagine what those three days were like, knowing you had to deal with the loss but also run so many miles. With the run now "behind" you, how are feeling emotionally, spiritually and physically?

JR: Thanks for the empathy, Wyatt. As with all relationships, I hope time and perspective will help it evolve in a positive direction. Taking each category in turn, let's start with the easiest: how am I feeling physically. I'm about 10 days post-finish [as of June 2]. I have slight numbness in my feet that is improving every day. The swelling in my feet and plantar fasciitis flare-up have resolved. I have a little residual tightness in my left knee early in the morning; however, that one may be related to age as opposed to the run : ). Physically, I've recovered extremely well and I attribute that to all the preventative and reactive recovery work I did every night after each run. Basically, once I finished the daily run, I did recovery work for the next 2-3 hours before going to sleep, and I tried to get 7-8 hours of sleep so my body could heal itself. 

Regarding emotions, I'm kind of all over the place. I have an overwhelming sense of calm and satisfaction in having completed the run, and having exceeding the stretch goal I set. I am also feeling completely empty at times when I am not running all day long. After having transformed my existence into becoming a running machine, I think it is natural to have a "down spell" when you have to flip the switch back to being a person and attending to life as we know it.

Finally, spiritually, I am extremely fulfilled and content. God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. That was definitely the case with VISIONRUNUSA. I am a middle-aged, blind, skinny-legged guy with limited resources who went out and tackled a mind-bending pursuit. Even I have difficulty wrapping my head around it now that I am back. In my times of total loss and depletion, faith is where I turned. I prayed and asked for healing of my body, healing of my mind, protection and safe passage for me and my crew, protection of my children, for provision to cover about $20,000 in expenses associated with the run, and a strengthening of my faith. In New York City, the finish, a person asked me how I felt. I told her overwhelmed with emotion and crying, "I just hope I did everything that God asked of me." I am committed to serving the Lord for the remainder of my life. I sure hope He doesn't make me run across America again.

With his mother. Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: Circling back to the drivers who either hit or almost hit you.... I'm guessing they make up a small slice of the American pie, if you will. Did you ever encounter folks who tried to help? If so, what did they offer and what did it mean to you in the moment and now when you think back to it?

JR: The "knucklehead" drivers account for about 0.01% of the population. There were so many people who just wanted to help. I would have people drive up beside me and ask what I was doing. Once I told them, they would give me money, offer to drive and get me food, or just say they were going to pray for my safety. When I was stretching on the road, people would pull over and make sure I was OK. Many times they would offer to call an EMT for me  : )., We assured them that I was physically OK (maybe a psychologist could have helped me more). And, on one occasion, there was a big black truck that almost struck me. The driver turned around and pulled up beside me, and when the window rolled down a sweet spoken beautiful brunette woman apologized for about clipping me with the most wonderfully soothing accent. I should have taken the opportunity to tell her how grateful I was for her kind act of responsibility. I had many people spontaneously run with me. Sometimes they would see me on the road, have somebody drop them off and they would just do a few miles with me. It really meant the world to me that total strangers would give of their time to support the mission that I was on. Those conversations will forever be etched in my memory as meaningful moments in my life. 

At the end of the day, all we have is time. It really is our most valuable asset. How people choose to spend their time speaks volumes about who they are as a person. Are we consumed with chasing a dollar? I was at one point. Or, are we consumed with supporting others, helping them succeed, and caring for our own personal growth in the process? I sure hope that's where I am at and continue to stay.

At the finish at New York City Hall. Credit: Jason Romero.

RM: How did you "train" for this cross-country trek? Looking at your background, you've finished some stout races, like Badwater and Leadville. So clearly you had a deep base of mileage and experience. But how did you train for this run?

JR: I was a trail guy for my ultras. When I was called, all that changed. The year leading up to this race I ran all road ultras - PR150+ (183 miles in January), the Keys 100 (in May), Badwater (135 miles in July) and the Spartathlon (only made 100 miles in September). Those were four major races with big training blocks for each race, all in a single year. The intent was to learn to run and race on the road to understand what challenges were presented by this environment. I learned a lot! In October 2015, I started specific training for VISIONRUNUSA. That entailed learning to run every day without a break on asphalt and concrete. It involved increasing mileage to 100+ mile weeks consecutively without a break. At the end of each month, I would have a BIG WEEK. That would be a week of marathons, or a week of 50k's or a week of 50m/50k rotating for 7 days. Highest weekly mileage during training was 295 and my body was wrecked. I had muscle strains and tendonitis all over the place. I couldn't fathom doing 350 miles a week for 2 months. I was really scared going to the start in Santa Monica. I didn't know what was going to happen to my body when I put it to the stress test. There was a lot of pain and suffering, but in the end it was all worth it. Marshall Ulrich reminded me of that during my run, and he was 100% correct.

RM: You mentioned being a single dad to three kids. How did you family handle the run?

JR: My kids were extremely supportive. We prepared to be apart for a year and a half leading up to the run. When it finally came, we really weren't prepared to be separated; however, my kids supported what I was doing. We had some tough times along the way. Things happen in life where you need the support of your family. Sometimes a telephone call is just not the same as a hug or kiss. We all sucked it up, toughened up, and we made it through.  It was tough on all of us, but we are all together now.


Credit: Carly Gerhart.

RM: You got a lot of support on social media from legions of folks watching. Did you know about the response as the run was happening?

JR: Social media is what kept me going sometimes. I would get a chance to connect with people who I would have never known in my lifetime. Many times, they were the ones who inspired me to keep taking that next step, to not throw in the towel. That's the really neat thing about technology - it can enable you to share something that can have a positive effect on another person. I was very grateful for all the support I received and words of encouragement. I heard from people in Nigeria, Taiwan, China, Italy, the UK, Brazil, Columbia and some other places where I couldn't understand the languages. What a gift!

RM: What's next for you?

JR: My kids and I are going to Mexico for a vacation and sit on a beach. My next race will be to seek redemption and closure in Greece at Spartathlon.

At Twin Lakes during a 2010 training run for the Leadville 100.
L-R: Jason, Matt Curtis and the Running Man.

RM: Where can people learn more about you and the run?

JR:  My personal website for motivational speaking is www.relentlessromero.com.  The run's website is www.visionrunusa.com. We will be combining the information on both sites in the near term.

RM: Thank you for your time, Jason, and congratulations on a truly epic achievement!