February 17, 2002 is a special date, it was the date of my very first ultramarathon. It was the Kurt Steiner 50K, held by the New York Road Runners Club on the central 4-mile loop in Central Park, held in conjunction with the Metropolitan 50 Mile. Just a few words about this particular race. I'd run a few marathons since my first (New York Marathon, November 1997), and I didn't think I'd get much faster, but I could always go farther. Around that time I was a print subscriber to Outside magazine, and I think that's how I first heard of ultramarathons. So I saw this race on the NYRRC calendar and signed up. I didn't do anything spectacular, but I had a lot of fun, it was a relaxed environment, I remember thinking how cool it was to eat cookies during a race, and it was the first time I met Richie Innamorato, who was race directing on behalf of NYRRC. It should be noted that the Metropolitan 50 Mile race had a long history, going back to 1971. It was the 50 mile national championship for some of those years, and many of the greatest ultrarunners in the early days had taken part, including Ted Corbitt, Park Barner, and John Garlepp.
So began my adventure. In the ensuing 20 years, it's not possible to say in this space how much the sport has affected my life. I've certainly had my successes, and I have to allow myself a moment to list some of my proudest moments, as far as tangible results, only because it all came as a surprise to no one more than me. I have won two 24-hour national championships (2009, 2011), I was the first American man to finish in the top 10 at the 24-hour world championships (2007, 4th place), I set an American record for 48 hours in 2011 with 257.34 miles, which stood for six years, I'm 3 for 3 at Badwater for top 10 finishes (8th, 8th and 6th, 2009, 2010, 2012), and have two Spartathlon finishes in 2016 and 2017 when I was the first American. I'm equally proud of my local success, winning the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix in 2007, 2010 and 2011, and my three wins of what I consider the toughest race I've ever run, the Pioneer Trek 100-mile three-day stage race, in 2007, 2009, and 2011 (just two weeks after my record-setting 48-hour). Coming full circle, in 2007 I won the final Metropolitan 50-mile race ever held (NYRR removed it from their calendar).
In 2018, at age 50, I decided the time was right to fulfill my long-held dream of running across the USA and attempting a world record. I didn't get the record, but I finished in one of the fastest times ever, in 49 days, 7 hours, 55 minutes, which is still the fastest time of anyone over the age of 40, or 50. It was the adventure of a lifetime.
Like I said, all the success has been a surprise to no one more than me. I was never an athletic person growing up. And all of a sudden I'm semi-famous (in a niche circle) for something athletic, something totally unexpected. It's given me an opportunity to travel around the country and around the world in ways that are much more fulfilling I believe than simply visiting on my own as a tourist.
But what means more to me than the successes in the results is the relationships I've made, the friendships, the people I've met. Music has been and always will be my primary passion in life, but the ultrarunning community in the New York City area, across the U.S. and across the world is the greatest, most supportive group of people I've ever met. My best friends are ultrarunners. We all are intentionally putting ourselves into a great amount of pain for an abstract, unnecessary goal. But we all have a reason for doing it. Some of us are exorcizing demons, some of us are trying to prove something. My own reasons will remain private, at least for now. But we all support each other, we all encourage each other, and we all inspire each other. The result of all this is that I have gained a personal confidence I never had before in my life, helping me to overcome my insecurities and self-consciousness. The sport has very literally in many ways changed my life, for the better.
I've had the opportunity to work as creator and race director for The Great New York 100 Mile/100 KM Running Exposition, which I'm thrilled to see has attracted quite a following, and I'm eternally grateful for all who take part, as a runner or a volunteer.
After my transcon in 2018, I've had difficulty training, unable to retrieve the speed or intensity of my previous running. I knew this would be a likelihood, so I'm ok with it, although it is still difficult to work through and accept.
So for the 20th anniversary I wanted to do something special. I decided to sign up for the Jackpot Ultra Festival in Las Vegas, and to run the USATF 100-mile national championship on Friday, Feb. 18. I was torn between that and the 24-hour race, since 24-hour running is how I made a name for myself, but in the end I decided for the 100 mile. It is a national championship after all, not that I'll be running particularly fast or competitively. But it's great to be a part of the event. I look forward to seeing long-time friends there, and making new friends as always.
A huge thanks to every one of you who has been a part of the first 20 years! I might be slowing down for the next 20, but I look forward to more adventures, whether as a runner, coach, race director, writer, or crew person, and I look forward to making more friends!