A New Year’s Resolution That Won’t Fail

Every year you say it, “Oh this is the year. I’m sticking to my resolution!” Yeah right! We keep resolving to lose weight, eat healthier, stop doing this, start doing that. Enough already!

A few years ago, I was asked to be the voice to an audiobook called, “My One Word” by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen. I’d never heard of this book before I walked into the recording booth, but I tell you what, it’s changed me.

“The concept of My One Word is simple. Lose the long list of resolutions – all your sweeping promises to change – and do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything”. Straight and to the point, huh? “Choose just one word that represents what you most hope God will do in you, and focus on it for an entire year”.

I was immediately hooked. As I voiced this audiobook, I pictured lives being changed. Resolutions ditched. Promises broken no more. But how do you pick one single word? Good question! For me, it is through prayer. I simply ask God what He wants to do in me. And, I also dig a little deeper into my own life and see what I need to change. Crazy enough, they both always line up beautifully.

Here’s a screenshot if you’d like to listen to the My One Word audiobook.

To give you an idea, here are the words I’ve chosen for the last 3 years. 2017 was Opportunity. 2018 was Inspire. 2019 was Transform.  That said, these words really do change you!

In 2017, I chose Opportunity. That same year, my job changed. Corporate America pulled our morning show into a meeting, and pulled the plug. Wow! That’s not the opportunity I was thinking about. Yet, God opened a door to a new opportunity. A new job at a new radio station in JOY 99. One that could not have happened, unless the door was closed on my former station, to make way for this new opportunity. He also brought opportunity in my passion for running with new races, and new friendships. Friendships that have deepened. Friendships that have grown me and challenged me. Friendships I still have today!

2018 was a fresh new start with a new radio station in Joy 99. An opportunity to Inspire people. Not just on the radio, but in my running community. You see, I love people. I love getting to know them. Hearing their struggles, and letting God open an door to an Inspiring word! I had training runs where we laughed, we swapped stories of struggles, and sometimes there were tears. But, whether I had the opportunity to inspire someone, or someone inspired me, inspiration was always a common theme.

As you focus on your word over an extended period of time, you position yourself for God to form your character at a deep, sustainable level. Growth and change will result.

Mike Ashcraft

And this last year, I wanted to Transform my life. From health, to my running goals. From helping to shape people’s lives, to letting God transform me. Well, it has worked. I’m healthier. I’ve shaved 7 minutes off of my Marathon time. God has opened doors for me to create some deeper relationships with friends, and yes, my time with God has been special. He’s done some needed ‘surgery’ in my own life, too. He’s transformed me in many ways. ALL for the better!

So, what about you? What will be your “focus” for 2020? I encourage you to skip the resolution, and try focusing on One Word. Drop a comment, and let me know what your One Word for 2020 will be? And, if you’re interested in picking up this book, it’s available through Zondervan Publishing at Zondervan.com or simply search for the audiobook.  I’d count it a privilege to have the opportunity to inspire you as the voice of My One Word and transform your life, too.

Sometimes, Christmas Makes Me Cry

“Sometimes, Christmas makes me cry.” What an odd Christmas lyric, huh? Especially in the midst of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”.  But, it’s true. Christmas and tears can be a thing. And, this isn’t the, “Jason’s home from college” Folger’s commerical tears, either. So, what’s up with this?

There’s ugly sweaters. Christmas parties. And, much mistletoeing. Yet, you feel empty. Why? It’s called grief, and it’s a real thing.

Whether you’ve recently lost a loved one, and this is your first Christmas apart, or it’s been over 10 years – it can still suck the life out of you. You walk around and see everyone saying, “Merry Chritmas Darling’, and you’re asking yourself, “Where’s my Joy to the world?”

First of all. I’m sorry. I hate that you’re going through this. Grief sucks. It’s painful, it’s hard to talk about, and it leaves a whopping hole in your heart. I know, because I’ve been there.

It was Christmas, 2000, when my world changed. Christmas morning, my sister, Kelly, was fighting a disease called Wegener’s. Wegener’s basically shuts down your organs. (This is the cut to the chase definition) Anyway, that Christmas morning, she was dealing with more pain, and she needed to be seen by a Doctor. That morning, her journey to the finish line began. She was admitted into the hospital, and never left. January 9, 2001, Kelly slipped into the arms of Jesus.

I miss her. She never got an opportunity to watch my family grow. And, every Christmas, something is missing. Now don’t get me wrong, I know she’s with Jesus in Heaven. Before she died, I asked her “the million dollar question”, ‘Have you asked Jesus into your life?’ She assured me, “yes!”  So, even though she’s not here, I know she’s enjoying eternity in Heaven. That’s the best day ever!! Yet, a hole still exists.

That was 18 years ago, and I still miss her.

It seems that lately, I’ve encountered many people dealing with grief this time of year. I spoke  with a woman who suddenly lost her husband. A friend who is missing his best friend. A young mom who still misses moments  spent with her mom. These are real conversations, with real people, experiencing real grief.

I want you to know something –  time does help. But, that doesnt mean it goes away.

We find ways to honor our loved ones. A toast. A tattoo. A memorial. I think all of those are amazing things. But, then there’s the moment when you come across that Molassess Cookie recipe handwritten by your Grandma before she died. One look at that paper, and you begin to tear up. What’s up with that? It’s a piece of paper with ink that’s been in your cupboard for years. Simple. Smudged. Stained. Or, maybe it’s an ornament. Even Facebook, when that ‘memory’ pops up that nobody else can see, but you. And again, the tears begin to flow.

So how do you deal with it?Runners might lace up their shoes and hit the trail. Readers might bury themselves in a novel. Some work overtime with a goal of simply making it through another day.

Then, there are some who choose substance abuse, seclusion, and some contemplate suicide. All of these are not healthy. Please seek help! Professional help. Counselors are trained for things like this. And, asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness.

J.D. Greear writes, “In times of suffering, we have three options. We can (1) abandon our faith in God, (2) ignore the pain, or (3) allow the pain to drive us deeper into the gospel. Only by allowing the Gospel to speak to our deepest hurts will we ever gain the true hope and comfort our souls yearn for”.

If you’re lacking peace, love, joy or hope, caused by grief, please know that Jesus is there for you, too.

My hope, and prayer, is that you find hope and comfort in the midst of your grief. For me, I found that in Jesus. I encourage you to seek him, too. He IS my counselor. He IS my peace. He IS my hope. He IS my source of joy. Yes, even at times when Christmas makes me cry.

The Email and Conversation That Changed My Life

I love parties. I love to throw them, and I love attending them. It’s quite an honor to be invited, don’t you think? Out of all of the people you know, and surround yourself with, YOU are chosen. Or, if it’s your party, you’re choosing others to hang with. That’s pretty powerful.

An invitation is a pretty special thing. Some invites are casual and word of mouth. Some are posted on social media. And some are so special, they come sealed in an envelope.

I remember a specific email I received a few years ago. It was from a listener to my radio show, Crissy. Crissy heard me talking on the air about my passion for running. She sent an email inviting me to meet up with her run group from Gazelle Sports some Saturday morning. (I didn’t even know that run groups even existed) I held onto that email, and was grateful for her invitation.

Fast forward a months. I was at Gazelle Sports, and began chatting with one of their workers, Aleksandra. Guess what she did? She invited me to run with their Gazelle Sports run group some Saturday morning. That’s 2 people, that I barely knew, giving me an invite to join the same run group!

So, one Saturday morning, I took Aleksandra up on her offer. I sheepishly walked into a room filled with other runners. I didnt know anyone but Aleksandra. As we headed out for our miles, I heard another voice saying, “Tommy, you made it. I’m Crissy who emailed you a few months ago inviting you to join us.”

Crissy and Aleksandra changed the trajectory of my running routine. Before their invite, I was a solo runner. An ear bud runner. In my own head with my own thoughts. It’s like I was a different man!

It reminds me of another amazing story about a guy whose life was changed by an invitation. He was paralyzed, and spent his life on a bed. But, he had some amazing friends who invited him to go see this man who was walking around healing people. They tried getting into this “healing session” but it was too crowded. So, they figured out a way to lower him down from the roof, and placed him at the feet of the Healer. “Your sins are forgiven…rise up and walk.” (You can read this story in the Bible, Luke Chapter 5)

Those friends, because of their investment, and invitation, helped change this man’s life. Jesus forgave his sins, and he was longer bound to a bed. It’s like he was a different man.

As we approach Christmas, who, in your life, needs an invite. An invite to church? An invite to a party? An invite to coffee? Your invite might change someone’s trajectory, and make them a different person!

Now, go make a difference and run by faith!

Crissy is on the far right! Also pictured are Dan and Janene. We took this on a “Christmas Lights run” through Grand Rapids!
Here I am with Aleksandra on that very first Saturday run with Gazelle Sports.
Continue reading “The Email and Conversation That Changed My Life”

Are You Up For A Challenge?

This begins one of my favorite weeks of the year: Thanksgiving week. I love it for its simplicity. It’s a week to focus on what’s important. A reason to stop looking at things you don’t have, and give thanks for the things you do have.

I am thankful that I have a Savior in Jesus, who loves me unconditionally. He cannot love me more, He cannot love me less.

I am thankful for my wife, Patty. She’s my best friend. She’s my helper, and she’s an incredible supporter.

I am thankful for my 4 children. Casey, Sammy, Tommy and Eliza. I have been so blessed to witness their kind, compassionate hearts. I’m grateful for their love for people. It inspires me, and makes my heart proud.

I’m grateful for my 3:30 a.m. alarm clock. Yes, no joke! That’s when I wake up for work. I have a unique job. It pushes, and challenges me. I believe we all need more encouragement in this world. And, if I have been raised up to bring a little encouragement on the radio, I’ll get my booty out of bed!

I’m also incredibly grateful for my health. It’s something I probably take for granted. (Until an injury hits) My health has allowed me to meet some of the most genuine people: the running community. We sweat. We chat. We encourage. We’ve cried. We’ve laughed. We’ve cheered. Without my health, these friends, (you) might not be in my path today.

This is a very small list of my thankful things. But, it does cause me to reflect and realize how blessed I truly am.

Now, ready for your challenge? I challenge you to do the same thing. Jot down, in 20 minutes, what you’re thankful for. It really should come pretty easy when you stop, and reflect. (Yes, I’ve written this in 20 minutes, in between bites of an omelet and sips of coffee)

Feel free to write them in the comments below. You could encourage another friend today, too.

Give thanks this week, and always run by faith!

I’m thankful for my bride, Patty.

Never Stop Improving

Here’s a bit of advice from me to you, never ask for my help when it comes to fixing things. And when I say, “things”, I mean all THINGS! I am NOT a fix-it guy. At. All. I try. In fact, I try hard. But, I always seem to find a way to mess things up. That said, one of the last places you’ll ever find me is a home improvement store. Which is why it’s odd that I actually learned something when I was recently at Lowe’s. (Truth be told, my wife, Patty, is the one that wanted to go to Lowe’s, I just tagged along.) And, it was so powerful, I’m blogging about it.

Somewhere inside the headquarters of Lowe’s, a highly paid consultant came up with their slogan. They meant it for “do-it-yourself” projects. But, to me, it means something completely different. Their slogan? ” Never Stop Improving”. (insert mind-blown emoji here) Why is this so powerful? Because it’s the truth! We should, Never Stop Improving.

Let’s try a little exercise. When you see the following words in italics, say aloud, or to yourself, “Never Stop Improving“. Ready?

In your relationships: Never Stop Improving.  
In your health: Never Stop Improving.
In your quiet time/Prayer time. Never Stop Improving.
In your job: Never Stop Improving.
In your goals: Never Stop Improving.
In your family: Never Stop Improving.
In all things: Never Stop Improving.
In your relationship with God: Never Stop Improving.

Pretty crazy huh? We should never stop improving. As a runner, I try to better my time, or my distance, or my breathing. As a husband, I try to improve in my relationship with my wife. In my family, I want to leave a legacy, and that takes work. In my quiet time/prayer time, I try listen more, read more, gain more insight as to what God is saying to me. In my job, I never want to to be average. It all takes improvement.

To be honest, for a few years, I had my priorities out of whack. I was improving in some areas, and tanking in others. The areas that I was trying to improve in might have improved, but the most important ones struggled – my marriage and my relationship with God. But, once I got my priorities straight, all things changed.

Today, because I never stopped improving, my relationship with God is tight. And my marriage? Never been better! And, my wife, Patty, is my best friend.

Ya know, I’m grateful for Patty taking me to Lowe’s, (although I still have no clue what we were looking for) because their simple reminder to, “Never Stop Improving” challenged me. So, I leave you with this, where do YOU need to improve?

Never stop improving, keep making a difference, and run by faith!

Please subscribe for more encouragement, and more “improvements”.

Angels Wear Running Shoes

We wear Red shirts. We have an epic playlist of 80’s music, packs of Twizzlers, Gu and Clif Bars. We are Angels for My Team Triumph and ready for 26.2 miles at the Grand Rapids Marathon.

myTEAM TRIUMPH is an athletic ride-along program created for children, teens, adults, and veterans with disabilities who would normally not be able to experience endurance events such as triathlons or road races.”  Seriously, how cool is that?

I love My Team Triumph. (MTT) My first experience was in the fall of 2018 with the LMCU 10 mile Bridge Run. Since then, I have done the Metro Health Grand Rapids Half Marathon, Alger Heights 5k, (in which I dressed up as Indiana Jones) The Amway 25K River Bank Run, the 2019 LMCU Bridge Run, and this last weekend, the Grand Rapids Marathon.

For years, I ran for myself. For my PR. For my personal goals. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, and I do love to challenge myself. But, with MTT, you push your goals aside, and push one amazing Captain! And, for the GR Full, we pushed for Captain Kristen.

Who is “We”? My running friends, (from L to R) Corey, a fellow MTT Member from the Wisconsin Chapter, Dan, me, Janene, and Amber. And in the middle, the star of the 26.2 miles, Captain Kristen! (this pic taken at mile 10)

My alarm rang at 5:15. I got dressed, put on my Smartwool socks, laced up my Brooks Adrenaline shoes, and drove downtown. We arrived at 6:30. MTT had a wonderful hospitality tent loaded with snacks, bagels, and even bacon!

We met Captain Kristen, got our assignment from Directors Terrence and Tim, and we headed to the start line. We huddled up, prayed for our protection and strength, (remember, we are to pray about everything) and snapped a quick pic!

We took turns pushing our Captain 26.2 miles through Grand Rapids. We laughed a lot! We cranked the music loud! We encouraged other runners along the way. But here’s something amazing about MTT, every runner LOVES every Captain! Captains love hearing a cheer, a personal “way to go”, and MTT Angels always get some love, too!

We loved the shade at mile 20 as things were warming up in a hurry!

But, it’s not about us as Angels, MTT is about the Captain! In fact, although we wear a bib, we do not get a finishing time. The time belongs to the Captain! And, WE have the time of our life!

A little blurry, but that’s what sweat’ll do after 25 miles!

So why do MTT? As Dan once said to me, “We’ve raced enough for ourselves. It’s time to give back!” It is just so sweet to see the faces of the Captain’s families when we cross the finish line. We give those families a chance to experience something that we take for granted. We have our health. We have our abilities. Together, we have a finish line!

Totally the BEST DAY EVER!!

I want to take a moment and thank my friends Amber, Dan and Janene. We’ve all run a LOT of miles together! We’ve encouraged each other. Sweat with each other. Shared stories of struggle and pain. And, we conquered 26.2 miles together! I’m so grateful for each of you! You’ve each made me stronger in more ways than you know. Thanks also to my wife, Patty, and my oldest son, Casey, for cheering us in as we finished! What a wonderful surprise!

And, I just have to brag on Dan for a second. This was Dan’s very first marathon. While his official time didn’t count, we now share a PR of 4:13:31. Besides, the memories will always outlast a P.R. Dan, I’m proud of ya, Bro! You’re not only speedy, you’re the most encouraging runner I know! Thanks for teaching and leading us all.

So, what are YOU waiting for? I highly encourage you to connect with MTT. Race for someone else. They will love on you, and you will LOVE being an Angel.

Keep making a difference, and Run By Faith!

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Running A Marathon

“It sounded like a good idea at the time.” That’s what I overheard, recently, from a runner who signed up for her first marathon. She’s now second guessing herself.

Running 26.2 miles is NO joke! Think about it. How far can 26.2 miles take you in a car? Answer? A long way. Now, imagine traveling to that same destination by FOOT! That’s the Goliath you have to slay!

I’ve done 4 marathons, and thinking about a 5th. Each of them have been challenging in their own unique way. They took a toll on me. They pushed my limits. And most importantly, made me realize I can do hard things!

That said, I decided to take my experience, and put together a list of 6 things I wish I knew before I ran a marathon.

  1. Prepare for the Mental Game. As I said before, 26.2 miles is a long stinkin’ way. It’s basically running 1 mile, 26 times. (Sheesh! Just typing that sounds daunting) But, each mile brings a challenge of its own. It could be the obvious: you’re getting tired. It might be second guessing your nutrition. Did I eat enough? Do I have enough? Will I make it to the next “Port-O-Potty”. It’s all stuff that will happen. The mental game is real. But, you are not alone in those thoughts. I believe that each runner out there has a thought like that at some point. How do you fix it? Try this next idea.
  2. Set Mini-goals. What is a mini-goal? It’s beating the mental game by allowing yourself to break the race up into chunks. You can’t clean your entire house at one time. You break it up into rooms. First, you clean a bedroom. You then move to the kitchen. Then, the bathroom. Etc. So, tackle 26.2 miles the same way. Break the race up into chunks. Make it to the next port-o-potty. Listen for the cheering at the next aid station. Push to the next mile marker. Remember, when you get to “that point in the race” think of cleaning up your house. A little bit at a time.
  3. Be Grateful. When you’re on the course, take a moment to soak it all in. I remember when I ran my first marathon, it was at the peak of the leaves changing color in Michigan. Instead of staring at the pavement, I picked my head up and looked around at the trees. I took in the beauty. I breathed in the air. I took a moment to thank God for the gift of my health. I thanked Him for my family, which supported me in the hours, and miles, of training. Your perspective completely changes when you take the focus off of yourself, and simply learn to be grateful. “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1).
  4. The Wall Is Real! I had always heard that every runner hits a wall on a marathon. And it usually happens near miles 18-21. (That’s about when the aforementioned “Mental Game” begins). What’s the wall? (No, sorry it’s not a Pink Floyd reference) The wall is a term used to describe the feeling of, “I think I’m done. How can I possibly keep going?” The wall IS real. I remember hitting it. It happened at about mile 19. My legs were starting to cramp, and I needed help at the aid station. I got what I needed, and got back onto the course. After I took those first steps, it hit me. “I. Am. Done.” I still had another 7 miles, or so, to go. So, how do you get through? Mini-goals. Prayer. Being grateful. Embracing the suck.
  5. Enjoy it. I know this sounds simple, but it really is true. You need to enjoy the experience. You’ve trained too long, endured too many elements, and altered your life’s schedules to not enjoy it. Oh, and yeah, you’re using your heard earned money to pay for this thing. Tell the volunteers thanks. Cheer for those cheering for YOU. Read the signs people have made. Thank the police officers. Thank the volunteers. Be on the lookout for a struggling runner, and be a source of encouragement.
  6. Tears are a thing! I will admit, I’m a sensitive guy. Now, I might not cry watching coffee commercials at Christmas, but they certainly give me “the”feels”. So what does this have to do with a marathon? Expect emotion! I can recall seeing the finish line at EACH marathon and remembering the tidal wave of emotions that rushed over me. My mind went to all of the hours of training. Training runs when a small injury began causing me doubt. And, with each step, more clearly hearing the names of the runners just ahead of me being announced. Wow! The tears just started flowing. And you know what? I’m proud of those tears. And you WILL be too!

One last little thing. There’s a story in the Bible about two guys named Joshua and Caleb, who were commanded by God to cross the Jordan River. God did a miracle for them and allowed the water to open, which caused a path way for the people to pass over on dry land. Pretty crazy huh? After they crossed, God told them to take up 12 stones and make a “standing stones memorial” of sorts, as a reminder to the people of the miracle God had done. Now, you don’t having standing stones, but you DO have a training log. I think this is a great way to remember all that has happened in leading up to your marathon. Look back and recall your logged mileage. See if you made any notes to yourself. I bet there will be something in there that you will have forgotten about. Those are your standing stones!

The Marathon will be tough. YOU are tougher. You’ve done the work. Now, go enjoy. Smile. Encourage. Cry. Be grateful. And, Run by faith!

RAGNAR: Run. Drive. Sleep. Repeat.

My finisher medal says it best, “The wildest experiences become the best stories”. And after 200 miles, and very little sleep, this is 100% on point!

It’s called RAGNAR. Here’s the skinny. You put together a team of 12 people, and run roughly 200 miles. From city streets to sidewalks, to bike paths and blowing beach sand. Through the day, and through the night. Rest is optional. Bathrooms are a blessing.

I completed my first RAGNAR in 2018. When I originally signed up, I really didn’t know what to expect. And, I think that might be the coolest part. To simply expect the unexpected. We assembled a 12 person team, (many of which I never knew until this RAGNAR event) rented 2 vans, bought a ton of food, and tried to plan the best that we could. We bought everything from peanut butter filled pretzels, to fruit, snacks, lots of water, and hydration drinks. The van was packed, and we were ready to make a memory.

Our team, “Better At Running Up A Tab”, got our instructions, and were ready to run! We began our race Friday at 11:30am from Muskegon, Michigan. The finish line was 200 miles away, in Traverse City, Michigan. Pretty daunting. But my team was up for a challenge, and ready to make some serious memories.

We split our team into 2 vans. I was in van 1, and was set to run the 3rd leg of the race. Each teammate runs three separate legs of the race, with downtime in between, for a total of 11 to 24 miles per runner (twice that for ultra teams of 6). In my van was Andrew, Spencer, Gretchen, Betsy, Holly and myself. In Van 2 was Jennifer, Tim, Alec, Kristen, Lindsey and Peter.

As Spencer ran first, we drove our van to the 2nd checkpoint. And man did Spencer run FAST! So fast, that Andrew, who ran the second leg, wasn’t expecting him to be there that quickly. As Spencer hit the checkpoint, Andrew was still in the van with the rest of us. (I guess when you find a good pace, you nail it!) He flew out of the van, grabbed the baton, and headed to the 3rd checkpoint, which was mine. After Andrew’s blistering pace, he tagged me, and I was off.

I was set to run 4.7 miles for my first leg. This was to be the lowest mileage of my 3 scheduled legs. It didn’t quite turn out that way. After about 2 miles, I approached a sign that appeared to point for me to go right. I was following another runner in front of me, who was about 1/2 mile ahead, and he also turned right. I was feeling good about everything until I noticed that he began to slow down, and stop. He kept looking left and right. As I approached him, I asked, “You alright?” In a confused tone, he said, “Yeah, but I’m not sure if we’re supposed to go left or right. And, I don’t see any signs.” Uh-oh. I didn’t see any signs either. That meant one thing. The only way to know if we took a wrong turn, would be to run back the way that we came, which was 1 mile back, and look at the sign again. We decided to stick together for that 1 mile, and tackle it together. His name was Josh. We chatted, consoled, and encouraged each other for a very long mile.

We finally approached the RAGNAR sign. Suddenly I heard the quote from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” run through my head, “You’re going the wrong way”! I did! I ran an extra 2 miles out of my way. The good news is that I was now back on course.

Josh took off, and I ran the final 2 miles alone. I felt so bad for my teammates waiting for me at the next checkpoint. They had to be wondering if I passed out, gave up, or got hit. I spent a good amount of time praying while running through the streets. I asked God to guide me to the next checkpoint, since I got lost on my own. (insert sermon idea here!)

As I arrived, I heard the cheering from my team. “Tommy!! You’re alive!!” It was like they just had their own prayers answered. I tagged Gretchen, then did the “runners walk of shame” to the van. I felt awful. I lost about 20 minutes of time for my team. Yet, they NEVER made me feel bad about it. They were just thankful that I was OK. Overall, my scheduled 4.7 miles turned into 6.7.

Fast forward a bit…Our team made up for my lost time, as Gretchen, Betsy and Holly ran faster than anticipated. Then there was Van 2 – stocked with speedsters that really kicked some asphalt! They really were flying. So much so, that as we stopped to grab a bite to eat, we had to cut time short at the restaurant to get back to the race course for the official exchange.

Enter night time running. This was tough! Dark. Quiet. Alone. All we had were our lit vests, headlamps, and flashlight. Some areas had street lights, but many miles were consumed in pitch dark.

When I got the baton from Andrew for my 2nd leg, it was about 9:30 p.m. My mission was to run on a road through a very dark Manistee Forest. Talk about a freaky feeling. I kept waiting to hear the sound of a chainsaw, or see some dude in a hockey mask. Neither happened. But, due to the freaky surroundings, I knocked down another 6.7 miles faster than my normal pace.

Fast forward again…it is now about 1:30 a.m. and we parked the van to try and get some rest. Not so much. Cramped quarters, and rumors were flying that I might’ve snored. (Sorry, but I never heard anything.) At about 3:30 a.m. we met up with Van 2 for another exchange. This would be the final legs for Van 1, and we were ready!

Spencer grabbed the baton and took off for a VERY challenging, hilly run. Especially in the middle of the night, on very little sleep, and already having several miles under him. Andrew mowed down his miles in epic fashion, and I was sitting near lake Michigan, trying to stay warm, waiting for him so that I could tackle my last leg – another 6.7 miles.

As I grabbed the baton, it was about 5:30 a.m. It was still quite dark. The only lights I could see ahead of me were headlights, and a few blinking lights from the vests of other runners. It’s probably best that it was still dark so that I couldn’t see the gigantic hill that awaited me. And I do mean gigantic!

The hill is in Empire, Michigan and is literally 1/2 mile straight up. I kept running and asking God for strength to get up that hill. “Help me God! No walking! Don’t stop!” Then, there it was, the top of the hill. I made it. (here’s a partial view from near the top)

From there, it was a long gradual run down the hill with a beautiful sunrise greeting me. I shed a few tears, as I had a “moment” with God. He helped guide me when I was lost. He surrounded me when I was scared. He pushed me when I was tired. It was pretty amazing. Thank you, Lord!

As I tagged Gretchen, I had an amazing feeling of accomplishment wash over me. I did it! I knocked down another 6.7 miles for a total of 20.1 miles for all 3 legs.

One final fast forward…we drove to Traverse City and awaited Van 2. Of course they were blazing fast. At this point, we actually began to calculate that maybe, just maybe, our team did quite well overall. As we saw our teammates running down the road, we all ran to the finish line together. We crossed the line as we heard, “Team 262 : ‘Better At Running up a Tab‘!”

We did it. And, we did it in style. A few days after the completion of RAGNAR, we learned that our team finished in 3rd place. And, if someone didn’t take a wrong turn, our time was fast enough that we would’ve actually won!

The medals are amazing. And, when all 12 of them are put together, they say, “We Are Ragnarians: We Believe…Together We Can Accomplish Anything.”

When’s the last time you attempted your own, “wildest experience”? It’s completely worth it! After 200 miles, 2 vans, and very little sleep, RAGNAR made for one of my best stories.

Craziest Race I’ve Ever Done!

“The wildest experiences become the best stories”. That’s the mantra on one of my favorite medals. I gotta tell ya, that is legit!

Recently, I was asked to join two of my friends, Dan and Kevin, to try a rogue race in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan called, “Race The Rapid”. (put together by November Project Grand Rapids). “The Rapid” is a Grand Rapids city bus. So yes, we raced a city bus.

Here’s the deal. “Race The Rapid” is a 3-person relay team with 1 goal: beat the Rapid’s Silver Line express bus through downtown Grand Rapids. The only rule is this: get hit by a car, or bus, and your team is DQed. Easy as that.

For some reason, all day I was nervous about this race. I knew I had to run just under an 8 minute mile. Now, I can totally do that, but I felt that the pressure was on! How did I handle it? Prayer! I literally spent time praying for peace. I asked God to calm my nerves, and give me what I needed to pull through. Hey, God says to “pray about everything”, right?

I did a bit of research, and found, “Take On Me” by 80’s band “A-Ha”, is a perfect song for an 8 minute pace. As is, “Runnin Down A Dream” by Tom Petty. I decided to do a little shakeout run and cue up the songs. They were a perfect pace! My nerves were calmed, (thank you, Jesus) and I was ready!

Here are my early thoughts as I sat in the parking lot.

As we arrived, 9 teams of 3 lined up at 6:30 p.m. We listened for our instructions, which were pretty simple: beat the bus, and not get hit. Then, we strategized.

All first leg runners, (which was me) had to wait for the 7:00 bus. Meanwhile, Dan and Kevin, who ran legs 2 and 3, jumped on the 6:55-ish bus. The bus dropped Dan off at exchange #2, Fulton and Ransom, and Kevin proceeded to exchange #3, DeVos Place on Monroe Avenue.

As we waited, I cued up “Take On Me”. I checked my ‘gently used’ Garmin Forerunner 920XT, and was ready. Unfortunately, I had to wait 4 long minutes. That’s because the first bus wouldn’t be there til about about 7:00. This gave us a 5 minute head start vs. The Rapid.

As we heard, “Go!” I fired up the song. It was ON! But, like a dummy, my Garmin wasn’t. After nearly .10 mile, I finally started it.

We took off like rockets. I usually need a few miles under me before turning up the heat. Not this time. I had to go microwave mode. Fast! Now!

As I knocked down my first .25, I was already feeling it. My lungs were burning! My pace was not on beat with the song, so I knew I was actually running faster than what I planned. I took a deep breath, dodged a dog-walker, and headed up Jefferson Avenue.

I was fortunate to have no traffic. No stoplight. Only pedestrians. It was funny to watch everyone’s face, because they couldn’t figure out what was going on. They witnessed 9 people moving at the speed of light on Jefferson.

All was going better than expected for me. Prayer works, ya know! I could see exchnge #2. All of Grand Rapids could hear Dan screaming, “C’mon Tommy! My boy!” Then, I hit a stoplight at Fulton. Literally 10 yards from the exchange. No rules, right? So, I checked traffic and went for it!

I crossed Fulton, and tagged Dan. He took off like a cannon. I did my best Ric Flair, “Woooo”! Totally spent. That 8 minute pace ended up being 7:11!! It was fast. It was flat. Literally 6.6 feet of elevation for .80.

As all 9 first Leg runners waited for the bus, which was still a few minutes behind, we congratulated each other. Mission accomplished. So far.

Dan had to tackle a huge hill on Ransom. Dan is fast, and he is trained. I had no doubt he would nail it. And, he did! As he went up Ransom, he would get the glory of gliding down Michigan Street hill. The only potential problem: traffic!

As we got on the bus, every team rooted for traffic. Sadly, it was pretty light. The bus only had 1 rider get on at a certain station on Ransom. It was making up time in a hurry.

I kept looking for Dan’s red shirt, but I never saw it. That was good news. The bad news? The bus hit zero lights on Michigan street. So, a monster bus, going down a monster hill, with massive gravity equals made up time! (Gulp)

The Rapid passed a runner. Then another. And yet another. Still no sign of red-shirted Dan.

As we turned onto Monroe, near exchange 3, there we saw Dan. But not Kevin. Kevin took off fast and headed up Monroe toward the finish. Speaking of fast, Dan nailed a mile pace of 6:25. (That included 65 feet of elevation gain)

As Dan jumped into the bus, he said that Kevin was moving fast! The bus had to wait for several riders to get on. Advantage us!

Only about 6 teams were left. So everyone on the bus began cheering for each other. (Loved the teamwork and sense of unity) Again, light traffic on Monroe caused the bus to keep moving. Until, Monroe and Ionia. (Cue the Angels singing) Finally, a traffic light. And it was a long one!

Eventually, the light turned green, and the Rapid took off. But, still no sign of Kevin.

As it headed up Monroe and turned onto Grandville Ave., we passed a few more runners. The bus began to moan because there was growing concern over anyone beating the bus.

But, then came the corner of Grandville and Oakes. Heavy traffic near “The Intersection” caused a bus delay. (And of course anytime you get near Founders, it causes traffic congestion)

As the bus turned left onto Oakes, then made a slight right headed back to the bus station, we still didn’t see Kevin. We knew we had a chance!

With the bus only needing about 100 yards to the final bus stop, Dan shouted, “Is that Kevin?” Yes it was…Kevin was waiting for us at the finish line! We beat the bus!

As soon as that bus came to a hault, we shot out of it, and screamed. What an amazing feeling!

Kevin said that when he turned the corner, and didn’t see the bus, he threw his arms up into the air, and gave his best “Rocky Balboa” pose!

As you’ll see in the picture, any team with a, “thumbs up” beat the bus. While not everyone beat it, all teams had an amazing time!Well done, November Project.

We came. We saw. We beat that bus!

Not Your Typical Taco Tuesday

Shells. Meat. Cheese. Ah yes, the blessing of Taco Tuesday. But, on this warm night, it was shells, meat, cheese, hills and trails. Not your typical Taco Tuesday. This was Taco Tuesday at Cannonsburg Ski Lodge in Belmont, Michigan.

On select Tuesday nights, Cannonsburg offers runners, walkers, hikers and bikers the opportunity to use their trails for FREE! And, at the end you can treat yourself to tacos!

I had heard about Taco Tuesday at Cannonsburg for a very long time. But, it wasn’t until my friends Dan ad Nate invited me, that I finally decided to take the challenge. (The power of an invite!)

So, I grabbed my Oakley sunglasses, Adidas visor, Brooks Adrenaline running shoes, and made it happen.

The first challenge was this hill. Yep. It’s actually a ski hill if that tells you anything.

How did it go? Take a look.

After coming down the hill, which was quite challenging in its own way, it was time to tackle the trail. Now, I have run literally thousands of miles, but they all have been on the road. So, this was a completely new experience.

When I got into the trail, after just a few strides, I immediately knew I was about to use muscles I had not used in a long time. Whew!

Dan and Nate set the pace. I followed quite a bit behind. Those bros are experienced, and won’t get lost. Me? The trees all look the same. (Insert deep breath)

When running Cannonsburg, no step is the same. Some are short. Some are long. Sometimes you jump over roots. Sometimes, you dodge craters and rocks. But, I learned right away, core strength makes a big difference! The ability to tighten your core helps with lateral movement. There is a lot of back and forth movement. A lot!

Also, when running trails, it’s a completely different pace than running the roads. I average about 8:25 per mile on the road. Trails dropped me to about 10:00-10:30 per mile. It’s a much slower, tougher, tactical pace. (Sidenote: proper trail shoes would’ve helped, too)

We climbed. We climbed more. Ok, we climbed a lot! We zigged, zagged, and I almost zonked. Wow! What a workout. And yes, you have permission to walk if you need too. There is no shame!

After this video, we headed back to the finish. Oh baby! Tacos are calling my name! Roughly one mile to go! Suddenly, it occurred to me. A memory from Mrs. Ashley from 4th grade. “What goes up, must come down.” So, if I spent time climbing up all of these hills, I get go run down them, too. Boom!

So, Dan and Nate took the lead to head back toward “taco land”. They took off like a bottle rocket on the 4th of July. I followed a bit behind, watching my footing carefully. I knew the equation: Gravity+roots+sand=potential fail!

Again, different terrain. Except this time, I’m moving much faster. (Thank you gravity) Dodging roots. Avoiding twigs. Singing 80’s rock songs a little louder to pass the time. Yes, I was excited for tacos!

And, in what seemed like only moments, when in reality was about a mile, we shot out of the woods, saw clearing, heard voices, and smelled victory cooking!

What a great experience! And those tacos? Legit! This taco was only $3. How good does this look? And yes, adult beverages are also available for consumption.

Here are the lessons I learned.

  1. Trails are tough.
  2. Hills make you stronger.
  3. Tacos are from God!

Thank you, Cannonsburg, for thinking outside “the shell”, and creating a “not your typical” Taco Tuesday .