I was still about 340lbs when I finally started to “jiggle jog,” as you know if you’ve read my FREE JOSH LAJAUNIE post. Not long after, I decided to sign up for a race: the 2012 Crescent City Classic. I got my ass handed to me by that 6.2 miles (not unlike this weekend lol), but something clicked that day; I didn’t care about losing weight anymore, I wanted to be a runner.
Fast forward to 2014. I ran my first marathon in January, and was training for my second when a sweet, cute, friendly young lady from Thibodaux put together a Thibodaux Running Group on Facebook. I was so pumped! I had already met Jonathon (J) and we had already been running/training together, but this is where I met and became friends with Wally Naquin and Jean Aponte; the crazy-tough, relentlessly happy and uplifting, truly committed runners who talked me into signing up for this 50k. Honestly, it seemed ridiculous. But, my buddies were going (minus J) so I signed up.
I wound up running 4 marathons within the 12 months of my first. ROCK N ROLL NOLA ’15 was my most recent (03:34:14, -01:10:00 off my first). J and I really trained hard for that one. He smashed the damn thing almost breaking 03:30:00. What a day! But, as J knew, I had Destin on my mind through all my marathon training. I was worried about being marathon-ready and not ultra-ready. However Jean, (who had actually run the longest run of anyone I’d known personally up until that point, and since) was a perpetual source of encouragement. I respected what he had to say, and did my best to heed his words. And Wally is a robot, except for that huge, fleshy, selfless heart. They are both the epitome of how I envision an American soldier. They are beasts! And they were going to help me become an ultra-marathoner! Ready or not.
The day before the race, Wally and I ran the 5k with our families who were there to support us (and boy did they!). We learned of Ratchet 33, and how this “5k” was actually 3.33 miles in their honor. It was a special race, and it was our first taste of the Destin sand. I knew the next day was going to be quite an experience after running that race. Derick, my brother-n-law, was shooting for a 5k pr in the Destin sand (coonass-crazy!). Wild ass almost did it, too. He wasn’t the only one (wild coonass, that is), Wally’s wife got across the finish first out of all of us. She was flyin’! But after running in the destin sand for the first time, we all kinda shared a look that said “31 fuckin miles?!”.
Derick got him a nice patch of sand, and chilled on it. Wally and Nikki, his wife, found the beer (shocker!), and I was making a hyperlapse video of people finishing up in the insane scenery for the ‘gram (also, shocker!). My brother and his sweetheart were next in; Mom, Kassi, and my little nephew (inside Kass’s belly) all finished with solid times and efforts. And I’m pretty sure I shared a “31 fuckin miles?!” look post-race with almost everyone in our group that morning. We hung out for a little while after the race, but we had to get back to the condo to get cleaned up and fed. Wally, Jean, and I had to get to the pre-race meeting at 1:30pm. I can only speak for myself, but I was scared shitless. This was going to be tough.
Yet, later in the day, while we were giggle-fartin’ over being in Destin, the wind and temps, and the anticipation of the “potentially chest-deep water crossings” we’d learned of at the 1:30pm pre-race meeting, the 24hrs/100mile guys were getting started! They started as the weather deteriorated Saturday afternoon. The winds had to be 20mph and cold! They started a one mile out-n-back route to log the prerequisite 50 miles before the 5am start of the 50 mile race, where they were to then take off with the people only running 50 miles. Then, the people only running 50k, were to kick off at 6am.
The weather report had been indicating that it would be in the high thirties and windy on race morning. And from what I was seeing Saturday afternoon, it was proving to be quite windy already. I was sufficiently worried (shitless I tell ya). The first thing I did when my eyes opened at around 2:50am Sunday morning was check the weather app on my phone. It was 60°. YES! However, the temp was forecast to drop to about 45° by 7am, but less wind than witnessed on Saturday afternoon, and plenty sunshine. The weather was going to be great for our run! I was pumped! I couldn’t go back to sleep so I got up and fidgeted around the condo making sure all my stuff was ready. Around 5am or so I headed to the beach to meet up with Jean n Wally. I was so nervous; these guys (Jean n Wally specifically) are tough, they’ve been through basic, they’ve used their bodies in ways I have never (I’ve seen the Nat Geo documentaries about how our service men and women train…) I was worried about disappointing them and not keeping the pace.
After the race started, the nerves settled and the beauty of the morning was all I could feel. We ran and talked and ran and sang and talked and laughed (and pee’d). We were high-fiving our leap-frogging, poster-toting, cheer-leading section at every checkpoint. My brother even managed to get a protesting Bam Bam to the beach “in all that damn wind!” to see me run by in mile 20 (a feat in itself). Everything was awesome! Until mile 24.
On the way back, the tide had come up a little, and we were being pushed against the dry sand by the waves. So I found myself often deciding between getting wet feet from an oncoming wave and exerting precious energy to jump the 18″ sand cliff to avoid it. This is where I began to get my feet wet and sandy for, really, the first time. I began to fall off the pace not long after that. I encouraged my buddies to keep truckin’. I’d just finish this up solo. That last leg found me crying, laughing, talking to myself in both anger and pride. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Then, with about two miles to go I see what I thought was a mirage. Was that Wally running back toward me!?! When he got closer I knew without a doubt it was, in fact, Wally coming back for his buddy. I started to cry. He got to me and said “I’m not gonna push you, I just want be with you.” I had about 1.5 miles to go. Then, with about a mile left, my brother and his girlfriend showed up to help run me in. The love was overwhelming. They got me running again, and I was able to run on in. An hour behind my buddies, but an ultra-marathoner nonetheless.
Not only was this experience profound for me as part of my weight-loss and running story, but as an American. I’m a boy who grew up in the shadow of his Bam Bam. My Bam Bam is my grandfather. He served in the Korean War on the USS Lofberg 759. I love him like no other. He was at mile 20 as well as the finish line Sunday. Having him there, Wally and Jean running with me, and the whole event raising tens of thousands of dollars (over &50,000.00 was the last figure I’ve seen) for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, made me feel like more of an American than I ever have in my life. I’m proud of the men and women who make the dream of “the land of the free and the home of the brave” the truth.
I will never forget Ratchet 33, and I will never forget my first ultra.
Thank you, Destin. Thank you, America.