Running With a Purpose

As I listened intently to Rich Roll‘s podcast a couple weeks ago, I learned about a bold fella named James Lawrence. He had quiet confidence and a loud, world-record-shaping mission. A young father of five, James (A.K.A. The Iron Cowboy) is a dad that gets to spend time with his kids and their classmates. In doing so, he noticed an issue that is prevalent among school children, his kid’s very classmates: obesity. And even though his state of residence is not one of the fattest states in the country (as mine is), it is a noticeable, heart-wrenching issue. Further, he learned of a statistic that has equally effected me in my journey: this generation of children is the first generation in history expected to NOT outlive their parents. As a father of five, he found this completely unacceptable. This, in a nutshell, has spurred him to DO. As an avid triathlete, and current world record holder in that realm, he aimed to use his athletic prowess to shine a bright light on the rocky shores that so threaten the children of this great nation: obesity and obesity-connected disease, especially among children. He has committed to completing a full Ironman-distance triathlons  (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run) in all fifty states, in 50 days. Yes, you read that right. While the lumens produced by these actions are significant and brilliant, it will not be enough by itself. The whole idea behind it is use not just raise awareness of the rocky shore, but to inspire the ACTIONS necessary to avoid said shore. Which is what brought me to Alabama on a warm July Thursday afternoon.
After hearing the aforementioned podcast, my buddy Jonanthon (JT) texted to me a message… You see, we had both heard James’ story on the same day via #RRP 149, and Jonathon had a “crazy idea” per this text message. The minute I read the text I knew what the crazy idea was, and if I was right about it, I was IN. Sure enough, just as I suspected, JT was proposing we tri (see what I did) to catch up with the Iron Cowboy as he made his way along the gulf coast. We have a buddy in Mobile, and we noticed that Iron Cowboy James would be completing his 20th (!) Ironman-distance there. So, we decided to, pending tropical weather, go run the 26.2 miles with him that day. Lucky, the weather cooperated, James was still going strong, and the run was on…
JT and I pulled up at the Iron Cowboy’s staging area in Fairhope, Alabama, right on the other side of Mobile Bay from Mobile, Alabama. It was at a cool looking little place called the Windmill Market. As soon as we arrived we noticed runners waiting around for James to wrap up his bike leg so they could begin the run with him. As we mingled and waited for the Iron Cowboy to get back to the Windmill Market ourselves, we met some cool folks. Almost immediately someone recognized me thanks to Rich Roll and his podcast, and my having been a guest myself. This is something that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to, but am flattered and grateful for. That very recognition will, I hope, serve as a seed for being able to reach people much the same way Rich and James are, in a way that positively effects health trajectories one by one, and ultimately, concentrically; a bayou, a state, a region, a nation, a world. But, anyway, after meeting all these nice people, and making the usual introductions, the Iron Cowboy shows up on his bike.

If one had assumed, as we did, that a man on his 20th ironman in as many days would need a minute after he jumped off his bike before he started his run, one would be incorrect. James whipped in, took a few photos, then BOOM he was off and running. And JT n myself, along with a horde of newly acquired running buddies, fell in right behind him. The start happened so quick that our buddy from Mobile hadn’t had time to make it over from across the bay in time to start with us (he actually ran out ahead of us, and then back, to offset our head start on his Garmin. Runners! Gotta love em. lol!). We made a few loops around Fairhope logging miles and killing time until the 5k was scheduled to kick off back at the start. There, we would pick up even more people. But, before we got kicked back off, James said a few words to the local media and coordinated the all-important pre-run group selfie.

As we ran the 5k (miles 8,9,&10 for us), I talked and bonded with strangers who were strangers no more due to mileage and scenery, and apparently Rich Roll again; while running and talking I heard a “is that the voice of Josh LaJaunie I hear?,” come from behind as I ran, to which I replied with a typical “yes ma’am.” Turns out she is a big fan of the RRP and knew who I was. Crazy! We continued through the beautiful little town of Fairhope until we ultimately, in 3.1 miles, wound up back at the staging/starting area again. Here we lost a few runners as we embarked on the final 16 miles of the Iron Cowboy James’ Alabama marathon.
By now the sun was getting low in the sky. We had a smaller group of runners now, but still his largest marathon group to date per James himself. We ran along the shore of Mobile Bay as the sun set and we were getting well into double digit mileage for the night. As we sadly veered from the beautiful view of Mobile Bay onto a dark running path that paralleled the highway, we sorta separated out into small groups as the path couldn’t handle everyone running shoulder-to-shoulder. In my little pack one of the people with me, besides my buddy Aaron (who would run ahead and back to catch up the mileage he’d missed earlier. Yeah, that guy.), there was a young lady who mentioned her longest run to date was 5 miles. Well, we were about five miles in since the start of the 5k, where she had joined. I knew we had about an 8 mile out-n-back before we were due back in Fairhope, but here she was just running. She had no idea how far she’d make before she would need a ride in, but she was going for it. I was so impressed with her heart. What balls!? I love this stuff! That’s what this kind of things does, besides awareness: it inspires assaulting your normal, breaking new ground, getting hella uncomfortable for the sake of something bigger than yourself. She wound up not hopping into a vehicle until she had done 11 miles! Straight beastmode! In the cutest little package you can imagine. I never even got her name, but I’m so proud of her. Quite inspiring.

We ran into the dark until the mile 17 mark. Then it was time to turn around and head back. We knew we’d be a little shy of 26.2 when we got back, but James wanted to make sure he didn’t take one step more than 26.2 (can you blame the man. He’s on his 20th in a row!). So, we knew we’d be doing some looping once back in town to make the full 26.2. [side note: as I write this, I just saw on Facebook that he is starting today’s marathon now. BEAST]. After the loops, we finished on the exact spot he’d wanted. High fives all around!!!
As we sat around, as runners do after a solid run, we discussed the evening. What a beautiful thing for a beautiful cause. I found my vessel sufficiently emptied. I had a few new friends. And I was completely inspired by the journey Iron Cowboy James has chosen for himself, his family, and his cause.

I usually hate to bring up money, or especially ask for it, but in this case if you can find it in your heart to donate to his cause, as I have, I would be forever grateful. He’s the prime example of how DOING, as opposed to wishing, can start the momentum of a world-changing paradigm shift.

Thank you James Lawrence. It was an absolute honor to empty the vessel in your, and your cause’s, presence. Peace.

[Tasting] Ultra

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.

3 smiles, but behind them, inside of those heads, echoed the words "chest-deep water crossing"
3 smiles, but behind them, inside those heads, echoed the words “chest-deep water crossing”

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.

what a glorious thing
what a glorious thing

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.  destin9destin11destin7

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.