What motivates me is an experience that I had when I was around 21 years old. It’s not one that I frequently share, as it tends to make me look bad. However, it has been a huge source of motivation for me over the past several years.
I lived right outside Baltimore before I moved here to Oklahoma. Every year, there is a hike along the C&O Canal called the Alonzo Stagg Hike. For those who are not familiar with Alonzo Stagg, he was a football and basketball coach for a number of schools from 1890-1958. In 2003 a few friends and I decided that we were going to give it a try.
The hike generally starts at midnight on a Friday and goes until 3 or 4 pm the following saturday. There are checkpoints every 5 miles or so until you get closer to the end, and they are approximately every 1.5 miles. I started the hike and got through the first 25 miles fairly easily. I had never run a marathon or anything like that, but I felt like I was making pretty good time. At that point, most of my friends had dropped out, so it was just me and some others that were still moving along. Once I made it past the 37.5 mile mark, the checkpoints began coming more frequently – which perked me up. I am sure there are many of you out there that have completed ultra marathons so you are aware of what this point in the journey felt like.
I found I was walking more frequently than I was running at this point, but I was still moving forward. I began getting some minor blisters on my feet which were honestly not even that painful. I continued on until just after the 47 mile mark, where a lady caught up to me, looking much more prepared than I was. She had some water bottles and a first aid kit, and all that good stuff. I remember that she jogged past me as I was walking and asked how I was doing. She probably noticed the limp in my gait and thought I might need a little company. I told her that I was doing okay and I was just excited that we only had about 2.5 miles to go until the end. She agreed, then asked me if I might like some mole skin for some of the blisters that had developed on my heels. I nodded, and prepared to sit down on the dirt trail to take my shoes off.
As I was sitting down, I remembered someone telling me that towards the end you really need to keep moving. Otherwise, your muscles might cramp up and it would be difficult to get moving again. I didn’t really care at all. It just felt really good to sit down for a second. I spent the next few minutes taking care of my blisters and putting my shoes back on. As I was getting up I started to feel the cramping set in my right leg. I took a few steps and quickly realized that my leg was so tight that I could not move it. I spent the next hour and a half taking a small step and dragging my leg behind me much like zombies do in the Walking Dead. Although, they actually move much faster than I did. That hour and a half was probably the most miserable time of my life – up to that point.
It was probably about 9:00 am and I could see in the distance the last checkpoint. Mile 48.5. Only 1.5 miles to go from there. I remember shuffling toward the checkpoint and seeing a vacant camping chair just sitting next to the table with some powerbars on top (back when powerbars were awesome). Knowing that if I sat down my legs would completely freeze, I did it anyway. I must have sat there for only a few minutes when my father, managing that particular checkpoint, came up to me and asked me how I was doing. I told him what had happened with my leg, and that I just needed a rest. He encouraged me to get up and start walking again knowing that if I stayed there too long – it would just get worse.
It is the next few words that have been the source of some of my deepest motivation to continue on when things get difficult. I tried to get up and walk the last section, but now both of my legs were in so much pain there wasn’t any way that I was going to put myself through the agony. My father kept telling me that I could do it and that he would even be there right next to me to help me through that last part of the 50 mile hike. I continued to tell him that I wasn’t able to and that I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep. At this point my father said to me, “son, if you don’t finish this, it will be something that you regret for the rest of your life.”
He was completely correct. Rather than finishing the last 1.5 miles of the hike I shuffled off the path to a vehicle which was owned by one of my friends and I just passed out in the passenger seat.
To this day, I regret not finishing the last 1.5miles of the Alonzo Stagg Hike.
Every time that I am running or working out and I feel like I want to give up – all I can hear is my father telling me that if I don’t finish I will regret it for the rest of my life.
That’s what has motivated me for the better part of the past 9 years. Whether it’s a run, or school, or whatever — his words have been a huge part in my success. So, I ask, what motivates you?
P.S. The following year my younger brother, who had no fitness experience whatsoever, finished the hike. Yes, it gets rubbed in my face on a regular basis.
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