Prior to April 19th, 2013 the farthest I had ever run in my life was about 7 miles. I remember that day because it was the day I thought my heart was going to explode through my chest and end up all over the road in front of me. I was training for a half-marathon with Gigi and that would have been a real bummer if she had seen that happen. Luckily for me, it didn't happen (we didn't end up running that half-marathon due to other, less life threatening, injuries.). Since then I've never really put that much effort into running. Every once in a while I would throw on my shoes and pretend I was still in shape for about a mile or so until I was quickly reminded that my heart hates me and would gladly commit suicide if I didn't stop instantly.
As I've told you guys before, my good friend Jordan Gash asked me just prior to the end of last year to run the Ragnar Relay with him this year. He had told me about the relay many times before and to be honest, it sounded awful. It was way too many miles in too short a time frame. Surely my heart would revolt and try to kill me again. But this time I told my heart to shut-up and said yes to Jordan's invitation. I am older and out of shape, but so what, I'm always sometimes occasionally up for a challenge and this might as well be it. Besides, it was to raise money for FaithQuest Missions and send people all over the world to spread God's word. If I can't rise to that challenge, what good am I?
January rolled around and I started training. Mile after mile each week I was slowly telling my heart it needed to listen to my brain and fall in line with the rest of my organs otherwise it was going to be death for all of us. Slowly but surely it listened and by the end of February I had run more that 30 miles that month without dying! I was actually pretty impressed with myself and began to think, maybe I won't be the slowest guy out there during this relay. Second slowest maybe, but not the slowest.
The closer it got to race day the more nervous I got. I was close to raising all the money I committed to raising, but was still a bit short. I had been able to run the distances I was assigned but nervous my heart had been plotting against me for three months and just biding time until it could get itself to a bigger stage. 4 miles, 6.5 miles and 2 miles. No bigs. I've got this. I just need to focus on getting the last remaining donations to meet my commitment and I'm all set for the big day. A final Facebook plea and the remaining donation is covered, phew!! One less thing to worry about.
Three days before race day I go to send an email to some friends and family telling them where each of my relay legs would end so they could come cheer me on if they wanted and I noticed something. The race organizers changed the course. My third leg was changed from 2 miles to 6.6 miles! Okay, this is gonna be a bit tougher than expected, I thought, but I'm committed and I'm doing this. At least we start early in the morning (6:15 a.m.) so none of my legs look like they will be in the heat of the day.
The day before the race I get a text from Jordan…"We changed our start time from 6:15 to 9:30 a.m.!" For him this was exciting. It meant we should be finishing closer to the same time as other FaithQuest teams. For me, it was like going to school naked. I just knew it was going to be hotter than I wanted. I don't do well with running in the heat and I had been pretty excited to avoid it. But there it was. Unavoidable. Alright heart, let's do this. Please don't kill me!
Race day was exciting and nerve-racking. I met the guys in our van and we quickly became friends sharing a common enemy. The gun went off in Huntington Beach and our first runner was off! We drove ahead in the van for and as he passed by we cheered him on and encouraged him to keep up the pace. I was instantly inspired by the way we had formed a tight bond and were ready to help each other through this insane feat.
Each of us was ready to go and and willing to take on the challenge ahead of them. My first leg rolled around, I got in the starting gate, had that bracelet slapped on my wrist and was off! A mile in and the heat started calling me all sorts of names and zapping all my energy. 3 miles in and I could see my teammates standing in the distance and encouraging me to just keep going. It instantly gave me the strength to fight through the heat for a while longer and push through the pain. It's amazing what encouragement from a team can do for you! I pushed through and finished out my 4.5 miles and passed the bracelet off to Jordan who killed the next 2.2 mile uphill. As I slapped the bracelet off to Jordan I looked up and saw Gigi and Peyton staring right back at me beaming with excitement. God knew exactly what I needed to keep from throwing in the towel right then and there. A sweaty kiss to my girls and I was off with my team to pick up Jordan.
The day continued through the heat until we passed things off to our second van and we went to get a bite to eat and rest a little. We grabbed some lunch, talked and continued to get to know each other as a team. It was great to hang out with these guys, even though they were all at least 10 years younger and in better shape than I. I was ready to conquer this race with them!
We picked up the second van around 6:30 p.m in Temecula at their final destination and we were off running again. The evening was just as much fun as earlier that day… without the excruciating heat. Around 11:30 p.m. and it was my turn again. Due to some improper planning we were 15 minutes late making the switch which meant I didn't get time to use the restroom before 6.7 miles of running in the middle of the night. But oh well, such is life. Full bladder and all, that was the best run I have ever had in my life. Through a golf course, up a hill that probably would have been easier had I been wearing my climbing shoes, and down a long hill under clear and starry skies, around 50 degrees outside with Sara Watkins playing in my headphones. Seriously guys, it was like what running should always be. Anyway, I finish my leg and one of my best friends Angelo is standing there ready to greet me! Wow I have some good friends! 1 a.m. and I have a friend willing to meet me in a parking lot to get a sweaty hug?? But, sorry Angelo, I have to pee big time and then hit the road to pick up Jordan! I appreciate your appearance more than you'll know though!
3:00 a.m. and we hand things over to the second van again so we can get a little rest. We drive down to Carlsbad where we will resume in the morning, find a parking lot and get what we thought would be about 3 hours of sleep. 90 minutes later we get a call telling us the last runner would be finishing in about 45 min. Ok, let's get going! Hitting the coffee bar and the bathroom first, we get our first runner ready. No sooner that we did when we see our team coming in about 5:00 a.m. It's go time!
The lack of sleep didn't phase us. Banded together we kept up our energy and encouraged our teammates to keep going. Only a few hours left! It's already starting to get warm and I am getting worried about my final 6.6 miles. I swallow that fear and get ready. Jordan tells me he is feeling fresh and might run with through part of my leg. That was like music to my ears. I knew I would need some encouragement.
9:30 a.m. came around and it was my turn. The bracelet hit my arm and I was off. 2 miles later I saw a long and steep hill in front of me. But to my elation there was also Jordan standing there ready to attack it with me. He tells me, "I'm gonna finish this with you." and for the next 4.6 miles his encouragement kept me from getting in the van as it passed. I was determined to finish the 18 miles I set out to do. Through the back spasms, the ankle, calf, and hamstring tightness Jordan was right there encouraging me to keep pushing and finishing strong. At a half mile from the finish line we picked up the pace and ran in to the exchange. Again, surprised and elated I see first my brother-in-law Mark, my nephew Joel! A few yards later, my sister Jessica and niece Sofia! At the finish line, Gigi and Peyton! I was so excited to see them, I gave Gigi a huge hug and started to cry. I had nothing left but emotion even though I was out of tears. Peyton says, "Hi Daddy! How was your exercise?" and Joel comes over and gives me a homemade #1 medal he had made with the words, "Bam Josh" on it. I hung it around my neck and gave him a few fist bumps and then had to jump back in the van to finish out the race. Funny how God knows what you need and when you need it, right? Every leg of my race I had someone there feeling proud of me and excited to see me.
We raced to each of the next two legs of our race and handed things over to van 2 to finish things off. We went and had a killer breakfast at the recommendation of a teammate and talked about our experience so far. Then we went to the finish line, where Gigi and Peyton once again met us. We met back up with van 2 and ran the last few yards through the finish line as a team. What an exciting adventure!!! Tired, sore, and completely amazed by what we had accomplished I couldn't have been more proud of our team and myself for doing what we set out to do.
I still get a bit overwhelmed thinking about it all. I think about things and I don't think about the pain; during our afterward. I think about all the good times, the fun and camaraderie and then wonder to myself, Did I really run 18 miles over 32 hours? Did I really only get 90 minutes of sleep? Did I really meet these guys and were they really all crazy enough to say yes to this adventure? Yes to all of the above! And you know what? I'm ready to start training to do it all again next year.