Inspiring Active Living
2014 has been an incredible year for me as a runner. It’s been an incredible year of improving my fitness and happiness. And, it’s been an incredible year of becoming close with my friends. I ran my first 50k trail race this year. I ran faster than I ever have in my local trail running series. I finally ran in the White Mountains and had more fun than I’ve had in any race, ever. I practiced yoga, and began taking Bootcamp classes. I grew closer with my friends and I made new friends. One thing just led to another. Fitness, happiness, friends, change and progress. It’s a strong feedback loop now. It’s no longer an idea—it’s a lifestyle. All of this happened because I was inspired to live an active and healthy life. I was inspired by my friend Chad Denning.
On Sunday, September 7th 2014, Chad died while running with me and Lars on Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire.
I first met Chad when I ran in one of the many races he directed. You don’t walk away from one of Chad’s races without remembering Chad. His energy and passion are infectious. And even though I was meeting him for the first time, he treated me like an old friend. (Yeah, he was one of the good ones. For real.) I was trying to make a change in my life and become fit and healthy by running. It was so hard at first! But, there was positive feedback at frequent enough intervals to keep me moving forward. It made my fitness experiment develop into habit and lifestyle. It was Chad, all along the way, when I needed a push. I don’t know if I could have done it without him.
How did Chad push me along? First it was the Western New Hampshire Trail Running Series—Chad’s trail running series designed to get people on the trails in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire. The races gave me regular goals to seek. They helped me cut back on smoking cigarettes, because I was reminded of the toll they were taking on me as I finished races with burning lungs, yet full of joy. I would look forward to running the next race. Some races were the farthest I had ever run at the time. These races gave me a tangible reason to become fit and healthy. Eventually, I quit smoking all together. It stuck.
Then, it was the talk Chad gave at the Howe Library in Hanover, New Hampshire about life transformation through endurance sports and ultra-running. Hearing about regular people who were able to run 100 miles was incredible to me and inspiring. I’d found a sport where people did amazing things and they didn’t have to be natural born athletes, or have been running all of their lives. I began to believe that I could become an ultra endurance athlete too. Chad encouraged me to volunteer at an ultra to find out first-hand what it was all about. The next summer, I paced a runner at the Vermont 100 for the last 30 miles of the race—it had an enormous impact on me.
During the 2013 running season, I ran some longer distance races and began building confidence. I ran an 18 mile race on the rugged Wapack, paced a runner for 30 miles at the Vermont 100, and ran a 29 mile trail marathon. I was fully engaged in an active lifestyle by this point and becoming an ultra-runner myself. And there was Chad again, pushing me to discover that I was capable of so much more. He encouraged me to run up alpine ski trails, at the crack of dawn, during the coldest months of the year, in the crazy, yet magical, Winter Wild series. It changed everything.
The Winter Wild races made the extra cold and long winter last year so much fun for me. I measured the winter by the intervals between the races. I loved carpooling with my friends in the early mornings. The rides to and from the races were full of excitement and great conversation. I started forming close relationships with these other crazies!
What would possibly motivate people to wake up at 3am and drive for hours to run up a mountain in the freezing cold? It is hard to explain to those who have not done it, but for me, the races were the perfect mix of comradery, love of the mountains, the best sunrises EVER, sturdy workouts, and absolute FUN! The crushing climbs up the mountain were always rewarded with the most glorious sense of freedom as I bombed down the mountain with reckless abandon.
Running the series over the winter propelled me to a new level of fitness. The change was remarkable! Running for miles uphill will make you fit, fast and strong. After one race, standing in the cold and cheering on the remaining runners coming in, Chad told me that I would hit the trails in the spring and fly. He said, “Dude, you will enjoy a new level of fitness running on the flat trails when the snow melts.” He was right. I did become a lot faster. And that’s when Chad started running with me.
Chad is well known for his great events and his passion for active living, but, he is also an elite ultra-runner and endurance athlete. Chad is a beast. He never bragged about his own accomplishments, but when he asked me to run with him for the first time, I was star struck. How many football fans get asked to throw passes with the quarterback of their favorite team? This was the ultimate expression of how he inspired me. The long runs I enjoyed with Chad were great for my training and gave me opportunities to learn much from him.
During one long run in the Boston Lot Chad said to me,
“In ultra-running, you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It’s good training for life.”
When Chad died, it felt like the lowest of lows. As I was struggling with how to comprehend his death and what life would be like without him, I kept coming back to what he said. I finally realized I needed to push on through this low period and seek the highs. The race isn’t over. Chad continues to inspire me.