Playing Harder

Dec 19, 2011

There are so many reasons to run.  I run with my kids.  I run to relieve stress.  I run to stay fit.  When I was younger, I used to race my brother from driveway to lamppost.  I am not always sure why I run, I just do.

Inspired and written by Jim Philip

Over the years, I have run in hundreds of races.  Some short, some long.  I love that feeling of butterflies in the stomach before I begin a big race.  As a 44 year-old father of three, it is rare that I get a chance to feel that same sense of excitement and anticipation that I did before a big soccer or baseball game when I was a kid. Running does that for me. I've never really given much thought to why I run, I just know that I like it. 

Recently, I found a new reason to run. I have always been fascinated by the limits of the human condition. I always felt that we all underestimate ourselves and the limitations of our mind and body. We are conditioned to listen to our bodies and to rest when we are tired, to eat when we are hungry, to drink when we are thirsty. But I have often wondered how far I could push myself.

A few years ago, my brother, Ted, called me to let me know that he had signed up for a 100 mile race. I remember thinking, "Wow, that's a long way to ride a bike."  A few seconds later he explained that it was a 100 mile running race!  As I sat there silently in disbelief, a deep feeling of concern came over me for the safety and well being of my big brother. He explained to me that with the proper coaching, training, and nutrition, regular people are pushing their limits to 100 miles and beyond.  He recommended a few books like Ultramarathon Man and Born To Run and encouraged me to check out a documentary called Running The Sahara. Instantly, my fascination with going longer was born. 

Nine months later, I found myself in the sleepy town of Huntsville, Texas to lead the crew for my brother in his first ultra race - the Rocky Raccoon 100.  At the pre-race meeting, I was fascinated by the many shapes, sizes and personalities of these ultra runners. I was curious to learn what makes them tick. Nervous and excited, we spent the day before the race checking out the course, packing our race supplies and soaking in the surreal atmosphere of such an event. 

After checking and re-checking our crew gear for race day, we all jumped in the car and found the closest Italian restaurant in town to begin the pre-race carbo-loading dinner. For those of us on the crew, that consisted of equal parts pasta and beer.  For Ted, it was pasta with as much salt as his nervous stomach could handle.

Over a lighthearted conversation among the crew members, the second beer of the night seemed to take over my brain and I suggested to my fellow diners that I could probably run 50 miles if I had to. I had recently finished a marathon, and figured that I could always run a few miles more if I paced myself properly and then shuffle and walk the rest of the way.  To my surprise, one of my friends suggested that I should sign up for the 50 mile race that runs on the same course as the 100 the next day. Knowing that this was not likely a possibility, I replied, "If they would let me sign up today, I would happily do so." 

Later that night, we headed back to the race headquarters to drop off Ted's gear bags with the race officials. Unbeknownst to me, one of my fellow crew members hunted down the race director and asked if it was too late to sign up for the 50 mile race.  "No problem" said the race director, "just bring me the $75 entry fee in the morning and sign the waiver and you should be all set."  As you can imagine, my friend was delighted to call my dinnertime bluff. "You are good to go," he said to me with a huge grin, "I spoke with the race director and you can sign up on race morning tomorrow." 

That night as I lay in bed, I remember waffling between taking on this challenge and fearing the consequences of failure. I remember vividly the last words I said to my brother before I turned off the light, "If I do this, I could literally finish dead last."  The rest of the night, I drifted in and out of sleep wondering if I had what it takes to do this, and wondering how I would feel if I did indeed -- finish last. 

The next morning I woke up with a feeling of determination and verve that I had not felt in years. Somehow in my brief slumber, I had convinced myself to take a risk and see how it goes. Since, I had not formally trained for this race, nor had I set any expectations of doing such a race with my family and friends, I figured there was only upside in giving it a shot. 

The 100 mile race was scheduled to start at 6:00 am on the dark, damp trails of Sam Houston State Park with the 50 mile racers to begin an hour later. I remember standing at the starting line of the 100 seeing my brother off and wishing him the best.  Just moments after the gun went off to start this epic event, we heard a scream in the darkness next to us.  Sadly, the mother of one of the runners had tripped over a log in the darkness and broken her arm.  She was quickly swept off to the E.R. and I was left to contemplate the sanity of my bravado and wait silently, filled with self doubt for the hour to pass before the 50 mile race began. 

Finally, the sun began to rise and the 7 o'clock hour approached. I was incredibly relieved when the starting gun finally went off and I was left to do what I love to do -- just run (and run, and run, and run...).  The day went great.  Perhaps because of my deep respect for the distance, I simply took it slow and easy throughout the race, and had the race of my life. Not only did I not finish last, but I realized on that day how pushing myself beyond my perceived limits made me feel more alive than ever.  Don't get me wrong, the pain I experienced late in that race is like nothing I had ever experienced before. However, the high of the accomplishment made the pain fade away much more quickly than it had come. It was a feeling that I can't quite describe, but one that I knew immediately that I had to replicate.

A year later, I returned to that very course for my first 100 mile race. This time I was racing alongside my brother and my good friend, David Green, the CEO of 110%.  Once again, I had a great day. The feeling of accomplishment returned and I was officially hooked.  From the moment I crossed that finish line, my mind began thinking about my next event.  How could I push myself even further?  How could I inspire others to participate?  How could I share this inexplicable feeling of accomplishment with friends and family.  How could I find a way to combine this sport that has done so much for me -- for my self confidence, for my health and well being, for my identity -- and leverage it for the benefit of others?

It was precisely at that moment that the 110% Give Harder Foundation was born.  David Green and I decided that we could leverage our commitment to playing harder to inspire others to push their limits in sports, in business and in community service.  The mission of the 110% Give Harder Foundation is to inspire people to enhance their health, well being and quality of life through physical activity.

As our first event, we are partnering with the 26.2 for Donna Foundation to raise money for a cause that has impacted the lives of so many of our loved ones.  The 26.2 for Donna Foundation was created in Jacksonville by news anchor and breast cancer survivor Donna Deegan.  The Foundation seeks to raise money for breast cancer research and to provide financial assistance to women suffering from the disease.  The 26.2 with Donna Foundation’s anchor event is the 26.2 With Donna Marathon, which is an incredibly emotional, inspirational event.  Each year, thousands of runners of all abilities run and walk 26.2 miles dressed in their brightest pink running gear to raise awareness and money to end breast cancer. 

In an effort to raise incremental money for the 26.2 with Donna Foundation, we have created the 110 for Donna.  This event will leverage the excitement of the Donna Marathon to bring together a group of passionate business executives and challenge them to do something unique. On Saturday, February 11th, 2012, seven runners will embark on a 110 mile journey which will begin in Daytona Beach and conclude in Jacksonville, Florida at the finish line of the 26.2 With Donna Marathon.   Each runner will run, walk and crawl continuously through the night and as long as it takes to cover the entire 110 miles in an effort to raise $110,000 to finish breast cancer once and for all.  To be clear, these are not elite ultrarunners, rather, a group of dedicated business professionals with an outsized sense of adventure, an abnormally high tolerance for pain (we hope) and a strong passion for an important cause that impacts us all.  

While we know that $110,000 is just a start in the fight against breast cancer, we hope our efforts will inspire others to stay healthy and active and to find unique ways to give back to their communities.  We truly appreciate all of the support we have received from our family, friends and sponsors as we have been preparing for this great event.

People often ask me why I run.  Dean Karnazes, one of the most accomplished ultrarunners, once wrote, “I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

See you on the road.  Play harder!